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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: ESPN’s Coverage Comes up Short in Bristol

Hello, race fans. It’s that time of the week once again. I’m going through the past weekend’s NASCAR race broadcasts with a fine-tooth comb. The Camping World Truck Series was at Bristol on Wednesday night, while the Nationwide Series raced Friday night and the Sprint Cup Series Saturday night.

However, before I start, I have to talk a little about Versus’s broadcast from Sonoma on Sunday. This is not a critique, per se, but I watched this race and was amazed at the lack of quality. It’s like they read my piece last week, saw that I wasn’t going to be covering them, and decided that they could get away with a comedy of errors. Who in the heck thought it would be a good idea to take a commercial break with five laps to go and bookend that break with fee plugs and a montage clip? That’s ludicrous.

Our own Nick Bromberg wrote a little piece about this for Yahoo! Sports on Monday, urging the Izod IndyCar Series to dump Versus for 2011 in favor of ESPN full-time. It’s a pretty good read.

Now that I’m finished with Sonoma, on to Bristol.

O’Reilly 200

On Wednesday night, the Camping World Truck Series returned to Bristol Motor Speedway for their annual midweek assault on the concrete high banks. SPEED was there to cover the proceedings with their normal on-air crew.

NCWTS Setup started out with a recap of Darlington before getting into the meat of the show. Viewers were treated to five pre-race interviews in addition to analysis from the booth.

There was a Beyond the Cockpit feature with Jennifer Jo Cobb this week as part of a continuing series of rookie profiles. In it, Cobb talks about how her dream ever since the early 1980s has been to race in the Cup Series. She has ambitious goals, but she also seems to be realistic about her own potential as well as her team’s.

I always welcome opportunities to get to know drivers that we otherwise might not know about. JJC Racing is not the biggest operation in the garage, but they’ve been quite competitive at times this season.

Random thought here: It doesn’t really affect the rest of the broadcast, but SPEED reported the wrong amount for the race’s purse. I know this isn’t 1987, so the 36 starters weren’t racing for a $46,000 purse. Also on the screw-up watch, SPEED listed Miguel Paludo as being involved in the big wreck on lap 199 twice. Once in the No. 77 that he was driving, and again in the No. 92 that Dennis Setzer drove. Whoops.

Watching this race, Michael Waltrip played a bigger role in the broadcast than normal on Wednesday. Phil Parsons was rather quiet in the booth, especially during the first half of the race.

The coverage was pretty good; however, SPEED’s cameras did fail to pick up something. On lap 85, Cobb spun in turn 3 and was hit by James Buescher. It could be argued that Buescher hitting Cobb was a bigger story than Cobb spinning out. However, SPEED’s coverage made it unclear what caused Cobb to spin out in the first place.

Also, I did have an issue with no one taking Kyle Busch to task for basically driving through Cobb on lap 36. The incident was patently ridiculous, yet the booth wrote it off as typical Bristol. It wasn’t typical Bristol.

SPEED must have been expecting a record number of yellows as despite 13 cautions, the race still ended with 20 minutes left in the timeslot. This meant that SPEED had time to show eight post-race interviews, the unofficial results outside of the scroll and the points standings before going off the air.

Food City 250

On Friday night, the Nationwide Series returned to Bristol Motor Speedway for their second appearance of the season. ESPN covered this race with their normal crew, save one change; Allen Bestwick had to miss Bristol due to family issues. As a result, Vince Welch filled in as the Infield Studio host. Shannon Spake took Vince’s place on pit road.

Inexplicably, ESPN decided to have a one-hour edition of NASCAR Countdown on Friday night. In this case, having an hour just meant that there was more time to discuss things in the Infield Studio. It didn’t add anything to the show.

There was a feature about Justin Allgaier and his wife/high school sweetheart, Ashley. However, this feature looked quite familiar. Why? Because it was a repeat feature from earlier in the season.

NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Funny Car driver Ron Capps made a special guest appearance in the booth to promote the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals running Labor Day weekend at O’Reilly Raceway Park and the Countdown to One, the NHRA’s playoff system. Although Capps does have a lot of respect for oval racers, proven by his participation in the Prelude to the Dream and a multitude of comments in the past, this was purely promotional on ESPN’s part. Of course, if they really wanted to promote telecasts (five hours on Labor Day, plus qualifying), they should have stuck John Force in there, since he’s likely the most recognizable personality in the NHRA at this point.

There was a misunderstanding as to whether Larry Pearson was going to be at the track this past weekend. As you remember, Pearson was injured during the Scotts EZ Seed Showdown in March. Vince Welch was operating under the opinion that Larry was at the track and waiting to do an interview. As it turned out, he wasn’t there, but Dr. Jerry Punch did give fans an update on Larry’s condition.

Aside from this rather embarrassing screw-up, I think that Welch held his own in the Infield Studio during NASCAR Countdown. However, like I said earlier, they used the Studio too much.

The race telecast itself was also plagued by errors. On lap 3, Marty Reid mistook Sean Caisse, driving the No. 39 for Go Green Racing, for Ryan Newman. Andy Petree ended up having to correct Marty. The reasoning that Reid gave for this was that he was still in Sprint Cup qualifying mode. However, Sprint Cup qualifying had wrapped up over an hour before the Nationwide race started. Reid and the rest of the booth really didn’t do all that much on-air during NASCAR Countdown, so that’s not a viable excuse. Continuing that theme, a graphics error on lap 4 had Brad Keselowski driving the No. 12 Verizon Dodge that Allgaier was piloting.

Friday’s race also saw something that we have not seen in quite a while from ESPN; A missed restart due to commercials. In all honesty, I cannot remember the last time that this happened, and I’m not happy about it. It appeared that they missed the restart by at least one full lap, if not two.

Having said that, it wasn’t all bad for ESPN on Friday. They were able to successfully point out the debris that brought out the first caution of the race – which came off of Mark Green‘s No. 49. Debris has been a point of contention once again this season, unfortunately. It could be argued that it is a lot easier to catch everything on a short track instead of a superspeedway, but it was good that they were able to find the debris that brought out the yellow.

Despite a race that had 10 cautions, the event ended early in its timeslot, allowing ESPN to provide quite a bit of post-race coverage. There were interviews with winner Busch and his crew, Jason Ratcliffe. In addition, there were interviews with Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Reed Sorenson, Jason Leffler, Clint Bowyer, Elliott Sadler, Trevor Bayne and Parker Kligerman. In addition, there was also a check of the unofficial points standings before ESPN left the air.

Despite the errors that I mentioned above, this was an interesting race to watch on TV. The booth definitely seemed to be into it, especially when Busch and Keselowski came together late in the race.

Irwin Tools Night Race

On Saturday night, the Sprint Cup Series returned for their second appearance of the season at Bristol Motor Speedway in the Irwin Tools Night Race. Not a great race name, but it’s descriptive. ESPN’s normal crew was in play on Saturday night, but Nicole Briscoe subbed in the Infield Studio for the aforementioned Allen Bestwick.

NASCAR Countdown paid a lot of attention to the Busch-Keselowski on-track incident that occurred the previous night in the Food City 250. They started off with a montage of the incident, radio chatter from the two drivers, interview footage from Sprint Vision, and both Busch’s post-race interview from Friday night and post-race press conference. In addition, ESPN also showed some tape-delayed footage from the driver introductions where, after coming out to music they’ve chosen, the drivers introduced themselves.

Here, Busch mocked the crowd’s boos, while Keselowski reiterated his comment about Busch from his Sprint Vision interview. You know what that was. Also of note, after AJ Allmendinger said that he just wanted to stay away from any Busch-Keselowski shenanigans, Frontstretch‘s own Summer Dreyer could be seen cheering on the right side of the screen.

ESPN’s main feature of Countdown was a feature on the “Have at it, boys” mentality that was preached by Robin Pemberton before the season started, and how that edict has manifested itself so far this year. The feature had quotes from Mike Helton, and many drivers, in addition to clips of on-track incidents, insightful driver interviews, and confrontations. I can’t describe this as much more than hype, especially at Bristol.

One major shortcoming was a lack of pre-race interviews. Yes, I know that by the time NASCAR Countdown came on, many fans had already watched two hours of NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot, but ESPN is not involved in that at all. There were only three interviews prior to the race – Jimmie Johnson, Bowyer and Mark Martin.

Moving onto the race, I think that both SPEED and ESPN did not cover the tire issue as much as I think they should have. All three races saw multiple right-front tire failures. In ESPN’s case, yes, they did make mention of the tires being harder. However, there was no real look into why the tires failed at all. With 30 laps to go, Dr. Jerry Punch talked a little about the tires and brakes, referencing chatter between crew chiefs and drivers over the past 40 or so laps. Of course, ESPN then tried to cue a commercial while Punch was talking.

It appeared that ESPN did not expect a round of green-flag stops to happen. They went to a local commercial break on lap 390 and came back just in time to show Jamie McMurray and Busch’s pit stops. David Reutimann‘s stop that gave him the lead occurred during the commercial.

ESPN, once again, missed a restart on Saturday night. This time, it was the final restart on lap 414, coming off a debris caution where viewers were never notified what type of debris was on track, or where it was. Sounds like a situation where the debris was there throughout the entire series of green-flag pit stops in a somewhat safe place. A situation that would allow NASCAR to wait until the stop sequence is over before throwing the caution, thus not inconveniencing anyone. Although, it could be argued that if you’re willing to wait that long to throw the yellow for that debris, it’s not worth throwing the yellow for.

I’m not a fan of the drop down window that ESPN was using during the race to track the points standings. It’s the same graphic that they used last year and it blocks on-track action. Please do something to alleviate this in the future.

Despite all the green-flag racing on Saturday night, ESPN neglected to do a “Up to Speed” fallback through the field. It’s not clear why, especially when they had what amounted to all the time in the world.

With four laps to go, Jamie Little reported that Busch had radioed to his crew chief and said he felt like either the track bar mount was coming loose, or he had a flat tire. ESPN then proceeded to cut away from the live action on track to show a replay of Kyle saying that to his crew (with the actual radio chatter) from his in-car camera. Talk about redundancy. This was completely unnecessary. It’s as if ESPN was thinking fans wouldn’t believe what Jamie Little was saying.

With only seven cautions and more green flag racing than normal, ESPN had plenty of post-race coverage on Saturday night. ESPN provided viewers with nine post-race interviews: Busch, Joe Gibbs, Dave Rogers, Reutimann, Bowyer, McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth and Johnson. In addition, there was a check of the points standings – both in reference to who’s locked into the Chase, and to 13th place.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series takes their fourth and final weekend off of the season. However, the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series will both be in action. The Camping World Truck Series races Friday night in the EnjoyIllinois.com 225 at Chicagoland Speedway, the main support race for the Izod IndyCar Series’ Peak Antifreeze and Motor Oil 300, which will be run Saturday night.

Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series makes their fourth trip north of the border to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on the Ile de Notre-Dame in Montreal for the NAPA Auto Parts 200, which will run on Sunday afternoon.

Here’s your race listings for this weekend. As always, times listed are in Eastern Time (ET):

Friday, August 27
Time Telecast Network
8:00 – 9:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Belgium Free Practice 2 SPEED
4:30 – 6:00 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
5:00 – 6:00 p.m. Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying Versus*
7:00 – 8:30 p.m. ARCA Racing Series Ansell Protective Gloves 150 SPEED
8:30 – 9:00 p.m. NCWTS Setup SPEED
9:00 – 11:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series EnjoyIllinois.com 225 SPEED

Saturday, August 28
Time Telecast Network
8:00 – 9:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Belgium Qualifying SPEED
11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Happy Hour ESPN2
2:00 – 4:30 p.m. Rolex Sports Car Series Montreal 200 SPEED
4:30 – 6:30 p.m. World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series Knoxville Nationals SPEED*
5:00 – 7:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
7:00 – 10:00 p.m. Izod IndyCar Series Peak Antifreeze and Motor Oil 300 Versus

Sunday, August 29
Time Telecast Network
7:30 – 10:00 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Belgium SPEED
2:00 – 2:30 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
2:30 – 6:00 p.m. Nationwide Series NAPA Auto Parts 200 ESPN2
4:00 – 7:00 p.m. American Le Mans Series Mobil 1 Grand Prix (Mosport) SPEED*
8:00- 9:00 p.m. The SPEED Report SPEED

* Tape-Delayed

I will provide critiques of the Camping World Truck Series race from Chicagoland Speedway in addition to the Nationwide Series race from Montreal in next week’s piece on Frontstretch. In addition, just to show the Lingner Group, which produces the Izod IndyCar Series’ broadcasts for Versus, that I am paying attention, the Peak Antifreeze and Motor Oil 300 will be covered extensively as well.

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:

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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