Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: Bill Weber, You Lied To Us

Hello, race fans. Last weekend was a busy weekend, with the ARCA Re/Max Series, Sprint Cup and Truck series at Michigan while the Nationwide Series raced in front of a near-sellout crowd in Kentucky. However, I’ll keep things relatively brief with the support series to start, because I’m going to bring on the vitriol towards TNT.

Let’s get right to it. Friday night (June 12) saw the ARCA Series’ Racing for Wildlife 200 at Michigan International Speedway, one of only 11 races that are televised this season. Sponsored by the Ryan Newman Foundation, Racing for Wildlife is an initiative the charity has been working on that works to protect the outdoors.

Perhaps that sponsorship was what led Newman to join Rick Allen and Phil Parsons in the booth during the race. Known as a quiet guy, he really didn’t say all that much during the event and was a puzzling addition to the broadcast – he even didn’t stay the whole time, as the sponsorship forced him to leave early and head for victory lane.

As for the coverage itself, I think that Allen and Parsons should have called the racers to task on the bad restarts during the event. After two crashes on restarts caused by bunch-ups, they should have had some sort of critical analysis; however, they decided to shy away from it even as the pattern was being made clear.

Because of the race running long, there was very little post-race from the network. The coverage consisted of just interviews with race winner Parker Kligerman and second-place finisher Austin Dillon, as well as a review of the unofficial results and points standings before leaving the air. But these days, you can’t be picky – having ARCA get live coverage to any degree is great. They seem to be losing more and more telecasts each year, which means the series needs to treat their telecasts as a real showcase to lure both viewers and advertisers in.

With that in mind, I think Friday’s SPEED coverage was fine other than the few criticisms listed above. Moving forward, though, I wouldn’t mind more races on MAVTV, either (the other network that covers the series) – since I just got that station a month ago here.

Moving forward, SPEED’s Saturday afternoon (June 13) coverage of the Michigan 200 for the Truck Series was plagued by wrecks. Unfortunately, that happens at times. Another thing that I noticed was that full-time teams still do not have their own number graphics in the scroll. In fact, some teams are actually losing their personal number graphics in favor of the more generic ones.

The example I’m going to use here is the No. 17 of Timothy Peters. This team has partnered with Red Horse Racing and has thus changed their scheme, looking just like the No. 1 team that was just disbanded. The network could have come up with a new number graphic but chose not to. We’ll see if something changes in two weeks at Memphis.

See also
Tracking the Trucks: 2009 Michigan 200

Post-race coverage of this race by the network was also fairly lean. There were four interviews, including race winner Colin Braun, and also a quick look at the unofficial results and points standings. This is par for the course for a race that ran a little long due to the crashes, but I’d prefer some more coverage – and I know the fans do as well.

Meanwhile, my one comment on ESPN2’s broadcast of the Nationwide Series’ Meijer 300 is that it suffered from the abuse of close action shots that plagues telecasts these days. I’ll give an example of how this stuff affects the show. On lap 76, Derrike Cope and Kenny Hendrick had contact and spun in turn 1. But when ESPN showed this live, they only showed Cope’s No. 73 spinning around on the apron and not hitting anything; you didn’t see what happened with Hendrick and his No. 42. A wider shot there would have allowed viewers to see that not only did Hendrick spin, he hit the outside wall.

On Sunday (June 14), the Cup Series ran the LifeLock 400, the 15th race of the season, which was broadcasted by TNT as the second of their six-race “Summer Series.” Now, I cannot do anything about the quality of the race on Sunday. Some of my fellow writers here at Frontstretch, most notably Matt McLaughlin, described the event as yawn-inducing, boring or worse. But even if that were true, that doesn’t mean that there was not any racing for position on Sunday. It’s Michigan. There’s always racing for position, TNT just didn’t show a whole lot of it.

With RaceBuddy, TNT almost has an excuse for not showing as much battling for position as they could. One of the channels on RaceBuddy is the Battle channel, where one cameraman, perched on the roof of the luxury suites, searches the racetrack for a group of cars, racing together for position. With that channel, TNT actually does show quite a bit of side-by-side competition.

For example, the battle channel caught the race for position between AJ Allmendinger and Dale Earnhardt Jr. This was the one where Earnhardt Jr. ended up getting forced down to the apron, angering him in the process as the cars battled tooth and nail. Based on what I saw there, Earnhardt Jr. didn’t really have much of a reason to be angry in the first place… but you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t have RaceBuddy.

You see, before Earnhardt Jr. went to the apron, Allmendinger nearly spun out coming out of turn 4 while Earnhardt Jr. was below him. He needed the extra room to help straighten his car out – even though NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver was none too pleased. It was exciting stuff, indeed… but this incident was never shown on the TNT broadcast in its entirety.

In the pre-race show, there were a fair number of interviews, more than at Pocono. Here, I’m only counting the interviews on the actual broadcast that TNT showed on television. RaceBuddy, as I mentioned in last week’s review, has its own set of interviews, usually conducted as drivers are walking out to pit road. I still believe that the pre-race programming is too long, though; a 90-minute pre-show before driver intros is just too much time to fill.

During the race, TNT is probably best known for their “Through the Field” feature, where the network has their pit reporters talk about individual teams and how they’re doing on the track. They decided to quickly do it right before the first round of green-flag pit stops, admittedly as a way to kill time before they happened. There’s just one problem with that: the pit stops started earlier than TNT thought.

They decided to stay with Through the Field for a couple of laps and then decided to stop because cars were pitting under green. It was not a good idea to start when they did around lap 37; however, to their credit the network ended up restarting the feature again after the pit stops ended.

Towards the end of the race, though, the coverage really began to go down the john. On lap 149, TNT left to go to commercial, which is typical. However, while they were in break, David Stremme crashed into the protective water barrels at the beginning of pit road, causing the third and final caution of the race.

See also
Bubble Breakdown: Michigan Fuel Mileage Plays Into the Hands of a Trio of Bubble Teams

In the past (we’re talking back when Allen Bestwick was still the play-by-play man before his unfortunate hockey injury), Bestwick would go out of his way to say that if anything happened during the break, NBC (or TNT) would immediately return from commercial to explain what’s going on. This could be for a wreck, an engine failure or even a top runner being forced to make an unscheduled pit stop.

Regardless, this policy doesn’t apply anymore, since TNT went through their full commercial break before coming back to explain what was going on. All the while, we were ranting about this on our website’s Live Blog; and while I’d like to think you were there this Sunday, with a chance to always have the information right when you need it, there were millions more who didn’t have that type of access at their fingertips.

Instead, they were subjected to TNT staying out of commercial for what seemed like a minute and change, coming back to show a replay of Stremme’s crash and then determining that it was going to be a while before NASCAR opened up pit road. So, they took another commercial break.

Unfortunately for the network, NASCAR opened up the pits and had the crucial final round of pit stops while they were in commercial. After they came back, TNT aired the pit stops via tape delay. That’s bush league. What the heck, man? You guys are supposed to be good at making sure crucial elements of the race are not missed. You really dropped the ball here.

The post-race coverage was worse. Once again, it appeared that TNT was in a hurry to get off the air, regardless of the fact that the race ended with a full 30 minutes left in its time slot (at least, according to my on-screen guide). For the fans at home, you always know a network is in a hurry by how quickly the winner (in this case, Mark Martin) gets to victory lane.

Instead of an extended on-track celebration, Martin was already there with his No. 5 car for nearly two minutes by the time TNT came back from commercial. After that, the network aired interviews with Martin, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards before a check of the unofficial results and a statement from Bill Weber that TNT was going “to have extensive post-race coverage,” including the proclamation they just might track down drivers for interviews back in the motorhome lot.

Did this happen? Uhhhh, no.

After the commercial, TNT instead showed an interview with Jeff Gordon that was tape-delayed, followed by interviews with Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin. After that, there was a check of the points standings, and then… TNT left the air and showed an episode of World’s Most Dramatic Police Chases. Now, I’ll admit that I like a good car chase as much as anyone, but this was not even scheduled to run on Sunday.

Bill, you lied to us, man.

Looking back, that short post-race stint left TNT 2-for-2 so far in 2009 in a rather unceremonious category: leaving the air early. They still had 20 minutes left in their time slot when departing, although this time, they continued their post-race coverage on RaceBuddy (not that everyone was able to access it). Anyways, this coverage consisted of four more interviews (Brian Vickers, Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch) and some discussion of the race with Larry McReynolds and Marc Fein. However, this additional content lasted maybe eight minutes longer than the broadcast.

So, even with the online-only post-race content, TNT still did not fill their time slot. I cannot remember what TNT is paying NASCAR for the privilege of televising the Cup Series, but if I were running that network, I would be curious as to why the production would not only shortchange the TV audience but Turner Media as well. Because of TNT leaving the air early (likely intentionally), they’re not getting the most out of their millions while major storylines are almost guaranteed to be left hanging. I wouldn’t be surprised if the corporate suits might have watched this coverage and made a bunch of phone calls wondering why their coverage didn’t fill their slot.

Let’s just be honest: NASCAR on TNT is not a time buy. The Champ Car World Series, when it was on CBS and ESPN? Those were time buys. The networks effectively determined the length of the race, which is likely why the series went to a full-time timed-race format for their final season in 2007. In comparison, Turner Media is paying a buttload of money for the right to do their Summer Series. So, a note to TNT: get your money’s worth out of it. You might as well since you’re already paying for it and the fans will thank you each and every time.

That’s all for this week. Next week is the first road race of the season. Oh, yeah! I’ll admit right now that I’m a big fan of road racing and wish all three major series did it more often. The Cup Series races at Infineon (formerly Sears Point) Raceway in this weekend’s Toyota Save Mart 350. Meanwhile, the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series have their annual night races at the Milwaukee Mile. I will be critiquing all three of these events for next Tuesday’s edition.

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.

As always, if you choose to contact the networks by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions in a courteous manner than emails full of rants and vitriol.

Thanks for reading and have a great week!

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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