Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Deadspin Moments Derail ESPN Racing Coverage

This past weekend was basically holiday season for race fans — and not just because of the Memorial Day weekend. The Sprint Cup and Nationwide series were at Charlotte Motor Speedway; meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series ran their crown jewel, the Indianapolis 500. Of course, all of it was on TV, meaning plenty of reasons for all you couch potatoes out there to hang out in your natural habitat.

Before we start, there are a couple of loose ends that I need to account for from last week’s critique. Dale Jarrett took the last two months (prior to Iowa) off so that he could follow his son Zach’s baseball exploits. Zach is a freshman at UNC-Charlotte. According to stats on the UNC-Charlotte Athletics website, he batted .248 as a freshman with two home runs and 17 RBI. He also started all but two of the games in which he appeared.

Secondly, ESPN did in fact have a camera at the exit of pit road in Iowa. However, the production chose not to use it in the telecast, to its own detriment. When you really think about that, it’s really sad.

Indianapolis 500

For ESPN, the crown jewel of the Verizon IndyCar Series season is one of its biggest race telecasts of the year. To that end, ESPN went all out, with four pit reporters on the ground, an incredible number of production employees, and (according to ESPN’s press release last week) a production staff headed by Terry Lingner just to produce the pre-race show.

Sunday saw Lindsay Czarniak’s return to television as host for ABC’s coverage. She’s been out on maternity leave for the last few months (she doesn’t return to her SportsCenter gig until June 9). Czarniak generally did well here off her hiatus.

There were a number of decent features that aired as part of pre-race. One had Chris Connelly talking to Tony Kanaan about a good-luck amulet that his mother had given him. Years earlier, Kanaan visited 15-year-old Andrea Braun, who was battling for her life in the hospital. He gave Braun the amulet for good luck. Nine years later, Braun gave Kanaan the amulet back shortly before he won the Indianapolis 500 last year. This was quite touching. We hear about drivers doing these appearances all the time these days, but Kanaan seemed really genuine here.


A particularly moving part of the pre-race festivities involved a segment on Tony Kanaan, last year’s Indy 500 winner..


But then there was the real stinker of the bunch. Before I get into that, I use the term “Deadspin Moment” in these columns from time to time. The term quite simply refers to something in a telecast that makes Deadspin. Under normal circumstances, the Verizon IndyCar Series making Deadspin means that something bad happened on the telecast. Looking up the IndyCar tag on the site shows that they hadn’t mentioned the series all year until yesterday. So, what caused Deadspin to post about IndyCar all of a sudden?

The post was prompted by a ridiculous piece that featured Josef Newgarden (Note: Viewer discretion is advised due to profanity in the article). I guess it was supposed to be some kind of bad dream that featured the famous winner’s milk, but also a masked man in latex. It appeared that trying to get to the milk would drive Newgarden to assume a “super form,” or something like that, but wow. That was just plain weird. I have no idea if that was supposed to pump people up for the race, but it just confused the heck out of me and probably scared some younger viewers.

The race itself was pretty decent for 95 percent of the distance. ABC (via ESPN) gave viewers a fairly complete picture of everything that was going on during the race. I know for a fact that no one at ESPN was expecting the race to go green for the first 75 percent of the race, but everything was fine.

When certain issues came up during the race, ESPN covered it well. For example, Ed Carpenter was forced to pit early due to blistered tires. The network got a camera down to Carpenter’s pit and showed viewers the blistered tire (and yes, it was not good). We were able to see why Helio Castroneves got a warning for blocking early in the race. We even saw what technically caused the yellow that came out right before Townsend Bell’s crash (contact between Jacques Villeneuve and Sebastian Saavedra resulted in a piece of Saavedra’s front wing ending up on the backstretch).

There were only two aspects of the overall race portion of the telecast that I didn’t like. One was how the Josef Newgarden wreck was handled. My best guess is that ESPN simply didn’t have a very good view of what happened and/or didn’t notice it right away. We got exactly one replay of Martin Plowman plowing through Newgarden, and that’s it. That was disappointing, but not game-breaking.

What was game breaking was the finish, which ended up the second aspect of the telecast to warrant a Deadspin post. Oh boy. Let’s flash back to pre-race real quick. During the piece about ABC’s 50 years at Indianapolis, sports television legend/former ESPN employee and Ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer talked about how the best telecasts focus on storytelling. That led to ESPN’s decision to focus in on Beccy Hunter-Reay (Ryan Hunter-Reay’s wife and Robby Gordon’s sister) and Adriana Henao (Helio Castroneves’ girlfriend) during the battle for the win.

I don’t give a hoot about significant others in this situation; it’s the last couple of laps of the Indianapolis 500. Hunter-Reay and Castroneves are racing for the win. I want the on-track action full-screen. Of course, ESPN/ABC showing drivers’ wives and/or girlfriends is hardly a new thing. Just because Dario Franchitti married Ashley Judd didn’t start this stupidity. It’s been an ongoing thing on ABC for at least 30 years. Most of the time, it’s unnecessary and takes away from the race. Sunday was no different.

I feel for anyone who watched Sunday’s race on an SD television since the action would have been scrunched up into 14 percent of a relatively small screen (and apparently, if you lived in Connecticut, less than that due to a severe thunderstorm warning overlay). All I can say is that the treatment of the finish soured what was a pretty good race telecast.

Post-race coverage, despite its length, was actually quite limited when you look back on it. ESPN provided viewers with only two driver interviews (Hunter-Reay and Castroneves), Hunter-Reay’s wife (the aforementioned Beccy) and car owner (Michael Andretti). There was also a check of the top-10 finishers, and that was it. No interview with Kurt Busch before he exited stage left for Charlotte, despite his sixth-place finish in his first IndyCar race. I know that it would have been one of those walk and talk things, but it was still a big story that ESPN bungled. Also, viewers never got an update on Townsend Bell (he’s OK, but probably a little sore). I would have really liked to have seen something on him before ESPN left.

Overall, ESPN produced a telecast that was good. However, the parts that weren’t up to snuff were categorically bad and brought down everything else.

History 300

Saturday afternoon brought the Nationwide Series back to ABC for another go-around. With a good chunk of the primary NASCAR team in Indianapolis, it was Dave Burns back in the booth for a second straight week.

NASCAR Countdown was scheduled for only 15 minutes on Saturday. As a result, there was no Pit Studio on the premises. Burns hosted the show from the broadcast booth and introduced some of the storylines of the day. Other than the booth time, viewers saw four pre-race interviews with Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon. It was pretty obvious what ESPN was trying to set up here. Unfortunately, Dillon was never in the hunt and Elliott was all but completely eliminated after cutting a tire.

During the race itself, Burns appeared to be a little more comfortable in the booth. He seemed to assert a little more control over the proceedings, which was good to see. Of course, having that additional control doesn’t mean that there weren’t some notable flubs. For example, Burns once referred to Jeb Burton as Jeb Bush. While Burns quickly corrected himself, it’s out there. You lose.

Since the race ended ahead of schedule, there was a lot of post-race coverage. ESPN brought viewers 11 driver interviews (plus a chat with Ward Burton, Jeb’s father) and a check of the point standings. We also got some post-race discussion that seemed to go in-depth on non-Cup drivers, which is always good to see. The Nationwide Series has existed in a strange limbo over the past few years where it has its own TV contract, yet ESPN often doesn’t give those teams and drivers that are full-time in the series all that much coverage. Perhaps Saturday could be a change for the better.

Coca-Cola 600

Sunday night brought another one of auto racing’s jewels: 600 miles at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

With it being Memorial Day weekend, FOX made some changes on Sunday. The scroll that shows tweets before the race was replaced by soldiers who had died over the past year. In addition, there was a feature about Master Sergeant Cedric King, who lost both of his legs as a result of an IED exploding near him. King served as a co-grand marshal on Sunday.

Another feature had Jeff Gordon talking about his Children’s Foundation and how it’s helped children in need. The foundation more or less came out of Ray Evernham’s son, Ray Jay, being diagnosed with leukemia back in the late 1990s. Carmen Diaz, a 14-year-old girl suffering from osteosarcoma, is just one example of a patient that Gordon’s foundation has helped. Gordon seems to truly like working with children and it really seems to be good for him.

Michael Waltrip was dispatched out to GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville for the Little 600, a go-kart race. There, he interviewed a number of drivers (Denny Hamlin, Danica Patrick, Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne) that appeared at the event. Seems like a fun time. However, for some reason, Waltrip went on and on about a driver that he thought was country music singer Eric Church. Not only was that not Eric Church, but Waltrip also probably really knew who it was, but actively decided to keep up the charade. (By the way, that was a bearded Drew Herring that was mistook for Church. I’m pretty sure that by now, Waltrip would have met him during one of the weekends that he drove in the Nationwide Series for Joe Gibbs. Heck, the piece was really a missed opportunity to actually introduce viewers to Herring. Instead, he’s the butt of a Waltrip’s stupidity. Weak.)

Speaking of Waltrips: I still feel that Darrell Waltrip doesn’t really prepare for these races as much as he probably should. For example, early in the race, he stated that he didn’t know what car that Patrick was driving. There’s a way to figure that out: it could be as simple as peering in the window of Patrick’s No. 10 in the infield. More likely, he could have found that out just by looking at a press release, or just asking Tony Gibson in the garage. Waltrip’s got enough cache in the garage nearly 14 years after his retirement that he could get information out of almost anyone. Instead, he either tries to poach information off of Mike Joy and/or Larry McReynolds, or simply wings it. “Winging it” is not necessarily a very professional way of doing anything that isn’t comedy.

The Kurt Busch double probably got more airtime on FOX than it did on ABC during the Indianapolis 500. However, even then, FOX didn’t really go out of its way to update Busch’s exploits. He was covered within the flow of the race. On ABC, Busch was just there for the most part. I think that Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon’s attempts at the double got more publicity from ABC than Busch’s did.

Much was made of Kurt Busch’s attempt at the double, even if the second race didn’t go according to plan.

As the race continued on, there was less and less coverage of actual racing for position and more discussion of strategy and potential engine issues. FOX took a couple of laps and showed a full-screen discussion of valve springs from Jeff Hammond. While Hammond is quite knowledgeable about the cars and everything in them, I don’t want to see him instead of on-track action. To fill in some of the less exciting portions of the race, FOX should go through the field and do some updates. Cover more people than you would otherwise. I only say this because much of the last 150 miles were uninteresting to watch.

Post-race coverage was actually a little more substantial than average for FOX, despite going over the timeslot. Viewers were treated to seven interviews, plus checks of the point standings and post-race analysis before FOX left the air.

Overall, FOX’s coverage was OK, but too exclusive. With 600 miles of action, there’s only so much you can do while covering a specific group of drivers. FOX needs to expand its horizons.

That’s it for this week. After the exhausting weekend that could be best described as “Catnip for Race Fans,” next weekend is not as prestigious, but still very busy. The Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series are all in action at Dover International Speedway. Also, hard to believe, but it marks the last Sprint Cup weekend of the season for FOX. Meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series gets right back to it with the first multi-race weekend of the season at Belle Isle Park in Detroit. The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship’s Prototype and GT-Daytona classes will run on the undercard. Here are your listings for the week.

Tuesday, May 27
Time Telecast Network
12:30am-3:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco NBC Sports Network*# (from May 25)
2:30-3:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
5:00pm-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00-6:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:30-7:30pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*#

Wednesday, May 28
Time Telecast Network
2:30am-3:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
5:00pm-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00-6:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:30-7:30pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*#

Thursday, May 29
Time Telecast Network
2:30-3:00am NASCAR Now ESPN 2
5:00pm-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00-6:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:30-7:30pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*#
11:00pm-12:00am Road to Ferrari NBC Sports Network

Friday, May 30
Time Telecast Network
12:00am-1:00am Red Bull Global RallyCross: Barbados NBC Sports Network*/ (from May 24)
3:00-6:00am Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 25)
10:00am-11:00am K&N Pro Series Casey’s General Store 150 FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 17)
11:00am-12:30pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
12:30-2:00pm Camping World Truck Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1
2:00-3:30pm Nationwide Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
3:30-5:00pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1
5:00-5:30pm NCWTS Setup FOX Sports 1
5:30-8:00pm Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 200 FOX Sports 1
6:15-8:15pm NHRA Toyota Summernationals First Round Qualifying ESPN3.com$
8:00-9:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1

Saturday, May 31
Time Telecast Network
3:00am-4:30am Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1*# (from May 30)
4:30-6:00am Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1*# (from May 30)
8:00-8:30am 100,000 Cameras FOX Sports 1#
8:30-9:30am The 600: History of NASCAR’s Toughest Race FOX Sports 1#
9:30-10:30am Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 FOX Sports 1
10:30am-12:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN 2
12:30-1:30pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
12:30-2:30pm DTM: Hockenheim CBS Sports Network*/# (from May 4)
1:30-2:00pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
1:30-3:30pm TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Chevrolet Sports Car Classic FOX Sports 1
2:00-4:30pm Nationwide Series Buckle Up presented by Click It or Ticket ESPN
2:30-4:30pm DTM: Oschersleben CBS Sports Network*# (from May 18)
3:30-6:00pm Verizon IndyCar Series Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Race No. 1 ABC
4:30-6:00pm NHRA Toyota Summernationals Final Qualifying ESPN*/
6:00-8:00pm AMA Pro Motocross Championship Hangtown MX Classic NBC Sports Network
7:30-10:00pm Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 200 FOX Sports 2*# (from May 30)
10:00-11:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2
11:00pm-12:00am Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 FOX Sports 2*#

Sunday, June 1
Time Telecast Network
12:00am-1:00am Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 2*# (from May 31)
3:00-5:00am Nationwide Series Buckle Up 200 presented by Click It or Ticket ESPN 2*/# (from May 31)
7:00-9:00am motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of Italy FOX Sports 1
9:00-10:00am Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1*# (from May 31)
10:00-11:30am Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1*# (from May 30)
11:00am-4:00am NHRA Toyota Summernationals Final Eliminations ESPN3.com$
11:30am-12:30pm NASCAR RaceDay FOX Sports 1
12:30-1:00pm FOX Pre-Race FOX
12:30-1:30pm Moto3: Italy FOX Sports 1*
1:00-4:30pm Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks FOX
1:30-2:30pm Moto2: Italy FOX Sports 1*
3:30-6:00pm Verizon IndyCar Series Chevrolet Dual in Detroit No. 2 ABC
4:00-5:00pm Moto3: Italy FOX Sports 2*#
4:00-6:00pm DTM: Hungaroring CBS Sports Network*
4:00-7:00pm NHRA Toyota Summernationals Final Eliminations ESPN 2*
5:00-6:00pm Moto2: Italy FOX Sports 2*#
6:00-7:00pm Rally America: Oregon Trail Rally NBC Sports Network*/ (from May 2-4)
6:00-7:00pm motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of Italy FOX Sports 2*#
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Victory Lane FOX Sports 1

Monday, June 2
Time Telecast Network
3:00am-5:00am Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 200 FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 30)
5:00-6:00am K&N Pro Series Casey’s General Store 150 FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 17)
10:00am-1:00pm Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks FOX Sports 1*/# (from June 1)
5:00-5:30pm NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00-6:00pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:30-7:30pm NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*# *- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage #- Repeat 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 Camping World Truck series races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Chevrolet Duals in Detroit will be covered in the Critic’s Annex.

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

2021 Phil Allaway Headshot Phil Allaway

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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