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Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN Gives Nationwide Regulars Rare Respect
Is the Nationwide Series championship Chase Elliott's to lose? (Credit: CIA)

Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN Gives Nationwide Regulars Rare Respect

Last weekend, the Sprint Cup Series had their final off-weekend of the season. While some drivers took the week off and went off on vacation, others were still on the track. And some writers, like myself, were even busier than on a normal weekend with a Cup race.

That’s because Chicagoland Speedway hosted a doubleheader on Saturday, with the ARCA Racing Series serving as support to a 300-mile Nationwide Series race. FOX Sports 2 and ESPN were the sites of the action. You likely saw one of the races. You may not have seen the other — and not because you didn’t want to, necessarily. Cable packages, c’est la vie.

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Prior to the Nationwide race, the ARCA Racing Series made their annual visit to Chicagoland Speedway.

The early portion of the race was, for lack of better words, a wreckfest.

Of course, unfortunately for many of you, you could not see this particular race live on Saturday because it aired on FOX Sports 2. The network (formerly Fuel) is only available in 37 million homes and often requires a subscription to a sports pack in order to gain access (also, in my case, it’s only available in standard definition, although that isn’t a deal breaker).

Pre-race started off with a recap of two previous races (Akona 250 at Elko, Herr’s Chase the Taste 200 at Winchester). Those races were covered on the CBS Sports Network, but featured post-production work with Rick Allen calling the winner to the line. Knowing that Rick Benjamin called both of those races, the idea of FOX Sports redubbing each broadcast was really strange.

The start of the race was, at best, a start-and-stop affair. We got a good couple of laps of action before Justin Allison spun out exiting turn 2. My best guess is that Allison’s No. 88 just broke loose. I can’t give you any better explanation because FOX Sports’ cameras didn’t catch it (including replays) until after Allison was already perpendicular to the track.

There were a number of tire issues in the race that knocked pole sitter John Wes Townley and rookie Austin Wayne Self out of the race. I would have liked to see a little more coverage of the tires since they seem to be something of an ongoing issue in ARCA on superspeedways.

Overall, the race was a bit of a quagmire. However, there was still some good racing to be seen and I found that FOX Sports did a decent job in bringing that action on-track to viewers. However, they need a little more of a pit presence in order to properly cover the stories down there.

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On Saturday night, the Nationwide Series served as the headlining series at Chicagoland Speedway. A minimal number of Cup drivers were in the field, with only Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne the full-timers running for points making the trek to Chicago.

NASCAR Countdown had a focus on the Nationwide-only drivers for what seems like the first time in forever. I know that’s not the truth, but it just seems that way. There was the usual discussion for this time of year about the Nationwide Dash 4 Cash, but we also got discussion of Landon Cassill and Chris Buescher, drivers that just don’t get the exposure that they really should. However, it seemed like ESPN was approaching it like the network wasn’t the most knowledgeable about the smaller scale Nationwide-only drivers. I suppose that’s OK if you can only get to talk to drivers once or twice a year, but ESPN’s the sole TV partner for the series (at least through the end of the season). They should be better than that.

Chris Buescher walks down pit lane at Daytona International Speedway in July 2014. (Credit: CIA)

Chris Buescher walks down pit lane at Daytona International Speedway in July 2014. (Credit: CIA)

Did ESPN’s race coverage keep up with the general Nationwide-only tone of pre-race coverage? Sort of.

Countdown didn’t really talk much about the top contenders in the series, but they are the drivers that got the bulk of the coverage. The Nationwide Dash 4 Cash, while it did get some mentions during the race, was clearly not the focus.

It appeared that Sam Hornish, Jr. was going to be an important part of ESPN’s telecast Saturday night. Unfortunately, Hornish blew his engine before lap 10. That forced an audible, which involved the only two Sprint Cup regulars that made the trip to Joliet, Kahne and Larson.

I had a couple of gripes with the telecast. The third caution (debris caution No. 2 according to NASCAR and No. 1 according to myself) came out during a commercial break. ESPN didn’t acknowledge the yellow; instead, they came out of said commercial and cut to the Pit Studio for a race recap before another break. By the time that was over, it was time to go back to green. Essentially, it was a “blink and you missed it” caution. While I have nothing against recapping what’s happened to that point (lap 125), there has to be a better way of doing it.

Another gripe was the failure to notify viewers of Jeffrey Earnhardt’s driver change. Yes, I know that everyone in the know knew it was coming, but the viewers might not have (especially if they don’t read Twitter). At the first yellow, Harrison Rhodes got in the No. 4 to relieve the ailing Earnhardt (remember, he broke his shoulder blade in a motorcycle crash a couple of weeks ago). The last couple of weeks, that was Matt DiBenedetto in the role, but DiBenedetto was in the No. 40 and planned to go the distance. Unfortunately, mechanical woes prevented that.

Overall, there was a good amount of racing for position during the race and ESPN did a decent job of showing that action — if it was toward the front of the field, of course. ESPN did well covering those battles. With Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Larson running away from the rest of the field and almost no carnage, the action was few and far between, though.

Since it was a standalone race, Allen Bestwick was given the week off and Dave Burns did the play-by-play with Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree as his analysts. Burns did quite well. He didn’t make any noticeable mistakes and generally seemed to be quite enthusiastic in his spots. I always thought that he was better than Vince Welch in the play-by-play role the last time that he got the chance and deserved more booth time. Burns has a couple of more races in the booth (Iowa is the next one), so keep up the good work.

That’s all for this week. For the upcoming week, the action starts off early. The Camping World Truck Series makes its annual trek to Eldora Speedway for the second 1-800 CarCash Mudsummer Classic on Wednesday. Teams are already on their way to Northwestern Ohio as you’re reading this. Meanwhile, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series, along with the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, will be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard Super Weekend. It’s a very busy weekend. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, July 22
Time Telecast Network
4:00am-6:00am IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge: Canadian Tire Motorsports Park FOX Sports 1*/# (from July 12)
10:00-11:00am K&N Pro Series East Granite State 100 FOX Sports 1*/# (from July 11)
11:00am-1:00pm ARCA Racing Series Ansell ActivArmr 150 FOX Sports 1*# (from July 19)
5:00-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00-6:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:30-6:00pm NASCAR’s The List: Tracks NBC Sports Network
6:00-8:00pm AMA Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship Series: Spring Creek NBC Sports Network*# (from July 19)
6:30-7:30pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*#
7:30-8:00pm Whelen Modified Tour Sunoco 100 FOX Sports 2*//# (from July 12)
8:00-10:00pm ARCA Racing Series Ansell ActivArmr 150 FOX Sports 2*# (from July 12)

Wednesday, July 23
Time Telecast Network
10:00am-11:00am Camping World Truck Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
11:00-11:30am NASCAR Live FOX Sports 1
11:30am-1:00pm Camping World Truck Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
5:00-6:00pm Camping World Truck Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1
6:00-6:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
6:00-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
7:00-8:30pm Camping World Truck Series Heat Races/Last Chance Qualifier FOX Sports 1
8:30-9:00pm NCWTS Setup FOX Sports 1
9:00-11:00pm Camping World Truck Series 1-800 CarCash Mudsummer Classic FOX Sports 1

Thursday, July 24
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-3:00am Camping World Truck Series 1-800 CarCash Mudsummer Classic FOX Sports 2*# (from July 23)
3:00-5:00am Camping World Truck Series 1-800 CarCash Mudsummer Classic FOX Sports 1*# (from July 23)
5:00-6:00am The 600: History of NASCAR’s Toughest Race FOX Sports 1#
5:00pm-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00-6:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:30-7:30pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*#
11:00pm-12:00am Red Bull Global Rallycross: Uniondale, NY NBC Sports Network*# (from July 20)

Friday, July 25
Time Telecast Network
4:00am-5:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary Free Practice No. 1 NBC Sports Live Xtra$
8:00-8:30am The 10: Greatest Drivers in NASCAR History FOX Sports 1#
8:30-10:00am Nationwide Series Practice FOX Sports 1
10:00-10:30am NASCAR Live FOX Sports 1
10:30-11:30am Nationwide Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
11:30am-1:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
12:00-1:30pm Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary Free Practice No. 2 NBC Sports Network*
1:00-2:00pm NASCAR RaceHub Special FOX Sports 1
2:00-2:30pm The 10: NASCAR’s Greatest Races FOX Sports 1#
2:30-3:00pm NASCAR’s The List: Greatest Finishes NBC Sports Network#
2:30-4:30pm Camping World Truck Series 1-800 CarCash Mudsummer Classic FOX Sports 1*# (from July 23)
2:30-5:15pm IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Brickyard Sports Car Challenge IMSA.com/FansChoice.tv^
5:00-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:30-8:30pm TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Brickyard Grand Prix FOX Sports 1
8:30-9:00pm The 10: Greatest Finishes FOX Sports 1#
9:00-11:00pm ARCA Racing Series Scott Get Geared Up 200 presented by Federated Car Care FOX Sports 1
9:15-11:45pm? NHRA Sonoma Nationals First Round Qualifying ESPN3$

Saturday, July 26
Time Telecast Network
3:00am-4:30am Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1*# (from July 25)
4:30-6:00am Nationwide Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1*# (from July 25)
5:00-6:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary Free Practice No. 3 NBC Sports Live Xtra$
8:00-9:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary Qualifying CNBC
9:00-10:00am SCORE Baja 500 CBS Sports Network*/# (from June 6-8)
9:00-11:00am Sprint Cup Series Happy Hours ESPN 2
11:00am-12:00pm K&N Pro Series West NAPA Auto Parts/Toyota 150 (Stateline Speedway) FOX Sports 1
12:00-1:30pm Nationwide Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1
12:00-1:30pm Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary Qualifying NBC Sports Network
2:00-3:00pm Red Bull Global RallyCross: Charlotte NBC
2:00-3:30pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN
4:00-4:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
4:30-7:00pm Nationwide Series Lilly Diabetes 250 ESPN
5:00-6:00pm GP2 Series: Hungary NBC Sports Network*/
6:00-8:00pm AMA Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship Series: Washougal NBC Sports Network
7:00-9:00pm NHRA Sonoma Nationals Final Qualifications ESPN 2/

Sunday, July 27
Time Telecast Network
7:30am-8:00am F1 Countdown CNBC
8:00-10:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary CNBC
9:00-10:00am K&N Pro Series East JEGS 150 FOX Sports 1*/ (from July 19)
10:00-10:30am F1 Extra CNBC
10:00am-12:00pm NASCAR RaceDay FOX Sports 1
12:00-1:00pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
1:00-4:30pm Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the John Wayne Walding 400 ESPN
2:00-2:30pm F1 Countdown NBC Sports Network*#
2:00-8:00pm? NHRA Sonoma Nationals Final Eliminations ESPN3$
2:30-4:30pm Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary NBC Sports Network*#
4:30-5:00pm F1 Extra NBC Sports Network*#
9:00pm-12:00am NHRA Sonoma Nationals Final Eliminations ESPN 2*/
10:30-11:00pm NASCAR Victory Lane FOX Sports 1

Monday, July 28

Time Telecast Network
11:00am-2:00pm TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Brickyard Grand Prix FOX Sports 2*# (from July 25)
2:00-3:00pm NASCAR RaceHub Special FOX Sports 2#
2:30-3:00pm NASCAR’s The List: Memorable Moments NBC Sports Network#
3:00-3:30pm NASCAR’s The List: Fights & Feuds NBC Sports Network#
3:30-4:00pm NASCAR’s The List: Famous Families NBC Sports Network#
4:00-4:30pm NASCAR’s The List: Rookie Seasons NBC Sports Network#
4:30-5:00pm NASCAR’s The List: Iconic Cars NBC Sports Network#
5:00-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00-6:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:30-7:00pm NASCAR’s The List: Tracks NBC Sports Network#
6:30-7:30pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*#
7:30-8:30pm K&N Pro Series West NAPA Auto Parts/Toyota 150 (Stateline Speedway) FOX Sports 2*/# (from July 12)
8:30-9:00pm Empty Cup: Quest for the 1992 NASCAR Championship FOX Sports 1#
9:00-10:00pm NASCAR RaceHub Special FOX Sports 1#
10:00pm-12:00am AMA Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship Series: Washougal NBC Sports Network*# (from July 19)
* – Tape Delayed
/ – Highlighted Coverage
// – Already highlighted coverage that has been cut again
# – Repeat Coverage
^ – Available via free online streaming
$ – Available via password protected online streaming. Check with your internet and/or programming provider for availability.

Quick note on the RaceHub special. That is basically a review of what’s been going on in NASCAR for the last month or so.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. For this week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex, I’ll be covering the Sunoco 100 from New Hampshire Motor Speedway. For the July 31 edition of the Annex, I’ll likely be looking at either one of the K&N Pro Series races premiering this weekend on FOX Sports 1 (either Columbus, Ohio, for the East Series or Post Falls, Idaho (Stateline Speedway), for the West 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.

3 comments

  1. My only thought during the race was whether the camera operators who accidentally panned in on shots of the nearly empty grandstands would still be employed come Monday morning.

  2. A major flub was that prior to the last set of green flag pit stops they were yammering endlessly about the relative positions of Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney and how that gape would change due to tire advantage and timing of pit stops. After Elliott pitted, however, they went to commercial and upon return did not show their positions at all. The did some other feature, and quite a bit of featur on 9th and 10th place racing and only soen eight or none minutes later mentioned casually that Elliott had a six-second lead on Balney.

    And the omission was mad worse by the statement before the break that, with respect to the Elliott/Blaney interval, “we’ll chack on that when we return,” and then not doing so. Annoying.

  3. I usually do not pay too much attention to the broadcast and I don’t even watch the pre race. ESPN thus far has not insulted my intelligence in that trademark Fox way and for me that is good enough. I agree that it was nice to see NW treated as a series in its own right and not just as a Cup practice/vanity venue.