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Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN Throws Kitchen Sink At NASCAR In Final Season
(Credit: CIA)

Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN Throws Kitchen Sink At NASCAR In Final Season

ESPN has been part of the 2014 season due to its year-long tenure as the broadcaster of the NASCAR Nationwide Series, but last weekend, the network hit the true beginning of the end with the start of its final season of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series coverage.

But how, exactly, did ESPN fare as it expanded to two broadcasts over a weekend? Put simply: there were some encouraging points, but improvement is needed even in a lame duck season.

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On Saturday afternoon (July 26), the Nationwide Series returned to Indianapolis for its third try at the famous rectangle. The detractors for this race even existing still far exceed those in favor of the race, but one must wonder how ESPN did covering a race that might have had less paying customers than the Freedom 100.

Interestingly enough, one of the primary stories on Saturday ending up being insects. Around lap 28 or so, a swarm of insects descended upon turn 3. Anyone who hit the insects had obscured vision until they could pit. Since it happened during a rather uneventful portion of the race, there was a lot of insect discussion. While the vision issues were legitimate, it shows that there really wasn’t all that much action on track. For the sake of the discussion, I suffered a similar fate during my first weekend on a press credential for Frontstretch in 2009. I was driving on the Southern Tier Expressway (New York Route 17) to get back to my hotel from the track when I drove through a similar swarm. Vision stunk for the rest of the way back due to no washer fluid.

It just seemed like ESPN didn’t have that much of a plan for the race.  The network assumed that the pack was going to get spread out (it did), knew that there was going to be a competition caution at lap 20 (which it didn’t notify the fans about until lap 10, when Allen Bestwick should have mentioned it prior to the in-race reporter segment with Chase Elliott).  With the wacky pit strategy in play, ESPN just didn’t seem to know what to do with itself, which is how we ended up with a segment on an insect swarm.  It’s just frustrating, guys. Iowa had better be a step up.

Post-race coverage was average in content, despite ESPN having more time at their disposal than normal. Viewers got four drivers interviews, including a particularly surly one from Kevin Harvick. Had he actually made it onto the podium, the gathered media likely would have been treated to one of those one-sentence press conferences that he seems prone to these days.

Oh, one can dream.

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The Sprint Cup Series made its way to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the next day (July 27) for its annual assault on the 2.5-mile rectangle. ESPN is back for the final (for now) 17 races of its TV deal with NASCAR, so it was interesting to keep tabs on how the network handled its final go-round — and what can be expected through the rest of the season.

ESPN has an incredible amount of respect for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and it definitely came out during the telecast. The entire first segment of NASCAR Countdown was peppered with statements about IMS’ historical importance.

The first feature was an interesting look back at when NASCAR first came to Indianapolis and what people thought about it. It was a mix of soundbites (recently recorded and file footage from the 1990s) from various personalities. Interesting to look at. Hard to imagine that it’s been that long. Also of note, the list of popular things from 1994 that Briscoe read off had a mistake. Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” from the soundtrack of the 1992 movie The Bodyguard was not the most popular song of 1994. It was the most popular in 1993. The most popular song of 1994 was the infamous hit from Swedish group Ace of Base, “The Sign.” I know, it’s a minor mistake, but I’m not above using early- to mid-1990s European pop music to prove a point.

Ray Evernham is no longer with ESPN these days, preferring to focus on a gig with Hendrick Motorsports. However, he returned to ESPN for one day only. Why? To narc on his employer, for lack of better words. Seriously, he talked about why Hendrick Motorsports is so strong at Indianapolis, but it might as well have been narcing.

During the race, there was essentially no mention of the attendance at IMS, but let’s just say that it was quite noticeable. SportsCenter referenced the attendance drop on the Saturday night edition of the show, which I found surprising.

For the record, I don’t know what IMS can do to boost attendance. Mike Neff threw out the idea of reintroducing a local TV blackout in Indianapolis, where the race pulled a 15.0 rating on Sunday. I generally do not like those. Indianapolis is clearly not doing something right to bring in fans. I’m convinced that it’s more than just the racing itself and the views. Perhaps the project that will bring the apron back into play in the corners will help.

Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon race for position turning the Brickyard 400. (Credit: CIA)

Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon race for position turning the Brickyard 400. (Credit: CIA)

At times, ESPN’s coverage of the race was a bit confusing. The varying pit strategies early in the race seemed to leave ESPN legitimately confused as to what to show viewers at home. For a time, the coverage was just random cars here and there. There were no Up to Speed segments, either, despite a grand total of 16 caution laps in the race. When the coverage was not confusing, it was very limited. Hendrick Motorsports appeared to be the focus on Sunday, and getting Evernham to narc on them made ESPN look like geniuses.

The last 10-plus laps of the race were completely locked down on Jeff Gordon. That is behavior that I’ve written about with Brickyard 400s in the past, and I don’t like it. I believe one of Jimmie Johnson’s victories was covered in a similar fashion and it drove me nuts at the time. Heck, that might have been Johnson’s first Indianapolis victory on NBC in 2006. I’m sure that there’s some other action that ESPN could have shown, but they just didn’t feel like it. C’mon. You’re better than that.

I was not a fan of how ESPN handled the finish of either race last week. What they decided to do was show Ty Dillon on Saturday and Gordon Sunday coming to the finish, then zoomed in on the flagstand so that viewers couldn’t see jack, then cut to the in-car camera. Keeping with the earlier reference, I really did see the sign on Sunday, and it opened up my eyes. That sign is that ESPN is in another decade when it comes to Indianapolis. Probably the decade in which Ace of Base hit their prime. They don’t pull off that stupidity anywhere else (anymore). Why does it have to happen here? Just drives me nuts.

ESPN produced this past weekend’s broadcasts as if it’s not leaving at the end of the year. Seventy-five cameras were all around the rectangle. We got good footage of what happened with Danica Patrick’s rear end failure and Trevor Bayne’s cut tire and crash.  We also got good footage of the various issues (debris, blown engine, etc.) that slowed Saturday’s race.  However, even with that much firepower, they brought us one of the most exclusive broadcasts of the year. It’s the kind of telecasts that make fans say, “Don’t turn around ‘cause you’re gonna see my heart breaking.” I want better than that for everyone involved.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series makes its second trip of the season to Pocono Raceway with the Camping World Truck and ARCA Racing series as support. Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series makes its second visit of the season to Iowa Speedway and the Verizon IndyCar Series travels to Mid-Ohio. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, July 29
Time Telecast Network
12:00am-2:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary NBC Sports Network*# (from July 27)
2:00-2:30am F1 Extra NBC Sports Network*# (from July 27)
2:30-3:00am NASCAR’s The List: Dale Earnhardt Sr. Moments NBC Sports Network#
10:00am-12:00pm ARCA Racing Series Scott Get Geared Up 200 FOX Sports 1*# (from July 25)
12:00-1:00pm K&N Pro Series East JEGS 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
6:30-7:30pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*#

Wednesday, July 30
Time Telecast Network
4:30pm-5:00pm Formula DRIFT: Long Beach, Part 1 NBC Sports Network*/# (from April 4)
5:00-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00-6:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:30-7:30pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*#
10:00-11:00pm Blancpain Endurance Series Total 24 Hours of Spa CBS Sports Network*/ (from July 26-27)

Thursday, July 31
Time Telecast Network
5:00pm-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00-6:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Friday, August 1
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-2:00am Formula Off-Road: Toronto NBC Sports Network* (from July 19)
2:00-3:00am Red Bull Global RallyCross: Charlotte NBC Sports Network*/# (from July 26)
3:00-6:00am TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Brickyard Grand Prix FOX Sports 1*# (from July 25)
11:00am-12:30pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
12:30-1:30pm K&N Pro Series East JEGS 150 FOX Sports 1*/# (from July 19)
1:30-2:00pm Empty Cup: Quest for the 1992 NASCAR Championship FOX Sports 1#
2:30-3:30pm Camping World Truck Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 2
3:30-5:00pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1
5:00-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00-6:30pm ARCA Racing Series ModSpace 125 FOX Sports 1
6:30-7:30pm Camping World Truck Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1*#
7:30-8:30pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
8:30-10:00pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1*#
8:30-11:30pm NHRA O’Reilly Auto Parts Northwest Nationals ESPN3$

Saturday, August 2
Time Telecast Network
12:30am-2:00am Pirelli World Challenge: Road America NBC Sports Network*# (from June 19-20)
2:00-2:30am The Grid NBC Sports Network
3:00-4:30am Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1*# (from August 1)
4:30-6:00am Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1*# (from August 1)
6:00-7:00am K&N Pro Series East JEGS 150 FOX Sports 2*/# (from July 19)
7:00-8:30am ARCA Racing Series ModSpace 125 FOX Sports 2*# (from August 1)
9:00-10:00am Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 ESPN 2
10:00-11:30am Camping World Truck Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1
11:30am-12:30pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour ESPN 2
12:30-1:00pm NCWTS Setup FOX Sports 1
12:30-1:30pm Rally America Climb to the Clouds Rally (Mt. Washington HillClimb) NBC Sports Network*/ (from June 27-29)
1:00-2:30pm Camping World Truck Series Pocono Mountains 150 FOX Sports 1
2:30-3:00pm NASCAR Live FOX Sports 1
4:30-6:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN
5:30-6:30pm Verizon IndyCar Series Qualifying NBC Sports Network*
7:30-8:00pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
8:00-10:30pm Nationwide Series U.S. Cellular 250 ESPN
10:00pm-12:00am NHRA O’Reilly Auto Parts Northwest Nationals ESPN 2*/

Sunday, August 3
Time Telecast Network
3:00am-4:30am ARCA Racing Series ModSpace 125 FOX Sports 1*# (from August 1)
4:30-6:00am Camping World Truck Series Pocono Mountains 150 FOX Sports 1*# (from August 2)
6:00-6:30am Empty Cup: Quest for the 1992 NASCAR Championship FOX Sports 2#
6:30-8:00am Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 2*# (from August 1)
9:00-10:00am K&N Pro Series West NAPA Auto Parts/Toyota 150 (Colorado National Speedway) FOX Sports 1*/ (from July 26)
10:00am-12:00pm NASCAR RaceDay FOX Sports 1
12:00-1:00pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
12:00-2:00pm IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Brickyard Sports Car Challenge FOX Sports 1*/ (from July 25)
1:00-1:30pm Formula DRIFT: Long Beach, Part 2 NBC Sports Network*/ (from April 5)
1:00-2:00pm Blancpain Endurance Series Total 24 Hours of Spa CBS Sports Network*/# (from July 26-27)
1:00-4:30pm Sprint Cup Series GoBowling.com 400 ESPN
2:00-8:00pm NHRA O’Reilly Auto Parts Northwest Nationals Final Eliminations ESPN3$
3:00-6:00pm Verizon IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio NBC Sports Network
6:00-7:00pm Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Mid-Ohio 100 NBC Sports Network*
6:00-8:00pm DTM: Red Bull Ring CBS Sports Network*
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Victory Lane FOX Sports 1
7:00-10:00pm NHRA O’Reilly Auto Parts Northwest Nationals Final Eliminations ESPN 2*/
8:00-9:30pm Camping World Truck Series Pocono Mountains 125 FOX Sports 2*# (from August 2)
9:30-11:00pm ARCA Racing Series ModSpace 125 FOX Sports 2*# (from August 1)

Monday, August 4
Time Telecast Network
3:00am-5:00am IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Brickyard Sports Car Challenge FOX Sports 1*/# (from July 25)
3:30-6:00am Sprint Cup Series GoBowling.com 400 ESPN 2*/# (from August 3)
4:00-6:00am DTM: Red Bull Ring CBS Sports Network*# (from August 3)
10:00am-12:00pm IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Brickyard Sports Car Challenge FOX Sports 1*/# (from July 25)
12:00-1:30pm Camping World Truck Series Pocono Mountains 150 FOX Sports 1*# (from August 2)
5:00-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00-6:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
7:00-8:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*#
8:00-9:00pm K&N Pro Series West NAPA Auto Parts/Toyota 150 (Colorado National Speedway) FOX Sports 2*/# (from July 26)
*- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage
#- Repeat Coverage
$- Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your internet service provider for availability.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For this week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex, I’ll be looking at both last week’s Mudsummer Classic from Eldora Speedway and Friday night’s ARCA Racing Series Scott Get Geared Up 200 from Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in Clermont, Ind.

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.

12 comments

  1. Hi Phil: A mutual friend of ours, Mike Neff, referred me to this page today when I could not find a thorough TV schedule for weekend racing. THIS ROCKS! It was becoming a pain searching through websites and the TV guide on TV. I appreciate this so much!

  2. sandeep: ESPN’s broadcast was that horrible because stupid FOX showed the world they could cover NASCAR as poorly as they do and get away with it (still make money). That’s why I spent countless hours writing and trying to convince people like Phil Allaway that we had to loudly call out FOX and their garbage telecasts before a precedence had been set. NOPE! Phil says that’s the way it “has” to be in todays world. Guess he drank BZF’s Kool-Aid too!

    • You have a point, Joe. I hear many say Fox is the ‘best’ of the current lot but that’s like saying they’re the least worst, ho ho. I was watching an old race from the 80s and marveled at how much more entertaining it was overall.

  3. This was a really REALLY terrible broadcast from ESPN. You only had any real action on the restarts and most of it was behind the top-10 4-wide 4-rows deep but they kept on showing tight, zoomed in shots of one or the other top-10 cars and talking about their fuel mileage! Good god, you guys (at ESPN) how can you possibly be the same channel that used to such an excellent job at covering NASCAR in the 80s and 90s??

  4. Sunday was pretty Jekyll-and-Hyde for ESPN. On the one hand, there were definitely times when they sought out racing very deep in the field—at one point they showed a bunch of cars racing for 37th! On the other hand, about three laps in they spent about two whole circuits zooming in on debris on Brad Keselowski’s grille, and of course they kept a laser focus on the 24 for the last few laps (although, being a Gordon fan, that didn’t bother me). So there were some positive signs for ESPN’s broadcast, as well as some worrisome ones.

    The whole debate about zooming in on the flagstand after the leader crosses the line at Indy has gone on for a while. I don’t really have a problem with it; by this point, it’s a tradition. As long as nothing’s happening that requires a different angle to frame it (look up the finish to the 2011 500 on Youtube), it’s a fine angle for capturing a big win.

  5. Did anybody notice that every 20 or 30 laps that ESPN did not go to the in-car camera of the #15 so you would see the 5Hr Energy logo? Every week Fox did it as part of MWR bias coverage.

  6. There’s more action on I40 east of Nashville during rush hour than there ever will be at Indy.

  7. For this writer that wants to blame espn for lousy coverage, how in the hell could any network make the indy race enjoyable??
    Indy and nascar do not mix and never will mix. The track is not suited for “stock” cars and its history comes from indy cars. It is a travesty for nascar drivers to be paid a huge amount of prize money for an absolutely poor, dull race(if you want to call it that).

  8. What happened to the side-by-side during commercials. Late in the race Gordon was making attempts to pass Kayne and it appeared he was about to do it when ESPN cut to commercial. Granted, Gordon had not passed him yet when they came back, but they would have lost a good opportunity had he done it. I did not miss DW saying during the final laps “I don’t know about you, but does Jeff’s right rear tire look low to you?”

    • Phil Allaway

      I believe that is for the second half of Chase races only. But, you’re right. I wish it was in play for all of ESPN’s NASCAR races.

  9. I’m not sure there was anything else for ESPN to show other than Gordon for the last ten laps or so. It sure seemed as if everybody was single file, with little if any passing for position. So if you’ve got nothing but cars going around in a big line, why not show the leader?

  10. ESPN coverage was adequate for both races, no Waltrips or Larry McAdvertise is really good enough for me. I dread the return of Fox. Because ESPN is leaving NASCAR before it slips under the waves for good their cameras did not shy away from the empty stands. I heard it reported some time ago that the NFL made enough from TV that they could play in empty stadiums and still turn a hefty profit. I wonder, is NASCAR able to survive on TV revenues alone or are is the most fan deaf organization in professional sports really in trouble?