A new segment of the NASCAR broadcasting season began this past Sunday, as TNT hosted the first of six races that it will cover this season. Many anticipated the weekend’s race at Pocono to lack the excitement and the drama that both NASCAR and TNT pride themselves upon. Fortunately for both, Sunday’s race delivered; and TNT had a huge hand in conveying that excitement to the viewers at home.
Why the uptick in enthusiasm late? As correctly anticipated by Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds early in the broadcast’s pre-race show, the Pocono 500 boiled down to fuel and pit strategy. This correct prediction by these current racing veterans further goes to show the worth in paying top dollar for seasoned participants in the sport.
Throughout the race, Bill Weber, Wally Dallenbach and Petty toiled and debated about the outcomes of different pit strategies for teams. They smoothly and constantly referred to McReynolds, who had a “smoking” calculator from his using it so much during the race.
The broadcast team seemed to gel well despite any technical glitches. Though Weber does get stuck reading many corny one liners, he blended well with Petty, Dallenbach and Larry Mac in this setting. Petty was not at all hesitant to share his opinion during the race, and Wally did not seem to have missed a beat despite having been out of the booth for almost an entire year.
Also not missing a beat was the pit-road team. The FOX pit-road crew has been criticized several times in this column for botching tosses and getting behind on calling the actual pit stops. In contrast, although the TNT crew had not been together for nearly a year they turned in the strongest pit road reporting performance of the season. Reporters Lindsay Czarniak, Matt Yocum, Marty Snider and Ralph Shaheen have little room to improve; the only deficiency I noticed amongst them was that during the post-race interviews, they did not toss to each other. In other words, the shot simply cut to the next reporter on the list.
TNT has a unique pre-race lineup, with a soft news pre-race show hosted by Marc Fein. Fein seems natural in his role on that show and should be used more during the actual race broadcast. He could fill the role that Chris Myers plays on FOX, with McReynolds playing his Jeff Hammond. This particular pre-race show did not have many lulls, but during the story about the crew members competing in a short-track race, I recommend that they should have actually shown the guys race instead of just talk about it. One short note: it was great to see Petty interviewing Denny Hamlin. I was waiting for him to slap Denny’s hat again.
The Allstate Countdown to Green, the network’s second pre-race show, also had quality roundtable discussion and covered most of the sport’s news. Wally and Bill sure deemed cramped in their booth above the track though, which did not seem necessary considering Pocono is a 2.5-mile superspeedway.
But overall, the broadcast was quite strong. Here are a few weak spots and other observations from both TNT and other NASCAR broadcasts from the past week:
- TNT’s biggest mistake occurred less than a quarter of the way through the race, when the audio for the broadcast failed. The picture showed the racing action, but the audio was completely silent, then interrupted by a bleedover of the other Turner audio from the Braves broadcast. TNT eventually went to commercial and then rejoined the race with less quality audio, before the problem was completely fixed. This was the glaring weak spot in the TNT presentation.
- Rusty Wallace proved that he does not belong in the broadcast booth during ESPN’s broadcast of Nationwide Series qualifying. He rushed to make the final “slam dunk” statements of a discussion – without fully thinking through his thought. This led to some less-than-stellar observations and some mouth and foot unity.
- TNT introduced Race Buddy, a program designed to allow fans to follow the race via NASCAR.com. I did not use the feature for this race, but it sure seems like a good example of at least one of the networks trying to catch up to the media innovations of our time and expanding the coverage it offers. This is a good example for both FOX and ESPN and a good sign for the future of NASCAR broadcasting.
- Network producers and reporters have to be disappointed with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s interviews this season. Every time a mic and camera are put in his face, he speaks slowly, mumbles, seems dejected, and does not even bother to mention his $30 million sponsor. An example of this again occurred after Sunday’s race. When the reporter began asking him about the day’s events, Junior seemed very disinterested in talking. Well, people always want to know what he has to say, and Junior’s plight is usually one of the top stories of every race. His dejection and non-enunciation must torque off the network brass. I do not doubt that his interest and passion in and for the sport, but with all of the hub-hub that surrounds him, I am sure that the media expect a little more energy out of him in interviews.
- McReynolds sure does make the rounds. He is a prominent member of the FOX broadcasting team and Speed Channel, then immediately jumps the fence to help out rival TNT. He is obviously talented and warrants the exposure he gets. ESPN should go ahead and use Larry Mac in its coverage in place of Tim Brewer, who has been disappointing in his role with the network. Go for the triple like Kyle, Larry!
That covers this week’s round of Talking NASCAR TV. Next week, the big circus travels to Michigan, where we will cover all three networks’ coverage of the sport again. Ciao!