All-Star Weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway has always been interesting. You never know what you’re going to get. Unfortunately, Saturday brought confusion to everyone involved, even the sport’s FOX broadcast partner.
Sprint Showdown/Sprint All-Star Race
Holy cripes. Saturday marked new formats for the Sprint Showdown and Sprint All-Star Race. While I’m not a fan of segmentation in the Sprint Showdown (or, for that matter, the idea of people getting into the race without running the whole Showdown), the Showdown did work ok. There were no general issues with the format. The All-Star Race ended up being a mess.
With Friday being a complete washout, there was no rain-fill coverage of note. Saturday’s Showdown coverage started with one quick interview before the action got underway. That action was fast and furious at times. Here, I didn’t have any issues with the commentary. Everyone seemed to be on the ball. It got worse as the day went on.
The lugnut checks ground both races to a halt. I understand why they did it, but I sure hope that it doesn’t become a thing.
The broadcast fell into the realm of complete confusion towards the end of the first segment when Jamie McMurray spun to bring out the yellow on lap 46. Matt Kenseth hadn’t pitted yet and ended up being penalized. The whole situation confused everyone. Mike Joy incorrectly indicated that everyone was going to stay on the lead lap except Kenseth and McMurray. However, due to the mandatory stop at the end of the segment, they all got trapped a lap down (Kasey Kahne could have gotten his lap back had his team kept their tires under control).
Kenseth and his crew chief were under the opinion that had the situation occurred like it did, NASCAR would have thrown a red flag to prevent the situation from happening. While that would have been interesting had it happened, I hadn’t heard anything along those lines and neither had the booth. Obviously, it didn’t happen.
It appears that NASCAR never really thought this new format out. Obviously, they’re doing it now, but jeepers.
Normally, when I’m critiquing, I do it alone. On Saturday night, I spent part of the race watching with some racers and crewmembers down at Lebanon Valley Speedway here in New York. One of the racers, 19-year old Demetrios Drellos, issued a complaint about Darrell Waltrip. He says that he thinks Darrell is clueless and just says things to make himself heard.
While I don’t believe that it applies all the time, I do believe that Drellos has a point. Back when FOX was just starting out with their then-Winston Cup coverage, Darrell was a fresh face in the booth with a new perspective. He took former FOX Sports President David Hill’s insistence of telling the audience why something is happening and ran with it to his share of praise (One could argue that ESPN’s Eddie Cheever could really use that advice these days, but I’m getting ahead of myself for next week).
However, as Darrell has become entrenched in the booth, it seems like he feels that he can do whatever he wants, regardless of how it affects the broadcast. Jeff Gordon doesn’t really act that way. He wants to analyze the race in a proper fashion and thus ends up pushing back against Darrell. At times, the telecast can de-evolve into contrasting views.
This has led a number of fans (Drellos included) that would have preferred that FOX move Darrell to the Hollywood Hotel prior to the season and keep McReynolds in the broadcast booth. Had FOX done that, it would have resulted in a different dynamic. It would be more informative than what we currently have. Sure, the booth would still have fun, but it would be a different feel. Also, we wouldn’t have to deal with the Boogitys. Alas, I feel like financial considerations would have made such a move impossible.
With all of the talk about the format and the confusion therein, there really wasn’t all that much talk about the rules package and the changes that were made going into the weekend. They worked out pretty well. We had good action on-track. Despite the screwy format, I believe that the fans in attendance would have been entertained.
I did find that the coverage was far too focused at the very front, though. Kenseth’s screwup dropped the field down to only 11 on the lead lap, effectively rendering the draw useless. It also gave FOX carte blanche to narrow their focus. Only 20 drivers started this race. They don’t need to narrow their focus even more than it already was.
Given that the race ended over an hour later than planned, post-race coverage was relatively short. Viewers got four post-race interviews and some analysis before FOX Sports 1 left for NHRA Qualifying from Topeka. Brad Keselowski, who finished second and concocted the race format, was not interviewed on-air. Given everything that went down, they should have talked to him before his press conference. However, we did get to hear Kyle Larson‘s take on his battle for the win with Joey Logano. That dude was bummed as heck.
Overall, while I did enjoy the morning broadcast of the Sprint Showdown (Note: This race should be back on Saturday), I found the Sprint All-Star Race broadcast underwhelming. Everyone was so confused that they couldn’t do their jobs effectively. Thankfully, none of these ridiculous format changes will be in play Sunday night. It’ll be 600 miles of action that’s somewhat easier to understand.
On Sunday, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards made their debut on American Sports Network from Toledo Speedway. Home base for ARCA and a strong market for the two-year-old Sinclair Broadcast Group-owned outfit. How did the debut go?
For the broadcast, you had familiar faces helping to guide the way. Ray Dunlap worked the play-by-play. He’s been a known quantity to ARCA for more than 20 years. Before he went national with ESPN, Dunlap worked for ARCA. Longtime commentator Jim Tretow joined up with Dunlap. I found the booth to be quite informative and fairly enthusiastic. However, Tretow made a big error late in the race in stating that Myatt Snider (Marty’s son) was driving for Venturini Motorsports as opposed to Cunningham Motorsports. That was apparently met with quite the stare from Dunlap. Of course, since this happened under green, we could see said stare, but Tretow described the stare. That will go down as a whoopsies.
Pre-race coverage featured a couple of driver interviews, but the main piece of pre-race was a sit-down interview that Charlie Krall conducted with ARCA President Ron Drager. Here, Drager basically gave a state of the series that I found fairly interesting. Topics included the ARCA Ilmor 396 engine, the Five-Star bodies that were recently tested at Michigan International Speedway for superspeedway feasibility, the General Tire deal and the up-and-coming young guns that have the series home in recent years. You could also argue that it was what amounted to an introduction to the series for viewers, many of whom (given the availability of the race on television) may have never previously seen an ARCA race on TV.
I knew going into the race that there weren’t going to be any in-car cameras. ARCA and ASN are apparently working on that for later broadcasts this year, but costs are the issue. They’re expensive as heck. They get them for the races in which they run as support to Sprint Cup because they can simply piggyback off of Cup, but to go it alone isn’t really feasible for them. ARCA is hopeful that some new technology will come along to make it more feasible for them to use in-car technology on future broadcasts.
ASN’s broadcast consisted of at least eight cameras (I was not able to get a complete count, but it’s at least eight for sure), situated where you could get a good amount of action on-screen. I do think that one of their frontstretch cameras was positioned too low. This is because it was blocked by people walking up and down the stairs in the grandstands on at least one occasion.
The graphical package was fairly easy to read. Better than what ESPN currently uses for their INDYCAR broadcasts (Note: This isn’t to say I dislike ESPN’s current simplistic look; it’s just too small). Think of it like a slightly better version of what CBS Sports Network uses for their races. I came away fairly happy with that setup.
The action on-track was not exactly the most competitive early on, but it kicked it up a notch later in the race. Viewers got some good footage of on-track battles, especially the late battles between Snider, teammate Chase Briscoe and Kyle Weatherman.
There are a couple of places where I’d like to see some improvement. I think the booth needs to do a little better job narrowing down to the viewers just who’s still on the lead lap. It was a little unclear at times, especially once the first car a lap down was actually three laps behind. Admittedly, it is the same complaint that I would put on CBS Sports Network’s ARCA coverage last year.
The other gripe I had was the lack of replays at times. If the cameras caught what happened, then we did get replays. If not, then no. As a result, the replay issue was really the result of the low number of cameras available. I feel like that will improve with time.
Post-race coverage was pretty decent, given that they only had Krall in the pits. Viewers got five post-race interviews, plus a check of the results before ASN left the air, including the very disappointed Brian Keselowski. He’s wishing that debris caution never came out on lap 157. He probably would have won had that not happened.
Overall, I’d say that Sunday’s effort was a good start for ASN. While they’ve aired some IMSA coverage (GT3 Challenge Cup) in the past, I think this was the first live race broadcast they’ve ever shot themselves (they’ve already shot two ARCA races this year, but they haven’t aired yet). They did well. Naturally, there were some limitations based around what they had available, but the broadcast was generally enjoyable to watch. There weren’t really any technical glitches and the HD feed was free and clear. I think the ARCA brass would have been very happy with the full grandstands and a good first broadcast for ASN. It is definitely something that they can build on for their remaining four live broadcasts.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is the sweetest weekend of racing all year. Monaco, Indianapolis and Charlotte. Sunday is the perfect day for couch potatoes who just so happen to be race fans. Sequester yourself in a comfy room and enjoy some classic action. In addition to those race weekends, we also have Pirelli World Challenge at Lime Rock Park, which I will be covering on site. The listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab.
I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, XFINITY and Verizon IndyCar Series races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. I’m really looking forward to the action. We’ll be covering Saturday’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 for the Camping World Truck Series a little later this week in the Frontstretch Newsletter.
If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below. Even though I can’t always respond, I do read your comments and I’m happy with the increased number of comments so far this year. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.
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About the author
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 the Super DIRTcar Series.
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