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Couch Potato Tuesday: Shrunken Lead Lap Equals Shrunken Focus for ESPN

Couch Potato Tuesday: Shrunken Lead Lap Equals Shrunken Focus for ESPN

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast breakdowns are the name of the game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series each raced at Dover International Speedway, while the Camping World Truck Series raced Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Before we start, “here’s an example of what not to do on an ESPN3 live feed.”:http://deadspin.com/5947950/in-least+professional-broadcast-ever-espn-announcers-mock-wrecked-rallycross-driver-as-hes-taken-to-hospital This is from ESPN3′s coverage of the Global Rallycross Championship race in Las Vegas, held after the Smith’s 350. Remember, if your commentary makes Deadspin, more than likely, you’re doing something wrong. In this case, very wrong. Now, SPEED2 telecasts for the CTSCC are done in a somewhat similar fashion, but you never see anything remotely like this. I have no clue what the deuce those two commentators were doing.

ESPN covered everything Dover this week. Well, only if you were on the lead lap.

*OneMain Financial 200*

If you happened to take a look at “our Twitter feed”:http://twitter.com/TheFrontstretch on Saturday afternoon, you might have noticed that we posted a guarantee at 2:00pm that NASCAR Countdown would start on ESPNEWS. I posted that myself, using the metric I mentioned recently here in the column. At 2:00pm, the Penn State-Illinois game was at halftime. Sure enough, 3:00pm came along and the game still had 14 minutes to go. It bites, but I’m going to help prepare you guys for that.

The main piece shown on Countdown was a special tribute to Chris Economaki. Ed Hinton narrated a look back at Economaki’s long career in motorsports journalism, complete with clips from ABC and CBS. Afterwards, the Pit Studio analysts each gave their own memories of Economaki. It was quite touching. I’d argue they should have extended that to the pit reporters as well. I entered the field of quasi-motorsports journalism way too late to ever see him at a track, but I’m sure that he would have been quite the interesting man to meet. Unfortunately, ESPN viewers didn’t get a chance to see this feature, as they did not join Countdown until after it ran, which of course, bites.

ESPN made it fairly clear in Countdown what they were going to be focusing on during the race telecast. That would be the championship battle between Elliott Sadler, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and Austin Dillon for one. Next was the ‘whackers who raced Saturday (Logano, Kyle Busch, Kahne, and to a lesser extent, Menard). Finally, in their tertiary story, you have the young guns Ryan Truex and Darrell Wallace, Jr.

Ultimately, it was the first two stories that took precedence during the race telecast. Logano stomping everyone (again) is big news. As for the championship fight, the closer we get to the end of the season, the more important that becomes. Problem is, ESPN’s been treating the battle like it is Homestead for most of the last two months. I’d imagine that there’s already a sense of burnout among viewers. I can only speak for myself there, but it is there, believe me.

ESPN’s telecast was just too focused on the two primary stories listed above. There were multiple segments where we didn’t get any racing for position, just endless discussion of Logano’s car while we watched him drive four seconds ahead of everyone else, lapping slower cars. Why couldn’t we see some action for position instead. Was there none? I don’t know, since ESPN never took the time to look for some action outside of the time around restarts.

Due to the relatively quick pace of the race, ESPN had plenty of time to fill with post-race coverage. They provided viewers with 11 post-race driver interviews, plus an interview with the winning crew chief (Adam Stevens). There were also multiple checks of the point standings (in and out of the scroll), along with post-race analysis from the broadcast booth.

*AAA 400*

On Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series returned to Dover for the third race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Last week, I griped about the lack of non-Chaser coverage. Did it get any better Sunday? Let’s find out.

During Countdown, the primary feature of the show was a piece about Denny Hamlin, his past issues with focus, and how he’s matured this year. Sound bites from Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb were used for the piece. I thought this was interesting. In Mirror Driving, we’ve discussed Hamlin’s maturity at times and how it has cost him in the past. However, he isn’t flipping out quite as much these days. Nothing like what Greg Biffle did on Sunday (Note: I basically couldn’t figure out what he was saying in that censored audio clip that aired on ESPN. It was like watching Jerry Springer back in the late 1990′s).

Another piece had a number of drivers (all Chasers) talking about the relationship between the driver and his car. For lack of better words, this was an extension of the whole “seat of your pants” feeling. I don’t think anyone who’s been a fan of the sport for a while got much out of this, but it was nice to watch.

Finally, ESPN unveiled a new feature for Countdown called simply “Stick a Fork in ‘Em!” If you didn’t see this on Sunday, I think you can figure out what it means pretty easily knowing what time of year it is. Truthfully, our own fearless leader wrote “an article after Joliet”:http://www.frontstretch.com/tbowles/41522/ that was somewhat similar in topic. No forks in Tom’s piece, though. Based on what I saw Sunday, Wallace, Evernham and Daugherty are going to get a kick out of doing that for the rest of the season.

Like I predicted last week, the race telecast was stilted heavily towards the Chasers. However, the race itself threw a wrench into ESPN’s plans. The Lap 70 caution that came out in a middle of a round of stops resulted in only seven cars (after Bobby Labonte got the Lucky Dog) being on the lead lap, and it never got above ten for the rest of the race. Honestly, I had actually wondered what ESPN would do in this situation.

What they did was seemingly narrow their focus even more than normal. Much of the rest of the race was effectively focused on the six that managed to stay out until the yellow flew. Labonte never really got much of a mention, much less airtime. Then, Labonte made a green-flag stop about 25 laps after the restart. This was never noted on the broadcast. I was sitting there watching it and honestly said to myself, “What happened to Labonte? Tell me, dudes!”

A situation like what we saw on Sunday should not have limited ESPN to only really showing footage of the lead lap cars, or even just the Chasers. However, aside from a few occasions, that’s what we got. Makes you want to rip your hair out.

An interesting moment in the event was when Bobby Allison stopped by on Lap 134. Most definitely wasn’t expecting that. While there, Allison compared Jimmie Johnson to David Pearson and claimed that Kyle Busch possesses a mentality behind the wheel similar to his own when he was still driving. Personally, I could buy the Johnson to Pearson comparison, but these days, that strategy could apply to any number of drivers.

There was this weird “Word Cloud” that ESPN displayed on Lap 306 as a way to show what people are discussing on Twitter. That’s nice and all, but I’d prefer that stuff to be shown under caution only, please. Same thing with those mid-race montages (which was a repeat of the montage at the beginning of NASCAR Countdown with race footage from Sunday spliced in).

Since the race ended quite early in its timeslot, ESPN was able to provide a decent amount of post-race coverage. We got eight post-race interviews, plus an interview with the winning crew chief (Paul Wolfe). There was plenty of post-race analysis from the Pit Studio and broadcast booth, in addition to a check of the all-important points.

After the race, there was a mini-controversy that was centered around the fact that Kyle Busch was not interviewed after finishing seventh. ESPN claimed that Kyle declined an interview request. Kyle disputes this and says that no one was at his hauler. He continued to say that he had “plenty to talk about” and that they had at least ten minutes to spare. I just don’t know what to say here. Perhaps some people were a bit gun shy after Watkins Glen. Maybe Dave Burns misinterpreted what Bill Janitz, Kyle’s PR rep said as a refusal when he really mentioned something along the lines of a cool-down period.

*Smith’s 350*

On Saturday night, the Camping World Truck Series returned to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for another go-around on the high banks. It turned out to be an excellent race, once people stopped spinning out in Turn 4. How did SPEED do? Let’s find out.

On the Setup, there was one change of note on the show. Rick Allen hosted the show from outside of the broadcast booth. Why was this so? Krista Voda was sideline reporting for FOX on the Washington-Tampa Bay game, and thus, was back in Tampa preparing. Allen did just fine here.

After a brief recap of Kentucky, we got into the meat of the proceedings. The primary feature of the night was a piece where Turner Motorsport’s drivers (James Buescher, Nelson Piquet, Jr. and Miguel Paludo, along with Nationwide Series drivers Justin Allgaier and Brad Sweet) took a tour around the grounds at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. This featured what I think was a censored moment when Allgaier swore in amazement when told that the barns at the track can hold up to 1440 horses. This was nice to look at, but out of place since Kentucky was last week. However, I think SPEED had the feature on Dakoda Armstrong that aired last week in the can for quite some time and no one knows when he’s going to race in the series again, so they chose to air it when he was entered in the race. That’s understandable.

The SPEED Spotlight was on Travis Pastrana, who made his Camping World Truck Series debut in the ride formerly held by Armstrong. We got to see Pastrana get more and more comfortable behind the wheel of the truck with the help of his existing ThorSport teammates. Matt Crafton’s a natural here since he was already serving as Pastrana’s driver coach for Nationwide races, while nine-time ARCA Racing Series Champion Frank Kimmel served as his spotter. Pastrana seemed to be able to adjust to the truck a whole lot quicker than the Nationwide car. Of course, then he spun out five laps into the race.

There were also two offbeat clips that made the show. One showed Brendan Gaughan driving his food truck, “The Rusty Pickle”:http://www.rustypickletruck.com/, from the South Point Hotel and Casino (that his family owns) to the track, where it entered with the transporters and set up shop in the garage, selling their wares. According to that site, they specialize in Southern-style food and are available for private functions in addition to setting up in public locations. I’m surprised that SPEED didn’t really show what they served, just joked about the name. If only Benny Parsons were there. You’d know he’d want in on the grublets.

Also, there was a rather silly piece on Todd Bodine and Ron Hornaday trying to turn their rather horrible luck around. This included footage of the duo trying to find a four-leaf clover, thinking of splitting a wishbone, and even supposedly calling Jimmie Johnson for advice. This seemed a little out of character for those two, especially Hornaday (he strikes me as incredibly serious all the time). Of course, it didn’t work. Hornaday was out early with engine problems, while Bodine spun out on the first lap.

The race was full of excellent racing and SPEED did a great job bringing viewers that on-track action. There was plenty of side-by-side and even three-wide racing to be had as well. Allen, Parsons and Michael Waltrip do a very good job of making even the most mundane segments of racing exciting. Here, when we have exciting racing, they come into their own. If you’re not completely exhausted, as I was on Saturday night (for reasons that had nothing to do with the Truck race), it makes the telecast just that much better.

Having said that, I do have some thoughts, but they’re more on the technical side of things. Early in the race, the lap counter froze on Lap 9 after the second restart and stayed that way for multiple laps. I have no clue why happened, but after Chris Lafferty’s first spin, this was not a problem for the rest of the race. Also, SPEED chose to put the starting lineup of the race in the scroll instead of using their usual starting lineup graphic package. I’m not really a fan of that. Its not like they didn’t have time to do the normal setup.

Post-race coverage was about average. SPEED gave viewers five post-race interviews and a check of the point standings before they left the air for the night. They might have provided more, but the shear number of cautions, especially early on in the race meant that they had gone over their timeslot.

Overall, I really enjoyed watching this race. There was so much action left and right and the booth made it just that much better to watch. The battle for the win was excellent (for everyone except Matt Crafton, who’s probably still bummed out right now), and generally brings the best out of the booth.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series return to Talladega Superspeedway for 750 miles of action. Back in the late 1990′s, this weekend used to be known as “White Knuckle Weekend.” I think that it is still accurate, even though the 2006 repave has made the track much easier to drive.

*Thursday, October 4*

*Time Telecast Network*
*9:00pm-10:30pm* Formula One Grand Prix of Japan Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDtv.com^

*Friday, October 5*

*Time Telecast Network*
*1:00am-2:30am* Formula One Grand Prix of Japan Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
*2:30pm-3:30pm* Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
*4:00-5:00pm* Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
*5:00-7:00pm* Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
*10:00-11:00pm* Formula One Grand Prix of Japan Free Practice No. 3 SPEEDtv.com^

*Saturday, October 6*

*Time Telecast Network*
*1:00am-2:30am* Formula One Grand Prix of Japan Qualifying SPEED
*12:00pm-3:00pm* Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
*3:30-4:00pm* NCWTS Setup SPEED
*4:00-6:30pm* Camping World Truck Series Fred’s 250 powered by Coca-Cola SPEED
*6:30-7:00pm* SPEED Center SPEED

*Sunday, October 7*

*Time Telecast Network*
*1:30am-4:00am* Formula One Grand Prix of Japan SPEED
*9:00-10:00am* 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 ESPN
*2:00-5:30pm* Sprint Cup Series Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 ESPN
*~5:30-6:00pm* NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
*7:00-8:00pm* SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
*9:00-10:00pm* Wind Tunnel SPEED
*11:00pm-12:00am* NASCAR Now, Post-Race ESPN 2

^- Available via free internet streaming
~- Approximate start time

I will provide write-ups of both the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series races from Talladega for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. Also, stay tuned for this week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex where I’ll take a look at Inside NASCAR on Showtime.

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:

“SPEED”:http://www.speedtv.com/feedback
“ESPN”:http://espn.go.com/espn/contact

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.

“Contact Phil Allaway”:http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/18439/

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.