The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN Does Well With Tires, Mediocre Elsewhere by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday October 8, 2013

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, your source for race telecast criticism and praise. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were both in action at Kansas Speedway. There was plenty of wrecking for all involved.

However, before we start, we finally have a definitive answer as to what is going to happen in regards to NASCAR’s TV deal for the 2014 season. On Saturday, Steve Herbst, NASCAR’s Vice President of Broadcasting and Production, released a statement that puts all the issues to rest.

“Despite speculation over the last month that NASCAR’s new television agreement could be pushed up to the start of the 2014 season, NASCAR has informed our broadcast partners today that FOX, Turner and ESPN will finish the current term as originally planned,” Herbst wrote. “While we were humbled by the desire of NBC and FOX to start 12 months early, we now consider this matter closed and look forward to finishing our current agreement in 2014 with our great partners at FOX, Turner and ESPN.”

I find the word choice here to be interesting. Everything that had been rumored/reported on in regards to the 2014 TV issues revolved around ESPN and Turner Sports wanting out at the end of this year. Based on Herbst’s words, it seems like FOX and NBC were more than willing to take up the slack and allow ESPN and Turner Sports to leave early. However, NASCAR apparently stepped in and said, “Heck to the no,” and held firm to the previous agreement. Interesting. We’ll see how the 2014 season plays out.

Cold weather played havoc with both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races this week.

Kansas Lottery 300

Saturday brought the Nationwide Series back to Kansas Speedway for their lone appearance of the 2013 season. The dual zone tires were not in use here, but it was still an “all-skate.” How did ESPN broadcast this event? Let’s take a look.

Once again, there was no Countdown due to football. However, the Florida State-Maryland evisceration finished just ten minutes late. As a result, it did not cut into the Nationwide coverage at all.

Pre-race was relatively brief. The command occurred only 12 minutes after the broadcast began, and that includes the invocation, national anthem, and a commercial break. There was some simple analysis from the Quicken Loans ESPN Pit Studio, and that was about it.

During the race, there was a lot of discussion about how the weather changed the track conditions. Now, this is true. The temperatures dropping by 30 degrees wreaked havoc on the rest of the race weekend. It not only led to an overall lack of grip, but the groove failed to move up as well. In addition, an unexpected wear issue on left side tires showed up. Blistering. Usually, that occurs at really fast tracks, or really hot tracks. Kansas would qualify as the former since on fresh tires, drivers were nearly flat out. ESPN did a decent job covering this story, including Jamie Little showing viewers a blistered tire.

There really wasn’t all that much coverage on Saturday outside of a couple of individual stories. Yes, there was plenty of coverage up front, but most coverage stayed there. Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski got a lot of press due to their incident late in the race (regardless of what Busch says, it looked like he turned right, which isn’t what you do when you get tight, last I checked), but they didn’t factor in all that much until late in the race. Even the championship race didn’t get all that much press, unless you were Austin Dillon. Since Dillon led so much, he got a lot more coverage than Sam Hornish, Jr.

Since the race ran long due to all the wrecking, post-race coverage was relatively brief. ESPN provided four driver interviews and a check of the point standings before leaving to get to football highlights.

Saturday’s race was so full of wrecking that it was difficult for ESPN to get into any kind of flow for much of the afternoon. That lack of flow had a negative effect on what they brought to viewers. I didn’t feel lost on Saturday, but I felt that I wasn’t getting the whole story.

Hollywood Casino 400

Sunday afternoon brought even more cool weather (I’m pretty sure mid-50’s aren’t normal for early October in Northeastern Kansas) for the Sprint Cup Series extravaganza. How did ESPN do with the fourth race of the Chase? Let’s take a look.

Countdown contained the usual amount of pre-race analysis from the Quicken Loans ESPN Pit Studio. Honestly, I think that it only adds so much to the actual broadcast. In addition, especially this time of year, it doesn’t even really preview the race since the Chase takes precedence. Other than the Chase, the main topic of discussion was the Kyle Busch-Brad Keselowski conflict that occurred the previous day in the Nationwide race. Ultimately, the two drivers were barely around each other all day. Busch, of course, imploded.

I should state that ESPN did bring viewers seven pre-race interviews, which is a little more than normal. Good to see. All seven interviews were with Chasers, and were structured accordingly.

The primary piece that aired during Countdown was an essay, entitled “The Heartland.” With Marty Smith providing narration, Carl Edwards described why Kansas is the Heartland of the United States. Thankfully, ESPN has posted the piece here so you can take a look. This was a pretty good piece. At heart, Edwards is a country boy, even if he doesn’t necessarily look the part with his near constant TV presence these days (ESPN, Subway, etc.). There’s a reason why Edwards still maintains a residence in Columbia, Missouri despite racing full-time in NASCAR.

That was followed up by the detestable “Stick a Fork In ‘Em” piece. I talked about this a little yesterday in The Big Six, but it must be mentioned here. Whoever ok’d the idea of giving Brad Daugherty a giant fork and telling him to do whatever he wants with it should be reprimanded. I’ve stated numerous times here that I don’t like the segment and that it should be axed. However, Daugherty not only managed to make himself, but his colleagues, ESPN, and probably yours truly look bad. Good lord. And I thought ESPN wasn’t going to spend any more than they had to. Just makes you wonder what’s going on upstairs sometimes.

The cool weather and constant spinning was once again a big story on Sunday. Parts of the race reminded me of another infamous wreckfest, the 1992 Indianapolis 500. I know, it’s an IndyCar race, but bear with me here. That race was held in similar weather to what we had on Sunday, unseasonably cool and cloudy conditions (temperatures were just about the same as well). No grip from the tires and random spinouts were the primary story on that day as well.

Of course, that race had a couple of things that this race did not. Unfortunately, one of those things was injuries. A number of drivers left Indianapolis that day either very sore, in an ambulance, or a MediVac helicopter. Jeff Andretti was arguably never the same. The other difference was a completely dominant car. Granted, Kevin Harvick was tough to catch, but he wasn’t lapping the field or doing anything like what Michael Andretti did before his fuel pump failed.

Speaking of the tires, yeah, they were an issue, and ESPN spent a good amount of time covering the topic. Ultimately, the condition of the tires might have depended on which team ESPN was covering on Sunday. Some teams reported no issues at all with the dual zone right side tires. Other teams reported tires going down to the cords, then the cords dislodging themselves from the tires in strings, as seen on ESPN (a situation like that probably caused the debris caution on Lap 88).

Quite honestly, the whole thing was a mess. Nowhere near the black eye for Goodyear that the 2008 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard was, but definitely not good. I bet the guys in Akron wished that the cold front never pushed through Friday night.

During the race, there were some technical issues with the telecast. First, viewers that have DirecTV lost ESPN just after halfway during the caution for Justin Allgaier and Ryan Newman’s crash. Since I do not have DirecTV, this did not affect me, personally. However, I know for a fact that the working media in the Media Center lost TV coverage. According to our own Summer Bedgood, who just so happened to be there, this outage lasted about one to two minutes, then it came back like nothing happened.

About 30 laps later, I lost my coverage as well for about four laps. However, I still had RaceBuddy at my disposal on my phone (yeah, I paid for it). That stuff shouldn’t be $25. I would describe what I saw as a period of time where the picture just went to heck and I lost all audio. I want to say that the wind at Kansas Speedway may have been to blame, but I doubt it. A lot of the technical issues seem to be on the end of providers these days. For what it’s worth, Bestwick and the rest of the broadcast booth didn’t make reference to it, leading me to believe that it was an isolated incident. I actually thought that the quirky fire that caused caution No. 8 was to blame. However, the TV Compound is on the other side of the frontstretch from there.

Unfortunately, the brief amount of time I missed meant that I didn’t see Act 1 of what caused Kurt Busch to run Jeff Gordon to the apron on the backstretch. However, my choice of Matt Kenseth’s in-car camera on RaceBuddy during the interruption allowed me to see Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s close encounter with the SAFER Barrier in real time (ok, delayed time) that ESPN later replayed.

I was not happy with the fact that ESPN failed to show a replay of David Ragan’s crash. Now, it should be noted that the wreck happened during one of ESPN’s NonStop breaks. They actually caught most of the incident live, which is good (better than normal, to be honest). However, there was absolutely no attempt to replay the incident. ESPN kept the NonStop segment on through its natural conclusion, aired the pit stops, then went to commercial before the restart. That bites. I know Ragan drives for Front Row Motorsports, but he deserves better than that. Also, I’m a completionist that doesn’t like loose ends.

It should be noted that I don’t have the best eyesight out there. I critique on a 32 inch HDTV. It’s not bad (better than the 22 incher I used to use for the first couple of years), but with the NonStop commercials, the box with the action is kind of small. I couldn’t completely make out what happened when I watched live. When I say that ESPN caught most of the crash live, I mean that it started, they cutaway, then went back to it. I missed what caused it even when I went back and watched.

Since the race ended approximately 22 minutes after the scheduled sign-off, post-race coverage was expected to be short. Given the circumstances, what coverage we did get wasn’t bad. ESPN provided viewers with five post-race interviews and a check of the point standings before leaving for SportsCenter.

Once again, the Chase took precedent in ESPN’s coverage. However, the actions that occurred in the race allowed non-Chasers to actually throw their hat into the ring, unlike in Dover. The Chase focus did mean that a number of non-Chasers that were having good runs got some exposure on the broadcast, but not their proper due.

Covering the tire issues was probably where ESPN did their best work in Kansas. However, as I state nearly every week, ESPN cannot let the Chase and Chase alone set their plans for the week. They need to be more inclusive on the broadcast. Show some more races throughout the field. Heck, even give viewers more Up to Speed segments (there weren’t any).

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Chase continues at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the annual 500 mile classic. Note that this will be the only Chase race on ABC this year. The Nationwide Series joins them as well. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, October 8
Time Telecast Network
2:30am-3:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
4:00pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Wednesday, October 9
Time Telecast Network
2:00am-2:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
2:00pm-3:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Thursday, October 10
Time Telecast Network
2:00am-2:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
3:30pm-5:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
6:00-7:00pm Nationwide Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 2
7:00-8:30pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN 2

Friday, October 11
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-2:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Japan Free Practice No. 2 NBC Sports Network
2:00-2:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
12:00pm-1:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
3:00-4:00pm Sprint Cup Practice No. 2 FOX Sports 2
4:00-5:30pm Nationwide Series Qualifying FOX Sports 2
5:30-7:00pm Sprint Cup Happy Hour ESPN 2
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN 2
7:30-10:30pm Nationwide Series Dollar General 300 Miles of Courage ESPN 2

Saturday, October 12
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-2:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Japan Qualifying NBC Sports Network
5:00pm-6:30pm NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco FOX Sports 2
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Countdown ABC
7:30-11:30pm Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 ABC
~11:00-11:30pm NASCAR Victory Lane FOX Sports 2

Sunday, October 13
Time Telecast Network
1:30am-2:00am Formula 1 Countdown NBC Sports Network
2:00-4:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Japan NBC Sports Network
4:00-4:30am F1 Extra NBC Sports Network
12:00pm-1:00pm K&N Pro Series East Drive Sober 150 FOX Sports 1*/

Monday, October 14
Time Telecast Network
4:00pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1 *- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. This week’s edition of the Annex was originally scheduled to cover the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge at Lime Rock. However, due to space constraints, I will be covering the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston for the Izod IndyCar Series in the Newsletter on Thursday. I still plan to give you the super duper bonus coverage from Lime Rock, but it will occur at a later date.

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:
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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10/08/2013 01:14 PM

I stopped watching any of the pre-race shows several years ago. I no longer find them interesting or appealing and based on what I’ve read, my decision is the right one.

Brad D is, along with several other “famous” commentators (not necessarily on ESPN) a blithering idiot and giving him a fork? Well, I know what I’d like to do with that fork, but it’s probably best I don’t say.

I’m not sure how NASCAR forcing ESPN to continue the coverage when they want out will benefit anyone, but hey time will tell. They don’t do a great job now, next year will probably be worse yet.

I missed the Nationwide race. Honestly since it has become Cup lite, I find it hard to be interested in trying to find it amidst college football.

Sunday’s race – well, my fav did well, people I don’t cheer for didn’t, a few people got what was coming to them, so it was reasonably entertaining.

10/08/2013 01:46 PM

“evisceration” – I love that…

I have given up expecting ESPN to care how much NW coverage they miss. Hello, radio. I missed pre-race(intentionally) but I agree on the fork thing based on last season. Just bad.