Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Drawing The Line Between Sports Coverage And E!

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast discussion and critique is the main object of affection (or derision). This past weekend was relatively light, with only the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series in action in Richmond.

All cameras focused on Danica and Ricky Friday night. ESPN doesn’t seem to have anything better to do with their time.

ToyotaCare 250

On Friday night, the Nationwide Series returned to action on the three-quarters of a mile “D-Shaped” oval at Richmond International Raceway. Carl Edwards was back in the booth for his second race of the year. How did it go? Let’s take a look.

Since we’re relatively early on in the season, ESPN decided once again to give the Pit Studio (and by extension, their Pit Studio analysts) the night off. However, Nicole Briscoe, fresh off a photo shoot as “Frog” from Smokey and the Bandit, was still there. They kept her there as a host, but cast her in a role of a wanderer. A “Dart Without Feathers,” if you will. Yeah, all that did was make Briscoe look dumb. I’ve never meet Briscoe in person, but I’m sure that she’s quite smart. You wouldn’t have any staying power on television, regardless of looks, if you didn’t have the smarts.

Since there was no Pit Studio this week, there was more room for interviews. Six drivers were interviewed during the show, which is above average. Always good to see.

In Part 2 of ESPN’s series of Nationwide regular driver profiles, Travis Pastrana was profiled (Nelson Piquet, Jr. was the first). If you’re a regular viewer of the Nationwide Series, you probably didn’t learn anything here. Pastrana talked a bit about his background and how the Nationwide Series is more competitive than anything he’s raced in previously.

Marty Smith also voiced over a piece about how the general public (especially in NASCAR) never enjoys dominance in anything. They tend to accuse those who are extremely successful of cheating constantly (Brett Hearn), only being successful because of someone else (Jimmie Johnson), or other reasons. This segment was a nice piece, and actually quite good.

During the race, Edwards did a pretty decent job in the booth. He’s becoming more and more comfortable with himself as an analyst. It’s not exactly being thrown to the wolves like it was last year. However, he was wondering out loud about how doing Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 in the booth could negatively affect his run in the Cup race on Sunday; that type of stuff has to go.

Early in the race, there was a red flag due to an incredible amount of rear-end grease out of Dexter Stacey’s car on track that led to a big crash in Turn 1. That bites for Stacey. He’s got to qualify on speed for Saturday’s race now. With 46 cars entered, that might be a tough task.

Why I am referencing that fact is that during the red flag, ESPN zoomed in multiple times on a pair of seemingly normal race fans sitting at the very top of the grandstands exiting Turn 2, enjoying a meal and just spending time together. Those two people just so happened to be Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., ostensibly on a little “date night” at the race. Good lord, couldn’t you have left those two alone? Who gives a hoot about what they’re doing on a Friday night? They’re not even in the race. They’re eating concession food and taking pictures of themselves on a cell phone. Of course, this moment went viral. Jeff Gordon tweeted about sending the two of them a bottle of wine up there (which ESPN ended up putting on air and Patrick later responded to). USA Today’s Jeff Gluck called it “cute,” they ended up on Sprint Vision, so on and so forth. Good cripes. Please don’t do that again. Are you that bored during a red flag 30 laps into the race that you can’t keep your head in the game?

Admittedly, I wasn’t really expecting this issue, but tires ended up becoming a pretty big story during the race. There was a substantial drop off on tires with only a few laps’ difference. I had honestly never noticed that at Richmond before, mainly because the recent races there have had a lot of long green-flag runs. ESPN covered this quite well.

I would have liked to see a little more coverage of Mike Wallace’s issues late in the race since the smoke and fluid from the No. 01 caused two consecutive cautions. Andy Petree mentioned that NASCAR was none too pleased about the car being back on track without being fixed. However, there was no mention of what was going on under the hood of the car. Just that it was putting down fluid and causing yellows. That undoubtedly affected the outcome of the race. As for what ESPN could have done? They could have sent one of their four pit reporters (whoever was assigned to the pit) down to the No. 01 pit and talked to crew chief Marc Browning to give viewers a better idea of what was going on.

Since the race went over the end of its scheduled time slot, there was only so much post-race coverage. There were three post-race interviews, plus a conversation with winning crew chief Jeremy Bullins. There were also replays of the confrontation on pit road between Piquet and Brian Scott. At the time I saw it, I thought Piquet had kicked Scott in the shin. That reminded me of a confrontation that his father had with Eliseo Salazar at the Hockenheimring in 1982. I didn’t realize until later that Piquet had actually kicked Scott “square in the noots.” (Note: The spelling is intentional. Read it as if you’re Eric Cartman). At least Scott was joking about it on Twitter after the race, asking if he could get a cup sewn into his fire suit.

Overall, ESPN did an average job on Friday night in Richmond. I liked some of the on-track action and I’m happy with Edwards’ continued improvement in the broadcast booth. Now that he’s getting rid of his jitters, he can be the insightful analyst that I always figured that he could be. Just don’t cast Briscoe as a lost duck, all while exposing drivers on quasi-dates, and you’ll be doing great.

Toyota Owners 400

On Saturday night, FOX returned for their second night race of the season, this time from Richmond International Raceway. How did they handle the action? Let’s take a look.

Ahead of Saturday night’s race, the main topic of discussion was the punishment levied on Matt Kenseth. I specifically referenced the penalties as being “gargantuan” last week. To this degree, FOX aired a montage of interview clips with Kenseth and Joe Gibbs, taken from their media availability press conferences, and clips from an impromptu presser that crew chief Jason Ratcliff had at the No. 20 hauler. Chris Myers provided the voiceover. Overall, it did a very good job in capturing the general mood entering the race, and how the principals involved really feel about the penalties (that NASCAR went way the deuce too far for something that the team literally had no control over).

Denny Hamlin took some time out to go to the Hollywood Hotel and talk about his ongoing recovery and the general disappointment about not being able to race at Richmond. He also mentioned that surgery is an option for his ailing back, which has been giving him issues for years. The spine injury was just the latest back injury. Hamlin plans on trying to start Sunday’s Aaron’s 499. However, if he can’t be back in the seat full-time by Darlington, he might consider just having the surgery now and sitting out even longer.

Unfortunately, Hamlin’s interview where Myers and both Waltrips asked him questions was the only real driver interview during the whole pre-race show. Otherwise, the only driver interaction we saw was during Michael Waltrip’s dumb Grid Walk where he asked Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano one question each, couldn’t get a word in edgewise with DeMarcus Ware, and gave Felix Sabates a high five. There has to be more driver-related content that can be used on FOX’s pre-race show.

Last week, I noted that FOX seemed to do quite well with showing action for position up and down the field early on, then slowly narrowing their focus as the race went on. Unfortunately, Saturday night saw more of the same from FOX. Had the final caution and the resulting GWC never happened, the last 40 laps of the race would have been centered upon Juan Pablo Montoya, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. The only break from that would have been when they talked about Brad Keselowski’s engine woes, which they seemed to take quite a while to even reference (he was already back to 26th and all but lapped before they mentioned it).

Despite the narrow focus, FOX did take advantage of the technology available to them to pick up on things that most fans probably wouldn’t have been able to catch. Darrell Waltrip, despite being quite annoying at times in the broadcast booth, is still quite in tune to how drivers feel in their race cars. He mentioned during the race that Kenseth is extremely sensitive to his car and was going on and on about a slight vibration in the right rear. Sometimes, that sensitivity can be to his detriment.

FOX then set out to find just what the heck Kenseth was going on about. Eventually, they found a small sliver of sheet metal hanging down from Kenseth’s No. 20 and was dragging the track in front of the right-rear wheel, which was then shown in slow motion. Later on, FOX was able to find footage that showed that the piece kicked out during their first pit stop. Just shows what FOX can do with all the technology that they have available to them.

A big theme in the broadcast was the whole full moon thing (apparently, when a full moon is out, heck goes down). I’m sure that with a full moon out, heck goes down about as often as it does without it, but I don’t need to hear about it 14 times a race. Gets annoying after a while.

Since FOX went over the end of their scheduled time slot, there was not much post-race coverage to be had once again. They did bring four post-race driver interviews and checks of the unofficial results and point standings to viewers. There were also replays of the various incidents that led to anger on the GWC. Also, coming out of a commercial break, there was footage of an argument between Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch that stemmed back to the GWC.

Kurt appeared to really be able to keep his cool here. Past incidents might not have been so pretty. I suppose still getting a good finish helped out a bit. It should be noted that FOX did try to get an interview with Tony Stewart, but he apparently skipped out of sight before FOX could get a microphone on him.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is shaping up to be very busy. There will be a tripleheader in Talladega with the Sprint Cup Series headlining. Meanwhile, the IZOD IndyCar Series will make their yearly haul down to Sao Paulo, Brazil for a race that is sure to be full of craziness.


Tuesday, April 30

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

Wednesday, May 1

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

Thursday, May 2

Time Telecast Network
1:30am-2:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
3:00pm-4:00pm K&N Pro Series East NAPA Auto Parts 150 SPEED*/
6:00-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Friday, May 3

Time Telecast Network
1:00am-1:30am NASCAR Now SPEED
12:00pm-2:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN 2
2:00-3:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
3:30-4:30pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
5:00-7:00pm ARCA Racing Series International Motorsports Hall of Fame 250 SPEED
7:00-7:30pm SPEED Center SPEED

Saturday, May 4

Time Telecast Network
11:00am-12:00pm Trackside SPEED
12:00pm-2:30pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
2:30-3:00pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
3:00-6:00pm Nationwide Series Aaron’s 312 ESPN
6:30-7:00pm SPEED Center SPEED

Sunday, May 5

Time Telecast Network
1:00am-2:00am Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying NBC Sports Network*
9:00-10:00am NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
9:30-10:00am SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
10:00am-12:00pm NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
11:00am-2:00pm Izod IndyCar Series Sao Paulo Indy 300 NBC Sports Network
12:00pm-1:00pm FOX Pre-Race FOX
1:00-4:30pm Sprint Cup Series Aaron’s 499 FOX
2:00-3:30pm Pirelli World Challenge: Long Beach NBC Sports Network*
~4:30-5:00pm NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
8:00-8:30pm Wind Tunnel SPEED

Monday, May 6

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

*- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage

Couple of notes before we go on. First off, FOX’s Pre-Race Show this weekend is a full hour. Hopefully, they’ll use that time wisely. Also, Kyle Busch will not be in Saturday’s Aaron’s 312. Perhaps the race will be even more wide open than previously thought. I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and ARCA Racing Series events from Talladega this weekend for next Tuesday’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The IZOD IndyCar Series’ Sao Paulo Indy 300 will be covered in the Critic’s Annex on May 9th.

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

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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