The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: Loudon Tough To Follow While Craven Saves The Day by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday September 24, 2013

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, our weekly look at race telecasts. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup Series was at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the second of ten Chase races. Meanwhile, the Nationwide and ARCA Racing Series were both at Kentucky Speedway.

Before we start, there are a couple of news pieces that must be mentioned. Monday, NASCAR RaceHub returned to a one-hour format on FOX Sports 1. Unfortunately, they’re going to be doing it without Steve Byrnes. FOX Sports announced on Monday that Byrnes has taken an indefinite leave of absence for medical reasons. There was no further elaboration. Adam Alexander, who has mainly been covering football since the switchover to FOX Sports 1, will fill-in as host. We at Frontstretch wish Byrnes a speedy recovery.

Also, Bruton Smith mentioned multiple times at New Hampshire last weekend that he is sure that ESPN is gone at the end of the year and that NBC/NBC Sports Network will replace them. Smith seems to have Mike Mulhern in his corner as well. This very scenario was rumored a few weeks ago, but denied by both ESPN and Turner Sports. Regardless, it will be interesting to see what happens. If both TV partners leave a year early (remember, the existing deal lasts through the end of the 2014 season), then NASCAR will be forced to return to the negotiating table (again) to rehash the TV deals with everyone, and we’ll have a TV personality free-for-all.

Zloop 150

On Friday night, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards was originally scheduled to hold their second-to-last race of the season. However, that didn’t happen. The race was postponed before the TV telecast even started, which is very rare. Rick Allen and Phil Parsons came on-air to explain why the race was postponed, showed the starting lineup and what happened to Frank Kimmel during practice to force him to go to a backup car. Afterwards, they went to a replay of Sprint Cup Qualifying from Loudon.

When Saturday afternoon came around, the race was moved over to the much less subscribed FOX Sports 2. How did they do on Saturday? Let’s take a look.

For the Zloop 150, FOX Sports welcomed former series champion Justin Allgaier back into the broadcast booth. I fully admit that the minute I heard that Allgaier would be in the booth, I changed my plans for this critique (I was planning to cover the Modified race from Loudon here). The move was made because I know a number of you don’t like Allgaier in the booth and it needs to be watched what he does to the booth dynamic.

There was very little pre-race coverage. FOX Sports 2 came on-air from Sparta, and they went straight to pre-race festivities. That’s to be expected since they still had Nationwide Qualifying to do after the race ended. I like to think that there would have been more pre-race coverage had the race gone off as planned Friday night.

During the race itself, FOX Sports 2 employed their time shifting method to broadcast the race. This is noticeable when they would go to commercial breaks for a couple of minutes and return about eight seconds after they went to break. My guess is that when ARCA stated that they were going green at 1:30pm, they meant a hard 1:30. FOX Sports 2 had the Modified race from Loudon in a 90-minute slot and filled that completely.

There appeared to be a focus on the top-10 drivers in the race. I’d argue that it’s really more of a reflection on the series as a whole than anything else. Keep in mind, we’re talking about a race in which 31 cars started (a 32nd car was on the grid, but did not start), and only 12 of those cars finished on the lead lap. The series may have peaked competitively a few years ago.

I did not find Allgaier’s presence in the broadcast booth to be quite as jarring as it’s been in the past. My guess is that Allgaier has watched some of his prior performances in the booth on DVD and realized that he jumps all over people. He has to pull himself back because of that. I thought that he did a decent job of that on Saturday, but he did have to stop himself a couple of times in order to make sure he didn’t run all over Parsons’ words. Allgaier’s commentary was decent. It added a little to the broadcast and didn’t take anything away. Also, I must note that Allen and Parsons don’t really have to go out of their way to get Allgaier to participate, much like other drivers who moonlight as analysts and just sit there.

Since the race ended relatively quickly, there was a good amount of post-race coverage. FOX Sports 2 provided viewers with six driver interviews, plus an interview with the winning crew chief (Harold Holly). There was also a check of the ARCA point standings. Inexplicably, there was also a check of the Cup points entering Loudon. I know we’re in the Chase now, but that’s not necessary.

Overall, ARCA put on a pretty good race at Kentucky Speedway. Allen and Parsons did a pretty good job covering the event, and Allgaier was able to add a bit to the telecast from his own experiences. It wasn’t the best one of the year (as far as I’m concerned, that was Iowa), but I enjoyed the telecast.

Kentucky 300

On Saturday night, the Nationwide Series returned to Kentucky Speedway for their second 300-mile assault on the track that is likely far bumpier than nearby Interstate 71. ESPN had a smaller production at the track for this race as compared to Loudon. How did they do? Let’s take a look.

With no Pit Studio or analysts, Ricky Craven and Marty Reid hosted Countdown from the broadcast booth. There were no features on the show, but a brief discussion of the new restart rules before nine pre-race interviews. Reid and Craven also added some analysis as well. It’s a much more straight forward feel for pre-race and I like it.

During the race, ESPN did a decent job at showing the action on the track, much better than in Loudon on Sunday. We actually got Up to Speed segments and races for position outside of the top-5. Craven was his usual educational self, while Reid was…himself, for better or worse. My only thought with Craven is that he might be repeating himself, or maybe being too descriptive. Regardless, having him in the booth is a nice change of pace from normal.

I was not a fan of ESPN’s cutaway from Brad Sweet’s Great Clips Chevrolet that was ablaze in Turns 3 and 4 to show single cars coming down pit road. That was something that could have been handled much better. Just don’t get what the thought process was there.

There were a number of technical issues late in the race that I feel need to be addressed. Now, with technical issues, I never know whether it’s just me having them, or if it’s everyone, so I’ll say my piece and everyone can chime in below. The second half of Saturday night’s race was plagued with a number of issues having to do with the feed. I would constantly lose audio, the picture, or both. I’m sure it was not an issue with my cable. Sure, it was raining a little outside at my house by that point, but I’m sure that wasn’t the issue. Not a good time for that, but it happens.

Marty Reid apparently needs to learn to count. He screwed up the call of the final lap of the race by declaring Ryan Blaney the winner one lap early. Granted, nothing changed at the front of the field on the final lap, but it doesn’t matter. This is not the first time that Reid has screwed it up. It’s apparently occurred multiple times this year. Also, he screwed up the lap count in the 25-lap Saturday Night Special at Bristol a couple of years ago (the one where Larry Pearson was seriously injured). It’s ridiculous. You’ve got all that stuff in the broadcast booth at your disposal and you screw up that often?

Since the race ran long by nearly a half hour, post-race coverage was quite brief. ESPN aired only three post-race interviews (and it would have been less than that if Ryan Blaney got himself to Victory Lane quicker than he did). There was no check of the point standings before ESPNEWS left the air for Air Force-Wyoming.

In all honesty, while the Craven-Reid booth pairing is a nice change from normal, Craven is forced to carry Reid at times. The end of Saturday’s race was just another glaring example. The first half of the race was pretty good to watch, then stuff under the control of the commentators and outside of their control really brought the telecast down. It’s a great shame, since I want them to succeed.

ESPN brought us the Chase from NHMS. But did they cover the race?

Sylvania 300

On Sunday afternoon, the Sprint Cup Series got lucky and got a cold front to move through New Hampshire quicker than expected. As a result, the Sylvania 300 went off without a hitch. How well did ESPN do with the broadcast? Let’s take a look.

While I think that even under normal circumstances, ESPN’s pre-race analysis from the Quicken Loans ESPN Pit Studio is overkill, at least they’re actually talking about the race at hand (most of the time). Once we get to this time of year, the race itself is not even secondary. It’s tertiary. All that matters is the Chase, and whether one of the Chasers wins or not. If a non-Chaser ends up winning, ultimately they don’t care. I’m not a fan of that. I can’t imagine that any of the tracks that host Chase races actually benefit any more from hosting a Chase race as they would from hosting a regular Cup race.

The primary feature of Countdown was about Jeff Gordon and his quest to help children. Marty Smith led viewers through a look back at Gordon’s philanthropy over the years, starting with a visit to the Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem, NC. Gordon also talked about his experiences spending time with former crew chief Ray Evernham’s son, Ray Jay, who had leukemia. There was also a portion of the piece dedicated to Gordon’s visit to hospitals that the Jeff Gordon Foundation supports in Rwanda (this happened during the 2012-2013 offseason). I found it to be an interesting piece. You really saw Gordon’s desire to help people come out here, especially in the quasi-home movies of Gordon with Ray Jay early on.

Another piece was focused on Kurt Busch and the various changes that he’s made since his complete and total meltdown at the end of 2011 that ultimately cost his ride with Penske Racing. Now at Furniture Row Racing, Busch has changed his mind set and it has paid dividends. Arguably, the time with Phoenix Racing last year was just the beginning of the changes, but Busch claims that he’s learned quite a bit from team owner Barney Visser. I thought that it was a good piece, not great, but good.

ESPN also brought back the “Stick a Fork In ‘Em” feature from last year. Oh boy. That stuff gets old really fast. I hated it last year and still hate it now. They could use that time and go interview drivers on the grid and actually find some stuff out about the dang race. However, as I stated after Dover last September when it debuted, Briscoe and the gang do seem to have fun with it. Doesn’t mean that I like it, though.

During the race, there were a number of long green-flag runs. You’d think that these would be opportunities to give proper updates on a number of different drivers, or even look back through the field and find some battles for position. ESPN chose not to take that route. Instead, we got a lot of single cars driving around the track, some analysis, and not a heck of a lot of action.

I recall watching the race and seeing something like a 50 lap stretch where we didn’t see any racing for position. I made note of this on Lap 147, basically asking to myself, what the deuce? Yes, Matt Kenseth took the lead away from Martin Truex, Jr. a few laps later, but it seemed like I wasn’t watching a race for much of the event. That’s not what I want to see. I felt lost at times. With 55+ cameras at the track every week, you should never feel lost watching a Cup race on ESPN.

The interview that Dr. Jerry Punch did with Kasey Kahne after his wreck was weird as all heck. I couldn’t read anything out of it. Perhaps Kahne really was confused as heck. My take away was that he might have suffered a concussion since he took a driver side flush hit on an unprotected concrete wall. Don’t underestimate those hits. You probably remember what a flush drivers’ side hit did to Jerry Nadeau back in 2003. The team claims he’s fine and just couldn’t hear the Punchmeister. Granted, Kahne’s hit wasn’t anywhere near as hard as Nadeau’s, but it was similar to the one Jeff Gordon had at Richmond a while back. Because of that, we might hear a little more about it.

Post-race coverage was fairly decent. ESPN provided viewers with six driver interviews, plus an interview with winning crew chief Jason Ratcliff. In addition, there was also the check of the points before ESPN left to get to SportsCenter.

That’s all for this week. Next week, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series will both be in action at Dover International Speedway. Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series will be way out in Las Vegas for a standalone race. No offense, but that doesn’t really work, especially without the IZOD IndyCar Series being there with them. Of course, we know why they’re not there.

Tuesday, September 24
Time Telecast Network
4:00pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Wednesday, September 25
Time Telecast Network
2:00am-2:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
4:00pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Thursday, September 26
Time Telecast Network
2:00am-2:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
4:00pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Friday, September 27
Time Telecast Network
2:00am-2:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
11:00am-12:30pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
12:30-3:00pm Nationwide Series Practice FOX Sports 1
3:00-4:30pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN 2

Saturday, September 28
Time Telecast Network
11:00am-12:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 FOX Sports 2
12:00-1:30pm Nationwide Series Qualifying FOX Sports 2
1:30-4:30pm Rolex Sports Car Series Championship Weekend presented by BMW FOX Sports 2
3:30-6:00pm Nationwide Series OneMain Financial 200 ESPN
8:00-8:30pm NCWTS Setup FOX Sports 1
8:30-11:00pm Camping World Truck Series Smith’s 350k FOX Sports 1

Sunday, September 29
Time Telecast Network
10:00am-11:00am NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco FOX Sports 1
1:00pm-2:00pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
2:00-6:00pm Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 ESPN
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Victory Lane FOX Sports 1
11:30pm-12:30am NASCAR Now, Post-Race ESPN 2

Monday, September 30
Time Telecast Network
4:00pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

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. The final Rolex Series race at Lime Rock prior to the full merger will be covered in the Annex next week. Also, since I will be there representing Frontstretch this weekend in Connecticut, I’ll probably be able to add some stuff as well.

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

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:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


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09/24/2013 08:40 AM

If you want to talk about driver side hits, remember Butch Lindley. He was one of the best drivers I’ve seen.

It’s too bad hardly anyone saw the best race of the weekend. The Modifieds did it again at New Hampshire. Why don’t they put the Cup drivers in Modifieds on Sunday?

Michael in SoCal
09/24/2013 11:21 AM

Good to see that there are still parts of racetracks without the SAFER barrier. Way to go ISC. This, along with the Air Titan situation at Chicago really makes the ISC people (and their direct relations in NASCAR) look like buffoons.

Wish I had seen the Modified series race – the trucks & the modifieds are the best racing in Nascar.

09/24/2013 01:22 PM

I didn’t watch any of the other racing. Not thrilled with FS1, 2 or whatever. Nationwide series? What’s that? Again, didn’t bother. Glad that the weather cooperated for Loudon, it’s always a tough deal when it rains on race day.

Not a fan of the “stick a fork” deal either. I don’t watch the countdown most days, will probably skip it from here on out – after all, it appears that it is a 3 driver race.

Wish the chase would just go away.

09/24/2013 01:33 PM

I’ve become a 20 lapper. Sundays in New England this time of year are way too nice to spend inside watching Nascar or football; take the old convertible or HD for a ride, get home, watch the last 20 laps on Tevo, check out the empty stands and wonder when the France family will get the stones to do what the George family at Indy did and dump the bozo.

09/24/2013 04:01 PM

I have to say after everything that went down 2 weeks ago and the iffy weather on race day, the fans in New England still support Nascar because that was a nice crowd considering the circumstances.

Mike in SoCal, you criticism is right on, but NHMS is one of Brutons tracks, not an ISC track. Guess he would rather spend his money on a giant tv for texas than to keep the drivers safe.

Wish I had seen the modified race myself. Seeing them live at Loudon is a real treat. They never seem to disappoint. Its too bad Nascar treats them like the red headed step child considering they put on better races than the Nationwide and Cup.