Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: NBC Sports Does Well; FOX Lucky with Feud Focus

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast criticism is the object of our affection, or hatred. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were both at Auto Club Speedway. Meanwhile, the IZOD IndyCar Series held their season opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Before we start, I need to rant. I tried to watch NBC Sports Network’s live coverage of the Grand Prix of Malaysia early Sunday morning (gotta love that 4am start time that screwed up my entire Sunday and Monday). I wasn’t even planning on critiquing the telecast for the site. I just wanted to watch the race, because I like Formula One. My cable system (Time Warner Cable) has SD and HD feeds of NBC Sports Network. I don’t know why I made this choice, but I decided to watch the SD feed. Everything was fine until about 5am, when all of a sudden, the feed switched to an infomercial for some induction fryer thing. Sure, it’s nice to have a better way to fry chicken, but that’s not why I tune in to a Formula One race at 5am on a Sunday. I thought I had fallen asleep and missed the rest of the race, but once I got on Formula One’s website and checked their timing and scoring, I realized that I’d been had. Yes, the HD feed was fine, but shame on you, Time Warner Cable. That’s bush league Bright House Networks garbage right there. Under no circumstances do you pre-empt live telecasts to show infomercials. Not everyone has an HDTV, and thus has access to both feeds. That has to stop. Rant over.

Honda Indy Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

The season opener for the IZOD IndyCar Series brought along some changes. Most notably, St. Petersburg is now on the NBC Sports Network. For the past few years, the race has been covered by ESPN on ABC. As a result, the race was covered in a different fashion.

With Bob Jenkins’ retirement, Leigh Diffey is now in the booth. To many of us, Diffey is a familiar face through his work with the V8 Supercars, Rolex Sports Car Series, CTSCC, Formula One, and that one time he filled in on SPEED’s Sprint Cup practice coverage from Watkins Glen. I’m fine with it. Diffey did a good job. It’s just going to take a little getting used to. Also, we found out that when there is a conflict between Formula One and the Izod IndyCar Series, an agreement has been stamped between the NBC Sports Network out to allow Diffey to do the IndyCar race, while Bob Varsha fills in on the Formula One telecast. That was nice, if you can see it (see rant).

The not-so-well publicized move saw Townsend Bell and Jon Beekhuis swap places for the weekend. I found it interesting, if unexpected. In Bell, you have someone who has recent experience in an IndyCar. Beekhuis does not, having not raced since 1992. As a result, Bell was able to bring in a lot of pertinent knowledge about the DW12. Brian Till was also on pit road, likely in place of Marty Snider, who’s on NCAA Tournament duty (he’ll be back in two weeks at Barber Park).

IndyCar Central has been renamed IndyCar Live by Verizon. That’s about the only change there. Otherwise, it’s nearly identical to last year. The primary feature of the show was a piece with Will Power, who has somehow blown the last three championships in a row. Here, he talked about the painful championship loss last September in Fontana.

There were also four regular pre-race interviews, and three more interviews during Robin Miller’s grid run. They do need to find something more for Miller to do than make a fool of his 63-year old self on a weekly basis. He was all but invisible during the race.

During the race itself, there was pretty good coverage. There were lot of battles for position throughout the field shown. Always good to see. Also, looking back to last year’s race on ABC, I talked extensively about how we never had a clue why anyone dropped out of the race. Maybe yesterday’s event was just a different circumstance, but I didn’t have that problem with NBC Sports Network’s coverage. We got interviews with every driver that failed to finish except for JR Hildebrand. And anyone watching Sunday’s race knows why he didn’t finish.

Despite the fact that the race was already over the end of it’s timeslot by the time the checkers fell, NBC Sports Network still gave viewers a good amount of post-race coverage. There were seven post-race drivers, plus an interview with the winning engineer (Craig Hampson, for James Hinchcliffe). There was also a check of the unofficial results and some post-race analysis before NBC Sports Network signed off.

I greatly enjoyed watching the telecast. The trio of Bell-Dallenbach-Diffey do actually work well together. I’m not 100 percent on it being the permanent trio, or if they’re trying Bell out in the booth to see if he will work well in there once TNT’s Summer Series starts back up (remember, Tommy Kendall, who was Dallenbach’s sub last year, is racing an SRT Viper in the American Le Mans Series this year). We’ll have to see what happens in Leeds, Alabama in two weeks. There were two slight issues with missed passes due to inappropriate cuts, but overall, those were minor issues.

The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series returned to Auto Club Speedway this week.

Royal Purple 300

On Saturday, the Nationwide Series returned to action in Fontana. As is the norm at this point of the season for ESPN, we saw some personnel changes. A full strength Nicole Briscoe was joined by Ricky Craven in the Pit Studio, along with Brad Daugherty. Dale Jarrett took the week off, so Rusty Wallace was elevated to the broadcast booth.

Interestingly enough, ESPN chose Saturday to air a feature with Juan Pablo Montoya, despite him not being in the Nationwide Series (Note: Montoya hasn’t started a Nationwide race since 2008). The main reason why they aired it here is the fact that it ties into Southern California. For lack of better words, cameras tagged along with Montoya as he checked out some new gear from Oakley. They apparently have some really nice fire retardant gear, which was shown off when Montoya stuck his hand in a fire suit, then they melted a penny on top of it. In addition, we saw Montoya get a new helmet designed, and ride around in a tank. I know why this piece was made, but it seemed awfully out of place. During ESPN’s Nationwide-only portion of the season, they need to be doing more to promote Nationwide regulars. They can air all the features about Montoya that they want once their Sprint Cup portion of the season starts in July (honestly, I’m thinking that ESPN wishes that they still aired a Cup race from Fontana).

Unlike Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, the Nationwide race saw long green flag runs and a select number of drivers pull away from the rest of the field and hide. That should be a sign to cover the field more fully if there isn’t going to be a nice battle up front that you can rely on.

Early on, that was not ESPN’s decision. Through the first two segments of the race, only four or five teams were covered. Those just so happened to be the top 4 or 5. Once you include the commercial breaks, that adds up to 22 laps. That’s nearly one-sixth of the race. With coverage like that, fans can get a little confused as to what is going on.

On Twitter, ESPN advertised that Joey Logano was scheduled to be in the broadcast booth for a portion of Saturday’s race. He showed up during the second caution of the race (for Paulie Harraka’s mechanical issue/fire). For the next 40 laps, Logano and the booth talked about a variety of issues pertaining to the race at hand. Logano turned out to be a pretty good choice. After all, he was the defending champion of the race. He seems to really miss racing in the Nationwide Series. Yeah, he’ll get his chance starting at Talladega, but he really likes racing 25-30 times a year down there in addition to Sprint Cup.

I liked ESPN’s move of holding off on going to commercial in order to show what turned out to be the pass for the win. They were all set to go to break, then saw what was going on and held on. That’s a good move and an example for the future.

Since the race ended up running long, there was very little post-race coverage. There was simply a check of the point standings and an interview with Kyle Busch. Unofficial results were in the scroll the whole time. Afterwards, ESPN signed off in order to get to SportsCenter prior to the NCAA Wrestling Championships from Des Moines, Iowa.

I still have issues with ESPN for a lack of inclusivity. It was possibly the worst I’d ever seen it early in the race on Saturday. However, as the race continued on, it improved slightly. Regardless, very few drivers get their proper due on broadcasts, and that’s a shame. It needs to change. Makes me wonder what NASCAR thinks about the regulars in the series (except for a select few) constantly being relegated to second or third-class status.

Auto Club 400

Sunday brought the Sprint Cup Series back to Fontana for their annual visit to the Inland Empire. I don’t think anyone, myself included, expected it to be anywhere near as interesting as it turned out to be. But, how did FOX do? Let’s take a look.

Pre-race coverage started off with some talk about the Denny Hamlin-Joey Logano feud. Naturally, the coverage consisted of footage from Bristol, a couple of the angry tweets that Logano and Hamlin sent to each other publicly. Darrell Waltrip’s inclination here was that Logano was still in the same place that he was a couple of years ago when he claimed that DeLana “wears the fire suit in the [Harvick] family” after the Pocono run-in, and a later confrontation with Ryan Newman. Darrell believes that Logano has to stand up for himself, or everyone’s going to continue pushing him around. Going to Twitter to gripe about Hamlin doesn’t really help Logano’s case. Darrell basically said that Logano needed to pop someone upside the head. Well, he kinda did. However, he chose the wrong dude to tick off.

The primary feature of pre-race was a piece about Jimmie Johnson and his connection to his hometown of El Cajon, California. Pretty interesting, to be honest. FOX tracked down a couple of people from Johnson’s past including a classmate of his from high school and his barber. The idea was to show that Johnson still has a connection to his hometown. The feature was a tie-in with the Jimmie Johnson Foundation, which has completed a number of projects in and around El Cajon over the years, including building houses for the less fortunate. The general feeling of the piece is that Johnson is a somewhat down to earth man who can fit in anywhere. I suppose that’s true. There are some extra unaired parts of the piece at FOX’s Shake and Bake blog (still think they’re getting sued at some point).

Finally, FOX has tapped Michael Waltrip to do some type of grid walk. I still think he shouldn’t be on the broadcast at all, but the walk here gives him something to do. He is better than Erin Andrews was in Daytona in that he’s familiar with the personalities that he sees on pit road since he’s at the track every week. In Andrews’ case, FOX just threw her to the wolves.

While the race was going on Sunday, FOX spent a substantial amount of time rehashing the Hamlin-Logano feud during the race. Literally every time that the two drivers were around each other, off they went. Obviously, no one knew that what ultimately happened was going to go down on Sunday. However, until that point, they were irritating with the constant jamming of the feud down our throats. Now, FOX looks like a bunch of geniuses when I sat at my house basically telling them to quit it for three hours. My advice is to cover the race and allow the events to occur naturally. We don’t need a bunch of hype designed to make yourselves look good.

FOX is at a point now where they need to review how they handle the Mid-Race Report segments. I understand what they’re trying to accomplish. However, this is two weeks in a row that it completely screws with the actual flow of the telecast. On Sunday, FOX took a commercial break on Lap 99. Taking a break not even four complete laps after a restart is just not right in general. The Mid-Race Report followed immediately after the break. After the Mid-Race Report, FOX took another break. By the time we got back to regular commentary, it was Lap 111. Quite a bit happened over that period of time. Enough that I was actually lost. This isn’t 1986. I shouldn’t be getting lost during a live race broadcast.

Since the race ended 15 minutes beyond the scheduled sign-off time, there wasn’t much in the way of post-race coverage. Naturally, most of what we did get was focused upon the Hamlin-Logano-Stewart trio. We got live interviews with winner Kyle Busch and Logano. Steve Byrnes mentioned interviewing Stewart while talking to Logano, which intrigued me. Then, they aired the taped interview with Stewart where he cussed Logano out four times in 20 seconds. Good thing they tape delayed that (so that it could be censored), or Stewart would be looking at having to pay a forwarded FCC fine. To use a fictional term, it was outright Foytian in tone.

Other than the aforementioned, FOX gave us checks of the unofficial results and point standings. No interview was shown with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the new points leader and second-place finisher.

Honestly, I did enjoy parts of Sunday’s broadcast. Most of the last quarter of the telecast was pretty good. However, the last lap insanity did overshadow the fact that Bobby Labonte crashed as well in a completely separate wreck that had nothing to do with Hamlin and Logano. To be honest, I first heard about it on Twitter. It was never mentioned on FOX at all. Apparently, Labonte suffered an axle failure that put him in the wall, a little similar to what happened to Mark Martin a little earlier. Viewers saw Labonte’s stricken Charter Toyota on pit road before Stewart threw the punch at Logano. I know that the big wreck was the main focus, but the other incident needed to at least be mentioned.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is Easter, a traditional week off for the Sprint Cup Series. That’s nice and all. I’m sure the teams are anxious to rest a little bit after the constant criss-crossing of the United States over the next few weeks. However, almost everyone of note is also off. The only race weekend of note scheduled for this weekend is a race meeting at Brands Hatch which serves as the season opener for the British Touring Car Championship. That won’t be televised on TV here in the U.S. until December or so.

Tuesday, March 26

Time Telecast Network
1:30am-2:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
6:00pm-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Wednesday, March 27

Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
6:00pm-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Thursday, March 28

Time Telecast Network
3:00pm-4:00pm K&N Pro Series East DRIVE4COPD 125 SPEED*
6:00-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Friday, March 29

Time Telecast Network
12:30am-1:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
7:00-7:30pm F1 36: Sebastien Vettel NBC Sports Network

Saturday, March 30

Sadly, there are currently no scheduled original racing-related telecasts scheduled. Seriously.

Sunday, March 31

Time Telecast Network
5:00pm-7:00pm V8 Supercar Championship Series Clipsal 500 SPEED*/
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
8:00-8:30pm Wind Tunnel SPEED

Monday, April 1

Time Telecast Network
6:00-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

*- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage

Of note, there is a marathon of “RU Faster Than a Redneck” scheduled for Saturday afternoon on SPEED (kid you not). This will be the weekend that I finally sit down and critique that ridiculousness. I’ll cover the season opener for the K&N Pro Series East and the V8 Supercars for next week’s Couch Potato Tuesday.

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

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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