The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: Where Are The Drivers? NASCAR Analysis Gone Overboard by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday April 23, 2013

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast critique is the object of discussion here. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series were at Kansas Speedway for some ultra-fast action. Meanwhile, the IZOD IndyCar Series took to the streets of Long Beach.

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

NBC Sports isn’t just all talk during a race broadcast; they do a good job of showing the competition, too.

On Sunday afternoon, the IZOD IndyCar Series returned to action on the 1.968-mile street course in Long Beach, California. How did the NBC Sports Network do with their coverage of one of the series’ crown jewels? Let’s find out.

With NBC Sports Network having multiple racing commitments last weekend, the decision was made to have Leigh Diffey stay in Connecticut in order to do play-by-play commentary for the Grand Prix of Bahrain. With Bob Varsha also busy at Road Atlanta, occupied with Grand-Am racing, the NBC Sports Network tapped Brian Till to replace Diffey for the weekend. Till was already in Long Beach, since he does TV coverage for the American Le Mans Series. As you might remember, Till filled in for Marty Snider as a pit reporter during the St. Petersburg race weekend during the NCAA Tournament for TNT/TBS.

Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of Till in the booth. I find him to be somewhat boring. However, he fits in just fine in the IndyCar world.

With the attacks in Boston last week, Marty Snider detailed a rather substantial amount of security for the race weekend. Kansas Speedway announced a slight increase in security measures, as well for last weekend’s NASCAR races. For Long Beach, security was far stricter, including X-Ray scanners for entering fans.

There were no major features on IndyCar Live, but there was a montage of past Long Beach wrecks and a look at Saturday’s Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, won by Rutledge Wood. Finally, there were seven pre-race interviews. I don’t know why FOX can’t do a number of pre-race interviews. I suppose they feel that they would be stepping all over NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco if they do. I vehemently disagree with that notion.

Coverage of the race was pretty good. There were battles throughout the field during the event and we got to see a good chunk of them. Also, compared to the NASCAR telecasts that I often watch for my articles here, the IndyCar telecasts on the NBC Sports Network seem to be a lot more cerebral. There was a lot of chatter about the different types of tires (red and black) and how they would react on the bumpy street course over the course of a run.

I like the fact the commentators are not afraid to call out drivers when they make ridiculous moves. Sebastian Saavedra received such an admonishment after he crashed on Lap 2 after overdriving Turn 9. Yes, he had the position on Simona de Silvestro, but let’s just be honest with ourselves: Saavedra was going way too fast for the turn and crashed himself. St. Petersburg winner James Hinchcliffe also got the “critical” treatment after his ridiculous crash on a restart on Lap 35.

Post-race coverage was fairly extensive. NBC Sports Network provided viewers with six post-race driver interviews, plus an interview with the winning Team Director (Larry Foyt for AJ Foyt Enterprises). There were also checks of the unofficial results and point standings before they left the air.

SFP 250

Miguel Paludo’s green card battle, highlighted by SPEED at Kansas was a story kept largely under the radar last season at Turner.

On Saturday afternoon, the Camping World Truck Series returned to action at Kansas Speedway for their first assault on the reconfigured Kansas Speedway. It turned out to be nothing more than a wreckfest. How did SPEED handle it? Let’s take a look.

NCWTS Setup started off with a “rewind segment,” focusing on the controversy surrounding Ron Hornaday’s contact with Darrell Wallace, Jr. under caution in Rockingham, plus the wreck that resulted from it. The recap included replays and interviews from Rockingham, live interviews with both of the main figures involved, and the broadcast booth talking about the situation and comparing it to when Kyle Busch dumped Ron Hornaday at Texas back in 2011. I would say that it was quite comprehensive. During last week’s edition of Mirror Driving, we discussed the incident ourselves and ended up agreeing to disagree. The two situations are similar, but not quite the same. Regardless, neither one is the right way to handle things.

The primary feature of the show was a look at Miguel Paludo’s quest to earn his green card last season, which was a very private battle few people knew about. Apparently, in order to immigrate to the United States as an athlete, you have to prove that you are considered to be elite. In this case, that meant Paludo had to finish in the top 10 in points; otherwise, he risked getting his Green Card application denied. Had that happened, he would have been forced to return to Brazil with his wife Patricia and son Oliver. Yeah, he probably would have landed on his feet there (Patricia mentioned that Miguel raced successfully in Brazil, although he still had a day job) but that is a lot to have hanging over your head. The piece talked about the constant stress that Paludo and his family were under, and how they were trying to live their American Dream. It was a really touching piece.

During the race itself, there were a number of crashes. Officially, nine of the 11 cautions were caused by wrecks, but it was really ten cautions for wrecks. The second “debris caution” occurred when Jeff Agnew hit the wall exiting Turn 4, then stalled while trying to get back to pit road. Although, I suppose you could call a disabled truck debris if you really felt like it.

When you have a situation like that, commentators usually talk about how the wrecks ruin any real flow that the race could have had, or how something is wrong with the vehicles. You didn’t get that out of this booth. The only time this particular type of discussion actually made it into the telecast was when Todd Bodine mentioned it after he crashed. When they weren’t wrecking, there was some pretty good racing out there for position, and I believe that SPEED did a pretty good job covering those battles.

I was well informed throughout the entire race, with the exception of one topic. That was Hornaday’s run up from three laps behind to ultimately finish ninth. We saw how he ended up that far behind (got busted for speeding on pit road during a green-flag stop, stopped for tires on his pass through, then had to do another one). I know that he got one Lucky Dog. I’m a bit unclear as to how he got the other two laps back. My best guess is that he took a couple of wave arounds, one of those being shortly after the penalty. SPEED didn’t exactly make it 100 percent clear.

Due to the sheer amount of wrecking on Saturday, SPEED reached the end of their timeslot on Lap 129 of 167. The race ended roughly 40 minutes later than expected. As a result, post-race coverage was very short. My guess is that NASCAR informed Matt Crafton (after he roasted his rear tires doing his burnout) that he needed to get his tuchis to Victory Lane in order to do his winner’s interview. SPEED only interviewed Crafton and showed the top 10 in points. The unofficial results were only shown in the scroll. Once that was done, SPEED left Kansas to get to the Rolex Series event at Road Atlanta, which was supposed to air live, but had to be time-shifted.

Overall, I liked the Truck broadcast. There was a lot of action for position (and we could see quite a bit of it), although I could have done without all the wrecking.

STP 400

On Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series returned to FOX at Kansas Speedway. How well did the network do with the telecast? Let’s take a look.

During the pre-race show, there was the typical amount of analysis and features FOX provides (Gas-N-Go, etc.). The primary feature of the show was a one-on-one piece shot on Friday night (based on booth chatter after qualifying) where Darrell Waltrip interviewed Kyle Busch. This format is not the first time that Darrell’s interviewed Kyle. It reminded me of the last time he did it, to be honest. There was a fair amount of discussion about some of the stupid things Kyle does with his wife, Samantha. We learned that Samantha loves the ugly sweaters at Christmas (which I just can’t get into for multiple reasons). I really wish we could learn a little bit more about Kyle, but it seemed like the questions were all softballs.

There was a brief piece on Pat Summerall, former head play-by-play man for NFL on FOX who died last week at age 82. Granted, this piece had nothing to do with NASCAR, but it was well put together. Summerall was one of the longest-tenured employees of FOX Sports, having come over from CBS (along with a number of others) when FOX won the rights to air the NFC starting in 1994.

I still believe that FOX should be doing more pre-race interviews than they currently do. As it stands, Clint Bowyer did one with Chris Myers and both Waltrips (in the Hollywood Hotel) via a headset. That was the only formal interview on the show. The only other driver quotes we saw were from Michael Waltrip’s grid walk, which continues to be a nightmare. Not enjoyable at all. C’mon, man. You’re supposed to be helping the viewers out with additional information. Instead, we get Michael Waltrip in a self-serving situation. Maybe it’ll change at Talladega, where FOX will have a full hour to play with.

I’m still not a fan of Jeff Hammond’s roving reporter role on FOX. Yes, I imagine that he’s quite busy during the race, running all over the property and putting good miles on a golf cart to do what he does. Also, for some reason, Hammond seemed to be the guy tasked with interviewing drivers after they dropped out of the race. I thought that was a curious choice. Usually, whoever was assigned to that specific driver on pit road does those interviews (I think Victory Lane works fairly similar). My guess is that since there are only three pit reporters now, they really can’t leave their beats to go interview drivers who have gotten involved in crashes anymore because they’re too busy (each reporter has 14-15 pits to cover).

However, I believe that division of work hurts the telecast. Hammond should be back in the Hollywood Hotel with Chris Myers; period, end of story. Say what you want about Myers, but that setup worked. This format does not.

I thought that FOX did a decent job early on with showing the action out on the track. However, the further they got into the race, the more restrictive the focus became. Having said that, they did do a pretty decent job explaining to viewers just how Kasey Kahne was able to close up on Matt Kenseth in the closing laps of the race. The graphics showing the actual distance that the two drivers were apart was put to good use here. We’ll see if it gets much more use for the rest of FOX’s portion of the season.

Post-race coverage was somewhat typical for FOX, despite the fact that the race ended roughly 15 minutes beyond the end of their timeslot. There were five post-race interviews, plus checks of the unofficial results and point standings before FOX left the air.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is relatively light as far as on-track action is concerned. The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series will be back in action at Richmond International Raceway. And… that’s it. Rumor has it that Denny Hamlin will be back in the No. 11 Saturday night. We’ll just have to see. They’ll be joined by the Nationwide Series while everyone else takes a breather.

Tuesday, April 23

Time Telecast Network
1:30 AM – 2:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Wednesday, April 24

Time Telecast Network
1:30 AM – 2:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Thursday, April 25

Time Telecast Network
1:30 AM – 2:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Friday, April 26

Time Telecast Network
1:00 AM – 1:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
12:00 PM – 2:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
2:30 – 3:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
4:00 – 5:00 PM Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
5:30 – 7:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
7:00 – 7:30 PM SPEED Center SPEED
7:00 – 7:30 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPNEWS
7:30 – 10:00 PM Nationwide Series ToyotaCare 250 ESPNEWS

Saturday, April 27

Time Telecast Network
12:00 PM – 2:00 PM V8 Supercar Championship Series ITM 400 Auckland SPEED*/
2:00 – 3:00 PM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
2:00 – 4:00 PM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge PriceWaterhouseCoopers 250 SPEED*/
4:00 – 4:30 PM SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
4:30 – 6:30 PM NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
7:00 – 7:30 PM FOX Pre-Race FOX
7:30 – 11:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 FOX

Sunday, April 28

Time Telecast Network
12:30 AM – 1:00 AM NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED*
7:00 – 8:00 PM SPEED Center SPEED
8:00 – 8:30 PM Wind Tunnel SPEED

Monday, April 29

Time Telecast Network
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

*- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted

Note that the Nationwide race is on ESPNEWS because of Rounds 2 and 3 of the NFL Draft airing on Friday night. I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races from Richmond for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex, in our FREE Frontstretch Newsletter I will be covering Sunday’s running of the Grand Prix of Bahrain.

Also of note, while there is a page for the race on SPEED’s website, there is no reference at all to any coverage for the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown, scheduled for Thursday night. That’s a great shame. Also, the Blue Ox 100 for the K&N Pro Series East that precedes the showdown will air on SPEED, just not live. According to the notoriously clunky program search function on their schedule, the race will air via tape delay on Thursday, May 9th at 3:00 PM.

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.

Contact Phil Allaway

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Old Fan Bill
04/23/2013 11:14 AM
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The segment on Pat Summerall was well done. One statment that was made during the segment stated that when Summerall and Madden were hired, that it gave credibilty to Fox Sport. Until the Waltrips are removed from the booth ,Nascar on Fox will not have any credibilty.

Jay
04/23/2013 09:45 PM
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ditto to what Old Fan Bill said above. especially the waldorks having to go.