Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: TNT’s Decisions & Technical Issues Hinder Pocono Broadcast

Last weekend marked a jam-packed few days of racing across multiple tracks, with Pocono Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway sharing the brunt of the attention. However, Pocono may have been the winner in terms of intrigue — it featured the return of TNT to NASCAR for its six-race summer series, currently the final time the network will broadcast the sport since its contract dries up after 2014.

With TNT back in the fold, FOX wasn’t the only one covering stock car auto racing for the weekend. And boy, were the telecasts different.

WinStar World Casino 400k

On Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series returned to action in one of their biggest (and longest) races of the season at Texas Motor Speedway.  However, the race also attracted one of the lowest entries for a truck race in recent memory.

During NCWTS Setup, there was one piece that stood out: a segment on Erik Jones, who skipped high school graduation to race Friday night.  We found out that it wouldn’t have mattered much anyway, because Jones did high school online.  I don’t think he would have been missing much (also, Jones stated later that his graduating class was something like 30 or so).

2014 Pocono I CUP Kyle Larson CIA
Kyle Larson won Saturday’s ARCA race, seemingly a foregone conclusion by viewers and FOX Sports 1 alike.

He’s also not the first up-and-coming phenom to go the online schooling route.  Recently, Ryan Truex told our own Mike Neff how he did his last three years of high school in 12 weeks.  Granted, that was homeschooling, but it’s a whole other world compared to regular schooling.

The main issue with the pre-telecast was next-to-no mention of the low truck count, the white elephant in the room (or in the bowl).  The race only attracted 75 percent of a full field to enter, and three of those teams start-and-parked (one was supposedly entered by MB Motorsports for Justin Jennings, but was really Young’s Motorsports’ No. 42 renumbered to No. 63).

During the race, there was a good amount of green flag racing, but I felt that FOX Sports 1 didn’t do the best job in bringing that to us, especially later in the race.  It appeared that Matt Crafton was a point of emphasis on Friday night, as we got a lot of Crafton coverage, despite him leading 118 laps and not being threatened for a good chunk of the evening.

Luckily for FOX Sports 1, it could connect the dots and prove that Timothy Peters crashed because he got into teammate German Quiroga’s oil.  The network’s evidence included the garage interview with Peters, a replay of Quiroga blowing his engine and skid marks in turn 1 that led straight to the SAFER barrier from the slick.  What it didn’t have, though was footage of Peters wrecking — or if it did, the footage wasn’t shown.  Makes me wish there was an in-truck camera in Peters’ No. 17 again this past weekend.

Post-race coverage should have been more extensive than it was.  We did get three driver interviews, plus an interview with the winning crew chief (Carl “Junior” Joiner) and a check of the points.  That coverage took a shade over six minutes, and there were still 10 more minutes in the timeslot when the broadcast left to go to FOX Sports Live.  I know that FOX Sports 1 really wants to promote FOX Sports Live and having a live sports lead-in for the show is important (literally no one watches if there isn’t said lead-in), but at least fill your slot before leaving.  Leaving early signals apathy toward the series.

Pocono ARCA 200

Saturday afternoon brought a runaway from Pocono Raceway, with Kyle Larson stomping the field.  That shouldn’t surprise anyone reading this critique; you probably saw it coming the minute you saw Larson on the entry list.  But knowing that the whoopin’ was coming, how did FOX Sports 1 handle it?

By giving a significant focus to the man chiefly responsible for the kicking of butt, of course.  Larson was the only driver interviewed prior to the race started (on tape, by Wendy Venturini), then got more than a healthy chunk of the coverage once the race started.

Yeah, that doesn’t really do the trick.  As great of a racer that Larson is, I don’t think that he drives eyeballs to the TV set like Danica Patrick did when she did the ARCA race at Daytona in 2010 (at the time, that telecast was the second highest rated telecast in the history of SPEED).  In that situation, ARCA doubled down on Danica by supplementing SPEED’s coverage with a well-received on-demand Patrick in-car camera on its website.  ARCA probably hasn’t had traffic on its website remotely approaching what it got that day ever since.

Admittedly, there just wasn’t all that much racing for position on Saturday afternoon, although it also didn’t look like FOX Sports 1 went out of its way to find much action.  In the end, we got a good race for the win between Larson and Mason Mitchell, a 19-year old who entered ARCA with much fanfare two years ago.  After some bouncing around, he’s now an owner-driver.  It would have made for a great story had Mitchell won, while at the same time annihilating everything that FOX Sports 1 had prepared for in the broadcast.

FOX was definitely happy that Larson won; however, there are other drivers in the series.  There was a brief spotlight on Austin Wayne Self, an 18-year old rookie, but he self-destructed like one of Chief Quimby’s messages on Inspector Gadget.  FOX Sports has 10 ARCA races a year and it needs to get the word on more of the drivers in them when it televises the series.  Perhaps CBS Sports Network will do a better job at the end of the month at Elko Speedway.

Pocono 400

Sunday brought TNT back to the Sprint Cup Series for their 14th and final (for now) season, and everyone was back for Turner Sports’ last hurrah in NASCAR.

TNT’s return broadcast in one phrase: work in progress.  While there are some good aspects of the telecast, the execution is sorely lacking.

The highlight of Countdown to Green was the much-hyped showdown between Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Charles Barkley at the GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville, N.C. Really? Barkley stated on-air during an episode of Inside the NBA that he wanted to meet Earnhardt and Turner Sports ran with it?  I should have expected nothing less.  Getting Barkley to a race would have been a bigger story than the feature; I think he’s been to at least one before, but has written in the past about having been scared off from other events on more than one occasion due to the abundance of Confederate battle flags.

During the race, there was a very noticeable audio issue with the commentators early in the race.  Didn’t matter if it was Adam Alexander, Kyle Petty or Wally Dallenbach, Jr., but if they would say something, all of a sudden, it would repeat itself.  As a result, the booth audio became badly de-synced from the rest of the broadcast until the next commercial.

The experienced noted here, unlike many previous technical issues, was not unique to me.  There were a stream of tweets about the issue sent by users such as Darrell Wallace, Jr. and the Orange Cone, among others.  Thankfully, it was eventually fixed.

After all these years, I still cannot warm to Alexander in the play-by-play chair.  He’s OK, but not memorable at all.  Might be the fourth-best guy at play-by-play that’s involved with NASCAR on FOX, behind Mike Joy, Rick Allen and Chris Myers.  I was fine with him doing K&N Pro East Series at New Smyrna Beach in February with Johnny Benson, but it’s just not the same here.

Petty, while undoubtedly opinionated, can be an overpowering force on the broadcast (but not like either one of the Waltrips can be).  Dallenbach, despite 14 years in the booth, is just there now.  He worked better with Benny Parsons (and even Bill Weber) in the past and with whomever is partnering with him and Leigh Diffey on NBC Sports Network; the second analyst chair is a bit of a revolving door right now.

2014 Pocono I CUP Dale earnhardt Jr vertical CIA
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s win welcomed TNT back into the fold for its six-race summer series.

Also noticeable during the race was some cost cutting.  While Turner Sports had its own car at its disposal Sunday for demonstration purposes (last year, it rented backup cars off mid-pack teams to use on race telecasts, which was low-rent at best), it skimped in other areas.  Turner Sports’ graphics package for NASCAR is roughly three years behind what it has for its marquee NBA property.  Many teams that had notable changes in number fonts (we’ll use Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 as an example here) went unchanged.

While Turner Sports has four pit reporters on staff (Matt Yocum, Marty Snider, Ralph Sheheen and Chris Neville), it seemed like it was operating shorthanded Sunday.  The best example that I can give is during the seventh caution, when Snider interviewed Carl Edwards in the garage.  Edwards described what happened, then Snider said that “we’re going to try to get a word with him right now.”  To me, that sounds like he was charged with doing both interviews.

Why on earth that decision was made, I don’t know.  The first thought I had was that Edwards and Kahne were near each other on pit road; however, they were 18 stalls apart.  A reporters’ section is not that large with four pit reporters.  If TNT made the move to have Snider interview Kahne after Edwards, it explains why Kahne wasn’t interviewed on TNT.

Kahne did talk to the media, and you’ve probably noticed that he made headlines for blaming his big wreck on Kyle Busch.  The assembled print/online media was there outside of the Infield Care Center for that interview, including our own Kevin Rutherford from Frontstretch.  Kahne’s PR representative Megan Whiteside, tweeted after the race that no one from Turner Sports was present when Kahne exited the Infield Care Center.  Whiteside added that Kahne was “available” and “feeling fine as well.”

Turner Sports’ official position is that Kahne respectfully declined an interview request.  The only way that explanation jives is if Kahne came out of the Infield Care Center, and (via Whiteside) declared that that moment was the media’s only chance to get a word with him.  Because Snider was occupied with the Edwards interview, he couldn’t get there in time.  If that is the truth, then the best case scenario is that Turner Sports has no one to blame but itself for shoddy maneuvering.  While, yes, it was good to interview Edwards, someone else should have been there with the throng to get Kahne’s take, especially since he spat hot fire.  The worst case scenario is that whoever’s tweeting on behalf of Turner Sports PR outright lied to John Daly on Twitter about the topic Monday morning and something truly ridiculous went down.  However, I severely doubt that would be the case.

The truth is probably somewhere in between; perhaps Kahne made himself available, but having Snider assigned to the interview probably meant that it took so long for him to get there that Kahne got tired of waiting It’s a mild version of what led to the YouTube video of Kurt Busch flipping out on Dr. Jerry Punch at Homestead in 2011 after being forced to wait 10-plus minutes for an on-air interview.

Post-race coverage was actually pretty good.  Viewers saw eight driver interviews, plus the winning crew chief (Steve Letarte).  There were also checks of the unofficial results and point standings, along with post-race analysis before TNT left the air.  No surprise there.  Despite its shortcomings elsewhere, TNT tends to have the most comprehensive post-race coverage for Sprint Cup.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series are both back in action at Michigan International Speedway.  Meanwhile, over in Europe, the biggest sports car race on the planet, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, will take the green flag on Saturday morning.  Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, June 10
Time    Telecast    Network
12:30am-1:00am    NASCAR America    NBC Sports Network*# (from June 9)
1:00-3:00am    Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600    NBC Sports Network*/# (from June 7)
2:00-2:30am    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, June 11
Time    Telecast    Network
2:30am-3:00am    NASCAR Now    ESPN 2
10:00-11:00am    NASCAR RaceHub    FOX Sports 1*# (from June 10)
11:00am-1:00pm    Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino 400k    FOX Sports 1*/# (from June 7)
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*#
7:00-9:00pm    World of Outlaws STP Sprint Cars Texas Outlaw Shootout Night No. 2    CBS Sports Network*/ (from April 19)
7:30-8:00pm    Empty Cup: Quest for the 1992 NASCAR Championship    FOX Sports 2#
11:30pm-12:00am    NASCAR America    NBC Sports Network*#

Thursday, June 12
Time    Telecast    Network
12:00am-12:30am    Kurt Busch: 36    NBC Sports Network#
2:00-2:30am    Kurt Busch: 36    NBC Sports Network#
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*#
7:00-7:30pm    Kurt Busch: 36    NBC Sports Network#
7:30-8:00pm    FOX Sports 1 on 1: Jimmie Johnson    FOX Sports 2#
8:00-9:00pm    The 600: History of NASCAR’s Toughest Race    FOX Sports 2#
10:00-11:00pm    Kurt Busch: 36 Director’s Cut    NBC Sports Network

Friday, June 13
Time    Telecast    Network
12:00am-1:00am    SPEED Energy Formula Off-Road: Indianapolis    NBC Sports Network* (from May 23)
2:00-3:00am    Road to Indy    NBC Sports Network
10:00-11:00am    K&N Pro Series East NASCAR Hall of Fame 150    FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 31)
11:00am-12:30pm    Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1    FOX Sports 1
12:30-1:30pm    Nationwide Series Practice No. 1    FOX Sports 1
1:30-2:00pm    NASCAR Live    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
5:00-7:00pm    ARCA Racing Series Michigan ARCA 200    FOX Sports 1
7:00-9:00pm    Blancpain Sprint Series: Nogaro    CBS Sports Network*# (from April 21)
7:00-9:00pm    Camping World Truck Series Practice    FOX Sports 1
7:30-10:30pm    NHRA Ford Thunder Valley Nationals    ESPN3$
9:00-9:30pm    100,000 Cameras    FOX Sports 1#
9:00-11:00pm    Blancpain Sprint Series: Brands Hatch    CBS Sports Network*# (from May 18)

Saturday, June 14
Time    Telecast    Network
3:00am-4:30am    Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1     FOX Sports 1*# (from June 13)
4:30-6:00am    Sprint Cup Series Qualifying    FOX Sports 1*# (from June 13)
8:00-9:30am    Sprint Cup Series Qualifying    FOX Sports 2*# (from June 13)
8:30am-4:00pm    24 Hours of Le Mans: Start to end of Hour 7    FOX Sports 1
9:30-10:30am    Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2    FOX Sports 2
10:30-11:00am    100,000 Cameras    FOX Sports 2#
10:30am-12:00pm    Nationwide Series Qualifying    ESPN 2
12:00-2:00pm    World of Outlaws STP Sprint Cars Texas Outlaws Shootout Night No. 1    CBS Sports Network*/# (from April 18)
12:30-1:30pm    Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour    FOX Sports 2
1:30-2:00pm    NASCAR Countdown    ESPN
2:00-4:00pm    World of Outlaws STP Sprint Cars Texas Outlaws Shootout Night No. 2    CBS Sports Network*/# (from April 19)
2:00-4:30pm    Nationwide Series Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 250    ESPN
4:00-5:00pm    24 Hours of Le Mans: Hour 8    FOX Sports 2
5:00-6:30pm    Camping World Truck Series Qualifying    FOX Sports 2
5:00-6:30pm    24 Hours of Le Mans: Hour 9 and first half of Hour 10    FOX Sports GO$
6:00-8:00pm    NHRA Ford Thunder Valley Nationals Final Qualifying    ESPN 2*/
6:30pm-1:00am    24 Hours of Le Mans: Second Half of Hour 10 to Hour 16    FOX Sports 2
7:00-8:00pm    Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour    FOX Sports 1*#
8:00-8:30pm    NCWTS Setup    FOX Sports 1
8:30-11:00pm    Camping World Truck Series Drivin’ For Linemen 200    FOX Sports 1

Sunday, June 15
Time    Telecast    Network
1:00am-7:30am    24 Hours of Le Mans Hour 17 to the First Half of Hour 23    FOX Sports 1
6:00-8:00am    Nationwide Series Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 250    ESPN 2*/# (from June 14)
7:30-9:00pm    motoGP World Championship: Grand Prix of Catalunya    FOX Sports 1
7:30-9:30pm    24 Hours of Le Mans: Second Half of Hour 23 to the Finish    FOX Sports 2
9:00-9:30am    Empty Cup: Quest for the 1992 NASCAR Championship    FOX Sports 1
9:30-11:00am    Sprint Cup Series Qualifying    FOX Sports 1*# (from June 13)
11:00am-12:00pm    NASCAR RaceDay    FOX Sports 1
12:00-1:00pm    Countdown to Green Served by Sonic    TNT
12:00-1:00pm    Moto3: Catalunya    FOX Sports 1*
1:00-2:00pm    Moto2: Catalunya    FOX Sports 1*
1:00-4:30pm    Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400    TNT
2:00-3:00pm    motoGP World Championship: Grand Prix of Catalunya    FOX Sports 1*/#
2:30-4:00pm    Pirelli World Challenge: Detroit    NBC Sports Network*/ (from May 31-June 1)
6:30-7:30pm    Kurt Busch: 36 Director’s Cut    NBC Sports Network#
7:00-7:30pm    NASCAR Victory Lane    FOX Sports 1
10:30-11:00pm    Kurt Busch: 36    NBC Sports Network#

Monday, June 16
Time    Telecast    Network
3:00am-5:30am    Camping World Truck Series Drivin’ For Linesman 200    FOX Sports 1*# (from June 14)
10:00-11:00am    K&N Pro Series East NASCAR Hall of Fame 150    FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 31)
11:00am-1:00pm    ARCA Racing Series Michigan ARCA 200    FOX Sports 1*# (from June 13)
4:00-6:00pm    Blancpain Sprint Series: Nogaro    CBS Sports Network*# (from April 21)
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*#
7:00-9:00pm    Blancpain Sprint Series: Brands Hatch    CBS Sports Network*# (from May 25)
7:30-10:00pm    Camping World Truck Series Drivin’ For Linemen 200    FOX Sports 2*# (from June 14)
* – 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 for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  Also, remember that I will be covering Kurt Busch: 36 for the Critic’s Annex this Thursday in the Newsletter.  However, the NBC Sports Network has a king in the cards.  Yes, Kurt Busch: 36 premiered Sunday after the Grand Prix of Canada as scheduled.  However, there’s a Director’s Cut edition that premiered Monday night at 11:30 p.m. EDT.  I will be covering that version (a full hour) instead of the half-hour version.  Why?  Because I prefer more complete versions.

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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