The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: Rating The Top 3 Active NASCAR TV Analysts by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday April 2, 2013

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Hello, race fans. Hope you enjoyed Easter Weekend. For me, it was relatively boring. Ended up spending much of my Easter watching Indianapolis 500s from the 1990s on YouTube.

Well, this week in Couch Potato Tuesday, you won’t be bored here; we’re going to broach new ground. Most of the hundreds of critiques that I’ve written for Frontstretch involve me watching race telecasts and breaking them down, piece by piece. Even though I am not wholly negative in my critiques of broadcasts, I have definitely earned a reputation from some as a “Negative Nancy.”

As a result, we’re going to take some time today to take a look at the analysts we see on NASCAR broadcasts from week to week. I’m going to list my three personal favorite analysts, in alphabetical order and explain why they’re so positive for the sport. Afterwards, we’ll take a look at the season opener for the K&N Pro Series East from Bristol Motor Speedway.

Ricky Craven
Of my three selections, Craven appears the least on television. Currently, he appears as a studio analyst on NASCAR Now from time to time, often when Mike Massaro hosts. He has only made one appearance thus far in 2013 on-air at the track, that being in Fontana.

I suppose that much of the reasoning why I like Craven as an analyst is centered around the fact that I’m a very cerebral, factual type of person. While I’m not opposed to people having fun on the job, I tend to prefer analysts that give information to viewers in a way that’s easy to understand, where it doesn’t come off like they’re talking down to them. I feel that Craven fits the bill.

Craven appears to be an easygoing influence at ESPN. He knows what he’s talking about, and explains topics in a fairly simple matter. It’s a simple get in, get out technique; not very flashy, but it gets the job done. Knowing some analysts that have had the tendency to talk over their peers and/or play-by-play commentators (both Waltrips, Justin Allgaier, etc.), it is a welcomed change.

Which analysts do the best job of talking about the racing taking place? Phil Allaway lists his top choices.

I’ve written in the past about how I feel that ESPN under-utilizes Craven. It’s a shame, because having an all-business influence in the booth can help a telecast substantially. Unfortunately, the cupboard is full at ESPN; Craven is effectively the sixth analyst for the network. There are too many people in front of him in line. He’s the newest hire, brought in when Ray Evernham left to work for Rick Hendrick (he later returned).

I believe that if Craven were to become a free agent analyst, one of the other networks would pick him up right quick, especially if ESPN does not return to the NASCAR package after 2014. It would be a great move if the possibility ever came.

Andy Petree
If there is one thing that Craven lacks in his analyst’s role with ESPN, it is connections. Petree has them, and then some. Despite having not been involved with the Cup Series on a regular basis, since 2004 Petree has connections all through the garage area. It is those people that drive his primary strength as an analyst. If you ever see Petree in the garage at a Cup race, his “work” sure doesn’t look much like work. His work looks a lot more like hanging out with buddies, cracking wise and just plain having a great time.

However, there is more to that than meets the eye. While hanging out in the garage, Petree is gaining mounds of information to use in ESPN’s broadcasts. As the technical expert in the broadcast booth, Petree takes that knowledge that he gathers on his own, along with information that the pit reporters gather for their own beats (the pit reporters all share what they gather with each other, and with the booth during production meetings), then weaves that information into his commentary. Like Craven, Petree is not the most bombastic person out there. But, I don’t need him to be bombastic. I need him to give me quality analysis – and he succeeds, time and again.

Kyle Petty
Petty is the most “out there” of the three analysts on my list. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his on-air style. I thought that he was just angry about slowly getting pushed out of the No. 45 (which he was still driving when he joined TNT for their Summer Series) and wanted to show people that he could still contribute to NASCAR, in a way. However, that persona has continued, year after year, even after an admission that he no longer had any desire to drive anymore.

Petty’s role as an analyst is one of the no-nonsense, this is what is going on type. To me, that is very refreshing. It makes for a nice change of pace after 15 weeks of Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. If Petty sees something that he doesn’t like, he’ll call out whomever on it. That is a rarity in NASCAR. Many on-air personalities rarely take NASCAR to task on anything, as if they are the end-all.

On the flip side, being completely unafraid to offend people probably hurts Petty from time to time. I’m pretty sure that by this point, certain people are not as willing to help him out with exclusive information as they are with others. I doubt that Petty cares much, but it probably does hurt him.

Having driven in the Sprint Cup Series relatively recently also helps Petty’s case, even if he thinks of his experience as if it were the 1950s. Of course, having Petty as an in-car reporter maybe is not the best idea.

On SPEED, Petty lets his hair down to a degree. In the past, he did so with other “episode like” shows, NASCAR Smarts and various pieces with Rutledge Wood. Nowadays, he does a lot more work on SPEED’s NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco during the majority of the season, but curtails his participation during TNT’s Summer Series. Just because he relaxes a little bit on SPEED doesn’t necessarily mean that he isn’t opinionated, though.

DRIVE4COPD 125

Last Thursday, SPEED aired the season opener for the K&N Pro Series East at Bristol Motor Speedway. The race actually ran immediately after the Nationwide Series’ Jeff Foxworthy’s Grit Chips 300 on March 16th.

As is the norm for K&N Pro Series East telecasts, Rick Allen and Phil Parsons provided the commentary, while Derek Pernesiglio was the eyes and ears in the pits. Prior to the race, Pernesiglio interviewed pole-sitter Michael McGuire.

The race was a bit of a wreckfest. There were never more than 21 laps run under green between cautions. As a result, it was a little hard to show much racing for position. There was never any racing for the lead. The only lead change came when Enrique Contreras, III ran over McGuire under caution, allowing Dylan Kwasniewski to make the pass for the win.

Allen made a reference to the marketing expertise behind the rise of 15-year-old Gray Gaulding over the past couple of years. For Gaulding, he is at the same age now that Joey Logano was when he was considered the next big thing. Logano, at 15, was full-time in the USAR Hooters ProCup Series and being touted by no less than Mark Martin as someone to look for. However, prior to age 15, not a lot of race fans knew much about Logano. With Gaulding, we’ve seen him on TV as far back as age 12. SPEED and ESPN have played a role in pumping up Gaulding’s career to the point that he is now considered by some to be overrated. For someone that’s 15 and looks 12-ish, I’m not exactly sure if you can be overrated, but few drivers have ever gotten as much coverage as early as Gaulding has.

The tape-delayed nature of the race led to a number of incidents having absolutely no replays. The wreck would happen, Allen and Parsons would talk about it briefly, then cut to commercial. Coming back, the restart would occur, and the incident wouldn’t be mentioned afterwards. This bites. After the race, McGuire referenced being involved in the crash that took out Joe Gibbs Racing development driver Sam Hunt. We never even knew that McGuire was in the vicinity until he outed himself as having tapped Hunt. That shouldn’t happen. I know that SPEED aired the race as part of a 60-minute time slot. It can be difficult to cover everything in that time period, but I think SPEED should strongly consider having 90-minute time slots for K&N Pro Series races in the future, knowing that these events air on Thursday afternoons as quasi-filler. Of course, with the upcoming rebranding to FOX Sports 1 in August, who knows what’s going to happen. I wouldn’t be surprised if these races ended up moving to a rebranded Fuel, or even directly to YouTube.

For the lack of time available, there was a fair amount of post-race coverage. SPEED provided viewers with three post-race interviews (winner Kwasniewski, second-place Brett Moffitt and the aforementioned McGuire interview), along with checks of the unofficial results and point standings.

I suppose that I should be happy to get coverage of just about every race in the K&N Pro Series. However, I’m a perfectionist. I want every series to get the coverage that I feel they deserve. SPEED’s editing of the race left me a little uninformed at times; if that’s the case, I could only imagine what someone tuning into this type of racing for the first time must feel. Having said that, SPEED has done much worse with their coverage. A past telecast from Bowman-Gray Stadium, for example, aired segments of the race out of order. I have no clue how you mess that up, but believe me, it happened.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, we have a full slate of racing on our hands (Yay)!. The Sprint Cup Series will be back in action at Martinsville Speedway, with the Camping World Truck Series serving as primary support (and it’s about time they have their second race of the year). Meanwhile, the IZOD IndyCar Series will make their annual visit to Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama with the Rolex Series and CTSCC as support. Here are your listings:

Tuesday, April 2

Time Telecast Network
2:30 AM – 3:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Wednesday, April 3

Time Telecast Network
2:00 AM – 2:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Thursday, April 4

Time Telecast Network
2:30 AM – 3:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2

Friday, April 5

Time Telecast Network
1:00 AM – 1:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
7:00 – 8:00 AM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED*
10:30 AM – 12:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Happy Hour SPEED
12:00 – 1:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
8:00 – 9:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED*
9:30 – 10:00 PM SPEED Center SPEED

Saturday, April 6

Time Telecast Network
1:00 PM – 1:30 PM NCWTS Setup SPEED
1:30 – 4:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 SPEED
4:00 – ~7:00 PM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge: Barber Park SPEED2.com$
5:00 – 6:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying NBC Sports Network*
11:30 PM – 12:30 AM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED*

Sunday, April 7

Time Telecast Network
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
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 – 1:00 PM FOX Pre-Race FOX
12:30 – 2:00 PM Pirelli World Challenge: St. Petersburg NBC Sports Network*
1:00 – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series STP Gas Booster 500 FOX
2:00 – 3:00 PM Firestone Indy Lights Firestone Legacy Indy Lights 100 NBC Sports Network
3:00 – 6:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Honda Grand Prix of Alabama NBC Sports Network
~5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
5:30 – 8:00 PM Rolex Sports Car Series Porsche 250 SPEED*/
8:00 – 9:00 PM SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
9:00 – 9:30 PM Wind Tunnel SPEED

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

It should be stated that SPEED is showing live coverage of the Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auction in Palm Beach, FL this weekend. As a result, Sprint Cup Qualifying and Happy Hour will be tape-delayed, while Camping World Truck Series Qualifying and Sprint Cup Practice No. 2 will not be aired at all. Also, take note that the Barrett-Jackson Auction will take precedence over the Thursday night edition of RaceHub. It will only air at 7 AM ET Friday morning. Finally, the Rolex Series race at Barber Motorsports Park is scheduled for a 1:30 PM ET start on Saturday, but won’t air until after the Cup race ends on Sunday. I’m not a fan of Barrett-Jackson programming during the season for this reason. However, I’m sure that the auctions get some viewers.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Camping World Truck and IZOD IndyCar Series races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. In the Annex this week, we have multiple possibilities available. One is the season opening Feature race for the newly rechristened FIA GT Series at Nogaro in France. This race was aired live on SPEED2 yesterday morning at 7:30 (That‘s right, I critiqued a race before I went to work). We can take a long-delayed look at NBC Sports Network’s special on Ryan Hunter-Reay, or at the Clipsal 500 that was originally scheduled to run here before an editor’s discussion changed the plan.

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 ones full of rants and vitriol.

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John Potts
04/02/2013 11:51 AM
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Good choices, Phil. I’ll admit I’ve never been a Ricky Craven fan, and I can’t disagree with you too much on that one because I haven’t paid that much attention to him.

In regard to Petree, his analysis always seems to be dead-on, and he does it in a good way.

Kyle grew on me, much as it seems he grew on you. I know it hurts him from time to time, but I like the fact that he doesn’t cut ANYBODY any slack.

ShirleyG
04/02/2013 12:54 PM
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Thank you for your kind words about Rick Craven. I’d like to see him more frequently, also. I like on-air personalities that ‘know whereof they speak’, like Craven. I really miss Johnny Benson and Ken Schrader, both of whom know the cars from the ground up, and understand all aspects of racing. (Maybe they could replace the Waltrips and Rusty Wallace?)

Wayne T. Morgan
04/02/2013 01:23 PM
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Please if there is a way get Ole’ D.W. his innane brother and corn pone Larry Mac off t.v. Anybody but those three! Ricky Craven and Kyle Petty at least make it a little more interesting.

mike
04/02/2013 02:13 PM
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I wish we could replace that mean-spirited and biased Larry Mac with Ricky Craven!

And I could also do without DW and brother Michael. But they don’t seem to bother me as much as Larry Mac.

Earner
04/02/2013 02:53 PM
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Didn’t like Kyle Petty much when he was driving (yes was a fan then) But as an analyst he is #1 in my book as the most credible (tells it like it plays) he dosn’t drink the koolaid…Keep it up Kyle..Ken Schrader is always good (non koolaid drinker but funny to) ..m waltrip has lost all respect as him & his brother are huge koolaid drinkers & are so blatant about being Toyota biased (& the mwr teams) it’s a disgrace! I’m shocked Toyota lets this go on..& Please retire Goof Ball wallace (koolaid drinker & Toyota as well) & his brother Darrel who over the years (koolaid drinker) has lost all credibility

Earner
04/02/2013 03:00 PM
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Sorry above should read Rusty (just dosn’t seem to get it)…& then Darrel…Further with on losing larry mac & replaced with Petree..Why don’t Fox, Speed,ESPN, et al Have online surveys rating their on air talent (w/live results)& don’t worry if it’s not on twitter micheal w won’t see it

Wayne V
04/03/2013 09:36 AM
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I agree with all the comments posted above so far. I do really like the three you chose and for the reasons you stated. I also have come to the point where I “can’t stand either Waltrip,” pure 100% buffoons! I’d like to see the ratings of how many people watch the FOX broadcast with the volume muted and listening to other audio.I’m sure that number is growing as I know many who do it.As far as Larry Mac and Hammond, probably nice guys, but terrible on air skills, really hard to listen to. It’s time for FOX to change their on air people!

Johnboy60
04/03/2013 11:24 AM
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ANYONE is better than the 3 amigos in the fox booth….I don’t watch much anymore but they are terrible!!