The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: KFC Overload Masks Substandard TNT Coverage by Phil Allaway -- Monday July 2, 2012

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Couch Potato Tuesday: KFC Overload Masks Substandard TNT Coverage

Couch Potato Tuesday · Phil Allaway · Monday July 2, 2012

 

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where overall race telecast critiques are the name of the game. Its been a tough couple of weeks, unfortunately. First, we had the Junior-centric coverage at Michigan, then whatever you guys want to call TNT’s coverage at Sears Point (Note: Yes, I know it is Sonoma Raceway now, but the hill that the track is built into is actually called Sears Point, therefore, I am not in the wrong for calling it Sears Point). Just to add to the stink from Northern California, this fan video captured a couple of instances that were never mentioned on TNT’s broadcast in Turn 2.

This weekend, the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series were all back in action at very hot Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. Could the TV partners deliver a decent telecast?

Tim Brewer and his Craftsman Tech Garage will be missed.

Before we start, ESPN made it official last week that they have dropped the Craftsman Tech Garage from their NASCAR telecasts. As a result, Tim Brewer will no longer be appearing on ESPN. The general opinion of the Tech Garage segments was almost completely dependent on where ESPN was that week. For those races in which there was enough room to put it in the Infield, it was quite informative. They could get stuff like broken air guns or tires which melted For places like Watkins Glen, where the Craftsman Tech Garage was located behind the frontstretch grandstands (and outside of the track gates, technically), not so much. However, one thing is most definitely true. It is the fact that Brewer was very clearly at home in the portable studio. He loved that place. Just look at that huge smile right there. Absolute cheese city. That is the mark of a very happy man. As much as ESPN may have misused the Craftsman Tech Garage over the years, I’ll miss it.

UNOH 225

On Thursday night, the Camping World Truck Series returned from another one of their way-the-deuce-too-long breaks to race at Kentucky Speedway. Compared to the other two races in Sparta, this appeared to be the most competitive of the three…I think.

NCWTS Setup was the usual pre-race show. The primary feature was about eventual race winner James Buescher, his wife Kris, and how they met at a race track as kids. I’ll fully admit that I never knew that Kris ever raced before. Apparently, this meeting came very early in James’ career back when he was running Legends cars. Keep in mind that he’s only 22 now, and he was a rookie in the series three years ago. According to Kris, he was shy as heck and decided to talk about her race car instead of asking about her. Whoops. I guess I don’t blame James. I probably would have done the same thing if I were in his shoes, if I even had the courage to go up and talk to her. The piece continued with a match race between the Bueschers. To win, James had to lap Kris. He failed.

Another piece centered upon Weekend Warriors Productions, the production company owned by Justin Lofton. This is the company whose logo was on the hood of a Nationwide car that Lofton ran in a one-off at Texas in April, 2010 and wrecked. We got to sit in on the making of a special production in celebration of Lofton’s maiden Camping World Truck Series win at Charlotte in May. What followed was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen. The idea was Lofton treating the trophy as if it was a woman. But hey, I’ve got something much better for you than me trying to describe the craziness. The actual short is available for viewing on the homepage at Lofton’s website. It is only two minutes long, but it contains enough weird stuff to last a while.

SPEED’s telecast on Thursday night was easily the best of the weekend, despite the fact that James Buescher drove away from the pack and hid for much of the night. There was plenty of action to be had on track and SPEED did a great job of showing that action to fans. I didn’t feel lost at any time during the telecast.

SPEED also managed to stave off going to a break when Tim George, Jr. crashed exiting Turn 4 on Lap 102. I’d like to think that NASCAR’s other media partners would be able to resist the allure of the commercial break, but I’m not so sure these days.

Post-race coverage was decent. There were six post-race driver interviews and a quick interview with the winning truck owner/father-in-law Steve Turner. There was also a check of the unofficial results and point standings before SPEED left the air.

I was very happy with the telecast. There was just a completely different vibe from the telecast on SPEED as compared to the other two races this past weekend. It appears that there aren’t quite as many corporate sponsors that need to be pleased with the telecasts. As a result, there are less constraints to the coverage. SPEED’s telecast is more along the lines of what everyone would likely do if given the chance. Allen and Parsons were on note all night, while Waltrip was his informative self. I still think he’s addicted to watermelons. I know it is summer and they’re tasty, but it is like Waltrip is to watermelon like Mini-Me is to chocolate (“Its like catnip for clones!”).

Feed the Children 300

Friday night brought ESPN back to the track for their Nationwide Series coverage. For the first time in weeks, ESPN had nearly their full complement of on-air personalities. The Pit Studio returned to action with Nicole Briscoe and Brad Daugherty after multiple weeks away. Of course, the most notable addition to ESPN’s telecast was the return of Carl Edwards to the broadcast booth for his second Nationwide Series telecast.

Countdown started out with some technical issues, unfortunately. Marty Smith was on camera talking about Roush Fenway Racing’s somewhat sudden announcement that Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. would be taking over the No. 17, while Matt Kenseth (who is the only driver who has ever driven the car) will be leaving at the end of the year. By now, you should know that Smith only shows up on a race telecast when something notable happens. That isn’t very often. However, you’d expect that Smith’s microphone would be ready to go regardless. Guess not. We had a nasty reverb effect for the first two minutes of Smith’s time on-air. You gotta have that ready to go at all times.

In recognition of Stenhouse getting the No. 17 for 2013, ESPN aired a piece about Stenhouse’s evolution in the Nationwide Series. I can recall this being aired multiple times in the past, including at least twice last year. Was it pertinent to the Kenseth news? Yes. Do I think that was in the original plan for the weekend? Debatable. Tuesday is conference call day, so this might have broken after the call ended. Makes me think they had plans for something else to go there, but they couldn’t put it together in time.

I don’t believe that Edwards really improved much from Darlington. In fact, he may have regressed a little. Early on, Bestwick would throw Edwards some talking points in an attempt to get him involved. As the race continued on, Edwards seemed to get more comfortable in his role. However, Edwards’ time in the broadcast booth seems to me like they threw him to the wolves. When Justin Allgaier went to the booth during the ARCA race at Talladega, he just went up there almost as a lark, just to see what it was like and maybe help out a little. Dario Franchitti did the same thing during the Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway. No pressure. However, Edwards is an official member of the team, and as a result, is far more important to the telecast.

Do I think that Edwards could eventually adjust to life in the broadcast booth and… not be a nervous wreck? Sure, he can. However, he can’t just show up with all but no training and expect to set the world on-air. He can only do some much training while still racing full-time in Sprint Cup. He would also have to want it, badly. Of course, having said that, when he is comfortable in the booth, Edwards can most definitely help out a telecast.

One thing that Edwards cannot help is a telecast that continues to be very much biased towards the front-running teams. How do I put this best? Remember two weeks ago when I wrote about the Quicken Loans 400 telecast becoming all about Earnhardt Jr.?. Late in the race, ESPN gave Austin Dillon the same treatment, despite the fact that he was running away with the event.

I know that this wasn’t exactly the most competitive race on earth (Dillon won the thing by nearly ten seconds and only eight cars finished on the lead lap), but there was probably some action for position to be had during the race. We just never saw all that much outside of the periods of time immediately after restarts. That’s a shame. Also, with such a low number of cars on the lead lap, it is more than reasonable to give substantial coverage to teams off of the lead lap. I don’t think ESPN really did much of that at all on Friday night.

Since the race once again ended way ahead of schedule, there was a fairly substantial amount of post-race coverage. ESPN brought viewers seven post-race interviews, along with interviews with the winning crew chief (Danny Stockman), owner/grandfather (Richard Childress) and father (Mike Dillon). There were also checks of the point standings and unofficial results before ESPN left the air.

ESPN cannot be so rigid in their coverage. A NASCAR race is fluid. Storylines change. You can’t spend an entire telecast beating down three storylines, ignore everything else and think everything’s going to be OK. At least there’s a plate race this Friday. They’ll be forced to be more inclusive.

Quaker State 400

Finally, we get to the Sprint Cup Series from Kentucky. Since it is Kentucky, Louisville-based Yum! Foods (the dudes that own KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, among others) purchased a significant amount of ad-space on the telecast. You probably noticed it. I know I did. In response to the uproar on the internet following the race (which apparently overshadowed anything that happened in it, sadly), I went back and counted the KFC commercials. There were nine of them. The same ad nine times. It is not that bad of a commercial. However, you see almost anything that many times in a four-hour block of time and it will drive you nuts. Of course, having said that, I swear that Clint Bowyer’s 5-Hour Energy commercial aired the same amount of times.

Countdown to Green featured the usual amount of pre-race analysis on the TNT stage. Kasey Kahne, who apparently thought that he was going to stink it up prior to the race, joined the trio (Alexander, McReynolds and Petty) briefly to talk about his weekend.

The NASCAR Generations piece was focused upon driver superstitions and/or routines. Petty talked about how his father loved to drive with a wet rag in his mouth. This was actually a method he used to counteract carbon monoxide in the car. Ned Jarrett talked about his fixation (for lack of better words) with the No. 11, which continues to this day from his time driving for Holman-Moody. Interesting piece, although Johnson didn’t have much to add, superstition-wise.

Another piece saw Marty Snider accompany Denny Hamlin to Anchorage to participate in a dog sledding competition in what appeared to be the wet parking lot at a FedEx facility. 2012 Iditarod winner Dallas Seavey was also there to give Hamlin pointers. Gotta admit, this was pretty pointless. I feel like Snider wasted his time traveling all the way to Alaska for that.

There was also a look into a pre-race meeting for Kevin Harvick’s team, since they were serving as the Inside Trax team for the night. Ultimately, this feature did not get anywhere near as much use in Kentucky as it did in Sonoma.

The race telecast itself was plagued by commercials just as badly as it was in Sonoma. It is a shame that the three minutes on, three minutes off scenario seems to be standard operating procedure now. It is ticking a lot of people off. Having breaks that close together means that no real flow can develop. This hurts everything in the broadcast from the on-air crew to the production staff.

Having said that, the booth had their moments of Zen. For example, the first caution flew (right after the third commercial break in the first 37 laps) for Scott Riggs slowing on the backstretch. It was a weird circumstance. His car seemed to roll to a halt, then restart and continue on its merry way. Riggs was already 29 laps down by that point, so I doubt he was trying to intentionally draw a caution. The team mentioned “electrical issues” as to why they DNF’d, but since R3 Motorsports has been S&P’ing for much of the season, that could be considered somewhat dubious. I think TNT should have at least followed up a little bit, enough to see whether it was a ruse or not. Instead, we got bupkis.

During that first caution, we got “Inside Trax Enhanced” audio during the first round of stops. This was meant to replicate being there in the pits. Of course, FOX had been doing that off and on during their portion of the season. That only works if you’re at the race. Otherwise, no thanks.

Overall, I just didn’t really like the telecast. I feel like I missed a lot of things, like when Greg Biffle got a flat and lost a lap. I don’t remember seeing that on the telecast at all. That’s kinda big. Weak. Coverage was often limited to the frontrunners and you would see people come out of nowhere at times. Turner Sports, it is your job to tell the stories and show how people move up through the field. I don’t think you did a great job at that.

Post-race coverage was decent since the race ended fairly quickly. Viewers were provided with eight post-race driver interviews, plus an interview with the winning crew chief (Paul Wolfe). There were also checks of the unofficial results and point standings before they left the air.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series return to Daytona International Speedway for their second visit of the year. Its going to be hot and humid, so the likely of an Amy Henderson Special is not all that high. Meanwhile, the Izod IndyCar Series is back in action on the Streets of Toronto.

Thursday, July 5

Time Telecast Network
2:30pm-4:00pm Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
4:00-5:30pm Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
5:30-6:30pm Nationwide Series Happy Hour SPEED
6:30-8:00pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED

Friday, July 6

Time Telecast Network
5:00am-6:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDtv.com^
9:00-10:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
2:00-4:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN 2
3:00-4:30pm? American Le Mans Series Qualifying ESPN3.com$
4:00-6:30pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
7:00-7:30pm SPEED Center SPEED
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
7:30-10:00pm Nationwide Series Subway Jalapeno 250 ESPN

Saturday, July 7

Time Telecast Network
5:00am-6:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain Free Practice No. 3 SPEEDtv.com^
8:00-9:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain Qualifying SPEED
2:45pm-6:00pm American Le Mans Series Lime Rock Grand Prix ESPN3.com$
3:00-4:00pm NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
4:00-6:00pm American Le Mans Series Lime Rock Grand Prix ESPN 2%
4:00-4:30pm SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
4:30-6:30pm NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
6:30-7:30pm Countdown to Green TNT
7:30-11:00pm Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 TNT
~11:00pm-12:00am NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED

Sunday, July 8

Time Telecast Network
11:30am-12:00pm Formula One Pre-Race Show SPEED*
12:00-2:00pm Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain FOX*
12:00-2:00pm Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Road America 200 SPEED*
12:30-3:00pm Izod IndyCar Series Honda Indy Toronto ABC
2:00-2:30pm Formula One Post-Race Show SPEED*
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
9:00-10:30pm Wind Tunnel SPEED, SPEEDtv.com

*- Tape delayed
^- Available via free internet streaming
$- Available via password-protected internet streaming
%- Telecast time-shifted, meaning that they start behind reality, then catch up.

Now, I will be in Daytona this upcoming weekend covering the action at the track for Frontstretch (Note: Watch for updates from the track on our own Twitter page).

For the Critic’s Annex, this week will see me critique the Continental Tire 150 from Watkins Glen International for the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. For the July 12 edition of the Annex, I will write a bit about ABC’s telecast of the Honda Indy Toronto.

Also, remember that Saturday night is TNT’s annual edition of Wide Open Coverage. This means limited commercial interruption (for regular breaks) and more action on-screen. And not a moment too soon. I just wish their advertisers would let them do it more than once a year.

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:

TNT
SPEED
ESPN
NBC Sports Network

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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Andy
07/03/2012 09:44 AM
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Good riddance to the Tech Garage. It should be a separate half-hour show devoted to one or two subjects so that they can go beyond the pre-school explanations of what a car is. It couldn’t be any worse than those reality shows that Speed runs.

Stick & ball sports don’t interrupt the game to explain how to throw a pass or what the catchers mask is for. Let the internet bring the newbies up to speed, I wanna watch a race.

Bob
07/03/2012 10:13 AM
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One good thing about the Cup coverage, no DW!

old farmer
07/03/2012 11:53 AM
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Wrong! The KFC commercial is about as obnoxious as they get.

Who wants to see an old bastard grandpa trying to beat up his smart-alec grandson?

south jersey girl
07/03/2012 12:18 PM
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TNT’s coverage was awful. If I hadn’t been following several Nascar reporters/writers on Twitter, I wouldn’t of know what was going on. After the third “mashed potatos vs mac-n-cheese” commercial, I muted the TV and listened to the PRN radio broadcast. TNT needs to do a better job.

24crazy
07/03/2012 12:55 PM
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Just when you think it can’t get any worse…TNT’s coverage tops them all. Thank god for Direct tv’s hot pass and the internet. NASCAR needs to get a clue as to why no one is watching. Had I not had Direct I would have just turned it off.

GinaV24
07/03/2012 01:32 PM
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All I took away from the race was that I won’t go to KFC any more. I’m not sure that I’m going to bother wasting the electricity to even turn on the races at all. Fox has been terrible, TNT was good for one race but no more, ESPN will have its own agenda and pretend that the season started when they began covering the races and will also probably use the supertight TV cameras. Let’s see, it’s summer and ESPN will have the races during the best weather of the year — I’ll bet I can find something else to do.

I get better coverage via my computer, using trackpass, twitter and the radio feed.

Fed Up
07/03/2012 10:00 PM
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The racing telecasts are getting worse each week. I like when you said “it is your job to tell the stories and show how people move up through the field. I don’t think you did a great job at that.” None of them do that. I use trackpass and mute the tv as well. Race buddy is good until it freezes. I thought TNT did a good job with the first race but since then they’ve gone steadily downhill. I’m starting to think Wally is on valium & Kyle is on speed (the drug not the show) or something. I’m not looking forward to ESPN either.

Dennis
07/03/2012 11:21 PM
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Showing a tight close up shot of a car and following it around the track while they yak about it is NOT showing the racing.

Keep the cameras panned back so I can see the battles and the track.

I don’t need to hear speeches about the cars either. Not from the booth and not from the pit reporters either.

john
07/04/2012 10:39 AM
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Same narrow shots of one car lapping around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around… And to think I used to defend TNT as the one broadcast through the year that was watchable. Between this and KFC? Bleh.

SPEED’s broadcast was great as always though, the rest of the networks should watch them now and then. The battle for 2nd-through-6th was intense over the whole race, and we SAW it all.