by Phil Allaway
Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where I normally take an additional look at individual TV shows, random specials, video games, South Park episodes, etc. that peak my interest, but cannot fit in the regular Tuesday critique. However, this has not been a typical week.
Since rains from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee drenched the Hampton, Georgia area and moved the race to Tuesday morning, a critique of the Cup race simply could not run in the regular piece because we simply needed content for Tuesday to give to you, our readers. However, just because the Cup race couldn’t make the regular critique doesn’t mean I’m not writing about it. The Advocare 500 will be covered right here, right now. Now, before I start, this will be a critique of both Sunday and Tuesday’s coverage, not just Tuesday. Gotta cover everything.
Sunday evening, ESPN came on-air hoping that they would be able to go racing. Obviously, we now know that they didn’t, but they still had every intention of going racing, and for the first hour of their coverage, they were focused on it.
There was a fairly substantial amount of focus on the Sprint Summer Showdown and the four eligible drivers for the three million big bucks (Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard, Kyle Busch and Marcos Ambrose). Those drivers got the first interviews and each had montage clips before their interviews.
In addition, before going to a commercial break, ESPN asked a bunch of fans in the stands what they would do with a million bucks if they were to win. The answers ran the gamut from paying off debts, bills, going to multiple races, all the way to buying a bunch of cars, and even a little kid talking about buying a cell phone. For that much money, you could buy a store full of them. During the race itself on Tuesday ESPN interviewed a couple of the fans paired up with the drivers. Their stories were somewhat interesting. For example, Menard’s fan was planning to donate her share to a Pennsauken, New Jersey-based charity, while one of Brad Keselowski’s fans was unemployed with something like five kids. She stated that the money would be “life-changing.”)
Now, Sunday was pretty much a worst-case scenario for ESPN. Their 3:30pm College Football game was the Marshall-West Virginia rivalry game from Morgantown, West Virginia. That game was delayed late in the third quarter due to severe thunderstorms and an on-site lightning strike that injured a fan in the upper deck. During NASCAR Countdown, there were a couple of cuts back to Morgantown for updates.
Once the opening ceremonies came and went with a wet track, ESPN segued into their rain strategy, which was essentially to track down as many drivers as they could for interviews. By the time they went off the air Sunday, 24 of the 43 drivers had been interviewed on-air, a couple of them multiple times. Brad Keselowski, Marcos Ambrose and Tony Stewart joined Briscoe, Wallace and Daugherty in the Pit Studio for separate stints.
Before the race was actually postponed, ESPN left Atlanta Motor Speedway and returned to Morgantown, where the Marshall-West Virginia game finally resumed. Unfortunately, the t-storms moved back in and forced another stoppage following a touchdown 24 seconds into the fourth quarter. Both events ended for the night within minutes of each other. The football was called off and West Virginia declared the winner, while the race was postponed. ESPN did well to get Mike Helton to make the announcement on-air and give his reasoning.
On Tuesday morning, there was basically no pre-race. Bestwick introduced the broadcast and talked a little bit about the still cloudy, but dry weather. Then, they cut to the rather quirky command to start engines.
ESPN did a great job in covering the race. There was a lot of side-by-side action for position all over the field and ESPN showed a good amount of it. Lots more than in the Nationwide race Saturday night.
However, I did have a couple of issues with the broadcast. There was an inexplicable technical gaffe during the sixth caution where all of a sudden, a commercial was cued, cutting Jarrett off mid-sentence. Granted, the commercial was taken away about 20 seconds later, but it still gave the sense of a low rent setup. However, knowing just how much goes into ESPN’s telecasts, I can probably say that it was not the fault of anyone at the track. Someone probably screwed up in Bristol, Connecticut. Made me think of NASCAR Countdown back at Pocono. You might remember just how much of a travesty that was.
Also, while the last ten laps featured an epic duel for the lead between Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart was on a charge of his own. Viewers never saw this charge. Jarrett basically added in that Stewart finished third at the finish. The last we saw of Stewart was with 12 laps to go when he was eighth. I know that the race for the win was important, but wouldn’t it have been possible for ESPN to make use of the split-screen? It’s not like they weren’t making prodigious use of the split-screen throughout the race. In fact, that is part of the reason why they were able to show as much side-by-side action. This omission made the race coverage itself end on a downer.
Due to the 24 minute red flag and the long yellows, ESPN’s telecast ran long by what I think was an hour. I only say that because on my on-screen guide, the original time slot for Tuesday’s telecast was 11am-2:30pm. A few hours later, that was expanded from 11am-3pm (all times in Eastern Daylight Time). Under normal circumstances, this would mean a barebones post-race. However, ESPN provided an expanded post-race with seven post-race driver interviews and an interview with the winning crew chief (Alan Gustafson).
What really surprised viewers was an impromptu feature on Jeff Gordon winning his 85th career Cup race. It featured sound bites from the retired columnist Tom Higgins (for those of you not from the Charlotte area, he’s a former writer for The Charlotte Observer who used to contribute to the weekday edition of rpm2night every so often back in the 1990’s), along with David Pearson, Richard Petty, Jeff Burton and others. I would have loved to sit in on the making of that feature, knowing that it would have had to be done ahead of time. The feature also contained classic clips of Gordon’s successes. Most of these clips were re-used in the feature that aired on SportsCenter after the race (and narrated by Marty Smith). I liked it, although it was a little obvious that they had banked it just so that they could pounce whenever Gordon won No. 85.
The idea of having a feature air during post-race is not necessarily unprecedented. However, it is very rare. I can only think of one or two other examples, but those occurred when races ended very early. For example, ESPN aired an excerpt (the “Cosmopolitan Man” clip) from _Tim Richmond: To The Limit_ last fall following the Nationwide race at Charlotte. However, under these circumstances, it was unprecedented.
Prior to the event, there was a plan to do a NASCAR NonStop test at some point. However, likely due to the long telecast on Tuesday (five hours in length), ESPN decided to nix it. Oh well. However, we did get the entire final green flag run (72 laps) under green commercial-free. The last commercial under green was with 125 laps to go. That is a substantial amount of green-flag action, likely due to the fact that ESPN had (basically) satisfied their advertiser obligations. Bully for us viewers.
Overall, the broadcast was pretty good on Tuesday. The enthusiasm was right where we needed it to be from all three men in the booth. We didn’t see any instances like what Marty Reid did with the caution on Saturday night. It was just a different feel in general. I guess Bestwick is far more authoritarian in the booth than Reid is, and it shows in the final product.
I hope you enjoyed this look at Tuesday’s long-awaited Advocare 500. I’ll be back in this space next week with another interesting critique. Until then, enjoy this weekend’s action in Richmond and Monza.
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