The Frontstretch: Overhyping and Individual Coverage Mars ESPN at Brickyard by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday July 31, 2012

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Overhyping and Individual Coverage Mars ESPN at Brickyard

Couch Potato Tuesday · Phil Allaway · Tuesday July 31, 2012

 

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, the weekly piece here at Frontstretch where TV coverage is placed front and center. This past weekend, we had “mini-Speedweeks” out in Indianapolis. The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, along with Grand-Am’s two series. Meanwhile, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards raced Friday night at nearby Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis with USAC’s three big divisions (Midgets, Wingless Sprints and Silver Crown) as support.

Messina Wildlife Animal Stopper 200

On Friday night, the ARCA Racing Series returned to Lucas Oil Raceway for the second year in a row. SPEED provided coverage with their usual crew, plus one. Justin Allgaier joined Rick Allen and Phil Parsons in the broadcast booth. However, unlike back at Talladega, Allgaier was in the booth for the whole race.

Pre-race coverage was relatively brief. There was a look back in ARCA history with the 1990s as the focus. That was the time period in which I discovered the series. Past champions Andy Hillenburg, Bobby Bowsher and Tim Steele were touched upon.

The telecast had a number of issues, unfortunately. First off, Allgaier appeared to be way too quiet, especially early in the race. By this criticism, I mean that his volume was too low. I’m not really sure if this was Allgaier speaking too softly, or if his mic was just turned down. Regardless, it was a little off.

Also, if you didn’t like Allgaier in the booth at Talladega, I don’t think he did anything Friday night to win you over. He was just as talkative here. However, only some of what Allgaier was saying was even all that informative. The rest was simplistic-type stuff that most fans probably already knew. In that case, he was likely taking away from the broadcast.

There was also a very large audio problem during the race. A segment and a half of the telecast was aired with audio from an in-car camera despite no actual in-car views. Turned out the audio was coming from Spencer Gallagher’s car. Whoops. That’s someone forgetting to flip a switch in the truck. Day one-type stuff. Not cool.

Also, this issue was basically not mentioned on the broadcast, but there were two No. 88’s in the race. ARCA didn’t score them both as the No. 88, but there were definitely two No. 88’s on track. One was the No. 88 Ford driven by Buster Graham. That one is a regular team. The other was the dominant (until he blew a brake line and wrecked) Toyota driven by Matt Crafton. ARCA scored Crafton’s No. 88 as the No. 18, but we’re talking about ThorSport Racing here. They’ve got more than enough money to change a number. I know this concern has nothing to do with the broadcast, but that’s ridiculous.

Allen and Parsons did a decent job in the booth, but may have been hampered a little bit by Allgaier. It should be noted that Allen jumped the gun in calling out the white flag, which I thought was quite silly.

Post-race coverage was decent. SPEED brought viewers four post-race interviews and a check of the point standings. In addition, there was a replay of a last-lap crash involving Matt Lofton (for the second time in three races) before SPEED left the air.

Overall, this event was not the best effort from SPEED. The technical issues were unfortunate and Allgaier’s inclusion likely hurt the broadcast. Not mentioned was the fact that the team owned by Allgaier’s father was fielding the No. 99 for the Roulo Brothers (which explains why Grant Enfinger was driving it). I’ve got nothing against Allgaier, but he comes off as the kid who has to say anything possible to make himself heard. However, with some training, I think he could eventually be decent in the booth.

Was the Nationwide Series debut at Indy truly all it was hyped to be?

Indiana 250

On Saturday afternoon, ESPN cranked up the historical meter up to at least nine with the introduction of the Nationwide Series to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Yee-haw. Let’s see how it was.

With another full-hour of pre-race coverage, ESPN gave viewers a number of features. The premiere segment involved Danica Patrick doing a one-on-one, sitdown conversation with Katie Couric. Unusual choice. Patrick took Couric for a ride around the 2.5 mile-rectangle and talked about a number of different topics. I don’t think I learned anything from this piece. As a result, it was pure hype.

ESPN replayed their piece about what drivers thought about racing at IMS. See last week’s critique for what I thought about it. I will state this much, though. It didn’t need to air two weeks in a row. Pick one.

Marty Reid’s return to the Nationwide Series did not start off well. Let’s just say that if someone’s commentary makes Deadspin, and you’re not Gus Johnson, it is bad. In the case of Reid, it was very bad. It appeared that he kinda forgot who he was sharing the booth with. on Saturday

Watching that the first time made me think that Reid just plain royally screwed up. Then, upon second thought, it made me think that Reid was completely dependent on a prompter for his standup and the thing failed, forcing him to wing it. That’s not outside of the realm of possibility here. On ESPN’s Dream Job, they used to use random prompt failure as a competition challenge (I’d give you guys a clip to look at, but I couldn’t find one). However, the best on-air personalities would handle this screwup just fine. Reid really did not. Sorry, but that’s the truth.

Race coverage was mainly focused upon the very front of the field. We saw emphasis on individual drivers, even when there was actual racing for position nearby. A good example of this phenomenon was zooming in on Ty Dillon late in the race while there was a battle going on for fourth right behind him between Denny Hamlin and Ty’s older brother, Austin. I know they were doing some kind of a pit report on Ty, but cripes, man. It could have waited a little bit.

Danica Patrick got a lot of hype because of her past experiences at IMS in an IndyCar. Of course, that experience means slightly less than bupkis in a Nationwide race run at speeds 50 mph slower. Patrick basically taking herself out in that wreck with Reed Sorenson probably kept viewers from an additional 60 laps of Patrick bombardment. Also, Sorenson managed to continue after the crash, but then pulled off. No reference was made of Sorenson pulling into the garage until ESPN interviewed him on Lap 70. I almost want to say that the only reason why they interviewed him is that he wrecked with Danica.

Meanwhile, Travis Pastrana once again had a quiet day and finished a career-best 13th. It appears that without ESPN’s constant hyping and weekly features, Pastrana is slowly starting to improve. I still don’t think Pastrana was getting everything out of his No. 99, though. His qualifying lap Saturday was one example. Pastrana nailed Turn 4 and was equal in pace to Kasey Kahne, who won the pole. However, the rest of the lap was nearly a second slower and Pastrana qualified 19th.

Since the race was right up against the end of their timeslot on Saturday, there was limited post-race coverage. There were only two post-race driver interviews, plus an interview with the winning crew chief (Jeremy Bullins) before ESPN left for SportsCenter. No points check was made. Weak.

ESPN hyped up this race as one of the biggest events of the year in NASCAR. Regardless of what Elliott Sadler says on NASCAR RaceHub, that’s simply not the case — and ESPN’s quick off-air departure helped show it. It is a bigger race than normal, but not the biggest race of the year for this series. Also, Brad Keselowski winning this race does not put him on the same level as Jeff Gordon winning the first Brickyard 400 in 1994, not by a long shot. Maybe it is a little bigger than Sebastien Bourdais and Alex Popow winning Friday’s Brickyard Grand Prix, but that’s about it.

Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400

An interview of Jeff Gordon, one-on-one with his former crew chief proved to be one of ESPN’s highlights during their Sunday coverage at Indianapolis.

Finally, we get to Sunday afternoon and the Sprint Cup Series. For ESPN, Indianapolis is naturally a big deal. Outside of the Chase, this is their biggest race. A special one-hour edition of Countdown started everything off.

There were two big one-on-one interviews in the show. The first was an interesting sitdown with Jeff Gordon conducted by, of all people, Ray Evernham. As you likely remember, Evernham was Gordon’s crew chief for his first 220 Cup starts (in those events, Gordon racked up 47 wins, 116 top-5s, 140 top-10s and 30 poles). The discussion here was centered upon Gordon’s struggles thus far in the 2012 season and the art of racing at Indianapolis. Both men drew upon their past experiences here in presenting some detailed analysis. Ultimately, I don’t think I learned all that much, but I liked this segment more for the dynamic in play than anything else.

The other major one-on-one (or in this case, one-on-two) interview was Marty Smith interviewing Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his crew chief, Steve Letarte. The main topic of discussion was the whole change of philosophy for the No. 88 team ever since Letarte took it over at the beginning of the 2011 season. Earnhardt, Jr., now 37, no longer slacks off and shows up five minutes before a practice starts. Nowadays, you can’t get him away from the team. In addition, there was some discussion about the big win at Michigan, a topic that Earnhardt, Jr. is probably starting to get tired of talking about even though it’s only been a month since the big win. Like he said in the piece, Earnhardt, Jr. wants some more. Smith’s a good interviewer, one of the best covering NASCAR so he can get people to open up better. Makes for good television.

Finally, a third feature was based around the Menards. Tom Rinaldi talked to Paul and his father John about their family’s experiences at Indianapolis. Admittedly, this piece was kinda harsh on Paul prior to his move to RCR. However, they really painted John’s team as a bunch of underachievers. They really weren’t. The finishes just never showed what they were capable of. Also, they were dominant for the first few years of the IRL with drivers like Tony Stewart and Greg Ray.

Moving forward, to be frank the race telecast was kinda boring. There was a lot of focus on individual drivers. Not all that much on battles. Then again, there weren’t all that many battles. There was a bunch of green flag racing on Sunday, so if there wasn’t all that much action up front, ESPN should have fallen back a ways and looked around for more stuff to cover. They eventually changed that philosophy, but it was so late in the race that many fans may not have noticed.

I found Dale Jarrett’s quick retort about Kurt Busch’s black flag on Lap 70 to be quite interesting. Shows that maybe Jarrett wasn’t necessarily on board with the rather strange explanation that NASCAR (specifically, Robin Pemberton) gave for Elliott Sadler’s black flag on Saturday. That was a verbal shot directly to Pemberton’s family jewels.

Post-race coverage was substantial since the race ended ahead of schedule. ESPN provided viewers with 11 driver interviews, plus one with the winning crew chief (Chad Knaus). There was also a check of the point standings and live footage of the brick kissing (another thing I find passé and skipable if I were to win there). What can I say? I like to stand out. ESPN then left Indianapolis ten minutes early to get to SportsCenter. I found that kinda pointless since most of SportsCenter was Jonathan Coachman going on about the race we just saw with the underrated Ricky Craven breaking the event down. They could have easily filled the remaining ten minutes before leaving.

Also of note, ESPN only showed Jimmie Johnson crossing over the start-finish line at the end of the race, then zoomed in on the flagstand. A similar technique was used at the end of the Indiana 250. This is something that race productions have done at Indianapolis since the late 1980s. It is annoying if you want to see anyone other than the winner actually finish the dang race.

Am I surprised that ESPN chose this method for the end of the event? Heck no. My complete lack of surprise actually resulted in a mini-argument via Twitter last year with John Daly from The Daly Planet @TheDalyPlanet. To paraphrase that, Daly believed that there was a new philosophy of how to produce races at ESPN and that Indianapolis would show that new philosophy. I countered with the argument above. ESPN has a way that they like to cover events at Indianapolis and it usurps standard protocol. Reasoning for that? Because IMS is IMS. It is just that much bigger than everything else. And because of that, ESPN has a separate set of rules for IMS.

That’s it for this week. Next week brings another full slate of auto racing to our screens. Sprint Cup, ARCA and the Camping World Truck Series will each be at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania this weekend. Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series will make their second trip of the year to Iowa Speedway, while the Izod IndyCar Series will return for another race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Here’s your listings.

Friday, August 3
Time Telecast Network
12:00 PM – 1:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
1:35 – 3:00 PM American Le Mans Series Qualifying ESPN3.com$
3:30 – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED

Saturday, August 4
Time Telecast Network
10:30 AM – 12:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN2
2:30 – 1:00 PM NCWTS Setup SPEED
2:45 – 3:45 PM American Le Mans Series Mid-Ohio Sports Car Challenge ESPN3.com$
1:00 – 3:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Pennsylvania Mountains 125 SPEED
2:00 – 4:00 PM American Le Mans Series Mid-Ohio Sports Car Challenge ABC*
3:00 – 5:00 PM ARCA Racing Series Pennsylvania ARCA 125 SPEED
4:30 – 5:30 PM Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN
7:30 – 8:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
8:00 – 10:30 PM Nationwide Series U.S. Cellular 250 ESPN2

Sunday, August 5
Time Telecast Network
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
9:30 – 10:00 AM SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
12:00 – 1:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN
12:00 – 2:00 PM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Brickyard Sports Car Challenge SPEED*
12:30 – 3:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio ABC
1:00 – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Pennsylvania 400 ESPN
5:30 – 6:00 PM NASCAR Victory Lane by Good Sam Roadside Assistance SPEED
7:00 – 8:00 PM SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
9:00 – 10:30 PM Wind Tunnel SPEED/SPEEDtv.com^

*- Tape Delayed
^- Available via free online streaming
$- Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your programming distributor and/or internet service provider for availability.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races this weekend in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. The Honda Indy 200 has the rather unusual gambit of being an ABC race, but with NBC Sports Network’s on-air and production crew. That should be quite interesting to see how that situation will work. That race will be covered in the August 9 edition of The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter. For this week’s Annex, we’ll have a look back at the craziness known as the Brickyard Grand Prix from Friday afternoon on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course.

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:

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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Joe
07/31/2012 12:49 PM
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The booth team for the cup race was pretty good. The director was lousy as were the camera angles he called for. Do any of the networks employ directors that have actually tried to “watch” an automobile race? I don’t think so.

GinaV24
07/31/2012 03:54 PM
permalink

ESPN doesn’t have a new philosophy, it’s the same one that they have pounded the fans over the head with ever since they came back into the sport and the idiotic chase began.

Quite simply, it’s talk about their point of view and never mind whatever might actually be going on in the race.

Plus they seem to insist that the season begins when ESPN takes over coverage as if it hasn’t been going on since February.

I didn’t mind the booth, but the camera and direction was the usual garbage that we’ve been treated to – lots of in car, side shots, any camera angle but a wide one that would let a person watching actually see the race.