Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: How Not to Properly Cover the Field

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, where breaking down race broadcasts is the name of the game. This past weekend was a triplex of series at different tracks. The Nationwide Series was at Road America, while Sprint Cup was at Infineon Raceway and the Izod IndyCar Series was at Iowa Speedway.

Iowa Corn Indy 250

Saturday night (June 25) saw the Izod IndyCar Series return to Iowa Speedway, the series’ shortest track, for the fifth running of the Iowa Corn Indy 250. Versus was on hand for the coverage.

The main feature that aired was a look into the relationship between rookie Charlie Kimball and his father, Gordon, a former Formula 1 and IndyCar designer. In practice, it was basically a look at Kimball’s life story through Charlie and Gordon reminiscing about certain events in Charlie’s life. Compared to the other rookies, Kimball gets a whole lot more press due to the fact that he is racing with Type 1 Diabetes. However, this was still an interesting look at the life of a driver that if he wasn’t racing with diabetes, probably wouldn’t get a lot of press.

The ProfessorB feature was focused on the Eject device, a inflatable bladder like device installed on helmets (manufactured by Shock Doctor) that at the push of a button, inflates to lift the helmet off of a driver with minimal strain on neck muscles. Interesting piece. There was also a live demonstration with the help of the Holmatro Safety Team and Ed Carpenter, who didn’t seem be a fan of it, but was nonetheless happy for the product’s existence. In the race, the safety team had to make use of the Eject device after Sebastian Saavedra hit the wall hard in turn 2 (Saavedra walked away from the crash).

A new feature for IndyCar Central, the pit walk, was unveiled on Saturday. However, unlike Martin Brundle’s pit walks for ITV and now the BBC prior to grands prix and Will Buxton’s pit walks for SPEED, Versus choose to use two people, those being Robin Miller and Dan Wheldon.

The result was an interesting mess. There were 13 interviews in the dual-walk, but the editing was somewhat shoddy, Wheldon and Miller would cut each other off at times, and the whole feature ran long, resulting in Kevin Lee cutting both Miller and Wheldon off at the end. I like the idea of having a pit-walk segment, and I think it was a first for an oval race. However, Versus’s execution was terrible.

In the future, I would recommend that Versus stick with one person and one camera. Wheldon was the better of the two, but he’s only on the telecasts until Wally Dallenbach, Jr. comes back from TNT’s Summer Series. I would argue that Wheldon can do it alone at Toronto in two weeks, but beyond that, it might have to be a rotating deal between Marty Snider and Lindy Thackston (assuming Lee is on the Versus stage).

During the race, Versus focused on a lot of battles on track. In the past, such a strategy might not have been the best move since Iowa is not always conducive to a lot of passing. However, there were many side-by-side battles for position all over the field on Saturday night. Versus brought viewers as many of them as they could. Admittedly, there was far more side-by-side action than I thought there would be.

Even though the race ended within five minutes of the end of their time slot, Versus still provided viewers with a full suite of post-race coverage. There were eight post-race interviews and checks of the unofficial results and points standings before Versus left for taped cycling coverage.

As I mentioned above, pre-race was a bit rough, not just in the pit-walk segment, but in multiple other places as well. However, the race coverage was quite decent. Camera shots were pretty good and the enthusiasm was really good. Wheldon is still a relative newbie in the booth, but he does have quite the rapport with Beekhuis and Jenkins. Toronto will be his last race before Dallenbach returns. Versus left Dallenbach’s spot in good hands. Perhaps Wheldon might do some more TV work in the future.

Bucyrus 200

Ah yes, Road America. One of the sweetest road courses in the United States played host to the Nationwide Series for the second time on Saturday evening (I only say that because it was dark on the East Coast by the time the race ended).

Once again, ESPN ditched the Pit Studio and the analysts contained within and did the show from pit road. Compared to what viewers are used to, it looked a little weird, but it worked just fine.

Countdown was dominated by interviews. Nine live interviews were conducted at the track by ESPN’s pit reporters, while a taped interview from Infineon Raceway with Carl Edwards was run to show why he decided not to make the trip to Road America (which paid off since he ended up finishing third on Sunday).

The amount of interviews was great to see, but I think the main reason for it was the fact that most of those drivers interviewed (Billy Johnson, Max Papis, Michael McDowell, Jacques Villeneuve, Ron Fellows, Ricky Carmichael) are not regulars in the series and basically needed to be introduced to viewers since they could potentially contend.

Having said that, there was a notable error. As you probably know by now, Johnson races in the Continental Tire Challenge, Grand-Am’s main support series. ESPN referred to it multiple times as the Koni Challenge, the series’ former name prior to 2010. Gotta get the name right. C’mon now. At least Shannon Spake got it right.

Due to the vastness of Road America, there was a lot more usage of aerial shots to show varied aspects of the race. These aspects of the race ranged from races for position all the way to the actual start of the event due to the start-finish line being right after a 110-foot rise in elevation. I liked that since there are so many trees surrounding the track that you really can’t see all that much at track-level. The large track, plus all of the obstructions around led to some incidents not having very good replays. However, that was more or less beyond the control of ESPN (there are only so many places to put cameras at Road America).

Once again, there was a lot of coverage given to the front of the field. Since there was only one Sprint Cup driver (McDowell) in the field, you would think that the Nationwide regulars would get a little more airtime. You would be wrong. Most of the airtime that would have gone to the series regulars went to the ringers that I mentioned above.

Eventual race winner Reed Sorenson only got a passing mention on the broadcast for most of the race. It should be noted that Sorenson actually spun on lap 2 after being hit by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in turn 3. That fact was not mentioned at all after Sorenson actually won.

Enthusiasm was definitely not a problem on Saturday as Bestwick, Wallace and Petree were all pretty amped up and excited about the action that they were seeing. However, the race was so focused up front that it was kind of hard to tell where everyone was, position-wise. Rarely was anyone outside of the top 10 mentioned unless they were one of the top guys back in the pack for whatever reason.

Post-race coverage was very brief since ESPN was right up against the end of their 3.5-hour time slot for the race. Much of the time was spent recapping the confusing final lap of the race due to Justin Allgaier running out of gas with about two-thirds of a lap to go and Fellows blasting past Sorenson after the full course yellow was already out. Confusion reigned for the most part. Petree and Rusty Wallace were generally sure that Sorenson had won, while Bestwick simply waited until NASCAR made its final determination.

Once the winner of the race was officially determined, ESPN only had a couple of minutes left. As a result, there were only interviews with Sorenson, Allgaier and Trent Owens (Sorenson’s crew chief) before ESPN left the air. There was no check of the points standings even though there was a lead change (Sorenson took the lead as a result of his win).

Apparently, there were no more interviews done after they went off the air, which is weak. I would have liked to see what Fellows actually thought of the whole mess at the end. I guess we’ll never know. Surprisingly, there was also no interview with Papis or Villeneuve or anyone. Not cool.

It should be noted that ESPN wasn’t airing live sports after the race. They aired tape-delayed coverage of the Global Rallycross Championship “Last Chance” at Pikes Peak International Raceway. Paul Page did the commentary for it in post-production. It wouldn’t have killed them to hold off on that for 12 minutes and properly wrap the race up.

Once again, ESPN’s agenda has hurt another race broadcast. Posts on Twitter this past weekend accused ESPN of only focusing on 15 cars (at best) and cultivating minimal information on the rest of the field. As of 2009, I know that was not the case. Then, it was 24 for huge amounts of information and the rest for more basic information. I cannot vouch for the veracity of those Twitter posts. I did not post them.

See also
Why TV Ratings Don't Tell the Story of Today's NASCAR Nationwide Series

Regardless of whether its true or not (probably not), ESPN should never have to have those accusations thrown at them. To do that, they need to have more inclusive broadcasts. Cover more teams closely. Get to know the drivers (especially the Nationwide-only drivers) a little more. It’s not that hard.

Toyota/Save Mart 350

Sunday brought the Sprint Cup Series back for their annual visit to Infineon Raceway. Action abounded on the track, but how was the coverage? Let’s find out.

Pre-race was more or less the usual content. The Pride of NASCAR feature was on 1960 champion Rex White. That feature included what amounted to White’s life story with anecdotes from the man himself. As a history buff, I like to hear about historical goodies, so this was right up my alley.

Another feature was a sit-down interview with Marcos Ambrose, the man who had last year’s race on a platter with French fried potatoes before he shut his engine off under yellow to save fuel and couldn’t restart it. A third feature was a paid piece that talked about Jeff Gordon‘s appearance in Cars 2 as a yellow Chevrolet Corvette C6.R named “Jeff Gorvette.” Gordon talked about his role a little and representatives of Pixar talked about some of the intricacies that went into the computer animation.

TNT had some issues during the race telecast. Some of them can simply be chalked up to bad luck, but others, not so much. The first two lead changes occurred during commercial breaks, forcing TNT to show them on replay to viewers upon returning, three minutes after they occurred. The third caution, which flew on lap 48 for debris, was screwed up as well.

Since it flew during a regular break (not a local commercial break), TNT could have broken out of it and talked about what happened. Now, I wouldn’t be as unhappy if it were just a debris caution. At the same time, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had his issues and dropped out after his car caught fire. That was a big story since Earnhardt (at the time) was third in points. A big story and TNT dropped the ball by covering it with a “oh, by the way” tone. Not good.

Once again, I had some issues with RaceBuddy crashing, but not as many as I had during the Michigan race. Since Infineon Raceway is a road course where no camera could possibly see the whole track, the battle cams switched around to various viewpoints all over the circuit. While this was nice, the shots were isolated on specific areas of the track (turn 4, and the shot from the top of the main grandstand, mostly).

Post-race coverage was OK. On the actual telecast, there were six post-race interviews and checks of the unofficial results and points standings. Three of those interviews were with angry drivers caught up in anger-induced wrecks. In the RaceBuddy-exclusive show, they replayed the angered interviews with Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart (from lap 108 of the race). There were also three more regular interviews and a race recap.

The telecast had its problems on Sunday, but there was a lot of excitement in the booth. There was no exposition of bias, but Kyle Petty did sound pretty impressed with David Gilliland‘s performance in the Taco Bell No. 34, finishing 12th with no tires left at the end. Towards the end of the race, the booth was expecting Stewart to try to dump Vickers again with a few laps to go, like “what Boris Said once did in a Truck race at then-Sears Point Raceway in 1997 to Rich Bickle.

However, that did not come to pass. They just had to be content with Stewart’s somewhat epic interview with a couple of laps to go.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series both return to Daytona Beach for more bump drafting and restrictor-plate action. Here’s your listings.

Thursday, June 30
Time Telecast Network
2:30 – 4:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
4:00 – 5:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
5:30 – 6:30 p.m. Nationwide Series Happy Hour ESPN2
6:30 – 8:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED

Friday, July 1
Time Telecast Network
2:00 – 4:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
4:00 – 6:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
6:30 – 7:00 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED
7:00 – 7:30 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN
7:30 – 10:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Subway Jalapeno 250 ESPN

Saturday, July 2
Time Telecast Network
12:00 – 1:00 p.m. NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
1:00 – 3:00 p.m. V8 Supercar Championship Series Skycity Triple Crown SPEED*
4:00 – 4:30 p.m. SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
4:30 – 6:30 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
6:30 – 7:30 p.m. Countdown to Green Delivered by Pizza Hut TNT
7:30 – 11:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 TNT

Sunday, July 3
Time Telecast Network
1:00 – 3:00 p.m. Grand-Am Continental Tire Challenge: Road America 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

Remember that the Sprint Cup Series on Saturday night will be TNT’s annual Wide Open Coverage. That means limited commercial breaks. RaceBuddy will still be available as well. Since I will be in Daytona this weekend to cover the action on track for Frontstretch, I cannot bring you a critique of the telecasts from Daytona. However, I will still be putting those races on my DVR and will be viewing them when I get home from Florida on Tuesday. If no one steps up to cover for me, then I might just try to give my readers a critique on Wednesday.

For the Critic’s Annex, it will be two weeks of road racing. This week, I’ll be covering the Rolex Sports Car Series race at Road America that preceded the Nationwide race on Saturday. Next week, I’ll cover the Continental Tire Challenge race at Road America. That race featured Ken Schrader in the Street Tuner class driving a Mini Cooper S.

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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