The view from my couch

TNT Coverage of the Sharpie 500
by Cheryl Lauer
September 2, 2004

I apologize for being late with the broadcast review again this week. I have no excuse except my increasing indifference over NASCAR lately.

Overall, TNT did a surprisingly better job with this Bristol broadcast than in the past few years. The number of commercials remained high as is usual for TNT broadcasts, but they seemed placed well for the most part. In addition, the TNT crew did a very good job of keeping the viewers at home informed about where many of the top contenders were running, even when they fell off the lead lap. I do feel that TNT spends an increasing amount of time each week talking about the candidates for the Chase for the Championship and that is starting to get tiring to myself and many veteran fans.

Pre-Race Show

When Bill Weber came on the air, one of the first things he pointed out was that the current top five in points could potentially clinch their spots in the "Chase" with good finishes in the Bristol race. He also pointed out that this was the first time Jeff Gordon had led the points since the last race in 2001. I found this quite interesting.

Next was a taped feature about Kurt Busch's "farm" hosted by Matt Yocum. Dave Burns illustrated the problem which occurred on Mark Martin's team with a lugnut the week before. Dave mentioned that being "installed" was a subjective call by the NASCAR officials. He also told us that he spoke to John Darby that week to try and get some clarification as to how they were defining "installed" at the present time. Dave said that Darby told him if a team was called back to the pits and the lugnuts were found to be installed, NASCAR would try to return them to their original position on the track. Wally Dallenbach gave us a ride around the Bristol track while talking about the "bump and run." Later, TNT followed this up with a fan vote on what they thought was acceptable with this practice.

I was extremely happy to see that TNT did not have an hour long pre-race show for Bristol as they have in the past. An hour-long show for anything except the first race of the year is ridiculously long and boring for the viewers.

When TNT went to the announcers in the booth, I was very dismayed at the analogy Allen Bestwick used to describe the impact of Bristol on this year's championship playoffs. He said "we have our own racing reality show where someone might be voted off the island..." It really bothered me that Bestwick would try and compare drivers risking their lives in race cars at over a hundred miles an hour to some silly "reality" show made for TV.

The Race

During the rundown of the starting grid, Allen told us that Ricky Craven had chosen to drop to the back of the pack, but later he corrected that to Kevin LePage in the 37 car, not the Craven in the 32 car.

At lap 12 in the race, Benny Parsons pointed out that leader, Jeff Gordon, was about to start lapping drivers in the back of the pack and that some of these drivers were going to start to get desperate to stay on the lead lap. This was the beginning of a theme by the TNT guys that proved to be quite true throughout the night. They talked about "pressure points" on the track where drivers would be holding up the pack or possibly causing problems.

TNT went to their first commercial of the night at lap 17 and only 4 minutes into the race. While they were away, I switched over to PRN who were still following the racing action. PRN told us that Jimmy Spencer brushed the wall and brought out the first caution of the night by intentionally stopping on the track. When TNT returned from commercials, they told us about the caution and showed us three replays of Spencer's incident. They did not tell us that it appeared he had intentionally brought out the caution and then restarted his car until after another round of commercials and the race had been restarted. At this time, TNT finally told us Spencer had been penalized for his actions. TNT told us who pitted and that Rusty Wallace got off pit lane first and was back in 30th place.

TNT's cameras caught the wreck involving Joe Nemechek and Scott Wimmer. They went to the radio from Nemechek, but abruptly cut it off. I guess someone didn't think his language was appropriate for TV. Personally, I'd rather have heard the emotion from a frustrated competitor. TNT had several good replays of the incident which showed that Ricky Craven had actually started the incident. After a commercial, they covered pit stops and Allen told us that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was the first to pit from back in 27th position.

At lap 51, Allen pointed out that in Kurt Busch's four wins at Bristol, he had never led the race until around lap 359. I find this very interesting and appreciate TNT providing this type of information.

When Ricky Rudd wrecked, TNT had several good replays of how it happened. Wally pointed out Ricky probably didn't realize Michael Waltrip was above him. During this caution, TNT covered pit stops and Allen told us that Sterling Marlin only took two tires and Wallace was now leading because he didn't pit. He also reported that those running in 7th, 8th, and 9th positions took two tires as well and that Gordon and Martin, behind them, were the first to take four tires.

After the restart, TNT showed Casey Mears in the pits with the hood up and the team taking the car behind the wall. Benny speculated that it was a broken radiator, but TNT never followed up and told us how Mears radiator was damaged.

At lap 76, Marty Snider had an interview with Nemechek who told us he had a real hard hit and bruised his foot. When Craven spun later, TNT replayed his radio communications and showed us a replay. When Brendan Gaughan and Kyle Petty wrecked, there were also good replays and the announcers pointed out that it appeared Matt Kenseth checked up and caused a chain reaction behind him which collected others.

Not too long after this, TNT missed two passes for the lead while Allen was talking about something else on the track. Wally had to point it out to him that the lead had changed. TNT was at commercial around lap 117 when another lead change occurred. Thankfully, it was covered live on PRN. TNT didn't return until lap 130, but did show us a replay of pass.

At lap 132, TNT did their first Through the Field (TTF) of the night, and covered cars back to 10th place, before coming back to talk about Earnhardt who was running in second at the time. When the lead changed during this time, TNT had to use their silly "NEW LEADER" splash again this week. TNT also told us that Wallace had some remarkable stats at Bristol, including finishing in the top two 39% of the time.

Around lap 146, TNT showed Kasey Kahne losing a lot of spots and the announcers speculated he might have a tire problem. TNT went to commercial from lap 150-160 and Allen told us that Wallace had a one-second lead when they returned.

Around lap 169, I noticed on the ticker that Ken Schrader was "OFF" but TNT never explained why. At lap 191, TNT was breaking for commercial, but stayed around to show a pass for the lead.

TNT did a very good job covering the first series of green flag pit stops. They told us that Wallace was out of gas and we heard some of his radio communications with his team about the stop. Benny told us he fell three laps down because of the miscue on fuel. Benny also alerted us when Martin went all the way around both parts of pit road and Wally pointed out he would lose a lap because of this error. TNT stayed with this long series of stops through lap 245 without breaking for commercial.

When they returned from the next commercial, Allen told us that Earnhardt had an 8 second lead over second place Johnson. They also showed us a replay of Martin getting into Mike Wallace while we were away. TNT went back to commercial at lap 252. I was quite dismayed to hear a great battled described on PRN while TNT was away with Gordon battling not to get lapped by the leader. This was never mentioned and I think when the points leader gets lapped midway in the race, it ought to be shown or at least mentioned. TNT did tell us that there were only 8 cars left on the lead lap at this point.

TNT went to commercial at lap 282 and came back to illustrate Martin's error exciting pit road via a telestrator and finally got back to showing racing at lap 298. So we missed a total of 16 laps this time. TNT did another TTF of the eight cars on the lead lap and then eventually talked about everyone back to 15th position. As usual, I enjoy TTF, but it shouldn't be the only coverage the viewers get sandwiched in between commercials. Because after the TTF, TV went back to commercial and showed us a camper promoting TNT when they returned. By this time, the leader now had an 11 second lead on the field. Perhaps the viewers might have liked to have seen some racing in the pack or who was getting lapped by the leader during this time.

Soon, a caution came out for debris and TNT told us about Kevin Harvick having a problem with his arm falling asleep because of his arm support in the car. We were also told his team was considering putting a replacement driver in the car. TNT also finally mentioned a water leak on pit road that PRN had mentioned to their listeners about an hour before. Allen told us this was delaying opening the pits, so they had time to go to another commercial before pit stops would begin.

When they returned, Allen told us six of the cars left on the lead lap were pitting. Matt reported that Greg Biffle's car was blocked getting out of the pits by his teammate, Martin. TNT also told us that the 29 team had decided to try and prop up Harvick's arm for now instead of putting in a relief driver. We also got to hear some of the radio chatter between Harvick and his crew. The pit reporters told us that Gordon had a slow stop because his team was taking a rubber out of his car.

TNT used their pointers on most of the restarts and occasionally to point out cars in the pack. Is this really necessary? Especially on a short track when you can clearly see the car numbers?

After the restart, Benny told us that Jeremy Mayfield thought he had a flat tire and stopped to take on right side tires. Later, Allen told us that he was now three laps down because of the unscheduled stop.

TNT was showing Kenseth trying to lap Robby Gordon and nearly missed Johnson catching the leader until he was actually passing Earnhardt. This is when using the split screen would come in handy. That way the viewers could see the battle with Kenseth and Gordon along with the second place car closing in on the leader.

When the caution came out again for debris (in turn 4 this time), Benny told us that Jeff Burton would get the free pass back to the lead lap. TNT covered when Earnhardt came into pit under this caution, and Marty reported that he had not been happy with the last set of tires. Allen told us five out of the eight cars remaining on the lead lap were pitting. It would have been nice to know which drivers that included, especially since there were so few left on the lead lap at this point, but TNT chose to cover the driver change when Kyle Petty got into the 29 car to relieve Harvick instead.

During the next restart, there was a wreck where Robby Gordon hit Dale Jarrett. TNT gave us two quick replays and then went to commercial. When they returned Allen told us that Jarrett had fallen from second place to the eighth, but was still on the lead lap. TNT showed more replays and finally mentioned that Marlin was spun by Carl Edwards as well. Allen told us pit road had just opened up and a couple of guys were pitting, but TNT went to commercial instead of telling us who or showing the pit stops. Oh, but they did have time to show a clip from folks getting married at Bristol before they went to commercial. As with Michigan, it was like the constant need to fit more commercials (and human interest stories) in prevented the announcers from keeping the viewers at home informed of what was going on half of the time. This is really frustrating!

The restart occurred on lap 375 and, as they went green, Allen finally told us that since Busch had been in front of the leader at the time of the caution, he would be getting his lap back and that Ryan Newman would get the free pass this time.

One of the pit reporters told us that Robby Gordon had been warned that if he hit anybody else, he would be sent to the garage by NASCAR.

When Edwards brought out the caution at lap 388, TNT showed of several replays of the incident. When they returned from commercial, they showed us pit stops. Allen pointed out Jeff Burton had not pitted and would be leading on the restart. TNT went to another commercial, came back and gave us an one-screen Ford commercial, then broke away again telling us NASCAR was "still cleaning up."

When the race restarted this time, Allen said Jeff Gordon would get the free pass, so would be back on the lead lap. But quickly, Allen reported that Gordon was being given the black flag by NASCAR because they felt he hadn't gone to the tailend of the longest line. Bill reported that crew chief, Robbie Loomis, was upset because the 24 team had asked the officials about the procedures and felt that Gordon had done what NASCAR told him. TNT showed Gordon serving his drive-thru penalty and told us he would lose a lap again. Allen told us he would drop to 15th and be the last car a lap down.

Around this time is when I really noticed TNT dwelling too much on the "fight" for 10th place in the points and the Chase for the Championship. I understand that NBC and TNT wanted this silly system to keep fans interested. All I know is that most of the fans to which I talk tell me that they're getting sick of hearing about this stuff all the time.

While Allen and Benny seemed to think it was funny when the leader, Earnhardt, "moves you out of the way," Wally spoke up and pointed out he needed to be more careful.

With 35 laps left in the race, TNT did another TTF. With 5 laps remaining, Allen was going on about something other than the actual race and Wally interjected "I'll let you know if anything happens out here," (meaning on the track). I really like that Wally spoke up and brought us back to the actual race. As much as I respect Allen's professionalism and knowledge of the sport, sometimes his almost "preachy" tone when he's winding up to a big story at the end of the race gets on my nerves. I don't need the commentators to build the excitement at the end for me like that.

TNT did a good job of covering Victory Lane and also interviewed the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place finishers. Matt also interviewed the points leader who finished in 14th position. They gave us a graphic of the final finishing order and the points standings before they signed off the air. Overall, this was another average broadcast in my opinion as there appeared to be a lot more happening on the track than TNT showed the viewers because of their constant need to break for commercials.

I won't be reviewing the California race next weekend as I don't plan to watch it. This is my way of protesting the moving of the Southern 500 from Labor Day weekend after 53 years of tradition at Darlington. NASCAR and NBC think the west coast is a more important "TV market." I think they are going to be very surprised at how many viewers feel the same as I do about getting rid of over 50 years or tradition and don't tune in next weekend. This will be the first time in about 12 years that I haven't watched a race if I'm not traveling away from home.

If you are interested in rating this race or just discussing the coverage of it by NBC, please check out the new Speedcouch Fan Forum at www.SpeedCouch.com/forum! Read the RULES, sign up now, and jump into the discussion to let the networks know your thoughts about the race coverage.

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