The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN Too Narrow, SPEED Tries to Make Lemonade by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday July 23, 2013

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast critiques are the name of the game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup Series took their final weekend off for the 2013 season. From now on, there will be Cup races every weekend for the next four months. Meanwhile, the Nationwide and ARCA Racing Series were each in action at Chicagoland Speedway.

NASCAR nixed ESPN’s intent to use another CableCam for the Brickyard 400 after the failed cable during The Coca-Cola 600.

Before we get going, NASCAR announced last week that aerial cameras have been temporarily banned from use during events. This move is in response to the nylon cable on FOX’s CAMCAT that failed during the Coca-Cola 600 back in May. The cable ended up lying over the track and grandstands, injuring several fans and damaging a number of cars. NASCAR released a statement on Friday announcing the move.

“Pending further investigation of the cable camera system incident during the NASCAR race in Concord, North Carolina in May, NASCAR has decided, in collaboration with its broadcast partners, to suspend all media partner usage of aerial camera systems that hang over race tracks during its sanctioned events. The safety of our competitors and our fans remains NASCAR’s number one priority, and until total evaluation and analysis have been completed, usage of this particular technology enhancement and any similar enhancements, has been suspended.”

ESPN had originally been planning to use their BatCam on the frontstretch at Indianapolis this weekend. However, NASCAR’s edict has quashed the move.

Ansell ActivArmr 150

Following Sunday’s Nationwide race, 27 Generation 4 race cars took to the 18 degree banks for a 150-mile duel. How did SPEED do with their telecast? Let’s take a look.

SPEED had the usual suspects on their coverage on Sunday. Rick Allen and Phil Parsons provided the commentary. However, unlike the last ARCA telecast, there were no special guests in the booth.

Unfortunately, they were not provided with the most exciting race to commentate on. Only about 19 cars in the field were planning on going the distance, and one of them got wiped out early. To make matters worse, the long green flag runs stretched the field out to the point where there was almost no close racing for position to show.

To be fair, SPEED did do a pretty good job of showing that action for position when it was occurring. However, it was too far and few between for my taste. However, SPEED cannot do much about an uncompetitive race.

SPEED did have two storylines to fall back on during the telecast. One was Frank Kimmel’s assault on Iggy Katona’s all-time wins record (currently, both drivers have 79). The other story, which was created during the race was Cunningham Motorsports’ attempt to go 75 laps on fuel in order to get to the finish. Ultimately, Ryan Blaney came up eight laps short. It reminded me of Tony Raines’ fuel gamble in the 2005 GFS Marketplace 400 at Michigan when he was driving for RJ Motorsports (No. 37 Dodge). He was leading with six laps to go when he ran out of fuel, then couldn’t restart. Granted, Blaney ended up finishing a lot better than 31st on Sunday, but it hurt, regardless.

Since the race ended so quickly, there was plenty of time for post-race coverage. However, SPEED did not use all of their time. There were five post-race interviews, along with interviews with the winning crew chief (Harold Holly) and father (Randy LaJoie). Finally, there was a check of the point standings before SPEED left ten minutes early for SPEED Center.

Overall, SPEED did an ok job with what they were given. The commentary was pretty good. The booth emphatically questioned Blaney’s strategy of going the distance and explained why Josh Williams was able to make it work when Blaney couldn’t (Note: Williams is probably the best at saving fuel in the series). However, SPEED missed the restart from the second caution and failed to catch a couple of incidents on-track. Mike Buckley somehow got himself in the grass on Lap 21 on what I think was oil from Spencer Gallagher’s car. No replay was shown of that. Earlier, Tom Berte spun out right around the time that Thomas Praytor crashed. I’m not sure if the camera was focused on Praytor’s crash and missed Berte’s incident or what, but they missed it. At least Allen notified viewers of what happened. SPEED really wasn’t given much to work with here, but they could have done better.

STP 300

On Saturday, the Nationwide Series took center stage at Chicagoland Speedway. Only one Sprint Cup-eligible driver (Joey Logano) was even in the field. How did ESPN do? Let’s take a look.

NASCAR Countdown started off with a look back at the incident at the end of the CNBC Prime’s The Profit 200 at Loudon. If you remember, this was where contact between Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler sent Sadler spinning during the third GWC. Viewers were shown replays of the incident and a confrontation between the two drivers afterwards, plus interviews with both principals.

The primary piece during the show was a look at Mid-Season grades, sort of. Ray Evernham hosted the piece, which was shot inside of one of ESPN’s production trucks. Evernham singled out five individual drivers (Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Justin Allgaier, Sam Hornish, Jr. and Smith) and talked about their seasons to date, their tendencies on track, and so on. He only decided to give Smith a grade (an “A”). Why ESPN chose this approach is beyond me. I would have preferred grades for all five. Heck, when ESPN did mid-season grades for the IZOD IndyCar Series, they gave grades for everyone they mentioned. Without the grades for everyone, I don’t think there’s a real payoff for the piece.

In the race, ESPN stepped away from the special guests that have been in the booth for much of the season and had their regular team call the race. I suppose that’s mainly because it was an off-weekend for the Sprint Cup Series and most of the Cup drivers were spending the time on vacation.

Honestly, with this being a standalone event and the Nationwide Series drivers desperately in need of coverage, I thought that we’d see more action on Sunday than ESPN gave us. The coverage seemed to be limited to only a few drivers. I don’t understand the idea of such a narrow focus in a race telecast. What’s the benefit? You’re only hurting yourselves. Not covering as much as you can means that it’s harder for the teams to get the exposure required to get additional backing. As a result of the lack of backing, the series profile diminishes and you lose money on your TV deal. I don’t think ESPN needs to make themselves lose money right now.

Having said that, there were a couple of interesting moments during the telecast. One was when USA Today’s Jeff Gluck got a shout-out early in the race about his “12 Questions piece with Smith.”: Another was when ESPN showed a tweet from Brad Keselowski commenting on Sam Hornish, Jr.’s prodigious use of the side draft, then showed a replay to back it up.

Post-race coverage was very lean due to the fact that the race ran over it’s slot by 15 minutes. As a result, they were clearly in a rush to get off-air. There were only two post-race interviews (winner Joey Logano and Nationwide Dash 4 Cash winner Austin Dillon). Yes, the Victory Lane celebration was a bit of a downer, and I think ESPN’s rush was part of the reason why it was a downer. Maybe half the crew had made it down there, which made everything just look cavernous. Looked like Logano was happy to win, but it just wasn’t the same as normal.

ESPN’s telecast was not the showcase for the Nationwide Series that it really needed to be. The race was so-so, and the commentary was not bad, but didn’t stand out much. The production decisions are hurting the telecast, though. They need to show more racing for position, and just more of the field in general.

That’s all for this week. The next race weekend begins very soon. Today, to be exact. The Camping World Truck Series has practice for the inaugural CarCash Mudsummer Classic presented by CNBC Prime’s The Profit starting today at Eldora Speedway. Once the action at Eldora is over, the focus shifts westward to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Rolex Sports Car Series will headline a four-day racing extravaganza. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, July 23
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
6:00pm-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED
7:00-9:00pm Camping World Truck Series Practice No. 2 SPEED

Wednesday, July 24
Time Telecast Network
2:30am-3:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
6:00pm-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED
7:00-9:00pm Camping World Truck Series Qualifying Heats SPEED
9:00-9:30pm NCWTS Setup SPEED
9:30-11:00pm Camping World Truck Series CarCash Mudsummer Classic presented by CNBC Prime’s The Profit SPEED

Thursday, July 25
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
3:00pm-4:00pm K&N Pro Series East NAPA 150 SPEED*/
6:00-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Friday, July 26
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
8:00-9:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary Free Practice No. 2 NBC Sports Network
10:30-11:30pm Nationwide Series Happy Hour SPEED
11:30am-1:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
1:45-4:45pm Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Brickyard Sports Car Challenge$
7:00pm-7:30pm SPEED Center SPEED
7:30-11:00pm Rolex Sports Car Series Brickyard Grand Prix SPEED*

Saturday, July 27
Time Telecast Network
2:00am-2:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
8:00-9:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary Qualifying NBC Sports Network
9:00-11:00am Sprint Cup Series Happy Hours ESPN 2
11:00am-12:00pm Trackside SPEED
12:00-2:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
2:00-4:00pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN
4:00-4:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
4:30-7:00pm Nationwide Series Indiana 250 ESPN
7:30-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED

Sunday, July 28
Time Telecast Network
7:30am-8:00am F1 Countdown NBC Sports Network
8:00-10:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary NBC Sports Network
9:00-10:00am NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
10:00-10:30am F1 Extra NBC Sports Network
10:00am-12:00pm NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
12:00-1:00pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
1:00-5:00pm Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Samuel Deeds 400 powered by ESPN
4:00-5:00pm GP2 Series: Hungary NBC Sports Network*/
~5:00-5:30pm NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
8:00-8:30pm Wind Tunnel SPEED

Monday, July 29
Time Telecast Network
6:00pm-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED *- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage
~- Approximate start time
$- Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your internet service provider and/or programming provider for availability.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series events for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. Last weekend’s ALMS SportsCar Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park will be covered in this week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex.

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:


Note: If you’d like to contact the NBC Sports Network about their coverage of Formula One and/or the Izod IndyCar Series, unfortunately, you’re out of luck. The contact page on their website legitimately cannot be found. Hopefully, they get that fixed right and proper soon.

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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07/24/2013 01:15 PM

I anticipate now that NBC and FOX will be doing the races starting in 2015 that ESPN’s coverage will be even worse…..if that’s at all possible.

This weekend will be the start of the Chase being shoved down our throats and story lines developed on Tuesday that they don’t deviate from regardless of how the race plays out. Its not good to be a TV watching Nascar fan right now.