The view from my couch

TNT Coverage of the Bud Shootout
by Cheryl Lauer
February 8, 2004

The long off-season is over and the 2004 NASCAR season officially began with the Bud Shootout on Saturday night! TNT did a very a good job with their broadcast of an action-packed race. The broadcast started off with an excellent pre-race show hosted by Bill Weber. The highlight of the show was Dave Burns' segment. I thought this week's Dave Discovers was hilarious!

Pre-Race Show

The taped segment for Dave Discovers took Burns to an empty grandstand at the track populated by stand-up cut-outs of all of the drivers entered in the Shootout. All, except occasional Cup driver, Boris Said, who obviously doesn't have his own sponsor or stand-up cut-out. So TNT had Boris himself standing motionless among the other cardboard drivers. I just thought this was so funny and Burns' deadpan up until the point he started talking to Boris was classic. Good job, Dave!

As usual, Weber had a good mixture of live interviews with several of the top drivers as well as taped footage showing their highlights from the previous season. He also included a very good graphic detailing the rules and procedures for this year's Shootout. This is always helpful, even to the veteran fans since NASCAR keeps tweaking the rules on this all-star event.

I was a little bothered by all the explaining and what appeared to be apologizing by the commentators on Speed and TNT this weekend when referring to the Winston Cup Series. During this broadcast, Bill Weber said something like "...Matt Kenseth who won what was called the Winston Cup Championship in the past..." I understand that Nextel has paid the naming right for the series and that NASCAR would prefer to distance themselves from the tobacco industry, but personally, I have a little trouble with rewriting history so that it sounds like the series has always been called Nextel Cup. At least Bill clarified that it was Winston Cup when Matt Kenseth won the championship just last year.

Matt Yocum had an interview with Jeff Burton who wasn't even participating in the race on Saturday night. To me, this interview was just an opportunity for TNT to promote a basketball game that they would be showing next week, since it was advertised on the hood of Burton's car.

Wally's World showed Wally Dallenbach running in a pack with several of the more experienced ARCA drivers to show how bunched up the cars stay because of the restrictor plates. This was kind of interesting, but the cars sure were going slow, but I guess the spot wouldn't have been as effective had they been going at full speed. Or else, Wally's Mountain Dew car would've been a lot slower or faster than the ARCA cars. Right after this feature, Bill said something about the cars at Daytona "approaching 200 miles per hour." I know all the media likes to say this, but the last time the Cup cars approached 200 mph was in the early 90s I believe. To me, speeds in the high 180s are not really "approaching" 200 mph.

The Race

I really enjoyed the way TNT showed us the starting grid for the Shootout, by having each driver introduce himself and explain how he earned his way into the race. This was very creative and refreshing.

Allen Bestwick explained that NASCAR would use a double-file restart during the Shootout. Again, I appreciated this refresher on the rules for the race. As the race was starting, Allen told us that the first segment of the race would be commercial-free. Then later, he modified that to commercial-free if it is caution-free.

I think TNT did a good job of camera coverage for the most part; however, there was just too much use of speed shots and in-car camera shots for my taste. I like an occasional speed shot to get the "feel" for the speed at a fast track like Daytona, but using them too often interrupts the continuity of the race in my opinion as the cars rushed by so fast you really couldn't see who was where.

At one point Benny Parsons yelled "What's the matter with Jeff Gordon???" This seems a little drammatic to me since he wasn't slowing drastically or anything. It was just a case of Jamie McMurray passing him for the lead. Later, one of the other members of the broadcast team explained that Gordon had told his crew that he was trying out the high line to see how his car would run up there.

During the caution between the two segments of the race, the TNT pit reporters did their usual excellent job of covering the action on pit road and included updates on how three of the strongest cars (Gordon, McMurray, and Kevin Harvick) were running. Marty Snider told us that McMurray's crew chief had decided to hand torque his lugnuts so that they would be easier to remove for the next pit stop. Bill told us that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. didn't like the way his car was running with the new aero package. There was even time for a few quick interviews with several of the top drivers. Wally followed up a comment Earnhardt, Jr. made about people drafting hard off the side of his car, explaining that the air off another car next to you made a big difference on your spoiler with this aero-package.

During the 50-lap segment of the race, TNT went to commercial telling us they wanted to get it away before the teams began making their mandatory pit stops. When they returned from the break, an ad for the Gillette Young Guns took up almost half of the screen. Then TNT showed only about 1-2 laps and went to commercial again. I understand that commercials are a necessary evil, but it was very frustrating to miss any of the action during this competitive race. When they returned, Terry Labonte appeared to have come out of nowhere to lead the race. It would've been nice to see how he got to the lead, even if it was in replays. After this commercial, TNT did promise they would stay with the race if there were no cautions.

TNT did a very good job of covering the mandatory pit stops and after a little initial uncertainty about who only took two tires, Allen made it clear that Labonte was the only one in the lead draft of six cars who had taken four tires. TNT also covered long pit stops by Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace and later told us that Gordon was now six seconds out of the lead and Wallace was running last.

When pole sitter, Jeremy Mayfield, was leading after the pit stops,TNT mentioned that only three times had the pole sitter won this race and that was Ken Schrader back in 1989. There was a good replay of Jimmy Johnson clipping Mike Skinner in the 10 car and McMurray getting a piece of that. The announcers then pointed out that Johnson appeared to have a tire smoking. Next was excellent coverage of Mayfield's wreck and TNT told us that Dave Blaney was involved as well. There were numerous replays to show how the accident transpired. The TNT cameramen also got an excellent shot of pieces of Mayfield's car stuck in the crossover gate.

TNT then told us when NASCAR decided to red flag the race to repair the gate and was bringing the cars onto pit road. Allen let the viewers know that because this was a special event NASCAR was allowing the teams to work on their cars under the red flag. TNT pointed out that those who pitted before pit road was open, such as Johnson (who had a tire going down) and Tony Stewart and McMurray would have to start at the back of the pack. Luckily for them the red flag would be bunching up the field on the restart so it wouldn't be that bad.

TNT made good use of in-car radio transmissions between Earnhardt earlier and his crew and Labonte during the red flag. The pit reporters talked to some of the crew chiefs of top cars during the red flag. The funniest part of the show happened during this time when Chad Knaus, crew chief for Johnson was laughing and took off his headphones abruptly. The pit reporter asked him what was the problem and Chad explained that his driver was mocking him being interviewed on TV, saying "Blah, blah, blah..." so it would make him laugh. It was also very funny, when Matt Yocum asked crew chief, Ryan Pemberton, what his driver, Boris Said, had commented about the race so far. Pemberton said he was "...screaming like girl" when his was in the middle of a three wide pack.

At the end of the race besides interviewing winner, Dale Jarrett, TNT also had an interview with Ryan Newman, who was involved in a last-lap wreck. They also told us that NASCAR was reviewing the scoring because they felt that Skinner might have gone below the yellow line and gained position at the end. TNT quickly queued up a replay of this move before signing off the air.

All and all, I think this was a very good broadcast. Other than my frustration with the commercials (as always) was the amount of emphasis paid to this being NBC/TNT's fourth season of broadcasting NASCAR. Just a little too much self-promotion for my taste.

If you are interested in rating this race or just discussing the coverage of it by TNT, 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 Bud Shootout coverage.

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