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(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN’s Fight Night At The Races

The specter of violence has reared its head once again. Cripes.

Before we even get into the critique, I’ll state for the record that this fighting is passé. Not only is it played out, it’s also ludicrous and makes the sport look bad.

I do a lot more pertaining to motorsports coverage than critiquing TV broadcasts. I also cover local racing here in New York. This kind of stuff happens at local short tracks here as well, although nothing quite like what we saw Sunday night.

There are a number of fans that like this kind of stuff. You heard some of them cheering during the fight and booing Brad Keselowski during his post-race interview. I’m not going to come out and say something along the lines of, “if you like to see this stuff, than I don’t want you at races,” but I don’t co-sign the behavior, either.

The more I see it, the more it irritates me. Apparently, I’m now in the business of covering a bunch of grown men who act like 13-year olds. Really, dudes? None of that stupidity needed to happen. Maybe given a couple hours, Keselowski could be contacted on the phone by Jeff Gordon and the Team Penske driver could have been cordial, I don’t know. If I were Gordon, yeah, I would have been angry, but I’m not the guy that seeks out fights. I tend to keep my anger to myself.

Probably the most notable thing said on a non-NASCAR show about the fight was on Monday’s Pardon The Interruption on ESPN. Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon talked a little about the fight during their “Mail Time” segment (why the quotation marks? Because they likely aren’t real emails). The key quote from the discussion came from Kornheiser.

“I don’t think this is helping NASCAR get new fans,” Kornheiser said. “People don’t care about the race anymore. They’re just tuning in to see who punches out Brad Keselowski, who we like” (Note: Keselowski has appeared on the Five Good Minutes segment of the show in the past). Kornheiser then asked Wilbon if he knew who won the race on Sunday. Wilbon said no. That’s a problem for NASCAR to address.

Due to the fight and the extra coverage that must be given to said rumbling, the critique of the Camping World Truck Series’ WinStar World Casino 350k has to be delayed to Thursday’s Annex. I don’t want to do that, but fights require extra coverage, as much as I don’t like them. That said, on to the critique.

AAA Texas 500

To most of the sports world, Sunday’s race doesn’t matter.

I disagree.

There’s way too much at stake right now to reduce over five hours of coverage to Kevin Harvick shoving Keselowski in the back and Gordon grabbing Keselowski by the collar. I will cover that here because it has to be covered, but there was a race, too. Remember that.

Generally, ESPN is very good at covering these instances of stupidity when they occur. On Sunday night, they were in near perfect position to catch everything. Their camera followed Gordon after he got out of his car and walked over to confront Keselowski. That part, by the way, just kills me. There’s all those people there and Gordon can just saunter over there unmolested while the crews are posturing? Are these guys blind or something?

Yes, ESPN muted the audio as soon as Gordon took his helmet off because the cussin’ was about to start. I’m not really sure what Keselowski’s response was to Gordon’s “what the deuce?” but it seemed like Keselowski was trying to ignore Gordon. It’s unclear if the whole thing would have escalated to the point that it did had Harvick not given Keselowski the two-handed shove. That fact seems to be overlooked here. I doubt punches would have been thrown had that not happened. Everyone got distracted, which allowed Gordon to get in on Keselowski.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
ESPN showed plenty when it came to Jeff Gordon’s post-race fight with Brad Keselowski. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

I do have Trooper Awards to give out here. They go to Jamie Little and Marty Smith (ESPN), plus Jim Noble (PRN Radio), who were right in the midst of the mess, Little more so than the other two. Trooper Awards also go to the cameramen who were right in the middle of the action, toting heavy equipment while a bunch of nutcases are pushing and shoving and throwing punches. Just covering a NASCAR race is considered hazardous work by TV standards. Dealing with this sort of thing makes it that much more dangerous.

Since Harvick and Keselowski finished second and third, they were obliged to give post-race interviews to ESPN. Under normal circumstances, they probably wouldn’t have been talking. Gordon didn’t have to talk at all, but it was obvious that he was ticked. He’s fourth in points right now, but he might have hurt himself in the standings for cursing to Dr. Punch.

Outside of the fight coverage, ESPN ran a special feature on Marine Staff Sergeant Liam Dwyer, who co-drove the winning Street Tuner car at Lime Rock back in May. Viewers who may not have been familiar with Dwyer’s story got the background about what happened in Afghanistan and how he had a jury-rigged setup that allowed him to use the clutch in his Mazda MX-5 so that he could shift gears.

The piece was generally pretty good, but two things stood out. One was the fact that ESPN had to recreate certain parts of the story for the piece, like what a driver change for Dwyer looks like (note: The re-creation appears to have done at Virginia International Raceway in August, during the TUSC weekend). That was not ESPN’s fault. Why did that have to happen? Because IMSA, in its infinite wisdom, decided not to have TV coverage of the Northeast Grand Prix. IMSA to be kicking itself for that move, knowing what ultimately happened. The teams and drivers were all very unhappy about the move, and it’s been corrected for 2015.

Secondly, the piece didn’t explain some of the statements mentioned in it well enough. For example, Dwyer’s friend, Bob Pielli, Jr., mentions Dwyer winning on his “Alive Day.” What does that mean? If you only watched the piece, you may not have gotten it on your own, especially if you weren’t paying undivided attention.

I was at Lime Rock Park the day that Dwyer won (along with co-driver Tom Long) back in May, covering the event for Frontstretch. The question was asked during the post-race press conference. Here was Dwyer’s response.

“An ‘Alive Day’ is pretty much your new birthday,” Dwyer said after the race. “It’s the day that you are catastrophically injured, whether it’s in Iraq or Afghanistan. May 22, 2011, is actually the day I stepped on an IED… that blew up underneath me, took my left leg and severely injured the rest of my body. It was actually May 22, 2011, so if you think about it now, that was three years ago. I’ve come full circle.”

During the race itself, ESPN was naturally quite focused on the Chasers. That in and of itself can be quite frustrating. It’s even more frustrating when you get a really long run (in Sunday’s case, 129 laps, or nearly 39 percent of the scheduled distance) in which such a small number of teams are highlighted. Yes, we had an Up to Speed segment that was thankfully not limited to Chasers, but the focus appeared to be clearly on the Chasers.

For lack of better words, the race was boring to watch until lap 215. Why? Because we basically didn’t see anything other than Jimmie Johnson running away from everyone and no one doing anything about it. With a low amount of additional on-track action to support the butt-kicking, no wonder no one’s going to remember the race. Even when drivers were moving up the order, ESPN was fairly slow to show that movement.

Then, all of the sudden, the race turned into the 2005 Coca-Cola 600. We didn’t get a run longer than 27 laps under green after the second yellow. Crazy, isn’t it? While it’s obviously easier to show good racing when the field is bunched up, it’s important to be able to do it when everyone isn’t next to each other.

ESPN didn’t do the best job of showing how drivers were progressing up and down the order as well. We’ll use Brian Vickers as an example here. Vickers ran in the top 10 for much of the race before dropping like a stone and getting lapped. He got a Lucky Dog to get back on the lead lap and got back to the top 10 before dropping off and finishing 16th. There was little to no explanation for what caused his fluctuations. Then again, Vickers isn’t in championship contention.

I also felt that ESPN’s production wasn’t necessarily helping out very much during the race. The Clint Bowyer wreck that caused the first green-white-checkered is a good example. Allen Bestwick saw the wreck happen in real time and noted it on-air. The production should have cut to what was going on. However, they chose not to. Viewers didn’t see Bowyer’s stricken 5-Hour ENERGY Toyota until after the yellow had flown, maybe 15-20 seconds after he wrecked. Bestwick knows what he’s talking about. Remember, he’s got 20 years’ seniority. He doesn’t make something like that up.

Ultimately, the post-race coverage made up for another tightly focused broadcast that didn’t capture the true essence of most of Sunday’s race. What NASCAR is going to do in the wake of the fracas is anyone’s guess. Gordon could lose points for his cursing. However, part of the impetus for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s fine and point deduction for the s-word at Talladega in 2004 was the fact that the race was on NBC. As a result, Earnhardt’s profanity was subject to an FCC fine. NASCAR effectively made him pay the FCC. Since Sunday’s race on was cable, that is not on the table.

O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge

Thankfully, college football did not interfere with ESPN’s Nationwide Series coverage again. I feared that the blowout Wisconsin-Rutgers game was going to go beyond 3:30 p.m. ET, but that was unfounded.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get the most competitive race on earth.

While the championship battle (or, the lack thereof when you really look at it) was an important storyline, the illness afflicting Elliott Sadler was probably the biggest story on Saturday. ESPN put Dr. Jerry Punch on Sadler duty and he did a very good job explaining what happened to Sadler, the process used to pick Clint Bowyer as his replacement, and what would happen. It’s completely understandable that Sadler wasn’t going to talk after getting out of the car. Just looking at Sadler when he got out showed a very weak, frail-looking man. Quite simply, Sadler had no business driving a race car. I’m kind of shocked that NASCAR let him start the race like that.

The sad truth of Nationwide broadcasts on ESPN is that the coverage differs quite a bit depending on where Kyle Busch is on the track. When Busch is back in the pack, we see a decent amount of action for position, and that action does not necessarily involve Busch. However, when Busch gets himself up into the lead, the coverage seems to change into a Busch-centric coverage. Focus narrows and we lose out.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
The remains of Trevor Bayne’s wrecked racecar from Texas. Turns out he was the only hope for Nationwide full-timers to deliver a victory. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

One aspect of the coverage that I particularly liked was the coverage of Trevor Bayne’s crash on lap 49. ESPN caught the wreck live via split-screen since it was just starting to get into a round of green flag pit stops. At first, it seemed like a normal blown right front tire, but it actually seemed to be more. Here, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree broke down the wreck and determined that Bayne’s car suffered some sort of failure. No one was really sure what kind of failure. Jarrett thought it was water that came out, but Petree believed that it was an oil line. The oil line breaking would explain the big fire after Bayne smacked the wall. Despite the discussion, the official race report from Roush Fenway Racing still lists a tire failure as reasoning for the crash.

Another example of good TV is Petree’s explanation of Ryan Sieg’s crash. The rather bizarre wreck was caused by the rear end housing breaking on the car. In the video, Jarrett describes the act of having to heat the housing and bend it in order to set rear camber. That is why Kyle Larson failed to put up a lap in Nationwide qualifying on Saturday; the housing flunked inspection and the No. 42 team couldn’t get the car fixed right quick enough to post a lap.

Despite the fact that Busch won (again), much of the post-race coverage was focused on Chase Elliott, who now has the ability to clinch the championship simply by beating teammate Regan Smith on Saturday. Clearly, that’s going to be a big story that ESPN is going to give substantial coverage to in Phoenix.

Overall, much of ESPN’s Saturday broadcast was anti-climactic. The Nationwide telecasts often look like there isn’t all that much going on. Half the races seem to come down to duels between Nos. 22 and 54, regardless of who’s driving. I don’t think that’s healthy for the series. No wonder Comcast got a discount for series naming rights starting next year; Nationwide is paying roughly $12 million a year while Comcast (via XFINITY) is paying about $9 million a year. Those figures do not include activation.

That’s it for this week. Next weekend is the penultimate major race weekend of the season. The Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series teams will all be in action at Phoenix International Raceway. The K&N Pro Series West also has its season finale at PIR on Thursday night. That race will be shown via tape delay during the Homestead weekend. Stuff might go down again, for all I know. I’m sure that most of you remember what happened two years ago. In addition, Formula 1 makes its annual haul to the bumpy Interlagos circuit in Brazil. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, November 4

TimeTelecastNetwork
4:00 a.m. - 6:00 a.m.Blancpain Sprint Series Baku World ChallengeCBS Sports Network*# (from November 1-2)
7:00 a.m. - 8:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 3)
8:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 3)
5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.The 10: NASCAR's Closest CallsFOX Sports 2#
7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

Wednesday, November 5

TimeTelecastNetwork
7:00 a.m. - 7:30 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 4)
7:30 a.m. - 8:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 4)
8:00 a.m. - 8:30 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 4)
8:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 4)
5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.The 10: NASCAR's Wildest Throw-DownsFOX Sports 2#
7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

Thursday, November 6

TimeTelecastNetwork
7:00 a.m. - 7:30 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 5)
7:30 a.m. - 8:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 5)
8:00 a.m. - 8:30 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 5)
8:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.mNASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 5)
5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.The 10: NASCAR's Most Bizarre MomentsFOX Sports 2#
7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

Friday, November 7

TimeTelecastNetwork
2:00 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.NASCAR America: The ListNBC 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 November 6)
7:00 a.m. - 8:30 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil Free Practice No. 1NBC Sports Live Xtra$
7:30 a.m. - 8:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 6)
8:00 a.m. - 8:30 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 6)
8:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 6)
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil Free Practice No. 2NBC Sports Network
12:00 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.Nationwide Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1
12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.Road to MercedesNBC Sports Network# (from October 30)
1:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1
3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.Nationwide Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1
4:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.Camping World Truck Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1
5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.Countdown to F1NBC Sports Network
6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.Sprint Cup Series QualifyingESPN 2
8:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.NCWTS SetupFOX Sports 1
8:30 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150FOX Sports 1
10:30 p.m. - 12:00 p.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil Free Practice No. 2NBC Sports Network*#

Saturday, November 8

TimeTelecastNetwork
4:00 a.m. - 6:00 a.m.Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150FOX Sports 1*/# (from November 7)
7:00 a.m. - 8:00 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil Free Practice No. 3NBC Sports Live Xtra$
9:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.Blancpain Sprint Series Baku World ChallengeCBS Sports Network*# (from November 1-2)
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2FOX Sports 2
12:30 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil QualifyingNBC Sports Network*
12:30 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.Nationwide Series QualifyingFOX Sports 2
2:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.NASCAR LiveFOX Sports 2
2:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Happy HourFOX Sports 2
3:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.NASCAR CountdownESPN
4:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.Nationwide Series DAV 200ESPN

Sunday, November 9

TimeTelecastNetwork
7:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of ValenciaFOX Sports 1
11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2FOX Sports 2*# (from November 8)
12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Happy HourFOX Sports 2*# (from November 8)
1:00 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.F1 CountdownNBC*
1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceDayFOX Sports 1
1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.Formula One Grand Prix of BrazilNBC*
2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.NASCAR CountdownESPN
3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.Blancpain Sprint Series: ZolderCBS Sports Network*# (from October 18-19)
3:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500ESPN
3:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.F1 ExtraNBC*
4:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.F1 CountdownNBC Sports Network*#
4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.Formula One Grand Prix of BrazilNBC Sports Network*#
5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.Blancpain Sprint Series Baku World ChallengeCBS Sports Network*# (from November 1-2)
6:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.F1 ExtraNBC Sports Network*#
7:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.NASCAR Victory LaneFOX Sports 1
8:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.Moto3: ValenciaFOX Sports 2*
9:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.Moto2: ValenciaFOX Sports 2*
10:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of ValenciaFOX Sports 2*

Monday, November 10

TimeTelecastNetwork
12:30 a.m. - 3:00 a.m.Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500kESPN 2*/# (from November 9)
4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.Formula One Grand Prix of BrazilNBC Sports Network*# (from November 9)
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.The 10: NASCAR's Greatest RacesFOX Sports 2#
7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
8:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of ValenciaFOX Sports 2*/# (from November 9)

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. Thursday’s edition of the Critic’s Annex in the Newsletter will cover the Sunoco World Series 150, the season finale for the Whelen Modified Tour held last month at Thompson Speedway.

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.

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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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2 comments

  1. Avatar

    Yeah Harvick instigated the blow up. Gordon was already mad and when he saw Kez all of a sudden step toward him, I doubt he had any idea that Harvick had pushed kez that direction.

    I blame NASCAR for all of this. They created the situation and for all of the high and mighty crapola they want to throw around about winning being everything, it obviously isn’t and what I was afraid of from the announcment of this chase has come true – it really has turned out to be a crapshoot/demoliton derby format.

    then you have the drivers who have no wins and yet will still be in contention for the trophy while others who have more wins including Kez and Gordon will be on the edge of being knocked out for the final race.

    Stupid all around and I blame NASCAR.

    • Avatar

      Have to agree. NASCAR has made a mess. They’ve hollowed out the Championship to a single race. Like a real race fan would think that’s meaningful. Glorified demo derby in a fake “playoff”. When exactly did substance go out of fashion?