The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Briscoe is a Trooper, SPEED Surprises and More by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday October 25, 2011

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, where dissection of race broadcasts is the name of the game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series returned to Talladega Superspeedway for their final shots at restrictor plate glory for 2011. Meanwhile, the V8 Supercar Championship Series was in Surfer’s Paradise, Queensland for the Armor All Gold Coast 600k.

The Camping World and Sprint Cup Series visited Talladega Superspeedway this past weekend..

Armor All Gold Coast 600k, Race No. 2

Late Saturday night (Sunday afternoon in Queensland), SPEED returned to Australia for their second and final live V8 Supercar telecast of the season. However, this time, it was the tight confines of the Streets of Surfer’s Paradise that played host. SPEED sent their quartet of Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip, Leigh Diffey and Calvin Fish to Queensland to reprise their roles without any references to “geological oddities,” or anything like that.

SPEED came on-air at 11 PM, giving enough time for 25 minutes of pre-race programming. The main piece aired in the run up to the race was where Darrell Waltrip spent some time with Garth Tander and Ryan Briscoe. He prefaced the chat by saying that he considered Tander and Briscoe to be the duo to beat. Unfortunately, that didn’t come to pass.

Another piece was focused on Sebastien Bourdais, the best of the international drivers at Surfer’s Paradise. Bourdais was teamed up with Jamie Whincup and had already won Race No. 1 on Saturday. I have no clue why SPEED chose to only air the second 300 kilometer race. Last year, the format was a little different in which one race was driven solely by the regular driver, while the other was driven by the guest driver. Maybe SPEED thought that AVESCO (the Australian Vee Eight Supercar Company) was going to keep the old setup.

There was also a mini grid walk conducted by Diffey and Fish, a feature that is not new to SPEED. Will Buxton normally does them for SPEED’s Formula One coverage, and Robin Miller did one for some of Versus’ Izod IndyCar Series races this year (reportedly on the insistence of Dan Wheldon). Regardless, this allowed SPEED to talk to ten drivers prior to the start of the race, a substantial increase over the four we had prior to the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.

Finally, there was an in-car lap tour of the 1.8-mile Surfer’s Paradise circuit narrated by Mark Winterbottom (often referred to by everyone as “Frosty”). No ride along this time for Waltrip, however, he did admit to driving a couple of laps around the circuit in a street car.

SPEED also debuted a new graphic package for the starting lineup—earlier this year, the network piggybacked on the Seven Network’s somewhat over the top graphics, complete with the Mitsubishi Fuso sumo wrestler (Note: Mitsubishi does use sumo wrestlers in a series of popular commercials for Fuso commercial vehicles). For Bathurst, SPEED used a basic starting lineup graphic somewhat similar to what they use for the Formula One telecasts. Here, they ditched that for a unique setup that looked very clean. I’m not 100 percent on whether that was SPEED’s graphic, Seven Network, or V8 Supercars Australia’s work, but whoever was responsible did a good job.

A big story that came out of the race was the constant drive-through penalties for “kerb-hopping,” a nice way of saying “you cut the course.” The whole thing seemed to confuse Waltrip. At first, the series had a foolproof way of catching offenders by using a loop system, however, the cars ran over the loops so many times that the equipment was broken. After that, stewards were dispatched to monitor the curbs in the chicanes.

Now, I don’t blame Waltrip for being a little confused over the issue. From what I understand, it’s something of an ongoing issue on street courses. It’s a big issue in Adelaide at the Clipsal 500 and in Hamilton, New Zealand (granted, that race is being dropped for 2012, but it was still an issue there).

Even with a SPEED booth as opposed to Matthew White and Mark Skaife from the Seven Network, I still have a lot of the same issues with the telecast. It was way too focused on the front of the field. There was nothing going on up front for the entire first third of the race. Sebastien Bourdais was in complete control, yet he got a butt load of airtime. I would have rather that there be more of a focus on the racing for position. Given that we were at a street course, there was plenty of that.

There was really no battling for position that was shown below 11th position in the entire telecast. SPEED cannot really do much about that. I know I’m not alone in ranting against V8 Supercars Australia’s frontrunning.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief, as SPEED had overrun their three hour timeslot slightly by the time the race ended. There were post-race interviews with the top 2 finishing duos (Mark Winterbottom-Richard Lyons and Jamie Whincup-Bourdais) and a check of the top-10 finishers before SPEED left the air.

Joy and Waltrip are a little hamstrung by the pictures that they are provided. I’m not really sure if they were aware of some of the other action on-track (I think their commentary position had their backs to the track, unfortunately, but I’m not sure). To fill some time when the pictures weren’t really showing much of note, Joy would try to educate fans on various things, like what some of the various sponsors are, or some basic rules of the series. However, they shouldn’t have to fill time like that in the middle of a race.

Despite the less than satisfactory amount of racing for position shown, Joy and Waltrip clearly enjoyed themselves immensely. Waltrip does agree with me that if they do this next year, that they should just stay over between Bathurst and Surfer’s Paradise. Returning to the states after Bathurst was stupid.

SPEED did an admirable job covering Mike Wallace’s victory in the Trucks.

Coca-Cola 250 Powered by Fred’s

Saturday afternoon brought the Camping World Truck Series back to Talladega for their fifth assault on the 2.66-mile tri-oval. The normal on-air crew was back in play here (Hermie Sadler couldn’t make the trip to Las Vegas since he was driving the TRG Motorsports No. 71 at Charlotte).

The Setup started off with a recap of the wreckfest known as the Smith’s 350k in Las Vegas. That was followed up by a brief remembrance of Dan Wheldon.

The main feature of the Setup was a piece where SPEED sent Ray Dunlap out to what I guess is Imperial County, California (they didn’t say) to check out what Matt Crafton does in his free time. As it turns out, Crafton likes to drive sand buggies for fun. He’s not the only notable racer that does this in his spare time (Greg Biffle does this, as does David Gilliland, although I cannot recall a feature that followed Gilliland while he was doing it).

Dunlap, after his typical theatrics (he crawled up a sand dune, complaining about a lack of water, as if he was Daffy Duck in a Warner Brothers cartoon), rode along with Crafton and seemed to have a grand time. I do have to admit that I find Dunlap’s antics to be a little annoying.

Another piece followed Ricky Carmichael around during his busy Saturday in Las Vegas. Following the Smith’s 350k, Carmichael got changed and high tailed it across town to Sam Boyd Stadium, where he was set to do color commentary for SPEED’s coverage of the Monster Energy Cup. The feature gave fans a look into preparation that a color commentator does for a telecast (SPEED’s piece included a look at Carmichael’s rehearsal with Jeff Emig). There was also a brief glimpse into what it looks like to call a race live. Apparently, it’s not that dissimilar to what you would do if you’re not on site (like SPEED’s Varsha-Hobbs-Matchett trio for the Formula One races). You could see Carmichael, Emig and play-by-play commentator Ralph Sheheen basically huddled around a large monitor and commenting on what they see. Now, that monitor shows live footage, unlike most of what we get to see these days. Of course, the five to ten second delays we get now are a rant for another day. But with that said, I thought the piece was interesting. Quite the exhausting day for Carmichael, but he feels that he has an obligation to stay involved with Motocross / Supercross, so more power to him to be able to juggle both his jobs in one day.

In the race, Kevin Harvick, Inc.‘s trucks driven by Ron Hornaday and Mike Wallace basically stomped the field. I don’t think anyone actually expected it, especially after what happened when drivers attempted the tandem drafting back in Daytona. Much of the race was spent in amazement that only Wallace and Hornaday could do it.

Here, Michael Waltrip was a very valuable resource. Say what you want about his constant pimping of sponsors (including tweeting about a contest from Best Western while commentating for SPEED), but there are times in which he is invaluable. Saturday was one of those days. As you remember, Waltrip won the NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona back in February, using the two-truck draft (and a little help from the rear spoiler that just decided to fail on the last lap) to his advantage. Waltrip was able to accurately describe what it was like to tandem-draft with the trucks, to everyone’s benefit, and that is exactly what I want to see out of Michael Waltrip.

During the race, SPEED kept most of their focus on the main pack. Wallace and Hornaday were ahead of this group of most of the race, including at one point holding an eight second lead. ThorSport Racing teammates Crafton and Johnny Sauter were behind the main pack. Unfortunately, this led to an issue when both ThorSport drivers were taken out in a crash on Lap 36. Only one camera actually caught the wreck, and even then, it only saw the aftermath.

Since the camera’s missed exactly what happened to cause the accident, SPEED’s production staff checked Twitter during the race and shared news from the team’s Twitter that the No. 16 of Donnie Neuenberger blew a right front tire and hit the wall in front of the Nos. 13 and 88. That created a situation where there was nowhere to go. It was an interesting way to give fans the information on what happened, but at best, this should be used as a backup. I’m perfectly fine with this method if there is no footage of what happened. However, if you have replays that show it, use those first.

Post-race coverage was fairly brief. SPEED provided viewers with only three driver interviews (Wallace, Hornaday and Austin Dillon), along with Bruce Cook, who wasn’t even the winning crew chief (he was Hornaday’s crew chief). There was also a check of the point standings before SPEED left for the evening.

SPEED definitely came to Talladega ready to bring viewers a good telecast, and for the most part, they succeeded. The Sauter-Crafton-Neuenberger incident did bring down the telecast significantly, however. I find it hard to imagine that no camera caught Neuenberger’s issue at all. In addition, SPEED did not conduct an interview with Neuenberger, and there was no indication that they attempted to get some time with him. If they had done it, unless he was injured in some way in the crash, I doubt that Neuenberger would have declined the opportunity.

Outside of the aforementioned wreck, SPEED was solid. The enthusiasm was there to be seen and the commentary was top notch.

Good Sam Club 500

On Sunday afternoon, the Sprint Cup Series was back in action at Talladega Superspeedway. There were no scheduling conflicts last weekend, so the usual suspects were back in their normal reporting roles.

However, it was still not really a normal weekend as the garage was still mourning the death of Dan Wheldon. To that degree, ESPN began Countdown with a piece remembering Wheldon with input from a number of different drivers including Casey Mears. After the piece ran, Nicole Briscoe elicited opinions and thoughts on the matter from Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree.

Now, the whole time while this was going on, Briscoe was having a very tough time keeping her composure. Remember, she was, if not the closest, the second closest person on ESPN’s NASCAR on-air crew to Wheldon. She obviously knew him very well just through the fact that she’s married to the aforementioned Ryan Briscoe, who races in the Izod IndyCar Series. Also note that she skipped Charlotte to be in Las Vegas for the Izod IndyCar World Championships and was presumably at the track when the crash happened. I’m not sure where she was, but she was there. The whole piece just re-opened some nasty wounds for her, but she’s a trooper for hanging in there.

In addition to the Wheldon piece, there was another SportScience feature on the draft. It was an interesting piece, but I’m fairly confident that I’ve seen something similar to that before. Another feature talked about the history of Talladega Superspeedway and how Bill France, Sr. got together with George Wallace (then the Governor of Alabama) to make it happen. France supported the segregationist Wallace thoroughly, even campaigning for Wallace during his aborted presidential campaign in 1968.

Finally, there was a piece on the relationship between Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. I know, it seems like a broken record, but this one was different, though. It went back and covered the five-year reign of Johnson and Knaus as champions and showed how their relationship evolved with each other and the rest of the team. Not a bad look, but I just don’t know what else can be done feature-wise with those two men. ESPN is literally running out of stuff to say about them.

Thanks to the drafting practices, ESPN was effectively forced to cover the entire field. This was mainly because some of the Chasers chose to have at it up front, while a few selected others chose to hang back and count their lucky stars (most notably Carl Edwards). The form of drafting that is now prevalent (the two-car tandems) has led to some unexpected teams getting their chances up front, like Tommy Baldwin Racing and Front Row Motorsports. As a result, they get airtime during these races that they would otherwise not receive.

Post-race coverage was typical. ESPN brought the audience interviews with six drivers (including what I think is the first post-race Dave Blaney interview in many years). There was also one with winning crew chief Shane Wilson and a check of the all-important points standings.

I do not really have any gripes about ESPN’s telecast from Talladega. True, it appears that their hand was forced in having to be more inclusive just because of the form of racing, but I don’t care since they covered the field fairly.

Unfortunately, with all the constant battles for the lead, stuff like what happened to Robby Gordon never really got covered. We saw his pink No. 7 on pit road to get his rear bumper reattached to the car one minute, and then he’s out the next with no real explanation on-air for what happened. I found out six hours after the race ended that he suffered rear end failure. ESPN’s got to be a little better about that.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series return to Martinsville Speedway for their second visit of the season.

There was a public memorial service on Sunday at the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis for Dan Wheldon, which was scheduled to go for an hour, but went over that time limit. It was televised on Versus and ESPNEWS nationally, streamed online via SPEEDtv.com, ESPN3.com and WatchESPN.com, and shown locally on three over-the-air stations in Indianapolis. I will provide a critique of that ceremony for this week’s Critic’s Annex.

Here’s your listings for the week:

Friday, October 28

Time Telecast Network
12:30 AM-2:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of India Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDtv.com^
4:30-6:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of India Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
12:30 PM-2:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
2:00-3:30 PM Camping World Truck Series Practice SPEED
3:30-5:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED

Saturday, October 29

Time Telecast Network
1:30 AM-3:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of India Free Practice No. 3 SPEEDtv.com^
4:30-6:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of India Qualifying SPEED
10:30 AM-12:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
12:00 PM-1:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
1:30-2:00 PM NCWTS Setup SPEED
2:00-4:30 PM Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 SPEED
8:00-10:00 PM Super DirtCar Series SEF Small Engine Fuels 200 SPEED*

Sunday, October 30

Time Telecast Network
5:00 AM-7:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of India SPEED
9:00-10:00 AM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
11:00 AM-1:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
1:00-1:30 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN
1:30-5:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Tums Bring It On 500 ESPN
~5:30-6:30 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 ESPN 2

*- Tape Delayed
^- Available via free online streaming

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series race telecasts from Martinsville for next week’s piece here at Frontstretch. In addition, I’ll also cover SPEED’s broadcast of the inaugural Grand Prix of India. The SEF Small Engine Fuels 200 broadcast will be covered in next week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex. Since I was at that race, I can possibly add some additional “you had to be there information” to the telecast.

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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