(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN Erases “Everyone” At ‘Dega For Chasers

Race weekends at Talladega Superspeedway make my stomach churn. I’m nervous the whole weekend, just hoping that nothing terrible happens.

The sad truth is, terrible things have been happening at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega with an increasing frequency in recent years. It’s truly sad, and since almost all of the bad things happen in or around the very end of the races, there’s next to nothing that anyone can do about it.

Thankfully, we didn’t have that last weekend. Of course, having said that, Mason Mingus’ front end lifting off the ground after hitting the wall Saturday (and JJ Yeley’s No. 83 doing the same on Sunday) was a little unnerving. Despite those incidents, nothing on track kept me up all night Sunday, which is great. I’m not used to having 37 cars finish a race at Talladega.

GEICO 500

Sunday afternoon brought yet another Chase elimination race. Admittedly, we’re not even all the way through the first year of this version of the Chase, and the focus upon who’s getting eliminated is already getting old. Unfortunately, that is the framework that NASCAR has given everyone to work in. Rat farts.

Having said that, what stood out the most to me on NASCAR Countdown wasn’t even all the talk about the Charlotte Motor Speedway shenanigans, those that needed to win to get into the Eliminator Round, or even Allen Bestwick talking with David Hoots about the final lap caution scenario in Race Control (which thankfully, did not come into play on Sunday).

Instead, it was Marty Smth’s interview with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (viewable here) at the abandoned Metrolina Speedway, site of the very first race for what is now Sprint Cup in 1949 when it was still known as Charlotte Speedway in suburban Charlotte. Earnhardt can be very reserved at times, but given the time to fully flesh out his thoughts (and for the interviewer to get a decent amount of time with him), he can be a very compelling interview.

Here, Earnhardt admitted to being everything that his haters claimed that he was in the past. A slacker, coasting by on his last name, despite his many talents. A lazy dude who would intentionally show up late to practice sessions, likely infuriating everyone around him. It’s really quite nuts when you think about it. Seems like the Eurys were technically enabling his behavior as well. I wouldn’t be shocked if that is the primary reason why Earnhardt doesn’t own Dale Earnhardt Inc. today, and by extension why DEI is a brand name instead of a race team. Remember, primary ownership of DEI was one of Earnhardt’s conditions to re-signing with the team for 2008 and beyond. Teresa Earnhardt wasn’t always at the track back then, but she probably saw or heard about that work ethic and decided that Earnhardt wasn’t mature enough to run the team.

Likely only a few media members that cover NASCAR could get such good stuff out of Earnhardt as Smith did here. Having never had the pleasure of talking with Earnhardt in the past, I’m clearly not in that league.  With the right person asking the questions, he’s gold.  Smith is about the best there is right now covering NASCAR and we got some gold on Sunday

During the race, ESPN insisted on a couple of things for its telecast. Since much of the field spent the day in a large pack, there were no intervals shown in the scroll for the entire race. There’s a problem with doing that. If someone falls out of the draft, viewers will never know that it happened unless the commentators notify them. The chances of that happening were not high.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Kyle Busch received a large amount of focus Sunday, even though much of his day was spent behind the wall. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

We’ll use Ryan Newman losing the draft after his brief stall on pit road as an example. By the time it was referenced on lap 53, Newman was already 12 seconds behind the pack. I couldn’t tell you how long it took Newman to get 12 seconds back. I guess it was around 10 laps, but I’m not sure. ESPN made it sound like Newman slowly dropped to that distance behind after leaving pit road, but that sounds implausible. If he had lost the draft from the moment he left pit road, I feel that he would have been a lot more than 12 seconds back by lap 53.

The above example referred to an actual Chaser. If Newman weren’t in the Chase and that happened to him, I think we probably wouldn’t have heard about it until he got lapped, or the caution flew for Jamie McMurray’s wreck.

FOX Sports’ telecast of the truck race on Saturday (which I’ll cover in more detail below) actually did show intervals. You knew when someone dropped off the back of the pack, even if Adam Alexander didn’t make direct reference to it.

The second aspect of the coverage that ESPN insisted of was a strong focus on those around or below the cut-off, similar to what was done at Dover three weeks ago. As you might remember from the Dover critique, such a focus can completely skew a broadcast. Luckily, with the pack mentality at Talladega these days, it wasn’t anywhere near as irritating as Dover. I dread what ESPN’s going to come up with at Phoenix in a couple of weeks.

The exception to that rule was ESPN putting a significant focus on Kyle Busch’s team in the second half of the race after he got caught up in the crash on the backstretch (remember, Busch entered the race second in the standings and only needed a top-25 finish to automatically qualify for the Eliminator Round). Jamie Little was stationed at his garage stall for roughly 45 minutes, describing everything that was happening. We never got any quotes about what happened since Busch wasn’t talking (I think he spent most of the time that the car was being repaired in the transporter) and the rest of the team was working. There was even side-by-side coverage of the repairs (not to mention a running timer for the repairs) while the race was going on, the idea being that the repairs were just as important as the race itself. Maybe for the No. 18 team, that was true, but not for everyone else. Classic example of overkill.

A race at Daytona and Talladega is always bound to have some surprises toward the front of the pack. That’s the case now, and it was the case even back in the unrestricted era (see: Bobby Hillin, Jr.’s win at Talladega in 1986, despite taking out Harry Gant and nearly taking out Dale Earnhardt at one point). On Sunday, the biggest small team stories were those of Hillman Racing’s Landon Cassill and Circle Sport’s Travis Kvapil.  The small quasi-merged-but-not-really organizations earned their best-ever finishes on Sunday.

While Cassill did get a number of mentions during the race, Kvapil got next to nothing all weekend, except for qualifying on ESPNEWS. It’s a shame that the story narrative makes it quite difficult to give proper due.

I would have liked for less of a Chase focus and for ESPN to cover other stories more carefully. While most reading this critique knew that Sunday was Terry Labonte’s final Cup start, ESPN didn’t reference that fact until lap 59, after Labonte had already been lapped. Of course, while the booth was talking about Labonte, McMurray cut a left rear tire and wiped out, ending that reference pretty quick.

Post-race coverage was an extension of the above. ESPN was very much focused on the Chase and the drivers that got eliminated. Brad Keselowski winning in order to advance was clearly the big story of the day. Otherwise, ESPN wanted to talk with the discouraged Chasers and those who just got in by the hair of their chinny-chin-chin. Much like Homey D. Clown on In Living Color, Kyle Busch wasn’t playing that and refused the request (this was acknowledged on ESPN’s NASCAR Twitter page, but not on-air).

While the Chase is always going to be the big story, taking the route that ESPN took results in viewers not getting the whole story. Why not give some post-race time to drivers who had good runs like Cassill, Kvapil or even Casey Mears? Those interviews are always lots of fun. One example of this was when Shannon Spake interviewed Johnny Borneman, III after he finished fifth in the Aaron’s 312 back in 2010. Borneman stated in the interview that it was a career day for him – fairly accurate, as that particular race was Borneman’s only Nationwide Series finish better than 16th.

An unrestricted example would be when Rich Bickle finished fourth in the NAPA AutoCare 500 at Martinsville in 1998.

http://youtu.be/nbZ-uZ3iz7g?t=5m39s

Fred’s 250

The Camping World Truck Series’ annual assault on the 2.66-mile tri-oval also saw the series’ return to over-the-air television for the first time since 2009. Like it or not, being on regular FOX as opposed to FOX Sports 1 does give the series more potential viewership. Whether that meant higher ratings for the race is unclear since the actual ratings for the race are unavailable at the present time.

Having FOX televise the race instead of FOX Sports 1 meant that the commercial breaks were a little longer than normal. As a result, the wreck on the backstretch early on occurred during a commercial. Normally, FOX has a policy that allows them to break out of commercial breaks if big wrecks happen. Granted, what happened only involved four trucks, it might have reached that threshold.

Also, FOX televising the race meant usage of FOX Sports’ theme music throughout the telecast, far more than even on the Sprint Cup telecasts back in the first half of the season. That irked Nationwide Series regular Tanner Berryhill on Twitter. As you may remember, when Eric Shanks took over from David Hill as president of FOX Sports, he made the NFL on FOX theme FOX Sports’ overall theme music. However, he made that move after FOX had televised 16 years’ worth of NFC games. It’s ingrained in the public consciousness by now as a football theme. While I do understand that it’s an old argument to make at this point, I believe it strips identity from FOX’s other sport offerings and declares them permanently inferior to the NFL – while at the same time, saving money). I’d like FOX to compose new themes for its baseball and NASCAR coverage, or even just return to the old ones for 2015, but I doubt that’s happening anytime soon, especially since Shanks loves it so much.

Back at Daytona in February, there was a conflict over what actually caused James Buescher to get black flagged for illegal tandem drafting in the Nationwide Series event. ESPN showed video that did not show Buescher committing the infraction, but NASCAR said that ESPN showed the wrong video. Well, we didn’t have that problem on Saturday. Matt Crafton and Joe Nemechek got busted for tandem drafting and we got the definitive proof that they were guilty.

I’m unclear on the actual length of the timeslot for the race. I believe it was only two hours. If so, then the race finished 17 minutes after the sign-off time. Post-race coverage was somewhat limited as a result. Knowing how wacky the finish actually was, FOX should have done little more review of it. I have no clue how the heck Daniel Suarez didn’t cop a yellow-line violation coming to the finish. It was clear to me that Suarez was below the yellow line in the tri-oval.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series both return to Martinsville for their second visit of the year. Should be some rock ‘em, sock ‘em action on tap. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, October 21

TimeTelecastNetwork
7:00 a.m. - 8:00 a.mNASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from October 20)
8:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from October 20)
9:00 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.The 10: Talladega MomentsFOX Sports 1#
9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.Camping World Truck Series fred's 250 Powered by Coca-ColaFOX Sports 1*/# (from October 18)
5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

Wednesday, October 22

TimeTelecastNetwork
7:00 a.m. - 7:30 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from October 21)
7:30 a.m. - 8:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from October 21)
8:00 a.m. - 8:30 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from October 21)
8:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from October 21)
4:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.Formula DRIFT: Throwdown, Part No. 2NBC Sports Network*/# (from July 19)
5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1

Thursday, October 23

TimeTelecastNetwork
7:00 a.m. - 7:30 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from October 22)
7:30 a.m. - 8:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from October 22)
8:00 a.m. - 8:30 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from October 22)
8:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from October 22)
5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
7:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.NASCAR America: Scan All 43NBC Sports Network#
10:30 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network#

Friday, October 24

TimeTelecastNetwork
12:00 a.m. - 2:00 a.m.NASCAR America: Celebrate The States (4 Episodes)NBC Sports Network#
2:00 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.NASCAR America: Future StarsNBC Sports Network
2:30 a.m. - 3:00 a.m.The GridNBC Sports Network
7:00 a.m. - 7:30 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from October 23)
7:30 a.m. - 8:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from October 23)
8:00 a.m. - 8:30 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from October 23)
8:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from October 23)
11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.Rolex Monterey Motorsports ReunionFOX Sports 1*/# (from August 14-17)
12:00 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1
1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.Camping World Truck Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1
2:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.NASCAR LiveFOX Sports 1
3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.Camping World Truck Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1
4:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.Sprint Cup Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1

Saturday, October 25

TimeTelecastNetwork
9:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2FOX Sports 1
10:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.Camping World Truck Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1
11:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.NASCAR LiveFOX Sports 1
12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1
1:00 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.NCWTS SetupFOX Sports 1
1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200FOX Sports 1

Sunday, October 26

TimeTelecastNetwork
3:00 a.m. - 5:00 a.m.motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of MalaysiaFOX Sports 1
9:00 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.The 10: NASCAR's Most Outrageous MomentsFOX Sports 1#
9:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.NASCAR RaceHub SpecialFOX Sports 1#
10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceDayFOX Sports 1
12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.Moto3: MalaysiaFOX Sports 1*
1:00 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.NASCAR CountdownESPN
1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.Moto2: MalaysiaFOX Sports 1*
1:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500ESPN
4:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.Formula DRIFT: Showdown, Part No. 1NBC Sports Network*/ (from September 12)
4:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.Monster Energy Cup: Las VegasFOX*/# (from October 18)
8:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.NASCAR Victory LaneFOX Sports 1*

Monday, October 27

TimeTelecastNetwork
3:00 a.m. - 4:00 a.m.FIA World Endurance Championship Six Hours of FujiFOX Sports 1*/ (from October 12)
4:00 a.m. - 5:00 a.m.Moto2: MalaysiaFOX Sports 1*# (from October 26)
5:00 a.m. - 6:00 a.m.motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of MalaysiaFOX Sports 1*/# (from October 26)
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
7:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.The 10: NASCAR's Most Bizarre MomentsFOX Sports 2#

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series races from Martinsville in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. If any TV-related breaks between now and next week, I’ll comment on that as well. For this week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex, I’ll cover the K&N Pro Series West race from All-American Speedway that I was going to cover last week before the events of Charlotte resulted in a change of plans.

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:

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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.

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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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13 comments

  1. Avatar

    Phil, I think we would all like to see some other stories. I suspect that the all Chase all the time over focus is already causing some fans to just tune out. All that force fed faux excitement having the exact opposite of the intended effect is so typically NASCAR isn’t it.

  2. Avatar

    The television product churned out by the television partners of NASCAR bears the responsibility for the falling ratings. The NFL would never allow television to do to its product what television does to NASCAR’s product. NASCAR needs to hold the producers feet to the fire and demand they do much better at their job. No one watching the television show that airs during the event can develop an understanding of the flow of the race. Hero shots of the one car after another interspersed with gimmick-cam shots does not equal covering the race. There is no continuity, no rhyme or reason to what is done in the television truck and the product from television is all gaudy images and irrelevant sounds done strictly to manufacture a television show to sell to advertisers. When the broadcasts conclude, we have to wait for the print media to post their stories so we can fill in the blanks the television partners omitted and try to construct the events of the race to comprehend all that happened during the race. This should not be so. Television should document each defining incident in each race for the viewer so the viewer leaves the broadcast understanding all the led up to the finish we witness. That never happens and it should. The NFL would never allow such shabby treatment from its television partners and NASCAR should not allow it either.

    • Avatar

      Donald, I agree with you. Apparently NASCAR doesn’t have lawyers good enough to write that into the contracts. I get most of my information on the race, not from TV but from following the radio feed online and from twitter.

      Sad because when the TV deal was first announce in 2001, it was going to be “easy” for all of the fans to always know what channel the race would be on. Yeah, right! Maybe then, but now, its back to multiple choice (depending on ESPN’s choice) and when Fox moves it to FS1 who knows how many ppl will have it.

  3. Avatar

    I was very dismayed that they didn’t show the interval times or who was down a lap(s), or who was OFF. At one point, Joey Logano was driving mid-pack and he was a lap down – the only reason we knew that was because the announcers said it. I ended up getting most of my info. from Marty Smith on TWITTER.

  4. Avatar

    ESPN has been phoning it in for several years now. ESPN wanted the “chase” format so the end of the season wouldn’t be “boring” and NASCAR obliged them for reasons of its own and the fans pay the price in the poor race coverage. Of course the fact that ESPN is not going to have to deal with NASCAR after this season just makes it worse.

    ESPN isn’t the only TV partner who produces a poor race broadcast, Fox has its own dysfunctional mess, but since they have the early season races, it takes a few races for it to become annoying enough to me to tune them out.

    NASCAR could & should have written coverage clauses into the contracts but apparently they only care about the $ not about what the fans actually see. I’ve read somewhere that they don’t really care about the ratings either – considering it a loss leader. Makes no sense to me to do that considering that if you show the fans at home how much fun racing can be, it would seem to translate to people in the seats at the tracks & following the sport. But then again, in general, watching races either at home or at the track no longer provides the level of fun it once did and so my attention to races is also no longer as high as it once was – now if I’m home, I do chores thru the majority of the race and only come in to check on what is happening until the last 20 laps.

    Since I’m one of the people who just enjoyed watching each race for the race itself and didn’t spend all season stressing about who was going to be champion, this bogus format and force fed (thank you John Q) excitement is just nonsense and noise to me.

  5. Avatar

    What really got me frustrated was, ESPN ran the “points as they run” scroll the whole race depending on where they were running, but TOTALLY abandoned it at the end until they got the “official” standings from Nascar. The computer had no problem keeping up with it during the race, but all of the sudden it couldn’t figure it out at the end? How about giving some kind of “unofficial” standings to give us some kind of idea where the drivers stood and how close they were to making it or not. It had to be 15 to 20 minutes after the race ended before they gave us final standings. CAN’T WAIT til ESPN is done with Nascar. They ALWAYS treated Nascar as the red-headed step-child of sports.

  6. Avatar

    Espn had a great opportunity to give a ray of TV sunshine to Landon, Casey, Travis, their teams and sponsors, they blew it. Most unfortunate ..had to go after the misery stories that we knew happened already..did we really expect any of those guys to say “…gee whiz..I am thrilled I am not a part of this moronic Chase”. I am sure Kyle B. feels the same way, but he declined a interview, his slot could have been used for one of the non marque names who finished top 10. Juniors fans (ahem..I mean Sr.’s fans) I am sure don’t believe a word that came out of his mouth, Dale Jr. admitted his flaws (shocker, we all have them). LoL.

  7. Avatar

    While I admit that I don’t watch the pre-race, I had completely forgotten that Michael Waltrip was running in last weekend’s race until I saw him listed as finishing 16th in the final rundown. He got zero coverage during the race. I realize he works for a rival network and I certainly don’t care for him, but as far as ESPN was concerned, he wasn’t even present at the track.

    • Avatar

      During the truck race Sat., Jennifer Jo got down a lap and when she got it back , her name was never mentioned. Earlier this year during a race, Waldrip never called her by name but once referred to her as she. What comes around goes around. Come Feb. at Daytona when Fox takes over ,there will be plenty of coverage on the #15 ,#55 and #66.

  8. Avatar

    It’s bad enough when the ‘race coverage’ is nothing but the chasers, but then we get a zillion ads pimping the ‘new and improved elimination crapshoot for the cup’ during the race. Has anyone in Daytona heard of OVERKILL?

  9. Avatar

    So, here we have another elimination race and the ratings tank once again. NASCAR is starting to resemble a large ship taking on water and instead of plugging the leak they are re-arranging the deck chairs.

  10. Avatar

    Down to eight. So 35 cars disappear. Then 4. And 39 cars disappear.

    It will be interesting to see how much coverage cars of Mr. H that are not in the chase get or if there is special coverage for his cars.

  11. Avatar

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