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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: Mixed Results for TNT’s New Personnel in New Roles

Hello, race fans, and welcome to our weekly look at race broadcasts. Last weekend was the first of many where the Sprint Cup Series ran separate from NASCAR’s other top divisions. The Sprint Cup Series appeared at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., while the Nationwide Series raced at Nashville Superspeedway in Lebanon, Tenn. and the Camping World Truck Series was at Texas Motor Speedway near Justin, Texas.

WinStar World Casino 400k

On Friday night, SPEED aired coverage of the WinStar World Casino 400k from Texas Motor Speedway. Due to TNT’s Summer Series beginning this past weekend, there were a couple of on-air changes. Firstly, since Adam Alexander is TNT’s new play-by-play commentator, he was not in Texas this week, preferring to focus on his new job. Krista Voda, normally just the host of NCWTS Setup, took his place on pit road and will do so for the next couple of races. However, Voda continues as the host of the Setup. Phil Parsons will come down from the booth to take Alexander’s place on pit road during pre-race festivities.

NCWTS Setup included a sit-down interview with Johnny Benson about his race in the No. 18 and his plans for the rest of the season. It was here that we learned just how close Benson was to a full-season sponsorship deal that would have put Benson in a third Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota. There was also a feature on Nelson Piquet Jr. and his adjustment to NASCAR, transitioning after spending his entire career in open-wheel racing, which I found to be quite interesting (for those of you who missed it, Piquet really wants to introduce NASCAR to his countrymen in Brazil).

One thing that concerned me a little bit here was in the Memory Lane segment where Michael Waltrip and Parsons pick a race and describe it. Parsons chose the four-race stretch that Brendan Gaughan utterly dominated. That’s perfectly fine, but the way he described it made it sound like he was affiliated with the team (Orleans Racing) at the time. There was a lot of “we’s” coming from Parsons in that piece. If so, this could be considered an unprofessional moment.

During the race telecast, I liked the use of the split-screen for the replay while showing live action early in the race. Hopefully, this can be used in other broadcasts later this season.

However, there are a couple of things that I wasn’t a fan of in the telecast. The second caution was thrown for debris on lap 74. I don’t think SPEED mentioned what this yellow was until after a commercial break, and the better part of five additional minutes after the break had passed. Not cool. At the time, it seemed to me that they had thrown the yellow for nothing.

The double commercial break that I often ranted about last season also made a comeback towards the end of the race Friday night. Never been a fan of that. When SPEED finally returned, the race was under caution for Ricky Carmichael‘s crash, and we missed it. Just awful. I despise that garbage. It’s not like the race wasn’t going to fill its time slot – it went to the expected length.

Commercials also caused SPEED to nearly miss the last restart. This is nuts, especially knowing that it was a green-white-checkered restart. Usually, there would be some kind of buildup towards the ending… but not on Friday night.

Post-race coverage was relatively short, since SPEED was seemingly in a hurry to get off the air. There were quick interviews with the winner Todd Bodine, his crew chief Mike Hillman Jr. and Johnny Sauter. In addition, there were checks of the unofficial results and points standings before SPEED left for a repeat of Trackside.

This broadcast could definitely use some improvement, due to the reasons I presented above. But overall, it was OK to watch. Allen, Parsons and Waltrip were their usual selves in the booth.

Federated Auto Parts 300

On Saturday night, the Nationwide Series raced the Federated Auto Parts 300 from Nashville Superspeedway. As this is another standalone weekend, ESPN brought some changes to the on-air group. This race served as Vince Welch’s debut in the broadcast booth in a play-by-play role, while Marty Reid took the week after Indianapolis off. Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree joined Welch in the booth, while Dr. Jerry Punch, Jamie Little and Shannon Spake were on pit road.

NASCAR Countdown, according to my on-screen guide and the listing on ESPN’s TV Listing page, espntv.com, was supposed to be a full hour. In practice, it ended up being more along the lines of a half-hour due to the tape-delayed airing of pole qualifying running long. I’m fine with this, only because this race really didn’t need a full hour of pre-race coverage (Actually, very few with the exception of the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 do).

There was a nice feature during Countdown on the massive flooding that hit the Nashville area recently and how race teams pitched in to help the relief effort. This interspersed local television footage with original interviews and was quite well done. The rest of NASCAR Countdown consisted of interviews and pre-race analysis, mainly from the Infield Studio.

From what I could see and hear on the telecast, Vince Welch seemed quite nervous in the booth. Then again, I can’t blame him. I’d be nervous, too, if I got thrown in there basically cold to commentate on a Nationwide race. He seems like a different person. On pit road, Welch reminds me of a younger Jack Arute. Here, Welch sounded a little like Dr. Jerry Punch in the booth from last year. And, we remember how well that went over.

Welch made only a passing mention of Willie Allen having to start the race from the pits after serving a two-lap penalty for “unapproved adjustments.” Usually, when you make unapproved adjustments during an impound situation, you just get sent to the back. This is the first time I’ve seen someone get forced to start from the pits in a NASCAR race. It just doesn’t make any sense. I doubt Allen minds all that much now since he got a top 15 Saturday night after making up the two laps, but it just seemed so weird at the time. ESPN should have given us a better explanation of how Allen could get docked two laps before the race even starts.

Post-race coverage was pretty decent, since the race finished inside of its three-hour time slot. There were interviews with winner Brad Keselowski and his crew chief, Paul Wolfe. In addition, there were interviews with Carl Edwards, Gaughan, Paul Menard, Justin Allgaier and hometown man Allen. There was also a look at the point standings during post-race, while the unofficial results remained in the scroll.

The Welch experiment in the broadcast booth is a work in progress, for sure. I believe that as he becomes more comfortable up there, he’ll become better as a commentator. Saturday, he was tentative. and it showed. Luckily for him, he has three more tries this year up in the booth to improve.

Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500

On Sunday afternoon, TNT presented coverage of the Sprint Cup Series’ Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500. This was the first of TNT’s six-race Summer Series. This year, the network has made quite a few changes both on-air, and to RaceBuddy. First off, Adam Alexander is in as the play-by-play commentator, replacing the fired Bill Weber and the interim commentator, Ralph Sheheen. Wally Dallenbach and Kyle Petty return as booth analysts.

Sheheen moves back to his role as a pit reporter, while Matt Yocum and Marty Snider also return to pit duties. Lindsay Czarniak has been moved off of pit road for this season, and she has been replaced by Phil Parsons. This serves as a return of sorts for Parsons, since he worked at least one TBS broadcast in the booth back in the 1980s, when he was sharing a car with brother Benny.

Meanwhile, Czarniak has been moved to the Infield stage with Larry McReynolds, replacing Marc Fein. Fein has decided to focus on the work he does for NBA TV.

There is also a new pre-race setup for TNT this year. For the past three years, TNT has had 90 minutes of pre-race programming prior to the race coverage. The one hour NASCAR on TNT Live! has been ditched for this year. Countdown to Green, formerly just a half-hour, has been lengthened to an hour.

RaceBuddy has been improved for 2010 with screens that are apparently 28 percent larger than last year. The screens have two settings, live and quality. The live setting is like last year, but with bigger screens. The quality setting gives you a better picture, plus the ability to rewind the feed, thus creating your own replays. I think that this is a bit of a gimmick, to be honest. I didn’t use it that much, but maybe some of my readers did. The service also has tweets from teams and live chat. The leaderboard leaves a lot to be desired, though. It’s slow to update and doesn’t show intervals; in fact, it only shows driver’s position and their last lap speed. I hope Turner Sports can fix that for upcoming races.

Countdown to Green re-introduced some of TNT’s features from the past. The Ponytail Express, where Kyle Petty rides his Victory motorcycle from race to race and takes in various sites along the way, returns this year, but Rutledge Wood does not. My best guess is that Rutledge had a conflict with taping for TopGear USA. Wally’s World is back as well, more or less unchanged (Sunday’s piece covered getting off turn 3). However, I find myself yearning for the days in which Wally would scare the bejesus out of people in the two-seater. During the rain delay coverage, TNT replayed some of those old clips.

There was a Pride of NASCAR feature on Mario Andretti, mainly focused on when he won the 1967 Daytona 500. As a history nut, I find this type of feature interesting. However, Andretti had only 14 starts in what is now the Sprint Cup Series, so there was not all that much that could be covered in that piece. Czarniak also conducted a sit down interview with Joe Gibbs that was quite interesting to watch.

The one thing that I did not like about pre-race was the noticeable lack of driver interviews. Only four or five actually made the broadcast, while many more (conducted by Jim Noble) were exclusive to RaceBuddy. I guess that’s the way RaceBuddy pre-race coverage is going to be this year, which is not really that much of a stretch.

As most of you already know, the race start was delayed for two hours due to rain. During that delay, Czarniak and McReynolds continued to host the coverage, but from inside of a studio. Apparently, it was on the second floor of the infield pagoda overlooking victory lane, but with a giant screen behind them like what FOX had with the Hollywood Hotel.

TNT provided viewers with nearly two dozen interviews of drivers and crew chiefs during the delay, in addition to more analysis from the broadcast booth, and Czarniak and McReynolds. In instances where TNT needed to kill time, they aired some file footage, like replaying the Wally’s World feature from Countdown to Green, which wasn’t really necessary. They also replayed the Pride of NASCAR piece on Richard Petty from last year, where Kyle interviewed his father.

Adam Alexander started out a little rough in the broadcast booth, making a couple of minor flubs early on. However, later in the race, Adam seemed to come into his own, settling rather nicely into his new gig. I think that Adam will be fine as a play-by-play man over time.

I’m not sure if I can say the same about Phil Parsons on pit road. Parsons’s strength is in the broadcast booth, as he is not the strongest interviewer on earth. Also, Parsons’s mere presence on the telecast looks quite weird knowing that he is the principal owner of PRISM Motorsports, a team that start and parks almost all the time.

On Sunday, he threw out softball questions so that drivers didn’t have to answer what they didn’t want to answer. For example, Parsons was the man assigned to talk to Kevin Harvick after his run-in with Joey Logano. He then proceeded to lob a softball at Harvick, and Harvick didn’t even really talk about the incident, other than to say that Logano should have given him the position, which is ludicrous knowing that there were two laps to go. Parsons needs to improve his questioning methods for the rest of this Summer Series.

A new feature for this season that debuted on lap 38 is “Closing the Gap.” This is a graphic that shows the distance, in feet and inches, between two cars. It changes in real time, and is meant to show how distance changes between cars at different points around the track. In practice, it is essentially the answer to a question that was never asked.

One thing that irked me was with the fourth caution brought out by Casey Mears‘s spin on the restart from caution 3. Apparently, David Reutimann spun as well, and they had a shot of this from the roof-cam on the No. 00; however, they did not include it in the race broadcast. I only noticed it during the RaceBuddy-exclusive post-race show.

I mentioned earlier how I didn’t like how TNT (and Parsons in particular) handled the whole Logano-Harvick incident. It goes further. It was unclear where Denny Hamlin was when the caution came out, and he has since stated that he thinks he was 100 yards from the start-finish line when the yellow flew. But how could we tell? We never did see where he was. TNT should have had a shot of where Denny’s car was positioned when the yellow came out; although in the end, this incident is just one more reason why NASCAR should mandate yellow lights inside the car.

Post-race coverage was quite extensive, knowing that the rain put the race 90 minutes-plus into overtime. TNT had five interviews in their regular post-race coverage, along with a check of the points, unofficial results, and some analysis. The RaceBuddy-exclusive extension had replays of interviews with Kasey Kahne and Logano, along with three more interviews.

Based on what I saw Sunday, TNT has a lot going for them this year. I just hope that Phil can become a little better at his reporting job.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, all three major NASCAR series are back in action. The Sprint Cup Series will be racing in the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 at Michigan International Raceway on Sunday, joined by the Camping World Truck Series on Saturday and the ARCA Racing Series Presented by Re/MAX and Menards on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series has their second consecutive non-Sprint Cup support race. They will race Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky.

Here’s your weekly TV viewing schedule:

Wednesday, June 9
Time Telecast Network
6:00 – 7:00 p.m. Prelude to the Dream Preview Show SPEED
6:00 – 11:00 p.m. Gillette Fusion ProGlide Prelude to the Dream PPV ($24.95)

Friday, June 11
Time Telecast Network
11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
2:00 – 3:30 p.m. Formula 1 Free Practice 2 SPEED
3:30 – 5:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED&
5:00 – 7:00 p.m. ARCA Racing for Wildlife 200 SPEED
10:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying Repeat (In Full) SPEED*

Saturday, June 12
Time Telecast Network
8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. 24 Hours of Le Mans – The Start SPEED
12:30 – 1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
1:30 – 2:00 p.m. NCWTS Setup SPEED
2:00 – 4:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series VFW 200 SPEED
4:00 – 6:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN
4:30 – 6:00 p.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Canada Qualifying SPEED*
6:00 – 12:00 a.m. 24 Hours of Le Mans (Hours 10-15) SPEED
7:30 – 8:00 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN
8:00 – 11:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Meijer 300 ESPN

Sunday, June 13
Time Telecast Network
12:00-9:30 a.m. 24 Hours of Le Mans – The Finish (Hours 16-24, plus post-race) SPEED
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
12:00 – 2:00 p.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Canada FOX
12:00 – 1:00 p.m. Countdown to Green TNT
1:00 – 5:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 TNT
8:00 – 9:00 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED

&- Joined in Progress
*- Tape Delay

I will be providing critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series races in next week’s critique here on Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex will discuss either the Gillette Fusion ProGlide Prelude to the Dream or the ARCA race. Check out the Thursday Frontstretch Newsletter to find out.

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 TNT, ESPN or the SPEED Channel personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage from last weekend, please click on the following links:

TNT
SPEED
ESPN

As always, if you choose to contact the network 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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