Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Lays an Egg in Fontana

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecasts are the name of the game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series made yet another haul out to the West Coast to race at Auto Club Speedway. Meanwhile, a new era began in the IZOD IndyCar Series with the introduction of the DW12 and new turbo-charged engines in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

After the horrible way that 2011 ended for the IZOD IndyCar Series, starting completely anew for 2012 was a good move. It was already well in the works before Dan Wheldon‘s death, but Sunday’s race saw the national debut of the new Dallara DW12 chassis, and 2.2-liter turbocharged engines from Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus. Gotta admit that it was a little surreal seeing the new cars out there after nine consecutive years of what amounted to the same equipment.

To that end, ESPN took the time to take a look at the new DW12 and compare it to the outgoing IR03/IR07 chassis. Probably the most distinctive features on the car are the new swooping sidepods, the smaller rear wing and the shields almost completely around the rear wheels in order to prevent takeoffs.

Other than that, the new car is lighter, a little faster (at least in St. Petersburg) and safer than the old car. It was an interesting look, but too short. I think fans would have liked a look at the three new engines for 2012 as well. Maybe NBC Sports will give us that next weekend.

There was also a quick piece on blocking with input from Simona de Silvestro, Helio Castroneves and JR Hildebrand. This was pertinent because new Race Director Beaux Barfield ditched the much-maligned rule that technically made it illegal to take a defensive line into a corner. However, it was not explained fully until after the race was started.

Since this was the first race since Wheldon’s death, ESPN rolled out a special feature on Wheldon. However, this was not what you would expect. I thought they’d do a tasteful retrospective on Wheldon’s life, to be honest. It turned out to be a piece that looked back on that fateful October day in Las Vegas and included thoughts from a number of different drivers.

Clips from the race in Las Vegas were included, but they refrained from showing video of the full crash. After the initial contact, they showed the wreck in still frames. I’m sure ESPN took great care to not offend anyone with the images in the piece, but it did come off as a bit gratuitous to me.

Also, regardless of the fact that it is out of place here, I believe this needs to be said. After having seen the outpouring of grief that resulted from Wheldon’s death in the racing community and all the tributes to him, I came to the sad conclusion that most race fans (and even media) that never made it to an IZOD IndyCar Series event had no clue just what kind of a force of nature Wheldon was.

The vast majority of series promotion when Tony George was still in charge centered upon Danica Patrick, to the detriment of everyone else in the field. We missed a great opportunity to really get to know Wheldon until the last few months of his life when he couldn’t get a full-time ride. We’re all worse off for that and the series is worse off for that.

However, we had a 100-lap race on Sunday. ESPN made no changes to their on-air crew for the season, so it was a group of familiar faces on ABC. St. Petersburg might not be the most exciting track out there as far as racing for position is concerned. However, I’d like it if when people drop out of the race, I get notified as to why they dropped out.

Late in the race, two drivers (Sebastien Bourdais and Hildebrand) were running in the top 10 and suddenly pulled off and retired. I have no clue what happened. Reid and Goodyear never mentioned their retirements at all. IndyCar results sheets are not necessarily as detailed as NASCAR results sheets are. If something breaks and you drop out, it’s simply labeled as a “Mechanical.”

See also
IndyCar Race Recap: 2012 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Since the race was already over its time slot by a few minutes by the time the checkered flag dropped, post-race coverage was fairly brief. ESPN brought viewers interviews with winner Castroneves along with winning car owner Roger Penske, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay. There was also a check of the unofficial results before ESPN left the air.

Generally, the telecast was mediocre. Reid and Goodyear appeared to be quite cerebral in the broadcast booth and didn’t bring much excitement to the telecast. I will state for the record that the track didn’t exactly help their case either by not showing all that much racing for position (and there was some, believe me).

There are many things that could have been done to make the broadcast better, including explaining some of the symptoms that could have led to the stalling issues, or even just a cursory look at the engines.

Instead, we got bupkis, especially at the end of the race. The last four laps of the race were focused in on Castroneves with all sorts of stuff going on behind (Hildebrand apparently breaking, Franchitti running out of gas, various passes for position, etc.), which should never happen.

I know that the leader is important, but c’mon now. You’re missing a lot of stuff. And because of those decisions, ESPN’s viewers didn’t get anything remotely close to the whole story from St. Petersburg.

ESPN is off from the series until Indianapolis in two months. I hope that ESPN can put forth a better effort at that time, knowing that far more eyes will be on them at that time. Putting an effort like Sunday’s out for the Indianapolis 500 will not be tolerated. Hopefully, NBC Sports can give me something to be happy about in Alabama.

Royal Purple 300

On Saturday afternoon (March 24), the Nationwide Series returned to action at Auto Club Speedway. Since the IZOD IndyCar Series was in St. Petersburg this past weekend, ESPN had some on-air changes. Jamie Little and Vince Welch are regulars on pit road in ESPN’s IZOD IndyCar Series telecasts. As a result, they were in Florida last weekend.

In their place were the aforementioned Spake and supersub/hide in a giant tub of ice cream reporter Mike Massaro. In addition, Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty took the weekend off. Interesting move for Wallace knowing that his name is on a
“racing experience” that is based in Fontana. Regardless, that meant that Dale Jarrett came down from the broadcast booth to take Wallace’s place and Marty Smith pitched in as well.

There really wasn’t all that much to write home about Countdown. Most of the show was spent in the Pit Studio talking about various topics, notably the idea of Nationwide teams finally taking back their own series. Obviously, they still don’t have full ownership at this point as Joey Logano won Saturday, but the first few weeks of the season are a good start.

There was a feature where ESPN gave a camera to the two truck drivers for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s team and told them to chronicle their 42-hour haul out to Fontana. What we saw was chatter inside the cab and $1,000 fuel stops (I’m sure Roush Fenway Racing provides the drivers with fleet cards so they’re not footing the bill themselves. If I remember correctly, that’s one of Peter Visconti’s responsibilities).

See also
Peter Visconti: Sometimes, Racing Dreams Do Come True

This is not the first time that a TV partner has done a piece like this. I think SPEED had Wendy Venturini ride along in the hauler during a Charlotte, N.C./Loudon, N.H. haul a few years ago.

The first part of the race was really not that exciting. Logano administered a stomping on the field and ESPN was not really going out of the way to show a whole lot of racing for position on track. It was a real shame. I feel like we missed quite a bit of action.

Patrick still got a fair amount of coverage on Saturday, but not an overwhelming amount like in some other events. However, they did have audio/visual issues with her in-car camera during the race, which made it difficult to ascertain what happened to the engine to put her out of the race.

Once the field was stacked up late in the race, viewers saw some amazing on-track action, possibly some of the best that the Nationwide Series has ever actually seen at Auto Club Speedway. ESPN did a decent job showing off this action.

Post-race coverage was pretty good. There were eight post-race interviews and time to check the unofficial results before they left the air.

Generally, ESPN did a decent job on Saturday. The early portions of the race were kinda boring, but the later action made up for that. Bestwick, Jarrett and Petree did an admirable job in the booth, no complaints there. However, when the race was a little on the boring side, they should have done an Up to Speed segment or something to liven up the action a little bit (while at the same time putting the pit reporters on-air).

As it stands, ESPN did one with 30 laps to go. Where was this early in the race, when almost nothing was happening?

Auto Club 400

Sunday brought the Sprint Cup Series back out to play under threatening skies. However, very little mention was made of the impending rain during the pre-race show.

What was in the pre-race show was the typical collection of pieces. There was Gas ‘n Go and a University of Farmers piece where Jeff Hammond talked about why Kasey Kahne can recover from his bad start to the season.

In another piece, Jimmie Johnson talked about the last week of his life. This started with Johnson expressing relief that John Middlebrook threw out the suspensions levied by NASCAR to Chad Knaus and Ron Malec. Afterwards, Johnson talked about his appearance on CBS’s The Talk and Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC. Finally, Johnson strapped a GoPro camera to his skis and showed off his skills (and sometimes, the lack thereof) on the slopes. Interesting piece.

The race coverage itself was peppered with a lot of commercials and a general lack of good racing on-screen. Early on in the race, FOX chose to show a close shot of Kyle Busch leading the race all alone while there was a three-wide battle for what seemed like seventh on the track. You could just make it out if you squinted. I’m sure there was something out there to see in addition to Stewart running down and passing Busch. I just don’t think we saw it.

It was really ridiculous, knowing that NASCAR put the race in hurry-up mode due to the impending rain, that more time wasn’t given to what turned out to be the big story. FOX has a “Storm Scout,” Rick Dickert, at their disposal. Since Dickert works at KTTV FOX 11 in Los Angeles as an early morning meteorologist/traffic reporter, he was live in the Hotel during the race. In this role, Dickert had a radar at his disposal and made use of it during the race’s one caution.

During the red flag, FOX brought us seven driver interviews and a check of the points standings (as they ran). There was also a look back at Tony Stewart‘s first win of the season in a style similar to that seen on shows like Quest for the Cup (the show that aired the last couple of years on Versus during the Chase).

Stewart provided post-commentary about his race and this was interspersed with radio communication from the No. 14 team and audio from FOX’s broadcast. It seemed to come out of nowhere, but it was enjoyable to watch. About the only thing all day on FOX that was.

Shortly after this piece aired, NASCAR officially called the race. FOX came out of a commercial and Myers read a bulletin saying that the race was over and that Stewart had won. Following the official end of the race, FOX interviewed Stewart again, along with Dale Earnhardt Jr., showed the unofficial results and points, and left the air a half-hour early. Just a God-awful day all around.

FOX struggled to give us viewers the action that we wanted to see, simple as that. Other than the Stewart piece during the delay, the only other notable plus I saw is that they finally seemed to get their on pit-road graphic working during the rounds of stops. Still, some kinks need to be worked out on that (when do the lights go out, and when does the car drop off the graphic?). Unfortunately, that is not enough to help save a telecast that just wasn’t all that stellar.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Nationwide Series begins a two-week break. Meanwhile, the Sprint Cup teams are scheduled to haul back east for 500 laps of action at Martinsville Speedway. They will be joined by the Camping World Truck Series, returning to action after more than a month off. Meanwhile, the IZOD IndyCar Series moves on to Leeds, Ala., where they will be joined by the Rolex Sports Car Series.

Thursday, March 29

Time Telecast Network
5:00 – 6:00 p.m. Firestone Indy Lights: St. Petersburg NBC Sports*%

Friday, March 30

Time Telecast Network
12:30 – 2:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
2:00 – 3:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Happy Hour SPEED
3:30 – 5:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
8:00 – 8:30 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED

Saturday, March 31

Time Telecast Network
10:00 – 11:00 a.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
1:00 – 1:30 p.m. NCWTS Setup SPEED
1:30 – 4:00 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 SPEED
4:00 – 5:00 p.m. Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying NBC Sports
4:00 – 7:00 p.m. Rolex Sports Car Series Porsche 250 SPEED#
4:00 – 7:00 p.m. Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge: Barber Park SPEED2.com$
7:00 – 7:30 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED

Sunday, April 1

Time Telecast Network
9:00 – 10:00 a.m. NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
10:00 – 10:30 a.m. SPEED Center SPEED
10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
12:30 – 1:00 p.m. FOX Pre-Race Delivered by Pizza Hut FOX
1:00 – 5:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Goody’s Fast Relief 500 FOX
~5:00 – 6:00 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
%- Highlights
$- Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your cable and/or internet provider as to whether you have access

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series events from Martinsville, along with the IZOD IndyCar race from Barber Motorsports Park. The Rolex Sports Car Series telecast will be covered in the Critic’s Annex in the 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 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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