The Frontstretch: Logano Is The Whammy While Bad Production Decisions Hurt ESPN by Phil Allaway -- Monday October 22, 2012

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Logano Is The Whammy While Bad Production Decisions Hurt ESPN

Couch Potato Tuesday · Phil Allaway · Monday October 22, 2012

 

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast criticism is our grandmaster plan. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were each at Kansas Speedway for a cavalcade of wrecks, and some racing as well.

However, before we start, there are a couple of motorsports-related news bites that must be mentioned. On Friday, the ARCA Racing Series announced that they have reached a multi-year agreement with Fox Sports Media Group to continue airing a minimum of ten races a year on SPEED and/or Fox Sports 1 through at least 2014 on a live or same day, tape-delay basis. This decision shores up the deal for a series that just a little while ago appeared to be falling off of television as a result of the changeover.

Also announced Friday in the sports car realm was a deal with SPEED to air live coverage of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring and the Petit Le Mans next year. As a result, the four biggest endurance races (the aforementioned two, plus Grand-Am’s Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen) in the United States will all be televised on SPEED next year. The remaining eight races on ALMS’ 2013 schedule will continue to be shown on a combination of ESPN3.com (live) and either ESPN2 or ABC (via highlighted, tape-delayed coverage).

Yes, there were lots of wrecks in Kansas this past weekend. How did ESPN do covering them?

Kansas Lottery 300

On Saturday afternoon, the Nationwide Series held their… well, wreckfest at Kansas Speedway. However, once again, college football reared its head. This time, someone at ESPN thought it would be a good idea to give an SEC conference game between LSU and Texas A&M a three-hour timeslot. Let’s face facts. That game is not finishing in three hours. Ultimately, it took four hours to finish. What did that mean for Saturday’s telecast?

It meant that if you don’t have DirecTV, Dish Network, Digital Cable or something like AT&T U-Verse or Verizon FiOS, you couldn’t see the start of the race. ESPNEWS covered all of NASCAR Countdown and the first 16 laps of the event. I knew that it was going to be a problem when the game was only at halftime an hour before NASCAR Countdown was scheduled to start, so I tweeted this issue to my followers ahead of time.

This delay in coverage — and resulting network changeover — isn’t the first time and probably won’t be the last. Regardless, it is still time for ESPN to consider petitioning to start some of the college football that they’re televising before Noon EDT. If anything, the move would be beneficial to a number of different parties, plus it would cut down on the blatant drunkenness at games. Whatever ESPN chooses, they need to admit to themselves that a 180-minute timeslot does not compute for college football. 210 should be the standard from now on. Granted, if the game was in a 210-minute slot Saturday, all of NASCAR Countdown would have been on ESPNEWS anyway, but the start of the race would have been on ESPN.

Having said all that, what was on ESPNEWS’ edition of NASCAR Countdown? Mainly some pre-race analysis and discussion of the new track surface. There was also a brief focus on some of the “young guns” in the series. Cole Whitt got a little airtime, as did Ryan Blaney (granted, he’s really impressed in the series this year, but he’s a Camping World Truck Series regular). This coverage was good to see. Afterwards, the main storylines came into play. Those were obviously the championship battle and Joey Logano’s Operation Buttkick (Note: I made that up. It is not legitimate).

ESPN’s commentators took what amounted to a no-nonsense approach to the two newcomers to the series, Hal Martin and Nur Ali, this week. In Martin’s case, he apparently had a mechanical issue early that forced him to go behind the wall. ESPN never referenced this problem on-air, but we saw a very slow blur on Lap 27 that I can only assume was Martin’s No. 44. Later, Martin got in a wreck with Scott Lagasse, Jr. that set up the GWC, which Martin got blamed for.

As for Ali, he pretty much got the heat all weekend. However, he never really did much to help himself. Even during the practice coverage, the commentators drew attention to Ali’s inability to maintain decent pace and/or hold his line. The unusual wreck at the end of the session with Erik Darnell resulted in the distressed look on the car during the race.

I know that Rick Ware Racing’s equipment isn’t necessarily the best (also, the team’s Mustangs appear to be stronger than the Impala that Ali had), but Ali just wasn’t up to it most of the weekend. During the race, Ali was a lap down by Lap 10 and was never in the hunt. In addition, ESPN intercepted some unusual radio chatter that made it sound like Ali really didn’t know how to handle himself while being lapped. Dale Jarrett made some pointed comments about how Ali was likely going about his duties inappropriately (I have nothing against analysts giving their opinion). Other reporters stated on Twitter that Ali might need some more experience before having another go.

I was not a fan of the head producer’s decision to switch away from Elliott Sadler’s roof cam on Lap 81 just as Jason Bowles wiped out and hit the wall. ESPN would have had the perfect shot of the incident, but broke away and left me really confused. We ended up seeing this camera angle in replay, moments later but it just wasn’t necessary to have to see it that way.

Another bad producer’s decision was after the checkered flag when the coverage cut to Stenhouse’s crew celebrating, then to the in-car camera that was facing Stenhouse. Just as this switch happened, Stenhouse nearly wiped out as a result of Joey Logano sideswiping him as another retaliation for the earlier incident (previously, he drove very close to Stenhouse’s car on pit road). ESPN ended up having to show this “close call” via replay as well; no reference to the incident was made live. Just not the best day in the truck.

Since the race was already over the end of the timeslot by the time it ended, there was a brief amount of post-race coverage. We were treated to the aforementioned replay of Logano’s retaliation, along with four post-race interviews before ESPN left the air.

ESPN’s telecast on Saturday afternoon was just OK at best. With their current policy of insisting on 180-minute timeslots for football, they did as good a job as possible to even give viewers pre-race coverage at all. Once they got to the race, they were a little too focused on Joey Logano’s attempts to win race No. 9 of the year. Does he really matter in this series right now? No. He’s there to win races, get some big bucks and act as the Whammy to the rest of the field (yes, I’ve been DVR’ing Press Your Luck at 9:30am on weekdays, sue me).

In fact, they might as well put Logano in a red leotard with a Turtles-style yellow covering around his eyes, a matching cape and a hammer and set him off on the field. Now, I understand Logano being angry, but I’m surprised that there wasn’t any substantial reaction to Logano’s message sending. He probably should have gotten a reprimand at least for the near swiping of Stenhouse’s right front fender on pit road.

Aric Almirola came out of nowhere this weekend, leading 69 laps during the race. But with their incessant coverage of the Chase, there were times where you wondered if ESPN even noticed.

Hollywood Casino 400

On Sunday afternoon, the Sprint Cup Series returned to action at Kansas Speedway for the sixth race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. How did ESPN do in broadcasting the nearly 210-minute long epic on Sunday? Let’s find out.

A thankfully unaffected-by-football edition of NASCAR Countdown was nearly completely focused in on the Chasers. I understand why ESPN has chosen to go down that particular road, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the race is being properly previewed. For instance, did anyone on ESPN say anything about Aric Almirola potentially doing much more than bupkis on Sunday? Not that I can remember. When you really look at it, that was a potentially career-ending day for Almirola. It wasn’t his fault, obviously, but not being able to get that car to the finish severely hurt his prospects for 2013.

The main feature of the show was a look into Tony Stewart’s psyche, I guess. Stewart talked about how he basically lives and breathes racing, which should come as a surprise to almost no one. What I found notable here was when he talked about seeing himself as an all-conquering hero on the track (at least at first). Later on, Dale Earnhardt apparently gave him some advice after driver introductions where he stated that [Stewart] had arrived when everyone gave him some sort of reaction. That’s an interesting statement from Stewart and probably explains much of what we’ve seen out of him in his nearly 14 seasons in the series (this comment was represented by footage of past confrontations, dating back to when he threw his booties at the late Kenny Irwin, Jr. at Martinsville in 1999).

In addition to the discussion about the new track surface (supplemented by clips from Saturday’s race) there was yet another edition of “Stick a Fork in ‘Em.” Quite frankly, the novelty on this piece has worn off. It is annoying now and takes away from time in which ESPN could be talking about other stories in the event. On Twitter, I referenced this YouTube video featuring a review of Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition for the Sega Genesis (viewer discretion advised due to a bunch of profanity). The guy doing the review, a user formerly known as “UrinatingTree,” was known for doing reviews in which he completely blasted legitimately bad games. This game was the only one he reviewed that he actually liked. During the piece, he talked about his old shtick getting stale (in between interludes of “The Pwned Song”). That’s my thought about the fork segment. It’s no longer useful. Let it die.

The lack of non-Chaser previewing really hurt ESPN once the race came along since Aric Almirola showed himself to be the class of the field for almost the entire first half of the race. I know he qualified well on Friday, but there was almost no discussion about him all weekend. Then, he drives off to a five-second lead like it’s nothing? Everyone appeared to be caught with their pants down here.

Speaking of Almirola, I think that ESPN’s tight shot strategy does hurt them from time to time. The instance when Almirola hit the wall on Lap 123 is one example of that. Heck, ESPN showed that live, yet no one referenced that anything was up until after Almirola had hit the wall and was chugging away.

I wasn’t really a fan of how ESPN covered the screw-up that saw Kasey Kahne drop from second to sixth during the last caution. No reference to it was made until after the restart, then a lap later, Allen Bestwick explained what was up. ESPN had an in-car camera in Kahne’s car, yet chose not to make use of it. Gotta take advantage of what you have. If you’re going to spend eight figures per weekend, make sure you get your money’s worth.

Post-race coverage was quite brief due to the fact that the race’s 14 cautions took the telecast way past the sign-off time. There were four post-race interviews and a quick check of the point standings before ESPN left to get to SportsCenter.

Generally, this event was another average show from ESPN. While it didn’t have the blatant screw-ups that Saturday’s telecast did, nothing great stood out. I think the booth was more amazed than anything else when it came to the wrecks, to be honest. The Chase overload continues, and it hurts the whole telecast, unfortunately. Focus has to be moved from there to where there is action so that Chasers can get their 79 percent of airtime. I just don’t like that and everyone loses.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series are back in action at Martinsville Speedway.

Friday, October 26

Time Telecast Network
12:30 AM – 2:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of India Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDtv.com^
4:30 -6:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of India Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Practice SPEED
12:00 PM – 1:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
2:00 – 3:30 PM Camping World Truck Series Happy Hour SPEED
3:00 – 3:30 PM NASCAR Now ESPN2
3:30 – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
6:00 – 6:30 PM SPEED Center SPEED
10:00 – 11:00 PM Trackside SPEED

Saturday, October 27
Time Telecast Network
1:30 AM – 2:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of India Free Practice No. 3 SPEEDtv.com^
4:30 – 6:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of India Qualifying SPEED
9:30 – 10:30 AM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 SPEED
10:30 – 11:30 AM Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
1:30 – 2:00 PM NCWTS Setup SPEED
2:00 – 4:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 SPEED
7:00 – 7:30 PM SPEED Center Saturday SPEED
7:30 – 9:30 PM Super DirtCar Series VP Small Engine Fuels 200 SPEED*

Sunday, October 28
Time Telecast Network
5:00 – 7:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of India SPEED
8:30 – 9:30 AM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
10:30 – 11:00 AM SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
11:00 AM – 1:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
1:00 – 2:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN
2:00 – 6:00 PM Sprint Cup Series TUMS Fast Relief 500 ESPN
~6:00 – 6:30 PM NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
7:00 – 8:00 PM SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
9:00 – 10:00 PM Wind Tunnel SPEED
11:00 PM – 12:00 AM NASCAR Now, Post-Race SPEED
11:00 PM – 1:00 PM V8 Supercar Championship Series Armor All Gold Coast 600 SPEED*

*- Tape-Delayed
^- Available via free internet streaming
~- Approximate

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series races from Martinsville for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. For the Critic’s Annex this week, I will be covering ESPN3.com’s coverage of Saturday’s Petit Le Mans from Road Atlanta. Next week’s edition will cover the marquee race for the Super DirtCar Series, the VP Small Engine Fuels 200 from the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse.

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 ones full of rants and vitriol.

Contact Phil Allaway

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T-Bone
10/23/2012 12:16 PM
permalink

The Chase overload continues, and it hurts the whole telecast, unfortunately. Focus has to be moved from where there is action so that Chasers can get their 79 percent of airtime. I just don’t like that and everyone loses. Very well said. Glad I’m not the only one feeling this way.