Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Fracas Coverage Good, Focus Again Hurts ESPN

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast breakdown is the name of the game. This past weekend, NASCAR’s National series were all in Avondale, Arizona for 662 scheduled miles of action. I have no doubts that ESPN wasn’t expecting what they got on Sunday, but let’s take a look at the three race telecasts on offer.

SPEED and ESPN covered the festivities at Phoenix International Raceway this week. Did they keep up with the insanity?

*Lucas Oil 150*

Friday night saw the Camping World Truck Series return to the track that hosted the series’ very first point race, Phoenix International Raceway. Granted, that inaugural 80-lap race (not a misprint) was just one part of the annual Copper World Classic, but we had a very competitive 150-lap race Friday night.

The primary feature of SPEED’s Setup was a look at the series’ changing focus from NASCAR’s equivalent of the Champions Tour (formerly the Senior PGA Tour) into a breeding ground for upcoming talent. There were plenty of soundbites in the piece from a number of current and former drivers to augment the segment. It was interesting to watch, but I picked up a real difference of opinion here. Drivers like Ty Dillon and Justin Lofton are obviously pleased with their present standing, but a couple of veterans had a slightly more wistful stance. Especially Ted Musgrave. They must have caught him on a bad day or something because he was extra crusty.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t quite as much to take away from this week’s SPEED Spotlight of Ryan Truex. We learned that Ryan’s the quiet type. Nothing wrong with that. Also, the team raced for Sandy relief Friday night, resulting in the final chunk of the piece becoming an infomercial. And lastly, we got to see Joey Coulter’s house, Cribs-style. It’s nice and all that you want to show us Coulter’s home (which is fairly nice), but there just wasn’t much to work with here. Also, the Cribs franchise has been around since 2000 (cripes, 12 years). It’s a bit played out.

During the race on Friday night, there was quite a bit of action on track for position. SPEED generally did a pretty good job covering this action. However, I did have a couple of gripes.

The second caution of the race came out for a wreck involving John King on Lap 44. It appears that King hit the wall exiting Turn 2. Footage of King struggling to drive his stricken Ford back to the pits aired during the race telecast. I couldn’t tell you how King’s truck got so beat up that he was out on the spot. Why? Because the incident wasn’t caught live and no replays were shown of it. I can understand not catching it live, but not showing bupkis in the form of replays bites. Remember, I’m not in Avondale, Arizona watching this race. I’m at my house in upstate New York. You have to throw me a bone here. If you don’t have any footage, tell the viewers that you don’t and save face.

Friday’s race was given a 150-minute time slot. At the time, this surprised me. A race run anywhere near cleanly wouldn’t come close to filling that time. However, Friday’s race all but did. As a result, post-race coverage was relatively tight. There were four post-race interviews, plus a check of the all-important points.

*Great Clips 200*

Saturday afternoon brought the Nationwide Series back out to play at Phoenix. Let’s take a look at how ESPN did with the AAA circuit.

During Countdown, the primary feature was a piece about Sam Hornish, Jr. and his time with Penske Racing. What did I take from it? Hornish didn’t come to NASCAR just for the money. He pretty much completely dispels the notion of that here. I was actually surprised at how he claimed to feel about racing in the IndyCar Series towards the end of his tenure there. Obviously, his team owner had nothing to do with those feelings since he still drives for Penske, but the idea that he didn’t feel anything in IndyCar was striking. Perhaps he was sick of people like Tony George (still in control at the time) and the much-maligned Brian Barnhart (recipient of the double middle finger heard ’round the world). And to think that people thought that Hornish might end up back there after 2010?

A second feature covered the story of former Sprint Cup Series car owner and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bud Moore. Moore talked about his time serving under General Patton during World War II, then coming home and getting involved in motorsports. The feature was used mainly since Veterans’ Day was on Sunday and the piece was pertinent to the time of year. Generally, I enjoyed it, but being the complete nitpicker that I am these days, I noticed a slight error. They displayed Geoff Bodine’s victory at Sears Point as having occurred in 1992. It actually happened in 1993 in a “truly epic duel”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Lsge6sNE3s. One of my personal favorite Cup races.

Also, Saturday was supposed to mark the return of Nur Ali in the No. 70, fielded in Phoenix by Rick Ware Racing after Robinson-Blakeney Motorsports was shut down and went on the auction block recently. However, Ali struggled as badly (or even moreso) than he did at Kansas (his qualifying speed was just 102 mph, 7.5 seconds off the pole), so a move was made before the race to shift Timmy Hill from the S&P No. 15 to drive the No. 70. It was not referenced much during the race, especially since ESPN did not cover Nationwide qualifying.

Like the last few weeks, ESPN had a couple of primary aspects of the race that they focused on. The championship battle between Elliott Sadler, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and to a lesser extent, Austin Dillon, was an important part of ESPN’s telecast. Having said that, they weren’t anywhere near as much of the focus as Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson on Sunday.

Post-race coverage was very short since the race was past the scheduled end of their time slot. There were three quick interviews and allusions to the points situation. By that, I mean that they talked about Sadler’s 20 point deficit to Stenhouse, but never showed a graphic. Admittedly, compared to what happened on Sunday, there really wasn’t much to write home about on Saturday. We saw a lot more of what we’ve seen in recent Nationwide broadcasts from ESPN. Nothing overly bad, but nothing all that great either. The focus on Sadler and Stenhouse at nearly everyone else’s expense just hurts the race coverage and will continue to until the focus is opened up.

*AdvoCare 500k*

Finally, we come to Sunday. Heck definitely went down.

Last week, ESPN played an excerpt from Hannah Storm’s sit-down interview with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. that aired in full last Tuesday night. This week, excerpts from both Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski’s conversations aired.

For Johnson, the segment where the Johnsons showed Storm their picture gallery was aired. Yes, it’s a nice little setup that they came up with, but it didn’t draw me in.

In Keselowski’s case, they played the portion that I probably wouldn’t have played. It was all about Keselowski’s time with JR Motorsports. While yes, those were formative years for Keselowski when he wasn’t interrupting one-on-one interviews with TV personalities, I found the portion of the conversation where Keselowski talked about his family’s sacrifices more interesting. For lack of better words, the Keselowskis bankrupted themselves to further Brad’s career, then the Keith Coleman team went belly-up barely a couple of months into 2007 (you might remember that being the No. 23 team with sponsorship from Oklahoma’s Centennial (of statehood).

Another feature saw Ray Evernham in one of the production trucks narrating a comparison of driver-crew chief relationships between Johnson-Chad Knaus and Keselowski-Paul Wolfe. The differences are quite stark, yet the results are nearly the same. Very interesting. With the No. 48, it’s Chad’s way or the highway. Meanwhile, Wolfe and Keselowski are much more open. I feel like Knaus would drive other drivers nuts with his ways.

Finally, we also had a piece on trash talk narrated by Marty Smith. Clips of past altercations and angry interviews featured here. Also, clips of great trash talkers like Shannon Sharpe were included (Note: No Gary Payton? That guy’s the grandmaster of trash talk). However, it needs to be noted that trash talk, fracases, and angry dudes after the fact are completely different things. If this were about another sport, I suppose it would make a little more sense. I only say this because there really isn’t that much trash talk in NASCAR. I suppose the piece would have made more sense had it been framed as something having to do with “Boys, have at it.”

During the race, ESPN seemed to spend the vast majority of the telecast focusing on just Keselowski and Johnson, to the detriment of everyone else. A strategy such as that would lead viewers to believe that there was all but no passing on the track. I just don’t like that strategy. I don’t care what time of year it is, a more inclusive telecast is always a good thing. People will thank you for it.

Also, a random note. I don’t recall this being referenced by ESPN’s commentators, but Johnson was shifting early in the race. He would downshift to third gear entering Turn 1 so that he would get a better run off the corner, then upshift to fourth before the dogleg. I’m not griping here, but simply noting something that I (and probably everyone else in Phoenix) didn’t expect. I thought he was going to rip up his transmission before the end of the race at that rate, but as we’re well aware, Johnson found another way to eviscerate his championship chances.

If there is one place where ESPN actually shined on Sunday, it was their coverage of the donnybrook. The only thing that I wished that ESPN did was to cut to the overhead shot about three seconds earlier than they did. By the time they did, Gordon was already out of camera shot. Honestly, I’m surprised that no one got hurt there. The cameraman who followed Bowyer step-by-step on his hustle to cut Gordon off at the pass gets special kudos. Having never held an HD camera before, I cannot completely vouch for this, but I’m sure those cameras are pretty heavy pieces of electronics. To give viewers a great shot while at full sprint takes some skill.

Had heck not gone down on Sunday, we would have had a full 20 minutes of regular post-race coverage. However, the crash, acts of pugilism and clean-up resulted in the race somehow running long. As a result, actual post-race coverage in the telecast was quite minimal. There were three interviews, and a check of the points. If they had had more time, I would have liked some discussion about the final stretch of the race. The commentators correctly pointed out at the time that there was still oil on track. It was visible to the naked eye, man. NASCAR, if they were smart, should have extended that red flag at least five more minutes. Also, yes, a yellow should have been thrown for Patrick’s wreck. I stated on Facebook after the race that it was the sorriest finish I’d seen in years, and I stand by that. Dang officials acting like idiots.

The rest of the post-race coverage was covered on SportsCenter by a combination of Kevin Connors, Steve Weissman and Ricky Craven. Now, Craven’s…seen some stuff before. Jokes aside, he’s the right guy you want to have talk about the fallout from an incident at a NASCAR race. Makes me wish he was actually there on Sunday and not back in Bristol.

In the studio role, Craven was a calming influence more than anything. Pat Riley would like working with Craven since Craven keeps himself poised, no matter what is going on. This greatly benefits the viewing audience as well. Meanwhile, Connors and Weissman appeared somewhat shocked and unnerved about what they were seeing. It’s like they couldn’t grasp what was going on. Granted, they were trying to grasp the biggest fight in Sprint Cup since 1989 (I think it’s a cross between the 1989 Winston throw down, and an “ugly brawl at South Boston Speedway during a Busch race in 1998”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QA6p70Nr2Y#t=32m00s). Connors was apparently barely a Freshman in high school back then, while Weissman (who I think looks a little like Brett Weir in the Jerky Boys movie) might have reached double digits in age by that time.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is the season finale for all three of NASCAR’s top series. Trophies will be handed out and crews will go nuts with joy. However, that isn’t the only game in town. Formula One makes their return to the United States this weekend as well. As a result, the typical three hour edition of NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco that marks Homestead isn’t happening this year. In fact, the show’s been shortened as compared to normal.

*Thursday, November 15*

*Time Telecast Network*
*8:00-9:00pm* Kurt Busch: The Outlaw SPEED
*9:00-10:00pm* Championship Week Preview SPEED

*Friday, November 16*

*Time Telecast Network*
*10:00am-11:30am* Formula One Grand Prix of the United States Free Practice No. 1 SPEED
*1:30pm-3:00pm* Sprint Cup Series Practice ESPN 2
*2:00-3:30pm* Formula One Grand Prix of the United States Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
*3:00-4:30pm* Nationwide Series Final Practice ESPN 2
*4:30-5:00pm* NASCAR Now ESPN 2
*4:30-6:00pm* Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
*6:00-7:30pm* Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
*7:30-8:00pm* NCWTS Setup SPEED
*8:00-10:30pm* Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 SPEED
*10:30-11:00pm* SPEED Center SPEED
*11:00pm-12:00am* Trackside SPEED

*Saturday, November 17*

*Time Telecast Network*
*10:00am-11:00am* Formula One Grand Prix of the United States Free Practice No. 3 SPEED
*11:30am-1:00pm* Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
*1:00-2:30pm* Formula One Grand Prix of the United States Qualifying SPEED
*3:00-4:00pm* Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
*4:00-4:30pm* NASCAR Countdown ESPN
*4:30-7:45pm* Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 ESPN
*7:30-8:00pm* SPEED Center SPEED

*Sunday, November 18*

*Time Telecast Network*
*9:00am-10:00am* NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
*10:30-11:00am* SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
*11:00am-1:30pm* NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
*1:30-4:00pm* Formula One Grand Prix of the United States SPEED
*1:30-3:00pm* NASCAR Countdown ESPN
*3:00-7:00pm* Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 ESPN
*~7:00-8:00pm* NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
*8:00-9:00pm* SPEED Center SPEED
*9:00-10:00pm* Wind Tunnel SPEED
*10:30-11:00pm* NASCAR Now, Post-Race ESPN

~- Approximate start time

Also, of note, ESPN Classic is replaying some classic season-ending races this week. The marathon starts Thursday morning with last years’ Ford 400 at 11am, followed by the 2007, 2008 and 2009 races. The 2010 Ford 400 will air at 9am on Friday. Check with your local cable/satellite/Telco provider for channel availability.

I will provide write-ups of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series season finales for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Annex this week will cover SPEED’s presentation of Beyond 200: The Hendrick Motorsports Story. I’ve read good things about it, but haven’t put fingers to the keyboard as of yet. For next week’s Annex, likely to run on the 21st due to Thanksgiving, I’ll be covering Kurt Busch: The Outlaw. I have no idea what to expect there, but I’m looking forward to it.

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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