The Frontstretch: SPEED's Action is Tops, While ESPN Needs to Expand Coverage by Phil Allaway -- Monday August 20, 2012

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SPEED's Action is Tops, While ESPN Needs to Expand Coverage

Couch Potato Tuesday · Phil Allaway · Monday August 20, 2012

 

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast criticism is the main topic of discussion. I’m back from a one-week hiatus imposed because I was in Watkins Glen for the Sprint Cup weekend there, representing Frontstretch. While I was there, I had originally planned to gather information in order to completely update/replace the article I wrote back in 2009 that goes behind the scenes of ESPN’s telecasts. The idea was that since technology modernizes at a substantial rate these days, ESPN would have had to modernize their own setup as well. However, ESPN refused to allow me access to the TV Compound, or to interview anyone associated with the network’s NASCAR telecasts.

Its a great shame. Yes, I missed out on being able to do that. I’m not going to lie to you guys. That bites. But, its more than just me not being able to do something that I want to do. Its the idea that me getting denied means that the thousands of you that read these articles miss out on a learning opportunity as well. For that, all I can say is that I’m sorry.

NAPA Auto Parts 200

On Saturday afternoon, the Nationwide Series made their sixth visit to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. ESPN was in tow with their Second Unit (but first in our hearts). How they did do?

Well, Countdown didn’t start off all that well. Shannon Spake hosted the program, and halfway through her opening, all the sound dropped out. Definitely not Spake’s fault, that’s for sure. Ricky Craven had to pop his microphone a couple of times before he went on air as well. Its not exactly good when this happens. I don’t think we missed anything important, but it still isn’t a good way to start off.

Countdown mainly consisted of driver interviews (eight) and pre-race analysis from Craven and Marty Reid. Not a horrible way to go about pre-race.
The actual race telecast once again highlighted the Craven-Reid duo. Reid, despite all of his experience in television, is not necessarily the best fit for NASCAR. I feel like having Craven in the booth can prop him up. This is because Craven seems to be a fairly talkative fellow. Thing is, he’s talkative, but there’s a point to what he says. Craven isn’t one for spouting out random stuff about nothing. Instead, Craven’s very analytical. Even though he’s a former driver, its like having Andy Petree there. For as much anger that I hear pointed towards the broadcast booths in NASCAR these days, almost none of that is directed at Petree.

Outside of the incessant wrecking (especially towards the end of the race), ESPN kept their coverage glued to the top-10 for most of the event. A place like Montreal has plenty of racing for position and that shouldn’t be necessary. As a result, when Sam Hornish, Jr. came back to second after his spin into the tires on Lap 64, we basically didn’t see him again until he was back in the top-10. Seems that ESPN likes it when people come out of nowhere. I don’t.

It was fairly obvious what went wrong with Danica Patrick’s car after she ran over a shoe in Montreal but ESPN didn’t seem to catch on as quickly.

In regards to the shoe incident, I guess ESPN covered that substantially. Doesn’t necessarily mean that they covered it correctly. It seemed to take a while before they were able to correctly figure out what was wrong with Patrick’s car. After they did, I checked Twitter and it appeared that some users had figured out what was wrong ages before ESPN did. Also, I noted that ESPN aired an F-Bomb on Danica Patrick’s radio after she ran over the shoe. As you know, I personally do not care about those types of situations. However, ESPN obviously does care, hence the immediate apology from both Reid and Craven. What I’m wondering here is why ESPN chose not to vet Patrick’s radio chatter and air it later? They’ve done this multiple times in the past. Is it only because they had an in-car camera in Patrick’s car (like in all the other races this year)? If so, it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve left a radio channel for a car with an in-car camera open.

Post-race coverage was relatively short since the race was already over its timeslot by the time the checkers fell. ESPN provided viewers with three post-race interviews, plus an interview with the winning crew chief (Jimmy Elledge). There was also a check of the unofficial results before ESPN left to get to the Little League World Series.

VFW 200

Saturday afternoon brought the Camping World Truck Series back to Michigan International Speedway for an early start to the festivities. Noon was the scheduled start for the Setup. However, due to Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s crash towards the end of Sprint Cup Happy Hour, the Setup started a couple of minutes late.

Following a check of the news and notes, the Setup went straight to the features. As we all know by now, Michael Waltrip loves watermelons. To the point where he is driving me insane. SPEED gave him the chance to sate his desire for the tasty fruit by heading to the Melon 1 farm in Delaware (along with Ross Chastain) to harvest melons. Viewers were basically shown the method (picking from fields, loading onto old re-purposed school buses, then being brought to the facility for tagging and boxing). Of course, Waltrip took some time out to chat up a couple Watermelon Princesses who just so happened to be there. Finally, we finish up with some forklift “racing” with boxes full of watermelons.

In a piece like this, I’d rather just ignore Waltrip. He’s there, and he’s giddy. What else is new? However, this is a piece that basically introduces Chastain to the general public. Remember that just a year ago, Chastain was a complete unknown that debuted at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis with Melon 1 sponsorship (and finished a strong tenth). Chastain comes off as a knowledgable farm kid with a penchant for courtesy (if you remember last year, he called Hermie Sadler “Sir” during an interview). Quite frankly, that’s not anything new.

The SPEED Spotlight was placed on Parker Kligerman, who was making his debut for Red Horse Racing. Here, SPEED followed Kligerman during the practice sessions and got input from Parker and crew chief Chad Kendrick. This was a little more interesting than normal since Kligerman was so new to the team. We were treated to some conversations about driver comfort that are not typical amongst driver-team pairings that have been static for the whole season.

Race coverage was pretty good. The package for the trucks created a completely different type of race for the Truck Series as opposed to Sprint Cup or Nationwide. Drafting was the name of the game, and SPEED was game with their coverage.

The only gripe I had was when Todd Bodine backed into the wall on Lap 51, bringing out the fourth caution of the race. It almost looked like they had no clue why the yellow was out, then jumped up in their seats after the camera switched. I figured that they would have been able to figure out that something was up before that.

Post-race coverage was deficient. SPEED provided viewers with three post-race interviews (Nelson Piquet, Jr., Dakoda Armstrong and Kligerman), along with the winning crew chief (Chris Carrier). There was also a check of the point standings before SPEED reached the end of their timeslot and left the air to get to Mobil 1 The Grid. Jason White, who finished a career-best second, was not interviewed for the broadcast (My guess is that he was in fact interviewed, but they chose not to air it, like what happened last year after the Daytona 500 with David Gilliland). ‘Tis a shame for White.

Aside from the post-race coverage, I definitely enjoyed SPEED’s coverage from Michigan. It made an exciting race just that much better to watch. Having said that, I still believe that they need to at least preview the race during the Setup. They really don’t do it all that much. Yes, the features are nice, but I think some of the stuff could be put on NASCAR RaceHub so that something as simple as a driver interview could make the show.

Pure Michigan 400

On Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series returned to action at Michigan International Speedway. Like back in June, the main topics of discussion were the high speeds and the tires. Luckily, the new compounds decided on at the tire test did not blister at all. However, they may have been too hard since Jimmie Johnson essentially changed his left side tires once for the whole race.

Much of Countdown was dominated by this discussion, along with eight pre-race interviews. However, the centerpiece of the show was a feature on Brad Keselowski where ESPN followed him back to his home track, Auto City Speedway. Keselowski then continued on to talk about his drive to reach the upper levels of racing. He admitted to really wanting his father’s career (reaching the Camping World Truck Series). I think he also talked about his outspokenness, but this was actually cut from the piece that aired. I thought this was interesting. Many fans think that Keselowski was one of those golden children that were born into the sport with everything handed to them. Keselowski was born into racing, but it doesn’t appear that he had much of anything just given to him.

Another brief piece had a number of drivers answering simple rapid-fire questions about random things. For example, some pitched in on the Mark Sanchez-Tim Tebow fake quarterback controversy with the New York Jets, while others talked about mustaches and beards. I got a kick out of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. saying “I like my hair color to come out of a box,” but the rest of the piece didn’t do anything for me.

Probably the most controversial moment of pre-race was when Rusty Wallace called out Jeff Gordon for a perceived lack of focus on the race car. Mind you, Gordon’s former crew chief (Ray Evernham) was right there the whole time. Wallace’s argument makes it sound like Gordon doesn’t care. Of course, with the EFI today, there is a certain amount of data acquisition allowed on the cars. That is probably why Gordon had a laptop in the car. The FanView could be used for a multitude of reasons (including listening in on the opposition). I’m pretty sure Gordon’s not sitting around, twiddling his thumbs and scratching himself during practice sessions. What Wallace perceived as goofing around was actual preparation. I think Wallace might be falling out of touch with the times, unfortunately.

Race coverage was somewhat unremarkable. It was better than what we got in Montreal on Saturday, but it didn’t really stand out at all. There was still a front of the field focus, but it was not as pronounced as it was in Montreal.

I would definitely give a “Trooper” award to the cameramen (one for ESPN and another for the NASCAR Media Group) that were stationed right at the opening in the pit wall. ESPN’s camera got up close and very personal with Martin’s car before it hit the blunt end of the pit wall. Never seen a wreck like that outside of NASCAR Racing 2003 Season for the PC. The crash happened during a national commercial break for ESPN, but I’m unsure as to when it happened during the break. That would determine whether ESPN could have broken out of the break to show the crash.

Another interesting tidbit from the telecast was ESPN using Marty Smith as a Social Media Reporter during the race. He would read some tweets in the Pit Studio and respond to them during one of the cautions. I found that interesting. Now, since I’m technically part of the media, I can’t send in anything like that, but if ESPN plans on continuing that in the future, I would not be opposed. Its the logical extension of the #pitstudio discussion on Twitter. Thing is, something like that could step on ESPN’s Raceview chats, often led by K. Lee Davis.

Post-race coverage was fairly extensive. ESPN provided viewers with seven driver interviews, along with interviews with the winning crew chief (Matt Puccia) and car owner (Jack Roush). There was also a check of the point standings before ESPN left the air.

To be brutally honest, this week’s race telecast was kinda…meh. Nothing really stood out, good or bad, with the exception of Rusty Wallace inserting a foot into his mouth.

That’s all for this week. This upcoming week is a quirky one. All three of NASCAR’s “National” series will be at Bristol Motor Speedway. The Camping World Truck Series will hold their annual Wednesday night race with the sole combination race for the Southern and Northern Modified divisions serving as support. In addition to Nationwide and Sprint Cup being at Bristol, the Izod IndyCar Series will be back in action at Sonoma Raceway. Here’s your listings.

Wednesday, August 22

Time Telecast Network
5:00-6:00pm Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
6:00-7:30pm Whelen Modified Tour UNOH Perfect Storm 150 SPEED
7:30-8:00pm NCWTS Setup SPEED
8:00-10:30pm Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 SPEED

Friday, August 24

Time Telecast Network
10:00am-12:00pm Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
12:00-2:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
2:30-3:30pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
3:30-5:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
5:00-6:30pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN 2
7:00-7:30pm SPEED Center SPEED
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
7:30-10:00pm Nationwide Series Food City 250 ESPN

Saturday, August 25

Time Telecast Network
12:00pm-1:00pm NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
2:00-3:30pm Pirelli World Challenge: NBC Sports Network*
4:30-5:00pm SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
5:00-7:00pm NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
6:00-7:00pm Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying NBC Sports Network
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Countdown ABC
7:30-11:00pm Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race ABC
~11:00-11:30pm NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED

Sunday, August 26

Time Telecast Network
4:00-7:00pm Izod IndyCar Series GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma NBC Sports Network
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
9:00-10:30pm Wind Tunnel SPEED, SPEEDtv.com^

*- Tape Delayed
^- Available via free online streaming

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series telecasts from Bristol for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. On Wednesday, you’ll get to see Rick Allen paint lines in a parking lot during the Setup. That is not a joke. That really happened. Wednesday night’s UNOH Perfect Storm 150 will be covered for this week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex for the Newsletter. The Izod IndyCar Series race at Sonoma Raceway (Note: Why not just revert to Sears Point now since it refers to the actual hill/mountain that the track is built into?) will be covered next week in the Annex.

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

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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Joe
08/21/2012 12:57 PM
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Hey Phil….any thoughts about why after the Nationwide race ESPN chose not to interview Jacques Villeneuve especially after showing he had some kind of problem with Justin Algier? I don’t care to hear from crew chiefs after races. It’s just a sponsor lovefest.

John
08/21/2012 01:30 PM
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I do not watch ESPN pre race. I can not stand Rusty wawa. It is always all about him and what he did.

Phil Allaway
08/21/2012 05:24 PM
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Joe, I can give you a couple of reasons. One is that they were already overtime on the broadcast. Two, Jacques took his sweet time getting back to the pits. Three, who knows, maybe ESPN did interview him, but the telecast had already ended.