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Couch Potato Tuesday: Independent Thinking Working Into Race Coverage

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast critiques are our primary objective. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were both in action at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

However, before we start, there are a couple of newsy bits to mention. Starting on Wednesday, there will be a new website dedicated to streaming of lower level racing. FansChoice.tv will provide free streams of various classes of motorsports including NASCAR. On paper, you might think that this venture sounds like someone uploading their VHS collection to YouTube, but that isn’t so — the site has major investors, including NASCAR, meaning no one will get copyright strikes.

The K&N Pro Series and Whelen Modifieds will have their races streamed on the site live, while, based on a trailer previewing the site, other series that may be included are the IMSA GT3 Challenge and a number of AMA motorcycle series, both on pavement and dirt. However, despite the fact that the site launches tomorrow, there is no schedule available as of now.

Also, IMSA announced its TV schedule for the rest of this season last week. Most of the races will be aired live, on either FOX Sports 1 or 2, while there will be a couple of same-day delays as well. The endurance races (Sebring this weekend and Petit Le Mans in October) will have part of the race live on FOX Sports 1 and the rest of the race streamed live on IMSA.com. In addition, a condensed version of the event will air on FOX Sports 1 the next morning.

Then, there are the two events with Prototype Challenge/Prototype Lites combination races (Kansas and VIR). Kansas was a last minute addition to the schedule with the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSC) as support. I believe that Kansas Speedway had a multi-year deal with Grand-Am and forced IMSA to uphold Grand-Am’s old deal. That race will have no television coverage, no radio coverage and no internet streaming. Just having the race in Kansas at all angers competitors in the Prototype Challenge class enough, but not to have any real coverage of it makes it that much worse. The VIR race, which is the undercard event to a GT-Le Mans/GT-Daytona combination race, will also not be televised or given radio coverage. However, that race may end up airing on the aforementioned FansChoice.tv since it is scheduled for the same day as the other event, which will be aired live on FOX Sports 1.

Boyd Gaming 300

Writer’s Note: The following section contains usage of wrestling parlance. You’ve been warned.

On Saturday, the Nationwide Series held its 18th race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It, much like most recent Nationwide events, turned into nothing more than a Kyle Busch-Brad Keselowski tag team squash match with special appearances by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson as enforcers. How did ESPN handle the latest example of kayfabe in the Nationwide Series? Read on.

ESPN scheduled a 15-minute edition of NASCAR Countdown on Saturday, including booth analysis of the race and our resident squashers. We also got Chase Elliott, who I suppose could be described as the new babyface in town that NASCAR wants to be “put over.” However, his tendencies on track, most notably last summer at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, might argue in favor of a potential heel turn for the young rookie.

Watching Saturday’s race was not dissimilar to watching a sports car race. As you’ve seen in a good chunk of my writing here at Frontstretch, I like sports car racing — however, the Nationwide Series does not have multiple classes running to different rules at the same time. If they were running to different rules, then it would be like most of the Nationwide regulars are in GT cars while the Cup regulars are in prototypes. In reality, the Cup drivers make almost all the Nationwide regulars look like a bunch of hapless jobbers.

Despite starting in the rear of the field, Kyle Busch nearly won Saturday, climbing to second by race’s end.

Seriously, I don’t know if it’s ever been this bad; the broadcast booth actually discussed the issue during a long green-flag run. Their position on Sprint Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series was to essentially blame us. We’re the problem here. Supposedly, if writers and the fans didn’t complain about it, it wouldn’t matter. I doubt that’s the whole truth. Makes me wonder just who Dale Jarrett was talking to in the garage.

Andy Petree’s statement here was interesting. In a form of a “worked shoot,” he stated that having Cup drivers in the field “seems unfair, but it really isn’t.” Then, he continued by stating that “the owners need these Cup stars here to prop up the series and make it work.” Yeah, if you’re thinking that ESPN’s drinking any kind of NASCAR Kool-Aid this year, I think you’d be quite mistaken after that made air. If it’s really true, then this series is in trouble. It shouldn’t need Sprint Cup drivers to survive.

Race-wise, the vast majority of the actual racing for position that we saw Saturday involved the six drivers that were mentioned above. If you weren’t one of them, good luck getting much in the way of coverage unless you wrecked. You probably wouldn’t know it from watching Saturday, but there was more than likely some action to be had during the squash match. We just didn’t get to see it because it was probably all between drivers that were multiple laps down. When you get that far behind the leaders, you’re just in the way.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief since ESPN was right up against the end of its slot. Viewers saw four post-race interviews and some post-race analysis in the broadcast booth before ESPN left the air.

Overall, the race wasn’t exactly all that great to watch. The Cup regulars ran away and hid, so we basically didn’t get much in the way of actual battling on track. That’s weak, and I hope Bristol next weekend isn’t like that. ESPN has to do a better job at covering the field in these intermediate races. Yes, it aired a touching segment about Kyle Davis, the son of team owner Johnny Davis who died on Feb. 28, during the 13-lap debris caution early on (for debris that we did not see, but most of the time spent under yellow was due to lineup issues). However, ESPN couldn’t have at least followed that up with a little interview with Johnny Davis? He was at the track; the cameras showed him. Why not give him some airtime? It seems like the network only scratches the surface of what it could do.

Kobalt 400

On Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series returned to Las Vegas for its first intermediate race of the season.

During pre-race coverage, the primary feature had Kevin Harvick talking about the move to Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2014 season. From the piece, it appears that Harvick is very happy with his move, and that there’s no hard feelings between himself and Richard Childress. This reality comes even with the infamous comments he made about Childress’ grandkids at Martinsville last year. It seemed that Harvick was burning bridges, back then in a public fashion. Guess not.

Also, since it’s Las Vegas, we got a clip of Criss Angel performing a magic trick involving razors and dental floss. Not only did it not need to be there, but it was replayed from earlier in the day on NASCAR RaceDay. That’s time that could have been used for other things, like driver interviews. I know that a lot of my readers don’t really care for pre-race shows in general, but I want to see more than one regular driver interview on pre-race (I’m not counting Michael Waltrip’s Grid Run here).

On the first lap of the race, FOX unveiled FOX Box Mk. 4. The permanent top-3 in the box that was in the original version back at Daytona returned — and it’s still not very good. The rest of the field was shown on a four-line sheet that changed every few seconds. Outside of cautions and green-flag pit stops, the FOX Box was in this format for the entire race.

There are two issues with this setup. First off: having four lines makes the box too bulky, meaning it can block on-track action. We can’t have that. Secondly, it’s glitchy. There were multiple times on Sunday where positions didn’t necessarily swap out from the top 3 when drivers fell out — for instance, Harvick had his frozen hub issue that put him behind the wall and in the last 10-or-so laps. The driver that got shafted here? Paul Menard. Menard’s name simply wouldn’t show up in the FOX Box at all. A situation like that makes conspiracy theorists think FOX (or one of its sponsors, like Lowe’s) has something against Menard. For the sake of the Paul Menard Empire’s sanity, I hope not.

Plenty of on-track action occurred at Las Vegas, but outside of a few drivers’ battles, much of it remained unseen.

During the race itself, FOX had a fairly limited focus during the telecast. However, it picked up a whole lot more action and showed some tidbits from time to time. For example, there were clips of drivers having contact and racing hard for positions going toward commercial breaks. That’s nice and all, but where is the coverage of hard racing during the regular live segments? FOX has fallen victim to the original plans set in motion days ahead of the race.

I’m not privy to the grandmaster plan for the event, which is typically first planned on Tuesday and then massaged up to race morning, but I’m sure that it involved a good amount of Team Penske, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kevin Harvick. A strategy such as that leads to surprises that probably shouldn’t have been surprises.

Take Newman and Menard, for instance. They were very quiet all day, but they moved up the order and put themselves in position for good finishes without the use of pit strategy (Earnhardt, Jr. and Carl Edwards were forced to use pit strategy to finish where they did). Conversely? Tony Stewart, who struggled in race trim on Saturday. I’ll admit that I took a hit in the Mirror Driving standings by picking him, but everyone acted surprised that Stewart stunk yesterday when he stunk Saturday.

Despite Sunday’s race being run at record pace, the race ended right up against the end of FOX’s scheduled time slot for some reason. Post-race coverage was somewhat limited as a result. There were four post-race interviews, plus checks of the unofficial results and point standings before FOX left the air.

Much like ESPN, FOX isn’t the most inclusive with its broadcasts, either. I’m mighty sick of seeing the same dudes every week, regardless of what they’re doing. The FOX Box continues to be an ongoing issue. The top-three-all-the-time gambit has to go. It didn’t work with the original FOX Box during the first weekend of Speedweeks and it doesn’t work now. At Bristol, I’m sure that we’ll see Mk. 5 of the FOX Box. Whether that’s any better than Mk. 4 remains to be seen. I hope it is.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend sees the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series traveling back across the United States to Bristol, Tennessee for 800 more laps of action. They will be joined by the K&N Pro Series East, which will have its third race of the season following the Nationwide race on Saturday. That particular race will air via tape delay on March 22 at 11:30 AM on FOX Sports 1. Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, the F1 World Championship opens up with a buttload of uncertainty in Australia. Finally, we’ve got 12 punishing hours of racing on Saturday in Sebring, Florida. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, March 11
Time Telecast Network
3:30 AM – 4:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network

Wednesday, March 12
Time Telecast Network
2:00 AM – 2:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network

Thursday, March 13
Time Telecast Network
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
8:30 – 9:00 PM Sebastien Vettel: On Road and Track NBC Sports Network
9:00 – 9:30 PM Countdown to F1 NBC Sports Network
9:30 – 11:00 PM Formula One Grand Prix of Australia Free Practice No. 1 NBC Sports Network

Friday, March 14
Time Telecast Network
1:30 AM – 3:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Australia Free Practice No. 2 NBC Sports Network
2:00 – 2:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
12:00 PM – 1:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
1:00 – 3:45 PM IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge: Sebring IMSA.com^
1:30 – 2:30 PM Nationwide Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
2:15 – ~4:30 PM NHRA Amalie Oil Gatornationals Qualifying ESPN3$
2:30 – 3:00 PM NASCAR Live FOX Sports 1
3:00 – 4:30 PM Nationwide Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
4:30 – 6:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1

Saturday, March 15
Time Telecast Network
2:00 AM – 3:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Australia Qualifying NBC Sports Network
9:00 – 10:00 AM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 FOX Sports 1
10:00 – 11:30 AM Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
10:00 AM – 1:00 PM Tudor United SportsCar Championship Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, The Start FOX Sports 1
12:00 – 1:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 2
1:00 – 10:30 PM Tudor United SportsCar Championship Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring (The Finish) IMSA.com^
1:30 – 2:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
2:00 – 4:30 PM Nationwide Series Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 ESPN2
11:30 PM – 2:30 AM AMA Monster Energy Supercross: Detroit FOX Sports 1*

Sunday, March 16
Time Telecast Network
1:00 AM – 3:00 AM NHRA Amalie Oil Gatornationals Qualifying ESPN2*/
1:30 – 2:00 AM F1 Countdown NBC Sports Network
2:00 – 4:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Australia NBC Sports Network
4:00 – 4:30 AM F1 Extra NBC Sports Network
8:30 – 11:30 AM Tudor United SportsCar Championship Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, Condensed FOX Sports 1*/
11:00am – ~5:00 PM NHRA Amalie Oil Gatornationals, Eliminations ESPN3$
11:30am – 12:30 PM NASCAR RaceDay FOX Sports 1
12:30 – 1:00 PM FOX Pre-Race FOX
1:00 – 4:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 FOX
6:30 – 7:00 PM NASCAR Victory Lane FOX Sports 1
7:00 – 9:00 PM NHRA Amalie Oil Gatornationals, Eliminations ESPN2*/

Monday, March 17
Time Telecast Network
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network

*- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage
^- Available via free online streaming
$- Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your internet service and/or programming provider for availability

In regards to the times for NASCAR Now and NASCAR RaceHub varying wildly for the upcoming week, blame the various conference tournaments for men’s and women’s college basketball. In the case of RaceHub, FOX Sports 1 has exclusive rights to the Big East Championship at Madison Square Garden. The second day is the busiest day for them, with four games.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races from Bristol at the bare minimum for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. NASCAR America will be written about for the Critic’s Annex, which can be seen in our Newsletter on Thursday. For the March 20 edition of the Annex, the topic is currently undecided. However, there are plenty of options out there. We could look at the coverage from Sebring, with emphasis on the footage only available via streaming (The CTSC race on Friday or the last three-quarters of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring), the recent introduction of the WWE Network and what a NASCAR equivalent of that could look like and Through the Driver’s Eyes, which followed drivers around at the Rolex 24 in January.

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 e-mail 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 emails full of rants and vitriol.

Contact Phil Allaway

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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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