Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: ESPN’s New Nationwide Blood, Will Ken Schrader Get a Chance?

Hello, race fans. Hope you enjoyed the soggy weekend (OK, soggy if you live in the Northeast like I do). Those of you that live in Texas and Oklahoma would love to be soggy by this point as long as tornadoes weren’t involved since it would break you from your death grip on 100-degree days.

This was another busy weekend of racing. The Sprint Cup Series ran at Pocono Raceway for their second visit of the season, along with the Camping World Truck Series and the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards. Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series staged an interesting race Saturday night (Aug. 6) in front of a crowd of over 48,000.

Before we start, an interesting bit came out of Saturday night’s post-race press conference with winning car owner Jack Roush. To throw a bone to Nationwide fans, Iowa Speedway put the post-race press conferences on UStream since NASCAR refrained from providing press conference coverage from Iowa on nascar.com. Granted, that’s another argument for another day. What is important here is that Roush basically stated Carl Edwards‘s Nationwide Series plans for 2012. They’re quite a bit different than this season.

“I think [Edwards] has made his decision. He’s going to become a sportscaster for ESPN for the Nationwide races,” Roush said. “Maybe he’ll still be missing out on sleep running across the country. I’m not sure if he’s going to just do the companion races, or if he’s going to do all the races.”

It’s an interesting move, if true. It would mean a huge shakeup for ESPN if it does come to pass. I intend on asking Edwards about it in Watkins Glen during his Friday media availability. However, for now, the question of the week is two pronged:

One, would you like to see Edwards working on Nationwide Series broadcasts in 2012, and if so, in what capacity?

Two, if wholesale changes are due to be made to ESPN’s on-air crew for Nationwide Series broadcasts, who should be part of that on-air crew?

Post your responses below in the comments section, or send me your emails via the contact link provided below. Now, on to the critique.

US Cellular 250

Saturday night saw ESPN return to Iowa Speedway for their second visit of the season. Since the entire A-team was in Pocono for the Sprint Cup weekend, the “second string” was on hand. Marty Reid continued in his booth role, along with Ricky Craven. However, ESPN had a newbie (well, to them) in the booth in Ken Schrader, who has commentated on ARCA races for SPEED in the past. To this degree, someone slapped a rookie stripe on Schrader’s back. Not a first for ESPN. Back in the 1990s, someone put a rookie stripe on Bill Venturini’s back during an ARCA telecast. Always good for a laugh.

Since the vast majority of ESPN’s NASCAR staff (along with the Pit Studio) was in Pocono, the three booth commentators served as the de facto hosts for NASCAR Countdown. However, despite the fact that this was a standalone weekend, there were no features aired. Instead, it was the usual formula of pre-race analysis, with interviews (eight in all, slightly above normal).

Tim Brewer looked at the nasty bump in turn 2 and how it would affect the splitters. Although the effect was nowhere near as bad with Nationwide cars as it was when the Izod IndyCar Series was there earlier this year (which was actually referenced during the race), it was still quite noticeable.

During the race, we saw a different Reid than they’ve gotten used to. He seemed to be a lot more enthusiastic than normal and outright cheerful at times. John Daly claimed that, “It seems like [Reid] has had a huge weight lifted off his shoulders,” on Twitter Saturday. I don’t know whether I would say that or not.

Craven and Schrader played off of each other very well on Saturday. With potential wholesale changes to ESPN’s on-air group for Nationwide Series broadcasts in 2012, could either one or both men have a significant role? Quite possibly. Of course, it’s still a little early to tell. I wouldn’t expect an announcement of any on-air changes for ESPN before January.

Last week, ESPN noted that prior to the wreck involving Tim Andrews, Michael Annett and Steve Wallace, they hadn’t missed an incident that they had televised since Pocono last August. You remember that wreck, right? Anyway, they couldn’t really get another streak going Saturday. They outright missed what happened to Mike Wallace to put him out of the race. Viewers came out of a commercial break to see Wallace’s No. 01 trundling along all beat up after hitting the wall. Reid surmised that he thought Mike Wallace’s car suffered some kind of tire failure, and that was it. No replays, no follow-up, no nothing. Weak.

Also in the race, there was a less egregious example when Jamie Dick hit the wall, then came down the track and hit Eric McClure. This wreck also occurred right as ESPN was returning from a break. I think they showed more live than they did in the replays. Reid claimed that Dick and McClure’s issues were separate until they collided. On screen, it didn’t look that way. Despite the fact that Dick’s car was crippled by the hit, it almost looked like he turned down into McClure. However, I cannot be certain because, once again, there was no follow-up.

Schrader, and possibly Craven, thought that there could have been a little more to that incident, but there was no decision to follow-up. I know the three pit reporters (DeBruhl, Noble and Spake) were busy having to cover pit stops and both of the aforementioned teams (TriStar Motorsports’ No. 14 and Stott Classic Racing’s No. 02) might have fallen outside of the top-24 group that ESPN (via Spake) is already on record as stating that they focus on, but I do believe that the wreck was worth looking into further.

The end of the race saw a fairly sizable flub by Reid. As you probably know by now, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the race after blowing an engine on the last lap. Reid stated on-air that he thought that Stenhouse had a tire failure, even though viewers could have heard Stenhouse’s engine sounding flatulent on the backstretch and the “Magic Smoke” was coming out to play. A classic screw-up.

I’m reminded of what Allen Bestwick told me at Watkins Glen two years ago. “When words come out of your mouth, there’s no backspace and no spell check. There it is, world [whether it’s right or not].”

Even though Reid screwed up royally, he can’t take it back. Sorry, Marty. I will say that ESPN did a great job showing the discussion between Edwards and Stenhouse’s crew chief, Mike Kelley. I thought the statement from Kelley that “[Stenhouse] thinks you hate him” was very interesting and quite poignant. Is that why Stenhouse positioned his car in front of Edwards’? Not just Ricky’s desire to win?

Since the race ran long by a few minutes, post-race coverage was brief. That coverage was dominated by the aforementioned Roush coverage. ESPN provided three post-race interviews before leaving the air without checking the points.

Aside from ESPN’s screw-up’s, I did enjoy the broadcast. Reid just seemed to be more upbeat than normal Saturday night. That alone makes telecasts in which he is a part more enjoyable to watch. Schrader wasn’t really all that different on ESPN than he has been on SPEED, which isn’t a bad thing. Schrader’s an enjoyable person to listen to. So is Craven. However, ESPN needs to tell their viewers if they are unable to determine exactly what happened to cause these yellows. They are still not forthcoming at all times and that simply must change in the future.

Good Sam RV Emergency Road Service 125/Pennsylvania ARCA 125

I’m going to state here that I am not a fan of these 125-mile races at Pocono. They’re just plain too short and don’t contain much action.

When SPEED came on-air from Pocono Saturday afternoon, rain was definitely a concern. Some viewers were wondering why NASCAR didn’t institute a hurry-up program like they used to a few years ago when rain was on the way. Such a setup would have resulted in the race starting roughly 20 minutes earlier than it did. That would have resulted in the event crossing over the 25-lap mark and thus being official when the rains ultimately came.

Rain was only briefly discussed during the Setup, keeping in line with the norm of doing everything in one’s power to not mention the weather. I find such a strategy to be ridiculous, but know that it is far more pervasive than just on-air personalities.

During the Setup, a feature on Cole Whitt aired highlighting the rookie’s versatility behind the wheel. It was an interesting look at Whitt’s background, one that was shrouded in anonymity because of a near complete lack of USAC coverage on television these days.

Once the race itself started, there were only about seven or eight laps of green flag racing before the rains came. In that time, the aforementioned Whitt cut a tire and left the casing on the exit of turn 1, bringing out a yellow. On the restart from that incident, Jason White was spun out on the frontstretch in a chain reaction wreck. There were plenty of replays of the incident, which allowed the broadcasters to determine that Mark Martin‘s inability to get up to speed caused the chain reaction that resulted in the wreck.

When the rains came, SPEED’s pit reporters conducted a few interviews before they broke for alternate programming before the race was pushed back to Sunday.

When 9 a.m. Sunday came, SPEED started out by recapping the first 17 laps of action from Saturday before getting into the remaining action. Quite honestly, there really wasn’t a whole lot to note in the race. The event was so short and so plagued by yellows (seriously, seven of them in a race scheduled for 50 laps?) that no one could get into any real flow.

Post-race coverage was almost nil because SPEED wanted to get to NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot. They interviewed Kevin Harvick, showed the points, then left. I know that RaceDay gets higher ratings than Truck races, but I would much rather see live racing than Kenny Wallace, John Roberts and Kyle Petty at a desk.

That sentiment is the same with the ARCA race, which started around 10:15 a.m. Sunday. However, because of the aforementioned pre-pre-race show, it aired via tape delay at 10 p.m. Also, Wendy Venturini was originally scheduled to serve as a pit reporter on the telecast. When it was moved to Sunday morning, Venturini was gone as well so that she could do her Cup interviews. She was not replaced, leaving Bob Dillner as the sole person on pit road.

There was all but no pre-race coverage. When the telecast started, it went straight to Allen and Parsons in the booth (Michael Waltrip had exited, stage right from the booth during the short break in-between races)

I previously mentioned about how much I hate tape delayed races. It’s even worse when something really unusual occurs during that tape-delayed race. By now, you likely know about the wild crash that occurred at the beginning of lap 2 that created a first (as far as I know) when Buster Graham‘s Dodge jumped over the inside wall.

It was a little similar to Joey Hand‘s infamous crash at Mid-Ohio in that heavy rains caused the soil to form a launching pad that the car went over while out of control.

SPEED gave viewers multiple replays of the incident and almost everything that went down during the 12-lap caution. The exception was when the ambulance apparently got stuck in the mud. The perfect way to top off a ridiculous weekend.

Based on what was reported on Twitter and on the broadcast, I am unclear as to whether it was Brandon Kidd or Tom Berte who was transported to the hospital following the wreck. SPEED reported that Kidd was, but reputable writers at the track reported that it was Berte. Regardless, we’ll never really know what caused Berte to turn left into Kyle Martel.

We did get an interview with Graham where he was all but in shock over the wreck. He basically botched the explanation of what happened and the booth recognized that he screwed it up. Now, it is arguable that by going over the wall, Graham was able to avoid physical injury, but he didn’t appear to be all the way there mentally at the time of the interview.

SPEED’s coverage was once again heavily focused on the front of the race, to fans’ detriment since there really wasn’t all that much action at the front of the pack. Later in the race, there was some decent racing further down in the field that got some airtime, like when Frank Kimmel was battling with his nephew (and teammate) Will for position.

Another result of the tape-delay was SPEED’s ability to take a commercial break whenever they felt like it. It was outright weird to see SPEED take two breaks within the final eight laps of the race, including one with a little less than four laps to go. Granted, those could be considered simply “stop tape moments” but it was still weird to watch.

Post-race coverage was actually quite substantial. There were eight post-race interviews, all conducted by Dillner. Since Dillner was working alone, these interviews were spread out over roughly 20 minutes. In addition, there were two checks of the point standings and one check of the unofficial results.

I still wish that SPEED could have shown this race live. However, doing so would have sacrificed NASCAR RaceDay. I have no idea officially what that show gets, ratings-wise, but I’m sure it is more than a Truck race or a Nationwide race. Include the fact that SPEED likely sold the ad space on that show months in advance, and that’s why the live racing got the boot. Weak, but true.

Good Sam RV Insurance 500

Finally, we come to the Sprint Cup race. ESPN was back with their full court press of on-air personalities. Since Paul Menard managed to take his first career victory last week, ESPN went all out to introduce Menard to viewers. It’s no secret that Menard hasn’t always gotten a lot of coverage in the past, so he spent much of the feature talking about his upbringing and his family’s time in motorsports.

Of course, this featured some of the highlights (or lowlights) of his father’s efforts at Indianapolis, including Robby Gordon running out of fuel with a lap to go in the 1999 500. Menard also talked a little about last weekend’s victory in Indianapolis and how it will ultimately affect his career. In the piece, he came off like he did when I talked with him in Daytona, laid back, relaxed, yet still friendly.

I find that Menard isn’t like a lot of the other drivers. He has his own personality, and that’s great in this era of sanitized drivers that all sound the same.

Unfortunately, the one thing that most viewers will take home from NASCAR Countdown is the fact that the telecast just looked terrible. The commercials were all screwy. They tried to go to a break at one point, and apparently never got there. We were treated to commercial break discussions, Nicole Briscoe welcomed the fans back from break, and then Briscoe got cut off mid-sentence by a commercial. Ouch.

During the next scheduled break, ESPN cut out of the commercial about 10 seconds in, then they came back out of break while a briefing of how the next segment was going to go was being discussed. Once they realized that the commercial ended prematurely, there was a collective, “Oh Snap!” moment before they came back like nothing happened. It caught them off-guard. Finally, Briscoe was cut off mid-sentence by a local break. It’s like she can’t win.

None of that was the fault of anyone at the track. Much like on your local network affiliates, commercials are loaded into broadcasts at the channel’s technical headquarters. That would be in Bristol, Conn. It’s all on them.

When the rains came Sunday afternoon and delayed the race for nearly two hours, ESPN spent most of the time doing interviews and analyzing the first 310 miles from the Pit Studio. In addition, Joey Logano showed up in the Pit Studio and hung around for a couple of segments. Generally, a great way for ESPN to kill a couple of hours without having to go to alternate programming. Bravo.

Like on Saturday night, ESPN did a great job covering the conflict between Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson following the race. Granted, for the safety of children (I guess), the audio was kept down, but viewers were allowed to see the entire argument.

Since the race ended nearly two hours beyond the end of ESPN’s scheduled timeslot, post-race coverage was quite brief. ESPN aired four quick driver interviews before leaving. Of course, referring back to Countdown, ESPN cut off Briscoe again when she was saying her farewell so that they could get to SportsCenter.

The technical problems originating from Bristol really hurt the feel of ESPN’s broadcast. However, once you got away from those problems, ESPN’s telecast wasn’t all that bad. There was a lot of enthusiasm from the commentators, and a good amount of coverage behind the leaders, which is especially crucial at a place like Pocono. I like where ESPN is going right now with Cup coverage. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to say that.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, road racing comes back into our lives. Yee-haw! I can’t get enough of the stuff. The Sprint Cup Series will make their 29th visit to Watkins Glen for the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen. The Nationwide Series will serve as main support, along with the Rolex Sports Car Series, which has gotten a little NASCAR star power for Saturday evening’s 200-miler (last year, the race still went to the two-hour time limit despite exceeding the 200-mile distance by over 20%).

Also, on a completely unrelated note, who scheduled the AMA weekend in Unadilla the same weekend as Cup in the Glen? I have to go through Unadilla to get to the Glen.


Friday, August 12

Time Telecast Network
12:00-2:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
2:00-4:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
4:00-5:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
8:00-8:30 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED

Saturday, August 13

Time Telecast Network
9:30 a.m.-11:00 a.m. Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
1:00-2:00 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN
2:00-5:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Zippo 200 ESPN
6:00-8:30 p.m. Rolex Sports Car Series Crown Royal 200 SPEED
8:30-9:00 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED

Sunday, August 14

Time Telecast Network
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. NASCAR Countdown ESPN
1:00-4:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Heluva Good Sour Cream Dips at the Glen ESPN
3:30-6:00 p.m. Izod IndyCar Series MoveThatBlock.com 225 ABC
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

Since I will be in Watkins Glen next weekend representing Frontstretch, I will not be able to bring you a normal Tuesday critique. However, I will provide an Annex critique for Thursday in the Newsletter. Also, remember that Reid will not be calling the Nationwide race on Saturday due to his Izod IndyCar Series commitments in New Hampshire. Allen Bestwick will do play-by-play for both NASCAR events in 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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