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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: Telecasts OK, But Improvements Can Always Be Made

Hello, race fans and welcome to our weekly look into the race broadcasts that you and I watch each week. It is my 50th critique, the “golden critique,” if you will. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series teams were in Fontana, Calif. for the Auto Club 500 and Stater Brothers 300 (not Statler Brothers, as one country music-obsessed poster on Twitter kept confusing it for on Saturday) at Auto Club Speedway. (Officially, it’s “The Auto Club Speedway of Southern California,” but that’s unwieldy.)

Before I start, I should also talk briefly about SPEED’s new show, Fast Track to Fame. Apparently, this is a talent show that will be held at individual race venues and is currently scheduled to premiere on March 1 at 8 p.m. on SPEED. SPEED has announced that Charissa Thompson will host the show, along with Michael Waltrip and Riki Rachtman. Auditions will be held around the country for the show. Auditions currently listed on the show’s Web site include Birmingham, Ala. on March 6, Phoenix on March 27 and Dallas on April 3. Standard eligibility rules apply: 18 and older, no association with SPEED and its parent companies, sponsors, etc.

I’m debating whether to critique it or not. More to come in the approaching weeks.

Also of note, Jimmy Spencer’s new show, “What’s the Deal?”, will move to 10:30 p.m. from 8:30 p.m. as a result of the new show on SPEED. This was planned well in advance and had nothing to do with the generally negative thoughts about the show, so far.

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The Stater Bros. 300

The start of NASCAR Countdown prior to the Stater Brothers 300 was delayed by approximately seven minutes due to a college basketball game between Missouri State and Nevada running long. Normally, ESPN would shift Countdown to ESPN Classic in these situations, but ESPN2 chose to take a “wait-and-see” policy since it was borderline whether the game was going to go to overtime. ESPN Classic played about nine straight minutes of commercials in anticipation of pre-race coming over there, and apparently, TSN in Canada did so as well. The game didn’t go to overtime, but did have some delays in the final minute, which led to the delay in the start of NASCAR Countdown. It bites, but I understand.

NASCAR Countdown included only one pre-race interview with Danica Patrick, who struggled mightily during the race. There was also a “Danica Goes Hollywood” feature which went behind the scenes of a GoDaddy commercial (I think) with Danica. It’s fair to say that she had precedence during the pre-race show. There was also the usual pre-race analysis from Bestwick, Wallace, Daugherty and Evernham in the Infield Studio.

The race coverage was not quite as good as what we got in Daytona, but there were some bright spots. For example, ESPN was about to go to commercial when John Wes Townley spun exiting turn 2, potentially in oil from Kevin Harvick‘s blown engine. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made an ill-advised move to go beneath the spinning Townley and promptly deposited himself into the inside wall. ESPN had the foresight to hold off on the commercial break, unlike SPEED during the NextEra Energy Resources 250 telecast on February 12. Rick Allen said that they were “beyond the point of no return.” As far as I’m concerned, if there isn’t a local commercial airing, there is no point of no return. In the style of message board postings, I give ESPN a “+1” here.

Unlike last year’s complete and total anti-climax, this year’s Stater Brothers 300 had an exciting finish and ESPN was prepared to bring it to us right. For the most part, they were up to the task. I would change two things, though. Kill the cutaway to Danica crossing over the finish line. That’s not the real story. Two, I’d argue that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to ditch the current method in which the unofficial results are shown at the line in favor of the old drop down method used through the end of 2008. Also, Joey Logano‘s car didn’t show up in ESPN’s unofficial results pickup at the end because he was spinning. He was credited with a fifth-place finish. More on this in the Cup review.

The Nationwide race ran a little long, so post-race coverage was relatively thin. There were interviews with winner Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle and Logano (who was angry with Biffle for a bump-and-run on the GWC). The unofficial results, adjusted to include Logano, ran in the scroll during the interviews. There was also some post-race analysis before ESPN left the air.

I do think that ESPN needs to seriously reconsider how they cover Danica in these races. I think fans have reached the saturation point with her, and think that she should be covered commensurate with her performance. Or, at least a little closer to commensurate with performance. The ratings for Saturday’s race do not show a major improvement over this race last year (1.5 rating over last year’s 1.4). I’d argue the slight improvement was mainly because the race coverage started at 5:30 p.m. ET rather than 10 p.m. ET like last year, instead of any appreciable “Danica Factor.”

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The Auto Club 500

Pre-race for the Auto Club 500 started out with the typical pre-race chatter and features. At Daytona, FOX teased a new feature with “Who is Pizzi?” I didn’t care at the time (and so didn’t a lot of people, and they acknowledged this on air). It turns out that Pizzi is a behind-the-scenes guy for FOX Sports that has his own internet-only interview show, “A Slice with Pizzi” that airs as part of FOXSports.com’s Lunch with Benefits series. For the uninitiated, Lunch with Benefits is a series of one hour online-only shows that airs midday on FOXSports.com on weekdays. It appears that FOX is going to have a series of short Pizzi interview segments in the pre-race show. Personally, after the first one that aired with Jeff Gordon on Sunday, I think they should shelve it permanently. It’s stupid as all heck. At least it’s not a Digger cartoon, but let’s face it. Pizzi is terrible as an interviewer, but perhaps it’s intentionally bad, like Martin Short’s character Jiminy Glick. I still don’t think it was a good idea for Pizzi to climb onto Gordon’s back for a piggyback ride like he was six, though.

There was a nice feature about Jamie McMurray and the highs and lows of stock car racing, which had a quick “get to know you” segment with Kevin “Bono” Manion, McMurray’s crew chief. Regular interviews were few and far between. When FOX’s pit reporters are put in the old quad pits setup and talk about certain drivers, those are the only drivers that will be interviewed during pre-race. News and notes were something like 45 minutes into the pre-race, which I don’t think is right.

As for the broadcast, there were some technical issues. Right after the brief Q&A with Manion, there was this strange zooming in and shifting of the camera in the Hollywood Hotel. No clue why this was the case. The scroll also had some issues for the first five laps of the race. When this would happen, FOX would remove the scroll from the screen and try to fix it from the compound. After lap 5, there were no more problems there, but then the focus turned to some weird pixelation that occurred during the broadcast. A lot of the time, this stuff just happens. It’s not intentional and the hardworking men and women in the TV compound take great pains to make sure that these problems are fixed as soon as possible.

However, there were some things that FOX could do something about that they were deficient. FOX missed Denny Hamlin‘s spin on lap 201. At the time, they were showing a replay of some bumping from the restart. As a result, they could only show a replay of Hamlin’s spin (caused by a cut tire, I think). It made that portion of the broadcast look a little low rent, to be honest. And that is a shame. Alas, it’s still February. Early season teething issues are typical. If this was the Coca-Cola 600 in May and this happened, I might not be as conciliatory.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief since the race ended with barely 10 minutes left in FOX’s time slot. Instead of leaving at the end of the slot having very quickly interviewed the driver and that’s it, FOX stayed over the end of the slot in order to do five post-race interviews, show the unofficial point standings, and have some post-race discussion. In a sport that seems to often get kicked aside in favor of (insert stick and/or ball sport here) these days, it’s good to see that someone actually wants NASCAR to succeed.

That is all for this week. This weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series teams are going to be in Las Vegas (heck, based on pictures posted on Twitter Monday, they’re already there). Coverage starts on Friday with Nationwide Series practice at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT. Cup practice follows at 3 p.m. ET/noon PT, then a second Nationwide practice (Happy Hour) from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET. This will be followed by Cup qualifying, which is scheduled to air at 6:30 p.m. ET. All of these sessions will be broadcasted live on SPEED.

On Saturday, coverage starts with qualifying for the Nationwide Series at noon ET/9 a.m. PT on SPEED. Best get a early draw there in order to get a good starting spot. That is followed up by two Sprint Cup practice sessions from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Coverage of the Nationwide Series’ Sam’s Town 300 is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT on ESPN2 with a half-hour edition of NASCAR Countdown. There is a college basketball game between Mississippi (Ole Miss) and Alabama as part of “Judgment Week” that is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET. If that game goes long, it could bounce pre-race over to ESPN Classic. Race coverage will start at 4:30 p.m, with the green flag tentatively scheduled to fall at 4:46 p.m.

Also on Saturday is the first of SPEED’s one week delayed broadcasts of the Australian V8 Supercars. If you don’t recall, SPEED inked a three-year deal late last year that will see these races aired more or less during the actual V8 Supercar season, as opposed to over the winter, or not at all. Last weekend was their season opener from the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. I saw some bits and pieces of the race online last weekend, so I won’t give anything away, but I will say that this race was held at night and was quite the sight to watch, despite the fact that the stands looked… empty. Coverage starts at 4 p.m. ET on SPEED and runs for two hours. I’ll be DVRing it while critiquing the Nationwide race. I fear that the editing to fit it in a two-hour slot will cut the 400-kilometer round (two races, I think) to heck and back, though.

On Sunday, coverage on FOX is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT with a one-hour pre-race show. Race coverage of the Shelby American (which apparently is back down to 400 miles instead of 427) starts at 3 p.m. ET with the green flag scheduled to fall around 3:16 p.m. ET. I will critique both of the NASCAR race telecasts and the V8 Supercar race, while also giving my thoughts on whatever may happen in the world of NASCAR TV.

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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