Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: Split-Screen Surprise – Reaction to FOX Making NASCAR History

Hello, race fans. Welcome to Talking NASCAR TV, where we take the TV partners to task for their screwups and praise them for their accomplishments. Last weekend, NASCAR’s top-three divisions (Sprint Cup, Nationwide and the Camping World Truck series) were all competing at Dover International Speedway in Delaware.

TV-wise, the big story of the day was that with 24 laps to go in the Cup race, FOX took their very first Side-by-Side commercial break. If you’re reading this critique, you probably saw how the setup was. For those of you who did not, here’s a screen shot that a fan took and posted on TwitPic Sunday evening (May 15). Let’s just say that to most viewers (including myself), this commercial setup came out of nowhere. There had not been any indications that FOX was going to do it during the broadcast, not from Mike Joy or anyone prior to Sunday. Am I happy that they did it? You bet your butt I am.

Out of all the setups I’ve seen over the years, FOX has managed to create the best one so far. It doesn’t break up the graphics already used on the broadcast, like Versus’s does. The full scroll is still in use during the break and it can used to show the advertiser’s logo. It also makes full use of the available screen, which is not common. (OK, full use of my screen. I have only a 22-inch monitor that I watch the races on here.)

FOX and the other TV partners claimed that they were looking into possible setups that would allow Side-by-Side breaks in Cup race broadcasts before the season started. Advertisers seemed to be a tough sell on it, though.

However, through quotes released by FOX, we now have an idea about how it came about. According to a FOX spokesperson, “The idea re-surfaced earlier this week and after some discussions, it was decided we would experiment if we could get enough advertisers to go along with it.” Three of them: Sprint, Pizza Hut and race sponsor FedEx agreed to the changes.

Could this adjustment be a sign for the future of Sprint Cup race broadcasts? Possibly. For now, FOX is in re-evaluation mode. They are currently conferring with their advertisers, not just the three that agreed to the test, but their others as well. Those discussions could determine whether or not the feature will return this season in either of FOX’s two remaining Cup races.

At least one representative of the three trial sponsors thinks the Side-by-Side segments could be beneficial.

“Just as a fan looking at it, I thought it was well done,” said Tim Considine, Sprint’s Director of Sports Marketing. “I feel like as the sponsor and the company running the ad, I felt we got some good exposure. My gut [feeling] on the experience is positive.”

So far, the sentiment is overwhelmingly positive. Fans posted about it all night Sunday on Twitter and through most of Monday. It appears to be on par with, or perhaps even a bigger discussion point than Matt Kenseth winning the race. One could wonder how healthy the series is when their coverage gets more exposure than the event itself. However, this fan sentiment could go a long way towards the Side-by-Side breaks being integrated into NASCAR broadcasts more. Maybe if Pizza Hut saw a small bounce in orders for their Meat Lovers’ Pizza (just throwing a random pizza out there), they would get behind it even more.

FOX is not necessarily alone in their desires for Side-by-Side breaks. ESPN brought the idea out of dormancy for their IndyCar Series coverage back in 2005, coining the name “Side-by-Side” along the way. They have tried to institute Side-by-Side breaks in their NASCAR coverage, but find it impossible to do. A spokesman stated Monday that “…[ESPN] is not contractually permitted to do it.” However, ESPN has had discussions with NASCAR on this issue in the past. Perhaps FOX’s experiment can give some impetus to open up the contract and change some terminology around to allow Side-by-Side.

Editor’s Note: This morning, ESPN announced their own version of side-by-side coverage, NASCAR NonStop, that’s going to run during the Chase races this fall. More info to come.

For TNT, they have their Wide Open Coverage at the Coke Zero 400 each year. It requires a completely different graphical package for their coverage than the other five races do. In the past, the network has discussed expanding the format to additional races in their Summer Series, but that the advertisers were putting up quite a fight against it.

NASCAR itself weighed in on FOX’s experiment on Monday.

“NASCAR has always encouraged its media partners to explore new and exciting ways of delivering our product to the fans,” said the sanctioning body in a statement. “FOX, Turner [Sports] and ESPN have all tested and implemented various commercial format presentations over the years and based on the very early feedback through social media on Sunday, the fans really liked what they saw late in the FOX broadcast from Dover. We will continue to evaluate this option with all of our partners with the goal of finding the ultimate viewing experience for our millions of loyal fans.”

Here’s the thing: Side-by-Side is nothing new. It was originally created by Turner Sports for NASCAR coverage under the name “No Brakes Coverage” in 2000. The 2000 UAW-GM Quality 500 was the only NASCAR race ever to have such a telecast. Remembering that race, it was definitely a good thing (46 lead changes, very competitive all day – and fans were allowed to see the entire event). Because the technology to allow Side-by-Side is at least 10.5 years old, some writers are pooh-poohing the whole thing, claiming that there is no big deal here (Monte Dutton of the Gaston Gazette is one example).

However, if done properly, this could be huge for NASCAR. As you know, auto racing doesn’t translate all that well to television. There are no pre-determined natural breaks like in other sports. Soccer is the only other sport in that boat. Many people don’t remember this, but soccer matches on TV used to have commercials in the middle of play. On-screen sponsorship deals brought such a practice to an end by the time of World Cup ’94, though.

The hope at the time was that the No Brakes Coverage could have made it into the NBC/TNT half of the season in the first season of the series-wide TV deal. However, advertisers appeared to put the kibosh to it since I’d imagine that Turner Sports was paying several times what they were outlaying per race in 2001 as compared to before then. When that happens, the rates for advertisers increased as well. As a result, the format kind of died until the IndyCar Series and ESPN revived it.

Will Sunday’s experiment be the beginning of a new era in NASCAR race telecasts? It’s way too early to tell. As important as the fans are to this format gaining traction (and believe me, you all are) the advertisers have significant sway over the matter. The buzz about the setup on Twitter doesn’t necessarily fall on deaf ears. Advertisers these days are not dinosaurs. They are up on social media. Many companies have full-time staff that do nothing but tweet all day.

Heck, Alex Kennedy‘s wreck on Saturday resulted in him trending in the United States on Twitter for a couple of hours. For something done last minute, FOX did a great job in creating their Side-by-Side setup. I’m only calling it that because it was so last minute that FOX hasn’t conjured up a name for it yet (that’s coming, though).

Based on the aforementioned statement, NASCAR is firmly in FOX’s corner and appears to have given their full blessing to the experiment. This attitude goes against ESPN’s statement that they weren’t allowed to trot out something similar. FOX simply put out a plan that the advertisers were fine with.

However, FOX probably should have planned out their experiment a little further out, so that they could have made a big splash. Instead of just three advertisers being involved, maybe a dozen could have been convinced to chip in and FOX could have advertised the fact that they were doing it instead of just springing it on fans, apropos of nothing. Such a promotion could have given the broadcast a ratings boost as well.

Ideally, I wouldn’t have gone straight for the Sprint Cup Series for Side-by-Side breaks. Something like this adjustment would probably be better off being beta-tested in a lower-level series, then eventually moved up. The Nationwide Series on ESPN2 probably would have been the ideal place to start off, but it seems that they would have had the same issues that ESPN mentioned above.

SPEED’s coverage of the Camping World Truck Series would have been another option. Both of those series are under completely separate TV deals from the one that the Sprint Cup Series operates under, and conceivably could have fewer hurdles to clear in order to allow such a format.

Now, before I start in earnest, there are two things that I need to mention. First off, Versus is not airing any practice coverage this week from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. However, that does not necessarily mean that you cannot view the action from the track. The Izod IndyCar Series is making all of the practice sessions available via Race Control on the series’ official website. Here’s the link.

On there is a live leaderboard that shows the fastest laps turned in by all the drivers that have been on track. For example, 32 cars graced the 2.5-mile rectangle on Opening Day Saturday before the rains came. Also, on the right side of the screen, there is a GPS tracker that shows where all the cars are located at a given time.

Also, for those of you who are under the opinion that FOX references Kyle Busch a lot, more than anyone else, take solace that you’re not alone: there are companies that track these types of things. According to Joyce Julius & Associates, Kyle Busch has been mentioned by name on FOX broadcasts 1,727 times just through Richmond.

This is 65% more than the next person on the list, Jeff Gordon (who has been mentioned 1,042 times). Busch has not been interviewed the most this year (Carl Edwards has one more FOX interview under his belt), but he has been interviewed on FOX for five minutes longer than anyone else. Definite overkill that didn’t get any better over the last couple of weeks, believe me.

Enough of that. Let’s get to the broadcasts.

Lucas Oil 200

On Friday afternoon, the Camping World Truck Series took to the 1-mile concrete bowl for their annual 200-miler in Dover. Sadly, that tradition also meant that the race was tape-delayed to an 8:30 p.m. start to benefit SPEED’s wishes. I ranted a little bit about it towards the end of last week’s critique, but it deserves a second one. Just what the deuce are they gaining by delaying the race? I don’t think they’re gaining anything, especially now with stuff like Facebook and especially Twitter out there providing live updates.

I understand that much of my audience doesn’t really care much for social media (believe me, we’ve looked into the demographics of our readers here at Frontstretch and the evidence shows that). However, in this era of instantaneous information, not airing something live, especially when you don’t have any other live priorities is ridiculous (Remember, SPEED aired repeats of The 10, a K&N Pro Series race and Truck qualifying, along with the week’s episode of Trackside Live prior to the Setup).

OK, I might be able to understand if there was another one of those Barrett-Jackson Auctions going on, but SPEED has shown that even that will not delay a live race. So why tape-delay now?

Since the race had already been over for approximately 90 minutes before the telecast started, everyone already knew who won (Kyle Busch) before the Setup even came on. Of course, since Kyle Busch seems to be everywhere these days, many fans decided not to watch at all. You can argue about self-imposing Internet embargoes all you want, but in the situation that SPEED provided on Friday, none of that delaying nonsense was really necessary. It was bush league and will continue to be bush league if they do it every year.

Just to make things more irritating, the Setup co-opted the completely stupid spat between Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, spending the majority of the show on it. Even by Friday night, I was done with that stuff. It’s overblown, and I don’t care. As far as I’m concerned, those two dudes can stay angry with each other from here to eternity and it wouldn’t faze me. In the overall scope of the series, their feud doesn’t matter.

It was basically a cop-out, even though both drivers were in the race driving for their own teams. At least a couple of the series regulars (Cole Whitt, Johnny Sauter and polesitter Justin Marks) got some airtime prior to the start.

Thankfully, once the stupidity that was the Setup was over, we got into some fairly good race coverage. Of course, during the event, I can understand why some of the coverage would concern Harvick and Busch because they had two of the best trucks out there on the track and spent part of the race battling for position.

Over the past eight years and change, I’ve grown used to hearing Rick Allen’s commentary. Parsons and even Michael Waltrip complement him quite well. Michael is excitable, but that’s just Michael.

When a race is tape-delayed, there is one little-known advantage that is rarely publicized. Similar to SPEED’s “time-shifted” broadcasts of Sprint Cup qualifying, taking a commercial break basically gives the network the ability to hit the pause button, show their ads and come right on back to where they were. It’s a bit disorienting at times for the viewer, but it works. SPEED did a little of that during the race (meaning, on at least one break towards the end of the race). For ABC and ESPN, that actually used to be a feature that they used to promote their CART broadcasts in the late 1990s (while showing all the IRL races live).

See also
Tracking the Trucks: 2011 Lucas Oil 200 at Dover

Post-race coverage was somewhat typical for SPEED. There were checks of the unofficial results and points standings, along with six post-race interviews.

Despite the tape delay that I’ve already rehashed above, SPEED still came out with a decent broadcast. There was still too much coverage of Harvick and Busch, but at least it was focused on what they were doing on the track. There was some fake drama created whenever the two of them got close to each other that I would have rather not seen, though.

5-hour Energy 200

Saturday dawned ugly at Dover. Both Sprint Cup and Nationwide series qualifying was rained out, forcing both fields to be set by a combination of practice times and positions in owner points. In the case of the Nationwide Series, 46 teams practiced on Friday, but three withdrew after qualifying was canceled so that David Reutimann could race.

ESPN really needed to discuss why that came about, but they chose not to. Weak… and I think I know why. Rusty Wallace, who interestingly enough had the week off from the broadcast, owns Reutimann’s No. 64. He had to engineer a series of buyouts, not unlike what Roush Fenway Racing did last season for Paul Menard, in order to get the No. 64 into the race.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: The $225,000 Bribe... Just to Make a NASCAR Race

NASCAR Countdown did some overtime Saturday due to the conditions. ESPN came prepared, though. There were at least 16 pre-race interviews aired. Edwards spent some time in the Pit Studio to discuss the happenings at the track. Over the past year and change, Edwards has really shown himself to be a very telegenic personality. Some commenters online were talking about Edwards potentially having a career in television after he finishes behind the wheel. I wouldn’t be surprised, but it’s still way the heck too early to tell.

Kyle Busch spent what seemed like 25 minutes in the Pit Studio with Mark Martin discussing, amongst other things, Kyle’s assault on Martin’s Nationwide Series win record (Kyle is one behind Martin). It was an interesting conversation to watch, even though we didn’t learn anything new at all. Kyle can be a loose cannon at times, but he has a lot of respect for Martin, the elder statesman of NASCAR today.

Additional features were aired to pass time. One (during Edwards’s time in the Pit Studio) had Edwards on Sport Science testing out reaction time. They determined a couple of facts that anyone watching a race over the past five years probably could have figured out on their own. One, he has the fitness of an endurance athlete. Second, he has exquisite reaction time. What’s interesting is that his reaction time becomes even quicker when stressed.

However, the biggest feature that aired was about a young racer with Autism named Jeffrey Stanton. Narrated by Shannon Spake, the feature showcases the young Legends driver, who talks about his Autism and how he overcomes it in order to race. Very interesting to watch.

Once the rains finally exited and the track was dried, the racing got underway about 90 minutes late.

Saturday’s race had two really big incidents. The first of which was the Kennedy crash and… whatever you want to call the incident he had with Kevin Swindell while trying to get back going. The other was the huge crash at the white flag. With Kennedy’s wreck, the booth came to the opinion that Kennedy simply had a ill-handling car and got loose in turn 2. As is normally the case at Dover, he overcorrected his slide, then spun into the inside wall. That happens.

The booth chose not to jump to conclusions as to the reasoning for the unfortunate hit that put both Kennedy and Swindell out of the race. I don’t think they had any desire to completely throw Kennedy under the bus for his actions. This was in contrast to the Twitterverse, which completely and totally threw Kennedy and his spotter under the bus for a solid three hours. Regardless, I would have waited until I got more of an opening before attempting to restart. Either that, or attempted to spin the tires so that I could have whipped the tail around.

With the crash that ended the race, ESPN showed concern for the drivers, but also a little confusion over the incident and whether it would have constituted the end of the race or a second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. They should have checked their replays first, as they clearly showed the white flag out before the yellow.

Also, they (along with Edwards) were focusing on whether there was contact between Edwards and Joey Logano to cause the wreck. It’s obvious that there was not any contact, but it was also a no brainer that Edwards did everything in his power to take the air off of Logano, which caused the crash.

What was really sobering was Clint Bowyer‘s post-race interview, in which he expressed concern over the possibility of his car clearing the inside wall and heading towards the relatively weak pit wall, plus the idea of one of his tires entering Logano’s cockpit. Very scary stuff that ESPN should have looked into a little bit, but they didn’t have the chance to due to lack of time. It should be noted that a tire still attached to a car has hit a racer before. That apparently happened to Stanley Smith in the DieHard 500 at Talladega in 1993 and likely contributed to the basal skull fracture that he suffered in the crash.

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2011 5-hour Energy 200 at Dover

Post-race coverage ended up being intertwined with post-wreck coverage. There were six interviews, all of a subdued nature due to the violence that had just occurred on-track. Since ESPN was already more than an hour over their timeslot, it was good to see the coverage, dominated by Jamie Little’s interviews outside of the Infield Care Center. I rarely single out pit reporters in this space, but I have to say that Little did a great job on Saturday, especially after the long, long day of rain and outright craziness.

FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks

If Saturday was a temporary respite from the Harvick-Kyle Busch shenanigans, then Sunday brought it right back to the forefront. The feud was the overall focus of FOX Pre-Race. Of course, it was already overblown before Sunday, but they just had to make it worse. It was basically 30 minutes of Harvick, Kyle Busch, feuds (past and present) and “Have At It, Boys.” It must have been a massive disappointment for FOX that there were no more on-track interactions between the two belligerents during the race Sunday.

The only break from the “Have At It” overload was a feature on the Drive For Autism Charity Golf Tournament, hosted by NASCAR on FOX Director Artie Kempner and held on Thursday in Wilmington, Delaware. Over $500,000 was raised for Autism Awareness. It’s sad that Autism seems to be spreading out of control these days and that there is no cure for the affliction.

During the race coverage, there was quite a bit of coverage given to the twosome. Kyle Busch, who had to start at the rear of the field due to a blown engine in practice, got an abnormal amount of coverage for someone that spent three-quarters of the race running in the 10-15 range. I think Kyle’s mentions on FOX for the year are well over 2,000 now. Harvick’s coverage was by no means equal despite quietly remaining inside the top 10 all day.

Thanks to a relatively quick race, there was plenty of time for post-race coverage. FOX provided viewers with seven post-race interviews, along with checks of the unofficial results and points standings. There was also the requisite post-race analysis from the broadcast booth and the Infield Studio.

With so much of the focus coming out of Dover on the Side-by-Side experiment, the rest of the race really gets lost in the shuffle. Aside from the experiment, FOX provided viewers with an OK show. I did not notice any blatant signs of bias, other than a little more coverage being given to Kyle Busch than he deserved. The only aspect that angered me was the sensational pimping of the Harvick-Kyle Busch stupidity, but that is more than just a FOX problem. Everyone overreacted.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend marks the beginning of the very busy end of May. A pretty sweet time of year for race fans… but still very busy. The Sprint Cup Series will be at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the All-Star Weekend, with the Camping World Truck Series as support (but still awarding points). Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series will be at Iowa Speedway for the first spring race there and qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 will be held. Also, do not forget live coverage of practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway here. Here’s your listings.

Thursday, May 19
Time Telecast Network
8:00 – 10:30 p.m. Sprint Pit Crew Challenge SPEED*

Friday, May 20
Time Telecast Network
4:00 AM – 5:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Spain Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDTV.com^
8:00 – 9:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Spain Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
9:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Practice SPEED
12:00 – 3:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
4:00 – 5:00 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
5:00 – 7:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Sprint Showdown and Sprint All-Star Race Qualifying SPEED
7:30 – 8:00 p.m. NCWTS Setup SPEED
8:00 – 10:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200 SPEED
10:30 – 11:00 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED

Saturday, May 21
Time Telecast Network
5:00 – 6:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Spain Free Practice No. 3 SPEEDTV.com^
8:00 – 9:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Spain Qualifying SPEED
11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
11:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Indianapolis 500 Pole Day Qualifying, Part 1 Versus
3:00 – 4:00 p.m. SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
4:00 – 7:00 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot$ SPEED
4:30 – 6:30 p.m. Indianapolis 500 Pole Day Qualifying, Part 2 Versus
7:00 – 11:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Sprint Showdown and Sprint All-Star Race SPEED
11:00 – 11:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane Fueled by Sunoco% SPEED

Sunday, May 22
Time Telecast Network
6:00 – 7:30 a.m. GP2 Championship Series at Spain SPEED*
7:30 – 10:00 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Spain SPEED
12:00 – 6:30 p.m. Indianapolis 500 Bump Day Qualifying Versus
1:00 – 3:00 p.m. Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Bosch Engineering 200 at VIR SPEED*
1:30 – 2:00 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ABC
2:00 – 4:30 p.m. Nationwide Series John Deere Dealers 250 ABC
7:00 – 8:00 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED
9:00 – 10:00 p.m. Wind Tunnel SPEED

*- Tape-Delayed
^- Available via free online streaming
$- Includes the Burnout contest, set to start at 6:15 p.m.
%- Start time dependent upon the end of the Sprint All-Star Race

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series races in next week’s edition of Talking NASCAR TV here at Frontstretch. Versus’s qualifying coverage from Indianapolis will be covered in the Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch 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 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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