Last weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series traveled to the newly-rechristened ISM Raceway for what will be the final race on the current setup. In November, the new grandstands will be completed and the old tower will be demolished. Andy Jeffers, who owns and operates Sports & Entertainment Inc. (they do the advertising for those who have in-car cameras), is very happy to see the old tower go.
So long Bunker! 142 steps to the worst booth (size of a closet) known to any sports’ broadcast! November we get a new one! pic.twitter.com/PQzmxk5utH
— Andy Jeffers (@AndyVJeffers) March 12, 2018
Sunday saw Kevin Harvick race angry.
The penalty was the main story of pre-race coverage on both NASCAR RaceDay and FOX NASCAR Sunday. Harvick compared the whole thing to scenarios like when TV viewers could call in violations in golf tournaments
NASCAR has not stated whether social media played any role in the penalty that was levied, but Harvick strongly believes that it did.
Outside of Harvick’s anger in the car at darn near everybody, the biggest story of the week was Matt DiBenedetto’s plea via social media for financial backing. Those pleas obviously led to DiBenedetto getting sponsorship.
It does say a lot about how people feel about DiBenedetto that people such as Harvick and Denny Hamlin were willing to contribute. Apparently, Hamlin contributing led Big Cat from Barstool Sports (who considers Hamlin to be a friend) to retweet it. Remember that Hamlin appeared as a guest on Barstool Sports’ Pardon My Take recently (and will apparently appear a few more times this year). JeffGluck.com reported Friday that an executive from Zynga Poker saw Big Cat’s retweet and contacted Go FAS Racing. That led to Zynga Poker sponsoring DiBenedetto last weekend. It’s a small world indeed.
During pre-race, DiBenedetto sat down with Michael Waltrip to talk about the whole situation, what led to the plea and the response. DiBenedetto came off here as quite thankful. He describes Go FAS Racing as an “old-school” operation, much like Swan Racing described itself a few years ago before it over-expanded.
Also, Darrell Waltrip anteing up his own $5,000 on paper sounds nice. However, it does create another one of those pesky conflicts of interest that we’ve talked about many times in the past. It’s not the first time that he’s sponsored a team in a bad situation. Back in 2003, he sponsored Mike McLaughlin in the XFINITY Series Koolerz 300 at Daytona after he fell victim to the complete mess known as Angela’s Motorsports.
The race itself once again had a green-flag feel. Having said that, Sunday’s race had one of the better duels for the lead in recent years at ISM Raceway. Harvick, Hamlin and Kyle Busch appeared to be just about equal and that provided viewers with a swell duel. We’re more than six years out since the track surface renovation, but only now are we seeing the fruits.
Overall, FOX was about average in showing action for position. There was a decent amount, but it can be a little hard to tell at times.
Post-race coverage was a little thinner than normal. There were interviews with the top-three finishers (Harvick, Busch and Chase Elliott) along with winning crew chief Rodney Childers. After a point check, FOX was done. I feel like I wanted more.
Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
Prior to the Cup race on Sunday, the Verizon IndyCar Series began what could possibly be its final season of racing on ESPN (via ABC). After ESPN’s layoffs last May, it was unclear what kind of effort that ESPN would put up for the broadcast, or even who would be on it.
Ultimately, it wasn’t necessarily all that much different from 2017. While yes, Allen Bestwick and Eddie Cheever (at minimum) were laid off from ESPN, they were both back last weekend. The only on-air change was that Dr. Jerry Punch was not on the broadcast. He’s apparently going to be at Indianapolis in May. In what capacity, I’m not really sure at the moment.
With all of the changes for 2018, you’d figure that ESPN would have wanted to take some time and go over them in detail. Not so much on Sunday. Jon Beekhuis showed off some of the changes to the car but couldn’t get into any real detail.
A lot of the new drivers in the series were all but not introduced. It had to be done in the flow of the race. Honestly, ESPN probably should have started the broadcast at Noon as opposed to 12:30. A quick check of our past TV schedule tables indicates that ESPN did start a half-hour earlier last year. Not a good move.
Also, some markets didn’t get the full race on their ABC affiliates. WTNH in New Haven, Conn. didn’t air the race at all. Viewers who wanted to watch the race had to tune to My59. In Waco, the race was joined in progress because religious programming ran on KXXT (ABC 25) until Noon local time.
Compared to Mike Joy or Adam Alexander, Bestwick brings a different style to the booth. He prides himself on his “volumes and volumes” of preparation. Due to the quick nature of pre-race (the command to start engines was three minutes after the sign-on), there wasn’t much time to introduce everything.
The camera shots used on the broadcast were not necessarily the best. The turns 11-12 chicane and the run to turn 13 was problematic during the day as two separate incidents occurred there that ESPN didn’t get a clear view of.
The Jack Harvey crash, in particular, was not caught by any of ESPN’s exterior cameras. However, the production staff continued to work at it and found a great shot from the nose cam on Graham Rahal’s car that showed Harvey having a flat right rear tire before sliding into the wall.
Speaking of those nose shots, they’re just one of a number of new shots that will be at the disposal of TV crews this season. By nature, they are frightening, but there is no better way to give viewers the sensation of speed.
Also, the Visor Cam that debuted in last year’s Indianapolis 500? The usage of those cameras has been greatly expanded for 2018. There will be up to six visor cams per IndyCar broadcast this season. While the setup is likely ideal in NASCAR, the current in-car design requires a lot of adjustments. Those adjustments aren’t really necessary in an open-top Dallara.
In regards to racing for position, there was a fair amount on Sunday. The booth seemed to be in tune with the race itself (especially Bestwick). It appears that the strategist gimmick has been dropped this season. Perhaps that’s for the best.
Early in the race, Helio Castroneves came up to the booth and spent some time as a guest analyst. It was the first time that I can recall Castroneves in such a setup (he was the grand marshal on Sunday and gave his command while hanging on the fence). Castroneves brings a lot of experience racing at St. Petersburg to the booth and was quite informative for the 27 or so laps that he was there. He also brought his boisterousness to the booth as well.
Castroneves also promoted IMSA a little bit since he’s racing there this year. When his driving career is over in a number of years, Castroneves could be an interesting personality in television. He seems to have a lot of qualities that would work well in an analyst’s role. The name recognition can’t hurt, either.
Due to the wrecks, the race ended right up against the end of the timeslot. There was a quick winner’s interview with Sébastien Bourdais and a check of the results before ESPN left for NBA Countdown.
While I’m still not that much of a fan of Cheever or Scott Goodyear, the three men in the booth still do work together decently. Bestwick seems to be able to will a decent performance out of Cheever at times.
That said, the broadcast was crunched for time at both ends and probably left some viewers confused as to who they were watching. Also, ESPN seemed to only want to promote its own races. The uninitiated may not know that there are three more races (ISM Raceway, Long Beach and Barber Park) before ESPN coverage returns for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May. I know they don’t air on ESPN, but you need to promote your property, not just yourself.
Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY series travel to Fontana to wrap up the Western Swing, often referred to as NASCAR Goes West. Meanwhile, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship travels to Sebring for a 12-hour classic at the ever-bumpy Sebring International Raceway. TV listings can be found under the Television tab at the top of the page.
If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.
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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