Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: Pizzi Problematic, But Vegas Very Good for FOX

Hello, race fans. Hope you had a great weekend. Welcome to my 51st entry in Frontstretch‘s weekly TV critique series, where I look into the racing shows and telecasts making their way across our airwaves. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series were in Las Vegas, Nev. for the Shelby American and Sam’s Town 300, respectively.

Sprint Cup Qualifying for the Shelby American

On Friday (Feb. 26), SPEED televised their usual “TiVoed” version of Sprint Cup qualifying starting at 6:30 p.m. ET. Normally, I don’t comment on this show because it’s quite regimented. You see every driver’s two-lap run and SPEED covers everyone more or less equally without much of a problem. However, there was a major technical issue on Friday evening that interrupted the flow of the broadcast.

During the qualifying session, a generator in the TV compound blew, causing an energy surge and knocking out electrical power to trucks and various parts of the track itself. As a result, SPEED could not show the last 10 or so drivers’ runs when they planned. Alternate programming had to be shown until Trackside Live with Danica Patrick and Juan Pablo Montoya came on at 8:30 p.m.

Let’s just be honest here. NASCAR’s TV partners use an incredible amount of electrical power in order to bring us these telecasts. According to ESPN, the compound on any given weekend needs enough juice to power a small town and for most of us, it would take years to use as much electricity as they do in just one day. Thankfully, the issues were able to be fixed relatively quickly.

Sam’s Town 300

Saturday brought the Nationwide Series to Las Vegas for the Sam’s Town 300, and with the move came some unplanned on-air changes for ESPN. In the week leading up to the race, Dale Jarrett’s father-in-law was hospitalized due to ailments. As a result, Jarrett chose to stay back in North Carolina and not make the trip to Las Vegas. Rusty Wallace filled in.

NASCAR Countdown started a couple of minutes late due to the Ole Miss (Mississippi)-Alabama basketball game running a little bit long. Luckily for ESPN, this didn’t affect their schedule at all because the start of the race was delayed by 90 minutes due to rain.

In order to fill time that would have otherwise been used to show the race, ESPN had drivers inside the Infield Studio for extended interviews. The guest list included Brendan Gaughan, Brad Keselowski and Mark Martin, with several others questioned outside the truck during the delay. Danica was also heavily involved, interviewed not once but twice. Personally, I think once was enough, although both interviews came out fine in my opinion.

The race telecast was actually pretty good. I’d almost argue that having Patrick in the first three races of the season is forcing ESPN to give a little more exposure to teams further down the order. It still isn’t enough, though. Since Saturday’s race was Danica’s last in the series until New Hampshire in June, they’ll have to find several new angles to look at for the next couple of months to replace her airtime. Let’s hope those include looking at different drivers struggling to work their way up through the ranks.

Moving along, the post-race interviews were quite brief and with good reason. ESPN2 was supposed to show a college basketball game, Illinois State-No. 22 Northern Iowa, starting at 8:00 p.m. ET. But because of the rain, the race didn’t end until 8:45 p.m. ET. ESPN shifted the game to ESPN Classic while the Nationwide race finished up, then looked to get off the air as quickly as possible once the race was over.

Even still, the entire first half of that game was aired only on ESPN Classic. As a result, there were only a few post-race interviews, with Ernie Cope (Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief), Harvick, Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards making the cut.

However, there was a little controversy that came out of the short post-race coverage. Kyle Busch, who finished 16th, was unhappy with the way he was portrayed on ESPN after the event. The telecast showed Busch walking away towards his transporter while Marty Reid talked about him a little. To be honest, I didn’t see anything wrong with what ESPN showed Saturday. I thought it was the equivalent of an “establishing shot.”

But an hour after the race, Kyle wrote an angry missive toward ESPN on his Twitter feed.

Now, it is true that ESPN never asked Kyle for an interview. Time was tight and Kyle finished 16th, meaning he had no TV-based media obligations after the race. However, Busch’s Twitter comments put ESPN on the defensive. This is not necessarily unexpected, since ESPN is quite protective of themselves and don’t like it all that much when people say things about them that are untrue.

An email from ESPN PR’s Andy Hall reconfirms that in addition to the fact that ESPN never asked Busch for an interview, it was never implied on air that he refused one. If Kyle, or any other driver, does refuse an interview, it will be mentioned on-air. In addition, the “establishing” shot was possible due to the fact that Busch parked his No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota on pit road where the drivers who finished in positions two through five parked – meaning cameras were everywhere as TV prepared to speak with those top teams.

In closing, ESPN also stated that it is “never our intention to portray anyone in [a] negative light.”

Busch has been silent on this issue since Saturday night, but I’m sure by now that someone has talked to him and he knows ESPN’s side of the story. I don’t expect a public apology from Busch to ESPN, but ESPN will more than likely desire some kind of a private apology at some point in the near future.

Shelby American

On Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series raced in the Shelby American at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. There was no pre-race concert this week, as FOX is now getting into their normal routine of how their coverage works for 2010. However, Michael Waltrip showed up in the “Hollywood Hotel” during pre-race to promote Fast Track to Fame, a new SPEED show which premiered Monday night. (The clips shown were the same exact ones shown on NASCAR RaceDay earlier on Sunday.)

Advertising cable shows like this one on network television is quite rare, bit with the FOX/SPEED connection it’s probable more of this stuff will come up as the season goes on.

Chris Pizzi was back this week with a brief interview of Jimmie Johnson. I’m not really sure what to make of Pizzi at this point, but Johnson was quick with a retort. He said, “How can I take you seriously?” during his interview. That was when Pizzi donned a bib, bottle and pacifier in order to give Johnson an example of his upcoming parenthood. Jimmie, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think Pizzi is meant to be taken seriously at all. At this point, I’m assuming that he’s just playing a character.

Just to be honest, I’m not really sure what FOX was thinking when they inserted Pizzi into the pre-race show. I know they needed something to replace the much-maligned Digger cartoons, but was this some attempt to grab the 18-34 demographic? All I know is that at this point, it’s working horribly. In fact, I don’t think this segment could possibly survive out all the way into the end of May. Maybe when Michael Waltrip is on with Pizzi, he’ll put him in his place.

To FOX’s credit, there was very little mention of Kim Kardashian’s presence at the race. For those of you who were unaware, Kardashian was launching a new fragrance (called simply the Kim Kardashian Fragrance) through Sephora. As a result, she was technically sponsoring the No. 36 for Tommy Baldwin Racing, and served as the Grand Marshal for the race. If you’re wondering why she didn’t give the command, Kim stated on her Twitter feed:

Once again, those are her words, not mine. Fine by me.

The telecast FOX gave us on Sunday was fairly good, with no outright favoritism or anything like that from the guys in the booth. There was one gripe that came up during the Frontstretch Live Blog, though. That was the fact that FOX took a commercial with 22 laps to go while Johnson and Jeff Gordon were battling for the lead – the last one they had to take before the checkered flag. Due to the way that FOX returned from commercial break, it is a little unclear as to whether what turned out to the pass for the win occurred while they were away, or right as they returned. I think it happened during the break.

Something like this has happened many times before during NASCAR races. The 1998 Save Mart/Kragen 350 at then-Sears Point Raceway, which came down to a duel between Gordon and Bobby Hamilton, is one example. The duo was putting on a pretty good battle for the lead, but unfortunately, ESPN had to go to a commercial break with 11 laps to go. The second they did, Gordon made the pass for the win on Hamilton in turn 11. Jenkins even said, “They’re gonna miss the pass for lead…” before they cut to commercial.

The idea was thrown around in the Live Blog for there to be a minimum number of laps at the end of the race that must be shown commercial-free, if no cautions fly. I’m not sure if there’s already such a clause in the TV deals that would require it, but it’s definitely something to think about for the future. Granted, it’s not like an AMA Supercross race I saw on TV about eight or nine years ago that had the following setup: “It’s the final lap, the action’s great! Let’s take a commercial break!” (The quotes are a paraphrase, but a producer actually did that.)

There was also another graphical screw-up with the last lap graphic, for the second week in a row. When the error was noticed, FOX immediately dropped it and went back to the normal scroll. I think that FOX may be running out of patience with this graphic and may outright ditch it if it gives them anymore issues. Personally, I think it’s unnecessary to begin with.

Post-race coverage was relatively sparse, knowing that FOX had 20 minutes to play with at the end of the race. In that time, they managed only four interviews: Johnson, Gordon, Harvick and Joey Logano. There was also a check of the unofficial results, a points check and some post-race analysis. ESPN is generally more efficient with post-race interviews than FOX is, quantity-wise. You can argue that the interviews may be of a better quality, but sometimes I want quantity as well.

Other Racing Series and Shows

As for the V8 Supercar Championship Series’ Yas Marina 400 telecast on SPEED, I will be covering that in the Frontstretch Newsletter on Thursday. It will be a common feature within the Newsletter critique from now until their season ends in early December in Sydney.

Also, I must remind my readers of SPEED’s new schedule for Monday nights!

Officially, they start the lineup now with the game show NASCAR Smarts at 7:00 p.m. ET. The show is actually a rerun of an episode from last season, not the one from last weekend. NASCAR Race Hub continues at 7:30 p.m. At 8:00 is a new show called “Fast Track to Fame,” a talent competition that will be held at each race venue.

Even though it only tangentially has anything to do with racing, I’ll have a critique of the series coming up soon. At 9:00 p.m. is another new series, The Racing Chef with Nicky Morse. SPEED describes this show on their website as follows: “Each week, the Racing Chef visits local establishments on the NASCAR circuit, prepares signature dishes and shares the love of racing and food with the drivers, teams and fans.”

Sounds like something Benny Parsons would do for a fun segment during ESPN race broadcasts around 1990.

At 9:30 PM is a show called Sounds of NASCAR, which is described as a barrage of sights and sounds from each Cup race. I think this is the show that acts as a half-hour look back at each race, using pictures from the broadcast of whomever’s showing the race (in this case, FOX) and audio from FOX and MRN Radio. At 10 p.m. is the duo of NASCAR In a Hurry: Monday Edition and What’s The Deal? However, make sure to check your listings because, in my case, they were not posted correctly on my on-screen guide.

Also of note, Darrell Waltrip is officially on Twitter now. He joins a growing list of NASCAR media personalities with pages on the site, including Steve Byrnes and Matt Yocum from NASCAR on FOX, Kyle Petty and Ralph Sheheen from TNT and no less than four members of ESPN’s NASCAR on-air crew.

Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series will both be in Hampton, Ga. for the Kobalt Tools 500 and Atlanta 200, respectively. Weekend coverage begins with the first practice session for the Camping World Truck Series on Friday (March 5) from 1-2:30 p.m. ET. This is followed by Sprint Cup Series practice from 2:30-4:00 p.m. ET and Camping World Truck Series Happy Hour from 4:00-5:00 p.m. ET. After an interlude, Sprint Cup Series qualifying will come on at 6:00 p.m. ET. All action will be shown on SPEED.

On Saturday morning, the action starts bright and early with Camping World Truck Series qualifying at 9:30 a.m. ET. After that wraps up, the Sprint Cup Series will hold two practice sessions, the first of which will air from 11:00-11:45 a.m. on SPEED. At Noon, Sprint Cup Happy Hour will begin and run up until 1:30 p.m. At that point, NCWTS Setup comes on in order to lead up to the Atlanta 200 at 2:00 p.m. ET.

On Sunday, coverage begins with NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot at 10 a.m. ET. FOX’s coverage begins at noon with a one-hour pre-race show. Race coverage begins at 1 p.m., with the green flag expected around 1:16 p.m.

But that’s not all the motorsports action coming this weekend. After the Truck race on Saturday, SPEED goes off to Homestead-Miami Speedway for Round 2 of the Rolex Sports Car Series (Grand-Am), the Grand Prix of Miami. Live Coverage on SPEED begins at 5:00 p.m. ET. This is a timed race, scheduled to last 2 hours and 45 minutes. On Sunday, while the Cup race is on FOX, SPEED will air Round 2 (Races 3 and 4) of the 2010 V8 Supercar Championship Series, the Desert 400 from Bahrain International Circuit. This taped coverage will air at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.

The current plans have me critiquing the Atlanta 200, Kobalt Tools 500 and the Grand Prix of Miami as part of the regular critique for next week, along with any other pertinent news. The V8 Supercar critique will likely fall into my new annex critique for next Thursday morning in the Frontstretch Newsletter.

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 would like to follow me via Twitter, you can go to my Twitter page here. And if you would like to contact FOX, ESPN or the SPEED Channel personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage of NASCAR, please click on the following links:


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 politely rather than ones full of rants and vitriol.

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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