Thursday , September 18 2014
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Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN Makes A Few Michigan Mistakes

Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN Makes A Few Michigan Mistakes

All three NASCAR national series took to the track last weekend, just a mere state border – and then some – away from each other. The Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series battled at Michigan International Speedway while the Nationwide Series took its second trip to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Unfortunately, having everything in one region of the United States didn’t eliminate the problems that have plagued NASCAR broadcasts throughout the season.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200

Fuel strategy played a rather substantial role in this year’s Nationwide Series race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, as compared to the wreckfest that was last years’ event. Did that make for a more interesting race? The jury’s still out.

NASCAR Countdown was still only 15 minutes in length on Saturday, but we still had time for an interesting piece. Dave Burns tagged along with a few drivers as they took a high performance driving class at the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School at Spring Mountain Motor Resort & Country Club in Pahrump, Nev. If you’ve got $3,500 or more to waste, you can do it too. Here, we see series regulars Ty Dillon and Dylan Kwasniewski learning advanced techniques on the shortest of Spring Mountain’s layouts while driving Chevrolet Corvette Stingrays.

The unfortunate part about the piece? There were other drivers there as well, but you might have never known. For example, Gray Gaulding can be seen prepping for his Camping World Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, but he is never mentioned. They just act like he’s not there. It would be to the piece’s benefit to have quotes from all the drivers there, not just Dillon and Kwasniewski. Gaulding’s too young to race in the Nationwide Series, but he’ll be there in a couple of years.

The duo of Burns and Ricky Craven was working the event together and I think they have a nice rapport. Granted, they only get to work together a few times a year, but they can work off of each other really well – better than nearly any other current booth combination. I’d say that they’re nearly on par with Rick Allen and Phil Parsons, but that duo has been split up since Allen left FOX Sports a couple of weeks ago. It’s worth noting that Allen and Parsons did around 400 races in the booth together, while Burns and Craven have only shared a booth for a handful.

(Credit: CIA)

Chris Buescher won the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200. At least ESPN covered that part of the race.(Credit: CIA)

Having said that, I did have some issues with the broadcast. There were a number of incidents for which the catalyst was never shown. The broadcast would pick it up after it already happened with a driver off-course, then resuming. None of these incidents caused yellows, but almost none of them got replays as well. Those instances would be a good place to have a side-by-side replay setup on tap. However, that might not always be possible. It’s a shame.

On the broadcast, it was reported that Sam Hornish, Jr. told his crew on the radio that he missed a shift, thus causing the engine problems that forced him to retire. ESPN had an in-car camera in Hornish’s No. 54, but unfortunately there was no real attempt to show the viewers what that missed shift would have looked like. Had it been shown, I’m sure Craven would have had a field day with it. My guess is that it would have looked a little like this clip of Elliott Sadler from the 1999 Pennsylvania 500.

I also would have liked to see a little more expansive scope for the on-track action. It seemed like only a few drivers were worth noting on Saturday. That’s never good to see.

Cooper Standard Careers For Veterans 200

The Camping World Truck Series returned to action at Michigan after taking a week off, and an unfortunate short field of just 29 trucks turned out for what turned out to be the fastest race in the history of the series.

During the Setup, FOX Sports 1 ran a feature about how Cooper Standard (the real sponsor of the race, even though it was publicized under the name Careers For Veterans 200) works to put veterans to work for the company. Watching the piece, you see former veterans talking about how they were down on their luck after their enlistments ended. Steve Robinson, a plant manager at a Cooper Standard plant in Spartanburg, S.C., talked about how former soldiers have to adjust to a far less rigid environment and Brad Keselowski chipped in his own thoughts about the issue. However, the more I watched it, the more I was convinced that it was a PSA for their initiative more than a feature.

During the race itself, Keselowski joined Steve Byrnes, Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip in the broadcast booth. There, Keselowski talked a little more about the whole Careers For Veterans initiative. Later, Keselowski settled in and did a little analysis. With the race becoming a bit of a runaway for Darrell Wallace, Jr., it did feel a lot like an infomercial at times.

In addition, the first round of pit stops during the caution for Travis Kvapil’s blown engine completely threw FOX Sports 1 for a loop; it seemed that no one expected them at all. Admittedly, they did come very late in the caution and FOX Sports 1 may have been trying to burn off a commercial so that we wouldn’t lose any more green flag action than absolutely necessary, but the whole thing seemed unusual.

Since the race was run at record pace, there was a lot more time than normal for post-race content. FOX Sports 1 gave viewers seven driver interviews in that time, along with words from the winning crew chief (Jeff Hensley) and a check of the points. It feels good not to have FOX Sports Live encroaching on the race like normal.

Overall, the race reminded me a lot of the early Nationwide races at Michigan before they were lengthened to 250 miles. Granted, that was a legitimate one-stop race for everyone and the goal seemed to be, “Who Can Go the Longest?” Two-thirds of the race or more was not out of the question.

Not on Saturday, but the overall feel was the same. Compared to Pocono, Byrnes seemed to be a little better in the play-by-play role. I figured that would happen. It takes time to settle into a play-by-play role for actual races; practice sessions simply do not compare to a race. Even the most staid race is a more active experience in commentating than a practice session, with the potential exception of practice sessions at restrictor plate tracks.

Pure Michigan 400

The specter of the Tony Stewart-Kevin Ward, Jr. incident continued to hang over the proceedings of Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan, but luckily for viewers, more focus was brought back on the racing.

But first, once again, Countdown started off with Nicole Briscoe reviewing what had happened in regards to Stewart. The incident was shown, but instead of showing the video, ESPN chose to go with still pictures. Admittedly, I don’t think anyone watching Countdown needed to be reminded about what brought us to where we are now with the Stewart-Ward incident, but the network chose to go about it differently this time – regardless, the whole scenario will never be tasteful, no matter how ESPN goes about it. However, Sunday’s treatment did not churn the stomach like what was done at Watkins Glen. That coverage was supplemented by press conference clips (from Stewart-Haas Racing’s conference, and various driver availability press conferences) and some comments from Marty Smith.

For now, it’s a waiting game in every aspect. We’re all waiting for what will come out of the investigation in Canandaigua, while others are waiting for Stewart to make a decision on what to do. As the reaction to the retirement hoax article from last week shows, there are a lot of people that want to know what Stewart’s plans are. Arguably, some might want to know a little too much or are willing to accept anything as gospel despite a complete lack of credibility from the source.

(Credit: CIA)

Joey Logano was the subject of a pre-race segment, but was it really necessary? (Credit: CIA)

The primary feature of the show was a look at Joey Logano and his rise to prominence at a very young age. Logano talks about his struggles as an 18-year-old rookie in Sprint Cup and how he handled things inappropriately early on in his career. After being dropped by Joe Gibbs Racing in 2012, Logano was “…in need of help” before Keselowski threw him a lifeline with now-Team Penske. Since then, there’s been success and a lot of drama.

It’s doubtful that a regular NASCAR viewer would have learned a whole lot about Logano from the piece that aired Sunday. The beginning of it held a lot of promise for me, but petered out shortly afterward. I would have preferred to have seen a segment on how Logano dealt with his early nickname of Sliced Bread and the constant exposure at a very young age. Remember, this is someone that Mark Martin claimed could win races in Sprint Cup (then NEXTEL Cup) when he was 15 and racing in the Hooters ProCup Series. The man had unrealistic expectations put on him before he even graduated high school. To me, that would have been a more interesting watch. Then again, I’m an outlier.

Early on, there was a big technical gaffe during the first caution. As you know if you watched the race, Kyle Busch wrecked a couple of laps into the race. I guess he hit the wall exiting turn 4, then hit it again in turn 1. I could barely tell you what it looked like, despite watching the race live. Why? ESPN’s replay didn’t work. It threw the broadcast to a replay like normal and the sound effect that goes with a throw to replay was there, but the telecast stuck on the backstretch camera while I listened to Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree describe the wreck.

That’s not good. If it was only an HD screw-up, I don’t know; Time Warner Cable does not allow me to view an SD version of ESPN anymore (it was sold under the idea of having the highest quality broadcast available at all times, which hurts people DVRing the race because HD telecasts take up more space in the queue than SD telecasts). The issue was never acknowledged on the broadcast, which leads me to believe that they didn’t know. Well, I’m here to say that it happened.

The cameras were zoomed in a little too far during the Danica Patrick crash in order to show viewers everyone involved. I couldn’t see JJ Yeley wrecking at all (he claimed on Twitter that he was hit by Alex Kennedy) and you could just make out Matt Kenseth’s issues, but only in one shot. That’s just not going to work; if you zoom in too far, you lose perspective.

Outside of those issues, ESPN did a decent job covering battles. Admittedly, Michigan races do spread out a lot, and Sunday was no exception. However, we still got some good battles. While ESPN didn’t show the main point of contention between Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman live, it did get it on tape and showed it immediately afterward (ESPN did show a good chunk of that battle live). There were nice battles for position even when the field was spread out. The coverage wasn’t centered upon the leader.

Post-race coverage was OK. Possibly the biggest story of post-race was the Johnson-Newman confrontation, something that viewers only saw a little of before ESPN cut to Victory Lane. I understand why the network did it, but at this point, I’d imagine that ESPN could tell NASCAR to hold off for a minute or two on the Victory Lane celebration just in case Johnson and Newman started scrapping. After all, Victory Lane is essentially made for television.

If you watched SportsCenter Sunday night, then you saw more of that confrontation than you did on the race telecast. Also, the audio was not muted; ESPN just added the bleeps whenever Johnson or Newman cussed. There was another argument on pit road between Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Denny Hamlin after the race. ESPN had no footage of that confrontation or the on-track action that sparked the argument and did not talk to either driver on-air. I only found out about their issues about three hours after the race. However, both drivers described what happened on The Rundown in a video that did not show a clip of the offending battle.

ESPN, if you’re going to have these Internet clips, please promote them better. You’re essentially hiding them. Also, while we’re at it, change the name as well. ESPN already has a weekly column on their NASCAR page called The Rundown. That can be confusing.

That’s all for this week. We have a busy week of racing coming up. All three of NASCAR’s national series will be in action at Bristol Motor Speedway. Remember that the Camping World Truck Series races on Wednesday night. The Whelen Modifieds will be there as well on Wednesday, but that race will be televised prior to the Cup race from Atlanta. In addition, the Verizon IndyCar Series attacks its last road course of the season, Formula 1 returns from summer break and TUSC returns (sans the Prototype class) at VIR. Here are your listings.

Tuesday, August 19

Time
Telecast
Network
5:00 PM - 6:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 PM - 7:00 PMNASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
7:00 PM - 8:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

Wednesday, August 20

Time
Telecast
Network
4:30 PM - 6:00 PMCamping World Truck Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1
6:30 PM - 7:00 PMNASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
8:00 PM - 8:30 PMNCWTS SetupFOX Sports 1
8:30 PM - 10:30 PMCamping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZloopFOX Sports 1

Thursday, August 21

Time
Telecast
Network
10:00 AM - 12:00 PMCamping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZloopFOX Sports 1
12:30 PM - 1:00 PMThe 10: Greatest Bristol MomentsFOX Sports 1#
1:00 PM - 1:30 PMThe 10: Greatest Truck Series MomentsFOX Sports 1#
1:30 PM - 3:00 PM Camping World Truck Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1*# (from August 20)
3:00 PM - 5:00 PMCamping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZloopFOX Sports 1*#
5:00 PM - 6:00 PM NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 PM - 7:00 PMNASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
7:00 PM - 7:30 PMThe 10: Greatest Bristol MomentsFOX Sports 1#
7:30 PM - 8:00 PMThe 10: NASCAR's Greatest FinishesFOX Sports 1#

Friday, August 22

Time
Telecast
Network
4:00 AM - 5:30 AMFormula One Grand Prix of Belgium Free Practice No. 1NBC Sports Live Xtra$
4:00 AM - 6:00 AMCamping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZloopFOX Sports 1*/# (from August 21)
8:00 AM - 9:30 AMFormula One Grand Prix of Belgium Free Practice No. 2NBC Sports Network
10:00 AM - 11:00 AMK&N Pro Series West NAPA Auto Parts/Toyota 150 (Evergreen Speedway)FOX Sports 1*/ (from August 16)
10:30 AM - 11:30 AM1NBC Sports Network/#
11:00 AM - 1:00 PMSprint Cup Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1
1:00 PM - 1:30 PMNASCAR Live No. 1FOX Sports 1
1:30 PM - 2:30 PMSprint Cup Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1
2:30 PM - 3:30 PMNASCAR Live No. 2FOX Sports 1
3:30 PM - 5:00 PMNationwide Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1
5:30 PM - 7:00 PMSprint Cup Series QualifyingESPN 2
7:00 PM - 7:30 PMNASCAR CountdownESPN
7:30 PM - 10:00 PMNationwide Series Food City 300ESPN

Saturday, August 23

Time
Telecast
Network
3:00 AM - 4:00 AMSprint Cup Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1*# (from August 22)
4:00 AM - 5:30 AMNationwide Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1*# (from August 22)
5:00 AM - 6:00 AMFormula One Grand Prix of Belgium Free Practice No. 3NBC Sports Live Xtra$
8:00 AM - 9:30 AMFormula One Grand Prix of Belgium QualifyingCNBC
10:00 AM - 12:00 PMSprint Cup Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1*# (from August 22)
10:50 AM - 11:30 AMTUDOR United SportsCar Championship: VIR PC/Prototype Lites QualifyingIMSA.com^
12:30 PM - 1:05 PMTUDOR United SportsCar Championship Oak Tree Grand Prix QualifyingIMSA.com^
12:30 PM - 2:00 PMFormula One Grand Prix of Belgium QualifyingNBC Sports Network*#
2:00 PM - 3:30 PMGP2 Series: BelgiumNBC Sports Network*
2:00 PM - 5:00 PMIMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge: VIRIMSA.com^
2:30 PM - 3:30 PMRed Bull Global RallyCross: DaytonaNBC
5:00 PM - 6:00 PMK&N Pro Series West NAPA Auto Parts/Toyota 150 (Evergreen Speedway)FOX Sports 2*/# (from August 16)
5:15 PM - 6:05 PMTUDOR United SportsCar Championship: VIR PC/Prototype Lites, Race No. 1IMSA.com^
6:00 PM - 7:00 PMNASCAR RaceDayFOX Sports 2
6:30 PM - 7:30 PMAMA Pro Motocross Championship Series: Utah, 450 Class Moto 2NBC Sports Network*
7:00 PM - 7:30 PMNASCAR CountdownABC
7:30 PM - 9:00 PMVerizon IndyCar Series QualifyingNBC Sports Network*
7:30 PM - 11:00 PMSprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night RaceABC

Sunday, August 24

Time
Telecast
Network
1:00 AM - 2:00 AMAMA Pro Motocross Championship Series: Utah, 250 Class Moto 2NBC Sports Network* (from August 23)
3:00 AM - 3:30 AMNASCAR Victory LaneFOX Sports 1
4:00 AM - 6:00 AMSprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night RaceESPN 2*/# (from August 23)
6:00 AM - 7:30 AMFormula One Grand Prix of Belgium QualifyingNBC Sports Network*# (from August 23)
7:30 AM - 8:00 AMF1 CountdownNBC Sports Network
8:00 AM - 9:00 AMBlancpain Endurance Series Total 24 Hours of SpaCBS Sports Network*/# (from July 26-27)
8:00 AM - 10:00 AMFormula One Grand Prix of BelgiumNBC Sports Network
9:00 AM - 11:00 AMDTM: NorisringCBS Sports Network*# (from June 29)
10:00 AM - 10:30 AMF1 ExtraNBC Sports Network
10:30 AM - 11:00 AMNASCAR Victory LaneFOX Sports 1#
10:45 AM - 11:45 AMTUDOR United SportsCar Championship: VIR, PC/Prototype Lites Race 2IMSA.com^
11:00 AM - 1:00 PMCamping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZloopFOX Sports 1*/# (from August 20)
11:00 AM - 1:00 PMBlancpain Sprint Series: Slovakia RingCBS Sports Network* (from August 23-24)
3:00 PM - 5:00 PMARCA Racing Series Herr's Live Life With Flavor 200CBS Sports Network
4:00 PM - 7:00 PMVerizon IndyCar Series GoPro Grand Prix of SonomaNBC Sports Network
4:00 PM - 7:00 PMTUDOR United SportsCar Championship Oak Tree Grand Prix (GTLM/GTD Classes)FOX Sports 1
7:00 PM - 8:00 PMIndy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Sonoma 100NBC Sports Network*
9:00 PM - 11:00 PMARCA Racing Series Herr's Live Life With Flavor 200CBS Sports Network*#

Monday, August 25

Time
Telecast
Network
11:00 AM - 2:00 PMTUDOR United SportsCar Championship Oak Tree Grand Prix (GTLM/GTD Classes)FOX Sports 1*# (from August 24)
2:00 PM - 3:00 PMK&N Pro Series West NAPA Auto Parts/Toyota 150 (Evergreen Speedway)FOX Sports 1*/# (from August 16)
3:00 PM - 5:00 PMCamping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZloopFOX Sports 1*/# (from August 21)
5:00 PM - 6:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:00 PM - 6:30 PMNASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
7:00 PM - 8:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
8:00 PM - 9:00 PMK&N Pro Series West NAPA Auto Parts/Toyota 150 (Evergreen Speedway)FOX Sports 2*/# (from August 16)
9:00 PM - 9:30 PMF1 CountdownNBC Sports Network*# (from August 24)
9:30 PM - 11:30 PMFormula One Grand Prix of BelgiumNBC Sports Network*# (from August 24)
11:30 PM - 12:00 AMF1 ExtraNBC Sports Network*# (from August 24)

* – Tape Delayed
/ – Highlighted Coverage
# – Repeat Coverage
^- Available via free online streaming
$ – Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your internet and/or programming provider for availability.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series races from Bristol for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For this week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter, I will critique FOX Sports’ broadcast of the K&N Pro Series East Bully Hill Vineyards 125 from Watkins Glen.

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.

4 comments

  1. As a fan of Logano, the media is very lazy. It’s the same old, same old. Plenty of interesting things to cover, but then again that requires work. It would be nice to see new things. I agree.

  2. I could see what appeared to be the Dale Jr-Hamlin confrontation in the distance, but no mention of it in the telecast. I thought nothing of it until reading about it later that night. Well done ESPN. At least they did get interview with Johnson on TV instead of telling us to look for it on ESPN.com, like they’ve done before (usually after a Nationwide race with a high-finishing driver with limited sponsorship who could use a few seconds on camera).
    One thing is worth mentioning for this weekend. With the Bristol race on ABC, many people may tune into their local ABC affiliate expecting a race and instead find an NFL preseason football game. This is the case even in Charlotte, the “home” of NASCAR, where the race is being bumped to a sister station up the dial. The Bristol night race used to be can’t-miss TV; now it may be can’t-find TV.

    • This just shows what a third tier sport NASCAR has become when a meaningless NFL preseason game can pre-empt a real points paying NASCAR race. I love the Ravens but even I can’t bring myself to watch an entire pre-season game. Even season ticket holders try to unload those tickets because the games don’t matter.
      WTF?

  3. I, I can’t believe it! I have no complaints about this weekends racing. The Cupless NW event was everything the series should be and the Cup race was certainly good enough to hold my interest. Both broadcasts were fine. Since I am neither related to a Cup World Toyota Series driver or employed by a foreign truck manufacturer I cannot comment on either the event or the broadcast. Like the rest of the nation I did not watch it.