NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Strategy Passable For All-Star Race But Not Normal Events

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to another edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series were both in action at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series made the haul out to Iowa Speedway for its first standalone race of the season.

Before we start, we have a bit of good news for IndyCar. ABC’s overnight ratings from Indianapolis 500 qualifying are in, and they’re not bad. Sunday’s coverage earned a 1.2 rating, 33 percent better than ratings for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis back on May 10th. While I find it sad that qualifying gets better ratings than an actual race, anything positive TV-wise is good for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

North Carolina Education Lottery 200

Wow — two weeks in a row with Truck races. They’re on their way, but the schedule just has to be modified because there is just no momentum to be had out here.

Of course, that’s another column, but it’s still true.

Friday night saw the Camping World Truck Series’ fourth race of 2014. The primary feature on the Setup, which started a few minutes late because the Sprint Showdown ran long, was a piece on Jimmy Weller, a part-time racer who debuted in the series last season and currently drives for SS-Green Light Racing. Ten years ago, Weller was a sprint car racer who sustained near-fatal injuries in a crash at the then-Dirt Track at Lowe’s. We got anecdotes from Weller, both of his parents and brother, along with Lowe’s Motor Speedway’s general counsel at the time, Lauri Eberhart. The whole piece is best described as heartbreaking. Also, if you haven’t seen the piece, be warned that some of the pictures contained within could be considered disturbing by some.

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Strangely enough, Kyle Busch’s runaway win in Charlotte meant more coverage for everyone else.

Now, FOX Sports 1 was a little late with the piece since MRN’s Dustin Long wrote an article detailing much of what we saw in the feature the day before the race. Therefore, I was familiar with the story because I had read about it the day before — but that doesn’t make it any less difficult to watch.

Also of note, before I get torn to shreds by my own editors for not talking about it at all: Charlotte Motor Speedway may have had the worst solo national anthem rendition of the year (as of today) prior to the race. I prefer not to mention anthem renditions at all here, but that was ugly. Dakota Hood, who apparently had the 36th-most notable role, Tribute Girl District 10 in The Hunger Games (this is based upon the order she comes up on the film’s page on the iMDB app) basically cannot sing. I’ve also never seen The Hunger Games, never heard of Hood, and couldn’t tell you what the deuce a Tribute Girl District 10 is.

When you hear renditions like that on television, you wonder openly if what you’re seeing is actually happening. I searched for Hood on YouTube with hopes of finding Friday’s rendition to post here for those who didn’t see it Friday. Instead, I found other examples of her singing the anthem, like this one prior to a Clippers-Mavericks game in January, and this one from about three years ago. They sound similar to what we got Friday night. For what it’s worth, the broadcasters don’t react to anthem renditions, at least not on-air. NASCAR officials do, though. I vividly recall NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp essentially fist-pumping after what he considered to be a good rendition down in Daytona last July.

Friday night’s race was another wreck fest, with nine separate cautions flying due to eight crashes and a blown engine for Tyler Young. In between the incidents, there was a decent amount of action, and FOX Sports 1 generally did a good job bringing it to viewers. Kyle Busch opening up yet another can on the field probably played a part in that due to the fact that you can’t just show the leader all night and get away with it.

The only gripe I had with the race telecast is that some beef started in the event between Ryan Ellis and Jake Crum, a conflict that FOX Sports 1 didn’t really flesh out. The two got together and spun in turn two to bring out the second caution, and later in the race, Ellis crashed on the backstretch after Crum hooked him in the right rear. Michael Waltrip claimed that the wreck looked intentional on the air.

Later, the NASCAR on FOX Twitter page tweeted that Ellis and his crew were waiting for Crum in the garage after Crum was eliminated in the crash with Ron Hornaday and Mason Mingus. They should have at least had a camera back there. Apparently, Ellis just wanted to talk to him. I don’t know, because we didn’t see jack.

With all the wrecking that occurred, FOX Sports 1 was right up against the end of its timeslot. As a result, the post-race coverage aired as part of FOX Sports Live. Viewers got three post-race interviews and a check of the point standings before going back to the FOX Sports Live studio in Los Angeles. However, the way that FOX Sports 1 handles the transition makes it unclear when the telecast ends. I’m not a fan.

Sprint All-Star Race

In the current NASCAR TV deal, All-Star Weekend is one of the crown jewels of FOX’s portion of the NASCAR schedule, though next year that won’t be the case.

For an event like the All-Star Race, NASCAR RaceDay serves as the de facto pre-race show. However, due to FOX Sports 1’s baseball commitments, that pre-race show aired at 2:30 PM. Basically, almost no one was there.

FOX Sports 1 brought viewers a show that consisted mainly of pre-race analysis and interviews (seven in all). The show was also interspersed with classic moments (Pass in the Grass, One Hot Night, etc.). Not a horrible way to do things, despite it being over three hours before qualifying.

Rutledge Wood was dispatched to the infield camping areas to ask fans what they would do if they got the $1 million that serves as the carrot for the evening. The answers naturally varied from legitimate responses (paying off a house) to frivolous purchases (a Ferrari) to outright ridiculous wastes (a buttload of Slurpees). I suppose that’s par for the course.

Since the Pittsburgh Pirates – New York Yankees game ended up going long, the official All-Star telecast started right as Josh Wise made his qualifying attempt. We also got six more interviews before the pre-race concert/starting lineup. I know that the intros prior to the All-Star Race are a time for the crews to shine, but the whole setup takes so gosh-darn long that it drives me nuts. I couldn’t care less about Jake Owen (I’d never heard of the guy before Saturday) and Rutledge Wood is OK in small doses. Having him onstage doing intros is not a small dose, though.

The broadcast booth seemed to be quite a bit more excited than normal Saturday night. Yes, they were racing for a million big bucks, but it seemed like someone gave Darrell Waltrip caffeine pills prior to the telecast. It was almost like he was bouncing off the walls.

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Saturday night’s All-Star Race was chock full of footage of action all over the track, a byproduct of only having 22 cars in the race.

There were a couple of issues that I noticed with the telecast that adversely affected my viewing. First, Pizza Hut had these pop-up ads throughout the evening. While under most circumstances, I don’t have anything against the ads, I do have to make note if they make it difficult to watch the race. The first one of these ads accomplished that by completely blocking a race for the lead. We can’t have that.

The whole Kasey Kahne issue in regards to the lack of track cleanup was more or less a non-factor during the race. Viewers saw the Speedi Dri that had been laid down during the sixth caution, but it was never really pointed out. It was only after the race when Kahne talked to the media that the issue really came to the forefront. NASCAR had to reorganize the field ahead of the final stop via their average position setup (which is a discussion for another column), but the wait before the final stops was even longer than it should have been because of additional track cleanup. FOX never mentioned the extra track work, nor talked the substandard surface that led to three guys hitting the wall at the same time on lap 69, even though it should have. It seemed like the network saw the wall contact, but wrote it off as “Kasey Kahne followed Ryan Newman directly into the wall.” That’s not going to cut it. Watching the race again on Monday, I have no idea why the deuce NASCAR didn’t throw a caution at that point.

The overall coverage of racing for position was pretty good Saturday. With a starting field of only 22 (which eventually got cut down to 15) it was easier for FOX to focus in on individual battles. That will ultimately be a one-time thing per season. Such an approach would likely not work for the Coca-Cola 600 next week because it would be way too restrictive with 43 cars on the track.

Post-race coverage, despite the race going over its timeslot, was actually quite decent; I was figuring that it was going to be similar to what FOX Sports 1 did Friday night after the truck race. Instead, viewers saw six driver interviews, plus a conversation with winning crew chief Keith Rodden. The telecast concluded with some post-race analysis.

Get To Know Newton 250 presented by Sherwin-Williams

This past weekend, the Nationwide Series traveled up to Iowa for its first standalone race of the season. A number of changes were made to ESPN’s telecast in order to account for the fact that much of their normal team (including on-air personalities) were in Indianapolis, making the telecast a prime hotbed at which to try out new things.

With Allen Bestwick in Indianapolis, Dave Burns returned to the play-by-play chair for the first time since 2010. For what it’s worth, I enjoyed Burns over Vince Welch in the booth when they gave Burns his first try. However, it had been so long since he had helmed a broadcast that he essentially treated it like it was his first try. Dale Jarrett also returned, after a long absence, to the booth. Why he’s taking two months off early in the season, I don’t know.

In the pits, we had the team of Jim Noble, Mike Massaro and Shannon Spake, a generally strong trio that doesn’t work Nationwide telecasts all that often — or in Noble’s case, not that often on television.

The primary piece during NASCAR Countdown was a feature on Dylan Kwasniewski and his rise through the local racing scene in Las Vegas. Admittedly, I knew that Kwasniewski was a West Coast racer through his time driving for Gene Price Motorsports in the K&N Pro Series West and I figured he probably came from some sort of money. After all, money talks, and not just like Chris Tucker’s film. The piece ultimately focused on the suicide of Kwasniewski’s father, Randy, and how he has dealt with it. Long story short, it appears to have been the first thing that worried Dylan in his entire life. Even now, it seems that the whole subject is very difficult for him to think about. It definitely allowed viewers to see a new side of the 18-year-old rookie, even if that side is quite sad.

During the race, it was clear at times that the production was not exactly on the same scale as a normal race weekend in support of Sprint Cup. For example, ESPN did not have a camera at the exit of pit road — not having that camera there meant that viewers could not see who got off of pit road first. It became guesswork at times, and the booth guessed wrong at least once.

There was also a rather narrow focus on the telecast. For much of the race, it was all about Sam Hornish, Jr. and Ryan Blaney. Granted, they combined to lead all but three laps of the race and were rarely out of first and second, but there was more to the event than just those two. There was still a good amount of racing besides for the lead, and I just don’t think we saw as much as we could have. I will give ESPN some dap for showing viewers how tight some of the team budgets are in regards to JD Motorsports with Gary Keller’s decision to complete Landon Cassill’s tire allotment for the weekend during the race. It should be noted that Cassill finished 10th Sunday.

Finally, can ESPN please come up with some new ideas about how to refer to standalone Nationwide races? They used the term “opportunity,” or a variation of it, so many times that I should have instituted an “opportunity count” much along the lines of the “Digger Count” I had in 2009 columns. I’m sure that there is another way to describe the event than an opportunity race. It’s like half of the Tuesday afternoon conference call was a producer saying “opportunity” over and over again. It’s been an ongoing issue for a couple of years now. Somebody give ESPN a thesaurus, stat.

Post-race coverage was somewhat decent. ESPN provided viewers with four post-race interviews while the unofficial results were in the scroll. There was no check of the point standings despite discussion of the points in pre-race programming. The fact that ESPN hasn’t shown the points after the race in what seems like six weeks is interesting. I guess it’s preparing people for when the network overdoes it later on.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is probably one of the busiest race weekends of the whole year. The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are back at Charlotte for 900 miles of action. Meanwhile, we have the Indianapolis 500, the crown jewel of the Verizon IndyCar Series, along with Formula 1 in Monaco.

I know what I’m doing on Sunday. Here’s your listings…

Tuesday, May 20
Time Telecast Network
2:30 AM – 3:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
5:00 PM – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00 – 6:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:30 – 7:30 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*#

Wednesday, May 21
Time Telecast Network
2:30 AM – 3:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM Camping World Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200 FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 16)
12:00 – 1:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1*#
1:30 – 4:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Sprint All-Star Race FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 17)
4:00 – 4:30 PM NASCAR Hall of Fame Vote Day Special FOX Sports 1
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00 – 6:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:00 – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*#
7:00 – 9:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Sprint All-Star Race FOX Sports 2*/# (from May 17)
11:00 PM -12:00 AM Road to Ferrari NBC Sports Network

Thursday, May 22
Time Telecast Network
2:30am – 3:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
4:00 – 5:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco Free Practice No. 1 NBC Sports Live Extra$
8:00 – 9:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco Free Practice No. 2 NBC Sports Network
10:00 AM – 12:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Sprint All-Star Race FOX Sports 2*/# (from May 17)
2:30 – 4:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
4:00 – 5:00 PM Nationwide Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:30 – 7:00 PM Nationwide Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
7:00 – 8:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1
8:30 – 9:30 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
9:30 – 10:00 PM 100,000 Cameras FOX Sports 1

Friday, May 23
Time Telecast Network
3:00am-4:30am Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1*# (from May 22)
4:30-6:00am Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1*# (from May 22)
10:00-10:30am 100,000 Cameras FOX Sports 1*# (from May 22)
10:30-11:30am NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1*# (from May 22)
11:00am-12:00pm Verizon IndyCar Series Carb Day Practice NBC Sports Network
11:30am-1:00pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1*# (from May 22)
12:00-1:00pm Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Freedom 100 NBC Sports Network
1:00-4:00pm Verizon IndyCar Series Carb Day Activities NBC Sports Network
4:00-5:00pm Motorsports Countdown Special NBC Sports Network
5:00-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00-6:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
7:00-8:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1*#
8:00-8:30pm Empty Cup: Quest For the 1992 NASCAR Championship FOX Sports 1
8:00-10:00pm NHRA Lucas Oil Kansas Nationals First Round Qualifying ESPN3.com$
9:00-10:00pm The 600: History of NASCAR’s Toughest Race FOX Sports 1
11:00pm-12:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco Free Practice No. 2 NBC Sports Network*#

Saturday, May 24
Time Telecast Network
12:30am-1:30am Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Freedom 100 NBC Sports Network*# (from May 23)
1:30-2:30am Road to Indy NBC Sports Network
2:30-3:00am The Grid NBC Sports Network
3:00-5:30am Sprint Cup Series Sprint All-Star Race FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 17)
5:00-6:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco Free Practice No. 3 NBC Sports Live Extra$
7:00-8:00am Road to Ferrari NBC Sports Network*# (from May 22)
8:00-9:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco Qualifying NBC Sports Network
8:30-9:30am K&N Pro Series Casey’s General Store 150 (Combination Race) FOX Sports 1*/ (from May 17)
9:30-10:30am Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 FOX Sports 1
10:30am-12:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN 2
12:30-1:00pm Empty Cup: Quest for the 1992 NASCAR Championship FOX Sports 1# (from May 23)
1:00-2:00pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
2:30-2:45pm NASCAR Countdown ABC
2:45-5:30pm Nationwide Series History 300 ABC
3:30-5:00pm Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco Qualifying NBC Sports Network*#
5:00-6:30pm Indy 500 Festival Parade NBC Sports Network
6:00-8:00pm NHRA Lucas Oil Kansas Nationals Final Qualifying ESPN 2*
7:30-8:30pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*# (from May 23)
8:00-10:30pm Unknown F1 Documentary NBC Sports Network
8:30-10:00pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 2*# (from May 22)
11:30pm-1:00am GP2 Series: Monaco NBC Sports Network*

Sunday, May 25
Time Telecast Network
12:00am-1:00am The 600: History of NASCAR’s Toughest Race FOX Sports 1# (from May 23)
2:00-4:00am Nationwide Series History 300 ESPN 2*/# (from May 24)
7:00-7:30am F1 Countdown NBC Sports Network
7:30-10:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco NBC
10:00-10:30am F1 Extra NBC Sports Network
10:00-11:00am The 600: History of NASCAR’s Toughest Race FOX Sports 1# (from May 23)
10:30am-1:00pm Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco NBC Sports Network*
11:00am-12:00pm K&N Pro Series Casey’s General Store 150 (Combination Race) FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 17)
11:00am-12:00pm Indianapolis 500 Pre-Race Telecast ABC
12:00-3:30pm Verizon IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 ABC
12:00-5:00pm NHRA Lucas Oil Kansas Nationals Final Eliminations ESPN3.com$
4:30-5:30pm NASCAR RaceDay FOX Sports 1
4:30-7:00pm Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco NBC Sports Network*
5:30-6:00pm FOX Pre-Race FOX
6:00-10:30pm Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 FOX
10:00pm-1:00am NHRA Lucas Oil Kansas Nationals Final Eliminations ESPN 2*/
11:00-1:30pm Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco NBC Sports Network*

Monday, May 26
Time Telecast Network
12:00 AM – 12:30 AM NASCAR Victory Lane FOX Sports 1
1:30 – 2:00 AM F1 Extra NBC Sports Network*# (from May 25)
10:30 – 11:00 AM Empty Cup: Quest For the 1992 NASCAR Championship FOX Sports 1# (from May 23)
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM The 600: History of NASCAR’s Toughest Race FOX Sports 1# (from May 23)
12:00 – 1:00 PM K&N Pro Series Casey’s General Store 150 FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 17)
1:00 – 4:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 25)
5:00 PM – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00 – 6:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

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

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Verizon IndyCar series races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For this week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex, I will cover the ARCA Racing Series Menards 200 from Toledo Speedway, home to the world’s smallest pit stalls.

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 ones full of rants and vitriol.

Contact Phil Allaway

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