Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN’s Stewart, Ward Coverage Work In Progress

Last weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series both traveled to Watkins Glen International – however, everything that happened there was overshadowed by what happened near Canandaigua, N.Y., Saturday night.

Due to the Tony Stewart-Kevin Ward, Jr. accident that evening, after which the 20-year-old Ward lost his life, this article will only cover Sunday’s ESPN broadcast here because of the conundrum network producers faced in bringing a product to the air when many eyes were on NASCAR for the wrong reasons. (The Nationwide Series event will be covered in The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch newsletter.)

As one could imagine, the Stewart incident was the primary topic of discussion on NASCAR Countdown prior to the race, with the entire first two segments were dedicated to the incident.

ESPN made the choice to start off the discussion with the clip of the incident. Granted, Nicole Briscoe prefaced the clip with a graphic disclaimer, possibly the most overt disclaimer that I can remember seeing on a sports telecast, but I don’t think that ESPN should have shown it at all. I’ll admit that Countdown was the first time that I had seen the clip, but I was aware that SportsCenter had shown it earlier in the morning. Showing the clip was callous at best and it’s enough to completely ruin your weekend at worst.

For full disclosure purposes, FOX Sports 1 did show part of the video, but cut it off before Ward was hit. Only ESPN (that I can think of) aired the footage of Ward lying on the track, motionless.

I’m going to put that to you, the readers. Should ESPN have shown that clip the way that it did on Countdown? Sound off in the comments section below.

I found Ricky Craven’s discussion of the incident on SportsCenter prior to the race to be fairly decent. He came off as a voice of quasi-reason in the complete mess that was Sunday morning commentary on the crash.

In addition to the aforementioned crash video, we saw clips from the 3 a.m. press conference with Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero, in which he announced Kevin Ward, Jr.’s death, and the press conference with Greg Zipadelli during which it was announced that Stewart would skip the race. There were statements from Tony Stewart Racing (Stewart’s sprint car team) and NASCAR read on-air. Dale Jarrett piped in to talk about a conversation that he had Sunday morning with Stewart.

Finally, ESPN had Mike Massaro on site at Canandaigua Motorsports Park to give updates from the track. ESPN was hoping that Massaro could get some kind of interview with Jeremie Corcoran, promoter of Canandaigua Motorsports Park. That did not come to pass. Ultimately, Massaro talked to anyone he could find to get their thoughts on what happened. The mood at the Ontario County track was, in a word, strained.

The coverage was fairly comprehensive and very tough for everyone involved to get through. Rusty Wallace stated that he had no idea that Stewart was going to try to race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park Saturday night despite talking to him that morning in the pits. He wrapped that conversation into a discussion about how Stewart shouldn’t be wasting his time with sprint car racing in general.

I just don’t think that it was the time to have that discussion. It would have been fine when Wallace was talking to Stewart on pit road. Sprint car racing appears to be a solid part of Stewart’s identity at this point. It’d be like ripping Wallace’s Winston Cup away, and I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon.

(Photo: CIA Editorial Photography)
ESPN interviewed Regan Smith prior to his filling in for Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen. Was that the right decision? (Photo: CIA Editorial Photography)

There was no conjecture about what could potentially happen to Stewart down the line. Granted, part of the reason why that was so is that it was so early (the telecast aired roughly 14 hours after the incident), but it was a decent route to take. Speculating on what could happen to Stewart there would be kicking him while he was down.

I’m surprised that ESPN was able to get an interview with Regan Smith prior to the start of the race. I think that they really had no place grilling him so close to the start of the race knowing how looney the day had been for him and the No. 14 team as a whole.

During the race itself, the Stewart story managed to re-enter the picture multiple times – and we’re not even going to count the constant mentions on ESPN’s BottomLine here.

Right around the time that Cole Whitt crashed, Stewart officially released a statement on the incident. During the Whitt caution, said statement was shown and read aloud on-air.

Then there was another press conference with Sheriff Povero that occurred during the red flag for the Ryan NewmanMichael McDowell crash many laps late. The press conference was covered live on ESPNEWS. Since the race was in a red flag, I believe that ESPN should have switched over to that press conference, knowing that nothing was going on at the track except for guardrail repairs. The only mention of the afternoon press conference on the broadcast, however, was the breaking news update that the press conference was on ESPNEWS.

As far as the actual racing was concerned, ESPN was very narrow in their focus. That was especially true after the Newman-McDowell crash. Almost the entire segment from laps 60-80 was focused on Marcos Ambrose and AJ Allmendinger. With no commercials in the segment, that is a substantial amount of the race (more than 20 percent). Such a tight focus means that viewers cannot get an idea of where everyone else was on the track unless you stared at the scroll and guessed. There was a fair amount of movement during that portion of the race, but we didn’t see any of it.

I’m sure that there were fans of more than just Allmendinger, Ambrose and Kurt Busch that wanted to know what was up with their drivers. While the field did stretch out a bit, that doesn’t mean that there was nothing going on. There were something like 27 guys on the lead lap at that time.

The whole situation with the lack of coverage of most stories late in the race is relatively frustrating when you compare it to the first half, when stories left and right were being covered – Kyle Busch’s issues, Brad Keselowski and Paul Menard’s brakes, the quirky loose bean bags in Kevin Harvick’s car and more. I don’t understand why ESPN gave itself tunnel vision in the second half of the race.

Since the red flags made the race go over its timeslot by 100 minutes, post-race coverage was relatively brief. Viewers only saw two post-race interviews (Allmendinger and Ambrose), along with checks of the top-20 finishers and points.

Also, the clip that ESPN showed of Brad Daugherty celebrating was crazy for multiple reasons. One is the fact that Daugherty went nuts on live television. Granted, the cameras weren’t showing his reaction live, but the cameras in the Pit Studio are always on during a broadcast. Second is the fact that he clearly lost any pretense of objectivity. I know he’s a part-owner of the No. 47 (the whole situation is just another argument against having active team owners as permanent members of on-air broadcasts), but Daugherty has a job to do for ESPN as well. Losing his mind at Allmendinger’s win, while showing his unbridled joy at the situation, makes ESPN look biased towards Allmendinger.

Overall, I’ve seen better during the race from ESPN at Watkins Glen. The pre-race coverage, which I know that many of you don’t want, was arguably more important than the race this week. There, ESPN did fine for the most part. I still find the amount of the footage that it showed from Canandaigua to be unsettling. Otherwise, it gave the situation the proper respect that it deserved.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series return to action at Michigan International Speedway. While the Stewart story will continue to dominate the headlines through next weekend, there should be some good action to be had. Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series continues with its second straight weekend of road racing, this time at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Here are the charts for your listings.

Tuesday, August 12

5:00 PM - 5:30 PM NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 PM - 6:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7:00 PM - 8:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
8:00 PM - 9:00 PMMoto2: IndianapolisFOX Sports 2*# (from August 10)
9:00 PM - 10:00 PMmotoGP World Championship Grand Prix of IndianapolisFOX Sports 2*# (from August 10)

Wednesday, August 13

Wednesday, August 13

4:30 PM - 5:00 PMEmpty Cup: Quest for the 1992 NASCAR ChampionshipFOX Sports 1#
4:30 PM - 5:00 PMFormula DRIFT: Atlanta (Road to the Championship), Part 1NBC Sports Network*/# (from May 9)
5:00 PM - 5:30 PMNASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 PM - 6:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7:00 PM - 8:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
8:00 PM - 9:00 PMThe Mudsummer Classic: The 2013 NASCAR Truck Race at EldoraFOX Sports 2#
9:00 PM - 10:00 PMK&N Pro Series Autolite Iridium XD 150FOX Sports 2*/# (from August 1)

Thursday, August 14

Thursday, August 14

10:00 AM - 1:00 PMTUDOR United SportsCar Championship Continental Tire Road Race ShowcaseFOX Sports 1*/# (from August 10)
1:00 PM - 2:00 PMK&N Pro Series Autolite Iridium XD 150FOX Sports 1*/# (from August 1)
5:00 PM - 5:30 PMNASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 PM - 6:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 PM - 7:00 PMEmpty Cup: Quest for the 1992 NASCAR ChampionshipFOX Sports 2#
7:00 PM - 8:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

Friday, August 15

2:30 AM - 3:00 AMThe GridNBC Sports Network
11:00 AM - 11:30 AMThe 10: NASCAR's Most Outrageous MomentsFOX Sports 1#
11:30 AM - 12:00 PMThe 10: NASCAR's Closest CallsFOX Sports 1#
12:00 PM - 1:30 PMSprint Cup Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1
1:30 PM - 2:30 PMCamping World Truck Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1
2:30 PM - 3:00 PMNASCAR LiveFOX Sports 1
3:00 PM - 4:30 PMCamping World Truck Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1
4:30 PM - 6:00 PMSprint Cup Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1
6:30 PM - 9:30 PMNHRA Lucas Oil Nationals First Round QualifyingESPN3$
7:00 PM - 8:30 PMSprint Cup Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1*#
8:30 PM - 10:00 PMSprint Cup Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1*#

Saturday, August 16

Saturday, August 16

12:00 AM - 2:00 AMPirelli World Challenge: Mid-OhioNBC Sports Network*# (from August 2-3)
3:00 AM - 4:30 AMSprint Cup Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1*# (from August 15)
4:30 AM - 6:00 AMCamping World Truck Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1*# (from August 15)
8:30 AM - 9:30 AMSprint Cup Series Practice No. 2ESPN 2
9:30 AM - 11:00 AMNationwide Series QualifyingESPN 2
9:30 AM - 11:00 AMCamping World Truck Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1
11:00 AM - 12:00 PMSprint Cup Series Happy HourESPN 2
12:00 PM - 12:30 PMNCWTS SetupFOX Sports 1
12:30 PM - 2:30 PMCamping World Truck Series Careers for Veterans 200FOX Sports 1
2:30 PM - 2:45 PMNASCAR CountdownESPN
2:45 PM - 6:00 PMNationwide Series Nationwide Childrens' Hospital 200ESPN
5:00 PM - 6:00 PMAMA Pro Motocross Championship Series: Indiana, 450 Class Moto 2NBC Sports Network
8:00 PM - 9:00 PMVerizon IndyCar Series QualifyingNBC Sports Network*
11:00 PM - 1:00 AMNHRA Lucas Oil Nationals Final QualificationsESPN 2*/

Sunday, August 17

Sunday, August 17

1:00 AM - 2:00 AMAMA Pro Motocross Championship Series: Indiana 250 Class, Moto 2NBC Sports Network* (from August 16)
3:00 AM - 5:00 AMCamping World Truck Series Careers for Veterans 200FOX Sports 1*# (from August 16)
5:00 AM - 6:00 AM K&N Pro Series Autolite Iridium XD 150FOX Sports 1*/# (from August 1)
7:00 AM - 9:00 AMmotoGP World Championship Grand Prix of the Czech RepublicFOX Sports 1
9:00 AM - 10:00 AMK&N Pro Series East Bully Hill Vineyards 125FOX Sports 1*/ (from August 8)
10:00 AM - 12:00 PMNASCAR RaceDayFOX Sports 1
12:00 PM - 1:00 PMNASCAR CountdownESPN
12:00 PM - 2:00 PMIMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge: Road AmericaFOX Sports 1*/ (from August 9)
12:00 PM - 6:00 PMNHRA Lucas Oil Nationals Final EliminationsESPN3$
1:00 PM - 4:30 PMSprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400ESPN
3:00 PM - 4:00 PMMoto3: Czech RepublicFOX Sports 1*
3:00 PM - 6:00 PMVerizon IndyCar Series ABC Supply Wisconsin 250NBC Sports Network
4:00 PM - 5:00 PMMoto2: Czech RepublicFOX Sports 1*
5:00 PM - 7:00 PMIMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge: Road AmericaFOX Sports 2*/# (from August 9)
6:00 PM - 7:00 PMIndy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Milwaukee 100NBC Sports Network*
6:00 PM - 8:00 PMDTM: NürburgringCBS Sports Network*
7:00 PM - 7:30 PMNASCAR Victory LaneFOX Sports 1
9:00 PM - 12:00 AMNHRA Lucas Oil Nationals Final EliminationsESPN 2*/

Monday, August 18

1:00 AM - 3:00 AMSprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400ESPN 2*/# (from August 17)
10:00 AM - 11:00 AMK&N Pro Series East Bully Hill Vineyards 125FOX Sports 1*/# (from August 8)
11:00 AM - 1:00 PMCamping World Truck Series Careers for Veterans 200FOX Sports 1*# (from August 16)
5:00 PM - 6:00 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 PM - 7:30 PMNASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
7:30 PM - 8:00 PMNASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
7:30 PM - 8:00 PMEmpty Cup: Quest for the 1992 NASCAR ChampionshipFOX Sports 2#

Provided that nothing else of the stomach punch variety occurs in the next week, which I cannot guarantee as of this writing, I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. As noted above, I will critique the Zippo 200 in the Critic’s Annex later this week. For the Aug. 21 edition of the Annex, I will likely cover the K&N Pro Series East Bully Hill Vineyards 125, which was run Friday evening at Watkins Glen, before anything went down.

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 link:


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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The Stewart stuff got old. It’s as if no one has access to other news outlets to follow what was going on.

As far as Daugherty goes, I didn’t have any problem with it. They didn’t have him live, he’s not a regular commentator like the guys in the booth. The Waltrips are way worse in their bias and the have constant access to the microphone.

It was a great win for a small team and Brad deserved to get a little excited.

Janice Marler

Rick, I think it’s great that they showed Brad’s reaction. I remember when Ned brought Dale home to victory that time. It’s heartwarming. I have no problem with the so-called bias with Brad and Rusty. Waltrip can be a bit much, but all-in-all I think their personal experience adds to the broadcasts.

As to the video, I had chosen not yo watch it until I saw it on Sports Center that night. I didn’t enjoy it but it helped me understand the situation better. What has concerned me most has been the vitriolic madness on social media with so many people looking at the video and thinking they know what was in Tony’s mind.

It is a tragedy that hopefully everyone can learn from. As Ricky Craven said Sunday night on Sports Center, I hope the industry sets strict rules withsrvrte penalties for exiting your vehicle unless it’s a life-threatning situation

In the meantime my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this tragedy.


No I don’t think ESPN should have shown the entire clip, I think they went for the sensationalism and should have erred on the side of caution.

Also the focus they gave the accident during the race really took away from the broadcast IMO.

Since I can’t stand Brad Daugherty and don’t like his commentary, I’m biased on my opinion of his reaction. I feel that the conflict of interest that exists in the booth commentators at ESPN & Fox takes away from my being able to enjoy the broadcast AND consider their opinion on anything happening in the sport. The bias displayed by Wallace, both the Waltrips & Daugherty, when they are active owners in the sport is ridiculous and doesn’t exist in ANY other professional sport broadcasting.


I think this got missed in all the Stewart coverage, but did you notice in the NW broadcast the camera stayed on only the first five drivers for the first 10 full laps, and these are long laps. That ESPN chose only to cover those five Cup drivers seems to indicate that no one is even pretending that NW is anything other than extended Cup final practice. That this series has completely lost its identity is undeniable. No wonder no one watches.

Jay Young

The one part of this whole disaster that has hit me – if it had been any other driver at the track who struck and killed Kevin Ward, Jr., there wouldn’t have even been a mention of it anywhere – maybe an obscure reference on Twitter. I’ve been appalled at the national coverage and all the misinformation being presented.

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