Sunday, July 29, 2007
Only One Car Finishes Brickyard 400 On ESPN
The email started pouring in minutes after Tony Stewart crossed the finish line of The Brickyard 400. It came from many different locations around the country, and represented fans of many teams in the sport, except one. Not one email was from a Tony Stewart fan, and that was for one reason. He was the only driver who fans saw cross the finish line at Indy.
Saturday night, the final lap of the Busch Series race on ESPN featured a group of tightly-packed racers who were thundering to the line at the wonderful short track near Indy called O'Reilly Raceway Park. As the winner closed-in on the finish line, ESPN took a wide camera shot and inserted the scoring graphic to show fans the finishing order.
Then, drama and inexperience took over and ESPN only showed the winner cross the line. They showed his pit crew jumping around, the winner slowing down, and then more of the pit crew. By that time, the entire field had finished the race, and there were cars spun on the track, paybacks still in progress, and at least one car with a window net down spoiling for a fight. Announcer Marty Reid was fit to be tied, because he knew fans had missed the entire thing.
The Daly Planet wrote in a Saturday column, "if ESPN decides that fans only need to see the winner of the Brickyard 400 cross the finish line and no other cars, there is going to be a problem." Well, Houston...we have a problem.
In what may be the most colossal sports blunder since the Heidi Bowl, ESPN welcomed themselves back to NASCAR by failing to show anyone other than the winner of The Brickyard 400 finish the race. ESPN had asked fans to join them for a one hour pre-race show, and then a three hour race. Unless you were a Tony Stewart fan, the reward for your efforts was...nothing.
If your driver was fighting it out for a top ten, or struggling for a top twenty finish, it did not matter to ESPN. All the stories they had been following for three hours suddenly did not matter. The fundamental fact that race fans want to see the battle to the line by the field did not matter. Even basic knowledge that people get passed in the final straightaway could not change ESPN's idea that what fans wanted was drama and not racing.
Earlier this season, viewers went through a run of this with Fox Sports. It infuriated fans when at a short track like Bristol or Richmond, the Fox gang chose to show only the winner, and purposefully excluded the entire rest of the field. Now, on its first race back into NEXTEL Cup, ESPN does the exact same thing...and at The Brickyard of all places.
Imagine being a fan of Juan Montoya, and about to watch him finish second at The Brickyard where he has already won the Indy 500 and participated in a Formula-1 race. How frustrating to have that moment yanked away so viewers could see Stewart slowing down, hear him yell on the radio, or see his crew jump around?
As The Daly Planet has said so many times, how can NASCAR continue to permit this to happen? One reader sent in this analogy. The Kentucky Derby only happens once a year, and it only takes several minutes to run. Imagine if the TV Director chose to only show the winning horse cross the finish line and exclude the rest of the field? Even in an annual horse race, with only fifteen participants, the TV audience would be outraged. The bottom line is, it would never happen.
Here in "NASCAR land," drivers race for about three hours with no break. Millions of fans nationwide support their driver and team with great devotion every week. They gather in all kinds of settings to "pull for their guy." If the driver finishes in the top ten, or even in the top twenty, doesn't that group of fans have the right to see him finish?
In the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, SPEED puts up a scoring graphic, "takes" a camera wideshot, and lets the trucks race to the line every time. When I spoke to a TV crew member about this issue, he said "how is that so hard to do?" It only takes literally a minute to watch a screaming NASCAR field thunder across the stripe.
This year in Charlotte, Kyle Petty guided his Coca-Cola sponsored Petty Dodge to a third place finish in the Coca-Cola 600. The ovation when he crossed the finish line was overwhelming, as it was his best finish in a long time and he had earned it. On TV, however, no one saw it. The only people who saw Kyle finish the Coke 600 in the Coke car at Charlotte were the fans in the stands. The NASCAR on Fox Director chose to show TV viewers the winner...slowing down.
Sunday's Indy mistake was huge because of the high-profile drivers excluded from the coverage. Montoya, Gordon, and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. Two of the best stories were Mark Martin finishing sixth, and Ward Burton leading his rag-tag underfunded team to a fourteenth place at Indy. If you are a NASCAR fan, you understand that these things are moments in history to be enjoyed.
What they are not, are moments to be taken away by a TV crew inexperienced in the sport or driven by an agenda of fake drama or hype. What fan would rather watch Tony Stewart slow down than see the entire field rumble across the finish line?
As The Daly Planet wrote on Saturday, "does anyone believe that there was even one fan at the track that watched the winner of the race cross the stripe and then put their hands over their eyes?"
While this may not apply to even one of the two hundred thousand plus fans at this race, TV viewers certainly know a group to whom it applies. Anyone unfortunate enough to watch The Brickyard 400 on ESPN.
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