TNT NASCAR Coverage Better, But…

Charlotte, NC (6/29/09) – Father’s Day came to the Close household in Charlotte Sunday bright and sunny – perfect for a cookout with family and a few friends. In addition to several spirited contests of Wii golf and bowling, we saddled up the couch and channel surfed the tube watching the Indy Car race from Iowa, the US Open golf in soggy New York, the NASCAR pre-event and Cup race from Sonoma.

Here’s a few observations of the afternoon viewing – While TNT’s NASCAR coverage is significantly better than that provided by FOX earlier in the year, it still isn’t up to the level provided for the Indy Car race by ABC.

Every comparison between the rival series and networks begins and ends with ABC’s ‘Side By Side’ coverage. Simply stated, ABC shows you the whole race as commercials are telecast in the larger of two boxes in a split-screen format. Along with the audio, the commercials make their point while the race rolls along silently in a box at left.

Sunday, the production technique allowed fans to see some great side-by-side action while still drawing the viewer’s attention to the other box with commercials like the strangely disturbing Danica Patrick spot showing fat, overweight middle-age men performing a pit stop dressed in scanty female attire and high heel shoes. Like a car wreck, you can’t look away.

Meanwhile, NASCAR and its networks like TNT continually refuse to embrace the format and give the folks at home the ability to see the whole race. ABC is also forced to conform to this format and won’t use the Side-By-Side format in its NASCAR Cup Chase telecasts this year.

We’ve banged the drum for NASCAR and its television partners to adopt the Side-By-Side concept ever since we first viewed format several years ago. It’s just as cool and innovative now as it was back then. Given NASCAR’s flagging television ratings this season, maybe even more important too.

Implementing Side-By-Side coverage would be a great way for NASCAR to help jump start a new direction in the ratings (up for a change) and a new philosophy in its television package.

It’s long overdue.

Hype Overload
SPEED and TNT combined for four hours of Infineon pre-race programming Sunday. The actual race took 3-hours, 10-minutes. The glut of pre-race programming illustrates a point that many old-time NASCAR observers believe – that the sport is oversaturated.

With so much pre-event programming, combined with a week-long barrage of highlight, analysis and commentary information on television, radio, Internet and print mediums, it’s all NASCAR all the time.

Frankly, we think it has led to a sensory overload for a lot of fans. With so many choices, what do you watch, skip, TiVo, DVR? There are only so many hours in the day and with summer schedules now in full swing, who even has SEVEN hours on a Sunday to do nothing but watch NASCAR programming?

Just like the races being reduced to a more manageable/viewable length – 300 miles per event max – the pre-event hype shows could easily be cut back to less than half of what they are now and most people wouldn’t care or miss them. Not every race is the Super Bowl and as such shouldn’t be treated that way. Today’s busy fans only have so much time to dedicate to the sports television viewing. Four hours of pre-event for each NASCAR race is total overload.

Say What? Say What?
As a sportswriter/editor back in my native Wisconsin, I used to detest the phrase ‘Frozen Tundra’ in reference to the playing surface at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Tundra literally means permanently frozen soil – so ‘Frozen Tundra’ is redundant.

That said, the TNT booth call of ‘Double File Restart, Shootout Style’ in Sunday’s race smacks of the same kind of mind-numbing redundancy. Anyone who follows NASCAR knows Shootout Style restarts are double-file lineups. That means the latest revved up marketing mistake to hit the TV mic basically states we’re about to see a ‘Double File Restart, Double File Restart.’ Frozen Tundra.

The new double-file restart formula is plenty exciting by itself. Not everything has to have a catchy name to make it more exciting, especially a dumb one. Call the restarts double file and be done with it.

C’mon, Kyle
Fans were treated to yet another terse Kyle Busch interview after he finished second to Carl Edwards in Saturday’s Nationwide race at Milwaukee. Both drivers were jetted and heliported to the West Allis, WI oval from California Saturday afternoon and started the race shotgun on the field after their cars were qualified by other drivers. Despite having no practice laps in the racers, Edwards and Busch were the class of the field and quickly roared to the front. Edwards won, Busch didn’t.

Second might suck for you, Kyle, but for the members of your team, it was a hell of an accomplishment. Saying stuff like second place is “what we do” and “is what we came here for” is insensitive at best and insulting at worst to your Joe Gibbs Racing team after they just turned in a very solid effort.

C’mon, Kyle. We love your passion to win, but you’re old enough now to know you don’t go to Victory Lane every race. A run from dead last to second is a hell of a team achievement. Be a team guy once and awhile and give the team some props instead of poison pills afterward.

Birthday Boy
Here’s a Close Finishes shout out to Ron Hornaday, Jr. Hornaday turned 51 Saturday at Milwaukee and celebrated by winning the Truck Series race that afternoon and finishing ninth in the Nationwide event that evening.

Hornaday, who because of his all-time Truck Series records and overall stellar racing career should one-day be in the new NASCAR Hall of Fame, still has the fire to compete and win. The guy’s a marvel, something fans should consider every time they see him race. Happy Birthday, Ron.

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