Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Phoenix Shows Relative Strength for FOX, ESPN Struggles

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where we take a look at the race telecasts that are presented to you on a weekly basis. Last weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series were both back in action at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.

Before we start; As much as I’d like to bring you a new Critic’s Annex piece this week, that is not in the cards. In its place, we have a brand new driver diary that will run on Thursdays in the Frontstretch Newsletter once a month featuring Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year contender Paulie Harraka.

Bashas’ Supermarkets 200

Saturday (March 3) brought the Nationwide Series out to play in Phoenix. However, when it came time to start NASCAR Countdown, the championship game for the Ohio Valley Conference was still in progress. ESPN stayed with the game until it went final before going over to Phoenix, 10 minutes late.

As a result, NASCAR Countdown aired a 20-minute edition. That show was marked by mostly discussion in the Pit Studio, conveniently located on Rattlesnake Hill. The biggest thing I took away from the discussion was Brad Daugherty insisting that Danica Patrick not be expected to win a race this year in the Nationwide Series. I don’t know, Brad. After 27 starts and some improvement, I don’t know if I’d go that far.

Now, I would agree that Danica had no real chance to win in Phoenix. She received a whoopin’ on Saturday, finishing three laps down. Those comments would also be acceptable if Brad were talking about Danica’s Sprint Cup schedule. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if she legitimately challenged for a win late in the season at some place like Kansas.

There was a feature on Sam Hornish Jr. and his racing career. Essentially, Hornish won both his first IndyCar and Nationwide Series races in Phoenix. In between, Hornish talked about how winning had become so commonplace in the IndyCar Series that it almost didn’t mean anything to him anymore. That is why he moved to NASCAR.

If it was a challenge he sought, it was a challenge he got. The piece wasn’t all that bad. Perhaps, this is just the first in a series of features that will aim at showcasing more of the series’ drivers.

In addition, there were some technical issues with Dr. Jerry Punch’s microphone right after he finished doing an interview with James Buescher. Nicole Briscoe did apologize for the audio screw-up. That was the only interview on Countdown. ESPN needs to do more driver interviews during their Countdown shows.

Phoenix races are notable for having a higher percentage of green-flag action during commercials than at many other tracks. Saturday was no exception. ESPN’s telecast saw 11 of these breaks during the race. I know that I can’t do anything about this aspect of the broadcast (It’s a fact of life), but it is a little overkill.

With the unusually high amount of green flag racing, ESPN did multiple Up to Speed segments that resulted in everyone on the lead lap (as of lap 104) being covered. That was good to see. I’d like the expanded coverage to continue. Especially since for most of Saturday’s race, there wasn’t much action to speak of up front.

Another error occurred on lap 114 when Michael Annett smacked the wall exiting turn 4. ESPN had Annett live getting loose and sliding towards the wall, then inexplicably cut away to another shot, missing the wall contact.

Either they thought that Annett was going to pull out of it or the director made a mistake. Regardless, it made ESPN’s coverage look low rent and forced them to use a replay in order to show viewers what they should have been able to see live.

Since Saturday’s race was relatively clean and ended substantially ahead of schedule, ESPN had roughly a half hour to kill after the race ended. In that time, there were 13 interviews, including chats with winning crew chief Luke Lambert and car owner Richard Childress. There was also a check of the unofficial results but no check of the points standings.

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: Phoenix Shows Relative Strength for FOX, ESPN Struggles

This broadcast from ESPN was not their best effort, but I’ve definitely seen worse (for example, check out the April Nationwide race at Phoenix from 2009). I actually took Dr. Jerry Punch to task about that fiasco.

All I can say here is the typical information that I’ve been talking about for years. Make sure that the Nationwide regulars get their proper due (I think they got a bit more than normal on Saturday). Don’t spend too much time on the Sprint Cup butt whoopin’ of the week. Show me the debris when cautions fly (which ESPN did not do very well Saturday), or if you can’t find it, acknowledge that you can’t.

Subway Fresh Fit 500k

Sunday saw the tired Sprint Cup teams come back out for 500 kilometers of action in Phoenix. FOX welcomed Chris Myers back to the team after he had to miss Daytona to attend to the death of his son, Christopher.

Having Myers back allowed viewers our first look at how he will work with the Waltrip brothers in the Hollywood Hotel during FOX’s pre-race show. As you may remember, the Hotel in the past has been marked by “We kid because we care” moments of stupid. In other words, Myers basically playing the fool even though he has worked 120 races or more for FOX.

We didn’t really see that on Sunday. That’s likely for the better since it will allow fans to finally take Myers seriously (even though he’s always been a pretty intelligent guy on television outside of NASCAR telecasts).

The Waltrips did a brief piece called “Double Trouble,” where the twosome described two different problem areas on Phoenix’s 1-mile tri-oval. Of course, with the way the race ended up playing out, Michael’s trouble spot of turn 3 was not so troublesome. I also found that I had difficulty believing that the Waltrips are “double trouble.”

Being in elementary school in the early 1990s, I would watch Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? on PBS. Two of the villains on that show were called Double Trouble (scroll down to see the picture). Those dudes are Double Trouble. The Waltrips are the Waltrips.

There was also a fair amount of time given to Brad Keselowski‘s Twitter follower explosion after his in-car tweeting in Daytona. This even featured a recreation of Twitter’s own graph mapping the increase in Keselowski’s followers during the delay.

At this point, I could honestly care less about it, but FOX seemed to be genuinely amazed. I figured that if anyone in Sprint Cup would have done this, it would have been Keselowski. Also, I was more stunned last year when he tweeted the pictures of his ankle after his Road Atlanta crash.

Also notable from pre-race was a brief snippet from right before the National Anthem when someone apparently told Brian McKnight’s son Neko to “take that off your head!” The expletive, caught on-air on FOX, referred to the snood-like head covering that he was wearing.

The incident, which has gone slightly viral, can be seen here. I’ll admit that I didn’t notice it when it originally happened. No reference to it was made in the broadcast booth and it is generally unclear as to who said it.

During the race, just shy of 37 minutes of the action under green was run during commercial breaks of some kind. The side-by-side breaks that FOX is planning on using this year started off at lap 243, but these breaks are a lot shorter than the regular breaks. My guess is that FOX really does want to do the Side-by-Side breaks, but that it’s a very tough sell to their advertisers.

Viewers like you (and critics like me) would think that it’s a win-win situation, but for advertisers, not so much. I could never prove this, but I think FOX is charging advertisers less to get into the side-by-side slots than the regular ones. Since they don’t charge as much, they want as few of them as possible, hence why they’re only airing in the last hour of the race.

Early on, FOX failed to show viewers a replay of what happened to Clint Bowyer when his tire blew. This incident, which occurred during the first commercial break of the race, put the race under the first caution. When FOX returned, they showed pit stops and talked about what happened to Bowyer, then went to another break.

By the time FOX returned, it was time for the restart and two more tire issues (including another one for Bowyer) ix-nayed the original replay. Not too good. Shouldn’t be too eager to get to those breaks without telling the full story.

What didn’t get any play on the broadcast is the rather blatant commercial that Tide put out to promote themselves using FOX’s footage from Daytona. I thought it was real interesting that it took only five and a half days for Tide to capitalize on their unplanned role in the Daytona 500. Now, I didn’t expect FOX to mention the ads on their broadcast, but I just found it interesting enough to note here.

I’m just not seeing this new “Roving Reporter” role for Jeff Hammond. Since we’re only through Phoenix, I guess it could still be called a work in progress, but I just can’t see how having Michael Waltrip in the Hotel is an upgrade over Hammond. Hammond is a very knowledgeable person and deserves to be in the Hotel for at least most of the race instead of the current 17 minutes or so.

The roving reporter bit is nothing new. ABC used various reporters in that role at the Indianapolis 500 back when Jim McKay was calling the race on tape delay. I suppose it’s meant to help introduce the sport to new viewers, but it only works so well. I’m just not feeling it so far.

Since the race went long by 20 minutes, there were only four post-race interviews, along with quick looks at the unofficial results and points standings before leaving the air.

Overall, FOX put out an OK product on Sunday. There was a decent amount of racing for position shown on track and the broadcast booth was their usual informative (and hyper) selves. They made efforts to show debris that caused yellows, in stark contrast to ESPN, who did not. Heck, Digger didn’t show up at all on Sunday. That hasn’t happened on a FOX broadcast since before I took over this column.

The only thing I’d ask FOX to do (in addition to giving Hammond more of a rigid role) is to be a little more inclusive. There was a lot of talking about single cars on Sunday when there was racing for position further back. I’d rather see that action.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend sees both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series back in action at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. There does not appear to be a Countdown show scheduled prior to the Nationwide race on Saturday. According to ESPN’s website, the race is right after a game in the Southland Conference tournament. Meanwhile, SPEED will bring viewers our first tape-delayed V8 Supercars telecast of the year.

Friday, March 9

Time Telecast Network
1:30 – 3:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
3:00 – 4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
5:00 – 6:30 p.m. Nationwide Series Happy Hour SPEED
6:30 – 8:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED

Saturday, March 10

Time Telecast Network
12:30 – 1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 SPEED
1:30 – 3:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
3:00 – 4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
5:00 – 8:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Sam’s Town 300 ESPN2

Sunday, March 11

Time Telecast Network
9:00 – 10:00 a.m. NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
12:00 – 12:30 p.m. SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
12:30 – 2:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
2:30 – 3:00 p.m. FOX Pre-Race FOX
3:00 – 6:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 400 FOX
3:30 – 5:30 p.m. V8 Supercar Championship Series Clipsal 500k SPEED*
~6:00 – 7:00 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
7:00 – 8:00 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED
8:00 – 9:00 p.m. Wind Tunnel SPEED

*- Tape Delayed
~- Approximate start time

Also, remember that Daylight Savings Time begins at 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning (or Saturday night, depending on how you look at it). You must move your clocks forward one hour.

I will provide critiques of both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide race telecasts for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Clipsal 500, one of Australia’s most popular and well-attended races, will be covered in the Annex on March 15.

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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