The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: Edwards Improves, But Still A Work In Progress by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday April 16, 2013

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where we critique all kinds of different race telecasts. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were at Texas Motor Speedway. Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series made their annual trip to Rockingham for some action on a cheese grater masquerading as a racetrack.

SPEED covered the trucks at Rockingham this weekend.

North Carolina Educational Lottery 200 at the Rock presented by Cheerwine

On Sunday afternoon, the Camping World Truck Series returned to Rockingham Speedway for their second assault on the tricky, high-banked tri-oval. Honestly, the race was quite similar to last year’s. Turner Scott just plain dominated.

The primary feature of the Setup was a piece on Jeb Burton, Turner Scott Motorsports’ newest up-and-coming phenom. Jeb talked about how his father, former Sprint Cup veteran Ward Burton, helped him along in his career. Ward and his wife (Jeb’s mother) Tabitha were also interviewed for the piece. Ward took great pains here to explain that he didn’t simply bankroll Jeb’s racing, but helped him out as much as he could with funding (Ex: the State Water Heaters backing that Jeb had last year was backing that Ward had obtained back around 2007 when he was driving for Morgan-McClure Motorsports, money he maintained even after he retired). Today, Ward gives advice from time to time, but he’s taken a backseat because he feels that Turner Scott Motorsports can give Jeb everything he needs to succeed, and then some. I thought it was a nice feature on Jeb, and probably overdue. This segment was the first time (our Driver Diary with Jeb not withstanding) we really got to learn much about Jeb.

During the race, there was a good amount of racing for position when the field was all bunched up. SPEED did a pretty good job at showing that competition. Once the field spread out (and, interestingly enough, it seems to do so at Rockingham more than any other track in the series), there were still individual battles that SPEED showed viewers as well. I was never left wanting for action. At least, nowhere near as much as I was Saturday night.

Having said that, I do have a gripe or two. I’m not a fan of how SPEED scheduled their AT&T Race Break directly after a commercial. They recapped the race up to that point (Lap 121), then took another break. The result here was that we missed about 15 laps of competition. You could say that this rant is much along the same lines of what I’ve previously said about FOX’s Mid-Race Report back at Fontana. Please don’t take away our action for that. If you’re going to recap what’s happened in the race, please wait for a caution. Heck, it could have been done under the previous yellow, since the race passed the halfway point during it.

SPEED did a good job covering the Ron Hornaday – Darrell Wallace, Jr. incident. They had plenty of replays (including the Match Game-style “definitive answer” replay that showed Hornaday when he dumped Wallace), and got interviews with both of the parties involved. Hornaday admitted that he screwed up, but we’ll have to see what ultimately comes out of it. The penalty on race day was a wrist slap at best.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief due to SPEED running up against their time slot. There was time for four post-race driver interviews, plus an interview with winning crew chief Trent Owens. There was also a check of the point standings while the unofficial results were contained in the scroll.

Generally, I enjoyed Sunday’s truck telecast. There was some excellent racing on Sunday and Joey Logano’s charge from nowhere was quite exciting. I don’t know if I can co-sign Mike Neff’s statement in Monday’s Newsletter where he claims that Rockingham is the perfect racetrack, though. I don’t think he’ll believe that when the place starts having issues with potholes, which would force a repave. I hope all of you enjoyed that, since I doubt Kansas is going to be as exciting to watch.

O’Reilly Auto Parts 300

On Friday night, the Nationwide Series returned to action at Texas Motor Speedway. A battalion of Sprint Cup regulars were sprinkled throughout the field, while rookie Alex Bowman started from the pole.

On NASCAR Countdown, Brad Daugherty and Ray Evernham both had the weekend off. As a result, Rusty Wallace and Ricky Craven joined Nicole Briscoe in the Pit Studio for what I still consider to be way too much analysis. However, if I have to listen to Pit Studio analysis before a Nationwide race, I wouldn’t be opposed to it coming from Craven. I’ve stated here in the past about how I like Craven’s approach to covering the sport. It only benefits the telecast.

There was a brief look at Nationwide Series rookie Nelson Piquet, Jr. Effectively, it was an introduction to Piquet. Honestly, the way it was presented, I thought they were going to look at more drivers than just him. My best guess is that it is the first in a series of quick looks at Nationwide rookies. Granted, I did sit down with Piquet the day before he made his Nationwide debut at Watkins Glen, back in 2010, but I think I would have wanted a little more from this piece.

The primary feature of Countdown was a piece narrated by Marty Smith that concerned the idea of peaking too early in one’s career, and how it might relate to Trevor Bayne, who won the Daytona 500 before even winning a Nationwide race. The connection is made here between Bayne and Shakey Graves, an up-and-coming musician. I’ll admit that I had never heard of Graves prior to the feature. Both Bayne and Graves talk about their ascension in their chosen occupation. I thought that it was a nice segment, although a little disjointed.

Finally, there was a quick montage of drivers talking about what they did during the two-week break. Happenings ranged from sweet vacations to even things as benign as doing your taxes and going to the dentist (Sam Hornish, Jr.). Yes, it seemed tacky, but it wasn’t a bad piece to run.

The primary story on Friday night was the return of Carl Edwards to the broadcast booth. This year, Edwards seemed to be a little more prepared for his work. Despite the fact that ESPN announced Edwards’ participation quite late (Monday afternoon for a Friday night race), Edwards seemed to be more willing to participate this time around. Allen Bestwick and Andy Petree did spend a fair amount of time early in the race gearing their commentary, in order to include Edwards more easily, but he did seem to be more loquacious than last year. Having said that, he did get a little flustered during the fifth caution since so many different things were happening at once (pit stops, the Lucky Dog, Landon Cassill breaking, Robert Richardson, Jr. spinning out, etc.) I’d argue that he just needs to get used to it. Doing three races in a row instead of two races separated by a couple of months will help Edwards get accustomed to the nuances of race commentary. Like driving a race car, being a race telecast analyst is one of those things that takes practice. With time, Edwards should improve in the booth.

During the race itself, there was a limited focus once again. It seemed like a number of people came and went from that limited focus (Ex: Bowman) throughout the race. I just don’t understand the benefit of doing that. ESPN is the sole TV partner for the Nationwide Series, and as a result, they are in the business of helping to promote the competition. Covering the very front of the field and going on and on about Kyle Busch doesn’t really do that. Yes, he owns a team (that’s Parker Kligerman’s No. 77), but he’s a Sprint Cup regular. Kyle Busch’s success technically is at best neutral to the Nationwide Series, and at worst, killing it.

Having said that, ESPN has the means at the track to cover everything more inclusively. Believe me. They shouldn’t be spending seven figures per week to just cover a few people. If they didn’t have the funds to do so, we wouldn’t get such good replays of nearly everything under the sun that goes down during a race (Ex: Dexter Stacey’s wipeout).

Post-race coverage was quite brief due to ESPN already being over the end of their time slot by the time the race ended. As a result, coverage was limited to three quick interviews and a check of the top-10 finishers. The rest of the results were limited to the scroll. No point standings were shown, but it was mentioned that Hornish’s lead was cut from 28 to two.

NRA 500

Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe were expressing their displeasure with NASCAR both before and after the NRA 500.

On Saturday night, the controversy of the last couple of months finally came to a head with the running of the NRA 500. It should be noted that the NRA didn’t pony up the extra money to plaster their name and logos all over the broadcast, so you only heard the name a few times all evening. How did FOX do with their first night race of the year? Let’s take a look.

With all of the recent shenanigans in the Sprint Cup Series, FOX thought that it would be a good idea to take a driver to a Mixed Martial Arts gym for some training. Kevin Harvick, who once stated that there should be more fighting in NASCAR (shown in a clip) was the chosen one, so he went and learned some moves from UFC fighter Johny Hendricks. Hendricks directed Harvick through a series of striking, choking and footwork drills before they both get in the Octagon. While I understand what the piece was supposed to be about, it was really more of a thinly veiled promo for UFC on FOX 7, which airs on Saturday night.

There was not a word about Brad Keselowski’s issues with the rear-end housing, not even when they were talking with Keselowski. The issues with Joey Logano’s car should have been detailed much earlier in the show than they were. Unfortunately, that’s the problem with having a pre-race show that focuses on regular features of the show (not feature features like the aforementioned Harvick piece/blatant ad) and strips the pit reporters of their ability to add anything to that portion of the telecast. That has to change, simple as that.

Personally, I’d like to see Michael Waltrip excised from the broadcast in general because he doesn’t add anything to it (plus, he’s biased since he’s a team owner). Michael would be replaced with a fourth pit reporter. They have a number of people already in the FOX Sports fold (in no particular order: Ray Dunlap, Hermie Sadler, Bob Dillner and Wendy Venturini) that could take over that gig without any problems. I know they don’t want to replace Dick Berggren, but it’s not like Berggren was fired. He retired, as someone that is 70 years old is likely to do. At this point, I’d argue that FOX is hurting their telecast with the status quo. As for Hammond, he should be back in the Hotel (where he spends part of the time, anyway). The roving reporter gig just isn’t working out and takes away from the race itself (Ex: Hammond going on and on from on top of the “Hollywood Hotel” with about 50 laps to go. That didn’t add anything to the broadcast.)

I thought that FOX did a decent job of covering races for position during the first half of the race, when the cautions were positioned fairly close together and the field didn’t get all that spread out. However, once we passed over the halfway point of the race, the coverage started to focus on single cars more and more. I’m not so sure if that was more a lack of racing for position, or a personal choice. Regardless, I wasn’t so much a fan of it.

I’m still not convinced that FOX’s Gyro Cam is fully automated. There were times that there was a delay before the camera tilted to the appropriate angle, leading to a rather disorienting shot for viewers. I’m sure that the camera positions have given some viewers headaches so far this season. However, it’s not so bad on flatter tracks. Before this year, there were four people in charge of manipulating the in-car cameras from BSI (each person is typically assigned two cars). Those people will have a joystick at their disposal that can tilt and pan cameras. I have no reason to believe that a little dial couldn’t control the Gyro Cam.

It remains to be seen if Turner Sports or ESPN will make use of technology during their portions of the Sprint Cup schedule. If it’s technology from BSI, then they would be more than welcome to it, as in-car cameras are considered to be shared resources between the TV partners.

Post-race coverage was somewhat typical by FOX standards. There were four post-race interviews, plus checks of the unofficial results and point standings before FOX left the air.

As I stated above, FOX actually did a fairly decent job covering the action on-track, especially early on in the event. However, as the race continued and the green flag runs got longer and longer, they slipped into the trap of simply showing single cars out on track. Having said that, there were some good field recaps during the event and I was generally up to date on where everyone was.

However, I always constantly state that telecasts can always be improved. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a “perfect telecast,” but I believe that TV partners should always strive to achieve perfection. If that’s as simple as finding more debris on track (Ex: I’m kind of assuming that the first yellow was for either a plastic bag or a tear off, but I’m not quite sure), so be it. For different partners, that might mean something different. It does not mean being a bunch of robots, that’s for sure. Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip do have a fair amount of fun in the broadcast booth, and that’s perfectly fine. That’s natural for them. Commentators are basically storytellers in the booth. The production crew complements that story.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series both travel out to Eastern Kansas to race at Kansas Speedway. Meanwhile, the Izod IndyCar Series and the American Le Mans Series will be racing on the streets of Long Beach, California.

Tuesday, April 16
Time Telecast Network
1:00 AM – 1:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Wednesday, April 17
Time Telecast Network
1:00 AM – 1:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Thursday, April 18
Time Telecast Network
3:00 PM – 4:30 PM Camping World Truck Series Happy Hour SPEED
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Friday, April 19
Time Telecast Network
1:00 AM – 1:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
7:00 – 8:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Bahrain Free Practice No. 2 NBC Sports Network
2:30 – 4:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
4:30 – 6:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
6:00 – 6:30 PM SPEED Center SPEED
~8:00 – 9:30 PM American Le Mans Series Qualifying ESPN3.com$

Saturday, April 20
Time Telecast Network
7:00 AM – 8:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Bahrain Qualifying NBC Sports Network
10:00 – 11:00 AM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 SPEED
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
~11:10 AM – 2:15 PM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge: Road Atlanta SPEED2.com$
12:30 – 1:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
1:30 – 2:00 PM NCWTS Setup SPEED
2:00 – 4:30 PM Camping World Truck Series SFP 250 SPEED
4:30 – 6:00 PM GP2 Series: Bahrain, Race 1 NBC Sports Network*
4:30 – 7:30 PM Rolex Sports Car Series: Road Atlanta SPEED
6:00 – 7:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying NBC Sports Network
~7:15 – 9:45 PM Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series at Long Beach ESPN3.com$
7:30 – 8:00 PM SPEED Center SPEED
8:00 – 9:00 PM Trackside SPEED

Sunday, April 21

Time Telecast Network
7:30 AM – 8:00 AM Formula One Pre-Race NBC Sports Network
8:00 – 10:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Bahrain NBC Sports Network
9:00 – 10:00 AM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
10:00 – 10:30 AM F1 Extra NBC Sports Network
10:00 – 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 – 2:30 PM V8 Supercar Championship Series ITM 400 Auckland SPEED*/
1:00 – 3:00 PM Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series at Long Beach (Highlighted Edition) ABC*/
1:00 – 4:00 PM Sprint Cup Series STP 400 FOX
3:00 – 4:00 PM Firestone Indy Lights: Long Beach NBC Sports Network*
~4:00 – 4:30 PM NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
4:00 – 7:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach NBC Sports Network
7:00 – 8:00 PM SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
8:00 – 8:30 PM Wind Tunnel SPEED

Monday, April 22
Time Telecast Network
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

*- Tape Delayed
~- Approximate Start Time
/- Highlighted
$- Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your internet/programming service provider for availability.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Camping World Truck and Izod IndyCar Series races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. In the Critic’s Annex in the Newsletter on Thursday, I’ll have a look at the V8 Supercars’ Microsoft Office 365 from Symmonds Plains Raceway in Tasmania. For April 25’s Annex, I will cover the Grand Prix of Bahrain on NBC Sports Network.

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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Joe..
04/16/2013 02:26 PM
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“Personally, I’d like to see Michael Waltrip excised from the broadcast in general because he doesn’t add anything to it (plus, he’s biased since he’s a team owner).” That’s for sure Phil.

DoninAjax
04/16/2013 08:00 PM
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Who would you rather have in the booth? Carl or DW?

Bette
04/16/2013 08:37 PM
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Carl for Sure! DW has his favorites and that is all you hear .‘No thank you!

Joe
04/16/2013 11:27 PM
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No real commentary Phil…again. Why do you think that is Phil? Maybe you’re not relavent? Geez. Is EVERYBODY drinking the NASCAR kool aid?

Linda
04/18/2013 08:19 PM
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Well, I agree with Phil. Michael adds nothing to the telecasts. I know Kyle Busch is a great driver but the love affair with him in both series is really old. There’s 41 other drivers they could talk about. Are they just lazy? In Nationwide, talk about the Nationwide drivers. It was nice last year when Kyle couldn’t cut it in his own equipment and we didn’t have to listen all race about him. You’d think after all these years, someone could do decent race coverage for all to enjoy.