The Frontstretch: Should ESPN Take a Cue from IndyCar Regarding NASCAR Telecasting? by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday April 17, 2012

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Should ESPN Take a Cue from IndyCar Regarding NASCAR Telecasting?

Couch Potato Tuesday · Phil Allaway · Tuesday April 17, 2012


Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where looking at race telecasts is the name of the game. The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series raced at Texas Motor Speedway while the Camping World Truck Series headlined their race weekend in Rockingham (finally).

SPEED covered the return of the Camping World Truck Series at The Rock.

Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200

I’m not sure how this reference will go over with my readers, but here it goes. Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Warner Home Video put out what they called the Golden Jubilee 24 Karat Collection. They were a series of video tapes that contained eight Looney Tunes and/or Merrie Melodies shorts pertaining to a particular character or characters. I have one of Foghorn Leghorn and one of Speedy Gonzales from when I was little. Why am I referencing classic cartoons here, besides the fact that I can? Each tape started out with this bit where Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck were singing, On with the show, this is it! That is how I felt about Sunday’s race in Rockingham.

Sunday’s broadcast from SPEED also brought a couple of changes: one that was OK, the other, not so good. Firstly, since Krista Voda was in Texas for Saturday night’s Cup race, she didn’t make the trip to Rockingham. Danielle Trotta pinch hit for Voda and did a pretty good job. The bad change, or I should say omission was that there was no TruckBuddy available on Sunday. That bites, simple as that, especially since the simplistic TruckBuddy setup is the easiest for users to work with and it is pretty much synced up to the race telecast on SPEED. It’s a feature unlike RaceBuddy for Sprint Cup and/or Nationwide Series races.

Since this appearance was the first one at Rockingham for the Trucks, SPEED decided to take a look back at the history of the 1.017-mile tri-oval. This segment included input from track owner Andy Hillenburg, a couple of locals that cherish the speedway, and from former crew chief and car owner Travis Carter. The interesting thing here was the feeling from fans that when the Cup Series left Rockingham in 2004, it was similar to the old mills shutting down and moving manufacturing overseas.

There was a look back at the 2009 American 200 for the then-ARCA Re/MAX Series and the epic battle for the championship between Justin Lofton and Parker Kligerman. Both drivers participated and talked about the race and their performances. I thought it was pretty good. It is not that often that ARCA races get chronicled anywhere. Heck, even getting a replay of the telecast is not always a given.

There was also a piece where SPEED followed Ty and Austin Dillon on a bird hunt. While I think it is pretty good to have these pieces to get an idea of what the drivers are all about, I think the Dillons are a little overdone by now. We know about their tie-ins with Childress, their hunting, the fact that Austin Dillon has already equaled the number of Cup starts that his dad made (one). Someone else needs that publicity.

Another new wrinkle that made it into Sunday’s telecast was the idea of Tweets in the scroll. This works the same way (more or less) that the Tweets in the little cloud graphic works. A producer scours Twitter for interesting Tweets from drivers, notable personalities in the sport, and types them in. Most of them were centered around the excitement of seeing racing back at Rockingham. Nice touch, and almost seamless in practice. The cloud graphics will likely stay for stuff on RaceHub, but this works for during races.

Heck, when Mike Helton came up to the broadcast booth to chat during the first caution, he was spouting a lot of the same sentiment that people on Twitter were. He was very happy to have the Trucks at Rockingham.

During the race, SPEED brought viewers a pretty good amount of racing for position from throughout the field. In addition, they were able to accurately show just how much the tires gave up on Sunday. The addition of telemetry really goes quite a ways in helping us out here. However, the trucks were a lot slower than I’d figured that they’d be, even with the old pavement. Compared to when Cup was there, their fastest laps on fresh tires were equal to what Cup teams were doing on 50-lap tires. 50 laps into a run, the trucks were doing laps under 130 mph for an average and many drivers were dropping below 100 mph in the turns.

Also, the stomping that Nelson Piquet, Jr. was putting on the field Sunday should be noted. Before the first yellow came out, he had put all but 11 cars a lap down and had a half-lap lead. It has been a long time since anyone legitimately pulled out that kind of lead without help from pit strategy. It reminded me of Joey Logano stomping the field in the first Carolina 500k for ARCA at Rockingham (remember, that was the race with the 50-car starting field).

Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip were generally on par with their commentary. I had no problems with their enthusiasm at all. Waltrip finally cut down on all of the watermelon references that he made back at Martinsville, and good thing too. That stuff was driving me nuts. However, someone at either the National Watermelon Association & Promotion Board or the Florida Watermelon Association (likely the latter) heard Waltrip go on about it since the booth commentators were given a “butt load” of watermelon to enjoy prior to the race (this fact was noted by Allen).

Post-race coverage was average at best. SPEED provided viewers with four post-race driver interviews and an interview with the winning crew chief (Mike Shiplett). There were also checks of the unofficial results and point standings before SPEED left the air.

O’Reilly Auto Parts 300

ESPN analyst Rusty Wallace, seen here with son Steven received a nomination to the NASCAR Hall of Fame this week.

Friday night brought the Nationwide Series back out to play after two weeks off at Texas Motor Speedway. For ESPN, they were on Cloud 9 after it was announced on Wednesday that analyst Rusty Wallace was one of the 25 nominees for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, Wallace did not make the trip to Texas (Dale Jarrett briefly filled in during NASCAR Countdown before having to run to the broadcast booth).

The main feature of Countdown was a piece on Elliott Sadler and his career renaissance over the past year and change. It included input from both Sadler and new crew chief Luke Lambert. This segment was enjoyable to watch since they’re clearly still getting used to each other, yet they work so well together.

Another brief piece was centered upon Denny Hamlin caddying for eventual Masters Champion Bubba Watson during the Par 3 Tournament on Wednesday, April 4. It is obvious that only ESPN could possibly do something like this because they were the only network with cameras at Augusta National at the time. It was the classic, “Oh wow! Denny was there. We’ve got to put something here,” feature. ESPN synergy at its best. I could care less, to be honest.

During the race itself, coverage was very much centered towards the front of the field, without all that much coverage of passing for position. Yes, there were only four cautions on Friday night, so that would have cut down on the amount of potential battles, but if that’s the case, don’t show me the same stuff over and over again. You gotta shake things up. ESPN chose not do an “Up to Speed” until Lap 136. I’m sure they could have done something like that earlier in the race. I don’t know why they chose not to.

Another gripe was that they were not really on the ball with the incidents that ultimately resulted in the first caution coming out on Lap 46 (or so). Kurt Busch hit the wall at some point, and I’m sure Timmy Hill in the Poynt-sponsored No. 41 hit it as well. I want to say that debris from Hill’s car caused that yellow but I’m not sure. I did see Hill’s wall contact on RaceBuddy, but ESPN never replayed it.

A third gripe is that in the rare instance these days that someone actually crashes out of the race, I would prefer that one of the pit reporters goes down and talks to that driver. I don’t care who the deuce it is. Just do it. That is why drivers like Blake Koch can get wrecked by a Cup regular (Kurt Busch, apparently), and it is out of sight, out of mind. To be fair, ESPN did tap into Koch’s radio, but that’s not an interview. That’s eavesdropping. There’s a difference.

Despite the short race, ESPN provided viewers with a relatively short post-race show. There were four post-race driver interviews (and one with the winning crew chief, Mike Kelley), a check of the top-10 finishers outside of the scroll (everyone else just stayed in the scroll) and a point check before they left the air.

I suppose I say this every week, but it bears repeating. Inclusiveness is key to a good broadcast. You see this philosophy with Truck races on SPEED, and to an even higher degree with the Izod IndyCar Series races on the NBC Sports Network. We don’t see it with ESPN. It bites. It hurts the series overall, and it makes your broadcast boring. Please, for the sake of the series, be more inclusive. If there’s good racing on track, show it. I don’t give a hoot what position it is for. Show the action for position as often as you can. When this is in the top-10 or so, ESPN does a good job with it. If not, not so much. At this point, I’m thinking of contacting NASCAR directly and asking them to have an official serve in the Barnhart role for race telecasts (for what that means, see Monday’s Izod IndyCar Series recap from Long Beach.

Samsung Mobile 500

Finally, we come to Saturday night and the Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. The usual crew was back in place for a very windy 500-mile race. Due to those high winds, I’m not really going to harp at FOX for unsteady high camera shots. Can’t do anything about it when the winds are strong enough to rock motor coaches back and forth (or at least that’s what Darrell Waltrip claimed during Pre-Race).

Denny Hamlin’s exploits at Augusta National were well-documented on both FOX and ESPN this weekend.

Much of the FOX talk beforehand was actually centered upon the craziness that happened at the end of the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 two weeks ago in Martinsville. A recap was presented that interspersed the race footage with radio chatter from Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. In addition, audio from interviews with David Reutimann and Bowyer were added in, along with an original interview with winner Ryan Newman. I thought that it was a little over the top, but it was interesting to watch. However, the way it was edited still made it look like they were blaming Reutimann for everything that went down, and that’s just plain not fair.

There was another short piece in which Denny Hamlin talked about his experience at Augusta National. Of course, since it’s FOX, there’s no video here, just still pictures. ESPN has that video on lockdown. There is no sharing of features between most of NASCAR’s media partners (yes, SPEED and FOX share stuff because they‘re part of the same corporation, but not FOX and ESPN).

As many of our readers are well aware by now, Saturday night’s race had some of the longest green flag runs in recent years. When that happens, the field naturally spreads out and it becomes a little bit harder for FOX to give viewers a compelling broadcast. They cannot simply sit back and rely on tried and true fallbacks. They have to actually work at it.

Now, FOX does have a feature where they talk about various drivers that are on the lead lap. It doesn’t have an official name, but they’ll likely have to come up with one soon since the races have seen so much green-flag action so far this year. The other option is to take all the racing for position when you can get it, wherever it is. Early on in Saturday night’s race, FOX took this option, which is always good to see. Since I started critiquing race telecasts, I’ve constantly talked about how much I don’t like it when all we can see are the top guys, especially when there isn’t all that much going on up front.

However, as the race continued on, FOX settled back into their usual “cover the frontrunners” and maybe cover another story every once in awhile gambit. I’m just not a fan of that. The telecast made the race look more boring than it probably was to watch live at the track.

There was a new feature to FOX’s side-by-side commercial break setup that debuted Saturday night. Just before halfway, FOX went to a commercial. Standard fare, I guess. However, the last commercial in that break was a side-by-side for Sprint, advertising something having to do with the Sprint All-Star Race. Technically, this violates FOX’s “last hour of the race” rule for side-by-side breaks, but it is good to see.

Post-race coverage, even though the race was run at record speed, was quite brief because the event ended right up against the end of the timeslot. That fact is interesting in and of itself. FOX provided viewers with four post-race interviews and checks of the unofficial results and point standings before leaving.

I just could not enjoy much of this race telecast, sadly. Maybe the 234-lap green flag run did me in. There just wasn’t anything to see in the last 75 percent of the race. FOX needs to be more inclusive, like ESPN. Simple as that.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series travels to Kansas Speedway for their first visit of the year. They will be joined by the Camping World Truck Series as the Nationwide teams take another week off.

Friday, April 20
Time Telecast Network
3:00 AM – 4:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Bahrain Free Practice No. 1^!
7:00 – 8:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Bahrain Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
12:30 – 1:30 PM K&N Pro Series East Widow Wax 125 presented by SealWrap Repair Tape SPEED*
1:30 – 3:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED *3:00 – 4:30 PM Camping World Truck Series Practice SPEED
4:30 – 6:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
7:00 – 7:30 PM SPEED Center SPEED
8:30 – 10:30 PM Traxxas TORC Series at Charlotte SPEED

Saturday, April 21
Time Telecast Network
4:00 – 5:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Bahrain Free Practice No. 3^!
7:00 – 8:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Bahrain Qualifying SPEED
10:30 – 11:30 AM 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 STP 250 SPEED
7:00 – 7:30 PM SPEED Center SPEED

Sunday, April 22
Time Telecast Network
7:30 AM – 10:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Bahrain SPEED!
9:00 – 10:00 AM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
~10:00 – 10:30 AM SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
10:30 AM – 12:30 PM NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
12:30 – 1:00 PM FOX Pre-Race Delivered by Pizza Hut FOX
1:00 – 4:00 PM Sprint Cup Series STP 400 FOX
~4:00 – 5:00 PM NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
7:00 – 8:00 PM SPEED Center SPEED
8:00 – 9:00 PM Wind Tunnel SPEED

*- Tape Delayed
^- Available via free online streaming

Note that all the proceedings in Bahrain are denoted with an exclamation point (!). This “cautionary measure” is because of the ongoing upheaval in the small country. The Grand Prix itself, as our new Formula One writer Andy Hollis wrote about Friday, is squarely right in the middle of this conflict. As of Sunday, the race is still on.

I will provide guaranteed critiques of the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series races in Kansas here at Frontstretch next week. If the Grand Prix of Bahrain goes off, I’ll critique that here, too. For the Critic’s Annex, I will be covering the American Le Mans Series at Long Beach this week.

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 want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons below. Finally, 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:


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.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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04/17/2012 07:46 AM

“I think the Dillons are a little overdone by now.” Ya think? Just a little overdone? If it’s not in the CWTS one week, then it’s the Nationwide series and vise versa.

You’re right in that the channels need to show more racing for position around the track. That is one of the big draws for going to the races in person as you can keep an eye on the action no matter where it’s happening.

Sherri T
04/17/2012 11:56 AM

You expressed my upset with FOX’s coverage of the last 75 percent of the race! I had already contacted the network and expressed how poorly they seem to cover the actual racing. When they’re showing side by side of Jimmie J going around the track by himself it’s like watching a car commercial next to another commercial. I wish they would get some directors that are actual race fans so they show RACING, not just closeups of cars out of context… Might help the ratings…

04/17/2012 01:01 PM

Who is the GENIUS who scheduled the race for Fox. It was said more then once during race that Smoke sit new record in fall for fastest race at approx 150.mph then in this race Biff goes approx 160 mph and my local channel had 5 minutes from checkerd flag to end of scheduled broadcast.

So are the networks saying NO MORE DEBRIS CAUTIONS or did they just get lucky.

If Smoke or another driver had only tied his fall record the network would have went over at least 20 min.

04/17/2012 01:36 PM

Tired of complaining about FOX lack of racing coverage. I decided to stop watching altogether and listen to the race on MRN.

04/17/2012 02:18 PM

The Dillons over done? Where does that put Danica? At least the Dillons are performing and without the years of experience Danica gets credited with. Danica is a diva, the Dillons are earning their way!

04/17/2012 02:28 PM

amen mrclause !!

04/18/2012 01:59 AM

“I think the Dillons are a little overdone by now.” What a relief to know that I’m not the only one that thinks this. Where does that put Danica? It’s no secret that she’s way overdone, and many in the media, like Kyle Petty, have come out and said it. Nobody will say that about the Dillons because they all kiss Grandpa Dick’s ass a little too much. Everybody except Mr. Phil Allaway, of course.

As far as the Nationwide telecast goes, did anyone notice that Go Canada Racing’s #27 car driven by David Ragan finished 6th place on Friday? I wouldn’t have either, except that one of my colleagues knows crew members from that team, so I’ve gone out of my way to follow them. They were running in the top 10 all race, and finally made mention and showed the car when they went “through the field,” and they were running 10th at the time. Then they interviewed the crew chief Wayne Grubb and he talked about their strategy to save a set of tired if a caution comes out with 15 to go. Well, late caution comes out, they get their tires, and pass a few cars, including Algair at the line to finish 6th. What a great finish by a team that start and parks most of the time, and races when they have money, and runs towards the front when they do.

04/18/2012 11:23 AM

Watching the SPEED broadcast after the Cup race makes Fox’s deficiencies even more glaring. SPEED tends to keep the cameras panned back so you can see what’s happening on the track. Fox continues to show us a tight one or two car shot that frustrates. If I was in the grandstands, would I watch the race through a telescope? I think not.

04/19/2012 06:57 PM

you are all spoiled.when i was a kid we had to wait till speed sport news now its all good.quit griping.