The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: FS1, ESPN Fall Victim To Perfect Talladega Storm by Phil Allaway -- Monday October 21, 2013

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, the one area at Frontstretch where TV telecasts take center stage. This weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series were each in action at Talladega for high speed antics. However, a completely different type of high speed show was in play at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA for the Izod IndyCar Series.

Before we start, last week, there were reports that FOX Sports will no longer bring their stage to Sprint Cup weekends starting in 2013. That is part of a continuing move towards studio-based programming during race weekends. NASCAR Live had already been moved away from the stage and in the studio prior to the SPEED-to-FOX Sports 1 shift. However, NASCAR Live never depended on any kind of fan involvement. NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco is at heart, a show for the fans. I feel like it’s going to be a completely different show without the fans hanging around. At the very least, there’s going to be a sizable hole in the Midway at some of the tracks.

NBC brought us the season finale for the IndyCar season. Could they keep the camera on the action?

MavTV American Real 500

On Saturday night (or late Saturday afternoon, depending on your time zone), the Izod IndyCar Series held their final race of the 2013 season. The championship was in play, there was great action on track, and strange things happened. How did the NBC Sports Network do? Let’s take a look.

In a rare move, IndyCar agreed to push back the start of the race by roughly 20 minutes in order to wait out the sun. I can understand the move since it’s kinda scary to drive into Turn 3 at 225 mph and not have a clue where the deuce you’re going.

Because of the delay, there was roughly 20 extra minutes of pre-race coverage. However, NBC Sports Network really took full advantage of their extra time.

IndyCar Live started off with a recap of the Houston doubleheader. No real mention was made of the “jump” exiting Turn 1, but a lot of time was given to Dario Franchitti’s massive last lap crash. There were also a number of interviews. With the additional time that was added thanks to the sun delay, the Grid Run was brought back. However, Robin Miller did have a heck of a time finding anyone to talk to.

During the race, there was a fairly high focus on the championship battle, and I thought that was unnecessary. With the high amount of attrition Saturday night, the only way that Helio Castroneves would have had any chance of wrestling the points lead away from Scott Dixon was if Dixon wrecked or broke. Since neither scenario occurred, just finishing the race (they were two of nine drivers to do so) kept the status quo intact.

Having said that, Auto Club Speedway does put on a great race for IndyCars (arguably, the track was built for them), but no IndyCar race in Fontana has looked anything like the two run there since the series returned last year. There was a lot of great racing throughout the field and the NBC Sports Network did a good job bringing that action to the viewers.

Outside of the championship chase, if NBC Sports Network focuses in on something, it’s probably quite important. One of those things were the dreaded seams. While they can be an issue during Sprint Cup races, it’s worse with IndyCars. The big crash with Justin Wilson occurred when Wilson ran over a seam entering Turn 1. With that, he lost control and it was on. I thought that the commentators did a great job of explaining that.

The other major story was the fact that the track was really, really dirty during the race. And not just from the wrecks and mechanical issues. There was dust everywhere clogging up the air intakes on the cars. This probably led to a number of blown engines. The Ed Carpenter Racing team used a regular Shop-Vac to vacuum out a bunch of crud from the radiator. That also led to likely the only occasion where you’ll find a camera focused in on a trash can during a race telecast. The stuff that came out of the Shop-Vac looked like stuff you’d get out from under your couch. Good luck keeping a 2.2 liter turbocharged V6 cool with that stuff around.

With the wrecks and 55 laps of caution, the race ended at 12:25am EDT, a full 25 minutes over the end of the scheduled timeslot. Despite this, we still got a full post-race show. There were five post-race interviews, checks of the unofficial results and final point standings, and the championship trophy ceremony before NBC Sports Network left the air at 1:00am.

Things weren’t all good for NBC Sports Network, though. There was a technical issue just before the 300 mile mark that saw the entire feed drop out shortly after a side-by-side segment. After roughly 20 seconds of nothing, they went to commercial. Upon returning from the break, Leigh Diffey apologized for the issues.

Ultimately, I did enjoy watching Saturday night’s race. The action on-track was great and NBC Sports Network did a good job in showing us that action. The coverage of the big wreck was also pretty good. We got plenty of reaction interviews and replays. We were lucky that Wilson was the only driver hurt in the crash. Replays showed that a half shaft just missed hitting James Jakes in the helmet.

Fred’s 250

On Saturday afternoon, the Camping World Truck Series returned from yet another long layoff for 250 miles of action at Talladega. Almost no one made it out unscathed (and that’s not hyperbole). How did FOX Sports 1 do with it? Let’s take a look.

Once again, the specter of college football reared its ugly head Saturday since the Texas Tech-West Virginia game went long by ten minutes. It bites, but that’s life. I cannot do anything about the general public’s bloodlust for large dudes in helmets crashing into each other for no real monetary compensation.

The Setup saw the return of Krista Voda to the air, fresh off of maternity leave. It’s good to have her back, and it’s clear that she missed being at the track on a weekly basis. Danielle Trotta did a good job in her place, but I think everyone will be more than pleased to have Voda back in the fold.

With only about 15 minutes of air time, there really wasn’t all that much to pre-race coverage. The show started with a recap of Las Vegas, which, with the ongoing stupidity that is the Camping World Truck Series schedule, was nearly a month ago.

The only feature of the show was a look at a charity go-kart race at the GoPro Motorplex (formerly Mooresville Motorplex) where a bunch of NASCAR notables teamed up to race for charity. Seemed like a fun day all around. There were sound bites from five different Camping World Truck Series drivers, in addition to Travis Pastrana and Ray Dunlap, who to no one’s surprise, laid an egg on track.

Luckily for us viewers, races at Talladega are not the toughest races to cover. With much of the field in one big pack, it isn’t too difficult to see what’s going on. The rule changes have made it difficult for a twosome to run away from the field by ten seconds.

With the field being really close together, the booth commentators can often see incidents long before they occur. Sean Corr’s spin that brought out the third caution was basically predicted a lap or two in advance. I don’t know what the heck he was thinking with the move, but he simply didn’t account for other drivers around him when he made his move. He got lucky and was able to continue afterwards (only to get wrecked again less than 15 laps later).

Post-race coverage was insufficient knowing what happened at the end of the race. Viewers needed as many updates on drivers involved in the last lap crashes as possible before FOX Sports 1 left the air. What we actually got were interviews with race winner Johnny Sauter, points leader Matt Crafton and Kyle Busch, who took a heck of a hit. Oh yes, and replays. Plenty of them.

I would have liked to at least see an interview with David Starr, who avoided the wrecking and finished second. He would have been up to talking. In addition, given the seriousness of the situation (and it was), FOX Sports 1 should have stayed on the air a little longer in order to fully size up the situation. Ultimately, they left the air with way too many unanswered questions.

However, it must be said that the end of Saturday’s race was basically the perfect storm of bad luck for a TV broadcast. You essentially had the end of a race with no one to talk to because everyone wrecked. Almost everyone of note was in the Infield Care Center. People were still being released 20-30 minutes after FOX Sports 1 left the air. Of these drivers, only two that I know of did not talk to the press that were assembled outside. One was Miguel Paludo, who declined interview requests, but later tweeted that he was ok. The other was Justin Lofton, who was taken to the hospital with what turned out to be a broken thumb.

Camping World RV Sales 500

Oh yes. 500 miles of action for the Sprint Cup Series. Action was at hand. No “Big One,” but still plenty of action. How did ESPN do with the race? Let’s see.

Once again, the Chase continues to be the major story of note. Everything is framed within the Chase, which makes it very difficult to actually preview the race. Now, since it’s Talladega, it’s obvious to me that ESPN cares about the race itself. Not enough to actually preview the race on its’ own merits, though.

There was a piece where Dale Earnhardt, Jr. talked about the essence of racing at Talladega. There probably isn’t anyone better than Earnhardt Jr. in the Cup Series to do this, and I thought that he did a good job. Speaking of Earnhardt Jr., he made three separate appearances on Countdown (the aforementioned feature, a regular interview, and then some time in the Quicken Loans ESPN Pit Studio). That’s some Junior overkill there.

The primary feature was a piece about Richie Parker, an engineer at Hendrick Motorsports that was born without arms. An interesting piece, for sure. This is not by any means a new feature. The feature ran both on NASCAR Countdown and on SportsCenter earlier this season.

During the race on Sunday, there was a lot of pack racing towards the front of the field, and some stragglers as well. I would say that 97 percent of the coverage, if not more, was centered on the front of the field. There were some notable drivers that hung out back and didn’t get all that much coverage. I suppose that tactic is why the commentators didn’t seem to know what caused Kasey Kahne to lose the draft. With the overall lack of cautions, losing the draft was effectively a death sentence.

Kyle Busch got the beneficiary when Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya crashed, and that the only way he could possibly redeem his day after missing his stall early on. Luckily, Busch calmed himself down after that mess. I don’t think I’ve heard a rant that salty from him in quite a while.

ESPN held off on going to commercial on Lap 78 when Marcos Ambrose wiped out in the tri-oval, allowing viewers to actually see the crash in real time, instead of via replay. I’m grateful for that. Sometimes, it’s very tough to stop a break from coming on. You got to hope that the dudes in the TV compound notice what’s happening in time.

The run to the end of the race seemed to take the booth commentators by surprise. To me, not so much. I don’t admit to spending all my spare time looking at recent race tapes to identify trends (I think that’s Andy Petree’s day job). However, what we saw at the end of the race was not unprecedented. It’s happened multiple times towards the end of plate races recently, most notably at Daytona. Also, it had been quite a while since the final pit stops and the action generally seemed to calm down the further into a run you got.

Having said that, had Austin Dillon not wrecked exiting Turn 2 and drawn the race-ending caution, the whole finish probably would have been different. Heck was about to break loose. The tandems may have shown up for all I know. Interestingly enough, NASCAR’s move to throw the caution started another discussion on Twitter. Not only was the decision to throw the yellow debated, but whether NASCAR should institute the ARCA GWC rules (unlimited GWC’s until the race ends under green, even if the yellow comes out on the final lap).

Since the race ended quite early (it was the sixth fastest 500 mile NASCAR race ever run, behind five previous Talladega races (May 1997, May 1985, April 2001, October 2002 and July 1992), there was more time than normal for post-race coverage. However, ESPN did not make use of all of it. In the 15 minutes or so that they did use, there were six driver interviews, plus a check of the top-10 finishers and the point standings before ESPN left the air to get to an expanded SportsCenter.

I just don’t feel that they needed to leave early. Unlike Saturday, only a couple of drivers were involved in the last lap crash, and ESPN did interview one of them (Austin Dillon). We could have gotten some more driver interviews, and even a short preview of Martinsville. Preferably something that previewed the race itself and not just the Chase at Martinsville.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series travel to Ridgeway, Virginia for 700 laps of action at the paperclip. Meanwhile, Formula One travels to India, where Sebastian Vettel has a good sporting chance of clinching the World Championship. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, October 22
Time Telecast Network
2:30am-3:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
12:00pm-1:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Wednesday, October 23
Time Telecast Network
11:00am-11:30am NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Thursday, October 24
Time Telecast Network
11:30am-12:30pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Friday, October 25
Time Telecast Network
2:00am-2:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
4:30-6:00am Formula One Grand Prix of India Free Practice No. 2 NBC Sports Network
9:00-10:00am Camping World Truck Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
10:30am-12:00pm Camping World Truck Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
12:00-1:30pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
2:00-3:00pm K&N Pro Series West Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150 FOX Sports 1*/
3:30-5:00pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1
5:00-6:00pm Camping World Truck Series Qualifying FOX Sports 2

Saturday, October 26
Time Telecast Network
4:30am-6:00am Formula One Grand Prix of India Qualifying NBC Sports Network
10:30-11:30am Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 FOX Sports 2
12:00-1:00pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
1:00-1:30pm NCWTS Setup FOX Sports 1
1:30-3:30pm Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 FOX Sports 1

Sunday, October 27
Time Telecast Network
5:00am-5:30am F1 Countdown NBC Sports Network
5:30-7:30am Formula One Grand Prix of India NBC Sports Network
7:30-8:00am F1 Extra NBC Sports Network
10:00-11:00am NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco, Part 1 FOX Sports 1
11:00am-12:00pm NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco, Part 2 FOX Sports 2
1:00-1:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
1:30-5:00pm Sprint Cup Series Goody’s Relief Shot 500 ESPN
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Victory Lane FOX Sports 1
8:00-9:00pm FIA World Touring Car Championship: Italy (Monza) FOX Sports 2*/
From March 24
9:00-10:00pm FIA GT1 World Championship: France (Nogaro) FOX Sports 2*/
From April 1
11:00pm-12:00am NASCAR Now, Post-Race ESPN 2

Monday, October 28
Time Telecast Network
4:00pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1 *- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted coverage

Couple of notes. First, the late morning and early afternoon editions of NASCAR RaceHub will be rerun at 5:00pm EDT on FOX Sports 2 (if you get the station). Second, due to the World Series this week, NASCAR Now is pre-empted late Tuesday and Wednesday nights (Games 1 and 2).

I will be back to provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series telecasts for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday.

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
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phil h
10/22/2013 02:20 AM

I don’t know what others think, but I think ESPN cannot wait to get out of their NASCAR deal.

It’s a shame, but they hurry it along when the races are over like you wrote.

I believe they’d drop it tomorrow if they could.

10/23/2013 11:27 AM

The Indy Car race was entertaining but FAR too much Helio. Every 30 seconds it was either a shot of him, his incar camera or something pertaining to him. Way too much. Why networks bombard us with coverage of drivers they THINK we want to see and pretty much ignore everyone else unless something major happens is hard for me to grasp. How hard is it to just show the race?

ESPN has been that way for years. Nascar is just filler for them and you can tell based on pre and post race coverage. Late getting started and early leaving. Those football scoreboard shows have more viewers than Nascar so such is life as Phil says.

Its really quite sad at these tracks that people just accept the fact that drivers could get injured or even killed. Given the probability of a big wreck happening, you would think people would be a bit more concerned of the safety of their stars. But I guess as long as people are making a ton of money, that’s all the matters, right?