Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Phoenix Penultimate Recap For FOX, ESPN

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where TV criticism is the name of the game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series were all in action at Phoenix International Raceway. The K&N Pro Series West teams were as well. However, that race has not aired on TV, yet.

All three series visited Phoenix International Raceway this week. Were FOX and ESPN able to show ALL the action?


Lucas Oil 130

Friday night saw the Camping World Truck Series teams take on the one mile tri-oval in Avondale for 150 laps of action. However, we couldn’t see it all.

One of the “big gets,” programming-wise for FOX Sports 1 and 2 prior to the channels launching in August was broadcasting rights to Big East sports, especially Men’s Basketball. Now, this isn’t the Big East of a few years ago, but the private school-oriented present version of the Big East. The conference officially doesn’t cover Football, and a majority of the ten schools in the conference don’t field teams. It’s a big benefit for the smaller teams in the conference, as their games are on TV a lot more often. (In the case of my alma mater, Seton Hall, they have 22 games on TV this season, and something like 15 on national television.)

Friday night was the first big night of basketball for FOX Sports, and a doubleheader was planned. This was plugged for weeks ahead of time, and I should know since I watch quite a bit of FOX Sports 1. Say what you want about the network, but I find the non-NASCAR RaceHub weekday programming to be much better than what SPEED used to air here. Anyway, the first game, with an unusual, made-for-TV start time of 6pm was Boston College-Providence. Turned out to be a good game. Then, it went to overtime. Rat farts. Unfortunately, at the same time NCWTS Setup was supposed to start, FOX Sports 2 was airing Lafayette-Villanova from the Pavilion in Philadelphia.

There was some timeslot confusion on Friday night as well. My onscreen guide showed an 8:00pm start for the Setup, but other outlets showed a 7:30pm start, which would have made the 8:25pm EST green flag that NASCAR insisted on make more sense. In order to make that 8:25 green flag, the Setup was going to be shorter than normal. The question is why NASCAR didn’t choose to hold the start? There weren’t any live sports that aired on FOX Sports 1 after the race (it was FOX Sports Live, which is in a studio). They could have waited to crank the engines until 8:40. Maybe they could have still done the national anthem and invocation ahead of that. (Note: I feel that a move like that could anger even more people than what FOX Sports 1 ultimately did).

This is one of the scenarios where ESPN has a clear advantage over FOX Sports. If a similar scenario occurred during a Nationwide race, the start of the race would have been bumped to either ESPNEWS, or ESPN Classic. I’d have to make note of that here in the critique, but I wouldn’t have missed anything (having said that, many of my readers would be unable to watch since they don’t get ESPN Classic). I’ll admit that I spent much of the time waiting for Boston College-Providence to finish up playing the recently released Rayman Fiesta Run on my iPhone. Others just ranted about the whole situation.

Once the Friars emerged victorious, the game had already run long by 37 minutes. The race telecast began on Lap 20. In that time, we missed a first-lap crash involving D.J. Kennington and Brennan Newberry. Replays were shown of the wreck (which put Kennington out) prior to the coverage picking up on Lap 23. That was a good way to make light of what we missed because of the scheduling issue.

Having said all that, FOX Sports 1’s coverage wasn’t all bad. Ray Dunlap reported before the race on Twitter that Ron Hornaday was out of the No. 9 after the race. We got the full scoop on the situation after Hornaday crashed out of the race, straight from the veteran’s mouth. There was also a good amount of racing for position shown. I enjoyed what we got to see, but I’m still miffed over the whole mess.

The race went over its timeslot by about ten minutes. As a result, post-race coverage was relatively short. There were four post-race interviews and a quick check of the point standings before leaving for FOX Sports Live.

ServiceMaster 200

On Saturday afternoon, the Nationwide Series returned to action in the desert for 200 miles of the Kyle Busch show.

During ESPN’s Countdown, Mike Massaro officially took over as the interim host from the Quicken Loans ESPN Pit Studio. I thought that the Chuck Cedar of NASCAR did a great job in his expanded role. (Note: Chuck Cedar is a character played by Peter Gallagher in the 2002 film “Mr. Deeds.” In it, Cedar states that he disguised himself as a tub of ice cream and hid in Roseanne’s dumpster in order to get a story scoop. Massaro did the equivalent while covering NASCAR when ESPN was barred from the track.)

The primary feature of the show was a one-on-one interview that Dr. Jerry Punch conducted with 2014 Rookie of the Year contender Ryan Reed. Reed was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2010. Originally, Reed was told that the diagnosis would be the end of his career. However, that just wasn’t going to fly. Reed traveled to Los Angeles and met with Dr. Ann Peters, the same doctor who treated Izod IndyCar Series driver Charlie Kimball. Together, a grandmaster plan was concocted that would allow Reed to continue his career. Reed also details the methods in which his blood sugar levels are monitored during races. I’m assuming that the cell phone-like monitor is an exception to NASCAR’s rule banning electronic devices from the inside of the car. Otherwise, the setup is quite similar to what Kimball uses.

Ultimately, I thought it was a nice introduction for fans to Reed. However, I think that Reed wants to be known for more in NASCAR than just being “the guy with Diabetes.” Reed has shown that he has a decent amount of talent and could be a future star. However, I think that future pieces about Reed shouldn’t be so heavily focused on his condition.

The race telecast itself did have more focus on the championship battle between Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish, Jr. than Texas did. However, there was still a high amount of coverage given to the Cup regulars. I suppose it’s inevitable with Kyle Busch whoopin’ tail on a weekly basis.

Of course, a good amount of the telecast was dedicated to the ongoing owners’ championship battle between the Nos. 22 and 54, which will likely go right down to the end. I understand where Joey Logano was coming from on Twitter, but most fans don’t really care about it, especially when we’re talking about a couple of Cup regulars in a Nationwide race. I’m all for inclusivity in Nationwide broadcasts, and it’s quite difficult to achieve anything along those lines with Kyle Busch and whoever’s in the No. 22 getting fawned over week after week.

Post-race coverage was typical for a Nationwide race on ESPN (and a lot better than in Texas). There were five post-race driver interviews, plus a check of the point standings before ESPN left the air.

AdvoCare 500k

Finally, we come to the Cup race. Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth were once again the big story, but were the other ones properly covered? Let’s take a look.

Much of Countdown was focused on the Johnson-Kenseth championship battle. However, ESPN did actually take a little more time than normal (Ex: More than bupkis) to actually preview the race, which was a nice change. Since we were down to a two-man race for the title, the “Stick a Fork in ‘Em” segment was excised from the show, much to Brad Daugherty’s disappointment (he had the fork at the ready, but could not use it).

The primary feature of Countdown was a look into sports psychology, a topic that has rarely been broached on ESPN, at least when it comes to NASCAR. Makes me wish they got Kurt Busch and whoever he talked to after his 2011 meltdown for this piece, but that’s not the direction ESPN went.

Instead, they talked to Dr. Bob Rotella, a noted sports psychologist who appears to practice his work on golfers, mainly. However, Rotella has worked with drivers as well. Most notably, Rotella worked with Joey Logano earlier in his career when he was going through a funk at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Rotella’s path to success for racers is a rather simple process:

1) Believe that you can win.
2) Find someone that believes in you.
3) Find peace on the racetrack.

After a tough start to his career, Logano used this method to regain confidence in himself. Chad Knaus, crew chief for Johnson, also made use of Rotella’s services after failure nearly tore the No. 48 team apart a couple of years ago and talked about his time with the good doctor.

This was a rather unusual piece. Maybe it’s because I’m not an athlete, but it doesn’t seem like going to Dr. Rotella is all that different from Knaus and Logano going to a regular therapist and talking through their confidence issues. I don’t want to say that Dr. Rotella’s a quack (because he’s more than likely not a quack), but I just don’t get it.

Ryan McGee narrated another feature based around how numbers are chosen. The reasoning used for some of the numbers that we see on track kind of varies. Sometimes, it’s simple math. Dale Earnhardt inherited team owner Richard Childress’ former number when he moved into the No. 3 for the first time in 1981. Other times, numbers were chosen to honor those before them (Kyle Petty convinced car owner Felix Sabates to take No. 42 so that Kyle could honor his grandfather, Lee). I thought it was interesting. Admittedly, I already knew most of the reasons why ahead of time. Also of note, I’m not sure if I equate Sterling Marlin with the No. 4. I tend to think of Ernie Irvan when I think of the number. Oh well, what I can say. They obviously weren’t putting Rick Wilson up there (might have been interesting if they did, though).

During the race, there were some positive and negative aspects of the telecast that I need to address here. There was a decent amount of coverage of action for position during the race. However, there was a large amount of focus on Johnson and Kenseth. The cameras essentially followed them around for most of the day. Compared to recent years, this is more or less par for the course for ESPN.

I was not a fan of how ESPN handled the second caution of the race. If you remember, this was the one that was thrown for Joe Nemechek going up the hill in Turn 3 and not hitting anything. Allen Bestwick noticed Nemechek going up the hill and noted trouble on the track. NASCAR threw the yellow, and then…nothing. The cameras focused in on Nemechek, but we got no commentary for almost a minute. Nothing was said about what officially caused the caution until after the pit stops. I don’t really understand why ESPN thought that was a good idea.

In fact, listening to the silence on ESPN was an ongoing issue last weekend. Later in the race, there was a period in which the commentators went silent for nearly three laps. Joy Division references aside, I’m thinking that there might have been some technical issues with ESPN’s audio last weekend that went unreferenced.

The choice of Carl Edwards as an in-race reporter was a good move. Edwards was able to give viewers a nice explanation of what happened when he and Johnson had contact. Also of note, SportsCenter showed Edwards and Johnson having a discussion after the race. They were trying to insinuate that it was some kind of argument, but Edwards was more than likely just giving Johnson a similar explanation to what happened that we got under the seventh caution.

I didn’t understand the move of going to a NonStop break during the final caution while lead-lap cars were pitting. I suppose they only did it because Edwards, Johnson and the others at the very front didn’t pit. I feel like that could have waited.
Since ESPN was closing in on the end of their timeslot, post-race coverage was relatively brief. Viewers were presented with four post-race interviews, plus a check of the point standings before ESPN left to get to SportsCenter.

Overall, we got an average race telecast. I still wish that we could get some more action for position throughout the field. The championship should not play as much of a role with the actual race telecast as it did on Sunday.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is Ford Championship Weekend, where all three of NASCAR’s National Series will crown their 2013 Champions. In addition, Formula One returns to Texas for the second running of the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, November 12
Time Telecast Network
4:00pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Wednesday, November 13
Time Telecast Network
1:30am-2:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
4:00pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Thursday, November 14
Time Telecast Network
1:30am-2:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
12:00pm-1:00pm NASCAR Now: Media Tour ESPNEWS
4:00-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Friday, November 15
Time Telecast Network
10:00am-11:00am Nationwide Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
11:00am-1:00pm Camping World Truck Series Practice FOX Sports 1
1:00-2:30pm Formula One Grand Prix of the United States Free Practice NBC Sports Network
1:30-2:55pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 ESPN 2
3:00-4:30pm Nationwide Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 2
4:30-5:30pm Camping World Truck Series Qualifying FOX Sports 2
6:00-7:30pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN 2
7:30-8:00pm NCWTS Setup FOX Sports 1
8:00-10:00pm Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 FOX Sports 1

Saturday, November 16
Time Telecast Network
12:00pm-1:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 FOX Sports 2
1:00-2:30pm Nationwide Series Qualifying FOX Sports 2
3:00-4:00pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 2
3:30-5:00pm Formula One Grand Prix of the United States Qualifying NBC Sports Live Extra$
4:00-4:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
4:30-7:45pm Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 ESPN
6:30-8:00pm Formula One Grand Prix of the United States Qualifying NBC Sports Network

Sunday, November 17
Time Telecast Network
4:00am-5:00am FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Fuji FOX Sports 1*/ (From October 20)
11:00am-12:00pm NASCAR K&N Pro Series Casino Arizona 50 FOX Sports 2* (From November 9)
12:00-2:00pm NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco FOX Sports 1
1:00-2:00pm F1 Countdown NBC
1:00-3:00pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
2:00-4:30pm Formula One Grand Prix of the United States NBC
3:00-7:00pm Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 ESPN
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Victory Lane FOX Sports 1
8:00-9:00pm FIA World Touring Car Championship: Hungary FOX Sports 2* (From May 4-5)
8:30-9:00pm F1 Extra NBC Sports Network*
9:00-10:00pm FIA GT Series: Zandvoort FOX Sports 2*/ (From July 6-7)
9:00-11:00pm World of Outlaws STP Sprint Cars National Open, Night No. 2 CBS Sports Network*/ (From October 5)
10:00-11:00pm NASCAR Now, Post-Race ESPN 2

Monday, November 18
Time Telecast Network
4:00pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
11:30pm-12:30am Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters: Lausitzring FOX Sports 2*/ (From June 16) *- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage
$- Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your internet and/or programming provider for availability.

Note that the Thursday afternoon edition of NASCAR Now will be a special edition covering the NASCAR Championship Contenders’ press conference in Homestead. In addition, ESPN has already announced that they will embed reporters with both Johnson’s (Ryan McGee) and Kenseth’s (Shannon Spake) teams today and tomorrow. They will be providing constant updates that will air on the live SportsCenters during the day and on NASCAR Now. Finally, there is no NASCAR Now tonight due to ESPN’s 24-hour college hoops marathon pre-empting the show (Nothing like college basketball at 3:30am).

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series telecasts for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. That will serve as the final regular TV critique of 2013. For the Annex in the Newsletter, I will be covering the DTM race from the Red Bull Ring that aired yesterday. Instead of the telecast on FOX Sports 2, I’ll be critiquing the full race telecast, which is readily available on YouTube. For the November 21st edition of the Annex, I’ll cover FOX Sports’ coverage of the Casino Arizona 50, a race that ended under controversial circumstances.

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 Sports 1 and 2

Note: If you’d like to contact the NBC Sports Network about their coverage of Formula One and/or the Izod IndyCar Series, unfortunately, you’re out of luck. The contact page on their website legitimately cannot be found. Hopefully, they get that fixed right and proper soon.

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

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.

Share this article

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com