The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX's Pre-Race - Not In-Race - Coverage Concern by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday March 12, 2013

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where telecasts are the name of the game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were back in action at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. For Cup, it was the first intermediate race for the new Gen-6 cars.


ESPN and FOX were responsible for keeping the action in focus this week in Las Vegas. See what Phil Allaway thinks of their work in Couch Potato Tuesday.

Sam’s Town 300

Usually, we only have issues with other events cutting into NASCAR Countdown during the college football season in the fall. However, March is another bad time for that due to the various tournaments for basketball. On Saturday, the regular season ACC matchup between North Carolina State and Florida State ran long by 17 minutes. Ordinarily, this infringement would just bite. We’d miss out on whatever feature ESPN had planned and some analysis from the Pit Studio.

However, Saturday’s Countdown was a planned 15-minute show. The Pit Studio (along with Nicole Briscoe and her analyst cohorts) was taking a planned vacation prior to heading to Bristol, Tennessee, so Allen Bestwick was due to host the show from the broadcast booth. Due to the overrunning game from Raleigh, ESPN chose to bump pre-race coverage to ESPNEWS. There, ESPN did four pre-race interviews in what could be considered a basic, bare bones edition. Generally, I liked it. Short but sweet…

The race telecast was middle-of-the-road by ESPN standards. There was still a fairly high focus on the frontrunners during the event. Since Sam Hornish, Jr. led a large amount, he got a lot of airtime. I know that it’s a broken record by now, but I want to see more coverage throughout the field.

I think ESPN is taking the right route in regards to their coverage of Travis Pastrana in the series. Last year, they did all kinds of profiles and features on him, but now they’re playing a wait and see game to watch how he develops as a racer. They’re giving Pastrana coverage during the races, but not an insane amount, as if he’s the only up-and-comer competing. It is a far different approach as compared to how they treated Danica Patrick during her first full season in the Nationwide Series (and how FOX is treating her now as a Sprint Cup rookie, to their own detriment).

During the race, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. showed up and spent 20 or so minutes in the booth. While he was up there, Stenhouse answered some questions on restarts and compared the Nationwide CoT to the new Gen-6 car. Otherwise, he stayed quiet. The booth had to go out of their way to involve Stenhouse in the conversation, which takes away from the race in general. I guess either the driver is introverted or he just didn’t have all that much to say. One thing is for sure: Bestwick, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree won’t have to worry about Stenhouse taking over a broadcast anytime soon, like Justin Allgaier has unintentionally done in the past during ARCA telecasts on SPEED.

The end of the race ran up against the end of the network’s timeslot. As a result, post-race coverage was relatively light. ESPN did five quick interviews, then left the air to get to the Ohio Valley Conference Championship Game (Murray State vs. Belmont in Nashville).

The telecast was OK to watch. However, just being OK is not necessarily good enough. I still want a more inclusive race broadcast. I don’t need to be staring at single cars three seconds ahead of everyone else all the time. That’s when other battles should be highlighted, regardless of whether those drivers are on the lead lap or not. Also, Stenhouse didn’t do much in the booth, but I’m sure Zest (his sponsor for the weekend) was happy to get the random plug when he finished up there.

Kobalt Tools 400

Carl Edwards was a major focus of the FOX pre-race show on Sunday.

On Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series was in action. The topsy-turvy weather resulted in a screwy race in which certain drivers that earned good starting spots, as a result of their performances in 2012 were literally rolling chicanes.

FOX had two short feature pieces during their pre-race show. One saw Michael Waltrip (who still shouldn’t be on the broadcast because he, as a car owner, is hopelessly biased) and Stenhouse take a trip over to the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas to have a good time. First up was a trip on the Big Shot, an amusement park ride where riders are pneumatically shot into the air at 45 mph. Here’s a similar example at the Great Escape in Queensbury, NY. That was all for Michael, but Stenhouse wanted more, specifically SkyJump Las Vegas. This ride is a controlled descent of over 800 feet to the ground. If you’d like to try it out, it costs $109.99, with pictures and/or video extra. They made it sound like bungee jumping (which has been attempted off the tower in the past), but it really wasn’t. Naturally, Michael begged out of that.

The second piece saw Darrell Waltrip sit down and talk to Carl Edwards about Phoenix. This piece was boring. I already knew that Edwards just wanted the losing streak to be over. Also, I don’t need back flip analysis. I don’t give a hoot about that.

Race coverage was not bad, but it still could use some improvements. For example, I’ve previously ranted this season about how FOX needs to do something during the side-by-side segments other than showing the leader. They still did not give us much action during the brief side-by-side segment early in the race. Instead, we got a couple of minutes of Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson (separately), isolated in a shot, with a break to show Clint Bowyer’s unscheduled pit stop. It’s as if Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip continued commenting during the break, and then the footage corresponded to that mystery commentary. I don’t think that’s true, but that’s just what it looked like to me.

FOX (McReynolds in particular) correctly predicted that there would be “comers and goers” in the early part of Sunday’s race. I just don’t think anyone thought Clint Bowyer would fall back as quick as he did. Back in January, Bowyer referred to the Mazda 6’s in the Rolex 24 at Daytona as chicanes. Sunday, Bowyer was the chicane. They literally could not show how fast Bowyer was dropping through the field. All we got were a couple of updates, laps apart showing how Bowyer was in a freefall. However, to be fair, we did get at least one pit update that indicated that Bowyer believed he had a flat. Ultimately, he stopped during the side-by-side commercial on Lap 14, having dropped into the 30s by that point. That almost seems like a record for someone who didn’t wreck or blow an engine at an unrestricted track.

Also early on, FOX used an infrared camera in a couple of instances. They’ve done it a few times in the past. Here, we saw it used on pit road, and with a stationary camera exiting Turn 4 that showed the groove was significantly warmer than the rest of the track. Interesting, but still kind of gimmicky.

FOX’s entire booth took a stand against the No. 11 team’s strategy of leaving Denny Hamlin out on 40-lap tires during the third caution. Yes, Darian Grubb felt the need to gamble there since Hamlin was the last driver on the lead lap (he’d gotten the Lucky Dog on the previous caution), but that was simply not the time to gamble. The chances were way too high that he would get screwed over by a yellow, as encapsulated by Darrell’s reference to short-term gain, but a long-term loss. That’s exactly what happened. Hamlin was lucky to finish where he was before the gamble (15th), thus creating a push. Good analysis here.

Finally, I still don’t understand the constant need to remind viewers every time that someone uses the apron that it isn’t out of bounds. NASCAR laid those double yellow lines at Daytona and Talladega for a reason. They’re not just for the drivers, but for TV viewers as well. We’re not blind. Granted, my readership here does not consist of just casual fans, but how many people watch a Cup race for the first time every week? That’s hard to quantify. ESPN wasn’t like that during their heyday in the 1990s. They did have “Track Facts,” but that was once a race, and it was never the same thing twice. You learned the rest by watching. FOX needs to embrace that.

Post-race coverage was OK. Viewers were treated to four interviews, in addition to checks of the unofficial results and point standings. Also, there was a weird “podium graphic” thing that FOX is doing this year that shows the top-3 finishers. I guess it’s something that they did during the Media Day at Daytona last month, but it’s really stupid and needs to go.

Las Vegas was an interesting race for the new Gen-6 car. I think the long green flag runs didn’t necessarily show off how racy it is, but it won’t necessarily hurt the car’s image. It’s arguable that the drivers are still getting used to the overall feel of the Gen 6, since seemingly everyone was loose. Somehow, only Bobby Labonte well and truly wiped out all day (I’m not going to count Marcos Ambrose’s slide that drew the second yellow on Lap 160). The booth (especially McReynolds) sold the raciness of the Gen-6 car, sometimes to a substantial level. However, we’ve still got a ways to go with it.

That’s it for this week. Next weekend is the first busy one of the racing season. The Sprint Cup and Nationwide cars will be back in action at Bristol for their first short track races. Meanwhile, the American Le Mans Series will hold their first and biggest event, the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. Broadcast coverage for that one has switched networks, providing same-day telecasting for the first time since 2010. Finally, Formula One returns with their first outing on the NBC Sports Network.

TV Listings

Tuesday, March 12
Time Telecast Network
1:00 AM – 1:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Wednesday, March 13
Time Telecast Network
1:00 AM – 1:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Thursday, March 14
Time Telecast Network
2:00 AM – 2:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
2:30 PM – 3:00 PM “The Reveal” SPEEDtv.com^
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM K&N Pro Series West Talking Stick Resort 60 SPEED*
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Friday, March 15
Time Telecast Network
12:00 AM – 12:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
12:00 AM – 1:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Australia Free Practice No. 1 NBC Sports Network*
1:30 PM – 3:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Australia Free Practice No. 3 NBC Sports Network
10:30 AM – 12:00 PM Nationwide Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
12:00 PM – 1:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Nationwide Series Happy Hour SPEED
3:30 PM – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
5:00 PM – 5:30 PM SPEED Center SPEED
7:00 PM – 8:00 PM Trackside SPEED

Saturday, March 16
Time Telecast Network
2:00 AM – 3:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Australia Qualifying NBC Sports Network
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 SPEED
10:30 AM – 12:00 PM American Le Mans Series Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring: The Start SPEED
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
1:00 PM – 7:30 PM 12 Hours of Sebring Continued SPEED
1:30 PM – 2:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
2:00 PM – 4:30 PM Nationwide Series Jeff Foxworthy’s Grit Chips 300 ESPN2
10:30 PM – 1:00 AM 12 Hours of Sebring, the Conclusion SPEED

Sunday, March 17
Time Telecast Network
1:30 AM – 2:00 AM Formula One Pre-Race NBC Sports Network
2:00 AM – ~4:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Australia NBC Sports Network
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
10:00 AM – 10:30 AM SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
10:30 AM – 12:30 PM NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
12:30 PM – 1:00 PM FOX Pre-Race FOX
1:00 PM – 4:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 FOX
~4:30 PM – 5:00 PM NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
7:00 PM – 8:00 PM SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
8:00 PM – 8:30 PM Wind Tunnel SPEED

*- Tape Delayed
^- Available via Free Internet Streaming
~- Approximate Start Time

Note that “The Reveal” refers to the big announcement scheduled for Thursday afternoon at Sebring International Raceway. Here, the new name for the combined Grand-Am/ALMS series for 2014 will be announced for the first time.

I will have full critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races from Bristol in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. This week’s edition of the Annex, in our Frontstretch Newsletter will dive deep into DVR theater for NASCAR Now. Have the overnights benefited the show? We’ll find out.

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:

FOX
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.

Contact Phil Allaway

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James N
03/12/2013 06:21 AM
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It’s a small detail, but I wanted to let you know that the NC State-Florida State game was in Tallahassee, FL, not Raleigh as mentioned here (I know, I’m an NC State fan who had to endure their loss instead of the pre-race show).

So far this season, I’ve been happier with ESPN than FOX. Probably because of better Nationwide Series racing and Allen Bestwick being in the booth. I wish FOX would return to the way they were when I first saw them in ’01, but times have changed and I don’t see FOX changing their formula anytime soon.

Ann
03/12/2013 10:37 AM
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I shut the whole thing off when DW and Mikey took a stand and said Hamlin was wrong in what he said and that Nascar was 100% correct. What a couple of tools.

awww shucks
03/12/2013 11:12 AM
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agree with James, i’ll take ESPN any day over most of the FOX “talent” – ICK!!!!

jerseygirl
03/12/2013 11:23 AM
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I did Ann one better. I never even turned the race on until it was nearly the end. I knew that all of the paid shills for NASCAR would get up and thump their chests about how wonderful NASCAR is and how wrong Denny was for making his comment.

Since I happen to stand with Hamlin on this issue, I wasn’t going to waste electricity on listening to Kenny, DW or any other talking heads on Sunday.

NASCAR, Fox and ESPN have done a pretty darn fine job of making me a casual fan. You know, one who only watches the last 10 laps of the race? If this is what they wanted, instead of an engaged and interested fan base, they’ve been completely successful.

Old Fan Bill
03/12/2013 11:28 AM
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You are right about M.Waltrip not being in the booth. DW controls the booth and Mike Joy and Larry Mc are his puppets. Joy must get bonus money every time he uses Bower,Truex or Martins name.

Greg
03/12/2013 11:48 AM
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Words cannot express my total contempt for Larry Mac. What an arrogant SOB.

banzaibonnie
03/12/2013 01:57 PM
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At least fox doesn’t show their “news” at 1AM like espn’s “nascar now”. Regardless ,of liking or disliking dw, he knows the sport. And why is Mikie in the booth different than rusty and the “big guy” on espn who both own team’s ??

Phil Allaway
03/12/2013 04:17 PM
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It gets worse in regards to NASCAR Now, banzaibonnie. I tried to watch the show last night and I’m confident that it never aired. NBA Tonight ran until 1:30am, then they went into regularly scheduled programming. Weak.

Zetona
03/12/2013 06:48 PM
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Regardless of what lunacy Larry and the Waltrips spouted this week, the problem with this week’s coverage was again how much racing they showed. I read a stat yesterday claiming there were 2,300 green-flag passes in this year’s race, as opposed to 1,300 in 2012. Certainly, you could see hints of this—the leaders would occasionally run into big clusters of 8-10 cars even deep into green-flag runs—but FOX rarely focused on these packs, not that any network ever does. During long green-flag runs, FOX spent much more time building narratives for the lead cars than trying to pick out racing further back in the pack.

It’s definitely important to keep the viewers informed on the competitive cars, but instead of just showing tight shots of the car in question logging laps, why not split the screen and show good racing elsewhere on the track at the same time? It would make long runs more interesting to watch, and it’s not like they’d miss anything by not taking the full screen to show a single car in isolation. All the TV networks have this problem, and if they really want to show how much racing the Gen-6 car is producing, they’d do well to fix it.

Bad Wolf
03/12/2013 09:08 PM
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Zetona, They need the close up shots of the cars so it can be counted as advertising. If they showed a wider view with more cars the sponsor logos of the teams that paid money to Fox could not be seen clearly, meaning less money for Fox.