Hello, race fans. Welcome back to another edition of Couch Potato Tuesday, where we don’t necessarily mince our words. If something isn’t good, we’re going to call NASCAR’s TV partners on it. However, if something positive happens, I’ll definitely publicize it.
This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series returned to action at Bristol Motor Speedway for the annual spring race. Both of these events (the Cup race more than the Nationwide one) were somewhat sterile affairs, at least by Bristol standards. However, we are not critiquing the actual racing here.
Before we start: Prior to the season, SPEED announced that they had signed Ricky Rudd to serve as a studio analyst on SPEED Center. That just got 86’ed. A release put out Monday from SPEED basically stated that it won’t happen. Sam Hornish Jr. will continue in the role for now. Oh well, that would have been cool.
Ford EcoBoost 300
Saturday (March 17) saw the Nationwide Series in their sole 300-lap adventure of the year on the high banks (the night race in August is still 250 laps). However, once again, pre-race was cut short by a basketball game running long. This time, it was the Seton Hall – Massachusetts Second Round NIT match-up from 73-year-old Walsh Gym in South Orange, N.J.
Countdown started 16 minutes late. This timing is generally no problem for ESPN due to the fact that the show is “collapsible” (their terminology, not mine). As it stands, the show had more interviews than normal, which is always good to see. Quite frankly, I was getting sick of the whole “we’ll interview one driver all show” thing.
A substantial amount of the Pit Studio discussion surrounded some of the new rookies entering the series this year. Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty sat there and argued that Cole Whitt and Austin Dillon had been the most impressive so far, without a doubt.
The whole time this discussion is going on, Nicole Briscoe’s sitting there with a look on her face that suggested “what the deuce?” I don’t blame her. Up to this point of the season, Dillon and Whitt have produced as expected. The two of them running in the 20s would have been more surprising than what they’ve done so far this year.
For the record, my choice for most impressive rookie so far is Tayler Malsam in the No. 19 G-Oil Toyota for TriStar Motorsports. Malsam is currently seventh in points, yet cannot get a mention anywhere.
Marty Smith sat in the pit studio as well on Saturday, giving his input on the various topics discussed. Admittedly, not much of this debate really pertained to the race itself so much as to what’s happened so far this season.
During the race, ESPN spent a fair amount of time focusing on battles up front, to the point in which it was very difficult to cover much of anything below ninth place. Despite only 30 laps of caution in a 300-lap event, there was only one Up to Speed segment. That was during the final third of the race.
One thing that irked me was the coverage with 50 laps to go, when leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. approached James Buescher and Sam Hornish Jr., who were racing each other for position and trying to stay on the lead lap. Stenhouse ran up on them and overtook both drivers on the inside. Something happened and Buescher looked to nearly get in the wall exiting turn 4.
Viewers saw this one from Stenhouse’s roof cam and then a shot from turn 1 that showed Buescher on the apron trying to recover. ESPN was doing a little update from the Pit Studio at the time, so the booth commentators couldn’t say anything about it. No one in the Pit Studio mentioned it, either, despite the closeness to the leader and the fact that Stenhouse nearly got taken out.
Once the telecast was thrown back to Bestwick in the booth, no further mention was made of what happened. Not even a replay. Maybe this incident is just me overthinking here, but something isn’t right with that.
Since Saturday’s Nationwide race was officially the fastest one ever run at Bristol Motor Speedway, there was plenty of time for post-race coverage. ESPN obliged by giving viewers 10 driver interviews, chats with the winning crew chief and owner, and checks of the unofficial results and points standings. In addition, there was also post-race analysis from the Pit Studio.
One of those interviews was with Jeffrey Earnhardt, who finished 26th in the No. 15 Sam’s Club Ford for Rick Ware Racing. What’s notable about this one? That interview was the first and only time Earnhardt was mentioned all day. It literally seemed to come out of nowhere.
ESPN’s telecast on Saturday was definitely the better of the two from Bristol, but even it needs to be more inclusive. Luckily for us, there appeared to be more racing for position during the Nationwide race. Either that, or ESPN chose to show us more. At the very least, the network should have tried to fit in another Up to Speed early in the race considering the circumstances (Bristol started with a 106-lap, green-flag run).
Food City 500
Sunday brought FOX back out to play for 500 laps of action at Bristol Motor Speedway. The pre-race show seemed to resemble a lot of what we’ve seen so far this season from FOX. The whole thing was heavily centered upon the “Hollywood Hotel,” Myers and the two Waltrips.
One brief montage focused on Michael Waltrip‘s infamous crash in the Busch Grand National (now Nationwide Series) race in April 1990.
It was presented as an example of Michael’s contribution to Bristol, and was notable if only for its spectacular destruction; it’s one of the worst crashes ever seen, at any short track. Michael came back to win the spring Busch race there in 1993.
Darrell Waltrip conducted a one-on-one interview with Kyle Busch (not the first time we’ve seen this happen). Kyle talked extensively about the honest fear he had coming out of last November’s incident in Texas and the parking that resulted.
Now, Darrell is up front about the fact that he really likes Kyle. He stated that what we saw in that interview is the “normal” Kyle Busch, as opposed to the “New Kyle Busch,” or the “Old Kyle Busch.” I suppose that when Kyle is in a decent mood, he can be introspective, smart, and thoughtful. Unfortunately, most fans will never meet that Kyle Busch.
The idea of Darrell serving as a mentor for Kyle comes off as questionable, though. That skirts on the line of favoritism and being straight unprofessional. I can’t force Darrell to do anything, but I just don’t think that’s the right way to go about things knowing that he’s a TV commentator these days.
Also of note, FOX showed a brief sampling of some of the drivers coming out to their chosen songs. Granted, they only showed three, but that got me thinking. Wasn’t it just last year that we were told that FOX (and/or ESPN) would have to license the songs in order to show any of it? I believe that we’ve been lied to. Not too good. As for Denny’s Dougie, I think he just plain made a fool of himself.
With that, we’re on to the race broadcast. If there is one major issue that I can take away from FOX’s coverage on Sunday, it is this one: FOX spent so much of the race focused on whoever was leading (Brad Keselowski, AJ Allmendinger, Brian Vickers, etc.) that they didn’t take the time and really cover any battles.
As a result, they found a way to make a race that was already somewhat lackluster into a snoozefest for many viewers. Obviously, I didn’t fall asleep during the race, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some people did.
How bad did it get? Mike Joy actually said, “We haven’t talked much about Jimmie Johnson today” during a cut to his roof cam late in the race, which says a lot for FOX. I can’t remember the last time anyone said that about the five-time champ in any race in which he competed.
The side-by-side breaks continue to be an issue. This problem was most clearly shown when the final yellow came out for Tony Stewart‘s wreck with Brendan Gaughan on lap 478. Joy called out that there was a caution. At that point, FOX should have immediately nixed that break so that the commentators could inform the viewers what happened and show replays.
Instead, they went to their side-by-side break and let the whole thing play out before coming back. They nearly missed the pit stops by using that move. It’s bush league. The side-by-side breaks aren’t local in nature. FOX can break out of those whenever the heck they feel like it. If ESPN can break out of a commercial to show final pit stops under yellow, so can you, FOX.
Since Sunday’s race was also of the quick brown fox variety, you’d think that there would be plenty of extra time for post-race coverage. Not so. The time slot given to NASCAR, which included the half-hour pre-race show only went to 4 p.m. As a result, even a quick race meant only a normal amount of post-race coverage. FOX provided viewers with six post-race interviews and checks of the unofficial results and points standings before leaving.
If certain telecasts are home runs, and others are doubles and singles, then FOX’s Sunday telecast in Bristol was something akin to a pop-up to a second baseman that falls under the Infield Fly Rule. It just never got going and the viewers (including myself) were never treated to the proper amount of action. I’m sure the race was much more exciting than it looked on TV, not that I’d know because we didn’t see much of it.
FOX proved once again that focusing on a couple of drivers does not make for a great telecast. Granted, some of those wheelmen might not have been part of the group that usually runs up front, but you can’t focus on a few teams. Inclusiveness should be the goal, not exclusiveness. However, FOX’s commentators remained positive about the action on-track Sunday, Waltrip in particular. Following the event, he took to Twitter and defended the racing we saw.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series travel back out to the West Coast for their annual visit to Auto Club Speedway. Meanwhile, back East, the Izod IndyCar Series starts their season off on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. for what is guaranteed to be an emotional day.
Thursday, March 22
Time Telecast Network
10:00 – 11:30 p.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Malaysia Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDtv.com^
Friday, March 23
Time Telecast Network
2:00 – 3:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Malaysia Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
3:00 – 4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
4:30 – 7:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
Saturday, March 24
Time Telecast Network
1:00 – 2:00 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Malaysia SPEEDtv.com^
4:00 – 5:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Malaysia Qualifying SPEED
12:30 – 1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 SPEED
3:30 – 5:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
5:00 – 5:30 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN
5:30 – 8:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Royal Purple 300 ESPN
Sunday, March 25
Time Telecast Network
3:30 – 6:00 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Malaysia SPEED
12:30 – 2:30 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
12:30 – 3:00 p.m. Izod IndyCar Series Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg ABC
2:30 – 3:00 p.m. FOX Pre-Race Delivered by Pizza Hut FOX
3:00 – 6:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 FOX
~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
^- Available via free online streaming
~- Approximate start time
Note: There will be no telecast of the exhibition race at Albert Park in Melbourne for the V8 Supercars.
I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Izod IndyCar series race telecasts here on the next edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. Last weekend’s broadcast of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring will be covered in Thursday’s edition of the Critic’s Annex in our Newsletter.
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 ones 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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