The view from my couch

TNT Coverage of the GFS Marketplace 400
by Cheryl Lauer
August 28 2004

Obviously this review is ridiculously late, but there were several things about this broadcast that I still felt strongly about, so I figured better late than never. I took a ton of notes last Sunday, but didn't get a chance to type them up until today. My only excuse is that we were in Bristol from Saturday until Thursday for the USAR Hooters Pro-Cup and truck races. Socializing with our neighbors, friends, and being at the track on Tuesday and Wednesday seemed like more fun that trying to type up a review on a laptop. No, we didn't stay for the Busch and Cup races at Bristol. People will probably think my husband and I are crazy, but we prefer watching those races from the comfort of the Speedcouch instead of packed in with 159,998 people who are not our closest friends. Anyway, on to the Michigan review! I'll try to be brief and just say what I thought was good and what I didn't like about the TNT broadcast.

The Good

TNT had very good coverage when Ryan Newman pitted twice during the pace laps beause of tire problems. Marty Snider reported that the 12 team was reminded by NASCAR that they could not top off with fuel during these stops. Throughout the day, the TNT crew kept the viewers up-to-date on Newman's problems with debris causing overheating and when he lost laps and got them back because of the free pass.

Throughout the day, the producer played back interesting scanner communications between several drivers and their teams. Each time, the announcers did a good job of not talking over these clips.

The TNT cameras were quick to spot the debris that brought out several cautions, starting with the one on lap 57.

As we have come to expect, the pit reporters gave us excellent information on problems teams were having with their cars or radios. The TNT crew did their best to tell us who took two or four tires during or after each pit stop sequence. They also covered incidents on pit road, such as when Marty told us a tire got loose from Tony Stewart's team and almost hit another car.

TNT "broke-out" of commercial when Carl Long spun and quickly showed us a replay of how it happened. They also did this when Elliott Sadler cut a tire and damaged his fender sometime after lap 126.

The broadcast team used an inset to show us when points leader, Jimmie Johnson, went behind the wall with engine problems. They quickly pointed out this was his third DNF in a row and Dave Burnes had an interview with Johnson as well.

When showing the replay of Kurt Busch's spin, Wally Dallenbach pointed out how being close to the 19 car simply took the air off his spoiler. This was an excellent analysis.

At lap 115, the announcers pointed out that Kasey Kahne had been as far back as 41st position at lap 50, but had now moved up to the top 10.

TNT did a fantastic job of telling us about the controversy with Mark Martin's lugnut. The pit reporters interviewed his crew chief, Pat Tryson, and the producer showed several replays of the incident. The announcers went to a great deal of effort to explain that the rulebook simply said all five nuts must be "installed." Both Wally and Bill Weber explained that the "understanding" in the pits had always been all lugnuts must simply be on the stud, not necessarily tightened. Benny Parsons said he felt the lugnuts had to be tightened. This was excellent discussion of both points of view. After Martin fell back to 28th position because of the extra pitstop, TNT followed his progress back up through the field.

At lap 162, TNT was finally able to get a Through the Fieldsegment done with the pit reporters telling us what kind of changes each team expected to make and when they would next pit.

With 11 laps to go in the race, Matt Yocum told us that Kahne's engine was losing RPMs and he was valiantly trying to hold on and not lose positions.

At the end of the race, TNT used a "pilon" to show the top ten crossing the start/finish line. Allen pointed out that Biffle had a 8.2 second margin of victory over Martin.

The Bad

In all the advertisements for this broadcast, TNT kept saying the race started at 1:30 eastern time. When I looked at the program guide, I saw that was the pre-race show, so I waited until 2:00 to tune into the broadcast. Even then, the actual green flag did not fall until 2:23. This is absurd! I've heard that NBC/TNT want the races to start later and later because of "ratings." I can't help but think that the fans at the track must get pretty tired waiting around because of the needs of the TV networks. I know I got bored waiting that long waiting for it to start on TV.

Throughout the weekend, TNT spent too much time hyping the special paint schemes on several cars. I'm not really sure what the significance of the "superhero" paint schemes were, but you'd have thought the TNT announcers had a vested interest in the selling the diecasts as much as they talked about them.

When the races are on TNT, the producer doesn't seem to break break out of commercials as often as on NBC. When Elliott Sadler had problems and brought out the caution early in the race, MRN covered the incident thoroughly since they were not away at commercial when it occurred. TNT also missed Scott Wimmer's spin later in the race.

I can't remember who first used the term "Rousheteers," but I felt that term was a little too cute and overused throughout the broadcast.

I was watching this broadcast on a traditional 4X3 TV screen and the bubbles over the pitstalls were cut off on the right side of the screen. Not that I like the bubbles, of course, but it's even more annoying to see only half of them if they are being shown.

At Michigan, TNT "premiered" a new graphic on the ticker which proved to be particularly annoying to myself and everyone I've heard from this week. The "new leader" graphic had to flash and dominate the ticker. If the cameras are focused on the lead change and the announcers are talking about it, why on earth do we need to have a big splash about it on the ticker as well? In addition, each time it appeared, the ticker would start over and take forever to get through the rest of the field. When this is the only way that fans of drivers back in the pack get to see where their favorites are running, the delay seems interminable already. Also, sometimes, it seemed like even though the ticker started over, it was still displaying old information from before position changes.

There was the typical inordinate amount of commercials for any broadcast on TNT. What I found particularly annoying during this broadcast was that many times after pit stops under caution Allen Bestwick would "tease" the viewers by hinting at who got out first or who didn't pit. Then he'd blithely say, "But we'll tell you about that when we get back..." This was done several times during this broadcast and, personally, I found it condescending to the viewers. Thankfully, now that I have XM radio, I can tune into it while TNT is away at their frequent breaks. The MRN announcers always tell their listeners who got out of the pits first or who didn't pit before they break for commercial.

TNT must've been having some satellite problems as the picture went completely blank a couple of times during this broadcast.

It wasn't until around lap 162 that TNT told us that Matt Kenseth's team had a jack break during a pit stop early in the race and he dropped back to 33rd position. I kept wondering why he was so far back after having a top five starting position. I think it would have been nice to hear this information a little sooner than we did considering he is the defending Winston Cup Champion.

Several people have written me about the lack of the color-coding on the ticker when teams have made green flag pit stops this year. Personally, I hadn't noticed the lack of this information until this race. This week I found myself wondering why NBC/TNT are not using that wonderful feature so the viewers can follow who has pitted and who hasn't. I found it particularly confusing to figure out during the green-flag stops late in this race.

Why does Benny have to tell us how he "recognized Greg Biffle's talent" each time he wins a race?

TNT had a lot of commercials in between showing the post-race inteviews with drivers. I guess they had a lot of time to fill and chose to space the interviews out this way, but it becomes boring to even a diehard fan like myself sometimes. Eventually, they showed us the finishing order and points update before going off the air. Again, TNT seemed to want to string the viewers along before they told us that Jeff Gordon had taken the points lead from his teammate and what the differential was among the top ten drivers after the race.

Overall, I thought this was disappointing broadcast by the NBC/TNT crew. I couldn't help but feel that the number of commercials required during a TNT broadcast sorely impairs the announces ability to provide the excellent and timely information to the viewers that we see when the races are on NBC. I can only hope the Bristol broadcast is better, but based on the past three years of the Bristol night race, I'm not expecting a whole lot.

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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