The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: Michigan Meant Progress, Not Perfection For TNT by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday June 18, 2013

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast criticism and breakdowns are the primary objective. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup Series was at Michigan International Speedway for their first visit of the year. They were joined by the ARCA Racing Series and Nationwide Series. 200+ mph was most definitely on tap. How did the TV partners do with what they were given? Let’s find out.

The fast banks of Michigan hosted ARCA, NNS and Cup this week. Did the networks keep the cars in camera shot?

Patriot Pumps 200

On Friday afternoon, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards returned to Michigan for their yearly visit. SPEED had the call.

It should be noted that the track signed Patriot Pumps to sponsor the race really late (like a couple of days before the race). As a result, mention of the race sponsor only made it into the intro.

There were no pre-race interviews on the telecast. Instead, there was some pre-race discussion of the engine issues that Venturini Motorsports had in practice, and how Ryan Blaney was that much better than everyone else in practice and qualifying.

During the race itself, Rick Allen and Phil Parsons were joined in the broadcast booth by 2009 ARCA Re/Max Series runner-up and current Nationwide Series regular Parker Kligerman. Kligerman was interesting in the booth. He was a bit wordy at times, but still informative. Not as obtrusive as Justin Allgaier can be. However, he’s also quite excitable, apparently due to ADD (Kligerman said that both on the telecast, and on Twitter). I think that’s just the way Parker is. “I’ve interviewed him before,”: and it came out at times during that interview. For someone that’s only 22 years old, he did just fine.

One of the big stories that came out of Friday afternoon’s race was a spate of Hoosier tire failures, similar to last year. What the deuce did Hoosier actually do to improve their rubber since then? Perhaps bupkis. SPEED did not give the tire issues the amount of coverage that it deserved. We didn’t even see a tire off of a car until Lap 78. By that point, we’d already had three wrecks because of blown tires and other drivers (including race winner Brennan Poole) were blistering tires. C’mon, man. You blew it. The tires were the primary story, and you under covered it. SPEED better have a good reason why this is so.

Post-race coverage was decent. SPEED provided viewers with four post-race driver interviews, plus an interview with the winning crew chief (Kevin Reed). The unofficial results were shown in the scroll, while the points were not shown (SPEED did state that Frank Kimmel expanded his points lead as a result of finishing third, though).

Overall, SPEED really missed the boat on Friday. Going in, the tires were going to be an issue, but SPEED never really broached it until the problems crept up. That’s a shame. With the small field, there was only so much action to show. By the first caution on Lap 25, there were only 13 cars left on the lead lap. Seven cars start-and-parked, leaving 21 legitimate racers on track. There wasn’t all that much on-track action for position to show. SPEED did show an ok amount, but knowing what was going on, that’s fairly decent for what was actually happening.

It seems to be quite a shame that ARCA has fallen off as much as it has. Only 28 cars even entered Friday’s race, something that hasn’t been seen at a superspeedway since the 1980’s. Currently, a mere 21 cars are entered for Road America next weekend. 21 cars on a four mile road course. Cripes. Granted, that number may increase between now and race time, but that is just sad. Regardless of the cost of actually racing in ARCA under the old status quo from say 2005 or so, I think we’ve reached the point where the teams are basically running out of chassis since they still use old Cup cars.

Alliance Truck Parts 250

Saturday saw the Nationwide Series make their third appearance of the year on ABC at Michigan. Kyle Busch was back in the field, but didn’t really play a factor in the race for the win.

According to my on-screen guide, NASCAR Countdown was scheduled to run for 15 minutes. In practice, it ran a little longer than that. Knowing that weather was threatening, maybe that wasn’t the best move on earth. Ultimately, it didn’t matter since it didn’t rain until ten minutes after the race ended, but that was interesting.

With the shortened Countdown, there was no Pit Studio once again. Instead, Allen Bestwick hosted the show from the booth. There were four pre-race interviews and some pre-race analysis in that time.

During the race, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. came up to the booth to hang out for a while. Unlike some of the other special guests that ESPN has had there recently, Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t really there to join in on the commentary, though. Instead, what we got was a prolonged interview. Earnhardt Jr. talked about his own team (JR Motorsports) and the challenges that it faces on a week-to-week basis. Honestly, this would have worked better as a sit-down interview during Countdown than in the booth during the race. For much of the time Earnhardt Jr. was in the booth, the race itself was ignored outside of the pit stop sequence.

Since Earnhardt Jr. is a car owner in the series (ok, a partial car owner since he apparently owns only 25 percent of JR Motorsports despite being the namesake of the team), he is by definition, biased. Therefore, he shouldn’t be in the broadcast booth during a Nationwide race. I suppose that’s why his time up there turned into an interview instead of Earnhardt Jr. chipping in with analysis like Clint Bowyer did.

Also, based on what we’ve seen with Earnhardt Jr. over the past few years, he’s not really cut out to be a booth analyst. The role requires you to be quick on your toes with extemporaneous thoughts. Earnhardt Jr. is just not that person. He likes to put a lot of thought into what he says. While that makes him a great sit-down interview (and we have plenty of examples of good interviews with him, along with a travesty or two that weren’t of his own doing), it just doesn’t work in a fast-paced environment.

On the plus-side, I did like how ESPN showed the cut tire that ultimately derailed Austin Dillon’s charge towards victory. They had a camera right on the crew when they were testing the tire and we saw them discover the puncture live. Also of note, we saw a lot more of the debris than normal. Good to see.

Post-race coverage was quite brief since ESPN was up against the end of their timeslot (which they still exceeded, anyway). There were only three post-race interviews before ESPN left Michigan. There was no check of the points post- race, but there was one below the scroll late in the race. Perhaps ESPN thought that could serve as a proper substitute.

ESPN did an ok job on Saturday. The Earnhardt Jr. interview did detract a bit from the actual race, and that’s not good to see. There were some pluses on pit road, and minuses on the track itself. For example, we never got a replay of Mike Bliss’ spin on Lap 70. Granted, it did not draw a caution, but fans would like to have seen what caused that mess.

Quicken Loans 400

On Sunday, TNT returned after a pretty terrible debut for their second race of the year. Thankfully, no single driver dominated the race. Did TNT improve from Pocono? The short answer is yes, but how much?

Countdown to Green started off with drivers talking about Jason Leffler, who died on Wednesday. It was a nice touch since the thoughts were coming from the people that knew Leffler best. However, it also shows that TNT didn’t really prepare anything about Leffler for the show. Instead, they took the easy way out. Technically, this was before the intro to Countdown to Green, so there was basically no mention of Leffler during the show.

One feature saw TNT go to the infamous “Dirty ‘Mo Acres” in Mooresville, North Carolina for a little chat with Earnhardt Jr. Cameras took a little tour of “Whisky River,” the private old western town on the property. Ralph Sheheen’s interview with Earnhardt Jr. was in the saloon there. Later, we see the race car graveyard, where vehicles like the car Juan Pablo Montoya crashed into the jet dryer with, Jeff Green’s NesQuik Chevrolet that he rolled in 2000, Regan Smith’s car from February’s DRIVE4COPD 300 and others are left to rot.

Earnhardt Jr.’s idea of driving race cars somewhere until at least age 55 was quite refreshing. Very few of his peers hold a similar mindset. Also, his idea of going back down through the ranks is a little unusual. It’s more like what used to happen to a marginal minor league baseball player back in the 1950’s, when there were something like six or seven levels of minor league ball.

TNT’s All-Access followed Brad Keselowski around. After the recap of Pocono, we get to see him at Live with Kelly and Michael (really Kelly’s husband, since Michael Strahan was on vacation). Keselowski then talks at length about waffles, randomly. I don’t get that. After sitting on a photo shoot for his Camping World Truck Series team, we see Keselowski horsing around with Trevor Bayne at the Ford Proving Grounds and receiving an Excellence in Sports Award from Larry McReynolds at the Polish-American Hall of Fame. It was ok. Keselowski is clearly the type of guy that likes to have fun. He had plenty of it last week, including getting a hickey from an unnamed person the night before his appearance on Live with Kelly and Michael.

Finally, we had a few drivers (Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola) talk about being fathers on Father’s Day and how rewarding the experience is. That was nice. However, Kurt Busch was also included here. Busch has no children of his own and talked about his father’s role in his upbringing. It felt really out of place, especially since he’s served as a quasi-father figure over the past couple of years to his girlfriend Patricia’s son.

For the first 150 miles of Sunday’s race, I didn’t have any issues with TNT’s commercial interruptions. However, I did take issue with TNT not breaking out of commercial when Kasey Kahne blew a tire and crashed. The wreck occurred relatively early in the break, which didn’t appear to be a local break. They could have broken out of it. However, I don’t recall TNT ever doing that in the past.
TNT also made a slight graphical change on Sunday. They have replaced the position numbers in their pointer graphic and in Through the Field with a number and an extension. If that’s a little difficult to follow, it means that they’ve replaced “2” with “2nd.” Let’s just say that I can’t read the replacement numbers. This isn’t 1990, when I would sit up right next to the TV to play Super Mario Brothers 3 for the NES (and tick my mom off in the process). I critique these race telecasts off of a 32 inch HDTV and I can’t see your “2nds” very well. That’s a problem. And, yes, my eyesight is not necessarily the best, but that shouldn’t matter. It was bad on the HDTV feed, which means that it was worse on the standard feed. Simply put, it was something that did not need to be done.

TNT uses their pit reporters better than FOX does, which is good. The broadcast booth is ok. Adam Alexander only does these six races in the booth each year. He needs more experience. However, he won’t get it at SPEED/FOX Sports 1. Too many dudes there. Kyle Petty operates with a conversational style in the booth. As a result, he creates a different feel. Many of you argued in e-mails or in the comments last week that he probably was not too happy in Pocono. This came out with the “crying towel” that brought out a yellow. Petty is extremely honest in the booth, almost to a fault. He’s somewhat toned down from the persona he has on NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco, but still enjoyable. Wally Dallenbach is not really all that different on TNT than he is on NBC Sports Network with the IZOD IndyCar Series. He’s steady in the booth (Note: He’s been calling Cup races on TV for longer than he drove in the series). I guess I’m just used to him.

There was a good amount of post-race coverage this week. TNT brought viewers eight driver interviews and an interview with the winning crew chief (Matt Puccia). In addition, there were checks of the unofficial results and point standings, along with some post-race analysis before TNT left the air.

Overall, TNT did much better this week than in Pocono. However, they still have quite a ways to go. They did ok in showing racing throughout the field, but it was centralized towards the very front of the field. I wasn’t a fan of the whole “All is right with the world, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is leading” thing, either. I know it’s a reference to the radio call from last year, but if I critiqued MRN Radio, I would have blasted them for that, too.

That’s it for this week. Next weekend, we have one of my personal favorite racing weekends of the season. Sprint Cup will make their annual trip to Sonoma Raceway for 351 kilometers of racing. Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series will be in action at Road America. The IZOD IndyCar Series will be at Iowa Speedway. Also, just to make it that much better, this weekend is the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Sweetness.

Tuesday, June 18
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
6:00pm-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Wednesday, June 19
Time Telecast Network
1:30am-2:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
6:00pm-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Thursday, June 20
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
3:00pm-4:00pm NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Toyota/G-Oil 150 SPEED*
6:00-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Friday, June 21
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
4:00pm-6:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
6:30-8:00pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
8:00-8:30pm SPEED Center SPEED

Saturday, June 22
Time Telecast Network
8:30am-2:00pm 24 Hours of Le Mans: The Start SPEED
12:00pm-1:30pm Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN 2
2:00-4:00pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
4:00-7:00pm 24 Hours of Le Mans: Hours 8-10 SPEED
5:00-8:30pm Nationwide Series Johnsonville 200 ESPN
7:30pm-12:00am 24 Hours of Le Mans: Hours 10.5-15 SPEED

Sunday, June 23
Time Telecast Network
12:00am-9:30am 24 Hours of Le Mans: The Finish SPEED
11:00am-12:00pm NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
11:30am-12:00pm SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
12:00pm-2:00pm NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
2:00-3:00pm Countdown to Green presented by Kelley Blue Book TNT
2:30-5:00pm Izod IndyCar Series Iowa Corn Indy 250 ABC
3:00-6:30pm Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 TNT
4:00-6:00pm Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge: Mid-Ohio SPEED*/
~6:30-7:00pm NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
8:00-8:30pm Wind Tunnel SPEED

Monday, June 24
Time Telecast Network
6:00pm-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED *- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted
~- Approximate Start Time

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Izod IndyCar Series telecasts for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex in the Newsletter, Thursday’s edition will cover the Milwaukee IndyFest from The Milwaukee Mile. As of now, the June 27th Annex may cover Le Mans.

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:


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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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06/18/2013 10:22 AM

Your Dale Jr bias comes across loud and clear as it often does on the Frontstretch site. For fans, it was refreshing to see and hear Jr in the booth. He wasn’t there to comment on the race; therefore, he didn’t. He has better manners than to self-promote himself in someone else’s venue like Bowyer, Edwards, et al. It sure beats the suits weekly over-the-top lauding of Kyle Busch even when he’s not in the race.

BTW, don’t presume to know what percentage of JRM Jr owns. He built that business from scratch out of his own pocket a long time ago and is still the heart and soul of it. If you don’t know the facts, perhaps you should refrain from guessing.

06/18/2013 01:26 PM

what’s the difference between Jr being in the booth once in a while as an owner vs Mikey Waltrip being an announcer full time for Fox and on speed? Then again, we have Brad (basketball star) D in for ESPN, along with Rusty (even though his team no longer exists). Jr made an unuusal appearance and I have no issue with it.

I have gotten away from watching racing on TV. A lot of it has to do with the boring production efforts but some of it has to do with bias in the booth.

06/18/2013 03:10 PM

Jr being in the booth is fine AS LONG AS he is talking about his NW series team and the topic is about the NW series. ESPN likes to walk that fine line with Cup guys in the booth or features on Cup guys that aren’t even in the race. These have no place in a NW broadcast and it makes them look desperate for ratings.

06/18/2013 08:06 PM

Too many commercials. Cant’ get a feel for the cadence of the race. FOX set the standard and the rest of the networks will follow like sheep. Why not? It’s not about airing a race, it’s about selling advertising. I’ve found other blogs that do a better job of calling out the crap that the TV broadcasts are today. But it’s probably too little too late. Once the mold is cast it’s almost impossible to get away from it. Too bad. Thanks Phil.

Kevin in SoCal
06/19/2013 01:02 PM

Is there any comparison between the Cup races on a network TV station that almost everyone gets, and TNT, a cable TV station that not everyone gets? How can you compare the ratings?

06/19/2013 04:34 PM

“Too many commercials. Cant’ get a feel for the cadence of the race.” That’s for sure Joe. It’s one of the reasons I’ve cut back on NASCAR.