Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 94- Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, which is normally a place in which additional motorsports-related programming is covered for your reading pleasure. However, since I was at Watkins Glen last weekend, I could not bring you a regular critique. Editor’s Note: Since there was no regular critique, there were also no TV listings. However, for your benefit, those will be at the end of the column.

If you remember last September when the Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway was postponed two days due to heavy rains, I covered that race here in the Annex since the regular critique had already run by the time the race started. I’m going to do the same thing here. Since I was at the track, I’ll try to add in some stuff as well.

On Sunday, ESPN’s Sprint Cup coverage started off like normal with NASCAR Countdown. However, instead of filling the first 25 minutes with pre-race analysis, they trotted out a piece designed to answer some questions about what happened on the last restart in Pocono. They took their telecast and the radio communications for the No. 48 team and synced them up in an attempt to see if Johnson really did have tire problems that caused the crash. The result is that Johnson did say something on the radio right before the restart that insinuated that he knew something was up. Then, when he got to Turn 1, he immediately said that he had a flat. Now, some of you reading might think that Johnson (and Knaus) planned ahead to say that to make themselves look good, but I doubt that. They’ve got more than enough stuff going on that they don’t have time to put on their Dick Dastardly and Muttley impression for everyone during the race. I think ESPN provided enough evidence that it was pretty conclusive that Johnson had an issue. Obviously, Matt Kenseth is going to believe otherwise until the end of days, but that’s his prerogative.

The big piece that ran as part of Countdown was the much-hyped and teased one-on-one sit down conversation between AJ Allmendinger and Marty Smith. The biggest thing that came out of this was Allmendinger taking the one pill for an energy boost. Now, in the Top News above, this statement has come into question by an unknown source who has basically said (paraphrased) that Allmendinger’s explanation is BS.

Perhaps, if Allmendinger really needed an energy boost, he should have gotten himself some “cookies sweetened with juice, for that also gives you an energy boost”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enNOYsdgUOI#t=2m30s, with no hidden amphetamines. (Note: Clip contains profanity and obscene looking edible treats as part of an attempted double-cross. Viewer discretion is advised). Smith claims that he believed Allmendinger during their sit-down, which was cut down from a full hour to just a few minutes. Apparently, his program (which is individually tailored to each case, and that is nothing new) is not really designed for a drug abuser, but for someone with stress issues that led him to use. Smith followed up and asked him the day of the race (on his cell phone, I’m assuming) whether he was truthful and Allmendinger said he was.

Another piece had Ray Evernham sit down with Tony Stewart to talk about his career. Quite simply, he loves racing. During a press conference this past weekend, he mentioned that his schedule has 95 races on it for this season (pretty much, a Schrader season). And he would most definitely hire a driver that ran a schedule like he does (heck, that driver might end up being a traveling buddy for all I know). Stewart considers racing to be his exercise. But, then again, to most of you reading this, that isn’t exactly anything new.

A third piece had various drivers (Ambrose, Harvick, Johnson, Kyle Busch, McMurray, Stewart) talking about driving at Watkins Glen and the hazards therein. For those of you who haven’t been, the Glen is far hillier than you’d think. The Esses are nothing short of a dang roller coaster, and from a distance, it looks like a wall. There’s a tunnel that goes under the track right after Turn 3. On the other side of that is a sharp incline. Unlike other tracks, there’s no incline on the other side of it. Also, the track is slightly uphill on the backstretch, but its moreso on the track than in the infield. But, that’s just what I’ve found.

The race telecast itself will probably be best known for ESPN dropping the ball with the last two laps. Yes, there was plenty of actual action shown, but ESPN failed to identify that Bobby Labonte was having issues and oiling down the track. Luckily, they did get footage of Labonte’s car smoking and did air that, but not until SportsCenter aired after the race. I thought that ESPN has spotters that point things out to benefit the broadcast. Maybe they couldn’t see the oil either, but they definitely should have been able to see Labonte’s car smoking and relayed that to the production truck, or directly to the broadcast booth.

Meanwhile, in the Media Center, we generally knew that Labonte was smoking before the White Flag even came out. As for the oil, Michael Waltrip posted “this picture”:https://twitter.com/mw55/status/234755142967238656/photo/1/large on his Twitter page after the race. Going back and reviewing the video actually shows that some of this oil was visible, especially when they showed the replay of Jeff Gordon’s spin. At other points on track, it was more of a thin line, but it was pretty noticeable in Turn 11. Unfortunately, like Allen Bestwick says, “Once you put it out there, you can’t take it back.”

As it stands, the analysts in the booth were convinced that seemingly everybody had a problem in the last couple of laps. Now, Joe Nemechek did run out of gas with two laps to go (and got real salty about it on the radio), that is true. It seemed that Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree were convinced that Kyle Busch either had fuel issues of his own, or that he had a flat tire. Maybe that’s just because of the lack of oil knowledge, but once it gets to the point where everyone’s going off the road, something had to be out there and Dave Rogers telling that to Dave Burns shouldn’t have been the way they found out about it.

Outside of the screw-ups in the last couple of laps, ESPN’s telecast was ok, but still too focused up front. I did notice that on Lap 12, ESPN locked down their camera at Turn 1 to show what amounted to the entire front half of the field come by. I thought this was interesting. Its an old-school tactic. Back in the early 1990’s, especially at short tracks, ESPN would do this and let the entire field go by, while also timing the laps. They called this the “Field Snapshot.” Could this signal the return of it after many, many years? I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

The coverage was very enthusiastic from Bestwick, Petree and Jarrett in the booth and I thought that the pit reporters did a great job. They’re often unheralded, but they work hard down there in the very loud pit environment.

Post-race coverage was somewhat typical. ESPN provided viewers with seven post-race interviews (slightly above normal) and a check of the point standings, both above the scroll and in a special graphic. There were also replays of the craziness on the final lap, including Jeff Gordon’s spin and the race for the win between Marcos Ambrose and Brad Keselowski.

Speaking of Keselowski, he is quite distractible. During his joint press conference with Jimmie Johnson (which he completely dominated, despite the fact that Johnson had just taken the points lead), he would often look up at ESPN’s post-race coverage and replays, or at SportsCenter and completely lose his train of thought. Not really a TV observation, but worth noting, along with the fact that Keselowski said “that’ll be worth a couple of ratings points” when he entered for the press conference.

That’s all for this week. Next week, we’ll be back with another interesting motorsports-related telecast to critique. Until then, enjoy the action from Michigan and Quebec.

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