The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Hollywood Hotel's Switch Combines With ESPN's "Switched Up" Show by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday October 4, 2011

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, where critiquing races is our game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series raced at Dover International Speedway for Chase weekend No. 3 of 10. Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series served as main support to the Izod IndyCar Series at Kentucky Speedway.

Before we start, it was officially announced on Thursday that there will be a shakeup on FOX’s Pre-Race Show for the 2012 season. Michael Waltrip will now share the “Hollywood Hotel” with Chris Myers and Darrell Waltrip during the show. Jeff Hammond will still be involved with the Pre-Race show as a “roving reporter.” Just what that will ultimately mean remains to be seen. Hammond will likely also remain as FOX’s technical expert during the race telecasts. Apparently, FOX received positive responses from fans when Michael was involved with telecasts earlier this year, likely from when he shared the booth with Darrell and Rick Allen for the Nationwide race at Richmond on SPEED, and on the Truck Series telecasts. I’m wondering what you guys think of the move. I’m not really a fan of it because Michael Waltrip is a car owner in the Cup Series, and is thus, biased.

Kentucky 225

SPEED made sure to cover Ty Dillon’s debut in the Camping World Truck Series.

On a relatively chilly Saturday night, the Camping World Truck Series made their second visit of the season to Kentucky Speedway.

As compared to recent weeks, the Setup was more focused on the actual race. There was only one feature that ran on that show. That was a piece about Brendan Gaughan “swimming with the fishes” at the Newport Aquarium (just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati). Of course, Gaughan was a-OK after swimming with the sharks and had a lot of fun doing it.

The main focus during pre-race was on Richard Childress Racing since they were running Ty Dillon in the No. 21, a third RCR truck. Richard Childress made the trip over to the track from Dover to take in his younger grandson’s Truck Series debut.

During the race, SPEED showed another feature during an early caution that talked about the natural sibling rivalry between the Dillon brothers and looked at Ty’s weekend up to qualifying. I found it interesting that they didn’t choose to run that during the Setup, instead of on Lap 53 or so during a caution. It was out of place, to say the least.

Regardless of the strange placement of the feature, SPEED’s Kentucky coverage was a return to normalcy. It was like the travesty at New Hampshire never happened. Michael did mention that at New Hampshire, you knew exactly what was going to happen well in advance, but you couldn’t at Kentucky. Also interesting to note, the Truck race Saturday night was far more competitive than the Cup race at Kentucky in July.

Post-race coverage was fairly brief due to the fact that the first half of the event was very slow. As a result, there was a bare minimum of interviews. SPEED provided only three post-race interviews and checks of the unofficial results and point standings before leaving the air. However, unlike at New Hampshire, this move was done in order to stay close to SPEED’s schedule, as opposed to leaving early for the heck of it.

It was a welcomed return to form for SPEED on Saturday night. I guess we can simply write off the struggles at New Hampshire as a one-time thing. Maybe the director was off his game that afternoon after the fog/mist delay during the Modified race. Regardless, I am still going to be watching the coverage in Las Vegas carefully to see if SPEED maintains this quality of broadcasting.

OneMain Financial 200

Marty Reid is play-by-play for ESPN’s Nationwide Series broadcasts, including this Saturday’s race out in Dover.

Saturday afternoon brought the Nationwide Series out to play at Dover International Speedway. Of course, this being October, you can’t have a Nationwide race without college football getting in the way. This week, it was a Northwestern-Illinois Big Ten rivalry game, played for the Land of Lincoln trophy. By the time Illinois finally won, ESPN was already 16 minutes into the timeslot for NASCAR Countdown. To give you an idea of just how much content is jammed into a typical half-hour edition of NASCAR Countdown, cutting out half the show did not cut down on any non-analysis. They still had four pre-race interviews and had time to check in with Tim Brewer in the very comfortable Craftsman Tech Garage. Just shows you how much analysis that I could really do without is crammed into Countdown every week.

I did note that Marty Reid got a little ahead of himself. He tried to throw the telecast into a commercial break right before the command to start engines was given. Whoops. Marty, you need to pace yourself.

I also didn’t really follow the comparison of Brian Scott’s run-in with the sand barrels to Matt Kenseth’s outright crash while trying to get onto pit road there in 2004. The wrecks don’t really resemble each other at all. Kenseth’s crash, which resulted in the DeWalt Ford high-centered on an Armco barrier, put him out of the race. Meanwhile, Scott’s incident was a mere inconvenience. However, the wreck made me think about two different things. One, just how much sand was inside the barrels? I’d say quite a bit, but then I think back to John Jackson’s crash in the Truck race at Homestead last year. He thrashed his No. 72 against the barrels. Secondly, I thought about the strength of the Nationwide COT. Saw a dump truck that had hit the sand barrels a couple of months ago up here. The hit shoved the left-front wheel back significantly, making the truck immobile. Being able to continue at all after even a glancing blow is quite amazing.

The big story that came out of Saturday’s race was NASCAR’s screw-up that allowed Reed Sorenson to maintain the third spot on the final restart. ESPN did not show a replay of this (that really would have been quite nice), but they were quite sure that Sorenson had pitted illegally. NASCAR didn’t acknowledge their mistake (or chose not to) until well after the restart. As you know, they admitted their screw-up, but didn’t change anything. Kinda weak. NASCAR does have a track record of completely interrupting proceedings to rectify mistakes (remember the ten-lap yellow at Rockingham in 1995 to give Dale Earnhardt second place back?). However, given the circumstances (and possibly Sorenson’s place in the championship hunt), perhaps NASCAR decided to give Sorenson and Turner Motorsports a break.

Vince Welch referenced the fact that NASCAR never told Sorenson to go to the rear, and the fact that Sorenson was forced to pit when the pits were closed since he was all but out of fuel and the car was sputtering. Perhaps, NASCAR could institute a rule along the lines of what the American Le Mans and the Izod IndyCar Series has. If you’re in a position where you may run out of fuel before the pits open, you can enter a closed pit. However, you could only take a small amount of fuel, enough to last at least until the pits open. Yeah, you’d lose track position, but you wouldn’t have to start at the rear of the field.

Late in the race, ESPN chose to highlight Chad Knaus walking through the pits and checking tire wear. I know that ESPN is dedicated to the Chase and all, but this telecast is focused on the Nationwide Series. What Knaus is doing during the Nationwide races on a Saturday afternoon does not matter (at least not to me). Just takes away from the rest of the race.

Post-race coverage was quite decent since the race ended quickly. ESPN provided viewers with eight driver interviews, plus an interview with the winning crew chief (Mike Beam). There was also a check of the point standings and post-race analysis before ESPN left the air.

There were some good and bad things that came out of ESPN’s broadcast. On the good side, they definitively showed SPEED how to broadcast a relatively boring race and not just trash on it. Yes, Edwards dominated, but ESPN would show some racing for position and comment on that. However, like SPEED, ESPN focused too much on the leader (Edwards). In addition, ESPN always goes on and on about Edwards’ prowess on concrete tracks. Yes, he has nine career Nationwide wins on concrete tracks, but it came off like the booth was gushing about him during the race. That’s not right. Something to look at for the future.

AAA 400

Chad Knaus’ relationship with Jimmie Johnson was the central focus of ESPN’s NASCAR Countdown show this Sunday.

Finally, Sunday afternoon brought the Sprint Cup teams out to play for 400 miles at Dover International Speedway.

The major feature of NASCAR Countdown was a piece where a number of NASCAR’s regular beat writers (Dustin Long, Bob Pockrass, Jim Utter) along with MRN Radio’s Mike Bagley talked about Jimmie Johnson and his apparent “vincibility” this season. I found it interesting that they chose the beat writers to talk to for the piece. These people are at the track every week covering the series, and they see quite a bit. The feature also included a lot of footage from past races this season, including the radio argument from New Hampshire between Johnson and Knaus.

I thought it was a good feature. The beat writers are not so fast to curtail the Johnson-Knaus relationship, while other onlookers were predicting doom, gloom, and a bunch of other stuff, none of it good. Personally, I thought that whole mess was overblown. I fully expected Johnson to contend Sunday and everyone would go “Oh man, Johnson is back! It’s like nothing ever happened.” That’s basically what happened. Cripes. Quit being so got-darn quick to throw people out like garbage.

The secondary feature on Countdown was a sit-down interview (conducted by Marty Smith) with Denny Hamlin. The piece covered Hamlin’s 2011 season, the relationship between Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford, and the future, amongst other topics. It was a straight and to the point piece. I enjoyed it. Hamlin wasn’t trying to make excuses for his troubles this year and dispelled the myth that the issues at the end of last season had completely derailed 2011.

During the race, ESPN would have definitely kept up their Chase bias that I’ve mentioned quite a bit over the past couple of weeks. However, there were quite a few non-Chasers that crashed the party on Sunday. Thankfully, this forced ESPN to cover those drivers (Ambrose, Allmendinger, Kahne, etc.) to the level that they deserved. A couple of the Chasers (Newman, most notably) actually saw their coverage decrease since they weren’t having great days.

Unlike on Saturday, there were a number of cautions that broke up the long runs. As a result, there was more action for position to show. ESPN did a decent job showing those battles.

The NonStop feature in the second half of the race is definitely a benefit for ESPN’s coverage, and I still advocate that it also be used for Nationwide events. However, I think that in the offseason, ESPN is going to have to decide whether they are going to keep it just for the second half of events, or if it will be used more like ESPN does side-by-side for their Izod IndyCar Series telecasts (and what Versus does as well). I think their advertisers might want to discuss that as well.

Post-race coverage was pretty good, given the amount of time that ESPN had remaining in their timeslot. Like Saturday, there were eight post-race driver interviews and an interview with the winning crew chief (Steve Addington). There was a check of the all-important points and some post-race analysis before ESPN left to go to Sportscenter (and air some additional NASCAR coverage, including the weekly Carl Edwards Pit Studio visit).

I generally enjoyed the telecast on Sunday. Bestwick has a great rapport in the booth with Jarrett and Petree. Even though this particular trio has only worked together in the booth since July, it’s like they’ve been together for a couple of years. Over on the Nationwide side, everything seems forced with Reid. This man is not the same one who could kinda-sorta hold his own in a fully manual BMW M3 at Daytona back in 1996 (during a test, mind you). He just seems… defeated.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series travels to Eastern Kansas for their second visit of the season to Kansas Speedway. The Nationwide and ARCA Racing Series will both join up in support. Meanwhile, the V8 Supercars will hold their holy grail on Sunday (Saturday night for us), the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.

Thursday, October 6
Time Telecast Network
9:00 PM – 10:30 PM Formula One Grand Prix of Japan Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDtv.com^

Friday, October 7
Time Telecast Network
1:00 AM – 2:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Japan Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
12:30 PM – 2:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 ESPN2
2:00 – 3:30 PM Nationwide Series Practice ESPN2
4:00 – 5:00 PM Nationwide Series Happy Hour ESPN2
5:00 – 6:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 ESPN2
8:30 – 10:30 PM ARCA Racing Series Kansas Lottery 98.9 SPEED
10:00 – 11:30 PM Formula One Grand Prix of Japan Free Practice No. 3 SPEEDtv.com^

Saturday, October 8
Time Telecast Network
1:00 AM – 2:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Japan Qualifying SPEED
10:00 – 11:30 AM Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
12:30 PM – 1:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 3 SPEED
1:30 – 3:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
3:00 – 3:30 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
3:30 – 6:00 PM Nationwide Series Kansas Lottery 300 ESPN2
7:00 PM – 2:00 AM Sunday V8 Supercar Championship Series Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 SPEED

Sunday, October 9
Time Telecast Network
2:00 AM – 4:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Japan SPEED%
9:00 – 10:00 AM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
10:30 AM – 12:30 PM NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
1:00 – 2:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN
2:00 – 5:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 ESPN
~5:30 – 6:00 PM NASCAR Victory Lane Fueled by Sunoco SPEED&
7:00 – 8:00 PM SPEED Center SPEED
8:00 – 9:00 PM Wind Tunnel SPEED
10:00 – 11:00 PM NASCAR Now, Post-Race ESPN2

*- Tape delayed
&- Approximate start time. Beginning of show is dependent upon when ESPN’s telecast ends.
^- Available via free online streaming
%- Telecast will likely be joined in progress from whenever SPEED’s telecast from Bathurst ends.

I will provide full critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races from Kansas in next week’s critique here at Frontstretch, along with a critique of SPEED’s telecast from Bathurst. SPEED is bringing their own crew to New South Wales (for those of you wondering, Bathurst is approximately 130 miles west of Sydney), with their own cameras and four on-air personalities, including the somewhat controversial choices of Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip for the broadcast booth despite also having Leigh Diffey in Bathurst for the network.

For the Critic’s Annex, this Thursday’s edition in the Frontstretch Newsletter will cover Sunday’s Kentucky Indy 300, surprisingly won by Ed Carpenter. The 10/13 edition of the Annex will cover the Kansas Lottery 98.9 for the ARCA Racing Series from Kansas.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique,
feel free to post in the comments below, or contact me through the email address provided on the website in my bio. Also, if you would like to follow me via Twitter, you can go to my Twitter page here. And if you would like to contact any of the TV partners personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage from last weekend, please click on the following links:

SPEED
ESPN

As always, if you choose to contact the network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

Contact Phil Allaway

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Ella
10/04/2011 06:37 AM
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Isn’t anyone broadcasting Sprint Cup qualifying this weekend?

RickP
10/04/2011 07:42 AM
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I certainly won’t be watching any pre-race Cup coverage with those three idiots doing it. It was bad enough before but with Darrell and Mikey both fighting to out do each other for mike time, no thanks.

Bob
10/04/2011 12:34 PM
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Yeah no…one Waltrip mouth in booth at a time is enough, two doesn’t stand a chance with me…then Myers is gonna have to try and keep up and I can only imagine the lame stuff he can come up with now…thought we had seen enough lame stuff out of him, but this ought to be interesting!

Rufus
10/04/2011 02:44 PM
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Overall, the Truck race was good, except of one aspect. Is it at all possible to put a muzzle on Mikey? He is THE most annoying personality ever put in a broadcasting booth! And reading that FOX, through their infinite wisdom (sarcasm noted!), is putting this moron in the Hollyweird Hotel gives me a good reason to avoid the pre-race show when FOX returns!

As for the Nationwide race, as I said in my posting in the Nationwide race review, the cheerleading for Elloitt Sadler is getting out of hand. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind Elliott, but in the pre-race show, Brad Daugherty was all excited that Saturday was when Elliott started his run for the title. And he looked like he was ready to cry after the race and Ricky Stenhouse actually increased his points lead! Since the ESPN cheerleading has gotten out of hand like it has, I sincerlly hope Ricky holds on and wins the 2011 Nationwide championship, if for no other reason, I want to see the ESPN Nationwide Broadcast team break down in tears when Stenhouse beats Sadler.

J.A.Wood
10/04/2011 03:20 PM
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Michael Waltrip does not need to be in any booth, radio or TV. End of story.

DoninAjax
10/04/2011 09:02 PM
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Adding Mikey is another reason not to watch Fox’s pre-race crap. At least it isn’t two hours like the NFL, but they’re probably thinking about it.

ddsbstrb
10/04/2011 09:11 PM
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OMG, two Waldrips in the booth at the same time. It is bad enough we have had to deal with JAWS on Fox and POS on Speed! Now, we have both in that Hollyweird Hotel, for 2012.

POS should knock all of the TV-time-off……and concentrate on making…“My-Favorite-POS-Critic” (Bowyer) fit into Motormouth Motorsports.

Would you say POS is the most “focused” team owner you have ever seen?

Case-closed.

Wall-Banger Kook-Aid, anyone?

Wayne
10/06/2011 04:50 PM
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Amazing!!! Dustin Long’s survey results showed 40% hated having another Waltrip involved ! In my circle of race fan friends the number is much higher who can’t stand the Waltrips. I guess surveys and fan opinions don’t matter to the HIGHLY ARROGANT DAVID HILL who forces things on us even though it OBVIOUS we don’t want them. He takes the fact that we watch anyway, because we love racing, not the dopey Waltrips.Even though today’s ESPN is not like the NED, Benny and Bob days, it’s still far better than the FOX fiasco. FOX doesn’t get it and never will and is ruining the enjoyment of racing for many of us!!!