Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: NASCAR Finishes Up In Homestead

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast critiques are the primary objective. We’ve reached the final races of 2013 for NASCAR’s National Series. The Camping World Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series each crowned champions in Homestead. Honestly, I can’t believe that it’s already over. Granted, I’m used to writing over 70 critiques a year about various forms of motorsports, but regardless of how angry I get with telecasts, it still bites when the season ends.

Before we start, I must make reference to Donovan McNabb’s foot-into-mouth moment on FOX Sports Live, Friday night after the Ford EcoBoost 200. FOX Sports has stated that McNabb’s thoughts on the show were his own at the time. I just believe that he really didn’t know anything about Johnson, or NASCAR in general before making the statement. Afterwards, McNabb was eviscerated from all directions. He tried to clarify his statement on Twitter and got trounced again. Eventually, McNabb congratulated Johnson on his title after the race.

I’d argue that nothing said on FOX Sports Live during its first three months on-air has generated a reaction quite like McNabb’s dis on Johnson did Friday night. Johnson decided to take the high road about the whole issue and not talk about it (apparently to the point that PR reps from Hendrick Motorsports told certain media members not to even broach the issue with Johnson), but under the surface, I’m fairly certain that he was incensed.

Basically, McNabb’s comments just show what NASCAR (and auto racing in general) is constantly up against in a never-ending battle for respect in sports. There’s always going to be someone that’s going to dump on drivers for perceived slights. McNabb has taken lumps for his statement (which technically had nothing to do with the discussion on hand) repeatedly over the past few days and will continue to.

Ford EcoBoost 200

On Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series held their season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Matt Crafton’s dominant season resulted in there not being all that much of a championship slant to the broadcast (Crafton clinched it just by cranking his engine). However, there was still 200 miles of action to be had. How well did FOX Sports 1 cover the action?

Luckily, the schedule on Friday night prevented another quagmire like what we saw in Phoenix. We got full coverage of the race and NCWTS Setup.

During the Setup, the primary feature saw Ray Dunlap sit down and interview soon-to-be champion Crafton for a wide ranging interview. The piece touched upon Crafton’s rise into his family’s late model (one of the few Fords racing on the West Coast at the time, essentially because his dad got hurt), the moves to ThorSport, KHI and back to ThorSport again, and his fatherhood. Pretty much covers everything, I think. This is the type of interview that I would probably conduct with Crafton if I ever had the opportunity. I thought that Dunlap did a great job with it. Found out some facts about Crafton that I never knew before.

The other piece that Dunlap featured in was quite stupid. The piece was ostensibly designed to promote Johnny Sauter’s new sponsorship from Nextant Aerospace, which debuted on Sauter’s No. 98 at Homestead. Basically, Sauter got to try out one of Nextant’s 400XTi jets (Note: Nextant takes used Beechjet 400’s and modifies them into modern jets that beat the new competition in its class). Sauter seemed to have fun with the piece, but Dunlap was a real moron here. Didn’t enjoy it.

Since FOX Sports 1 didn’t have a driver’s championship to focus on Friday night, their points focus gravitated towards the owners’ championship, which was being pursued by both Crafton’s No. 88 for ThorSport Racing and Kyle Busch’s No. 51 for his own team (Kyle Busch Motorsports). Early on, this particular battle wasn’t mentioned all that much, but as the race continued, the storyline mattered more and more, especially after Crafton got wrapped up into a wreck during the first GWC. Admittedly, most of FOX Sports 1’s viewers don’t give a hoot about the owners’ championship, but it is important. I just think that it was beaten into the ground.

Outside of the owners’ championship talk, we got a pretty good telecast with lots of good racing for position. FOX Sports 1 typically is the best of NASCAR’s media partners at showing good racing and Friday night was no exception.

Post-race coverage was quite substantial, knowing that the race was only given a two-hour timeslot (for reasons that I can’t explain). The three GWC’s meant that the telecast was already over its slot by the time the checkers flew. However, FOX Sports 1 still provided viewers with seven post-race interviews, plus a check of the final point standings. Finally, we have the championship trophy ceremony with Mike Helton before FOX Sports 1 left for FOX Sports Live roughly 40 minutes late.

All three top NASCAR series crowned Champions this week, with every minute covered by our faithful TV networks. But was it done well?


Ford EcoBoost 300

On Saturday, the Nationwide Series had their final race of the season. The championship was clearly in the balance all day with Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish, Jr. separated by just eight points entering the day. How did ESPN do with the race? Let’s take a look.

As you are well aware, one of the biggest stories to break over the past week was Roush Fenway Racing announcing that Trevor Bayne had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a debilitating disease that can eventually led to paralysis after an unknown period of time. Luckily for ESPN, they have a resident doctor in Dr. Jerry Punch. Punch sat down with Bayne after the diagnosis became public to talk about his thought process after learning that he has MS and how it will affect him in the short-term (essentially not at all). Afterwards, Punch gave a demonstration of what MS ultimately does to the nervous system. Generally, a fairly simple explanation of a difficult to decipher disease. Punch did a great job here. However, Bayne is showing a lot of confidence in dealing with the disease. A weaker person in this situation would likely break down.

Another feature had Sam Hornish, Jr. talking about his ultimate desire to drive for Roger Penske from childhood. That dream came true in 2004 when Penske signed Hornish to take over the No. 6 Dallara after the retirement of Gil de Ferran. Over the past ten years, Hornish has driven for Penske in three different series. Both Hornish and Penske do have some regrets (both believe that Hornish shouldn’t have gone straight to Cup from the IndyCar Series). Overall, it’s been a good relationship. Unfortunately, it officially came to an end after Saturday night.

During the race, ESPN spent much of the event focusing in on the two point races, the Dillon-Hornish duel, and the Penske Racing-Joe Gibbs Racing owners points battle. This focus did hurt the telecast in places. One example was when the leaders came onto pit road during the first caution. Instead of the normal quad-pit setup where viewers could get a general idea of the whole sequence, ESPN chose to focus in on Dillon and Hornish’s stops. As a result, it was guess work as to who got out first. ESPN repeated this on Sunday as well, with similar results.

What stands out the most from Saturday’s race is the now-infamous 12 lap caution late in the race due to the crash involving Mike Wallace, Regan Smith and Jeremy Clements. Wallace drove his No. 01 back to the pits, littering the track with debris and fluid. The caution wound on and on and on, and the restart was waved off multiple times. It took until at least the second restart wave-off for the booth commentators to say anything about the unsatisfactory procedure. I think that the booth tried to stay low-key during this situation, but as the yellow continued on, they became frustrated, much like everyone else.

ESPN also seemed to be a little better than normal in finding debris on track both on Saturday and Sunday. We saw most of the debris that caused cautions, and Vince Welch showed off the hunk of debris that caused the third caution. On the track, it just looked like a piece of Bear Bond. Perhaps what we saw was Bear Bond. However, Clements ended up with a boomerang-shaped piece of metal (possibly part of a splitter) lodged in his nose. That’s legitimate debris if I’ve ever seen it.

Unfortunately, NASCAR’s strategy for the caution has lent itself to conspiracy theories, which is something that NASCAR definitely doesn’t need right now, knowing the year they’ve already had. Now, it should be noted that while NASCAR did wave the restart off at least three times, they did it for legitimate reasons. ESPN showed the crews that were still out on the track, picking up debris and putting down speedy-dri on the frontstretch. They weren’t holding the restart to keep Hornish from having a chance to make up the points on Dillon. Yes, it’s true that they should have thrown the Red Flag. That’s obvious by now. However, it didn’t seem like it would be necessary at first.

The long caution put the race right up against the Alabama-Mississippi State game, a fact that led some to believe that ESPN forced NASCAR not to go red so that ESPN could go to the game at 7:45. I doubt that happened. Ultimately, ESPN started the football game on ESPNEWS, then moved it to ESPN after the telecast ended.

Ultimately, we did get a fair amount of post-race coverage, even with the football game beckoning. Viewers saw three driver interviews, plus interviews with the winning car owners (owners’ and driver’s championship, since they were two separate operations), Mike Dillon (Austin’s father, and a former Nationwide Series driver in his own right), and both trophy presentations. Afterwards, ESPN left for Starkville, MS, where the game was three minutes in.

Ford EcoBoost 400

Sunday afternoon was the Jimmie Johnson coronation, and almost everyone knew it. Regardless, ESPN went all out for their final race of the season. How did they do? Let’s take a look.

For Homestead, ESPN went with a special two-hour edition of NASCAR Countdown (the first hour of which clashed with the second hour of NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco) to promote the championship battle between Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick.

With the extra-length of the show, ESPN was able to show a number of features. Some were repeats, like the Bayne one-on-one that Dr. Punch conducted (re-aired due to the fact that Bayne was in the Cup race. Of note, Bayne broke a valve in his engine and finished 40th. He was running very well before the engine failed. I never really saw much of a mention of what happened to Bayne on the telecast.)

The show started off with Ray Evernham in one of the production trucks, talking about some of the pivotal moments from Phoenix pertaining to the Johnson-Kenseth battle. Evernham brings his championship experience into this piece, but he comes off as a little annoying here. I just didn’t like it. Too much hyperbole.

ESPN also replayed the interview that Marty Smith conducted with Tony Stewart. Now, this particular interview actually premiered on SportsCenter last week, but Sunday was the piece’s premiere on NASCAR Countdown. Smith, in his second one-on-one of the year with Stewart (the first being in Indianapolis back in July), did an amazing job showing the human side of Stewart. Admittedly, Stewart seems like a different person post-injury than before. He’s been humbled. However, I doubt that the injury will change his on-track demeanor in any way, shape or form.

The primary new feature of the show was a one-on-one interview that Allen Bestwick conducted with Mark Martin, who drove in what is likely his final Sprint Cup race on Sunday. While Martin has insisted multiple times over the past couple of weeks that he isn’t retiring, here, he basically does everything but say it. Martin talked about how he came to the decision to (essentially) hang it up back in January and how he didn’t really want to approach it publicly at the time. Martin appears to be at peace with his decision. I think that Bestwick did a decent job with the piece. I’m sad to see Martin leave driving, but he’ll still be around on a regular basis.

Finally, we have a nice feature on Jimmie Johnson’s competitiveness and fitness. Johnson and Chad Knaus explain the competitive streak that Johnson has, which is apparently unparalleled. Afterwards, we get a look at Johnson’s training regimen, which apparently includes 20 mile runs at a pace that would extrapolate to running a marathon in 3:15. Johnson also swims and rides a bike off-road (and on-road, but that wasn’t pictured). All of this is done at a very high level. Quite amazing, actually.

I’m fairly confident that this piece was done well in advance and would have aired on Sunday regardless of previous events. However, airing this feature on Sunday after McNabb’s aforementioned comments on Friday could be seen as the equivalent of this. Having said that, it was well done.

During the race itself, there was an expected heavy focus on Johnson and Kenseth (and to a lesser extent, Harvick). However, since the championship was nowhere near as close as last year’s Johnson-Brad Keselowski battle, ESPN allowed the telecast to be more inclusive. Having said that, focus on Johnson was quite heavy at times.

The focus on the championship did come at the detriment of others. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had a car that would charge like gangbusters at times. However, ESPN failed to take note of it until really about Lap 150. You would see Earnhardt Jr. in seventh one minute, then bugging the leaders the next. I just don’t feel that ESPN did a decent job in showing that until late in the race.

ESPN seemed to have the Menard issues covered fairly well, despite the unprecedented nature of the events. We got a good interview with Menard about the incident and overall good coverage. Also, there was some criticism of NASCAR waiting to throw the yellow, which I believe was warranted. They should have thrown it before Menard got to pit road. There was flaming debris on the backstretch. ESPN caught the fiery debris flying off of the No. 27. That should have been more than enough to throw the hanky.

Post-race coverage was fairly extensive since the race ended relatively quickly. However, given the amount of time that ESPN had, they really didn’t conduct all that many interviews. ESPN interviewed Johnson, Kenseth and race winner Denny Hamlin. In addition, Knaus and Rick Hendrick were interviewed and Johnson was presented with the Sprint Cup. There was a lot of empty space where it appeared that Bestwick and company had to fill time. I feel like that could have been used for additional interviews, but they chose not to.

That’s all for this week. The live racing season will come to a conclusion next weekend with the Grand Prix of Brazil, the final race on the Formula One calendar. I’ll have a look at that, in addition to some final thoughts on SPEED/FOX Sports 1 and ESPN’s coverage for 2013. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, November 19
Time Telecast Network
12:30am-1:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
12:00pm-1:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Wednesday, November 20
Time Telecast Network
4:00pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Thursday, November 21
Time Telecast Network
4:00pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Friday, November 22
Time Telecast Network
11:00am-12:30pm Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil Free Practice No. 2 NBC Sports Network
4:00-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Saturday, November 23
Time Telecast Network
11:00am-12:30pm Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil Qualifying CNBC

Sunday, November 24
Time Telecast Network
11:00am-2:00pm Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil NBC
5:30-6:00pm F1 Extra NBC Sports Network*
8:00-10:00pm NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series Joint Banquet FOX Sports 1*/ (from November 18)
10:00-11:00pm World Touring Car Championship: Austria FOX Sports 2*/ (from May 19)

Monday, November 25
Time Telecast Network
4:00pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
9:00-10:00pm British Touring Car Championship: Oulton Park FOX Sports 2*/ (from June 8-9)
10:00-11:00pm Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters: EuroSpeedway Lausitz FOX Sports 2*/ (from June 16) *- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage

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.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

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