Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Serves Up A Plothole

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast breakdowns are par for the course. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series were back in action after a week off at Richmond International Raceway. In addition, the Verizon IndyCar Series had to deal with adverse weather in Alabama. We’ll get to those races in a bit.

Last week, it was announced that a deal had been reached to televise this past Thursday night’s Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown via syndication on stations owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group at some point in the future. For me, that would be either WRGB (CBS 6) out of Schenectady/Niskayuna, New York, or WCWN(CW15), or one of the sub-channels of those stations. Of course, that’s assuming that the race gets picked up because I don’t believe that it’s a must-carry. If it airs here at some point, I’ll try to critique the telecast for the Annex.

Honda Grand Prix of Alabama

On Sunday, the Verizon IndyCar Series returned for their fifth visit to Barber Motorsports Park, the so-called Augusta of Motorsport. While I find the idea of comparing a 10-year-old race track to an 80-year-old golf course that hosts one of the four biggest golf tournaments in the world ridiculous (not to mention pretentious), the track does provide an interesting race.

I didn’t realize until I tuned in to the GT/GTS Pirelli World Challenge race Sunday morning that rain was going to be a problem on Sunday. And man, was it a problem. At the time NBC Sports Network went on-air, the track had more or less been cleared due to a severe thunderstorm.

During the prolonged delay, NBC Sports Network aired race two for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, which was scheduled to air after the IndyCar race. In addition, the network talked to almost every driver on the grid. Joe Namath, who served as the grand marshal, also showed up during the delay in the booth. Yes, he was sober, lucid and very happy to be at Barber Park.

IndyCar from Barber Park: pretty to look at, but not much in the way of a TV broadcast.
IndyCar from Barber Park: pretty to look at, but not much in the way of a TV broadcast.

Once the race started, there were a couple of changes as compared to a normal race on the station. First, there was only one NonStop commercial break during the whole race, occurring during the first yellow. My guess is that the top-three graphic was screwed up and it couldn’t be fixed, so it was ditched for the day. Why do I say that? Because when it did show up, the top three listed appeared to be from last year. Ryan Hunter-Reay was in the No. 1 instead of the No. 28, and Tristan Vautier was listed at all. He currently does not have a ride.

Also, it would have been nice to have a lap counter. NBC Sports Network took the opinion that since it was a timed race, laps don’t matter. As a result, the time remaining in the race was displayed above the scroll for the entire race without a lap guide.

Remember how I mentioned that I find the whole Augusta-of-Motorsport thing pretentious? That statement was incredibly overused on the broadcast, to be point where it irritated me. That and “rain is the great equalizer.” The rain didn’t equalize diddly-poo. That’s arguably something that has more merit in a series where there are bigger differences between the cars. I think the race would have turned out similarly had it been 100 percent dry. The only differences would be that Juan Pablo Montoya probably wouldn’t have beached himself and Carlos Munoz wouldn’t have crashed under caution; the Aleshin incident probably still would have happened).

Yes, I know that it bites that the race finished under caution, but what do you want? The race was right up against sunset as it was. The cameras that NBC Sports Network uses to cover Verizon IndyCar Series, much like those that FOX, ESPN, Turner Sports, FOX Sports 1, etc., have can make it appear much lighter to viewers than it actually is. Last year’s Aaron’s Dream Weekend at Talladega is a prime example of that (Note: I fully admit to burning through 70 percent of my data for May last year watching the Aaron’s 312 on the WatchESPN app while at a wedding reception). “Bud Pole Qualifying for the 2000 DieHard 500”:http://youtu.be/Lil4kON6Pmo?t=1h15m3s is another example. Also, Mikhail Aleshin’s crash uprooted the soft barrier that Townsend Bell described as similar to his old college mattress and that needed to be reset before racing could resume. There was no way in heck that was going to happen quick enough to allow for any racing.

Compared to what we’re used to, Barber Park was not so great for NBC Sports Network. I just didn’t enjoy the network’s broadcast as much as I usually do. That stench is going to fester for awhile because it’s six weeks before NBC Sports Network is back to cover another race. Having said that, it will cover some of the action during the month of May in Indianapolis. The next four point races will be onABC.

ToyotaCare 250

Friday night, the Nationwide Series was supposed to race relatively early so that the event would be over by 9:30 p.m. and the K&N Pro Series East could have its 100-lap feature. Well, that didn’t work out so well; the race hadn’t even started by then.

ESPN first came on-air in the middle of a thunderstorm. Nicole Briscoe briefly hosted the intro to Countdown, then disappeared for the rest of the night. Here, all that happened was that qualifying was recapped, then ESPN immediately cut to bonus coverage of the VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 from Darlington. My thoughts on that race can be found “here”:https://frontstretch.com/pallaway/45045/. The move was made not because ESPN didn’t want to be on-air at that time; it was a safety move. The weather was unsafe for cameras, so it went off-air. That’s fine. Also, the network made a good move putting a “Previously Recorded” graphic on screen. I know it’s silly, but FOX’s failure to do that at Daytona exposed a lot of people.

All in all, ESPN did well with its Nationwide Series coverage, despite a lengthy delay.
All in all, ESPN did well with its Nationwide Series coverage, despite a lengthy delay.

Just about the only advantage of the race taking anywhere near as long as it actually did to start is that theNBA playoff game that pushed the race to ESPNEWS was long over by the time the race started. As a result, the race was able to move to ESPN2 during the competition caution at lap 45. That was good to see. Not so good for those people who weren’t at home and all of a sudden had to manually reprogram their DVRs to follow the race to basic cable, but the increase in potential audience cannot be stressed enough.

During the race, the tire issues was a story, but not the dominant story on the broadcast. It only really came into play during the 100-plus-lap run after the competition caution. Yes, it wasn’t exactly great out there for teams, but it gave some hope that Saturday night’s race would be better. Obviously, that didn’t happen. We did see tires off of a number of cars during the round of green flag stops. Some were ugly, some were not too far from roasting the car (Daniel Suarez’s right front corner was on fire when he pitted on lap 113, yet the team managed to keep his car from going up in flames without the use of a fire extinguisher). Others were just OK.

After the long run, there was a lot of emphasis in the booth on the fact that the track didn’t rubber in and a second groove never developed. It’s arguable that the two topics are related. If the track’s not “rubbering in,” there is no impetus to groove search, no matter what Rusty Wallace says. You just drive around the shortest route because it’s the quickest. Seems like no one grasped that concept at ESPN.

Also, has Richmond really had a second groove all that much since it was last repaved? Not that I can remember. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has been going on for years about how Richmond International Raceway needs to be sealed again in order to produce the multi-groove racing there that he craves. I only say that because for much of the last 75 laps, ESPN’s commentators were pining for something that hasn’t existed for a decade, yet they’re acting like it’s a new thing. Maybe I’m not watching the right races here, but didn’t Denny Hamlin lead 381 laps there not too long ago and only lost because he cut a tire? These days at Richmond, there is some side-by-side racing, but it’s not natural. Drivers have to force the issue.

Overall, ESPN did well, given the circumstances. Their coverage of the tire issues was ultimately better than what FOX came up with for Saturday night. We saw more of the actual issues. Actual racing for position was not so much. It tended to fall into a couple of storylines, like normal. ESPN really needs to break from that.

Toyota Owners 400

On Saturday night, the Sprint Cup Series returned to Richmond for 400 laps of action. As far as I could tell, no blatant collusion took place, but did FOX make it out of Richmond in better shape than Casey Mears’ face?

To start: a quick thought about NASCAR RaceDay. The best part of the show last year was Wendy Venturini’s interviews; they were generally well-researched and interesting to watch. With Venturini jettisoned from the show with the new format (and not for the better, I may add), they’ve tried to replicate this with Larry McReynolds’ interviews with crew chiefs. Admittedly, they are the best part of the show right now. However, it’s just not the same.

During the FOX portion of pre-race, there was a fair amount of time given to Robert Griffin, III’s appearance at the track. Seems like Griffin had a lot of fun at the race, taking in the experience and getting selfies with nearly every personality he could find. FOX parlayed that into drivers talking about their favorite NFL teams and the schedule getting released. Uh, that’s not the best move. FOX’s goal to me seems to be to screw ESPN and get fans that would have ordinarily watched Sprint Cup races on there in the fall to watch NFC games on FOX instead. Really, dudes? At this point, the NFL doesn’t even need to be promoted anymore (unless you’re in a market like Jacksonville, Tampa or San Diego, where the team doesn’t always sell out). Don’t try to take NASCAR’s viewers away, regardless of the channel that the races air on. You’re only hurting yourselves.

For the most part, FOX was able to provide coverage of the vast amount of on-track action at Richmond.
For the most part, FOX was able to provide coverage of the vast amount of on-track action at Richmond.

During the race, the tire issues were the primary story for most of the night. Of course, everyone at FOX seemed to be convinced that the Cup cars would pulverize the rubber into the surface, preventing the issues from Friday night from reoccurring. Man, were the broadcasters wrong. Once it realized it screwed up, FOX did just fine bringing the story to the viewers. There were a lot more people other than the drivers who did have tire failures (Bowyer, Stenhouse, Sorenson, etc.) that had issues. For example, Brad Keselowski’s right front tire had cords showing at the competition caution. Jeff Gordon apparently didn’t have issues, but I still would have liked to see his tires, just to what a “good” tire would look like after 56 laps or so.

FOX’s coverage of the flame-ups was lacking, though. The flaming-up always seemed to come out of nowhere. For example, Reed Sorenson’s flare-up occurred during a commercial break. I was sitting here watching the race, noticed the fire I a replay and said. “Where the heck did that come from?” The whole thing was surreal, and with FOX’s direction, it didn’t make sense at times.

Outside of the tires, FOX did an OK job in showing the action on-track. We obviously aren’t going to see everything, but they cover a fair amount. I still believe that Darrell Waltrip is overstating things to a certain degree in his commentary, though. He sounds like a squealing schoolgirl at times.

Post-race coverage featured what I think was live coverage of the Marcos Ambrose-Casey Mears altercation. Chris Myers was put in the unexpected position of giving play-by-play. Now, he does play-by-play on NFL games, but they never air here in Albany, so I’ve never heard his work. Here, Myers’ voice rose to an octave rarely reached by a network TV personality, but not quite as high as “Bob Jenkins did at North Wilkesboro in 1989”:http://youtu.be/GSi3gQ3_sZo?t=53s. Myers’ words had been usurped by the actions.

However, there is a downside to FOX’s coverage of the Ambrose-Mears situation: I don’t really know what sparked that whole situation. Mears claims that it was a series of instances during the race, but during “an interview Sunday with Alan Cavanna”:http://www.nascar.com/en_us/news-media/blogs/alan-cavanna/nascar-sprint-cup-casey-mears-marcos-ambrose-punch-fight-richmond.html, he did not go into any detail. Ambrose has yet to speak on the record about the incident. FOXstated on-air that it would get to the bottom of what caused it, but failed to produce jack in the way of evidence, leaving viewers and TV critics like myself to hypothesize what happened. I think that Ambrose hit Mears and cut his left front tire right around the time JJ Yeley blew his engine, and that was the lynchpin, although I’ll willing to buy Mears’ argument about other instances being involved as well.

FOX could have and should have done more. Anything would have sufficed. Getting the principals on camera was impossible (they were shuttled off in golf carts before you could blink an eye), but any explanation would have been beneficial. For the sake of this argument, the only dude that’s going to get penalized from this incident is whoever the heavyset man in the ECR firesuit was that punched Ambrose after Ambrose punched Mears. He’ll get a hefty fine at the minimum.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is Talladega. Heck is nearly certain to go down on the 2.66 mile tri-oval. Sprint Cup and Nationwide are the primary draws, while theARCA Racing Series returns with a shortened race that will run immediately after the Nationwide race. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, April 29
Time Telecast Network
12:00am-1:00am Moto2: Argentina FOX Sports 2* (from April 27)
1:00-2:00am motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of Argentina FOX Sports 2*# (from April 27)
12:00pm-1:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
6:30-7:30pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*#

Wednesday, April 30
Time Telecast Network
2:30am-3:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
12:00pm-1:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:30-7:30pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*#

Thursday, May 1
Time Telecast Network
2:30am-3:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
7:00pm-9:00pm Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 FOX Sports 1*/# (from April 26)
9:00-10:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Friday, May 2
Time Telecast Network
2:30am-3:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
3:00-6:00am AMA Monster Energy Supercross: East Rutherford FOX Sports 1*# (from April 26)
1:00pm-2:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
2:00-3:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
3:00-3:30pm NASCAR Live FOX Sports 1
3:30-4:30pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
4:30-5:30pm K&N Pro Series East Blue Ox 100 FOX Sports 1*/ (from April 26)
6:30-8:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1

Saturday, May 3
Time Telecast Network
3:00am-4:00am Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1*# (from May 2)
4:00-5:00am Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1*# (from May 2)
11:00am-1:00pm ARCA Racing Series International Motorsports Hall of Fame 200 FOXSports 1
1:00-2:30pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX
2:30-3:00pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
3:00-6:00pm Nationwide Series Aaron’s 312 ESPN
6:00-7:00pm Rally America 100 Acre Wood Rally NBC Sports Network*/
8:00-10:00pm ARCA Racing Series International Motorsports Hall of Fame 200 FOXSports 2*#
10:00-10:30pm Monster Energy Supercross Pregame FOX Sports 1
10:30pm-1:30am AMA Monster Energy Supercross: Las Vegas FOX Sports 1

Sunday, May 4
Time Telecast Network
3:30am-5:30am Nationwide Series Aaron’s 312 ESPN 2*/#
7:00-9:00am motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of Spain FOX Sports 1
10:00-11:30am Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1*# (from May 3)
11:30am-12:30pm NASCAR RaceDay FOX Sports 1
12:30-1:00pm FOX Pre-Race FOX
1:00-3:30pm TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix Powered by Mazda (PC/GT-Daytona Race) FOX Sports 1
1:00-5:00pm Sprint Cup Series Aaron’s 499 FOX
5:30-8:00pm TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix Powered by Mazda (Prototype/GT-Le Mans Race) FOX Sports 1
8:00-8:30pm NASCAR Victory Lane FOX Sports 1
8:00-9:00pm Moto3: Spain FOX Sports 2*
9:00-10:00pm Moto2: Spain FOX Sports 2*

Monday, May 5
Time Telecast Network
3:00am-4:00am World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Silverstone FOX Sports 1*/ (from April 20)
4:00-5:00am Moto2: Spain FOX Sports 2*# (from May 4)
10:00am-1:00pm Sprint Cup Series Aaron’s 499 FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 4)
4:00-5:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:00-6:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
6:30-7:30pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*# *- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage #- Repeat

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and ARCA races from Talladega for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.

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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