Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN’s Race It Didn’t Cover

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast opinion is the primary objective. The Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series had an unplanned doubleheader on Sunday at Martinsville, while the Verizon IndyCar Series held its season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Sunday (March 30) saw IndyCar launch a new era with the introduction of Verizon as the series’ title sponsor, as well as an ESPN return to St. Petersburg after a year away. Last year, the race was aired on NBC Sports Network and marked the debut of Leigh Diffey as the play-by-play man for the then-Izod IndyCar Series. Sunday saw Allen Bestwick’s debut in the broadcast booth for the newly-rechristened Verizon IndyCar Series.

There were roughly 20 minutes of unbranded pre-race coverage from St. Petersburg, comprised of four driver interviews. — plus a picture cutaway from an interview because it appeared that Tony Kanaan used the f-bomb during his chat. I’m unclear on whether that was the case or not, but ESPN’s production decision lean toward that presumption.

There was also a feature about the unlikely pairing of Takuma Sato and A.J. Foyt. The takeaway here is that Foyt seems to like Sato’s “fighting spirit” and doesn’t believe that Sato is too big for his britches. Admittedly, nothing that I haven’t previously seen from either ESPN or NBC Sports Network. However, I have no idea why ESPNchose to subtitle Sato. Really, dudes? Sato speaks English fluently. That was not required.

Will Power’s victory highlighted an overall solid first broadcast of the IndyCar season.
Will Power’s victory highlighted an overall solid first broadcast of the IndyCar season.

“Two years ago”:https://frontstretch.com/pallaway/37926/, my primary gripes with ESPN’s St. Petersburg coverage revolved around ESPN failing to notify viewers as to why drivers in the top 10 suddenly dropped out of the race, as well as the network generally not being the most inclusive. Luckily, neither of those issues were prevalent on Sunday; 20 of the 22 starters finished the race. The only two who didn’t finish (Marco Andretti and Jack Hawksworth) were eliminated in a restart crash on lap 81. We saw that crash happen in real time from the blimp. No mystery involved.

In regards to my other gripe from 2012, ESPN’s broadcast was more inclusive than it was in 2012. There was quite a few battles for position throughout the field andESPN did a pretty good job in showing those battles. It’s a nice change.

Bestwick appeared to treat St. Petersburg as a learning experience for himself in regards to the Verizon IndyCar Series. Viewers got to join in on the learning, to a rather excessive level at times. For as much as Bestwick claimed that he was a novice on the telecast, he appeared to have everything down pretty well. That’s because he’s a pro; Bestwick knows his jibber-jabber.

However, he also inherited former play-by-play commentator Marty Reid’s booth partners Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear. Cheever used to be a part-time commentator on ESPN’s IndyCar races before expanding his role to all of ESPN’s races a couple of years ago and is simply boring to listen to in the booth; this has been the case for years. He just doesn’t contribute very much to the telecast; he’ll just chip in every once in a while with something that is quite obvious. That approach makes the viewer face-palm repeatedly. He’s lucky that he doesn’t have enough of a body of work in the booth for a fail compilation on YouTube. Also, he deals in absolutes, which is probably not the best way to approach a race telecast. It’s like the only reason that he’s there is that he won the Indianapolis 500 in 1998.

Goodyear is definitely the more experienced and informative of the two analysts in the booth. Regardless, I still prefer Wally Dallenbach, Jr., Jon Beekhuis or Townsend Bell with NBC Sports Network. Arguably, ESPN should have a two-man booth with Bestwick and Goodyear, something it did have when Reid was still on the ESPNpayroll.

Post-race coverage was fairly extensive. ESPN provided viewers with six post-race interviews, plus a chat with the winning car owner (Roger Penske). There was also a check of the unofficial results and post-race booth analysis before ESPN left to get to the local news.

For Bestwick, St. Petersburg was mission accomplished. He did a very good job commentating on the race, learning everything that he needed to. Cheever continues to irritate me and is simply not a pleasure to watch, while Goodyear can make for a decent analyst to bounce thoughts off of. However, he essentially has to carry Cheever.

STP 500

On Sunday afternoon, the Sprint Cup Series returned to action with 500 laps of action at Martinsville. The race was amazing, despite the track temperature never reaching a point at any time during the weekend where rubber would take hold on the track.

So far this season, the move to make NASCAR RaceDay a “pre-pre-race” show has not exactly been met with approval from fans. In its old guise, the show was more or less independent of FOX’s race telecasts and had a different vibe. Granted, Kenny Wallace’s over-the-top behavior could be a bit much at times, but it was a lighthearted and informative chunk of television.

The FOX pre-pre-race version of NASCAR RaceDay, for lack of better words, is “whatever we couldn’t fit onto the half hour show on FOX.” Unfortunately, that means extra Waltrip time, which poll after poll shows that fans don’t necessarily want (especially Michael).

The main piece of RaceDay was a remembrance of Lynda Petty narrated by Ken Squier. It was OK, but it wasn’t even the best Lynda Petty piece that Squier voiced last week. The one that aired on NBC Sports Network’s NASCAR America was longer, more informative and just worked better. A shorter piece ran during the main pre-race show on FOX as well.

Beating and banging to get to the front? Martinsville had that and more.
Beating and banging to get to the front? Martinsville had that and more.

Of course, as you’re well versed about by now, one of the big stories that came out of Sunday was the latest edition of the rivalry between Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski. My thoughts? No one is to blame for the incident. I also wish that we had a better view of the incident than the roof-cam view from Aric Almirola’s car. It’s Martinsville, and everyone’s pitting on lap 44 of a 500 lap race. All kinds of stuff is almost guaranteed to go down under those circumstances.

FOX did its job in tracking down Keselowski for comment (he was quite perturbed at the time). Then, Keselowski came back onto the track and had a bumping match with Kurt Busch. There was also a gesture of questionable virtue that FOX aired live. That’s fine; however, it probably did not need to be replayed. The situation was similar to Norm Benning’s one-fingered salute to Clay Greenfield at the end of the last chance qualifier prior to the Mudsummer Classic last year. You’ll probably see that gesture from Keselowski again on TV this week, but it will be censored in some way, shape or form.

Beyond lap 100 or so, there really wasn’t much more discussion of the whole spat — which is good, because it means that it didn’t overshadow the rest of the race. Having said that, post-race likely would have been quite a bit different had Kurt Busch not won.

Aside from the Busch-Keselowski spat, FOX did a decent job showing the racing for position on track, and we didn’t see too much of the biases that tend to show up on these broadcasts (fawning over Kyle Busch, Danica Patrick, even Dale Earnhardt, Jr.). While those three drivers did get the appropriate amount of airtime on Sunday, it was not overblown.

Post-race coverage, despite the race running long, was somewhat typical. FOXprovided viewers with four post-race interviews and a check of the point standings before getting off the air so that the preparations could be made for the Camping World Truck Series broadcast. FOX tried to get an interview with Keselowski on-air, but was unable to do so. However, it did note Keselowski’s quotes made to a throng of print reporters in the garage. Those quotes will play a role below.

Overall, I found the post-race coverage a bit lacking, but given the circumstances, it would have been difficult to provide much more with another race telecast going on-air roughly 10 minutes after FOX left the air. The race itself was quite thrilling to watch, especially late. There were a record number of lead changes as well. The only thing that needs to change is the date of the race, since the problem of getting rubber to lay down on the track is going to be an ongoing issue if they can’t hold the race when the track temperature can reach 80 degrees.

However, that was not it for the Keselowski-Busch conflict. While Keselowski was quite willing to have a donnybrook with Busch after the race (even requesting that he leave Victory Lane in order to get his whoopin’), he had basically dropped the issue by the time he got back home. Busch didn’t want to talk about it at all since he won the race, and that’s all that matters.

On SportsCenter later in the evening, ESPN’s Zubin Mehenti tried to get Busch’s opinion on Keselowski’s aforementioned quotes and any potential future conflict between the two. “That just ticked Busch off”:http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=10699552. It’snot good that the winner of the race is referring to you and/or your employer using language preferred by Bryce Harper on live television. I don’t know if the questions asked here were Mehenti’s idea, or pitched to him by a producer, but I can’t imagine that John A. Walsh, ESPN’s executive vp and executive editor, was all that pleased with the final product. Mehenti could have gone a different direction with the interview and not elicited so much anger from Busch. Editor’s Note: This piece originally read that Kevin Negandhi was the anchor that interviewed Kurt Busch. This was incorrect and the article has been changed to reflected the truth.

It just signals a general lack of knowledge about NASCAR at SportsCenter; only a few anchors seem to really know all that much about the sport in general. ESPN has tried to narrow this gap in the past by bringing SportsCenter personalities to races on “field trips” so that they can better understand the sport. On paper, it sounds like a good idea. However, such a scenario should never have to happen, because ESPNdoesn’t have to do that for anything else. ESPN dropping NASCAR at the end of the season will only make it worse in the future (also, who knows what NASCARcoverage on _SportsCenter_will look like starting next year).

Kroger 250

After the Sprint Cup fireworks, the Camping World Truck Series took to the track for their 250 lap event, held over from Saturday due to rain.

On Saturday, the vibe coming from the broadcast booth was that they would eventually get the race in that day; however, FOX Sports 1 as a whole didn’t necessarily feel the same way. As a result, we didn’t really get all that much coverage before the event was called. There were 10 driver interviews before the postponement was announced, and two more afterwards. However, much of the time that was allotted for the race was spent airing practice and qualifying coverage from Friday.

When FOX Sports 1 came on-air Sunday after the Sprint Cup race for the Truck coverage, it was right to business. At 5:30, the trucks were already on the track for their pace laps. There was only a brief introduction from the broadcast booth before the field was let loose.

Chalk up another victory for Matt Crafton in the second race of the 2014 season.
Chalk up another victory for Matt Crafton in the second race of the 2014 season.

Viewers saw a pretty competitive race; there was far more usage of the chrome horn here than in the Cup race. FOXSports and BSI made a very good decision to put a headlight cam (herein referred as “Heady”) on Johnny Sauter’s truck, much like what the “Seven Network used to do at Bathurst back in the 1980’s”:http://youtu.be/d36NgpO5QOs?t=3m11s. Sauter then proceeded to drive his truck in the manner of a battering ram. However, this led to some Heady overkill as every time Sauter made a pass, we got a Heady replay. It detracted a bit from the rest of the action on-track.

There were a number of things that viewers missed as a result of FOX Sports 1’s production decisions. We missed the restart from the third caution when Darrell Wallace, Jr. was able to get around Ron Hornaday for the lead. There was a lot of discussion on-air (and on Twitter) about Bryan Silas taking a spill when he got out of his aflame Chevrolet, but viewers didn’t see that. And the only people who know what happened to Jeb Burton to bring out the fifth caution were at the race or listening on radio. That incident occurred during a commercial and no replays were ever shown.

Due to the schedule change, post-race coverage was very brief. All we got were interviews with winner Matt Crafton and Timothy Peters. No checks of the point standings or unofficial results were shown. It was stated that additional interviews would be conducted off-air and would be shown on Monday’s edition of NASCARRaceHub.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series will be in action at Texas Motor Speedway. However, note that the Cup race will be run Sunday afternoon instead of Saturday night. Yes, they’re getting the heck out of the way of the Final Four, which is scheduled for Saturday night at At&t Stadium in nearby Arlington. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, April 1
Time Telecast Network
3:30am-6:00am Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 FOX Sports 1* (from March 30)
12:00pm-1:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network

Wednesday, April 2
Time Telecast Network
2:30am-3:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
3:00-6:00am Sprint Cup Series STP 500 FOX Sports 1*/ (from March 30)
12:00pm-1:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network

Thursday, April 3
Time Telecast Network
12:00pm-1:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network

Friday, April 4
Time Telecast Network
2:30am-3:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
11:00am-12:30pm Formula One Grand Prix of Bahrain Free Practice No. 2 NBC Sports Network
12:00-1:00pm K&N Pro Series West NAPA Auto Parts 150 FOX Sports 1*/ (from March 22)
4:00-5:00pm Firestone Indy Lights St. Petersburg 100 NBC Sports Network* (from March 30)
4:00-5:30pm Nationwide Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1
5:30-6:00pm NASCAR Live FOX Sports 1
6:00-8:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
8:00-8:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN 2
8:30-11:00pm Nationwide Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 ESPN 2

Saturday, April 5
Time Telecast Network
2:30am-4:00am Nationwide Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 ESPN 2*/ (from April 4)
10:30am-12:00pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
12:30-2:00pm Formula One Grand Prix of Bahrain Qualifying NBC Sports Network*
3:00-4:30pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 2
8:30-11:30pm AMA Monster Energy Supercross: Houston FOX Sports 1

Sunday, April 6
Time Telecast Network
10:30am-11:00am F1 Countdown NBC Sports Network
11:00am-1:00pm Formula One Grand Prix of Bahrain NBC Sports Network
1:00-1:30pm F1 Extra NBC Sports Network
1:30-2:30pm NASCAR RaceDay FOX Sports 1
2:30-3:00pm FOX Pre-Race FOX
2:30-3:00pm F1 Countdown NBC Sports Network*#
3:00-5:00pm Formula One Grand Prix of Bahrain NBC Sports Network*#
3:00-7:00pm Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 FOX
5:00-5:30pm F1 Extra NBC Sports Network*#
5:30-7:00pm Pirelli World Challenge: St. Petersburg NBC Sports Network* (from March 30)
8:00-8:30pm NASCAR Victory Lane FOX Sports 1

Monday, April 7
Time Telecast Network
1:00pm-4:00pm Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 FOX Sports 1*/# (from April 6)
4:00-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:00-6:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network *- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage #- Repeat

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races from Texas Motor Speedway for next Tuesday’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. Due to ESPN’s recent preemptions, I will need to delay my look at NASCAR Now by at least a week, mainly because there just isn’t enough source material to critique. The show will have only aired three times in two weeks by the time Wednesday night comes around. As a result, the NASCAR Now piece will be pushed back to at least April 10 in the Newsletter.

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 emails 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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