Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: TNT Focuses Too Much on Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where TV criticism (and praise) is the object of the day. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series raced at the newly-repaved Michigan International Speedway. Meanwhile, the IZOD IndyCar Series raced at The Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis.

Before we begin, there’s some news to mention. Sports Business Daily reported on Monday that “FOX Sports is most definitely interested in continuing to cover the Sprint Cup Series. beyond the end of their current deal. In fact, they’ve already started serious negotiations with NASCAR a full year early on an extension.

Such a move would allow FOX to avoid a likely bidding war with NBC that would drive up costs. For reference purposes, FOX’s current deal to cover the Sprint Cup Series is through the 2014 season.

This news is quite interesting. Two months ago, the Sports Business Journal reported that FOX Sports is seriously considering a complete and total relaunch of SPEED as a channel currently codenamed FOX Sports 1. FS1 would be a direct competitor to ESPN, something that FOX Sports has wanted to have for the better part of 15 years, but never made a full effort.

They did try to come up with a competitor to ESPN’s SportsCenter called the National Sports Report for their regional affiliates, but it did not catch on.

FOX would then relaunch Fuel as a motorsports channel to replace SPEED. However, Fuel is currently in 45 million fewer homes than SPEED, often costs more to viewers that can get it to access the channel and currently has some of the lowest ratings of all of cable television.

NASCAR would be a tight spot if this were to actually happen, let alone the other series whose events are currently on SPEED. In NASCAR’s case, they have enough in the way of production facilities in the Charlotte area that they could wash their hands of News Corp., say that they were “going for a scuttle” like Dr. Zoidberg and go it alone, but I doubt they would walk away from a longtime media partner like that.

Another potential option that could come out of this is the long-rumored NASCAR Network, something that has been talked about off and on pretty much since Speedvision became the SPEED Channel in 2002. FOX and NASCAR could be co-owners of the channel and hopefully bypass the carriage issues that other sports networks (most notably, the NFL Network) have had over the past few weeks. Regardless, it’s definitely worth watching.

Milwaukee IndyFest presented by XYQ

Early Saturday afternoon (June 16), the IZOD IndyCar Series was scheduled to race at The Milwaukee Mile. However, the atmosphere decided to wag its finger directly at the series, much like Dikembe Mutombo used to do after blocking shots. (Note: Clip contains profanity, discretion is advised).

Rains delayed the start of the race to 3 p.m. As a result, ESPN had two hours to fill prior to the start of the race.

The issues with the telecast began before Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear even made their first appearance on-screen. Someone in the production truck decided to attempt to forgo the planned introduction to the broadcast and showed ESPN’s intro to the IZOD IndyCar Series instead. The audio for both the feature and the intro were played at the same time. The result was a darn mess that made ESPN look like a bunch of amateurs. You’re better than that.

Following that mess, ESPN recapped the previous weekend’s action at Texas Motor Speedway and qualifying for the race without too much in the way of issues. There was also a piece about the controversial block late in the Firestone 550k administered to Tony Kanaan by Will Power. ESPN sat down with both drivers and got their thoughts on the situation.

Then, ESPN started interviewing people in order to pass the time. Ultimately, 21 of the 25 starters, plus Race Director Beaux Barfield were interviewed prior to the green flag.

Since the Nationwide race was supposed to air on ABC starting at 3:45, the race was moved to ESPNEWS starting at 4 p.m. This occurred just before the halfway point of the race during a caution. As it stands, this may have been the least commercial-choked IZOD IndyCar Series race in years. There were only three commercial breaks in the entire race and one of those was used to change networks. Only one side-by-side break occurred during green-flag racing.

There was also a significant amount of discussion about the controversial black flag that Scott Dixon received for jumping a restart. Replays were shown numerous times that made the call sound ridiculous. Reid and Goodyear looked over the footage and were just about as confused over the situation as Dixon was. Hours after the race, Barfield admitted that he screwed up (for lack of better words).

See also
IndyCar Race Recap: 2012 Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by XYQ

Post-race coverage was quite decent for an event that was more than a hour over its slot. There were six driver interviews and an interview with winning car owner/promoter Michael Andretti. There were also checks of the unofficial results and points standings before ESPN left the air.

Overall, this wasn’t all that bad of a race telecast. The opening was very rough, but it appears that the network has accepted Brian Barnhart’s assistance on the telecast, finally. That means that there was a decent amount of coverage given to racing for position. It’s a good thing. I hope to see more of that. Of course, having said that, ESPN is only due to televise one more race this season, and that will be in Toronto next month.

Alliance Truck Parts 250

On Saturday, the Nationwide Series returned to Michigan International Speedway for their 21st appearance. The race served as the second half of ESPN’s racing doubleheader on ABC. However, due to the rain in Milwaukee, NASCAR Countdown was pushed over to ESPNEWS. In the past, this would have aired on ESPN Classic, but distribution of that channel has fallen significantly in recent years.

Since the on-air crew was once again split up between Milwaukee and Michigan, Allen Bestwick hosted NASCAR Countdown from the broadcast booth. The show, scheduled for only 15 minutes, was short and sweet. There was discussion about the repave, high speeds and the tire issues (which up to that point, had not effected the Nationwide teams). In addition, there were also four pre-race interviews (Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott Sadler).

At 4 p.m. ET, the Nationwide race switched over to ABC during the pace laps for 250 miles of action. Generally, the action that ESPN brought viewers was OK. Bestwick, Petree and Wallace did a satisfactory job in showing us the action on the track. However, it was a little too biased towards the front of the field.

Noticed something interesting prior to the final round of stops under green. ESPN was apparently going to go to a commercial break on lap 82. However, at that time, Sadler was bearing down on Paul Menard to take the lead.

Rather than take the chance that the pass would happen during the break, ESPN chose to stay with the action for a couple of laps to make sure that the audience got to see it live. Then, they cut out of the commercial break early when the final round of stops began on lap 86. Interesting tactic that’s worth noting for the future.

Since ESPN was right up against the end of their time slot on ABC, post-race coverage was relatively brief. There were only three post-race driver interviews (Logano, Cole Whitt and James Buescher), along with a conversation with winning crew chief Adam Stevens. The unofficial results were only shown in the scroll through Stevens’s interview and there was no check of the points standings at all before ESPN left Michigan.

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2012 Alliance Truck Parts 250 at Michigan

The Nationwide coverage overall was fairly similar to what we’ve gotten for much of the season. Too much focus towards the very front of the field. However, this was mitigated by the fact that the draft helped keep the cars closer together than normal. Regardless, it still needs to be worked on.

Quicken Loans 400

Finally, we come to the Sprint Cup race from Michigan. Unfortunately, the rains came in and delayed everything. Weak sauce. Of course, that means that the network had to go into their time stretching activities.

Countdown to Green started off with a look back at all of the pit road speeding penalties that were assessed in Pocono. Also, to further the explanation, Petty and Dallenbach actually went out on pit road at Michigan (in a taped piece that was likely done Saturday morning) in a couple of Ford Mustangs with transponders to actually show fans what the drivers have to deal with.

In addition, McReynolds used his TORC car to show where the transponders that measure each car’s speed was located. Generally, this was a very good piece that needed to be done after last week.

The NASCAR Generations piece on Sunday revolved around driver’s sons getting involved in racing. Ned Jarrett gave a great description of Dale’s first time in a race car at Hickory Motor Speedway, while a fairly lengthy piece was played where Elliott talked about his son Chase’s burgeoning career in the K&N Pro Series. McReynolds also talked about his son Brandon’s recent successes, including the ARCA win at Talladega in April.

However, Jimmie Johnson seemed left out. Obviously, he’s a little too young to have any kids involved in racing (heck, Genevieve’s barely two), so he was kinda just there for this. As much as Johnson can add to this discussion, it would have been better for him to sit this discussion out and cede his seat to someone else. Sorry, but it’s the truth. He didn’t do jack.

Another piece ran about the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. (roughly 60 miles from the track in suburban Detroit). Matt Yocum took a tour of the place with Edsel Ford II. I thought this was kinda boring, but I would definitely check out the museum if I’m ever in Michigan.

Last year, our former colleague Brock Beard was not too happy about this instance that occurred during a caution at Kentucky.

I hated it, too. TNT did something like that during the sixth caution on Sunday. I don’t know why a commercial break is so darn important that you can’t reset the field before going to it. It’ll only take a few seconds and everyone benefits.

Another thing that I noticed is that TNT may not have access to the dual path technology that ESPN debuted at the Brickyard 400 last year (as you may remember, that is the technology that allows ESPN to show two in-car cameras from one car at the same time). Knowing that BSI, the vendor that supplies in-car camera technology to the networks is considered to be a “shared resource,” this confuses me immensely.

Towards the end of the race, there was a lot of discussion about Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the cameras were focused in on him for most of the last 30 laps. I know that the field was quite spread out, but Dale wasn’t the only driver on the track. I know Earnhardt finally winning is a big deal, however, there was more going on out there.

Late in the race, Regan Smith had engine problems and Mark Martin finished five laps down. I think we saw Smith’s car on the apron, smoking, but no time was given to it. I have no clue what happened to Martin. TNT, it is your job to notify your viewers just what the deuce is going on. I wasn’t in Michigan on Sunday. I was on my couch, taking notes. You gotta help us out here. It is like you got lazy at the end of the race. Got a little sleepy, perhaps?

Despite the fact that the race was nearly two hours over the end of its timeslot due to the rain delay, post-race coverage was still decent. TNT provided viewers with six post-race driver interviews and an interview with winning crew chief Steve Letarte. There was also a check of the points standings.

The RaceBuddy-exclusive post-post-race show was much better, production-wise than it was at Pocono. There was the normal race recap, checks of the unofficial results and points standings, and race analysis. However, there were no interviews shown on RaceBuddy. My best guess as to why this was so is that everyone wanted to get the deuce out of there since a good number of personnel were likely going to miss flights otherwise (remember, not everyone flies private).

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is one of my personal favorite race weekends of the year (I know that many of you may not agree with me on that statement, and that’s ok). The Sprint Cup Series will be at Sonoma Raceway in California for their first of two road races this season. Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series will be in action at Road America in Wisconsin with the Rolex Sports Car Series as their primary support. Finally, the IZOD IndyCar Series will be at Iowa Speedway for a night race.


Friday, June 22

Time Telecast Network
4:00-5:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDtv.com^
8:00-9:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
3:00-4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
11:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED*

Saturday, June 23

Time Telecast Network
5:00-6:00 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe Free Practice No. 3 SPEEDtv.com^
8:00-9:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe Qualifying SPEED
10:00-11:30 a.m. Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
12:00-2:30 p.m. Rolex Sports Car Series Rolex 250 driven by VisitFlorida.com SPEED
3:00-3:30 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN
3:30-7:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Sargento 200 ESPN
7:30-8:15 p.m. Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying NBC Sports Network*
8:15-9:15 p.m. Firestone Indy Lights: Iowa NBC Sports Network
9:15 p.m. – 12:00 a.m. Izod IndyCar Series Iowa Corn Indy 250 NBC Sports Network
11:00 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED*

Sunday, June 24

Time Telecast Network
12:00-12:30 a.m. IndyCar 36: Charlie Kimball NBC Sports Network
11:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Formula 1 Pre-Race Show SPEED*
12:00-2:00 p.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe FOX*
12:00-2:00 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
2:00-3:00 p.m. Countdown to Green TNT
3:00-6:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350k TNT
7:00-8:00 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED*
8:00-9:00 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED
9:00-10:00 p.m. Wind Tunnel SPEED

*- Tape Delayed
^- Available via free online streaming

As you can see, a lot of the coverage from Sonoma this weekend is tape delayed. This is because SPEED is also covering the Barrett-Jackson auction from Anaheim this weekend and, unfortunately, it takes priority over coverage from Sonoma. Also, look for a possible substitution in the booth for Bob Varsha on FOX due to the fact that he often covers auctions for SPEED.

Finally, ESPN is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX this weekend. So, in respect to that fact, there will probably be more coverage of Danica Patrick than normal in Elkhart Lake. You’ve been warned.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Izod IndyCar series events for next week’s critique. The Rolex Series’ event from Road America will be covered in 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

2021 Phil Allaway Headshot Phil Allaway

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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