Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where TV criticism (and praise) is the name of the game. There is plenty to discuss from last weekend in Darlington, so you won’t be left wanting for more.
*VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200*
On Friday night, the Nationwide Series returned to action at Darlington Raceway. With Travis Pastrana coming back for his second try in the No. 99, ESPN expanded what was supposed to be a 45-minute edition of _NASCAR Countdown_ into a full hour.
During that time, the primary feature shown was yet another piece on Pastrana. This time, the focus was on his upbringing and family in particular. We learn about how he took down a wall and a wheelbarrow the first time he drove a skid steer (one of those Bobcat things). In addition to that, we learned about just how close the Pastrana clan really is, even though they don’t always show it publicly. The feature, which appeared to have been shot at the same time as the previous one at Pastrana’s home, was actually a repeat piece. It originally aired on _NASCAR Now_ last week. So… I think they don’t need to make it three features in a row this weekend in Iowa. With that said, it was an interesting look into the driver’s life outside the cockpit.
Another feature focused on the Puerto Rican-born engine tuner for Roush Fenway Racing, Edgar Aleman. Aleman is a longtime Roush employee, dating all the way back to 1978 when Roush met Aleman at a drag race in Puerto Rico. The piece showed how Aleman worked his way up from doing the most menial work possible at the shop to eventually becoming one of the best engine tuners in all of NASCAR. I believe that this type of work shows ESPN at their best. Yes, Aleman is most definitely a known quantity in the garage, but I’m sure most fans would have never heard of him prior to Friday night. Instead of focusing so much on Danica Patrick and Pastrana, they need to bring us viewers new stories like this one.
In addition to the two features, there was a substantial amount of advertising for an interactive experience. The Pit Studio was open to tweets from fans if they used the #pitstudio hashtag. I decided to keep tabs on this experiment during the race. The results were interesting. Not a whole heck of a lot of input. However, whoever was running the NASCAR on ESPN Twitter page did answer a couple of questions from fans. I also kept an eye out for input on the telecast itself. On that topic, I saw some tweets that were complimentary of our biggest story from Friday night. More on that below. Also, there were some of the typical type of tweets you might see on a regular basis on Twitter. For example, one user tweeted about how hot he thinks Jamie Little is. Thanks for sharing.
The big story from Friday night was the broadcast booth debut of Carl Edwards. Even though it was just announced recently that he would do a couple of races this year (Friday night, and Kentucky at the end of next month), I’m sure that this contract was probably a full year in the making. So, you’re probably wondering how he did? Looking back at last week, a number of my readers weren’t the biggest fans of Justin Allgaier in the booth during the ARCA race at Talladega. However, that is where we’re going to start off.
A number of you voiced concerns that Allgaier was effectively talking over Rick Allen and Phil Parsons. Carl was a little similar, to be honest. However, Carl’s talking was a bit different from what you guys thought about Allgaier. The consensus seemed to be that Allgaier was talking in order just to make himself heard. I didn’t really see that from Edwards Friday night. His commentary was more analytical and spaced out. He wasn’t trying to dominate the conversation. However, he did state at one point that he did have some bias towards Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. since he’s a driver for Roush Fenway Racing. Edwards did admit to attempting to leave his biases at the door of the booth, and I think he did so. Despite that admission, his Roush background did not adversely affect the telecast.
Edwards also expressed some bewilderment at times. Working with Allen Bestwick in the booth means that Edwards’ introduction to race commentary was with what amounts to a taskmaster by his side. He really couldn’t make heads or tails of what was going on during a round of pit stops under green at one point (this confusion was voiced out loud on Lap 97).
My main issues with the telecast did not come from Edwards’ presence in the booth. My issues were with the substantial amount of focus given to Pastrana and Danica Patrick during the race telecast. For instance, ESPN did a brief “Up to Speed” segment early in the race, but they chose only to cover Pastrana and Patrick. Seriously? C’mon now. There are a lot more drivers out on the track than just those two. Drives me nuts.
Aside from that duo, who got their usual quota of coverage, most of the rest of the broadcast was based around the very front of the field. Basically, this meant that aside from our overexposed twosome, the vast majority of storylines were centered upon Cup regulars and maybe three Nationwide-only guys. We need more than that if the series is ever going to grow.
Post-race coverage was a little bit more substantial than normal. ESPN provided viewers with seven post-race interviews and a check of the points before leaving. They did misidentify Stenhouse as a Chevrolet driver in the point graphic, which Edwards rightfully called them out on. We also found out that Pastrana lost $1000 because Danica Patrick beat him again. However, finishing 17th isn’t horrible for your first trip to Darlington after starting at the rear of the field.
For Edwards, Friday night served as a decent debut for someone with comparably little TV experience. I’d suggest that he request a DVD from ESPN of Friday’s telecast and that he review his performance. I’ll definitely be watching Edwards’ work on the Feed the Children 300 telecast closely next month.
However, the rest of the telecast was hurt by ESPN’s exclusivity. I bang the drum repeatedly on this issue, but it has to be said. You have to be inclusive for these telecasts. I don’t know what needs to be done to get it through their heads that fans want to see more than seven or eight guys get talked about for 200 miles, but you have to realize that. Otherwise, your millions will be going down the drain.
*Bojangles’ Southern 500*
Saturday night brought FOX back out for 500 miles of action at Darlington. Pre-race coverage was sorta thin, but it directly set up much of what FOX’s telecast would cover. Firstly, the Danica quotient was very high on Saturday. They interviewed her and gave her way too much coverage on-air for someone who finished 31st, six laps down. More on that later.
Mike Joy narrated a short piece (that he wrote himself) on the memory of Carroll Shelby, who died last week at the age of 89. Joy acknowledged on Twitter prior to the telecast that he was given only 30 seconds of airtime for his tribute, which angered some fans. Joy’s hands were tied, but I think he did fine given the very short amount of time that he was given to work with.
There was also a short piece on the history of Darlington that was narrated by defending Southern 500 Champion Regan Smith. This segment was more of a montage than anything else. It wasn’t all that informative, to be honest.
FOX’s commercial breaks once again affected the race telecast negatively. This time, viewers missed an entire round of green flag pit stops because FOX took an ill-advised break on Lap 96. Ouch. That’s a new level of bad. I know that you have to take the breaks, but be smart about it. Listen to your commentators in the booth and your four pit reporters. They know what they’re talking about when it comes time for stops. Don’t just “go over their helmets” whenever you feel like it. You’re just going to make fans (and me) angry and people are going to choose not to watch. There are already a number of fans that voluntarily choose to skip certain portions of the season because of coverage quality issues. We don’t need any more people going that direction.
Later in the race, an entire round of stops under caution occurred during a break, so they had to be replayed. Just not good all around. That needs to change. It won’t be a problem this weekend during the Sprint All-Star Race, but I can’t have stupidity like that during the Coca-Cola 600.
As for Patrick, a good amount of time that FOX spent covering her was taken up with audio from her radio. Her spotter was effectively coaching her around the 1.366-mile oval, lap by lap. That’s nice and all, but do we need to see that three or four times during the race? All the while, both Waltrips are talking Patrick up and making her night seem better than the near complete disaster that it really was.
FOX’s coverage was a little more inclusive than ESPN’s was on Friday night, but not by much. The first half of the race was probably far more exciting if you made the trek to the Pee Dee Region than on TV. Beyond Lap 60 or so, there was all but no racing for position shown until after the first yellow. I’m sure there’s action out there to be found, you just gotta find it and show it. You can do it. Please.
Post-race coverage was quite confusing. Since the late cautions put FOX up against the end of their timeslot, we were given only three post-race driver interviews, plus an interview with Rick Hendrick. There was also a check of the point standings and a brief recap of Ryan Newman’s gas man attempting to charge at Kurt Busch. However, FOX set up the confrontation as being a result of the crash that brought out the last caution. This theory would be ridiculous, since they didn’t touch on-track. FOX showed no footage of what actually happened on pit road during the last yellow to spark the anger. As a result, FOX gave fans incorrect information and confused everyone that wasn’t at the track.
That’s all for this weekend. Next weekend is another busy one. The Sprint Cup Series is back in action with the annual Sprint All-Star Race and Sprint Showdown in Charlotte. They will be supported by the Camping World Truck Series. Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series will be in Newton, Iowa for a standalone event on Sunday.
*Thursday, May 17*
*Time Telecast Network*
*8:00 PM – 10:30 PM* Sprint All-Star Pit Crew Challenge _SPEED_
*Friday, May 18*
*Time Telecast Network*
*10:30 AM – 12:00 PM* Camping World Truck Series Happy Hour _SPEED_
*12:00 – 1:30 PM* Sprint Cup Series Sprint Showdown Practice _SPEED_
*1:30 – 3:00 PM* Sprint Cup Series Sprint All-Star Race Practice _SPEED_
*4:00 – 5:00 PM* Camping World Truck Series Qualifying _SPEED_
*5:00 – 6:00 PM* Sprint Cup Series Sprint Showdown Qualifying _SPEED_
*6:00 – 7:00 PM* Sprint Cup Series Sprint All-Star Race Qualifying _SPEED_
*7:30 – 8:00 PM* NCWTS Setup _SPEED_
*8:00 – 10:30 PM* Camping World Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200 _SPEED_
*Saturday, May 19*
*Time Telecast Network*
*11:00 AM -12:00 PM* NASCAR Now, Pre-Race _ESPN2_
*11:00 AM -2:30 PM* Indianapolis 500 Pole Day, Part 1 _NBC Sports_
*3:30 – 4:00 PM* SPEED Center, Pre-Race _SPEED_
*4:00 – 5:00 PM* NASCAR RaceDay Special Edition _SPEED_
*4:30 – 6:30 PM* Indianapolis 500 Pole Day, Part 2 _NBC Sports_
*5:00 – 7:00 PM* NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco _SPEED_
*7:00 – 7:30 PM* Sprint Cup Pre-Race _SPEED_
*7:30 – 11:30 PM* Sprint Cup Series Sprint Showdown/Sprint All-Star Race _SPEED_
*11:30 PM -12:00 AM* NASCAR Victory Lane _SPEED_
*Sunday, May 20*
*Time Telecast Network*
*12:00 PM – 6:30 PM* Indianapolis 500 Bump Day _NBC Sports_
*1:30 – 2:00 PM* NASCAR Countdown _ESPN_
*2:00 – 5:00 PM* Nationwide Series Pioneer Hi-Bred 250 _ESPN_
*5:00 – 7:00 PM* ARCA Racing Series Menards 200 Presented by Federated Car Care _SPEED*_
*7:00 – 8:00 PM* SPEED Center _SPEED_
*8:00 – 9:00 PM* Wind Tunnel _SPEED_
*- Tape Delayed
I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup events, along with the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The ARCA race from Toledo will be covered in a future edition of the Critic’s Annex.
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