The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: Sunspots Detract from Race Broadcasts by Phil Allaway -- Monday October 8, 2012

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Couch Potato Tuesday: Sunspots Detract from Race Broadcasts

Couch Potato Tuesday · Phil Allaway · Monday October 8, 2012


Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast critique is the name of our game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series were both in action at Talladega Superspeedway. High speeds and close quarters were definitely on tap.

Last weekend was the 50th running of the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000. As you probably noticed, we didn’t get it live this year on SPEED, which officially bites. SPEED decided not to put up the money to send a crew down to Bathurst for the race like last year. They even admitted that springing for airfare back to the U.S. in between Bathurst and Surfer’s Paradise was a terrible idea and that if they returned, they’d stay over during the break. Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip (along with Leigh Diffey and Calvin Fish) had a real ball covering both Bathurst and Surfer’s Paradise for the network. Waltrip may have nearly peed himself during his ride along with Jason Bright, but he was smiling from ear to ear the whole time.

However, V8 Supercars Australia stepped up with a free live stream of the race on YouTube for international viewers. I will say that it was pretty dang sweet. However, in Australia, race coverage started at roughly 7 AM local time. The stream didn’t go live until a half-hour before the race started, and due to that, the international viewers missed quite a few features. We did get a chance to see multiple driver interviews and a piece where former driver/team owner turned pit reporter Mark Larkham described all the various safety devices that are on the outgoing current V8 Supercar (there’s a new “Car of the Future” on tap for 2013 that isn’t radically different from what they have now, but there are significant differences).

Once the opening ceremonies ended, it was commercial-free for all 161 laps. Yowza. In all honesty, trying to watch an 620+ mile race without commercials in the middle of the night on a laptop is kinda tiring. Ultimately, this was a very competitive race, with 19 of the 29 starters finishing the race on the lead lap. All but four of the cars finished, but most of those off the lead lap had significant issues.

During the race, there was a fair amount of racing for position shown, but the 3.86 mile circuit proved very difficult to pass on. It didn’t help that someone forgot to clean up some oil-dry laid down before the race, which eliminated a passing zone early on. Like some of the NASCAR coverage here in the United States, the Seven Network does have some issues in actually giving the whole field their proper due. That didn’t really change much here, which bites. It would only be worse if they still had 45-60 cars starting the race instead of 29.

If you’re wondering how they could only start 29 cars here, it is the result of franchising and team licenses that haven’t been created in a decade or so. 28 of the teams are full-timers, while the only part-time team is one that is allowed to race as a result of Shannon’s Supercar Showdown, a made-for-TV reality competition put on by Shannon’s (an Australian car insurance company that is somewhat similar to Hagerty’s) to find a future V8 Supercar driver. The winning driver (18-year old Jesse Dixon) gets to co-drive a car in the race (they finished 20th, three laps down at the finish).

I greatly enjoyed being able to still watch the race live, even though SPEED decided to not send representatives to Bathurst (in the listings below, I have noted when the race will air on SPEED in a tape-delayed, truncated form). Unfortunately, unlike series like the FIA GT1 World Championship, they didn’t post the coverage to YouTube immediately after the race ended in the wee hours of Sunday morning. I guess the full race will be on their official YouTube channel in a couple of weeks, but I’d like the ability to view it on-demand, like how RaceBuddy is supposed to work. Of course, RaceBuddy is another story all together.

SPEED’s coverage of the Fred’s 250 was interrupted by sunspot activity that was out of network control, but still detrimental to fans watching the race.

Fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola

On Saturday afternoon, the Camping World Truck Series returned to Talladega for 250 miles of insanity.

There were two main pieces that aired during the Setup. One was the SPEED Spotlight, another look at race preparations. This time, the spotlight was placed on German Quiroga, a three-time champion of the NASCAR Mexico Series who was making his season-debut in a second Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports. While Quiroga may be a champion, there isn’t anything remotely close to Talladega in Mexico. So, we got to see Quiroga learning the ropes with help from crew chief Rick Ren.

The other feature was based around Turner Motorsports’ drivers Nelson Piquet, Jr., James Buescher and Miguel Paludo, along with Rick Allen and Ray Dunlap, playing a friendly game of paintball. Not against each other, of course. That would be too easy. Instead, the pros came out to play. Let’s just say that it wasn’t pretty. Those guys got their buttocks handed to them. Regardless, it seems like there was fun to be had all along. However, I got to thinking here. Hard to believe this, but I think SPEED is literally running out of drivers to do features with. Never thought I’d say that. It is just that this is something like the third or fourth Turner Motorsports piece this year. I wish ESPN had that problem.

Now, the big story this weekend TV-wise had nothing to actually do with the actual races. We are currently in an eight day stretch of high sunspot activity. These solar phenomena can cause feed issues on broadcasts. This is what happened repeatedly last weekend, wreaking havoc with race broadcasts, not just at Talladega. The Formula One Grand Prix of Japan telecast was knocked off-air for about eight minutes due to this as well.

Now, I cannot vouch for any issues with my feed during the Truck race on Saturday. However, the trouble apparently started right around the time Rick Crawford spun out on Lap 32. Allen made multiple apologies for what he termed a “Solar Outage” that caused the issues. This was repeated multiple times. Unfortunately, we can’t do much about the Sun going through a flatulence cycle.

However, SPEED did miss the restart right after that. The solar outage had nothing to do with that. It was just a screw-up on SPEED’s part. You have to do better than that.

Post-race coverage was a little lacking as compared to normal. Perhaps Parker Kligerman’s interesting post-race celebration took a little too long (although, to be honest, I got a kick out of his claiming of the grass). There were only three driver interviews aired, plus interviews with the winning crew chief (Chad Kendrick) and car owner (Tom DeLoach). There was also a check of the point standings before SPEED left to get to SPEED Center.

Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500

Sunday brought the Sprint Cup Series out to play for 503 miles of action-packed craziness at Talladega.

There were a couple of features that aired as part of Countdown. One was about the ongoing Baby Boom in NASCAR. For those of us that have been watching for most of the past 20 years, the idea of wives or girlfriends getting pregnant was nothing new. I actually hadn’t even noticed that there hadn’t been a bunch of little ones running around for quite a while, to be honest. Regardless, ESPN had quotes from a few drivers about how having young children does and does not affect their mindset. Once again, only Chasers were quoted here. I’m sure there are other drivers that could chime in as well. Wouldn’t someone like Casey Mears be a good person to talk to about this?

Another piece had multiple drivers (again, all Chasers) talking about racing at Talladega. I don’t understand why Chasers are more qualified than anyone else to talk about Talladega, because they’re not. I could describe racing at Talladega just as well as most drivers these days. Your mama could do it too, provided she knows a little about NASCAR. Is it just because they’re more visible this time of year? Were all these pieces being shown shot in Chicago during the Media Day for the Chasers? At this point, that wouldn’t surprise me at all.

With a restrictor-plate race, it is fairly easy to show most of the field, unlike seemingly every other race on the circuit. As a result, ESPN did a decent job in showing most of the field on Sunday. However, most of their storylines were centered around the Chase, so most of the drivers didn’t get much emphasis unless they muscled their way to the front like Jamie McMurray managed to do.

The irritating sunspot outages came back with a vengeance during the race, causing a feed loss that lasted an entire segment on Lap 133. This outage didn’t just affect the race telecast on ESPN, but also knocked ESPN2 off-air (for me, at least) as well. The other non-ESPN channels in my cable system were fine. Now, I understand that this didn’t affect just me, but some lucky ducks were unaffected (I recall a viewer with DirecTV in Denver claiming that he didn’t lose anything). Other viewers took to Twitter and asked ESPN’s Andy Hall what the deuce was going on? OK, I don’t think anyone actually asked it quite like that, but you get the idea. He released a statement on ESPN’s behalf that said simply, “We apologize to NASCAR fans who have been affected by sun outages in various parts of the country while watching ESPN.”

By the time my feed came back, it was roughly six minutes later and ESPN was in a NASCAR NonStop segment. In addition, the caution had just come out. I want to say that Allen Bestwick explained what happened before ESPN went to the NonStop segment and that I didn’t see it because I thought the issues were on my end and not theirs (Translation: I was flipping back and forth, hoping the feed would come back). However, I cannot vouch for that.

With RaceBuddy being active, I could still keep tabs with what was going on in the race, but it is just not the same. You can only see so much, especially since ESPN’s version of RaceBuddy does not have battle cams, my favorite RaceBuddy cameras, available. Thankfully, after this point, I had no feed issues for the rest of the race.

Now, the wreck coverage was decent. The only thing I was worried about was that ESPN may have started to show replays a little too quick. They have a rule that states that they will not show replays until they can confirm the status of all involved. Luckily, everyone turned out to be fine, but I think that ESPN might have jumped the gun just a little.

Post-race coverage was fairly extensive. However, ESPN still failed to fill up their timeslot. They left for SportsCenter ten minutes early, which is pointless since SportsCenter right after a Cup race always starts off with more Sprint Cup coverage. There were ten post-race interviews (most of which were focused on the wreck), along with multiple checks of the all-important point standings.

Aside from the outage that ESPN couldn’t really do anything about, ESPN did an ok job covering the race. Likely the only reason that more drivers got airtime on Sunday is the fact that the natural flow of the race at Talladega would prevent ESPN from ignoring non-Chasers. Having said that, the Chase bias was definitely in play. Kurt Busch definitely got his airtime after his unfortunate outburst. I’m actually wondering what was said after that interview wrapped since there were a lot of media members around him at that time. Sounded like Kurt might have been trying to limit the number of questions.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series teams have a home game. Charlotte Motor Speedway will host the sole night race of the Chase.

Thursday, October 11

Time Telecast Network
2:00pm-3:30pm Nationwide Series Practice ESPN 2
3:30-5:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice ESPN 2
5:30-6:00pm NASCAR Now ESPN 2
6:00-7:00pm Nationwide Series Happy Hour ESPN 2
7:00-8:30pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN 2
9:00-10:30pm Formula One Grand Prix of Korea Free Practice No. 1^

Friday, October 12

Time Telecast Network
1:00am-2:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Korea Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
4:00-5:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN 2
5:00-5:30pm NASCAR Now ESPN 2
5:30-7:00pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour ESPN 2
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
7:30-10:30pm Nationwide Series Dollar General 300 ESPN
10:00-11:00pm Formula One Grand Prix of Korea Free Practice No. 3^

Saturday, October 13

Time Telecast Network
1:00am-2:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Korea Qualifying SPEED
10:00-11:00am NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
1:00pm-3:00pm Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Lime Rock ST Race SPEED*/
4:30-5:00pm SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
5:00-7:00pm NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Countdown ABC
7:30-11:30pm Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 ABC
11:30pm-12:00am NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED

Sunday, October 14

Time Telecast Network
1:30am-4:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Korea SPEED
1:00pm-3:00pm Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Lime Rock GS Race SPEED*/
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
9:00-10:00pm Wind Tunnel SPEED
11:00pm-1:00am V8 Supercars Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 SPEED*/

*- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted
^- Available via free internet streaming

As of now, it does not appear that regional coverage of college football on ABC will intrude upon NASCAR Countdown, or the actual race broadcast from Charlotte on Saturday night since ESPN was nice enough to provide a half-hour buffer between that game and the start of NASCAR Countdown. Regardless, stranger things have happened. Also, remember that since Saturday night’s race is on ABC, RaceBuddy will not be available.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races in Charlotte for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday.

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:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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Andy D
10/09/2012 04:31 AM

I would have enjoyed watching Bathurst but was unaware of the YouTube coverage. Did you mention it here beforehand? Also, you said that it started at 7am but you were watching it live in the middle of the night. How does that work?

I enjoy your columns. I don’t have ESPN so it helps me gauge what kind of coverage they provide.

Bill W
10/09/2012 10:34 AM

While ESPN coverage is not perfect,they are not bias like Speed\Fox. It seem on Fox\Speed ,it all about the #15 and #56 cars. They get all the coverage. I have noticed that when the# 21 car is on the track,he is rarely shown or talked about by Speed.

10/09/2012 11:04 AM

The solar outages over the past few days are NOT caused by sunspots.. they are an annual problem as the sun passes directly behind the satellite being used to relay the broadcast.. every year year for several days, the sun is in just the right position for a few minutes to cause the ground receivers to read the sun instead of the signal from the “bird”.. these dates/times are distributed by the owners of the bird so every user (like ESPN) knows EXACTLY what day & time the outages will occur… FYI, the days are different for the various satellites as they are all separated some distance on the same arc….just trying to stick to facts & not ESPN’s announcers conjecture on the subject…

Michael in SoCal
10/09/2012 12:24 PM

Am I the only one who figured out that ESPN / ABC’s Nascar Non-Stop really just means nearly non-stop commercials?

10/09/2012 12:25 PM

Did anyone notice that the “FOX Sports” logo was over top of the “SPEED” logo? Rumors abound that FOX is shutting down SPEED as we know it at the conclusion of the 2012 racing season and turning it into a regular sports channel with stick-and-ball sports being shown. There will be no more SPEED. No Race Day, no Race Hub, no Victory Lane, no Wind Tunnel, nothing! The new channel will so the Truck Series, but won’t show any pre-race stuff, no practice, and no qualifying. On the positive side, there won’t be any of that dumb garbage reality crap like Dumbest Stuff On Wheels, Pimp my ride, etc. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy all the pre-race programing on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and I usually watch Race Hub. Thanks FOX! Not only are you thumbing your nose at the fans, but adding the Waltrips to every program is also driving the fans away. Darrell is bad enough, but Micheal is so annoying that it hurts to watch with him on.

Oh well, as they say, all good things must come to an end. All I wonder is how much The Brainless One (initials BZF) got paid to screw the fans over.

10/09/2012 12:37 PM

My TV went out when Kurt had his issue. At least it didn’t happen during the last lap.

Thank you CountCulo for the explanation.

10/10/2012 09:54 AM

Andy, it started at 7am in Australia. Here in America that is the middle of the night.

Andy D
10/10/2012 03:09 PM

Thanks cdakost, I saw the “local time” remark but failed to connect it with the “in Australia” part. Mostly because 7am doesn’t sound like the start time for anything but a foot race.

I re-read it when I became confused, but only saw what I wanted to see.

10/10/2012 11:57 PM

Haha no problem.
I agree with you that 7am is a weird time for a race to start. Maybe it’s to beat the afternoon heat?