Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: SPEED Excels at Darlington & a NASCAR/Bachelor Connection

Hello, race fans, and welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, where breaking down race broadcasts is the name of the game. At least, normally it is… but with almost every major series off last weekend, there really wasn’t all that much to actually cover. However, I’m not going to leave my readers out to dry. NASCAR racing still fired up this weekend over in the Camping World Truck Series, which returned to Darlington Raceway for the Too Tough To Tame 200.

Just because that was the only four-wheeled circuit race of note last weekend doesn’t mean that is all you’ll get. With some extra space this week, I decided to take a look at SPEED’s new motorsports wrap-up show, SPEED Center.

Before we start, though some disappointing news: Bristol Motor Speedway made an announcement on Thursday (March 3) as to what will accompany the Scotts EZ-Seed 300 Nationwide Series race on the Saturday card. Unfortunately, after Larry Pearson‘s frightening crash last year, the Legends Race is out. The popular event, which lasted two seasons, put Sterling Marlin and Rick Wilson in victory lane during its brief history.

Replacing it for 2011 will be a series of speed trials. Bryan Clauson will attempt to break the all-time track record of 13.860 seconds in a pavement sprint car, while former Cup Series driver and crew chief Brad Noffsinger, along with Mike Lichty, will attempt to break the same record in supermodifieds.

Former AMA SuperBike Champion (and part-time Grand-Am racer) Scott Russell will attempt to set a half-mile closed-course record on a Yamaha SuperBike, before David Ragan and Marcos Ambrose take center stage for the grand finale. The Ford drivers will attempt to set a half-mile record in a street legal Ford Mustang GT with a 624-horsepower engine.

These events will take place after Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, but they won’t be covered live. SPEED will air them on tape delay at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 2, immediately after the Kroger 250 for the Camping World Truck Series at Martinsville Speedway. A good effort, but… just like the loss of the Legends Race, it’s just not the same for a track that seemed to have the perfect Saturday showcase for fans at the track and on television.

In other somewhat NASCAR-related TV news, on Monday night’s season 15 finale of The Bachelor, returning bachelor chose Emily Maynard as the winner and proposed marriage to her (she accepted). Why am I reporting this here? Maynard is the ex-girlfriend of the late Ricky Hendrick and at the time of his unfortunate death in a plane crash in 2004, she was pregnant with his daughter, who is now six years old. We wish Brad and Emily the best of luck in the future; for more on what the publicity could mean for NASCAR (if anything), check out Nick Bromberg’s No Bull article on the issue.

See also
No Bull: Bachelors, Trucks, Bristol & Who Knows What Else?

On to the critique.

Too Tough to Tame 200

After taking a week off, the Camping World Truck Series returned to action on Saturday evening in Darlington, S.C. The event was a one-day show with no support series.

NCWTS Setup started off with the typical recap of the last race from Phoenix two weeks ago before getting into “The Corral.” For some reason, the Corral interviews took place in the garage area instead of on pit road. I’m not opposed to it, but I just found it interesting. However, it kind of defeats the purpose of calling it The Corral.

One feature had the Dillon brothers (Austin and Ty) taking RCR teammate Joey Coulter to get a new look in Charlotte. Hilarity ensued, but with a serious intent: the day out was planned as a bonding experience between the three drivers. A bit strange to watch, but still good, and viewers got to learn a little bit about the little-known driver behind the wheel of the high-profile No. 22 ride.

I should note that during the Setup, SPEED had Hermie Sadler interview his brother Elliott. Often times, situations like this tend to be fluff pieces in which there is content that would be considered inappropriate of a professional. However, to his credit Hermie did not go down that road. He stuck to the plan and did a perfectly fine interview with his younger brother. If you were just listening to the broadcast and not watching it (say, you were ironing a shirt or something like that), you might not have even known that Elliott and Hermie are brothers.

The only gripe that I had during the Setup was that the volume of SPEED’s on-air personalities seemed to be a little low. They were periodically overwhelmed by Darlington’s PA announcer, giving the pre-race production more of an amateurish, low-rent feel when that wasn’t the case.

Michael Waltrip took the week off from Truck Series telecasts so that he could travel to Europe. Normally, older brother Darrell would fill in, but he had to be in Los Angeles to tape the Daytona 500 special that aired Sunday on FOX (that special will be covered in Thursday’s edition of The Critic’s Annex in our Frontstretch Newsletter). As a result, Larry McReynolds joined Rick Allen and Phil Parsons for the first time.

Compared to what we’ve become used to from ESPN and FOX, SPEED does provide a more concise broadcast with a focus on the on-track action. That philosophy is a good thing and for critics like myself, it serves as an “easier watch.” I don’t have as much to rant about, so I can just sit back, enjoy the race and not have to deal with gophers and overt favoritism.

Unlike Darrell back at Daytona, McReynolds melded into the Truck booth with ease. It was like he had been working with his new partners with ease; the transitions were seamless and the trio seemed to genuinely like working together.

There was plenty of action shown throughout the pack, not just at the front, a rarity for Darlington which is not known for side-by-side competition. In fact, the above-normal jostling actually got to the point of concerning the booth about the over aggressiveness of some of the drivers. I especially noticed it with McReynolds. Once the most difficult track on the circuit, I guess drivers can be a little more pushy at Darlington since the oval was repaved.

Post-race coverage was relatively short since the race ran long. There were post-race interviews with Kasey Kahne, Ron Hornaday and Todd Bodine after the race. There was also a check of the points standings before SPEED left the air to get to live Supercross coverage from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

I enjoyed watching the Truck race. Allen and Parsons always seem to be able to bring the right energy to the race broadcast, and their chemistry has continued to strengthen throughout 2011. In McReynolds, they had a “guest analyst” who was able to make himself at home real quick and become part of the family.

See also
Tracking the Trucks: 2011 Too Tough to Tame 200 at Darlington

I would not be opposed to McReynolds doing more Truck races as time permits. The only real gripe I had about SPEED’s telecast was that they missed the restart after the eighth caution (the wreck that took out Ricky Carmichael, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Johanna Long). But if I’m mentioning that as a footnote… you know this crew had a solid weekend overall.

SPEED Center

For the 2011 racing season, SPEED decided to rebrand their racing highlights show as SPEED Center. It’s pretty obvious with that name what they were aiming for. Under its previous guises (SPEED News, The SPEED Report), the show had multiple hosts on a rotating basis. Now, there is one permanent host, Adam Alexander. Presumably, when Alexander goes back to TNT to do play-by-play for their Summer Series in June, there will be a replacement of some sort at the desk, but SPEED will tackle that issue once they get there.

SPEED Center‘s set is the same one that was used last year for the SPEED Report. However, there have been some changes. The most notable change is a large HD screen in the middle of the studio, which serves a purpose – sort of. Alexander stands next to said screen for much of the show and points to the points standings for various series when they appear on screen. Such a display from Alexander is ridiculous. We know what’s on the screen. We don’t need you to point at it like we’re a bunch of first graders.

Watching the show, Alexander simply looks lost at times on air. The normally poised reporter is uncomfortable as heck on the show. We’re not talking “Deer in the Headlights” uncomfortable, but it’s not pretty. It just seems that a show where all the focus is on him is just not the right setting for Alexander.

It’s really quite sad to watch at times. A highlights-type show is typically better when there is a second person to bounce thoughts off of. Every edition of SportsCenter has two people as an anchor and it’s been that way more or less since day one. In its previous life, the once-titled SPEED Report always had a second person at the desk.

Unfortunately, the network only has so many people in Charlotte that can go on air on a Sunday. People like Bob Varsha don’t live in Charlotte and would have to be flown in. Danielle Trotta, SPEED’s reporter for NASCAR Race Hub, has other responsibilities in addition to that show. This conundrum shows the real benefit of having someone like Connie Legrand around a few years ago.

Of course, it’s still early in the season and Alexander still has plenty of time to improve himself on SPEED Center. It’s way too early to be throwing around the ax. But even though Alexander doesn’t seem to be very comfortable at the moment, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he is not informative. Even with the nerves, he still conveys the information that viewers watch the show for. He just does it in a weird way that is just not typical of what we’ve grown used to from Alexander on SPEED’s Camping World Truck Series telecasts and in the booth for TNT’s Summer Series.

In the future, a second anchor on the show would not be a bad idea, especially if Alexander doesn’t come into his own. Who that second anchor would be is anyone’s guess, though. I think he can grow into his new role, but it’s going to take some time. And with the way SPEED has changed programming around in recent years? You wonder if he’ll get the chance to do so.

That’s all for this week. This weekend, we will have a full slate of racing action on tap. The Sprint Cup and Nationwide series return from their hiatus to race at Bristol Motor Speedway, where carnage is nearly guaranteed. Meanwhile, the American Le Mans Series holds their season opener, the 12 Hours of Sebring, on Saturday. Here’s your listings.

Friday, March 18
Time Telecast Network
12:00  – 1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
1:30 – 3:30 p.m. Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
2:55 – 4:00 p.m. American Le Mans Series Qualifying ESPN3.com
3:30 – 5:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
5:00 – 6:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Happy Hour SPEED

Saturday, March 19
Time Telecast Network
9:30 – 10:30 a.m. Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
10:15 – 10:45ish p.m. American Le Mans Series Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring ESPN3.com
10:30 – 11:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice #2 SPEED
12:00 – 1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
1:00 – 2:00 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN
2:00 – 4:00 p.m. Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Homestead 200 SPEED
2:00 – 4:30 p.m. Nationwide Series Scotts EZ Seed 300 ESPN

Sunday, March 20
Time Telecast Network
9:00 – 10:00 a.m. NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
10:00 – 10:30 a.m. SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
12:30 – 1:00 p.m. FOX Pre-Race Delivered by Pizza Hut FOX
12:30 – 2:00 p.m. American Le Mans Series Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring ABC&
1:00 – 4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Jeff Byrd 500 presented by Food City 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


I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races from Bristol in next week’s critique here at Frontstretch. A look at the 12 Hours of Sebring will follow on Thursday in our Newsletter, although due to the ALMS’ new TV deal with ESPN (more on that next week) I am currently unclear as to whether ESPN3.com or the highlighted coverage on Sunday will be the best way to go for that one.

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 links:


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 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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