Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast criticism is the name of the game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup Series raced at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with three lower level series (Whelen Modified Tour, K&N Pro Series and an exhibition race for the ACT Tour) as support. Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series each raced at a somewhat empty Kentucky Speedway.
On Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series came out to play in temperate Sparta, Kentucky.
The primary feature on Friday’s edition of the Setup was where cameras spent a day with Dakoda Armstrong. Unlike last time, when we met Armstrong’s brothers and went racing at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Friday brought a down home experience. Armstrong’s family owns an 8,000 acre farm in Indiana, and Armstrong took viewers out for a run through the corn fields on a tractor. This was an interesting look at Armstrong’s life away from the track (and what will likely be his overall life for quite a while). Armstrong is apparently out of sponsorship money and cannot afford to do any more races this season. The ongoing drought doesn’t help Armstrong’s case, either. Turner Motorsports owner Steve Turner is willing to give Armstrong one more race in the No. 4 since he basically didn’t even have a go Friday due to engine issues, but beyond that, who knows.
There was also a piece where SPEED talked to drivers about their first career victories in the Camping World Truck Series. This was in response to the seven first-time winners thus far in 2012. Timothy Peters, Todd Bodine, Ron Hornaday and Johnny Sauter shared their thoughts about their initial accomplishments.
SPEED’s race coverage on Friday night was pretty good to watch. There was a whole bunch of good racing for position and even drivers like the much-maligned John Wes Townley got his proper due. Yes, it wasn’t a career-best finish for Townley, but I cannot remember him running this well over a race distance.
However, this was a depleted field. Yes, there were five or so teams that start-and-parked. But, a series of crashes whittled the field down to the point that barely half the starters finished a 201 mile race. No real mention of this was made during the telecast. However, it was definitely noticeable. It was like watching a Budget Sportsman feature at Lebanon Valley where 33 cars start and much fewer than that finish the 20-lap race.
Post-race coverage was actually a little better than what we’ve been getting recently. SPEED provided viewers with six post-race driver interviews, plus an interview with winning crew chief Michael Shelton. There was also a check of the point standings before SPEED left to get to their tape-delayed coverage of Sprint Cup Qualifying from Loudon. That’s another story, though.
On Saturday afternoon, the Nationwide Series returned to action at Kentucky Speedway. ESPN had their secondary on-air crew on hand for the event.
A move by ESPN to air Countdown at 3:30 instead of 3:00 allowed for the whole pre-race show to air on ESPN instead of ESPNEWS. That was nice. Unfortunately, they’re not getting the same treatment this weekend at Dover (see below). I suppose that’s understandable since we’re getting into late September and sunset is starting to get a little early. The tall buildings (specifically the hotel that overlooks the backstretch) don’t help, along with the fact that Dover doesn’t have lights.
The primary feature on Countdown was a piece about how the Nationwide Series serves as a proving ground for drivers prior to their ascension to Sprint Cup. It included sound bites from Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Martin Truex, Jr., Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., all past champions. With the exception of Stenhouse, all of the drivers interviewed are currently full-time in Sprint Cup, but three of those drivers earned Nationwide titles while full-time in Cup. I can understand how former series champions can be a help for a piece like this since they’ve been there and done it (and in many cases, are still doing it for fun), but there needed to be more representation from current full-time drivers.
This brings up a serious question that needs to be discussed. Who exactly is the face of the Nationwide Series? Is it Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., the defending champion of the series who’s leaving for Sprint Cup at the end of the year? Austin Dillon, Elliott Sadler, or even Danica Patrick, as unproductive as she’s been this year? Or is it someone else like Sam Hornish, Jr., or Michael Annett? Or, perhaps, are Sprint Cup regulars the stars? One could argue that ESPN answered the question themselves with this feature. Even with the “chose your series” rule for points, the Nationwide Series appears to still have an unfortunate identity crisis.
The race coverage once again featured the duo of Marty Reid and Ricky Craven in the booth. Craven continues to show himself to be a very knowledgeable and opinionated analyst in the booth. As his time in the broadcast booth has increased, he has gotten more comfortable up there. On the other hand, Reid brings a lot of experience to the table, but isn’t necessarily the best in the booth. On Saturday, there was a segment of the telecast in which he couldn’t seem to figure out how many drivers were on the lead lap. Now, I can’t claim to have ever been in the broadcast booth, but I do know that the booth commentators have access to a NASCAR Timing and Scoring monitor that is far better than the timing and scoring available for fans on the internet (let’s just face it, if you’re not at the track, it kinda bites). Reid needs to take advantage of that.
There were a couple of other instances that I griped about while watching Saturday. Just a couple of laps into the race, Joe Nemechek had an incident on the backstretch. I have no clue what happened to cause it, since ESPN chose not to show a replay. All we got was live aftermath footage showing Nemechek’s car stopped on the backstretch with damage to the right rear corner. That’s weak. Granted, the incident didn’t put Nemechek out (an engine issue later on put him out of his misery), but we’re talking about someone that entered the race ninth in points. It is one thing if you don’t have any footage of what happened. If that’s so, be honest and notify the viewers that you don’t have footage. If you did and still didn’t show it, then that’s just plain disrespectful.
A slight technical issue that I noticed was that the vertical aspect of the picture was stretched out more than normal. As a result, the BottomLine encroached on graphics during a chunk of the race. It was probably most noticeable during rounds of pit stops where the driver in tenth coming out of the pits would have his/her name cut off by the score of the Illinois-Louisiana Tech game (Note: That score didn’t actually cut off any driver’s names since it was a night game that occurred after the race was long over, but you get the general idea).
Post-race coverage was fairly extensive since the race ended ahead of schedule. ESPN provided viewers with seven post-race drivers, plus interviews with the winning crew chief (Danny Stockman) and owner (Richard Childress). There was also a check of the all-important point standings and the top-10 finishers before ESPN left for more football. However, they chose to leave ten minutes before the end of their timeslot, which in itself is weak.
There was a substantial amount of focus on the points race throughout the event, which I found to be rather annoying. Yes, we know that Stenhouse dropped three laps due to brain fade on pit road, then hitting the wall under green. I didn’t need constant reminders about this, especially since there’s still six races to go on the schedule. That type of overload is more typical of Homestead. And yes, it did take away from my enjoyment of the race.
Finally, we get to the Sprint Cup Series. 300 laps of flat-track action was on tap.
ESPN brought viewers a couple of interesting pieces. The first of which was a feature on Brad Keselowski and his recent outspokenness. Personally, I’m fine with Keselowski speaking out and wanting to get his thoughts out there. He’s not a moron. Knowing just how much he’s on Twitter, Keselowski might just be the Sprint Cup driver most in tune with the sensibilities of fans right now.
Now, in this feature, Keselowski stated that he wants to be the “voice of the garage.” I’m not in the garage much, but I don’t think you can just claim that you’re the main voice of the drivers and everyone will just say OK. They can either vote you as their main voice (happens sometimes in Formula One), or you have to earn it. How that is done is anyone’s guess. I don’t think it requires a championship, but it does require universal respect in the garage, and I’m not sure if Keselowski has that, yet.
After the feature aired, Rusty Wallace proceeded to throw Keselowski under the bus and stated that he’s simply the voice of Twitter, while champions are the voice of the garage. Knowing what we’ve seen from Rusty this year, that doesn’t surprise me at all. I saw it coming a mile away. I’d argue more that someone like Jeff Burton would be the voice of the garage, but that’s just my opinion.
Brad Daugherty did a sit-down interview with Michael Waltrip. Waltrip was there to talk about his operation, so we saw a somewhat subdued Waltrip as compared to normal. Waltrip admitted that he’s not really all that great at running a race team. I suppose the 2007 results might speak for themselves when he was going it alone. However, Waltrip believes that his primary skill is bringing together personnel to make things work. The signing of Scott Miller from RCR is said to be a very important part of this year’s form for MWR. Sound bites from Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin, in addition to the aforementioned Miller, helped to flesh out the piece.
Finally, we had a feature where Dale Earnhardt, Jr. talked about his love of fantasy football with Matthew Berry, who I think is so wrapped up in Fantasy Football that he knows bupkis about racing. For the uninformed, Berry is also known as “The Talented Mr. Roto,” and is a Fantasy Football expert for ESPN.
What was shown here is that Earnhardt Jr. is very knowledgeable about fantasy football (and the Redskins, especially). I think it could be an off-shoot of his own personality and his tendencies towards introversion. After all, outside of drafts, the hobby of fantasy sports is time consuming and often spent alone, pouring through data. It is well known that Earnhardt Jr. isn’t exactly the most accessible driver in NASCAR. I suppose the fact that his fans are the most numerous in number and (possibly) the neediest doesn’t help. Up until recently, if he wasn’t in the car or doing something for his sponsors, he was in his motorcoach. Jade Gurss’ book _In The Red_ mentioned about how Earnhardt Jr. would spend his spare time in his motorcoach assembling RC cars back in 2001. Oh, and I did get a kick out of Dale’s Schlitz-based team name. That’s funny.
Last week, I noted that ESPN had a major league focus on the 12 Chasers and even those non-Chasers that managed to get themselves up front were still ignored. Sunday saw a partial repeat of Joliet. Kyle Busch was able to get himself to the front and got plenty of coverage both while he was leading, and after he fell back in the field due to his engine issues.
However, it should also be noted that Kyle has been quoted recently as saying that his interviews have dropped off since he’s not in the Chase. I suppose that just goes with not being in the Chase. However, I find the notion of Kyle Busch going on about _not_ having a microphone in his face quite interesting. It is almost like a role reversal. As we know, Kyle is not always the friendliest during interviews, although he does have a better track record than his older brother. That’s even despite the fact that there is now a “companion 52 minute Rageholic documentary”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiG3COT2bVg of Kyle’s moments to go along with the “75 minute piece on Kurt”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfaZR3ysMIA.
In addition to Kyle’s coverage, other drivers outside of the Chase did get a bit of coverage on Sunday, but nowhere near what they would have gotten outside of a Chase race situation. We had coverage in the top-10, and coverage of Chasers who couldn’t keep themselves there (Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Greg Biffle, etc.).
I also don’t really like the idea of the Kid Rock promos airing during green flag racing. That takes away from the action that I and all the rest of my readers want to see. It just bites. That’s just about the only way that they could be intrusive. In their normal places, they’re fine.
Since Sunday’s race was run at record pace (this has to be the fifth time this year that has occurred), there was quite a bit of post-race coverage. ESPN aired seven post-race driver interviews, plus interviews with the winning crew chief (Darian Grubb) and car owner (Joe Gibbs) like on Saturday. There was also a check of those points before leaving for SportsCenter. However, this time, ESPN managed to fill their slot.
I think Sunday is along the lines of what the other eight Chase race telecasts might be like. Not too good if you’re rooting for someone that didn’t make the Chase, unfortunately. It bites, but for however long we have this format (at least through 2014, if not longer), it is what we will get and we’ll have to like it.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series both return to Dover International Speedway for their second visits of the season. Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series make a haul out west to race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
*Friday, September 28*
*Time Telecast Network*
*11:00am-12:30pm* Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
*12:30-2:30pm* Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
*2:30-4:30pm* Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
*~3:20-5:50pm* Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Street Tuner Race: Lime Rock SPEED2.com$
*6:30-7:00pm* SPEED Center SPEED
*Saturday, September 29*
*Time Telecast Network*
*~10:30am-1:00pm* Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Grand Sport Race: Lime Rock SPEED2.com$
*12:00-1:30pm* Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
*1:30-3:00pm* Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
*3:00-3:30pm* NASCAR Countdown ESPN&
*3:00-6:00pm* Rolex Sports Car Series: Lime Rock SPEED
*3:30-6:00pm* Nationwide Series OneMain Financial 200 ESPN
*7:30-8:00pm* SPEED Center SPEED
*8:00-8:30pm* NCWTS Setup SPEED
*8:30-11:00pm* Camping World Truck Series Smith’s 350 SPEED
*Sunday, September 30*
*Time Telecast Network*
*9:00am-10:00am* NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
*10:30-11:00am* SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
*11:00am-1:00pm* NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
*1:00-2:00pm* NASCAR Countdown SPEED
*2:00-6:00pm* Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 ESPN
*~6:00-6:30pm* NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
*7:00-8:00pm* SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
*9:00-10:00pm* Wind Tunnel SPEED
$- Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your programming provider and/or internet service provider for availability.
&- Unclear whether this will air on ESPN or ESPNEWS
I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series race telecasts for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. Note that there is a good sporting chance that NASCAR Countdown will get bumped due to the Penn State-Illinois game. If it does, it’ll air on ESPNEWS. For future reference, consult “this page”:http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/7621355/espn-networks-2012-college-football-schedule if college football threatens to encroach on pre-race coverage. Also, I will be covering SPEED’s coverage of the F.W. Webb 100 in this week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex 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, 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:
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