Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: Old Dogs, New Tricks for FOX at Texas

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, your source at Frontstretch for television commentary. Last weekend was a very busy one. I think I should have just put all the stuff from Malaysia on the DVR and watched it on my own time (intentionally waking up at 4 a.m. to watch qualifying Saturday morning left me very tired for the Cup race in Texas, if you know what I mean).

Of course, the Formula 1 race – which we will not be covering here today – is only one event from the past weekend. The Sprint Cup and Nationwide series each had night races at Texas Motor Speedway, while the Izod IndyCar Series made its season debut on Versus from Barber Motorsports Park.

Before we get into the IndyCar telecast, there is some news for open-wheel fans. Versus is in the process of putting together a weekly show dedicated to the Izod IndyCar Series, designed to supplement the network’s existing 13 race broadcasts. It will be hosted by pit reporters Kevin Lee and Lindy Thackston, along with the tempestuous Robin Miller. The premiere date is Tuesday, May 3 at 4 p.m. ET. Maybe not the best time slot, but we’ll manage. I will definitely bring you guys a critique of the show later this spring.

On to the critique.

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

This past weekend in Leeds, Ala., Versus announced that they will provide roughly five hours of race-day coverage from races in which they are televising the Izod IndyCar Series, events where the Firestone Indy Lights are serving as the support. For the sake of this critique, we will only be covering the content after the Indy Lights coverage ended. Those of you who are fans of the series, don’t worry; I’ll definitely be covering the series in a critique later this season.

The way the broadcast worked, the Indy Lights coverage only officially ran up until 2:30 p.m. Then, there was an unbranded half-hour in between the Indy Lights coverage and IndyCar Central, the official pre-show. During that show, there was a feature on Takuma Sato and his mental conflicts since the earthquake in Japan last month. Quite touching, to be honest. Sato rarely got any airtime last season (unless he was wrecking), so it’s good to hear from him.

The ProfessorB segment with Jon Beekhuis was centered on wrist injuries (specifically, “wrist shocks”) after Ana Beatriz and Justin Wilson both broke bones in St. Petersburg. Finally, with the introduction of Wally Dallenbach Jr. into the booth (replacing Robbie Buhl) the Wally’s World segment (complete with the Wayne’s World knock-off music) made its way into the broadcast. Here, Dallenbach took a ride around Barber Motorsports Park (as a passenger) in the Izod Two-Seater with Tony Kanaan at the wheel. I guess it only served as a harbinger for things to come. Expect people to wet their pants sometime later this year.

On IndyCar Central, there was a feature on Will Power and his preparation for the 2011 season after last season’s Rory McIlroy-style collapse. Also, Thackston is in charge of a “Who’s Tweeting What?” segment in which notable tweets are read on air. In essence, it’s a much shorter version of Tweet ‘N’ Greet, a regular feature in Wednesday’s edition of our Frontstretch Newsletter.

A fact that I failed to mention earlier this season (mainly because it had not been announced when I wrote up my Versus preview) is that the aforementioned Miller is now part of the broadcast. He effectively takes over part of Jack Arute’s former role, but brings a lot of himself into the show. However, he doesn’t appear to totally rip people to shreds like he has in the past online.

Another change is that Miller is at the IndyCar Central desk during pre-race, along with Lee. Thackston is down in the garage doing interviews with Marty Snider. I’m fine with this move, to be honest. Also, they finally invested in additional microphones for the desk, fixing an issue that made the set look low rent last season.

The race telecast was very good. Dallenbach, who brings 10 seasons of booth experience (which includes maybe two open-wheel races) to Versus did a good job. Dallenbach had very limited experience in CART before going into Cup full time, so he only had so much experience to draw back on. However, he acquitted himself just fine.

Versus decided to do a substantial Through the Field starting around lap 17 that went back all the way to 17th place. It would have gone even further, but a pit stop curtailed it. It was good to hear that information all the way back, but it got shaky once they got beyond 10th. I don’t think Thackston and Lee thought Versus was going to go that far back. As a result, they were screwing up and it didn’t look very good for a little while. I’d argue that the two of them don’t have a whole lot of experience working together on a segment like this one due to the fact that Firestone Indy Lights races don’t have pit stops. They’ll improve as the season continues.

I liked how Versus caught the argument between EJ Viso and James Hinchcliffe on camera and put it on a split screen. That was just plain cool. There were a lot of timely interviews after wrecks and everyone that was involved in incidents got interviews.

Despite the race ending after the time slot had already ended, Versus provided viewers with plenty of post-race coverage. There were nine post-race interviews (eight drivers, plus winner Power’s substitute race strategist). In addition, there were checks of the unofficial results and points standings before Versus finished up.

All in all, not a bad first broadcast of the season. There were some shaky moments, but I believe that those will work out as the newbies get used to the veterans. Miller’s role during the broadcast appears to be relatively open, though. I’d like a clarification of what he’s going to be doing this season. All we got Sunday were blind draw opinions of three different drivers, and some random tidbits from pit road (for example, Miller broke the news that Wilson’s wrist brace actually broke during the race before his crash).

O’Reilly Auto Parts 300

Friday night (April 8) brought the Nationwide Series back for its fifth race of the season from Texas Motor Speedway. NASCAR Countdown started out the show with the usual high amount of pre-race analysis.

Unlike recent weeks, there was an actual feature. This one covered Steve Turner, owner of Turner Motorsports, and his interest in mechanical equipment. The piece was interesting because we viewers really don’t know much about Turner ever since he entered NASCAR at the beginning of last season. Now that he owns seven full-time teams between the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series, he’s kind of a big deal and I’m glad someone finally focused on him.

As for the interviews, they seemed to be Cup-biased. The only non-Cup regular to be interviewed was Nationwide Series points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. while the other four interviewees were Cup drivers.

Race coverage was decidedly average on Friday night, especially in the first half of the event. There simply was not all that much to write home about the race.

The turning point of the night was obviously when Kyle Busch got taken out on lap 88 due to Tim Schendel‘s tire issues (at the time, it looked like a flat right-front tire, but on Monday’s NASCAR Now Roundtable, Allen Bestwick mentioned that Means Motorsports was guilty of the “Indian Trick,” putting the left-front tire on the right front).

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2011 O'Reilly 300 at Texas

At the time the wreck happened, the broadcast booth was taking a break and Bestwick handled the coverage along with Brad Daugherty. Needless to say, both of them were very surprised. Right up to the wreck, ESPN was using the bumper cam from Carl Edwards‘s car. Thankfully, they switched away from it. However, the view they switched to was too close and viewers couldn’t see the incident develop. Schendel just swooped across the screen into Busch.

Also of note, ESPN failed to procure an interview with Schendel while Vince Welch hung around Busch’s transporter for probably 20 minutes waiting for an interview. However, who was assigned Schendel’s pit? If it was Welch, he could have gone and done that interview with plenty of time to get the Busch quote. Regardless, someone dropped the ball here.

Another gripe was when the final yellow flew for Scott Wimmer‘s blown engine. ESPN was in the middle of their race recap, but I think that they should have just cut out of it and finished after the pit stops. Instead, they decided to keep going after the yellow had already flew. At least they acknowledged their error.

A positive thing for the network towards the end of the race was when they did an Up to Speed that covered the top 10, but then voluntarily continued it to cover the rest of the lead lap with around 30 to go. Granted, there wasn’t a whole lot of racing for position on track at the time, but it was still good to see and something they need to be doing more of.

Post-race coverage was very brief due to the race ending very close to the end of the time slot. Before leaving the air, ESPN squeezed in interviews with Edwards (along with crew chief Mike Beam), Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard and Elliott Sadler. There was also a quick check of the points standings.

ESPN delivered a garden variety broadcast, to be honest. There wasn’t all that much to take out of it, other than that they dropped the ball with the Schendel-Busch wreck. Someone needed to take a look into the No. 52.

Samsung Mobile 500

FOX returned with their usual scripted setup for their pre-race show. Same order, slightly different parts.

The one-on-one feature was a piece with Denny Hamlin that was shot at his house. Hamlin schooled Chris Myers at basketball in his driveway (not surprised in the least). While not schooling Myers, Hamlin talked about his unsatisfactory start to the 2011 season and the team’s engine issues. This piece was strong.

The only regular interview was with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Luckily, Matt Yocum handled that task, giving him something to do on-camera during pre-race for the first time in weeks. I’m still insistent on FOX having more pre-race interviews, though.

During the race, FOX was a little off the pace in relaying the happenings on track to viewers at home. For example, around lap 30, Hamlin radioed in to his crew and talked about a potential engine issue. Yet the first that I heard about the problem was on Twitter, when former colleague Matt Taliaferro ranted about it on his feed.

FOX failed to mention the issue until lap 57, after the second caution of the race in passing. Not cool.

As you may remember, Jimmie Johnson ranted last week (before being proven wrong) that he was busted for speeding in the segment that included his pit stall. In response, FOX, with the full support of NASCAR, showed off NASCAR’s automated pit-road system. Effectively, it’s a computer program that determines the average speeds for each segment.

I found the system itself to be quite interesting, one that really came into its own when Tony Stewart got busted for speeding with 59 laps to go. FOX simply was able to cut to the screen that showed that Stewart was almost 2.5 mph too fast in the first segment. Eventually, I’d like to see that integrated into the regular graphics in some form.

For the race being as quick as it actually was, there was not all that much post-race coverage. There were interviews with the top-three finishers (Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Edwards) and shots of the unofficial results and points standings before FOX left the air. FOX made a dumb decision making the time slot end at 11 p.m. ET for this race.

See also
Matt Kenseth Dominates to Snap Winless Streak at Texas

FOX brought viewers an average race on Saturday night. They brought new stuff to the table with the look at NASCAR’s speed enforcement system that was badly needed. It should have been instituted by ESPN after Juan Pablo Montoya got busted at Indianapolis in 2009, but now is as good as ever.

There is still a strong focus on whoever’s leading, regardless of whether they’re actually racing anyone. FOX should make a point to show more battles on track. Having said that, there were a couple of instances where good battles were shown via split screen.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is the Aaron’s Dream Weekend. Yep, that’s right: Talladega. I’m sure that quite a few of you are jonesing for some more action of the restrictor plate variety, and you’ll get it with the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series holding races there, along with the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards. Meanwhile, the Izod IndyCar Series will be in Long Beach, Calif.

Here’s your listings.

Thursday, April 14
Time Telecast Network
10:00 – 11:30 p.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of China Free Practice 1 SPEEDtv.com

Friday, April 15
Time Telecast Network
2:00 – 3:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of China Free Practice 2 SPEED
12:00 – 2:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
2:00 – 3:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
3:30 – 4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
5:00 – 7:00 p.m. ARCA Racing Series 3 Amigos Tequila 250 SPEED
8:00 – 8:30 p.m. SPEED Center, Friday Edition SPEED
8:00 – 9:00 p.m. American Le Mans Series Qualifying ESPN3.com
11:00 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. Saturday Formula One Grand Prix of China Free Practice 3 SPEEDtv.com^

Saturday, April 16
Time Telecast Network
2:00 – 3:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of China Qualifying SPEED
11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
2:00 – 4:00 p.m. Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Barber 200 SPEED*
2:00 – 3:00 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
3:00 – 6:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Aaron’s 312 ESPN
6:00 – 7:00 p.m. Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying Versus
7:00 – 7:30 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED
7:15 – 9:30 p.m. Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series at Long Beach ESPN3.com

Sunday, April 17
Time Telecast Network
2:30 – 5:00 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of China SPEED
9:00 – 10:00 a.m. NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
9:30 – 10:00 a.m. SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
12:00 – 1:00 p.m. FOX Pre-Race Delivered by Pizza Hut FOX
1:00 – 5:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Aaron’s 499 FOX
2:00 – 3:30 p.m. Firestone Indy Lights: Long Beach Versus
3:30 – 6:30 p.m. Izod IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Versus
5:00 – 7:00 p.m. American Le Mans Series, Long Beach ESPN2*
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

*- Tape Delayed
^- Available only via free online streaming
‘- Available only via paid online streaming, availability depends on ISP

As you can see, it’s a pretty big slate for next weekend with almost every major series of note in action. I will cover all three series at Talladega next week here at Frontstretch, while the Izod IndyCar Series race from Long Beach will likely be covered in the Annex next Thursday in our Newsletter.

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 any of the TV partners 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 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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