Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Narrow Focus on Chase Hopefuls Hurts ESPN

The Chase was the name of the game last weekend, which is probably how things should be. After all, regardless of one’s opinion of NASCAR’s playoffs, it’s certainly the focal point of the next 10 races, meaning the lead-in is just as important when it comes to determining who gets to play and who’s left out in the cold.

But while that emphasis shone through on much of ESPN’s Sprint Cup Series coverage this weekend, one story in particular has been the talk of the water cooler – and it’s something that ESPN didn’t even show live.

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Saturday night saw the Race to the Chase come to an end. Brad Keselowski must have eaten something spicy before the race because it seemed like he had a little extra propulsion to go with his horsepower under the hood. Fans watching on TV and from the stands got a front row seat for the beatdown – including one James Richard Dennis.

The 53-year-old Dennis pulled off a ridiculous stunt, choosing to climb the catchfence between turns 3 and 4 while the race was under green. Why would a grown man do that? According to WTVR, Richmond’s CBS affiliate, Dennis told Henrico County Sheriff’s deputies after he was arrested that he just wanted to be on TV because it was his birthday. How quaint – not to mention incredibly ridiculous.

You’re 53. You should know that there are better ways to get yourself on TV than endangering yourself by now. If FOX Sports still had its stage at the track each week, he could have just showed up for NASCAR RaceDay. Unfortunately, that’s no longer in the cards.

Dennis obviously did not get his wish, as ESPN went out of its way to not show Dennis on the fence. For the life of me, I cannot recall ever seeing Allen Bestwick so flustered on TV. That guy was ticked off.

In regards to the decision not to show Dennis, despite his actions playing a role in the outcome of the race, it appears to be corporate policy. ESPN, along with many other networks (national and regional) choose not to show these dudes. The reasoning is that the network doesn’t want to give others any reason to copy the idiotic actions. I can understand that stance. However, what happened Saturday night is quite a bit different than some moron running around on the field during a stoppage of play. Dennis’ actions actually affected the race since he forced the yellow to be thrown at a time at which it would not have been thrown otherwise.

Even if they want to use that stance, the folks at ESPN and other networks are in the position to help stop it themselves. On his 2005 Retaliation comedy album, Dane Cook talks about how much he likes watching shows like COPS on television. His reasoning? He likes “justice.” Then he makes a bunch of comments that are quite inappropriate and unprintable here at Frontstretch, but that is beside the point. The gist is that if ESPN and other networks can show the results of stupid behavior, it would be less likely that others would copy the actions of dunderheads.

ESPN gives us an example of what I’m getting at. In a very bizarre instance from 1986, a fan infamously stole the pace car prior to the start of the Winston 500 at Talladega. ESPN showed part of the chase, the roadblock used to stop the thief (set up “momentarily,” according to Larry Nuber), and most importantly the rather stern arrest of the thief by Talladega County Sheriff’s deputies with aid from the track crew.

Viewers essentially saw everything with the exception of the idiot being thrown in the back of a Ford Crown Victoria. You never know. Maybe the viewers will like seeing these people getting their comeuppance. While people get a kick of seeing idiots being idiots, a situation like Saturday night would anger some people because they lost green flag action because of the dolt.

Outside of Captain Stupid, the Chase wasn’t even the main focus of the telecast. Instead, it was those trying to snag the last couple of spots in the field starting next weekend in Joliet, Ill. While a certain amount of time was given to Keselowski and Kevin Harvick (and to a much lesser extent Jeff Gordon), the vast majority of the telecast was focused on those trying to get in at the last minute.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Ryan Newman’s proximity to a Chase spot benefited him during Saturday night’s broadcast. He was one of the lucky few. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

You might think that it isn’t that bad; after all, there were 17 drivers that could have locked themselves into the Chase with a win. Yeah, ESPN didn’t focus on that big a group. Instead, there was an exclusive group of four that got most of the focus: Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Kyle Larson and Clint Bowyer. The vast majority of the actual battles for position shown during the race involved one or more of that group of four drivers. Everyone else got only a little coverage. I’d imagine that anyone with a favorite driver that wasn’t either Keselowski, Harvick, Gordon or the aforementioned quartet probably was quite disappointed. You can only enjoy a race so much when your favorite driver is only mentioned in the scroll all night.

There were plenty of other stories that could have warranted even just a little airtime during the race. Circle Sport’s Junie Donlavey tribute would be one of those stories (I believe it got some airtime on Friday, but nothing Saturday night). Even some battles anywhere that didn’t involve those seven people would have been appreciated. If the race was boring to watch on Saturday night at the track, ESPN’s telecast made the race more boring to watch than it should have.

Post-race coverage was completely focused on the Chaser and those who just missed their chance to get in. Having watched the previous three hours of coverage from Richmond, the decision was not surprising. Jimmie Johnson’s physical breakdown after the race, however, was.. While Johnson is not exactly Mark Martin in his physical preparation, there are few drivers in better shape than the six-time champion. His body just quit. We got only a brief update from outside the infield care center, but given the circumstances, that’s the best ESPN could have done.

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On Friday night, the Nationwide Series returned to Richmond for another 250-lap assault on the D-shaped oval, but Kyle Busch proceeded to stink up the show.

Now that we’re getting into the stretch run of the season (after Richmond, there are only eight Nationwide Series races remaining), ESPN is choosing to double down on its primary stories. On one hand, it’s understandable since the championship is starting to get more important. However, there are other drivers in the field that deserve to get some coverage.

I have no idea how the heck the analysts in the Pit Studio can spend so much time talking about Chase Elliott. It’s been like this most of the year, but since he’s in championship contention as an 18-year-old rookie, it’s going to go to another level. I wonder what Regan Smith thinks about the whole situation. Yes, he has a teammate that in effect takes the heat off of him. However, at the same time, the Elliott hype has to just smother JR Motorsports as a whole.

It seems like ESPN got its fill of Elliott hype during NASCAR Countdown, for most of the race was focused on the Kyle Busch-Kevin Harvick race for the lead. Granted, Harvick was never able to catch the Monster Energy-backed trophy addict. Other topics seemed to include the new tire and the expanded groove that came to Richmond as a result.

I find the widened-out groove to be good for overall racing, but not necessarily great if you want the field to stay bunched up. Having multiple grooves generally means more green flag racing. Of course, that’s assuming that drivers don’t run over each other when the grooves meet exiting the corners.

The focus on the two leaders and their divergent lines meant that there really wasn’t that much racing for position shown, which is a real shame. Without the battles, viewers just passively watch the race. I’m sure that there were some battles that we didn’t see, but I don’t think that ESPN went out of its way to show them. There were some battles shown in the pack toward the end of the night, though. It was really only then that drivers like Dakoda Armstrong got their due. Armstrong’s rookie year in the Nationwide Series has been rather uncompetitive, but Friday night was by far his best race of the season.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, we get into the Chase properly. I know, I doubt that many of the people reading this article are really fans of the Chase, but we have what we have.

All three of NASCAR’s national series will be in action at Chicagoland Speedway this weekend. Also, in DVR Theater, we have the inaugural race for the FIA Formula E Championship for electric race cars from Beijing. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, September 9

5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
7:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.The 10: NASCAR's Greatest FinishesFOX Sports 2#

Wednesday, September 10

12:30 a.m. - 1:00 a.m.F1 CountdownNBC Sports Network*# (from September 7)
1:00 a.m. - 3:00 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of ItalyNBC Sports Network*# (from September 7)
12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1#
4:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.Formula DRIFT: Road to the Championship, Part 2NBC Sports Network*/# (from May 10)
5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
7:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.The 10: NASCAR's Greatest RacesFOX Sports 2#
8:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.K&N Pro Series West Bakersfield 150FOX Sports 2*/# (from August 30)
8:00 pm. - 10:00 p.m.AMA Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship Series: WashougalNBC Sports Network*/# (from July 26)

Thursday, September 11

5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

Friday, September 12

1:00 a.m. - 1:30 a.m.NASCAR's The List: Iconic CarsNBC Sports Network#
1:30 a.m. - 2:00 a.m.NASCAR's The List: TracksNBC Sports Network#
2:00 a.m. - 2:30 a.m.NASCAR's The List: Dale Earnhardt, Sr. MomentsNBC Sports Network#
2:30 a.m. - 3:00 a.m.The GridNBC Sports Network
11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.K&N Pro Series West Bakersfield 150FOX Sports 1*/# (from August 30)
12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.Nationwide Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1
1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1
2:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.NASCAR LiveFOX Sports 1
3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.Camping World Truck Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1
4:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.Nationwide Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1
5:45 p.m. - 8:45 p.m.NHRA Carolina Nationals First Round QualifyingESPN3$
6:00 p.m. - 7:15 p.m.Southern National Motorsports Park PracticeFansChoice.tv^
6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.Sprint Cup Series QualifyingESPN 2
7:30 p.m. - 7:55 p.m.Southern National Motorsports Park QualifyingFansChoice.tv^
8:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.NCWTS SetupFOX Sports 1
8:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.Southern National Motorsports Park Race to the ChampionshipFansChoice.tv^
8:30 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 225FOX Sports 1
11:00 p.m. - 12:00 a.m.NHRA Carolina Nationals First Round QualifyingESPN 2*/

Saturday, September 13

3:00 a.m. - 3:30 a.m.The 10: NASCAR's Most Bizarre MomentsFOX Sports 1#
3:30 a.m. - 5:00 a.m.FIA Formula E Championship: BeijingFOX Sports 1
8:00 a.m. - 8:30 a.m.AMA Supersport QualifyingFansChoice.tv^
10:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.K&N Pro Series West Bakersfield 150FOX Sports 1*/# (from August 30)
11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2FOX Sports 1
12:00 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.Nationwide Series QualifyingFOX Sports 2
1:30 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.NASCAR LiveFOX Sports 2
1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.Southern National Motorsports Park PracticeFansChoice.tv^
2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Happy HourFOX Sports 2
2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.Langley Speedway PracticeFansChoice.tv^
2:10 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.AMA SuperSport Race No. 1FansChoice.tv^
3:00 p.m. - 3:50 p.m.AMA GoPro Daytona SportBike Race No. 1FansChoice.tv^
3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.Lake County Speedway Hot LapsFansChoice.tv^
3:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.Nationwide Series Jimmy John's Freaky Fast 300ESPN 2
4:00 p.m. - 4:45 p.m.AMA American Superbike Race No. 1FansChoice.tv^
4:30 p.m. - 6:15 p.m.Langley Speedway QualifyingFansChoice.tv^
4:30 p.m. - 6:45 p.m.Evergreen Speedway PracticeFansChoice.tv^
4:50 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.AMA Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Qualifying No. 1FansChoice.tv^
5:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.Southern National Motorsports Park QualifyingFansChoice.tv^
5:55 p.m. - 9:25 p.m.Lake County Speedway Trailer Race & Kids' Trailer NightFansChoice.tv^
6:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.Langley Speedway Sherwin Williams Night At The RacesFansChoice.tv^
6:45 p.m. - 10:15 p.m.Southern National Motorsports Park Champions NightFansChoice.tv^
7:15 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.Evergreen Speedway QualifyingFansChoice.tv^
8:15 p.m. - 8:50 p.m.Evergreen Speedway Heat RacesFansChoice.tv^
8:55 p.m. - 11:55 p.m.Evergreen Speedway Les Schwab NASCAR Championship Night No. 1FansChoice.tv^

Sunday, September 14

2:00 a.m. - 3:30 a.m.NHRA Carolina Nationals Final QualificationsESPN 2*/ (from September 13)
7:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of San MarinoFOX Sports 1
8:40 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.AMA Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Qualifying No. 2FansChoice.tv^
9:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2FOX Sports 1*# (from September 13)
9:10 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.AMA SuperSport Warm-upFansChoice.tv^
12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceDayFOX Sports 1
12:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.NHRA Carolina Nationals Final EliminationsESPN3$
12:15 p.m. - 12:50 p.m.AMA Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Feature RaceFansChoice.tv^
1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.NASCAR CountdownESPN
1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.FIA Formula E Championship: BeijingFOX Sports 1*/# (from September 13)
1:10 p.m. - 1:50 p.m.AMA SuperSport Race No. 2FansChoice.tv^
2:00 p.m. - 2:50 p.m.AMA GoPro Daytona SportBike Race No. 2FansChoice.tv^
2:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Myafibstory.com 400ESPN
3:00 p.m. - 3:50 p.m.AMA American Superbike Race No. 2FansChoice.tv^
5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.Formula DRIFT: Miami Heat, Part 1NBC Sports Network*/ (from May 30)
7:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.NASCAR Victory LaneFOX Sports 1
8:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.Moto3: San MarinoFOX Sports 2*
8:30 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.NHRA Carolina Nationals Final EliminationsESPN 2*/
9:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.Moto2: San MarinoFOX Sports 2*
10:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of San MarinoFOX Sports 2*/#
11:30 p.m. - 2:00 a.m.Sprint Cup Series Myafibstory.com 300ESPN 2*/#

Monday, September 15

12:00 a.m. - 1:00 a.m.FIA Formula E Championship: BeijingFOX Sports 2*/# (from September 13)
3:00 a.m. - 5:30 a.m.Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 225FOX Sports 1*# (from September 12)
5:30 a.m. - 6:00 a.m.NASCAR Victory LaneFOX Sports 1*#
6:00 a.m. - 8:30 a.m.Nationwide Series Jimmy John's Freaky Fast 300FOX Sports 2*# (from September 13)
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network

* – Tape Delayed
/ – Highlighted Coverage
# – Repeat Coverage
$ – Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your internet and/or programming provider for availability.

Also, note that there will be no NASCAR Countdown from Chicagoland Speedway prior to the Nationwide race on Saturday. ESPN 2 has college football from noon-3 p.m. that day. Depending on where you are, you’ll either get Boise State-Connecticut or Kent State-Ohio State. Whatever doesn’t air on ESPN 2 will be on ABC. There is a highlights show, College Football Scoreboard, scheduled from 3-3:30 p.m., but that is essentially a studio interlude. This is your warning. Do not be surprised if one of those games runs past 3:30. If that actually happens, I will advise of ESPN’s plans on my Twitter page.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series race telecasts for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Annex on Thursday in the Newsletter, I will be covering the K&N Pro Series West Bakersfield 150 from Kern County Speedway. The debut race for the Formula E Championship from Beijing will be covered in next week’s Annex on Sept. 18.

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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I am surprised you didn’t mention ESPN on ABC decided to end the broadcast just as the Chase drivers were about to be introduced(I know they were running close to the bottom of hour I think), the closing minutes of the broadcast seemed like were stalling for time tell it started. What irks me is that they did not bother to mention that NASCAR.com was going to stream it live( I knew that, but I am sure many didnt). I understand they probably have zero obligation to do so, it still would of been a nice gesture.

I guess since ESPN had nothing to do with the event , they didnt care to mention it, I am sure there were a lot of fans out there that missed it that probably would of wanted to watch it.


No one showed up at the NW race and no one watched it on tv. As the series has become irrelevant so has any evaluation of the coverage. Really, who cares. As to Cup coverage, the Waltrips are so very annoying that I doubt that any fan is bothered much by any coverage that does not include them. To many of us the constant Chase chatter has just become tuned out white noise.

Bill B

While I agree with the policy of not giving idiots airtime, had they shown it, it would have probably been the only thing people will remember about this race 10 years from now. I’ll bet there are videos of it posted on you-tube by other fans, although I don’t care enough to go searching for it.

I agree with JohnQ regarding the NW race. As soon as I saw all the cup guys entered I knew it would be a bust. I checked in on the running order a half a dozen times while watching a Blu-ray but that was about it.


This is a big problem with all of the tv broadcasts. None of them are actually willing to show the actual racing, they only want to show a select piece of the information. ESPN has always been only about the chase. They beat that information into the ground and don’t bother to show the fans at home the rest what is happening.

I can understand why ESPN didn’t show the idiot on the fence, but let’s face it, that was one of the few “interesting” moments in the whole evening. ESPN is on their way out of covering the sport, they are really just putting in time and doing the bare minimum until Homestead.

I have to say that I turned it off to watch press pass since they were taking so long to get to whatever they were going to do with the Sprint celebration deal.

I quit watching the Nationwide or trucks some time ago and it looked like a pretty sparse crowd for the N’wide race on Friday. But having the Cup drivers run those races is so good for the sport and brings in the people! Isn’t that NASCAR’s line?


With about 30 laps to go Saturday even Allen Bestwick had to say, in a diplomatic way, that the race sucked.


I missed most of the NW race, I got home from work at 6 (PDT). No surprise Kyle B was leading and won. I wish I would’ve missed that much of the CUP race too. The only thing that made it exciting was hanging out on Twitter and the guy on the fence, thanks to those who posed pix. :) ESPN is the worst at televising racing. It must kill AB, DJ & AP to follow a script vs what’s going on (or at RIR), not going on. I know I was hoping for a few of those NASCAR cautions ;).
Can November 16th get here soon enough?

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