Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: Championship Insanity & a Raging Busch

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, where race telecasts come to be praised, questioned, skewered and fricasseed. Sorta like Daffy Duck in the infamous Hunting Season trilogy.

This past weekend, the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series each held their season finales at the sometimes wet Homestead-Miami Speedway. It should be noted that this will be the final Tuesday edition of Talking NASCAR TV for the 2011 season. However, I will be back for my fourth season of race telecast critiquing.

Ford 200

Friday night (Nov. 18) brought the Camping World Truck Series out. The championship was definitely the major story in play here, but due to the fact that more than two contenders were in the game, SPEED was forced to cover more teams than ESPN would have to for either of their races.

There was a feature on the 2003 Ford 200, a race that saw multiple contenders vying for the championship. Basically, it was a Vault feature without being a Vault feature, if you can follow. If you remember, that was when Jim Smith stacked the deck with five entries and Brendan Gaughan was inadvertently taken out by one of them (Marty Houston). Ted Musgrave had the title won until he jumped the final restart and gave the title to Travis Kvapil.

A montage early on in the Setup talked about all the various championship what-if scenarios, as if SPEED wanted to get all that out of the way right away. Also of note, SPEED turned off the championship hype for a relaxed feature where they followed Joey Coulter to his south Florida home to see what the about-to-be-crowned-Rookie of the Year does in his spare time. Coulter appears to enjoy snorkeling and seems to be quite the laid back fellow.

During the race, unlike ESPN, there was a lot more focus on the actual racing on track as opposed to championship hypotheticals. Granted, there was some of that as well, but the telecast was far more inclusive than anything ESPN had to offer to viewers.

SPEED’s “Continuous Coverage,” the new name for their side-by-side commercials, returned on Friday night during the second half of the race. It worked about how it should work.

See also
Tracking the Trucks: 2011 Ford 200 at Homestead

With the rain cutting the race short with 15 laps to go, the rain and post-race coverage basically merged into each other. SPEED was only part-way through their first driver interview (with Johnny Sauter) when NASCAR officially called the race. Actual post-race coverage included interviews with the top points finishers (Austin Dillon, Sauter, James Buescher), and Rookie of the Year (Coulter). The trophy presentation was also shown.

However, due to the rain ending the race early (and very quickly, I might add), SPEED added in an additional edition of NASCAR Victory Lane with Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip for some wrap-up commentary before going off to SPEED Center.

I enjoyed watching the Truck telecast on SPEED.

Ford 300

Saturday afternoon brought the only completely dry telecast of the weekend to viewers. Like the other two series, the championship was the primary topic of discussion. Was this the best way to go? Let’s find out.

ESPN spent much of NASCAR Countdown talking about Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and his 2011 season. Very little time was actually spent on the fact that if NASCAR hadn’t instituted the “pick a series” rule for 2011, Carl Edwards would have clinched the title in Phoenix (he would have had a 77-point lead entering Homestead).

There was a feature that showed Stenhouse’s improvement over his disastrous 2010 campaign. To me, it seemed like a repeat of an earlier feature that aired a few months ago, with some additional content added on at the end. It wouldn’t be the first time that ESPN has done such a thing (see the Kyle Busch montage that has aired in approximately three different forms this year).

The Danica Patrick one-on-one interview that was originally scheduled to air prior to the Wypall 200 at Phoenix aired here as well (which I predicted that it would). Jamie Little, who has watched Patrick’s career since she entered the now-Izod IndyCar Series in 2005, conducted the interview. Here, we learned that Patrick was determined to leave for NASCAR immediately after racing in the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 at Daytona last year.

Effectively, she ran two lame-duck seasons in the Dallara before leaving IndyCar. She also talked about Las Vegas and the thoughts that came out of that mess (and at this point, I can’t describe it much better than that). Little had claimed on Twitter that she thought the interview was pretty good and I pretty much agree with her. When Patrick isn’t trying to deny something (which seems to be every day), she can be an interesting person to talk to.

During the early part of the race, ESPN was wholly concerned with the championship and when Stenhouse was guaranteed the title. Let’s just be honest with ourselves. Unless Stenhouse blew an engine or wrecked in the first 20 or laps, that title was his. The (completely expected) blown engine in Morgan Shepherd‘s car and Fain Skinner‘s crash only accelerated the clinching.

Now, you guys probably know by now that I believe that it is good for ESPN to update why drivers go behind the wall. But, there is a point where those updates get out of hand. Saturday was that point. It was simply annoying as heck.

Even after Stenhouse officially clinched the title, which was roughly lap 32 – a bit later than I predicted (lap 19), ESPN kept up the suspense since Mike Kelley refused to tell Stenhouse that he was in the clear. I don’t need to know that every five stankin’ minutes. Cripes.

You could have used that time to cover other drivers in the field, like David Stremme, who legitimately ran up to the top 10 on Saturday before an ill-fated two-tire strategy dropped the No. 70 like a rock late.

Also of note, Marty Reid accidentally confused part-time NEMCO Motorsports drive and grandmaster of the double entendre Kevin Conway with Izod IndyCar Series driver Mike Conway. I guess that’s a simple mistake to make, but you have to correct yourself or apologize. Reid didn’t do that on Saturday. Whoops.

Post-race coverage was actually pretty good. Of note, unlike at Phoenix, Nationwide post-race coverage actually pushed a live college football game to ESPNEWS, which is quite a rarity. ESPN provided viewers with seven post-race interviews. This included the two championship contenders and the Rookie of the Year (Timmy Hill), who conducted what I think was his first televised post-race interview of the season (gotta love those Poynt fingers).

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2011 Ford 300 at Homestead

The Nationwide Series trophy presentation was also shown before ESPN left the air.

Overall, there was definitely too much championship focus on Stenhouse and Elliott Sadler during the telecast, knowing that the championship was all but over. To give an old-school example, it made me think of ESPN’s coverage of the 1995 NAPA 500 from Atlanta, when Jeff Gordon entered the race having to finish 41st or better to win the title over Dale Earnhardt.

Earnhardt did everything he could to win, while Hendrick Motorsports stacked the deck (they entered a fourth car for Jimmy Horton, who was replaced by Jeff Purvis for the race due to Horton’s injuries in the ARCA race). Yes, Earnhardt dominated and won the race, but that title was never in doubt. Case in point, ESPN should have covered this race more inclusively, especially after they were sure that Stenhouse had clinched the title.

Ford 400

Finally, we come to the Sprint Cup season finale. All the talk leading into the race was about Tony Stewart and Edwards and their battle for the championship, a legitimate one at that.

Over two-thirds of Countdown was spent focused on the two championship contenders, which was basically overkill to me. There’s only so much that you can say about the battle before you start repeating yourselves.

A special feature was focused upon Stewart and his relationship with AJ Foyt. Stewart grew up basically idolizing the mercurial Texan and ran much of his early career with Foyt’s No. 14. Stewart reportedly asked Foyt if it was OK if he used the No. 14 when he moved over to Stewart-Haas Racing from JGR in 2009.

I don’t really think I learned anything from the feature, but the general opinion is that Foyt and Stewart have somewhat similar personalities, so it’s not necessarily a surprise that they would get along.

Another piece, narrated by Marty Smith, talked about the differences between Stewart and Edwards. Yes, it’s pretty tough to find two drivers as different as the aforementioned duo in NASCAR.

During the race, the focus was all on Stewart and Edwards. I can understand this to a degree, but it was almost overkill. No one else really mattered. There is no benefit that can come from such an approach.

Early on, Kurt Busch broke a transmission (or driveshaft, it’s somewhat unclear based on the coverage) and was forced to go to the garage. Most of the coverage that came out of that incident was that something off Kurt’s No. 22 went through the grille of Stewart’s car.

Somewhat lost in that shuffle was the fact that Kurt flipped the bird at the driver of a Chevrolet pickup truck that was blocking his garage stall. This was caught live on-air. No reference was ever made to this. Admittedly, I didn’t notice it at first and had to rewind the telecast in order to see it.

Normally, ESPN would apologize for this right away, or draw attention to it much later in the race and then apologize. I didn’t notice either strategy being used here. My guess is that the circumstances behind this were much different than last year at Texas when Kyle Busch flipped off a NASCAR official on pit road. Regardless, they probably should have done something, even though I personally find the idea of having to do so to be annoying.

If you’re wondering why there was no interview with Kurt Busch in the garage area after his mechanical issues, well, there’s a decent reason why. ESPN did set up an interview with Busch and Dr. Jerry Punch would have conducted it. Then, this happened. I should warn you that the clip contains strong language and disrespect of an elder. Viewer discretion is advised.

After those shenanigans, ESPN chose not to bother. I don’t blame them in this regard.

Due to the three separate yellows brought out for rain (including one 74-minute red flag) the only commercial breaks that aired after lap 110 were during yellows. It reminded me of watching the Advocare 500 at Atlanta back in September.

Also like at Atlanta, ESPN spent the rain delay interviewing multiple personalities (23 in all). It’s a nice way to spend a rain delay and likely better than just splitting for alternate programming after 10 minutes and giving periodic updates.

The last 100 miles of the race was almost completely focused on the championship duo. I had never seen anything quite like it. Beyond lap 235, it was only Stewart and Edwards on screen. It was ridiculous. I know the championship is important, but c’mon. There is more out there. I had never seen such isolation in 20-plus years of watching races on television. I really feel bad for anyone who would want to see their favorite driver doing anything late in the race Sunday night.

Unfortunately, that was just not in the cards. At least in the 1992 Hooters 500, there was actual racing between the championship contenders. Here, Stewart and Edwards rarely raced each other for position.

Post-race coverage was quite extensive, but not very inclusive. Having Stewart win the race actually made it even more exclusive. There were interviews with the champion and runner-up, the points, results and trophy presentation. ESPN also included some post-race analysis before leaving the air at 8:45 p.m. ET. Martin Truex Jr., who ran up front almost all night and finished third, got bupkus. Ouch.

Beyond the halfway point of the race, viewers would have had almost no clue how the heck anyone other than Stewart and Edwards got to where they were running on-track. That is a utter shame. The championship race is not the only thing going on. There were 35 other drivers on the track for most of the race.

That’s all for this week. Usually, when NASCAR’s top series are done for the year, that’s it for racing. Not this year. Next weekend marks the final race of the season for Formula 1. The World Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships were wrapped up a while ago, but there will still be a great show at Interlagos near Sao Paulo this weekend. Here’s your listings.

Friday, November 25

Time Telecast Network
7:00 – 8:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Brazil Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDtv.com^
11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Brazil Free Practice No. 2 SPEED

Saturday, November 26

Time Telecast Network
8:00 – 9:00 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Brazil Free Practice No. 3 SPEEDtv.com^
11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Brazil Qualifying SPEED

Sunday, November 27

Time Telecast Network
10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Brazil SPEED
10:30 – 11:30 a.m. WRC Wales Rally GB Preview Velocity
11:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. WRC Wales Rally GB Day 1 Velocity*$
12:00 – 12:30 p.m. WRC Wales Rally GB Velocity*$
12:30 – 1:00 p.m. WRC Wales Rally GB Velocity*$
1:00 – 2:00 p.m. WRC Wales Rally GB Events Velocity*
2:00 – 3:00 p.m. WRC Wales Rally GB Review Velocity$

*- Tape-Delayed
^- Available via free online streaming
$- Highlights

Although the regular critiques here at Frontstretch are finished for the winter, I will be writing one more edition of the Critic’s Annex for Monday’s edition of the Frontstretch Newsletter. It will cover Sunday’s three-hour edition of NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot that aired on SPEED. Also, after our Driver Reviews are complete, I will bring you a column that serves as a final review for ESPN and SPEED’s telecasts.

I hope that you have enjoyed the critiques this season as much as I enjoyed writing them. It takes a lot of time to do the appropriate note taking just to bring you these pieces. Quite frankly, at this point, it is almost foreign to not watch a race with a notebook in hand. I’ve gone completely through a five-subject college-ruled notebook and then some this year.

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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