The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: The Darrell Waltrip Effect On Kyle Busch by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday May 14, 2013

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where race broadcasts are the object of my affection or scorn, depending on what happens. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were at the traditionally difficult Darlington Raceway for 700 miles worth of competition.

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Joe Gibbs Racing cars were at the front of the pack early and often throughout a race they dominated at Darlington.

On Friday night, the Nationwide Series returned to action at Darlington. ESPN had a fairly normal cast on hand. Jamie Little did get the week off for her planned vacation.

NASCAR Countdown devoted a significant amount of time to discussing Regan Smith’s season up to this point and wondering whether he’s a legitimate championship contender. Keep in mind that he entered Friday night’s race with a 27-point lead and had just won at Talladega with a high, English-swooping maneuver that made me think of this unsuccessful move that Lake Speed attempted on Rick Wilson around the midpoint of the Winston 500 in 1987.

Apparently, the Pit Studio isn’t convinced that Smith’s got what it takes, but they’re in agreement that his primary main objective is not winning the title, but getting back to Sprint Cup full-time. I’m not really sure what else they need to see out of Smith to declare him a championship contender. I suppose since he hasn’t dominated a race, he’s not a contender. Other than Kyle Busch (who seems to do it every other week), no one other than Sam Hornish, Jr. has done that all season.

Since it was Mother’s Day weekend, ESPN asked a number of drivers to talk about their mothers and what they mean to them. That was nice. Expected, but quite nice.

Finally, there was another edition of “The Real Juan,” an ongoing series where ESPN takes a look at Montoya’s life at or away from the track. Still seems a little weird that ESPN’s showing it during the Nationwide-only portion of their schedule. It takes away from time that could be spend introducing viewers to Nationwide regulars (Note: Montoya has not raced in the Nationwide Series since 2008.) This week’s piece saw Montoya (who is apparently quite the picky eater) enjoying a cookout with his race team. There were some chops eaten, and some chops busted.

On to the race. If there is one aspect of the coverage that I noticed on Friday night, it was that there really wasn’t all that much coverage of Nationwide regulars and really anyone not running in the top-5 positions all night. Yes, there was attention given to Trevor Bayne, but that was mainly because he got in a wreck with Bryan Silas and messed up his Ford.

However, Friday seemed to be all about the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas, which finished 1-2-3 and could have gone 1-2-3-4 like they did in qualifying. Something’s wrong there, and not just with the telecast. While JGR did pull off quite a feat on Friday, it seems like almost no one else could even muster a defense. It was like the rest of the field lost a game of chess in five moves.

During the race, Jeff Burton came up to the booth and joined in the discussion for about 45 laps. During that time, Burton answered some questions about how his team was doing at Darlington and made some comments about the race itself. Honestly, it was a little like when Kyle Busch showed up in the booth during the ARCA race at Daytona. Didn’t really add all that much, but didn’t subtract much either.

Since the race ended well ahead of schedule, there was plenty of post-race coverage. ESPN brought viewers eight post-race driver interviews, plus checks of the point standings and the top-10 results. In addition, there was an interview with Gaye Busch, Kurt and Kyle Busch’s mother, in Victory Lane.

The strong focus on the Gibbs cars really did hurt the race broadcast. With a more inclusive telecast, ESPN would have been sitting pretty. There were no notable technical issues. It just seemed that there was a concerted effort to focus on the JGR machines and Sprint Cup regulars. With all this focus on Cup guys, I’m not surprised that ESPN has been having issues trying to make a return on their investment in the Nationwide Series. While I cannot speak for how much money (if any) ESPN is losing on televising the races, not giving the regulars in the series much in the way of exposure is another way of shooting yourself in the foot. The Cup dudes won’t be around forever, you know. People need to know who the future stars of the sport will be, and they need to see them in action. Right now, ESPN is doing mediocre with No. 1 and terrible with No. 2. That needs to change.

Bojangles’ Southern 500

On Saturday night, FOX returned to Darlington for the traditional 500-mile adventure at the egg-shaped oval. However, the race was relatively quiet until Lap 300 or so.

FOX’s Pre-Race show was extended from 30 to 45 minutes due to the unusual 6:00 PM ET start time that was new for 2013. As a result, there was a little more content that could be shown.

First up was a short feature where David Ragan got to talk a little bit about his victory at Talladega and how his career has changed since he was released from Roush Fenway Racing at the end of 2011. This segment might have been the first time that Front Row Motorsports really got much in the way of national exposure. It was good to see. Also, Ragan’s never really gotten much in the way of attention in the Cup Series (even when he was with Roush) so it’s good to see him get a little time in the spotlight.

It was pack racing at Darlington, even during the Cup race meaning there was side-by-side action to be seen. But did FOX find it on a consistent basis?

Another feature focused on the resurgence of Richard Petty Motorsports thus far in 2013. Looking at the standings, it’s more of a No. 43 resurgence than an overall upswing. Ambrose is flat at best compared to last year. It’s Almirola that’s really had the breakout season thus far, even though it’s really just an extension of what we saw towards the end of 2012. This segment could have been stronger. Obviously, Richard Petty’s pleased, but a lot more credit was given to the “Petty Blue paint schemes” than should have been. Too much silliness there.

There was footage shown of Jimmie Johnson, in disguise working in the paint department at a Charlotte-area Lowe’s. My best guess is that it was a stunt to advertise new offerings from Valspar Paints (the scheme Johnson ran Saturday night was a tasteful mix of white and metallic emerald green in honor of emerald green being Pantone’s color of the year), which are heavily sold at Lowe’s. According to our own Amy Henderson, that particular guerrilla marketing stunt was done a couple of weeks ago. One of her friends was confronted by the disguised Johnson, but this part of the piece did not make air.

It should be noted that FOX rolled out their ad campaign this past weekend to promote FOX Sports 1, the replacement for SPEED that will launch on August 17, less than 100 days from now. Surprise, surprise by the way… Trackside will survive the relaunch. Could have fooled me. Last year, I thought that show wasn’t even coming back for 2013.

What you need to know here is that very little NASCAR programming will be affected by the relaunch. We’ll still have the Camping World Truck Series, practice and qualifying sessions. NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco will remain as well. Most of what will be canceled are the series that most of you can’t stand (Dumbest Stuff on Wheels, RU Faster Than a Redneck, etc.), plus a series or two that you probably don’t want to go (Wind Tunnel) as well.

Due to the ad campaign, the FOX Sports 1 logo was everywhere on Saturday night. I can understand the commercials for it. Those weren’t bad. However, that wasn’t it. The Crank It Up segments were sponsored by FOX Sports 1, as well as a couple of the in-car cameras. Michael Waltrip’s detestable grid walk was also sponsored by FOX Sports 1. Good lord. Getting a sponsor for that stupidity is a way to legitimize it. Made me groan out loud when I saw it.

During Saturday night’s race, I noted that the commentators would reference situations on the track that we would never actually see. Such instances started as early as Lap 3, when Paul Menard and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. were battling hard for position on track. Mike Joy referenced the battle, but we never saw anything. That was just one of a few examples of such during the race.

As the event wound on, there were less and less battles for position. By Lap 270, it appeared that FOX didn’t really have an idea of what to cover. Obviously, they never came out and said it, but I’m sure that they were really hoping for a caution to break up the monotony. For a couple of segments, the coverage seemed to just focus on a couple of cars at a time before the next commercial. We weren’t really getting any information. It stinks.

Also, we had another instance where Darrell Waltrip’s personal opinions on drivers may have played in a role in his commentary. As you know, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne had a real sweet race for the lead with 34 laps to go that ended with Kahne in the Turn 1 wall. Some observers were quite confident in saying that Busch had contact with Kahne. Kahne wasn’t sure, but blamed Busch for the wreck. Waltrip took the approach of “maybe.” You might think that he just wasn’t sure. After all, it was quite a tough call to make. However, I feel that Waltrip’s personal feelings may have played a role with his call here.

If you’ve watched NASCAR on FOX over the past couple of years, you’ve probably noticed that Waltrip has a friendship with Kyle Busch (and by extension, his wife Samantha) likely due to the two having somewhat similar driving styles. It has come out in past interviews, like the one that talked about ugly Christmas sweaters back in April at Kansas. I hate to say it, but I think Darrell’s friendship with Kyle may have affected how he perceived the incident. I cannot say for sure, but the evidence is in favor of it being so. And that is unacceptable. As much as it annoys me on a weekly basis, I can deal with the stupid boogitys 15 times a year. But, if Darrell cannot put aside his friendships with drivers to call a race equitably, then I don’t think he can stay in the booth anymore. If Kyle Busch does something inappropriate on track, then he must call him out for doing something inappropriate. If he does something amazing, make note of how amazing whatever the deuce he did was. All I ask is that Darrell be fair to everyone.

Despite the race being run at record pace, the event still went over the end of its time slot (I have no clue how that was possible, by the way). FOX provided viewers with four driver interviews (the podium, and Kasey Kahne) along with checks of the unofficial results and point standings. Steve Byrnes also reported from the garage that Kyle Busch’s No. 18 had the cut in the right-rear tire that caused him to fall like a stone in the last 20 laps. My best guess is that Byrnes did try to get an interview with Kyle Busch after the race, like about 26 other reporters. However, the Shrub just wasn’t having it.

I was disappointed with FOX’s coverage of the race, especially in the middle section of the event. This is FOX’s 13th season covering the Sprint Cup Series. By now, they should have all kinds of different techniques as to how to cover a race (from Plan A to Plan Q and beyond). They shouldn’t be looking clueless at times. Also, as mentioned above, I cannot have a repeat of what Darrell did Saturday.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend begins a celebration of speed in the Charlotte area for Sprint Cup teams. It is the non-points Sprint All-Star Weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where they’ll be joined by the Camping World Truck Series. Meanwhile, the IZOD IndyCar Series teams will qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and the V8 Supercars will make their first-ever appearance here in the United States at the Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas.

Tuesday, May 14

Time Telecast Network
1:30 AM – 2:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
11:30 AM – 6:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Practice Day 3 Indycar.com^
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Wednesday, May 15

Time Telecast Network
1:30 AM – 2:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
11:30 AM – 6:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Practice Day 4 Indycar.com^
6:00 – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Thursday, May 16

Time Telecast Network
1:30 AM – 2:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
11:30 AM – 6:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Practice Day 5 Indycar.com^
3:00 – 4:00 PM K&N Pro Series West G-Oil 150 SPEED*/
6:00 – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Friday, May 17

Time Telecast Network
10:30 AM – 12:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Practice SPEED
11:30 AM – 6:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Practice Day 6 Indycar.com^
12:00 – 1:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Sprint Showdown Practice SPEED
1:30 – 3:00 PM Sprint Cup Series All-Star Practice SPEED
3:00 – 4:00 PM Trackside SPEED
4:00 – 5:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
5:00 – 6:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Sprint Showdown Qualifying SPEED
6:00 – 7:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Sprint All-Star Race Qualifying SPEED
7:30 – 8:00 PM NCWTS Setup SPEED
8:00 – 10:30 PM Camping World Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200 SPEED
10:30 – 11:00 PM SPEED Center SPEED

Saturday, May 18

Time Telecast Network
11:00 AM – 2:30 PM Izod IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Qualifying, Part 1 NBC Sports Network
3:30 – 4:00 PM SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
4:00 – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
4:30 – 6:30 PM Izod IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Qualifying, Part 2 NBC Sports Network
7:00 – 11:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Sprint Showdown/All-Star Race SPEED
~11:00 – 11:30 PM NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED

Sunday, May 19

Time Telecast Network
9:00 AM – 12:00 PM V8 Supercar Championship Series Texas 400, Day 1 SPEED*
12:00 – 6:30 PM Izod IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Bump Day NBC Sports Network
2:00 – 4:00 PM ARCA Racing Series Menards 200 presented by Federated Car Care SPEED
4:00 – 7:00 PM V8 Supercar Championship Series Texas 400, Day 2 SPEED
7:00 – 8:00 PM SPEED Center SPEED
8:00 – 8:30 PM Wind Tunnel SPEED

*- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted coverage
^- Available via free internet streaming

Note that those of you who have Verizon plans can watch the practice sessions that are being streamed from Indianapolis on your cell phones and/or tablets (or whatever you have that requires a data plan) via the IndyCar 13 app. However, if you don’t have Wi-Fi at your disposal, note that using the app will count against your data for the month quite quickly.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series events from Charlotte, along with the ARCA race from Toledo for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex for this week is a toss-up between the coverage of the Chill Perth 360 from Barbagallo Raceway on SPEED, plus a special Racer’s Life piece on Richard Childress that aired Sunday.

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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JP
05/14/2013 08:43 AM
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I think you make a fair assessment of DW and Kyle. But, in my opinion, he offsets Larry Mac and HIS love of all things Chevy/Hendrick and the 48.

Larry Mac is ALWAYS quick to point out what HE sees as Kyle doing wrong. And he’s just as quick to wet his pants when the 48 is taking the lead.

It’s interesting to watch and hear the interaction of the two during a race. I, for one, can feel a little tension there. And sometimes Mike Joy, bless his heart, doesn’t know how to handle it.

awww shucks
05/14/2013 08:58 AM
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i turned on the race friday and saw the busch wackers up front, then turned it off. whether it is to feed their egos or whatever i am tuning in less and less to watch the nationwide races to see the “big” boys come down every week.
Fox PLEASE get someone else in the booth than DW actually look forward to other networks getting the races.

Kyle must have crashed Kasey as DW has said time and time again how Kyle has such great car control. if that is the case he knows exactly what he did.

banzaibonnie
05/14/2013 01:23 PM
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Why does no one seem to object when the booth ALWAYS gives JR. and Danica a pass, no matter what? Also how can you be annoyed at the Waltrips, and not at espn’s Daugherty,and Rusty?? At least,unlike big bad Brad, both Darrel and Michael are racers with knowledge of today and history,too. Personally I enjoy both of them,as do most people, which is why they’re still in that booth.

Andy D
05/14/2013 01:29 PM
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You can never give too much attention to the fact that an RPM car with less than 50% Petty Blue is a crime against humanity.

ginaV24
05/14/2013 02:39 PM
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IMO, the article’s title really should be: DW’s affect on the fans.

banzaibonnie, ha, the announcers have become paid shills. Michael Waltrip has NO business being in the booth, he is an active owner with drivers ON the track, his cars are Toyota’s. What make does KyBu drive? Yes, that would be Toyota. I think that has a lot to do with the bromance DW has with KyBu.

Unprofessional and for me, it has all become not worth tuning in to watch. I guess I’m not alone in that response since the ratings were down for Darlington, too, just as they were for Richmond.

In this case, I was at the track, so I didn’t have to put up with Fox and its poor coverage. Yes, the long green flag runs were, well, long. I was wishing for a caution, too but at least I could see the action on the track w/o being subjected to commercials or bad camera work.

If Fox, TNT and ESPN would just focus on calling the race, as it is happening on the track and not interject their personal feelings for the drivers or teams into it, the broadcasts would be better. You don’t see this type of thing in ANY other professional sport – except maybe the WWE.

Steve
05/14/2013 04:12 PM
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I’m starting to wonder if ESPN is getting desperate with their NW coverage. Apparently, they don’t think the regulars can put on a good show that people will watch. They also apparently think the Cup guys are why people watch. They might want to rethink that based on tv ratings and how the grandstands look. Its not pretty and shoving Cup guys down our throats is actually pushing people away. I’m one of the ones that turned on the race, saw the top 5 as Cup regulars and changed it to something else.

As far as DW and Kyle, this is nothing new. Not sure where you have been. Anytime Kyle is at the front of the field, its the DW lovefest. Funny how DW hardly spoke of Kenseth when he drove a Ford, but now that he drives a Toyota, he has been talking a whole lot more about him.

One word describes the coverage both nights: UNWATCHABLE

Joe
05/14/2013 06:59 PM
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No other way to say it: NASCAR TV coverage on FOX is garbage. DW and MW are sickening. I truly feel sorry for Mike Joy, he deserves better. Fox made the TV coverage of the race UNWATCHABLE.

SteveK
05/14/2013 11:02 PM
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Yes they go out of their way to talk about the 88 and the 10 when they are doing nothing special, but I feel FOX is rather fair about what they talk about. I don’t see any bias in favor of Kyle Busch. I do not see any Larry Mac love for Hendrick (to respond to another commenter, though I do with Richard Childress).

The only part of the 18-9 incident I think Waltrip missed on was talking about the angle of corner entry. The interview with Kahne brought this to the forefront.

Whoever (director?) chooses what they show and when they show it could be replaced at FOX, but I think the three guys in the booth do an outstanding job. I think you are all being unfairly harsh.