The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: Indy Doesn't Give ESPN Much To Work With by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday July 30, 2013

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast breakdowns are the name of the game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were each racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series had a midweek date with Eldora Speedway in Ohio.

What kind of excitement was SPEED able to show us from Eldora?

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Last Wednesday, the Camping World Truck Series traveled to somewhat remote New Weston, Ohio for a series first. It was the first time that the trucks ever tackled dirt. The result was quite interesting. John Wes Townley did his best to impersonate Grits n’ Gravy from the World Series of Dice on Chappelle’s Show (Note: I’m sure that John Wes Townley is not on PCP). Austin Dillon claimed the victory, and Norm Benning briefly became a sensation.

For Eldora, FOX/SPEED brought out all the stops. The Hollywood Hotel, which was in storage for the winter, came out of dry storage for the show. Krista Voda hosted the Setup and much of the rest of SPEED’s coverage from there instead of her podium. It definitely made the show a little bit more of a big deal than normal. Joining her there for much of the time was Clint Bowyer, a man with a vested interest. So vested, in fact, that he shouldn’t have been there. Yes, Bowyer is a knowledgeable chap when it comes to dirt track racing, but his man (Jared Landers) was in the race. He was biased. Generally, that means that he has to go.

Now, the coverage of heat races was time-shifted by as much as 10-15 minutes so that SPEED would fill the entire two-hour timeslot prior to NCWTS Setup at 9:00 PM. Not a fan of that. They should have aired them live. Once they ended, they could have aired multiple additional interviews to fill the time, either as part of an expanded edition of the Setup, or simply heat race bonus coverage. Having said that, I did like the multiple interviews that aired before and after the races. SPEED also did a pretty good job of introducing the new guys that were in the house.

Also of note, I have no idea why SPEED didn’t track down what the heck happened to JR Heffner on the start of the LCQ (Last Chance Qualifier). I’m not saying that just because I cover Heffner on a weekly basis at Lebanon Valley (I actually do, and I’m generally on good terms with him) but just as a basic courtesy. It’s not like they didn’t talk to Heffner at all during the telecast. Perhaps JR didn’t want to talk about it, and if so, that’s his prerogative. However, you must make an attempt and it is unclear from SPEED’s telecast whether they did or not.

I’ll let you guys voice your own opinions about the middle finger seen ‘round the world from Benning. Honestly, I didn’t notice it until I saw people going on about it on Twitter. At that point, I rewound the footage and saw the telltale middle finger. There was no apology for this offending digit from a 61-year-old man. I’m fine with that. Of course, the audible radio profanity from later in the telecast came with an apology. That wasn’t necessary. People cussin’ is a fact of life these days.

Once the Setup began, the focus was seemingly on introducing dirt track racing to the viewers. I’d almost argue that by then, it really wasn’t necessary. SPEED had already aired two hours of practice, the heat races, the LCQ, and had been heavily promoting the race for weeks. Also, a fair number of people that watch the series on TV probably also watch dirt track racing (when it’s on). They’re not dumb.

First up was a piece on Eldora Speedway, the site of the race. There were sound bites from track promoter Roger Slack and a number of dirt personalities, including Steve Kinser and Joey Saldana. In addition, SPEED aired a piece narrated by Richard Petty about NASCAR racing on dirt. That particular piece was aired earlier in the week on NASCAR RaceHub.

Overall, the race coverage was a bit of a letdown. There was a fairly strong focus at the front of the field during the event. It’s as if nothing mattered (especially early on) behind about fifth. Also of note, the tires seemed to take quite awhile to come in. We saw a rare instance in which the lap times came down by a second or so during the race, which I thought was interesting. My guess is that the competition cautions basically killed any reason for pit strategy since you couldn’t gain or lose positions in the pits. However, the place simply isn’t conducive to live pit stops.

The intense focus on the front resulted in SPEED missing Ron Hornaday’s rather substantial wall contact that sent him to the pits (to be fair, SPEED did show a replay of the incident, but not until the yellow came out for the crash involving Landers, Ty Dillon and Johnny Sauter). No one even bothered to mention it until after the yellow flew even though they had to have known what happened prior to that. SPEED could have used a side-by-side setup to show that prior to the aforementioned crash.

SPEED only gave the race a 90-minute timeslot, which was not enough. The race nearly went 30 minutes over that before the checkers flew. As a result, post-race coverage was quite limited. Knowing that, what we did get wasn’t bad. Viewers saw five post-race interviews and a chat with winning crew chief Danny Stockman. There was also a check of the points before SPEED left the air.

I honestly think that SPEED got caught up in the Eldora euphoria on Wednesday night and forgot some of the things with which they normally pride themselves. Maybe they got a little too excited. The feel of the broadcast was much along the lines what is often seen during races like the Sprint All-Star Race, or the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown. Admittedly, I think it’s a little concerning.

Indiana 250

On Saturday afternoon, the Nationwide Series returned to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for their second assault on the cavernous digs.

NASCAR Countdown was focused mainly on the newly rechristened Quicken Loans Pit Studio, where a great deal of pre-race analysis preceded the 250-mile event. I think it was OK, but it really didn’t add all that much to the actual race for me. No features this week. However, I saw on Jimmy Means Racing’s Twitter page that ESPN will be doing a piece on Joey Gase and Jimmy Means Racing that is scheduled to air prior to Saturday night’s U.S. Cellular 250. That should be interesting.

Now, since this past weekend was ESPN’s first Sprint Cup weekend of the season, it is usually at this point that the network likes to place Marty Reid at the helm of the Nationwide telecasts and have Allen Bestwick focus on Sprint Cup. However, Reid was under the weather and could not make it, forcing Bestwick to fill in.

The action at Indy was… the action. We knew going in that the field would spread out and that Kyle Busch would be a tough out. Both are facts of life here. Once again, I feel like there was more to offer than what we were provided with on television.

The big guest in the booth was five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Johnson hung out in the booth for roughly 24-ish laps before he had to leave. While there, viewers were treated to more-or-less a prolonged interview with Johnson, interspersed with race commentary. I thought it was boring. Maybe the action on track at the time didn’t help things much, but I don’t really want to see a Q&A during a race like that. If we’re going to disrupt the normal flow of a race telecast, ESPN might as well put Johnson to work as an actual analyst, like what Bowyer did the one time he was up there earlier this year.

The race ended with 18 minutes remaining in the time slot. I think I might have expected a little bit more from ESPN, even though they did fill the airtime. We got four driver interviews and an interview with the winning crew chief (Adam Stevens). There was no graphic in or out of the scroll showing the point standings (although ESPN did air a “points as they run” drop down box on Lap 64, when Sam Hornish, Jr. was having his issues). I would have at least wanted the points to be shown on screen, knowing that it got all mixed up Saturday due to Hornish’s engine failure.

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Sunday brought ESPN back to cover the remainder of the Sprint Cup season. For some viewers, that is a good thing. Others, not so much. It also marks the first Cup portion of the schedule for ESPN as a “lame duck” following last week’s announcement that NBC will take over ESPN’s spot (and half of TNT’s) starting in 2015. A number of viewers thought the “lame duck” status would negatively affect ESPN’s coverage since they would no longer care. Based on the sheer amount of content ESPN had for Countdown in their PR e-mail last week, that does not seem to be the case.

ESPN expanded NASCAR Countdown to a full hour in order to build up to the annual 400-mile assault on the Brickyard. Features were the primary method in which they built it up.

The best of these features was a sitdown piece, where Marty Smith interviewed Tony Stewart on the yard of bricks at Indianapolis. This particular segment was shot a couple of days after the Coke Zero 400. Smith actually left Daytona prior to the race in order to fly to Indianapolis and prepare. Stewart opens up about his desires to race at Indianapolis as a child and his experience winning his first Brickyard 400.

In addition, he talks a little about how he was affected by the death of Scott Brayton back in 1996. I found that portion really interesting since it’s new material. I cannot recall Stewart talking about Brayton in the past. At the time, Stewart and Brayton were teammates for Team Menard. Brayton had won the pole for the Indianapolis 500 at a speed of over 234 mph. Then, a couple of days later, he crashed in practice and was killed. Since Stewart was a rookie in major open-wheel racing (by that, I mean the IRL) the veteran Brayton (14 career Indianapolis 500 starts, best finish of sixth in 1989 and 1993 for Dick Simon) served as a mentor during that abbreviated 1996 season.

Another feature had Nicole Briscoe talking to Danica Patrick about how her career is intertwined with Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Honestly, I thought this piece was a little flat. However, we did find out Patrick understands that her emotions are hurting her out on the track. She believes that her career will move to the next step when she stops letting her emotions control her in the car. That better happen soon, or Stewart-Haas Racing will have way too much crumpled bodywork in the shop. A piece narrated by Chris Connelly had Johnson and Jeff Gordon talk about what it would mean to them to win five times at Indianapolis. Honestly, this segment felt boring to me. The space could have been used better.

In another edition of The Real Juan (finally appropriately placed), Montoya and his family travel to the motherland, Colombia. Here, Montoya took us to the property in Guasca where he grew up. While there, we followed along as Montoya and his kids rode around on Polaris vehicles and Honda dirt bikes (which apparently raised the suspicion of the locals, who thought there was a race track on the property). Finally, we went to Ibague, where a new playground/recreation center that was built by Montoya’s foundation, the Formula Smiles Foundation, was dedicated. It was an interesting look at a place that is often connoted with some of the absolute worst in violence and poverty.

In the lead-up to the race, a fair amount of discussion has centered upon whether fans have abandoned Indianapolis for NASCAR. Heck, I got an email from a fan out of Florida about this very topic Monday afternoon. Unfortunately for people that aren’t at the track, it is a little difficult to tell at times. I know that a lot of people didn’t really believe the numbers that we were given, but NASCAR putting out the attendance estimates actually did help. Now that they no longer do so, you’re left to guess based on either you being there live (I wasn’t), or based on the telecast. Officially, it’s on the tracks to announce anything related to attendance. They generally won’t unless it’s a sellout, which they have to announce.

I could estimate attendance for Sunday’s race based on the shots from ESPN, but it might come in higher than what you’d think. My best guess is 130,000 – 140,000. That’s far from a sellout, but it wasn’t empty either. Having said that, there were some areas that were nearly bare, like the stands in the Chute between Turns 3 and 4.

ESPN did show the stands quite a bit throughout Sunday’s telecast. However, they didn’t really mention the attendance at all. Technically, they let Chad Knaus mention it via the radio while showing off the drivers with in-car cameras. He seemed to think it was a huge crowd. Maybe for another track, but not Indianapolis.

As for ESPN’s actual race telecast, I believe that the green-flag feel and the field stretching out did affect the broadcast. There was not all that much racing for position to be had once you got all that far out from restarts. ESPN did OK at times in covering the battles for position, but I don’t think they were helping Bestwick out much. An example of this phenomenon was right after the final restart. Bestwick noted a four-wide battle for position and said “Look at this!” Did the cameras look at it? Not really. You could see it in the background for a second, then they focused in on Martin Truex, Jr. in order to pay off an earlier reference to Truex charging up from 38th on the grid. Not that we really saw much of that.

Since the race ended so quickly (less than three hours to run the full distance) there was plenty of time for post-race discussion. ESPN filled that time with nine driver interviews, plus chats with the winning crew chief (Matt Borland) and Ryan Newman’s father, Greg. There was a check of the points before ESPN left the air.

Overall, the race didn’t give ESPN much to work with. However, they needed to provide more updates on drivers. We got plenty of Johnson, Newman, Logano and such. Beyond them, not so much. There basically wasn’t an Up To Speed all day (they were going to do one with 32 laps to go, but Logano pitted almost immediately, killing it). People need to be better informed.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is another split for Sprint Cup and Nationwide. The Sprint Cup Series will make their second visit of the year to Pocono Raceway. They will be supported by the Camping World Truck Series and ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards in twin 125-mile races. Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series makes their second visit of the year to Iowa Speedway while the Izod IndyCar Series travels to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, July 30
Time Telecast Network
1:00 AM – 1:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Wednesday, July 31
Time Telecast Network
1:00 AM – 1:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Thursday, August 1
Time Telecast Network
1:00 AM – 1:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM K&N Pro Series West Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150 SPEED*/
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Friday, August 2
Time Telecast Network
1:00 PM – 2:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
3:00 – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
5:00 – 6:30 PM ARCA Racing Series ModSpace 125 SPEED
6:30 – 7:00 PM SPEED Center SPEED

Saturday, August 3
Time Telecast Network
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 SPEED
10:00 – 11:30 AM Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
11:30 AM – 12:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
12:30 PM – 1:00 PM NCWTS Setup SPEED
1:00 PM – 3:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Pocono Mountains 125 SPEED
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM Trackside SPEED
4:00 PM – 6:00 PM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Brickyard Sports Car Challenge SPEED*/
5:00 PM – 6:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying NBC Sports Network*/
7:00 PM – 7:30 PM SPEED Center SPEED
7:30 PM – 8:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN
8:00 PM – 10:30 PM Nationwide Series U.S. Cellular 250 ESPN

Sunday, August 4
Time Telecast Network
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
9:30 AM – 10:00 AM SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN
1:00 PM – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series 400 ESPN
2:00 PM – 3:00 PM Firestone Indy Lights: Mid-Ohio NBC Sports Network*
3:00 PM – 5:00 PM V8 Supercar Championship Series Ipswich 360 SPEED*/
3:00 PM – 6:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio NBC Sports Network
~5:00 PM – 5:30 PM NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
7:00 PM – 8:00 PM SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
8:00 PM – 8:30 PM Wind Tunnel SPEED

Monday, August 5
Time Telecast Network
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub SPEED *- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage
~- Approximate Start Time

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The IZOD IndyCar Series race from Mid-Ohio will be covered in the Critic’s Annex on August 8th. For this week’s Critic’s Annex, I will be covering Friday’s Brickyard Grand Prix for the Rolex Sports Car Series.

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 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 ones full of rants and vitriol.

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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
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07/30/2013 09:57 AM

I don’t bother to watch the pre-race shows so I missed all of those things you said ESPN covered. I don’t buy into the hype these days. Just have someone reasonable in the booth to call the race and someone with half a brain to actually get the cameras to follow whatever action wherever it is on the track. It seems pretty basic to me. Indy was a bore, regardless of Stewart’s semantics. When did racing, not include passing? High speed parades are only interesting for a short while. We see the same old, same old at far too many tracks.

I enjoyed the Speed telecast from Eldora although I agree about the conflict of interest from Bowyer. I don’t like Mikey in the booth since he is an active owner, any more than I did Rusty Wallace and Brad D for ESPN. Sorry, conflict of interest – they shouldn’t be there.

The KISS principle works for racing as in most things. Too many bells & whistles just distract from the event.

07/30/2013 02:04 PM

Good article, Thanks. Many people we know are sick of the hype..hype..hype. From the failed experiment known as Danica, to telling us how great these boring races are. They insult the hard core fan always telling us something different from what we know and our eyes see. Nicole B. has to go, eye candy for some, but a hyper phony poodle for most. I think she would be the exact same if she was hawking kitty litter.

07/30/2013 02:27 PM

I beleive the issue from SPEED at Eldora was waaaaaay too excited or they were trying to over hype it. Screaming about Kenny Wallace winning his heat race really rubbed me the wrong way. Let’s not go overboard, even if you do work with the guy.

Also, if there was a time delay, why was there so much filler needed between heat races? It seemed like it took forever to get through them with all the long breaks in the middle. If its going to take that long, start these heat races earlier so the feature doesn’t last till midnight.

I never watched Indy, never had any intention. Its been single file racing there for 10 years and nobody wants to do anything about it. So I prefer not to watch. I’m pretty sure it was the Jimmie Johnson show anyway. We know how much ESPN loves them some Jimmie.