Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Moving NASCAR Coverage Onto The Web

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast critique is the main objective. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series were both in action at Darlington Raceway. Meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series made its 2014 debut on the NBC Sports Network in Long Beach.

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

On Sunday afternoon, NBC Sports Network began its 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series coverage from the Streets of Long Beach, Calif. It also welcomed two new members of the broadcast team in Paul Tracy and Kelli Stavast, meaning there’s plenty to touch on.

IndyCar Central is NBC Sports Network’s pre-race show for Verizon IndyCar Series races and, generally, it was pretty good. Unlike the pre-race shows from ESPN and FOX, this one was more or less centered on interviews. There were seven driver interviews, plus a talk with car owner Sarah Fisher.

Outside of the interviews, there was a segment where the retired Dario Franchitti talked with Robin Miller about racing at Long Beach and what it means to him. For what it’s worth, this was Miller’s only appearance on the broadcast. There was no Grid Run or snark from the veteran journalist.

Was the IndyCar Series broadcast the best of the weekend? Was there really any doubt?

Sam Posey also submitted an essay about the history of racing in Long Beach. His piece was centered upon Chris Pook, the founder of the Long Beach Grand Prix, and his overall vision for the event. Let’s be honest, Long Beach was kind of dumpy when they had the first race, a Formula 5000 race in 1975. While it’s likely that Long Beach would have changed for the better without the race, the change wouldn’t have been visible on a worldwide stage without it.

There was a good amount of battling for position shown on-air during the race, as drivers all over the field got a decent amount of coverage. However, there were some things that happened in the race that I cannot definitely tell you what happened — for example, Graham Rahal’s spin on lap 68 that brought out the fourth and final caution. I know that Rahal spun, stalled his car and then had to have water dumped on his right front corner because the brakes flared up. There was no replay that could show how he spun out. The booth thought that he was hit from behind, but there’s no proof. Makes me wish there was a rearward-facing camera on Rahal’s car, something that was absent from any car in the field, from what I could tell.

I figured going into the telecast that Stavast would do just fine in the pits based on her sports car work, and I was right. However, most of the anticipation surrounded Tracy’s work in the booth. I guess everyone wanted him to be the IndyCar equivalent of Kyle Petty. That’s definitely not the case; honestly, I found him to be a little quiet. He’s a little reserved in the booth. He does have opinions, but he’s still working to try to figure out his voice as an analyst. It seems like he really wants to be more vocal, but it’s a work in progress at the moment. He’s got five more races this year, so there’s time to improve.

Despite being right up against the end of its timeslot, NBC Sports Network brought viewers a fair amount of post-race coverage. There were six driver interviews, plus a check of the point standings. There was also a check of only the top-10 finishers.

Overall, the action Sunday in Long Beach was pretty good. There was exciting racing on the city streets (despite the fact that almost everyone of note wasted their Pushes to Pass way too early). The coverage for the most part was pretty good and I came away fairly happy — and there’s still room to improve next time out at Barber Park. The only thing I’m worried about with NBC Sports Network for now is what the constant revolving door of on-air personalities will do to the quality of the broadcasts going forward. As of now, there are at least 11 on-air personalities confirmed to be working on at least one IndyCar telecast. With only six (or seven) on-air spots each week, that might be a little much.

VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200

On Friday night, the Nationwide Series returned to action at Darlington Raceway, and all eyes were on Chase Elliott.

Back in March, when I used wrestling vernacular to spruce up a relatively boring Nationwide race from Las Vegas, I mentioned that NASCAR definitely wanted Elliott to be put over as a new babyface. Well, after Texas, that has definitely come to pass.

Much of NASCAR Countdown chronicled Elliott’s recent rise to prominence in the series. This was shown with a recap of Texas, interviews with both Elliotts (Bill was in the pit studio), and plenty of discussion with Rusty Wallace and Ricky Craven. Ultimately, that took up almost half of the show.

I liked that Craven described how he learned to race at Darlington. For those of you who weren’t watching, Craven described an experience in which David Pearson took him out on track in a van, showed him the proper line and how to drive the track. Craven claimed that it was 1992 (his official rookie year in Busch Grand National, despite the fact that he had won a race in the series as a Busch North regular the year before). However, the pole that he mentioned occurred in August 1993, his fourth time there. His Busch stats show that he was strong at Darlington after that weekend, so that’s worth noting.

During the race, there was a decent amount of racing for position. However, unlike the IndyCar coverage from Long Beach, it was still not all that inclusive. It’s likely true that the lack of inclusiveness is due to the fact that the series is about as competitive as mid-1990s ARCA on superspeedways, just with less ridiculous wrecks.

Elliott’s victory at Texas definitely made him a point of emphasis for the telecast; as such, ESPN was undoubtedly very pleased that Elliott made his charge on four fresh tires to steal the win away from Elliott Sadler on the final lap.

Post-race coverage was very, very brief. Since the race was over the end of its timeslot, ESPN only aired the victory lane interview with Chase Elliott before leaving for live Boxing. However, there were at least four additional interviews conducted by ESPN’s pit reporters. These were made internet exclusive and can be seen here. Allen Bestwick mentioned that they would be posted under the heading of The Rundown. However, no one at ESPN got around to changing out the Texas Rundown interviews from the NASCAR page at ESPN.com as of Monday morning, so I had to find the video through the notoriously user-unfriendly ESPN Search function. Yeah, they could do better with the website.

If The Rundown is going to become a regular thing from now on, I’d like to have a little more content than some interviews that only last two minutes, 40 seconds. You could include the point standings (which didn’t make the broadcast) and booth analysis as well (Note: Chase Elliott is currently leading the points by 13 over teammate Regan Smith). You know, stuff that would normally make the regular broadcast if there was time. Also, I would have liked to see what caused Brendan Gaughan to crash on the final lap. We never got a replay of that. It could become something really good, especially for once ESPN gets Sprint Cup back in July.

I feel like I’m a broken record at times when I talk about ESPN’s Nationwide telecasts, but being inclusive is the key. Chase Elliott’s recent success means that we don’t get quite as much Kyle Busch shoved down our throats, but it’s just switching drivers instead of curing the overall ailment.

Bojangles’ Southern 500

Saturday night brought 510 miles of action in front of a sellout crowd at Darlington Raceway, and FOX televised the event with its usual panache.

During the 90 minutes of pre-race programming, there were two notable features. One saw Larry McReynolds sit down with Todd Gordon (crew chief for Joey Logano) to discuss Team Penske’s consistency and Gordon’s relationship with Logano. This was an interesting conversation in that it shows that Logano’s infectiousness is rubbing off on his team. Seriously, the guy has the most infectious laugh in all of Sprint Cup.

The other had Darrell Waltrip holding a rookie meeting with seven of the eight Sprint Cup rookies (Kyle Larson was absent, a fact noted in the piece). Here, Waltrip, in his own way, described the dangers of racing at Darlington Raceway. What we saw on Saturday was more or less what NASCAR’s rookie meeting probably looked like, except that this was almost played for laughs. While the elder Waltrip definitely knows what he’s talking about here, it’s like he wasn’t taking it seriously. For what it’s worth, some of the rooks took it more seriously than others. Parker Kligerman apparently took copious notes (or at least, that’s what Waltrip stated during the race).

Kevin Harvick’s win capped a Cup broadcast with some amusing pre-race features but sans much substance otherwise.

Compared to ESPN, FOX’s telecast was more inclusive. We got battles for position all over the field, though a little more of that action was earlier in the race. There were not as many shenanigans on the broadcast as we normally see — and that’s good. As knowledgeable as the FOX booth can be, there are a lot of examples of stupid stuff. I’m fine with Waltrip going on about Dale Earnhardt, Jr. “pulling a Linda Ronstadt” on Denny Hamlin. He just left it at that. No ridiculous singing.(Note: The thought of Darrell Waltrip singing Linda Ronstadt songs would ordinarily be hilarious, but here, it would drive me nuts)

Unfortunately, there were some things that should have been referenced on the telecast that really weren’t fleshed out. About two-thirds of the way through the race, Kyle Busch fell to the rear of the lead lap and rode around there for something like 30 laps. I had no idea that he was back there. No reference was made to it until the end of the run and Busch had already pitted.

We never got any kind of replay as to what happened to Kasey Kahne to put him out of the race. We did get some aftermath footage from when Kahne was trying to get his Great Clips Chevrolet back to pit road. Honestly, I have no clue how that didn’t draw a caution since Kahne’s hit might have been the hardest broad-side hit on the wall all night. Regardless, I feel like FOX would have caught that on camera and chose not to replay it. If it did have footage, it never notified any of the viewers.

Post-race coverage was about average. FOX gave viewers five post-race interviews and a check of the point standings. However, FOX showed the standings based on wins instead of points. As a result, Kevin Harvick was listed as the points leader despite actually being 22nd at the moment. Yeah, that’s weak. We’re eight races into the season; I don’t really give a hoot about those listings right now. Give me the real points. Last I checked, Jeff Gordon is still leading those points by one over Matt Kenseth.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is Easter. For many of you, that means religious services and time spent with your family. For most racers, it also means a week off. The only racing that is scheduled for this weekend is Formula 1 in China. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, April 15
Time Telecast Network
2:30am-3:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
4:00pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:00-6:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network

Wednesday, April 16
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-3:00am Verizon IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach NBC Sports Network*/# (from April 13)
2:30-3:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
3:00-6:00am Sprint Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500 FOX Sports 1*/# (from April 12)
6:00pm-6:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network

Thursday, April 17
Time Telecast Network
12:00pm-1:00pm motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of the Americas FOX Sports 1*# (from April 13)
4:00-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
7:30-8:30pm Moto2: Austin FOX Sports 2*# (from April 13)

Friday, April 18
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
4:00pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00-5:30pm Countdown to F1 NBC Sports Network
7:00-10:00pm AMA Monster Energy Supercross: Seattle FOX Sports 1*# (from April 12)

Saturday, April 19
Time Telecast Network
2:00am-3:30am Formula One Grand Prix of China Qualifying NBC Sports Network

Sunday, April 20
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-2:30am Formula One Grand Prix of China Qualifying NBC Sports Network* (from April 19)
2:30-3:00am F1 Countdown NBC Sports Network
3:00-5:00am Formula One Grand Prix of China NBC Sports Network
5:00-5:30am F1 Extra NBC Sports Network
2:30pm-3:00pm F1 Countdown NBC Sports Network*#
3:00-5:00pm Formula One Grand Prix of China NBC Sports Network*#
5:00-5:30pm F1 Extra NBC Sports Network*#
5:30-7:00pm Pirelli World Challenge Roar at the Shore NBC Sports Network* (from April 13)

Monday, April 20
Time Telecast Network
4:00pm-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:00-6:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network *- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage #- Repeat Coverage

Since this weekend is the sparsest racing weekend of the entire season, I’m currently unclear as to what next week’s column will look like at the moment. It’ll be a surprise for you.

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.

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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