Saturday, June 16, 2007
ESPN2 Shows Only One Car Finish At Kentucky
Kentucky Speedway can turn-out a crowd like the Busch Series rarely gets to enjoy on its normal Saturday events. Often times treated like just an "after thought," viewers this season have seen the Busch guys put on a show for almost empty stands on several occasions. Phoenix in April was a good example.
After a strong pre-race show, the Busch drivers took to the track Saturday for a stand-alone weekend race televised on ESPN2. Only a couple of NEXTEL Cup drivers made the trip from Michigan to Kentucky to compete, allowing the Busch regulars to finally shine. As usual, Carl Edwards was the man to beat, but the race was any one's to win.
Marty Reid and Rusty Wallace provided the commentary, with a solid team of pit road reporters who cover this series like a glove. The chemistry between the pit road gang and the teams is one of the most outstanding elements of the ESPN telecasts.
On a hot night in Kentucky, NASCAR was smiling as finally some side-by-side racing was being show on national television. In primetime, the Busch Series put on some of the best racing of the year, and kept things clean and professional most of the time. It was clear that these guys like this track, and the fans were eating it up.
ESPN2 viewers of the Busch Series have a running joke about how many times Rusty will mention his son Steven, and how many times Steven will be mentioned because he hit something or someone during the race. Normally, they almost even out because Steven is definitely working on his car control and temper about as much as Rusty is working on promoting his race team. Saturday night at Kentucky was no exception.
The Busch Series has great human interest stories with its young drivers, and this Father's Day weekend proved to be a perfect scenario for this race. Young Brad Coleman is going to be huge in NASCAR in a couple of years, and ESPN pit reporter Jamie Little talked to Brad's father as Brad was leading the pack late in the race. One could see where Brad gets his patience and balance, as Mr. Coleman was a calm and supportive father to this young man.
As things strung-out, it became clear that the ESPN technical crew had again put on another sparkling race. The driver and crew chief interview by radio at the beginning is a great touch, and having the driver continue as the "in-race reporter" is a lot of fun. This week with Stephen Leicht was even better as he won the race.
Unfortunately, the ESPN production crew became caught-up in the excitement of having their "reporter" win the race. As Leicht came across the finish line, he was alone and unchallenged. The problem is that viewers only saw Leicht, and no one else finish the race.
Young Brad Coleman was not shown finishing second. Former Cup driver Scott Wimmer was not shown finishing third. It was amazing that ESPN would not show Aric Almirola or Marcos Ambrose, two high profile Busch drivers, finish the race in 6th and 11th respectively. This was a really big mistake, and it needs to be corrected.
Earlier this year, Fox Sports decided that after four hours of hard racing, the fans at home only deserved to see the winner cross the finish line in NEXTEL Cup races. It was suddenly more important to see one car slowing down and a pit crew jumping up-and-down than it was to see the remainder of the field screaming toward the checkered flag. Saturday, ESPN joined that club. No one other than the winner finished the race unless you were seated at the track and watching live. How fair is that to the viewers?
There was no graphic display of the cars as they came across the line, no "wideshot" on-camera to watch the beating-and-banging, and no thought given to the stories on the track that were still in-progress. As I type this late Saturday night, I feel as though I was cheated out of the end of a good book, or the last inning of a baseball game. I have no idea who was racing to the line, what happened in the last lap, or why my driver finished where he did. If you were pulling for someone other than the winner, you were just flat out of luck.
For a series chasing fans at half-empty racetracks on Saturday afternoons, this ESPN snub is a tough one to take. The Busch series was finally alone, in primetime, on the regular TV network home of the sport. The stands were packed, the cheering crowd was awesome, and the storylines were fantastic. One can only imagine the battling to the finish on this fun track under the lights. ESPN made that decision for us, and told us very clearly. If you wanted to see the finish of this race, you should have bought a ticket. Tough end to a great race on a good track for NASCAR.
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