Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: Why Phoenix NASCAR Coverage Wilted for the Networks

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to another edition of Talking NASCAR TV, where I take a look at the race telecasts available to race fans, and pick through them with a fine tooth comb. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series were in Avondale, Ariz. for the last major race weekend at Phoenix International Raceway before the track is ripped up and reconfigured.

However, before we start, I have a talking point that was mentioned during SPEED’s practice coverage on Friday (Feb. 25). The original subject of the booth discussion was Charles Lewandoski, who was making his season debut in the No. 44 Chevrolet for TriStar Motorsports in the Nationwide Series. Apparently, Kyle Petty and Jeff Hammond were having a little trouble pronouncing Lewandoski’s last name, so they asked Mike Joy.

Joy proclaimed that it was easy to pronounce and did it right then. Petty then brought up an interesting point. He claimed that Joy and Ken Squier had a bias toward Northeastern drivers because they’re both from New England. For reference purposes, Squier is from Vermont and helps to operate Thunder Road Speed Bowl in Barre, Vt., while Joy is originally from Connecticut but now lives in North Carolina.

Do play-by-play guys (or in this case, Joy and Squier) have a preference toward Northern drivers? Generally, I doubt it. In the past, drivers from north of the Mason-Dixon Line and to a lesser extent, from out west as well, were quite the rarity in NASCAR prior to the 1990s. Sure, there were exceptions, like Pete Hamilton or Tim Richmond, but that was more or less the way it was. Up until recently, more than a fair share of the drivers in NASCAR’s upper-most divisions came from North Carolina. Not so much now. I would argue that it was pointing out someone who was not from the core of where NASCAR is based.

In Squier’s case, he used to throw around hometowns or home states of drivers in the starting lineup for Cup races all the time, and not just for Northern drivers. He did it for the Southerners as well.

Lucas Oil 150

On Friday night, we had the Camping World Truck Series return to action. The standard race recap of the previous week’s race, which headlined the beginning of NCWTS Setup last season, returned once again.

The main feature of the Setup was a look at Michael Waltrip‘s victory last week in the NextEra Energy Resources 250 and what it meant to him. The piece was complete with interviews with Waltrip and members of management at Vision Aviation Racing. It was decent, but I think that Waltrip’s win has become overblown, given the circumstances. We know he is a pretty good racer at Daytona and Talladega. We know how much Dale Earnhardt meant to him.

I’m tired of Waltrip piggybacking off of him. It’s getting old and it’s irritating me. There was still no mention in the feature (there was outside of it, though) of the great spoiler that decided to fail on the last lap and cost the team 25 owners points. I still haven’t picked up a copy of his book yet, which appears to have even more of the same content.

See also
No Longer "Intimidating:" In the Blink of an Eye Further Devaluation of NASCAR's Past & Present

The Vault returned, this time covering the 1995 Goodwrench Delco 200, where Mike Skinner clinched the first-ever championship for what is now the Camping World Truck Series. Knowing what the series has evolved into now, it was quite interesting to look at. A quick interview with Skinner revealed that the trucks had suffered from quite a bit of lift in the front, not dissimilar to Cup cars at Daytona and Talladega in the 1980s (pre-restrictor plate era). Also, it should be noted that Phoenix, which book ended the schedule in 1995, was the series’ fastest track at the time.

TruckBuddy returned with its usual features on Friday, but there were some issues. The service at nascar.com was not up and running at the start of the race, much to the chagrin of myself, and other interested viewers. Also, the battle cam usually zeroes in on teams given the Lucky Dog/free pass/whatever you want to call it this week. That did not happen.

With the aforementioned Waltrip back in the booth in place of his older brother, the race telecast went back to the flow that we’ve become used to over the past few years. Never thought I’d say that.

Allen, Parsons and Waltrip have a pretty good rapport together in the broadcast booth these days. Despite his penchant for self-promotion, Michael tends to pick his spots to chime in on SPEED broadcasts, as opposed to what we’ve seen this year already from his older brother.

There was quite a bit to like about Friday’s broadcast. There were a number of wide, establishing shots of action on track, mixed in with some tighter shots. The blimp also got quite a bit of play, especially right after restarts when the field was still bunched up and the action was fast and furious.

Even with the last quarter of the race marred by a multitude of wrecks, the race still finished relatively early. As a result, there was plenty of time for post-race coverage. SPEED chose not to use all of their allotted time, though. In the time that SPEED chose to use, they interviewed six drivers and the winning crew chief. In addition, there were checks of the unofficial results and points standings and some post-race analysis before SPEED left the air to get to SPEED Center.

See also
Tracking the Trucks: 2011 Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix

SPEED Center was scheduled to start at 10:30 p.m. ET, yet, they decided to put it on 10 minutes early. I don’t think Adam Alexander was ready for that.

Bashas’ Supermarkets 200

The Nationwide Series returned to Phoenix on Saturday for their first “unrestricted” race of the season (I suppose they’re always restricted with the tapered spacers). However, viewers had to deal with that old foe of NASCAR Countdown, the NCAA. The Memphis-UTEP game, which wasn’t even that much of a contest, ran long, cutting off the first 10 minutes of NASCAR Countdown‘s time slot.

When ESPN finally came on air from Phoenix, they declared that Countdown would flow right into the opening ceremonies. I don’t really understand the difference as compared to normal here, but that is what they declared that they would do.

There is always a good amount of pre-race analysis on NASCAR Countdown and Saturday’s 20-minute show was no exception. The Infield Studio analysis took up nearly half the show. There were only three quick driver interviews before pre-race opening ceremonies began.

The only real feature shown during NASCAR Countdown was one about Trevor Bayne winning the Daytona 500, complete with quotes from Bayne and the Wood Brothers. A nice look back at Bayne’s accomplishment, but one that had almost nothing to do with the series being covered.

Yes, Bayne is full time in the Nationwide Series and the fact that he won the Daytona 500 is big news. However, it came off like ESPN was riding his coattails (or in this case, his leather jacket). It could be argued that ESPN televising the races is in fact promotion for the Nationwide Series. Is Bayne winning the Daytona 500 promotion for the Nationwide Series?

The race telecast was marred by some technical issues. Every time that ESPN attempted to run radio chatter on air, it would come in very, very quietly behind loud static. The pit reporters and commentators would carry on like nothing was wrong. There was no reference to the issue on air. However, to their credit, they did admit that they were working on the radio issue. Unfortunately, they could not get the issue fixed before the checkers flew.

Post-race coverage was fairly substantial since the race finished so quick. ESPN provided viewers with interviews with seven drivers, plus winning crew chief Jason Radcliff. However, those post-race interviews were tied into the storylines that ESPN wanted to follow during the race. Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards were naturals since they finished first and second. Bayne got his time post-race only because ESPN couldn’t find a place to air it before the race ended.

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2011 Bashas' Supermarkets 200 at Phoenix

Of course, Danica Patrick got her time as well. Interviewing a bunch of Cup drivers and Patrick isn’t necessarily going to grow the series. Yes, new points leader Reed Sorenson was interviewed, but he was the only Nationwide regular (other than Bayne, who wrecked) to get time.

Nationwide is airing commercials during the races featuring a tour guide showing fans some of the new Nationwide cars and thrashing Stenhouse’s in the process. They’re at least making an effort to give those drivers more exposure. Albeit, somewhat begrudgingly since they were actively in favor of maintaining the status quo from last season. ESPN has to do their part as well.

With Busch leading every lap and running away with the race at times, the race was quite boring to watch. There was substantial focus on the Cup drivers that were in the field during the telecast. Yes, those drivers were up front for most of the race, but they shouldn’t be the only focus. Other drivers should get their time as well, especially since those Cup drivers cannot run for the championship anymore.

Subway Fresh Fit 500k

FOX downsized their pre-race show to a half hour for their coverage from Phoenix. However, just because the show was only 30 minutes doesn’t mean that there wasn’t plenty of pre-race analysis from from Myers, Hammond and Waltrip. Unfortunately, the analysis and the features contained within cut down driver interviews to almost nothing. Only Bayne and Jimmie Johnson were interviewed. If you wanted to see driver interviews Sunday before the race, you had to go to the pre-pre-race show (NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot).

There was a feature depicting Michael Waltrip and his drivers (David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr.) spending a day with the Chicago White Sox at their training facility in nearby Glendale. Viewers were treated to the MWR trio taking some batting practice and hanging out in the locker room. The team was happy to have the trio there since a number of White Sox players are big NASCAR fans. Even the tempestuous Ozzie Guillen got in the act. However, the feature came off as boring to me.

There were two short features involving Bayne. The first followed Bayne across the country on his Daytona 500 Victory Tour, which included stops in San Francisco, where he named his own ice cream sundae, and an appearance on the George Lopez Show on Wednesday in Los Angeles. The second was a brief standup piece where Bayne talked about his win and the Wood Brothers.

Nice, I guess, but the whole thing is seriously getting tired. We know that Bayne is very surprised that he gets to do everything that he’s done over the past nine days. Maybe he’ll snag another win later this year. Maybe he’ll get a chance with Emmy Rossum (who he basically admitted to having a crush on last season via Twitter), who knows. Bayne might very well be a future star, but all the exposure may be too much, too soon.

FOX also unveiled a new feature that I guess will run weekly called “Revved Up.” It was a short piece where Darrell Waltrip gets free reign to go off on something – in this case, people who disliked the two-car drafts in Daytona. FOX has tried this caveat before with Darrell, but it ended up basically being a one-time thing. We’ll see if it sticks now.

I had a number of issues with the race broadcast on Sunday. First off, FOX has a graphic touting the “UPS Logistics of the Race” that takes up the full screen. It doesn’t really tell anyone anything that we didn’t already know from before the race. If you’re going to have it at all, fix it so that it only takes up part of the screen so that viewers can still see the action on track.

Second, once again, there was a “Mystery Debris Caution” early in the race (lap 20, to be exact). These cautions anger me. There’s no reason for NASCAR to simply make up a yellow that early in the race. FOX (and ESPN as well) needs to make a much more concerted effort to find debris on-track with their 50-plus cameras, and once they do find it, point it out to viewers. Otherwise, fans start claiming that something isn’t on the up and up. There is a reason why there is a Jacques Debris Twitter page online.

Also, there was apparently a water seepage issue during the race in turn 1 on the apron due to the overnight rains. The story, which could be considered quite important even though it was on the apron (where some drivers stick their left side wheels in order to change the balance of their cars), was never picked up on the broadcast. Those of you who believed that the track didn’t need to repaved should be silenced by that. If PIR were located anywhere but Arizona, it would have had to be repaved years ago because the poor drainage would have affected multiple race weekends over the years.

There were multiple issues with FOX’s graphics during the weekend (the same graphics on FOX’s broadcasts are also used throughout SPEED’s broadcasts in an attempt at synergy). Certain drivers would be skipped at times for no reason. Also, JJ Yeley‘s graphic in the scroll froze at one point while the other positions moved over his. Weird. That was a new one.

Finally, FOX completely screwed up the top-five graphic headed to the commercial on lap 212. Instead of listed the correct top five, it listed Jeff Gordon, and then a bunch of drivers who were either many laps down, or out of the race outright. Such a setup came off as quite low rent. However, the current graphical package appears to be a work in progress.

Luckily, Joy was able to properly call the finish of the race without being cut off by Darrell. That’s good to see, but it seems to happen so rarely.

Because of the early crashes and the 14-minute red flag, FOX’s telecast was actually overtime once the checkers fell. Despite the overage, FOX still managed to provide a typical-sized post-race show with interviews with the first four finishers, along with checks of the unofficial results and point standings. Finally, there was some wrap-up analysis before FOX left the air (more or less sparing me from having to deal with Tim McCarver’s boring syndicated show).

FOX has some improvements to make in their coverage.

That’s all for this week. Next week, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series are back in action at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Kobalt Tools 400 and Sam’s Town 300, respectively. The Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 is also back in action for their second race of the season, the Grand Prix of Miami from Homestead-Miami Speedway. Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series takes their first week off of the season. Here’s your listings for next weekend.

Friday, March 4

Time Telecast Network
12:00-1:30 p.m. Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
1:30-3:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Happy Hour SPEED
3:00-4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
6:30-8:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED

Saturday, March 5

Time Telecast Network
12:00-3:00 p.m. Rolex Sports Car Series Grand Prix of Miami SPEED
2:30-3:00 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ABC
3:00-6:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Sam’s Town 300 ABC
6:00-7:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED

Sunday, March 6

Time Telecast Network
11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
12:00-12:30 p.m. SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
12:30-2:30 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
2:30-3:00 p.m. FOX Pre-Race Delivered by Pizza Hut FOX
3:00-6:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 400 FOX
7:00-8:00 p.m. SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
8:00-9:00 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
9:00-10:00 p.m. Wind Tunnel SPEED

The Sprint Cup and Nationwide series races from Las Vegas will appear in next week’s critique here on Frontstretch. As for the Grand-Am event in Homestead will appear either in the regular critique or in the Critic’s Annex. Stay tuned.

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:

FOX
SPEED
ESPN

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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