Home / Couch Potato Tuesday / Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN’s Field Of Four, Not 43
(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN’s Field Of Four, Not 43

I’m going to make a statement up front before I even start the critique: I hate watching championship battles.

Why? The race doesn’t even matter, only the points do. That’s why I prefer final events in which the championship is decided ahead of time; that way, the races can be covered fully instead of picking and choosing a handful of drivers. ESPN, unfortunately proved my point, spending Sunday on a select few rather than the full field of 43.

Did that help or hurt viewership? We’ll have to wait and see. But it certainly didn’t sit well with a large contingent of fans, many of whom had their favorite driver not in contention for the title.

Ford EcoBoost 400

Sunday afternoon saw expanded pre-race shows and endless discussion of the championship. However, there seemed to be something missing for much of the day: discussion about the actual race itself. It’s as if no one actually cared about anything else on track that didn’t affect “NASCAR’s new Chase.”

Unfortunately, I disagree, and I know many other fans do as well. There were more than just four drivers out there on track. There were 43, and the other 39 deserved at least a split second of airtime.

While I liked the one-on-one interviews that permeated pre-race coverage, the whole two hours of NASCAR Countdown were stilted so heavily towards the Chasers that you had no real idea of what else was going on in Homestead. For instance, I believe it was an hour or more before it was even mentioned that Jeff Gordon won the pole for the event. Everything that could have been considered a preview of the race, even taking a closer look at the configuration of Homestead-Miami Speedway itself was done exclusively through the lens of the Chasers. It’s frustrating to watch and it drives me nuts. Did anyone involved in the telecast actually care about anything in the race other than the championship?

The hyper-Chase focus continued, from the drop of the green flag straight through until the checkered. ESPN had the positions of the Chasers as they ran for the entire race underneath the scroll, continually updating viewers on where they stood. With that type of instant gratification, you’d think that would be enough for viewers. Such a setup actually gives space for a network to initiate broader coverage of an event.

But no! That scroll was compounded, instead by what seemed like 86 percent of the telecast being focused on the Chasers. Rarely did you see a moment in which a title contender (or a title contender’s team) was not on-screen. Even during the NonStop segments, the scroll was not shown, substituted for a modified top 5 listing that only showed the Final Four. Good lord, man.

Tires once again seemed to be quite an issue, since the 11-year-old surface at Homestead-Miami Speedway wears out fresh rubber quickly. I would have liked to see how the tires actually wore over a run, but we never actually saw Goodyears, especially damaged ones peeled off anyone’s car. Knowing that there were a number of tire failures, you’d think that we’d get a look at some point during the weekend, but it never came to pass. All we knew is that the tires lost speed as quick as Usain Bolt runs the 100-meter dash.

With the strong Chase focus, viewers missed a number of stories altogether. For example, we saw Dale Earnhardt, Jr. make an unscheduled stop on lap 97 due to a flat right rear tire. What we didn’t see was Earnhardt’s charge back up the order. We knew he got lapped with the stop and that he got the Lucky Dog when Carl Edwards and Alex Bowman hit the wall. But then, forty-five laps later, voila! Earnhardt’s in sixth. No mention of him until he got there. A more blatant example would be Gordon charging from 25th or so to 13th in four laps after his late pit stop.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Focus during the broadcast fell mostly on championship hopefuls, including Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

The final laps saw undivided attention to the Chasers, so much so that the production didn’t pay any attention to some rather substantial goings on. Apparently, Blake Koch’s car burst into flames with eight laps to go, roughly half a lap before Kevin Harvick took the lead from Denny Hamlin. Naturally, ESPN is going to focus on a race for the lead, but Koch’s fire and various other issues caused the final yellow to fly. Allen Bestwick referenced the fire in his commentary, but we never got any pictures. A split-screen would have been crucial here since Koch’s issues technically affected the outcome of the race. Speaking of Koch, there was never any explanation of what caused his crash with JJ Yeley that brought out the 12th caution and set up Harvick’s run on Hamlin in the first place. We just saw both cars sliding down the track, a bunch of excitement, and no actual, um, details. The anchors on SportsCenter, adding insult to injury even mispronounced Koch’s last name during the post-race highlights.

The whole experience was incredibly irritating. ESPN got lucky that the Chasers came to the forefront (with the exception of Joey Logano) at the end. Otherwise, it might have been left jabbering to find something good to say about a non-Chaser in Victory Lane. Granted, it would have been easy if Gordon won since he dominated most of the race, but what if someone like Paul Menard won instead? ESPN would have been in trouble. I know dang well the powers that be were happy that one of the Chasers reached Victory Lane; it would have been one less thing for them to pay attention to. The sad thing is that I saw it coming a mile away.

Ford EcoBoost 300

On Saturday afternoon, there was not that much hubbub about the drivers’ championship. Granted, it was because Chase Elliott clinched it in Phoenix last weekend, but the change was refreshing, especially compared to the all-Chase, all-the-time show on Sunday.

ESPN’s strategy on Saturday was still quite restrictive, but not as much as on Sunday. Most of the race was spent covering the top 10 drivers on track. Elliott got his share of the coverage, but it wasn’t overkill. He was treated like he was just one of a bunch of decent-sized names, which is fine.

Compared to Sunday, viewers could see a lot more of what was going on. Sure, the network still gave a decent amount of coverage to the owner points battle between Team Penske’s No. 22 and Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 54, something about which most viewers couldn’t care less. But luckily for apathetic viewers (honestly, I think would have a hard time finding regular race fans that truly cared whether Kyle Busch or Brad Keselowski captured the owners’ title for their respective car owners), ESPN did not give too much focus to the secondary championship battle.

I’m surprised that NASCAR didn’t bring the Nationwide Series championship trophy to Phoenix. Elliott was clearly in position to clinch the title there, and officials surely knew it. I guess it wanted to have the trophy celebration in front of more people. Then again, with Homestead-Miami having approximately 46,000 seats these days, maybe that wasn’t the case.

Ford EcoBoost 200

Similar to the Nationwide Series, Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series season finale was fairly anticlimactic as far as the championship was concerned. Matt Crafton only had to finish 21st to take the title once again, becoming the first back-to-back titlist in series history. Unless he wrecked or had a parts failure, Crafton could have done that with an arm tied behind his back.

Despite the near complete inevitability of Crafton winning the title, FOX Sports 1 tried to make it into a legitimate title battle. We had the two contenders (Crafton and Ryan Blaney) do a joint sitdown interview where both drivers talked about their seasons. Both men, despite needing to focus were essentially hounded for much of the Setup.

However, despite the coverage given to the championship, FOX Sports 1 still found the time to actually cover other stories, such as Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) announcing its 2015 driver lineup Friday. That announcement saw KBM announce an expansion to three full-time trucks. Justin Boston will drive one of the trucks full-time, armed with sponsorship from ZLOOP. In addition, Matt Tifft was added to the roster. We got an interview with Tifft, who was racing for B.J. McLeod Motorsports Friday night, on how the deal came together. That was great to see. FOX Sports 1 realized that there were other big news bits out there that needed to be covered, and easily took care of business. It’s not hard to do.

For 2015, I think FOX Sports should consider always having an in-truck camera in Tyler Reddick’s machine; that way, wherever that 19-year-old goes, excitement is sure to follow. Whether it’s wheeling a truck that’s pretty much out of control on a regular basis on pavement, or exhibiting perhaps the most relaxed driving style of anyone this side of the Big Stig from Top Gear’s U.S. Special on dirt, Reddick brings the goods on a weekly basis.

During the race, there was a good amount of racing for position and FOX Sports 1 did a decent job in covering it. When there were sticky situations on track, we got side-by-side replays of the situation. If ESPN were to continue broadcasting NASCAR races beyond Sunday evening, I would have strongly suggested it find a way to mirror this coverage.

Yes, FOX Sports 1 gave Crafton and Blaney a fair amount of airtime, but Blaney got the lion’s share of that. The reason? Crafton did his best to stay away from people for a good chunk of the race, running a contrarian strategy of “keep away.” That’s kind of boring to watch. As a result, we’d get updates on Crafton every now and then beyond lap 25, where he’d be holding his own toward the back of the top 10. Meanwhile, Blaney was right up in the mix.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Ryan Blaney received the lion’s share of coverage Friday night versus eventual Truck Series champion Matt Crafton. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Still, there were a couple of issues that FOX Sports 1 missed. For example, the sixth caution came out due to grass that had been kicked up onto the track by Todd Peck. I have no clue how that happened. When Homestead-Miami Speedway was reconfigured in 2003, the warmup lanes weren’t changed. If you’re down there now, you’re either coming out of the pits, you’re in the process of wrecking or you screwed up royally. I have no idea which one would apply for Peck.

The post-race coverage was a bit unsatisfactory. The camera work was, at best, shaky. You had the trophy presentations, interviews and such, yet FOX Sports 1 failed to show the final point standings. I had no clue that Bryan Silas finished in the top 10 in points until Monday. That’s quite an accomplishment for Silas and T3R2. Also, I didn’t hear anything about any controversy regarding Silas carrying logos in support of Rick Scott’s re-election campaign in Florida. Scott’s opponent, Charlie Crist, had some problems when his campaign attempted to sponsor Phil Parsons Racing in the Coke Zero 400 back in July. The sponsorship didn’t even make it to the race before the logos came off.

That’s all for this week. As the NASCAR season is now complete, we’ll soon be taking a short break at Frontstretch for Thanksgiving. However, there’s still a World Champion to crown. That will occur next weekend in Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina Circuit. Abu Dhabi has come a long way from being known principally in the United States as Garfield’s preferred destination to mail the insufferable Nermal to.  Also, it appears that the double points that are in effect for Yas Marina appear to be a one-off, so enjoy it while it’s here.  In addition, we’ve got the Formula E Championship starting back up in Malaysia and tape-delayed coverage of the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series banquet. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, November 18

TimeTelecastNetwork
1:00 a.m. - 1:30 a.m.NASCAR America: The List, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. MomentsNBC Sports Network#
1:30 a.m. - 2:00 a.m.NASCAR America: The List, TracksNBC Sports Network#
2:00 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.NASCAR America: The List, Rookie SeasonsNBC Sports Network#
4:00 a.m. - 6:00 a.m.Blancpain Sprint Series Baku World ChallengeCBS Sports Network*/# (from November 2)
7:00 a.m. - 8:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 17)
8:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 17)
5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
10:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.K&N Pro Series West Casino Arizona 100FOX Sports 1*/# (from November 6)
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1

Wednesday, November 19

TimeTelecastNetwork
7:00 a.m. - 7:30 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 18)
7:30 a.m. - 8:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 18)
8:00 a.m. - 8:30 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 18)
8:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 18)
4:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.Formula DRIFT: Final Fight, Part No. 1NBC Sports Network*/# (from October 9)
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: Greatest NASCAR RivalriesFOX Sports 2#
7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

Thursday, November 20

TimeTelecastNetwork
7:00 a.m. - 7:30 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 19)
7:30 a.m. - 8:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 19)
8:00 a.m. - 8:30 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 19)
8:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 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
7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.Road to FerrariNBC Sports Network#
8:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.Road to MercedesNBC Sports Network# (from October 30)
10:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.Road to FerrariNBC Sports Network#
11:00 p.m. - 12:00 a.m.Road to MercedesNBC Sports Network# (from October 30)

Friday, November 21

TimeTelecastNetwork
12:30 a.m. - 1:30 a.m.Speed Energy Formula Off-Road: Las VegasNBC Sports Network*/ (from November 6)
1:30 a.m. - 3:00 a.m.Red Bull Global RallyCross: Las VegasNBC Sports Network*# (from November 5)
4:00 a.m. - 5:30 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi Free Practice No. 1NBC Sports Live Xtra$
7:00 a.m. - 7:30 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 20)
7:30 a.m. - 8:00 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from November 20)
8:00 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi Free Practice No. 2NBC Sports Network

Saturday, November 22

TimeTelecastNetwork
1:00 a.m. - 2:00 a.m.FIA Formula E Championship: PutrajayaFOX Sports 2
4:00 a.m. - 5:00 a.m.FIA Formula E Championship: PutrajayaFOX Sports 1*#
4:00 a.m. - 5:30 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi Free Practice No. 3NBC Sports Live Xtra$
5:00 a.m. - 6:00 a.m.FIA World Endurance Championship Six Hours of ShanghaiFOX Sports 1*/# (from November 9)
8:00 a.m. - 9:10 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi QualifyingNBC Sports Network
11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.FIA Formula E Championship: PutrajayaFOX Sports 1*#

Sunday, November 23

TimeTelecastNetwork
1:00 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi QualifyingNBC Sports Network*# (from November 22)
7:00 a.m. - 7:30 a.m.F1 ExtraNBC Sports Network
7:30 a.m. - 8:00 a.m.F1 CountdownNBC Sports Network
8:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Abu DhabiNBC Sports Network
10:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.F1 ExtraNBC Sports Network
2:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.F1 CountdownNBC Sports Network*#
2:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Abu DhabiNBC Sports Network*#
4:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.F1 ExtraNBC Sports Network*#
4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.FIA Formula E Championship: PutrajayaFOX*# (from November 22)
7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series Awards CeremonyFOX Sports 1*/ (from November 17)

Monday, November 24

TimeTelecastNetwork
2:00 a.m. - 4:00 a.m.NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series Awards CeremonyFOX Sports 2*/# (from November 17)
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

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

Since Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 marks the end of ESPN’s tenure as a NASCAR broadcaster (for now), I want to write a separate article reviewing ESPN’s 2014, discussing its future involvement in the sport and making some classic references as well. That article will likely run after Thanksgiving. I still plan to critique the Casino Arizona 100 for the K&N Pro Series West, which will pop up in our Newsletter for Thursday.

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.

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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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12 comments

  1. Avatar

    yes very boring only watching 4 cars.after lap 100 left house and went to dunkins and had a coffee came home with 15 laps to go. no danica sightings whats a man to do only hope they do it right next yr..gordon cant be happy old point way would have won #5….harvick would have been 5th

  2. Avatar

    Please tell me ESPN trademarked the whole “Nation” thing, so we aren’t subjected next year to more commercials of non-existent sports bars packed with NASCAR fans and non-existent neighborhoods where all the houses have big driver flags waving out front.

  3. Avatar

    I didn’t bother to watch the race on tv. I’ve seen ESPN’s version of covering a race for several seasons and haven’t been impressed.

    I can get better information from twitter & scanner feed and didn’t have to sit thru the incessant blatherings of Rusty Wallace & Brad D.

  4. Avatar

    The fabricated reality show drove me nuts.

  5. Avatar

    TV coverage has been an issue for some time now. Of course, as we get closer to the Chase, the focus begins to narrow. I’d be pleased if they’d show the race in the way a fan in the grandstands would see it. A fan would look for a battle on the track and watch that. Then, when that was settled they would look for another. Meanwhile, the announcers could be telling you what various drives are doing, how their cars are handling, etc.. without breaking away from a battle to do a one car tight shot. I can’t stand those. You can’t even tell what track you are at when they do that.

  6. Avatar

    Even Danica Patrick was rarely mentioned at Homestead. The only non-chase driver who was consistently mentioned over the course of the chase was Kyle Larson and he certainly earned it. I sure wish he had picked up a win this season.

  7. Avatar

    You mention the Blake Koch incident for Caution #12. If I’m not mistaken, Bestwick called him Joey Gase. I guess I can forgive that, since there were about 30 different drivers ran in the 32 car this year.
    It actually wasn’t too hard for ESPN to keep the Chase scroll updated most of the race, since the obvious message from NASCAR was for the rest of the field to part like the Red Sea and let the Final Four all into the Top 5 or 6.

    • Phil Allaway

      Yes, Bestwick did refer to Koch as Joey Gase (who just happened to drive the #32 in Phoenix). He quickly realized his mistake and apologized for his screw-up.

  8. Avatar

    So disappointing that ESPN chose to ignore the majority of the field and just cover 4 teams. It’s not as if fans can choose to be ‘excited’ about the lottery winner of the title, but we are forced to just watch 10% of the cars on track. Why bother to watch? If this is typical, I have no interest in watching the final race next year.

    • Phil Allaway

      It was very disappointing. Agitating, to be really honest. It only got worse as the race went on. While championship watch has always posed an issue for TV broadcasters even back in the pre-Chase era, they generally realized that there were other stories to cover as well. For example, during the 1992 Hooters 500 at Atlanta, you had the other huge stories of Richard Petty’s retirement and Jeff Gordon making his highly anticipated debut. Apparently, Gordon also had darn near the fastest car in the field on Friday during practice, then couldn’t repeat it in qualifying and his weekend went downhill from there before he was eliminated.