Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: Networks Need to Ink Indy-like Side-By-Side Deal

Hello race fans and welcome to that weekly place where major race programming is put under a microscope and analyzed. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series were both racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. In addition, the Izod IndyCar Series held their crown jewel, the Indianapolis 500.

Indianapolis 500

On Sunday afternoon, ESPN on ABC brought us live coverage of the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500. For the 46th year in a row, the race was televised on ABC – the 25th year in a row live. The normal duo of Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear was in the booth, but there were a couple of slight changes to the on-air crew. For the 500, the network added a fourth pit reporter, Dr. Jerry Punch, to the group to go with Jamie Little, Vince Welch and Rick DeBruhl. Also, Brent Musberger made the trip to Indianapolis to serve as a overarching host of the coverage.

The telecast started off with an expanded one hour pre-race show. Typically for ABC telecasts of the Izod IndyCar Series, these are half-hour pre-race shows, but it just drives home how much more important the Indianapolis 500 is compared to other races. The intro to pre-race was based upon some sort of action movie, not sure which one. Four drivers to look out for in the race were referenced in the piece. Scott Dixon was the “Iceman,” while Danica Patrick was referred to as “The Siren.” Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti were also mentioned.

Much of the pre-race show was focused upon Castroneves and the potential of him joining Al Unser Sr., Rick Mears and AJ Foyt as four-time winners of the Indianapolis 500. Castroneves had the quickest car for most of the month, turning the fastest lap of all of May during his last qualifying attempt. Unfortunately, once the race came around, he didn’t have much for Franchitti.

There was a sitdown feature with Graham Rahal and his father/car owner Bobby in which Graham discussed his drive behind the wheel, among other things. This was fairly interesting since Rahal has been underexposed since he came to the Izod IndyCar Series. There was also a Sport Science feature on the effects of high speed on drivers. This is a first for Sport Science being featured during a race telecast. Generally, I like the short features. However, I preferred Sport Science when it was still its own show on FOX Sports Net before ABC/ESPN bought the rights to it.

During the race broadcast, ABC pulled out all the stops. 10 cars carried in-car cameras during the race, up from the usual six. Most of them are the usual cameras above the driver’s helmet, but Patrick had one that was facing her in the cockpit. However, this camera was not used all that much.

One of the many gripes I’ve had with NASCAR coverage this year is the general failure to pick up debris. This has been less of an issue with ABC/ESPN than with FOX this year. ABC/ESPN was able to show parts of the fuel filler that Will Power pulled off the fuel rig during his first pit stop, which fell off the car and caused a debris caution.

Other positives in the broadcast included timely interviews with drivers that had been eliminated in incidents, and generally not dumbing down the broadcast for the benefit of the viewing audience.

Also, ABC broke out of commercial after Ryan Briscoe crashed on lap 148 to show coverage of the incident. Just before that, viewers saw part of the wreck live via the Side-by-Side setup that the Izod IndyCar Series uses in their broadcasts. I wish we had that for NASCAR races. As it stands, we get Wide Open Coverage on TNT of the Coke Zero 400 and that’s it. If advertisers get their way, that’s all we’ll ever get. NASCAR needs to get proactive on this in the future.

Remember, Side-by-Side was created for NASCAR by Turner Sports back in 2000 under the “No Brakes Coverage” moniker.

Meanwhile, the Craftsman Tech Garage made an appearance to explain the new for 2010 placement of the rain light onto the back of the attenuator box. This simple movement of a light changed the aerodynamics on the back of the car. Unlike with NASCAR events on ESPN, no one was in the Tech Garage during this segment.

As a result, Scott Goodyear narrated this feature from the broadcast booth. This is the first time that the Craftsman Tech Garage has been used during an Izod IndyCar Series broadcast. It is unclear whether the Craftsman Tech Garage will see additional use in the network’s two remaining races.

Even with those good things, I did have some problems. Chiefly, the coverage of Mike Conway‘s horrific crash coming to the white flag. Since it happened so close to the end of the race, coverage of the incident carried into post-race. By that point, ESPN seemed more concerned with Ashley Judd (Franchitti’s wife) than Conway’s condition.

See also
Frontstretch Breakdown: 2010 Indianapolis 500

I don’t know what it is with Izod IndyCar Series coverage in general, but the drivers’ wives seem to get more coverage in the series than with NASCAR telecasts. The wife (or girlfriend) of the winning driver almost always gets an interview on-air. Sunday was an exception, but ABC had Dr. Jerry Punch basically chasing her on the way to victory lane. I’ve always thought that Judd gets too much coverage on Izod IndyCar Series telecasts, but covering her over a very serious incident is just wrong, simple as that.

Earlier in the race, ABC did an “Up to Speed” segment like ESPN does for their Nationwide Series races. However, during this segment, Sarah Fisher had an issue that eventually put her out of the race and caused quite a scramble on the track. The network should have cut away and documented this. Instead, they stayed with the Up to Speed to the next commercial and never really followed up with what happened to Fisher. That’s terrible.

Post-race coverage was relatively extensive, despite the race ending within five minutes of the end of the time slot. There were nine interviews, seven with drivers, the winning car owner (Chip Ganassi) and the IndyCar Medical Director, who talked about Conway’s condition. No interviews with Ryan Hunter-Reay or anything like that, though. It was unclear on the broadcast why that wreck happened, but news after the race suggested that Hunter-Reay ran out of gas and Conway ran over him as a result. There was also post-race analysis from the broadcast booth before ABC left the air.

TECH-NET Auto Service 300

On Saturday, the ESPN crew televised the Nationwide Series TECH-NET Auto Service 300 presented by CarQuest on ABC. Due to the Indianapolis 500 running on Sunday, there were some on-air crew changes here as well. Replacing Marty Reid in the booth was Allen Bestwick. Nicole Briscoe filled Bestwick’s spot in the Infield Studio. On pit road, the network went with three pit reporters. Dave Burns was the only one of the normal group in Charlotte. He was joined by Mike Massaro and Shannon Spake.

NASCAR Countdown started off with a recap of All-Star week (Sprint Showdown, Sprint All-Star Race, NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony). There was also a Craftsman Tech Garage feature on heat sensitivity. This is pertinent because this race was held in the daytime for the first time since 2004 and Charlotte Motor Speedway is the most sensitive track to sunlight on the circuit.

Marty Smith narrated a special feature on the Fort Hood tragedy that also aired during pre-race. Admittedly, it was not bad, but it seemed out of place. The only real tie-in to what was going on at the track is the fact that it is Memorial Day Weekend.

During the race, Brian Vickers joined Briscoe and Brad Daugherty in the Infield Studio. Vickers would give some insights to the action going on out on the track and generally did a pretty good job in there. However, Vickers did sound quite groggy. I’m sure that he would have much rather been driving the No. 32 Dollar General Toyota.

Post-race coverage was typical for Nationwide Series races on ABC. There were only a couple of post-race interviews aired. The unofficial results were only shown in the scroll and there was some brief analysis before ABC left the air.

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2010 Tech-Net 300 at Charlotte

This was an OK race to watch on TV. I’m still trying to get used to Bestwick being back in the broadcast booth. He has a different style as compared to Marty Reid, but it’s generally fine to listen to. I do worry that he might come off as a bit of a “know-it-all,” which is something that I struggle with myself on a daily basis.

For example, late in the race, Bestwick mentioned there was a good chance based on numbers that there would be a late caution. Sure enough, there was one with 14 laps to go when Trevor Bayne got into the wall. Bestwick effectively said “Told you so” to Jarrett and Petree in the booth. Dale and Andy sounded amazed on air, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they felt a little anger towards Allen at the time.

Coca-Cola 600

On Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series raced the Coca-Cola 600. FOX televised the race with their usual on-air crew of nine people.

Pre-race coverage started off with Darrell Waltrip giving fans a quick look at how they put together their NASCAR broadcasts. Fairly interesting. We learned from that piece that FOX has less cameras at the track for Cup races than ESPN does. ESPN freely admits that they have a bare minimum of 60 cameras at the track for Sprint Cup races. Waltrip admitted that FOX has 50 at the track. Since this was the last race of the FOX portion of the season, giving thanks to the fans for watching was a theme throughout the broadcast, which I’m perfectly fine with.

FOX brought in three cast members from the new A-Team movie to the track this weekend. Steve Byrnes interviewed them about their experiences. It was a rather painful segment, since all three clearly knew zilch about the sport (Biel admitted it). It’s understandable, but the segment was still quite painful to watch.

Darrell Waltrip then conducted a one-on-one interview with Jimmie Johnson based around his recent “struggles” that seem to have come about since the re-introduction of the rear spoiler. FOX also showed features about the history of stock car racing in Charlotte, including classic footage from the old Charlotte Speedway (site of the first race in what is now the Sprint Cup Series), and of the year’s rivalries to this point (Keselowski-Edwards, Johnson-Gordon, Hamlin-Busch, etc.)

For this last race of the FOX portion of the season, a revised package for the race recaps during VISA Race Breaks was unveiled. Somewhat based upon what ESPN has been doing recently during Nationwide races, this new setup has a live shot of the leader in a box on the left side of the screen, while the recap highlights are in the right box. Towards the end of the recap, the scroll was added on top of that. Not half bad. Maybe this setup will return next year.

Yes, that use of a split-screen above was very nice. However, FOX still insists on showing full-screen replays during green-flag action. The example I have for this was the replay of Regan Smith‘s slide towards the wall on lap 72. This was just after a restart, and there was plenty of battling for position on the track at the time. Knowing that FOX has a split-screen setup for these situations now, I don’t like that very much.

There was a significant amount of action that fans missed due to commercials. It’s a dang shame, to be honest. Auto racing is the only sport today that has this problem. Soccer used to as well in the U.S. prior to World Cup ’94. I know I mentioned this while talking about the Indy 500, but we need to have some kind of Side-by-Side setup for the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series. The breaks come so often these days that a lot of action is missed. NASCAR needs to work with the advertisers and networks to create something that is equitable for everyone.

With only eight cautions for the whole 600 miles, FOX had about 20 minutes of post-race coverage. In that time, FOX conducted four interviews (Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray and Jeff Burton). Burton only got interviewed on-air due to the fact that he got in a heated argument with Kyle Busch after the race because contact from the No. 18 cut Burton’s left-rear tire, dropping him back to a 25th-place finish. There was also a check of the unofficial results and the points standings before FOX left the air seven minutes before their Tim eslot was up.

Now that FOX’s season is over, I know that a lot of you readers are breathing a sign of relief. There will be no more Pizzi on TV, although I swear I saw him on SPEED at some point during the All-Star Race. The gopher is gone for the summer, but his merchandise still remains.

Darrell Waltrip will be doing NASCAR RaceDay in Kyle Petty’s place for the next six weeks as Kyle Petty goes up to the booth. Larry McReynolds will go to the Infield Stage with TNT for the next six weeks, while Mike Joy will relax for the most part, and do some work for SPEED (either covering practice sessions at Cup races, or working a Barrett-Jackson auction telecast.)

This year’s FOX portion of the season was an improvement in some areas over last year, but they regressed in others. Much less Digger this year than last year and no cartoons. However, the introduction of Pizzi to the telecasts definitely hurt the pre-race show. He’s got to go. Replace his segments with more interviews.

I think that the lower number of cameras (at least compared to ESPN) at the track is why FOX has missed a few things this season. I believe that there may have been a cut in the number of cameras on FOX’s NASCAR broadcasts this season due to the costs becoming too high to produce the race broadcast for FOX Sports. That’s not because of NASCAR becoming less popular, but because of FOX earning less revenue due to the bad economy. It remains to be seen whether this continues next season.

Finally, we come to the booth. Waltrip seems to run the show up there even though he’s not the play-by-play man. He seems to have cutoff power over both Joy and McReynolds, and I simply don’t think that he should wield that authority. This power grab can adversely affect the telecasts at times.

Also of note is the irregular usage of the English language. One Twitter user told Waltrip that they needed grammar lessons (ouch!). Waltrip simply replied that “We aren’t what you’d call ‘slick’ TV announcers, just guys that love the sport.” I tend to agree with that notion, since it means that the coverage is more genuine, but some people do get annoyed with the improper usage of the English language. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want Waltrip’s Boogitys to go out the window, though. That has been played out for years.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend begins the split month, where NASCAR’s major series are all racing at different venues. The Sprint Cup Series will be at Pocono Raceway for the Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 on Sunday. The ARCA Racing Series Presented by Re/MAX and Menards will serve as the main support Saturday afternoon.

The Nationwide Series will be back at Nashville Superspeedway Saturday night for the Federated Auto Parts 300. This race will see the debut of Vince Welch in the broadcast booth for ESPN. Currently, it is unclear as to how many races that Welch will do from the booth this season.

Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series will be at Texas Motor Speedway Friday night for the WinStar World Casino 400k, the main support race for the Izod IndyCar Series Firestone 550k. Here are your listings for this upcoming weekend.

Friday, June 4
Time Telecast Network
12:00 – 1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Practice SPEED
3:30 – 6:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Qualifying SPEED
5:00 – 6:00 p.m. Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying Versus
7:30 – 9:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Happy Hour ESPN2*
8:30 – 9:00 p.m. NCWTS Setup SPEED
9:00 – 11:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino 400k SPEED

Saturday, June 5
Time Telecast Network
10:00 – 11:00 a.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
2:00 – 4:00 p.m. Grand-Am Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen-The Start SPEED
4:00 – 6:00 p.m. ARCA Messina Wildlife Animal Stopper 200 SPEED*
5:30 – 7:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2*
6:00 – 8:30 p.m. Grand-Am Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen-The Finish SPEED
7:00 – 8:00 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
8:00 – 11:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Federated Auto Parts 300 ESPN2
8:00 – 11:00 p.m. Izod IndyCar Series Firestone 550k Versus

Sunday, June 6
Time Telecast Network
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
12:00 – 1:00 p.m. Countdown to Green TNT
1:00 – 5:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 TNT
8:00 – 9:00 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED


I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series events in next week’s edition of Talking NASCAR TV here on Frontstretch. I will cover the tape-delayed Messina Wildlife Animal Stopper 200 for the ARCA Racing Series Presented by Re/MAX and Menards in next week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex, only available in the Frontstretch Newsletter. Also, don’t forget, in this week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex, I will be covering Carb Day from Indianapolis and the Freedom 100 in particular.

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 the SPEED Channel personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage from last weekend, please click on the following link:


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 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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