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Couch Potato Tuesday: Tony Stewart Overshadows Atlanta Telecasts
(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Couch Potato Tuesday: Tony Stewart Overshadows Atlanta Telecasts

Tony Stewart: one of the year’s biggest stories across NASCAR, not just his Sprint Cup home base. Smoke’s story has permeated not just stock car racing coverage, dominating chatter with the usual suspects but mainstream media as a whole. It’s a phenomenon that shows no signs of stopping, even though in some areas it should… especially when NASCAR folk have full control. Example? A race, within a prevalent NASCAR series where Stewart is clearly not a part of both.

Yet that’s what happened during last weekend’s ESPN coverage of the Nationwide Series from Atlanta Motor Speedway. Stewart was prominently mentioned during pre-race coverage as he prepared to return to competition that weekend, but the multi-time Cup champion hasn’t even raced in the series all season.

If that lack of focus was represented in ESPN’s pre-race coverage of the Great Clips 300, right off the bat then it did not bode well for the rest of the series broadcast.

Great Clips 300

On Saturday night, the Nationwide Series returned to action at Atlanta Motor Speedway for what was supposed to be a highly competitive 300-mile race, but Kevin Harvick made it anything but.

Even though Saturday night was supposed to be a Nationwide Series race, the primary story of the weekend was Tony Stewart’s return to the track. To that end, almost the entire first half of NASCAR Countdown was dedicated to that story. We got a replay of the sequence of events leading up to Saturday, and Stewart’s statement from his Friday press conference (“emotional wreck” would be a good way to describe Stewart).

Stewart also asked for no questions from the media in his statement. On paper, you’d think it would just mean about the situation in New York, which would be an obvious move since the investigation is still ongoing. In reality, it meant, “Don’t talk to me all weekend for any reason. Don’t even approach me. Just leave me alone.” Admittedly, I expected that. However, it also led to ESPN having to get secondhand information about his crash in Sunday’s race from crew chief Chad Johnston and Mike Arning, Stewart-Haas Racing’s PR representative. I can imagine people holding off about the Ward incident until the investigation ends if he isn’t charged with a crime, but if Stewart thinks he can go the rest of the season without someone sticking a microphone or tape recorder in his face about his race, he is sadly mistaken.

In addition, ESPN aired video of a few drivers (Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Danica Patrick and Harvick) voicing their opinions on Stewart returning to the track, all of which were generally positive. Marty Smith reported live from Stewart’s garage, and we got opinions from the Quicken Loans ESPN Pit Studio and the broadcast booth about the situation. Watching this coverage, a casual fan likely would have thought that Stewart was actually in the Nationwide race. He was not.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Tony Stewart wasn’t in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, but if you’d watched the pre-race coverage, you might have expected otherwise. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

During the actual race, Harvick made a near mockery of the competition. With only two cautions, the race got spread out and there was literally next to no racing at the front of the field. Pretty much a perfect storm of bad circumstances for ESPN. Regardless, there are stories to tell all through the field. I felt that ESPN was hoping that the storylines would open up at the front the further the race went, but that didn’t end up the case.

Having said that, ESPN did give Jeffrey Earnhardt some dap for his 12th-place finish at Bristol during one of the few times his car was on camera during the race. Ryan Sieg got just a little bit of exposure during Countdown, partially based around his sponsorship for the weekend from Big Green Egg (which just so happens to be based in his hometown of Tucker, Ga., one mile from his team’s shop). Had the Stewart-Ward incident never happened, Atlanta would have been a good place to run a feature on Sieg and his family’s small operation.

Outside of the immediate leaders, the only drivers to get significant airtime were Elliott Sadler and Trevor Bayne. Bayne got his time primarily because he was all but wrecking every single lap. The Pit Studio claimed prior to the race that Saturday was a night in which Sadler needed to make some kind of move on Chase Elliott, Regan Smith and Ty Dillon in the points. Unfortunately, Sadler failed to do it properly. He lost a few points to all three of his competitors despite finishing 10th.

The race ended ahead of schedule; had it not rained briefly during the second yellow, it likely would have been run at record pace. As a result, you’d expect some extra post-race coverage. Ultimately, viewers got a little bit more than normal, but ESPN chose to leave the air 15 minutes early to get to SportsCenter.

I don’t understand the move. I guess they couldn’t think of someone else to talk to after the race ended. I’m sure ESPN could get more drivers on camera after these Nationwide races that end short. Just have to track them down. Not everyone’s out of their fire suit and in the chopper within 10 minutes.

Oral-B USA 500

Sprint Cup returned to action Sunday night at the cheese grater known as Atlanta Motor Speedway. Kevin Harvick dominated the action again, but failed to hit the jackpot.

Countdown started out just like it did on Saturday night: a complete recap of the Stewart saga to that point. It was essentially the same content that you saw Saturday night, including the broadcast booth and Quicken Loans ESPN Pit Studio all but repeating their hot takes on the situation from the night before. Since Stewart was actually racing Sunday night, ESPN aired his time at driver introductions live as well in order to gauge fan reaction (overwhelmingly positive, but I could make out just a couple of boos).

ESPN’s coverage was very, very positive toward Stewart, almost to a fault. Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Lawrence wrote that “…ESPN’s commentators didn’t so much report on Stewart’s return as celebrate it.” It seemed like ESPN’s overall reaction to Stewart’s return was more along the lines of when Ernie Irvan returned from his life-threatening injuries in 1995 at North Wilkesboro.

I don’t agree with Lawrence’s notion that ESPN treated his statement as the equal to the Gettysburg Address. Also, ESPN’s personalities did make sure to not make it completely about Stewart and not even mention Kevin Ward, Jr. They did mention Ward and about how they are constantly thinking about him and his family. Having said that, I couldn’t tell you what the Ward family thought about Stewart racing Sunday night. Kevin Ward, Sr. has gone on record with the Post-Standard in Syracuse as stating that he wants Stewart to, at bare minimum, stand trial and face prison time.

No one on-air for the network voiced anything resembling disagreement with Stewart’s decision. They simply claimed that Stewart has to race because that is simply Stewart being himself. I’m personally fine with Stewart’s decision, if only because I didn’t have to make it; I’m not Stewart. Yet, seeing Stewart at the press conference Friday definitely put some doubt in my mind. That man was a wreck. However, it seems that ESPN took the position that it was borderline unethical to question his decision, which is simply not true.

Since so much time was spent rehashing the whole Stewart saga, there was very little time to actually preview the race, which is more or less the point of NASCAR Countdown. ESPN really needed to choose which Countdown show to run the Stewart segments on and just do it there. While the ongoing Stewart situation is an unprecedented story in NASCAR, there is a point where you start to cross into overkill territory. ESPN skirted that line last weekend.

The race itself was not all that exciting… at least for the first 300 laps, that is. It seems sad that so much squirrel chatter made it onto the broadcast. Then again, it isn’t exactly every day that a squirrel runs across the road in front of the leader of the race. Harvick thought it was a cat that crossed the track, then a squirrel showed up in the grass.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

AJ Allmendinger had the best laid plans for a weekend’s worth of success in Atlanta. Instead? His tire tread ruined the No. 47 team’s day — and nearly Jimmie Johnson’s as well. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Once again, the coverage was too exclusive during the race. ESPN acknowledged that the first yellow flew due to tire debris from an unraveled right rear tire on AJ Allmendinger’s No. 47. What they never did was actually show that debris on the track. That bit the telecast multiple times, especially when the seventh caution flew due to debris in the middle of a round of stops. I wish I could see what was so got darn important to throw a yellow for in the middle of stops. At least that doesn’t screw things up as much as it used to before the wave-around was introduced.

In the case of Allmendinger, we have a driver that’s locked into the Chase already thanks to his win at Watkins Glen. You could see him head to pit road with his first failure and no one really mentioned it until the yellow flew. Then, ESPN went back and paid it off since tire pieces ended up stuck to Jimmie Johnson’s hood pins. However, there was nary a peep when he suffered a second tire failure and went behind the wall. That’s simply not going to work. I ended up finding out about the failure and the garage visit through JTG-Daugherty Racing’s Twitter feed. I shouldn’t have to do that, especially for a Chase contender.

Finally, there was also a notable decrease in the usage of intervals in the scroll during both Atlanta races last weekend.  I have no idea why ESPN would think that it was a good idea to do that.  Considering how narrow ESPN’s focus was for much of the weekend, the scroll is often the only way to get updates on where your favorite driver is on track compared to his opposition.  Without the intervals being provided, it’s near complete guesswork unless you’re glued to timing and scoring.

Overall, ESPN was very sympathetic to Stewart on Sunday and it ultimately affected how much of the telecast came out. If the front of the field (Harvick and whoever else around him) was the “A-story,” then Stewart was clearly the “B-story.” There were constant updates on how he was doing all evening until he finally crashed out of the race. The focus on just three or so stories (the aforementioned two, plus the Chase and who was where in points) resulted in ESPN missing a lot that could have made the telecast if not more exciting then more informative. Having a narrow focus never benefits anyone, as far as I’m concerned.

Chevrolet Silverado 250k

Sunday afternoon brought a paltry group of 28 trucks to Ontario for the Camping World Truck Series’ second visit to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. Two races, two great finishes. Only this time, no one ended up in the tires.

During the Setup, a small amount of time was spent explaining the complete quagmire that is the Harry Scott, Jr.-Steve Turner Broadway Bro-Down. At minimum, it’s the Eddie Sharp-Bill Gallaher spat times three or so.

The main feature of the Setup was a look at German Quiroga’s upbringing. SPEED/FOX Sports 1 had never really looked all that much into Quiroga’s past since he’s been in the series; viewers just know that he’s a multiple-time champion of what is now the Toyota Series in Mexico. Quiroga’s parents talk about their son’s upbringing and how he broke it to them that he was leaving for the United States with next to no notice. Upon arriving, he was apparently very lonely at first and found people to relate to through activities like CrossFit. It was a nice look at the up-and-coming racer who came within a wheel of claiming his first win Sunday. However, I would have also liked a look into how Quiroga cultivated his driving style as well. Having said that, an example of that behavior did show up in the piece.

During the race, there was a fairly steady focus on the trucks at the very front of the field. Seems like that you weren’t in the top 5 or so, you didn’t get covered unless you spun out. Since there was very little of that by NASCAR road racing standards, that eliminated a good deal of non-leader coverage. The focus was such that there was never any mention of John Hunter Nemechek spending time behind the wall early in the race.

The in-truck cameras in Alex Tagliani’s No. 19 Ford were able to display for the viewers the various issues that he had all day, which were quite useful. For as long as I’ve been watching NASCAR races on television, I think Sunday was the first time that I can recall a foot cam actually showing a driver struggling with a stuck throttle. It’s the first time that viewers could see the metal loop attached to the throttle come into use as Tagliani needed it to unstick his throttle pedal. The situation made his job a little more difficult in the truck and probably led to him stalling in Moss Corner late in the race.

The vast majority of the final eight laps of the race were centered on Quiroga and Ryan Blaney. During lulls of activity at the very front, the cameras might cut back to the battle for third between Erik Jones and Gray Gaulding. Battles of importance elsewhere came and went without a peep. Perhaps there was a lack of cameras in Ontario for the race. Also, I’d imagine that CTMP might be one of the most expensive Truck races all season to cover for FOX Sports due to the fact that it’s a standalone and the customs issues that come with border crossings.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series make their second visits of the season to Richmond International Raceway. It’s the last race before the Chase, so expect near constant point updates. Here’s your listings for the week.

Tuesday, September 2

Time
Telecast
Network
5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
7:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.The 10: Earnhardt MomentsFOX Sports 2#
8:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.Verizon IndyCar Series MavTV 500NBC Sports Network*/# (from August 30)
10:30 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.Verizon IndyCar Series Year-End BanquetNBC Sports Network*/ (from August 31)

Wednesday, September 3

Time
Telecast
Network
5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

Thursday, September 4

Time
Telecast
Network
5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

Friday, September 5

Time
Telecast
Network
12:30 a.m. - 2:00 a.m.Pirelli World Challenge: SonomaNBC Sports Network*/# (from August 23-24)
4:00 a.m. - 5:30 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Italy Free Practice No. 1NBC Sports Live Xtra$
8:00 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Italy Free Practice No. 2NBC Sports Network
1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Happy HourESPN 2
3:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.Nationwide Series QualifyingESPN 2
5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.Sprint Cup Series QualifyingESPN 2
7:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.NASCAR CountdownESPN 2
7:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.Nationwide Series Virginia 529 College Savings 250ESPN 2

Saturday, September 6

Time
Telecast
Network
1:00 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Italy Free Practice No. 2NBC Sports Network*# (from September 5)
5:00 a.m. - 6:00 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Italy Free Practice No. 3NBC Sports Live Xtra$
6:30 a.m. - 8:00 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Italy Free Practice No. 2NBC Sports Network*# (from September 5)
8:00 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Italy QualifyingNBC Sports Network
10:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.NASCAR RaceDay SpecialFOX Sports 1#
11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.K&N Pro Series West Bakersfield 150FOX Sports 1*/ (from August 30)
3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.Lake County Speedway Hot LapsFansChoice.tv^
3:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.TORC: The Off-Road Championship Series Keys to the Big HouseNBC Sports Network* (from August 30-31)
5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.TORC: Crandon Reality EditionNBC Sports Network*/ (from August 30-31)
5:55 p.m. - 9:55 p.m.Lake County Speedway Grandparents NightFansChoice.tv^
6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceDayFOX Sports 2
6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.Tucson Speedway PracticeFansChoice.tv^
7:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.NASCAR CountdownABC
7:30 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400ABC
8:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.Tucson Speedway QualifyingFansChoice.tv^
9:55 p.m. - 12:40 a.m.Tucson Speedway Minute Man 50FansChoice.tv^

Sunday, September 7

Time
Telecast
Network
12:30 a.m. - 2:00 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Italy QualifyingNBC Sports Network*# (from September 6)
3:30 a.m. - 4:00 a.m.NASCAR Victory LaneFOX Sports 1*
3:30 a.m. - 5:30 a.m.Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400ESPN 2*/# (from September 6)
6:00 a.m. - 7:30 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of Italy QualifyingNBC Sports Network*# (from September 6)
7:30 a.m. - 8:00 a.m.F1 CountdownNBC Sports Network
8:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of ItalyNBC Sports Network
9:00 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.NASCAR Victory LaneFOX Sports 1*#
10:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.F1 ExtraNBC Sports Network
11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.1NBC Sports Network/#
1:00 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.Formula DRIFT Road to the Championship, Part 2NBC Sports Network*/ (from May 10
2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.GP2 Championship Series: Monza, Race 2NBC Sports Network*
3:00 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.F1 CountdownNBC Sports Network*#
3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.Blancpain Sprint Series: AlgarveCBS Sports Network* (from September 6-7)
3:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.Formula One Grand Prix of ItalyNBC Sports Network*#
5:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.F1 ExtraNBC Sports Network*#
10:30 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.NASCAR's The List: NBC Sports Network#
11:00 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.NASCAR's The List:NBC Sports Network#

Monday, September 8

Time
Telecast
Network
12:30 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of ItalyNBC Sports Network*# (from September 7)
2:00 a.m. - 4:00 a.m.Blancpain Sprint Series: AlgarveCBS Sports Network*# (from September 6-7)
4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.The 10: NASCAR's Most Outrageous MomentsFOX Sports 2#
6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

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

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series races from Richmond 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 covering the MavTV 500 from Auto Club Speedway. Also, I’ll rant about the absolutely horrific scheduling of that race on Labor Day weekend. The Sept. 11 edition of the Annex will cover the K&N Pro Series West Bakersfield 150 at the relatively new Kern County Raceway (aka Mesa Marin Raceway’s replacement).

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.

5 comments

  1. Well, I turned on the Nationwide race and decided it wasn’t worth my time, I had plans with friends for the Cup race so missed most of it. Got to see the last 50 laps with the multiple GWC and Kyle Busch showing once again that he can’t avoid being a jerk or was that an attempt to help Kenseth get a win to seal himself into the chase?

    I missed all of the pre-race stuff about Stewart. Since he hasn’t been charged with any crime, I don’t have a problem with him being back at the track but I’m not sure that I am OK with the waiver. Considering he wasn’t having that great a season to begin with, why should he get a pass to get into the chase?

  2. Once again Waldrip and Parsons seem to have a contest to see how many times they can say Quiroga during a race. Last year it was Miguel Paludo. Is there a connection here. ESPN spent to much time on talking about Tony Steward problems when they should have been focusing on the race.

  3. Stewart it seems has been found not guilty by a media that cannot take the time to let a thorough investigation run its natural course. Those damn facts can screw up the selected narrative so best to ignore them. It should surprise no one that Stewart was over covered, we have a media without common decency or any sense of boundaries. Every tragedy is just a story. Maybe one of the major news outlets could get us a photo of Kevin Ward in his coffin. A tasteful photo of course, introduced with that phony tragedy voice that newscasters practice in front of the mirror.

  4. I had the pleasure of reading the Sport Illustrated article. The hate that man got was scary. It looked to me that Tony’s “fans” were so outraged, they could not or would not concede the obvious. I read it and agreed with most of what he said. He stated what people in my house, text’s and phone calls from family and friends echoed in total agreement over the weekend. We were sickened by the conquering hero/rock star treatment of Tony. I can say “we” because we were all in agreement how wrong the fawning was, not to mention the total overkill. The media of course will tell you EVERYBODY who is a race fan was thrilled he “returned”, not true. It was classless and crude the attention Stewart received. Accident or not, Tony’s vehicle with him behind the wheel was the final cause of death. It happened a few weeks ago, and it seems the shallow fans were just happy “their Tony” was back. It doesn’t get lower than your own happiness taking front and center stage to a tragedy. Tony has been made the victim, until their is something very conclusive from the investigating body and frankly even after, my sympathies are with the Ward family. I cannot help but think this “return” was $$$$ motivated. Nascar will take care of Tony and the wagons will/are being circled. Tony’s press conference seemed “me, me, me” The whole time I kept thinking of what the Ward family must be feeling. The author wrote in SI what many I know for a fact feel. The poor guy I am sure will be run out of town on a rail by the pitchfork and torch crowd. He had the guts to write it, many more should follow suit.

    • kb, I too was uncomfortable with the way things went at Atlanta. Overkill seems to be the word. I like Tony, but the hero treatment by the track announcer and fans made me uncomfortable for the reasons you so aptly mentioned.