Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX’s Coca-Cola 600 Commercials Bite Them Again

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race critique is the name of the game. For those of us who just cannot get enough racing on television (like myself), this past weekend was likely pretty sweet for you. The action was fast and furious in Indianapolis while NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and Nationwide series were in Charlotte.

Before we start, a couple of big announcements pertaining to TV were made last weekend. First, Dick Berggren announced that he is leaving NASCAR on FOX after next weekend’s race in Dover, ending a 31-year career on telecasts. He claims that he’s not retiring, but that he’s stepping back and relaxing a little more for now. Good luck to Dick in his relaxation.

However, that will create a hole in FOX’s pit reporter corps. Who could possibly replace Berggren in the pits? I haven’t heard anything, but my best guess is that they’ll promote someone that’s already on SPEED to do the job. That would mean that people like Bob Dillner, Ray Dunlap (who has some experience pit reporting on Cup telecasts in a sub role back in the late 1990s) and Wendy Venturini could be in line.

Secondly, Bob Jenkins announced on Friday that he is leaving television at the end of this season. Jenkins currently serves as the play-by-play man on NBC Sports Network’s coverage of the IZOD IndyCar Series. The change will end another career that has spanned over three decades on cable and network television in NASCAR, open-wheel racing and sports cars. It will also leave a pretty big hole in NBC Sports Network’s coverage for 2013.

I have no idea who could possibly be in line to replace Jenkins other than Mike King, who works for IMS Radio and provides play-by-play for NBC Sports Network’s coverage of Firestone Indy Lights.

Indianapolis 500

On Sunday (May 27), ESPN on ABC provided coverage of the Izod IndyCar Series’ crown jewel for the 48th consecutive year. For this telecast, they went all out. Eighty cameras were set up for the broadcast, including ones on 12 different cars.

Four of those (Ryan Briscoe, Helio Castroneves, James Hinchcliffe and Dario Franchitti‘s) had dual-path technology on their cars. That allows for ABC/ESPN to make use of two different cameras from one car at the same time. You might remember that ABC/ESPN debuted this technology in last year’s Brickyard 400.

Brent Musberger was brought out of mothballs to host ABC/ESPN’s coverage on Sunday, and I have no clue why. He brings bupkis to a race telecast. It is like he’s there just because he’s 73 and a TV veteran. Problem is, Musberger is a veteran of college football and the NBA, so he’s clueless at IMS. It would benefit ABC/ESPN not to bring him back next year.

ABC/ESPN’s one-hour pre-race show mainly consisted of feature stories. Since most of ABC/ESPN’s IZOD IndyCar Series viewership is at Indianapolis, this event is where they put most of their long-form pieces, running them at a time where viewers could be introduced to drivers. Not a terrible thing long term, but it could be spread out a little more.

The primary feature (which aired first) was a piece about the late Dan Wheldon, who was the defending champion of the race. ESPN used file footage from several past interviews with Wheldon, along with some family videos to compile an image of Wheldon in the last couple years of his life.

I’ll admit that at this point, it is nothing that I hadn’t already seen over the past seven months. Of course, having said that, Wheldon kinda came off like he had a mild case of OCD. However, there was some new interview footage with several drivers and Dan’s widow Susie and sister Holly as well.

It was generally pretty well put together. SB Nation’s Jeff Gluck claimed that he was near tears watching it in the media center at the track. As for the infamous crash itself, ESPN presented some still frames of the incident, plus aftermath footage on video. Marty Reid’s call of the crash was interspersed in as well.

Another feature was focused on the long-term friendship between Tony Kanaan and Rubens Barrichello. It was a nice piece where they talked about racing against each other and how close they became, especially after Kanaan’s father died. However, if you checked out IndyCar 36: Tony Kanaan a few weeks ago like I did (and critiqued for a past edition of the Critic’s Annex), it seemed like a repeat.

A third piece saw JR Hildebrand reflecting back on losing the Indianapolis 500 last year when he hit the wall trying to lap Charlie Kimball and how much it hurts. A fourth piece centered upon Helio Castroneves‘s desire to join the club of four-time Indianapolis 500 winners (currently inhabited by AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears).

Also, since Castroneves is a past champion of Dancing With the Stars, they showed him ballroom dancing with an unnamed partner. Both of these pieces were expected airs, but strong additions.

Finally, ESPN showed a piece where a number of different drivers talked about the history of Indianapolis. This piece was actually shown on SportsCenter in the days leading up to the race, but it was still put together real well.

I rarely (if ever) comment on the time around national anthems here in this critique, but ESPN chose to air a piece about the new “Radiator Springs” section of Disney’s California Adventure. Problem is, they almost missed the national anthem to do it. They got lucky on that one. Had they missed a syllable, hell would have been rained down upon the network.

This was ESPN’s second Izod IndyCar Series race of the season and I think that fans have been spoiled from the two American-based races that aired on the NBC Sports Network. Heck, they proved that even the much-maligned Brian Barnhart can help a telecast. However, ESPN’s broadcast from St. Petersburg was … ugly. Indianapolis was better, but not ideal.

At Indianapolis, we didn’t miss any retirements. However, we didn’t see a whole lot of the field unless they were towards the front. In other words, ESPN broadcasted the race like it was a Sprint Cup or Nationwide event.

Another gripe that I had surrounded the Mike ConwayWill Power crash on lap 81. Both drivers walked away from the savage incident. I would have liked to get some comments on what happened, especially since Power entered the race as the points leader. We didn’t get anything, and there’s no reason why we didn’t get anything. ESPN, you gotta do better than that.

For Indianapolis, ESPN brings in Eddie Cheever to join in with Reid and Scott Goodyear. In the past, he has brought absolutely nothing to race broadcasts. To use some baseball terminology, his WARP was terrible and he would have been batting below the Mendoza Line. On Sunday, Cheever was a little better, but still not really good enough to warrant his presence.

Post-race coverage was typical length for an Izod IndyCar Series race on ABC/ESPN. There were five post-race driver interviews (Franchitti, Kanaan, Dixon, Briscoe and Sato), plus an interview with the winning car owner.

Of course, this being ABC/ESPN, they couldn’t resist sticking a microphone in the face of Ashley Judd (Franchitti’s wife). There was no mention of the point standings before ABC/ESPN left the air. Had to check the IndyCar website to see where everyone is in points (despite the DNF, Power still has a 36-point lead).

Compared to St. Petersburg, anything is better for ABC/ESPN and they definitely improved. The pre-race features were pretty good, although that paid piece from parent Disney was ill-placed at best.

See also
A Last-Lap Thriller for the Ages: 2012 Indy 500 Race Recap

The additional, paid segment from GoDaddy where Hinchcliffe answered ridiculous questions and completed a training montage (which featured him chasing a chicken) was silly, but I guess Hinchcliffe’s like that. GoDaddy’s insistence on scantily-clad stuff is a little out of control, though (I don’t think we’re going to see a commercial with Hinchcliffe in Lycra briefs anytime soon).

The race itself was excellent, although I was holding my breath when Conway had his wreck. Out of the three booth commentators, Goodyear is the best of them. Cheever only does a couple races a year and Reid just seems like Reid (not comfortable).

History 300

On Saturday, the Nationwide Series returned to Charlotte Motor Speedway for one of the series’ long-term gems. This race actually predates the Nationwide Series. Prior to 1982, it was basically an open event for anyone in the late model sportsman category.

Since the race was aired on ABC, there was no RaceBuddy to be had. ‘Tis a shame, but that’s life. ABC has power over those types of decisions and they don’t want streaming to cut into their ratings.

Since NASCAR Countdown was only scheduled for 15 minutes, ABC/ESPN chose to not have the Pit Studio on the premises and just have Bestwick host from the booth again. This adjustment meant an old-school pre-race show that consisted of driver interviews (five, to be exact). I liked it. Simple and to the point.

Even though Travis Pastrana was in the race on Saturday, he didn’t receive all that much coverage. He simply had an awful event with two spinouts and a terrible-handling car. Other than his incidents, Pastrana only played a small role in the broadcast. For what he did Saturday, that was proper.

We saw a decent amount of racing for position during the afternoon, but it is still not as inclusive as it should be. They’re getting there, but it’s going to be a work in progress for the entire season. We just have to keep on them. Rusty Wallace was in the booth in place of Dale Jarrett and I’m still not really a fan of him in there. He can be helpful at times and definitely knows what he’s talking about, but he rubs people the wrong way.

Post-race coverage was limited, given the time circumstances. There were four post-race driver interviews and a chat with the winning crew chief (Jeremy Bullins). There was no check of the points before ESPN left the air, but there was acknowledgment that Elliott Sadler gained significantly on Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

I generally thought that the telecast was OK, but nothing special. I give kudos to Andy Petree for calling out Stenhouse on his questionable moves on Justin Allgaier late in the race. We’ll have to watch in the future to see if that affects something later in the season.

See also
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s Hard Racing Strikes a Nerve at Charlotte

Coca-Cola 600

Sunday evening brought the Sprint Cup Series out for 600 miles of action at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Since Monday was Memorial Day, most of FOX’s pre-race was based around that fact. For example, the bottom scroll that usually shows various tweets about the upcoming race was replaced by a listing of members of the military who have died in the past year.

There was also a feature on Bud Moore, 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee and World War II veteran. Moore talked about storming Omaha Beach in Vichy France on D-Day in 1944, which he claimed was one of the scariest days of his life. He also talked about serving under General George Patton. Admittedly, I don’t recall hearing much about Moore since his induction, but it is good to hear from him.

During the race, we had a lot of the problems that FOX had in Darlington. Just as I’d figured, they would have no problems at all covering pit stops during the Sprint All-Star Race. However, as I wrote two weeks ago, FOX’s production crew has this tendency to “go over the helmets” of the on-air staff when stuff comes up.

This week, FOX missed large chunks of three different pit stop sequences due to commercial breaks. Cripes, man. I guess it just wasn’t their night. Drives me absolutely nuts. N-V-T-S nuts (bonus points if you know the movie where that statement comes from).

Speaking of commercial breaks, there were 62 minutes’ worth of commercials under the green flag during Sunday night’s race. That was spread out through 22 commercial breaks. I cannot think of a race since I’ve been calculating green-flag commercials that has had that many. Granted, the fact that this was a 600-mile race without a bunch of yellows definitely played into it, but it just seemed to be way too much.

Early on in the race, Darrell Waltrip was talking about how he could see a whole bunch of three and four-wide racing out there. What were we looking at? A roof-cam shot in which we couldn’t see any such thing (the action Darrell was referring to was behind it).

I know a lot of you don’t like Darrell (had a conversation with former colleague Brody Jones about that Monday afternoon), but if he’s pointing that out on air, you gotta show that. Don’t make your commentators look like fools, even if they do that to themselves on a regular basis.

Dave Blaney was forced to the garage due to engine problems after roughly 40 laps on Sunday evening. We never got any kind of an explanation from the broadcast for it. Zilch. Found out about the issue on Twitter. It wasn’t like Blaney was parkin’ it. He had a sponsor in SealWrap. (For the record, the No. 36 car blew a motor).

Even though the race was run at record pace (nearly 156 mph for 600 miles), there was not all that much post-race coverage. This shortening was due to the fact that FOX’s telecast was only scheduled through 10:30 p.m. ET despite only a couple of 600-mile races ever being completed in less than four hours. FOX provided viewers with four post-race interviews, plus checks of the unofficial results and points standings before they left the air for the night.

In all honesty, I just didn’t enjoy this telecast. It exhibited many of the facets of broadcasts that have angered me this season. The only thing that I was happy about Sunday is that not all the focus in the race was centered upon the very front of the field.

However, they need to do something about the commercial placement. I refuse to believe that the production staff is that dense over their terrible placement. It’s probably a Los Angeles problem (where FOX is based) and the people at the track are just bound to the network’s directives.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, we’re back to a normal setup. All three of NASCAR’s series will be back in action at Dover International Speedway. Meanwhile, the Izod IndyCar Series will return to Belle Isle Park for the first time since 2008. This time, the Rolex Sports Car Series will serve as the primary support as opposed to the American Le Mans Series, which is currently in their pre-Le Mans break.

TV Listings

Friday, June 1
Time Telecast Network
10:00 – 11:00 a.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
12:30 – 2:30 p.m. Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
2:30 – 4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
4:30 – 5:00 p.m. NCWTS Setup SPEED
5:00 – 7:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 200 SPEED
8:00 – 8:30 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED

Saturday, June 2
Time Telecast Network

10:30 – 11:30 a.m. Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
12:00 – 1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
1:00 – 2:00 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN
2:00 – 4:30 p.m. Nationwide Series 5-Hour Energy 200 ESPN
5:00 – 7:30 p.m. Rolex Sports Car Series Chevrolet Grand-Am Detroit 200 at Belle Isle SPEED
7:30 – 8:00 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED

Sunday, June 3
Time Telecast Network

9:00 – 10:00 a.m. NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
10:00 – 10:30 a.m. SPEED Center, Pre-Race 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 – 4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks FOX
3:30 – 6:00 p.m. Izod IndyCar Series Chevrolet Belle Isle Grand Prix ABC
~4:30 – 5:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
7:00 – 8:00 p.m. SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
8:00 – 9:00 p.m. Wind Tunnel SPEED

~- Approximate start time

NOTES: Since ABC is televising Sunday’s Izod IndyCar Series race from Belle Isle, qualifying will not be televised at all. Sorry. Also, the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge (CTSCC) will be back in action on June 7 at Mid-Ohio.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series events from Dover for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.

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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