Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The NASCAR Mid-Season TV Report

The first week in July is normally a good time to take a break, and look back on the first half of the year. In the NASCAR world, Brian France uses this week to deliver a "state of the sport" address to the media via a conference call.

This year, France made a point to single out TNT and their upcoming "wide open" coverage of the Pepsi 400. He also welcomed ESPN back to NEXTEL Cup and said he looked forward to having them on-board. He then remarked that TV ratings go up-and-down, and he did not feel lower ratings this year had any meaning. Those were his comments on the NASCAR TV scene.

Over the past six months, many readers of The Daly Planet have come to this site through other "link" pages on sites like Jayski.com. In looking at the thousands of stories and articles listed on Jayski since February, one thing is very clear.

The NASCAR print and Internet media avoids writing about NASCAR's TV partners at all costs. Apparently, the penalties for speaking out about bad NASCAR TV are more severe than COT violations.

Once and a while, someone like David Poole might get upset at something on TV, but unlike the entertainment industry, most of NASCAR's TV coverage goes without any national scrutiny in the traditional media.

Yet, almost all the reporters watch the race on TV in the Media Center at the track in the air conditioning while eating NASCAR's free food. They all watch the same thing as the fans, and yet the fans believe there are some TV issues that need to be addressed rather urgently. What happened to the NASCAR press?

The Daly Planet gets email from the Media Center at NASCAR events all the time. Most of the messages say the same thing. They could not agree more with the points being raised by the columns, and the reader comments. Unfortunately, there has never been one follow-up story or one feature on a TV network about these issues.

When NASCAR on Fox decided to only show the winner of the NEXTEL Cup races cross the finish line in the middle of their TV season, The Daly Planet email went absolutely ballistic. Fans could not believe that unless their driver won the race, they would have to be sitting in the stands at the track to see him finish. There was not a peep in the national media, even though they watched the same races.

This issue peaked when Kyle Petty finished third in the Coke 600. He was driving the Coke Zero car in prime time under the lights at Lowe's Motor Speedway. His best finish in many years, a Petty car in the top five, and the race sponsor's logo on the door. The NASCAR on Fox Producer decided not to show Kyle finish the race. Just like that, the massive power of TV smacked him down on purpose and declined to show him to the nation. Only The Daly Planet and its readers asked why.

When ESPN opened their Busch Series coverage with Chris Fowler, Brad Daugherty, and Brent Musburger, NASCAR fans could not believe it. The face of NASCAR looked a lot like the face of College Gameday. Since that show, ESPN has continued to struggle with their Busch pre-race show called NASCAR Countdown.

Rather than remark on these problems, the national press made sure to promote the fact that Monday Night Football sideline reporter Suzy Kolber was coming on-board to host that show in late July. The national press had absolutely no problem with the fact that she had never been to a NASCAR race...in her life.

Back in the studio, ESPN introduced Doug Banks as the host of NASCAR Now. This daily NASCAR show was the only one on TV, was done in cooperation with NASCAR, and was the "platform" for NASCAR news and information. There was only one small problem. Mr. Banks was the ABC Radio Network host of his own hip-hop urban morning radio show. Like Kolber, Banks was not a NASCAR fan, and had never been to a race...in his life.

The national media did not say a word. Several months and many painful shows later, Mr. Banks suddenly disappeared. He just vanished. The high-profile black on-air host of a national TV show had gone missing. Could you imagine if this was SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, or Pardon The Interruption? The media would have a field day.

But, this was NASCAR with all its tight constraints and veiled threats of retaliation to those media members who "step out of line." There was not a word printed or published about Mr. Banks exit except on The Daly Planet. Why?

Over on SPEED, they were having an issue with one Michael Waltrip. Appearing on Inside NEXTEL Cup, Tradin' Paint, and the Craftsman Truck Series broadcasts, it was apparent that one thing had changed. He was no longer a driver, but an owner. In addition, he was very quickly an owner in crisis.

How could he speak clearly about NASCAR issues when he was the owner of a Toyota team that got caught cheating at Daytona? It used to be funny on Inside NEXTEL Cup when Michael promoted things...now it was not. It used to be meaningful on Tradin' Paint when Michael took issue with NASCAR...now it was not. It used to be assumed that he talked about all the Truck teams, and not just Toyotas...now fans were not so sure.

The NASCAR press never said a word as Waltrip was quietly removed from Tradin' Paint, eased out of the Craftsman Truck broadcasts, and toned-down on Inside NEXTEL Cup. The Daly Planet called it "Michael Waltrip's Free Pass" and questioned how this conflict of interest was not a problem...until suddenly he was mostly gone from TV.

Then, the NEXTEL Cup Series experienced TNT and things went south. Ending their second race at Michigan twenty minutes early, TNT talked to both DEI drivers and then started a vampire movie fifteen minutes early and signed-off the air. The entire field was there, with plenty of stories to tell, and yet suddenly America was watching Van Helsing.

Then, in Sonoma, TNT lost control of their broadcast, got completely lost on the air, showed only the top two cars for many laps, and finally went off the air without showing the final finishing order...of their own race.

Where was the NASCAR press? Were ESPN and SPEED afraid to address this issue on NASCAR Now and Inside NEXTEL Cup? The answer was absolutely. Even today, the TNT stories on The Daly Planet continue to get comments from fans nationwide.

There have been plenty of great TV stories this season to feel good about. ESPN's on-air announcing team for the Busch Series races has been strong. SPEED's Craftsman Truck broadcasts continue to set the bar for good NASCAR TV. Larry McReynolds and Kyle Petty have filled the hole left on the TNT broadcasts by the passing of Benny Parsons. Steve Byrnes has been an excellent host for many SPEED live shows, and has Hollywood Hotel written all over him for 2008.

The best new show is Survival of the Fastest on SPEED. A highly edited and glossy program dominated by an "NFL Films" style announcer, this show manages to "get over itself" and show the reality of the weekly struggle of race teams. Let's hope SPEED brings it back next season and expands this approach to the Busch and Truck Series.

The worst show so far this season is the slowly dying Inside NEXTEL Cup, also on SPEED. Dave Despain hosts a panel who are no longer relevant to today's NASCAR scene. Kenny Schrader lost his ride, Michael Waltrip is a mess, and Greg Biffle is often the only one on the panel who actually raced on Sunday. Since SPEED has declined to make a change at host to shake things up, hopefully the network will put this show out of its misery after November.

The story of the year is Allen Bestwick. He started as nothing more than an ESPN pit reporter for the Busch Series. Then, as the wheels came off the ESPN's NASCAR package, Bestwick was called up from the minor leagues to pinch hit. Bestwick has hosted outstanding versions of NASCAR Countdown, including the show immediately after Dale Junior's big announcement. He has gone to ESPN and hosted NASCAR Now from the studio. Friends of The Daly Planet who work at ESPN said Bestwick was so professional and smooth that it left them speechless.

Recently, Bestwick was asked to host the pre-race show and then do the play-by-play for an ESPN Busch Series race. The entire telecast was first rate. Now, as ESPN prepares to broadcast both the NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series races from July 28th through the end of the year, Bestwick's role is again unknown.

It is very probable that NASCAR Countdown will be hosted by Suzy Kolber with Brad Daugherty and Brent Musburger alongside. NASCAR Now continues to be hosted by the acerbic Erik Kuselias...the last original co-host still standing. If Bestwick again winds-up on pit road describing "four tires and fuel," it will be the biggest mistake ESPN makes all season.

Finally, thank you to all The Daly Planet readers who have taken the time to add their comments or send email in support of this project. We are very grateful for the outstanding contributions over the last five months.

Understand that The Daly Planet is being read by most of the on-air reporters and announcers who work on the NASCAR telecasts. Your comments have been welcomed, and have been the reason for many discussions and meetings. This site is read by our friends at SPEED, ESPN, NASCAR Images, and in NASCAR's offices.

There is no doubt about it, your input has directly affected the NASCAR TV programs that you have enjoyed watching this season. It has also affected the ones you have not particularly enjoyed. As we move through the next five months of the season, we have new shows on the horizon from SPEED for late July, new hosts on-board for ESPN, and ABC Sports carrying "The Chase" all the way to the end. It should be fun. Thanks again.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from all readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email editor@thedalyplanet.tv if you wish not to be published.


Brian Schoenburg said...

This is my first post here, but I would first off like to thank all of you guys here at "The Daly Planet". I have read your stuff for months, and I have a very fun time reading your thoughts, and truely can agree to 99.9% of all of your blogs of the 2007 Season.

I've watched NASCAR for years and years, and one thing that has amazed me is Allen Bestwick. He is always on top of his game, and extremely professional and does an excellent job at anything that is thrown at him.

It really worries me to why they haven't put Allen Bestwick as the play-by-play commentator, more than just Milwaukee (which was an excellent broadcast, as you have stated).

Dr. Jerry Punch is an excellent person, and really knows his stuff as well.

If I were in charge of ABC/ESPN's NASCAR Coverage, without a doubt Allen Bestwick is most deserving by far, and would get the lead play-by-play commentator spot.

I would then have either Dr. Jerry Punch be the lead pit reporter, or host of NASCAR Countdown, or Mike Massaro.

The answer is extremely simple. They have the talent, they just need to put them in the right spots, and fast!

David said...

Well said! I am curious about what happened to "7 Days" from last season? I thought that was an amazing show and was almost like "NASCAR 360" without the glitz and only half as long. I was hoping they would have expanded the show to an hour to really not feel like everything was just being compacted and actually letting the audience digest the information being given. But I guess SPEED had other plans.

"Inside NEXTEL Cup" was great with Alan Bestwick and company, now it is a shame and to be honest it is not the priority to watch that it once was. I'd hate to see it go, but in its current form I am all for a funeral.

My only request would be to bring back "7 Days" next season if indeed INC does bite the dust. Hopefully NASCAR Now works out their kinks by then.

Anonymous said...

Again, you do a good job describing how we see the race on TV. Keep up the good work!!

I hope that NASCAR and the networks are listening. It could be SO much better than it is now.

Kinsta said...

Great mid-season post. I have been looking for a resource like this for a long time. Basically, I have been wondering if anyone else has lost the desire to watch NASCAR on television because of the coverage! My current setup is to have the race on the television, muted, and Sirius' Driver Feed over my home stereo. The delay from TV to speakers is a bit annoying. I'm considering turning the TV off all together but I'll continue to read this blog. Keep up the great work.

jimicement said...

Good work. Like usual I agree. However, the worst show is NASCAR Now (bonus - it's daily - HA!). Very easily it could be the best but ESPN execs think they know what NASCAR fans want! NASCAR and it's fans are not going for "the formula" that ESPN has been successful with in regards to other sports. It can't get worse I guess! The answers are all on the Planet! Kudos to SPEED and 'Survival of the Fastest'. Next to the race it's can't miss (maybe except this week - W. Burton - 1 lap - engine- bummer).

Kinsta - I watch and listen just like you do especially with TNT now. Just pause the Tivo during the national anthem to match 'em up.

network said...

Although the quality of television coverage has been diverse, I have to say that the quality of the competition that NASCAR has presented this year...particularly Busch and Cup, has been abysmal.
The COT (Car Of Tedium) looks like an Austrailian SuperCar. In the past, I never fully understood criticas who referred to NASCAR as "roundy-round" or "boring". But now, I get their point.The Cup series has become a spec series. Drivers have de-volved into automatrons who recite a script of pre-approved comments while taking a long swig from the 'sponsor beverege of the day'. Any hint of personality or contraversy are squashed under the threat of fines and suspensions, for a largely undefined offense titled "actions detrimental to racing"

One thing that Bill France and Bill jr. recognized was that the DRIVERS and their SPONSORS are what brought value to the sport. Now, the attitude is that all the value is in the NASCAR brand- and THAT attitude will lead to the sports demise.

Such a shame

LSandlin/Nashville TN said...

TNT's coverage is just abysmal. And Bestwick is SUCH a pro!He does well at every slot they insert him.Always has - on radio or TV. I would SO much rather hear him than Weber the Windbag on race coverage.
I hope Bestwick hangs in there and is rewarded with a job on FOX.

And thanks to Jayski for linking to you. My methodology for reace watching is to go to Jayski's Race page and see what time the green flag is scheduled. I don't bother turning on the TV until that time. And for post race I get in my car and drive around listening to the Sirius show.

I certainly hope ESPN/ABC is better than TNT for the remainder of the schedule.

Vince said...

John I've been waiting 5 months for you to post this exact article. I knew you'd do it sooner or later. It's about time someone has held the national print, TV, and Internet media accountable. Their coverage of NASCAR has been terrible, unless you like the NASCAR "line" for your news. It's about time someone held the press' feet to the fire.

For the most part all the regular NASCAR beat reports are so scared of rubbing NASCAR the wrong way, that they don't dare to print or report on anything remotely controversial in NASCAR's eyes.

For example, Ray Evernham and Erin Crocker's living arrangement last season. If it hadn't been for Jeremey Mayfield we wouldn't have heard anything about this. None of the regular reporters said a thing about that. We all knew it was happening, thanks to the Internet, but everybody was too scared to report on it. The argument was made that it was their personal lives. Well, sorry, but they are public people and their personal lives effect the team, sponsors, etc. So someone should have been asking the hard questions of Ray and Erin. But they didn't.

The same type of "censorship" is going on with the regular beat reporters lack of commentary on NASCAR's TV partners. No one but you, John, has taken them to task. Everyone is too afraid of biting the NASCAR hand that feeds them. Keep the company line at all costs!

I as a fan I challenge ALL of you regular NASCAR beat reporters to hold the TV networks accountable for their sorry coverage of our sport so far this season. Quit ducking the issue and report on what has for a lot of us been the major NASCAR story this year. The lousy coverage by the networks of the races and the pathetic excuse for a daily NASCAR show that ESPN has given us.

Now ABC/ESPN is going to give us Suzy Kober and Brent Musberger as hosts for their pre-race coverage of the races. What do they know about NASCAR? Nothing. Same as Chris Myers when Fox plunked him in the Hollywood Hotel. Yet NONE of you so called reporters said anything about the "job" Chris was doing and I'm sure none of you will say anything about Suzy or Brent either.

I would like to see just one of the regular respected NASCAR beat reporters hold NASCAR and the networks accountable for their sorry coverage. Then maybe more would follow suit. One can hope.

All we've gotten from the NASCAR press so far this year has been fluff and the "company" (NASCAR) line. John, you've been the only one that has held the networks and now the national press accountable for the poor TV and print coverage we've gotten of our sport.

Once again John, great article. Your best one yet. Keep the pressure on the press and networks to improve their coverage of all things NASCAR.

Sal said...

Really, with the 'leadership' of Brian France, is anyone surprised that television isn't held accountable for it's abysmal coverage? Just reading Mr. France's comments, it's a wonder that racing survives at all. For instance, his comment on the later nad varying race start times in a phone interview with ESPN: France acknowledged there is a larger portion of fans who want races to start earlier but said more people like the later starting times. When the head Poobah doesn't make sense, how can you expect anything else to make sense. The attitude comes from the top, and trickles down, just like with the networks. The Peter Principal in action.

Anonymous said...

Great synopsis of the broadcast season thus far. There have been a few "ups" and alot of "downs" in 2007.
Based on 1-5 stars here are some thoughts:

Fox Network - 3.5 stars
Speed Channel - 4.5 stars
ESPN Busch Coverage - 3 stars
TNT NASCAR Cup coverage - 1.5 stars
NASCAR Now on ESPN - 1 star
Inside Nextel Cup on SPEED - 1 star
Sirius CH 128 NASCAR - 5 stars

From my perspective, we have nothing outstanding. SPEED gives us the best coverage overall but they too need to refine some of their programming. ESPN has been somewhat of a disappointment from their great NASCAR coverage in the 1990's. And TNT is failing miserably. We are in BIG trouble if there is a rain delay during the Pepsi 400.

Keep up the great work on this column. You can bet the decision makers from the networks are reading this. (they may not change things though)

Anonymous said...

If Bill Weber would just be FIRED. I cold watch the races without the sound muted and Sirius Radio play-by-play glaring.
That person is a broadcast abomination.

Thank you for your attention to a serious shortcoming in the world of NASCAR media....its continued propensity to exist with its head in the sand. A search for dinosaur bones by dinosaurs ......?

bevo said...

The NASCAR print and Internet media avoids writing about NASCAR's TV partners at all costs. Apparently, the penalties for speaking out about bad NASCAR TV are more severe than COT violations.

AMEN! You can also include Sirius. Once upon a time there was a great show that covered all forms of motorsports and they regularly criticized tv coverage. Once NASCAR signed with Sirius that came to a halt (with the only bone thrown to us being Mr. Daly). I know it's not the fault of the good folks on the show,they just want to keep their jobs.

Anonymous said...

whatever happened to john kernan?

dave said...

Thanks, JD, for your mid-season report. Your summation is dead on! I can only hope that the 2nd half will improve.

The TV coverage of races has been poor at best. TNT was off to a fair start and it's pretty much been down hill since. For me, the bright spot has been Kyle Petty. He has taken to the mic as if he's done it for years. He's certainly better that 90% of the "talent" over at ESPN.

ESPN's effort has been about as disappointing as it can get. NASCAR Now and NASCAR Countdown, as you mentioned, has been a disgrace. I had hoped for so much more. I don't know who the "brains" are behind these shows or if the host Du Jour is a part of their grand plan, but it isn't working. The drummer position in Spinal Tap had less turnover! And whoever figured that they could insert ANYONE into the show ( ie - Chris Fowler ) should be fired on the spot. If it were up to me.... I'd be on the phone to Allen Bestwick, Jerry Punch, Mike Massaro, Paul Page, Bob Goodrich and Jack Arute.

After years of showing people that there were more races each year than just the Daytona 500, ESPN lost the NASCAR contract. FOX and NBC then took over and DUMBED IT DOWN for the masses who may have watched 1 or 2 races after the Daytona 500. A screen filled with graphics. little bubbles that follow cars around the track, all the drama, the Hollywood Hotel ( hosted by a ball sport guy, by the way ) PLEASE !! Stop the insanity! But no, the producers at TNT and now, it seems, ESPN must have all gone to the more-is-better school of television production and the numbing continues. More graphics, more little bubbles following cars around and more drama and absurd comments and questions spewing from the mouths of people that shouldn't even be on TV. It's gotten so bad that, apparently, these rocket scientists have decided viewers only care about who's out front and who wins.

My prediction - the TV coverage, or lack thereof, will drive race fans away from the TV. Once the race fans leave, NASCAR will become less "fashonable" for the majority of the people that the FOX / NBC coverage brought to the table, and they'll leave. When that happens, we'll all be sitting around each February waiting for the only televised race.

But then, I still hold hope that things will improve.

Anonymous said...

Too bad we can't clone Alan Bestwick so we can have him in the booth, in the pits and in the studio all at the same time.

projectpappy09 said...

Using anon's star system, and keeping in mind that I don't watch SPEED unless there is practice or qualifying on, here is my opinion on how things have gone this year:

ESPN(pre-race coverage)-2 stars, and they get their 2 stars solely because of their pit reporters and features, please use Allen Bestwick or Mike Massaro all of the time

ESPN(race coverage)-3 stars, production is mostly well done, and Petree, Dale, and Marty havebeen impressive, but Punch and Rusty seem to bore me most of the time. Bob Jenkins and Benny Parsons they are not.

FOX/SPEED-4 stars, because other than the finish line problems, they have hit all their marks as usual, and Krista Voda replacing Zelasko was even better. Note to ESPN: pay Rick Allen a lot of money to be your lead announcer next year. He always has energy, and is enjoyable to watch call races with Phil Parsons.

TNT-1 star. Another note to ESPN: hire Marc Fein, a guy who may not know much about NASCAR, but is willing to learn.

ESPN(NASCAR Now)-3 stars, because it is good with Ryan Burr, Matt Winer, and Allen Bestwick, but bad with Erik. Fire Erik he is painful to watch on NASCAR Now and when he guest hosts on Mike and Mike.