NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: Excuse Me, ESPN, There’s More Than 3 People in the Race

Hello, race fans. Sadly, with almost all racing over for the winter, this edition will be the last regular critique of the season. The Critic’s Annex will be wrapping up 2010 this Monday in our Frontstretch Newsletter.

The NASCAR schedule is over, too, wrapping up with Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway where we enjoyed the season finales for the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series. For the final time, let’s take a detailed look at how each of the television broadcasts panned out.

Ford 200

The Setup started out like any other Camping World Truck Series pre-race show does, with a recap of the previous event from Phoenix before getting into the normal lineup of driver interviews. There were also clips shown of the Traxxas Invitational, a radio-controlled boat race on the man-made lake in the Homestead-Miami Speedway infield.

The main feature of this particular pre-race show was a short sitdown chat with Todd Bodine. Here, Todd described the struggles that marked the early years of his career. By early years, I mean pre-Hungry Jack sponsorship in the Busch Grand National Series. Todd came off as frustrated that he hasn’t accomplished more in his career. It could be argued that it shows that Todd still has the drive to win at age 46 after 20 seasons in NASCAR’s upper-most divisions. However, it should be mentioned that until recently, Todd never had all that much stability, bouncing between Cup and Busch.

The vault returned to give viewers a look back at the 2003 Ford 200, where Travis Kvapil clinched the title when Ted Musgrave was black-flagged for an illegal passing maneuver on a late restart. The segment was too short, so not everything was covered. Yes, Brendan Gaughan‘s crash with Marty Houston was covered, but it was not mentioned that Ultra Motorsports actually entered five trucks for that race to help Musgrave win the title. Houston was one of the ringers that Ultra Motorsports owner Jim Smith had brought in for that race (Tyler Walker and PJ Jones were the other two).

SPEED brought out a four-man booth for Friday night, with Darrell Waltrip joining in on the fun. Now, from past columns, you probably remember that I’m opposed to such a setup. Someone always gets crowded out. Here, that someone was Phil Parsons. Darrell used his Boogity! refrain at the start, but only after being prodded by Michael. It was obvious that Darrell didn’t want to do it, and Michael asked him (quietly) why he hesitated. As irritating as Darrell can be at times, he does know his place.

The action was fast and furious, especially late in the race and the booth was definitely up to the task in calling the race. Also, we saw the very first interview of John Jackson on-air after his crash into the sand barrels. Very rare that someone of his level would warrant getting an interview on ESPN, regardless of what might have happened to him.

Post-race coverage was typical of SPEED’s coverage of the Trucks, although there was coverage of Bodine’s victory lap and of Mike Hillman Jr. wheeling around on his mini-cart. There were additional interviews with winner Kyle Busch, Ron Hornaday and Johnny Sauter before SPEED left the air.

The coverage was decent on Friday, but SPEED was somewhat limited in their camera angles, like all the cameras weren’t on for the event. For example, when John Jackson had his big crash with 23 to go, the only shot SPEED had was from a shaky handheld camera in the flagstand. You could tell that it was a big impact, but that was about it. I’m not sure whether all the regular cameras are in operation for Truck races like Nationwide races, but it would benefit the broadcasts in the future to keep them going.

Ford 300

Despite the fact that Brad Keselowski clinched the Nationwide Series drivers’ championship in Texas, a fairly substantial amount of pre-race was spent talking about points. The owners’ points, that is. Almost all fans do not really care about owners’ points. Especially in the Sprint Cup Series, the owners’ points usually match the drivers’ points. However, in the current era of Cup drivers sharing cars with non-Cup drivers and even multiple non-Cup drivers sharing rides, it is now a Nationwide story. Unfortunately, it is not a good thing. However, because the title was in doubt, ESPN felt the need to cover it. Whoopee.

When the infield studio was not discussing the owners’ points, they were talking about the changing track. The race started at what amounts to twilight before descending into darkness. Constant adjustments were necessary to keep up with the track.

Danica Patrick got a little coverage, but not all that much. I will admit that it’s good that she finally backed up the pace that she has shown in practice when qualifying rolled around. There was also a feature on Keselowski and his championship season.

Saturday’s race broadcast was definitely the better of the two races. With no competition for the drivers’ championship, there was more focus on the race itself. Having said that, the booth did appear lost at times. Case in point, the fourth caution when Eric McClure crashed in turn 2. The booth reacted as if they literally had no clue what was going on. A few seconds later, the camera cut to McClure’s Hefty Ford crinkled up.

Despite the fact that Saturday night was the better of the two ESPN races, there was still too much focus on the Cup drivers in the field. There are other drivers out there, and they only seem to get coverage when they greatly overachieve, or if bad things happen to them. In the case of Jeremy Clements, both could apply on Saturday.

I still feel that Danica got too much coverage for her skill level and positioning. However, she finally seems to be improving. Still needs more testing, though.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief due to the fact that the race itself went long. The checkers flew right as ESPN was supposed to sign off and go to their Sportscenter special – shot in the Infield Studio. ESPN did provide six post-race interviews before leaving the air. There was very little points talk after the race. Likely, Kyle Busch winning simply ended the discussion right there, but there could have been at least a check of the regular points to see where everyone behind Keselowski ended up.

Ford 400

The championship was clearly all that mattered to ESPN on Sunday. Then again, you probably knew that was going to be the case going in.

NASCAR Countdown from Homestead somehow found a way to be even more championship-focused than last year. I’m still trying to figure out how that was possible. There was a solid 40 minutes of championship hype.

ESPN aired a one-on-one interview conducted by Marty Smith with Denny Hamlin. It served as a look at Denny’s past year, including the torn ACL.

Brian France made a quick appearance in the Infield Studio for a chat. Brian basically said the same things here as he did on NASCAR RaceDay earlier in the morning. Brian constantly refers to “we” when he talks about NASCAR. I find it annoying, to be honest. Just how much “we” are we talking about here. Is there a committee that agrees on changes, or does Brian simply make edicts? Also, it should be noted that Brian didn’t exactly have the best weekend in Homestead. He was eviscerated left and right by nearly anyone with a computer.

The only interviews during pre-race coverage were with the three championship contenders. Everyone else was basically just there. As you may remember from last year’s Behind the Scenes articles, there are typically 24 teams that get what I’ll call “primary coverage” from ESPN. The rest get basic coverage. Let’s just say that the basic coverage segment must have grown a bit for Homestead.

For the race, ESPN instituted a permanent third bar below the scroll that showed the points for the three contenders throughout the race. I was fine with it, to a point. They should have just let it be. However, there was a constant need to reference the points every minute or two. All that approach does is irritate me. I don’t need to be reminded constantly about something in plain sight.

It could be argued that if ESPN had used that permanent points check correctly, they could have just covered the race the way it should have been covered and let the fans see how the on-track action affected the points. However, that just wasn’t in the cards. They just had to constantly pound the points home, to the point of insanity. It says a lot that people who actually watched the race all day did not realize who had won (Carl Edwards, by the way).

For example, Aric Almirola finished a career-best fourth on Sunday and was knocking on the door of a potential podium. He got some mentions during the race, but not many. Other non-championship contenders ran well for much of the race and got nothing unless something bad happened, like AJ Allmendinger with his wall contact.

As you may remember, there was an incident during the race in which Juan Pablo Montoya and Joey Logano had contact on the backstretch on a restart, putting Logano head on into the wall. Logano came back out on the track after the crash and eventually punted Montoya under caution. We did not see the retribution at all. No mention was made of it until after both drivers were in the garage and out of the race. There was a reference to Logano going to Montoya’s garage stall and attempting to confront Montoya, but being prevented from doing so. That is a big story that was all but ignored in favor of more championship talk. Why? The dumping occurred during the caution that Hamlin missed pit road. The entire caution (when ESPN was not in commercial) was spent talking about the No. 11 team screwing up.

ESPN’s race telecast was streamed in its entirety at nascar.com. The stream appeared to be roughly five seconds behind ESPN’s TV broadcast, which in turn was roughly two to five seconds behind reality. Nascar.com and ESPN have been sparring recently about online race streaming since ESPN introduced live streaming of their main network for Time Warner Cable customers.

Nascar.com’s stream was not the best. It was simply just a bare bones stream of the race telecast. That could be enough for people stuck in office buildings on Sunday, but those looking for more, it just doesn’t cut it. Also, the feed cut off during commercials. I don’t watch races on my computer just to stare at the ESPN logo for up to three and a half minutes during commercial breaks. I look at it so that I don’t have to watch commercials. Thus, the stream is simply a “fail.”

The thing that really chafes me about streaming races is that nascar.com already has a perfectly good setup for the TNT races. Turner Sports should not hoard the good stuff for themselves here. Full time RaceBuddy for 2011 would be excellent for race fans.

Post-race coverage was actually relatively brief. There were two interviews each with champion Jimmie Johnson and car owner Rick Hendrick. In addition, there were interviews with race winner Edwards, Chad Knaus, Hamlin, Joe Gibbs and Kevin Harvick. In a rather interesting twist, the Sprint Cup trophy and check presentation was marred by a microphone dying. If you remember, the same thing happened during the Izod IndyCar Series trophy presentation last month in Homestead. However, the offending microphone had been an issue for much of the race on Sunday, not just during the presentation. Luckily, someone gave Allen Bestwick a backup mike so that the presentation didn’t have to be delayed.

In the future, ESPN just has to show the whole story. We know the championship is important. The season has been going on for nine months and almost everyone that was watching on Sunday knew what was at stake. Also, you cannot have a race in which people watching don’t know who won. That should be Rule No. 1. I shouldn’t have to remind my co-worker that Edwards won. Normally, he’d know on his own, but the Johnson coverage usurped Edwards doing anything. He could have led all 267 laps and won by a full lap and still would have gotten the same airtime.

That’s all for this week’s critique. Since the season is now over, there is almost no motorsports programming left on television. At least, nothing on pavement. There are only two events that will be televised. Discovery’s HD Theater will televise highlighted (and tape delayed) coverage of the Wales Rally GB, the 13th and final round of the World Rally Championship. Coverage starts with a preview Saturday morning at 9:00 a.m. ET, followed by Day 1 coverage at 9:30 and Day 2 at 10:00. Day 3 coverage appears to be packaged into a event review that airs Sunday at 10:00 a.m. I’d recommend giving it a look-see if you have the required digital cable (or satellite) and a HDTV. CBS is also showing a tape-delayed off-road event from Las Vegas, presented Sunday from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. ET.

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 or ESPN channels 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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