Race Weekend Central

ESPN Brings Some Boring Telecasts from Charlotte

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast critiques are the name of the game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series each raced at Charlotte Motor Speedway. A nice home game for most.

However, there is TV rights news that must be mentioned before we start. “The Sports Business Journal is reporting”:http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2012/10/15/Media/NASCAR-TV.aspx that FOX has officially re-upped with NASCAR. The extension is eight additional years, beginning in 2015 at a cost of slightly over $2.4 billion. This allows FOX to keep rights to the first 13 point races of the Sprint Cup season, the Budweiser Shootout, Budweiser Duels, Sprint All-Star Race and the Camping World Truck Series. It’s currently unclear whether the current amount of programming will remain, or if the potential re-branding of SPEED would affect it in any way.

The on-air personnel are likely to remain the same. Mike Joy commented on Twitter today that he’s likely to continue as NASCAR on FOX’s play-by-play commentator for the next ten seasons. It also likely means a bare minimum of 150 more boogitys instead of 30 (assuming Waltrip stays in his current role until the end of the contract in 2022, when he would be 75 years old).

The deal shows that regardless of what ultimately happens to SPEED over the next few years, NASCAR will still have a home on the network. Also, FOX’s portion of the contract will cost roughly 35 percent more than their current deal. The rest of NASCAR’s package (the remaining 23 races, and the Nationwide Series) will be negotiated next year.

Also announced this past weekend is that Formula One will be leaving SPEED at the end of the season. It is unclear whether this is related to FOX’s new deal for NASCAR or not. SPEED was outbid by NBC for the rights. Under the four-year deal, 16 of the 20 races will air on the NBC Sports Network, while four races (Canada, UAE, Austin, Texas and Brazil) will air on NBC. Apparently, all sessions will be shown live on there (with the possible exception of the Abu Dhabi race on NBC, since that would air at a rather unsavory time of day for the network). Also, 100 hours per season of streamed footage will be aired online. This is probably as good of a deal that the series could have gotten here. Arguably, it’s better than the outgoing deal. The only issue is who will commentate. Bob Varsha appears to have a contract with SPEED/FOX, while David Hobbs, Steve Matchett and Will Buxton (“who apparently found out about this on Twitter”:http://jalopnik.com/5951335/this-sports-reporter-just-found-out-hes-losing-his-job-via-twitter) are freelancers and could move easily.

These are just the first two big announcements of what will likely be several over the next 18 months or so. The TV future for many series is still up in the air. I have no clue where the new combined sports car series (whatever the deuce they ultimately end up calling it) will air their races in 2014. Motorcycle series may be completely left out in the cold, or go over to Discovery’s HD-only Velocity.

ESPN covered both the Cup and Nationwide Series this week at Charlotte.

*Dollar General 300*

On Friday night, the Nationwide Series returned to action at Charlotte Motor Speedway. ESPN was on the premises with their normal crew.

NASCAR Countdown was a somewhat staid affair. Admittedly, there wasn’t all that much of note on the show. Much of the discussion was centered on the championship battle between Elliott Sadler, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Austin Dillon. They also garnered the interviews during the show as well. However, to be fair, ESPN also interviewed Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Brian Scott. Keselowski got time because he’s Brad Keselowski, someone who has emerged over the past couple of years as an interesting person to talk to. Hamlin and Scott got on-air time because they were both carrying sponsorship from race sponsor Dollar General.

During the race Friday night, Ned Jarrett stopped by the broadcast booth to visit. This is the first time he’s appeared in the booth in five years. ESPN didn’t really promote it (at least, I don’t think they did). As a result, it was quite a surprise to see him there. Ned sounded pretty good actually and is still quite sharp for a man who was celebrating his 80th birthday that day (this was not mentioned on the telecast). Ned stuck around for about 35 laps, answering questions from the booth and commenting on some of the action on track. Compared to his last appearance on ESPN, I think he was a little more involved Friday night, even though he wasn’t there quite as long. Also, he appeared quite gracious on-air, which is normal for him. I met Ned at Albany-Saratoga Speedway in 1996 and he was the same way.

Outside of Ned’s guest appearance, the race telecast that we got Friday was somewhat typical. As mentioned above, the championship was the main story, so it got a lot of press. Stenhouse and Sadler got a lot of coverage, as did Austin Dillon. There really wasn’t all that much coverage of drivers outside of the top-5.

I would have liked to see an interview with Angela Cope to properly understand what happened with the stack-up at the initial start. Yes, I know that there were a number of people just waiting to ridicule her, but I think the fans really wanted to know what happened. Angela’s Go Fund Me drive did raise some money towards her race Friday night, but the stack-up made that irrelevant pretty fast. Maybe ESPN did try and she declined. I don’t know. No reference was made during the telecast to this happening.

However, when there was racing for position up front, ESPN brought that action to viewers without too much of a problem. To be fair, there was good racing up front in portions of the race. Just wish it wasn’t between Cup regulars.

Friday’s race actually ended quite early, leaving ESPN a half-hour to fill. ESPN gave viewers six post-race interviews, and look at the top-20 finishers outside of the scroll. The point standings were shown in the space above the scroll during the interviews. There was some post-race analysis in the Pit Studio, then ESPN chose to leave in order to get to SportsCenter. I know that the Major League Baseball Playoffs are ongoing, but cripes, did you need to be in such a hurry that you had to leave 15 minutes early? Jeepers.

*Bank of America 500*

On Saturday night, the Sprint Cup Series raced the second quickest 500 mile race ever at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was also the last race of the season to air on network television as ESPN aired the event on ABC.

Unfortunately for those who wanted to see some pre-race action, the Oregon State-Brigham Young game went over 40 minutes over its timeslot (or whatever game you got in your market). I’ll admit that I was not expecting this to be an issue. There was already a 30 minute buffer between the game’s timeslot and NASCAR Countdown scheduled. 210 minutes is usually enough time to finish a college football game. Not on Saturday.

Recently, these situations have led ESPN starting NASCAR Countdown on ESPNEWS. However, those races all aired on either ESPN or ESPN2. Not so fast. Since this race was scheduled to air on ABC, they decided to just wait until the game ended. This meant that the show began 11 minutes late. I’m not sure what would have aired in the time that was swallowed up by garbage time in Provo.

Instead, the main focus of the show was on Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s absence due to concussions. First, we saw a bunch of clips of the last-lap crash. The reasoning here was to attempt to show where Earnhardt Jr. suffered the concussion. My best guess is that it occurred when he was hit by Bobby Labonte. Honestly, I think ESPN would have showed all the clips anyway even if Earnhardt Jr. didn’t suffer a concussion here, but the discussion would have veered off in a different direction. Earnhardt Jr. still would have played a substantial role with his comments about fans who liked the action late at Talladega being “bloodthirsty.”

There was also a freshly produced SportScience feature on concussions with an emphasis on Earnhardt Jr.’s situation. Of course, that meant additional views of the big crash. We learned that Earnhardt Jr. took five hits during the crash. There was discussion about the effects of concussions on the human body and how just getting a concussion increases the risk of another one.

Following this piece, the Pit Studio discussed the whole situation. The notion of Post-Concussion Syndrome was brought up for the first time. As you might remember, Ricky Craven missed much of the 1998 season because of this. Craven would have been very good to have here since he has personal experience with the issue. He was in Bristol, CT Saturday, having co-hosted NASCAR Now with Mike Massaro. They should have at least had him on via split-screen. However, Ray Evernham filled in this role and admitted that he ended his own driving career after three straight concussions. Also, the notion of Earnhardt Jr. possibly never coming back to the driver’s seat was thrown out there. I’d argue that this would be highly unlikely. It would be the perfect storm of bad for NASCAR

The beginning of the race had some excellent racing for the lead between Mark Martin and Greg Biffle that was shown very well. In all honesty, the first 50 laps of Saturday night’s race was quite exciting. Lots of action for position and anything. However, as the race continued on, there was less and less action.

Towards the end of the race, there was maybe one battle for position shown in the final 60 laps of the race. This was between Keselowski and Aric Almirola for 11th after Keselowski stopped to take two tires and fuel. Otherwise, it was a literal 40 minute discussion of fuel strategy. Is that all there was to talk about? Sure, not everyone could make it without stopping, but there wasn’t anything else going on? I’m sure there had to have been.

Post-race coverage was once again somewhat curtailed. Like on Friday night, ESPN brought viewers six post-race driver interviews, plus an interview with the winning crew chief (Brian Pattie). There was also a check of the all-important points. Finally, there was some post-race analysis from the Pit Studio before ESPN left the track ten minutes early. Still do not see the point of leaving early. Quite simply, ESPN is paying way the deuce too much money to not at least stick around through the end of their scheduled timeslot and get their money’s worth.

That’s all for this week. This weekend, the Sprint Cup Series returns to the newly-revamped Kansas Speedway along with the Nationwide Series. In addition, the ARCA Racing Series will hold their season finale Friday night. Meanwhile, the American Le Mans Series has their season finale, the 1000 mile Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

*Friday, October 19*

*Time Telecast Network*
*12:30pm-2:00pm* Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
*1:50-~3:20pm* American Le Mans Series Qualifying ESPN3.com$
*2:00-3:30pm* Nationwide Series Practice ESPN 2
*3:30-5:00pm* Nationwide Series Happy Hour ESPN 2
*5:00-6:30pm* Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN 2
*7:00-8:00pm* Trackside Live SPEED
*8:00-8:30pm* SPEED Center SPEED
*8:30-10:30pm* ARCA Racing Series Kansas Lottery 98.9 SPEED

*Saturday, October 20*

*Time Telecast Network*
*~10:30am-8:00pm* American Le Mans Series Petit Le Mans ESPN3.com$
*11:00am-12:00pm* Sprint Cup Series Practice ESPN 2
*12:00pm-1:30pm* Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
*1:30-3:00pm* Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
*3:00-3:30pm* NASCAR Countdown ESPN, ESPNEWS
*3:30-6:30pm* Nationwide Series Kansas Lottery 300 ESPN
*7:00-7:30pm* SPEED Center SPEED

*Sunday, October 21*

*Time Telecast Network*
*9:00am-10:00am* 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
*1:00-3:00pm* American Le Mans Series Petit Le Mans ABC*/
*2:00-5:30pm* Sprint Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 ESPN
*~5:30-6:00pm* NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
*7:00-8:00pm* SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
*9:00-10:00pm* Wind Tunnel SPEED
*10:30-11:30pm* NASCAR Now, Post-Race ESPN 2

*- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted
$- Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your internet service provider and/or programming provider for availability.

Note that the LSU-Texas A&M game is scheduled for Noon Saturday afternoon on ESPN. I’d say that there’s a good sporting chance that NASCAR Countdown will end up on ESPNEWS. So much so that I’ve noted that in the listings. I will provide critiques for the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday.

For the Critic’s Annex, I will be writing about SPEED’s telecast of the Grand Sport season finale from Lime Rock this week. Since I was there, it will be supplemented with personal additions. For the Annex on the 25th, I’ll cover the Petit Le Mans from Road Atlanta, scheduled for this Saturday.

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

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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