The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN Fares Well With Pit Strategy, Flunks With Tires by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday August 6, 2013

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast critiques are the primary objective here. Last weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series were each in action at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series raced in front of a sellout crowd at Iowa Speedway.

Before I start, I just want to pay off what I wrote last week about JR Heffner at the Mudsummer Classic. I was able to talk to Heffner Saturday night after he won the Modified feature at Lebanon Valley. He mentioned that at the start of the LCQ, the synchro ripped out of his transmission when he shifted up from third to fourth gear. That put him dead in the water and out of the feature. He’s still gutted over it, but proud of his team for putting together a package that allowed him to be as competitive as he was at Eldora. The team is trying to put together a package that would allow them to attempt Martinsville in October, but there is no news about that as of now. Heffner did not mention whether or not SPEED tried to ask him about what happened.

U.S. Cellular 250

On Saturday night, the Nationwide Series returned to Iowa Speedway for their second visit of the season. There was no rain to speak of, unlike last time.

The primary feature on Countdown was what they referred to as a follow-up with Joey Gase. A couple of years ago, Gase’s mother died as a result of an aneurysm. As she was unmarried at the time, Gase was considered to be the next of kin. Doctors asked Gase if he would like to donate his mother’s organs for transplantation. He thought about it and agreed to it. One of his mom’s kidneys was given to a grateful Jordan Shaw, whom Gase was able to get in touch with and invite to Iowa Speedway last year for this race. This is why Gase promotes “Choose Life” on his race car.

The one thing that irked me here was that it seemed to be really easy for Gase to contact Shaw. This is not always the case. Figuring out who received a lost one’s organs is roughly about as easy as finding your birth parents if you’re adopted. Earlier this year, Liz Allison gave her first interview about her decision to donate her late husband Davey’s organs after he died in 1993. The piece describes the method of contact (at least in Alabama) to be somewhat onerous, and unusual. Let’s just say that it wouldn’t have happened very quickly.

In addition, there was a clip shown of Travis Pastrana giving ESPN X Games Host Ramona Bruland a ride in a Sprint Cup car in Daytona. Admittedly, ESPN also aired this piece during their X Games coverage from Los Angeles, so by the time I saw it here, it was the second or third time I’d seen it. I guess it was funny.

With the split weekend, ESPN once again had the team of Marty Reid and Ricky Craven in the broadcast booth. Craven tends to focus on aspects of the race that rarely get mentioned by other analysts. He spends time talking about the individual lines that drivers take and how that affects their overall pace. Significant time was spent talking about Brian Scott’s run in Indianapolis and how that not only gave him confidence, but improved his overall reputation. It’s like playing one of EA Sports’ NASCAR games on the PlayStation 2 (I’m thinking NASCAR 06: Total Team Control). It’s an interesting way to look at things, and I like it.

Marty Reid might not have been 100 percent on Saturday night. For example, he coughed his way through a schedule promo to the point that he had to have Craven take over for him. This is not a criticism of Reid at all. He must have been feeling horrific to miss Indianapolis. An actual criticism that I could make was the fact that Reid mixed up his Butlers during the race. By that, I mean he referred to Brett Butler as Ken Butler (Brett’s brother).

Unlike the Cup race below, ESPN managed to fit in Up to Speed segments during the race. However, they seemed to be quite short and only covered the frontrunners.

Despite the race ending with roughly 15 minutes left in the timeslot, ESPN decided to skimp on post-race coverage. There were only three post-race interviews before ESPN left to get to coverage of the X Games from Los Angeles ten minutes early. I don’t get the point of that. You still had all this time that could have been used to at least show the point standings, or do a couple of more interviews, but no. I know that ESPN has spent a buttload promoting X Games Los Angeles but at least fill your previously agreed to slot in the schedule. Besides, much of what they actually aired from Los Angeles was tape delayed. I think I settled in to watch some of that and realized that I was watching a Speed and Style event from the previous day (That’s what you would get if you combined Supercross with one of those side-by-side mogul/jump competitions on ski slopes.)

ESPN’s telecast from Iowa had a different feel as compared to what we normally see due to the split personnel. This led to a somewhat shaky telecast. We saw some weird camera angles, especially early on in the race. Craven was the star of the telecast once again, while Reid struggled at times. I think ESPN can do a little better. Ultimately, they’ll need to figure out how to better incorporate Craven into more of their broadcasts since his presence does benefit the telecast as a whole.

The Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series appeared at the Tricky Triangle this week. How did ESPN and SPEED cover the race?s

Pocono Mountains 125

On Saturday afternoon, the Camping World Truck Series returned to action at Pocono Raceway for 125 miles of action. SPEED was there with their usual crew.

Even though the race was at Pocono, there was still plenty of talk about Eldora. The Setup started with a look back at the CarCash Mudsummer Classic in montage form. Outside of that, there was some pre-race analysis, and seven pre-race interviews due to the fact that the start was delayed due to rain.

During the race, SPEED showed a fair amount of action for position early on. Once the field stretched out, as it is apt to do at Pocono, they did a field drop back and covered various stories on the track. Overall, not bad.

SPEED seemed to talk to their in-race reporter, Joey Coulter, quite a bit on Saturday. This even included Michael Waltrip pitching questions from Twitter users to Coulter under caution. ESPN does that before races, but I cannot recall it happening during a race before. Interesting. If the drivers are willing to do it, why the deuce not?

However, I do still have thoughts. SPEED never showed the debris that was in Turn 1 on Lap 42 that brought out the second caution. That led drivers like Todd Bodine to call the caution, “BS.” Uh, yea. That’s not going to work. If you don’t show the debris, people are going to get suspicious. I know you’re looking for it. Even show the viewers what you do in order to search for said debris. You can’t just say the yellow is for debris and leave it at that today.

Since the race was over its timeslot due to the morning rains and the multiple GWC’s, post-race coverage was sparse. There were three post-race interviews (the top-3 finishers), plus a check of the point standings before SPEED left the air.

Generally, Saturday’s race was decent. I liked watching it. There wasn’t anything ridiculous out of the broadcast booth, and the action was pretty good. Better than what we’ve become used to in recent years. The 125 mile distance is too short now that the ARCA race is on Friday afternoon. For 2014, Pocono Raceway should consider lengthening the race to 200 miles. 400

On Sunday afternoon, the Sprint Cup Series returned to Pocono for their second visit of the year. Many were considering the race to be Jimmie Johnson’s to lose. Well, he lost it.

Countdown started off with a track description with the help of the pit reporters. If you watched ESPN’s telecast of the Pocono IndyCar 400 last month, this would have looked familiar. It was basically the same exact thing they did in July, just with a slightly different cast of characters and adjusted speeds since Sprint Cup cars are slower than the Dallara DW12. I hope that is not a sign of things to come.

The primary feature of the show was a piece where Danica Patrick returned to Sugar River Raceway, a go-kart track in Brodhead, Wisconsin where she first got her start. Back then, Patrick was the only girl and had to deal with a male-dominated scene. Today, it isn’t all-male, but still male-dominated to a degree.

However, Patrick’s not the real focus of the piece. The real focus is what’s referred to as “The Danica Effect.” To that degree, we’re introduced to a group of girls currently racing at Sugar River Raceway in a variety of classes and age groups. They talk about their racing dreams, dealing with the boys that might not like racing with them and hopefully, following in Patrick’s footsteps. It was an interesting piece. You never hear much about drivers on that level. I’ve seen karting on television before. I remember seeing Tim Woods, III (a former competitor in the K&N Pro Series West) racing as a 16-year old in karting events that somehow ended up on ESPN 2 around 1996 (knowing that those races were from 1990, that’s a headscratcher, to be honest, but they aired).

I couldn’t tell you whether any of the drivers featured will rise through the ranks in motorsports (ESPN really didn’t help their cause here because no accomplishments were noted here). Results are pretty tough to find since Sugar River Raceway doesn’t post them on their site. However, results are searchable through “MyLaps.”: That shows that Hannah Galitz, who was interviewed for the piece, finished second in her most recent feature on July 28. From what I can tell, the girls in the piece are generally competitive with their male peers.

Another feature saw Marty Smith sit down with Ryan Newman to talk about his weekend in Indianapolis. It seems like it was done after the post-race press conferences and brick kissing that usually marks Sprint Cup at Indianapolis. As a result, the victory still hadn’t sunk in yet for Newman (or Newman’s father, Greg). Still, other than Tony Stewart (who has already accomplished this particular feat of strength multiple times), a win at Indianapolis would mean the most to Newman. It definitely showed here. You could argue that Smith didn’t really have to do anything.

Those two pieces ran in and around eight pre-race interviews (plus an interview with Chad Knaus). That is above normal, and good to see.

During the race, I thought that ESPN did a pretty good job staying on top of the various pit strategies that created a situation where we were a near continuous round of green flag stops. There was a fair amount of racing for position and ESPN would show viewers those battles. However, when the field got spread out, there were no Up to Speed segments, which I didn’t really understand. Must have been because of the ever changing pit strategy. Sadly, that would have made it even more necessary.

Likely the biggest gripe I have coming out of Sunday’s race is that ESPN didn’t really cover the tire issues as much as they should have. I don’t recall seeing any tires off of cars so that we could see any kind of indicator that something was afoot. Mind you, we had three cautions fly in a 40 lap stretch due to wall contact as a result of blown right front tires. Only after Stremme’s wall contact did ESPN really talk about it all that much (for the Gilliland and Johnson wrecks, they just thought they ran over legitimate debris that NASCAR didn’t see that cut their tires).

Late in the race, ESPN’s telecast was marred by audio problems that were seemingly beyond their control. In the last ten laps of the race, Andy Petree and Dale Jarrett’s mics both died. Pretty rare that more than one would go at once. I guess that’s just bad luck. Allen Bestwick’s was fine and he was able to do his usual commentary just fine. However, you would barely be able to hear Jarrett and Petree in the background. This continued for a couple of laps before one mic was reactivated, then the other.

Post-race coverage was fairly extensive since the race didn’t fit into the admittedly-large four hour timeslot (I think that slot length was based on last year’s race, which had rain and T-storms). There were eight post-race interviews in that time, two different checks of the point standings and a rare check of the unofficial results outside of the scroll. There was also some post-race analysis before ESPN left the air.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is one of my favorite weekends of the year. Watkins Glen. Last year’s Finger Lakes 355 may have been the best race of the whole season. While I doubt we’ll see a repeat of the finish from last year, it should be a smashing race both for Cup and Nationwide. Meanwhile, there is an ALMS/Grand-Am doubleheader weekend at Road America.

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

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

Thursday, August 8
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
3:00pm-4:00pm K&N Pro Series Pork Be Inspired 150 SPEED*/
6:00-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Friday, August 9
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
12:00pm-1:30pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
1:30-4:00pm Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
4:00-5:30pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
5:30-6:00pm SPEED Center SPEED

Saturday, August 10
Time Telecast Network
9:30am-11:00am Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN 2
10:30-~11:45am American Le Mans Series Qualifying$
11:00-11:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
11:30am-1:00pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN 2
~1:25-4:15pm Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge: Road America$
2:00-2:15pm NASCAR Countdown ABC
2:15-5:00pm Nationwide Series Zippo 200 ABC
5:00-8:00pm Rolex Sports Car Series Sports Car 250 SPEED
6:30-8:00pm Global RallyCross Championship: Atlanta ESPN 2
11:00pm-12:00am Trackside SPEED

Sunday, August 11
Time Telecast Network
9:00am-10:00am NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
9:30-10:00am SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
10:00am-12:00pm NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
12:00-1:00pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
1:00-4:00pm Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at the Glen ESPN
3:00-5:00pm American Le Mans Series Orion Energy Systems 245 ABC*/
~4:00-4:30pm NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
8:00-8:30pm Wind Tunnel SPEED

Monday, August 12
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.

Note that Sunday will mark the last episode of Wind Tunnel. The show will not be retained when FOX Sports 1 launches on the 17th.

Now, I will be in Watkins Glen this weekend representing Frontstretch at the track. As a result, I will not be able to give you a comprehensive Tuesday critique. However, I will be taking some notes and I still plan to DVR the race. On Thursday, August 15, I’ll have my write-up of ESPN’s telecast. For this week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex, I will be covering NBC Sports Network’s telecast of Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

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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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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08/06/2013 01:31 PM

I think ESPN got lucky this weekend. The racing at Pocono was pretty good, and it was nice to FINALLY see some side-by-side at a fast track near the front. Of course we can thank Goodyear for that, because it’s obvious the 48 car had the field covered. That team just has this new car figured out a little bit better than everyone else at this point. And a little bit at those speeds makes a whole lot of difference.

I think as the weeks go by, certain teams have begun to key on their setups and are getting faster. Stewart-Hass comes to mind for sure, while Gibbs seems to be moving somewhat in the wrong direction.

Old Fan Bill
08/06/2013 02:53 PM

I think Ricky Craven does a good job in the booth. I also like the two announcers in the booth concept. Maybe NBC will pick up Ricky. Here is a good concept for Fox next year.One mic. for Mike J. and let Jaws and Larry Mac share a mic. Put a in booth camera on the two and watch them fight over the one mic.

08/07/2013 10:23 AM

Has anyone else noticed that this weekends LeMans series race is on ABC and the Cup race is on ESPN. Boy have times changed.