Well, hello everyone. Hope you had a great winter. Mine was OK, but kinda boring. Says something that I took on additional work to occupy myself over the winter, including covering last weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona for the site. I’ll tell you right here that it was pretty fun, albeit tiring.
However, that is not why you’re here. This week’s TV critique will serve as a preview of this year’s TV coverage. We’ll start off with FOX, since they will be starting off the Sprint Cup season at the end of the week with their broadcast of the Budweiser Shootout.
At FOX, the changes that you will see are mainly cosmetic and graphical in nature. The new FOX Sports President, Eric Shanks, is a huge fan of the NFL on FOX theme music and has decreed that it will serve not just as the NFL theme music, but the theme of FOX Sports in general for the foreseeable future. I will be honest with you: That will sound weird the first time you hear it during race coverage. It was weird enough during the World Series last year.
Also, there will be some type of graphical change that will likely make the NASCAR graphics package look a little more like the NFL graphics. Could that mean the end of the scroll in favor of a smaller box in the upper left-hand corner of the screen? Possible, but still unclear. I know my dad wouldn’t be opposed to a return of the pylon that ESPN used from late 1995-1997. I was thinking something more along the lines of what nearly everyone was using from 1998-2000.
There are no changes to the on-air crew that we’ve come to know (and in some cases, despise) over the past few years. Mike Joy will still be in the broadcast booth, along with Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip. The quartet of Matt Yocum, Dick Berggren, Krista Voda and Steve Byrnes will continue on pit road, while Jeff Hammond and Chris Myers will man the Portable Studio (I’m taking a stand, we don’t need to call it the Hollywood Hotel anymore).
At ESPN, there is only one on-air change of note at the track. Ray Evernham, who worked part-time as an analyst in the broadcast booth, the Infield Studio and on NASCAR Now, has left the network to take a job with Hendrick Motorsports. There doesn’t appear to be a complete replacement for Evernham; however, the critically-acclaimed Ricky Craven will take over some of Evernham’s broadcast booth time.
Speaking of Craven, he will serve as a booth analyst for seven Nationwide races this season. These races will likely be standalone events in which the Nationwide Series is not serving as the main support for the Sprint Cup Series. Of course, the vacation policy that ESPN has for their on-air personalities during the Nationwide-only portion of the season may play a role here as well. Stay tuned.
NASCAR’s announcement that they have pushed back the start of Chase races to 2 p.m. ET means that all nine of the Chase races on ESPN will have NASCAR Countdown preceding it on ESPN, not ESPN2 like last year.
One Nationwide race, the BUBBA Burger 250 at Richmond International Raceway on April 29, will not be aired on the ESPN family of networks due to conflicts with ESPN’s coverage of the admittedly interminable first round of the NBA Playoffs. In addition, that Friday is the second night of the NFL Draft, ESPN’s baby ever since 1980. Gives you flashbacks to the Hanes 500 at Martinsville not airing live in 1996. Unlike those circumstances, which saw the race air at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday once the NFL Draft ended, the Nationwide race will be aired on SPEED.
The team of Marty Reid, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree is likely to remain in the broadcast booth for the 2011 season as the “A-Team,” while the quartet of Dr. Jerry Punch, Dave Burns, Vince Welch and Jamie Little will return on pit road. Shannon Spake will likely continue in the same role as 2010, that of a floater who can serve as a regular reporter, fill-in pit reporter or a fill-in host on NASCAR Now.
For ESPN’s five Izod IndyCar Series races on ABC later this year, there will be a slight change, but only for one race. Reid will continue in his capacity as the play-by-play man with Scott Goodyear alongside. Little, Welch and Rick DeBruhl will serve as pit reporters.
However, there is a conflict on the schedule. The weekend of Aug. 12-14, the Izod IndyCar Series will be returning to New Hampshire Motor Speedway after a decade away and ABC will be airing the race. Meanwhile, the Sprint Cup Series will be in Watkins Glen that same weekend and the races are likely to start at about the same time.
According to ESPN’s Andy Hall, Welch will serve as the play-by-play announcer for the Izod IndyCar Series event, while Reid concentrates on the Sprint Cup race in Watkins Glen. Mike Massaro would likely substitute for Welch on pit road. It is unclear which race ESPN would assign Little to at the current time, since we‘re still over six months out. My best guess has Little also getting sent to New Hampshire and Spake coming off the bench still relatively fresh from Iowa.
Another notable change was just announced last week. ESPN announced that Ken Schrader and Johnny Benson will join Allen Bestwick on selected NASCAR Now roundtable editions on Mondays this season. Its an interesting development. The move reunites three-quarters of the old Inside Winston Cup Racing panel from 1996-2004 (minus Michael Waltrip, who is still on Showtime’s Inside NASCAR).
Benson’s dates for appearances on the show have not officially been announced yet. However, Ken Schrader’s dates have been on his official Twitter and Facebook pages. He will debut on the Roundtable on March 7. Additional appearances will be made on March 28, April 4, 11 and 18, May 9, June 20, Aug. 22 and 29, Sept. 26, Oct. 10 and 31, and finally Nov. 7. Should be very interesting to watch.
I have heard no word on additional streaming of ESPN races online for this season. If you remember, ESPN streamed their own telecast of the Ford 400 from Homestead-Miami Speedway online last year, but with the time during the commercial breaks blocked out. The formation of espnnetworks.com, which allows streaming of the regular ESPN channel online to subscribers of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks (and apparently soon to Verizon), basically broke the terms of the TV deal.
Also, ESPN held a premiere last week for a new documentary. The film, Wendell Scott: A Race Story, is scheduled to premiere on Feb. 20 at 9 p.m. on ESPN as part of ESPN’s celebration of Black History Month. It will serve as a look back at the life and times of the sole African-American driver ever to run as a regular in what is now the Sprint Cup Series (Scott made all but six of the Cup starts ever made by African-Americans).
Since it’s the same day as the Daytona 500, consider it a way to give you an additional racing fix before you go to bed. I will definitely be watching and will provide you with a critique at some point, probably in the Frontstretch Newsletter as part of The Critic‘s Annex, which will also return for a second year.
Sentiment coming out of the premiere was very positive, which makes me fairly excited. However, as films like Petty Blue, Together: The Hendrick Motorsports Story and Tim Richmond: To the Limit have shown over the past couple of years, those good reviews have come from other people who definitely discussed the film with their peers before putting fingers to the keyboard.
I don’t have the clout of writers that get invited to movie premieres held 1,000 miles away from here, but I have a certain high standard I hold documentaries to. Intentionally skipping stuff doesn’t make me very happy. All three of the aforementioned pieces did, the Richmond: 30 for 30 film most egregiously.
In sports car racing news, ESPN has acquired the rights to the American Le Mans Series for the next two seasons. However, in the deal, no races will be televised live on television. Instead, the races and their qualifying sessions will be streamed live at ESPN3.com. Coverage will be shown on either ABC or ESPN in 90-minute highlight shows either on the same day, next day, or the next weekend. It is, sadly, a similar format to the races at Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca last season.
SPEED will not have any changes in the broadcast booth for their Camping World Truck Series telecasts. Rick Allen and Phil Parsons, who just called the Toyota All-Star Showdown from Toyota Speedway in Irwindale, Calif. just last weekend, will be back in the booth, along with the quirky Michael Waltrip.
However, there will be a change on pit road. Adam Alexander will no longer be pit reporting on Camping World Truck Series broadcasts (the reason is listed below). Hermie Sadler will be taking his place. Interestingly enough, this will be the first time that a driver will be pit reporting full-time in NASCAR, although some have done it part-time in the past.
Also, it has been announced that Truck RaceBuddy, or as I like to call it, “TruckBuddy,” will be available via NASCAR.com for the entire 25-race season for free. Definitely great to see. However, I wish that a leaderboard would be integrated into TruckBuddy like with regular RaceBuddy for the six Sprint Cup races on TNT. (Then again, splitting the critique between regular SPEED coverage and TruckBuddy did get to be a little much last year. The idea of being able to watch everything is great, but not so good when you’ve got to literally “hold it in” for an entire race when critiquing so that you don’t miss anything.)
Alexander has been named to host SPEED’s new show SPEED Center, which will replace The SPEED Report. I’m fine with the move, which will not affect Alexander’s other gig with TNT.
The stage for SPEED’s telecasts at the track will be lowered, allowing for more fan interaction on Trackside Live! and NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot. However, multiple shows are on the chopping block. NASCAR in a Hurry has been canceled, along with NASCAR Smarts, the show that violated S&P standards on a weekly basis.
SPEED’s practice and qualifying session telecasts do not appear to have any major changes in the offing for 2011. Compared to last year, I think that the only difference will be that you will see more of Voda in the booth, as opposed to the garage. Just how much more remains to be seen, though; it was a late season experiment that saw her get a chance up there in the first place and she has generally impressed.
TNT has not announced most details about their Summer Series for 2011 as of yet. However, everyone from last year is likely to return. Alexander is confirmed as being back in the play-by-play role for a second year, with Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach Jr. alongside. Yocum, Parsons, Ralph Sheheen and Marty Snider will likely be back on pit road while McReynolds and Lindsay Czarniak will be on the TNT stage.
The network with the most unknowns at the moment is Versus. The long-awaited merger between NBC Universal and Comcast finally closed recently, so by the time the season ends, we might not even be calling the channel Versus anymore. As you might expect, that business deal is holding up some of the decisions in for both talent and production; for IndyCar broadcasts, only one of the booth commentators have been confirmed for 2011 (Jack Arute). Honestly, though I don’t envision any changes in the station’s Izod IndyCar Series coverage for 2011 since the fans that did watch were generally happy with the coverage.
However, if you saw the final race of the season from Homestead-Miami Speedway, there was an on-air breakdown. Arguing between Arute and Jon Beekhuis, technical issues and a lack of information conveyed to viewers resulted in a terrible broadcast. Hopefully, that does not continue into 2011.
Also, I have not heard anything about Versus continuing their coverage of modified races in 2011. Currently, the TV schedule available at NASCAR’s Home Tracks website is from 2010.
That is all for this week. In next week’s column, the actual factual critiquing begins. The Sprint Cup Series races in the 33rd running of the Budweiser Shootout Saturday night on FOX. The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards (Re/Max appears to be out for 2011) will serve as the preliminary show once again, while qualifying for the Daytona 500 will be held on Sunday afternoon. Here’s your listings.
Thursday, February 10
Time Telecast Network
12:00 – 3:00 p.m. NASCAR Now Media Day Special ESPNEWS
7:00 – 8:30 p.m. NASCAR Media Day, 2011 Preview SPEED*
8:30 – 9:00 p.m. The 10 SPEED
Friday, February 11
Time Telecast Network
5:00 – 6:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Budweiser Shootout Practice SPEED
6:30 – 7:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Budweiser Shootout Happy Hour SPEED
7:30 – 8:30 p.m. The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt SPEED
8:30 – 10:00 p.m. Budweiser Shootout Selection Show SPEED
Saturday, February 12
Time Telecast Network
11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 Practice #1 SPEED
2:00 – 4:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 Practice #2 SPEED
4:30 – 6:30 p.m. ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 SPEED
6:30 – 8:00 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
8:00 – 10:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Budweiser Shootout FOX
10:00 – 11:00 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane Fueled by Sunoco SPEED^
Sunday, February 13
Time Telecast Network
11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. NASCAR Now, Pre-Qualifying ESPN2
1:00 – 4:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 Qualifying FOX
7:00 – 8:00 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED
11:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m. NASCAR Now, Post-Qualifying ESPN2
^- Unclear of actual start time. Will depend on when the Budweiser Shootout ends
Couple of quick notes. The 10 is a new series that will premiere on Thursday night. It is more or less a countdown show that evolved out of the 10th anniversary features on FOX’s coverage from last year. Friday’s show will cover the Top 10 NASCAR moments at Daytona. Also, The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt is a show that retraces the events of Feb. 18, 2001, the day that Dale Earnhardt died. Should be interesting.
Later this week, the first edition of The Critic’s Annex for 2011 in the Frontstretch Newsletter will cover the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown (Saturday night coverage only) from Jan. 29. Why this week and not last? Because I was in Daytona covering the Rolex 24 at Daytona for Frontstretch. They had the race on one lone TV in the Deadline Room there, on the other side of the room from my territory in the German-speaking protectorate. Also, I was too busy tweeting updates on the race and making garage runs to give it its proper due at the time.
For next week, the main critique will have Sprint Cup and ARCA races. In addition, there will also be thoughts and musings on FOX’s qualifying coverage, SPEED’s practice coverage and the combined ESPNEWS/SPEED coverage of Media Day.
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 or ESPN channels personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage, 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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