NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Jeff Gordon’s Booth Finale Highlight of Weekend

Welcome back to another edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. Today, we’ve reached critique No. 450. Yowza. To top that off, we’ve got Talladega. By the standards of race broadcasts, Talladega races are easier than normal to cover since everyone’s all together… most of the time. Let’s see how it went.

GEICO 500

Sunday saw 500 miles of action at Talladega Superspeedway for the Sprint Cup Series. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won in a fashion similar to many of his other Talladega victories. What we saw Sunday was similar to a couple of other races, right down to the single-file racing next to the wall almost to the finish. Apparently, someone missed the memo on that.

During FOX NASCAR Sunday, Darrell Waltrip sat down with Earnhardt Jr. for a one-on-one interview. The result was a wide-ranging interview that we only got to see bits and pieces of. Here, the two racers talked about the run-in with Tony Stewart in Richmond, how Earnhardt Jr. views himself and how he views his late father.

What really seems interesting here (besides the fact that Darrell got a full 40 minutes with him, which is substantial) is the fact that Earnhardt Jr. never really thought he’d amount to much in racing because of the pressure of being the Intimidator’s son. Apparently, his desire as a youngster was simply to work in his father’s Chevrolet dealership. If that’s so, he achieved his goal by age 20. He holds such work in high esteem. There’s a reason his Twitter bio starts with “Retired dealership service mechanic.” Also, Earnhardt Jr. does seem to get emotional whenever his father is mentioned in the piece. Everything that’s aired about Earnhardt Jr.’s relationship with his father mentions about how he always wanted to make his father proud, even though he really didn’t have that much of a relationship with him growing up. He may be 40 years old today, but he’s still the same person desperately trying to win his father’s approval that he was as a kid.

In addition, Denny Hamlin talked at length about his neck spasms at Bristol. I found the segment to be an eye-opener. We knew that Hamlin was in significant pain, but he mentioned that he couldn’t have done as well as Erik Jones ultimately did. In his own words, he would have been “just turning laps.” What that would have looked like, I don’t know. It sounds like he wouldn’t have been competitive because of his condition.

As you’re now aware, the race ended with Earnhardt Jr. hauling the field around the track in the upper-most lane for the last 25 laps of the race. Darrell mentioned all during this portion of the race that he’d never seen anything like it. Well, I’d beg to differ. The 2007 UAW-Ford 500 (first plate race with the COT) is one example. However, the final moves started earlier. I could easily throw up clips of Earnhardt Jr. from 2002 when they were still using the Gen-4 cars as well.

The point here is that the single-file racing towards the end of plate races is not necessarily new. I guess Darrell’s just used to the idea of most plate races ending in GWCs. Not having that in either race last weekend must have come as a shock to him. Also of note, man, those CoTs were ugly.

Admittedly, Sunday’s race in general just wasn’t as exciting as the Xfinity Series race, the Daytona 500, or really any Cup or Xfinity Series plate race in the last few years. It had the fewest lead changes since the 2002 EA Sports 500 (the last caution-free race at Talladega) and really wasn’t all that exciting. Having Earnhardt Jr. at his best there tempers the rest of the race.

Post-race coverage was punctuated by an emotional Earnhardt Jr. in Victory Lane, celebrating his first Talladega win since 2004 (and not getting fined for cussing). Here, we saw a lot of the same emotion that was shown in his interview with Darrell, talking about how proud his father would be of him and possibly, whether Sr. would stick around for longer than a split-second before racing to the airport to get out of town these days.

Overall, Sunday’s event was decent. We had some good stories come out of the day, like Josh Wise’s career-best 10th-place finish for Phil Parsons Racing and Ryan Blaney being in the hunt all day. However, Sunday’s race was just about as chalk a race as you can get at Talladega these days.

FOX’s broadcast on Sunday was okay. They did a fair job covering the race. They did have some strange instances. I don’t know who thought of the hat cam for Michael Waltrip during the pre-race show, but maybe you shouldn’t do that again. Having Michael compete in restrictor-plate races is a normal thing, but Sunday was just weird. FOX didn’t seem to know what to do when Michael’s discussion turned to an apparent practice run-in with Danica Patrick. At that point, they cut away awkwardly from the discussion. That whole thing was strange.

The commercial breaks all weekend were somewhat strange. Saturday’s race saw a bunch of commercial breaks stacked on top of each other in what was really the only negative part of the telecast. It made no sense whatsoever. They can be spread out. Sunday’s race saw the lone Crank It Up segment transition into a break, which I cannot recall happening previously. I guess that it was a mini-tribute to Steve Byrnes, but still very strange.

Winn-Dixie 300

Saturday afternoon brought the Xfinity Series back onto network television and away from the ongoing News Corporation-AT&T U-Verse spat for 300 miles of action at Talladega. No GWC this time. How did FOX do? Really, not that bad.

On NASCAR RaceDay – Xfinity Edition, Greg Biffle joined the show in place of Kenny Wallace, who was racing the No. 26 JGL Racing Toyota in place of his older brother. Biffle was generally solid in his role. We mustn’t forget that Biffle used to be a regular on SPEED shows such as This Week in NASCAR.

Even with a reduced quotient of Wallace, what really stood out here was Danielle Trotta’s one-on-one interview with Joey Gase. Am I surprised that the topic ended up being his mother’s untimely death and the promotion of organ donation? No. However, while past pieces have talked about Gase meeting recipients of his mother Mary’s organs, this one was more about Gase’s relationship with his mother and what he went through when she died. In other words, new territory. Admittedly, it was a little hard to watch at times, but I thought that FOX did a great job. It’s difficult to imagine an 18-year old having to make those decisions (remember, as Mary Gase was divorced when she died, it was up to Joey to make the decision on organ donation).

Jeff Gordon was back in the booth for his final appearance of the season Saturday. He did miss the start of the race, but that wasn’t his fault. After all, he did win the pole for the GEICO 500 immediately before pre-race coverage started. Just because you have TV responsibilities doesn’t mean you get out of the normal media responsibilities as a racer. Of course, having said that, I’m surprised that NASCAR didn’t work with him on that.

In the booth, Gordon has spent much of his time up there having a nice back and forth between himself and Michael Waltrip. Hard to believe, but having Gordon there gives Michael someone to play off of, while also keeping him on task. While future broadcasting opportunities for Gordon likely won’t have the mentality of a “Shaq V.S.” setup, I find that Gordon has grown quite a bit in the booth over his couple of races. Doing TV is not easy. You can’t just walk in off the street with no training and expect to be a pro overnight. Carl Edwards found that out the hard way with ESPN. As far as I know, they didn’t give Edwards that much training before he did his first race in the booth. It showed.

When Gordon’s part-time addition to the broadcast booth was announced, I was a little surprised. I really wouldn’t have expected Gordon to get into TV. He just never struck me as the sort. Now, I think he’s definitely earned more time in the booth. Where that would be is anyone’s guess.

Saturday’s race should also go down as a day of reckoning for NASCAR’s rules in regards to tandem drafting in the Xfinity Series. Officially, tandem or push drafting for any period of time is forbidden. NASCAR is apparently monitoring video and claims that they will bust anyone who does it. Well, they were apparently watching some other race on Saturday. There was tandem drafting going on for a good chunk of the race. The FOX booth was ahead of the game here. They predicted that it was going to be a thing before halfway and went out of their way to point it out when it happened.

Having said that, I do think that FOX was a little slow in bringing viewers information pertaining to the pit-road incident during the Big One. Ultimately, it took about a half hour for any mention of crew members potentially being hurt when Brendan Gaughan hit the pit wall (Note: That is an estimate based on the nearly eight-minute red flag, caution laps at three minutes each, then a short green-flag run before a debris caution). I feel like reliable information may have been out there prior to that. By the time we did get an update, Troy Brady (the pit board man on Aric Almirola’s crew) had already been transported to the hospital.

Despite the race ending over 20 minutes past the end of the time slot, FOX still provided viewers with a decent amount of post-race coverage, given the circumstances. During that coverage, FOX aired footage of Gaughan hitting the pit wall from the Hawkeye officiating cameras and gave another update on the situation.

Overall, the coverage was quite good on Saturday. I didn’t like the cut to a replay of the start just as Elliott Sadler slid onto the apron entering turn 3 on lap 2. However, they did redeem themselves throughout the day with coverage such as radio chatter that showed that Ernie Cope refused to change strategy even after being notified by Chase Elliott that he had locked up his right-front tire.

International Motorsports Hall of Fame 200

Friday evening saw the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards return to FOX Sports 1 for their second televised race of the year. The race has been shortened once again due to NASCAR adjusting the on-track schedule, much to ARCA’s detriment. Hard to imagine that this race used to be 500 kilometers.

Quite simply, if you weren’t in the lead draft on Friday night, you weren’t on the broadcast. Sad, but true. On a better note, they did take the time to tell viewers about some of the drivers in the race. For example, there was a decent amount of time spent touting Tyler Audie’s full ride to the University of Alabama to study aeronautical engineering, David Levine’s recent graduation from Furman, and the improved form that British Columbia native Sarah Cornett-Ching has been showing since her rather problematic start to the season in Daytona.

Of course, Friday’s race will be best remembered for the huge hit that Brad Smith took on the inside wall exiting the tri-oval. He’s lucky to get out of that Ford Fusion with just a broken ankle.

FS1’s approach here was to talk about how the crash was similar to Kyle Busch’s crash (I was thinking more along the lines of a hit Christi Passmore took exiting turn 4 in this race in 2004). They held off on showing replays for a few minutes before analyzing what happened. They showed Smith sitting up on his door sill, then walking (with assistance) to the ambulance as well. Later on, they gave us an update on Smith’s condition. The news on the broken ankle came after the race ended.

There will be some improvements that will come out of this crash. There shouldn’t be a setup in which the paved runoff acts as a launching ramp into the wall, which is what we have at Talladega. Looney tunes.

Post-race coverage was frustrating. Yes, the race ran long, but it’s not like it ran long by a bunch like the NXS race did on Saturday. It finished just before 8 p.m., when MLB Whiparound was scheduled to start. That show averages roughly 40,000 viewers a night.

According to Sports Media Ratings, Friday’s ARCA race had roughly 472,000 viewers. Not great, but it’s worth mentioning here.

FS1 ran like heck away from the ARCA broadcast without giving them the chance to truly wrap things up in order to get to a show that over-performed to attract one-third of the race’s audience. It should also be noted that the show normally gets maybe one-third of NASCAR RaceHub’s ratings despite a primetime slot and making MLB Whiparound wait an extra five minutes to start likely wouldn’t have changed anything. Weak. While FOX Sports didn’t outright serve Blake Jones like they did John Wes Townley a couple of years ago, they did him an injustice. It’s weak. Simple as that.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series travels to Kansas Speedway for their first visit of the year. They’ll be joined by the Camping World Truck Series in what will be only their fourth race of the season. If you’ve read this column before, you probably know how I feel about that. Meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series takes on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Formula 1 returns to the Circuit de Catalunya. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, May 5

TimeTelecastNetwork
9 a.m. - 10 a.m.AMSOil Arenacross: FresnoFOX Sports 2*#
10 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.ARCA Racing Series International Motorsports Hall of Fame 200FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 1)
11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.XFINITY Series Winn-Dixie 300FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 2)
5 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
8 p.m. - 9 p.m.AMSOil Arenacross: FresnoFOX Sports 2*#

Wednesday, May 6

TimeTelecastNetwork
5 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.Pirelli World Challenge: Barber Park, GTS RoundsCBS Sports Network*/ (from April 24-25)
8:30 p.m. - 9 p.m.Formula DRIFT: Long Beach, Part No. 1CBS Sports Network* (from April 17)
9 p.m. - 11 p.m.Pirelli World Challenge: Barber Park, GT/GTA/GT Cup RoundsCBS Sports Network*/ (from April 24-25)
11 p.m. - 12 a.m.K&N Pro Series West NAPA Auto Parts/Wildcat 150NBC Sports Network*/ (from May 2)
11:30 p.m. - 12 a.m.Formula DRIFT: Long Beach, Part No. 1CBS Sports Network*/# (from April 17)

Thursday, May 7

TimeTelecastNetwork
12 a.m. - 1 a.m.Pirelli World Challenge: Barber Park, GTS RoundsCBS Sports Network*/# (from April 24-25)
12 a.m. - 1 a.m.Denny Hamlin Short Track ShowdownNBC Sports Network*/# (from April 23)
1 a.m. - 2 a.m.Road to IndyNBC Sports Network
1 a.m. - 3 a.m.DTM: HockenheimCBS Sports Network*# (from May 2)
3 a.m. - 4 a.m.Pirelli World Challenge: Barber Park, GTS RoundsCBS Sports Network*/# (from April 24-25)
4 a.m. - 6 a.m.DTM: HockenheimCBS Sports Network*# (from May 2)
10:30 a.m. - 11 a.m.Formula DRIFT: Long Beach, Part No. 1CBS Sports Network*/# (from April 17)
5 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

Friday, May 8

TimeTelecastNetwork
4 a.m. - 5:30 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Spain Free Practice No. 1NBC Sports Live Extra$
8 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Spain Free Practice No. 2NBC Sports Network
10 a.m. - 11 a.m.A Perfect Storm: The 1979 Daytona 500FOX Sports 1#
11 a.m. - 12 p.m.NASCAR Masters of the Clock: The Legend of MartinsvilleFOX Sports 1#
12 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1
1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceHub No. 1FOX Sports 1
2:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1
3:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceHub No. 2FOX Sports 1
4:30 p.m. - 6 p.m.Camping World Truck Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1
6 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceHub No. 3FOX Sports 1
6:30 p.m. - 8 p.m.Sprint Cup Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1
8 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.NCWTS SetupFOX Sports 1
8:30 p.m. - 11 p.m.Camping World Truck Series Toyota Tundra 250FOX Sports 1

Saturday, May 9

TimeTelecastNetwork
12:30 a.m. - 1:30 a.m.Denny Hamlin Short Track ShowdownNBC Sports Network*/# (from April 23)
1:30 a.m. - 3 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Spain Free Practice No. 2NBC Sports Network*# (from May 8)
3 a.m. - 5:30 a.m.Camping World Truck Series Toyota Tundra 250FOX Sports 1*# (from May 8)
5 a.m. - 6 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Spain Free Practice No. 3NBC Sports Live Extra$
6 a.m. - 8 a.m.DTM: HockenheimCBS Sports Network*# (from May 2-3)
8 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Spain QualifyingCNBC
10 a.m. - 11 a.m.FIA Formula E Championship: MonacoFOX Sports 1
11 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.Mobil 1's The GridCBS Sports Network
11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1*# (from May 8)
11:30 a.m. - 12 p.m.Formula DRIFT: Long Beach, Part No. 2CBS Sports Network*/ (from April 18)
3:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Spain QualifyingNBC Sports Network*#
3:30 p.m. - 6 p.m.Verizon IndyCar Series Angie's List Grand Prix of IndianapolisABC
5 p.m. - 6 p.m.GP2 Series: SpainNBC Sports Network*
7 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceDayFOX Sports 1
8 p.m. - 11 p.m.Sprint Cup Series SpongeBob Squarepants 400FOX Sports 1

Sunday, May 10

TimeTelecastNetwork
3 a.m. - 6 a.m.Sprint Cup Series SpongeBob Squarepants 400FOX Sports 1*# (from May 9)
6 a.m. - 7:30 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Spain QualifyingNBC Sports Network*# (from May 9)
7:30 a.m. - 8 a.m.F1 CountdownNBC Sports Network
8 a.m. - 10 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of SpainNBC Sports Network
9:30 a.m. - 10 a.m.Mobil 1's The GridCBS Sports Network#
10 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.F1 ExtraNBC Sports Network
1 p.m. - 2 p.m.AMSOil Arenacross: Las VegasFOX Sports 1*
2 p.m. - 4 p.m.Blancpain Sprint Series: NogaroCBS Sports Network*/# (from April 6)
4 p.m. - 6 p.m.Blancpain Sprint Series: Brands HatchCBS Sports Network*/
6 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.Toyota Pro/Celebrity RaceCBS Sports Network* (from April 12)
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.AMSOil Arenacross: Las VegasFOX Sports 2*#
6:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.Formula DRIFT: Long Beach, Part No. 2CBS Sports Network*/# (from April 18)
11 p.m. - 1 a.m.Blancpain Sprint Series: Brands HatchCBS Sports Network*/#

Monday, May 11

TimeTelecastNetwork
10 a.m. - 1 p.m.Sprint Cup Series SpongeBob Squarepants 400FOX Sports 1*# (from May 9)
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
9 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.Toyota Pro/Celebrity RaceCBS Sports Network*# (from April 12)
9:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.Formula DRIFT: Long Beach, Part No. 2CBS Sports Network*/# (form April 18)
11:30 p.m. - 12:30 a.m.AMSOil Arenacross: Las VegasFOX Sports 2*#
Key:
* – Tape Delayed
/ – Highlighted Coverage
# – Repeat Coverage
^ – Available via free online streaming
$ – Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your internet service/programming provider for availability.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Camping World Truck and Verizon IndyCar Series races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch. For the Annex in the Newsletter, we’ll finally get down to it with the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown. I know I’ve been promising it, but NBC Sports Network has been pushing it back constantly. I cannot control their scheduling decisions. Should be a good one.

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 FOX Sports personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage, please click on the following link:

FOX Sports

At this point, there is still no public contact email 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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5 Comments
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Bill

Jeff needs to stay out of the broadcast booth until he secures a win and is assured of advancing to the Chase.

Nick

You used the 2007 Talladega as an example of “single file racing.” They were single file for maybe one lap in that entire video. That’s nowhere close to the 20 single file laps they gave us on Sunday. 2013 would have been the better example.

Bill W.

It was refreshing to watch the ARCA race and not having Waldrip in the booth. It shows that 3 people are not needed in the booth to cover a race. After watching the Denny H. race from South Boston ,I can’t wait until Daytona and the Waldrips go away. NBC did a pretty good job of the coverage and there wasn’t continues talking in the booth.

JohnQ

Phil, Please, please be careful. Preliminary studies by the Surgeon General indicate that over exposure to Waltrips can cause brain damage.

GinaV24

Didn’t bother to watch the Saturday race from Dega, the weather was way too nice to be inside so even Gordon’s time in the booth couldn’t draw me in. Same thing for Sunday. I did watch some of it and came in to catch the last 20 laps figuring they’d actually race at that point, but nope, just follow the leader racing. I’m glad there wasn’t a huge smoking pile at the end like many RP tracks but taking nothing away from Jr, that was a pretty bizarre ending.

I read that NASCAR might put off making changes for 2016. It’s a shame they bothered to change the cars for this year. So far, I’m not impressed nor do I think it has improved the racing.

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