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Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN Rains On Nationwide’s Parade

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast criticism and/or praise is the primary objective. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were both in Phoenix, Arizona. In between showers, we got in 480 miles of action.

Blue Jeans Go Green 200 (shortened to 168)

On Saturday (March 1), the Nationwide Series was supposed to be completely washed out. Drivers were going to spend the entire day twiddling their thumbs, having petty Twitter arguments with trolls and discussing that which they couldn’t do. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your outlook), that did not come to pass, the weather breaking in such a fashion that the race was able to be run.

ESPN was originally scheduled to air 15 minutes of pre-race coverage on ABC, something I struggle to imagine. Maybe a couple of quick interviews, a commercial break and then pre-race ceremonies? With a 15-minute pre-race show, that’s about all you can hope for.

However, the potential for wet weather put the kibosh on that. Instead, Allen Bestwick introduced himself and his boothmates, talked a little about the race and then threw it to pre-race ceremonies.

I found the coverage of Daryl Harr’s crash to be quite interesting. The booth seemed to be a little confused as to what happened to put Harr out of the race; they seemed to think that either Keselowski ran over Harr or that Harr made a mistake trying to pass Martin Roy with Keselowski nearby. Regardless, Harr’s tweet sent after the wreck is interesting in its own right. “Iv been told not to get in the way of cup drivers, heres why,” the driver of the No. 87 tweeted. “1 car left for@LVMotorSpeedway Sorry @keselowski.” He added a photo of the wrecked race car.

ESPN’s Nationwide Series broadcast showed a fair amount of racing for position, though much of it focused on Cup ringers Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski.
ESPN’s Nationwide Series broadcast showed a fair amount of racing for position, though much of it focused on Cup ringers Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski.

Overall, ESPN showed a fair amount of racing for position during the race, though a substantial amount of focus was put on Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. It’s a continuance of an ongoing issue in NASCARthat we’ve written about here at The Frontstretch for years. There are only a few Nationwide drivers that will receive a decent amount of coverage this season; Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon are two of them. Beyond them, Sam Hornish, Jr. will get coverage in the seven races that he gets to drive the No. 54, along with Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler. I’m sure that Dylan Kwasniewski will get his due at some point this season as well. If you’re not on that list, you might as well be invisible.

Unfortunately, there really wasn’t any post-race coverage due to the rain delay that ended the Blue Jeans Go Green 200 prematurely. There were eight interviews during the red-flag period, as well as replays of features on Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon that ran prior to the DRIVE4COPD 300. I guess you know which Nationwide-only drivers are going to get a significant focus this season.

As the rain continued, ABC reached the end of its timeslot and decided to cut to the 6 PM news. I understand why they did it (network television is a fickle place to be), but don’t really understand why they couldn’t have kept some coverage on ESPNEWS beyond 6 PM ET. As it stands, I basically watched SportsCenter on repeat for 90 minutes until the race was called, with no cut-ins to check on the proceedings in Phoenix. All viewers saw was a graphic in the upper left of the screen saying that the race was still in a rain delay while highlights of various other games were shown.

The race was called at 7:34 PM. ESPN’s move here? It simply removed the update from the screen, then didn’t mention it for over 20 minutes. Sweet, dudes. That really works out well. I figured something was up when that happened, so I checked Twitter — and sure enough, the race had been called. At nearly 8 PM, ESPN aired a post-race interview (taped) with winner Kyle Busch in the tent-a-gon that served as the temporary victory lane. That’s all we got. No unofficial results, no discussion of the race, no nothing.

ESPN definitely could have handled the situation better. What was shown here could be construed as ESPN not really caring all that much about the Nationwide Series. It’s just example No. 1 of NASCAR’s lame duck status with ESPN. More to come later this year, perhaps as soon as Saturday. I hate to see this scenario. The Nationwide Series deserves better.

The Profit on CNBC 500k

On Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series returned to action at Phoenix International Raceway. Obviously, Phoenix does not have the same level of pomp as Daytona, but the same circumstance — that is, a win there means semi-instant gratification when it comes to entering the Chase.

FOX’s pre-race show started out with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in a production truck, listening to audio snippets from his radio and interpreting his emotions. It was interesting, but not necessary. Just goes to show that now that Earnhardt, Jr.’s a threat to win again, he’s going to get a lot more coverage. Probably more than many of you are really comfortable with.

Another feature had Denny Hamlin talking about his miserable 2013, including the crash at Fontana and his recovery. Ultimately, we didn’t learn anything here. There wasn’t even anything about how Denny spent his time on the mend at home with his new baby. Seems like the piece was just thrown in because Denny’s a factor again after his excellent Speedweeks.

FOX spent much of its focus on a small amount of stories during its Cup Series broadcast this weekend, with little else to show for it despite solid racing.
FOX spent much of its focus on a small amount of stories during its Cup Series broadcast this weekend, with little else to show for it despite solid racing.

Pre-race coverage was sadly quite thin. FOX needs to interview more principals during their pre-race show. For instance, Michael Waltrip should not be the guy doing the interviews; as far as I’m concerned, he’s hopelessly biased and should be hanging out on Clint Bowyer’s pit box during the race. I know that FOXlikes the double Waltrip dynamic, but if the comments on my previous columns are any indication, I don’t think the general public agrees with that assessment — I know I don’t. Having said that, I wouldn’t be surprised if FOX decreed to Michael that he couldn’t interview any of his drivers during the Grid Walk.

During NASCAR RaceDay on FOXSports 1, the Waltrips introduced the storyline of Kevin Harvick as the “One Man Gang” at Phoenix. I don’t think that Harvick’s taken up pro wrestling (or gained 200 pounds) anytime recently, but I think that more or less sums up Harvick’s performance. That ended up being the primary storyline from the green flag.

If you fell outside the primary stories of the weekend, you didn’t get much coverage on Sunday. Some teams only got mentioned early in the race, or late. Casey Mears got essentially bupkis until he got the Lucky Dog late in the event. After finishing 14th, he’s tied for 10th in points.

Phoenix is typically one of the toughest races to watch all season because of the clustering of commercial breaks. With its 500-kilometer (312-mile) distance, the event is shorter, but the same amount of commercials have to air. As a result, there were a number of stretches on Sunday where there would be a nearly three-minute break, then eight or so laps of racing, then another three-minute break. I generally try not to go on and on about this particular topic because I feel that I can’t do anything about it; however, this clustering of commercial breaks close together, plus additional features like the mid-race report make it hard to follow the event from time to time.

The side-by-side breaks, while nice to look at when used, are still not ideal. FOX still refuses to keep any kind of information about the race on screen during the breaks. You might remember me ranting about it last year, but it’s no different now. Also, the picture for the race is the smallest of the three TV partners. It’s quite small on the 32-inch HD screen I use for my critique. On a standard definition screen, you might as well be watching ants.

You could tell that FOX wanted to make the rookies into a big story on Sunday. However, with the way the “One Man Gang” was running, they were nearly irrelevant for most of the race. Kyle Larson was the only one of them that finished on the lead lap (20th, the last car on the lead lap at that). Austin Dillon got booted out of the groove on the first lap and spent the rest of the race trying to get back to where he started, though there was never any mention of that on the telecast. The only way viewers would have noticed was if they looked at the FOX Box and noticed Dillon in 36th a couple of laps in.

Since the race ended up running long, post-race coverage was a little abbreviated. FOX brought viewers four post-race interviews and a check of the unofficial results before leaving the air. There was also a little post-race analysis in the Hollywood Hotel. Bottom line… this network can and has done better.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series teams will travel to Las Vegas for 700 more miles of racing. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, March 4
Time Telecast Network
2:00 AM – 2:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
1:00 PM – 2:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network

Wednesday, March 5
Time Telecast Network
2:00 AM – 2:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00 – 6:00 PM Through the Driver’s Eyes driven by Continental Tire FOX Sports 1

Thursday, March 6
Time Telecast Network
2:00 AM – 2:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network

Friday, March 7
Time Telecast Network
2:30 AM -3:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
1:00 PM -2:00 PM K&N Pro Series West Talking Stick Resort 75 FOX Sports 1*/
2:00 -3:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
3:30 -4:30 PM Nationwide Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
4:30 -5:00 PM NASCAR Live FOX Sports 1
4:30 -5:00 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00 -6:30 PM Nationwide Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
6:30 -8:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1

Saturday, March 8
Time Telecast Network
11:30 AM – 12:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 FOX Sports 2
12:30 – 2:00 PM Nationwide Series Qualifying FOX Sports 2_
2:00 – 2:30 PM NASCAR Live FOX Sports 2
2:30 – 3:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 2
4:00 – 4:15 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
4:15 – 7:00 PM Nationwide Series Boyd Gaming 300 ESPN2
7:30 – 11:00 PM AMA Monster Energy Supercross: Daytona FOX Sports 1

Sunday, March 9
Time Telecast Network
1:30 PM – 2:30 PM NASCAR RaceDay FOX Sports 1
2:30 – 3:00 PM FOX Pre-Race FOX
3:00 – 6:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 400 FOX
8:00 – 8:30 PM NASCAR Victory Lane FOX Sports 1

Monday, March 10
Time Telecast Network
2:00 PM – 3:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network

*- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage

A couple of notes before we continue. First, Daylight Savings Time is scheduled to begin at 2 AM on Sunday morning, so change your clocks before you go to sleep. Secondly, Through The Driver’s Eyes is a show where cameras followed various drivers and teams during the lead-up and the actual running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Jordan Taylor, mullet and all, is confirmed as being part of the show. It should be interesting.

Also of note, ESPN2 is airing Virginia Tech – Georgia Tech starting at 2 PM. If that game goes long, it will swallow up what little pre-race coverage that is scheduled. This column will serve as your warning.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races from Las Vegas in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. For the Critic’s Annex, I do have notes on Mun2’s telecast of the Toyota 120, and I’m still taking notes on NASCARAmerica. I’ll probably cover the Toyota 120 this week since it’s an actual event, whileNASCAR America will be covered next week since it’s a daily series.

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
ESPN

At this point, there is still no public contact email for NBC Sports. When they finally get around to creating a new link, I will post it for you.

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.

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About Phil Allaway

Phil Allaway
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 Tony Stewart's Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions.

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