Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: SPEED Showcased With Mixed Results on All-Star Weekend

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday. We’ve got a pretty busy weekend of racing to cover. The Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series were both at Charlotte Motor Speedway as part of Sprint All-Star Weekend, while the Nationwide Series was at Iowa Speedway with a combination K&N Pro Series East and West race for support which still hasn’t aired, yet.

Before we start: Firstly, I was somewhat unsatisfied with NBC Sports Network’s coverage of Indianapolis 500 Pole Day Qualifying on Saturday (May 19). In the past, they have had on-screen graphics depicting position as they run and time behind. For some reason, that didn’t come out during the entire first segment of qualifying (over three hours). I have no clue why. All I know is that it’s weak.

Also, I must congratulate our former colleague Brock Beard. His entry was chosen to introduce Regan Smith prior to Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race. I’ve seen the clip and anyone who has watched his starting grids over the past four years would not be surprised how it turned out.

Pioneer Hi-Bred 250

On Sunday afternoon before a full house in Newton, Iowa, the Nationwide Series made their first trip of the season to Iowa Speedway. This counted as the first real standalone race of the season for the series.

Since this was a standalone race, ESPN chose to skimp on some features of their telecasts and make a couple of other changes. The Pit Studio stayed home, meaning that Nicole Briscoe, Brad Daugherty and Rusty Wallace didn’t make the trip.

Also, Jamie Little and Vince Welch were already ensconced in Indianapolis for this weekend’s Indianapolis 500 (which ABC will televise for the 49th straight year). Shannon Spake and Mike Massaro were pressed into duty on pit road as a result.

Since the Pit Studio wasn’t there, Allen Bestwick hosted NASCAR Countdown from the broadcast booth. ESPN chose to keep the #pitstudio hashtag open on Twitter for comments, but there was nowhere near as much participation.

NASCAR Countdown saw two notable features on Sunday. One was about Darrell Wallace Jr., the 18-year old racer who made his Nationwide Series debut in Iowa. This feature talked about how Wallace discovered racing, the type of resistance that he dealt with (some of it racial in nature) coming up through the ranks and how happy he was to have his opportunity. I’d argue that this was standard fare for an introduction feature.

The second piece was about Michael Annett, driver of the No. 43 Pilot Flying J Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, and who just so happens to have grown up within 35 minutes of the track. The piece talked about his struggles over the past couple of years, most notably with his arrest for DWI last year.

It also talked about a recent visit to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and a specific patient that touched Annett and accompanied the team in Richmond. This piece was quite informative. Despite being sixth in points at the moment, Annett more or less exists in the Nationwide Series under the radar.

He’s an extremely private man (the DWI likely had no bearing on this). We have a driver diary with Annett this season (the next entry is currently scheduled for June 1) and he really hasn’t told us much about himself, other than listening to OAR and Howard Stern on Sirius.

ESPN’s telecast on Sunday focused on a few stories. The Travis Pastrana and Danica Patrick duo once again played a role, but not as much as in the recent past. Patrick’s early crash was the likely cause of that, though.

The top regulars (Stenhouse, Sadler, Allgaier) got the lion’s share of coverage, while Kurt Busch got his share as well. Steve Arpin and Cole Whitt got a decent amount of coverage as well. However, knowing that there were only four yellows, ESPN should have done more than one Up to Speed segment during the race.

Also, Tayler Malsam crashed with roughly 70 laps to go. ESPN caught the end of the incident live and showed Malsam walking to the ambulance, but that was it. No replays of the incident, no interview with Malsam, no nothing. Weak. C’mon now. You can interview Patrick when she blows a tire and plows into the SAFER barrier, but you can’t do the same for Jeff Green and Malsam? That’s not right.

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2012 Pioneer Hi-Bred 250 at Iowa

Since the race ended so quickly, there was a bit more post-race coverage than normal. ESPN provided 10 post-race driver interviews and an interview with winning crew chief Mike Kelley. There was a check of the points standings and the top-20 finishers were listed outside of the scroll. Finally, the broadcast booth wrapped up with some post-race commentary. Even with all this content, ESPN still left for bonus SportsCenter coverage 15 minutes early.

My thoughts on the telecast more or less mirror what I’ve been saying for weeks. We need some more inclusive coverage during the races. You can’t spend 150 minutes just talking about the top 10 or so drivers. Now, the features in pre-race weren’t bad, but most of my readers don’t necessarily watch for pre-race features. They want to see the whole race and I just don’t think ESPN’s giving us as much action as they can.

North Carolina Education Lottery 200

On Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series returned from their hibernation cave for their sixth race of the season. SPEED’s Setup was somewhat feature-heavy.

The main piece that aired was a two-pronged look at Paulie Harraka (Note: We will have a new edition of our Harraka diary in the Frontstretch Newsletter on Thursday). First, Harraka submitted his own personal diary where he talked about his time at Duke and how he has benefited from the experience.

The second part featured friends, family and bosses talking about the drive that Harraka has to succeed dating back to his time in high school commuting between Fair Lawn, N.J. and the West Coast to race and how racing while attending Duke was no big deal for him.

A second piece took a look at James Buescher‘s transformation from an also-ran to a contender in the Camping World Truck Series over the past few years. This was OK, but it was missing something. Buescher has made far more changes than just in his racecraft over that time period. He’s just a better person in general.

There was also a brief piece about how a couple of members of SPEED’s on-air crew (Waltrip and Allen), along with a few selected drivers, traveled to Myrtle Beach Speedway during the Darlington race weekend to take each other on in a skid plate race. That type of racing doesn’t really appeal to me, but it appears that everyone involved had plenty of fun. The only real gripe with pre-race coverage was that there needed to be more interviews. Only Ty Dillon was interviewed.

Also, Waltrip managed to screw up his own interview (via radio) with Brad Keselowski by apparently pulling his microphone cord out. Later, Waltrip claimed that the cord broke. It was rather weird.

Unlike ESPN’s telecast on Sunday, SPEED’s telecast was far more inclusive. I suppose Ross Chastain‘s early engine failure (that guy can’t buy a break) was responsible in the watermelon references being kept to a minimum, despite Waltrip receiving a pallet of watermelons last week. The booth came prepared to cover as much as possible and the telecast showed. It was a great race to watch.

See also
Tracking the Trucks: 2012 North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte

However, SPEED did have some graphical issues. There were some scroll problems early in the race and they screwed up Lofton’s name on the unofficial results drop down at the finish. Yes, Matt Lofton does race in the series every now and then, but not on Friday night.

Also, the upgraded SPEED Social Garage with Marianela Pereyra made an appearance on the telecast. In one interview, Pereyra interviewed Joe Ferrer from the new SPEED series Hard Parts (the show had a special sneak preview after the Sprint All-Star Race on Saturday night).

You want the one sentence review of that? It’s derivative of Wrecked: Life in the Crash Lane and it bores me. Andy Lally is on record on Twitter as wishing SPEED would ditch it in favor of one of his favorite pastimes, Street Luge. Regardless, there is no benefit in having the Social Garage on a race broadcast. It’s kinda borderline for Trackside. At least it only showed up under yellow.

Post-race coverage was more or less typical in length. SPEED provided five driver interviews, plus interviews with the winning crew chief (Dan Bormann) and truck owner (Eddie Sharp). There were also checks of the unofficial results and points standings before SPEED left the air.

This was a great race telecast to watch. I would suggest that representatives from FOX and ESPN watch Friday’s Truck race to see how racing for position should be covered.

Sprint Showdown

For SPEED, Saturday night is probably their biggest night of the year. Big ratings (OK, big for what amounts to a niche cable network) and lots of eyeballs.

Of course, SPEED’s Sprint All-Star Race telecast is a FOX telecast in everything but the SPEED station identifiers on the microphones. Despite this, there were a couple of changes to the on-air lineup. Chris Myers did not make the trip to Charlotte.

Instead, Krista Voda took the night off from pit reporting duties to host the telecast from the “Hotel.” Michael Waltrip and Jeff Hammond were alongside. Voda is good as a host. Pre-race coverage was relatively short. There was a montage about why the All-Star Race is “big” and Carl Edwards showed up to chat for a little while.

The race coverage itself was centered upon only a couple of drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray, AJ Allmendinger and a couple of others. Also, the commercial break in segment one took up more than a quarter of the segment.

Post-race coverage included interviews with the top-two finishers (Earnhardt and Allmendinger) and the Sprint Fan Vote winner (Bobby Labonte). There was also a check of the unofficial results. In between the races, there was a check-in at the SPEED Social Garage (literally nothing more than an on-air commercial for Sprint Cup Series Mobile for Android, a recap of the Showdown and a brief interview with Kasey Kahne prior to intros.

Sprint All-Star Race

The fan intros varied quite a bit. Some were boring as heck, others were quirky (the dude in the shower introducing Paul Menard, in particular). However, they did do one thing. Take forever. You’d be hard pressed to find a slower way to introduce a starting lineup.

Following the 25-minute intros, there were brief interviews with Jimmie Johnson and the aforementioned Ferrer that didn’t need to be there. There was also an excerpt from an upcoming interview with Rick Hendrick that will air this week on NASCAR RaceHub.

The actual race telecast itself was OK. I don’t think that the broadcast booth really liked the idea of the segment winners lagging back, but they just accepted it. FOX/SPEED actually did a better job than normal of showing us as many battles as possible, which is always great to see.

Edwards joined up with Voda, Michael Waltrip and Hammond in the Hotel after he blew his engine and tried to give some analysis. It’s still a work in progress for Carl. Still needs to study his commentary in order to improve.

Post-race coverage was rather thin. SPEED provided only three interviews (Johnson, Earnhardt and Keselowski) while the unofficial results were only shown in the scroll before leaving for the Hard Parts: South Bronx preview that I fell asleep in the middle of. Even worse, they had a counter on screen during Johnson’s interview showing how much time was left until the sneak preview. I agree with Lally. Give me Street Luge instead of another reality show.

Despite some of the more annoying facets of the telecast (Social Garage, Hard Parts pimping, etc.), SPEED gave viewers an above-average telecast compared to what we’ve gotten this year. However, judging by general reception thus far in 2012, FOX/SPEED still has a ways to go to appease everyone.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is the sweetest race weekend of the entire year. There is a good sporting chance that a number of you will quarantine yourselves in your house on Sunday. We’ve got Sprint Cup in Charlotte, the Indianapolis 500 and Monaco on tap. Also, classic Indianapolis 500 telecasts will air all week on ESPN Classic if you’re lucky enough to still get that channel.


Thursday, May 24

Time Telecast Network
4:00-5:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Monaco Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDtv.com^
8:00-9:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Monaco Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
2:00-3:30 p.m. Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
3:30-5:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
5:00-6:30 p.m. Nationwide Series Happy Hour SPEED
7:00-8:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED

Friday, May 25

Time Telecast Network
11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Carb Day@ NBC Sports Network
8:00-10:00 p.m. World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series: Charlotte SPEED*

Saturday, May 26

Time Telecast Network
5:00-6:00 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Monaco Free Practice No. 3 SPEEDtv.com^
8:00-9:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Monaco Qualifying SPEED
10:00-11:00 a.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 3 SPEED
11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
1:00-2:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
2:00-4:00 p.m. Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge B+ Heroes 200 SPEED*
2:30-3:00 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ABC
3:00-5:30 p.m. Nationwide Series History 300 ABC
5:00-6:30 p.m. Indianapolis 500 Parade NBC Sports Network
5:30-6:30 p.m. Trackside SPEED
7:00-8:00 p.m. Global RallyCross Championship: Charlotte ESPN3.com$
8:00-9:00 p.m. Global RallyCross Championship: Charlotte ESPN2*

Sunday, May 27

Time Telecast Network
7:30-10:00 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Monaco SPEED
10:00-11:00 a.m. SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
10:00-11:00 a.m. NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Indianapolis 500 Pre-Race ABC
12:00-3:30 p.m. Izod IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 ABC, ESPN3.com$
12:30-2:30 p.m. V8 Supercar Championship Series Philip Island 300 SPEED*
3:30-5:30 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
5:30-6:00 p.m. FOX Pre-Race Delivered by Pizza Hut FOX
6:00-10:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 FOX
~11:00 p.m.-12:00 a.m. NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
11:00 p.m.-1:00 a.m. World Challenge: Laguna Seca and Utah NBC Sports Network*

~- Approximate start time
*- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted coverage
^- Available via free online streaming
$- Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your local internet and/or programming provider for availability.
@- Includes final practice for the Indianapolis 500 and the Freedom 100 for Firestone Indy Lights
!- Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR RaceHub is a special show dedicated to announcing the newest five inductees to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Also, a couple of more notes. The Indianapolis 500 telecast will be a throwback to some of ESPN’s mid-1990s races. The regular telecast with Marty Reid, Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever will be on ABC. On ESPN3.com, onboard views will be available for public consumption. Also, since the Nationwide race on Saturday will be on ABC, RaceBuddy will not be available. Sorry.

I will bring you critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Izod IndyCar series races next week right here in Couch Potato Tuesday. Also, as you can see above, I’ll have plenty of content to choose from for next week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex.

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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