Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX’s Yearly Bout With Amnesia

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast breakdowns are the primary interest. This past weekend was a very long and arduous one at Talladega Superspeedway, where the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and ARCA Racing Series were all in action. I have never had to go through as much content for three regular length races as I had to for this critique because of the weather in Talladega.

Before we start, I have a couple of jeers to hand out. First off, NBC Nightly News showed footage of what they claimed was David Ragan’s run to victory on Sunday. Unfortunately, someone in New York cued the wrong video. As a result, viewers saw the crash-marred finish of Saturday’s Aaron’s 312. Anchor Brian Williams acknowledged the screw-up and apologized as soon as he could. Meanwhile, ESPN screwed up on SportsCenter Monday and claimed that Regan Smith was JJ Yeley. Let’s just say that Smith called ESPN on that mistake.

Rain and three racing series returned to Talladega this week. Which got more coverage?

International Motorsports Hall of Fame 250

On Friday evening, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards had their second and final restrictor plate race of the year. SPEED was on hand to provide live coverage of the event.

Due to the threat of rain, the official start of the telecast was moved up to 4:50pm EDT. However, ARCA coverage started a little before that during NASCAR Live. Ray Dunlap gave an explanation of how Talladega had secured the gates in the catch fence in response to the infamous crash at the end of the DRIVE4COPD 300 in February. He also interviewed Bobby Gerhart. Once the actual race telecast started, it was straight to Rusty Wallace for the command.

Regular SPEED commentators Rick Allen and Phil Parsons were joined once again by former ARCA Champion Justin Allgaier. This time, Allgaier was there for the whole race, and not just as a special guest. I know that based on the comments from this race weekend last year, some of you probably groaned when you saw Allgaier up there. Allgaier appeared to actually do quite a bit of preparation for his work in the booth, more than Carl Edwards and any other current driver that moonlights (with the possible exception of Michael Waltrip, since he’s full-time). However, he still trends towards somewhat wordy contributions that take time away from Allen and Parsons. Also, while Allgaier enunciates well, he speaks a little too softly at times.

I’m not sure if I really liked the way SPEED handled the two wrecks that Milka Duno had a hand in causing. After the big crash, they interviewed Duno and she gave an explanation that deflected blame for either crash (Duno blamed the lapped car of James Swanson, I guess for the first one, then Thomas Praytor for the second). It appeared that the booth didn’t quite know what to make of what Duno said there. Eventually, they took Duno’s comments at face value.

There is no way that explanation could possibly jive with John Wes Townley, who got taken out as a result of what Duno claimed was Swanson’s fault. Note that Townley refused a SPEED interview, not because he didn’t want to do it, but because he wanted to have a direct conversation with Duno (Probably meaning that he didn’t want to verbally destroy his teammate on live television, which is completely fair). I’m not sure if they played audio of Duno’s interview to Townley or not (off air) before he left, but had he heard that, I think Townley would have blown his top off. For the record, I find Duno’s explanations more believable for the Big One, but not the wreck that took Townley out.

Red flag and post-race coverage was quite brief because of the rain. SPEED conducted exactly one interview (Mason Mingus) before the race was called. Once that happened, they interviewed winner Frank Kimmel and Caleb Armstrong. SPEED then showed the unofficial results, then left the air.

Aaron’s 312

On Saturday, the Nationwide Series returned to action at Talladega. The race marked (for now) Carl Edwards’ final time in the broadcast booth for 2013.

With the rains that took their sweet time moving through the Talladega area starting Friday night, there was plenty of time to kill before the race started. 3.5 hours, to be exact. There was plenty of discussion in the Pit Studio talking about wrecks. But, there was more than just rehashing wrecks in there. There was talk about a driver’s mindset, the racing that we were likely to see, the new reinforced catch fence gates, and more. There were also 22 driver interviews (Travis Pastrana, Brian Vickers and Sam Hornish, Jr. got interviewed twice), along with a brief chat with Nick Harrison (Kurt Busch’s crew chief), who showed off the special Neil Bonnett tribute scheme that Busch ran.

There were features as well. The first of these features concerned Pastrana going to Red Bull Headquarters in Los Angeles in order to undergo mental training. Here, Pastrana’s brain was tested to get a baseline of where he is cognition-wise. Then, Pastrana was hooked up to a machine that trained Pastrana to focus himself and relax, with the reward of a racing game. Admittedly, the piece was a little difficult to follow, but interesting. Looked a little like something ESPN’s SportScience would do, but different. Also of note, Red Bull is a personal sponsor of Pastrana’s, hence all the Red Bull references.

Another piece talked about Austin and Ty Dillon’s upbringing in a racing family. Austin narrated the look through his life. We got to see clips of Austin and Ty in their various endeavors as kids (football, Little League Baseball, racing each other in go-karts, etc.). We also saw footage of the brothers hanging out together and hunting. Nice little piece, but in all honesty, I didn’t learn anything from it. New viewers probably did. Finally, there was a little throwaway piece going to commercial about the idea of using die cast cars to put on your own Aaron’s 312. Do I admit to doing that all the time when I was younger? Heck yes. But not with 1:24 scale cars. That stuff is entirely too expensive ($55-95 per car) to do that with, not to mention a bit unwieldy. That is what you do with Winner’s Circle 1:64 scale cars you buy at Wal-Mart, Target, or insert discount or drug store here. Of course, when I was younger, I did it with Racing Champions cars before the Action Performance/Motorsports Authentics juggernaut ran Racing Champions out of business. Since that’s a whole ‘nother article, we’ll save that for a later time.

I feel that Carl Edwards really came into his own on Saturday. In the first two races that he’s done in the booth, he’s been nervous at times, perhaps apprehensive. On Saturday (once the rain went away), I didn’t really see that. I saw someone that was confident enough to chime in with his own personal opinions and stick to them. We saw some new ideas brought up (Ex: Edwards’ thoughts about safety crews being in danger after big wrecks like the one on Lap 93). Allen Bestwick did warn Edwards before the race that he would get a whole new outlook of the race from the booth, and Edwards completely co-signed that. At one point, he claimed that the action was elevating his heart rate, as if he was actually in a race car. I could have done without the random plug for Claritin, but overall, Edwards did a great job.

With the tandem drafting that is the norm in Nationwide Series restrictor plate races, the field is prone to spreading out a lot more. Unfortunately for viewers, ESPN kept themselves glued in to the leaders when the field did spread out. We had the scroll, but no intervals. I suppose ESPN thought they were pointless, but if they weren’t on-screen, I had no clue where anyone was. My guess is that many drivers were ten or more seconds behind once the field spread out, but no mention was ever made of it. That has to change for the next plate race in two months.

Since the race was over the end of its prescribed timeslot by over 2.5 hours, post-race coverage was relatively brief. There were three post-race interviews, plus a check of the point standings. In addition, there were a bunch of replays of the crash coming to the finish, and replays with emphasis on when the yellow was thrown, since that determined the winner.

Overall, ESPN’s commentators did a great job on Saturday at covering Talladega for six-plus hours. However, the coverage, especially in the middle segment of the race, was far too restricted to just the very front of the field. It was Ricky Bobby’s famous quote about racing brought to life, and we all know what that is. That’s not how you cover a race, dangit.

Aaron’s 499

Finally, we get to Sunday’s marathon at Talladega for Sprint Cup. Yes, I predicted correctly that David Ragan would win. But, how well did FOX do with their eight hour-plus broadcast?

Since this was Talladega, FOX broke out a full hour of pre-race coverage. As a result, we actually saw their pit reporters interviewing people before the race for what seems like the first time since Daytona. Always good to see. Still believe that they’re underutilized.

Jeff Hammond did a short piece about the method that Joe Gibbs Racing was using to perform the change from Denny Hamlin to Brian Vickers. The interesting thing here is that the team broke out the rarely-used roof hatch to facilitate the change, which was a great idea. Vickers called the driver change “sports car worthy” earlier in the weekend. Vickers would know since he spent most of 2012 driving Ferrari 458 Italia’s over in Europe. However, I’m not sure if I can buy that because sports cars have doors and it’s far easier to get in and out of the car without having to climb over a door sill.

Darrell Waltrip conducted a one-on-one interview with Kevin Harvick where the topics were his performance thus far in 2013 and the changes that have come to his life since Keelan was born. Admittedly, I could have seen the topics of discussion coming a mile away, but I thought that Darrell did a decent job with it.

Finally, pre-race saw the return of the incredibly unsatisfactory Chris Pizzi to the telecast. I have no clue why they keep trotting this dude out. He’s not funny or cool or anything. He’s a moron. This time, FOX dispatched him to Talladega’s infield to check out the grublets being consumed. Joining him for the ride was Samantha Busch, who I thought was a curious choice (knowing how much of a health nut she is, I’m surprised that she’d eat any of that stuff). She was kinda just there for most of it. We got to see unusual foods like “Drunken Chicken” (a chicken cooked for three hours with a can of beer stuffed inside) and what was apparently alligator meat. I could take or leave the segment. If you’re going to do features, I’d rather they be about drivers. We didn’t learn anything about Talladega from the piece, besides the “fact” that Michael Waltrip has a brand of beans that gives you gas.

Luckily for us, showing the action on track is not necessarily all that difficult during a restrictor plate race. Most everyone sticks close together and there’s plenty of action to be had. That is, if we’re not in commercial. Unfortunately, that is the aspect of Sunday’s telecast that stood out the most. The commercial breaks came fast and furious during the race. We wouldn’t see but a few laps of green flag racing before they went right back to commercial. Knowing just how long the red flag was, I have no clue why FOX would have even needed to go to commercial (except for local breaks) at any point after the red flag. By that point, they would have already gone through every company that paid for advertising on the telecast.

During the long as heck red flag, FOX brought viewers plenty of interviews. There were 19 driver interviews (Clint Bowyer had two), plus interviews with three crew chiefs. Denny Hamlin and Michael Waltrip also spent a significant amount of time in the Hollywood Hotel discussing a number of different topics.

There were also features that aired in order to fill time. Two of these were top-10 features, similar to what FOX did back in 2010. One was about the top NASCAR Feuds. I agreed with a number of them, but not so much Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip (referenced due to a wreck at Dover in 1993). That seemed a lot more like a one-off than an actual feud. Another was a list of the top-10 finishes on FOX.

A third feature was about the very first race weekend at Talladega in 1969 and the driver protests that resulted because of tire issues. That one might have been my personal favorite just because I’m a history nut. There was a one-on-one interview that Steve Byrnes conducted with Carl Edwards where they spent the whole time talking about Richmond. This was probably the longest interview of that type that I can remember seeing on FOX. Finally, FOX aired a piece called Being Clint Bowyer, which originally aired during pre-race for the Daytona 500 in February. I’ve previously written about it here, so I won’t rehash the contents.

Post-race coverage was relatively short due to FOX being nearly four hours over the end of their timeslot. There were three quick post-race interviews and a check of the points before FOX left the air to get to The Simpsons (at least, that’s what happened here in the Albany area). The unofficial results were only shown in the scroll.

The constant commercial breaks really broke up the telecast and made it very hard to find a flow. Sadly, this was the problem with last year’s telecast of the Aaron’s 312. It was basically the same issue, just with a bunch of rain. Going to break every three minutes isn’t cool. I thought the commentators did well, despite the high amount of the time that they were forced to fill.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, hopefully, we’ll have better weather. The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series will be at Darlington Raceway for the Southern 500 weekend. Meanwhile, the American Le Mans Series will be at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Formula One returns to action in Spain.


Tuesday, May 7

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

Wednesday, May 8

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

Thursday, May 9

Time Telecast Network
1:30am-2:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
3:00pm-4:00pm K&N Pro Series East Blue Ox 100 SPEED*
6:00-7:00pm NASCAR RaceHub SPEED

Friday, May 10

Time Telecast Network
2:00am-2:30am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
8:00-9:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Spain Free Practice No. 2 NBC Sports Network
11:30am-1:30pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
2:00-3:00pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
3:30-5:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN 2
5:00-6:30pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
6:30-7:00pm Trackside SPEED
7:00-7:30pm SPEED Center SPEED
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN 2
7:30-10:00pm Nationwide Series VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 ESPN 2
~7:45-9:15pm American Le Mans Series Qualifying ESPN3.com$

Saturday, May 11

Time Telecast Network
8:00am-9:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Spain Qualifying NBC Sports Network
11:00am-12:00pm NASCAR Now ESPN 2
3:30-4:00pm SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
4:00-6:00pm NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
6:00-6:30pm FOX Pre-Race FOX
~6:15-10:45pm American Le Mans Series Monterey ESPN3.com$
6:30-10:30pm Sprint Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500 FOX
~10:30-11:00pm NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED

Sunday, May 12

Time Telecast Network
7:30am-8:00am Formula One Pre-Race NBC Sports Network
8:00-10:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Spain NBC Sports Network
10:00-10:30am F1 Extra NBC Sports Network
4:00-6:00pm V8 Supercar Championship Series Chill Perth 360 SPEED*/
4:00-6:00pm American Le Mans Series: Monterey ESPN 2*/
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
8:00-8:30pm Wind Tunnel SPEED

Monday, May 13

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

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

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide broadcasts from Darlington for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. In this week’s Critic’s Annex in the Newsletter, I’ll be covering Sunday morning’s Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300, which was actually pretty good.

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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