The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN Fails to Carry Excitement to Cup Telecast by Phil Allaway -- Monday August 27, 2012

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast critiquing is the name of the game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series were all in action back at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Also of note, we’ve breached the 250 critique mark here at Frontstretch (combined between the regular Tuesday critiques and the ones in the Annex). I thank my readers for hanging in there over the past three plus seasons.

Thunder Valley gave fans lots of excitement. Did SPEED or ESPN show it to viewers?

UNOH 200

The Camping World Truck Series held a rare Wednesday night race at Bristol Motor Speedway in conjunction with the Whelen Modifieds. I’ve already covered the UNOH Perfect Storm 150 in last week’s Critic’s Annex. Could SPEED do a little better for the trucks? Let’s find out.

As I mentioned in the closing of last week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday, there was a good sporting chance that you would see Rick Allen striping a parking lot. Sure enough, this happened. Clay Greenfield called in Allen and Phil Parsons to help him stripe and seal a parking lot. I know, this sounds ridiculous, but it happened. This is Greenfield’s day job, for lack of better words. Titan, one of Greenfield’s sponsors, makes the equipment that he uses to stripe lots and that got a fair amount of airtime. Admittedly, the SPEED duo held their own. Good to see someone like Greenfield get airtime.

Another piece saw Ron Hornaday participate in a competition at a local Food City to see who could rack up the most groceries in a short time. If that sounds familiar, it should. It is very similar to the “Big Sweep” on the game show Supermarket Sweep. Granted, Hornaday managed to win, but as Frontstretch’s self-proclaimed game show expert, I doubt Hornaday ever watched the show. Here’s a rule of thumb for a Big Sweep: Don’t ever go to a deli counter when you’re on the clock. Grab the giant hams that cost like $26 each, but that are out in the case where you don’t need assistance. Time is of the essence.

Also, SPEED brought viewers some pre-race interviews for what seems like the first time in weeks. That’s good to see. It should also be noted that the Setup was shortened a little due to the UNOH Perfect Storm 150 running long. Perhaps there could have been more than two had the race ended on time.

Yes, Timothy Peters led every lap, something that I noted hadn’t happened in the series since Ron Hornaday pulled it off at Louisville (on CBS, no less) in 1997. However, watching this telecast, you probably wouldn’t have known that Peters was unassailable. SPEED gave viewers plenty of action for position throughout the race, which is always good to see. The action that we were shown was excellent and it made a race that could have been very boring to watch quite interesting.

Post-race coverage was OK. SPEED brought viewers five post-race interviews and a check of the point standings before leaving the air.

Food City 250

On Friday night, the Nationwide Series returned to Bristol for their 250 lap extravaganza. In the Pit Studio, the grinding was the main topic of discussion, taking up a fair amount of Countdown. The rain also played a pretty big role as well.

The main feature of pre-race was a piece where Dr. Jerry Punch (an experienced college basketball commentator, although I think it was mainly with men’s games) interviewed Pat Summitt about how she first heard about Knoxville’s own Trevor Bayne. Apparently, Summitt and her team were at a donor event during last year’s Daytona 500 and she gathered the people there around the TV to cheer Bayne home.

The piece is designed to bring attention to “We Back Pat,” a foundation designed to benefit Alzheimer’s research. Summitt retired earlier this year after being diagnosed with early-onset dementia. The foundation was on Bayne’s car during the race and Summitt served as the race’s Grand Marshal.

Admittedly, by the time we got to Countdown on Friday, it was already the third time I’d seen the piece that day. It was a nice little piece. I suppose that you don’t live in Eastern Tennessee (and I don’t), then you don’t realize how much power someone like Summitt has there. Bayne talked about Summitt like she was the most important person in all of Tennessee (Heck, she might be the most well-known). Overall, this was nice, but it was played out by the time Countdown came along.

Since the rains that wiped out Sprint Cup qualifying lingered about for so long, it delayed the start of the race. Because of that, ESPN was able to bring viewers ten pre-race interviews, quite a bit more than normal.

Once the race finally got underway, ESPN brought viewers a somewhat typical broadcast. Much of the coverage was situated towards the front of the race, but with some looks back in the pack just outside of the top-10. Of course, since Danica Patrick was having a pretty good run, she got a fair bit of coverage as well.

There were a couple of strange freezing instances during the telecast that I didn’t hear anyone mention anywhere, so I’ll talk about it here. For lack of better words, the screen froze a couple of times during the race on roof-cam replays that were apropos of nothing. This was quickly fixed, though.

We didn’t miss anything during the race like restarts or anything like that, but it appeared that the commentary might have been a little off. The booth was convinced that John Wes Townley blew a tire and went into the wall. I’m thinking he broke a suspension part. It really bit the dust on the apron, but I’m convinced that caused him to crash.

Since the race started late due to rain, there simply wasn’t all that much post-race coverage. ESPN brought viewers three post-race driving interviews and an interview with winning crew chief Adam Stevens before leaving for Baseball Tonight, which kinda bites.

Overall, the Nationwide coverage was kinda forgettable. There was nothing glaringly bad about it, but nothing great either. It was just average at best. Nothing to write home. Which bites for me, of course.

Irwin Tools Night Race

Finally, the infamous Bristol night race was upon us. ESPN chose to put the race on ABC, meaning no RaceBuddy for you. Admittedly, I’ve only been using it for a leader board recently. Haven’t been able to really look at the available views for weeks due to it constantly crashing.

Countdown started a little late since the Little League United States Championship Game ran a full hour long (Whoever heard of 40 runs being scored in a seven-inning game?). Luckily, this didn’t really cut out much from the show.

ESPN brought viewers a good chunk of pre-race analysis from inside of Victory Lane instead of in the Pit Studio (at Bristol, the Pit Studio is located outside of the track up by the Dragstrip.) This was done while driver introductions with their pomp, circumstance and boring statements from drivers went on in the background. I can’t imagine what it would have been like for them to even hear each other with all the noise.

There was a short piece called “Hills and Hollers” that talked about Bristol’s ties to the early origins of NASCAR and rebels racing DeSoto’s on the local roads near the track. I guess that’s pertinent. Remember, bootlegging didn’t exactly die out once NASCAR was formed. I believe Buddy Arrington missed almost all of 1971 because he was stuck in jail after getting caught running moonshine. But, this feature just seemed out of place. I’m sorry.

ESPN’s race coverage was fairly interesting to watch. There was a continued bias towards the front of the field, but they did dip back a ways to show battles deeper in the pack. I think they would have done this more had there been longer green flag runs (the longest run Saturday night was 65 laps between Cautions Nos. 1 and 2). However, when they did take a look back, it was either to pick up battles involving championship contenders (Johnson, Earnhardt Jr., etc.), or something having to do with Danica Patrick.

Compared with radio broadcasts, or even Twitter, I found ESPN’s booth commentators to be quite calm. The whole Kenseth-Stewart mess didn’t exactly sound all that exciting if you were just listening to Bestwick’s play-by-play of it. The whole thing was crazy and they were kinda just going through the motions. I don’t like that.

Another gripe that I had was that certain things were either not conveyed at all when they should have been to the TV audience, or that there was a delayed response. The first example of this was when David Ragan ran in the back of David Stremme and apparently broke an oil line (this was Caution No. 4). This caused a fire on Ragan’s car, then spun him into the inside wall. I recall Twitter exploding about this when it occurred, along with multiple reports of people hitting the wall like we were back at Watkins Glen.

However, the first mention of any of this was five minutes later on ESPN. Basically, they had no clue why Kasey Kahne (who was leading prior to the yellow) lost so much space on pit road. They went back and looked at their available views and saw that Kahne got in the wall. I’m really surprised that it took them that long to notice what happened. Once again, don’t they have spotters that can tell them those things?

Another example was when Kurt Busch and Regan Smith crashed (Caution No. 8). ESPN showed one replay of the crash prior to a commercial break that showed Busch and Smith get together and wreck. Viewers could see that Dave Blaney was real close to the incident, but looked like he could avoid it. Guess not. We didn’t know that Blaney had hit Busch until he blew his engine two cautions later. Replays of Blaney’s expiration showed that his SealWrap Chevrolet had pretty serious damage to the front end, which likely caused the failure. It was only at that point that Bestwick mentioned that Blaney had suffered pretty serious damage in the aforementioned wreck (interestingly enough, Blaney’s not listed as being involved in the wreck on Racing-Reference, either). C’mon, ESPN. You gotta do a better job than that.

With all the yellows in the race, ESPN was right at the end of their timeslot when the race ended. As a result, post-race coverage was fairly brief. ESPN provided viewers with four post-race driver interviews and an interview with the winning crew chief (Darian Grubb). There were also checks of the unofficial results and point standings before ESPN left the air.

I know ESPN definitely seemed to be excited about Saturday night’s race. But, it really didn’t come out in the commentary. It is a shame. Of course, they did get a kick out of Stewart throwing his helmet at Kenseth. Heck, they even broke out the old footage of Dale Jarrett throwing his helmet at Bobby Hillin, Jr. from the 1993 Food City 500 (Note: The throw wasn’t shown live back then, only via replay). I don’t know why it didn’t translate to the rest of the telecast.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, all three major series are back in action at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Meanwhile, Formula One returns from their summer vacation for what is sure to be an epic race at Spa in Belgium. Here’s your listings.

Friday, August 31

Time Telecast Network
4:00am-5:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium Free Practice No. 1^
8:00-9:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
1:00pm-2:30pm Camping World Truck Series Practice SPEED
2:30-4:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
4:30-6:00pm Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
5:45-7:15pm American Le Mans Series Qualifying$
6:00-7:30pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
7:30-8:00pm NCWTS Setup SPEED
8:00-10:30pm Camping World Truck Series Jeff Foxworthy’s Grit Chips 200 SPEED
10:30-11:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
11:00-11:30pm The All-American Victory SPEED

Saturday, September 1

Time Telecast Network
5:00am-6:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium Free Practice No. 3 SPEED
8:00-9:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium Qualifying SPEED
11:30am-1:30pm Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
1:00-4:00pm American Le Mans Series Baltimore Grand Prix Presented by SRT$
2:30-3:30pm Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
3:30-5:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
5:30-6:30pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
6:00-7:00pm Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying NBC Sports Network
6:30-7:00pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN 2
7:00-10:00pm Nationwide Series Great Clips 300 ESPN 2

Sunday, September 2

Time Telecast Network
7:30am-10:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium SPEED
10:00-11:00am NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
12:00pm-2:00pm American Le Mans Series Baltimore Grand Prix Presented by SRT ABC*/
12:30-2:00pm Firestone Indy Lights: Baltimore NBC Sports Network
1:30-3:30pm V8 Supercar Championship Series Sydney Motorsport Park 360 SPEED*/
2:00-5:00pm Izod IndyCar Series Baltimore Grand Prix NBC Sports Network
4:00-4:30pm SPEED Center, NASCAR Edition SPEED
4:30-6:30pm NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
6:30-7:30pm SPEED Center SPEED
6:30-7:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
7:30-11:30pm Sprint Cup Series AdvoCare 500 ESPN
8:00-9:00pm Wind Tunnel SPEED
~11:30pm-12:00am NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED

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

SPEED’s presentation of The All-American Victory is a show about Dan Gurney’s victory in the 1967 Grand Prix of Belgium on the old 9.8 mile Spa circuit in the Eagle-Weslake, a car of his own design. Either this show, or another one called “Chasing Speed,” which goes behind the scenes with Michael Waltrip Racing will be covered for next week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex. For next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday, I will cover the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races from Atlanta.

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.

Contact Phil Allaway

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
Thinkin’ Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
Sprint Cup Series Facilities Can Build Upon Fan Experience by Looking to Their Roots


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Glen H.
08/28/2012 09:19 AM

There were problems with the Irwin Tools race broadcast in the Chicago market. At least 10 times during the latter stages of the race, we were treated to a still frame from a commercial that lasted for several minutes.

It looked like someone, probably at WLS in Chicago, was cueing up a commercial for the next break and let the first frame of the commercial go out to the live feed. As a result, we missed a lot of action during key moments during the race including Tony Stewart’s helmet toss.

Although the race was pretty good, I was flipping channels because I didn’t want to watch some still picture with no audio when I wanted to watch the race.

08/28/2012 02:08 PM

This broadcast had the least good pit road reporting that I have ever witnessed in all the years I’ve been watching!

08/28/2012 05:36 PM

What I found a little disturbing was Dale Jarret’s reactions to guys trying to make a pass. Everytime two drivers would be side by side for more than a lap he would start advocating one dump the other. Once might have been cute as a call out to the “old” Bristol but to constantly harp on it I thought was a little extreme.

Phil Allaway
08/29/2012 12:34 AM

Glen H., I cannot vouch for your issues because I simply did not see them here. Like you said, that appears to be all on WLS. Sorry you had to deal with that.