Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 60- Prairie Meadows 200

by Phil Allaway

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where we bring our readers a second look at race broadcasts available to you on a weekly basis. You know its a busy week when a half a dozen major races are on TV. I’ve mentioned in the past that there are races that are basically guaranteed to be covered in the main Tuesday critique (Sprint Cup is there, along with the Nationwide Series). The Camping World Truck Series is borderline, but I usually cover it on Tuesdays as well.

Behind NASCAR’s “Big Three,” are the second class of series that I cover. The Izod IndyCar Series tops that list (they will be in the main critique, replacing Sprint Cup this week). Also in that group is the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards. That series served as the primary support to the Camping World Truck Series last Saturday at Iowa Speedway.

However, before we start, ESPN announced early on Wednesday morning a couple of somewhat unexpected changes to their on-air lineup for the Sprint Cup Series. If you haven’t heard by now, Allen Bestwick will take over play-by-play commentary for ESPN’s 17 Sprint Cup races. He replaces Marty Reid, who will continue to provide play-by-play for ESPN’s Nationwide Series telecasts and their practice and qualifying sessions. The Brickyard 400 on July 31st will mark Bestwick’s first Sprint Cup race in the booth since an unfortunate injury in an ice hockey game in 2004 elevated Bill Weber to the broadcast booth first as a substitute, then permanently (Note: The move to pit road was never spelled out as any kind of demotion to Bestwick. Bestwick maintains that NBC/Turner came to him and pitched the move as a way to benefit their broadcasts).

Bestwick previously served as the de facto host of NASCAR Countdown and the head analyst in the Infield Pit Studio. That role will be taken over on a full-time basis by Nicole Briscoe, who has served in that capacity multiple times over the past year and change.

I am most definitely aware that many of my readers are very pleased by this move by ESPN. The YouTube user BaltoBrony created this “short clip”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgbjMU_r9mY today that likely encapsulates the thoughts of some of my readers in a humorous fashion. I’ve received comments on my critiques and e-mails asking why ESPN didn’t make this move years ago (literally, people have been asking for it since I started writing the critiques). I’m under the assumption that many viewers were quite literally ticked off the moment they saw Bestwick involved with the broadcasts in 2007, but not in the booth. I have no reason to believe that Bestwick won’t be up to the task here, despite calling maybe 14 races in the booth over the past seven years. Of course, the booth is just one part of ESPN’s broadcast that I’ll be looking at. Believe that.

Also of note, Reid will provide play-by-play for ESPN’s telecast of the MoveThatBlock.com 225 for the Izod IndyCar Series at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. That race weekend was previously a conflict weekend for Reid with the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races in Watkins Glen. The original plan was that Vince Welch would provide the play-by-play from New Hampshire while Reid would have stayed in New York’s Southern Tier.

Now that we’re done with the news, onto the critique.

Saturday afternoon in Newton, Iowa was ridiculously hot. An old school summer race, if you will. The Prairie Meadows 200 will go down in history as a race in which Ty Dillon simply stomped the field (again). But, how was the broadcast? Let’s find out.

SPEED’s telecast started out with a montage of the past three races (Pocono, Winchester, Berlin) and the winners of said events (Tim George, Jr., Dakoda Armstrong and Matt Merrell). The last two of those races were not televised, so footage of the races from roof mounted cameras was used and Rick Allen added commentary in post-production. It was a little weird to watch since it was extremely obvious that it was post-produced.

Since the race was run three hours before the scheduled start of the Camping World Truck Series Coca-Cola 200 presented by Hy-Vee, SPEED used the exact same booth here as the Truck race. That means that Michael Waltrip was in play. I still don’t think he knows all that much about the drivers in the series, so he left a lot of the driver identifications (at least at first) to Allen and Parsons, then piggybacked off of them later on. Having said that, Waltrip did not do anything egregious during the telecast that would really tick me off.

Since time was relatively short, there were no pre-race interviews, live or taped. The booth gave a brief preview of the race, then the command to start engines, some pit reports during the pace laps, then the green flag. Total time between the start of the telecast and the green flag: approximately seven minutes. While some of my readers might smile when they see that, it leaves me wanting something more. However, since the race was live, I can understand that SPEED was somewhat limited in time.

Something that I found to be really kind of weird was the fact that SPEED screwed up Kenzie Ruston’s name in the scroll for the entire race. As you all know, telecasts use the driver’s last name in the scroll for identification. In Ruston’s case, SPEED decided to use her first name, and only her first name, for the entire race. It was quite weird to look at. Perhaps someone in the TV compound decided to have a little fun.

Also of note, there were no in-car cameras in the race. Normally, Benny Chastain carries one in his AARP Drive to End Hunger No. 75, but he didn’t make the trip to Iowa. The fact that the Truck race was scheduled to begin barely an hour after the ARCA race wrapped up was also likely in play. As a result, we were treated to an old-school telecast with no in-car shots. Let’s just say that it is very rare to see such a race today. Even when SPEED was airing ARCA short track races midweek on tape delay (you could lump the USAR Hooters ProCup Series in there as well), they still had an in-car camera or two). Can’t recall the last time I saw a major stock car race without one. Having said that, I don’t think the race was shot all that much different than if they actually had the in-car shots available. I noticed the lack of in-car views by lap 60 or so, but many others might not have realized it until Tim George, Jr. referenced wanting to have an in-car view when he had to brake hard to avoid the spinning Brandon Kidd on Lap 186.

A lot of the race coverage was focused on the drivers at the very front of the field (Ty Dillon and Cale Gale). Since Dillon led 193 of the race’s 200 laps, there was all but no action up front for the lead. Gale, to a lesser extent, ran much of the race by himself as well. Since Dillon was so much faster than much of the field, it didn’t take long for more than half of the field to be lapped. With a couple of exceptions (Brennan Poole, Tim George, Jr. when he was off the lead lap), you were invisible on SPEED’s telecast if you were lapped.

Since most of the event had somewhere between 8-12 cars on the lead lap, there just wasn’t all that much racing for position to show, especially in the first half of the race. After halfway, there was finally some good racing between lead lap cars for position. When it finally came, SPEED covered it properly, which was good to see.

Since the race had eight yellows, the event went right up against the end of its two hour timeslot. As a result, there was only minimal post-race coverage provided by SPEED. There was the customary interview with the winner (Ty Dillon), and a check of the point standings before SPEED left the air.

I thought the telecast was just simply ok to watch. I didn’t hate watching it, but I didn’t like it either. It just came off as quite boring. I can’t describe it much better than that. Sorry, guys. As for places for improvement, I’d like more battles for position to be shown on-air instead of just focusing on the top two drivers. I want more action in the broadcast. As it stands, I just wasn’t all that entertained.

I hope you enjoyed this look at SPEED’s telecast of the Prairie Meadows 200. Check out next Thursday’s edition of the Frontstretch Newsletter, when I’ll be back with another race to critique. Until then, enjoy this weekend’s action from Nashville, Edmonton, and the Nurburgring.

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