Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Waltrip Touts Changes, but FOX Under-Delivers

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecasts are the name of the game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series traveled out to Kansas Speedway for their spring race weekend. Also, the Formula One World Championship basically screwed themselves this weekend by going forward with their date in Bahrain despite all of the protests.

*Grand Prix of Bahrain*

If you’ve watched the news over the last year and change, then you likely know why Sunday’s Grand Prix of Bahrain was so controversial. SPEED’s on-air crew never really mentioned their opinions of the whole mess (aside from noting that the Sahara Force India team’s explanation of “already learning everything we needed to know from the first practice” for skipping Free Practice No. 2 on Friday didn’t hold water). However, they did make it unclear to anyone who follows them on Twitter that they weren’t really feeling Formula One racing in Bahrain and the series being used as a political tool.

Naturally, since the ongoing issues were the biggest stories at hand, there was a breakdown of what’s happened for the past year at the beginning of the Mercedes-Benz Pre-Race Show. This breakdown was an unbiased look at just what has made the event so controversial. Even the hackers at Anonymous got involved last week, briefly taking down “Formula1.com”:http://www.formula1.com/ with a nasty DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) Attack on Friday morning.

Will Buxton gave his first-hand account of what he saw during his time in Bahrain in the days leading up to the race as well. He saw a quieter country than he was used to, mainly due to the enhanced police presence. He thinks that this was what the Bahraini government wanted people to see instead of the actual protests, which a few other F1 journalists did see first-hand. Buxton’s not really a novice in this regard. Last year, he basically got stuck in Bahrain when the protests first started during a special GP2 race weekend.

In addition, there was a montage featuring a number of different drivers (Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg, Sebastien Vettel, etc.) talking about the crazy racing we’ve seen so far this season. Quite honestly, it has been almost the complete reverse of what we’ve seen in Sprint Cup.

In regards to the actual race, the main discussion topic was tires. Pirelli chose to bring the soft and medium compound tires to Bahrain, a track that is already fairly hard on tires without sand blowing onto the circuit. During the actual race, the soft tires lost all effectiveness beyond Lap 10 or so, while the harder tires would last 20 or so. Steve Matchett constantly made references to wear and degradation of the tires. On SPEED’s Formula One Debrief show that aired Friday night, he explained that there is a difference between the two. For lack of better words, degradation refers to the tire breaking down. In NASCAR, many complain about a lack of wear. Problem is, when Goodyear introduces tires that wear, they also degrade to zilch. They cannot find that happy medium and NASCAR seems to be content at the moment to not try.

Once the cars rolled off, the race went off without a hitch. The race coverage from FOM is quite a bit more inclusive this year than in the past since more teams are in contention to earn points on a race-to-race basis (basically everyone except Caterham, Malrussia (formerly Virgin F1) and HRT). As a result, we’re seeing more racing for position.

Varsha, Hobbs and Matchett are very enthusiastic commentators and it is a joy to listen to them early in the morning on Saturdays (Bahrain was the first of the races to start in the traditional European time slot, despite being in Southwest Asia). They create a broadcast that is equal parts entertaining and informative. Perhaps, FOX’s NASCAR team can learn a little bit from their commentary.

Post-race coverage was of the typical type for Formula One. There was coverage of the podium ceremony and the press conference. In addition, there was post-race analysis from the commentators and checks of the unofficial results, driver point standings and constructors’ point standings before SPEED left for the Sunday morning edition of SPEED Center.

SPEED’s commentators did very well under very difficult circumstances last weekend. They provided a telecast that was to the point. Granted, only Buxton was actually in Bahrain for the race (SPEED’s booth team does the race from Charlotte), but just doing anything having to do with the race had to have been difficult.

SPEED brought us flag to flag coverage of Buescher’s Camping World Truck win. How’d they do?

*STP 250*

Saturday afternoon brought the Camping World Truck Series out to play for their longest unrestricted race of the season. And, of course, immediately afterwards, they take a month off. Schedule rants aside, how did SPEED do? Let’s take a look.

The main piece that SPEED rolled out Saturday was a send up of The Newlywed Game entitled “Just Married.” Here, Rick Allen (in a ridiculous suit that Bob Eubanks definitely would have worn back in the Chuck Barris 1970’s era of the show) hosted a send up of the show where three couples that wed in the off-season (Cale and Jennifer Gale, Matt and Ashley Crafton, and James and Kris Buescher) talked about their spouses. Now, I don’t think this is the place to go over the rules of The Newlywed Game. The show has been around in various incarnations (at least six that I can think of) for the last 45 years. Let’s put it this way. They didn’t stray from the basics.

Allen asked the three couples various questions about their relationship with a NASCAR-slant. After a commercial break, Allen whipped out the classic question with a reference to “whoopee,” something that just had to be included, or the send up would have been incomplete. Granted, I could care less that Kris and James had “relations” nine times during their honeymoon, but it seemed like fun for everyone involved.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of The Newlywed Game. I’m more of a Tic-Tac-Dough, Press Your Luck, Hot Potato, Joker’s Wild and Jeopardy-type when it comes to game shows (if that’s actually a type). However, as Frontstretch’s resident game show nut, I have to say that SPEED missed an opportunity here. There is a current version of the show hosted by Sherri Shepherd that airs on GSN. Instead of filming the piece on a set that could be best described as plain and spartan, they could have requested that all three couples fly out to Los Angeles and do it on the set of the actual show. You know, for cross-promotional purposes. Then again, the Camping World Truck Series does get better ratings than almost anything that’s ever aired on GSN in the network’s 17+ year history.

In addition to the Just Married piece, a piece on Nelson Piquet, Jr.’s weekend was aired. This was very similar to the piece that aired before the Rockingham event and was focused on Jason Leffler’s team.

Finally, there was a feature on team owner Joe Denette. This piece basically filled in a lot of the holes about Denette’s past and how he got into NASCAR. Learned some new stuff here. For one, I didn’t realize that Denette was involved in Hermie Sadler’s runs in the No. 48 a couple of years ago (had figured that it was Andy Hillenburg’s team fielding the truck). For most fans, they just viewed Denette as a race fan who started a team after hitting the Mega Millions. Now, we know more, and I liked the piece that presented that information.

Race coverage on Saturday was fairly decent. There was a good amount of coverage throughout the field, and a lower amount of random, apropos to nothing references to watermelon. Of course, that could be traced to the fact that Ross Chastain had mechanical problems and fell out early.

However, SPEED was a little slow on the gun when it came to finding the proper shots to show Brennan Newberry’s hit on the wall during the big wreck on Lap 41. I must give SPEED credit for sticking with it and eventually getting that clip on-air, but it took a while.

There was a strange instance during the fifth yellow where seemingly everyone was convinced that they were going to commercial. Then, the director nixed the commercial at the last minute. That led to a rather uncomfortable moment in which everyone seemed to be wondering just what the heck was going on. Just goes to show that TV doesn’t necessarily play NASCAR’s hand in how things happen. If SPEED had that kind of power, they could have taken a two-minute break, then come back for a live restart that NASCAR would have held off just for that purpose. Sure, it would have ticked everyone in the stands off, but it would show TV’s power. They don’t have that power in NASCAR.

Post-race coverage was a little bit beefier than normal. SPEED provided viewers with five post-race driver interviews and an interview with winning crew chief Michael Shelton. There was also a check of the point standings and some post-race analysis before SPEED left.

*STP 400*

Sunday afternoon brought the Sprint Cup Series back out to play at Kansas Speedway. After the boring 500 mile marathon in Texas on the 14th, FOX had nowhere to go but up in many of your eyes. Did they?

FOX’s pre-race started with Clint Bowyer serving as a quasi-tour guide around the Kansas City area, talking about the area’s sports heritage (while historically hearty, none of the city’s teams are doing much right now) and the well-known barbeque food. Kinda pointless in that most everyone already knows about that kind of stuff. What Bowyer said is basically everything that someone would tell you if you asked them to talk about Kansas City.

Another feature had Martin Truex, Jr. talking about his season and how he felt that his first win for MWR was right around the corner. Oh, how true that was. He was just a cloud away from getting that on Sunday. The “Double Trouble” feature also returned with discussions of Kansas Speedway’s “wide open spaces” and seams. This was informative, although the idea of wide open spaces didn’t ultimately play into the race as much as Darrell thought it would.

Speaking of Darrell, he took to Twitter after the race Sunday and on Monday to talk about how FOX went about broadcasting Sunday’s race in a completely different fashion. He even went as far to say “If someone says we covered the race yesterday like we do all the time, they didn’t watch the race, from top to bottom we did it differently!”

Well, I’m not going to say that FOX broadcasted the race the same way as normal, because Darrell’s right. There were some differences. For example, there was more usage of the blimp shots and wider shots in general right after restarts. This was good to see because it allowed us, the viewers (not just me) to see a little bit more of what was going on.

There was what amounted to a silent round of pit stops under the second caution of the race on Lap 134. I’m on the fence when it comes to basically doing a Crank It Up here. Yes, the raw sounds are interesting (granted, some stuff would be censored out if someone gets a little angry at something), but we’re missing something here. FOX’s pit reporters are typically the best out there, but they’re already criminally underused. Having silent rounds of stops just makes it worse. They need to be able to get on-air and disseminate their information properly. We all benefit from their presence down there. They’re not a bunch of goons that stand around and play Draw Something all day on their iPads while the race is going on.

I’m still not a fan of Hammond’s roving reporter role, but not because of anything Hammond’s doing. He’s solid. I just don’t want Michael Waltrip on the broadcast. Remember, he’s a team owner. Therefore, he is biased. Yes, he tries to be impartial, but it is impossible to do so in his current capacity. However, I do like the University of Farmers pieces. One that aired during the second caution showed Kansas Speedway’s repair trailer that contained any number of things needed to make track repairs. Also of note, there were a number of additional chunks of the race track on a table, which shows that the breakage issue was a lot more serious than previously believed. However, it doesn’t appear that anything came up during the race on Sunday.

Even though the race was run at a record pace (for the second week in a row, believe it or not), FOX still ran over their time slot. I have no clue who’s in charge of scheduling at FOX, but whoever thought three and a half hours, including 49 minutes of coverage before the green flag flew was enough time to block off for NASCAR coverage is a moron. Having said that, FOX did provide us with a decent amount of post-race coverage, regardless. There were five post-race interviews and checks of the unofficial results and point standings before FOX left the air.

Yes, there were some changes to FOX’s broadcast. However, I’m not sure if casual viewers would have noticed them all that much. Hardcore viewers that notice minutiae (like myself) are the kind of people that would notice the kind of changes noted above. Its a step in the right direction for FOX, but I want to see more. I’d still like more inclusiveness. We had more long green flag runs on Sunday. Search out battles for position more often on track instead of following certain drivers.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series travel to Richmond International Raceway for some short track racing. Meanwhile, the IZOD IndyCar Series makes their annual trek to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Let’s hope that thunderstorms don’t hamper the race again this year.

*Thursday, April 26*

*Time Telecast Network*
*7:00pm-8:30pm* K&N Pro Series East Blue Ox 100 SPEED
*8:30-10:00pm* Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown SPEED

*Friday, April 27*

*Time Telecast Network*
*12:00pm-2:00pm* Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
*2:30-3:30pm* Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
*4:00-5:30pm* Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN 2
*5:30-7:00pm* Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
*7:00-7:30pm* NASCAR Countdown ESPN 2
*7:30-10:00pm* Nationwide Series Virginia 529 College Savings 250 ESPN 2

*Saturday, April 28*

*Time Telecast Network*
*12:00pm-1:00pm* NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
*3:30-4:00pm* Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race SPEED*
*4:30-5:00pm* SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
*5:00-7:00pm* NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
*6:00-7:00pm* Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying NBC Sports Network*
*7:00-7:30pm* FOX Pre-Race Delivered by Pizza Hut FOX
*7:30-10:00pm* Sprint Cup Series Richmond 400 FOX
*11:00pm-12:00am* NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED

*Sunday, April 29*

*Time Telecast Network*
*10:30am-11:00am* IndyCar 36: NBC Sports Network
*11:00am-2:00pm* Izod IndyCar Series Sao Paulo Indy 300 NBC Sports Network
*3:00-4:30pm* World Challenge: Long Beach NBC Sports Network*
*4:00-6:00pm* V8 Supercar Championship Series ITM 400 Hamilton SPEED*%
*7:00-8:00pm* SPEED Center SPEED
*8:00-9:30pm* Wind Tunnel SPEED, SPEEDtv.com^

*- Tape delayed
%- Highlighted Coverage
^- Available via free online streaming. For Wind Tunnel, the final half-hour is streamed online under the title of “Wind Tunnel Xtra.”

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and IZOD IndyCar Series events in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday right here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex, we’ll run the look at ESPN 2’s Long Beach telecast on Thursday. For the May 3rd edition, we’ll take a look at the British version of Top Gear. Their “NASCAR adventure”:http://www.bbcamerica.com/top-gear/guide/season-18/episode-2/ is scheduled to premiere on April 30th on BBC America at 9:00pm EDT. We’ll see how they handle NASCAR.

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 want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons below. Finally, if you would like to contact any of the TV partners personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage from last weekend, please click on the following links:

“FOX”:http://msn.foxsports.com/feedback
“SPEED”:http://www.speedtv.com/feedback
“ESPN”:http://espn.go.com/espn/contact

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.

“Contact Phil Allaway”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/18439/

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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