Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: Loudon Telecasts Marked by Bill Weber’s Departure in the Booth

Greetings, race fans. This past weekend, all three of NASCAR’s major series were in action. The Truck Series was in Millington, Tenn. at the Memphis Motorsports Park for the MemphisTravel.com 200 presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts. Meanwhile, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series were both in Loudon, N.H. for the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 and Camping World RV Sales 200 presented by Turtle Wax, respectively.

The NASCAR Camping World East Series and NASCAR Whelen Modified Series also provided additional support; but unfortunately, those races didn’t get the coverage they deserved this past weekend.

I should say that the Camping World East Series was televised on HDNet, but there were still a whole a lot of people who didn’t get a chance to see it. I can tell you that my cable provider (Time Warner Cable) dropped HDNet (and HDNet Movies) at the beginning of June. I bet Mark Cuban’s crying a little about that, since Time Warner Cable is one of the largest cable television providers in the United States. Granted, you had to pay extra for a Premium HD package just to get the two channels… but I digress.

Thankfully for the CWES, at least someone was there to put the series on television, because the Modified race (possibly the best one of the weekend) ended up with no telecast at all. That’s weak, to the point where one of the Nationwide Series drivers actually called the sport out on this glaring omission during an interview for NASCAR Countdown.

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Yes, it was announced this past weekend that the September modified race at NHMS would get tape-delayed coverage on SPEED – along with the 150-lap combination race for the Northern and Southern divisions of the Whelen modifieds at Bristol Motor Speedway in August – but that doesn’t mean this weekend’s race should get absolutely no coverage at all.

Anyways, let’s move on to the races which were actually televised. Due to the setup of the weekend, I’m going to deviate from my typical chronological order to cover the Truck race from Memphis first instead of the Nationwide race from Loudon.

On Saturday afternoon, SPEED televised the MemphisTravel.com 200 presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts. As anyone who actually lives in the southern United States (not me) would tell you, the big story of the weekend (and really, most of the previous week as well) was the extreme heat. Temperatures nearly reached 100 degrees ambient (air temperature) at the track before the race started, and the heat index made that feel like almost 110 degrees.

Apparently, some of the SPEED production crew thought Krista Voda was going to drop like a wilted plant out there during the NCWTS Setup pre-race show, but Voda held up fairly strong despite weather that would have made it difficult to stand up. Apparently, Rick Allen and Phil Parsons also had to do without A/C in the commentary box. That might be worse than being outside, to be honest; you’re stuck in a closed room where the windows can’t open, it’s 100 outside and it’s humid as can be. Brutal conditions.

Anyways, during the pre-race show NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell joined Rick and Phil in the booth to talk about the series and how it can be improved. O’Donnell seemed non-committal to any potential changes, simply toeing the company line and saying that NASCAR is evaluating things, including potential double-file restarts and another change to the pit-stop rules. At this point, the five men over the wall and separate fuel and tire stop rules in the Camping World Truck Series have gone over just about as well as the infamous pit-stop rules that were instituted in NASCAR and ARCA at the beginning of 1991.

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Tearing Apart the Trucks: Truck Series Pit-Road Rules Save Money - Are They Worth the Savings?

For those of you who don’t remember that travesty – or simply weren’t around back then – what I’m talking about was a reaction to the death of crew member Mike Rich at Atlanta in Nov. 1990 due to a crash. Because of safety concerns on pit road, tire changes were banned under yellow by NASCAR. Instead, each car had a sticker placed on their windshield to tell them when they were allowed to pit. There was a blue sticker with the number one for odd-qualified cars and an orange sticker with the number two for even-qualified cars.

After a race was restarted, no one could pit until the second time around, when a blue flag was displayed… allowing the blue-stickered cars to pit. The next time by, an orange flag allowed the orange-stickered cars to pit and so on.

Confused? Just try actually being a NASCAR crew chief trying to figure this all out. Oh yeah, and NASCAR docked teams laps for changing tires under caution, no matter the reason why. Despite all that madness, the pit-lane speed remained unrestricted (what helped cause the tragic death in the first place) until this convoluted system was dropped in favor of (more or less) the current system we have today by April of that year.

The race coverage itself was OK, but the action on the track wasn’t really helping things for SPEED on this day. In short, the series is not the strongest at the moment, as even though it was a relatively benign event with few wrecks, only 23 trucks finished the race – with 19 on the lead lap. It could be argued that the lack of double-file restarts hurt the racing, but they would only affect the action for a few laps after cautions to begin with.

Basically, what I’m saying here is that the trucks aren’t giving SPEED much to work with these days and that’s a shame. Hopefully, things will get better in the future as the series looks to rebuild and replenish its fanbase moving forward. Apparently, there is a meeting coming up soon in which NASCAR may propose some new ideas to cut costs. As a result, I’m thinking that a return to the Truck Series of 1996 or so could be in the cards. If anything, I don’t think that they’re going to do as many races next year on superspeedways… that’s for sure.

For some reason, SPEED refused to show a replay of the incident in turn 1 between the No. 8 of Dennis Setzer and the No. 81 of Tayler Malsam that caused the green-white-checkered. No clue why this was so. Neither Rick nor Phil mentioned on air that the SPEED cameras didn’t actually catch the spin, and while the network played some aftermath footage of the incident – they didn’t tell or show much else. The only reason why I bring this up is the fact that Malsam and Setzer aren’t exactly nobodys in the Truck Series this year, as both drivers were in the top 10 in points going into Saturday’s race.

One thing that I didn’t like about the Truck telecast was the post-race coverage… it was ultra lean. After the race ended, there were interviews with the top-three finishers (Ron Hornaday Jr., Brian Scott and David Starr) as well as Hornaday’s crew chief, Rick Ren. There was a check of the points standings and the unofficial results – but then, SPEED abruptly left the air a little early. I’m uncertain as to why they did such a thing – maybe so their camera crew and on-air staff could get out of the sun and into an air-conditioned room?

Seriously, whatever their reasoning, they left the air about 10-15 minutes before their window was up without anything really important coming up on SPEED (I think NASCAR Performance followed the race). It continues to baffle me how post-race coverage could be cut short with that type of scenario in place.

Earlier that Saturday, ABC televised the Nationwide Series’ Camping World RV Sales 200 presented by Turtle Wax from New Hampshire Motor Speedway. This week saw someone on ESPN’s on-air staff finally take Kyle Busch to task for his now-infamous petulance during NASCAR Countdown. In doing so, Rusty Wallace effectively echoed my own personal opinion of Kyle’s behavior. Personally, I wish Rusty, or someone else at ESPN, made this statement earlier in the year. At this point, Busch would be right at home on a show like The O’Reilly Factor.

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Even though a statement like that doesn’t make a lot of sense… hang with me here. The O’Reilly Factor, and by extension, almost every other talk show on the 24-hour news channels feature hosts and guests cutting each other off and acting like a bunch of 8-year olds. Busch’s behavior after races he doesn’t win is kind of similar to such a temper tantrum. The scene at Milwaukee after the Nationwide race is what you can get when you interview Kyle once he loses a race. Like on those talk shows, he never actually answered any of the questions given. He just made his viewpoints and sulked off.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jerry Punch took the week off to relax at home, likely in preparation for the Sprint Cup portion of the NASCAR on ESPN schedule that starts in just one month. Punch’s replacement for the weekend, Marty Reid, did his typical good job on the mic in his place. There is most definitely a different feel to Nationwide telecasts when Marty calls them instead of the Doc.

One major difference occurs right from the drop of the green, as both men choose to handle the presence of the start-and-park teams in opposite ways. Jerry Punch may acknowledge when those teams go behind the wall, but not always. Typically, he’ll only reference them if something more notable happens to those cars, like the wreck that both Day Enterprises (No. 05 of Casey Atwood and No. 85 of Brad Baker) cars got into with John Wes Townley at Nashville earlier this year.

In comparison, on Saturday Reid made reference to each and every one of the S&P teams when they packed it in, including the No. 96 of Willie Allen being black-flagged for not having a crew chief. That is a new one, as there was probably no crew there, either.

Reid also appears to have a bit more emotion in his commentary than Dr. Punch does. Admittedly, the most vivid memory I have of Reid in the booth was the inaugural truck race at Daytona in 2000 on ESPN (Note: A clip of the live call by Marty Reid of Geoffrey Bodine‘s crash in that race is available HERE). I was only watching the race that day because a big snowstorm moved in and canceled school here, giving me the opportunity to tune in.

When rookie Kurt Busch hooked the No. 46 of Rob Morgan and Morgan bounced off the No. 52 of Lyndon Amick and came back into Bodine’s No. 15 Line-X Ford, Reid simply said, “Oh, we’ve got trouble! This is gonna hurt!” The rest is history, as it was a moment where Reid showed pure, genuine emotion on air. I’m not really sure how Dr. Punch would have handled that crash back in 2000, but I think that it would have had a completely different feel.

Transitioning back to Reid’s NASCAR call in 2009, there was a little bit of confusion during the first caution of the day on lap 52. Andy Petree was under the opinion that NASCAR would open up pit road the first time by the entrance after the pace car caught the leader. This used to be the case, but it was changed a few years back to the second time around in a move that likely appeased television. You’d think that with the trio being TV broadcasters, they would know.

Also, ABC/ESPN wound up using their popular Up to Speed feature twice. The first one, on lap 35, covered the first 10 positions, while the second one on lap 78 covered positions 11-20. However, these features are essentially given an entire segment to themselves, because they are surrounded by commercials. I cannot say that it is a good thing to setup the Up the Speed feature this way, but I don’t work for ESPN.

I do give the network credit for finding the debris that caused the yellow on lap 157, though (a spring rubber). It is still quite rare for debris to get shown on a broadcast, even though fans consistently want it to be shown. Jayski has taken to calling these yellows “Mystery Cautions” for “Phantom Debris” in his short race-coverage recaps – because if no one else can see the debris, how do we know it was actually there?

Overall, the day’s coverage had its ups and downs, but clearly benefited from a different face behind the mic in the booth.

Speaking of who wasn’t there in the booth, TNT broadcast the Sprint Cup Series’ Lenox Industrial Tools 301 from NHMS without a familiar face. Bill Weber, TNT’s normal play-by-play guy, was sent home on Friday night due to an altercation in the lobby of his hotel in Manchester, N.H. It is unclear what happened to cause the suspension at the moment; all we know is as a result, TNT suspended Weber for Sunday’s race and possibly beyond.

The last-minute changes resulted in some shuffling of talent on Sunday. Ralph Sheheen, who has plenty of booth experience with short-track racing, road racing, motorcycle racing and the World Rally Championship (dubbed in from Charlotte), was tapped to move up from pit road and take Weber’s place in the booth. This left TNT with just three pit reporters (Lindsay Czarniak, Marty Snider and Matt Yocum) instead of the usual four. Jim Noble, who typically reports exclusively for TNT’s RaceBuddy service, also helped out a little for the pre-race show.

Weber also usually hosts the popular Countdown to Green (the actual pre-race show, as opposed to NASCAR on TNT Live!, which is the pre-pre-race show). Instead, Marc Fein, who usually hosts NASCAR on TNT Live! along with Larry McReynolds, took over Weber’s hosting duties seamlessly. In fact, Weber was not even mentioned at all on Sunday – it was as if he didn’t exist.

Now, I’m sure that some fans would be happy to see him out of the broadcast booth. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of Bill Weber on play-by-play, especially knowing how he got the permanent play-by-play gig back in 2004 (Allen Bestwick broke his leg playing ice hockey, giving Weber a chance to sub for Bestwick. It quickly became permanent). I’m fine with him being on pit road and hosting Countdown to Green, but I always thought that NBC/Turner made a mistake switching Weber and Bestwick’s roles.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I do not advocate people getting canned, though. I feel that I am no position to do that, having no experience in television. If I were to do that, people would just say something along the lines of “Who died and put you in charge?” and then ignore everything I’ve written.

Speaking of pre-race, I noticed that TNT broke out some photoshopped pictures of various NASCAR on TNT personalities after Kurt Busch talked about his hunting trip with Darius Songalia. That makes me think TNT wants their NASCAR Live! show to be like Inside the NBA with Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith.

I don’t think that is really possible with the current crop of on-air personalities, though. No one really rocks the boat like Charles Barkley does on the NBA telecasts; and, truth be told, I don’t think NASCAR wants anyone like that remotely near a microphone. Kyle Petty may be the closest that TNT has to such a personality, but he’s really not involved with the pre-race show.

Now, how did Sheheen work out in the booth on short notice Sunday? I think he did pretty well, to be honest. It was definitely a change from Weber, who is about as excitable in the booth on a typical day as Dr. Jerry Punch (not a compliment). Sheheen definitely seemed to know what he was doing, despite never having done play-by-play for a Sprint Cup race in the past. I guess doing play-by-play of a Cup event is like commentating on any live race, with the only difference that the terminology may be different depending on which series is being covered.

I think that gut feelings have to be brought into play as the race unfolds, as well. For example, TNT was going to do a Through the Field right around the time that Carl Edwards pitted under green. Sheheen, sensing that Edwards’s stop could be the beginning of a round of green-flag pit stops instead of just an unscheduled stop, decided on the fly to audibly cancel the Through the Field for the network to cover the action. Good move.

However, there were still a couple of problems that I had with the broadcast.

One issue that I had right at the beginning of the race was with the audio. I swear that I could hear in-car audio layered underneath the regular audio of the cars racing each other. No one in the Frontstretch Live Blog backed me up on this, so maybe it was just me. All I know is that I definitely checked to make sure RaceBuddy was muted (which it was) before typing that into the Live Blog discussion. This was a very weird anomaly to listen to; but luckily, it only lasted a couple of laps.

One thing that I was not really happy with on Sunday was TNT’s job in covering Joey Logano’s incident on lap 181. Apparently, their cameras did in fact catch Logano’s spin in turn 4. However, this angle of the incident never made the broadcast (at least, I don’t remember it making it on there). They never showed the spin in their replays. However, they did show Logano’s contact with the No. 39 of Ryan Newman and the left rear going down a lap later.

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Yet, the next day I did actually see the spin that occurred during SportsCenter’s highlights of the race on ESPN Monday morning. Simply put, I shouldn’t be seeing something new there if I watched the entire race. Something just isn’t right about that.

Another issue that I had was the complete lack of utilization of the brake cam. As you may already know, New Hampshire is one of the toughest (if not the absolute toughest) tracks on brakes on the Sprint Cup calendar. That makes them a major story, and there is just something that comes with seeing a brake rotor glowing from hard usage during a race. I don’t know what that is, but there is something about it that is so cool.

Yet viewers on Sunday would not have even known that the No. 55 of Michael Waltrip had such a camera installed in his car. In fact, the only footage shown from that camera all weekend was during one of the Saturday practice sessions on SPEED – a great segment which actually showed a really quirky feature. When Waltrip slammed on the brakes, the rotors turned a light-blue color (but really bright) instead of red or orange. Larry McReynolds and Steve Byrnes were a little confused as to why this was so and hoped to get a concise answer (turns out it was the padding installed that was helping turn the color blue).

While they were figuring that out, McReynolds did reveal that brake temperatures during the weekend in New Hampshire were running as high as 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, which is way above normal for a NASCAR track. It was a nice statistic I’m sure millions of fans would have loved to have heard the following day… but they never did.

That’s all from TV-land for this week. Next week is the traditional midpoint of the NASCAR season, the Firecracker 400 weekend at Daytona International Speedway. On Friday night (July 3), the Nationwide Series races in the Subway Jalapeno 250 powered by Coca-Cola, where I hear Jared Fogle’s going to be the Grand Marshal (you might remember who that is).

On Saturday night, the Cup Series races in the Coke Zero 400, back on its traditional July 4 date for the first time since way back in 1992. I will critique both of these races for next week’s entry. The Truck Series has this upcoming weekend (and the next one) off.

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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