NASCAR Media Conference
June 5, 2012
JAMYE AVRIT: Thank you for standing by. We are now joined by TNT analyst Kyle Petty and TNT Countdown to Green host and lead race announcer Adam Alexander.
The green flag drops on the TNT NASCAR summer series this weekend at Pocono Raceway as Turner Sports begins its 30th year of NASCAR coverage Sunday at noon eastern. TNT's schedule encompasses the next six races and includes the return of TNT's lead broadcast team of Adam Alexander, Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach. Adam will also have an expanded TNT role this year, adding pre‑race hosting responsibilities.
Several TNT production enhancements were announced earlier today, including a NASCAR Generations panel discussion with Jimmie Johnson, Ned Jarrett, Bill Elliott, Larry McReynolds and Kyle Petty, which will air weekly during the pre‑race show.
TNT also announced a new touch screen application and said it will work closely with NASCAR to have broader social media integration this year.
Kyle, you must be very excited that the TNT Summer Series kicks off this week in Pocono. What do you feel makes TNT's coverage unique?
KYLE PETTY: That's a good question. A race is a race, and I think all the networks do, and all Turner tries to do and TNT, we're just the frame on the picture. The picture is the race, and it's our job to do the best we can.
You know, I think constantly TNT has tried to be innovative. You mentioned a couple of things that we're doing this year, but they always step back and look and say what can we do different than we didn't do last year. And I think they've done a great job.
You talk about them being in the sport for 30 years. That amazes me. I drove a race car for 30 years, and I know how tough that was. But to be relevant in the sport and to keep moving the ball in the sport has been something that TNT and Turner has always strived for.
You know, we're the heart of the season. You take these six races, this is the grind of the season, and this is where teams begin to kind of pop out of the pack to be championship contenders. You really know coming out of our six races who's going to be‑‑ who's going to contend for the championship. So I think that's why it's just a lot of fun to do these races.
JAMYE AVRIT: Adam, will you have any new feature segments in the pre‑race show and can you talk about what fans can expect?
ADAM ALEXANDER: Well, you alluded to it earlier, and we're very excited about NASCAR Generations. I think when you look at NASCAR coverage, it's difficult to find something new because of the length of the season, and I think we've hit on something this year that hasn't been done that will be very enlightening for fans who have latched onto the sport in recent years dating back to fans who have followed it for 50 years.
The NASCAR Generation segment and our Countdown to Green pre‑race show is going to feature the five‑time champion Jimmie Johnson, Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett, and Bill Elliott who has a championship and a couple of Daytona 500s sitting down with Kyle, Larry McReynolds and myself and really just comparing the different eras of NASCAR and how a win affects Jimmie Johnson compared to what it did for Ned Jarrett in his day and age behind the wheel of a race car.
I think it's something that fans can really relate to, will enjoy, and it will help everyone put in perspective the history of the sport and how far it's come.
Q. Kyle, going to these two repaves at Pocono and Michigan, everybody talks about how the cars need to be set up differently, but what do you think the fans will notice most? Will it just be faster speeds, or do you expect drivers to be taking new lines and stuff around the track?
KYLE PETTY: That's a good question, because I think we‑‑ in recent years, we've seen the addition of new tracks, obviously, over the last 10 or 15 years, and we've seen some repaves. And everybody talks about how smooth Daytona was and how that changes the racing at Daytona because they could run really two wide and sometimes when they were brave enough to stick it in there and run three wide.
But I think when you‑‑ everybody is talking about Michigan and they're talking about the speeds at Michigan. You know, speed doesn't always translate to great racing. Some of the best races in the world are run at Martinsville when you run 80 or 90 miles an hour. Just because you run 200 plus doesn't mean it's a great race. But I do believe it opens up the whole track to try different grooves and experiment. We've seen in the past when these guys go to qualify they run right on the bottom or in the middle of the racetrack, then late in the race they're all the way up next to the wall. We may see that early in some of these races, some experimenting and trying. But there's going to be so much grip that guys to going to get in line and race at a place like Michigan. Michigan is really hard to predict, and I don't think we've ever had great, great racing at Michigan, whether it's paved or worn out, doesn't make any difference. Somebody always checks out on everybody else.
When we go to Pocono, Pocono is going to be interesting because Pocono is just a bumpy racetrack, and the guys really move their lines around to compensate and drive around the bumps more so than to find the groove. They were just trying to find some smooth asphalt somewhere. I think it's smoother, but I still don't think it's glass. I can't imagine it being that way. We saw it at Pocono in Turn 3 when they repaved that patch out there, everybody moved out to the patch because that's where grip was and that's where they could keep their cars wound up. I think when you look at Pocono, it's going to be interesting to see guys go across the Tunnel with that much grip on the outside. It's going to be interesting to see where they run in Turn 1, if they could back to the bottom of the racetrack, if they've fixed those bumps because that was the preferred line for so many years, was right on the grass going through 1 and 2.
It's going to be interesting to see if the bottom of the racetrack comes back through 3. Hopefully we'll see some better racing and some guys move around. But these are two racetracks that repaving I don't believe necessarily translates to better racing.
Q. Kyle, I'm working on a story about digital media initiatives in NASCAR, and NASCAR has got a big one coming up this weekend at Pocono. I know that you are particularly on Twitter. What kind of medium is Twitter as far as promoting and communicating for the sport? And is there an upside to it? Is there a down side to it?
KYLE PETTY: Oh, yes. I think it's‑‑ you know, it makes what you're seeing interactive. It makes whatever you're watching interactive. I mean, there's been so many times, whether I'm doing TNT, whether I'm doing SPEED, whatever I'm on, people are watching me on TV commenting about what I'm saying, calling me an idiot or liking what I say, whatever it may be. But a lot of fans have questions that maybe we don't address sometimes in the booth. We'll start a story, and maybe we don't pay it off fast enough for the guys at home. They want to know why this guy only changed two tires, or their favorite driver did this or that. I think it makes it incredibly interactive.
Now, on the reverse side of that‑‑ and I think that's all positive.
Now, also, we all talk about Brad Keselowski and tweeting at Daytona and the fire and everything that happened and how many followers that he gained just in that short period of time. I don't believe that he would have gained that many followers if people weren't watching the Daytona 500 on TV. You know, he picked up the followers‑‑ which came first, chicken or the egg. I think people were watching on TV, and then they said, this guy is tweeting while he's in the race car. They're talking about it on TV. I'll go to Twitter and I'll follow Brad Keselowski, and that's the way it kind of works.
I think when you look at it like that, whether you're the athlete, whether you're in the booth like Adam and Wally and myself, whether you're down like Larry and your own Twitter, you get that instant gratification. I think the bad side and the downside is then you start to talk about what they're talking about on Twitter and not what they're doing on TV, and you can't get caught up in that. I don't think we can get caught up in that. We're there to do our job, and our job is to talk about the race and talk about Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon and Dale Jr. and guys like that and not get caught up on a conversation about Twitter or let Twitter drive the broadcast. I think we have to drive the broadcast.
Really, from the other side, I think it gives fans a glimpse into really what's going on in the booth, what's going on on pit road, what's going on behind the scenes, and something that from a TV broadcaster or from a network like TNT that you can't‑‑ there's not enough time to show, so it just adds another layer to what we're able to do at turner.
Q. This is for Adam: You were talking earlier about the NASCAR Generations segment with you and Kyle and obviously all the other guys. I know you talked a little bit about it, but is this trying to be something for all people, and when you're trying to be something for all groups of people, young fans, old fans, middle of the road fans, how do you prevent from being nothing to everybody? How do you try to make this to where the old fan, the new fan can relate, get something out of this? Obviously this is a new initiative, something that you guys feel this can fill. How do you execute the game plan in that sense?
ADAM ALEXANDER: Well, I think that's a great question, and I think the feedback we get certainly will help us understand if we executed the idea properly. But this idea stemmed from some things that Turner has done with their basketball coverage on the NBA side, and they set down a number of their analysts, former players, coaches, general managers, that kind of thing, and had them discuss topics that were hot in the NBA.
And we came to the conclusion that we should do that in the NASCAR world. Now, obviously there are differences in how the NBA is viewed and how you view the history of NASCAR and what's important to current viewers and fans. But I think what we found out in sitting those three drivers down is they all have interesting stories to tell, and if you're a race fan, I think you can relate to a story that Ned Jarrett had of something that happened back in the much earlier days of the sport, and it doesn't really matter what era you come from from a racing perspective.
Obviously if you're watching the races today, you identify with Jimmie Johnson and the success that he has had, and really Bill Elliott, because Bill is still around the garage and Bill's son is active in the sport now, so I think most fans that watch today are familiar with Bill Elliott. Anybody is going to be able to relate to Ned Jarrett and what he brings, just because of who he is, his Hall of Fame status, and his connection to the sport today. Obviously Dale, his son is not too far removed from the race car and still involved. So I don't think we have any concerns about how people will be able to relate to those three different generations of the sport just because of the personalities that those guys bring and the diversity of their backgrounds and the stories they have to share.
Q. Kyle, do you think being on probation really influences a driver's thoughts and actions?
KYLE PETTY: Only the driver on probation maybe. So many times‑‑ it's funny, and we talked about this after this weekend: Drivers think that every driver that's driving against them says, well, I can take a cheap shot, I can do this, I can do that, because that guy is on probation and he can't retaliate or he can't do anything about it. And I talked to a couple different other drivers. I don't think it ever crossed my mind in all the years that I stepped behind the wheel, when you come up to pass somebody or you're racing somebody you're thinking that guy is on probation. I don't think about that. That's something I read in the paper on Tuesday or Wednesday. That's not something that ever crosses my mind on Sunday.
I think if you're the driver that's on probation, then yeah, it may make you not be as aggressive. It may make you not take a chance. It may make you think about something before you do it. But in the big picture I think probation only affects the driver that's on probation, I don't think it affects the rest of the field.
Q. How much do you think Kurt's punishment this week had to do with the fact that he was on probation to begin with?
KYLE PETTY: You know, that's probably a good question, and I think NASCAR would probably be better at answering that question than I would. From my perspective, I will say this: I'm not sure‑‑ and I defend Bob Pockrass, if he's still on the phone, that was a legitimate question, a question that should have been asked and could have been answered, and that was straight‑up legit. And for Kurt to act that way was uncalled for in my opinion because it was not a question that was trying to stir up anything. That was a legit question.
But I think if you just take that incident in itself, that was not for air on TV, that was not for anything else, and the way it came across‑‑ I'm not sure that one incident is suspension worthy. I think it was because he was on probation.
Now, having said that, I applaud NASCAR for finally having somebody on probation and when they do something that NASCAR thinks is wrong in NASCAR's opinion, maybe not in everybody else's, but in NASCAR's opinion, that they finally do something when somebody is on probation. How many times do we see somebody be on probation and they just extend the probation, they don't do anything about it? So NASCAR finally took a stronger stance from that perspective.
But I think when you're on probation, probation means something. In the real world when you're on probation they put you back in the jail house when things go wrong, they don't just extend your probation. So I think from my perspective on that, I do applaud NASCAR for that, but I'm not sure if this was a stand‑alone event that it's worthy of suspension.
But with everything else that's gone on over the past, I think they do take that into account.
Q. My first question is for Adam. What things do you think fans will like the most this year with the stuff on NASCAR and TNT for the next six races?
ADAM ALEXANDER: Well, I think the one thing for me personally that is exciting and I think makes our coverage unique and certainly the fans can enjoy as well, and that is if you look at the six races that we have on our schedule, Pocono probably the most unique track on the entire NASCAR schedule, Michigan a two‑mile oval, the road course at Sonoma, Kentucky mile and a half, certainly Daytona is something special, and then the flat mile at New Hampshire, none of those tracks are like one another, and I think if you analyze the NASCAR schedule, you would have a hard time finding six consecutive races that differentiate from one another like our six races do. So I think it's great for us to have the versatility that we have and to be able to see the ebbs and flows of the storylines as we go from week to week to the various racetracks. So personally that's one thing that excites me, and I think because of that our fans can relate and appreciate the fact that we're not going to see the same kind of storyline week in and week out.
On top of that, we talked earlier about social media. I think the Turner people have really been aggressive in pursuing getting the fans involved. If you look at their history with NASCAR.com, RaceBuddy and all the elements there that really give fans the opportunity to watch a race in a totally different way, that was very, very innovative. And now I think we're building on that, this push on Twitter to get fans involved.
And Kyle talked about, we don't want to lose our ability to cover the race from a TV standpoint because we know why people are tuning in. They're tuning in to watch the race. But I think the more we can get people involved in enhance the way they watch the broadcast and interact with them to answer questions maybe that for whatever reason we don't have time to answer on the air, I think that's a very unique viewing experience and certainly one that we think the fans at home are going to enjoy.
Q. My next question is for Kyle. As a former NASCAR driver, what do you think of all these racetracks like Pocono, Michigan, Kansas and Bristol getting reconfigured or repaved or both?
KYLE PETTY: You know, I don't know. Some of these racetracks obviously need to be repaved. Pocono had gotten to a point with the bumps and stuff that it was just‑‑ it was a tough place to driver around because it had‑‑ and when I say bumps, they were huge. They were huge swales and huge bumps. The winters are terrible on the racetracks up there. Just look at the highways up there in that part of Pennsylvania.
And you look at Bristol, you know, look, I didn't think anything was wrong with Bristol. I thought Bristol was a great place before, I thought it was a great place when Bruton concreted it, and they've run there four or five years and now all of a sudden the fans think it's the worst place in the world, I don't understand. I think there comes a time in every racetrack's life where you've got to repave it, and that's just part of it.
Reconfiguring, it doesn't make any difference to these guys or to me as far as that's concerned. They're going to find a way to get around the racetrack and put on a good race and put on a show no matter what. It's just part of doing business and owning a racetrack, and I think all these racetracks that put that money back into the racetrack to make it a better facility and a better place for the fans and for the drivers, I applaud them for that.
Q. For Kyle and Adam if I could, you've mentioned a lot about fans and entertaining fans. You guys got to stare into those camera lenses and get through those lenses and get out to people. Do you have to practice at your job? And what do you like best with the fan contact? We're talking a lot today about all the different ways of contacting fans. What do you like best about it?
ADAM ALEXANDER: Well, I will vouch for Kyle and say that he practices a lot. In fact he probably is dreading being on the call right now because he wants to be rehearsing (laughing).
Actually Kyle rehearses less than anybody in the business, and that's 100 percent for sure. We do spend a lot of time doing prep work for our six weeks with conference calls, and we'll do some practice and qualifying shows together at the track this weekend and spend some other time in meetings making sure that we're all on the same page.
But for me the great thing about calling a race and being in the booth with Wally and Kyle and having Larry with us and all the pit reporters is you don't know what's going to happen, and there's really no way to rehearse calling a race because of the unpredictability of it. So there's not a lot of that that can go on when it comes to getting ready for a race.
KYLE PETTY: I think the best part about interacting with the fans is in the big picture, if you sit down with Adam or with Wally or Larry or myself, we are fans. We are fans of the sport. And we have an opinion of the sport because we're so close to the sport. You're in the booth, you're talking to drivers, you're talking to owners, you're talking to team members all the time, and we get to do that. But the average fan doesn't get to do that, and the questions they have are more from a fan side. And it makes you think about yourself as a fan. When they want to know why Kurt says something or why somebody did this or why somebody did that, you just give your experience and your company answer on what it is that makes you think outside of the box a little bit when you talk to fans.
It's fun to get somebody else's opinion and just focus on this is our business, this is what we do. It's the business of those guys that race, and it's a business for turner and for TNT. But for the guy that comes and buys a ticket, it's a sport, and for them, they're a fan. That's why they buy that ticket, and they want to be informed and they want to know things.
I think that interaction kind of helps you there when you're talking to them.
ADAM ALEXANDER: And I'll say this, too, in regard to the fan thing: Social media has been great because when you are at the track week in and week out and you're in the garage, you do start becoming a little bit can't see the forest through the trees, and you've got to step back. And I think that's one piece of the puzzle for us that's a little bit easier because we're only there six weeks and we're not there half the season. But when you have fans who hit you on social media with questions, it's interesting to see their perspective because they don't have an opportunity to be at the track week in and week out.
JAMYE AVRIT: Thank you, Kyle and Adam, for joining us today. Thank you, also, to the media who joined us, as well. We appreciate your coverage, as always.
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