The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: Telecasts Struggling With NASCAR Rules by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday July 2, 2013

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast criticism is the primary objective. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series were all at Kentucky Speedway for a scheduled 925 miles of racing. It ended up being 880.

Kentucky provided the backdrop for lots of racing, and lots of rain delay coverage this past weekend.

UNOH 225

On Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series returned to action after another three-week break. On the Setup, the primary feature was a look back at Texas through the lens of the Burtons. Jeb Burton talked about his first career win, while his parents (Ward and Tabitha described their emotions on that night.) It was interesting. Obviously, if you watched the WinStar World Casino 400, you saw Ward’s emotions on display from the spotter’s stand, and Tabitha’s, to a lesser extent, from the pit box. This just expanded on that.

Outside of the aforementioned feature, much of the show was centered upon pre-race analysis. During the race telecast, there was a fair amount of coverage when it came to action for position. While Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, the two Sprint Cup regulars in the race, did get a fair amount of coverage, they were not the focus on the broadcast. The Camping World Truck Series regulars got plenty of exposure during the race.

I did have a couple of gripes with what we saw, though. What caused Max Gresham’s crash on Lap 41? I just know that he backed into the wall. SPEED caught part of it live, but not all of it. Originally, I thought that SPEED didn’t show a replay at all. Turned out that they did, but it was the same thing that we saw live. I think that they were focusing too much on whatever was the issue with Keselowski’s tire. Then, there wasn’t any payoff. We never actually found out whether the tire was cut.

Also, SPEED was a little slow in picking up on the fact that there was a battle for the lead between Kyle Busch and Darrell Wallace, Jr. It was as if they were in shock that Kyle Busch was charging so hard on his own teammate/subordinate. Of course, knowing this dude by now, nothing he does on track should surprise them.
Post-race coverage was pretty decent. There were five post-race interviews, along with an interview with the winning crew chief (Marcus Richmond). In addition, SPEED provided viewers with checks of the unofficial results and point standings prior to leaving the air.

Overall, the telecast was about average for SPEED. Rick Allen and Phil Parsons were just fine in the broadcast booth. Other than the aforementioned “lost moment,” they were great. Someone apparently needs to tell Michael Waltrip the difference between an elk and an eagle (in reference to James Buescher’s sponsorship from the Fraternal Order of Eagles (FOE)). Not even close.

Feed the Children 300

On Friday night, the Nationwide Series returned for what was planned to be a 300 mile extravaganza of action. However, the weather decided to deny us that. Dang clouds. Sick of the rain.

Speaking of bad weather, a particularly nasty thunderstorm ravaged Kentucky Speedway on Wednesday with heavy rains and high winds. Unfortunately, one of the victims of the storm was ESPN’s Pit Studio, which was rendered inoperable for the weekend. We did reach out to ESPN to inquire about the Pit Studio’s condition.

According to ESPN’s Andy Hall, the Pit Studio was trucked to “NEP Broadcasting”: in Pittsburgh for repairs after Friday night’s race. As of this writing, the Pit Studio will likely be back in Daytona this week.

Because of the Pit Studio damage, Nicole Briscoe, Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty did NASCAR Countdown from a luxury suite (Suite 12, to be exact). Given the circumstances, that was about as good as they could have hoped for.

This week, ESPN brought viewers another edition of The Real Juan. Now, I’m still opposed to ESPN running these pieces during the Nationwide-only portion of their schedule. It takes away from the Nationwide teams that ESPN is supposed to be promoting. However, keeping that in mind, I’ll still judge it on it’s own merits. This week’s Real Juan sees the cameras following Juan Pablo Montoya as he goes out on his mountain bike. Apparently, Montoya hates the gym, so he uses the mountain bike to train. Nothing wrong with that strategy. There are a number of drivers that ride bikes in order to train (Bobby Labonte and Jimmie Johnson are just two examples of Cup drivers that ride bikes, although they tend to ride road bikes). The piece was a nice behind the scenes look into how Montoya prepares himself to compete.

Another short piece saw a number of drivers talk about what they have to do to beat Kyle Busch. Even though he’s a Sprint Cup regular, Kyle is clearly the gorilla in the room right now. He’s the chap that’s seemingly only happy when he wins and loves to get those trophies. The consensus from the drivers asked here (Justin Allgaier, Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler) is that yes, they get a little sore seeing Kyle take the spoils, but it gives their teams the impetus to get that much better.

During the race on Friday night, I did a little experiment. I generally time the commercial breaks (under green) for the benefit of the critique. I decided to take that one step further with the timing of the racing segments under green as well. What did I find? I found that the longest green flag segment in between commercials was just shy of 17 minutes in length. This was right around the halfway mark and included a full round of green flag stops. However, the typical length of these segments was a lot closer to 3-5 minutes. Overall, there was roughly 56 minutes of green flag action televised Friday night. We’ll have to check a couple of more times in order to determine whether that is a normal amount of time. Since the race was cut short by 30 laps due to rain, I’m assuming that a typical race will have more green flag racing shown than that.

Speaking of the rain, almost no one was thinking that there was any threat that the race would be cut short by rain. Allen Bestwick mentioned that there was supposedly a zero percent chance of rain when the yellow flew. Guess not. However, that is not what I’m displeased about. What I’m angry about is that ESPN probably knew about this potential rain and never notified viewers about it until it started falling, bringing out the yellow. Bestwick mentioned that he has a screen at his disposal in the broadcast booth that shows the local radar. We’ve seen this in the past on ESPN telecasts. Why didn’t they show it earlier, before the yellow, to give fans a heads up on what might be coming? Is it because they whole-heartedly believed that it wasn’t going to rain? I don’t recall even hearing the teams mention it, either.

As it stands, I was outright shocked that it rained with little to no warning. Now, I’m not an everyday fan. I’m the guy that watches races with a notebook, my laptop, my iPod Touch and my iPhone in hand. I’m a little too busy to troll Weather Underground and stuff like that while still taking notes on the broadcasts. Regardless, the commentators should have done a better job informing fans about the impending rain.

During the actual red flag, ESPN brought viewers eight driver interviews before the race was officially called due to rain. Once the announcement was made, ESPN did a quick “Victory Lane” interview with Keselowski, then signed off. What amounted to the unofficial results had been in the scroll for most of the red flag period, while the point standings had also been shown during the delay.

Overall, outside of the issues with the rain, ESPN did an ok job. There was a fair amount of enthusiasm for the action that was being provided on-track. The range of drivers covered was better than it has been this season, but not ideal.

Quaker State 400

Finally, we come to the Sprint Cup Series on what was supposed to be Saturday night. As you guys know by now, that didn’t happen. But, we’ll still take a look at what was on offer.

On Saturday night, TNT started off with their regular Countdown to Green show. A good chunk of the opening segment was centered upon Petty’s controversial comments about how Danica Patrick is not a racer. Petty further clarified his statements, while Alexander referenced Patrick’s press conference statement from Thursday. Those statements could legitimately be reduced to “whoop-dee-do.”
TNT followed Kevin Harvick for a day of exercise. Like many drivers, he spends a good amount of time in the gym on-site at Richard Childress Racing training. However, just prior to the start of the season, he made two changes. One, he decided to start wearing a heart monitor during races so that his heart rate could be charted, in addition to the number of calories that he burns. That’s not a first. Max Papis has mentioned in the past about how he wears one. A graphic claimed that Harvick burned over 3000 calories in his victory in the Coca-Cola 600. That’s a clear explanation of how drivers can lose ten or more pounds during a race.

The other change is that Harvick has taken up Taekwondo. Harvick, currently a green belt, goes in three days a week for Taekwondo training. Viewers were treated to an exhibition of Harvick sparring, kicking, and even breaking blocks of wood. It’s clear from the piece that Harvick’s focus on the track comes out in his Taekwondo training as well. Harvick’s sensei even stated that he has skills equal to that of a first-degree black belt, even though he is currently a green belt. The only thing keeping him from the black belt is taking a test. Once the actual “race broadcast” started Saturday night, this was replayed.

This week’s All-Access piece followed Kurt Busch. As usual, the feature started with a look back at Sonoma. This segment, given what happened in California, was a little longer than the other All-Access pieces. Since Furniture Row Racing is in Colorado, instead of Kurt going to the shop, they call him at his house in North Carolina so that he can participate in team meetings via what looks like Skype.

Former crew chief Pete Rondeau describes what goes into prepping the cars from for races in Denver as opposed to North Carolina. It basically means that they have to have things in order much earlier than everyone else. Rondeau also describes the weekly deliveries of parts that come in from the Charlotte area that allow the team to essentially function. Granted, most teams probably receive similar shipments, but they don’t have to travel 1500 miles from base to get to the shop.

Kurt, a noted baseball fan, traveled to Camden Yards in Baltimore to throw out the first pitch at an Orioles game. He’s a bit miffed about not being able to throw off the mound (apparently, he was prohibited from doing so by the grounds crew, which is weak).

After being denied the opportunity to wear a Kyle Petty tie, Kurt and girlfriend Patricia Driscoll go to Washington to talk to congressmen to get support for the Armed Forces Foundation and what they’re doing. Overall, I thought the piece was quite interesting. Despite falling off in popularity in recent years, NASCAR and particularly the drivers can affect change at many levels. Very few of the drivers really harness their notoriety to do things.

Once the actual broadcast time began, TNT began showing a lot more interviews. Only three made it into Countdown to Green, but there were 13 driver interviews, plus a chat with Ernie Brown, Jr. from Call of the Wildman. If that guy is anything like he was on-air Saturday night, I could never watch his show. Might be the most annoying guy on television right now. Shortly after that travesty of a meeting with Brown, the race was called. TNT left for the night not too long afterwards.

On Sunday, NASCAR decreed that the engines would fire at 11:57am, with the green flag falling shortly afterwards. As a result, TNT came on-air right when the cars were pulling off of pit road. Essentially no pre-race coverage at all.

During the race, there was another moment in which TNT was a bit unsure about NASCAR rules and procedures. Denny Hamlin was awarded the Lucky Dog after the carcass from his own right front tire came off and hit Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson’s cars. Kyle Petty was confused about this and believed that Hamlin officially caused the caution (he technically did, but NASCAR doesn’t quite see it that way). Now, NASCAR has listed where debris came from in the box score in the past. However, that was dependent on if they could figure out where it came from. Not always possible. Hence, why Hamlin was eligible for the Lucky Dog. The rules about being ineligible for the Lucky Dog if you cause the caution are designed more for people that are wrecked, or cause a wreck.

This is something that the play-by-play commentator (in this case, Adam Alexander) should be well versed in. Alexander should have chipped in with the proper information here. However, he did not. In the future, I believe that all of TNT’s on-air personalities (especially Alexander and Petty) should be better versed in NASCAR rules and regulations, regardless of how labyrinthine that they can be at times.
Another gripe I had was that TNT was way late in talking about Tony Stewart’s issues. According to my notes, they did not mention Stewart’s issues until Lap 159, right after the caution for Denny Hamlin’s crash. In reality, Stewart had been having issues for something like 30 laps. A number of people had posted on Twitter that Stewart was complaining of a loose wheel during the previous run. That was why Stewart had fallen off a cliff. Unfortunately, TNT failed to pick up on that. Or, if they did, they failed to report on it in a timely fashion. You gotta do better than that.
On a positive note, TNT did do well to show viewers the debris on track that caused the multiple yellows. I should state that I really don’t know what the debris in Turn 1 was that Matt Kenseth ran over. Looked metallic. Well, whatever it was, it got creamed by over a ton and a half of Gen 6.

Naturally, the debris that Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson was covered far more thoroughly. Probably too thoroughly, given how early it was in the race.
Post-race coverage was fairly decent. TNT provided viewers with six post-race driver interviews, plus an interview with the winning crew chief (Jason Ratcliff). There were also checks of the unofficial results and the point standings before TNT resumed regularly scheduled programming.

TNT showed that once again, they have to make improvements to their coverage. They need to listen to their pit reporters. They have four of them. They know their jibber-jabber and they’re there to help. Take advantage of that help, please.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are back in action at Daytona International Speedway for the traditional 4th of July race weekend. Meanwhile, the Izod IndyCar Series will be at Pocono Raceway for the first major open wheel race at the scalene triangle since 1989.

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

Wednesday, July 3
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
6:00pm-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Thursday, July 4
Time Telecast Network
2:30pm-4:00pm Nationwide Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
4:00-5:30pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
5:30-6:30pm Nationwide Series Happy Hour SPEED
6:30-8:00pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED

Friday, July 5
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
2:00pm-4:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN 2
4:00-6:30pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
~4:25-5:45pm American Le Mans Series Qualifying$
4:30-6:00pm Formula One Grand Prix of Germany Free Practice No. 2 NBC Sports Network*
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 Subway Firecracker 250 ESPN

Saturday, July 6
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
8:00-9:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Germany Qualifying NBC Sports Network
2:00pm-3:00pm NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
3:00-6:00pm American Le Mans Series Northeast Grand Prix ESPN 2/$
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 Coke Zero 400 TNT
~11:00-11:30pm NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED

Sunday, July 7
Time Telecast Network
7:30am-8:00am F1 Countdown CNBC
8:00-10:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Germany CNBC
10:00-10:30am F1 Extra CNBC
12:00-3:00pm Izod IndyCar Series Pocono 400 ABC
2:00-3:00pm GP2 Series: Germany NBC Sports Network*/
4:00-6:00pm Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Continental Tire 150 SPEED*/
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
8:00-8:30pm Wind Tunnel SPEED

Monday, July 8
Time Telecast Network
6:00pm-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

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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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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07/02/2013 12:55 PM

TNT is generally better iin that most of the time, they cover the entire field and don’t spend as much time with their cameras focused on just the leader or the chosen few. However, I agree that Alexander is not particularly well-informed nor a particularly good PXP guy. Honestly, he’s boring to listen to esp when I compare him to Mike Joy or Allen Bestwick. The TNT booth tends to just sort of do a running stream of conciousness style of coverage, which I still tend to prefer over the manic nonsense of the Fox coverage or the scripts of ESPN. You are correct, IMO, that they should KNOW the rules and be able to tell fans what is going on.

Chuck Ellison
07/02/2013 02:29 PM

How can they know the rules if even NASCAR doesn’t know them until the moment one needs to be enforced? Truth is, Petty was 100% correct, and the rule has been enforced that way in the past, but as per the nascar rulebook this rule is enforced “at nascar’s discretiion” or “in NASCAR’s judgement” instead of in black and white like in other pro sports. Our sanctioning body is unprofessional at best… and the fans see that. It drives more fans away each and every year…