Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Edwards Alters ESPN While FOX Delivers “Up Close”

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast critique is our primary concern. Today, we’re covering the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series from Martinsville and the IZOD IndyCar Series from Barber Park.

Before we start, we’ve got quite a bit of news to cover.

First off, ESPN announced on Monday that Carl Edwards will be returning to the broadcast booth as an analyst for three Nationwide Series races, starting with Friday night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway. Afterwards, Edwards will be in the booth for Richmond (airing on ESPNEWS) and Talladega as well. Edwards will be replacing Rusty Wallace as the driver analyst.

Edwards is pleased to be able to get another opportunity to commentate on Nationwide races.

“I truly appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the ESPN team and their Nationwide Series broadcasts again this season,” Edwards said. “Allen, Andy and the whole ESPN team really helped me get a better feel of what goes on in the booth last season. I feel I can definitely use my racing experience, combined with what I learned last year, to provide the fans with a better perspective and inside analysis.”

Edwards was in the broadcast booth for two races last season, Darlington and Kentucky (June). In those race weekends, Edwards appeared to be lost at times and in awe of everything that the commentators have to keep tabs on during a race. A real eye opener. With two races in the booth under his belt now, Edwards should be a little better this year.

Secondly, there is a big conflict setting up between News Corporation’s FOX and Aereo, a service that allows users to watch live television online for free. DVR service is available for a fee ($8 a month for 20 hours of storage, $12 for 40 hours, or $80 a year). Currently, the service is only available in the New York City TV market, but plans were announced in January to expand to 22 new markets including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.

How does this effect us race fans? FOX, an over-the-air broadcaster, has broached the idea of converting the whole network to a cable channel if Aereo is not shut down and no competitors are allowed to launch. If FOX were converted to a cable channel, cable/satellite/telco bills would rise substantially because they would no longer be a must-carry channel (if they even are now). I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to ask for per-subscriber fees on par with ESPN. NASCAR would lose here because they would be in the middle of the crossfire. That’s something to think about here for the future, knowing that FOX is laying down $300 million a year from 2015-2022 for the Sprint Cup Series.

Finally, on the lighter side of the news, a naked man broke into SPEED’s facility in Charlotte on Monday morning. Baron von Neinlederhosen ran through the building, making a general mess of things before escaping. No one was hurt, and the naked man was eventually caught.

NBCSports covered IZOP Indycar from Barber Motorsports Park.

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

On Sunday, the IZOD IndyCar Series returned to action at Barber Motorsports Park. After the somewhat jumbled on-air crew lineup at St. Petersburg, they were back to the normal crew.

IndyCar Live was relatively light on features on Sunday. As it was AJ Allmendinger’s debut in the No. 2 for Team Penske, there was a feature on Allmendinger’s thought process over the past year or so. I don’t believe I learned anything new from the feature, but it was interesting to hear just how unhappy Allmendinger was last year, not just after he was suspended and fired, but before as well. It sounded like he was just plain miserable, hence why he was susceptible to taking the Adderall pill for the energy boost. He was blaming himself for his team’s woes.

Compared to St. Petersburg, Barber Park was not exactly the most exciting race on earth. It is pretty difficult to pass in general, and the diamond grinding may have made it even more difficult. However, there was still some good racing for position throughout the race. NBC Sports did a pretty good job bringing us racing for position. The shots were not completely isolated to the top two or three cars on the track, which is always good to see.

I’d argue that Townsend Bell has changed the dynamic of the broadcast booth much more than Leigh Diffey has so far. Wally Dallenbach seems to be trying to find his place in the new configuration, but it’s clear that despite his 12 years of booth experience, he just cannot bring as much to the broadcast as Bell can. Bell spent part of the telecast talking up the driving prowess of James Jakes on Sunday. This is Jakes’ third year in the series, and I don’t recall him ever getting that much press during the telecasts, regardless of the channel (I believe that a lot of people just write Jakes off as a pay driver via Acorn Stairlifts) Had he not had mechanical problems in the race, he would have probably scored a top-10 finish.

Post-race coverage was rather substantial since the race ended ahead of schedule. There were eight post-race driver interviews, plus an interview with winning car owner Michael Andretti. I will admit to cracking up during James Hinchcliffe’s post-race interview since he joked about how he spent 70 or so laps sitting in his car just waiting for a full course caution that never came. When he officially retired, he got out of the car and stretched out as if he had taken a nap (he didn’t). There was also checks of the unofficial results and point standings, along with some post-race analysis.

I enjoyed watching the race. For an event that ended with an 83 lap green flag run, there was a good amount of action that we saw on-track. That’s always good to see. I hope we get to see more of the same in Long Beach.

Kroger 250

On Saturday afternoon, the Camping World Truck Series returned to Martinsville for their first of two visits.

NCWTS Setup actually had quite a few driver interviews on the show this week, which was nice to see. There was a feature where they took a look at ThorSport Racing’s 2012 season. The team had made a number of changes ahead of the season, including moving into their palatial new shop in Sandusky, Ohio and changing from Chevrolet to Toyota. Yet, the team struggled. The overall theme here was frustration, which makes sense. Also, it was noted that the team’s shop is right across the street from Sandusky Speedway (yeah, I doubt they’re going to whine much about noise from that track). If the trucks raced more on short tracks than they do now, I’d argue that it could be an slightly unfair advantage.

During the race, there was a fair amount of action on-track. There was a significant amount of time given to the tires and how they would give up a bunch. The give up led to a number of different pit strategies that ultimately put Darrell Wallace, Jr. in excellent position to win (he had the freshest tires at the finish).

SPEED did a decent job in showing the battles for position during the race. However, they were not so good in showing other aspects of the race. For example, I remember seeing Brennan Newberry having a somewhat decent run, then we didn’t see him for a while. Later on, he’s 30+ laps down. No explanation was given as to what happened. Former colleague Doug Turnbull essentially asked Newberry “What the deuce happened” on Twitter on Monday. Newberry replied that he got caught up in a chain reaction on a restart that really wasn’t covered at all. As a result, he had to go behind the wall for repairs. SPEED kinda dropped the ball there.

Also of note, there were a couple of other issues with the race telecast. There were a number of cautions in rapid succession and SPEED failed to notify viewers of lucky dog recipients. Usually, they’re the best of NASCAR’s TV partners at that. I don’t know what was up.

Post-race coverage was also a little more brief than normal. However, that might be understandable due to the 71 laps of yellow causing the race to go over it’s timeslot. As a result, we only got three post-race interviews, a chat with winning crew chief Joe Shear, Jr., and a check of the unofficial results. No point standings were shown.

SPEED did a decent job showing some of the racing on Saturday afternoon, but their telecast just lacked a lot of the touches that we’re generally used to on truck telecasts. It’s a shame. Maybe the six-week break hurt them. They’ll get a chance to redeem themselves next weekend.

STP Gas Booster 500

The Sprint Cup Series returned to the paperclip-shaped Martinsville Speedway for their second short track race of the season. Mike Joy spent about half of the weekend at the Barrett-Jackson Auction in Palm Beach, FL and missed all the action on Friday.

The primary feature during pre-race coverage was a sit down interview that Chris Myers conducted with Denny Hamlin last week. Here, Hamlin talked about what he recalled of the big wreck in Fontana, the Bristol incidents and his grandmaster plan for returning. I’ll be honest here. If you saw the footage of Marty Smith’s sit down with Hamlin, you weren’t missing anything here. Smith is a better interviewer than Myers, and I didn’t really see the same emotion out of Hamlin as I saw in Smith’s piece. My best guess is that Smith had two advantages. One is that he likely got to do his interview first. The other is the fact that Smith got Hamlin to react to Logano’s statements.

For equal time reasons, there was also a piece about Joey Logano and how he wants to be respected on the race track. I feel like the whole setup came off as insensitive. It’s one thing to want to be respected. However, you have to own up to your own faults. I don’t know if Logano has fully done that yet, and this piece didn’t really help. Having said that, Logano successfully made it through Martinsville without getting taken out or irritating anyone too much.

I still think that FOX needs to make use of their pit reporters during the pre-race show. It’s ridiculous that we never hear from them. Instead, we’ve got Michael Waltrip doing a grid walk. I’ve already stated multiple times that he probably shouldn’t even be on the broadcast in the first place. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t really want offbeat pre-race interviews that lack substance. I want more meaningful quotes from drivers. Honestly, I definitely wasn’t thinking that Erin Andrews’ guest shot in Daytona was actually going to be a prelude to anything, but I was wrong. And, it’s not for the better. I shouldn’t have to watch the pre-pre-race show (NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco) to get a meaningful regular driver interview.

During a race at Martinsville, there are a lot of things that go on. It is the perfect place for FOX to make use of side-by-side replays, like SPEED does on their truck telecasts. It’s quite important because it takes almost two laps to do a proper replay at Martinsville and quite a bit happens in that time frame. However, they refuse to do it here. I have no clue why. It’s not like they haven’t done it before on Cup telecasts.

I, along with The Daly Planet’s John Daly, received a tweet during the race from a fan that complained about the camera shots being terrible and that the broadcast booth was talking about action that we could not see. First off, I’m a little busy with note taking during races, so it’s very unlikely that I can tweet you back during a race (or in this case, multiple races). However, thanks to the DVR, I can go back and look at aspects of the telecast again. If anything, that makes the commentators out to be another group of producers. They’re only trying to help us out. The biggest gripe I had with the cameras is that they were too close. As a result, we probably couldn’t see as much action as we should have been able to.

I will admit that I was not expecting Danica Patrick to finish 12th on Sunday. I did state last week in Mirror Driving that I was surprised that Patrick hadn’t earned an unrestricted top-20 finish. Now, she’s got one and should be proud. There were a number of people that took to Twitter and other places after the race and stated that FOX was kissing up to her something awful. While it is true that she got a little more coverage than what is normal for where she finished, the coverage during the race of her wasn’t that bad. I do think that Joy might have gone a little over the top on the cool-down lap.

Since the telecast had already run over it’s scheduled length before the race ended, there was a somewhat truncated amount of post-race coverage. There were five post-race interviews, along with checks of the unofficial results and point standings. Also, there were replays of Brian Vickers’ spin after the checkers. It should be noted that FOX didn’t choose the right time to go to the replay because they cut to it right as Kevin Harvick was enacting additional justice on Vickers. As a result, that had to be shown via replay as well. Sometimes, you have to be in the moment. FOX was not here.

Overall, FOX gave viewers a broadcast that I guess could be considered average for this season. I didn’t particularly like the extra-tight shots. That just doesn’t do it for me. With a wider shot, we could have seen the shot that put Travis Kvapil behind the wall during the big stack-up on the backstretch. Also, there was an overuse of the ground cam shots (formerly the Digger cam). You can only see so much with them, especially with how close together everyone runs at Martinsville. The booth itself was actually fine on Sunday. They were fine to listen to and it was obvious that they were quite excited.

Aside from Ryan Newman, no one really had tire issues in reference to melting beads, which was a huge problem with the COT. Having said that, there were a number of cut tires due to contact. However, there was not all that much discussion about the track not taking rubber. It was somehow even worse of a problem than with the COT, and worse than the Truck race on Saturday. That is something that needs to be looked into for the future.

That’s all for this week. We have a short turnaround this week. By Thursday, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide teams will be back out in Justin, TX at Texas Motor Speedway. Meanwhile, Formula One will be back from their three week break for the Chinese Grand Prix near Shanghai.

Tuesday, April 9

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

Wednesday, April 10

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

Thursday, April 11

Time Telecast Network
2:30am-3:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
3:00-4:00pm K&N Pro Series East Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150 Presented by G-Clean SPEED*/
6:00-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Friday, April 12

Time Telecast Network
2:00am-2:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
2:00-3:30am Formula One Grand Prix of China Free Practice No. 2 NBC Sports Network
12:30pm-2:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
2:00-3:00pm Trackside SPEED
3:00-4:30pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
5:00-6:00pm? Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN 2
6:30-8:00pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
8:00-8:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN 2
8:30-11:00pm Nationwide Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 ESPN 2

Saturday, April 13

Time Telecast Network
2:00am-3:30am Formula One Grand Prix of China Qualifying NBC Sports Network
2:00pm-3:00pm NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
2:00-4:00pm Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge: Barber Park SPEED*/
4:30-5:00pm SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
5:00-7:00pm NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
7:00-7:30pm FOX Pre-Race FOX
7:30-11:00pm Sprint Cup Series NRA 500 FOX
9:00-11:00pm TORC Series: Dodge City SPEED
~11:00-11:30pm NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED

Sunday, April 14

Time Telecast Network
2:30am-5:00am Formula One Grand Prix of China NBC Sports Network
5:00-5:30am F1 Extra NBC Sports Network
11:30am-1:30pm V8 Supercar Championship Series Tasmania Microsoft Office 365 SPEED*/
1:30-2:00pm NCWTS Setup SPEED
2:00-4:30pm Camping World Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200 SPEED
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
8:00-8:30pm Wind Tunnel SPEED

*- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted/Edited
~- Approximate start time
!- Notable

Note the question mark by the time listed for Nationwide Qualifying on Friday. According to ESPN, the session is only given a one-hour timeslot. However, there is no way that the session will be complete in that time. I think they’ll stay until it ends since SportsCenter is scheduled afterwards, and not a live sporting event. Also, the exclamation point next to Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR RaceHub denotes that the 25 nominees for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2014 will be announced during that show.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.

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:

NBC Sports Network

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

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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