Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: If You Make TMZ, It’s Never A Good Sign

It’s hard to imagine, but today marks the 350th TV article I’ve written for Frontstretch, including both the website and our newsletter. To ring in the celebration, let’s delve into this past weekend, during which the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were both in Fontana, California. Spoiler: despite racing at the same track, we got two completely different events due to the tire situation.

However, before we start, check out an interesting ranking conducted last week: Sporting News’ Bob Pockrass released the results of an unscientific survey that asked fans to rate their favorite TV announcers. The winner? Mike Joy, who had the most “Best Announcer” points and the highest approval rating at over 93 percent. The worst announcer? That depends on how you calculate it. By least “Best Announcer” points, it’s Brad Daugherty, but by approval rating, it’s Michael Waltrip.

The poll shows just how polarizing some of the personalities can be. Darrell Waltrip had the most “Worst Announcer” points, but the fourth-most “Best Announcer” points. That added up to an approval rating of 40.5 percent. The only clear thing that comes out of this survey is that fans are pretty sick of Michael Waltrip. Sunday’s performance, as you’ll see below, didn’t do Michael any favors.

TreatMyClot.com 300

Kyle Larson hoisted the day’s trophy after a Nationwide race that featured OK coverage by ESPN’s standards.
Kyle Larson hoisted the day’s trophy after a Nationwide race that featured OK coverage by ESPN’s standards.

On Saturday, the Nationwide Series returned to Fontana for its one visit this season, with ESPN revisiting once again the ongoing issues surrounding lack of exposure for Nationwide drivers in relation to the telecast.

A good chunk of NASCAR Countdown was dedicated to the very issue of Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series. Think of it as an extension of the discussion that occurred during the Boyd Gaming 300. As you may remember, Dale Jarrett basically tried to throw the majority of people reading this article under the bus, claiming that writers and fans in the know are the only reason why this controversy is even an issue at all, while Andy Petree claimed that there is a belief that the Cup drivers need to be there to prop up the series. Yeah, it’s always a good strategy to blast the people that butter your bread.

Nicole Briscoe allowed Pit Studio colleagues Ricky Craven and Brad Daugherty to chip in as well. Craven wasn’t in Las Vegas, meaning it was his first chance to chime in — and given that opportunity, he gave a rational explanation for what the issue has become, using his own experience as an example. He believes that there should be a limit of no more than 15 starts a year for Cup drivers, as that is the maximum that Mark Martin did when he drove the Winn-Dixie No. 60 over a decade ago.

Meanwhile, Daugherty believes that Cup drivers shouldn’t drive in Nationwide for Cup teams, but for smaller Nationwide-only organizations. Knowing his past history in the Nationwide Series, such a response could benefit Daugherty, especially if he and the Geschickters were to relaunch their Nationwide team.

Rusty Wallace gave the point of view that track owners want the Cup drivers to bring in the crowds, using his Iowa Speedway promotional work as an example. I don’t understand that, since Iowa has always been a standalone race and has drawn very well with a minimal amount of Cup regulars in the series. Some of that may have been curiosity, but beyond race No. 1 or 2, that’s staying power.

Despite the discussion of Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series in pre-race, the actual race telecast itself was not all that different from normal. There was a substantial focus on Kyle Busch since he was coming from the rear. His run through the field Saturday just shows how strong Busch and the No. 54 team is at the moment (39th to the top 10 in less than ten laps, with three laps of caution thrown in for good measure).

Since much of the race was run under green, the field ended up getting very spread out. With the current status quo in Nationwide, this situation meant many drivers ended up multiple laps down. Here, ESPN should take the time to search for battles and update viewers on teams. ESPN did the latter with one of its Up to Speed segments, but for much of the race, there really wasn’t all that much battling for position shown — though the end of the event made up for that, but there was a lot of boring stretches.

Since ESPN was right up against the end of its time slot, post-race coverage was extremely limited. There was only time for a quick interview with winner Kyle Larson before leaving the air.

The time constraints really hurt ESPN’s telecast at the very end. It was a great finish and we could only get the bare minimum before having to leave. Heck, this segment was actually a time where I wanted to hear what Busch had to say after being usurped by Larson. Also of note: ESPN has shown the points after one of the five Nationwide races to this point. There are fans of the series that want to know what’s going on there.

Auto Club 400

Sunday brought the Sprint Cup Series and its tire problems onto the bumpy Auto Club Speedway surface for 200 scheduled laps of action. As expected, the tires continued to be the big story.

Including NASCAR RaceDay on FOX Sports 1, pre-race coverage was somewhat interesting. Larry McReynolds conducted a short sit-down interview with Chad Johnston, crew chief for Tony Stewart. The topic was simply the start of the 2014 season for Stewart-Haas Racing’s flagship car. Aside from the constant references to Stewart’s leg, the No. 14 team really hadn’t made many headlines before their top-5 finish at Bristol.

Somehow keeping squarely in line with one of the major issues stated by fans in Bob Pockrass’ recent survey, Darrell Waltrip conducted one of his Shooting the Breeze interviews with Danica Patrick. While the topics were somewhat varied, the issue is the same: Waltrip has been accused of favoritism towards Patrick by numerous people, most recently in comments submitted to the Pockrass survey. He definitely didn’t help his case here.

Darrell Waltrip, along with brother Michael took a lot of heat in a recent “unofficial survey” by Sporting News that labeled them two of the most polarizing NASCAR announcers.
Darrell Waltrip, along with brother Michael took a lot of heat in a recent “unofficial survey” by Sporting News that labeled them two of the most polarizing NASCAR announcers.

Also, Michael Waltrip kept up his run of stupidity on Sunday. First, he ran around Hollywood, asking dumb questions to people on the street. Then, just to make things worse, during his detestable Grid Run, he went on and on about Donna Summer being on pit road. I don’t know who the heck Michael was referring to on pit road, but I know for sure that he wasn’t pointing out Donna Summer — she’s been dead since 2012. The woman that Michael claimed was Summer turned out to be Star Walker, a random fan that had a hot pass and just so happened to be a Summer fan. That royal act of stupidity landed Michael on TMZ.

Let’s be honest here: In the past, I’ve stated that it is typically bad if a NASCAR TV personality makes Deadspin for something they’ve done on-air. However, TMZ is a whole other level of terribad.

Once again, Auto Club Speedway proved a solid racetrack for the Sprint Cup Series.
Once again, Auto Club Speedway proved a solid racetrack for the Sprint Cup Series.

Race coverage ended up being dominated by the various tire issues that punctuated the day. However, even with these issues, we never got a look at any of the 16-plus blown left-side tires up close during the race— though we did get at least a glance at the tires if you watched practice coverage on FOX Sports 1 on Saturday. I wanted to see that stuff in order to get any kind of idea as to whether it was just the tread and sidewall separating, or if something else was at play. Hard to tell; we could have used more analysis here.

There was also a “LOL” moment when FOX was showing the starting lineup, realizing that it didn’t have a picture of Sam Hornish, Jr. to throw up there. Instead, we got zilch, a black background of nothingness — just plain laughable. Apparently, the news came out too late to rig something up in Photoshop, or someone from FOX to take a picture of Hornish on pit road. Regardless, it looked silly.

Unfortunately for viewers, the tire issues seriously took away from what was a very good race otherwise. When broadcasters weren’t covering the incessant issues with tires, there was a lot of good racing for position on track. FOX did a decent job showing us that action. Maybe Fontana racing is actually not that bad now.

Other than Michael Waltrip being an idiot, my main issue with the telecast was simply bad luck. Five of the nine cautions flew during commercial breaks, and the only non-tire related incidents occurred during commercials. FOX could have broken in from those breaks — especially in a situation like the Gilliland wreck, which occurred during one of the side-by-side commercials.

I wish FOX was able to get a better view of Parker Kligerman’s crash (we only got a replay that showed Kligerman already out of control). Kligerman stated after the race that Mears wrecked him. Mears acknowledged his role on Twitter and apologized.

We’ll see what Goodyear and Auto Club Speedway do in the future. There is a tire test already scheduled for Kentucky Speedway (also bumpy as heck) on May 20th – 21st. Whatever comes out of that test will hopefully help the situation in Fontana. Tires wearing is one thing, but tires blowing out after 12-19 laps is another story entirely.

Despite the race finishing 26 minutes after the network’s scheduled time slot concluded, viewers still got a decent amount of post-race coverage. The point standings were shown along with several driver interviews.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend appears to be quite busy. We’ll have the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series competing at Martinsville Speedway. Meanwhile, in DV-R Theater, the World Championship moves on to Malaysia for the annual trudge through air so thick that you could cut it with a linoleum knife. Finally, it’s opening weekend for the newly renamed Verizon IndyCar Series on the Streets of St. Petersburg. Also, new this week on the suggestion of a reader and our fearless leader are listings for repeats of the Sprint Cup and Formula One races. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, March 25
Time Telecast Network
2:30 AM – 3:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Wednesday, March 26
Time Telecast Network
2:30 AM – 3:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
3:00 – 6:00 AM Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 FOX Sports 1*/ (from March 23)
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
8:00 – 11:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 FOX Sports 2*/ (from March 23)

Thursday, March 27
Time Telecast Network
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
11:30 PM – 12:00 AM The Grid NBC Sports Network

Friday, March 28
Time Telecast Network
2:00 AM – 3:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Malaysia Free Practice No. 2 NBC Sports Network
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM K&N Pro Series East Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150 FOX Sports 1*/ (from March 22)
12:00 – 1:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
1:30 – 2:30 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
3:00 – 4:30 PM Camping World Truck Series Practice FOX Sports 1
4:30 – 6:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1
7:30 – 10:30 PM NHRA Summitracing.com Nationals Qualifying (Opening Round) ESPN3.com$

Saturday, March 29
Time Telecast Network
4:00 AM – 5:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Malaysia Qualifying NBC Sports Network
10:00 – 11:00 AM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 FOX Sports 1
11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Camping World Truck Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1
1:00 – 2:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 2
2:30 – 5:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 FOX Sports 1
8:00 – 10:00 PM NHRA Summitracing.com Nationals Final Qualifying ESPN2*/
8:30 – 11:30 PM AMA Monster Energy Supercross: St. Louis FOX Sports 1

Sunday, March 30
Time Telecast Network
3:30 AM – 4:00 AM F1 Countdown NBC Sports Network
4:00 – 6:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Malaysia NBC Sports Network
6:00 – 6:30 AM F1 Extra NBC Sports Network
11:30 AM – 12:30 PM NASCAR RaceDay FOX Sports 1
12:30 – 1:00 PM FOX Pre-Race FOX
1:00 – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series STP 500 FOX
2:00 – 6:00 PM NHRA Summitracing.com Nationals Final Eliminations ESPN3.com$
2:30 – 3:00 PM F1 Countdown NBC Sports Network*
3:00 – 5:00 PM Formula One Grand Prix of Malaysia NBC Sports Network*
5:00 – 5:30 PM F1 Extra NBC Sports Network*
3:00 – 6:00 PM Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg ABC
7:00 – 7:30 PM NASCAR Victory Lane FOX Sports 1

Monday, March 31
Time Telecast Network
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network

*- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage
$- Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your programming and/or internet service provider for availability.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Verizon IndyCar series race telecasts for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. Note that Sunday’s IndyCar race is broadcast on ABC. That event, to open their season will have the debut of Allen Bestwick in the broadcast booth for the series. For the Critic’s Annex on Thursday in the Newsletter, I will be covering FOX Sports 1 and IMSA.com’s coverage of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. For the April 3 edition of the Annex, I will dive deep into DVR Theater to look at NASCAR Now. It’s been a while. It needs a write up.

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:

FOX Sports

At this point, there is still no public contact e-mail for NBC Sports. When they finally get around to creating a new link, I will post it for you.

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 ones full of rants and vitriol.

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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