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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: Tire Problems Atlanta Crisis FOX Didn’t Cover Enough

Hello race fans, and welcome to my small corner of the internet, the weekly recap of the telecasts that we all watch on television. Before I get into the normal critique, one bit of news needs to passed across:

Adam Alexander Named as TNT’s Play-by-play Commentator

Last Wednesday, The Charlotte Observer reported that Adam Alexander will be named the play-by-play commentator for TNT’s six-race Summer Series of Sprint Cup races. On Thursday, TNT confirmed this. In addition, TNT announced that Marc Fein will not be returning to TNT’s Sprint Cup races in 2010. Fein has chosen to concentrate on his duties at NBA TV. Fein will be replaced on Countdown to Green by Lindsay Czarniak, who has served as a pit reporter for TNT for the previous three seasons.

Ralph Sheheen, who filled in as the play-by-play announcer after Bill Weber was suspended and ultimately released by TNT after his issues in New Hampshire last June, will return to pit reporting. It is unclear whether Czarniak will continue her pit reporting, or move to the infield platform with Larry McReynolds full time. If Czarniak is there full time, it leaves TNT with three pit reporters. In that case, it is unclear whether TNT would simply promote Jim Noble to full on-air status, hire from outside or simply just go with three pit reporters for the six races. Noble served as a pit reporter for the RaceBuddy service last season.

Rolex Sports Car Series’ Grand Prix of Miami from Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida

Late Saturday afternoon, SPEED brought us live coverage of the Rolex Sports Car Series’ Grand Prix of Miami, a timed sprint race (two hours, 45 minutes) held on the infield road course at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

For the telecast, SPEED had their usual team of the excitable Leigh Diffey, and former racers Dorsey Schroeder and Calvin Fish in the booth. This is a fairly good trio that has worked with each other off and on for years. Diffey actually left SPEED at the end of 2004 and returned to Australia to commentate on the V8 Supercars in his native Australia. He was the play-by-play commentator for the last two years that the series was on Network Ten before returning to the Seven Network for 2007. When this happened, Diffey returned to SPEED in the United States.

The start of SPEED’s coverage was right up against the start of the race itself, so there was very little pre-race coverage. There was only one, taped pre-race interview before the cars were already on their pace laps. Also, this interview was not held during the National Anthem like at Daytona. You might remember some of the anger pointed at SPEED for that move. SPEED also made use of the iRacing simulation and a Daytona Prototype in the game to show a lap of the track. This was apparently the backup plan, since they had some issues with the typical in-car full lap. Also, this simulated lap was cut short because of the beginning of the race.

The telecast was fairly good to watch, with a lot of action. However, there were some technical issues. There was one point in which all the sound dropped out for somewhere between three and five seconds. Not sure why this happened. However, before that occurred, there were significant issues with ambient sound being almost non-existent at times. This was simply unfortunate. Luckily, those issues were alleviated after lap 35 or so. There was also a strange rewinding of footage on the telecast during a live interview. This is the kind of stuff that typically happens behind the scenes in order to prep for a replay. It doesn’t usually make the air.

Also of note, SPEED managed to have more cars with in-car cameras in this race than in the Truck race that proceeded it. Five cars (the No. 95 Supercar Life BMW Riley Daytona Prototype, and four GT cars) carried cameras, while only four trucks in Atlanta did. I think they might use a different vendor for in-car cameras for Grand-Am as opposed to the Trucks, who likely use the same company (BSI) as the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series do.

Post-race footage was quite brief, to be honest. The only post-race interviews were with the winning drivers in each class. In the Daytona Prototypes, it was the No. 01 Telmex BMW Riley for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Only Scott Pruett spoke in victory lane for some reason. Not really sure why his co-driver, Mexican racer Memo Rojas, got the snub. It’s not like he cannot speak English, because he can. The only explanation would be that he might have been unwilling to talk about an incident that resulted in the No. 6 of Brian Frisselle spinning out in the first corner at the start of the race. Would have been nice to see Rojas’s side of the story there.

In the GT class, the winner was the No. 69 Mazda RX-8 for SpeedSource, driven by Emil Assentato and Jeff Segal. Both drivers were interviewed in victory lane and were very happy with their runs.

This was an OK telecast, but there are a couple of things that can be improved. First of all, I would have liked an interview with the Brumos Porsche team after the race, since Pruett won that race by only a couple of car lengths, not a runaway by any means. Second, only the top two Daytona Prototypes and the GT class winning No. 69 were shown crossing the finish line. I think that they should show some more of the cars finishing in future races.

Camping World Truck Series: E-Z-GO 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

This was an interesting race to watch on television, with some good coverage. However, it had its own problems as well.

The NCWTS Setup pre-race show debuted a couple of new features on Saturday. The first of which is simply entitled, “Thumbs Up.” This feature basically sees NCWTS Setup host Krista Voda giving props to drivers from smaller teams that had relatively good runs in the previous event. In this case, Donnie Neuenberger in the No. 6, JJ Yeley in the Daisy Ramirez-owned No. 01 (who was not in Atlanta), Brett Butler and Team Gill Racing teammates Dennis Setzer and Johnny Benson (also not racing in Atlanta) received the props this week. I think that this is a good idea because it puts the spotlight on those smaller teams for once. In the long run, it could help them attract sponsorship.

Another new feature toward the end of the Setup was a look at tweets from drivers and/or teams in the series. This was coupled with the launch of a Twitter account for SPEED’s Camping World Truck Series coverage. How this Twitter page will be used remains to be seen, but it should help to promote the series.

The Setup also had an interesting look at the new pit rules with the help of Red Horse Racing. Ray Dunlap showed off the new ventless dump can, which looks like the old one, but with what looked like a plastic tube connecting back into the main dump can from where the fuel exited the can. It looked relatively inexpensive to make. Also, teams are apparently not required to use the new cans. They can still use the old ones with a catch-can man over the wall, but they have to sacrifice one member of their tire-changing squadron to do it. I liked this. I felt like I actually learned something new.

The race coverage was fairly good, but I do have some thoughts. Complaints during the running of the race on Saturday via Twitter pointed to the telecast being heavily focused on the frontrunners, with only a passing reference to teams further down the order. For example, late in the race, SPEED’s commentators mentioned that there was a tight race for positions 8-14. Did we get to see much of this racing? Not really. Maybe a little bit, but not much. Most of SPEED’s coverage tended to focus on the top-five trucks. Then SPEED went to commercial, Donny Lia cut a tire in the break, and the caution came out. End of action.

The Speed Spotlight drivers actually got a little more exposure than normal. Usually, the drivers are mentioned during the pace laps and that’s that, unless they come up again in the natural flow of the race. I think that this was good for the future, for the same reasons that the Thumbs Up segment in the Setup is good.

Post-race coverage was fairly good. There were six interviews (five drivers and Ernie Cope, winning crew chief). There was also a points check and a check of the unofficial results. However, I think SPEED actually left the air a little early, by about eight minutes. Not really sure why this was the case. The truck race time slot (at least on my cable box) was listed as going from 2-4:30 p.m. SPEED went to an episode of NASCAR Smarts before going to the regularly scheduled IHBA Drag Racing at 4:30 p.m.

Kobalt Tools 500 from Atlanta Motor Speedway

Televised by FOX with the usual accompaniment of Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. Pre-race was mainly feature laden, as usual.

The “Slice of Pizzi” feature had Dale Earnhardt Jr. as a guest. I think that FOX Sports has a set format for this feature now. They just give Pizzi the name of whoever he’s supposed to interview, and have him study up on them, pick something that stands out, then have him do something silly with it. This week, Pizzi referenced the 2006 Jay-Z song “Show Me What You Got,” since Earnhardt Jr. made a cameo appearance in the music video (along with an unmentioned Danica Patrick). So, Pizzi decides to “drop a beat” and have Earnhardt Jr. freestyle rap. Of course, Pizzi simply makes a complete and total fool of himself beat boxing while Earnhardt Jr. basically declines to stoop to Pizzi’s level.

The thought that comes to mind here is this: How do these drivers benefit from actually talking to this guy? Also, when do they shoot these things? They make it sound like they shoot them every weekend so they’re nice and fresh. However, I’m thinking that FOX shot most of those pieces during some of the media availability time right at the beginning at Speedweeks. Also of note, a small graphic on screen right after the segment advertised Cubed, the online show at FoxSports.com where “A Slice of Pizzi” originated from. I should warn you guys that it’s definitely not for the easily offended. Personally, I could care less about swearing and porn stars and stuff like that, but I know that a lot of my readers consider that to be “smut” (not Jimmy Means) or something similar. I think FOX would do well to put a little “Viewer Discretion Advised” thing below the Cubed graphic when they plug it.

Pre-race also featured a sit-down interview with Carl Edwards that Darrell Waltrip conducted. I’m pretty sure Waltrip never would have expected what actually ended up happening on Sunday to occur after that interview, but the general consensus was that Edwards was a little frustrated.

As for actual factual race coverage, I generally thought that it was par for the course. Not awful, but not great either. I could live with it, but I’d like it to be better. During the Live Blog on Sunday, there was a complaint about too much usage of the Digger Cam. Apparently, this resulted in half of one viewer’s screen turning black. That’s probably just due to the placement of the cams themselves. You can see the depth of the pavement in the shot. I actually wonder if those things have the ability to zoom. I know they cannot pan around as they’re fixed into position.

The one major complaint that most of the Blog viewers and I had is the fact that (especially early on), FOX wasn’t giving the potential tire issues the attention that they deserved. On Saturday, there were some tire issues in the E-Z-GO 200. For example, a tire that came off of the No. 95 of Geoff Bodine looked like it had been through a grooving machine. They started early and continued often on Sunday. The FOX team chalked up Robby Gordon‘s left-rear issues to likely starting too low on air pressure. Plausible, but we don’t know for sure because Robby Gordon wasn’t interviewed, so we don’t know where he started on air pressure. Even Kyle Busch, who didn’t have a flat tire early on Sunday, had a really ugly looking right-front tire pulled off his No. 18 Toyota. Busch’s fiance, Sam Sarcinella, took a picture of it and posted it online, claiming that it was killed.

Coverage of action back in the pack was above normal on Sunday, mainly because of how much drivers like Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne were able to run away from the field. That’s good to see in the long run, although it shouldn’t really require the leaders to run away in order for that to happen.

As for the Edwards-Keselowski fiasco on lap 323, I think that FOX handled this well. They didn’t jump to conclusions on the issue, and I credit FOX for having the camera shot that showed Edwards actually turning his wheel to the right in order to turn Brad Keselowski. I’m also surprised that Edwards and Keselowski were willing to talk to FOX on camera after that wreck. The tensions are still very high at this point. This isn’t the place to discuss paybacks and stuff like that, so I won’t talk about that here.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief since the race went over its timeslot. FOX provided viewers with the usual post-race analysis and interviews with the top-four finishers. There was also a check of the unofficial results and the top 12 in points.

That is all for this week. Unfortunately, next weekend is “The Great Rest.” Good for NASCAR teams, bad for critics like myself. All three of NASCAR’s major touring series (Sprint Cup, Nationwide and the Camping World Truck series) are off next weekend. However, that doesn’t mean that there is no racing on tap. Next Sunday is the season opener for the Izod IndyCar Series, another series that we here at Frontstretch have pledged more coverage of during the 2010 season. Coverage begins with qualifying Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET on Versus. Pre-race begins Sunday morning at 11:30 a.m. ET, with the green flag scheduled to drop at or around 11:55 a.m. Bob Jenkins, Robbie Buhl and Jon Beekhuis will be in the booth for Versus. ESPN refugee Jack Arute, Lindy Thackford and Robbie Floyd will be reporting from pit road. And for those of you with DirecTV, I think Indycar.com will be showing the race live so that you won’t be out of luck due to the ongoing DirecTV-Versus spat.

Also, note that Daylight Savings Time begins really early Sunday morning. As a result, that 11:30 a.m. will feel more like 10:30 a.m.

Even earlier in the morning on Sunday is the season opener for Formula 1, the Grand Prix of Bahrain from the Bahrain International Circuit. Coverage from Bahrain begins with live Free Practice No. 2 Friday morning at 6:00 a.m. ET. Live knockout qualifying is scheduled for Saturday morning at 6:00 a.m. ET.

For those of you unfamiliar with F1’s qualifying procedure, it is a three-round system. The system was redesigned for this season to allow for a 26-car grid, however, it appears that 24 cars will be in Bahrain. Round One has all the cars out there for a 15-minute session. The bottom seven cars will be eliminated and locked into their starting spots. Round Two (Q2) will have the remaining 17 cars out there. The fastest 10 move to Round Three. Last year, this third session was done on race fuel. However, since refueling during races is banned for this season, Q3 will now be on low fuel. The remaining 10 cars will then battle for the pole.

Finally, race coverage is scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m. ET on SPEED with the team of Bob Varsha, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett commentating on the race from North Carolina, but with links to the track. The start will be at approximately 8:05 a.m. ET.

I will cover the IndyCar season opener in next week’s critique. In addition, I’ll give my thoughts on shows like What’s the Deal? and SPEED’s Fast Track to Fame. Also, later this week in The Critic’s Annex, I will look at the Desert 400 V8 Supercar race, also from Bahrain International Circuit.

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:

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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.