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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: A Quirky Weekend of Weather & Debris for the Networks

Hello, race fans and welcome to our weekly NASCAR TV Critique. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup Series was at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday for the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400. They were supported by the Camping World Truck Series with their running of the VFW 200, while the Nationwide Series was in Kentucky for the Meijer 300 presented by Ritz on Saturday night.

However, before we start, there is a little bit of news to cover. Last week, SPEED personality Wendy Venturini announced via her Twitter feed that she is pregnant with her first child. The due date is December 27. Because that’s scheduled for the offseason, the plan currently is not for her to miss a week at the track. We at Frontstretch wish Wendy and her husband the best.

VFW 200

On Saturday night, the Camping World Truck Series raced in the VFW 200 at Michigan International Speedway. SPEED’s coverage started out with a recap of the last race in Texas, which is typical of a SPEED broadcast. That was followed by a recap of the Gillette Fusion ProGlide Prelude to the Dream, which two full-time Camping World Truck Series drivers – Ricky Carmichael and Aric Almirola – competed in.

There were nine pre-race interviews (Mike Skinner, Todd Bodine, Ron Hornaday, Almirola, Carmichael, Elliott Sadler, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch and James Buescher), which is actually above normal for NCWTS Setup. Of course, I’m not going to complain about it, I like it. There was also a sitdown interview with Buescher, who has run excellently since returning to the series full-time with Turner Motorsports.

The race itself was full of side-by-side, three-wide and even four-wide action. Quotes voiced on air compared the trucks at Michigan to a restrictor-plate race. At times, especially after restarts and pit stops, it was true. The last 15 laps were effectively a giant land rush.

The event was delayed for 40 minutes by rain, and during that time (quite brief, knowing that this is a 2-mile racetrack), SPEED conducted interviews with multiple drivers. However, they also cut away to bonus coverage of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I don’t know how you guys feel about that, but I’m fine with that standby being used as a stopgap measure in a pinch. However, since this delay was only 40 minutes, I don’t think the race was stopped long enough for the tactic to be used. I’d like to see your thoughts on this move.

By the time SPEED returned to the Truck coverage from Michigan, the track was dry and the trucks were back out under yellow. Like I said before, this was an unusual tactic for the network to use. The idea of returning so abruptly to trucks already on the track is even more weird. Usually, if a network breaks away from coverage like that for alternative programming due to rain, they would return roughly 10-15 minutes before the cars restarted. Just goes to show that they shouldn’t have left Michigan.

As a result of the 40-minute rain delay, the race ran long by about that amount of time. SPEED provided what amounted to minimal post-race coverage. There was an interview with race winner Almirola and Busch, along with a check of the points standings before SPEED left the air. The unofficial results were only shown in the scroll.

Looking back at this coverage shows a rather unusual broadcast style for SPEED. Most of the telecast consisted of what we’ve come to expect from the network: enthusiastic announcers, great racing, etc. However, the rest was just plain quirky this week. They’ll have a month to regroup before Iowa, though.

Meijer 300

On Saturday evening, ESPN televised the Meijer 300 presented by Ritz from Kentucky Speedway. NASCAR Countdown was an affair typical of what we’ve grown used to this season. There was plenty of pre-race analysis from the Infield Studio. However, they spent a lot of time rehashing the Kevin Harvick/Joey Logano confrontation from Pocono. ESPN, let’s be honest with ourselves and what series you cover right now. For the Nationwide Series, Harvick wasn’t even in Kentucky. It’s not like Harvick was going to be on the radio to Ernie Cope, forcing him to tell Mike Bliss to take out Logano like Larry Dennit Jr. in Talladega Nights. C’mon, now.

Tim Brewer, in response to the Braun Racing tire-swapping penalty, conducted a Craftsman Tech Garage feature on how NASCAR keeps track of the tires distributed to Nationwide teams. It’s a little more than just teams putting number decals on rims – that was nicely done.

Race coverage was pretty good, but I noticed a couple of things. For one, I think Marty Reid mixed up the number of cautions in the race. He claimed that there were 12. In reality, there were 10, and this perplexed me for much of the second half of the race. I guess Reid simply misspoke. Then again, cautions in Nationwide races can come as fast as obscenities in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.

Also, ESPN didn’t make any real mention of impending weather until well into the second half of the race. It’s not as if people at the track didn’t know that it was coming. In fact, ESPN’s own Allen Bestwick, when not giving recaps, was keeping track and posting about it on his Twitter. However, Bestwick referenced this oncoming weather on his feed an hour before the broadcast did. That’s not good, ESPN. I know you prefer not to talk about it, something on-the-road employees told me to my face before – at Watkins Glen last year. However, you’re doing a disservice to your viewers for not mentioning it as soon as it became a potential issue.

Post-race coverage was rather limited, and for good reason. The thunderstorm that was bearing down on the track was very close by the time the race ended. In their defense, Marty Reid explained to viewers that a quick off-air was likely going to be the result. I’m fine with that. Safety first. I want to see a good broadcast, but I don’t want a cameraman or pit reporter to get struck by lightning in order to get it done. ESPN still filled their slot and provided interviews with three drivers and the winning crew chief (Kevin Kidd).

Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400

On Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series returned to Michigan International Speedway for the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400. Countdown to Green was an OK affair. I still don’t understand why TNT feels the need to relegate so many of their pre-race interviews to RaceBuddy. Is this change the result of “well, we’ve got the service, let’s just move it there?” Regardless of the reason, there should be more interviews on TNT proper.

The Pride of NASCAR feature was on Davey Allison, a driver that, like Tim Richmond, came into the series, won his many races, and perished before the sport really took off in popularity. I thought it was an interesting look at Allison’s life, punctuated with insight from his family and friends. However, if you’ve read Peter Golenbock’s book, Miracle: Bobby Allison and the Saga of the Alabama Gang, then there probably wasn’t anything discussed in the piece that would be new to you. Davey Allison, despite being a promising talent in the late 1980s and early 1990s, has been more or less forgotten by many fans, or outright not learned about by incoming fans, and this is a shame.

There was also a sitdown interview with Mike Helton that was conducted by Lindsay Czarniak. It was centered on issues such as the “Have at it, boys” mentality that has been encouraged this season, and whether the changes have increased the number of yellows or hurt NASCAR in general. Helton was his usual self here. I always say that he reminds me of Mr. Ferris, who was the Principal of Bell Top Elementary School in North Greenbush, N.Y. when I was a student there in the early 1990s. A quite imposing fellow to a young kid, somewhat stern – but generally friendly if you don’t cross him.

I will also note that a substantial amount of Countdown to Green (maybe 75%) is centered on Czarniak and McReynolds. Yes, this focus leads to moments when reality comes to light (Lindsay got busted for speeding on the way to the track, apparently), but I think the aforementioned duo is overworked in pre-race. The only person that does as much as they do on-air before the race is Jim Noble, and he’s all but RaceBuddy-only.

The race telecast was generally pretty good, with plenty of coverage of side-by-side competition. TNT accomplished a look throughout most of the field, despite a race with a green-flag feel and Denny Hamlin pulling away to an over 10-second lead late in the event. I had no real issues with Alexander in the booth, or the pit reporters. However, there were a couple of other concerns.

For one, TNT failed to show viewers the debris on track during the two debris cautions. From reading this column over the past year or so, you would just assume that I’m not pleased about that. Ryan Newman actually hit the debris during the first debris caution, which damaged his splitter and ruined his day.

However, my anger reaches a new level when they fail to identify on-track debris that completely changed the outcome of the race (for everyone except Kasey Kahne). Now, if there actually wasn’t any, then TNT would be absolved and all my vitriol would be centered at NASCAR themselves (and Kahne). During Mirror Driving, which will run Wednesday, we debated whether it was there or not. The determination was made that it was there, but didn’t make TNT’s broadcast (it did make the RaceBuddy service). If that is true, then we have an issue with the director failing to use the appropriate camera on air. And that, quite simply, is a crying shame.

Speaking of RaceBuddy, their leaderboard froze on lap 122 on Sunday and stayed there for over 50 laps. I thought that my feed to RaceBuddy had frozen at the time. However, after refreshing once, exiting and re-entering, it was still the same. Then it quietly went back to normal right before the lap 182 caution. I still have the same leaderboard complaints for RaceBuddy as I did last week (that it is slow to update (and thus, behind), and doesn’t include intervals). The tweet feature is not really the best. It’s clunky to use, and I’m not really sure how they’re getting these tweets. Are they from PR minions representing teams, or what? The camera footage is good, though.

Since the race only had four cautions (two of which for debris), TNT had plenty of post-race coverage. However, they didn’t fully use their slot. It could be argued here that they were effectively saving footage to use for the RaceBuddy-exclusive post-post race show. However, when FOX was in a situation where they had plenty of time left in their slot for substantial post-race coverage, they scrapped the extra show. This may have been a situation where TNT could have scrapped the RaceBuddy-exclusive post-race show, taken the content that was included in that and just included it in the regular post-race show – but they simply chose not to.

That is all for this week. Next weekend, NASCAR gets a case of road-racing fever, and I couldn’t be happier, since I’m an unabashed road-racing nut. The Sprint Cup Series will be at Infineon Raceway near Sonoma, Calif. for the 22nd running of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series will be in Elkhart Lake, Wis. for the inaugural running of the Bucyrus 200. In addition, the Izod IndyCar Series will be at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa for the Iowa Corn Indy 250. Here’s your race listings for the week.

Friday, June 18
Time Telecast Network
3:00 – 4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Practice SPEED
6:30 – 8:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Qualifying SPEED

Saturday, June 19
Time Telecast Network
12:30 – 1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Practice SPEED
1:30 – 3:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Happy Hour SPEED
3:00 – 3:30 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
3:30 – 7:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Bucyrus 200 ESPN2
5:00 – 8:00 p.m. Rolex Sports Car Series EMCO Gears Classic presented by KeyBank SPEED
6:00 – 7:00 p.m. Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying Versus

Sunday, June 20
Time Telecast Network
12:00 -2:00 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Presented by The Home Depot SPEED
1:30 -2:30 p.m. IndyCar Central Versus
2:00 -3:00 p.m. Countdown to Green TNT
2:30- 5:00 p.m. Izod IndyCar Series Iowa Corn Indy 250 Versus
3:00 -7:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350k TNT
8:00 -9:00 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Izod IndyCar series races in next week’s article here on Frontstretch. Also, on Thursday in the Frontstretch Newsletter, I will be covering the Prelude to the Dream from June 9.

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

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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