Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Needs to Show All Debris*, No Questions Asked

*- If it can be found, it must be shown. If not, the viewers must be notified that it cannot be found.

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where TV critique is the name of the game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were at Richmond International Raceway for some short-track action (that supposedly was more comfortable to watch than Lebanon Valley Speedway’s Saturday night (April 28) card in windy, 40-something degree weather).

Meanwhile, the IZOD IndyCar Series made their third trip down to Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300

Sao Paulo’s street race is very important to the IZOD IndyCar Series due to their agreement with ApexBrasil. The series uses 100% ethanol (or etanol in Portuguese) fuel manufactured in Brazil and supplied by Sunoco. Since this move was made, the street race in Sao Paulo has become a showcase event. The Anhembi Sambodromo is the start-finish straight for the course. This is where permanent grandstands are located for the big Carnival parades every year.

Of course, racing in Sao Paulo brings three additional issues for us TV critics. The most important of these is rain. The inaugural race was red flagged after 19 laps due to a thunderstorm coming over the track. It was eventually restarted. Last year’s race was red flagged after 13 laps for similar reasons, then postponed to Monday morning at 10 a.m. local time.

Let’s just say that they got lucky that it didn’t downpour again on Sunday. It did drizzle a little, though.

Secondly, for TV purposes, the broadcast pictures are left up to the host broadcaster. In this case, Rede Bandeirantes, also known as simply “Band,” was in charge of the pictures. The NBC Sports Network has no control over the pictures.

Thirdly, since its an international race, NBC Sports Network sent the literal bare minimum of personnel to Sao Paulo. Like last year, their lone on-air representative was Kevin Lee. Bob Jenkins, Jon Beekhuis and Wally Dallenbach Jr. called the race from back in Indianapolis. Robin Miller joined in as well.

Due to the threat of rain (no surprise here), the start of the race was moved up by 15 minutes or so. Ultimately, this was not necessary, but it was done anyway. Because of the shifting start time, pre-race coverage was fairly limited. Kevin Lee conducted interviews at the track with Will Power and Dario Franchitti. Lee also attempted to provide some background on what had happened on Saturday, but technical problems with his microphone prevented that from getting across.

There was also a pre-recorded one-on-one interview with Rubens Barrichello where Barrichello talked about his transition to the IZOD IndyCar Series, how he convinced his wife to let him race at Indianapolis (remember, being able to get that permission was considered to be a substantial stumbling block in negotiations) and how he deals with pressure. It was an interesting interview. I liked it.

Due to the haphazard nature of the coverage, the command to start engines actually occurred during a commercial break. Makes me wonder if Band would have showed that since they missed it last year as well. I suppose they don’t really care since the idea of a “Command to start engines” is more of an American thing in racing.

Having Band handling the video meant a couple of things for us here. NBC Sports Network had some control over replays, but they cannot control the live shots. As a result, we were kinda at mercy of whatever Band wanted to show us. Their pictures were quite jarring at times. They seem to really like zoomed-in shots, much like ESPN, to be honest.

Of course, that’s not exactly good. Also, their aim with the in-car 360 degree camera seemed to be off at times. They seemed to have the cameras pointed backwards a lot more than forwards, and as a result, missed certain incidents.

Another complaint with the zoom is that they would quickly zoom in and out. That is nothing that I haven’t seen with Brazilian race broadcasts before (some Formula 1 races at Interlagos back when Ayrton Senna was still racing featured a lot of it).

I also thought that there would be a substantial amount of camera time given to the three Brazilian drivers (Barrichello, Tony Kanaan and Ana Beatriz) in the race. That was not really the case, thankfully. They got their camera time, but not excessively.

Due to the shortened pre-race, NBC Sports Network decided to play their “ProfessorB” segment on lap 7 of the race itself, in full screen. Not a good move. The feature itself was on how the new Dallara DW12 has a quick change rear section (rear bodywork and rear wing) in addition to the quick-change front wing.

Apparently, the whole rear setup could be changed in roughly 20 seconds (the demonstration shown cheated by already having the rain light disconnected). Interesting, but out of place.

Inclusiveness of field coverage was decent, much better than previous races. However, the angles shown were not always the best. Also, it seems like no one wiped the camera on pit in/off all weekend. I couldn’t really see jack on it all race long.

Post-race coverage was on a smaller scale than normal since only Lee was in Sao Paulo. He provided viewers with four post-race interviews (Power, Franchitti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato) from the track. The unofficial results and a check of the points standings were shown before NBC Sports Network left.

See also
IndyCar Race Recap: 2012 Sao Paulo Indy 300

I had no problem with the overall commentary from Jenkins, Beekhuis and Dallenbach. However, I think that they are hampered when not on-site. A really great team could commentate on a race from a remote site and be able to make it sound like they’re there. Also, Robin Miller is useless if he’s not at the race. He spoke up a grand total of three times the whole telecast. Nothing he does works under these circumstances. He would have been better off watching the race on TV.

Virginia 529 College Savings 250

On Friday night, the Nationwide Series returned to action at Richmond International Raceway after a week off. However, Friday was a huge night for the series, for Travis Pastrana was in the house. Pastrana and his mullet finally made their Nationwide Series debut, only about nine months late.

Of course, ESPN really wanted to play up Pastrana’s debut. Honestly, they really would have preferred his debut to be at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis last August. As you may remember, they had a whole “Pastranathon” schedule on tap that got thrown into a bonfire because of his injury.

Regardless, they still had a feature ready to go. In it, Pastrana talked about his past career in extreme sports and his transition to NASCAR. He acknowledged that he is still angry at himself for botching the Rodeo 720, or “TP7” trick.

That botched TP7 resulted in the broken foot and ankle that forced him to postpone his debut to last Friday. He has effectively given up riding motorcycles and is completely focused on his new career. Even if he weren’t focused on NASCAR right now, he still couldn’t ride a bike for quite a while since he still can’t walk very well.

I thought that the feature was very well put-together, but completely inevitable. I saw it coming a mile away. Also of note, roughly 40% of this feature ran earlier in the day after ESPN’s coverage of Nationwide Series qualifying ended a little quicker than planned.

It appeared that ESPN had three major stories that they wanted to cover. Naturally, Pastrana was the first story. The second story was the points race between Elliott Sadler and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The third was the impressive debut of Ryan Blaney. I think ESPN played more clips of K&N Pro Series races Friday night than they had since 2000.

The aforementioned focus continued into the race. Pastrana got a significant amount of coverage, effectively replacing the substantial Danica Patrick coverage that we all know and don’t really like all that much. Interestingly enough, Patrick, Pastrana and Johanna Long ran together for much of the race.

Only later (after the race telecast ended) did we learn that Pastrana had apparently agreed to donate money to charity had he successfully defeated Patrick and Long. Hence, why he was kinda bummed out in his post-race interview.

See also
Fan's View: Travis Pastrana - Getting to Know the New Guy the Wrong Way

The race coverage also featured what I think was the first time that ESPN displayed a tweet during a race telecast. On lap 182, ESPN pulled a tweet written by Clint Bowyer about Blaney. In his tweet, Bowyer stated, “I don’t know who gave Ryan Blaney the opportunity tonight, but glad they did. Been watching him for [a] couple [of years] now and this kid can do it.”

Editor’s Note: Tweet has been edited for clarity.

Granted, the tweet was written almost an hour before it made air, but I cannot remember ESPN doing this in the past during a NASCAR race. Perhaps, we will see more social media integration into telecasts in the future.

Post-race coverage was actually a little more substantial than normal. ESPN provided viewers with eight drivers, along with chats with Kyle Busch (the winning car owner) and Dave Blaney (Ryan’s happy father). They tried to display a standalone points standings graphic, but they royally screwed it up. For some reason, someone thought it would be a good idea to display the points from after last August’s Food City 250 at Bristol.

I was speechless. That was bad. At least ESPN’s redundancy saved their butts. They had already showed the top 10 in points above the scroll during their earlier interviews. Had they not done that, oh man, they would be seriously taking it on the chin right here.

Capital City 400 Presented by Virginia Is For Lovers

Saturday night brought the Sprint Cup Series back out for their third short-track race of the season at the Richmond International Raceway. Rain was an issue earlier in the day, leading to a competition caution (oh joy). But, how did FOX handle their broadcast? Let’s take a look.

One of the primary themes during the pre-race show was the idea of anger and close quarters. To this degree, FOX aired a montage piece of various incidents in the past at Richmond. Chris Myers narrated the piece while race footage and interview footage ran.

Other than the infamous crash between Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip (along with Joe Ruttman and others) from 1986, everything shown was from the last few years. Granted, there was some more stuff that they could have used that they left out.

Time was also taken to publicize the new Baseball Night in America setup that will be airing Saturday nights on FOX, in cooperation with the MLB Network. You might remember what happened the last time baseball tried that on ABC. Luckily, there’s no labor strife in Major League Baseball right now.

In other non-racing programming, FOX brought viewers a piece where different drivers talked about their favorite NFL teams in the context of the NFL Draft from last weekend. Personally, I can care less about the NFL Draft (cripes, just plain can’t deal with football in April), but some viewers might have found it interesting to see who their favorite drivers root for (although Dale Earnhardt Jr. rooting for Washington should surprise almost no one).

The actual race broadcast continued some of the new aspects that Waltrip talked about after the Kansas race. There was another silent pit-stop sequence during the competition caution on lap 54. In addition, there were some dropbacks to see additional racing further down the order. However, these dropbacks were relatively far and few between.

FOX did have video of the incident in the pits when Paul Menard‘s tire got bounced out in the middle of pit road. They also had the audio from crew chief Richard “Slugger” Labbe about how that behavior would not be tolerated. The commentators and the viewers didn’t get the whole story here from the pictures. As a result, the commentators interpreted the pictures incorrectly.

They thought that Menard’s crew member was getting chastised for running into an active pit road (this would be similar to the JTG Daugherty Racing crew member getting roasted for going into the quad-oval grass that one time under green, causing a yellow).

FOX should have made an effort to find the debris on the backstretch that caused the fifth and final yellow of the race on lap 388. Looking back at my DVR recording of the race showed a light spot on the track exiting turn 2. However, I’m not sure that was debris or just a small bit of sealer covering a crack. FOX never zoomed in so that I could tell.

During the final stretch to the checkers, Mike Joy talked quite a bit about the wild action for third through about sixth. How much of that action did we see? Bupkus. Custody of my diddly-squat. FOX, you have a great resource in the booth with Joy. Please, whatever you do, please don’t make him look like a doofus. I cannot abide that.

Post-race coverage was decent. There were five post-race interviews along with checks of the unofficial results and points standings before FOX left the air. Carl Edwards‘s interview introduced the notion of his spotter, former driver Jason Hedlesky, claiming that he was told that Edwards was leading. Also of note, the team refused to make Hedlesky available for comments after the race.

All in all, we saw a telecast Saturday night similar to what we saw at Kansas from FOX. I’m still not a fan of the silent pit stops since we lose out on pertinent information. FOX absolutely has to do a better job at seeking out debris that causes yellows.

You’ll see more discussion about that topic in Mirror Driving on Wednesday. And finally, please listen to your booth guys. They’re not up there for their own health. What they say should point you towards certain action on the track. Do not ignore them.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is Talladega. Cue equal parts cheers and boos. The Sprint Cup and Nationwide series will be joined by the ARCA Racing Series in their second TV appearance of the year.

Pre-race for the Nationwide Series is abbreviated. Note that the Nationwide race is on ABC this week. Because of that, there will be no RaceBuddy available on Saturday. I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and ARCA Racing series telecasts from Talladega in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday.

For this week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex, I’ll be covering last night’s edition of Top Gear on BBC America, since there is a NASCAR parallel. 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 want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons below.

Finally, 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.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via