Saturday, February 24, 2007

ESPN: Busch Series Countdown - Fontana

"You're looking live..." was Brent Musburger's signature line during his days at CBS Sports several decades ago. The fact that ESPN has chosen this man, and that line, to begin their brand new NASCAR Busch Series coverage remains puzzling. Musburger's confusion with NASCAR's junior series reminds one of Keith Jackson struggling for player names in his later football days.

Musburger is a New Yorker with absolutely no NASCAR credentials who has been placed in the forefront of the ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 coverage. Why? Veteran voices like Bob Jenkins, Eli Gold, Ralph Shaheen or Alan Bestwick would fit in nicely with ESPN and lend an air of credibility that Musburger will never enjoy. In the well-rehearsed Fontana opening, Musburger struggled again with racing terminology and a fundamental understanding of this complex and demanding sport. With all due respect, this is not football or baseball. This is a cult, and good announcers know that fans are "in the know" about their driver and team.

Musberger handed off to Brad Daugherty who again had trouble getting through his news story about Toyota, only to be saved by veteran Tim Brewer, who summed up in thirty seconds what it had been taking Daugherty several minutes to say. Musburger actually introduced Daugherty by saying he was once a Busch Series owner whose car actually won one race. Ouch.

Luckily, the ESPN ground troops are there to save the day again. The always reliable Alan Bestwick, quirky Dave Burns, and solid newcomer Jamie Little provide excellent interviews and good news reporting from all around the track. The feature on Kevin Harvick was an excellent touch, and the type of opportunity that ESPN needs to give Daugherty to increase his credibility with the viewers and teams.

Even when dealing directly with Rusty Wallace, Musburger has trouble speaking the racing language. Wallace always handles these moments well, and has proven to be exactly what ESPN wanted in their franchise player. Once the booth announcers are on, the difference between the pros and the pretenders is quite clear. Hopefully, ESPN will take a lesson from Fox and put Wallace on the pre-race set to lend additional credibility to Tim Brewer's comments. Jeff Hammond and Darrell Waltrip allow each topic to be approached from a driver and crew chief perspective, which really allows for two schools of thought on one subject to be brought out. This is one key element missing with ESPN.

In week two, ESPN continues to deal with problems on the infield set, and needs to remember that both Fox and NBC had great success with their pre-race shows by defining a purpose. The War Wagon and The Hollywood Hotel both became solid elements for those networks. It seems that for ESPN, shaking off the "Gameday" mentality and defining a purpose may take a bit longer.

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