NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: Danica-mania Hurts ARCA Telecast, FOX Shines

Hello, race fans, and welcome to entry No. 48 in a long-running series where I look into the television broadcasts beamed into our households. This week, I’m covering the first weekend of SpeedWeeks (hooray!). But, before we get into the critiques, some news.

First off, Nascar.com will be offering free RaceBuddy coverage of the Gatorade Duels. Perfect for those who have to work first shift on Thursday and cannot leave early. I’m not one of those people, because I fully plan on leaving work at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday so that I can get home in time to critique not just the Duels, but NASCAR RaceDay as well.

Secondly, JR Motorsports announced on Monday that Danica Patrick will drive the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet in the Nationwide race on Saturday. As much as I wish Danica the best in the race, I also hope this doesn’t necessarily hurt the broadcast. More on this below.

One more tidbit. SPEED screwed up in the promotion of the Budweiser Shootout Selection Show on Thursday night. Originally, this was marketed as being live. However, it was not. The program ran on a delay of approximately an hour. How do I know this? A few writers that are notorious for Twittering were in attendance and tweeting the starting spots in real time. For example, I already knew that Carl Edwards was on the pole for the Shootout before the broadcast aired.

Now, for the critiques. On Saturday afternoon, FOX aired live coverage of Pole Qualifying for the Daytona 500. I’ll admit I was at work at the time that the coverage was on. However, working in the office of the Imaging Department in a hospital on a Saturday can be quite slow, especially in the mornings. During such down time, I was able to walk out to the waiting room, check what channel the TV was on (since it was already on FOX, I didn’t have to change it), and swivel the TV so that I could see the coverage in the office. As a result, I got to see almost the entire session when work didn’t get in the way. However, I couldn’t take notes.

This session was fine to watch, for the most part, but there was one thing worth noting. Early on, there was a full-screen interview with Robin Pemberton while Paul Menard was out on the track. Pemberton was talking up the changes made to the CoT for this season, which is nice to have before the season gets underway, but it just doesn’t work here with a live telecast. I would be fine with this interview airing during pre-race of the Budweiser Shootout or the Daytona 500, when there isn’t on-track action at the time. You could even conceivably air it during Sprint Cup qualifying sessions on SPEED, due to the way they’re setup (they are time-shifted by 20 minutes or so).

After qualifying ended, I scurried home from work in time to catch SPEED’s coverage of the ARCA Racing Series Presented by Re/MAX and Menards’ Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 from Daytona International Speedway. It appeared that the NASCAR Live! show leading into the race coverage served as a de facto pre-race show here because there was literally no pre-race. During this time, SPEED taped an interview with Patrick that ended up airing during the pace laps.

The telecast started right with the command to start engines. What this said to me was that SPEED may have ditched the five-minute delay that was used over the past couple of years for ARCA races on the channel. Darrell Waltrip joined Rick Allen and Phil Parsons for the telecast on SPEED and brought his opinionated nature with him.

Looking back at this telecast, one thing stands out. It’s the same problem that ABC had back when Todd Harris was the play-by-play man for the IRL races (and from what I understand, these were bad days). It was Patrick, all the time. It was ridiculous how much coverage she got during this race, not just on SPEED’s telecast, but online as well (more on this below). One example that I can give is when the third caution came out on lap 26 (the Jill George/Jesse Smith crash). SPEED’s cameras were focused on the lead pack, and specifically, Patrick’s No. 7 when the crash broke out. Allen was on his game, announcing the wreck exiting turn 4. SPEED didn’t cut to the wreck for 7 seconds and only got aftermath footage on air live.

Also, the Patrick story completely overshadowed everything else there. This made it look at times like it was Patrick and 42 other drivers out there. Other stories were almost completely overlooked, like the fact that there was a record six women in the race (George, Jennifer Jo Cobb, Milka Duno, Leilani Munter and Alli Owens, in addition to Patrick), or even the fact that Bobby Gerhart won again – his sixth at Daytona. It’s ridiculous.

Another thing that I was not pleased about was how the SPEED commentators didn’t mention the idea of a time limit for this race. Writers and teams at the track knew that the race had to finish by 6:55 p.m. ET, so that a performance by the Zac Brown Band could take place. The sheer thought of that is stupid, in my opinion, but this did come into play. It was never acknowledged on air by SPEED, but crew members interviewed on pit road as early as the red flag for George’s flip made reference to this.

During our Live Blog we were convinced that this was why ARCA didn’t throw the caution for Terry Jones‘s issues and Owens’s spin coming to two laps to go. As it stands now, the race ended at 6:52 p.m. Had they thrown the yellow, the race would not have restarted at all. Maybe this was an extension of the whole Jinx thing that I mentioned last year (the “don’t talk about the rain so it doesn’t happen” thing)

However, not everything was bad in the broadcast. Darrell Waltrip was definitely on his game (Just in case anyone wants to know, there was no “Boogity” here, since it’s not his show) during the race. For example, he took some of the drivers to task after the first caution (the multi-car crash that started when Bill Baird spun in turn 1, collecting Steve Blackburn and eight others who piled in) for not slowing down and plowing into the wreck. If you remember my critique from this race last year, I took Allen and Parsons to task myself for not doing that, even though this was a much bigger problem last year.

Also during the race, SPEED had what amounted to a “Danica Cam” available on their website. Reportedly, this was popular enough that people were having trouble accessing it before the race started. I didn’t have any issues getting in, but I accessed it after the race started. The Danica Cam consisted of a revolving setup featuring at least two in-car cameras in her car, and one camera on the roof of the tower that followed Patrick at all times (sort of like “Camera 1” on other race broadcasts). This ran on what amounted to a five-second delay to the race broadcast on SPEED, but ran the whole race, including the commercial breaks. This allowed Danica Cam viewers to see Danica’s spin from the in-car view before the TV audience could.

No news as of right now about how many people viewed the Danica Cam at SPEEDTV.com, or the race itself on SPEED, but ARCA’s website reported record site usage on Saturday. According to ARCA’s site, 118,000 people visited the site on Saturday and generated over 715,000 page views. This triples the previous highs for the website.

Post-race coverage was very brief. Since the race was already 22 minutes over time once the checkers flew, there was only time for interviews with race winner Gerhart and the aforementioned Patrick. I don’t even think a full-field rundown was given before SPEED ended the telecast and went to NASCAR RaceDay.

Admittedly, this was not the best telecast I’ve ever seen. However, it will probably go down as one of, if not the highest rated ARCA race ever on television because of Patrick’s presence. I doubt that camera crew quality would be an issue because it was likely the same crew shooting this race as the crew that shot the Budweiser Shootout. I just hope that ESPN’s Nationwide races this year won’t have so much emphasis on Danica.

After a truncated edition of NASCAR RaceDay, coverage of the 32nd annual Budweiser Shootout started on FOX at 8 p.m. The pre-race show was a little different than what we’re used to. There was a brief discussion of the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 between Chris Myers, Jeff Hammond and Darrell Waltrip that involved a lot of Danica talk. At the time I was thinking, “I really hope that this doesn’t set the tone for the entire season, or I am going to be sick of this very quickly.”

Luckily, that was the only mention of Danica in the entire broadcast. After this discussion, FOX cut to the performance from the Zac Brown Band (taped, of course). There were no interviews on FOX before the opening ceremonies began, which was a little weird. All of those were done during the NASCAR RaceDay show. Last year, I did mention that NASCAR RaceDay should be the pre-race show before these races begin, but if you’re going to do that, move NASCAR RaceDay to whatever channel that the race is going to be on.

The race coverage was pretty good for the most part, but there was one major issue. All throughout the weekend leading up to the race, SPEED and FOX had been stating that the Budweiser Shootout could not end under caution.

Well, it did end under caution.

I had thought that that was a crock at first, to be honest. I knew NASCAR wasn’t going to change their GWC rules for a 187.5-mile non-points race. However, SPEED seemed pretty sure of themselves, even incorporating the “Shootout can’t end under caution rule” into a question in the Lightning Round of NASCAR Smarts. If NASCAR Smarts were a real game show, you’d have an S&P issue there, and you would have to have one or both contestants back on a future episode, like so many game shows before NASCAR Smarts has done.

Also, I’m not a fan of the so-called “Quad Pits” being used during rounds of stops held under caution, though. The Quad Pits did return on one occasion on Saturday night. In the past, FOX has taken that to the next level during the Daytona 500 with the “Quint Pits.” Hopefully, the “Quint Pits” won’t return. The reverse grid scroll is back as well. I understand what FOX is doing here (trying to replicate the driver introductions, I think), but they need to make up their minds on what they’re going to do here, and stick to it.

As for Digger, one of my favorite whipping boys (or “Whipping Anthropomorphic Creature”) from last year, I have heard rumors that his “influence” on the broadcast will be curtailed this year, due to fan outcry. I hope so. As it stands, he appeared five times during the Budweiser Shootout broadcast, and almost all of these appearances were before the green flag came out (three still pictures and two animated shots). It’s still a little early to be able to tell whether that is going to be the norm for this season, or if it is just a one time thing. However, it could be argued that Digger had a breakthrough with his appearance in Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel back around Christmas.

I still plan on keeping up the Digger Count at least for the beginning of the season, although I don’t think we’re going to see a race with 50 Digger appearances again anytime soon.

Post-race coverage consisted of just a couple of interviews with winner Kevin Harvick and second-place finisher Kasey Kahne, with the unofficial results in the scroll. There was also a brief post-race discussion before FOX left the air. I guess this was because the race ran a little long due to the five cautions.

Aside from the “Race can’t end under caution” mix up, I think that the broadcast went well. Ratings that have been released for the Shootout show similar ratings to last year. I hope that there are more post-race interviews on Sunday, and I’m assuming that pre-race was an aberration, a one-time thing.

That’s all for this week. This week brings a series of debuts on television. Last night, SPEED’s new show, “What’s The Deal” with host Jimmy Spencer premiered. Wednesday night sees the premiere of Inside NASCAR on Showtime at 10 p.m. ET. It appears that John Daly doesn’t have Showtime at his house, so I’m not really sure when he’s going to put out a review of that show (He’ll find a way, believe me). I do have Showtime here at my house, and I will be watching. My initial plan was to critique the show for the Off-Week Critique, which will run on March 16. However, I might move it up, potentially to the Feb. 23 critique since the Trucks won’t be in Fontana this year.

Also, there’s the all-important on track action to critique. After being dark for three days, practice for the Cup Series starts back up on Wednesday with two practice sessions. Both will be televised live on SPEED from noon to 1:30 p.m. ET and 2 p.m. to 2:50 p.m. ET. The Nationwide Series also opens with a two hour practice session from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET. Originally, this session was not going to be televised at all. However, on Monday, ESPN issued a special press release to announce that it would be televised. The graphic advertising this on Monday’s NASCAR Now specifically said “Featuring Danica Patrick” on it. After this session ends, the Truck Series will have their first practice session of the year. This is scheduled to run from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and will be televised live on SPEED.

Thursday brings coverage of the Gatorade Duels from Daytona. As you know, the 60-lap (150-mile) sprint races will determine the grid for the Daytona 500. Man, it’s complicated, and it shouldn’t be. But, this isn’t the place to rant about that. When it takes 10 minutes in a YouTube video to describe the mess, like our own Brock Beard did last year, something’s wrong. Coverage will air on the SPEED Channel for the third straight year, with NASCAR RaceDay Built by the Home Depot (Serving as the de facto pre-race show) at 1 p.m. ET. Race coverage starts promptly at 2 p.m. ET.

Before the Gatorade Duels coverage begins on SPEED, they will televise the final practice session for the Camping World Truck Series, which is scheduled to run from 9-11 a.m. ET. Afterwards, the Nationwide Series will have their final practice session at Daytona starting at 11:30 a.m. ET. Coverage of this, which lasts until 1:00 p.m. ET, will be aired live on ESPN2.

Later Thursday evening will be SPEED’s live coverage of Pole Qualifying for the CWTS’ NextEra Energy Resources 250. This is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. ET and is allotted a two-and-a-half hour time slot on SPEED.

Friday has one practice session for the Sprint Cup teams that will be held starting at 1:40 p.m. ET and will run an hour. SPEED will televise this session live starting at 1:30 p.m. Afterwards, the Nationwide Series will hold Pole Qualifying for the DRIVE4COPD 300. Live coverage begins on ESPN2 at 3 p.m.

Later that evening will be the season opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 for the Truck Series. Coverage on SPEED will start with NCWTS Setup at 7:30 p.m. ET with actual race coverage following at 8 p.m.

Saturday will have the final practice, or “Happy Hour” for Sprint Cup teams. Live coverage of this crucial session will start at 10:30 a.m. ET on SPEED and run until noon. Immediately afterwards, covering of the season opening DRIVE4COPD 300 will start on ESPN2. ESPN2 will air a one hour edition of NASCAR Countdown starting at noon, while race coverage will start at 1 p.m. The green flag will fly around 1:25 p.m.

Finally, Sunday (Valentine’s Day) brings us the big show, the Daytona 500. SPEED is going all out for pre-race, with a special three hour edition of NASCAR RaceDay Built by the Home Depot starting at 9 a.m. ET (Man, that’s early to start pre-race). At noon, FOX will have their own one hour pre-race show leading up to race coverage starting at 1 p.m. (a full two hours and change earlier than last year). The green flag is scheduled to fall around 1:19 p.m.

I will bring you critiques of all three points races and the two Gatorade Duels for next week. In addition, if anything of note comes out of the two qualifying sessions, or the practice sessions, I’ll be sure to comment on that as well.

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 FOX, ESPN or the SPEED Channel personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage of NASCAR, please click on the following links:

FOX
SPEED
ESPN

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.

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