Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 73- Dollar General 300 Miles of Courage

by Phil Allaway

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where I provide a second look into the motorsports-related programming available to viewers. This past weekend was a normal one in that all three of NASCAR’s top series were in action. As a result, the original grandmaster plan was to cover the Izod IndyCar Series race in this space. As you know by now, the plan changed.

If this were two years ago, I would have tried to cram all three NASCAR races and the IndyCar race into the Tuesday critique. That simply wouldn’t have worked, for multiple reasons. The first of those reasons would have been that it would have simply been too long and irritated our group of editors here at Frontstretch. Of course, now that I’m a full editor here, I have to be compassionate to their needs as well.

Something had to be swapped out from the main critique in order to go into the Annex in place of the IndyCar race. By importance, the Camping World Truck Series race would usually have been the first to go. However, the Truck race featured a number of incidents and I thought that it tangentially may have previewed Sunday’s action. So, it stayed. Since Sprint Cup takes precedence over everything else, the Nationwide Series got bumped down to the Annex.

Friday night saw ESPN return to the well for another Nationwide Series telecast, their 30th of the season. With Marty Reid (along with Vince Welch and Jamie Little) in Las Vegas for the IndyCar race, Allen Bestwick was pressed into double-duty for the weekend in the booth. Bestwick brought his A-game upstairs, but did ESPN bring their best? Let’s find out.

Countdown was the usual half-hour setup, heavy on pre-race analysis. Mike Massaro hosted this in place of Nicole Briscoe, who was in Las Vegas as well, but not working. I already ranted about the whole “why the deuce are you making him wear a suit when he’s gotta pit report as well in a fire suit” thing on Tuesday, so I’m not going to rehash that here.

The Ricky vs. Trevor challenge returned to ESPN for edition No. 4 on Friday night. This time, the teammates spent their home week on Lake Norman, not too far away from Charlotte Motor Speedway. There, they had a wakeboarding competition. As Bayne had an experience advantage over Stenhouse, Bayne was given the more difficult side of the wake to start from. Despite having the harder task, Bayne appeared to win the challenge easily. I don’t know, but it seems like the challenges that are shown on ESPN are more complicated each time they air. In contrast, the battles shown on the rickyvstrevor.com website are more simple, something that wouldn’t cost a fortune to do. Heck, even the first ESPN competition featured high school pep rally (ok, at least my high school) standbys like Chubby Bunny. For the uninitiated, that’s the game where you stuff marshmallows in your mouth and try to say Chubby Bunny three times. I enjoy some of the more simplistic battles more. On the website, the most recent battle is the hilarious Just Dance competition at Roush Fenway Racing’s tweet-up that Jeff Gluck just so happened to be at (they were dancing (and not very well, I guess) to The Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men”).

Aside from the Ricky vs. Trevor feature and the pre-race analysis, ESPN gave viewers five pre-race interviews (Edwards, Bayne, Stenhouse, Elliott Sadler and Ryan Truex), and a Tech Garage feature on the tapered spacer.

Once the race got started, it was clear that there were a few people that were going to get the lion’s share of coverage. Those drivers were Edwards, Brad Keselowski, and Kyle Busch from the Cup Series, along with Stenhouse and Elliott Sadler from the Nationwide Series. Beyond that group, there just wasn’t much coverage to go around. This was a problem during the Cup race Saturday night as well. It’s almost like ESPN uses this super-focused coverage as a crutch. It’s not new, either.

I’ll admit that I’ve been watching a lot of sports car racing on the all-powerful YouTube lately. Yeah, that’s right, I get away from writing about race telecasts by watching race telecasts. That’s an Xzibit meme just waiting to happen right there. As far back as the late 1980’s, ESPN had a couple of stories that they liked to focus on for their IMSA telecasts (usually something having to do with Nissan’s dominance in the headlining class, or the god-awful bumpiness of seemingly every track they raced at back then). Deviations were only made when the conditions warranted them. Heck, even Marty Reid was around (he was a pit reporter at the time).

What I’m saying is that the traditional technique of covering a race like a baseball game doesn’t necessarily work anymore. Even though the Nationwide Series has struggled with an excessive amount of S&P’ing over the past couple of years and a lack of sponsorship, all of these drivers out there have fans to a varying degree. It almost seems like the time for people outside the top-10 to get their exposure is qualifying. “Robby Gordon said something to that degree to Dustin Long a while back.”:http://hamptonroads.com/2011/08/robby-gordon-says-he-plans-start-and-park-many-remaining-cup-races. That shouldn’t be the case.

Since Friday night’s race was on ESPN 2, the coverage was typical in terms of…terminology. I have to make that distinction because Saturday night’s Cup telecast was seemingly dumbed down to benefit those new fans. It seems that ESPN thought that the audience generally knew what was going on, so Bestwick didn’t have to give any extraneous explanations.

I did have a couple of technical gripes with the telecast. ESPN has been getting into the knack of not always giving viewers the number of tires taken on rounds of pit stops under caution. Under normal circumstances, this might not be an issue, but every time ESPN doesn’t show this, a few people take two tires and people wonder how they got there. Not too good.

Towards the end of the race, there was a technical issue where ESPN basically lost their feed. When that happened, the audio all dropped out and the screen went to aqua. Or, at least that’s what I saw. Can’t vouch for anyone else. Luckily, this was only a brief outage. No reference to the issue was made on-air.

Since the race went by fairly quickly on Friday night, I expected a decent amount of post-race coverage. Instead, ESPN gave viewers a typical amount. There were six driver interviews and an interview with winning crew chief Mike Beam. During Elliott Sadler’s interview, he was joined by Joe and Barbara Thornton, who won $100,000 as a result of being paired up with Sadler as part of the Nationwide Insurance Dash 4 Cash.

After a check of the point standings, ESPN chose to leave the air ten minutes early. I have no clue why they did this. What is the advantage of doing so? It is a Friday night and there wasn’t another sporting event to get to. Do that many more people watch the 11pm SportsCenter on a Friday night than a live Nationwide Series race? I don’t know. It was a little early to claim that there wasn’t anyone else willing to do an on-air interview. ESPN has done nearly a dozen post-race interviews multiple times this year, so that theory goes out the window. I guess it’s just plain ol’ laziness. And that is bush league.

I hope you enjoyed this look back at the Dollar General 300 Miles of Courage. Since there are only three notable races to be televised this weekend, there is only so much to cover. I have not decided what to look at for next week’s Annex column yet, but whatever I choose, it will be good. Until then, enjoy this weekend’s tight action in Talladega and in Surfer’s Paradise.

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