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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: Slight Problems Affect Telecasts; Rules Hurt More

Hello, race fans and welcome to entry No. 40 in an ongoing series where we look at the television coverage that NASCAR gets on a weekly basis. Before we start, I should state that I had a bunch of issues with my DVR this week. Yep, it’s still not perfected. In fact, it’s worse now than last week. On Sunday night, the thing just died, basically. As a result, I could not critique NASCAR Performance for this week. I can just push that back to next week, luckily.

Also last week, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch hosted WWE Raw at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y. I will admit, Joey and Kyle looked awfully out of place there. They’re skinny little dudes compared to the wrestlers. Also, Busch screwed up the script at one point, mispronouncing Kofi Kingston’s name (Don’t worry, I watch wrestling so rarely that I didn’t have a clue who he was, either). Also, note that Kofi actually broke part of the windshield on Busch’s show car at one point. That breakage was most definitely not scripted.

Joey seemed to just be there, if you know what I mean. He didn’t do much of anything besides stand there and let Kyle do all the talking. Maybe they should have just had Kyle host alone. Obviously, having Sprint Cup racers on Raw doesn’t do much to curtail NASCAR-WWE comparisons, but what can we do?

On Saturday afternoon, the Truck Series raced the Mountain Dew 250 Presented by Fred’s at Talladega Superspeedway. The usual crew of Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip was in the booth for SPEED. Adam Alexander, Krista Voda and Ray Dunlap were reporting from pit road. Since this race was run on Halloween, the NCWTS Setup definitely had a Halloween theme. For the second consecutive year, SPEED’s on-air crew dressed up in costumes for pre-race. Last year, the theme was the classic 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz. This year, the crew had a Batman theme (the classic 1966 campy TV Series starring Adam West). Dunlap and Alexander were Batman and Robin, respectively, while Voda was Batgirl. The booth commentators were the bad guys. Allen was the Riddler, while Waltrip was the Joker and Parsons was the Penguin. Seemed fitting, I guess. Even non-SPEED employees got in on the act. The Goodyear Blimp pilot was wearing an Elvis mask and one of MRN’s commentators was wearing a Pumpkin costume. It’s obvious that the SPEED crew had a lot of fun with this and I’m happy for them. A happy on-air crew makes for a better broadcast, in my opinion.

Our own Matt McLaughlin doesn’t agree with me here, claiming that SPEED should have devoted their resources elsewhere. That would be true if the pre-race show was nothing but prancing around in costume. However, work got done here, so I’m fine with this. The comment about Krista Voda’s thighs was just wrong, though. That’s just a mean-spirited attack and has no place in a column, in my opinion.

Aside from the costumed shenanigans, there were interviews with seven drivers and a couple of features. One of the features was on Mario Gosselin, who unveiled a new primary sponsorship from MyTireMonkey.com this weekend. It chronicled his struggle to get his small team to the track each weekend. Very informative. Another (the “Bumper to Bumper” segment) concerned drivers’ favorite or most memorable Halloween costumes. A couple drivers (like Ron Hornaday) basically said no comment, while Todd Bodine mentioned that he couldn’t mention it on TV. However, we still got some good ones, like trains and “Snake Man.” David Starr also talked about how his wife picked out a Pimp costume for him to wear to a costume party in Texas.

There was also a replay of Mike and Chrissy Wallace‘s appearance on NASCAR RaceHub from this past weekend in the pre-race. This played up the significance of the circumstances surrounding Saturday’s race (the first ever father-daughter pair to start a NASCAR race together). In the race, Chrissy drove admirably and finished 13th, while Mike had issues, lost a lap, then dropped out after a piece of the left-side sheetmetal peeled back, drawing a black flag. Before Mike could even get the No. 48 to pit road, the hood peeled back, prompting Waltrip to say that the truck was “falling apart.” I guess that when things go bad, they really go bad.

The race telecast was very good. There was an ample amount of excitement in the broadcast booth, which is something that I have come to stress in these critiques this season. I do have to say that SPEED did miss the restart from the third caution (when one of Hornaday’s cowl flaps came off). As good as this broadcast was, I can’t let them off the hook for that.

Speaking of Hornaday’s cowl flap, SPEED had some great camera work in showing how Hornaday’s flap opened up completely and broke off solely because of air pressure and bump drafting. Good stuff.

Post-race coverage was quite brief because of the rain that delayed the start of the race. The race started a half hour late because of the rain, and the seven cautions would have helped the race overrun its slot even if it started on time. As a result, there were only a couple of interviews (winner Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola and Todd Bodine), and a quick points check. The unofficial results were kept in the scroll.

On Sunday afternoon, the Cup Series raced in the Amp Energy 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. ESPN on ABC provided the broadcast with their usual crew of Dr. Jerry Punch, Andy Petree and Dale Jarrett in the broadcast booth; and Shannon Spake, Jamie Little, Vince Welch and Dave Burns on pit road. Allen Bestwick, Brad Daugherty and Rusty Wallace populated the Infield Studio.

The pre-race show was expanded to an hour for the race, presumably so that more information could be stuffed in. ESPN has been a little screwy with their NASCAR Countdown lengths this season. Pre-race prior to the Chase always seemed to be an hour, then it got cut to a half-hour once the Chase started. Charlotte’s was less than a half hour (25 minutes or so, just about as long as an episode of Whew!, a 1979 game show on CBS that was truncated to 25 minutes (including commercials) in order to make room for a five-minute CBS Newsbreak (it’s pretty good, look it up on YouTube).

In the lengthened pre-race show, ESPN interviewed seven drivers, all Chasers with the exception of Brad Keselowski, who won at Talladega back in April. Also, there was a fairly nice feature on Blake Bobbitt, the then-17 (now 18)-year-old whose jaw was broken from flying debris in the infamous Carl Edwards crash. In that feature, we learned that Blake’s father runs a Chevron gas station/convenience store and works seven days a week to support her. They saved the money in order to buy the tickets to go to Talladega (this was Blake’s first ever NASCAR race), and had a great time. Blake’s father wanted her to sit as close as possible (in order to get that “rush”). Blake then talked about her surgeries, the long recovery from those injuries and how she has coped (fairly well). This was nicely put together, but I think it seemed out of place. It looked like something that would work fairly well on Outside the Lines, or as one of those features that air on SportsCenter every now and then (just not this time of year). Unfortunately, ESPN has not decided to put this video up on their website like they did with the Victory Junction piece back at Kansas.

There was a short segment in the Craftsman Tech Garage where Tim Brewer showed race fans where the restrictor plates are installed on the engine (on top, underneath the carburetor). Admittedly, this same demonstration was done by Hermie Sadler on NASCAR RaceDay about an hour before ESPN’s telecast started, so it was effectively a repeat for me. I’m wondering whether ESPN thinks that much of their NASCAR audience actually watches SPEED’s programming. Guess not.

Another thing that I have noticed recently is that they are basically making their crew cam man almost like a fifth pit reporter. Mark “Hollywood” Armstrong essentially gets his own stand-up where he talks about strategy. It seems weird to look at. Then, Armstrong “throws it” off to someone, in Sunday’s case, he threw the telecast to Dr. Punch. Last week, he threw it to Shannon Spake, who was standing 10 feet away (very awkward). I don’t know what to make of this. Is Armstrong trying to get on-air training for a potential new career?

As for the race, it was clear that Mike Helton’s edict in the driver’s meeting on Sunday morning affected the on-track product. Heck, it affected Saturday’s product. The race had 58 lead changes, but only bits and pieces of the event were exciting. The rest of the race was literally a follow the leader nose to tail right next to the outside wall affair. Normally, ESPN does not take positions against the action on the track, but Sunday’s racing led the analysts in the Infield Studio multiple times to voice their displeasure.

Brad Daugherty is against the yellow-line rule, and I would tend to agree with him. Previous to the repave at Talladega, the grass ran up to the apron on the backstretch. With the repave, it’s now paved all the way to the inside wall. This is generally done to decrease the threat of blow-overs, but doing this now really makes the yellow-line rule necessary. What I think could be done to alleviate this is this grippy pavement that I’ve seen in use at places like the Circuit Paul Ricard in France. That track has these colored strips where the pavement is grippier and slows cars down. Perhaps this could be used. That way, there would be no need for the yellow line.

Rusty Wallace voiced his displeasure with the follow the leader dynamic, saying that it was robbing the fans of the good money they paid to come to the race. On lap 119, commentator Dale Jarrett said that there were “69 agonizing laps to go.” Now, you could take two meanings from this statement. One, it could be seen as an indictment of the nervousness of the drivers. The other meaning could be that he was also annoyed with the on-track action. I would probably assume it’s the former, but you never know.

ESPN was quite slow in reacting to the lap 5 crash of Paul Menard and Joe Nemechek in turn 2. Even after Dr. Punch referenced the crash (“There’s trouble in turn 2”), ESPN still cut to a rear bumper cam in the middle of the pack before cutting to what amounted to the aftermath of the wreck. This is actually a new issue. Usually, ESPN is fairly good at cutting to wrecks when they happen. It’s just that they’re not the best at finding side-by-side racing and showing it on air. They chose to stay with the pack for a few seconds before cutting back to the wreck. My best guess for this refers back to the compound tour I took in August. They have six people in a small room that monitor all the cameras. They have to shout out which cameras actually caught the wreck. My guess is that very few cameras (maybe only one or two) actually caught the crash, so it took a little while for the crew to get the shot.

There was a technical issue when Allen Bestwick tried to do his race recap later in the race (for some reason, the graphics and pictures didn’t come up). Being the professional that he is, Allen simply worked around this, giving fans a vocal recap (essentially) of what had happened up to that point.

After Ryan Newman’s blow-over, ESPN’s on-air personalities waited until the radio transmission was sent out saying that Newman was OK before doing anything speculative of his condition. This is par for the course for media partners, but a couple of our Blog viewers on Sunday thought that they could have made a statement earlier. John Potts noted the borderline “relaxed” demeanor of the safety crew when they checked on Newman’s condition. Had Newman really been hurt, arms would have been waving around and people running around (Ex: Stanley Smith in July 1993. Smith suffered a basal skull fracture in the infamous crash when Jimmy Horton went over the wall and landed outside of Talladega Superspeedway). This allowed the crew to take their time. Dr. Punch in the booth talked about the precariousness of righting the car (done with the help of a tow truck) in order to make sure Newman doesn’t get hurt anymore. This draws on his vast medical experience. Punch really came off as more of an analyst right here than at any point in the broadcast.

Post-race coverage was very brief due to the fact that the race ran up against the end of the timeslot. As a result, there were only interviews with race winner Jamie McMurray and Chasers Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson. The unofficial results were never shown on-air due to the fact that NASCAR was still trying to figure that out (and did not until an hour or two after the race ended). ESPN did show a very unofficial point check of the top 12 before leaving the air, though. I personally don’t really understand the rush to get off-air on Sunday. It’s not like they were up against the six o’clock news. It was 5 p.m. when the race coverage ended. Here in the Albany, N.Y. area, we got a syndicated show called Cars.tv at 5 p.m. Whoop-dee-do about relatively low-rated syndicated fare. Many people’s ABC affiliates probably went straight to infomercials after the race. I’d like to get an idea of what ESPN was trying to get to so got darn fast on Sunday from my readers, so please post what came on after the race in your market (also, list your TV market for reference purposes).

Well, that’s all for this week. Next weekend is a tripleheader at Texas Motor Speedway. The Truck Series races Friday night in the WinStar World Casino 350. The action will begin on SPEED at 8:30 p.m. ET (7:30 p.m. CT) with NCWTS Setup. The race coverage is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. ET. The green flag will likely fall around 9:15 p.m.

On Saturday afternoon, the Nationwide Series races in the O’Reilly Challenge, a 300-mile race. Coverage starts with both Nationwide Series practice sessions on SPEED Friday morning starting at 10 a.m. ET (9 a.m. CT). Qualifying will be aired on SPEED at 6:30 p.m. ET (5:30 p.m. CT) using the typical “time shifted” schedule. For the actual race, a 45-minute edition of NASCAR Countdown will air on ESPN2 starting at noon ET (11 a.m. CT), with the race coverage starting at 11:45 a.m. local time. Look for the green to fly around 12:55 p.m. ET.

On Sunday afternoon, the Series races in the Dickies 500, race 34 of the season and the eighth Chase race. Coverage starts on Friday with the one pre-qualifying practice session. This will be aired live on SPEED at 1 p.m. ET (noon CT). Qualifying will be aired at 4:30 p.m. ET (3:30 p.m. CT). On Saturday, the Cup action starts bright and early with the first practice session live on SPEED at 9:30 a.m. ET (8:30 a.m. CT). Final practice, also on SPEED, follows at 11 a.m. ET (10 a.m. CT). On Sunday, race coverage begins with a 45-minute long NASCAR Countdown on ABC at 2:30 p.m. ET (1:30 p.m. CT). Race coverage follows at 3:15 p.m., with the green flag expected around 3:31 p.m. ET.

In addition, I’ll bring you my thoughts on NASCAR Performance that I promised you for this week, but Time Warner Cable decided to nix. Of course, that’s still dependent on them actually fixing their little machine that sends signals to their cable boxes. If anything else of note comes up this week that pertains to NASCAR’s TV broadcasts, I’ll be sure to have a take on it.

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 would like to follow me via Twitter, you can go to my Twitter page here. And if you would like to contact ESPN or the SPEED Channel personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage of NASCAR, please click on the following links:

SPEED
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As always, if you choose to contact the networks 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.