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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Did ESPN, FOX, SPEED Cover Larson’s Crash Right?

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast breakdowns are the main subject of interest. This past weekend was supposed to be one of the greatest weekends of racing all year. However, the crash that happened at the end of the Nationwide race overshadowed everything else, good and bad. Ultimately, I have to look at the telecasts under that lens. Because of that, the Camping World Truck Series event will not be covered in this critique. Quite simply, under the current circumstances, I would not be able to do SPEED’s telecast justice. However, it will covered later this week in the “Critic’s Annex,”:/notice/9557/ a piece which can be found every Thursday in the Frontstretch Newsletter.

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All eyes were on Daytona International Speedway after Kyle Larson’s crash Saturday night. ESPN’s coverage expanded in response to the disaster.

*DRIVE4COPD 300*

Saturday brought the Nationwide Series to Daytona for their season opener.

Pre-race coverage was somewhat typical for ESPN. A substantial portion of Countdown was spent inside of the Pit Studio with analysis from the assembled panel (Rusty Wallace, Ray Evernham, Brad Daugherty, in addition to host Nicole Briscoe.) Now, there is a certain amount of pre-race analysis with NASCAR’s other media partners, but no one includes as much as ESPN does. Yes, they did four pre-race interviews, but I’d rather have more interviews instead of pre-race analysis.

During the show, a piece was shown where Marty Smith sat down with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to discuss various historical moments in NASCAR, in addition to current events (i.e. Earnhardt Jr.’s decision to step out of the car for a couple of weeks last year due to concussions). I found the piece quite interesting. Petty is just plain living history, thanks to all of his accomplishments while Earnhardt Jr. is the current driver most interested in NASCAR history. Another feature showed Austin Dillon taking a ride with the Thunderbirds, who had flown in for the weekend from their base at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas.

The actual race coverage was pretty good. A common problem that I had last season with ESPN telecasts is that they would miss a lot of things. Generally, that was not the case on Saturday. Even when the yellow came out for the wreck involving Regan Smith and Juan Carlos Blum, while they were in commercial ESPN returned from the break to inform us about what happened. Of course, having said that, I’m not really sure if that was more because of the wreck, or Danica Patrick’s engine woes. It could go either way.

ESPN had their primary broadcasting team for the race, and generally, they worked well together. There were no blatant screw-ups of note here that I would normally bring them to task over.

Despite being over their timeslot at the end of the race, ESPN chose to stay with the situation in Daytona after the big crash until 4:40 PM, roughly a half-hour after the race ended. In that time, ESPN tracked down as many people that were involved in the crash as they could. They chose not to show a replay for the majority of that time. That’s standard operating procedure with serious accidents. Nothing new. If you saw the abandoned IZOD IndyCar Series race at Las Vegas, in 2011 you know that they didn’t show replays of that mess right away.

Some fans accused ESPN of showing false concern. I think that’s looney tunes. Anyone that argues otherwise in this case better have concrete proof. Remember that they were at the track. They saw it just like we did, and in many cases, even more vividly than we did. Allen Bestwick wasn’t silent just to build drama. That is a stupid notion. I’d argue that Bestwick, like myself when I watched it on ESPN, was shocked more than anything else by what had just gone down. If you were there, you’d be shocked as well. Also, they were basically forced to wait for information. You can only do so much in that kind of a situation.

Others wanted ESPN to get their reporters out to the crash scene. I’m pretty sure a combination of NASCAR, Daytona International Speedway, track security and the Daytona Beach Police Department would never allow them to do that. Marty Smith, who was in the press box for the race, stated on Twitter that he was threatened with arrest if he did not leave the area guarded in and around the grandstand by a police officer.

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Joie Chitwood III and Steve O’Donnell handled the post-wreck press conference professionally, despite fan outcry.

Fans have attacked Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood, III and NASCAR Vice President of Racing Operations Steve O’Donnell for their conduct during the 7:00 PM press conference at the track. However, I have no idea just what you guys expected out of them. They cannot give any information on patient conditions. Chitwood explained this succinctly on Sunday morning. Even if they had that stuff on hand, it would be illegal for them to do that due to HIPPA (the Health Insurance Portability, Privacy and Accountability Act of 1996), most specifically Title II, where privacy of patient records is strictly enforced. It is a federal law, passed with bipartisan support. Disclosing of patient information can only be done by the patient, his/her family, or in this case, by a hospital representative with family permission. As a result, Chitwood and O’Donnell legally had to redirect those questions in the press conference. The penalties for illegal disclosure are pretty strict. They would have been looking at jail time had they actually given that type of information out. Anyone who works in a health care facility is constantly reminded about how important patient confidentiality is. If any unauthorized employee in the hospital is discovered to have given out information illegally, they are guaranteed to be fired and likely jailed as well. Also, civil action could be in the cards.

There is one part of this disaster where criticism could be warranted. NASCAR’s conduct in trying to pull every scrap of video from the crash off the internet was them basically using the most draconian interpretation of their rights policy possible. Technically, they can do that whenever they want, for whatever reason they want to. They claimed that they did it to protect the victims and their families. That’s nice and all, but this incident is international news. You can’t try and pretend that something didn’t happen, which is what NASCAR’s actions looked like on the surface. It says a lot that YouTube denied NASCAR’s copyright claims. That almost never happens.

Ultimately, ESPN did the best that they could, given the situation. Knowing that there really wasn’t much information to be had while they were on-air, they couldn’t have done much more.

Having said that, SPEED went on-air nearly non-stop after ESPN left for two hours, giving updates on the situation, talking to some race fans around the impact zone and did an admirable job, given the circumstances.

*Daytona 500*

Sunday’s Daytona 500 was the highest rated Sprint Cup race since 2006.

“Ten Big Ones” is not just a refrain from when a contender won a one-on-one event on American Gladiators in the 1990s. It also equates to FOX’s overnight rating for their telecast (in addition, it achieved a 22 share). Since NASCAR’s strength in viewership is not exactly in the biggest markets, expect the final rating to be a little higher than that. Many believe that Danica Patrick was responsible for the boost, which I disagree with. In reality, the Larson wreck getting replayed a buttload of times played a much bigger role.

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Clint Bowyer was featured prominently in FOX’s pre-race coverage leading up to the Daytona 500.

However, just because quite a few more people were in front of the television watching the race doesn’t mean that what they saw was necessarily FOX’s best effort.

The network’s pre-race coverage started off with Mike Joy in the flagstand, where he immediately made mention of the big crash at the end of the Nationwide race. He then gave out information I thought was a little dated by that point. That was the only mention of the crash on the pre-race show. I don’t really agree with that approach, especially knowing that the crash was the sole focus of ESPN’s _Outside the Lines_ on Monday, in addition to leading Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption, something NASCAR never, ever does. A later update during the second caution of the race from a lonely Chris Myers in the Hollywood Hotel was the last mention of the incident in the whole telecast.

I know that FOX doesn’t cover the Nationwide Series, but they didn’t give what happened Saturday the attention or the focus that it deserved. Halifax Health was putting out press releases about the injured fans during the race. I just think that FOX could have done more. Maybe cut some of the pre-race analysis out of the show to cover the event more thoroughly? However, the condensed schedule due to potential rain meant that almost everything didn’t get the attention that it deserved.

There was a feature where FOX followed Clint Bowyer around. Bowyer is portrayed as someone who is a bit weird (Who wraps a 1980s Cadillac Brougham in camo and puts steer horns on the hood? Choose one or the other) but also someone that is incredibly inpatient. Ultimately, Bowyer comes off as likable and not afraid to get down and dirty. Honestly, at this point, I don’t think it changed any of my opinions of him. However, I could argue that the feature was designed more for new race fans, perhaps catching their one race of the year more than long-term ones.

There was a piece where Chris Myers sat down with Hendrick Motorsports’ quartet of drivers at Hendrick Motorsports Heritage Center, where Rick Hendrick (also interviewed) keeps his classic car collection (not open to the public). Granted, it appears that the quartet like to spend time together, even though they don’t do it all that much. Regardless, the questions were inane. I don’t know why, but Myers felt the need to throw up a bunch of softballs. Not even some good music from Creedence Clearwater Revival could save this dud. There’s more to the interview than what actually aired, though. The full piece can be seen at FOX’s new NASCAR Blog, “Shake and Bake.”:http://msn.foxsports.com/nascar/shakeandbake/bonus-footage-daytona-500-features/ (Also, that site’s name is a lawsuit just waiting to happen… but not from Kraft Foods…)

Daytona also marked the NASCAR debut of one Erin Andrews. Oh boy. I have all the respect in the world for Andrews, but I don’t think she was expecting what happened in Daytona. The primary task she had was a sit-down interview with Brad Keselowski that was about Keselowski’s individuality. It was OK, but she didn’t seem comfortable there. As a result, she took a rather unusual tone that I found annoying. Also, I wasn’t a fan of her cutting off Keselowski. That’s not cool.

Then, FOX dispatched her on a grid walk… or more succinctly, a Patrick hunt. While there, special guest (not of FOX) Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, showed up and “tried to make out with her”:http://deadspin.com/5986533/50-cents-attempt-to-kiss-erin-andrews-was-one-for-the-ages in an incident at least equal in salaciousness to a “drunken Joe Namath hitting on Suzy Kolber on Monday Night Football.”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gc65NC44dSk Perhaps the name for a blog will come out of Sunday’s incident, much like the Namath incident gave the name to “one.”:http://kissingsuzykolber.uproxx.com/ (Note: Viewer Discretion Advised) I can understand her being mentally knocked off balance by that.

From here, Andrews tried to find Patrick for a quick interview with 50 Cent close behind (uninvited, I’m assuming). However, she was unsuccessful (she claimed that she literally could not find her). The grid walk would definitely have worked out better had FOX’s pre-race show gone the full two hours. Opening ceremonies were literally right after the failed hunt.

I don’t believe Andrews will be back for the rest of FOX’s portion of the season (she’s primarily their studio host for college football these days after leaving ESPN), so she won’t be able to improve. Sunday marked a chance for Andrews to show her versatility, but it’ll just go down as one of the more unusual moments in her career instead.

Andrews ran into Kevin Harvick on the way and asked him a quick question or two. In addition to an earlier interview, he was the only driver given an interview during the entire 75-minute show. Normally, I’d lambaste FOX here, but this critique just isn’t the time.

During the race, there were three debris cautions. One featured definitive debris (I guess it was a crush panel) that smacked into Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson’s cars with ten laps to go. The other two, I don’t know. Joy said that the first yellow flew for “metal debris,” but none of us ever saw that. I’d like to see it. Some fans accused NASCAR of throwing that caution just so Jeff Gordon could get the wrappers off his grille.

In addition, FOX unveiled a new “Digger Cam” in the middle of the backstretch that got a lot of use. Too much. Once it got covered with rubber, they should have curtailed it.

Post-race coverage was substantial. Despite starting the race 40 minutes earlier than planned, FOX stayed with the telecast until the original sign-off time of 5:30. That allowed for nearly an hour of post-race coverage, which was filled with interviews, a check of the unofficial results and analysis. A rare interview with Michael McDowell was featured here; kudos for that.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series will make the long haul out to Phoenix for their first visit of the year to the Southwest. They will be joined by the K&N Pro Series West. Meanwhile, Grand-Am will be in Austin, Texas for their inaugural outing at the Circuit of the Americas.

*TV Listings*

*Tuesday, February 26*

*Time Telecast Network*
*12:30 AM – 1:00 AM* NASCAR Now _ESPN2_
*6:00 PM – 7:00 PM* NASCAR RaceHub _SPEED_

*Wednesday, February 27*

*Time Telecast Network*
*1:00 AM – 1:30 AM* NASCAR Now _ESPN2_
*6:00 PM – 7:00 PM* NASCAR RaceHub _SPEED_

*Thursday, February 28*

*Time Telecast Network*
*2:00 AM – 2:30 AM* NASCAR Now _ESPN2_
*6:00 PM – 7:00 PM* NASCAR RaceHub _SPEED_

*Friday, March 1*

*Time Telecast Network*
*1:30 AM – 2:00 AM* NASCAR Now _ESPN2_
*12:00 PM – 1:30 PM* Nationwide Series Practice _SPEED_
*2:00 – 3:30 PM* Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 _SPEED_
*3:30 – 4:30 PM* Nationwide Series Happy Hour _SPEED_
*6:00 – 7:30 PM* Sprint Cup Series Qualifying _SPEED_
*7:30 – 8:00 PM* SPEED Center _SPEED_

*Saturday, March 2*

*Time Telecast Network*
*1:30 AM – 2:00 AM* NASCAR Now _ESPN2_
*11:00 AM – 12:00 PM* Trackside Live _SPEED_
*11:00 AM – ~1:45 PM* Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge: Circuit of the Americas _SPEED2.com$_
*12:00 – 1:00 PM* Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 _SPEED_
*1:00 – 2:30 PM* Nationwide Series Qualifying _SPEED_
*3:00 – 4:00 PM* Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour _SPEED_
*4:00 – 4:30 PM* NASCAR Countdown _SPEED_
*4:30 – 7:00 PM* Nationwide Series Dollar General 200 _ESPN2_
*5:30 – 8:30 PM* Rolex Series Grand-Am of The Americas presented by GAINSCO and Total _SPEED*_
*8:30 – 9:00 PM* SPEED Center _SPEED_

*Sunday, March 3*

*Time Telecast Network*
*11:00 AM – 12:00 PM* NASCAR Now _ESPN2_
*12:00 – 12:30 PM* SPEED Center, Pre-Race _SPEED_
*12:30 – 2:30 PM* NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco _SPEED_
*2:30 – 3:00 PM* FOX Pre-Race _FOX_
*3:00 – 6:00 PM* Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 500k _FOX_
*~6:00 – 6:30 PM* NASCAR Victory Lane _SPEED_
*7:00 – 8:00 PM* SPEED Center, Post-Race _SPEED_
*8:00 – 8:30 PM* Wind Tunnel _SPEED_

*Monday, March 4*

*Tme Telecast Network*
*6:00 PM – 7:00 PM* NASCAR RaceHub _SPEED_

*- Tape Delayed
~- Approximate start time
$- Available via password-protected streaming. Check with your Internet Service and/or Programming provider for availability

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races for next week’s critique here at Frontstretch. For this week’s edition of the “Critic’s Annex”:/notice/9557/ in the Frontstretch Newsletter, I will write about the _SPEED_ special Richard Petty: A Racer’s Life, which premiered last week after the late model portion of the UNOH Battle of the Beach.

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 ones full of rants and vitriol.

*Connect with Phil!*
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“Contact Phil Allaway”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/18439/

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