The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN Launches The Kyle Busch Variety Show by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday August 27, 2013

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast breakdown are the primary main objective. This past week, the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series were all in action at Bristol Motor Speedway, with the Whelen Modifieds serving as the quaternary series.

However, before we start, we’ve got more TV news from the Sports Business Journal. Tripp Mickle and John Ourand are reporting that both ESPN and Turner Sports are looking at getting out of their deals to broadcast NASCAR at the end of this season, which would allow NBC to re-enter NASCAR one year early. Both networks apparently failed to submit a final bid in order to re-up their packages and are in the process of winding down their NASCAR operations and are not receiving a good enough return on their investment to stay in the sport.

ESPN, in particular, is losing quite a bit of money. The first four months of the season, when they only cover the Nationwide Series, is apparently nothing short of a money sinkhole for them. Once they get the Cup Series in July, they can spread out their costs, which are currently at $270 million a year. In addition, ESPN recently reassigned two of their NASCAR beat writers (Terry Blount and David Newton) to cover the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers beats.

Turner Sports essentially no longer has any inroads into the sport. They were already cutting costs this year with the elimination of their portable stage, never actually replacing Lindsay Czarniak when she left to do SportsCenter, and ditching their cutaway car in favor of groveling to teams to use their backup cars. The selling of NASCAR.com (and RaceBuddy) to NASCAR itself was the final straw.

The article states that ESPN and Turner Sports want what amounts to a refund for the final year of the eight-year deal signed in 2005. FOX and NBC want compensation for ESPN and Turner Sports getting out of the deal early. NASCAR is stuck in the middle. Do I think it’s going to happen? Probably not, but I’m not surprised that this is coming out now. There were rumors last year that ESPN wanted out for the same reasons mentioned in the article. In all honesty, I think it’s too late for ESPN and Turner Sports to leave for 2014, but expect additional cuts for next season. NASCAR Now might be even closer to death now than when it was moved to DVR Theater territory.

Steve Herbst, NASCAR’s Vice President of Broadcasting and Production, released a statement in response to the report on behalf of NASCAR as a whole.

“No current or future broadcast partner has presented anything substantive to NASCAR regarding desires to alter any of our TV agreements and/or arrangements,” Herbst said. “We will continue to have open dialogue with all of our broadcast partners and at the end of the day will always do what’s best for them, our track partners, team partners and most importantly, our fans.”

On the part of the TV partners, they’re not saying anything right now. ESPN stated that the report is nothing more than speculation, and thus, they can’t comment on it. Turner Sports just outright declined to comment. We’ll see what ultimately happens in the coming weeks.


Night racing at Bristol always gives TV audiences lots to talk about.

UNOH 200

On Wednesday night, the Camping World Truck Series returned to Bristol for their annual assault on the concrete high banks. Timothy Peters didn’t lead every lap this time. How did FOX Sports 1 do on this evening? Let’s take a look.

For the Setup, FOX Sports 1 decided to go back to the more normal setup of having Danielle Trotta (subbing for Krista Voda, who is out on maternity leave) at the podium at the end of pit road instead of at the FOX Sports stage. I’m fine with the move back. Seemed like a bit of a radical change and I don’t think it worked best for the telecast.

The major feature of the week was a “Grassroots Beat” piece. Here, Kristen Beat went to Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tennessee to talk to Joey Coulter about racing dirt late models. Coulter considers it to be a fun night at the track, but claims that it doesn’t really help him with his Truck Series racing because it requires a completely different driving style.

During the race telecast, FOX Sports 1 did two things that caught my eye. The first thing was that they failed to provide any kind of replay for the first two incidents to cause cautions. I’ve stated this numerous times here in the past. If you don’t have footage of spins (in this case, they involved Nate Monteith and Brandon Jones), you have to tell the viewers what’s up. They never made any move towards doing that. Please do it. It’s like they didn’t even try.

In addition, FOX Sports 1 chose to focus on only a couple of different stories on the evening. The front of the field was one story. The other one was essentially Kyle Busch. Hooray. If you weren’t involved in one of those two stories, or you didn’t wreck, you were invisible. I know that it’s Bristol and stuff happens fast, but you can’t take such a narrow focus to a race and expect viewers to get the complete picture of what’s going on. It’s weak, man.

Having said that, not everything was bad. Despite their limited focus, FOX Sports 1 did actually make use of their side-by-side setups in order to cover multiple stories at once. That’s not a bad idea and they should do more of that in the future. Previously, the side-by-side setup was used either for replays, or to show multiple battles.

Post-race coverage was fairly extensive since the race ended relatively early. Viewers got eight post-race interviews and a check of the point standings before they left the air at 10pm to get to FOX Football Daily. I have no idea why they chose not to run the unofficial results outside of the scroll, though. They had the time.

Food City 250

On Friday night, the Nationwide Series returned to Bristol for 250 laps of action. Kyle Busch dominated it…again.

NASCAR Countdown was focused upon pre-race analysis and interviews. No features ran during the show. Instead, we got seven pre-race interviews and a little less analysis than normal. I liked the increased number of interviews. No offense to the individuals that populate the Quicken Loans ESPN Pit Studio, but I’d rather listen to drivers in the event give insight. Also, Brad Daugherty tends to say some strange things in there. For example, he claimed that after Mid-Ohio, Nelson Piquet, Jr. would get wrecked before he finished Lap 1. That didn’t happen, although he did spin on his own to bring out a caution at Lap 105 after brushing the wall.

The race telecast focused quite heavily on Kyle Busch. I know he’s whoopin’ serious tail in the No. 54…again. It never ends. However, there are other stories that need to be covered. For instance, Regan Smith dropped back through the field due to what turned out to be a broken wheel. We saw Smith dropping back due to what they thought was a serious handling issue. Then, ESPN did an Up to Speed in which they mentioned that Smith had to pit and he had a broken wheel. I have no clue when this pit stop occurred. It was in a 30 lap stretch. That’s all I can tell you.

After the race, the following tweet was sent out.

“One more thing… It’s been brought to my attention that some of @ESPNNASCAR thinks its a 3 car race, can’t wait to make them eat crow.”

That tweet was from Smith himself. That’s not good when one of your championship contenders is bad-mouthing your coverage. ESPN must be more inclusive with their coverage. Not every race has to be the Kyle Busch show.

In addition, ESPN struggled to tell the story of just what the heck happened when Brian Vickers and Parker Kligerman crashed. It took something like seven replays to be able to tell what happened. You had the perfect storm of incorrect camera selections, and the cameras selected were zoomed in too close to tell much even if they were the right cameras. It was painful to watch. However, like the Smith-Elliott Sadler incident in Mid-Ohio, we did finally get the full story.

Post-race coverage was decent. ESPN provided viewers with six post-race interviews, plus a check of the point standings before they left the air.

Unfortunately, the telecast left a sour taste in my mouth. I’m sorry, but there are more people out there on the track than Kyle Busch and Sam Hornish, Jr. Last I checked, 40 dudes started this race. It’s as if no one else mattered. As much as ESPN might not realize it, their telecasts are the primary way in which the Nationwide Series is promoted. As sole broadcaster, they can set the tone as to how the series is seen. Right now, that perception is everyone is Arnold Jackson and Kyle Busch is The Gooch (the only difference being that Kyle Busch is seen a lot, while The Gooch is not). That needs to change.

Irwin Tools Night Race

Saturday night saw the Sprint Cup Series return to ABC for their first appearance of 2013. Bristol Motor Speedway was the venue. Yes, Michael Buffer was in the house, inexplicably.

NASCAR Countdown was hosted from the roof of the Media Center in the Infield because the Quicken Loans ESPN Pit Studio is parked outside of the backstretch, and ESPN wanted their analysts closer to the action before the race. I’m not opposed to that.

Pre-race analysis was centered upon who really needed a good run in the race to solidify their position in the Chase, which I suppose is to be expected. There was also a good bit of Kyle Busch chatter since he was going for another three-peat. There were also five pre-race interviews.

Bristol is well known for incidental and intentional contact, and there was some focus given to that. Buffer’s presence was just one aspect. We had montages of past incidents that either involved driver aggression, or caused aggressions, and hyperbole about what was about to take place. However, in recent years, the Bristol night race has been tamed to a degree due to Chase responsibilities. I wasn’t expecting much craziness to happen. What we got was more or less what I expected.

Compared to the Nationwide race, ESPN’s coverage was a lot more inclusive. There were more drivers that were actually covered during the race. ESPN did try to show races for position as much as they could, which is always good.

I must note that Saturday was the night when ESPN adjusted their scroll to show those in, out, or trying like heck to get into the Chase. Chase discussion did come into play in the commentary during the race, but not all that much. In other words, it wasn’t too intrusive. It will get worse on Sunday night.

Even though the telecast was a lot better than what we got Friday night, I do have some thoughts. ESPN didn’t do as good a job as they should have in reporting that Kurt Busch went behind the wall for his hub issues. Of course, it was all over Twitter with fans freaking out and writers making note of it. However, ESPN didn’t note that Kurt had gone to the garage until after he had already come out. That’s not good. Like the girl in the State Farm commercial who can’t get the dollar bill on a fishing hook, You’ve got to be quicker than that. ESPN cannot expect their scroll to do their job for them.

In regards to the Harvick-Hamlin conflict, the broadcast booth was sitting on pins and needles when that happened. Nobody knew what was going to happen. It’s a little similar to when Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya came together at Watkins Glen back in 2007 and Rusty Wallace (then a booth analyst) stated, “Let’s see if they’re gonna fight. I want to see this.” They just didn’t say it. Knowing Bestwick, he just wanted to see how it was going to play out. I know some of my readers are going to accuse Bestwick of trying to play up the drama. However, even though he’s been working races on TV and radio for 30 years, Bestwick’s a fan just like you and me. I’m fine with what he did. Personally, I’m happy that Jamie Little was able to get an interview with Harvick so quickly after the conversation.

Due to time constraints, post-race coverage was a little lacking. ESPN provided four post-race interviews (the top-2 finishers, plus Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, who got wrecked). There was also a check of the points and the top-10 finishers were shown outside the scroll before the coverage ended so that we could get to the 11pm news.

Overall, ESPN did a much better job covering the Cup race than Friday night’s Kyle Busch Invitational that masqueraded as the Food City 250. However, even though things happen fast at Bristol, ESPN must relay information to viewers as quickly as they possibly can. The regular bar graphics can be used to help out in a pinch, if need be.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series make their one visit of the season to Atlanta Motor Speedway. Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series will make their first-ever trip to Canada for their first visit to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (formerly Mosport). In addition, the Izod IndyCar Series and American Le Mans Series will make another visit to the bumpy-as-heck Streets of Baltimore, Maryland. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, August 27
Time Telecast Network
2:00am-2:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
12:00pm-12:30pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Wednesday, August 28
Time Telecast Network
2:00am-2:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
12:00pm-12:30pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Thursday, August 29
Time Telecast Network
2:00am-2:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
4:30pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Friday, August 30
Time Telecast Network
12:00am-2:00am ARCA Racing Series Herr’s Live Life With Flavor 200 NBC Sports Network*
2:00-2:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
3:00pm-4:30pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
~4:20-5:40pm American Le Mans Series Qualifying ESPN3.com$
7:00-8:30pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1
10:00-11:30pm Nationwide Series Practice FOX Sports 2*

Saturday, August 31
Time Telecast Network
10:30am-11:30am Nationwide Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 2
1:00pm-3:00pm V8 Supercar Championship Series Winton 360 FOX Sports 2*/
3:00-4:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice FOX Sports 2
~3:30-6:30pm American Le Mans Series Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT ESPN3.com$
4:00-5:30pm Nationwide Series Qualifying FOX Sports 2
6:00-7:00pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 2
6:00-7:00pm Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying NBC Sports Network*/
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
7:30-10:30pm Nationwide Series Great Clips/Grit Chips 300 ESPN

Sunday, September 1
Time Telecast Network
12:00pm-2:00pm American Le Mans Series Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT ABC*/
1:00-1:30pm NCWTS Setup FOX Sports 1
1:00-2:00pm Firestone Indy Lights: Baltimore NBC Sports Network
1:30-4:00pm Camping World Truck Series Chevy Silverado 250k FOX Sports 1
2:00-5:00pm Izod IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Baltimore NBC Sports Network
5:30-6:30pm NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco FOX Sports 1
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
7:30-11:30pm Sprint Cup Series AdvoCare 500 ESPN

Monday, September 2
Time Telecast Network
4:30pm-5:00pm? NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1 *- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage
$- Available via password-protected internet streaming. Check with your programming and/or internet service provider for availability.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series telecasts for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For this week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex, I have earmarked either FOX Sports 2’s telecast of the TitanRoof 135 from Wednesday evening at Bristol (referred to as such since it was time-shortened), or Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma for the Izod IndyCar 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 TV coverage from last weekend, please click on the following links:

FOX Sports 1 and 2
ESPN

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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banzaibonnie
08/27/2013 10:42 AM
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How in the world do we have a bristol nite race with NO v.lane?? There were enough story lines to explore to fill at least an hour!! Fs1 is ajoke as far as racing is concerned,and I’ll no longer pay dish or anyone else for this crap.

Steve
08/27/2013 11:37 AM
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I find it quite funny that the first paragraph talks about ESPN losing money on NASCAR and then read further on that the entire Nationwide race was centered on Kyle Busch? Coincidence? I think not.

People are tired of the Kyle Busch show and are looking for other things to do during those races. And his involvement is really hurting the excitement of a good points race.

Too bad ESPN doesn’t see that. For years, they have thought the Cup guys are what people wanted to see. They were way wrong, so I can’t feel bad for them. I hope Nascar doesn’t give them a penny either. They made their bed, now they have to lie in it.

GinaV24
08/27/2013 11:39 AM
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interesting about ESPN & TNT wanting out of their contract. Can’t say I blame them, but that means that if NASCAR won’t allow them an out, the coverage will be even worse than it already is for NASCAR fans.

Considering the lack of coverage of anyone other than KyBu & Sam, do they really wonder why no one is watching the Nationwide series?

JP
08/27/2013 12:19 PM
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GO KYLE GO !!!!!!!

LOL! Drivers like Kyle, Kurt, and Kez are the reason I still tune in to Nascar. Because they remind me of all the great drivers from 20 years ago.

It’s too bad nascar ITSELF isn’t like 20 years ago. Otherwise BSPN wouldn’t be dumping Nascar.

Ann
08/27/2013 01:37 PM
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They do like their Kyle Busch, if I was him I would be embarassed. Joey L. got it done too on a part time schedule last year and you didn’t nearly hear a peep about him, funny stuff. They have their favorites. Friday nite was horrible, good racing and we barely heard or saw it. I dare say those drivers were better again than the Sprint Cup drivers. I’m betting “I didn’t know who Kyle Busch was”(or something to that effect) Samatha is thrilled more TV time for her!!!

allisong
08/27/2013 03:32 PM
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Phil, I’m pretty sure Regan Smith was referring to what ESPN analysts were saying about the title standings, not the race broadcast.

DoninAjax
08/27/2013 07:59 PM
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Sounds like ESPN and Turner signed A-Rod-like contracts.