Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Two Car Tango ESPN Style

Despite the predictions of more action on the track, the Nationwide Series race from the Richmond International Raceway was all about horsepower and handling. The field behaved and the antics we have seen at RIR races in the past never materialized.

Instead, the final laps became the pursuit of Kurt Busch, driving his brother Kyle's team entry, by Denny Hamlin. The final lap was great and the pair managed a side-by-side finish that featured a little rubbing but no wrecking. It was a super victory for the Busch brothers.

On this night, there were also other stories. Travis Pastrana joined the series after his most recent X-Games injury. Danica Patrick and Johanna Long both made the race. Steven Wallace returned to action after the closing of his father's racing operation. Dave Blaney's 18 year-old son Ryan was racing in a one-off effort. Update: The Blaney ride is actually a 6 race Nationwide Series deal with Tommy Baldwin Racing. Thanks to reader Melissa for the update.

Ultimately, Pastrana fell victim to a late pit road speeding penalty. Patrick never got the car's handling right and Long again had inferior equipment. Only Long cracked the top 20 when it was all said and done.

The story of the race turned out to be Blaney. He never put a wheel wrong all night and finished a strong 7th. Steven Wallace also kept his nose clean and scored a solid 11th place. Even Sam Hornish Jr. conquered his personal short track challenges and got a top 5 finish.

The ESPN coverage from the start consisted of tight-shots of small groups of cars, even on the restarts. Two or three cars on the TV screen were common as the race went along. Mixing those shots with in-car cams and low angles comprised the vast majority of the coverage.

Allen Bestwick worked hard to get the excitement going, but it was tough as the director continued to show two or three cars racing in very tight camera shots. There was rarely an aerial shot and except for the green flags on a restart there were no wide shots of the field or large groups of cars racing.

What ESPN did do was track their X-Games superstar Pastrana all night long. Just like the treatment Danica got last season in her appearances, Pastrana was featured instead of other drivers whose storied needed to be updated. Once again, the cult of celebrity was more appealing to ESPN than the NASCAR racing.

Once Hamlin caught up to Busch in the final lap, the cameras stayed with that battle until the two crossed the finish line. But then, a funny thing happened. Instead of staying on the start/finish line or moving back to catch the next lead lap cars the director chose to show Busch slowing down and then his pit crew celebrating. None of the other lead lap cars were shown racing to the line.

This race only featured a battle for the lead on the final two laps. It only featured two cars side by side for the final lap. This actually got the ESPN crew so excited that the entire rest of the field was never seen after the leaders finished.

My contention has long been that TV is at the track to show the viewers at home what the fans in the stands are watching. The best battles, the big wreck, the fastest speeds are all part of the NASCAR experience. This all comes back to a statement made many times over the past few seasons.

There was not one fan in the stands at Richmond who only watched the winners finish the race. As the rest of the field raced toward the finish, the attention of the fans went back to the cars at speed and the stories still unfolding. ESPN stepped in and made a decision for the fans watching at home that they would see something else.

There was some drama in Kyle Busch's team winning the race. He would be interviewed along with his driver in Victory Lane. But this was not the Indy500, the Daytona 500 or the Super Bowl. It was a Nationwide Series race in Richmond. Once Kurt won, the TV viewers deserved to see the other cars race to the finish line.

What is your opinion on this topic? To add your comment, just click on the comments button below. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

NASCAR TV Talk Heats Up

As the Sprint Cup Series heads toward the beautiful Richmond International Raceway, the talk about the TV coverage of the sport is heating up. Things got very interesting this week on Twitter.

It started innocently enough late Sunday night with these Darrell Waltrip posts:

"If you watched our telecast today I hope you enjoyed the coverage, thought we did a really good job of finding the action all over the track."

"The Digger shots were amazing, I bet he has a headache after today's race, this was another record setting day, fastest race at Kansas."

"Our entire team, director, producer, pit reporters, worked hard today to be sure we didn't leave anything on the table, emptied the bucket!"

After some fans and media members blasted the FOX coverage, Waltrip continued his Twitter posts on Monday:

"If someone says we covered the race yesterday like we do all the time, they didn't watch the race, from top to bottom we did it differently!"

"We focused on battles thru out the field all day until the end when Truex and Hamlin were battling for the win, pit reports were awesome."

Waltrip is certainly entitled to his opinion and has put in a decade of working on TV in the sport after his long Hall of Fame career as a driver.

Last March, after some TV stumbles early in the season, we offered a post that reviewed some of the fundamental issues fans have been discussing about the TV coverage for the past five years. This is a repost of (click here for the 2011 post with fan comments) a portion of the original column.

After all the changes that Waltrip mentioned, it should open an interesting discussion as to whether FOX has moved toward or away from some of these topics. Thanks to all the readers who helped to compose the original post.

This from March 8, 2011:

Active owners of Sprint Cup Series teams should not be on the air as network TV announcers. Despite the best intentions of those involved, the opinions expressed by those with a significant financial and professional commitment to the sport simply draw too much skepticism.

The pre-race show is to inform viewers of the ongoing stories involving the teams about to race. It is not for features designed to sell a product, promote a cause or advance a TV network's own agenda. "Face time" on national television should be for athletes, not announcers.

The driver starting on the pole of every Sprint Cup Series race should be interviewed during the pre-race show. This right comes with sitting on the pole and makes an impression on the national TV audience that this is an accomplishment for the driver, the team and the sponsor.

Speaking to a driver and/or crew chief via the team radio during the pace laps makes no sense. Asking the driver a random viewer question is ridiculous. Once again in 2010, this practice provided no new information, resulted in awkward moments and was openly despised by some drivers.

There is not one "new fan" watching the telecast. The entire NASCAR TV audience has a favorite driver and knows who is who. Showing a prerecorded "bumper" of a driver posing and grinning or trying to look tough or playing the drums while going to commercial under green flag racing is a travesty.

Updates on the basics of NASCAR should be reserved for specialty TV shows. Inside the live telecast of a Sprint Cup Series race there is no need to review the basics of tires, fuel cells, shock absorbers or any other car part that will be used in every event.

A driver who starts a Sprint Cup Series race and suddenly pulls off the track and heads to the garage should be identified on TV immediately. It is not the role of the TV networks to edit "start and park" cars from the telecasts. The responsibility is to report what is happening to those who are watching on TV and are not at the track.

No NASCAR TV network covering a live race should go to commercial under green flag racing in the first ten laps or the final ten laps of the event. Any driver transported to the infield medical center should be interviewed. Each one has fans and it is not the role of the TV network to use popularity or points standings to determine whether an athlete is worthy of TV time.

The scoring ticker is on the screen to help with information, not to be the primary source of scoring information for TV viewers once the race is underway. A key role of the play-by-play announcer is to update positions on the racetrack. What TV seems to be unable to do, the NASCAR radio broadcasters do on a regular basis.

Prior to every restart in a Sprint Cup Series race TV viewers should be told what cars got a wave-around, who is the Lucky Dog and if there were any pit road penalties. Coming to the green flag, viewers should know at least the top ten cars (first five rows) and whether the leader chose the inside or outside.

Full field recaps within a race should be done through the complete field at regular intervals and not just include the top ten or twenty cars. Television often misses the real stories of the race by continually focusing on the front of the race and the current leaders. All the drivers on the track have fans.

After a multi-hour race, TV viewers deserve to see all the cars on the lead lap finish the race live. The race winner, pit crew and crew chief will have TV time in Victory Lane. Watching the rest of the lead lap cars racing to the finish is often much more exciting than seeing the winner cross the line.

The issues added by fans after the original post included showing debris for every caution flag, not using an in-car camera for a pass for the lead and having side-by-side TV commercial breaks.

This post was a composite of the coverage of all three TV networks involved in the Sprint Cup Series. As we have said many times since 2007, the NASCAR TV networks paid the money to show the races and have the total right to present them however they please.

What may be important to remember in this world of DVR's, online streaming and social media is that the NASCAR fan base now has an incredible amount of real time information available during a race. What TV chooses not to show or include in a telecast may be interpreted as incomplete coverage.

This discussion is as much about digital technology, the Internet and the changing expectations of the fan base as it is about announcers, camera angles and commercial breaks. Either way, it's a fascinating time to continue the discussion of how to get the TV viewers to return to the live telecasts.

We invite your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Social Media Continues To Force Change

It certainly has been an interesting couple of years in the digital world as social media has gone from being called a fad to now dominating NASCAR's media coverage.

From Brad Kesewloski tweeting during the red flag at Daytona to Shane Wilson's wife Dana showing us the $100 bill stuck to Kevin Harvick's bumper, there is no doubt that instant communication via Twitter, Facebook and other up and coming social media applications is here to stay.

When we started this blog in 2007, there was little in the way of communication between the sport and the fans. Radio call-in shows served that purpose, but calls were screened in advance and the personalities in the sport who called-in seemed to always have a purpose related to a sponsor.

The true power of social media is that it gives any citizen with a cell phone, tablet or laptop the ability to make their voice heard on an equal level with anyone else. Suddenly, your Twitter question for Jimmie Johnson gets answered by him directly. Personalities in the sport offer information, online links and glimpses into their true personalities never seen before on TV or radio.

One new twist to this is that the NASCAR TV partners have now embraced social media. SPEED has the Social Garage and numerous Twitter and Facebook accounts. ESPN, TNT and FOX all run multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts related to each network's NASCAR activities.

In the past, we have worked very hard to update the program listings for the NASCAR TV partners on TDP with specific announcers, guests and interviews. Now that same information that was forwarded to us is available on Twitter, Facebook and the TV network's own website.

Since it does not make much sense any longer for us to just repeat the same content, we are making some changes to the TDP format and activity list. We will continue to have a full NASCAR TV listing on the front page, but without the specific information updated in the past. The networks want to handle that themselves, basically so you will follow their Twitter and Facebook accounts.

We will continue to host a live stream on Twitter during Sprint Cup Series races, but no longer for Nationwide or Truck Series races. The truck race from Kansas will be our last. SPEED and ESPN both host their own live chats and want fans to come to their own locations for social media interaction.

The Sprint Cup Series live stream on Twitter will continue to be focused on the TV presentation of the race and the programs airing before and after the event. The original purpose of this blog was to simply discuss the performance of the NASCAR TV partners during this eight-year multi-billion dollar TV contract.

There will be a post-race blog for every Sprint Cup Series race, as well as weekday news updates and columns. This blog also auto-opens on both Android and iPhones. Our twitter account is located at and sign-up for Twitter is free. Click here to view our Facebook page, which has recently been converted to the new Timeline format.

Thanks for listening to these updates, happy to have your feedback on these changes and the push toward social media by the NASCAR TV partners. Just click the comments button to add your opinion.