Race Weekend Central

ESPN Reintroduces Fans to Johanna Long; Hypes Wild Cards Repeatedly

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast criticism and praise is our goal. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series raced at Richmond International Raceway, and in the case of Sprint Cup, dealt with rain.

Before we start, there are two things I must note. ESPN confirmed Jamie Little will be back on pit road this weekend in Joliet. I’m happy to have Little back on the telecasts.

Secondly, ESPN announced a new relationship with Kid Rock on Monday. As a result, Mr. Rock will “lend both his presence and his music” to ESPN’s telecasts during the Chase for the Sprint Cup. This apparently means that he will narrate and appear in the teases prior to each race telecast, both with his back catalog of songs and with new material that will be on his upcoming album.

I’m not really sure how to feel about this. It sounds like that under normal circumstances, it won’t be too intrusive. Kinda feel bad for the guy that cuts those promos every week missing out on ten checks as a result of this, though. However, there will apparently be a fair amount of promotion for this album, whatever it ends up being called. We’ll have to see how it works next week, but I think this might be beneficial all around since Kid Rock is actually a race fan.

ESPN fought football games and rain delays to bring us NASCAR coverage this week.

*Virginia 529 College Savings 250*

Friday night, the Nationwide Series returned to action at Richmond.

Countdown was a somewhat regular affair. The show mainly consisted of pre-race analysis in the Pit Studio and interviews. This was really not all that memorable. The only thing that really stood out here was the fact that there were six pre-race interviews. This is a little more than normal, and always good to see.

During the race, there was actually a fair amount of coverage given to Johanna Long and the ML Motorsports team. I’ve found this to be incredibly rare this year. In the race, Long qualified an excellent eighth and moved her way up into the top-5 early in the race. It should be noted that the team has done this at Richmond in the past with drivers like David Stremme and Mark Green, but the time given to Long was deserved.

An “on-air tweet written by Jeff Burton”:https://twitter.com/RCR31JeffBurton/status/244172183625146368 was shown during the race where he praised Long’s skills behind the wheel, while stating that the small organization that she drives for (which apparently has seven full-time employees) is unintentionally hampering her development. A lot of people are quite high on Long’s abilities in the garage. At ESPN, Rusty Wallace is very high on her and has touted her skills on-track multiple times in the past. Friday night, viewers finally got to see some of her talent. Unfortunately, she was hampered by a terrible first pit stop that knocked her out of the top-15, then a date with the wall put her out of the race. The increased coverage of Long will continue in Chicago, where she will serve as ESPN’s In-Race Reporter.

This is good to see. I’ve mentioned multiple times in the past that ESPN gives too much focus to the Sprint Cup interlopers that show up in the series (although, this is slightly less of a problem since NASCAR instituted the pick-a-series rule for points). Now, I don’t think Long is winning a race this year, like what is currently being predicted on the Team Onion Twitter page, but she definitely has the capability to do well in the series.

Another unusual segment was the idea of doing an Up to Speed segment during the brief red flag after the Sam Hornish, Jr.-Timmy Hill crash. This was done by interviewing multiple crew chiefs. In all honesty, this was not all that different from what often happens prior to late race restarts. Think of it as a brand extension.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief. ESPN gave viewers four driver interviews, plus a chat with the winning crew chief (Ernie Cope). There was a check of the unofficial results before ESPN left to get to Baseball Tonight.

Overall, this was an OK race to watch. Aside from Long finally getting her due, there really wasn’t much to write home about. I didn’t notice any technical issues like in the Cup telecast. It just doesn’t help that Marty Reid’s here instead of Allen Bestwick. He just cannot make Nationwide races exciting for me. Maybe his style is what’s wrong. I don’t know. It seems like his commentary was more enjoyable when he was doing Camping World Truck Series races back in the late 1990’s, or even when he was pit reporting in the 1980’s. I’d like to hear your thoughts on Reid down in the comments below.

*Federated Auto Parts 400*

Finally, we get to the Sprint Cup race from Richmond. Let’s just be honest with ourselves. They were lucky to get the race in. The radar looked terrible all night and almost the entire East Coast was under the gun from thunderstorms Saturday.

That storm ultimately played complete havoc with ESPN’s schedule. There was regional coverage of college football on ABC prior to the scheduled start of NASCAR Countdown at 7pm. However, most of the country got the USC-Syracuse game that was played at neutral MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. If you didn’t get that game on your ABC affiliate, please note what was on your affiliate (and which one it is) in the comments. That game was delayed 75 minutes at halftime due to lightning. Because of that, and the heavy rains in Richmond, ESPN made the decision to delay the start of NASCAR Countdown until after the game ended.

This angered one California-based Carl Edwards fan who took the time to e-mail us and talk about how NASCAR fans deserve a pre-race show at the appointed time, even if it consisted of people trying to avoid drowning in rainfall. They have a point. I know I wanted to see Countdown at 7. Since they chose not to start then, I watched the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge wreckfest at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on SPEED2 while waiting for the football game to end. I would have liked to have bonus Countdown coverage on ESPNEWS, but I think that there was still a thunderstorm threat at 7pm. If so, I can understand ESPN not wanting to put their people any more in harm’s way than necessary.

ESPN does have means to stream content, but the digital rights deals (especially since this race was on ABC) don’t currently allow it. If they did stream it, it would only be available to WatchESPN subscribers, and availability of WatchESPN is only available to subscribers to five cable/Telco companies. Next year, a situation like this could play out much differently. By next year’s Daytona 500, NASCAR will have full ownership of digital video rights and nascar.com and we’d likely see NASCAR stream pre-race coverage right on their site. The only downside to that would be potential geo-blocking if you don’t live in the United States.

During the USC-Syracuse broadcast, there were multiple “Program Alerts” on the BottomLine telling viewers that Countdown would start as soon as the game was over. This didn’t start until about 7:10pm or so. Andy Hall, ESPN’s Media Relations Manager for their NASCAR telecasts, wrote multiple tweets informing viewers of the situation, including stating that viewers weren’t missing anything. I don’t think the commentators in East Rutherford did the best job of relaying this information, though. They also apparently don’t know jack about NASCAR, although that doesn’t necessarily surprise me. I guess they assumed everyone had been watching the game all day. As for scheduling too close together, ABC’s 210-minute slot is bigger than what college football games normally get on ESPN or ESPN2 (180-minutes).

I’m just waiting for Countdown prior to the Nationwide race get pushed off ESPN this Saturday due to the football game going to its natural length (which is longer than three hours).

Just last week, I advocated in this very critique that ESPN should adopt 11:30am Eastern start times for their early games because of this issue. If the lightning delay never happened, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. They actually made up about seven minutes in the second half (Countdown started 68 minutes late instead of 75). ESPN got lucky that they were able to make this move at all. Had they had the issues in New Jersey, but no rain in Richmond, then you would have had ABC joining the race in progress on Lap 57 or something (Note: ESPN has a policy where they prefer never to leave a game in progress before it finishes.) For a race that ESPN had been hyping for weeks, that would not have gone over very well. They basically would have had nowhere to put the race. College football is just too big for ESPN to kick aside for Sprint Cup.

If there was no weather issues in Richmond Saturday night, my best guess as to what ESPN would have done would have been to put all of Countdown and the start of the race on ESPNEWS. ESPNEWS has a fairly good reach, “73 million households in 2010, according to Sports Business Daily.”:http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Issues/2010/06/Issue-186/The-Back-Of-The-Book/ESPN-ESPN2-See-Same-US-Household-Penetration-For-First-Time.aspx This is slightly less reach than SPEED has. However, it is a digital-only channel if you have cable, and some outlets put it in a Sports tier that costs extra. Many viewers would be unable to view this, although it would be better than moving it to ESPN Classic, like they used to. That station has maybe half of ESPNEWS’ reach.

Once Countdown finally started around 8:10pm, there weren’t really any changes from what it would have looked like if the show actually started at 7:00pm with dry conditions (giving credence to the notion that fans weren’t missing anything). There was plenty of pre-race discussion in the Pit Studio, along with driver interviews. My guess is that the interviews with Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon would have been outdoors instead of in the Pit Studio if it were dry.

There was also a montage on the drivers going for the Wild Card spots that was narrated by Marty Smith. You guys all know who those drivers were, so I won’t rehash it here. It was OK, but definitely designed for hyping purposes.

Race coverage was really about what I expected. There was a lot of focus on the wild card contenders throughout the race. Normally at Richmond, it is a little more spread out than what we saw since the positions of everyone from first through ninth were pretty much set going in.

I noticed a couple of strange things early on. Firstly, between the command and the start of the race, ESPN didn’t completely send the telecast off to break. As a result, viewers heard Dale Jarrett queuing up Denny Hamlin on the radio. No, they don’t tape delay those conversations. What I believe Jarrett was doing was prepping Hamlin for the actual interview that would occur live during the pace laps. Think of it as an unexpected behind-the-scenes moment.

Also, I swear that Jarrett and Andy Petree completely contradicted themselves early on when talking about the chances of a second groove developing. I found this to be weird.

I think there was a technical issue when the last caution came out (the rain yellow on Lap 277). This flew during a full-length commercial break, which was rare in its own right during the race. However, after the last commercial, there was 15 seconds of bupkis. Following the bupkis, we rejoined the telecast right at the end of the stops. I feel like ESPN had already come back from the break and given viewers some primer on what was happening, but I didn’t see it because of the black screen. For the sake of helping myself out here, I want to know if anyone can vouch for me on this. Otherwise, I’d have to give WTEN (my local ABC affiliate) some demerits for screwing up the telecast.

For the time of night (darn near 1:30 in the morning, nearly two and a half hours over the end of their timeslot), ESPN provided plenty of post-race coverage. There were 13 post-race interviews. However, it should be noted that these interviews were with the 12 Chasers, plus the last guy out (Kyle Busch). Honestly, I’m surprised that Busch was willing to talk to Shannon Spake at all. We could see Spake try to get an interview with Busch after he got out of the car, but Busch and his PR rep declined at that point. Later on, Busch spoke briefly and looked the epitome of bummed out.

However, the aforementioned focus resulted in drivers that had great runs on Saturday night not getting the time of day. For example, Mark Martin finished third and Jeff Burton finished sixth. They were not mentioned at all in post-race coverage.

Honestly, I fully expected that ESPN would go nearly wall-to-wall with Chase stuff during this telecast going in. I got everything I expected and more. Unfortunately, some people miss out with such desires. Having said that, there was plenty of enthusiasm for the Chase on the telecast (and really all weekend on multiple channels.)

That’s all for this week. Next weekend starts off the Chase for the Sprint Cup (yay). The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series will each be in action at Chicagoland Speedway near Joliet, Illinois. Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series will make their second visit of the year to Iowa Speedway. Finally, the Izod IndyCar Series returns to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. That race will mark the final race for play-by-play commentator Bob Jenkins, who is retiring in order to take care of his ailing wife.

*Thursday, September 13*

*Time Telecast Network*
*7:00pm-8:00pm* NASCAR Contenders Live from the House of Blues SPEED

*Friday, September 14*

*Time Telecast Network*
*1:00pm-2:30pm* Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 ESPN 2
*2:30-4:00pm* Nationwide Series Practice No. 1 ESPN 2
*~3:25-4:55pm* American Le Mans Series Qualifying ESPN3.com$
*4:00-5:30pm* Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour ESPN 2
*5:30-7:00pm* Nationwide Series Happy Hour SPEED
*7:30-8:00pm* SPEED Center SPEED
*7:30-8:30pm* Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying NBC Sports Network

*Saturday, September 15*

*Time Telecast Network*
*12:00pm-1:30pm* Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
*1:30-3:00pm* Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
*2:15-6:45pm* American Le Mans Series VIR 240 ESPN3.com$
*~3:00-3:30pm* NASCAR Countdown ESPN
*3:30-6:00pm* Nationwide Series Dollar General 300 ESPN
*6:30-7:30pm* Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
*7:30-8:00pm* SPEED Center SPEED
*7:30pm-12:30am* Izod IndyCar Series MavTV American Real 500 NBC Sports Network
*8:00-8:30pm* NCWTS Setup SPEED
*8:30-11:00pm* Camping World Truck Series American Ethanol 200 SPEED

*Sunday, September 16*

*Time Telecast Network*
*8:00am-9:00am* NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
*10:30-11:00am* SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
*11:00am-1:00pm* NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
*1:00-2:00pm* NASCAR Countdown ESPN
*1:30-3:30pm* Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge: Laguna Seca SPEED*/
*2:00-5:30pm* Sprint Cup Series GEICO 400 ESPN
*5:00-7:00pm* American Le Mans Series VIR 240 ESPN 2*/
*~5:30-6:00pm* NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
*7:00-8:00pm* SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
*9:00-10:30pm* Wind Tunnel SPEED, SPEEDtv.com^

*- Tape-Delayed
^- Available via free online streaming
~- Approximate
/- Highlights

Note that there is a college football game, Wake Forest vs. #6 Florida State scheduled to start at Noon on ESPN. If it runs long, expect Countdown to be moved to ESPNEWS once again. Regardless, I will be bringing you guaranteed critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide telecasts in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday.

For this week’s Annex, I’ll cover last weekend’s Rolex Series race from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

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.

“Contact Phil Allaway”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/18439/

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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