Hello, race fans and welcome to my weekly TV critique. This past weekend, the three top NASCAR series were all in Dover, Del. for a tripleheader. The Camping World Truck Series raced Friday evening (May 14) in the Dover 200 presented by Polaris (but presented on SPEED by Pep Boys). The Nationwide Series raced Saturday afternoon in the Heluva Good! 200, and the Sprint Cup Series raced Sunday afternoon in the Autism Speaks 400 presented by Hershey’s Milk and Milkshakes.
However, before I start…
Sunday morning was the Grand Prix of Monaco for Formula 1, arguably the most famous race on their World Championship calendar. Fans of the series are well versed on the fact that Monaco is the slowest street course, despite improvements that have boosted the average lap speed over 100 mph in recent years (as recently as the late 1990s, it was hovering around 92 mph in all-out qualifying trim). That means 78 laps of the tight Circuit de Monte Carlo can take up most of the two-hour time limit.
But SPEED didn’t study up on their history. They allotted approximately one hour and 50 minutes for the actual race to be run before going off to NASCAR RaceDay in Dover at 10 a.m. sharp. Not surprisingly, with the typical wrecks and safety cars (F1’s equivalent of a full-course caution), the race finished just five minutes before 10. Normally, SPEED would air the podium ceremonies, fit in some commercials, show the post-race press conference, then wrap up the telecast with some closing analysis.
Here, they took a commercial break after the checkers flew, then came back with a replay of Michael Schumacher‘s controversial pass of Fernando Alonso on the run to the checkered flag while technically still under the safety car (more to come here, for sure). There was a quick shot of Mark Webber accepting the winner’s trophy in the Royal Box, then a check of the unofficial results and the points standings before SPEED went to Dover. No interviews, no extensive commentary, just a scramble to get to stock cars as quickly as possible.
Now, we all know that NASCAR is a big draw for SPEED. Also, I don’t know what a live F1 grand prix brings in ratings-wise. All I know is they did fairly well with the recent tape-delayed telecasts a few years back on CBS, which brought in about a 1.1 – the same number you’d get for a Nationwide race these days. FOX’s delayed coverage over the past few years has also done well.
With that much of an audience, the fans who get up at the butt crack of dawn, and in some cases earlier than that, to watch SPEED’s F1 broadcasts deserve better. What’s worse is there does not appear to be any replays of the race on the schedule, which is quite unusual. To his credit, at least SPEED’s Bob Varsha notified fans that post-race coverage would be on the SPEED Report at 7 p.m. and on Formula 1 Debrief, which doesn’t air until the Turkish Grand Prix weekend in two weeks.
However, that is still not enough. I do not understand why SPEED couldn’t hold off on NASCAR RaceDay for a few minutes, especially since it’s a two-hour program, so that they could properly finish off their coverage from Monaco. Favoring a pre-race show over live coverage is really sad, no matter how you look at it.
SPEED, don’t do that again.
First up is the Camping World Truck Series’ Dover 200 presented by Polaris from Friday evening. Of course, Polaris as a presenting sponsor was only mentioned during NCWTS Setup by Krista Voda in one of those “blink and you missed it” moments. Instead, Pep Boys Auto served as a presenting sponsor of SPEED’s broadcast. The usual crew of Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip were in the booth for SPEED, while Ray Dunlap and Adam Alexander were on pit road.
NCWTS Setup was a typical affair, starting off with a recap of the Kansas race, complete with even more blushing over the wild dual slides of Johnny Sauter and Ron Hornaday Jr. During the week leading up to the race, SPEED talked with some of the other drivers and asked them their thoughts on the action. It was packaged together and also aired during the Setup, an interesting but unnecessary add to the hype.
I did like the Vault feature about the first 10 years of the Truck Series. Looking at some of that old footage just shows how much they’ve changed, and not necessarily for the better. The clips from back then showed grandstands overflowing with fans, and great side-by-side racing to boot.
Where was the series at that first season? The 1995 schedule was just 20 races long. Phoenix (which bookended the schedule) and Milwaukee, 1-mile ovals, were the longest ovals, with the rest held at short tracks or on two road courses (Sears Point and Heartland Park Topeka). The short tracks varied in size and shape, from the flat as a pancake 0.333-mile at Saugus Speedway to the 0.75-mile Richmond International Raceway.
Transitioning into the race, for the first time all year it was not aired live on SPEED. When the race was actually running live, SPEED was airing a repeat of qualifying instead. I don’t have a firm answer as to why, but I’m guessing they wanted to save the race broadcast until later so that they could attract a larger audience. It was a common practice in the old days; in fact, ABC used it with the infamous United States-Soviet Union hockey semifinal from the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Of course, that was 1980, when the vast majority of Americans didn’t have access to anything more than local channels on TV. The threat of result spoilage was low. Today, we have Twitter, websites and a dozen ways to stumble across instant info, which at-the-track writers used to dump results of a race that actually ended before NCWTS Setup even began.
Now, I know that fans have rules you follow for watching races you can’t see live: Never looking online at all, avoiding websites, TV channels and so on. But it’s kind of annoying to put yourself through that just to make sure you don’t get spoiled. I know Jayski didn’t post anything about the race until after SPEED finished airing it. However, if the TV partners are going to air races on tape delay, then websites that post results and information about those races in real time must put warnings up.
Tape delay made a noticeable difference on SPEED, as there were a bunch of quick cuts on the coverage that made it look kind of cheap. For example, when Bobby Allison was giving the command to start engines, the cuts made it clear a large portion of the pre-race was simply snipped out.
The sloppiness then transitioned to race presentation. It seemed that at times, the coverage alternated between the traditional setup that is typically seen in live telecasts and the type of system used for ABC’s tape-delayed CART broadcasts around 2000 in which they would air the whole race, but stop the tape during commercials. It resulted in a jumbled feel to the broadcast.
As for the on-track competition, tires were a big issue. Blowouts caused four of the race’s 10 cautions, and other drivers, including winner Aric Almirola, also had problems that necessitated unscheduled green-flag pit stops. I’d argue that the issues struck so many teams, regardless of how they were running, that it was a Goodyear issue.
But SPEED didn’t talk about the problem all that much outside of the wrecks and showing us the tire that came off Almirola’s truck when he made his pit stop. I think that SPEED should have had Adam Alexander and Ray Dunlap going up and down pit road after rounds of pit stops under caution, checking tires of many of the top teams since so many of them tasted cold steel on Friday.
Post-race coverage was typical Friday night. SPEED provided viewers with interviews of the top-four finishers (Almirola, James Buescher, Justin Lofton and Ricky Carmichael), checks of the unofficial results and points standings and some post-race analysis before going off the air.
Like I said above, live telecasts to tape-delayed ones are always preferable. Yes, I understand the concept of waiting until later for a larger audience. But with the proliferation of DVRs, TiVo and even VCRs that all can record on a timer, it is possible to simply air stuff live and let the people who are stuck at work catch it later. I just really don’t see how many more eyes this race got by starting NCWTS Setup at 8 p.m. instead of 4:30 p.m.; in the end, I doubt it was all that many.
Heluva Good! 200
On Saturday afternoon, the Nationwide Series teams competed in the Heluva Good! 200 televised on ABC by ESPN. Marty Reid, Andy Petree and Dale Jarrett were in the booth, while Jamie Little, Vince Welch and Dave Burns manned pit road.
NASCAR Countdown (which was pre-empted in the Seattle market so that KOMO could show an episode of Hannah Montana) had a couple of interesting features. One was about Colin Braun using his “benching” as a learning tool, where the rookie basically went to a lecture with “Professor Kenseth” during the two weeks that he was out of the No. 16. It was pretty cool and looking back, it definitely helped (Braun ran 10th and his team is now locked in the field for Charlotte).
There was also a collection of quotes from drivers about competing at Dover International Speedway and a Craftsman Tech Garage feature on the thinking that goes into deciding to take sticker tires on pit stops as opposed to broken-in tires, or “scuffs.”
Overall, the race coverage that we got on ABC Saturday was decent. There was an appropriate amount of enthusiasm from the broadcast booth for what turned out to be a pretty benign race, at least until the end. Having said that, I do have some complaints.
First off, ABC/ESPN repeated a gripe of mine for the past couple of years. Why in the world do they feel the need to pipe in fake crowd noise at the start of races? It drives me nuts. I don’t think ESPN does this with any other sporting event that they televise. It almost makes NASCAR races seem less legitimate by doing it.
The issue of questionable cautions also came up again with NASCAR throwing the yellow for Mark Green‘s flat tire with seven laps to go, which directly led to the crash on the restart. It did not appear that Green’s No. 70 hit the wall (although NASCAR seems to think it did, according to their official race report) but the car did have a flat right-front tire.
There were no replays showing what happened to Green’s car, but it didn’t appear he was any real risk to anyone around him. That would mean NASCAR shouldn’t have thrown the yellow, but without the critical footage to prove it we could only speculate. I don’t like that.
Another issue was that ESPN did not feel the need to show a replay of Michael Annett‘s incident on the final lap, shocking especially since they erroneously reported Annett was slightly injured in the crash. It turned out that Trevor Bayne, who was involved in the wreck with Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard, was the driver who was hurt instead. That’s a crucial mistake.
But with all that said, there was plenty I liked about the telecast. ESPN debuted a new race recap graphic package on Saturday where Bestwick stills narrates the highlights, but the list of topics to cover now appears at the bottom of the screen. Where the topic lineup once was, there’s now a picture showing live action.
It was during these highlights on Saturday when Brad Keselowski had his spin, something that under the old setup might not have been shown live. It’s a good move for future telecasts and could foretell a split-screen setup where we could have live racing in one picture and a replay in the other like I’ve been wishing that ESPN would incorporate for the last few months.
Also, there was quite a bit of attention given to Jason Keller for making his 500th career Nationwide Series start. He didn’t have an in-car camera like he did at Darlington, but I always say it’s good that smaller teams (and the drivers for those teams) can get some exposure. It helps them get sponsors.
Post-race coverage was fairly good. ESPN provided us with interviews of winner Kyle Busch and his crew chief Jason Radcliff, Jamie McMurray, Jason Leffler, Reed Sorenson and Denny Hamlin. There was also a check of the points and some post-race analysis before ESPN left the air.
This was generally fine to watch on TV (unless you live within 50 miles of Seattle and got owned by KOMO, thus leaving you without a frame of reference leading into the race). The complaints above should be addressed as quickly as possible, though.
Autism Speaks 400 presented by Hershey’s Milk and Milkshakes
On Sunday, FOX broadcasted the Sprint Cup Series’ Autism Speaks 400 presented by Hershey’s Milk and Milkshakes. The normal crew of Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds were in the broadcast booth for FOX, while Krista Voda, Matt Yocum, Steve Byrnes and Dick Berggren worked pit road.
Since the Cup Series was racing on Sunday afternoon for the first time since Talladega, FOX went back to a one-hour pre-race show. In the first 20 minutes, they talked a little about the top stories (Vickers’s hospitalization, the Hall of Fame Grand Opening, etc.) and had some pre-race discussion with Chris Myers, Jeff Hammond and Darrell Waltrip.
Pizzi returned to the pre-race show with “The Best of A Slice of Pizzi,” or “The Rest of A Slice of Pizzi.” It was a bit unclear as to what they wanted to call it, so I’m listing both here for you guys. It was basically a collection of clips, some we’ve seen before this year (like Pizzi getting a piggy-back ride from Jeff Gordon) and others that ended up on the cutting room floor. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: please get this nincompoop off my FOX broadcasts. He ticks me off, adds nothing to the telecast and alienates viewers. Replace his segments with more interviews.
There was a nice feature on NASCAR racing in the Northeast, which was interesting because this region of the country often gets shortchanged in its contribution to motorsports. Yes, we don’t have very many major motorsports facilities. But being a native New Yorker, I’m glad they focused on it; our state, for example, has over 30 short tracks, most of them dirt, which showcase a bunch of racing.
There was also a feature on the Grand Opening of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which was held last Tuesday. Everyone involved was very excited about it, which is a good thing.
Myers then conducted a one-on-one interview with Rick Hendrick that was quite interesting to watch. It shows that when he buckles down, he can be very useful to FOX’s NASCAR broadcasts. I think it’s such a shame Myers puts on that stupidity act in the Hollywood Hotel. It’s clearly fake, since when Myers was with ESPN, he hosted the interview show Up Close, where all the show consisted of was a series of 30-minute one-on-one interviews.
Myers also created the “Did You Know?” segment that used to air at the end of Sportscenter, a segment that still airs in a revamped form today as the “Closing Number.” FOX, I implore you to command Myers to drop the “stupid” once and for all because it will greatly benefit the broadcast.
During the race, FOX had a bumper cam on AJ Allmendinger‘s No. 43 Ford and made extensive use of it, reminding me of the time they stuck a camera on the side of Kyle Petty‘s No. 42 Coors Light Pontiac at Bristol in 1996. That led to this replay of a close encounter with Steve Grissom. However, I believe that FOX overused their toy. With something like that, if a driver gets too close to another car, you can’t see anything. That was the case on more than one occasion Sunday.
There were some issues with the scroll moving “as slow as Christmas” on Sunday. I have no clue why, but it seemed to be moving at half-speed. That’s never good. The dreaded “caution in commercial” also came back to haunt the broadcast once again when Sam Hornish Jr. spun into the inside wall on the frontstretch. Failing to break out, when FOX returned the teams were finishing up their pit stops. There was only one brief replay of Hornish’s wreck and they missed part of the stops. It’s something that’s bad luck, but should not be repeated, although I know the network’s gone for ads over action multiple times this year.
On the bright side, FOX did have a nice tri-screen setup on lap 260 where they showed three separate races for position at the same time. I’d like to see more of that in the 600 on the 30th, if possible. Also of note, FOX debuted a new final-lap graphic showing the top-10 runners instead of just the top-five. Still don’t think it’s necessary, but it’s a little better than the last one.
Since the race ran short on Sunday, FOX had about a half-hour of post-race coverage. In that time, they gave us interviews with eight drivers (about double what we usually get) and the winning car owner, Joe Gibbs. The network also showed the unofficial results, the points standings and plenty of post-race analysis. Since the race ended early, there was no need for additional post-race coverage on SPEED.
A lot of fans by this point simply cannot wait for FOX to end their section of the season and for TNT to come in. I’m not the kind of person to say that. I want everyone to televise NASCAR as well as they possibly can; FOX appears to have not done that this year, and that makes me unhappy. For next year, I do not think that we’ll see any major changes, but I hope that David Hill (President of FOX Sports) will advocate a “back to basics” approach. They have all the tools for greatness and need to stop squandering it before more fans leave the sport.
That’s all for this week. Next week is the Sprint All-Star Weekend from the newly re-christened Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Camping World Truck Series serves as support Friday night with the North Carolina Education Lottery 200, while the Sprint Cup Series takes center stage Saturday night with the Sprint Showdown and the Sprint All-Star Race. On Sunday is the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, where Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson, Bill France and his son Bill Jr. will be inducted into the brand new NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Also this weekend is qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. Saturday is pole day, where the top-22 starting positions will be set, and Sunday will see the remaining 11 places settled on Bump Day. Whoever wins the pole will get 15 championship points and a cool $175,000.
Friday, May 21
Time Telecast Network
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Practice SPEED
12:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Fast Friday from Indianapolis 500 Versus
5:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Sprint Showdown and Sprint All-Star Race Qualifying SPEED
7:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. NCWTS Setup SPEED
8:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200 SPEED
Saturday, May 22
Time Telecast Network
12:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Indianapolis 500 Pole Qualifying Versus
12:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Sprint Pit Crew Challenge SPEED (tape-delayed)
4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
7:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. Sprint Showdown and Sprint All-Star Race SPEED
11:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m. NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
Sunday, May 23
Time Telecast Network
12:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Indianapolis 500 Qualifying Day 2 Versus
12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. NASCAR Hall of Fame Red Carpet SPEED
1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony SPEED
I will provide a critique of the Sprint Showdown, the Sprint All-Star Race and the Camping World Truck Series race in next week’s critique, while covering Pole Qualifying coverage from Indianapolis. The Critic’s Annex will cover the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
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 emails 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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