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The Critic’s Annex 65- Wednesday Night at Bristol

by Phil Allaway

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where I take an additional look at race broadcasts available to the general public for viewing. I have decided to cover Wednesday night’s action from Bristol Motor Speedway in today’s recap.

However, before I start, I have to make an announcement. As you are probably aware of by now, there is a nasty storm, Hurricane Irene, that is in the process of moving up the East Coast. It is more than likely that I will get a fairly substantial hit from the storm here in the Albany, NY area. It’s still unclear just how much of a hit we’re going to get here, though. Regardless, I’m operating under the opinion that I will be unable to watch Sunday’s Izod IndyCar Series race in California because there will be no power here. If I still have power Sunday afternoon, then yee-haw for me, I can still do everything like normal. Luckily, I’ll still be able to watch the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races from Bristol and hopefully complete a write-up before the storm hits, so you’ll still get some good old-fashioned critique from me.

With that said, on to the critique.

UNOH Perfect Storm 150

With the substantial downgrade in the amount and scope of coverage for the Whelen Modified Tour and the Whelen Southern Modified Tour this season, yesterday’s combined race from Bristol Motor Speedway is the first of two live Modified races all year. Various subsequent Modified races have aired via tape-delay on SPEED, multiple weeks after the race has been run.

For this special race, SPEED brought in some of their top guys. Mike Joy and Dick Berggren worked the broadcast booth. Both are Northeastern-bred long-time Modified fans who still keep tabs on the two Modified Tours. As a result, you know you’re going to get two things out of these two men.

One, you will have very knowledgeable commentators. This is a substantial change from the Modified coverage on Versus last year. If you remember, that coverage featured Jimmy Spencer in the booth being roughly half as bombastic as he normally is. However, even in that state, he was still butchering names on a regular basis (Ex: Andy Seuss’ last name is not pronounced like the famous children’s book author’s pen name, but like “Siess”).

Two, one or both of them can tell you something about basically everyone in the field. For example, during one of the cautions, Wade Cole received the Lucky Dog. Joy proceeded to talk about the low-dollar team’s program, including the fact that they used an open top trailer attached to what appeared to be a 20 year old Ford F-Series pickup to pull the car to races. You don’t normally see that type of information in race telecasts. Some of these Nationwide Series S&P teams are using smaller trailers similar to what you see at local tracks, but you wouldn’t know that unless you were at the track.

Anywho, pre-race coverage was fairly brief. Bob Dillner, who was serving as the sole pit reporter during the event (like the ARCA race at Pocono that was postponed due to rain a few weeks), conducted interviews with pole-sitter Bobby Santos III and Burt Myers. After a break, the racing commenced.

During the actual race itself, the stop-and-go fashion of the race made it very difficult to show much racing for position. I can understand that. It wasn’t SPEED’s fault that a full one-third of the race was under yellow, including 38 of the first 67 laps.

With the various wrecks that occurred, SPEED generally had good vantage points of all of them. Not sure if I could say the same for the Truck race later on, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Much of the later portions of the race (when they weren’t wrecking) were focused upon Ryan Newman’s assault on leaders James Civali and Todd Szegedy. Every once in a while, they would check back with some action outside of the top-3, but not very often. It’s a legitimate gripe. For example, Patrick Emerling found a way to finish fifth after spinning out and losing a lap just past halfway.

To the TV audience, it appeared that he basically came out of nowhere. For the Modifieds, Bristol isn’t exactly the easiest place on Earth to pass at. I’d imagine a place like South Boston would be more typical (Ted Christopher recently opened a can there while visiting the Southern Tour) racing for the Modifieds. What I’m trying to say is that passing that amount of cars is very difficult to pull off. With the exception of Justin Bonsignore, the top finishers all started up front. Many of the drivers immediately behind them at the start were eliminated in some way, shape or form (wrecks, mainly).

Post-race coverage was expectedly brief. SPEED provided interviews with race winner Ryan Newman, Bonsignore and Szegedy while the unofficial results scrolled by. Joy and Berggren then quickly wrapped up the broadcast before SPEED transitioned into NCWTS Setup.

As I mentioned earlier, Modified racing on TV is rare, but it’s pretty cool to watch. With Joy and Berggren in the booth, you have two guys that know a lot about the series and are true fans. You get good commentary with a pair like that, and they delivered. SPEED’s production was generally pretty good. Maybe, the cameras were in a little too tight, though. I’m assuming that the Modifieds are smaller vehicles as compared to the Trucks that followed (don’t know for sure, as I’ve never seen a Whelen Modified in person, but the term “overpowered go-kart” comes to mind), so they might have felt the need to zoom in more.

O’Reilly Auto Parts 200

Immediately after the Modified race, SPEED brought viewers coverage of the Camping World Truck Series from Bristol. The usual crew was all in town for the action-packed event.

After the normal recap of the previous race, SPEED provided viewers with multiple features. The most notable of these features (at least to me) was the one where Ray Dunlap sat down with three-time Truck Series Champion Jack Sprague to talk about his career. To many people, Sprague basically disappeared off the face of the earth a couple of years ago after he left KHI, and that’s a shame. The interview focused on a couple of topics. One was his time with Hendrick Motorsports, another was his “mistake” in going after a Cup career, and finally, Sprague talked about his hunting preserve in Michigan.

I thought the piece was quite poignant. Generally, every NASCAR racer wants to reach the pinnacle (Winston/Nextel/Sprint Cup). Sprague was no different, but came to the conclusion years later that it was simply a mistake to try. Very unusual sentiment. Something that doesn’t really jive by today’s standards.

In another feature, Joey Coulter talked a little bit about his move up through the ranks of racing, and a little bit about his season in the No. 22. A third feature saw Timothy Peters talk to a group of employees at Apex Tool Group about his team and how they use the companies’ tools on their team.

The race telecast itself was marked by a lot of side-by-side racing. And, a bunch of wrecks. Three of which occurred during rare green-flag commercials (they took five all night). SPEED didn’t really break out the split-screen during the race, but then again, they didn’t really have to because of the relative small size of Bristol Motor Speedway.

A big theme amongst the commentators (well, at least with Michael) was the idea of conflict. The first of these conflicts occurred when Jake Crum spun out Chris Jones. Jones was none too pleased and gave Crum a shot to the tailgate. This was followed up by an interview where Jones claimed that Crum took him out. First off, that was the first time I’d ever seen Jones interviewed on a telecast, and this was his 39th start. The thought was that there would be a confrontation between Jones and Crum after Crum was eliminated in another wreck shortly afterwards. No battle ever happened, and SPEED did not interview Crum to get his side of the story.

The other conflict (referred to as the “Main Event”) was when Kyle Busch failed to clear Elliott Sadler fully and had contact with the No. 24 on the backstretch, turning himself into the wall. Busch then laid back and spun out Sadler at the first opportunity intentionally. We’ve seen this before. Heck, Busch did it to Brad Keselowski last year in the Food City 250. Busch then tried to drag Kevin Harvick into the fray during his interview (even though Sadler was driving for Joe Denette Motorsports). SPEED did get Sadler’s side of the issue after the race, but no conflict is forthcoming. I think the whole thing was (and will continue to be) overblown.

Unlike the Modified race, SPEED’s cameras did not catch all the wrecks as well. I don’t know why that is. It ended up making the commentators look bad as they constantly jumped to conclusions before being able to pinpoint what happened.

Outside of those issues, SPEED’s telecast was decent. Once again, I had no problems with enthusiasm in the booth. The action for position was pretty good, and there was a good range of coverage throughout the field. A nice change from some recent events.

Post-race coverage was fairly substantial. SPEED provided seven post-race interviews along with checks of the unofficial results and point standings. There was also plenty of post-race analysis. However, I think that SPEED was overly generous with their timeslot. Even with nine yellows for 62 laps, the race still ended with over a half-hour left in the slot. SPEED simply ran out of footage to fill the slot, so they left 15 minutes early to get to their new episode of The Car Show (originally scheduled for 10:30pm). A two hour 15 minute slot would have been perfect in retrospect.

I hope you enjoyed this look at Bristol Motor Speedway’s Wednesday night card. Stay tuned for some more critiquing next week. Until then, enjoy the action this weekend from Bristol and Spa-Francochamps.

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