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Couch Potato Tuesday: A New Man In NASCAR’s Play-by-Play Chair
Credit: CIA Editorial Photography

Couch Potato Tuesday: A New Man In NASCAR’s Play-by-Play Chair

Last weekend, all three series were back in action, though they were split up between Pocono and Iowa. ESPN continues their “lame duck” season covering the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series, while FOX Sports 1 continued their longtime coverage of Camping World Trucks.

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Credit: CIA Editorial Photography

ESPN covered Saturday night’s Nationwide Series race from Iowa. Credit: CIA Editorial Photography

On Saturday night, the Nationwide Series was back in action at Iowa Speedway for 250 laps of competition. With the Sprint Cup Series in action at Pocono Raceway, it meant a second production crew was sent out to cover the action. Nationwide races in Iowa (especially the August night race) are typically slightly stripped down from a typical broadcast. There’s no Quicken Loans Pit Studio and the extra analysts that come with it. In fact, ESPN had only five on-air personnel in Iowa.

Pre-race coverage was focused upon interviews. Greg Ives got his time on-air since he was just announced as Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s new crew chief starting next season. As a result, it was a good move to introduce viewers to the man who’s going to be calling the shots on Earnhardt, Jr.’s No. 88 next year. The rest of the focus was squarely on the Nationwide regulars, which is always good to see.

With the split crews, ESPN has often chosen to go with a two-man booth for this particular race in the past. Last year, it was Marty Reid with Ricky Craven. With Reid having been released prior to the end of last season, it was Dave Burns who got the call to partner up with Ricky Craven. The Burns-Craven duo has a lot of potential. As I’ve stated in this column in the past, Craven is a very smooth presence in the broadcast booth and easily explains everything in a way that doesn’t make diehards look dumb.

A perfect example was when Craven was explaining radio chatter between Trevor Bayne and his crew chief, Chad Norris that made him think that Bayne may have had a loose wheel. The only problem with that segment is that ESPN didn’t fully pay it off when the teams finally came to pit road. Granted, that was nearly 60 laps after the aforementioned passage, but they did need to at least put a camera on the tires that came off of Bayne’s car so that viewers could see if anything was up.

Last winter, I wrote that my dream NASCAR broadcast booth actually included the current version of Craven because he brings a mentality to broadcasts of not trying to overshadow everyone. It’s refreshing. Someone should snatch him up for the 2015 season. Craven is also a regular in the garage. He’s “in the know” and seems quite knowledgeable about everything.

The actual race coverage was decent, but still not inclusive enough. The coverage was mainly centered upon those towards the very front of the field. There were some good battles for position that ESPN showed viewers, but most of those tended to be early in the race, and as the laps clicked off, the focus got tighter and tighter. Eventually, it was just the Sam Hornish, Jr. and Brad Keselowski show. I know that they were running one-two for much of the race, but there’s more out there to show.

There was only one Up to Speed segment during the race, and that short segment concerned only those drivers involved in the Nationwide Dash 4 Cash. While yes, the Dash 4 Cash was a decently-sized storyline for the evening, there needed to be a more inclusive offering given to the fans.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief. ESPN aired only three driver interviews and never showed the points before leaving for SportsCenter. It was quite a letdown.

Pocono Mountains 150

Saturday afternoon brought the Camping World Truck Series back to Pocono for a slightly longer race. The telecast also saw the debut of Steve Byrnes in the play-by-play chair, replacing the departed Rick Allen.

If Byrnes taking over the play-by-play role was supposed to be the big story of the telecast, he certainly didn’t make it look like it was. Having Byrnes in the booth resulted in a completely different feel from what viewers are used to. Allen tended to take charge in the booth, and even with Michael Waltrip prominently involved with the telecast, you knew that Allen was in control. I didn’t get that feel on Saturday.

Instead, Byrnes’ booth work during the race reminded me of his work on practice telecasts. He seemed to defer to Phil Parsons and Waltrip quite a bit more than Allen would. Granted, it’s his first Truck race in quite a long time (he hasn’t worked the pits on a truck telecast anytime recently prior to Saturday), but I think he’ll need to work himself into a natural groove. Doing a 150 mile Camping World Truck Series race is a far cry from working a Sprint Cup practice session at 11 am on a Friday. As the play-by-play commentator, Byrnes has to control the flow of commentary from the booth, and I didn’t feel that he did that Saturday. It seemed like Parsons was the primary commentator in the booth for much of the race.

The overall production was quite decent. Viewers always had a good idea of everything that was going on out on the track. There were no notable technical issues, and the action was pretty good. The booth did go a little easy on Tyler Reddick, though. Also of note, it seemed that no one noticed Bryan Silas smacking the wall in addition to Tyler Young.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief Saturday afternoon. FOX Sports aired three driver interviews, an interview with winning crew chief Nick Harrison, and a check of the points before leaving the air.

GoBowling.com 400

On Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series returned to Pocono Raceway, site of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s latest Sprint Cup win.

NASCAR Countdown on Sunday was notable for two different reasons. First was a one-on-one interview that the always interesting Marty Smith conducted with Jeff Gordon about two hours after he won the Crown Royal presents the John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard. Gordon comes off here as someone with a child-like sense of wonder, despite the fact that he’s now 43 years old. It’s really interesting when you think about it.

The other piece of note was Ryan McGee’s sit down with Rick Hendrick and Earnhardt Jr. The three men talked about a variety of topics, ranging from the No. 88 team’s performance in 2014 to stranger things, like the infamous road trip that Earnhardt Jr. took with Ken Schrader (with his father’s permission, somehow) and how Schrader apparently tried to corrupt him on said trip. The piece showed how the Earnhardts and Hendricks have been connected with each other since Hendrick entered NASCAR. While Earnhardt Jr.’s currently in his seventh year with the team (hard to believe that it’s been that long), the ties stretch way beyond that time. Earnhardt Jr. seems to think of Hendrick like another father.

Ultimately, races at Pocono can be a little similar to races to Indianapolis, just without all the pomp and circumstance that comes with a race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The pit strategy once again became the primary story. Having a track where green flag laps take 52 seconds or more and three pit strategies means almost constant pitting. It’s a little hard to figure out where everyone is if ESPN has to keep cutting to pit road every lap or two to cover a major pit stop.

ESPN did get some good radio chatter on the broadcast Sunday. The best example I can recount is from when Kasey Kahne, for lack of better words, punted Joe Nemechek into the wall. Kahne’s comments were completely inconsistent with the replays that showed Kahne giving Nemechek the vehicular bum’s rush. Either Kahne was wrong outright, or there’s something we didn’t necessarily see. Given Nemechek’s pace on Sunday, I’m going with the former.

2014 Chicago NNS Kasey Kahne vertical Credit Jonathan Daniel-Getty Images via NASCAR

Kasey Kahne was the focus in social media circles Sunday after his on-track Pocono collision with Joe Nemechek. Credit: Jonathan Danie

There were some technical issues that unfortunately tempered my ability to watch part of the race. I’m going to need your help on this one because I could not tell based on Twitter if it was affecting anyone else but me. I had multiple audio dropouts during the telecast that I’m fairly certain had nothing to do with profanities (which ESPN regularly cuts audio in order to bleep out). My thoughts on cutting audio to keep an “S-bomb” from airing are for another time.

However, what really made it hard to watch the coverage is when the entire feed froze and cut out multiple times. Luckily, it occurred under the yellow for the Big One, but I missed at least one driver interview (I think Tony Stewart’s) because of it. Sure, I could get what he said by looking at the Chevrolet Post-Race Quotes, but I’d rather see it live. My guess is that ESPN was having some satellite issues, much like TNT had earlier this year.

Overall, the telecast was on par with Indianapolis. The shear amount of pit strategy trumped almost anything else on the broadcast. I don’t know if such a strategy focus is really what the fans want, but it was essentially required. Problem is, that focus means that people had a difficult time (unless you stared at the scroll) figuring out where everyone was.

Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series teams both travel to the very scenic and very hilly Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York for their second assault on the twisties for 2014.In addition, the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship (TUSC) races on the slightly more than four-mile long Road America circuit.

We’ve also got something new this week. To save space, I have created tables that will show this week’s TV Listings. It will definitely look cleaner. Hope you like it.

Tuesday, August 5

Time
Telecast
Network
1:00 AM - 3:00 AMVerizon IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 at Mid-OhioNBC Sports Network*/# (from August 3)
10:00 AM - 11:30 AMARCA Racing Series ModSpace 125FOX Sports 1*/# (from August 1)
11:30 AM - 12:00 PMThe 10: NASCAR's Wildest ThrowdownsFOX Sports 1#
12:00 PM - 1:00 PMNASCAR RaceHub SpecialFOX Sports 1#
5:00 PM - 5:30 PMNASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 PM - 6:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7:00 PM - 8:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
8:00 PM - 10:00 PMIMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Brickyard Sports Car ChallengeFOX Sports 1*/# (from July 25)

Wednesday, August 6

Time
Telecast
Network
1:00 PM - 3:00 PMIMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Brickyard Sports Car ChallengeFOX Sports 1*/# (from July 25)
5:00 PM - 5:30 PMNASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 PM - 6:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 PM - 7:00 PMEmpty Cup: Quest for the 1992 NASCAR ChampionshipFOX Sports 2#
7:00 PM - 8:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

Thursday, August 7

Time
Telecast
Network
1:00 PM - 2:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1#
2:00 PM - 3:30 PMARCA Racing Series ModSpace 125FOX Sports 1*/# (from August 1)
3:30 PM - 5:00 PMCamping World Truck Series Pocono Mountains 150FOX Sports 1*/# (from August 2)
5:00 PM - 5:30 PMNASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 PM - 6:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7:00 PM - 8:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
8:00 PM - 9:00 PMK&N Pro Series East JEGS 150FOX Sports 2*/# (from July 19)
9:00 PM - 10:00 PMK&N Pro Series West NAPA Auto Parts/Toyota 150 (Colorado National Speedway)FOX Sports 2*/# (from July 26)
10:00 PM - 12:00 AMIMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Brickyard Sports Car ChallengeFOX Sports 2*/# (from July 25)

Friday, August 8

Time
Telecast
Network
9:30 AM - 11:00 AMNationwide Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1
11:00 AM - 12:00 PMK&N Pro Series Autolite Iridium XD 150FOX Sports 1*/ (from August 1)
12:00 PM - 12:30 PMNASCAR Live No. 1FOX Sports 1
12:30 PM - 2:00 PMSprint Cup Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1
2:00 PM - 3:30 PMNationwide Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1
3:30 PM - 4:30 PMNASCAR Live No. 2FOX Sports 1
4:30 PM - 6:00 PMSprint Cup Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1
5:00 PM - 5:30 PMNASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network

Saturday, August 9

Time
Telecast
Network
3:00 AM - 4:30 AMSprint Cup Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1*# (from August 8)
4:30 AM - 6:00 AMSprint Cup Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1*# (from August 8)
9:30 AM - 11:00 AMNationwide Series QualifyingESPN 2
11:30 AM - 1:00 PMSprint Cup Series QualifyingESPN 2
2:00 PM - 2:15 PMNASCAR CountdownABC
2:15 PM - 5:00 PMNationwide Series Zippo 200ABC
4:20 PM - 5:45 PMTUDOR United SportsCar Championship QualifyingIMSA.com^

Sunday, August 10

Time
Telecast
Network
3:00 AM - 4:00 AMmotoGP World Championship QualifyingFOX Sports 1* (from August 9)
11:00 AM - 12:00 PMNASCAR RaceDayFOX Sports 2
12:00 PM - 1:00 PMMoto3: IndianapolisFOX Sports 1
12:00 PM - 1:00 PMNASCAR CountdownESPN
1:00 PM - 2:00 PMMoto2: IndianapolisFOX Sports 1
1:00 PM - 4:00 PMSprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at the GlenESPN
1:30 PM - 3:30 PM Pirelli World Challenge: Mid-OhioNBC Sports Network*/ (from August 2-3)
2:00 PM - 3:00 PMmotoGP World Championship Grand Prix of IndianapolisFOX Sports 1
3:30 PM - 5:00 PMTORC Series Battle at the ChipNBC Sports Network*/ (from August 5-6)
5:00 PM - 5:30 PMFormula DRIFT: Atlanta (Road to the Championship), Part 1NBC Sports Network*/ (from May 9
6:30 PM - 9:30 PMTUDOR United SportsCar Championship Continental Tire Road Race ShowcaseFOX Sports 1*
9:30 PM - 10:00 PMNASCAR Victory LaneFOX Sports 1

Monday, August 11

Time
Telecast
Network
1:30 AM - 4:00 AMSprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at the GlenESPN 2*/# (from August 10)
10:00 AM - 11:00 AMMoto3: IndianapolisFOX Sports 1*# (from August 10)
11:00 AM - 12:00 PMMoto2: IndianapolisFOX Sports 1*# (from August 10)
12:00 PM - 1:00 PMmotoGP World Championship Grand Prix of IndianapolisFOX Sports 1*# (from August 10)
12:30 PM - 1:30 PMRally America: Susquehannock Trail Performance RallyNBC Sports Network*/# (from May 30-31)
1:00 PM - 4:00 PMTUDOR United SportsCar Championship Continental Tire Road Race ShowcaseFOX Sports 1*# (from August 10)
1:30 PM - 2:30 PMTORC Series Big House BrawlNBC Sports Network*/# (from June 28)
2:30 PM - 3:00 PMTORC Series Spring CupNBC Sports Network*/# (from June 29)
3:00 PM - 3:30 PMFormula DRIFT: Atlanta (Road to the Championship), Part 1NBC Sports Network*/# (from May 9)
5:00 PM - 5:30 PMNASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 PM - 6:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7:00 PM - 8:00 PM NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

* – Tape Delayed

/ – Highlighted Coverage

# – Repeat Coverage

^ – Available via free online streaming

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races at Watkins Glen in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. This week’s Critic’s Annex in the Newsletter will cover Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

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 emails full of rants and vitriol.

About Phil Allaway

Phil Allaway
Newsletter Editor for Frontstretch since mid-2008, Phil is responsible for the site’s Monday-Friday FREE e-newsletter that keeps fans up-to-date with the latest racing news, along with exclusive features and commentary. Our head news writer, Phil also doubles as our broadcast critic, keeping broadcasts honest for years with his Couch Potato Tuesday column. A writer for the Troy (NY) Record, Phil is also one of the lead reporters at Lebanon Valley Speedway in Pennsylvania every weekend during short track season.

7 comments

  1. Phil! Why did you change the format of the schedule?? It was so easy to read the old way. Now theres lotsa space. And thank you for listing the MotoGP races!

  2. The contrast between the booth during the Nationwide race with Craven and the truck race with Motormouth Mikey was dramatic. No one felt compelled during the Nationwide race to babble with the edge of hysteria in their voice. There were several moments whn I could just watch and listen to the cars on the track with no intruding voices. Marvelous!

  3. Every week I think Parsons and Mickey have a contest to see how many times they can say German Quiroga during a race. This week Mickey tried to see how many time he could say Bowyers name during the race.

  4. Didn’t realize that Byrnes was going to do the truck play by play. I like Steve a lot, but I stopped watching the trucks because I just can’t listen to Mikey babble on. I use the radio feed to follow it.

    I like AB & DJ in the booth, I can skip the rest of ESPN’s crew with cRusty and that idiot Brad in ESPN’s version of the hollywood hotel.

    I just want to enjoy the race, show it to me and call the race in a reasonable fashion and I’m happy. I don’t need the gimmicks or any fake enthusiasm from the production truck or the booth. If I am enjoying the race, I’ll watch; if I’m not, I don’t.

  5. Ricky Craven becomes seriously annoying after a while with his endless driving lesson about when “he’s using his left rear wheel” and “he’s taking the front an inch deeper in turn one” and minute details that would be useful if I wanted to leard how to drive a race car. I don’t. I just want to watch the race. A little information is great, but that much detail is too much. I just want him to shut up.

    • Just to make sure that we couldn’t get away from Kyle Busch the two or three times a year when he doesn’t show up to help Brad and Kevin ruin a NW race Craven babbled on and on like they were dating, and how much talent it takes to beat up on the NASCAR Minors. He is just another NASCAR zombie telling us how much we all love the Cup drivers showing up at NW events to make sure a race doesn’t break out. As to coverage of the Japanese Truck Series is that still televised in the US?

  6. The one thing that gets me during the CWTS is that they keep trying to sound like buddies with the driver. All through the lower series as he was coming up, Darrell Wallace Jr. was referred to as such. Now he’s “Bubba”. B.S. The booth just doesn’t realize how stupid that they sound

    Secondly, why is it that these productions crews think that they have to turn up the crowd sound when Jr. takes the lead and in this case during the win. They didn’t do it for Gordon last week. This was a move that I thought was exclusive to the lame Fox production crew but it seems that it has bled over to ESPN. I get so sick of that crap. It’s not like we don’t get enough of Jr. the way that it is w/o the need for this fake stuff. TNT never resorted to such phoniness but, unfortunately, they’re now gone.