Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Talladega Brings Wrecking & Typical Broadcasts

Talladega brings a number of different variables to covering races.  Most of the pack is close together, so showing most of the on-track action isn’t that difficult to do.  The usual pinch points are not necessarily in play.  However, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a perfect broadcast.  Far from it, actually.


Sunday saw the Cup Series return to Talladega.  In front of a decent crowd, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won his first career Cup race.

Overall, pre-race coverage is still lacking, and I actually tend to prefer some of the content on NASCAR RaceDay.  Sometimes, I do wonder how the heck they come up with two hours of content prior to races, but what they had Sunday was good.  There was a nice piece on spotters and how important they are.  This included interviews with Clint Bowyer and his spotter, Brett Griffin.  Bowyer in general puts a smile on my face

Another piece later on profiled Joey Meier, Brad Keselowski’s spotter and personal pilot.  This piece wasn’t so much about spotting as the mentality behind it.  Bobby Labonte actually referenced this separately on NASCAR RaceDay.  Like Keselowski, Labonte’s spotter was a pilot.  They seem to be a much calmer voice on the radio, and some drivers like that.

Ultimately, plate races are relatively easy to cover all the bases.  There are a number of storylines that are easily covered all at once.  One that I don’t think was covered as well as it should have been was the new aerodynamic package.

As you know by now, we had the Big One on the backstretch with 19 laps to go after AJ Allmendinger spun Chase Elliott out of second in front of the field.  I’m sure that a lot of race fans will focus on the fact that Allmendinger ended up on his roof.  However, we’re not focusing on that.

As you remember, Elliott took a big hit in the passenger side from Joey Logano.  The hit got Elliott airborne, but the car glided in the air before coming down partially on top of the SAFER Barrier.  It actually reminded me of some of the incidents seen in the Verizon IndyCar Series on superspeedways recently.

This was the first test of the new aerodynamic devices that are designed to help prevent blowovers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.  While there is likely still work to be done, I think NASCAR will view it as some kind of a success.  Without the quasi-skid plate, there was a good sporting chance that Logano’s hit on the No. 24 would have flipped Elliott over like Matt Crafton’s crash in the NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona earlier this year.

While Allmendinger did roll, his roll was due to his car being shoveled over.  Blame splitters for that.

The broadcast on FOX never really talked about that much, although Kenny Wallace did broach it on NASCAR RaceDay.  Then again, we’re talking about the pre-pre-race show on a different channel.  They did mention the various new requirements to decrease the chances of intrusion that are mandatory for 2017 (stronger firewalls, better footbox, etc), though.  That played a role in helping to prevent injuries for Danica Patrick and Ryan Blaney.

Post-race coverage was pretty decent despite the broadcast running over the four-hour timeslot.  Viewers got a half a dozen post-race interviews and some analysis before FOX left the air.

I know that many of you don’t care about the backmarkers, but there was next to no mention of a number of them (Reed Sorenson, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Brendan Gaughan) going down multiple laps before lap 10.  I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that they had to go all out with qualifying setups just to get into the field, but they should have made note of what was going on.  In this case, we’re talking long pit stops to convert from qualifying to race setups.  Then again, this isn’t really new; it has been a thing since they introduced impound to Talladega qualifying over a decade ago.

Overall, I felt that the coverage was somewhat typical on Sunday.  It can be rather hard to criticize plate race broadcasts unless something rather blatant happens.  I do think that Darrell Waltrip overreacts at times and draws attention to nothing.  Given the insanity of plate races, that makes me nervous.

However, Waltrip does speak from the position of a man with 45 years of seniority.  He mentioned during the race that he feared the Big One at Talladega when he made his Cup debut back in 1972.  Things were quite a bit different back then, but the threat was still there.  It was even more dangerous back then since the cars were nowhere as “safe” as they are now.

The plate racing more or less prevented the Earnhardt Jr. overload that I talked about last week.  Seriously, it started to get in the way of enjoying the race.  This weekend was more balanced.  Speaking of Earnhardt Jr., I would have liked to know how he ended up with a loose wheel late in the race.  Did his team not get all the lugnuts tight on his stop, or did he have a nasty vibration that loosened the wheel?  I don’t know.

Finally, during the race, FOX had a quick shot of one of their production trucks, where they showed how the speed shot cameras are operated.  That was pretty interesting.  They’ve generally been robotic since at least the 1990s, but I was under the opinion that it was more along the lines of the joysticks used to pan BSI’s in-car cameras.  Not so much.  Apparently, the operator has what amounts to a steering wheel at his disposal.  Pretty sweet.  It is a far cry from CBS Sports putting the late Joe Sokota right next to the catchfence at Daytona with a regular camera while wearing a motorcycle helmet and shield.

Sparks Energy 300

Saturday saw the XFINITY Series return to broadcast television for 300 miles of action.  We also got Michael Waltrip in 1980s style short-shorts and a “Me” t-shirt depicting the cougar from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.  I don’t quite know how to feel about that.

Pre-race coverage was quite light on previewing the actual race.  Still think that it should change.  Having said that, FOX did sit down Elliott Sadler and Brennan Poole to talk about the finish of last years’ race.  A year later, I’m still not a fan of the call by NASCAR, but I understand why they did it.  It still pains Poole to this day.  Unfortunately, he was unable to do anything about it after getting in a wreck.

Ray Black Jr. was the first driver out of the race on Saturday, retiring due to an engine issue that caused the first yellow.  Long story short, it happened during the first commercial of the race and Adam Alexander indicated that he was going to explain what happened to Black.  That explanation never came.  Weak.

Saturday saw Kevin Harvick make another appearance in the broadcast booth as a guest analyst.  Much like when Jeff Gordon called this race back in 2015, it was a rather sobering experience for the 2014 Cup champion.  When you’re in the car maneuvering through the packs, you cannot see how crazy your moves are.  In the booth, you can.

Overall, I felt that Harvick did a decent job up in the booth.  He did a good job explaining the insanity that is a typical XFINITY Series plate race. Waltrip was his typical over the top self.  Sometimes I wonder just how much coffee he drinks.

Post-race content was decent despite running over the timeslot.  Luckily, it didn’t really matter in practice because FOX wasn’t leaving Talladega.  Viewers ended up with a few good interviews and a check of the points before preparing for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying.

Honestly, Saturday’s race got way more spread out than the Cup race.  Once that happened, the focus really narrowed, likely to the broadcast’s detriment.  It was almost like the period from laps 70 – 98 were spent looking at one five-car pack until the yellow flew for debris.

Also of note, if anyone figures out just what the heck that debris was and where it was, please tell me.  The piece was never shown on air and it was not mentioned where it was.  For all I know, it didn’t exist.  I know that Talladega’s massive, however, FOX has 60 cameras at their disposal, plus the NASCAR Officials’ radio feed.  I’m pretty sure they could have come up with a decent guess as to what it was with the help of the radio feed.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to Kansas Speedway for their first night race of the season.  The Camping World Truck Series returns from its mid-spring nap for the fourth race of the season.  INDYCAR takes on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, while Formula One is in Barcelona.  TV listings can be found in the schedule tab above.

I will provide critiques of the Cup and Truck races from Kansas at minimum in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday at Frontstretch.  This week’s Critic’s Annex will cover the Advance Auto Parts Sportscar Showdown from Circuit of the Americas in Texas.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below.  Even though I can’t always respond, I do read your comments. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.

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As always, if you choose to contact a 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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It never ceases to amaze me how much Fox OVERUSES replays, in-car shots, and ground-level shots during green flag action (and don’t even get me *started* on the excessive tight shots). I understand some of the in-car shots are prepaid by that car’s sponsor and thus, have guaranteed airtime, but use discretion! If we’re under 10 to go, we should have a wide shot of the pack at all times so people can actually SEE the moves developing on the track. Throughout the race, there are *way* too many camera changes every lap…so much so, it’s hard to get perspective on exactly what’s happening on the racetrack. Some of these shots last for 2 seconds and then they’re jumping to another one. That’s passable during normal races, but during a plate race, it makes the broadcast tough to swallow. Less is more when it comes to covering these races. The networks knew how to do it properly 20+ years ago, there’s no excuse for it to be like this now.

PS – I promise this is my last gripe, but WHY did they insist on using the ground-level shot on the top end of pit road to follow the pack by?? What ever happened following the pack from the camera on top of the grandstands and staying with it through the tri-oval and then cutting to the tun 1 camera? Use that low-level shot for replays.

Bill B

LOL. I like how when they went to commercial one time and had the side by side view of the race (which is miniscule in size) they opted to show an in car camera. It almost seems like the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.
When they go side by side common sense would dictate that they show a wide angle shot of the racing.


Common sense has nothing to do with how they show their movie scenes. “Hollywood Hotel” says all you need to know.

Bill H.

Way, way too much use of the in car cameras. Do they not realize that the drivers have spotters in the stands because the view from inside the car stinks? Particularly disgusting is the series of jumps between a series of in car cameras. It’s getting worse. It is neither entertaining nor informative.

Also getting worse is the ridiculous attempts to reignite the maunfacturers’ battle with all the hyperbole about the number of Fords in the lead, the number of Chevrolets in the lead, etc. These cars bear no resemblance whatever to the products made in Detroit, and most of today’s fans drive compacts or SUV’s anyway.


I mentioned this in my comment last week. they are obsessed with their gadgets and it makes the broadcast worse. It gives me a headache quite honestly and makes me want to turn my tv to golf when they do that. I’m pretty sure they are not catering to us long time fans, though. The ADD fans are far more important to them, and I’m sure they love it. Too bad they won’t be around for more than a few weeks before they are on to something else.

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