Tuesday, August 28, 2007

SPEED Channel Is Going Out With A Bang

The email has already begun to roll in about the end of SPEED Channel's brief run covering the practice and qualifying for the Busch and NEXTEL Cup Series. Over the past couple of weeks, the network has worked hard to remind us of how much their approach to NASCAR differs from that of ESPN.

Once again, we have seen the self-effacing trio of Steve Byrnes, Larry McReynolds, and Jeff Hammond offer up their unique brand of racing and fun. There is just no doubt about it, these guys are a great combination on-the-air.

ESPN passed this opportunity over to SPEED because of some programming conflicts, and the Charlotte, NC based network has made the most of it. Already surrounding the races with tons of live programs, SPEED really seemed to be at home again when they picked-up the same practice and qualifying sessions they used to produce before ESPN came on the scene. Update: Just to make sure everyone is one the same page, these TV contracts were done well in advance and SPEED is doing this coverage directly with NASCAR, not as a "sub-contractor" or ESPN. Thanks.

This weekend at California is SPEED's swan song with this overall coverage. The network really threw everything but the kitchen sink at these selected weekends in order to make an impression in the minds of the viewers who now had ESPN's coverage to use as a comparison.

SPEED offered the laid-back Wendy Venturini patrolling the garage area alongside the absolutely not laid-back Bob Dillner. It made for an interesting contrast in styles, and interviews. It certainly must have been fun behind the scenes sorting out who gets to interview who among the NASCAR gang.

Venturini has been on a roll this season, and simply strolls-up to anyone and everyone and starts talking. Her comfort level makes the viewer fell as if they are also part of the scene, and that is tough to do. If there was every a person more at home in the NASCAR garage, it may only have been the late Benny Parsons, who loved to walk and talk like Wendy. Big smile, boundless energy, and always a good word.

Dillner is hilarious because even when he tries to be serious, he cannot shake the fact he is about three feet taller than most drivers, and that just looks funny on TV. If he is not talking to Dale Jarrett or Michael Waltrip, eye-to-eye conversations are out. With Jamie McMurray, its always memorable.

SPEED's team differs from ESPN's in many ways, but only because they have a very different network philosophy. SPEED has incorporated fun as a required element of practice and qualifying, ESPN has not. Both networks show the graphics, clock the times, and use the same information supplied by NASCAR. But, its not the same.

Jerry Punch and his broadcast team are serious guys. Its just the nature of ESPN to produce more formal-style television in the field. We see it in their baseball and football coverage. During the actual NASCAR races, being serious and formal certainly has an important place in these high-profile events.

Practice and qualifying, however, do not mix well with a big multi-hour dose of serious and formal TV. Even somehow trying to pretend that things are serious when guys are doing tire and fuel mileage runs is ridiculous. Busch Series early practice at California this Friday would be like watching paint dry without some fun injected into the telecast. Three laps and back to the garage.

That is the lesson that ESPN has hopefully learned during their time away. Tight and nervous in the booth, only Allen Bestwick and Marty Reid in substitute roles have managed to coax some fun from the announcers. The vast majority of the time, even with forced smiles, things are just presented as being very serious.

As a final statement, SPEED is going all-out (no pun intended) this Friday with nine hours of coverage from Fontana. Beginning with Trackside Live at noon, the network will roll through Busch and Cup practice, then go back live to the SPEED Stage. If time permits, they might sneak the latest episode of Survival of the Fastest in around 4:30, but I bet they stay live all the way. Things in NASCAR land have a way of changing on-the-fly.

Then, their Go or Go Home show sets the stage for Cup qualifying. Finally, one of SPEED's most popular shows hits the air when Trackside wraps-up the day. Even then, the network itself is not done, because the ARCA race from Gateway is next live, and then the Fontana Busch Series qualifying will be shown on tape delay.

All in all, that puts more than twelve continuous hours of stock car programming on SPEED this Friday. The network's last peep from Fontana is the Cup Series final practice on Saturday at 8PM Eastern after the Craftsman Truck race. That, my friends, is a lot of racing on one network in two days.

For a relatively small-sized cable network on a limited budget, SPEED has put forth an excellent effort on this stretch of practice and qualifying shows. The pictures from the NASCAR Images TV compound are fine, but it is the personalities and the light-hearted atmosphere that wins viewers over.

As ESPN returns to the practice and qualifying telecasts, both ESPN and ESPN2 will be in the heart of live college football and other major sports. Once again, the network will not show the early NEXTEL Cup practice, which rubs fans the wrong way. In addition, the Busch Series coverage shrinks substantially.

Any true TV sports fan knows that Mike and Mike in the Morning and then First Take air on Fridays from 6AM through 2PM on ESPN2. Over on ESPN, its SportsCenter from 6AM through noon. That would spell the end of Friday Cup and Busch practice on-the-air this season.

SPEED's marathon on Friday should be fun to watch, as live TV has a way of never going exactly the way it was planned. After that, the network steps back into its role of offering "support" shows and leaving the on-track activity to ESPN and ABC Sports. This time when Larry Mac and Jeff Hammond take a seat on the SPEED Stage, it will be for the rest of the season.

UPDATE: Since so many emailers have been asking the same question, here is the remaining SPEED schedule of practice and qualifying. Yes, they will do Cup practice and qualifying from Talledega. That is the only remaining Cup race. On the Busch side, SPEED will cover practice and qualifying at Dover, Kansas, Atlanta, Texas and Phoenix.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email editor@thedalyplanet.tv if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop-by and leave your opinion.


Anonymous said...

I am baffled that NASCAR allowed ESPN to buy the rights to NSCAR event coverage, then NOT show practice rounds and, simultaneously, keep anyone else from showing them.

This seems counterproductive to NASCAR's goals.

What's going on here?

Todd said...

Bestwick should be the play-by-play man. Wallace should go back to his race team, and Andy is a most pleasnt suprise. Tell me are they still playing that rock and roll crap with the bare chested guy? I watch Speed right up till the race, and to be sure I'll spend ALL day with Speed on Friday!
NAZCAR sure missed the boat with ESPN..Do any of you remember last Feb. speed-weeks on Speed? OMG I was in broadcast heaven.

Anonymous said...

How does / did NASCAR sell it's TV package? Did they sell all rights to ESPN for the remainder of the year and then ESPN resold the practices to SPEED, or does NASCAR sell practices, qualifying and races seperate? If the former, why is ESPN sitting on the practices and not reselling them to SPEED? If the later, why didn't SPEED pick up the practices that ESPN didn't opt for?

Also, are the cameras at the track NASCAR's or the individual networks? Does SPEED set their cameras up next to the ESPN ones, or do they take turns using the same cameras?

Bill H

Jim said...

ESPN disrespects auto racing in general....like jumping from ESPN2 to ESPN Classic (which I don't get), back to ESPN2 then to ESPN....all because of some inconsequential tennis match. Jerry Punch and Rusty Wallace are the bottom of the broadcasting barrel. Andy Petree is okay, but Tim Brewer at the "cutaway car" is a hoax.
NASCAR should exercise a breach of contract clause and go back to the FOX and SPEED families of networks.

Kevin said...

I personally love the ESPN crew of commentators. Rusty is one of the best I've seen in years, and I certainly wasn't a fan of his while he was a driver. That said, as a NASCAR fan, I want to see racing coverage. If ESPN isn't going to show practice, let SPEED do it, and vice versa. I would agree that it's wrong from ESPN to buy the rights and then not show the coverage.

Colin Baird said...

So far this season, ESPN's racing coverage has been pretty pathetic. SPEED on the other hand always keeps manages to get the viewers attention as well as their approval. The reason for that is, SPEED's number one priority is giving the viewer as much information as possible, and having a whole lot of fun doing it. ESPN's number one priority is money.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Hey Bill,

The company co-owned by NASCAR and Fox is called NASCAR Images. They are in charge of the TV compound and the equipment is mostly shared in terms of camera locations and things.

The in-car cameras are shared as well, and are housed in their own production truck.

Networks always have some of their own stuff, remember TNT's "Lazy Susan spinning infield wheel of death" set? Now, ESPN has their own Infield Studio, and of course, Fox has the Hollywood Hotel.

Networks have contracts with NASCAR directly, not the individual tracks. That changed a while back. It is ESPN and NASCAR that decide where things go, like the practice and qualifying on SPEED. ESPN had some scheduling issues.

NASCAR's goal was to get The Chase races on network (over-the-air) TV and they did that with ABC. They also got the Busch Series on one TV provider with ESPN, just like they have the Trucks with SPEED.

Unlike other networks in the past, ESPN will not allow any of their on-air announcers, even the ones employed as freelancers, to appear on SPEED. That is why SPEED brought its own total crew.

Thanks for you comment, and these great questions.

Anonymous said...

Don't kid yourself: SPEED is a business and its primary goal is to make money, as much as it can.

They're not doing this for fun. They've decided that doing a lighter show (but with the info you mention) is the way to attract a large audience and thus, make as much money as possible.

ESPN's goal is the same, but they have chosen a different strategy to get there.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the typo on your name, Colin!

stricklinfan82 said...

Things are about to get a lot worse for NASCAR fans. According to ESPN.com's NASCAR on TV schedule and Speed Channel's TV listings, at New Hamphire, Dover, and Kansas ESPN is only televising qualifying so guess what that means? No practice coverage at all on any TV station for those 3 weeks! Not only will we miss the Friday and Saturday morning practices but we will now start missing Happy Hour as well. What a joke. I understand that live college football should take precedence over NASCAR practice, but ESPN should give NASCAR fans that don't care for college football a chance to watch practice on Speed Channel. Can someone explain to me what ESPN has to gain by forbidding Speed Channel to cover the practices that they don't feel like airing?

AndyPandy said...

To anonymous at 8:46 -

Yes, SPEED is a business and is out to make money, but the difference is that they realize that the way to do it is to deliver the shows the fans want to see in a way that they want to see them. ESPN goes with a "here's what we want to give you, live with it" style.

On another subject, if ESPN won't let SPEED cover the practices, I would be happy watching nine hours of Wendy Venturini talking about practice, or talking about last week's race, or talking about anything else. But, as I said, that's a whole 'nother subject.

stricklinfan82 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stricklinfan82 said...

Oh yeah, this week is going to be the first week of NASCAR fans getting screwed by college football. On Saturday ESPN2 has a college football game starting at 6:45 PM, and the Busch race is starting at 10 PM on the same network. College football games typically last a lot longer than 3 hours (anyone remember USC / Notre Dame on NBC right before the Charlotte Cup race a few years ago?). With ESPN airing college football and ESPN Classic airing Olympic Basketball qualifying games (I would guess it will involve the U.S. team) at the same time it looks like we're gonna get screwed over. All I ask is WHEN (not IF) the college football game ends at about 10:30 or 11:00, that ESPN2 show the Busch race in its entirety on a tape-delayed basis. Please don't join the race live and in-progress on lap 60. Full race coverage is a lot more important than live coverage!

Tidnoc said...

John, I believe that we have one more weekend coming with Speed coverage. ESPN has no coverage of Talledega. Period. That puts the coverage on Speed for everything except the race. We may not get the full extravaganza but at least we will get something fun to watch one more time!

Daly Planet Editor said...

Hey Guys,

I am asking SPEED about that issue right now. In fact, they have informed me that NASCAR Images is now wholly owned by NASCAR, with Fox exiting earlier this year as a part of the new TV contract. That makes a lot of sense for all parties.

Also, with everything planned in advance these days, SPEED has the qualifying and practice coverage written in contract form, it was not just "given" to them as I had expressed too casually in my post.

Thanks to SPEED for reading The Daly Planet and staying on top of the information for their viewers!

Don said...

I try to never miss your articles The Daly Planet is doing a great service to the Fans, too bad NASCAR seems to care less what we think. Give me FOX and Speed for all the coverage
Again you guys are doing a great job

Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember in years past when ESPN was involved in Nascar? ESPN taped delayed so many programs it was ridiculous. TV ratings have been down just about every race this year. I wonder how many believe this coverage will help???? When is someone going to get really smart and start another sanction to replace the arrogance of Brian and Nascar!!!!!

garry said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Fish said...

The thing of it is, is that to ESPN, NASCAR is not their top priority and it shows. Their demographic is geared toward NFL/NCAA football, MLB and NBA/NCAA basketball. NASCAR seems to be "filler" material.
We will not see that vividly with their programing or lack thereof.
Another point is the on-air talent. With SPEED, you get a good mix of talent and it makes it fun for the viewer to watch. I can tell all of you that I will not watch anything but the race now on ESPN because I cannot stand how they produce their coverage. Boring is an understatement. NASCAR really screwed up by cutting SPEED out of the mix for the chase races. Having SPEED being able to produce what they currently are doing for the chase races would have given the tv viewing audience much more NASCAR exposure and isn't that what NASCAR wants?
One last thing...ESPN needs to do something quick about their race time on air talent. Listening to Jerry Punch talk reminds me of hearing a priest give a sermon on a Sunday morning after staying up too late the night before having fun.....puts me to sleep. His voice never rises more than one or two octaves and no matter what happens on the track, he never gets excited about it. I long for DW and Larry Mac jibing back and forth to each other. At the very least, dump Punch out of the booth and put Bestwick up there. At least he gets exicted and makes you want to sit up on the edge of your seat.
Rant over.

Daly Planet Editor said...


If you could re-phrase your comments slightly and re-post I would appreciate it. You have some good points about the management.

SophiaZ123 said...

John or Somebody Please answer.


Isn't Fox going to carry the first half of the season? Wow, now I am truly upset.

Now my comments.

ESPN =is what's wrong with media today.

They want everybody to look like Barbie and Ken.
HYPE over substance and sense of humor either forced or non existant.
Rusty needs a chill pill and ALWAYS seems annoyed or arrogant, imo.

Plus, lousy camera work, and we miss half of qualifying.

Why aren't the sponsors bothered by any of this?

The booth is boring and poor Dr. Punch must suffer from horrible fatigue, though he puts on a good act, methinks he's weary. Never sounds excited.


It's like the Marx Brothers. A little insanity may ensue but you feel they really are having fun doing what they are doing.

The TV GIVES IT ALL TO US!! Great camera work,

We NEVER miss a car qualifying and we get to see the FIRST PRACTICE.


I have found that some people like NOBODY on tv. They hate folks on Raceday, ESPN, FOX, TNT, NBC...I think some of them must be social malcontents.

I enjoy the SPEED guys and am glad I do.

And I still enjoy INC on SPEED.

Anonymous said...

It is not difficult to understand ESPN's dilemma. They are contemporary NASCAR's "new guys". As many have pointed out, NASCAR TV ratings are slightly down while football continues to be strong. We NASCAR fans are outnumbered by ESPN's traditional team sports fans. Imagine the storm and fury of ESPN viewers if they cut away from a game to show a NASCAR practice session. Practice? Not even a real race? To a non race fan, that is like watching a marathon runner do weight training. Why are they showing THAT!

Understanding ESPN's dilemma, however, does not explain their petulant "it's my ball" behavior. If what I read is true, I do not understand why serving the larger traditional sports audience has to be at the expense of racing fans. Basketball fans may remember the seamless hand off of playoff games from TNT to NBC when both networks were actually on the same broadcast simultaneously. Both networks rose above their competitive circumstances and put the FANS first.

SPEED is a niche network. The only way I can watch SPEED in my area is to subscribe to an upper tier service from Comcast. That costs an extra $300+ - yearly. Many fans have avoided the extra cost. SPEED is buried in the middle of a bunch of shopping and cooking channels. ESPN, however, is included in the more affordable first tier of service. There is not true head to head competition between them. It will not diminish ESPN's NASCAR credibility to allow SPEED to do what it does best. In fact, it does diminish ESPN's reputation to prevent SPEED from presenting the lower rated practice sessions. Frankly, it takes a committed fan to sit through a practice session. For some reason, ESPN seems to have taken a hostile attitude toward those committed fans. I may be wrong, but it would seem that the interest built up during these off peak shows would end up creating a more enthusiastic audience for ESPN on race day.

stricklinfan82 said...

I don't think any NASCAR fans are expecting ESPN to pre-empt college football games for NASCAR practice sessions. What we want is for ESPN to let another TV network like Speed Channel cover the practices in their absence when they are covering the games. ESPN owns the exclusive rights to all on-track activity so when they are covering live football games or poker re-airs on Fridays and Saturdays NASCAR fans are not left with an alternative outlet to watch NASCAR.

I also don't expect ESPN2 to cut away from Saturday night's college football game if it runs past 10 PM when the Busch race starts. What I'd like to see them do is air the race tape-delayed in its entirety at the conclusion of the game instead of joining the race live and in-progress with half of the race already completed.

stricklinfan82 said...


This is the first year of a multi-year TV deal so the TV coverage of the races should remain the same as they were this year for the next several years (Fox, then TNT, then ESPN, then ABC). Fox will now have the Daytona 500 exclusively for the duration of this contract, they won't be rotating it with another network like they did with NBC from 2001-2006. Fox will also have the Bud Shootout every year and Speed Channel will have the Gatorade Duel 150's and the Nextel All-Star Challenge. ABC/ESPN will continue to have the entire Busch Series schedule during this contract (or whatever it will be called next year with Busch leaving as title sponsor). I don't remember off the top of my head how many years this contract lasts, but I think it's somehwere between 6 and 8 years.

SophiaZ123 said...


I feel better.

and I do believe ESPN ccntract is 8 years.

MING BOGGLING ^%$@@&!*#^&!^*


Busch Series Fan! said...

I am disappointed with this year's ESPN coverage of Nascar especially recently starting a race on ESPN2 then moving it to ESPN Classic then back again because of a tennis match. I really enjoy Monday night's Inside Nextel Cup show on Speed. We must be the luckiest people in Houston our office cable has Speed but not any ESPN channels I find that very amusing. I think Rusty should go back to spotting for Stephen, Jerry Punch needs to be in the pits and Bob Jenkins and Allen Bestwick need to be in the broadcast booth with updates from Reese Davis.

cwebs said...

If the good folks at SPEED are in the mood to give out some info, maybe they can explain exactly why Victory Lane isn't always aired live after the race.

There were a lot of comments/questions on this issue in the "Midnight at the Oasis" thread the other day.

Is this something that is directly spelled out in the contract as well? Or are there technical and/or economic reasons for it not to always be aired live?

Anonymous said...

as coverage of our beloved sport continues on it's downward spiral, why should we expect ESPN to learn anything??? They have the contract, they have the coverage--WE have the power--as ratings slip surely the "powers that be" must notice that when TNT and FOX had coverage the ratings were better--not to say that there are not great sportscasters on ESPN team --just not enough nor do they provide the proper coverage>>....let's just see how far the interest drops when we can't even follow the weekely goings on at the track

stricklinfan82 said...

I would guess that ESPN and TNT have it written into their contracts that Speed can not go on the air with live post-race coverage from the track until their respective live race broadcasts are over. Obviously Victory Lane didn't air live during the Fox portion of the season because Speed and Fox are under the same umbrella so they aren't going to compete with one another. Speed wasn't afraid to air a live pre-race show head-to-head with TNT and ESPN so I'm sure they would love to take away viewers from TNT and ESPN's post-race audience as well if they could.

I would guess that head-to-head pre-race shows are permitted because "NASCAR Countdown" and "NASCAR on TNT Live" aren't considered part of the exclusive live race broadcasts that ESPN and TNT pay for, whereas the post-race interviews are considered to be part of the live race broadcast.

As for ESPN responding to low ratings, I'm afraid to imagine what they'll do. Rather than improving the quality of their broadcasts and adding more credible NASCAR personalities, they'll probably ramp up the unneccesary stuff and do what they do with everything else that has ever had declining ratings - add people like Dennis Miller, Mike & Mike in the Morning, and Tony Kornheiser to the broadcasts. Let's hope it never gets to that point......

Anonymous said...

Did you say 8, 8 years of ESPN? Did I read you right?
I was bummed finding out Speed was bowing out for the season............I might need to learn to like golf!

cwebs said...

stricklinfan -

I thought there were some instances earlier this year where Victory Lane DID air live, or at least close to live (just slightly tape-delayed) after a race. I can't remember specifically which races they were, though. It certainly hasn’t happened at all recently, which would definitely lead us to think that ESPN has some sort of lock on post-race coverage. Still, that doesn’t make much sense, since ESPN doesn’t even air a proper post-race show of their own. Even when NASCAR Now shows up on Sunday nights, it’s usually not aired until after midnight!

It would be completely understandable if Victory Lane was prevented from appearing on-air until the actual race broadcast from FOX, TNT, or ESPN signed off. Wouldn’t that be easy to accommodate by using a slight tape-delay?

Obviously, it’s possible that the broadcast contract with NASCAR gives ESPN the exclusive right to air the only live or nearly-live post race show, but not a concurrent obligation to actually do so. I guess this would be similar to the situation with the practice sessions where ESPN purchases the broadcast rights but then declines to actually provide comprehensive coverage.

What, I don’t understand, however, is why NASCAR would allow this to happen. How could it be in NASCAR’s interest to have broadcasters skipping out on practice coverage or failing to provide a real post-race show when they have purchased the exclusive right to do so? Could it be that NASCAR doesn’t care what happens after the money changes hands? I can’t believe that’s the case, as it certainly wouldn’t do the sport any good in the long-run. Talk about “actions detrimental to stock car racing”!!! As “anonymous” commented at 12:40, practice coverage (and, presumably good post-race programming) could only serve to increase viewership of the actual race broadcasts. Isn’t that the ultimate goal here?!?!

PS – The idea of someone like Kornheiser in the booth during a race is just too horrifying to even imagine! Sadly, I wouldn’t put it past ESPN to do something like that to us…


cwebs said...

UPDATE to the Victory Lane discussion -

I just went to SPEED's website and looked at their programming schedule for the next few races. Lo and behold, Victory Lane is scheduled to appear *LIVE* after both the Sunday night race at California on 9/2 and the Saturday night race at Richmond on 9/8. After that, it looks like they're going back to the standard tape-delayed broadcast at 8pm for both New Hampshire and Dover.

SO, it seems that they ARE able to provide a live edition of VL, at least for certain races, even some that are televised by ESPN. We are still left to wonder why it's not shown live after every race, though. Is this figured out well in advance like the practice coverage is, or does SPEED get to pick and choose which races get a live edition of VL? It did seem strange that they weren't on live after the night race at Bristol...


Anonymous said...

Hope this means we won't have to suffer with pre and post race shows with Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace. I want commentary from past champions and winning crewchiefs not from fric and frac. Most fans could provide more insight than these two.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'm really going to miss the speed channel's coverage, after suffering through their race coverage the past few weeks, I can only imagine how boring they'll make the pre-race events. Give me Bootie and Cheatin' Chad over the ESPN boys anyday, at least it's fun. NASCAR's a fun sport, all about getting drunk and watchin' cars go fast, if the ESPN boys really want to appeal to the average NASCAR fan, they're going to have to lighten up alot.

Anonymous said...

I remember when ESPN RPM2Nite was not allowed to use Nascar video after the last TV deal (FOX?) was signed. Still images only. Only sportscenter was allowed use of video on the network. It killed them. It basically was the end of RPM2Nite. Does that have anything to do with the current situation with ESPN and Speed?