Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: “Focusing” on FOX Coverage’s 2011 ADD

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, your weekly source for TV criticism, praise (if applicable) and random news bits. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series were both racing at Kansas Speedway. Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series raced at Chicagoland Speedway with the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards serving as their support.

Before we start, Turner Sports announced upgrades for their RaceBuddy service available for free at nascar.com during TNT’s Summer Series. There will now be 10 available views on RaceBuddy. This includes two mosaic views of four cameras each. In-Car Cameras are increased from two to four, while a second Battle Cam has also been thrown into the mix.

In addition, a new feature for TNT’s race coverage called Inside Trax was announced. Certain crew chiefs will be miked up and fans will get inside access to their strategy. In practice, this feature will likely be used during set segments after (potential) naughty language is edited out. A camera will likely be isolated on that crew chief, whoever it is, during the race. I’ll hold my judgment on the new feature until I see it in action.

O’Reilly Auto Parts 250

Saturday afternoon (June 4) marked yet another milestone for the Camping World Truck Series. It was the 400th truck race for the series, now in its 17th season of operation. As a result, a celebration was in order. A special group picture was taken featuring all 36 drivers due to start the special event, while a cake was commissioned as well (and yes, it was really there. It was not a lie.).

See also
Tearing Apart the Trucks: Truck Series Celebrates 400th Start

There was a look back at the series’ first race at Daytona (Feb. 2000, which is a race that deserves its own Turning Back the Clock column one of these days). That race was used as a sign that the series had “arrived,” I guess.

Of course, this celebration usurped actually previewing the race, much like the 200th truck telecast on SPEED back at Nashville did. I wrote about how there was all but no actual preview discussion at Nashville in this critique from April. Here, there was even less in the way of interviews than there were in Nashville (only four). Two of those were completely framed within the 400th race celebration. However, the other two at the very beginning of the telecast were at least based upon the race at hand. That is more than I could say about the Nashville telecast.

Once the pre-race celebrations finished, SPEED went back to their normal style of covering the Camping World Truck Series for the race. For that, I am grateful.

SPEED gave viewers a decent race telecast, one that focused on the racing on-track. The booth was on their typical game and nothing really objectionable was found in the telecast.

There was plenty of battling for position on track and SPEED was able to bring those battles to us relatively well. I’m generally happy with what I saw during the race.

Post-race coverage, despite SPEED going a little over their time slot, was OK. There were interviews with only the top-three finishers (Johnny Sauter, Clint Bowyer and Todd Bodine), and Bruce Cook, Bowyer’s crew chief. There were also checks of the unofficial results and points standings.

See also
Tracking the Trucks: 2011 O'Reilly Auto Parts 250 at Kansas

Finally, there was a replay of some of the action towards the end of the race between Kyle Busch and Joey Coulter. SPEED did not show the nudge that Busch put on Coulter after the checkers live, so they had to replay that. At the time, I don’t think SPEED (or anyone else, for that matter) was really thinking that anything big was going to come out of the incident, so they replayed the bump, talked about it a little, then moved on.

Since the confrontation happened well after SPEED had left for their tape-delayed coverage of the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen from Watkins Glen. The first update about the channeling of Nolan Ryan by Childress occurred about two hours into SPEED’s Watkins Glen coverage via a regularly scheduled SPEED Center cut-in with Adam Alexander.

When there isn’t much to complain about, the sections for each race might seem kinda short. That doesn’t mean I didn’t watch the event (because I most definitely did). There’s only so much praise I can give for the broadcast. All I ask is that when there are milestone events like on Saturday, that SPEED properly covers the race at hand, in addition to the milestone.

STP 300

On Saturday, ESPN traveled to Joliet, Ill. for a standalone Nationwide Series race, the STP 300. Since there were no other conflicts, the normal ESPN on-air crew was back in play for the first time in weeks.

The main feature shown during Countdown was a sit-down interview conducted by Dr. Jerry Punch with Trevor Bayne, who returned Saturday night from his mystery illness. Punch is generally very strong in these types of interviews. In the piece, which appears to have taken place at Route 66 Raceway, the drag strip adjacent to Chicagoland Speedway, Bayne revealed that he was never given a definitive diagnosis for his illness. However, he did state that he was not diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Despite the messy last few weeks, Bayne is still the same person, permanently upbeat about life and happy to get back in the car.

As for the infamous incident of fisticuffs at Kansas, Allen Bestwick made reference to it towards the end of pre-race, then stated that there would be more on the incident Sunday morning on NASCAR Now. It definitely left fans wanting more, at the very least. The decision made there says that ESPN didn’t want to jump to conclusions on the whole mess and wait until they had more definitive information on the incident. Not a horrible decision, but they could have stated what they did know for sure (beyond that something happened).

A new feature during the race on Saturday was the “Studio Shout-outs,” where the analysts in the Pit Studio give props to certain drivers for good runs. Not a terrible idea, but it does have the potential for bias if handled incorrectly. Luckily, ESPN didn’t have that problem on Saturday.

Besides the new feature, much of ESPN’s coverage was heavily focused on the very front of the field. This included the three Cup drivers that could contend for the win (Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick). Also, since Bayne was making his return to the series, there was a lot of focus on his plight.

Marty Reid’s call of the finish was pretty bad. Yes, both Edwards and Justin Allgaier ran out of fuel on the last lap, but Reid seemed convinced that Bayne could actually catch the two of them. Truth is, Bayne was probably nine seconds behind. As a result, Reid made himself look like a moron. The cameras focusing in on Kevin Lepage in the Means Motorsports No. 52 (finished 28th, seven laps down) only made the situation seem even more stupid than it would have been.

Post-race coverage was fairly brief and quite weird. I think this was the only time that I can recall (outside of races called due to rain) that the winner was interviewed outside of victory lane. As a result, ESPN seemingly found a way to diminish Allgaier’s victory. There were only a few interviews, along with a check of the points before ESPN left to get to the 11 p.m. SportsCenter. The less said about the time SportsCenter spent on the race immediately afterwards, the better. It was pretty bad.

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2011 STP 300 at Chicagoland

ESPN’s coverage was very focused in on a couple of storylines. As a result, it really hurt the rest of their broadcast. They made a point to talk about Brian Scott and his struggles this season, then basically ignored him during the race. Even Danica Patrick, typically a magnet for coverage, didn’t get very much coverage because she wasn’t at the very front of the field (she finished 10th). They simply need to open their eyes and cover the whole race, not just storylines planned out on Tuesday afternoon.

STP 400

Sunday marked FOX’s final Sprint Cup Series telecast of the 2011 season. For some race fans, that may be a great thing (No more Boogitys, for example. Also, no more Digger.) However, some fans love watching the races on FOX. Either that, or they outright despise NASCAR’s other media partners. I wish I could have seen the race in HD on Sunday, but my local affiliate had other plans.

WXXA, Albany, N.Y.’s FOX affiliate, ran a telethon for the Children’s Miracle Network during the race Sunday. As a result, the race was moved to TheCoolTV (Note: This is the same channel that sponsors Banner Racing in Grand-Am), WXXA’s digital sub channel that is only available either over-the-air, or if you have digital cable (and the requisite cable box). Bites if you have satellite TV, or don’t have the box, like my buddy Tim, who couldn’t watch the race yesterday. I’m just happy that I could even see the race at all to bring you this critique.

Of course, by Sunday afternoon, the big story of the weekend was Richard Childress enveloping Kyle Busch in a headlock and punching him in the face, something that I guarantee that a lot of fans have wanted to do for years (I have no desire to do that, especially since I’ve never met him). News almost never leads off pre-race, but it did on Sunday. The desk jockeys staged a decent discussion of the whole incident and the at-the-time-yet-to-be-determined punishment that was coming to Childress.

See also
Full Throttle: NASCAR Owners Should Know Better Than Drivers

The main feature of pre-race showed Jamie McMurray returning to his hometown of Joplin, Mo., which (as you likely know by now) was recently ravaged by an EF-5 tornado. McMurray basically gave the cameras a tour of his hometown, including his childhood home, which was essentially just one wall and a bunch of rubble.

Throughout the feature, McMurray was visibly moved by the sight. It was a very interesting feature to watch, but by no means unique. ESPN had a crew there that day as well, led by Marty Smith. They also took a tour of the ravaged landscape with McMurray, got McMurray’s comments about the situation and aired their footage Thursday evening on NASCAR Now.

Outside of the Joplin feature, the Childress-Kyle Busch confrontation set a tone for pre-race. For example, Darrell Waltrip’s Revved’ Up piece was about… being Revved’ Up. Really, it was about being passionate, but what’s the difference?

Since it was the last FOX race of the season, FOX aired what they called “True Grit” moments from the first 12 races of the season. Why? Because it basically rehashes the biggest moments from what they aired this year. Why “True Grit Moments?” Because the remake of True Grit was the telecast’s presenting sponsor (scheduled to come out on DVD and Blu-Ray today). Synergistic? You betcha, but a little annoying for viewers.

Sunday’s race definitely had a green-flag feel. As a result, FOX took quite a lot of time to cover racing further back in the field. This was good to see, as just covering the front of the field would have made for a very boring 400-mile race broadcast. However, towards the end of the race, the focus switched to the absolute front of the field. Only the scroll and some periodic updates from Mike Joy gave viewers an idea of where everyone came out of the pits on the final run.

I say that because roughly four cars were on camera the last 25 laps of the race (unless they were pitting). Those four cars were driven by Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. If your favorite driver wasn’t in that quartet, then good luck.

The post-race coverage was decent. FOX gave viewers seven post-race interviews, in addition to checks of the unofficial results and point standings. There was also some post-race analysis and the awarding on the “Big Cheese Award” to Jeff Hammond as a result of him winning the prediction competition.

Overall, FOX’s broadcast, much like ESPN’s on Saturday, was far too focused in on the frontrunners at the end of the race. Don’t like the focus? Too bad. Also, there were three debris cautions on Sunday. FOX managed to find all of one hunk of metal all day on the track. What caused the other two yellows? Your guess is as good as mine and I was glued to the TV all day.

There were a whole bunch of replays shown Sunday to showcase elements of the race that viewers were unable to see. And in some cases, stuff that showed up right on camera live, but the commentators didn’t talk about, like when AJ Allmendinger chopped across David Reutimann’s nose.

Since the FOX portion of the season is now over, I have to do a final wrap-up of their performance. Obviously, the biggest story is their split-screen setup, unveiled at Dover to one-up ESPN. However, it appears that they have no real plan for it, other than the fact that it was created on a dare. Bill Simmons has a term for that, but I can’t use it here.

There were times that Darrell Waltrip was just completely out of control in the booth, while at other times, Joy had a handle on things. Larry McReynolds was fairly solid, but was clearly overshadowed by Waltrip. The pit reporters, especially during pre-race, seemed to have little to do. It’s a shame since they’re basically the best (and most respected) pit-reporting corps in NASCAR. In the future, they need to use them more. Thankfully, Pizzi’s usage was extremely limited (he only showed up in Talladega). Hopefully, he stays on Fuel TV next year.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is shaping up to be another busy one. The Sprint Cup Series will be making their first trip of the year to Long Pond, Pa., home to the 2.5-mile scalene triangle known as Pocono Raceway for the newly rechristened (as in Monday morning) 5-hour Energy 500. Let’s just say that some of the sport’s beat writers had a little fun about that yesterday. The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards will serve as their main support.

The Izod IndyCar Series is back in action with a unique twin bill, the first of its kind since 1981. The Camping World Truck Series will serve as support there. Finally, there is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the oldest endurance race on the planet (and it’s pretty fast, too). Here’s your listings:

Friday, June 10
Time Telecast Network
10:00 – 11:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Canada Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDTV.com^
12:30 – 2:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
2:00 – 3:30 p.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Canada Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
3:30 – 5:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
6:00 – 7:30 p.m. Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying Versus*
8:00 – 8:30 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED
8:30 – 9:00 p.m. NCWTS Setup SPEED
9:00 – 11:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino 400k SPEED

Saturday, June 11
Time Telecast Network
8:30 – 11:30 a.m. 24 Hours of Le Mans, Pre-Race through Hour 2.5 SPEED
10:00 – 11:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Canada Free Practice No. 3 SPEEDTV.com^
11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
2:00 – 3:30 p.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Canada Qualifying SPEED*
3:30 – 8:00 p.m. 24 Hours of Le Mans, Hours 6.5-11 SPEED
7:00 – 8:00 p.m. IndyCar Central Versus
8:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m. Izod IndyCar Series Firestone Twin 275s Versus
8:00 – 10:00 p.m. ARCA Racing Series Pocono ARCA 200 SPEED*
11:00 p.m. – Sunday Morning 24 Hours of Le Mans, hours 14 onwards SPEED

Sunday, June 12
Time Telecast Network
12:00 – 9:30 a.m. 24 Hours of Le Mans, hour 14 to the finish SPEED
9:00 – 10:00 a.m. NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
12:00 – 1:00 p.m. Countdown to Green Delivered by Pizza Hut TNT
1:00 – 3:00 p.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Canada FOX
1:00 – 5:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series 5-hour Energy 500 TNT
5:00 – 7:00 p.m. Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Continental Tire 150 SPEED*
7:00 – 8:00 p.m. SPEED Center 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 via Free Streaming online

Also, it should be noted that, in a new feature for 2011, all of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be available to SPEED viewers. All segments of the race not televised live on SPEED will be streamed live at SPEEDTV.com.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Camping World Truck and Izod IndyCar series races in next week’s critique here at Frontstretch. This week’s Annex will cover last weekend’s ARCA race from Chicagoland Speedway. The Annex critique for June 16 will cover either the Prelude to the Dream (depending on whether I can view it), or the Seat Swap at Watkins Glen.

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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