Monday, July 16, 2007

Bestwick Replaces Kolber At Gateway

One week before the network steps into the big time with The Brickyard 400, ESPN will swing by Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis to cover a Busch Series race. This Saturday night affair will feature Allen Bestwick returning to the host position for qualifying, the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show, and the infield studio during the race.

Last week, when the Chicagoland race was on ABC Sports, the ESPN production team brought in Suzy Kolber to host. This next week, the race will be shown on ESPN2. It seems that Allen Bestwick is somehow relegated to the non-broadcast races.

This would only make sense because Kolber is about to embark on a four month journey on both ABC and ESPN as the host not only of the Busch Series races, but also as the very public face of ESPN's NEXTEL Cup coverage. She will handle everything from the infield for both series. At the track, other than the announcers actually calling the race, Kolber will be the quarterback.

While she has been a professional broadcaster for a long time, Kolber is new to NASCAR, and kindles the debate as to whether the sport would be better served with "ESPN experience," or "NASCAR experience." This season on ESPN, the question is still unanswered.

In the broadcast booth, ESPN has firmly planted Dr. Jerry Punch. As you may remember, Punch chose to stay with the network during the six years that ESPN did not have any NASCAR racing. Although he made his original TV reputation as a solid pit reporter and feature journalist, Punch had long since transitioned into his current role as an ESPN "house announcer."

College football, X Games, SportsCenter pieces, ESPN News liveshots, and other ESPN-related activities are what the in-house "talent pool" provides for the multi-network monster that must be fed twenty-four hours a day. NASCAR fans have seen "talent pool" announcers like David Amber and Wendy Nix report on NEXTEL Cup events this season for NASCAR Now and other shows.

Punch has a long personal history with NASCAR, and has picked up nicely where he left-off when the network was neck-deep in all things NASCAR. He has, however, changed his personality on-the-air. It often feels like he is struggling for words, and winds up repeating himself quite often in the Busch races. His catch phrases, like "that young man" and naming driver's hometowns over-and-over again are well known.

How Punch will handle a four hour intense NEXTEL Cup race on ABC will certainly be interesting. Fans almost always compare the play-by-play announcers with Mike Joy, who may possibly be the best ever. Mike also began his career patrolling pit road, and in his middle years grew into a tremendous presence in the booth for both Fox and NASCAR.

No doubt most viewers will be pulling for Punch, who seems to have finally gotten a shot at the big time this season. Installing Punch in this position blocked the growth of other announcers with "NASCAR experience" only. Guys like Steve Byrnes and Allen Bestwick did not get the ESPN/ABC job, and that is a bit tough. It begs the question of whether Punch would be in that position had he also left ESPN and followed the NASCAR broadcasting trail. In some way, he is being rewarded for leaving NASCAR behind and becoming an ESPN full timer.

In the ESPN Infield Studio, it might have been nice to see a fresh NASCAR face like Krista Voda, Mike Massaro, or Matt Yocum. At least in many fan's minds, the infield anchor should have been somebody loyal to the sport, and not necessarily the network. This season on NASCAR Countdown, we have seen ESPN try Chris Fowler, Brent Musburger, and Erik Kuselias with less than stellar results. If only they had tried someone like Krista Voda from the start, they may have already found their infield star.

Backing the activity at the track is the daily studio show, called NASCAR Now. Recently, this program has added an email address displayed on the screen at the end of each show that asks for viewer input. Daly Planet readers have been emailing in droves, and making it quite clear that this program needs to step-up and establish new priorities.

On Monday's show, things continued to change. The program's reporters were allowed to speak directly to each other, although they were not allowed to actually converse. At ESPN, things move slowly. Host Erik Kuselias is still a NASCAR novice, but he seems to be understanding that he is only the "traffic cop," and not the star of the show. His recent guest stint on Mike and Mike really showed fans who this man is at heart, a true stick-and-ball guy.

Its a shame that ESPN will not allow new faces to host mid-week versions of this show on a regular basis. One name that pops to mind is Lyndsay Czarniak, who just finished the TNT package. Another is Shannon Spake, who has been the hardest working soldier on the ESPN NASCAR beat this year. As the grind of the season continues, and the other fall sports begin, maybe ESPN will allow some NASCAR types to host an episode or two.

Well, it is here. The exclusive ESPN/ABC coverage of both the NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series begins for the first time. It should be interesting to watch this major network make its way down the NASCAR trail all the way to Homestead.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for stopping by.


Anonymous said...

I love to watch this show, read your comments, and then watch the repeat after midnight. It's at least mildly entertaining to read your comments and then watch the show to see if your opinions are justified.

I don't know what your obsession is with reporters talking to each other, but as someone with a bit of TV experience, I can tell you it doesn't work. Both reporters are in different spots in this situation. Angelique Chengelis was in Detroit and Marty Smith was in Charlotte. Both are being fed audio down an IFB line which comes through the studio. Therefore, if they try to converse, there will be long pauses due to the .5-1 second delay that exists over the line. If you noticed on the show today, Marty Smith asked Angelique a question and then Angelique answered. There was no interaction. It simply doesn't work.

Also, just because a person is a good reporter doesn't mean they should get a chance to host a show. How do you know they've even read a teleprompter before? Most reporters feed in their pieces from wherever they're stationed for the day. Seasoned reporters generally don't make good anchors because they only get one take during a live show, rather than the multiple takes they get when feeding in pieces. While Suzy Kolber may not be a NASCAR veteran, she is a seasoned anchor who can deal with anything that gets thrown her way. I'd much rather have someone who can handle any situation deferring to analysts than a NASCAR guru who looks like a deer in headlights when there's an unforeseen issue with the broadcast.

Dan said...

It's just my opinion, but Suzy Kolber is just not the direction that ESPN needs to go. I have found her to be almost intolerable on her few appearances so far this season. She seem uneasy, uninformed and has an odd voice that is hard to listen to. For me it's going to be off with the TV sound and one with MRN/PRN.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Dan. Suzy doesn't know beans about Nascar and does not belong there. I do not have a complaint about women in Nascar because Krista and Shannon are great but Suzy is a no fit. Jerry Punch will be great after he gets back in the swing of things as he use to be. Again, I do not understand why Allen Bestwick gets the run around all the time. He truly is the best!!

David said...

To the first poster: I think that is why several of us have an issue with NASCAR Now, is that it gives off the impression that it is pre-recorded and everything is planned. For example, RPM2Night always gave off the feeling it was live and it flowed very smoothly yet nothing seemed "pre-prepared." I still feel a racing personality at the helm of the show will help it greatly. Alan Bestwick can run this show because he ran Inside Nextel Cup for almost 10 years, he has hosted race broadcasts, he can do everything required to be THE full time NASCAR Now host. That is the reason I am upset. I don't think any old NASCAR pit reporter should host, but Bestwick, given the opportunity has done a phenomenal job being "the guy".

There are plenty of qualified, personable NASCAR people that could do the job these ESPN anchors do. Off the top of my head: John Kernan, Alan Bestwick, John Robers, Steve Byrnes, Krista Voda just to name a few.

They have done a great job with returning considering they have been out so long, but with NASCAR Now and their pre-race shows they have dropped the ball more then they have helped it with their attempt at being a mini-SportsCenter.

You don't have a NASCAR personality doing the pre-game for an MNF broadcast, so why do we have stick-and-ball types doing NASCAR pre-race?

Anonymous said...

The odd personalities like Daughtery and Kolber amuse me. Who needs the bouncy X Games voice and the round baller's repetitive cliches. Truth, I can't figure out why Bob Jenkins seems to be the person out in the cold. His pairing with Benny Parsons and Ned Jarrett were my first 'faces of NASCAR'. And I still like them best.

David said...

NASCAR Now is a package deal plain and simple. Two weeks ago I heard Eric Kawhateveralis reading his description of the race word for word what they had been showing on ESPNEWS all day long. What a joke, they just want to sell ad time around NASCAR.

Anonymous said...

Not to simply continue the Erik K. bashing, but was it my imagination or was he getting desparate to get someone, anyone, to agree that Rick H. should fire Kyle B.? He must have asked that question 16 ways to Sunday, never did get anyone to say it in those words.

Anonymous said...

I am beginning to wonder who Alan Bestwick has PO'd in NASCAR and/or at the networks to get the treatment he appears to be receiving. I have always wondered about what may have happened behind the scenes at NBC during Alan's 2-race absence in '04 due to his accident. As much heat as Weber generates among his critics, I can hardly believe he was able to wrest the top spot away in that short period of time.

Anonymous said...

Iv'e also wondered who Allen B pissed off along the way, or who stabed him in the back during his absence in 04. I was so excited that he was going to have a job at ESPN but it's like he's been sent their to handle the left overs. What a waste af talent. We can only hope that the network gets tired of hearing from us and put Allen B, Krista or so other real racing broadcasters at the helm soon.

Anonymous said...

I used to watch pro football all the time a really long time ago and I got used to Kolber being on the sidelines. She even did a decent job out there but seeing her on t.v. in the infield and all is really, really weird. She just looks incredibly out of place and I can't say that I've been impressed with her at all.

The gals that were doing reporting from the infield during the TNT stint were also unimpressive. I really think that TNT and ESPN are putting cute chicks on the air just to draw and keep male viewers. Hello? Do they not know the current stats of the fan base? Over 40% are FEMALE. And these 40+% are not stupid-we usually know more about NASCAR than the men do. We really don't need some chick down in the pits or garages asking dumb questions.

Get Krista Voda down there. She is personable, intelligent, goofy and very self-effacing. Bring Allen Bestwick back, for sure. And get that one dude who does the cut-away car go cut his hair. Guys his age shouldn't have hair that long. It looks terrible on him and takes away from his credibility.

Christine in Austin, TX.

projectpappy09 said...

I believe NASCAR Now, NFL Live, and the upcoming College Football Live (debuting Monday) are mostly taped, if you look at how the interviews and segments are done.

Todd Crane said...

AS soon as Jerry Punch gets over his Driver ______ 43 years of age syndrome, the better. Bestwick is #2 right behinf Mike Joy! Please ESPN take off that naked chest guy screaming into the mic to start your races. Maybe I'll just listen to MRN. That music offends me and I've been a NASCAR fan for 40 years.

stricklinfan82 said...

It seems obvious that ESPN does not have the same relationship that the other NASCAR TV networks have had with each other since 2001. Fox, NBC, and TNT have shared on-air talents like Matt Yocum, and Speed as commonly used NBC and TNT announcers during practice and qualifying shows but that hasn't been the case with ESPN. Any Busch series practice or qualifying shows on Speed have used either the Fox Cup announcers or the Speed Truck announcers. ESPN has their own crew of people that work for ESPN and ESPN alone, so that's why we won't see Steve Byrnes, Matt Yocum, Krista Voda etc. on ESPN.

I totally agree that ESPN should only be using NASCAR-knowing people as their studio hosts. I have nothing against Suzy Kolber, Brent Musberger, Ryan Burr, or Erik Kuselius. They do a fine job with most sports but it is obviously awkward when they are trying to cover a sport they know very little about. It was very uncomfortable for example to watch Brent Musberger interview Martin Truex Jr. at New Hampshire during green flag racing and ask him to "tell me the truth, if you could only pick one driver to follow through the pack and help you win a race who would it be?"

I don't understand for the life of me why ESPN thinks Suzy Kolber and Brent Musberger are going to make better studio hosts for their NASCAR coverage than Allen Bestwick would.