The view from my couch

TNT Coverage of the Food City 250
by Cheryl Lauer
August 29, 2005

It's been a while since I reviewed the coverage of a Busch race and a broadcast on TNT, and the Bristol Busch race turned out to be a convenient one to review. Although the announcers and pit reporters did a very good job with filling the rain delay for the most part, I found the coverage of the actual race disappointing at times. Partly it was the high number of commercials on TNT, but mostly I was disappointed by the almost exclusive amount of coverage given to the Cup drivers in the race.

During the pre-race show, TNT did immediately tell us about the ejection of the crew chief and tire specialist on the #41 car of Reed Sorenson because NASCAR found them applying an illegal compound to the tires. Other than this, the rest of the pre-race show focused almost entirely on the Cup drivers. I understand that TV is covering the drivers they think the viewers want to see, but I continue to find it annoying that the Busch regulars seem to only be covered as an afterthought. The one bright spot for me was that TNT did actually interview Busch veteran, Jason Keller, since he was starting in the top ten.

The Race

Cup Champion, Kurt Busch, joined the announcers in the booth for the first part of the race and did a very good job adding his insight to the broadcast.

TNT did a good job of showing us replays of the first few incidents of the night. While we did see Clay Rogers out of the car, there was no interview with the driver involved in the first accident of the night or those in any of the early incidents. I could only assume this would've taken away from the coverage of the high-profile Cup drivers.

After some initial confusion by the announcers about whether the pits were open or closed, TNT did an excellent job covering the miscue when Kyle Busch and others pitted too early. They even eventually got around to telling us that David Stremme was leading the race.

During the first rain delay, the TNT pit reporters talked to a lot of the drivers, which I always enjoy. This included interviews with Busch, Truex, and Earnhardt, to hear their reaction to pitting early under the caution right before the rain started. But eventually someone in the production truck decided to fill time by showing us last year's Cup race from Richmond. I always have a problem when NBC or TNT sticks in a tape of an old race instead of sticking with live coverage. I understand that the broadcast team runs out of things to say and the drivers probably get tired of being interviewed. What bothers me about NBC and TNT is the choice of races they pick to replay to fill the time. In this case, it seemed obvious that the producers think that Cup races are all people want to watch or perhaps they felt this was another chance to hype "the Chase" by showing the last Cup race leading up to it from last year. Either way, this is where I lost interest in the broadcast and set my Tivo so I could watch the race later and fast forward through something I'd already seen.

Saturday morning came and I decided since I was watching the coverage on Tivo, it would give me an opportunity to take notes for a review. I immediately noticed that TNT didn't seem to tell us on which lap the rain delay occurred. Even after the rain stopped and the cars were put back out to continue drying the track, TNT didn't give us a lap count. I couldn't help but feel this was so the viewers didn't lose interest by knowing how many laps of racing NASCAR was wasting by counting these laps. I wondered how many fans, like me, simply lost interest when TNT starting showing an old Cup race the night before?

After the field went back to green, TNT missed the next restart after the caution came out for Stanton Barrett. This also included missing a pass for the lead. When TNT finally got back from commercial, Bill Weber casually told us that a lap and a half of racing had occurred as well as a lead change. This seemed to be the trend for TNT all weekend - missed restarts including lead changes and the announcers just acting like it was no big deal. I guess the fact it was a big deal to the viewers is no longer important to the presenting networks. There was also no replay of the lead change, but eventually Benny Parsons told us that the lapped car of Robert Pressley held up Stremme and caused him to lose the lead.

Next, we got some annoying chimes to draw our attention away from the racing and to a second ticker at the bottom of the screen telling us what we were watching and then an ad for a TNT show. Isn't it bad enough we have tickers at the top and bottom on the screen, but TNT still feels they have to draw our attention to them?

Throughout the remainder of the race, TNT seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time covering the cars of Busch and Earnhardt as they attempted to make it back through the field after their penalties for pitting early. I guess someone in the production truck determined this was more exciting than the race for the lead among Busch regulars. To me, it seemed like we never saw Stremme or Hamlin when they were leading. But later when Ryan Newman got the lead, TNT showed the cars up front most of the time.

Around lap 116, as we could see Michael Waltrip catching Hamlin for the lead, TNT decided to go to another commercial. When they returned, TNT did show Steve Grissom on pit road and the announcers speculated he had a blown engine. TNT did a Through the Field segment of the top 17 cars which was excellent. They only broke away when the car of Paul Menard hit the wall. Bill pointed out there would be no "lucky dog" pass under this caution since Menard would've been the one in position to get it. TNT stayed around to cover pit stops and told us who the leader was before breaking for commercial. This was very good.

When TNT returned, Marty Snider had an interview with Menard. Next we had some "sponsored" question that was same bit of trivia that TNT had told us at the beginning of the broadcast. Am I the only one that finds "trivia" questions of things we were already told kind of insulting?

Allen Bestwick reported that Greg Biffle didn't pit because there was a possibility of more rain coming. Benny pointed out that Grissom had returned to the track and Bill told us he was now in 40th position. I was surprised that TNT covered points' leader, Martin Truex, so much, but pretty much ignored third in points, Sorenson, for most of the race.

When the caution came out again for rain, Benny pointed out this was why Newman was racing Robert Pressley so hard. He didn't want to get pushed out of the group and be "freight trained." Benny also pointed out that by racing so hard Pressley would now get his lap back because of the free pass. TNT also showed us a replay of the last restart where Pressley was coming up fast on the inside, but had to checkup so as not to jump the leader on the restart. This was excellent.

Weber pointed out that the race was past halfway, so it was official if the rain didn't stop. Allen showed us the storm on the weather radar. Unfortunately, someone in the production truck thought it would be cute to superimpose some silly clouds and lightening bolts on the screen.

Again during the second rain delay, TNT didn't show the lap counter on the ticker, just the running order of the cars and that the field was under "red."

Okay, I'll admit I did find this rain delay "filler" really funny. Between the pit reporters asking Bobby Labonte what kind of music he wanted to hear and Johnny Sauter and Carl Edwards' comments about Jimmy Buffet. TNT also ran a piece where Edwards was practicing his backflips in a gym and Dave Burns was attempting some backflips as well. This was very entertaining.

When the cars were given the signal to refire, TNT showed Newman getting a push start from a tow truck as well as Michael Waltrip. We saw an interesting view of Waltrip's car being pushed from his bumper cam and also heard the crew telling him to come in and change the battery.

Just before the actually restart, Weber finally told us that it was lap 164. We were also told that they had to push Derrick Cope's car out of the way because they could not locate the driver who was five laps down.

As the cars went back to green, Benny told us there were 79 laps to go and Wally pointed out we would probably see more urgency on this restart. The announcers also explained this would be a single-file restart (though I can't remember if they ever explained why).

After the restart, we were again updated on where Busch, Truex, and Earnhardt were running. Eventually, TNT did actually show a battle for 5th position between Busch regulars, Clint Boyer and Sauter.

When a chain reaction caused a wreck involving Busch, Tony Raines, and J.J. Yeley, TNT did a great job showing us multiple replays. Benny pointed out it looked like Kenny Wallace was able to get his car stopped and avoid being involved. There was a good shot of Busch getting out of his car and the announcers pointed out you could really see his frustration. Later, Allen reported that Wallace did get some front-end damage and his temperature had climbed to 270. TNT did a good job locating some footage from his bumper cam which showed he had gotten involved after all.

Marty told us that he'd heard on the scanner that Kevin Harvick was not happy with the slow restart that Newman had the last time. Bill asked Wally about the restart and Wally said it looked like Newman didn't get on the throttle until after the restart line. Benny said he thought it appeared he didn't do a gradual start, but just nailed it.

Dave told us that Truex had a flat tire when he pitted before the first rain delay, so it was a good thing he came in even though the pits were closed. After TNT returned from commercial, Weber told us that the restart had been delayed by another brief shower. Marty reported that Harvick said his car worked better when there was more rubber on the track and it was slick. When the rain washed it away, he had too much grip.

After the restart, Bill pointed out that it seemed like Newman didn't have the fastest car and was holding everyone up. Matt Yocum reported that he'd heard Newman's spotter tell him that the best shot Biffle had to get around him was in turn three. These were all good observations!

TNT showed a replay when Justin Labonte spun, and the announcers pointed out he probably got "help," but you really couldn't see who hit him. Dave reported that Kasey Kahne had not pitted since lap 65 and had been saving fuel. Bill pointed out that they had 70 laps of caution, so he had probably saved a lot of gas.

After the lap 208 restart, TNT happened to catch Earnhardt getting into Hamlin in order to pass him. When Kahne spun, Benny pointed out he spun himself out in order to keep from wrecking Newman. There were several good replays of this incident. Dave reported that Kahne's team had planned to take four tires, but they saw the pace car turning it's light off, so only had time to take two. The announcers pointed out the pit road speed at Bristol was only 35 miles per hour.

The pit reporters told us what Biffle was discussing with his team on the radio - the team telling him "you know what you're up against" and Biffle saying "I hope they know what they're up against." When Biffle got into Harvick, Marty reported that Harvick's spotter [sarcastically] said Biffle's radio must be broken and that Harvick was not happy with the damage to his fender.

On the restart, Wally told us Ashton Lewis got into the wall on the backstretch and the caution was back out. Bill pointed out that Kahne would now get his lap back. When they showed replays of the incident, Wally said that it looked almost like what happened to Kahne.

TNT showed a replay of Harvick pulling up next to Biffle during the caution to show his displeasure at their earlier contact. This was a lead-in to show highlights of prior years' incidents between the two drivers at Bristol.

Allen reported that Biffle was complaining to his crew that Newman's restarts were causing all the jam-ups behind him. Wally added that Newman was basically restarting differently every time. Matt said that NASCAR had sent a message to Newman about the restarts and he said he was not brake-checking anyone - that he was the leader and he was starting "in the vicinity" of the restart point. Wally pointed out that the rules don't say exactly where he had to start.

At the next caution, Benny said Carl Edwards may have spun since his roof flaps were up. After the replays, he pointed out that Earnhardt has spun him. Later, Benny said the replays showed that Truex was trying to get under Raines and this just appeared to be the after effect.

Finally, at this late point in the race, someone mentioned where Sorenson was running. Wally said he was up to 12th spot now. Marty reported there was lots of traffic on the radios recently and it sounded like everyone was mad at Newman because of his restarts and for others chopping them off.

I guess the late hour was getting to the announcers by this time, because they started kind of rambling and repeating themselves about the Green brothers and how they were all in this race, but only Jeff would be in the Cup race on Saturday night.

In the waning laps, the announcers told us that Truex hit Raines and that Biffle looked very loose. When the 12th caution came out, TNT showed Yeley had spun. The replays showed that Kahne was outside of him and cut down to avoid getting freight trained. After another replay, the announcers said it looked more like Todd Bodine had made some contact with Yeley, and that Yeley felt he was getting beat up, but apparently took himself out of the race as a result. It seemed kind of the like the announcers were making alibis for certain drivers.

This set up a green/white/checker finish and we got Bill's obligatory explanation of how that process works. If he could just do it in a little less schoolteacher-sounding tone, it wouldn't bother us long-term fans so much.

Before the restart, Allen reported that Biffle had told his team "I'm there, but just get tight" when discussing trying to get under Newman. Marty reported that it takes about three laps for Harvick's car to come in and so he probably wouldn't have enough time to do anything after the restart. After the green flag came out, Benny said it looked like Biffle was laying back to get fresh air and make a run, but he was running out of time.

At the conclusion of the race, Wally made an excellent point about how Newman clearly didn't have the fastest car, but did a good job holding everyone else off anyway. The announcers also yelled something about "cars are sideways everywhere," but never showed what they were talking about or explained it. I understand that the race had run exceptionally long, but I still think TNT could've taken the time to show a replay. I mean, what programming were they actually going to except some rerun of a movie?

Bill did give us an interesting tidbit saying this was the first win for Dodge in Busch at Bristol in 47 races there. He also told us that Newman led the last 113 laps of the race.

Marty had an interview with Harvick who had clearly pulled his car in front of Biffle's crossways. He asked him "why are you parked here" and Harvick gave a vague answer about getting refueled. Dave talked to Newman in Victory Lane and pointed out that a lot of folks were unhappy with his restarts all night. It was good to see the pit reporters not shy away from these tough questions.

TNT showed graphics of the final finishing order and the top ten in points before going off the air. Bill concluded that they gave NASCAR credit for getting in 250+ laps in despite over two hours of rain delays. Good point!

I understand at the beginning and end of the race, most of the top ten positions were occupied by Cup drivers; however, even when a Busch regular was leading, TNT seemed to totally ignore them. Each time, they chose to talk about the Cup drivers or Truex only. I realize Truex is the defending series champion and leading the points, but the coverage just seemed biased to me. As I mentioned earlier, we barely heard about Sorenson who was third man in points all night long. I recently read a quote by NASCAR's Jim Hunter, saying "There can only be one set of starts in the sport." This mentality really bothered me, but based on the coverage the majority of Busch regulars get, it's obvious this is the definitely the mindset of the TV networks. I just think that is really sad for those drivers without Cup connections and who are trying to make a career in Busch and attract sponsors. They just seem to always be an afterthought to the TV networks and is one reasoning I'm losing interest in the Busch Series this season. I sure hope there are lots of "new" fans out there who are willing to sit through two rain delays to watch these "mini-Cup" races. It seems that is what TNT thinks at least.

This season, I won't be reviewing every single race. It's just too demanding to do a thorough job every week, and my heart's just not into NASCAR as much as it used to be. I will try to do a review at least once a month because I still feel it is important to give feedback to the networks. In the meantime, I encourage other fans to visit the Speedcouch Forum www.SpeedCouch.com/forum to review the races themselves and exchange their thoughts with other race fans. 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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