Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV’s Rain Delay Verdict: ESPN Pretty Good, FOX? Not So Much

Hello, race fans and welcome to our weekly TV critique. This weekend, the action was at the Texas Motor Speedway in Justin, Texas, just a few miles north of Fort Worth. The Sprint Cup Series were the headliners, with support from the ARCA Racing Series presented by Re/MAX and Menards and the Nationwide Series.

However, before I start, I want to take a minute to talk about the post-race coverage fiasco from last week. As you may remember, FOX announced a new, online-only extension to their post-race coverage to compensate called the Overdrive. It would have provided additional post-race analysis and post-race interviews, available for viewing at FoxSports.com. It’s a great concept, but one that met with a fatal snag: Turner Sports technically owns all online rights to NASCAR footage and has since 2001. Under this deal, any online video content of this type can only be produced by Turner Sports and can only run on NASCAR.com.

There were some negotiations between Fox Sports and Turner Sports on this issue, but they eventually broke down. As a result, FOX was forced to notify fans through their Twitter page this weekend that they would not have Overdrive coverage at Texas. Turner Sports, through NASCAR.com, released a statement in response that read, in part: “NASCAR.COM has proactively approached FOX over a period of time with a variety of collaborative online media options that unfortunately have been rejected.”

Based on this quote, it could be assumed that the two parties don’t really like other very much. If that is so, then the only people that suffer from this animosity are regular race fans, as well as the client they service (NASCAR). It would be nice for the two sides to work out their differences (or even for NASCAR brass to mediate the issue), but sadly, I just don’t see it happening.

The sad part is that FOX had good intentions here. They realized that fans, media, anyone watching on TV were rather ticked off with the lack of post-race coverage from Phoenix. This online show would have given fans the additional coverage that they crave. Unfortunately, because of this overarching deal that lasts until 2014, NASCAR.com and Turner Sports has full control over online rights. This is something that probably never should have happened in the first place. NASCAR owns what amounts to their own production company now, the NASCAR Media Group. They should control the online content and allow certain websites (ESPN.com, FoxSports.com, NASCAR.com, etc.) to carry the footage because this current setup, which is biased towards Turner Sports, is broken: simple as that.

Having said all that, on to the actual racing.

Rattlesnake 150

On Friday night, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Re/MAX and Menards had their fourth race of the season, the Rattlesnake 150, at Texas Motor Speedway. This is the second of 10 races that SPEED will televise this season. Like at Daytona, Rick Allen and Phil Parsons from SPEED’s Camping World Truck Series telecasts were in the booth.

Unlike most of the ARCA races on SPEED from the past couple of years, this telecast appeared to be live. If you remember past broadcasts, they would go on the air after the cars had already rolled off pit road, but the telecast would be 5-10 minutes behind real life. Friday, there were actually three pre-race interviews on the grid before the command to start engines. Before these interviews were recaps of the first three races of the season. Of course, only Daytona was televised. The other two races (Palm Beach and Salem) had footage from one camera.

I still believe that some cameras that are active for Nationwide and Cup aeries races are deactivated for ARCA (and not just “signature shots” like the Digger Cam). As a result, some things were not caught very well. Example: Nur Ali‘s crash on lap 3. SPEED had only one shot of the crash from a speed shot camera exiting turn 4 where you really couldn’t see all that much.

SPEED did employ some good uses of split-screen replays on Friday night, which is good to see. This mainly involved replays running in one box while the live action continued in another.

Post-race coverage was relatively short. There were interviews with race winner Steve Arpin, winning crew chief Tony Liberati, Justin Marks and Craig Goess, a check of the unofficial results, and a points check before SPEED left the air. This is a little bit more than normal, so perhaps I shouldn’t complain.

As a result of SPEED ever so slightly cutting the number of races that they cover each season, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Re/MAX and Menards doesn’t get the coverage that it did nine years ago. Back then, all the races were televised on Speedvision, but not all of them were live. There was also a significant difference in production values from race to race. I do not believe that the series needs to be exclusive to SPEED. I don’t think ARCA believes that, either. Perhaps, they should ramp up negotiations with local sports stations to cover races that SPEED doesn’t. For example, Comcast SportsNet out of Philadelphia covered the inaugural race for the series at New Jersey Motorsports Park in 2008. That’s not a horrible idea. Then, they could syndicate the telecast out to other regional sports networks, ones that would only have to provide production (cameras, trucks, etc.). The commentators could be hand-picked by ARCA, for all I care. The pit reporters effectively work for the sport itself already (Tretow definitely does, Venturini doesn’t, but they could easily put Don Radebaugh on pit road as well). They could also try to get another cable network to televise races, but the MAVTV experiment didn’t work all that well because the channel doesn’t have a very large reach.

O’Reilly 300

Saturday was supposed to have coverage of the Nationwide Series O’Reilly 300. However, torrential rains postponed the action first to Sunday night, then late afternoon on Monday. As a result, Saturday’s coverage turned into three hours of killing time. But, it was the good kind of killing time.

ESPN jammed, at the bare minimum, 23 interviews into the showers. These interviews with Sprint Cup interlopers, team owners and Nationwide-only drivers carried the show, with everything from in-depth questioning to pure, laid-back entertainment on the agenda. It strikes me that this was the type of setup where Kenny Wallace would thrive. When he was still in the Cup Series, he was effectively the grandmaster of killing time on-air. Kenny did get a short interview about two hours into the telecast, focused on the low funds of Jay Robinson Racing. Mike Wallace and JD Motorsports also got what was probably their first ever interview on TV. Young guns like Landon Cassill, Trevor Bayne, James Buescher and Scott Lagasse Jr. got their due.

The best interview, though, was Dr. Jerry Punch’s with Dale Earnhardt Jr. This was a long, 10-minute (or so) wide-ranging talk about JR Motorsports and his struggles in the Cup Series over the past couple of years. This was great to watch. Apparently, what we saw on Saturday was the real Earnhardt Jr. No filter here.

The most uncomfortable moment was early on when Kyle Busch was in the Infield Studio with Nicole Briscoe (subbing for a vacationing Allen Bestwick), Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. Back in Phoenix, Rusty went on record as being unsupportive of Busch’s actions during the Bashas’ Supermarkets 200. This resulted in an uneasy silence from Wallace during Busch’s time in the Infield Studios. Very weird.

There was also a nice feature on the very first live broadcast of a Grand National (now Sprint Cup) race, the 1971 Greenville 200. A two-hour window was cleared for the broadcast on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, with Jim McKay and Chris Economaki in the booth while Ken Squier was in the pits (That’s pretty much as good of an all-star team as you can get.) If you’ve been reading this column for the past year, you know that I am a history nut. As a result, I ate this up. One thing they didn’t mention was that the 200-lap race took only one hour and 16 minutes to run, resulting in a bunch of time to fill once the race ended. This meant that a bunch of interviews were required in order to fill out the slot. I have no real idea when they were saving that feature for. Perhaps a Wednesday edition of NASCAR Now, since Wednesday is what amounts to old-school day?

When the race actually went off Monday evening, the telecast started off a couple of minutes early after the Liverpool-West Ham United match (being slotted after a soccer match is not bad because they run (more or less) for a fixed amount of time). Marty Reid started off with a brief recap of the Samsung Mobile 500, which had finished about an hour before. Then, it was straight to the opening ceremonies. This is typical of a postponed race. Reid, Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree were in the booth once again for ESPN as Dale Jarrett’s vacation continues.

There is one positive thing that I want to mention about the actual race broadcast. About 60 laps into the race, there was a nice, prolonged Up to Speed segment that covered everyone back to about 18th place. It actually got curtailed because of Justin Lofton‘s crash on the backstretch. Had that not happened, it probably would have covered nearly everyone on the lead lap. I think extending this production feature was definitely a good move, although I hope it’s not just a one time thing (ESPN’s done that before, only to back off in subsequent races). The smaller teams in the series need all the exposure they can get in order to help them get more backing.

I think ESPN needed to notify the fans about the competition caution that flew on lap 25 earlier than they actually did. As it stands, the first notification on air of it was by Marty Reid as ESPN was going to commercial on lap 15. This is something that should have been mentioned before the green flag flew.

There was also a little too much coverage of Carl Edwards‘s axle issues. I, personally, do not need to see full screen images of Edwards’s team attempting to repair the axle and transmission in the garage area while there is green flag racing going on.

Another thing I didn’t like was the coverage of the fourth and final caution of the race. This was when the two Roush Fenway Racing Fords collided, sending Ricky Stenhouse Jr. into the inside wall on the backstretch. ESPN did not capture the wall contact, and did not show the No. 6 after it hit the concrere. Did I also mention that it happened during a commercial break? In our Live Blogs, I refer to incidents like this by saying “That’ll be a trapezoid right there.” I say that because in my notes, I denote cautions that come out during commercials with a trapezoid.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief. There were interviews with winner Kyle Busch, Busch’s crew chief (Jason Radcliff), Joey Logano, Carl Edwards (who finished 36 laps down because of his axle issues) and Brad Keselowski. There was also a quick points check. The unofficial results were only displayed in the scroll.

Samsung Mobile 500

Now, onto the big boys.

The Sprint Cup Series was originally scheduled to hold the Samsung Mobile 500 on Sunday afternoon. However, a combination of light drizzle, mist, and a persistent dense fog prevented the proper scheduling from taking place. Like ESPN on Saturday, FOX was once again forced to kill time on air for the third time this season in just eight races.

For the first hour of their coverage, FOX stuck to their typical schedule. This means plenty of discussion in the Hollywood Hotel with Jeff Hammond, Darrell Waltrip and Chris Myers. There was a little more usage of the Storm Scout, Rick Dickert, than normal because of the ongoing issues with light rain and fog.

Chris Pizzi was back after being thankfully absent from pre-race in Phoenix. This week, his guest was Mark Martin. Martin handled Pizzi similar to how he handles questions during top-12 availability in the Media Center. There was some silence, relatively short answers, and that was about it. Rough segment.

There was also a feature where Jeff Gordon did some training with a National Guard unit, and a feature on how late-race strategy has changed this season with the introduction of the three chances at a green-white-checkered finish. Another feature talked about the history of Texas Motor Speedway (fairly checkered, to be honest, especially the first few years), and of Texas venues prior to its opening, including Texas World Speedway.

There was also a top-10 feature on the biggest crashes on FOX. There were a couple of issues with this segment, in my opinion, very noticeable to anyone who was paying attention. First off, they accidentally included an in-car shot from Tony Stewart‘s No. 20 during the 2002 Aaron’s 499 in a clip of the big wreck at the beginning of the 2003 Aaron’s 499. Later on, when they listed the aforementioned crash from 2002, it was displayed as being from 2003. That’s pretty bad.

There were also interviews with drivers (and at least one U.S. Army soldier), but nowhere near as many as what ESPN did on Saturday. Once the announcement went out that the race was postponed, FOX left the air almost immediately, just like they did at Martinsville a couple of weeks ago – leaving half of their timeslot unused.

When FOX returned on Monday morning (11 a.m. CT), it was a quick welcome to Texas from Myers in the Hollywood Hotel, then right out to the opening ceremonies like at Martinsville. Pre-race analysis from Mike Joy, Waltrip and Larry McReynolds in the broadcast booth was in between the command to start engines and the pace laps. FOX did a much better job of informing fans about the competition caution that was thrown on lap 25.

Race coverage was typical of what we’ve seen so far this season. It was relatively focused in on the big boys, while other drivers (even some big ones like Martin and Kasey Kahne) got very little exposure at all during the race, yet earned great finishes at the end.

I was disappointed that FOX was unable to gather better camera angles of Brian Vickers‘s two separate incidents. The first one was actually fine. This was caught live on the cameras. The second one was terrible. All we could see was smoke, and we never really saw the No. 83 sliding up the track. The other angle FOX used was an in-car shot facing Vickers. As a result, you couldn’t really see anything except for Vickers himself.

Probably the best part of FOX’s broadcast on Monday was in and around the red flag for the big wreck in the quad-oval. Unlike some of the other incidents at the track last weekend, FOX had this one down pat. They were able to get interviews with all the principal people involved in the incident (Gordon, Stewart, Edwards, etc.). The reaction from the drivers to the wreck was a bit unusual, I’ll admit. No one blamed anyone.

In fact, the only person that seemed to be unhappy during their interview was Gordon, and that had nothing to do with the crash. Instead, it had more to do with the somewhat rough dicing earlier in the race with teammate/protégé/all-conquering overlord Jimmie Johnson. Gordon was unhappy with Johnson’s antics, but couldn’t really display his true thoughts verbally. The fact that Gordon was unhappy with Johnson completely threw Dick Berggren for a loop, though, since this was probably the first time that he’s ever bad-mouthed Jimmie on air.

Since the race was on Monday, post-race coverage was quite brief. There were four post-race interviews (Denny Hamlin, Johnson, Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch). There was also an update of the DirecTV Head2Head Knockout bracket based on the results of Monday’s race and a check of the point standings. The unofficial results were only displayed in the scroll.

I think that FOX really doesn’t need any more natural or unnatural issues that delay races for the rest of their part of the schedule. These delays, albeit outside of their control, are killing their ratings. I also think the pre-race show needs to dump Pizzi in the worst way. He subtracts from the show instead of adding. Race telecasts need to be more inclusive instead of exclusive, too. I ranted during the Live Blog about wanting to see some excellent racing for positions 7-15. Unfortunately, it occurred during a break, and by the time FOX returned and cut to it, it was 15 laps later and it was over. FOX needs to realize that they actually have a lot of power over how fans perceive the racing. It’s not even so much what the commentators say on air, but what gets shown (and what often doesn’t).

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is Talladega (cue some cheers and boos). The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are the main draw in Alabama. Meanwhile, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Re/MAX and Menards will serve as the tertiary series on Friday evening.

Outside of Talladega, the Rolex Sports Car Series returns for Round 4 of their championship, the Bosch Engineering 250 at Virginia International Raceway on Saturday. Sunday sees the return of the V8 Supercars to SPEED with the ITM 400 from Hamilton, New Zealand, run this past weekend.

Here’s your telecast lineup for the weekend:

Friday, April 23
Time Telecast Network
11:30 a.m. Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
2:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Practice SPEED
3:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Happy Hour SPEED
5:00 p.m. Talladega ARCA 250 SPEED

Saturday, April 24
Time Telecast Network
11:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Qualifying SPEED
2:00 p.m. Rolex Sports Car Series Bosch Engineering 250 SPEED
2:30 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ABC
3:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Aaron’s 312 ABC

Sunday, April 25
Time Telecast Network
10:00 a.m. NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
12:00 p.m. Fox Pre-Race FOX
1:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Aaron’s 499 FOX
1:00 p.m. Australian V8 Supercars ITM Hamilton 400 SPEED

I will provide critiques for the three races this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway in next week’s edition of Talking NASCAR TV here on Frontstretch. The Rolex Sports Car Series race from Virginia International Raceway and Round Four of the V8 Supercars from Hamilton, New Zealand will be covered in the Critic’s Annex next Thursday in the Frontstretch Newsletter.

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:


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 ones full of rants and vitriol.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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