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The view from my couch

TNT Coverage of the Sylvania 300
by Cheryl Lauer
September 15, 2003

This was a good broadcast for the TNT team. They were faced with a pretty boring race and made a concerted effort to try and keep the viewers interested all day long. All of the on-track incidents were covered and the announcers did a very good job of keeping up with all the fuel issues at the end of the race. The commercials were a little excessive between 3:20 and 3:40; however, we did get to see the last 37 laps of the race commercial-free, so it was a fair trade-off.

The Pre-Race Show

Bill Weber came on the air saying "After a wild Saturday night, how much do you remember on Sunday afternoon?" This was a clever turn of the phrase to describe the aftermath of the post-race antics last week at Richmond. He also immediately informed the viewers that there was a possibility of rain at New Hampshire. Next, were comments from Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace and Richard Petty on the pit altercations at Richmond. This was followed by the pit reporters getting live comments from Kevin Harvick and Ricky Rudd. When Marty Snider interviewed Rudd about the situation with Harvick, Rudd said "You guys get one side and then the other and it's gets it stirred up." I have to applaud Rudd for his frankness because I tend to agree that TV is trying a little too hard to keep the "feud" going.

There was a very nice feature on Tara Parker, the wife of Dale Jarrett's crew chief, who was killed in a car accident last week. TNT showed the feature on her heart transplant from two years ago and ended with a very nice personal tribute to Tara from Bill Weber.

He also covered the breaking news of Bill France, Jr. stepping down as the head of NASCAR in lieu of his son, Brian. Next came Wally's World, and although I didn't really understand the link to a CNN reporter, the whole bit turned out to be pretty funny.

When TNT went to Allen Bestwick and the announcers in the booth, we were told that Terry Labonte had wrecked during Happy Hour, but didn't have to go to a back-up car; however, Rusty Wallace had to start in the back because of an engine change. On the rundown of the starting grid, TNT was doing a good job mentioning all of the drivers' name until they got to what they called "Provisionaland," and then they kind of just ignored the last few drivers, except for Fittapaldi

The Race

After the start of the race, TNT showed Waltrip and Earnhardt fighting for 5th position and then Busch and Martin battling farther back in the pack.

When TNT returned from their first commercial, they showed a feature called "Winston Cup Memories" that featured highlights from a battle at Daytona from the late 70s. It was nice to see the networks are not totally ignoring R.J. Reynolds' support of the sport. When TNT got back to the race, we had missed Johnson and Earnhardt passing Waltrip and Jeff Gordon for second and third place. There was so little passing in this race, it would've been nice to see a replay of an important pass up front.

TNT did their first Through the Field segment at lap 47 and the pit reporters provided their usual excellent updates on how the top 10 cars were running before a break to show the leader lapping the 37th place car. Then TNT returned to the rundown and showed back to 20th place.

Throughout the day, the TNT crew did an excellent job of showing various problems on pit road, such as on lap 80 when Craven ran out of gas early and his crew had to push him off of pit road. Allen told us that he sped coming into the pits and also received a stop and go penalty. The producer played radio communications when Jimmy Spencer ran out of gas early as well.

NBC/TNT continues using their great feature of color-coding the ticker to show which teams had made green flag pit stops and this was particularly useful during this race. The announcers also did an excellent job keeping the viewers informed of who had taken over the lead when each car came into pit under green. Allen also pointed out that the pit road speed at Loudon was 45 miles per hour.

TNT missed the 48 and 15 cars passing the 24 for second place while they were showing a replay of the accident involving John Bryan of the 88 crew earlier this year. I understand this was a human interest story since this was Bryan's first race back, but couldn't it have been saved for a yellow-flag period instead of sacrificing showing action up front in the race?

TNT was quick to show when Jeff Burton's car starting smoking and they briefly followed his car to the garage. Later, there was an interview of Burton with Dave Burns in picture-in-picture, while TNT continued to show the action on the track. We also got to see Greg Biffle's car going behind the wall in PIP, with Marty telling us that debris had knocked the oil pump belt off his car. This was followed up with the Virtual Garage to illustrate where the oil pump belt was located and the effects it's loss would have on the engine. Next Marty had an interview with Biffle.

During the race, TNT was on top of happenings in the pits, such as when the 8 car came into his pits sideways. There was also extensive coverage when Gordon hit Waltrip's car coming into the pits and slid into some of Johnson's crew members. Benny Parsons quickly provided the names of the crew members involved. Bill updated us on their conditions and pointed out that Cory Quick had still changed the tires on the 48 car after being hit. He also mentioned that the crew chief, Chad Knaus, had to jump over him (Bill) so that he could see if Quick was alright.

I enjoyed the thorough coverage of the pit road accident, but felt TNT could have updated us on the running order a little before the cars were actually restarting the race. Just a quick note that Bill Elliott was leading would have been nice. But Allen did provide a full update on who had gotten to the front of the field by taking only two tires.

When Ward Burton and Johnson got together, sending Ward into the wall, TNT was right on top of things, showing us the battle back to the line where Ryan Newman and Waltrip were racing Elliott to take the caution. Next, we saw a quick replay of the 22 and 48 cars getting together.

I was a little confused as to Allen's comments, "Earnhardt, Jr., hanging in there," as TNT went into a highlight segment on their way to commercial. It was really nice that TNT used the song "Ring of Fire" with this segue as a tribute to the late Johnny Cash. When TNT returned from commercial, Matt Yocum explained that Earnhardt had an engine problem, so Allen's comments made a little more sense. Benny suggested the problem might be a valve spring, and Matt's interview with the crew chief confirmed this was most likely the problem. Later, Benny used their demo engine to illustrate where the valve springs were located and how they could vibrate and bang against a cylinder head.

After the next restart, Robby Gordon spun onto an infield road and Allen explained that this was part of the road course at New Hampshire. There were some replays of the incident, but none of them really showed if Gordon had gotten hit or not.

When Dale Jarrett wrecked, the TNT crew quickly showed where Elliott slowed down drastically in turn 3 and several lapped cars started passing him to get their laps back. TNT had a long and interesting discussion about the problem with this situation because Jarrett still sat in his damaged car on the front stretch. There was a quick replay showing that Spencer had hit Jarrett and Benny explained that the fire on the 88 car was caused by the oil pump being knocked off in the wreck. During the discussion about racing back to the yellow flag, Allen explained that in the drivers' meeting, NASCAR said to let the leader decide if would let people get their laps back or not. Bill informed us that Bobby Labonte was told that Elliott would let him get his lap back. TNT played a radio transmission from Michael Waltrip where he complained about the move by Elliott. Allen explained that the 18, 77, and 97 cars all got their laps back. Marty interviewed Jarrett and asked some good questions about his opinion on the cars racing back. Jarrett explained that when he saw the cars coming around at full speed, he'd buckled back into his safety belts. Marty also told us that Jarrett had a bruised right knee from the crash. Allen informed the viewers that David Hoots, race control, had commented that the 12 and 15 cars had no business racing the leader.

Allen told us when Hermie Sadler's car was "going up in smoke" and that Jeff Burton had returned to the track after 66 laps behind the wall, but that he had pulled his car back in to the garage again. After a commercial, Allen told us the 8 car had not pitted under caution and that the 41 car in front of him was on the tail end of the lead lap.

I was surprised that TNT did not mention that this was Mark Martin's 500th Winston Cup start until lap 219 and this was why he had a special paint scheme for this race. I think this kind of thing could have been mentioned in the pre-race show.

There was a second Through the Field segment at lap 226, during which Matt told us that Earnhardt's engine problem was getting worse and they would probably be pitting in about five laps. When he pitted, Allen told us that he went down a lap. TNT caught the action when Kevin Harvick bashed his way past Newman, and Benny commented "So now we know it's okay to do that if your are on probation." This was funny.

TNT really rose to the occasion, with excellent coverage of everything happening on the track and in the pits during the last few laps of the race. Around lap 163, Benny told us that Harvick's car was the fastest on the track, but Bill pointed out that his crew chief said they would probably be 9 laps short on fuel. Marty reported that Terry Labonte had run out of fuel in turn 3 and TNT was showing the crew pushing to car to get it off pit road and switched to an inset of this shot when Harvick passed Rusty Wallace for position. This is the kind of thing I like to see. Yes, the viewers want to know what's happening in the pits, but show the on-track action as the main picture. TNT was also right on top of things in the pits when leader, Waltrip, had to pit for fuel and the gas can got stuck on the car and he received a stop and go penalty. Benny also told us that Skinner received a penalty for speeding coming onto pit road. With 15 laps to go, Marty reported that Kenseth's crew chief, Robbie Rieser, said their plan was to stay out no matter what. Allen pointed out that that would mean he would go 104 laps without stopping for fuel. Later when Kenseth ended up pitting, Marty reported that it was Kenseth's decision to go ahead and pit to be safe. Allen told us that Marlin got a one lap penalty for pitting outside his pit box. The producer quickly queued up the radio transmission when Robby Gordon ran out of gas and Allen later reported that he had been blackflagged for too many men over pit wall when his crew had to push him. TNT was quick to catch when Jeff Gordon ran out of gas and Ken Schrader pushed him, but Allen pointed out that he could not be pushed on the final lap.

At the end of the race, TNT had about 20 minutes left in their timeslot and they used the time well, getting a lot of post-race comments from drivers. Bill interviewed winner, Johnson, and didn't shy away from the tough questions like asking about Johnson hitting Ward Burton earlier in the race. He also asked Johnson to introduce his crew members who were injured on pit road. I was a bit disappointed in Dave's interview with second-place finisher, Ricky Rudd. Rather than just focusing on the driver's achievement, he asked if their were any post race contact on pit road this week. This might have been a joke on Dave's part, but it still bothered me that TV cannot let this kind of thing go. Thankfully, Rudd chose to be positive and explained that he'd actually been congratulated by the crew chief of the driver finishing behind him this week. Marty interviewed a disappointed Michael Waltrip and asked for his opinion on the accident on pit road and the issue of racing back to the caution. These were good questions, and Waltrip made some excellent points with his answers. Matt also interviewed Jeff Gordon about the incident where he slid into Johnson's crew members.

As TNT signed of the air, Allen made a good point by mentioning that the winner had run the last 173 laps of the race on the same tires. Unfortunately, he followed this up with the comment that they'd had "a record number of lead changes" during this race. This kind of comment really bothers me when we had at least two green flag pitting segments during a race. Of course, there are going to be many different leaders during this type of situation. It just seemed to me that Allen went out of his way to make it sound like we'd actually had that many competitive lead changes to make the race seem a lot more exciting than it actually was.

Barring hurricane Isabel hitting the mid-Atlantic region and canceling the races next week, I'll again be taking a break from the TV coverage and attending the races in person. An old racing friend, Ken Solheim, from Seattle, Washington will be writing a review of the TV broadcast for that race. So, keep your fingers crossed that Isabel loses all her steam and heads back out to sea or we may be racing in Dover in late November!

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