The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: NASCAR's Chase Coverage Versus The Invisible Field by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday November 5, 2013

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast critiques are the name of the game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series were all in action at Texas Motor Speedway. Did the dreaded cobwebs knock anyone out of the races? I don’t know.

Before we start, Nicole Briscoe announced on Saturday that this past weekend was her final race weekend of the season. She’s taking the last two weekends of the season off as part of her maternity leave. Mike Massaro, who worked this past weekend on pit road, will take her place in the Quicken Loans ESPN Pit Studio at Phoenix and Homestead.

Also, FOX Sports 1’s NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco aired a special feature Sunday morning entitled “Collier Strong.” Donnie Wahlberg narrated the piece, which talks about the Collier brothers, Andrew and Sean. Andrew is a machinist at Hendrick Motorsports, while Sean was a police officer with the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Police Department in Cambridge, MA. As you may remember, Sean was gunned down by the Tsarnaev brothers while on the run from police two days after the bombings at the Boston Marathon in April. The piece features sound bites from Andrew Collier, his family members, and colleagues of Sean in Boston. I thought it was a touching piece. If you’d like to view it, it can be found on FOX Sports’ Shake and Bake blog.

Texas Motor Speedway hosted all three top series this week, but TV coverage varied wildly. Who kept the cameras on the story?

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On Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series returned to action once again at Texas Motor Speedway. 147 laps of action were on tap. How did FOX Sports 1 do? Let’s take a look.

The Setup started off with a look back at the Kroger 200 and Darrell Wallace, Jr.’s historic victory. Then, the focus switched to a slightly more offbeat piece. Apparently, Wallace and Michael Waltrip live in the same apartment complex (or, at least the piece made it look like they did). Wallace needed a little help getting his trophy up to his place and tapped Waltrip to help him out. Some hijinks briefly ensued before the clock reached its resting place in Wallace’s third-floor apartment.

The primary feature of the show was about the Bueschers (James and Kris) and how they’ve changed since becoming parents of an adopted newborn son whom they named Stetson. The young couple takes Stetson on the road for the races and it’s a bit of a challenge for them (probably cheaper than getting a sitter, but still, Stetson’s only a couple of months old). It’s just another sign that James Buescher has changed substantially over the past five years or so. He’s a much more mature individual.

Finally, we had another edition of Grassroots Beat to close out the show. Kristen Beat talked with Jeb Burton about his desire to continue racing late models while competing full-time in the Camping World Truck Series. Topics of discussion here included Burton’s experience starting out at South Boston Speedway playing an integral role in his maturation as a racer, and the fact that his relation to his father Ward (and by extension, his uncle Jeff) did not mean that he didn’t have to work hard for his career (he noted that at this time last year, he was working in a transmission shop after he ran out of funding to run with Hillman Racing). I thought that this was a pretty good feature that actually went a ways to distinguish Jeb as more than a spoiled rich kid. Jeb appears to be quite grounded and works hard for the opportunities that he gets.

As compared to the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races that were aired on the ESPN family of networks this past weekend, I thought that FOX Sports 1 did a much better job of covering the action on-track. You got to see a lot more action for position. Part of that is likely due to the fact that Matt Crafton has been running away with the championship for months now (more than likely, he’ll clinch the championship Friday night in Avondale, AZ).

Having said that, there was a lot of time spent on Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, two Sprint Cup regulars in the field, and their issues. Keselowski lost a lap tooling around under caution with four flat tires after spinning out early. With the flow of the race being what it was, Keselowski was never able to get back on the lead lap despite having one of the fastest trucks on the track. As for Kyle Busch, perhaps he fell victim to the dreaded cobwebs that Keselowski tweeted an article about.

Post-race coverage was somewhat typical. There were four post-race driver interviews, plus an interview with the winning crew chief (Marcus Richmond). There was also a check of the point standings before FOX Sports 1 left to get to FOX Sports Live.

Overall, I liked the broadcast. There was a good amount of action shown for position, and the booth was quite lively. Meanwhile, it seemed dead on ESPN at times. I just hope that FOX Sports 1 can keep this up.

O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge

On Saturday, the Nationwide Series returned to action in Texas after taking the last couple of weeks off (Ok, who thought that was a smart idea?). ESPN was back with their usual cast. How did they do in covering the race?

Once again, there was no scheduled NASCAR Countdown on Saturday. There was regional coverage of college football in the 12:00-3:00pm EDT timeslot, followed by College Football Scoreboard. Ultimately, the games ended before 3:30 (thank goodness) and the race telecast could start on time…or so we thought. Seems like they weren’t ready down in Justin, TX when Wendy Nix threw it to them. We could hear Briscoe and Brad Daugherty talking about something. Not really sure what it was. All I know is they screwed up. I wouldn’t blame Briscoe and Daugherty for that, though. I think that was a basic miscommunication between Bristol and the remote production team.

Probably the main draw that ESPN had for their broadcast on Saturday was having Joe Gibbs in the broadcast booth as a guest. He spent 25 laps on-air in the booth. During that time, Allen Bestwick, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree peppered Gibbs with questions. Unfortunately, most of these questions were very similar to what Daugherty had asked Gibbs in their one-on-one interview that aired just last week. It just wasn’t necessary. Also, the constant line of questioning meant that the race was all but ignored during this period of time. The exception was when the caution came out for debris on Lap 71, bringing everyone to pit road (and yes, they did show the debris here (not sure what it was, but it was a black piece near the wall in Turn 2). Also, I didn’t even mention two additional facts. One, there’s the obvious fact that Gibbs, who was fielding four cars in the race was going to be biased towards his cars. Second, apparently I fell asleep Friday night and woke up in an alternate universe in which Sam Hornish, Jr. drives for Gibbs. Yeah, that’s bad. Don’t do that, ESPN. Check your graphics.

On Saturday (as well as Sunday), tires were a huge story. Unlike past issues, this one consisted of the tires unraveling, then eventually blowing out. ESPN put Goodyear’s GM of Worldwide Racing, Stu Grant, on the spot about the issues, which is always good to see. However, he essentially shifted the blame to the teams. That might make sense if we were talking about melted beads at Martinsville, since that occurs when teams use too much camber (surprisingly, we didn’t see any of that last week). However, I feel that what happened in Texas was the fault of Goodyear, and I believe that ESPN needed to press them on the issue more.

Having said that, ESPN did do a decent job in showing viewers just what these grated tires looked like. Honestly, I’ve never seen anything quite like that before.

Post-race coverage was very, very brief. You could see it coming. Despite four short cautions, the race ended right up against the end of the timeslot. Chatter from Brad Keselowski’s car made air that indicated that “They (meaning NASCAR) want you to be efficient.” That referred to Keselowski’s now signature celebration which includes donuts while hoisting an American flag out his window. Once he got to Victory Lane, ESPN interviewed him. And that was it. ESPN went straight to the 6:00pm edition of College Football Scoreboard.

Obviously, I would have greatly preferred more post-race coverage. There were a number of drivers that could have been interviewed. Heck, even just keep up the point race focus and give a little airtime for Hornish and Austin Dillon. They didn’t even show the point standings. I find it really sad that they couldn’t stay for five stankin’ minutes. However, I really don’t give a hoot about college football, went to a college that hasn’t had football since 1982 and grew up in a region that has traditionally gravitated towards the pro game. I don’t understand the draw.

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Sunday saw the Sprint Cup Series return to action in Texas. It was the eighth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. How did ESPN do with the telecast?

During NASCAR Countdown, there was plenty of discussion about the battle for the championship between Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth. Way more than necessary. However, there was a new caveat this week. The three analysts (Daugherty, Ray Evernham and Rusty Wallace) were charged with breaking down the two contenders using five different criteria (Organization, Engine Program, Crew Chief, Pit Crew and the dreaded Intangibles), then combining everything into an overall pick. Based on that segment, all three analysts gave Johnson a 4-1 advantage and the edge (everyone agreed that Kenseth has the superior pit crew). I’m honestly surprised that everyone agreed on everything. Regardless, I thought that this was a nice way to break down the championship battle. Perhaps it’s something that ESPN should have done a couple of weeks ago.

The primary feature on the show was an off-beat piece where Kenny Maynski was charged with going to a track and talking to fans and drivers about random stuff. This is the type of piece that Mayne is very comfortable doing. Very Daily Show-ish. What I’m saying is that if you see the monstrosity that is Sunday NFL Countdown on a regular basis, you see stuff like this from Mayne on a regular basis. They’re usually covered under the title, “Mayne Event.”

Mayne Event antics can be funny. You get to see a different side of many of the people interviewed, something that you wouldn’t see if I were doing the interviews, one of ESPN’s pit reporters, or really almost anyone that normally covers NASCAR.
That’s more or less what we saw here.

Also, it should be noted that Mayne isn’t a complete dunce about racing. He might have been when ESPN first hired him in 1994, but he ended up being given the job as the first host of rpm2night starting in 1995 (The weekend edition out of Bristol, CT; The weekday edition hosted by John Kernan out of Charlotte, NC launched in 1996). Mayne hosted rpm2night for about 18 months before leaving for SportsCenter. In that time, Mayne brought what I would describe as an interesting interpretation of events. For example, here’s an example of a highlight Mayne called from Dover in 1996. Ok, maybe it hasn’t aged all that well, but I thought it was an interesting way to look at it back when I was 12.

Eventually, Mayne was given the job of anchoring ESPN’s coverage from Daytona in 1998. You might remember when Dale Earnhardt appeared on the show, jacked up like never before. Unfortunately, there aren’t any clips of that. After ESPN lost NASCAR rights, Mayne was just about the most knowledgeable person in Bristol when it came to NASCAR, so he was chosen to voiceover a tribute to Earnhardt that played on SportsCenter. It was offbeat since Mayne is offbeat in general, but still touching.

The other notable feature was a look at the “Runner-up Curse” that has affected multiple teams since the inception of the Chase. This included sound bites from various drivers (Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer) that have been stricken by the Curse. Personally, I believe that’s it’s a misnomer, something that will put me against most of my colleagues here at Frontstretch. Apparently, you’re supposed to be at the top of your game all the time, regardless of what everyone else does, or you’re forever cursed. Heck, prior to the Chase, people did fall off in points from year to year. Did analysts claim that those drivers were cursed? Was Bill Elliott cursed in 1993? No, but I’d argue that his team outright fell apart due to external issues (Junior and his wife Flossie ran into marital problems, and that affected the whole operation). That wasn’t Elliott’s fault. Earnhardt wasn’t cursed either after his seventh title. He ran hard in 1995 and 1996, then injuries that weren’t completely taken care of started to pile up and slow him down.

During the race, ESPN chose to keep the points as they run graphic below the scroll for the whole race. Periodically, the points were referred to when certain moves were made. However, in addition to the graphic, a large percentage of the race was dedicated to Johnson and Kenseth. Way the heck too much.

This is why I hate this part of the season. You don’t get to see the whole story, or much more than a couple of stories, period. For example, Parker Kligerman made his Sprint Cup debut on Sunday and finished 18th, two laps down. This was the third-best finish of the season for the team, and their best run at an intermediate track ever. How much of a mention did Kligerman get on the telecast? Absolute bupkis. Not even a passing mention of Kligerman making his debut at all. I’m not saying this in some kind of misguided attempt to buddy up to Parker, but you have to at least mention him.

Also of note, the final segment of the race was spent covering Johnson, Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (finished second). That’s it. ESPN all but didn’t cover a number of stories that happened in that time, like tire issues for Aric Almirola. Yes, I know Almirola was running 18th at the time, but tire issues are tire issues.

Since the race ended so quickly, there was a good amount of time for post-race coverage. ESPN provided viewers with six post-race interviews, plus an interview with the winning car owner (Rick Hendrick). There was also a check of the point standings and

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, all three National series will be back in action at Phoenix International Raceway. It should be interesting. The grandstands are sold out for the Cup race on Sunday. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, November 5
Time Telecast Network
2:30am-3:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
12:00pm-1:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Wednesday, November 6
Time Telecast Network
3:00am-3:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
12:00pm-1:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Thursday, November 7
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
11:00-11:30am NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
7:00-8:30pm Global RallyCross Championship: Las Vegas (SEMA) ESPN 2

Friday, November 8
Time Telecast Network
2:00am-2:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
12:00pm-1:30pm Nationwide Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
1:30-3:30pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
3:30-4:30pm Nationwide Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
4:30-5:30pm Camping World Truck Series Qualifying FOX Sports 2
5:30-7:00pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 2
8:00-8:30pm NCWTS Setup FOX Sports 1
8:30-10:30pm Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150 FOX Sports 1

Saturday, November 9
Time Telecast Network
11:30am-12:30pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 FOX Sports 1
12:30-2:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1
2:30-3:30pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
3:30-4:00pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN 2
4:00-6:30pm Nationwide Series ServiceMaster 200 ESPN 2

Sunday, November 10
Time Telecast Network
10:00am-11:00am NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco FOX Sports 1
2:00pm-3:00pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
3:00-6:30pm Sprint Cup Series AdvoCare 500k ESPN
8:00-9:00pm FIA World Touring Car Championship: Slovakia FOX Sports 2*/ (from April 28)
9:00-10:00pm FIA GT Series: Belgium FOX Sports 2*/ (from April 21)
9:00-11:00pm World of Outlaws STP Sprint Cars National Open Night No. 1 CBS Sports Network */ (from October 4)
10:00-11:00pm NASCAR Now, Post-Race ESPN 2

Monday, November 11
Time Telecast Network
4:00pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
8:00-9:00pm British Touring Car Championship: Thruxton FOX Sports 2*/ (from May 5)
9:00-10:00pm Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM): Red Bull Ring (Spielburg, Austria) FOX Sports 2*/ (from June 2) *- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races from Phoenix for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. Note that Penn State-Minnesota will air on ESPN 2 starting at Noon on Saturday. It is possible that the game could cut into NASCAR Countdown. My advice is to keep tabs on that.

For the Critic’s Annex, I have chosen to cover the Whelen Modified season finale from Thompson, CT in its place. That will run Thursday in the Newsletter. For next week’s Annex, I’m thinking of covering the DTM race from Austria, but I would not be critiquing the telecast that will air next Monday. Instead, I would be critiquing the full race telecast, which is readily available on DTM’s official YouTube page.

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:
Racing to the Point: NASCAR Has Its Own Heartbreak Kid
Beyond the Cockpit: Brittany Force, the Fastest Force
Voices from the Cheap Seats: Advertising for Dummies
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in Sprint Cup: Off Week-Richmond Edition
Couch Potato Tuesday: Picking The Best IndyCar On-Air Personalities


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11/05/2013 08:01 AM

If a team doesn’t make the chase then the season is over for them. All teams not making the chase should treat the remaining “races” as test sessions.

Why not? What’s the point of trying for the win? Moral victory?

As long as this stupid chase is in place they might as well test for next season.

(Hey…anybody remember a few weeks ago when there was an exciting points race going on between a bunch of drivers? Hmmmm….)

11/05/2013 08:22 AM

I wonder how much longer before sponsors discount the final 10 races of the season because they get zero coverage from the TV networks. Actually, all but the top 10 (or 13, depending), disappear for the final 15 races. I hate the concentration on the ‘title race’, because it trivialized the entire season, and most of the season.

11/05/2013 02:50 PM

I wonder if that’s not in some of the sponsor contracts already.

And the closer it gets to homestead, the reality is ESPN will only cover the “relevant” drivers (from their perspective). This is one of the major issues for fans following NASCAR through the idiotic chase scenario. Most people have a favorite driver or a couple of favorites, but if they are not part of the chosen ones at the beginning of the chase, they get no coverage and as drivers fall out of contention, then they also don’t get coverage with a few exceptions. And so there is less and less reason to watch the next 2 races unless you cheer for the 48 and the 20.

11/05/2013 02:57 PM

The Chase has been a huge contributor imo to the ills of Nascar. You need to show those sponsors and they don’t. These teams right or wrong need them to run. I wouldn’t blame someone for pulling sponsorship. Also, during the Chase, by not mentioning drivers who aren’t in the Chase, one can get the idea that these guys stink because they didn’t make the Chase, and nothing could be farther from the truth. And do you really see actual racing during the Chase..nope and one of the reasons is nobody wants to race a Chaser hard, because if something happens to the Chaser, you DO NOT want to be that guy. Well..except if you are Jeff Gordon and you totally lose it and ram your competitor during a Chase race..: But that is o.k. according to many of his

11/05/2013 05:04 PM

The sickening Jimmie Johnson love fest will continue on for the last 2 races and I for one will not be watching much of it. The racing just isn’t exciting enough for me to endure that when there are plenty of other things on tv to watch.

ESPN just simply thinks that everyone should like Jimmie Johnson trying every so hard to show us what a swell guy. Why else do they show him kissing his wife after every national anthem and of course carrying his kids in victory lane this weekend.

I’m not a fan and never will be a fan no matter how hard ESPN tries. Treating a 10 race champ like some kind of god, the other drivers and their fans deserve better.