NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Indy 500 vs Coca-Cola 600 TV Coverage

In the world of motorsports, Memorial Day Weekend is a biggie.  You have Indianapolis, Charlotte, Monaco, Lime Rock and the Nürburgring.  With the exception of Monaco, all of those places saw great finishes over the weekend.  Just thinking about all the action gives me a headache.  There’s a reason why we posted Lime Rock race recaps at 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

Coca-Cola 600

The night before Memorial Day is typically NASCAR’s longest night of the season.  A combination of lightning and heavy rain made it longer than normal.  Regardless, FOX still has to put on a good broadcast.

Naturally, the focus prior to the race was on tributes to fallen members of the military.  For instance, one feature on NASCAR RaceDay was centered on Jimmie Johnson meeting the family SPC Michael Rodriguez, whose name Johnson carried on his No. 48.  FOX continued their annual tradition of running the names of those members of the armed forces who died while serving the country over the past year.

Also in pre-race coverage was an interesting piece in which Dale Earnhardt Jr. reminisced about his career and thought about things that he would have done differently.  The biggest standout here is that Earnhardt Jr. wishes that he had never dumped Tony Eury Sr. as his crew chief after 2004 in favor of Pete Rondeau.

On paper, it sounds like a no brainer today.  Earnhardt Jr. was coming off a season in which he won six races, infamously got fined for using the S-word on NBC, and finished fifth.  He went from that to 19th in points and really nowhere.

It’s interesting.  We’re in full lookback mode now with Earnhardt Jr.  He’s got regrets.  We’ll see how the rest of the season goes.

In the race itself, the VHT that was put down was a big story.  No one really knew how it was going to work on asphalt as compared to the obvious benefits on concrete.  Ultimately, it didn’t really do all much.

Having the heavy rains during the race likely didn’t help the situation.  The booth did mention that the substance is not water soluble, so it didn’t wash off.  However, I think they were legitimately disappointed with the results.

Sunday night’s race was interesting in its own right, but not necessarily the most competitive event on earth.  Obviously, the lead changes were up quite a bit from last year (23, as compared to nine last year).  Martin Truex Jr. still kicked everyone’s butt cheeks.  Looks like its back to the drawing board for NASCAR.

I found that FOX did a great job in covering the whole mess surrounding Jeffrey Earnhardt’s rear end issues.  In a replay, FOX was able to catch the metal part that came out of the No. 33 and punched a hole in Chase Elliott’s car.  That led to a punctured oil cooler and fire on Elliott’s car.  Brad Keselowski simply had nowhere to go when that happened.

2017 Bristol I CUP Jeffrey Earnhardt car Matthew T Thacker NKP
Jeffrey Earnhardt’s mechanical failure at Charlotte turned into a mess on the racetrack Sunday night. (Photo: Matthew T. Thacker/NKP)

As far as covering on-track racing is concerned, I found the broadcast to be middling.  You have to do something to make green-flag runs more exciting.  You have to show as much action as you can.  Otherwise, you feed a narrative that the racing is boring.  I just don’t think FOX is doing enough here.

Obviously, the race ended way late Sunday night due to rain/lightning.  It should have been done around 10:20 p.m., but it went on until after Midnight.

The race was red-flagged during the caution for Matt DiBenedetto’s crash, but for lightning.  It wasn’t exactly surprising to me since Mike Joy had made note of potential lightning in the area earlier in the race that nearly forced the network to pull their cameramen off the roof.

With lightning around, they couldn’t realistically provide much in the way of on-track content due to the safety issues.  As a result, FOX aired the highlighted version of the 1987 Winston 500 from Talladega and The 600: History of NASCAR’s Toughest Race.  Honestly, it had been a while since I’d seen the show on the history of the Coca-Cola 600.

Halfway through The 600, NASCAR called the drivers to their cars, which apparently surprised a number of people.  Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was all set to go for a stint in the Hollywood Hotel when he was called out.

There was also a bizarre moment in which Darrell Waltrip asked Jeff Gordon if he could take Gordon’s boat, 24 Karat, to Monaco.  Gordon responded that he didn’t have one and tried to sidestep the whole thing.  That was really bizarre.  I think I know what happened there, but I don’t think I should get into it here.

Post-race coverage was typical for a Cup race on FOX, despite the fact that it was after Midnight.  Viewers got a number of post-race interviews and a check of the points prior to FOX leaving the air.

Much like the race itself, I felt that FOX could have done better.  The middle stages of the race were really underwhelming.  Just because Truex is administering a whooping doesn’t mean that’s all that’s happening.  Find the stories and report on them.  I know you’re good for that.

Indianapolis 500

Sunday brought the crown jewel of the Verizon IndyCar Series, the Indianapolis 500.  Long story short, they have to be on their A-game here since you’re getting multiple times the audience of normal.

We’ll cut ahead here to the scariest moment of the race.  Obviously, even if you didn’t watch the race, you probably know that it was the Scott DixonJay Howard crash.

Honestly, my only complaint here would have been that ESPN cut to the incident just that little bit quicker.  Otherwise, I thought the coverage was dead on.  Scott Goodyear did a good job explaining just what caused Howard to get into the wall and why he couldn’t do anything to keep his car from moving across the track.

The situation was serious and viewers got a serious response from the booth.  There were plenty of accolades given to Dallara for the construction of the DW12 chassis as well.  Something that wasn’t mentioned was the domed skid.  This would not have prevented the liftoff, but it deployed once Dixon got backwards and seemed to lower the rear end of the car.  Perhaps that helped put Dixon into the fence at a lesser angle.

The analysis was pretty comprehensive.  We got post-care center interviews with both Dixon and Howard as well.  Eddie Cheever wasn’t exactly happy with Howard’s explanation, stating that getting out of the way is half the battle.  He should have backed off.

Cheever’s opinion here definitely has merit.  I add inexperience to the equation.  Sunday’s race was the first time that Howard has raced in the series since the 2011 IndyCar World Championships at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  You don’t need me to remind you of what happened that day.  He had never raced the DW12 and probably didn’t have all that much experience with the car in traffic.

Long story short, the man doesn’t have the recent experience.  I think he may have panicked when Ryan Hunter-Reay got to his inside.  I don’t really agree with Howard’s opinion of Hunter-Reay pushing him up the track.  It was Hunter-Reay’s line.  Howard, due to running out of fuel earlier, was running dead last, seven laps down while Hunter-Reay was fifth.  He had no business racing Hunter-Reay in the first place.

Fernando Alonso was another big story on Sunday and ESPN give him the expected substantial amount of coverage.  Marty Smith narrated a piece during the pre-race show in which Alonso talked about why he made the move to come to Indianapolis.  Pretty simple and to the point.  It got the job done.

Alonso was one of the 14 drivers who had an in-car camera and he put himself in position to command a lot of coverage on the broadcast just from his on-track form.  Giving Alonso a lot of coverage here didn’t come off as forced.  He backed up the talk with an excellent performance until his engine blew.

There were some silly pieces during the pre-race show as well.  For instance, James Hinchcliffe dressed up as the head of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, affected a southern accent and just messed with people.  Pretty funny, I guess.  Tony Kanaan was given a pair of glasses with a small camera in it and told to act natural and greet dudes.  That’s nice and all.

However, ESPN also premiered a SC Featured piece on Bryan Clauson on Sunday.  Prior to his death, Clauson signed up to be an organ donor.  This particular piece was about the Clausons meeting the 63-year old man who received Clauson’s heart.  You can see said feature by clicking on the link in the tweet below.

Let’s be honest here.  Before he died, Clauson competed in last year’s Indianapolis 500, finishing 23rd after leading three laps.  Even though he only had a couple of starts in the Verizon IndyCar Series, he had the respect of everyone there.  This should have aired during the pre-race show.

Instead, it premiered on SportsCenter Sunday morning during the pre-race show.  What the heck?  That bites.  You’re forcing people to choose.  Not cool.  I’m not the only person with that opinion.

Personally, I saw it late Sunday night after the Cup race ended on one of the late-night editions of SportsCenter.  I thought it was touching.

As for the race itself, I felt that ESPN did a pretty good job of covering the on-track action.  There were a lot of battles for position, especially around the restarts.  NASCAR’s recent rule changes for Indianapolis are designed to try to create something like this.  Do I think that’s going to happen?  Heck no.

There were a couple of gripes.  For instance, there was heavy in-car camera usage.  That didn’t shock me in the least (remember, they had them in 14 different cars), but breaking away from three-wide racing to show in-car footage is not necessarily the best move.

Also, an entire round of pit stops under the sixth caution (the one when Hunter-Reay blew his engine) occurred in commercial.  ESPN chose not to replay the stops.  Instead, they talked a little about Alonso’s stop (he was leading at the time) and went from there.

Finally, ESPN unveiled a new visor cam on Sunday.  Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden had cameras in their helmets.  The view was spectacular when they worked.  Perhaps the smoothness of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway helped, but there was no jerkiness.  However, they are a temperamental lot.  One of them got knocked out of commission due to detritus.  If ESPN can work out some of the fragility issues, I’d love to see them used more often.

It should be noted that Sunday was not the first time that helmet-mounted in-car cameras have been used.  The most notable example would be the cameras inside of helmets that were used in CART back around 2002.  In NASCAR, there have never been any cameras carried inside of helmets, although Brad Keselowski did try to pitch something like that once.

However, there have been times in which drivers have raced with cameras attached to their helmets back in the days before the massive seats we have today.  The best example of that I can give you was Richard Petty in the 1991 Daytona 500.

https://youtu.be/zCA5fJoQtbA?t=16m28s

The clip above is just from the pace laps.  It was a bit disorienting, to be honest.  The clarity was perfectly fine.  Since the camera was strapped to Petty, it moved with him.  Watching now, it gives me a headache.

Post-race coverage was pretty decent, despite the fact that the race ran long by a half-hour.  Viewers got interviews with the top five finishers, plus the winning car owner (Michael Andretti) before they left the air.  Everyone was complimentary of winner Takuma Sato.  He’s a friendly man who deserved a win at Indianapolis.  In the car, Sato might be the most aggressive driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series.  Five years ago, he went for it on the final lap, only to wreck.  He got his penance for that move.

Overall, ESPN did a pretty good job at Indianapolis.  There was some breathtaking action at times.  I do think they weren’t necessarily the best at covering some of the teams out there.  Likely the best example I can give is Gabby Chaves, who finished a swell ninth in the Harding Racing No. 88.  I don’t think they mentioned him all day.  He at least deserved some dap.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend is another really busy one.  The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series will all be in action at Dover International Speedway.  Or alternatively, Jimmie’s house.  Meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series travels to Detroit for the annual Duels.  They will be the last broadcasts on ABC for Allen Bestwick, Eddie Cheever and Dr. Jerry Punch (they have already been notified that they won’t be back with the network as part of the recent layoffs).  Finally, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will also be in Detroit as primary support to INDYCAR. TV Listings can be found in the schedule tab.

I will provide critiques of the Cup, XFINITY and Truck broadcasts in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  The Critic’s Annex will cover Saturday’s Hisense 4K TV 300 from Charlotte, a race that had way too much wrecking for my taste.

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. 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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As always, if you choose to contact a 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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8 Comments
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russ

The three races and their coverage showed up some pretty striking contrasts.
Monaco had the least exciting race, yet the announcing crew is head and shoulders above their competition.
Indy had the best race and the announcers were good but not great.
Charlotte had a middling race and the announcing was just bad.
But hey, what do I know.

Bill B

I’d say your assessment was 100% accurate.

russ

Bill B. Never ceases to amaze me that the F1 crew, who is sometimes thousands of miles away from the evnt, using a generic feed that somebody else is providing can be so good, while the Nascar bunch is so bad. Amazing.

Andy

what amazed me was I was infinitely more entertained by the rain delay airing of the 1987 race than the 600 itself….and stunned at how far the race broadcasts have sunk since then…

Dj

Really enjoyed the Talledega rebroadcast. Reminded me of what race announcers should sound like. Nuber and Jenkins and later Jenkins, Jarrett and Parsons were the standard that has not been reached by the announcers since. I prefer Alan Bestwick to Mike Joy and no to either Waltrip. Gordon does a good job as does Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton. However I don’t like anyone closely associated with any of the race teams. The Waltrips’ love affair with Toyotas and Gordon being part owner of the 48 prevent them from being truly objective with their commentary

Bette Geraud

Always like your reviews Phil ! Am usually with you 100 percent ! The waltrips have got to go ! They are an embarrassment anymore ‘ ! Old ‘ GW is just that anymore ! Over the hill ! He was a great driver but his day is over ! Last nite he kinda acted like he wasn’t there at time !! Does Fox watch their announcers ??? Time to make some big changes !!!!!!

Al Torney

The fellow above is correct. Jenkins, Parsons and Jarrett were the best. I told Ned that a few years ago and he said I was kind to say that.

I watch the races with the tv on mute. Listen only when a caution comes out to hear the reason for the caution.

I don’t like beating on the Waltrips but they get on my nerves. Reading various blogs tells me I am not alone on this. I never read anything positive about the Waltrips announcing skills. They bug a lot of fans. This would more then likely contribute to lower tv ratings. In any other sport attempting to rig the outcome of an event would ban you for life. Mikey is revered in NASCAR. In addition he dam near ruined Truex and Boyer’s careers.

Your assessment of the tv coverage was dead on. I thought the 600 was boring and Indy exciting. But then Indy cars are just plain more thrilling to watch. They actually scare me. I consider Indy car drivers the bravest racers in the world. Michael Schumacher was not keen on racing in the series because the cars were so fast. Been attending races since 1952 and the most exciting races I ever saw in person were the IRL races at Richmond. Not the competition so much but of the speed and skill of those drivers on that small oval was overwhelming. I wish they would come back.

Try as he might there is no way that Gordon can be totally objective with Hendrick cars. I understand this but it’s not right. DW was not objective when it came to Toyotas a few years back but I think he has cooled off some since his brother doesn’t own a team anymore.

Steve

I don’t give this coverage as high marks as this writer does. I personally thought they tried to cram Alonso down our throats for the first half of Indy following I’m sure their predetermined storyline. When the focus wasn’t on him, it was an exhibition in ADD from the cameras with all the bouncing camera shots. They didn’t pay attention to Sato until about 27 laps to go, even though he was in the top 10 most of the day. Once Alonzo retired, it was all about Helio, essentially trying to will him to victory, so they can have their big story.

To me, the coverage wasn’t any different than their recent Nascar coverage. Predetermined story lines, musical cameras, and covering only a chosen few or hyper focused on the front of the field. The only bright spot was Bestwick calling the race. He always does a good job.

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