Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Title Usurps All, Including Covering the Race

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast critique is the name of my game. This will mark the final full-fledged TV critique of the 2012 season, as every series of note with the exception of Formula One and the V8 Supercars are done for the year. This past weekend was Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the final races of the 2012 season for the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.

*However, before we start,* we have some TV news. On Saturday, Jeff Hammond tweeted that NASCAR Performance has ended production. There will be no new episodes during the 2013 season. This is a shame as the show was quite decent. Having that said, there might have been one too many on-air personalities on there. It is just the first victim of the eventual changeover from SPEED to Fox Sports 1. Still don’t know when that will be, but it will happen after the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring in March, but before the Petit Le Mans in October.

Also, the NBC Sports Network announced that they have hired Leigh Diffey away from SPEED to serve as their play-by-play commentator for the Izod IndyCar Series. He will replace Bob Jenkins, who retired back in September. In addition, Diffey will do play-by-play for NBC Sports Network’s coverage of Formula One as well. Diffey will be joined there by David Hobbs and Steve Matchett, who both come over with the Formula One deal.

The only question mark as of now is who will serve as a pit reporter for NBC Sports Network’s Formula One coverage. It is likely that Will Buxton will be able to continue his gig as the roving reporter, while also adding Izod IndyCar Series duties to his docket. If so, I’d imagine that it would be a huge change for him since he just made his first trip to the United States this weekend for the United States Grand Prix at the brand-new Circuit of the Americas.

With Diffey leaving SPEED for the NBC Sports Network, Bob Varsha stated via his Twitter feed that he will be replacing Diffey on SPEED’s broadcasts of the Rolex Sports Car Series and the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. This will supplement Varsha’s duties with SPEED’s coverage of Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auctions. It is likely that Calvin Fish and Dorsey Schroeder will stay at SPEED as well.

It was Championship Week at Homestead-Miami. SPEED and ESPN showed the TV audience little more than the title hunt.

*Ford EcoBoost 200*

On Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series held their season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. How did SPEED do in their final NASCAR race of 2012? Let’s find out.

There really wasn’t all that much of note in the Setup, unfortunately. Likely the primary feature of the show was a piece in which the seasons of the top-5 drivers (James Buescher, Timothy Peters, Ty Dillon, Joey Coulter and Parker Kligerman) were recapped. Another montage showed off the 15 different drivers that won races during the season up to that point. I understand that the focus was on the championship, but there wasn’t anything new here. Meh is all I can say.

During the race, yes, there was a focus on the championship, but I didn’t get the feeling that it was the only thing going on. There was action on-track for position and I got to see those battles. I know that doesn’t sound like all that much to cheer about, but just wait.

One gripe I had was with the third caution, which was thrown for Max Gresham hitting the wall, apparently. At least that’s what Rick Allen told us. NASCAR’s official reasoning states debris (likely from said wall hit). Thing is, I couldn’t tell by looking at Gresham’s truck as to whether he hit the wall at all. Also, there was no replay of what happened. The fact that it was a borderline quickie caution didn’t help things much, either. Now, the second time Gresham hit the wall, we know he did it, but I’m not so sure about the first time.

Post-race coverage was pretty good. There were six post-race interviews, a final look at the point standings, and the trophy presentation to 2012 Camping World Truck Series Champion James Buescher. The only comment I have here is that there seemed to be a lot of down time. Perhaps SPEED could have added another interview in there.

Overall, SPEED put together a fairly enjoyable telecast. The action was relatively good on-track, although quite spread out at times. There was a decent amount of racing for position shown to viewers and the commentary seemed to work quite well. I’m happy for now. The Camping World Truck Series will be back on SPEED/Fox Sports 1 next season with very few, if any changes. Just don’t expect too much bonus coverage, especially once the channel becomes Fox Sports 1. They’ll probably have another live event that they’ll need to get to.

*Ford EcoBoost 300*

On Saturday afternoon, the Nationwide Series held their season finale on ESPN.

You could easily tell by the five minute mark of NASCAR Countdown exactly what their grandmaster plan was going to go. They were going to give viewers a healthy dose of Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Elliott Sadler. And that is exactly what we got.

There was a feature where Stenhouse talked at length about the various struggles that he’s had during the season. The Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway took precedence here (if you remember, that was the race he won after contact with Joey Logano which resulted in him ending up two laps down). I thought that it was OK. Stenhouse stated during the piece that he thought the championship was lost. Keep in mind that this was the fourth-to-last race of the year. After winning, he was six points behind Sadler.

For Sadler, ESPN created a piece where Sadler talked about the pain of losing the championship in 2011. Obviously, Sadler wants the title badly. However, the whole thing came off as defeatist. Sadler all but stated that after the crash in Phoenix, it was over. Stenhouse wins. It just hurts him that much more than last year.

Talk about a nice way to undermine a network’s agenda, but Sadler was being honest here. There’s no sugarcoating. Nicole Briscoe stated after the piece finished that the championship is by no means over, but Sadler was pretty definitive and I’ve watched way too much Match Game ’73 to disagree with the definitive answer. Granted, I’m writing the critique a couple of days after the fact, but the thoughts listed above are what came to mind while watching the feature prior to the race on Saturday.

The extreme focus on Sadler and Stenhouse continued into the actual race telecast on Saturday and, for lack of better words, drove me nuts. I know that the championship is very important to ESPN, but it has to be covered in moderation. Having the points as they run display below the scroll for the entire race makes it that much easier to cover the event equitably.

However, ESPN chose not to go that route. Despite the aforementioned display on screen, Sadler and Stenhouse probably got 70 percent of the airtime during the race between them. There were only a couple of other stories that were really covered to a notable extent. One was Regan Smith’s first drive in the No. 5 for JR Motorsports after having not raced in the series since Bobby Ginn shut down his No. 4 team. By Lap 40, I was already feeling burned out. I can only imagine what my readers were thinking.

Shortly after halfway, two things happened that I found to be notable enough to mention here. First off, the one and only Up to Speed segment during the race featured exactly three drivers. Who were those three, you might ask? Why, it was Sadler, Stenhouse and Austin Dillon, the top-3 in points? Let’s just say that I wasn’t too pleased. In fact, I yelled, “Ah, C’mon!” at the TV as if Nicole Briscoe could hear me. I rarely get that agitated (and loud) watching a race.

The other thing I noticed was a strange instance on Lap 110 when Jamie Little mentioned that NASCAR was considering penalizing Sadler for topping off on fuel while replacing a loose lug nut, then going back on themselves when they realized that it wasn’t a rule. Andy Petree appeared to be…perplexed because of it. So was I. Now, that isn’t so much a gripe about ESPN as a gripe about NASCAR nearly committing an act of stupid. I know there’s a ban on topping off on the pace laps before the start of the race. That ban has been around since about 1997. But, the stop referred to here was nearly halfway through the race. I have no idea who could have possibly come up with that explanation for nearly penalizing someone. It is looney tunes.

Since the race ended up running early, there was plenty of time for post-race coverage. ESPN brought us two trophy presentations (one for the driver’s champion (Stenhouse) and another for the owner’s champion (the No. 18 team, accepted by J.D. Gibbs). There were also interviews with Smith, Sadler and Dillon before ESPN left the air.

To be honest, I felt lost at times. With the extreme championship focus, I could never really get a good idea of what was going on in the race that didn’t affect the championship contenders. That’s not good. I was championshiped out long before the race was underway, then dealt with over two hours of championship commentary. Makes me wonder if any of the fans share my sentiment here.

*Ford EcoBoost 400*

Finally, we come to the Sprint Cup Series season finale. One last chance to sample the COT and it’s homogenous goodness before the “Gen6” car takes over next year. Of note, where the deuce did Brian France come up with that? Oh well. Here goes nothing.

An expanded 90-minute edition of NASCAR Countdown started out with a rehash of the final few laps of Phoenix. That included a recap of the Bowyer-Gordon retaliation event, the pugilism, the restart that should have never happened, Danica Patrick’s wreck out of what could have been a 14th-place finish, and the pile-up due to multiple oil slicks. Oh boy, just not a good day at all. You’d think they were done with that. Just wait.

Another piece narrated by Marty Smith centered upon the idea of trying to intimidate one’s rivals. Dale Earnhardt was an expert at it on the track. However, the past three years have seen the intimidation occur off the track with words. Does it work? Sometimes. That stuff had a much bigger effect in 2010 than now, though.

Another piece had Johnson talking about his relationship with Chad Knaus. In all honesty, the two of them work together well, but it seems that it’s Knaus’ way or the highway. I’m just not really sure if that strategy is working all that well anymore. Johnson needs to be able to make more decisions. Honestly, I don’t think I learned much from the piece, other than the fact that Johnson was still confident entering Homestead.

A third piece was based around Penske Racing, a team that has been active for the better part of 50 years. Roger Penske and Tim Cindric speak volumes for how much Keselowski re-ignited Penske’s passion for NASCAR. We’re talking about a team that has won dozens of races in the series. Just shows how intoxicating Keselowski can be.

Much like the Nationwide race on Saturday evening, the Cup race was heavily stilted towards the championship contenders at the expense of everyone else in the field. Again, I had trouble following what was going on at times, which I shouldn’t have to deal with. If it didn’t refer to Keselowski or Johnson, it may as well have not existed early on in the race. However, ESPN was a bit more generous with Up to Speed segments that talked about other drivers.

During the race, Kid Rock showed up in the Pit Studio to promote his new album (released today). He had also played a pre-race concert. This was unnecessary and played over a battle for the lead between Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. Can’t the broadcast booth interrupt that?

Once Johnson dropped out with 40 laps to go, the rest of the race didn’t matter. It was simply coronation time for Keselowski. Such coverage is disrespectful to nearly everyone involved. There should have been mentions of Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose running out of fuel at the end (in Almirola’s case, it cost him a career-best finish). There should have been footage of other battles. Instead, we all but got bupkis.

Despite the race being run at record pace (for what seems like the fifth time in 2012), there was a minimum of post-race coverage. By minimum, I mean minimum of variety. There were interviews with race winner Jeff Gordon and the championship contenders, along with winning crew chief Paul Wolfe and owner Roger Penske. There was also the championship trophy presentation.

One thing must be noted here. I know that the race winner in the final race is an afterthought (unless he also wins the title, like Tony Stewart did last year). However, who thought that it was a good idea to rehash the stupidity in Phoenix, including replaying the intentional crash and donnybrook during Gordon’s interview? That’s gauche, bush league and totally unnecessary. Besides, wouldn’t that be completely played out by now?

From there, it got a little crazy. ESPN left to go to SportsCenter, where the race and the championship took center stage for about the next half hour. That’s where
the “now-infamous interview with Keselowski was conducted by Kevin Connors”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GP6qDnpPY9g was conducted. Oh boy, was that nutty. That is the first NASCAR interview that I can remember with a drunk guy. If you’re wondering, he mentions that he’s wet because prior to the interview, Larry McReynolds dumped his giant glass full of beer on him on the set of NASCAR Victory Lane. Between that show and the SportsCenter interview, Keselowski got a refill. Apparently, the drinking continued from there, culminating in Keselowski appearing on Wind Tunnel hammered. I’ll fully admit that the interview made me fall over laughing.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Formula One World Championship comes to a conclusion at Interlagos near Sao Paulo, Brazil. Sebastian Vettel has a 13-point lead over Fernando Alonso and can win the title by finishing fourth or better, but anything can happen. Coverage will start with Free Practice No. 1 on SPEEDtv.com Friday morning from 7:00-8:30am. Free Practice No. 2 will be on SPEED from 11:00am-12:30pm. Free Practice No. 3 is Saturday morning from 8:00-9:00am on SPEEDtv.com, while Qualifying will be live on SPEED from 11:00am-12:30pm. Finally, coverage of the Grand Prix of Brazil will run from 10:30am-1:00pm.

Also, last night was the combined banquet for the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. The fact that the banquets are combined instead of separate continues to irritate me. However, if’in you’d like to view the festivities, SPEED will provide a tape-delayed telecast on November 29th (next Thursday) from 8:00-10:00pm EST.

Since this is the final regular critique of the season, I must thank my readers for sticking with me through a pretty tough season on the TV-side of things. If I actually had a lot (and I don’t), then I would have pulled at it a lot of times. However, there was some good coverage tucked in there as well. Also, I will be back for a fifth year of TV criticism. I’ll fully admit that I’ve probably been through quite a bit by TV critic standards (whatever those are). But, I will still stick to my overall goal of trying to make motorsports programming better for all race fans, not just myself.

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:

“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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