Hello, race fans. It’s that time of the week once again. Critique time for NASCAR’s top-three series. However, before we begin, let’s bring you up to date on some TV news. ARCA announced on Saturday they have signed an extension of their current contract with SPEED. As a result, SPEED will televise a minimum of 10 ARCA Racing Series presented by Re/MAX and Menards races during the 2011 season.
The two parties seem pleased to continue their partnership together. “ARCA and SPEED have invested a great deal over time in our long-term relationship,” said Ron Drager, ARCA President. “We’re very encouraged that SPEED will continue to be the television home for the ARCA Racing Series, and given the challenging economic climate our industry is working through, we’re especially pleased to be able to make this 2011 announcement at the midway point of the current season.”
ARCA telecasts have seen a boost in viewership so far on SPEED, making a contract extension a virtual no-brainer. In the first three races (Daytona, Texas, and Talladega), there was a 49% ratings increase overall. However, much of this increase can be attributed to Danica Patrick racing in the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 at Daytona in February. That race earned a 2.3 overall in the Nielsens, the highest TV rating in ARCA history.
Having said all that, let’s get to the actual critique.
Pocono Mountains 125
On Saturday afternoon, the Camping World Truck Series made their inaugural visit to Pocono Raceway for the Pocono Mountains 125. SPEED was on site to cover the event with most of their normal crew. Darrell Waltrip replaced brother Michael, since Michael was in Spa-Francochamps, Belgium for the 24 Hours of Spa Endurance race. Of course, Michael still called in to chat briefly during pre-race. At the time, he was preparing for a stint in the Ferrari F430 that he was sharing with MWR co-owner Robert Kaufmann, among others. Waltrip’s car finished fifth overall, third in the GT2 class.
Before getting into the Setup, the qualifying session must be discussed. As you may know, a multiple-truck qualifying system was used at Pocono, resulting in all 38 trucks being qualified in approximately an hour. Not a bad system. The booth marveled at the efficiency of this format for longer tracks, and thought that the use of this system could be expanded in the future. I agree with this statement. In particular, this system should be used for restrictor-plate races so that qualifying doesn’t take as long as the race does. Road courses (for Sprint Cup only) can use it, too.
NCWTS Setup started off like normal, with a recap of the previous race, the AAA Insurance 200. There were a couple of a features of note during pre-race coverage. One was a full feature about Todd Bodine‘s charity golf tournament, the “Onion Slice Open.” There was also a piece on Ron Hornaday‘s general struggles this season with multiple crew chiefs, crashes and such after such a dominant championship run in 2009. This montage/feature was generally well done. SPEED also conducted five pre-race interviews (Hornaday, Austin Dillon, Bodine, Elliott Sadler, Kasey Kahne) prior to the race. Generally, this was a passable pre-race show to watch.
The race started off with Darrell Waltrip giving his usual “Boogity!” refrain that has long been played out amongst the fan base. Not only was it annoying, but Darrell basically went back on something that he had said before. He claimed in another truck race that he would not say the refrain because “it’s not his show.” So much for that.
Because of the shortened distance – 125 miles – SPEED aired this race much like they air Sprint Cup qualifying sessions. Essentially, every lap was shown on air. As a result, a race that took just one hour, 13 minutes to run took approximately an extra 20-25 minutes to air. That was the wrong call. Since Pocono Raceway made their truck race too short, SPEED was stuck having to fill in time before their ARCA telecast at 3 p.m.
If the twin format is retained for 2011, maybe they can be twin 200-mile races instead of 125. From this race, Darrell took away the idea that the Sprint Cup events at Pocono should be shortened to 400 miles so that there would be more action (he posted this on his Twitter feed). Will Pocono shorten the Cup races? Heck, no. The good doctor likes the 500-mile length.
But aside from the obvious stretching out of the broadcast, this race was pretty good to watch. There was a lot of action on track, and SPEED was able to catch most of it. Honestly, this race looked more like a 1980s Winston Cup event at Pocono than a Truck race. The booth seemed to be amazed at how quick time was passing by, but that was simply a byproduct of the race being too short.
Post-race coverage was typical. There were interviews with Butch Hylton (Sadler’s crew chief), winner Sadler, Kahne, Matt Crafton and Justin Lofton. In addition, there were looks at the unofficial results and points standings before SPEED transitioned to their coverage of the Weis Markets 125.
But the race itself was strange to watch considering the tape delay, especially if you check Twitter during the event. Many of my readers don’t do that, but some people do, and the outcome would have been spoiled due to SPEED’s weird way of covering the product. Hopefully for next year, Pocono Raceway lengthens this race so that this stupidity doesn’t have to be repeated.
U.S. Cellular 250
On Saturday night, the Nationwide Series returned to Iowa Speedway for the U.S. Cellular 250, held in front of a sellout crowd at the 7/8-mile tri-oval. However, an old enemy of TV coverage popped up to haunt ESPN. A Farmers Classic tennis match featuring Sam Querrey and Janko Tipsarevic ran long by a full hour, pushing NASCAR Countdown and the start of the race to ESPN Classic. ESPN2 joined the race on lap 24.
Dave Burns was back in the play-by-play role this week, along with Ricky Craven and Ray Evernham. Truth be told, this is not a horrible group to have calling your race. Sentiment on Twitter seems to agree with this opinion as well. Jim Noble made his debut on pit road for ESPN, along with Shannon Spake and Rick DeBruhl.
Also, there was an experiment among the pit reporters this week. They decided to forgo their Impact Racing firesuits during the race in favor of polo shirts, much like the other media partners do. This move was generally seen as positive because it was quite toasty in Newton Saturday night, but it is unclear whether these changes will continue past Iowa. I’m fine with the clothing swap, though since it’s new for ESPN, it takes a little getting used to.
The chemistry between the booth members of Burns, Craven and Evernham were very good to listen to. They were on topic and were very informative. I have nothing bad to say about them. Good show.
Post-race coverage was typical for a broadcast that was up against the end of its time-slot. There were post-race interviews with Jason Radcliff, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Trevor Bayne. There was also a check of the points standings before ESPN left the air.
This coverage gave us a very interesting race to watch. There has been discussion in recent years about how to give the Nationwide Series its own identity; well, a dedicated broadcast booth to the series’ races wouldn’t hurt. I think that the team of Burns, Craven and Evernham could do very well as that trio for the series.
Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500
On Sunday afternoon, the Sprint Cup Series pulled onto the 2.5-mile scalene triangle known as Pocono Raceway for the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500. ESPN had the call, with most of their usual crew. However, Vince Welch was involved in a car accident last week along with his son, Dillon. As a result, Welch sat the weekend out. Mike Massaro took his place.
An old school element came into play here. Due to ESPN’s live coverage of the Ricoh Women’s British Open, NASCAR Countdown was pushed to ESPN2. This practice, similar to what ESPN used to do in the 1990s, will come into play multiple times this year. However, unlike the 1990s, viewers will not be affected as much as they were then, when ESPN2 (then simply referred to as “The Deuce”) didn’t have anywhere near the cable reach of ESPN.
The first thing I noticed with NASCAR Countdown this week was that there were more interviews with drivers, which is always a good thing. Also, some of these interviews were near the beginning of NASCAR Countdown. This change was in stark contrast to Indianapolis, where it was a half-hour before a driver was interviewed live.
There was a touching feature on 15-year-old Crystal Martinez of Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania, who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis. This feature was generally very good, but it almost seemed out of place here. The only reason it was included was the fact that Denny Hamlin was involved through his foundation. Something like this report might have worked better on Outside The Lines, or E:60.
Tim Brewer was back with a Craftsman Tech Garage feature on turning a car around quickly. This was done in response to the fact that Greg Biffle‘s team was running the same car at Pocono that had run well the previous week in Indianapolis.
I’m not sure how many people recognized this mistake, but there was an error in ESPN2’s BottomLine during part of NASCAR Countdown. During the show, the BottomLine will show the starting lineup for the race, much like what used to be done on NBC’s Countdown to Green a few years ago. Here, Harvick was erroneously referred to as “Kevin Busch.” Whoops.
Light rain delayed the start of the race by about 35 minutes. In order to pass that time, ESPN did additional interviews and pre-race analysis. By the time the race started, they had conducted at least 11 interviews, much more than normal. Of course, I believe that number would have been higher than average without the rain.
Once the race got going, the field spread out significantly, which makes it quite difficult to display racing for position. ESPN did try for a while, showcasing battles further down the order since literally zilch was occurring up front. However, when you get a 100-lap green-flag run at Pocono, the race turns into something similar to an endurance event, not unlike the Super Cheap Auto Bathurst 1000 for the V8 Supercars, where everyone’s running their own race. When this occurs, networks cover single drivers and try to talk a little about them. Sounds like a recipe for an “Up to Speed,” right? But ESPN only did this once, from position 15 on back to the end of the lead lap, starting on lap 72.
Of course, once the field was bunched back together, the action picked up and ESPN was game for the challenge. However, the fact that the network did not have a good angle of Sadler’s crash was simply unfortunate. Since it’s Pocono, there’s a lot of ground to cover, and the only three cameras covering that portion of the track were focused in on Kurt Busch‘s slide through the grass. Something that wasn’t referenced on air by the booth (I’m not sure if they noticed it or not), but you could just make out Sadler hitting the wall from the rear-bumper cam on Kurt Busch’s car. The car looked like it spun around twice in the air after hitting the wall and may have angled downward on the second spin, throwing the engine out. This replay was shown only once.
During the dual red flags for boiler plate repairs and rain during the fifth caution, ESPN ran a feature on Martin Truex Jr.‘s crew. The main thing that we take away about them is that they’re a little bit older than your usual Sprint Cup pit crew. Aside from Truex’s 52-year-old gas man, they don’t seem that old to me. However, pit crew members are often faceless athletes, so it was nice to see them profiled.
ESPN did well to get their interviews with Kurt Busch and Sadler after the wreck. Granted, Kurt said about 11 words in the interview since he was so angry at Johnson, but just getting him to say anything in this situation is an accomplishment. In Sadler’s case, we were just happy to hear that he was OK after that massive shunt.
There was also a Craftsman Tech Garage feature on the black box data recorder. This was important, since it occurred was right after Sadler’s massive hit. The data from Sadler’s car will be evaluated back at NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord, N.C. this week. Hopefully by Watkins Glen, we’ll have the results back and we’ll know how many Gs Sadler’s hit was.
Post-race coverage was relatively brief due to the red flags pushing the race nearly an hour over the end of its time-slot. As a result, there were only four brief interviews with Biffle and crew chief Greg Irwin, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. There was also a check of the points standings while the unofficial results stayed in the scroll.
The Edwards appearance in the Infield Studio aired as part of Sportscenter after the race. I believe that this may be more the norm this season (especially for the 3 p.m. starts and the night races) rather than the exception. Winner Biffle also got his own time in the Infield Studio before Edwards.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is Watkins Glen, one of my personal favorite race weekends of the year (mainly because I’m a nut for road racing). The Sprint Cup and Nationwide series will both be at the 2.45-mile road course for the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen and the Zippo 200, respectively. Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series will be at Nashville Superspeedway for the Nashville 200 on Saturday night. Here’s your schedule.
Friday, August 6
Time Telecast Network
12:00 – 2:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
2:00 – 4:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Happy Hour ESPN2
4:00 – 5:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour ESPN2
Saturday, August 7
Time Telecast Network
9:00 – 11:00 a.m. Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
11:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN2
1:30 – 2:00 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
2:00 – 5:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Zippo 200 ESPN2
6:00 – 7:00 p.m. Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying Versus*
6:00 – 8:30 p.m. Rolex Sports Car Series Crown Royal 200 SPEED
8:30 – 9:00 p.m. NCWTS Setup SPEED
9:00 – 11:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Nashville 200 SPEED
Sunday, August 8
Time Telecast Network
9:00 – 10:00 a.m. NASCAR Now Pre-Race ESPN2
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
12:00 – 1:00 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN
1:00 – 4:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen ESPN
2:30 – 5:30 p.m. Izod IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 Versus
7:00 – 8:00 p.m. The SPEED Report SPEED
8:00 – 9:00 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
11:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m. NASCAR Now Post-Race ESPN2
Since I will be at Watkins Glen this weekend, I will be unable to do the critique, meaning someone else from Frontstretch will fill in. The Critic’s Annex will take the week of the ninth off, though. However, don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for my critique of the Weis Markets 125, broadcast in Thursday’s edition of 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 ESPN or the SPEED Channel personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage from last weekend, please click on the following links:
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.