The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: TNT Goes Through Some Struggles At Sonoma by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday June 25, 2013

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast criticism is the name of the game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup Series was at Sonoma Raceway while the Nationwide Series made their one visit of the year to Wisconsin’s Road America. More on those events in a moment.

Cars were turning left and right this week. Did ESPN and TNT manage to keep the action in camera shot?

Before we start, we’ve got a couple of TV-related announcements.

It has been revealed that TNT will not be doing their Wide Open Coverage this year at the Coke Zero 400 on July 6. No reason has been given as to why this is so. However, Chris Neville mentioned on Twitter last week that it is out for 2013. That bites. I have only covered the Wide Open Coverage once since I’ve had this column, which was back in 2009. The past three years, I’ve been at the race itself. It’s been a respite from the rest of TNT’s schedule. However, it appears that it’s been sacrificed, much like the revolving infield stage and the cutaway car in order to cut costs.

Also of note, the ARCA Racing Series announced in Elkhart Lake that they have reached a deal with NBC Sports Network to air four of their races via tape delay later this summer. The first race that will be televised will be this weekend’s Herr 200 at Winchester Speedway. However, that race will not be aired until August. Tape delayed telecasts from Marne, Michigan (Berlin Raceway), Madison, Wisconsin and Springfield, Illinois (Illinois State Fairgrounds/Springfield Mile) will follow. No word on who will be on the broadcast crew for those races as of yet. When these races air, you can rest assured that we will have a critique of them. I just hope they don’t look too bad due to the series’ current car count issues.

Johnsonville Sausage 200

On Saturday, the Nationwide Series made their first trip to a road course this season. How did ESPN do with the typical Road America carnage? Let’s take a look.

Due to ESPN’s ongoing coverage of the FIFA Confederations Cup, there was no pre-race coverage. ESPN came on-air after a game, allowed the booth to introduce themselves, then went straight to pre-race ceremonies. I know that there are a number of my readers that are perfectly fine with such a move, claiming that they’re sick of pre-race hype. However, for a weekend like Road America, where we’re lucky to get coverage of qualifying (we did on Saturday, but we haven’t in recent years), I’d like to have a little pre-race coverage to help preview the race. Unfortunately, things happen.

During races at Road America, there are usually multiple pit strategies. Anyone covering the race has to do a good job covering the strategies, who’s on them, and the racing around those guys. ESPN did ok in detailing to viewers who was on what strategy, but not so much at showing people. For the most part ESPN kept the cameras at the very front of the field, regardless of who was there. It doesn’t help that the field gets spread out as they do at Road America.

ESPN had a few drivers that they decided to focus on for the race. From what I can tell, they were Owen Kelly, Billy Johnson, Sam Hornish, Jr., AJ Allmendinger. Regan Smith, Parker Kligerman, Elliott Sadler, and (later in the race) Justin Allgaier. If your favorite driver isn’t one of those seven, he probably didn’t get much coverage.

There were also a number of incidents where viewers were simply left to figure out on their own as to what happened to cause them. That bites.

Despite the late race insanity, ESPN still managed to complete the race within the time slot provided. That says a lot that they actively planned a 3.5 hour timeslot for a 200 mile race.

Jimmie Johnson tweeted for ESPN to “leave the cameras on.” ESPN sort of did. The now-infamous slap in the face was aired live. No one bothered to air the rest of the footage, though. ESPN did only four post-race interviews and no check of the points before leaving the air.

Overall, the race was interesting to watch and ESPN’s commentators seemed to really be into what we were seeing. However, I just don’t think we saw enough of the actual race, especially early on.

Toyota Save Mart 350

Well, here we are. 219 miles of left and right turns. And, for the first time, rain during the race (Seriously, that had never happened before during a Cup race at Sonoma). How did TNT do? Let’s take a look.

TNT started off with what amounted to a walking tour of the track with their four pit reporters. That made me think back to the days when ESPN would dispatch Benny Parsons and Ned Jarrett to separate corners of the circuit and have them do their analysis from there. That strategy led to some rather interesting insights, like when “Richard Petty had a hard crash in Turn 1a back in 1991.”: Obviously, that wasn’t the case for the race, but that’s just what was going through my mind at the time.

One of the big questions that had been discussed all throughout the weekend is whether or not NASCAR should place a road course in the Chase. SPEED put that to viewers during NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco Sunday morning (local time). Their votes revealed that nearly three out of four who voted want a road course in there. TNT decided to take it to the drivers. They’re generally in favor of it as well. Some writers at the track took it further and asked drivers where they’d like the hypothetical road course race in the Chase to be. The results were interesting. Some want Road America, others Circuit of the Americas near Austin. Others want it at either Sonoma or a shifted date at Watkins Glen. It’s a pretty strong mandate, to be honest. Do I think NASCAR’s going to give it much more than lip service? Not for 2014. Maybe 2015, if you’re lucky.

The primary sit-down feature of the week had Ralph Sheheen go out for a motorcycle ride with Greg Biffle. Following a nice ride through the countryside, Sheheen conducted an interview with Biffle. The two talk about motorcycles and powersports, which have been part of his life for decades. Biffle talked about his win at Michigan, and a little about the whole controversy involving teammate Carl Edwards being angry that he didn’t help him get trash off his grill. It was an interesting piece in that Biffle and Sheheen seemed to have a decent rapport together. If a driver doesn’t particularly like or know an interviewer, they won’t necessarily open up as much. However, I didn’t really learn all that much.

Another brief feature followed David Ragan as he split duties driving the No. 34 transporter out to Sonoma from the Charlotte area. During the piece, Ragan talked about his favorite portions of the drive (interestingly enough, he liked the salt flats of Western Utah on Interstate 80, quite possibly the most desolate stretch of interstate highway in the country).

The week’s All-Access piece followed around Juan Pablo Montoya. As has become the norm to this point of the season, it started off with a brief recap of Michigan. Back at the shop, we saw a team meeting, gear swap out, and a game of cornhole. We also saw Montoya’s pit crew practicing stops behind the shops and playing a game of handball (or really, a combination of handball and four corners) in order to improve their hand-eye coordination. Meanwhile, Montoya, his wife Connie, and their kids spent a day at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. A substantial chunk of the piece was spent here, showing the Montoya’s having a ball on the thrill rides and kiddie rides there.

Honestly, these pieces have been very thin on activity at the track. Going in originally, I thought that TNT was going to produce pieces that were a little more like what SPEED was doing with Camping World Truck Series drivers last year, with a little stuff away from the track mixed in. In reality, it’s been the reverse. Next week with Kurt Busch serving as the subject, I’d expect that to be a little different.

For a race that has a full hour of pre-race coverage, Countdown to Green is very light on pre-race interviews. There were a grand total of two on the show (Marcos Ambrose and Jamie McMurray). Fans are not necessarily as informed about what is going on at the track from the pre-race shows as they should be. TNT should not expect fans to rely on Twitter or SPEED’s NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco (say what you want about the ridiculous hyperbole (and it is ridiculous), but they actually talk to people) to get their knowledge.

The race coverage was mediocre. TNT could have definitely done better. Once again, the network was very slow in pointing out the weather issues. Yes, they talked about the cooler conditions. Yes, that affected the race, but there wasn’t a word about potential rain, even though there was green all over the radar. I swear, it’s like pulling teeth with these TV partners. They prefer to live in a parallel universe at times when it comes to weather if it’s anything less than perfect. I know that they don’t want to think about things like contingency plans (people in the compound for ESPN have outright told me this in the past). However, as far as I’m concerned, it’s unprofessional to pretend like nothing’s going to happen, then act shocked when the drops start. You look like a bunch of morons.

TNT did do a decent job covering the strange incidents that occurred before the race started (Jacques Villeneuve’s car getting stuck in gear, Bobby Labonte’s engine issues, and the Paulie Harraka-Alex Kennedy pit road wreck). I suppose that’s mainly because of how bizarre the whole setup was. Plus, the cleanup on pit road and the sprinkles gave TNT the extra time to do it.

I have no clue what the heck happened to cause the first yellow. Harraka didn’t seem to know either. Didn’t help that it happened during the first commercial of the race. I looked up at RaceBuddy (usable again for me since I got a new laptop) and noticed Harraka stopping on track with his No. 52 even more thrashed than it already was. TNT never even tried to figure out what caused that. No replays, no nothing. It’s bush league. Its one thing if you don’t have it, it’s quite another when you make no effort to describe what happened, or tell anyone that you don’t have the footage. From what I could piece together, it sounded like Harraka blew a tire and hit the wall either on the pit straight, or exiting Turn 1.

The sponsorship bar above the scroll has been adjusted once again in response to fan disapproval. This new setup reduces the sponsor colors to the upper left hand corner of the screen. The bar across the top of the scroll remains, but in a steel gray color with the sponsor logo in black. Is it an improvement? I’m not sure. Overall, it’s about the same. However, it’s less in your face than it was before.

We had instances when incidents on-track weren’t shown so that TNT could show one of their “killer apps,” Inside Trax. Basically, they were showing a replay of Montoya spinning out Kyle Busch from 15 laps earlier when David Stremme got spun out. Don’t get it. Also, later in the race, one of the Sprint pieces where they talk about a hard charger blocked out a pass for the lead. I know that TNT has to run those, but please use discretion.

The cameras just seemed to be a little off for much of the race as well. I couldn’t tell who the heck was winning the races off pit road for much of the race. Part of that is the track’s fault due to their somewhat unusual pit road exit, but once again, it seemed like TNT wasn’t trying to compensate.

Despite the race going over it’s slot, TNT still provided viewers with a decent amount of post-race coverage. Viewers saw seven post-race interviews, along with checks of the unofficial results and point standings. There was also some post-race analysis before TNT left the air.

Overall, Sunday’s race just showed more flaws with the telecast. It’s not even all that much with the broadcast booth (although Alexander just seemed a little off). The overall production just didn’t seem to be all that good. I’ve seen better from TNT in the past. I know they can do better. They have to.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, we have another tripleheader weekend as the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series will all be in action at the very bumpy Kentucky Speedway. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, June 25

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

Wednesday, June 26
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
6:00pm-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Thursday, June 27
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
3:00pm-4:00pm K&N Pro Series East Visit Hampton VA 175 SPEED*/
5:00-6:30pm Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
6:30-7:30pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED
7:30-8:00pm NCWTS Setup SPEED
8:00-10:30pm Camping World Truck Series UNOH 225 SPEED

Friday, June 28
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-2:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
9:00-10:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain Free Practice No. 2 NBC Sports Network
11:30am-12:30pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
1:30-3:00pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
3:30-5:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
5:00-6:30pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
6:30-7:00pm Trackside SPEED
7:00-7:30pm SPEED Center SPEED
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
7:30-10:00pm Nationwide Series Feed the Children 300 ESPN

Saturday, June 29
Time Telecast Network
12:00pm-1:00pm NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
12:00-2:00pm V8 Supercar Championship Series Skycity Triple Crown SPEED
2:00-3:30pm Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain Qualifying NBC Sports Network*
4:00-4:30pm SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
4:30-6:30pm NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
6:30-7:30pm Countdown to Green presented by Kelley Blue Book TNT
7:30-11:00pm Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 TNT
~11:00-11:30pm NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED

Sunday, June 30
Time Telecast Network
7:30am-10:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain CNBC
11:00am-5:30pm Rolex Sports Car Series Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen SPEED
2:00-2:30pm F1 Extra NBC Sports Network
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
8:00-8:30pm Wind Tunnel SPEED

Monday, July 1
Time Telecast Network
6:00pm-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

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

Note that the British Grand Prix will be aired on CNBC. This is because the 100th running of the Tour de France starts this weekend in Corsica. For the NBC Sports Network, the Tour de France is one of their major sports properties dating back to their days as the Outdoor Life Network and they are providing live coverage of the stages. As a result, they cannot air the race live. However, they are showing a re-air of the race at 11:30am EDT, after their live coverage from Corsica ends). When that ends, then they’ll air their wrap-up show, F1 Extra.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races from Kentucky in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For this week’s Critic’s Annex, I will be covering the Iowa Corn Indy 250 from Iowa Speedway that I didn’t have time to cover here, unfortunately. In addition, I will also write a little about SPEED’s coverage from Le Mans last weekend. The Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen will be covered in the Independence Day edition of The Critic’s Annex, which will be written on an AirTran flight to Orlando.

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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Sherri T
06/25/2013 11:33 AM

Dear Phil,

I appreciate your opinion about where the coverage let us down, although in a lot of cases (except pit coverage) I thought it was minor.

What I thought was awesome was likely a side effect of how large the racetrack was. But the stationary cameras allowed a wider view of the racetrack at a time and so we could actually watch some RACING on the track instead of tight shots of the leader for extended lengths of time.

I wish they would use this form of coverage more often! It was more like watching the race at the track.

Just my 2 cents…

Bill B
06/25/2013 12:41 PM

I think it’s obvious why they don’t point out weather issues…, they don’t want people changing channels. To hell with what’s best/fair for we viewers.

One other note. Unless you are receiving compensation could you please just use “Speed’s NASCAR Raceday” and leave off the “Fueled By Sunoco” part. Who do you think you are, Michael Waltrip? ;)

06/25/2013 12:52 PM

I really enjoyed both NASCAR road races. It seemed the TNT guys were lost a lot of the time. A car would drop out of the top ten and it would take a few laps before they realized that the car had pitted as part of a strategy. I missed the after race….did they catch a word with Tony or Denny about Tony’s recklessness?

06/25/2013 02:22 PM

I agree with the TNT comments. I was waiting to find out why Harraka was so damaged, but there was no mention whatsoever of what caused the first caution in Sonoma. Do you think they missed it with their cameras and were embarrassed?

06/25/2013 03:21 PM

I like road races a lot. I’d far rather have a road race in the chase (if we have to have a chase) than a RP crapshoot. I liked the fact that the stationary cameras at the road course force them to actually show racing all around the track, rather than subject us to the ADD nonsense usually provided by the producer/director of most races. However, I did as I have been doing for a while, skipped the pre-race garbage (including raceday which I refuse to watch at all). The person who sang the National Anthem was awful, if he was paid for that, the track should demand a refund.

Mostly I now follow the race via my computer, twitter and the radio. I get more info and suffer less frustration since I don’t have to deal with commercials or bad camera work.

Sorry to hear about the Daytona coverage but I’m not surprised, they probably couldn’t get a corporate sponsor to ante up the money.

Phil Allaway
06/25/2013 04:27 PM

Bill B, that is the full title of the show. I’m definitely not getting paid by SPEED. Heck, if I didn’t, I’d get e-mails from SPEED asking me to do it. Because of that, I might as well just do it and save myself the e-mails.

Also, If I was on SPEED’s payroll, I wouldn’t be writing these critiques for Frontstretch. I would be writing them directly to people at the network. Otherwise, they’ll can me so fast your head would spin.

KenB, I think they did miss it, although they did have some live aftermath footage that I saw on RaceBuddy. Interestingly enough, ESPN is the best at notifying viewers that they don’t have certain footage (in the rare instance that it happens). TNT is the worst at it.

Gina, I think the track covers expenses (airfare, hotel, etc.), but I don’t think they outright pay people to come in and sing the anthem. Although, if they did, it would explain why Robin Meade’s done it 3 times in a years. And yes, it was kinda rough. I generally don’t comment on that in this column because it ultimately has no bearing on the telecast unless something crazy were to happen.

I understand your move towards Twitter and such. I always encourage inclusiveness in race telecasts. Seems like the NBC Sports Network is best at that these days, while NASCAR fans go wanting. It truly bites.

06/26/2013 03:56 PM

Wow, talk about another slap in the face. Since they started the ‘Wide Open’ coverage back in ’07, I’ve always circled the “Firecracker 400” as a MUST WATCH event simply because of the reduced commercial load.

I am very sad to hear they’ve done away with it.

Thanks a lot, TNT :/

06/27/2013 02:30 PM

thanks, Phil, for the info. If they paid his expenses, well, they didn’t get their money’s worth IMO. Re: using other methods to follow the racing, well, NASCAR & the TV partners have brought it on themselves when they stopped talking about and showing the entire field and went to “placement” shots based on who is paying for what advertising. That isn’t helpful for most race fans who want to know what is going on in the race. Radio is the best at that – head and shoulders over ALL of the tv staff.