The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: TNT Drops Ball On Debut by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday June 11, 2013

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Couch Potato Tuesday: TNT Drops Ball On Debut

Phil Allaway · Tuesday June 11, 2013


Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where we take a look at race telecasts each week. The goal is to break them down, talk about where they shine, where they fall off a cliff, and how they can be improved. This past weekend was quite an adventure. The Sprint Cup Series made their first visit of the year to Pocono Raceway, while the Nationwide Series held a rain-plagued standalone event at Iowa Speedway. Finally, the Camping World Truck Series raced Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

WinStar World Casino 400k

On Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series returned to Texas Motor Speedway for their first of two assaults on the high banks in their traditional role as primary support to the Izod IndyCar Series.

The Setup started off with a look at some of the news and notes. For SPEED, that was kind of rare, but I am of favor of it. That was followed up by a montage-style recap of the Lucas Oil 200 from Dover.

The primary feature of the Setup was a feature on Brendan Gaughan. The feature was designed to look back on the 2003 season, when Gaughan was driving for his father and had a career season. At the time, Gaughan simply thought that the disappointment in Homestead was just a bump in the road as far as his career was concerned. Today, it’s the high water mark of his career. Since then, Gaughan has floundered and still has not returned to Victory Lane. Driving for RCR in the Trucks this year reunited Gaughan with 2003 crew chief Shane Wilson, so there was a fair amount of time given to how the two work together then and now. Overall, this wasn’t bad. I liked watching it. I was surprised to find out that Gaughan has effectively never watched that race. Mind you, this is the same guy that said this on live television back then.

The race itself was fairly decent. With the long green flag runs on Friday night, there wasn’t all that much racing for position, especially in the middle segment. SPEED did their best to bring us information about what was happening on-track. I didn’t feel lost during the race telecast.

I didn’t notice any glaring issues with the race presentation that negatively affected the race watching experience, which is always good to see.

Since the race ended pretty early, SPEED had the opportunity to bring viewers a healthy amount of post-race coverage. Ultimately, that didn’t necessarily equal any more coverage than normal. SPEED provided viewers with interviews with the top-5 finishers, plus chats with the winning crew chief (Mike Hillman, Jr.) and father (Ward Burton). There were also checks of the unofficial results and point standings, along with a little analysis of Jeb Burton’s winning move before SPEED left the air.

It took nearly two days of TV coverage, but ESPN finally found Trevor Bayne in Victory Lane in Iowa.

DuPont Pioneer 250

For the Nationwide Series, Iowa Speedway marked their first true standalone race of the season. There were only going to be a couple of Cup drivers in the race. However, the rains that washed out the event Saturday night put an end to that. How did ESPN do with what ultimately became a marathon?

The weather looked ok when ESPN came on the air for NASCAR Countdown at 7:30pm. However, it was all downhill from there. The sprinkles started just as ESPN started their telecast, then the steady stuff came on in. When this happens, ESPN puts their rain delay protocol in effect.

What that means is an array of driver interviews and features. However, the features that were aired here were repeats. The first feature was a piece narrated by Marty Smith about how athletes that excel at their sport are not necessarily the most well-liked.

The second was the piece that ESPN aired prior to the Aaron’s 312 about Travis Pastrana going in for “mental testing.” To save you time, you can read my thoughts about that here. ESPN also replayed the feature that they ran last week at Dover about Sam Hornish, Jr. and the piece where Kyle Larson effectively introduced himself and talks about his background. In addition to these features, ESPN ran 18 driver interviews prior to the race being postponed on Saturday night.

Due to even more threatening weather, it appeared that NASCAR made the decision to hurry up the start of the race. As a result, the cars had already received the one-to-go before green when ESPN came on-air Sunday. There was only time to talk about a couple of main topics before the green flag came out.

Even with the early start (10 am local time), the rains returned with a vengeance shortly after halfway. During that stoppage, ESPN filled that time period with 19 driver interviews, three crew chief interviews and a check of the current running order. I’d say that it was more than adequate.

Post-race coverage was minimal, given the sheer amount of extra time that ESPN had spent in Iowa. There were interviews with the top-3 finishers, plus the winning crew chief. Once again, the point standings were not shown. The unofficial results remained in the scroll.

Overall, I thought that ESPN provided viewers with a slightly stripped broadcast as compared to normal. Without a lot of the frills that you usually see on a Nationwide telecast when they’re supporting the Cup Series, ESPN had to pay a little more attention to the actual race at hand. Given the circumstances, they did just fine. There was plenty of good racing for position that actually did make the telecast for a change. Not having Kyle Busch around definitely benefits the telecast. It’s like Busch has a magnet underneath the small white splotch on the back of his Monster Energy fire suit that attracts ESPN’s attention. Without Busch, we got a more inclusive telecast with 96 percent less fawning. My readers will more than likely agree that that is a good thing.

Party In The Poconos 400 presented by Walmart

On Sunday afternoon, Turner Sports (via TNT) returned for their 31st consecutive season of Sprint Cup coverage, live from Pocono Raceway. TNT returned the same eight on-air personalities that they had in 2012. How did they do? Let’s take a look.

Countdown to Green showed off a couple of new aspects of TNT’s coverage. For one, they will have a backup car from one of the teams available in order to show mechanical aspects. That’s a nice touch, but there’s something else at play here. In the past, TNT has had their own COT with a body that can be lifted off to show this stuff. What we have here is nothing more than a cost-cutting move. I don’t know if TNT had to pay Germain Racing to use their backup car for the segments or not.

TNT also unveiled their new “All-Access” feature, where they cover a team for the entire week leading up to a race. This week, we saw a brief recap of Dover for Denny Hamlin’s team, followed Hamlin to a couple of team meetings, a trip to Memphis for a FedEx appearance, and a 50-mile bike ride. It was a nice piece, but it’s not really anything new (ok, it is for TNT). Going in, I thought that TNT was going to deliver something similar to what ESPN did during the Chase back in 2010. That is essentially what they did. Having said that, I still thought that it was interesting.

Another piece had a number of drivers (Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards) talking about the restart rules. The whole thing was kind of tongue in cheek, but it did point out some of the issues with the current restart rules. In all honesty, none of what you’ve seen recently was all that much of an issue before NASCAR instituted double-file restarts with lead lap cars in both lanes.

As for the race itself, oh boy. I watched this event live on Sunday and had serious trouble trying to figure out just what the deuce was going on. I know I don’t talk about commercials very much, but they were so pervasive on Sunday that there was no flow to the telecast at all. They were taking breaks for three to four laps, then coming back for five-ish laps, then four more in commercial.

When TNT was not in commercial, they didn’t show a whole lot of racing. Instead, they would just show single cars without much context. Also, they showed most of the first round of green-flag stops in full-screen without a scroll. As a result, I was kind of lost during that segment. I know that I griped quite a bit about FOX’s approach to covering Sprint Cup recently, but touches like showing a split-screen during green flag stops and a list of who’s pitted and who hasn’t is really helpful. I don’t like guesswork when it comes to telecasts.

Speaking of the scroll, it’s been renovated for the first time since 2007. The change is not all good, unless you’re a corporation with your logo on it, in which case, you’d love it. The amount of screen taken up by the scroll and sponsor is increased by what I think is 50 percent. The company with their logo on the scroll is fully across the screen now, instead of a small area to the left of the scroll. Also, the lap counter has been moved to the right side of the screen and has been enlarged. I’m not a fan of the move, because it cuts off some of the action. It’s just about as bulky as the scroll FOX used in 2004 and 2005.

TNT also seemed to not really care about telling viewers why the first caution came out. This happened during a commercial break. TNT returned at the end of a round of stops, then took another break and almost went back to green before Kyle Petty told viewers that the yellow was because of “a cloth, or a crying towel” on track exiting Turn 1. I found the crying towel thing a little funny, but yeah, you need to work on that, TNT.

Post-race coverage was pretty decent. TNT brought viewers six post-race driver interviews, plus an interview with the winning crew chief (Chad Knaus). There were also checks of the unofficial results and point standings, in addition to post-race analysis from the broadcast booth, and from Larry McReynolds. Since NASCAR took possession of since last year’s Summer Series, there was no post-post-race show on RaceBuddy. That appears to be dead. ‘Tis a shame, since I liked that.

Pocono showed me that TNT has a lot of things to work on for Michigan. I understand their need to advertise companies so that they can pay for their telecasts, but they have to space out their commercial breaks better. If you don’t do that right, then it’s literally a quick burst of action in-between Sprint commercials, and nobody enjoys that. Also, please make a point to show some action on-track. Prior to Lap 125, it seemed like they never showed anything other than individual cars. Also, give viewers updates on what happened to certain drivers that had issues. I have no clue why AJ Allmendinger ended up a lap down by Lap 15. It appeared that he made an unscheduled pit stop for…something and it screwed up his day. TNT never mentioned it at all. You have to throw us a bone. I hope that some of we saw Sunday was just rust. Otherwise, this is going to be a long six weeks.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are both scheduled to race at Michigan International Speedway, with the ARCA Racing Series as tertiary support. Meanwhile, the Izod IndyCar Series travels to the Milwaukee Mile. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, June 11

Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
6:00pm-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Wednesday, June 12

Time Telecast Network
1:30am-2:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
6:00pm-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Thursday, June 13

Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
3:00pm-4:00pm K&N Pro Series Casey’s General Store 150 SPEED*/
6:00-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Friday, June 14

Time Telecast Network
11:30am-1:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
1:00-3:30pm Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
3:30-5:00pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
5:00-7:00pm ARCA Racing Series Michigan ARCA 200 SPEED
7:00-8:00pm Trackside SPEED
7:00-8:00pm Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying NBC Sports Network
8:00-8:30pm SPEED Center SPEED

Saturday, June 15

Time Telecast Network
10:30am-12:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN 2
12:30-1:30pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
2:00-2:15pm NASCAR Countdown ABC
2:15-4:30pm Nationwide Series Alliance Truck Parts 250 ABC
3:00-4:00pm Firestone Indy Lights: Milwaukee NBC Sports Network*
4:00-7:00pm Izod IndyCar Series Milwaukee IndyFest NBC Sports Network
4:30-7:30pm Rolex Sports Car Series Diamond Cellar Classic SPEED
7:30-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED

Sunday, June 16

Time Telecast Network
9:00am-10:00am NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
9:30-10:00am SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
10:00-12:00pm NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
12:00-1:00pm Countdown to Green presented by Kelley Blue Book TNT
1:00-4:30pm Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 TNT
~4:30-5:00pm NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
5:00-7:00pm Pirelli World Challenge: Detroit NBC Sports Network*
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
8:00-8:30pm Wind Tunnel SPEED

Monday, June 17

Time Telecast Network
6:00pm-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

*- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted
~- Approximate Start Time

I will provide guaranteed critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. I’m currently undecided on whether the ARCA race from Michigan will be the third race, or if the Izod IndyCar Series race from Milwaukee will be covered. Whichever one isn’t covered will be covered in the June 20th edition of the Critic’s Annex in the Newsletter. For this week’s Annex, we’ll have an IndyCar tripleheader (both halves of the Chevrolet Duals in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans, plus Saturday night’s Firestone 550k).

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:


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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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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Zackary Shawn
06/11/2013 02:15 AM

Phil, I have to say one thing. You were wrong about them not mentioning why Allmendinger ended up a lap down, albeit they did it late in the race. They tried an alternative pit strategy where they ran the race backwards, like a road course, which caught him a lap down.

Steve K
06/11/2013 02:32 AM

Q: Does anyone know what to me is the best part of going to the Michigan race is?

A: I do not have to watch the race on TNT!

06/11/2013 08:14 AM

Larry Mac…enough for me to turn off the TV.

06/11/2013 08:53 AM

It was too nice a day to stay inside to watch a race from Pocono. I usually like TNT but they do have more commercials than even Fox. I agree with JP about Larry Mac’s presence. Sorry, I was tired of the Fox crowd after Daytona – I’m certainly not interested in having his voice in these telecasts, too.

I worked outside and in the house, coming in once in a while to see if there was anything worth watching. Since the answer was a resounding “no”, I kept moving.

Not impressed with the racing or the telecasts in 2013. I don’t expect ESPN’s coverage to be any better since they will bang the Chase drum until I leave the room.

If NASCAR wants me to be interested, the racing needs to be better.

The Mad Man
06/11/2013 11:42 AM

The best thing about TNT? No Waltrips constantly cheerleading for JGR, MWR, Felon Motorsports and its subsidiaries SHR & Phoenix Racing, and no cheerleading and shilling for Toyodor, Aarons , and the official fuel & tire providers.

No man gravy being exuded by DW over the most over-hyped, under-performing, celebrity spokesmodel in the role of a Cup driver.

No excuses being made up by the Faux crew for under-performing drivers or placing blame on the wrong person for an accident that’s caused by one of DW’s favorites. No excuses for bad tires from Badyear. It’s a breath of fresh air.

The two real highlights of the race? One was the dead air when Princess Sparkle Pony’s car was shown and the post-race interviews. They interviewed the top finishers and that was it. Nobody breaking their neck to interview the 29th place finisher or anyone a lap or more down.

06/11/2013 12:34 PM

I agree 100%. TNT did an awful job last year and I fully expect them to do an awful job this year. The commercials are so frequent yopu can’t get into the flow of the race. My biggest complaint is Kyle Petty and Wally dallenbach are awful. They are so busy trying to be funny they tell us NOTHING about what is happening on the track. Someone please tell these guys their job is to let us viewers at home know what is going on. I don’t know how Kyle Petty can talk so much and still say NOTHING.

06/11/2013 01:47 PM

I love people like Mad Man. They can’t stand all the attention Danica gets, yet they bring her up in comments sections every week, (or in his case his own blog) or both, even when they aren’t mentioned.

If TNT is running their “Wide Open” coverage for Daytona, this is how they make up for it. No commercials at Daytona means more commercials for the other races.

What is it with the media’s hyper focus of the front of the field. TNT is notorious for this as well as ESPN. The Indy Car race on ESPN, as soon as Helio took the lead, everyone else was forgotten. And they wonder why race fans are losing interest. Why would anyone be tempted to go to a race watching one of these things on tv?

Old Fan Bill
06/11/2013 02:42 PM

I’m not sure TNT was really doing the broadcast of the Pocono race. Adam A.,Kyle,Larry Mc and half of the crew covering the pits work for Fox/Speed. I bet the camera crew and the director also work for Fox/Speed.

06/11/2013 03:39 PM

My optimism for the TNT broadcast ended the moment they brought up the ticker for the first time and I saw the giant sponsor logo above it, taking up what felt like a quarter of the screen. On the whole, FOX did a better job this year than last. Early signs are that TNT will be worse than ever before.

06/11/2013 05:46 PM

“The amount of screen taken up by the scroll and sponsor is increased by what I think is 50 percent,” Sponsor LOGO has to go. if I wanted a 19 inch screen I would go back to 1984

06/11/2013 08:38 PM

Pretty good critique Phil.