Phil Allaway · Tuesday February 28, 2012
Hello, race fans. Points are finally in play. I really wish we could have gotten the Daytona 500 in on Sunday, but that just gives us more stuff to look at. Plenty to get to this week, so let’s delve right into the critique…
NextEra Energy Resources 250
Friday night marked the Camping World Truck Series’ return to the track for their first race of the season. With seemingly every organization undergoing some sort of change in the offseason (driver switches, manufacturer swaps, new teams altogether, etc.), there were plenty of Silly Season moves for SPEED’s crew to cover. How did they do? Let’s see.
The Setup returned with the same cast of characters from last year; however, the Corral did not return. As a result, there were very limited interviews. The only driver to get a regular interview was Ward Burton, who was making his Truck Series debut. Kinda weak and I expect better in Martinsville next month.
The main feature on the Setup was a piece on Richard Childress and his racing grandsons (Austin and Ty). The Dillon brothers, already far more successful than their father (Mike) on-track, talked about the differences between them (one’s more laid back, while the other’s super serious) and Childress’ role in their careers. The Childress Vineyards-shot piece also looked into the brother’s relationship with each other. It was an interesting look into the Dillon brothers and basically showed just how deferential they are to Childress.
Another brief piece asked certain drivers (Matt Crafton, Justin Lofton, Ty Dillon and James Buescher) how they spent their offseason. Finally, the SPEED crew has decided to add a Performance picks segment to their telecast, like the NASCAR on FOX crew does on Sundays. Of course, knowing the surprise winner, none of them even thought of picking him. Ray Dunlap is currently in the lead for their helmet trophy.
During the race, Michael Waltrip screwed up which Dillon brother was in the No. 3 multiple times. I don’t really blame him, but you got to study before your broadcasts. That’s step No. 1 in preparation. I’ve had TV analysts tell me on the record about the sheer amount of studying that goes into TV broadcasts (“Volumes,” according to Allen Bestwick). It makes me wonder just how much Michael actually does study his stuff before going on-air, or even whether he’s wearing too many hats right now (part-time Sprint Cup racer, sports car racer in the World Endurance Championship, car owner, TV analyst, etc.) That’s a story to watch for later in the year when he has to start missing races in the booth to race in Europe.
There was no issue with the amount of enthusiasm in the broadcast booth. Allen and Parsons brought their A-game to the night and made what was not the most exciting first half of the race bearable (not because there weren’t that many wrecks, but because there really wasn’t that much action). As mentioned above, Waltrip was a bit off his game — perhaps, he was still bummed about missing the Daytona 500.
Due to the event running long, there was what amounted to minimal post-race coverage. However, SPEED gave viewers a good number of interviews in that short amount of time (six, to be exact). Much of the post-race coverage was spent showing replays of Joey Coulter’s huge crash. However, SPEED couldn’t stay on-air long enough to get a word with Coulter, or for NASCAR to flesh out the unofficial results.
Why did that happen? Because they had to get to a sneak preview of Season 2 of Car Warriors. Whoop-dee-do. I could care less about that show. However, the main issue here is that SPEED had been publicizing that preview for about half of the offseason. Heck, I think that preview was teased more than the actual race was. That’s still bush league, though. Truthfully, SPEED should have at least stayed with the race telecast long enough to flesh out the results (they only gave viewers a very unofficial top 10) and for updates as to whether anyone in the grandstands was injured from Coulter’s catchfence hit (two, one went to the First Aid station near the ticket building, while the other briefly went to Halifax, but was released the same night).
Aside from the post-race coverage that left me wanting more, SPEED did a decent job Friday night. They just need to conduct more interviews during the Setup and wrap up their stories better. Here’s hoping they can keep the in-race rhythm up all season long.
Saturday afternoon brought the Nationwide Series back to ESPN for their season opener. To celebrate that fact, ESPN rolled out a 75-minute edition of NASCAR Countdown. However, the vast majority of that 75 minutes was spent inside of the Pit Studio, anchored inside of the Sprint FanZone. I typically don’t take much away from those prolonged segments (other than wondering when the heck they’re going to interview someone), but I did notice something. It appears that Brad Daugherty is taking stronger stands this year on-air. I’m happy to see that because if he’s not taking stands on something he believes in, I struggle to see his role on the telecast.
In the 55 minutes before ESPN brought us one interview — way too long, if you ask me — they did bring us features. There was a brief piece on the history of Daytona narrated by Marty Smith. Interesting choice, although if this segment were on SPEED, they would have gotten Ken Squier to do it. ESPN doesn’t really have an elder statesman voice that they can call in for those kind of things (Bestwick might be the closest thing to that currently on the payroll).
Smith hosted another piece where he charted out all the changes in “Silly Season.” The thing is, roughly 88 percent of everything covered didn’t really involve the Nationwide Series, a huge miss in a slot where that information is vital to help maintain fan attention. Sounds more like something that should have stayed on NASCAR Now. Smith’s busy week continued with a one-on-one interview with Kurt Busch. At this point, you know pretty much everything that is going to go into a Kurt Busch interview these days: discussion of his temper, clips of him flipping out, including the infamous YouTube clip from Homestead that’s nearing a million views. However here, Busch took the time to walk Smith through his mindset when that YouTube clip was being shot, and that made for an interesting look at the incident from another angle.
A fourth feature was based around Austin Dillon’s ascendance to the Nationwide Series and his insistence on using the No. 3. Let’s just say that if you watched the Setup before the Truck race on Friday night, you didn’t miss anything.
Finally, there was a one-on-one with Danica Patrick. Let’s just be honest — there is nothing more we can learn about Patrick, and I’m sick of the overkill. Remember that this feature was wrapped into multiple segments of Danica discussion in the Pit Studio. By this point, I just wanted to hear about someone else. And you wonder why with a 75-minute pre-race show, roughly seven drivers got mentioned? Makes me angry just thinking about it.
During the race, there were multiple packs of cars out on the track. Typically, there was a front pack with drivers mainly tandem drafting. Yes, those who were not could keep up a little more easily, but you weren’t winning if you didn’t tandem draft. Behind that group were a bunch of drivers in a pack draft, while other stragglers ran behind. Yet even with the cars spread out, ESPN spent much of their time covering the very front of the field. They had a few specific stories that they were going to cover (Patrick, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Trevor Bayne, the Busch brothers, etc.), and stuck to it. Everyone else was just there, including eventual race winner James Buescher. That is not the best way to cover any race as it lacked any information on two-thirds of the field.
Patrick crashing on Lap 50 meant ESPN had to call an audible. She was incredibly upset with teammate Cole Whitt for spinning her, a move that resulted in a expletive-laden tirade on the radio that it wasn’t aired with bleeps. While it wasn’t mentioned that she refused an interview, the network did say Patrick had spent some time in the hauler cooling off. That left them with no choice but to move on; however, as an alternative ESPN simply doubled down on their existing storylines. Drivers like Timmy Hill or Tayler Malsam only got mentioned if they wrecked or used pit strategy to claim the lead.
Like on Friday night, Saturday’s 300-mile race ran long due to all the wrecks towards the end of the event. But despite being only nine minutes over the expected end of the timeslot, ESPN left after three quick interviews in order to get to the North Carolina-Virginia college basketball game. That’s more understandable than leaving for Car Warriors, but ESPN has other methods of coverage at their disposal. The race is streamed online via WatchESPN. Heck, they could have easily given viewers extra post-race coverage on ESPN3. They can air 15 games at the same time on there. It’s just sad that ESPN failed to make full use of their available resources.
Of course, having said all that, ESPN needed to at least give updates on some of the drivers involved in the big wreck coming to the finish before signing off. Particularly Kyle Busch, since he took a heck of a hit into the SAFER Barrier head on. That was nasty. Luckily, he was OK, but you have to at least update the viewers on that. Throw me a bone here.
I wasn’t really all that impressed with ESPN’s season-opening effort on Saturday. Yes, Bestwick was reasonably solid, but there needs to be a more inclusive focus. It can’t all be about Danica Patrick, some Sprint Cup interlopers and three or four other Nationwide regulars, I’m sorry.
Sunday afternoon was supposed to be the “Great American Race” on FOX. Unfortunately, we got the Great American Downpour. However, that doesn’t mean that FOX’s crew just sat around scratching themselves and watching Spaceballs on DVD. There was plenty of pre-race action to cover, and with the weather acting up, FOX had their “Storm Scout” back (via satellite from FOX 11 in Los Angeles) to help out with the proceedings. Rick Dickert’s input is always welcome in these situations, and this time was no different.
FOX’s intro covered some of the big stories (Danica, Kurt Busch moving to Phoenix Racing, A.J. Allmendinger replacing Busch, etc.) by placing each person in front of an old-timey microphone and having them take questions from a bunch of 1950’s style reporters (probably a bunch of PA’s, in reality). Interesting, but I wanted more depth.
We then had another one-on-one interview with Patrick conducted by Darrell Waltrip. I guess that can be considered the coda, or the Annex to the original interview that was taped at the beginning of Speedweeks in the Media Center and run to death on SPEED. The twosome talked about the big crash in the Gatorade Duels and how her experience has been so far, but with that being said, I don’t really care about the 29-year old finding a gray hair.
With the rain continuing, FOX gave viewers 25 interviews, a high number. They also replayed part of the Budweiser Shootout and The 10: Greatest Daytona 500 Moments before leaving the air at 5:10 PM, 20 minutes before their originally intended timeslot would have ended.
Monday brought more rain and an additional delay to 7 PM. SPEED helped viewers out by making their edition of NASCAR RaceHub (originally scheduled to be a two-hour Speedweeks wrap-up) into a one-hour pre-race show with Danielle Trotta in Charlotte and John Roberts in Daytona splitting hosting duties. That was an impromptu setup, but very nice. I rarely talk about Trotta in this column since I don’t really cover RaceHub here, but she is a great host for this show (Note: It’s not her only gig. She splits time between covering NASCAR and ACC Sports). She shines on a weekly basis.
Hermie Sadler (who is looking more grizzly by the day) and Kenny Wallace joined Trotta in the RaceHub studio for additional analysis. The show featured five pre-race driver interviews plus a piece on Brad Keselowski and A.J. Allmendinger at Penske Racing. That feature was OK, but it was definitely something already put together for use whenever it was needed.
When FOX came on the air, they simply went straight to the command (which they were expected to do as soon as it was announced that the race was postponed).
One of the major stories for FOX’s telecast was how they were going to handle the Danica quotient that I was so worried about from last week. Luckily, the Lap 2 crash exiting the tri-oval more or less took care of that question for us. Since Danica was eliminated from any real contention because of the wreck, the booth couldn’t blush over her all night like I feared. Instead, there were some shots of the Stewart-Haas Racing team trying to repair Patrick’s No. 10 with a brand new rear end. Once Patrick got back out on track, FOX didn’t really focus on her all that much except to say that she’s out there to get more laps.
The one thing I took away from the race was an unusually high number of commercial breaks that happened to be spaced really close together. It reminded me of watching races about ten years ago on NBC. FOX also promised Side-by-Side commercial breaks once the race got into the final hour. Let’s just say that it is a work in progress. Mike Joy introduced a Side-by-Side commercial on Lap 171 that didn’t even turn out to be a Side-by-Side commercial. Effectively, the FOX production team made Joy look like a doofus. Also, it seemed like most of the Side-by-Side commercials were during the fire delay, to be honest.
Also, Darrell Waltrip appeared to constantly talk up Danica not just on Monday, but all through Speedweeks. It’s as if he just met her a couple of weeks ago, thinks she’s all that plus a bag of chips and a Big Gulp and feels the need for her to like him. C’mon now, Darrell, You’re 65. You don’t need to prove yourself like that. Just be yourself and spare viewers the stupidity.
Post-race coverage was quite brief, naturally. It’s unclear just when the timeslot for Monday night’s race was supposed to end (my best guess is 11 PM EST), but it ended well beyond that. FOX gave viewers interviews with the top-3 finishers (Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Greg Biffle) along with Patrick. The Patrick interview made no sense and was a complete waste of time. They should have just let her go off and debrief with her team. In addition to those interviews, FOX showed the unofficial results before they left for the local news.
However, that was not the end of the night’s coverage. SPEED put together a last-minute bonus post-race edition of NASCAR RaceHub that started at 1:15 AM. Adam Alexander hosted the show, along with Kenny Wallace, Hermie Sadler and newbie Matt Clark. That show featured a 12-minute highlight package for the race, complete with driver interviews taken from FOX’s race telecast and analysis from the three experts. It was an interesting addition to an incredibly bizarre Daytona 500.
There was an exclusive interview with winner Kenseth just for the show after the “Hat Dance” was complete, along with discussion of Jimmie Johnson and Patrick’s nights (not really necessary) before signing off.
Based on what we saw Monday, FOX’s season opener was effectively spoiled by the putrid weather and the perfect storm of quirk; they had to make the best of it. The production crew had to pull a nearly 20-hour day just to cover the 500-mile race on Monday, and that deserves an atta boy. Whoever’s responsible for breaking down all the equipment is likely pulling a 28-hour day because they’re not done until the trucks pull out of the compound to head out to Phoenix. I certainly wouldn’t want to be on that crew right now.
FOX’s coverage, however, remains a work in progress. The Side-by-Side setup is nice, but I think that if they can’t get those breaks for the whole race, they should try to do what ESPN does with their NASCAR NonStop because the current setup doesn’t cut it.
Finally, FOX is likely the most Twitter-friendly of the media partners. During the delay on Sunday, there was a bar on the bottom of the screen showing tweets from NASCAR personalities. They’ve got Matt Yocum taking pictures of random stuff that teams are using with his cell phone and putting it on his Twitter page. Gotta love the interactivity. It was a positive distraction during the extended red flag and is something that should definitely continue in the future.
That’s all for this week, folks. Next up, the 40-week long marathon moves from Florida to Arizona. While the Camping World Truck Series takes a month off, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series teams make the long haul to Phoenix. Here’s your listings (all times are Eastern).
Friday, March 2
Time Telecast Network
1:00 PM – 2:30 PM Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
2:30 – 4:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
4:00 – 5:30 PM Nationwide Series Happy Hour SPEED
5:30 – 7:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
Saturday, March 3
Time Telecast Network
1:00 PM – 2:30 PM Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
2:30 – 4:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
4:00 – 4:30 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
4:30 – 7:00 PM Nationwide Series Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 ESPN2
7:00 – 7:30 PM SPEED Center SPEED
Sunday, March 4
Time Telecast Network
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
12:00 – 12:30 PM SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
12:30 – 2:30 PM NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
2:30 – 3:00 PM FOX Pre-Race FOX
3:00 – 6:00 PM Sprint Cup Series 400 FOX
~6:00 – 7:00 PM NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
7:00 – 8:00 PM SPEED Center SPEED
9:00 – 11:00 PM Wind Tunnel SPEED
I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races from Phoenix for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For this week’s Annex in the Newsletter, I will cover Chasing Daytona: Kenny Wallace as promised.
If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique,
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