Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: Did Darrell Waltrip Go Biased Towards Busch At Darlington?

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, a column that breaks apart the ins and outs of the racing broadcasts you see each week. In the last few days, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series had a special Mother’s Day present for you: making their one and only trip to Darlington Raceway, one of stock car racing’s oldest and most legendary facilities. With Saturday night’s Southern 500 (May 7), the 1.366-mile oval has now hosted 165 races within NASCAR’s top-three divisions since first debuting on the Cup Series schedule in 1950.

How did the racing look on TV? There’s plenty to talk about this week, so let’s not waste any time.

Royal Purple 200*

Friday night from Darlington began with a musical ploy from ESPN. The network, getting creative made prodigious use of the 1975 song “Evil Woman” from Electric Light Orchestra in an attempt to capture the 1.366-mile oval’s nasty characteristics. I don’t believe it worked all that well, though. Truth is, most of the issues that plagued drivers on this night were self-inflicted.

ESPN showed off two very well-done features during the Countdown show. One was a segment on Eric McClure and the tragedy he had with a tornado hitting his house in southwest Virginia a couple of weeks ago. McClure and wife Melanie described the harrowing ordeal while sitting outside of their stricken home, an on-location interview that really accentuated the experience. It appeared that ESPN captured the best sides of McClure’s house, because the damage shown didn’t really match the driver’s own descriptions he posted to Twitter after the storm blew through.

Unfortunately for McClure, all the coverage he got on Friday night was in the feature, as he did not get mentioned at all on the broadcast until after he dropped out of the race (even then, ESPN never notified viewers as to why he pulled into the garage). The network definitely loses points for telling such a compelling story, then failing to connect it to the actual race itself.

Another feature that was shown featured Bud Moore, Cotton Owens and David Pearson having lunch at a local diner with Dale Jarrett. Like a normal weekday afternoon, the three began to spin war stories with Jarrett helping (at times) to drive the conversation along. Much of the discussion focused on supposed cheating, or hiding said cheating in NASCAR’s golden era.

Jarrett sat back for much of the time and watched with a big grin on his face, acting as if he just wanted to take in the discussion. Of course, he had a reason to grin; the piece was strong. But it should be noted that the whole conversation actually premiered earlier in the day during NASCAR Now. The feature could also have been improved by capturing the aforementioned three guys’ discussion in a “natural” form, meaning they do all the reminiscing themselves without Jarrett there to facilitate.

In addition to those special segments, ESPN brought viewers three pre-race interviews and the typical amount of overblown analysis from the Pit Studio.

During the race itself, there was a lot of focus on the front couple of cars (Kyle Busch (as always), Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards). Very few of the series regulars got much coverage until Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier reached the front via pit strategy. Such a philosophy fits into ESPN’s desire to focus on the front of the field, regardless of whether the drivers up there are actually Nationwide regulars.

But that narrow-minded focus, especially when you’re televising a series in which invaders constantly snatch up wins, is not always the most prudent. I don’t know what Nationwide was expecting when they plunked down $12 million a year to serve as the title sponsor for this division. Were they expecting a group of strong, independent series drivers to be spotlighted? Or, were they expecting Edwards, Busch and a couple other random Cupwhackers to be the stars of a second-tier division? I’d like to hear their thoughts on the issue.

ESPN also rolled out a new graphic during the race Friday. There are now “Restart Recaps,” which work very similarly to the race recap graphics that pop up from time to time. They list the leader, who got the Lucky Dog (if applicable) and so on. Not a bad idea, but ESPN should not use it as a crutch. Reid should still acknowledge what’s going on ahead of each restart instead of letting the graphic tell the story completely.

The network also failed to show what happened to cause Chris Buescher‘s flat tire on lap 44. That incident led to a caution for debris, also never caught on camera so viewers were left in the dark as to why the racing slowed. Not cool.

Since the race ended relatively early, there was quite a bit of post-race coverage. ESPN provided viewers with nine post-race interviews and checks of the points standings. There was also plenty of post-race discussion before they left the air as well. However, the network still chose to bolt 10 minutes before the end of their allotted time. I have no clue why they did it, although the thought of running out of people to interview was a possibility. Regardless, ESPN should make a point to always fill their slot when a race ends early. I’m sure that they have plenty of NASCAR-related programming they can use to fill.

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2011 Royal Purple 200 at Darlington

What viewers were given Friday night from ESPN was more or less a typical broadcast. Pre-race coverage was above average, but the race telecast was not so good. Last week, I stated that ESPN should have taken notes on how to cover the series regulars from SPEED’s broadcast at Richmond. Obviously, they chose not to. We’re all losing out because of that.

Showtime Southern 500

Saturday night brought FOX back out to play at Darlington. However, much of the network’s pre-race coverage was dedicated to the shenanigans from the previous Saturday night in Richmond.

Ryan Newman got a lot of airtime, far more than he likely deserved after his problems with Juan Pablo Montoya. He got a regular pre-race interview (as I’ve mentioned this season, very rare indeed) and a one-on-one interview with Darrell Waltrip. Both Waltrip and Matt Yocum pressed Newman to talk about the Richmond incidents with Montoya, with little success.

Newman did talk a little about the discussion in the hauler and what was discussed there. Somehow, the moon landing and “Wrasslin'” also made its way into the conversation as well (apparently, Waltrip’s mother was a fan of professional wrestling when he was younger, likely out of the Mid-South territory).

In addition to the interviews, there was significant discussion of whether a fracas broke out during the aforementioned hauler discussion. Neither driver will discuss it, but opinion is trending toward yes, they did.

During races, FOX will do rundowns through the field when there isn’t all that much action. Mike Joy will go through each lead-lap car and talk a little bit about them. This type of coverage was done at least twice on Saturday night, a positive aspect to their broadcast that fans seem to appreciate.

The big issue that developed as a storyline was the handling of the Kyle Busch-Kevin Harvick conflict that broke out late in the race. First, there was the cutaway to show a close-up of Clint Bowyer‘s crashed No. 33 when Harvick’s car was spinning on the frontstretch. That was not a good move.

FOX and BSI (the vendor that provides the in-car cameras for the broadcasts) didn’t do themselves any favors here when they were showing a replay of the incident from Jeff Gordon‘s roof-cam. They had the perfect view to see whether Kyle intentionally turned Harvick. However, right at the last second, they switched from the roof-cam to the rear bumper-cam to show Bowyer hitting the inside wall.

I think that FOX was undecided as to what was the bigger story in that incident. Yes, Bowyer took a big hit (somewhat similar to Brian Scott‘s on Friday night). Yes, Bowyer was quite unhappy about the wreck. However, that was not the big story that unfolded.

Yes, there was discussion over whether Kyle’s actions were intentional. Waltrip was not sure if it was or not, claiming he needed to see a couple more angles. That’s perfectly fair. He just didn’t want to make a snap judgment. The aforementioned situation is a touchy subject with Waltrip, who has been accused of essentially having a “man crush” on Kyle. That “man crush” has manifested itself in what many viewers consider to be biased coverage of Kyle over the past year or two. Believe me, I get emails on that very subject every week.

Do I think that Waltrip was blatantly covering for Kyle in this situation? It didn’t appear as such. Not at first. He just wanted to know all the facts before reaching a consensus. However, I do believe that he probably went easy on Kyle. It seemed like he didn’t want to come out and say that Kyle was in the wrong, even though Joy and Larry McReynolds were pretty much convinced that it was intentional.

See also
Kyle Busch Can't Run From Himself At Darlington

I also don’t necessarily agree with our own Amy Henderson’s opinion that NASCAR should have parked Kyle after the spin. Yes, it did look blatant, but not blatant enough for an immediate parking. He should have been docked a lap or two, though. NASCAR is within their authority to assess those types of penalties.

Waltrip was simply exasperated at what happened on pit road after the race. I’m sure he couldn’t believe what he was seeing, becoming nearly speechless along with Joy and McReynolds. I’m sure if I were to ask Waltrip if he was OK with Kyle’s tactics on pit road right now, he would most definitely not approve. No one would actually condone what Kyle did.

In the meantime, coverage of the last couple of laps was completely focused on the top-two drivers (Regan Smith and Edwards) regardless of the craziness behind them. Paul Menard apparently blew an engine, which only got a brief mention from Joy. Then, a crash broke out on the backstretch involving Bobby Labonte. There was no quick shot of the wreck to establish anything. The only time it was referenced before the checkered flag flew was when Waltrip mentioned it in passing, as if to say “Oh yeah, there’s a wreck over there, whoopee.” Not the best way to cover the final laps.

Unfortunately, the stupidity between Kyle Busch and Harvick took a lot of the limelight away from first-time winner Smith. Stupid stuff always seems to overshadow first-time victors these days. We didn’t really need a split-screen completely dedicated to the conflict while Smith was celebrating his win. Also of note, I cannot recall Smith being mentioned much at all on the telecast prior to there being 50 laps to go, despite the No. 78 running well for most of the race. That’s really rare when you think about it.

Even though the race ended 12 minutes after the end of FOX’s time slot, there was still a good amount of post-race coverage. There were six post-race interviews, a check of the points standings and a substantial amount of post-race analysis.

The first half of Saturday’s race really wasn’t bad. There was a good amount of coverage throughout the field and the commentary was fair and balanced. Still too many bumper-cam shots, though. However, towards the end of the race, the coverage became heavily focused on a couple of storylines at the expense of giving even some basic aspects of the event their proper due. That is something that FOX cannot do.

Also, the Waltrip bias is something that needs to be monitored for the rest of the season. When people keep on contacting you with the same type of concerns, it is officially something worth looking at. It should be noted in DW’s defense that sans Kyle Busch, there were no ridiculous moments of favoritism Saturday night, along with zero touting of Toyota products over everything else – like some people have also accused Waltrip of doing in the past. But he needs to be aware of situations where favoritism of drivers might crop up and act appropriately not to cross that line.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, all three of NASCAR’s major series are back in action at Dover International Speedway. Meanwhile, the Rolex Sports Car Series returns from their one month break at the 3.27-mile Virginia International Raceway for their fourth race of the year, where a bounty of $25,000 has been placed on the Ganassi duo of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. Here’s your listings:

Friday, May 13
Time Telecast Network
10:00 – 11:00 a.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
12:30 – 2:30 p.m. Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
2:30 – 4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
8:00 – 8:30 p.m. NCWTS Setup SPEED*
8:30 – 11:00 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 200 SPEED*
11:00 – 11:30 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED

Saturday, May 14
Time Telecast Network
10:30 – 11:30 a.m. Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
12:00 – 1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
1:30 – 2:00 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN
2:00 – 4:30 p.m. Nationwide Series 5-Hour Energy 200 ESPN
5:00 – 8:00 p.m. Rolex Sports Car Series Bosch Engineering 250 SPEED*
8:00 – 8:30 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED

Sunday, May 15
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
1:00 – 5:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks 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

*- Tape-Delayed

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series races in next week’s critique at Frontstretch. In addition, I will cover any other TV-related news that breaks over the next week. The Rolex Sports Car Series telecast will be covered in a future edition of the Critic’s Annex, a column which can be seen only in our free Frontstretch Newsletter.

One more note about the schedule. If you were confused about the Camping World Truck Series times, well, don’t be; you read that right, as the Lucas Oil 200 will be aired on SPEED via tape-delay (NOT live). This adjustment seems to happen every year, a move I simply don’t understand from any perspective. Yes, a 5 p.m. Friday afternoon start for a race is not ideal, but the Truck Series is one of SPEED’s main properties. I’m surprised that NASCAR does not insist on all the races being televised live, period.

Just for the heck of it, I checked SPEED’s schedule for the 13th last week. Airing in place of the live telecast is a repeat of an episode of The 10, then a repeat of the tape-delayed telecast of the South Boston 150 for the K&N Pro Series East from South Boston Speedway. That telecast premieres Thursday evening at 6 p.m. ET. After that, there is a repeat of Truck Series qualifying, then Trackside all before the Setup – a full pre-race show – comes on at 8 p.m. ET. Huh?

Simply put, there is no reason to push the Truck Series programming back. You’re selling out one of NASCAR’s top divisions for what? 20,000 more viewers, if that? It’s a bush league move.

That’s it for now. 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 coverage from last weekend, please click on the following links:


As always, if you choose to contact a network by email, do so in a courteous manner. PR 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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