Sunday, September 2, 2012

Race Wrap: Sprint Cup Series From Atlanta On ESPN

The ESPN TV team continued coverage of the Sprint Cup Series this season with the Sunday night race from the Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Nicole Briscoe hosted from the Infield Pit Center. Allen Bestwick handled the lap-by-lap coverage. Rusty Wallace was in rare form and the booth analysts Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree provided good information.

The reality check for viewers was the combination of the lack of racing action and the typical TV style of ESPN. Without searching for stories the telecast had lots of two-car camera shots with Bestwick and company trying to keep the conversation flowing. It was not an easy task.

College football again affected the pre-race show, as it did for the Nationwide Series telecast on Saturday. This was the final weekend without NFL regular season games, so a college game on Sunday was on the schedule. Luckily, it was a one-sided affair and the NASCAR Countdown show was started on the ESPNEWS network.

Once the actual race started, complaints flowed in from fans about a wide variety of issues with the online pay services. No team scanners, no telemetry and a large time lag made the fans line-up at the virtual complaint window. Eventually, the bugs were sorted out but this type of situation has been all too common.

During the race, several cautions for debris were thrown and ESPN did not even attempt to show the debris on-camera. After the Saturday incident toward the finish of the Nationwide Series race with Brad Keselowski, it seemed strange not to have TV really focus on making sure to document for the TV viewers what caused the racing to be stopped.

Green flag pitstops normally are presented in a split-screen video box so viewers can continue to see the leaders racing at speed while also viewing the key cars pitting. This was not done consistently, but got better as the race progressed. The same was true for showing full-screen replays of passing or other incidents while the race itself was under green. These needed the split-screen approach.

With long green flag runs, it is tough to integrate the Infield Pit Studio crew and give them a continuing role in the telecast. There was just not too much to discuss that had not already been covered from the TV booth. Trying to do that in this race made for some awkward moments.

ESPN does not start split-screen commercials until the final ten Chase races. This is one of the best examples of a race that needed them. Long green flag runs meant missing substantive time in the race with every commercial. With the heavy commercial load in Sprint Cup Series races, fans missed a lot of laps.

The good news for ESPN is that the mix of on-air personalities is the best ever heading into the Chase. Ray Evernham gets Rusty Wallace fired up, while Bestwick and Briscoe are very good at keeping order and directing traffic. Petree and Jarrett work well together and finally Jarrett is speaking out and assuming his role as the lead analyst.

The bad news is the continuing inability of the producer and director to grasp what is going on in the race and relate that to the fans. This season there is no "script," but rather a mind-numbing pattern of tight camera shots as if TV viewers are purposefully being kept from seeing the actual racing on the track. It makes little sense and forces key issues in the race to be offered through replays.

It has been made clear that this style of production is what ESPN wants and fans have to accept it. The problem is that the post-race stories reported by the pit road reporters are often the ones missed during the live telecast. Stepping back, both figuratively and literally, for a better perspective on the racing would certainly help this effort.

We invite your opinion on the ESPN telecast from Atlanta. Comments may be moderated prior to posting.


Buschseries61 said...


I watched the first 130 laps until the mystery competition debris caution. Then the tv slept for a while. I checked in a while later and caught the race from 15 to go to the finish.

Like you said, Bestwick and boothmates had to put in a lot of effort to keep finding things to talk about.

Sadly, sometimes the truck never followed the direction of Allen's play-by-play.

He would talk about a swarm of cars on a restart, which the director would ignore. The swarm of 6 cars fell out of view for a shot of just 2 cars in a less chaotic battle.

Allen wanted to see how Hamlin would cycle out after coming off pit road compared to Harvick and Busch. Instead of a blimp shot or a nice wide shot of the backstretch from turn 3, we had nothing but confusion as the cameras tried to find everyone.

As for the last 15 laps, at least they showed the field finish.

That's about it for tonight.

*I didn't see the pre-race, where was Dr. Punch this weekend?*

Brian said...

I also watched the first 130 laps until the mystery debris caution. I turned the TV off and did not watch the rest of the race, even though I had DVRed it. As usual, the 88 ( and others ) were the beneficiary of the caution. I generally like ESPN's coverage, but I can't understand why they won't show the supposed debris. Is this a directive from NASCAR? In previous interviews, they have seemed to be very defensive when questioned by the media about showing the debris.

The Loose Wheel said...

I liked seeing the wide shots early, but sadly it was not a theme for the night. They ditched that idea and went tight again. The theme of the director not following AB has been very noticeable all season long.

Bobby O said...

Sorry, I don't watch nascar races anymore, sad really for me...

But really sad is that NO writers are around anymore!

Always enjoyed your thoughts JD!
I guess I'm old and out of touch!
Going out tomorrow for some "stay off the grass" and "no trespassing" signs.

I'm giving up to the know it all 12 year olds... Ya'll enjoy the new childs world....

Anonymous said...

Again, I will not take the garbage the producer and director are forcing on me so I do not watch. Love your blog JD and really miss you when you are gone. Thanks for all you do. MC

Anonymous said...

Was it me,or did they spend the majority of the time talking about the 48? If you closed your eyes it sounded like that there were only 7 or 8 cars racing.

Keith said...

TDP Editor - That was a very good critique of the coverage. Level headed, detailed, positives along with the negatives. Great job.

53 yr. fan said...

I watched very little of the race.
Another follow the pony in front
merry go round. I'm still angry
over losing the Darlington Labor Day date for the Atlanta snoozer.
Thank goodness the Braves were on and came back with a walk off homer by Chipper in the last of the ninth. You can't stage that drama with fake cautions.

NA$CAR should review the racing and production of the IRL Baltimore race earlier. NBC did an excellent job with great camera work and announcing.

Best of luck on your new venture JD!

OSBORNK said...

I don't know if we are blaming the right people for the poor coverage of the races. Since many of the problems shared by all of the broadcast crews, I think much of the issues are dictated by NASCAR.

Does NASCAR dictate close shots of the cars to hide the hugh number of empty seats?

Is the interval on the scroll not there because NASCAR doesn's want the fans to see how non-competative the field is?

Does NASCAR forbid the showing of debris so they can throw in a few fake ones to make the "show" better or to benefit "chosen" drivers or owners?

With that being said, I thought the booth did a good job with the product they were given. I thought the lack of information such as showing the interval, showing the racing and misplaced commercials was bordering on criminal. The race haad no flow and someone watching the TV only would have no idea what was going on in the race.

Jake(Coffeeshop42) said...

Whew,long and busy night last night!Well,as for ESPN's coverage,same stuff different day,Thank God we only have one more race of no split-screen commercials.

One thing that was paticulary disturbing was the refusal for much of the race to show intervals on the ticker.This would perhaps be forgivable if ESPN used wide shots that give some perspective on the action,but that's not the case.

As i said on twitter last night,their camera coverage is like Robin Williams past his prime.I also want to take the time to talk about the travesty of a site is. Most of us are aware of the problems this site and it's multimedia "features",but last night was worse than ever.

Almost everybody had problems with Trackpass to some extent,and Race Buddy was 20 laps behind,i kid you not(i give up on it early and didn't return).Anybody else get their daily dose of those Coors Light commercials(Bleep,holy bleep,what the bleep!!!)?

What a joke,let's pray next year things change for the better with Turner out of the equation.One last thing to add,i was very dissapointed with the lack of post race coverage,only got 3 or 4 drivers thoughts and very little time explaining the points scenarios(BTW i am biased of course,but Jr fought back to finish 7th after all the struggles,did he even get mentioned?).Thanks again for the chat last night and the blog,good luck again on your new job.

Anonymous said...

I liked ESPN's detailed end-of-race coverage--all the interviews and the like--that lasted 10 minutes. They then rushed away to Sports Center, a half-hour show they then replayed 16 times over the next 8 hours.

Frankly, I'd like to see ESPN exit auto racing--they (the producers) really don't care one twit for the sport. (unless Nascar renamed itself the Yankees!)

Maverick24 said...

I enjoyed the racing tonight. Great finish. Seeing everybody sliding around like they were is what made NASCAR, well, NASCAR. And seeing the 2 and 24 with fresh tires and actually being able to go somewhere with them is exactly how it should be.

So, I'm sure they'll repave this place next year or the year after and ruin it all.

Broadcast. I watched most of the race from the 24 Racebuddy, and diverted to the broadcast towards the finish. My one issue was on the restart after the 48 wreck, there was a lot of coming and going in places 6-10 between old and new tires, but the director chose to go 2-car-tight on the 56 passing the 11 for the lead. Now don't get me wrong, it's great they showed that, but there was no reason they couldn't have used a different angle to get ALL of the action in one shot coming down the backstretch.

On a positive note, I really like Shannon Spake. She's much better than Jamie Little.

GinaV24 said...

Good summary of the race coverage, JD. I enjoy Allen, DJ and Andy P. Personally I can live quite nicely without hearing for Rusty or Brad D. They are both big mouths that add very little. I stopped watching the pre-race shows for all the TV partners some time ago and don't feel as if I miss anything by not watching, other than having my blood pressure raised by most of the announcers.

There may have been good racing at Atlanta, unfortunately unless the cameras are used to show it to us, how do we know? AB does a great job with the PXP even though no one pays attention on the directing side of things.

We saw a lot in replay since ESPN was in commercial during several cautions.

I was one of the people who had trouble with trackpass. Really annoying that a subscription service that I pay for can be so screwed up on such a regular basis. I rely on it to be able to know what is going on with my driver since TV often doesn't tell me enough. They are going to get a call from me tomorrow about some sort of compensation since this has been an ongoing problem for several months - probably about the time that NASCAR bought the online rights back from Turner.

Jim_812 said...

Excellent recap JD.

I'd like to see ESPN try covering a football game, for example, with almost nothing but tight shots such as the ones they use throughout a race broadcast. What would it be like to watch a ball game if they concentrated on a specific receiver play after play until the QB finally threw the ball to him? Or if they kept a camera on the shortstop until a baseball was hit to him?

Fans would go nuts, and they would light up the phones and the internet if they covered stick and ball sports like they cover NASCAR, and then turn the proverbial deaf ear on the fans.

But I think OSBORNK has a point. I wouldn't be surprised a bit to hear or read that NASCAR leans on the TV partners on how and what they show, particularly shots of empty seats. I noticed in the Bristol race they showed the Grandstands quite a bit. Definitely more than we're used to seeing.

Fuzziebutt said...

I would love to see more post-race coverage. There are far too many stories to be told, not just the winner and runner up. Week after week, ESPN cannot get off the race coverage and onto Sports Center fast enough.

Jim R. said...

I must agree with many of the comments concerning how the races are presented on TV. I believe having a production crew with knowledge of the sport would help. Unfortunately, it is a sponsor driven enterprise, so we'll never see it the way it should be presented. My gripe has to do with how NASCAR has manipulated the outcomes of races via the use of all the changes designed to "add drama" for the casual fan. The Atlanta race offered the perfect example to prove my point. For those with access to the statistics, go back and check the running order during multiple time frames during the race. Use the stats for two cars, the 17 and the 88. Look where both cars ran during the course of the event. Then check the finishing order. The 17 ran consistently on the lead lap and in the top 10. The 88 ran consistently mid pack and was done at least one lap (sometimes 2 laps) during much of the race. The 88 finished 7th, the 17 finished 9th. The 88 did not fight back, as Jack(Coffeeshop42) indicates in his comments. What he did do was to take advantage of the NASCAR rules that were instituted for his benefit. Through the use of multiple "Lucky Dog Passes" and wave arounds, he ended up with a better finish than a car that consistently ran up front all night. Had the race been run using the rules in effect in 1985, the 88 would have finished about 19th, 3 or 4 laps down. Fans of the 88 will say that the rules are equal for everyone. I say that the rules are there to help cars that can't stay up front on their own.

dawg said...

In one of the pieces from a pit reporter, just before the start this guy, ( I really don't care enough about these guys to even try to sort them out, I just KNOW it wasn't Dick Berggren)was obviously reading his spiel off a teleprompter. He read the wrong word, & had to correct himself, & his eyes were focused totally on something above his head.

I mean come on, as little respect as this stick, & ball network shows NASCAR, why even bid on it in the first place?

Anonymous said...

I ask for a second straight week: if you're going to color code the scoring ticker with real-time Top 10 and Wild Card stats, why aren't the Wild Card stats updated to reflect a win in progress?????

How lazy can their programmers be? Early in the race Jeff Gordon was leading, yet his name was still in black (non-Chaser) and Kyle Busch's was in yellow (Wild Card "as they run"). Embarrassing.

Are they going to do this again at Richmond? Is Gordon, Newman, Logano or Ambrose going to be leading while Kyle Busch's name is still lit up in yellow?

Not gonna buy any senseless argument that the intent isn't to provide real-time updates, because at Bristol Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman bounced back and forth between yellow and black 'as they ran' yet Logano and Edwards never changed colors when they were leading and were elevated into a Wild Card position 'as they ran'.

Zetona said...

The backstretch cam on RaceBuddy showed the debris that was possibly the cause of the first mystery debris caution. It was well below the yellow line, but a safety truck did come out to get it. ESPN didn't show it on a broadcast; they should have, but incredibly flimsy out-of-the-racing-groove-by-a-mile debris is only better than invisible debris in that you can see it.

Otherwise? While the actual racing seemed pretty dull for the most part (seems not even Atlanta can make these cars put on a good race anymore), the broadcast was greatly hurt by the lack of intervals, simply because they change so quickly as cars get better or fade over the course of a run. Made it hard to know what was happening.

MRM4 said...

I'm not going to talk too much about Sunday's coverage because they really didn't have a lot to work with. Instead, I'll focus on Saturday night's coverage.

It has been said the supposed caution late in the NNS race showing Keselowski throwing a water bottle out of the car was a replay from earlier in the race. Still, the replay was shown numerous times, again shown on Sunday, as to imply that caused the caution. Even Harvick took exception. If ESPN is showing something that happened earlier in the race and implying it happened at another time, I have a real problem with that. A number of drivers do too.

AveryNH said...

Above average race with an average brodcast. AB proves again why he's the best in the biz. Between he andy and DJ the espn booth is the best the sport has. Too bad the director is the worst. The nearly missed JJ's crash and restarts were abysmal. Heck if they zoomed out they woulda seen Jamie Mac blow his tire 500 ft in front of poor truex who had this one flat out robbed from him. Good win for Hamlin. Great run for Gordon. If he makes the chase watch out

The Loose Wheel said...

For all of the production issues I have across all 3 networks, my biggest and most important one is ZOOM OUT!!! Racing is not a tight shot kind of sport, tight shots are not useful unless you are trying to create a slow motion bumper for your next commercial break. We need to see ACTION and RACING. See your NHRA coverage for how to utilize these traits properly. We get a nice wide shot of the race, with replays of headers and tire shake after the fact.

Still have never understood why FOX had to start this "speed shot" on restarts nonsense. It is completely backwards from how you should present a restart since that is when most of your action occurs.

James said...

I just do not understand how the "scroll" changing colors can be compared to the picture content in regard to the quality of the "broadcast"? If the director were to show the proper pictures, following the "lead" of the PxP from the booth, most of us would fall over. Each week the complaint that always surfaces is the failure of the pictures to show the on track action, otherwise called "the race we never got to see"! Again, why spend three hours to watch endless commercials and ridiculous guesses what may happen, when you can watch Victory Lane, see ALL the meaningful action and eliminate the conjecture by the "highly paid experts", when one of the "talking heads" can moderate the actual events, already known and comment on facts, not imagination.

Alex Jordan said...

The lack of racing action made it difficult for the booth to keep a conversation going. Split-screen was used during green flag pit stops but wasn't consistent. They should have used split-screen for all of the green flag pit stops. Networks not showing debris when Nascar throws a caution for debris is nothing new. That has led people to believe that Nascar throws "fake" cautions to create excitement. ESPN should have shown the debris on Sunday after the controversy in the Nationwide race. But for some reason they didn't. The right camera angle was shown when the Jimmie Johnson wreck happened. Replays of the incident showed us a different angle of the accident which was good.