Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Commercials Hurt a Decent FOX Broadcast

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where breaking down broadcasts is the name of the game. Last weekend was Talladega, oh, that large bowl of restrictor-plate goodness (or badness, depending on who you ask). The Sprint Cup Series was joined by the ARCA Racing Series and the Nationwide Series.

International Motorsports Hall of Fame 250

Friday evening (May 4) brought the ARCA Racing Series back to SPEED for their second telecast of the year from Talladega Superspeedway. Between Daytona and Talladega, there have been two races run (Mobile, Ala. and Salem, Ind.). These races were effectively glossed over.

After the command, but before the green flag, SPEED showed a short piece about how what is now known as ARCA was formed by John Marcum with Bill France’s blessing in 1953. The piece referenced some of the series’ earliest stars and how the series has transitioned from racing on dusty short tracks to superspeedways. Apparently, this was the first of a number of shorts that SPEED will air to celebrate ARCA’s 60th season.

SPEED took an ill-timed commercial break during the pace laps and just managed to come back in time for the green flag. I don’t know who thought that was a good idea, but don’t do that again.

Quite frankly, there were two notable facts in this broadcast. One was the introduction of Justin Allgaier into the booth as a guest analyst. He did a great job. During the race on Twitter, there were a number of people, like Reid Spencer, who commented on Allgaier’s skills.

Allgaier articulates very well, and as a result, he could be an analyst if he wants to be. However, he is only 25 years old. Don’t expect him to do anything more than the random support race here or there anytime soon.

The other notable fact was the relative boredom from the broadcast booth. The current rules package in ARCA is designed to basically force people to ride along single-file. Not a whole lot happened outside the big wreck on lap 11. Matt Lofton spent more of half of the race driving around at the front, unchallenged.

It should be noted that the aforementioned complaint doesn’t apply to Allgaier. It is mainly pointed towards Rick Allen, which is very unusual. If you’ve read my past critiques, then you’ve probably seen me write about how Allen always brings his “A” game to the booth. Friday’s performance was just not his usual self. It’s a shame.

Post-race coverage was typical for an ARCA race on SPEED. There were interviews with winner Brandon McReynolds (and his father, Larry), along with Lofton and Chad Hackenbracht. There was also a check of the unofficial results before SPEED left the air.

Heck, just watching the victory lane celebration was hilarious. I can’t remember seeing a driver get an entire Gatorade Refueling Station dumped on his head in victory lane before.

The ARCA race on Friday was not necessarily the most interesting race to watch, I’ll admit. Likely the biggest takeaway from the telecast, besides the fact that Allgaier is a potential commentator in the future, is that Brandon’s victory was very popular with the commentators.

McReynolds’s car was fielded by Turner Motorsports, Allgaier’s race team, and personalities like Darrell Waltrip were visible in victory lane. Heck, McReynolds’s victory even made FOX’s pre-race show on Sunday. ARCA clips almost never make a Sprint Cup pre-race show.

Aaron’s 312

Saturday afternoon brought the Nationwide Series back to Talladega for their 21st visit. Since the race was on ABC, there was no RaceBuddy available to viewers, unfortunately. Would have been a good thing to have, provided they keep away from the bumper cams that would show nothing but the scratches in the grille decals.

NASCAR Countdown was scheduled for 15 minutes, but ultimately ran the normal 30 due to a freak shower that showed up after Sprint Cup qualifying. As a result, there were six pre-race interviews when there probably would have only been one or two had everything gone to plan. Not a bad way to go about bonus coverage.

Also, a new feature debuted on Saturday. A pit-road preview graphic was shown in order to display where all 43 drivers would be pitting. Individual sections could also be zoomed in on in order to isolate particular drivers. Ultimately, I guess this could have been co-opted from TNT’s Summer Series, but I think this actually works better than TNT’s system.

ESPN chose to make use of some version of Dead Or Alive’s You Spin Me Around (Like A Record) in and out of commercial breaks on Saturday. A somewhat questionable choice since the choice could be perceived as glorifying spinning. As for the clothing worn in the linked music video, well, that was 1985. Clothing choices in videos back then were often questionable.

When the big wreck on the first green-white-checkered occurred, ESPN chose not to show any replays for roughly 15 minutes. They wanted to wait until they got any kind of an idea of Eric McClure‘s condition before they did. Why? The answer is pretty obvious. They don’t want to take the chance of potentially glorifying a crash in which someone was seriously injured or even killed.

If you remember, FOX did show a replay of the crash that ultimately claimed Dale Earnhardt‘s life back in 2001. You could all but hear Darrell Waltrip cringe on-air when they did. It led to a rather unusual circumstance in which Kevin Harvick asked Mike Massaro to see a replay of the crash and (basically) got denied. This actually goes hand in hand with what we saw on Friday in the ARCA race when Mike Affarano had his barrel roll.

I cannot recall an incident in a NASCAR race where injuries were involved in which information was so slow in coming. We didn’t find out what McClure’s injuries were (a concussion and internal bruising) until Monday afternoon when he was released from the hospital. In these instances, the family can determine how much, if any, information can be released to the general public.

Due to HIPAA, any dissemination of medical information without permission is blatantly illegal and can get people fired or thrown in jail. Also of note, I think this is McClure’s second concussion in less than a year (he got one in the Subway Jalapeno 250 last year at Daytona)

Due to the race starting late due to rain and the red flag, post-race coverage was relatively brief. The only post-race interviews were with winner Joey Logano and his crew chief Adam Stevens. There was also a replay of the coming together between Sam Hornish Jr. and Danica Patrick that wasn’t shown for a couple of minutes after the checkers. Finally, there were checks of the unofficial results and points standings before ABC left the air.

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2012 Aaron's 312 at Talladega

The telecast provided on Saturday was generally decent. I’d expect to see the Pit Stop Preview segment become a regular part of ESPN’s Sprint Cup telecasts when that series returns to the channel in July. The McClure treatment was completely fair. Bestwick and the rest of the crew worked well with what they were given.

Aaron’s 499

On Sunday afternoon, the Sprint Cup Series returned back to action at Talladega Superspeedway. Since it was Talladega (I can’t think of any better reason, to be honest), FOX decided to schedule a one hour pre-race show. Due to the early-morning rains in Alabama, pre-race lasted a little bit longer than expected.

During pre-race, there were two major aspects of racing at Talladega that were focused upon. One was the legendary finishes that have occurred over the years. I suppose that’s fine, especially since the last four races (and an amazing 20 overall) have been decided by last-lap passes. Here, a number of the past great finishes were shown via montage.

The second aspect focused on were simply the wrecks. Darrell Waltrip introduced a look at the various big ones that have occurred at Talladega over the years. Obviously, there’s no shortage of them. The clips were accompanied by soundbites by Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Burton. The piece didn’t really feel necessary, but at the same time, it didn’t glorify the wrecks.

Michael Waltrip did a one-on-one interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Even this feature had a Talladega bend to the discussion, which is relatively rare for a pre-race, pre-recorded piece. Michael asked Earnhardt specifically about the 2000 Winston 500 and his father’s epic charge from 18th.

This actually screwed up Earnhardt Jr.’s day because he was technically forced to drop Mike Skinner when his dad came through the field with the Andy Petree Express in tow (Kenny Wallace and Joe Nemechek). Aside from discussion of that race, Earnhardt Jr. appeared to be very confident about his chances of winning relatively soon.

Of course, a FOX telecast from Talladega wouldn’t be complete without a piece on the infield shenanigans. Let’s just say that on the surface, this was not necessary. What was insane was the idea of bringing back Chris Pizzi for the weekend. Jeff Hammond even mentioned this himself when he said, “I thought we got rid of you?”

Yes, they did, Jeff. Unfortunately, someone thought it would be a good idea to bring him back. The piece featured Pizzi in a way-too-short-for-his-fatness Digger t-shirt and Hammond arguing whether the racing or the infield is better at Talladega and ended with Pizzi belly flopping into some dude’s mini pool.

FOX, please don’t bring Pizzi back. I guess the online show he came from (Cubed) no longer exists. I don’t know if he’s doing much more than bupkus right now. Just figure something out for him. Maybe another online show at FoxSports.com. Just keep him the heck off the race broadcasts. He irritates me.

Since the start of the race was delayed by roughly a half hour, FOX’s pre-race took on the feel of SportsCenter episodes on ESPN back in the early 1980s. Back then, ESPN would ask their anchors to randomly fill time before the next actual program would start (remember, highlights were very rare and analysts in studio even more rare). That’s fine and all, but it created some problems later on in the telecast.

Namely, the fact that we had 45 minutes of commercials under green Sunday once the race started. With all of the extra time that FOX had, they somehow didn’t work in any extra commercials during the delay time. As a result, the breaks were even more clustered together than normal. Drives you nuts, knowing that we can’t really do anything about it.

In addition, there was a double commercial break at lap 125. A standard three-minute break was followed by a quick look at the action for maybe 30 seconds, followed by another three-minute break. Just brutal.

The race ended roughly 40 minutes after the scheduled conclusion of the telecast. Despite that fact, FOX still gave viewers a typical amount of post-race coverage. There were six post-race interviews and checks of the unofficial results and points before FOX left the air.

Commercials aside, FOX put together a decent broadcast on Sunday. I suppose that with pack racing back, it is a little easier to cover restrictor-plate races than it was with the pairs skate setup. However, I did find all the Talladega Nights stuff just a little annoying. Yes, Kurt Busch was driving a scheme inspired by the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, but just because he was doesn’t mean that Kurt is now Ricky Bobby.

This is regardless of the amount of references to the movie that were disseminated over the radio, including a Cal Naughton Jr. reference (that didn’t make FOX’s telecast), the entire grace speech and other segments of the film.

This whole weekend, plus the time he referenced someone’s qualifying lap using the term “Ludicrous Speed” from Spaceballs, makes me think that Kurt Busch is quite the movie geek in his spare time. Of course, that’s a whole ‘nother article, so I’ll leave it at that.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is Mother’s Day weekend, that weekend that used to be spent doing nothing (if you drove in Sprint Cup). Nowadays, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series will be in Darlington, S.C. for their annual visit to the narrow 1.366-mile superspeedway. Meanwhile, the Rolex Sports Car Series will be at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, N.J.

Friday, May 11

Time Telecast Network
4:00-5:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Spain Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDtv.com^
8:00-9:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Spain Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
2:00-3:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
3:30-4:30 p.m. Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
5:00-6:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
6:30-7:15 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
7:15-9:30 p.m. Nationwide Series VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 ESPN2
~7:40-9:00 p.m. American Le Mans Series Qualifying ESPN3.com$

Saturday, May 12

Time Telecast Network
5:00-6:00 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Spain Free Practice No. 3 SPEEDtv.com^
8:00-9:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Spain Qualifying SPEED
12:00-1:00 p.m. NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
12:00-2:00 p.m. Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Kia 200 SPEED*
2:00-4:00 p.m. V8 Supercar Championship Series Trading Post V8 Challenge SPEED*/
4:00-4:30 p.m. SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
4:15-10:45 p.m. American Le Mans Series Monterey Presented by Patron ESPN3.com$
4:30-6:30 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED

6:30-7:00 p.m. FOX Pre-Race Delivered by Pizza Hut FOX
7:00-11:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Bojangles Southern 500 FOX
~11:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m. NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED

Sunday, May 13

Time Telecast Network
7:30-10:00 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Spain SPEED
1:00-4:00 p.m. Rolex Sports Car Series Global Barter 250 Presented by Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Central and South Jersey SPEED
5:00-7:00 p.m. American Le Mans Series Monterey Presented by Patron ESPN2*/
7:00-8:00 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED
8:00-9:00 p.m. Wind Tunnel SPEED

~- Tape Delayed
^- Available via free online streaming
$- Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your local internet and/or cable provider for availability.
/- Highlighted coverage

I will provide critiques of both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series races in Darlington this weekend, along with the Rolex Series event in southern New Jersey. For the Annex this week, I’ll be covering Truth in 24 II: Every Second Counts, the sequel to Truth in 24 that premiered last weekend on SPEED while the Nationwide race was on ABC.

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.

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