Friday, August 17, 2007

SPEED Puts Its Best Foot Forward In Michigan

Before this new NASCAR TV package in 2007, fans had become accustomed to SPEED Channel being a regular partner on racing weekends. With NBC, TNT, and Fox Sports handling the NEXTEL Cup races, SPEED was the network to watch for practice, qualifying, and news.

Now, one of the new TV partners comes equipped with their very own cable sports network, and wants to handle its own "support programming." We call this type of programming that name because it supports the main event, the actual race.

ESPN waded into the practice and qualifying coverage with mixed results. For several seasons, every lap of both the Cup and Busch Series was televised live. This included both practice and qualifying. This year, ESPN decided not to show the first of two NEXTEL Cup practice sessions on day one, and also not to show various Busch practices on the track.

The network was trying to fold a large amount of NASCAR practice and qualifying into both ESPN and ESPN2. Unlike SPEED, that focuses on motorsports and racing lifestyle programs, ESPN has been putting early rounds of tennis, golf, and even the Little League World Series on Fridays live for some time now. So, as the NASCAR season approached Michigan in August, ESPN needed some help. There was no room at the Inn.

Re-enter SPEED. Friday in Michigan, SPEED rolled-out an impressive line-up to provide over eight hours of live coverage from the track. Beginning with John Roberts and NASCAR Live, the feeling was one of SPEED being back where it belonged. Every lap of every practice, every car in qualifying, and all the behind-the-scenes news was covered live and in detail. SPEED was back.

Roberts was joined on his NASCAR Live portions by veteran reporter Randy Pemberton and veteran driver Hermie Sadler. Pemberton is the big story here because he was just signed by SPEED to a new TV contract. In his on-air time, he provided just the kind of credible and experienced coverage fans had come to expect from him.

On Friday, Randy turned a simple fan question into a direct answer from NASCAR VP Jim Hunter. He then casually approached Dale Earnhardt Junior in the garage and "just chatted." Friends, the list of TV people who can do both of those things is very small.

Coming back to the announce booth for SPEED was a trio fans have come to love. Steve Byrnes, Larry McReynolds, and Jeff Hammond looked like they had never left. Byrnes is versatile and hosts both the on-track action and then Trackside Live from the SPEED Stage. His good humor and professional demeanor really bring the right touch to this sport.

Hammond and McReynolds were all over the details of practice and qualifying. These guys have been working together so long they are starting to complete each other's sentences. Now, that is just scary.

SPEED used RaceDay and ARCA reporter Wendy Venturini in the garage along with SPEED regular Bob Dillner. Both are solid professionals with very different styles, and that combination made it interesting. Dillner continues to be a little rough around the edges, but that is needed sometimes in this sport.

After handling the on-track action all day long, a very invigorated and slightly goofy crew of Byrnes, Hammond, and McReynolds joined NASCAR's "Nolan Ryan" in the form of Elliott Sadler on Trackside. Sadler has become a popular TV personality in his own right, and his brand of honesty and ability to poke fun at himself fits right in with the SPEED gang.

In taking over the entire day, SPEED proved its ability to handle this type and volume of live programming. Both in practice and qualifying, the network showed that they had not missed a beat, could roll with the punches, and were open to allowing all the announcers to contribute fully. In this stripped-down mode of three announcers in the booth and two reporters on pit road, SPEED delivered in both practice and qualifying.

Fans who hung with the network all day were rewarded with a delightfully goofy Trackside program. Kurt Busch and David Reutimann stopped-by as guests, and then the big story strolled on the stage. Dale Jarrett had missed the race, but honored his commitment to be a guest on the show.

Many are saying that DJ is going to join the ESPN stable of NASCAR announcers, and retire formally from racing at the end of this season. How ironic that he is on the SPEED stage having a blast in exactly the type of live program that ESPN would never produce. Imperfect, unruly, spontaneous, and hilarious all describe Trackside.

Kudos to Steve Byrnes and John Roberts for directing traffic on-the-air all day for SPEED. These two professionals have earned the great reputation they have with the fans. SPEED returns on Saturday to cover Cup practice, Busch qualifying, and then final "Happy Hour" for the Cup series. All in all, a very solid day for the network in a high-profile role with lots of eyes from both NASCAR and the TV industry upon them. It does not get much better than that.

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 taking the time to stop-by and leave your opinion.

22 comments: said...

Thanks Speed! My only complaint is not using the "TiVo style" format for qualifying. I hope they bring it back at Bristol next week or we're going miss a lot of cars' runs.

ESPN, let me break it down in simple terms for you:

- a TV network that covers all of the on-track action on a Friday with credible and well-respected NASCAR personalities = "the good guys" / "fan favorites"

- a TV network that only deems Cup Qualifying important on a Friday and refuses to let any other TV network show the other on-track action that they deem unimportant and also shoves countless NASCAR novices down the fans throats during their broadcasts = "the bad guys" / "villians".

Are you folks at ESPN trying to be fan favorites or villians? It certainly appears that you are striving to be the latter with your limited coverage filled with non-NASCAR knowledgeable talking heads.

vroom said...

Considering Friday's coverage was a marathon, I thought Speed did an A+ job.

Both Jarrett and Sadler are establishing themselves as good telly people!

PKRWUD said...

That was a really well written review that managed to echo exactly how I felt after spending the day yesterday watching Speed.

In a perfect world, there would be one channel on which to watch everything Nascar. Events would be coordinated in such a way that you never had to choose between a Busch race and a Truck race. You'd never have to remember which channel was responsible this week for each of the different events over the course of the weekend. And everyone would receive that channel in the most basic cable or satellite package.

Well, it's not a perfect world, but it has come a loooong way. The first season that TNT started carrying some of the Cup races, several years ago, was very frustrating for me because my cable provider didn't offer TNT as an option in any package at any price. No one I knew had satellite, so the only option was to try and find a sports bar where the regulars were willing to sacrifice one of their TV's so the "go fast guys" could gather in a corner and watch the race. No one cared about the quality of the show, we were just happy to see the race.

There's an understandable logic to one network not wanting to promote a different network that doesn't fall under the same corporate umbrella, but ESPN is well enough established that they will have an audience regardless of what sport they opt to broadcast instead of qualifying. I was very pleased to hear that qualifying and the practice sessions were going to be covered by SPEED for at least part of the rest of the season, and really wish that the powers that be would make that a permanent move, from February through November. It would be nice if the networks would put the fans first, in that respect, but you can't pay your bills with a bunch of your viewers "thank you's."

Either way, it was very nice to have SPEED covering qualifying and practice again. I've said it before, I'll say it again: ESPN never made me feel like they wanted to bring the "NASCAR experience" to me in my home. Instead they made it feel more like a chore they didn't really want to do. SPEED, on the other hand, makes me feel like they're doing it all, just for me.

And just in case the powers that be are interested in one fans opinion, Rusty is just plain annoying (so is DW, but to the opposite extreme), and PLEASE don't bring back "Through The Field."

Anonymous said...

I watched quite a bit of the coverage in the evening (which I think was replayed) and just guffawed and enjoyed the telecast. My wife, who reads while I'm watching racing or other sports, enjoyed it as well.

Good job SPEED! I'm glad your able to be on TV at the same time as ESPN.

SophiaZ123 said...

ok..I wrote an entire post, and somehow, my laptop shut down my Mozilla browser and I LOST IT!^%#$!%~

We still use 4 vcr's in this house. What, pray tell is "Tivo style format' ? :-)

I so LOVED having things back on SPEED. I had the digital tv in the LR up LOUD so I could hear it as I fussed in the kitchen and would sit down and enjoy the laps!

It was like old home week!

Trackside was a little goofy but these guys obviously like each other and were having fun...thus we feel good. I enjoyed Reutimann and DJ. Poor DJ really has pressure for Bristol. Yikes!

ESPN's coverage: they NEVER show us the cars ON THE TRACK. They cut away to show BS filler or promote EXTREME sports or other junk. They have the most annoying broadcasters in the world. They have idiotic women who grate on my nerves.

SPEED: It's all about the cars, the drivers, the track, and the set ups. Wendy does a great job as do the guys.

ESPN: Treats their friends like a bastard at a family reunion.

NASCAR, considering their 8 year contract with ESPee N, are treating the fans the same way.

Well, we can start voting with our remotes.

If ONLY FREE radio offered qualifying on radio.

SPEED, in contrast, is FAMILIAR, and FUN!!!

Thanks John for your report.

SophiaZ123 said...


I meant to say ESPN treats their VIEWERS and NASCAR FANS like a bastard at a family reunion.

I hope this place gets an edit button.

Hostingboard has great free message boards and is EASY on the dark background, easy to post but I digress.

Besides, does ESPN HAVE any friends?

:- o

But with this site, I am getting fluent in hieroglyphics (sp?) as this word veri thingie has gotten LOTS longer but seems to be friendlier.

But it's like taking a test for the KGB to post a simple comment.

I know it's to keep out the spammers, john....not a gripe.

maybe a whine. . . . .

Brian said...

I agree with basically everythink within your post there John.

Regarding ESPN, they do not one bit make anyone feel welcome. I really can honestly say I don't like anything about them.

If it wasn't for Allen Bestwick, Dave Burns, and Mike Massaro in the pits, I don't think I'd like anyone on the network.

They seem like good people, but Dr. Jerry "Sets Sail" Punch says the same things every week, and Rusty and Andy are always the same.

SPEED was just such a relief yesterday, to see Steve, Larry, Jeff, and everyone. It was just so relaxing and refreshing to finally feel welcome.

They enjoy the sport as much as we do, and it's fun to watch.

Punch and the gang seem to be there for a job, and it is not one bit fun, or anything to watch. It's horrible.

If I had direct tv hot pass or something, cya ESPN.

Daly Planet Editor said...


"TiVo Style" is when SPEED is covering qualifying. They would pause the incoming live feed when they went to commercial, then play it when they returned.

Viewers saw every car qualify, and it worked very well. It was kind of strange at the track, everyone would be gone from pit road and SPEED would still have thirty minutes of qualifying playing back on TV.

Its called "time shifting" in TV, but most folks with Tivo or a DVR know it as "pausing live TV."

At Michigan, SPEED has a tight on-air schedule and could not do this. They missed some live runs, but replayed anything they needed to when they returned.

SPEED is only doing three races, ESPN returns with qualifying and practice at Richmond.

Joanieg said...

Thank goodness Speed is back. As a Canadian Nascar fan we do not have access to ESPN and therefore missed a lot of the action, only qualifying and the race itself were shown on Canadian TSN. Also, Speed's commentators and format for qualifying is much better. My TV was tuned to Speed all day yesterday and today as well!
Thank you Speed!

PKRWUD said...

Daly Planet Editor said...

"SPEED is only doing three races, ESPN returns with qualifying and practice at Richmond."

Just had to go and pee in my Cheerios, didn't you.


SophiaZ123 said...

Thanks, John for that wonderful explanation. That was interesting to hear that long after everybody leaves, we at home are still watching cars on the track. Ha.

I am very sad to learn ESPN is only gone for 3 races.


It's going to be a LONG CHASE without SPEED coverage on Fridays.

Hell, it's going to be a long miserable 8 years with this horrible channel. :(

I am nauseated just thinking of that.

SPEED is the best!!

Anonymous said...


You pretty much nailed it with your nice article about Speed's coverage yesterday. It was, as always, outstanding.

I have to agree with everyone else's comments about ESPN, too. They do absolutely nothing to make us veteran fans feel welcome. Their coverage and reporting is so poor, it makes me feel like I'm watching 'NASCAR For Dummies'. Do they really think that just because their reporters are so inept that they have to try and make the fans feel the same way?

As always, one of my biggest gripes about ESPN is their crappy and inconsistent coverage of the pre-race ceremonies. Sometimes they'll show it, sometimes they barely start coverage in time for the green flag. Hell, I consider it pure luck if we actually get to see the flyover.

Their failure to show the opening ceremonies from start to finish each weekend for both the Busch and Cup races speaks volumes about their considerable lack of respect for our military, our country, the drivers and their families, crew members, track personnel and the NASCAR fans.

SophiaZ123 said...


John, maybe you will address this later but this IMPATIENT WENCH can't wait.

HOW MANY ESPeeN stations does it take to show ONE RACE.

S'posed to be on ESPN2.

SHuttled to CLASSIC.

I come out of the bathroom from washing my hair quickly during a commercial to see BOXING.

Switch to racing..still TENNIS.

NOW they are saying turn to ESPN.

How in the HELL are folks supposed to TAPE or TIVO a race with this crap.


Jesus, Mary and Josephine.

Are we stuck in some ESPN Twilight zone?


Ok...I feel to watch the race but honestly, the rest of you I hope are HOME to watch this race.

And sorry John if I am going off on a thread drift.

No doubt YOU will have something to write about this channel Russian Roulette.

Valiums anyone??


p.s. They are not treating us like bastards at a family reunion, ESPN just left us all at a gas station restroom while we journeyed to the race and are leaving us in the lurch. Jerks.

Anonymous said...

Referring to my earlier post today about ESPN's crappy coverage of the pre-race cermonies.......

Case in point....ATP Tennis U.S. Open Series Western and Southern Financial Group Masters Semifinals (what is the significance of this match and who cares?) was NOT cut off for the pre-race show. They put it on ESPN Classic so those who don't have satellite or extended cable got screwed there. Then, to top this off, they cut this off at 14:30 CST to go back to ESPN BUT it's not the same ESPN2 where the tennis match is still going on and where the Busch race is supposed to be. It's on regular ESPN. Yeah, I want to spend the first hour before the race chasing their coverage around the cable channels. Stupid idiots.

I need to amend my comments about ESPN's inept reporters. Rusty Wallace and Allen Bestwick are the only people that make the pre-race show tolerable.

And what is with the Canadian national anthem being sung before the races? Last time I checked, this is the United States of America and almost all of the races are ran here in the United States, not in Canada. Gee, I wonder if they sing OUR national anthem at the Canadian races?

If only ALL of the races were carried on satellite commercial free. I'd pay for that in a heartbeat.

Anonymous said...

ESPN has had us jump from one of its networks to another to even find coverage of the Busch race and now according to my cable co we are watching it on the wrong espn network! I'd like to say we are both the Rodney Dangerfield and US postal service of sports fans. We get no respect and we are SO dependable that an entire network has the presumption to assume we will trail our sport across the dial when no other sports fan would be expected to do the same under any circumstances. What gives? and where do I complain?


Anonymous said...

Everyone is so right when they say that ESPN is NOT there for the nascar fans. They just made us miss the Busch Countdown because of Tennis on ESPN2 and kids little league on ESPN. Our cable company does not carry ESPN classic. But thank god they just came back to cover the race. Everyone at SPEED are so awesome!! I love Steve & Elliott on Trackside. They bring so much humor to the show and not to mention Elliott is my favorite driver!!

I do, however, have a beef with all the networks that have covered the races in the past and present. Here is a little suggestion to make the fans & the sponsers happy. Have the camera guys start at the 1st driver & work their way down to the 43 driver. We just want a quick glimpse of the drivers & the cars. There is enough time to do that. We don't need to see the American Flag for more than a second or two.

Anyway, keep up the awesome job SPEED!!!! As far as I'm concerned, they should show all Nascar shows on Speed.

Anonymous said...

Nascar needs to do something NOW!! ESPN can't get this right for the fans. They miss the Countdown, then start off on ESPN it goes to a commercial and comes back to news about Michael Vick. Who the 'bleep' cares!!! Now it says to switch over to ESPN2 for race coverage. What if I was trying to tape the race while I was working or something??? something now!!! IF this ever happens with the Cup race, this sister is gonna go postal on ESPN. WE have to put up with this for another 8 bleepin years?????

Daly Planet Editor said...

There is a new post up for the ESPN Saturday fun. By the way, I used to manage the on-air operations at ESPN. Now you have a clue why I left.

Sadler19lvr said...

Ok, you got me started thinking... Why in the heck would SPEED let another network like TNT or ESPN over lap Nascar RaceDay by an hour???? I can't watch 2 shows at the same time and would rather watch Speed. I don't want to miss any interviews with Elliott Sadler, so what do I do? Why would Nascar allow this to happen when they put the contracts together? They need to re-evaluate their contract with ESPN. Today proved that ESPN sucks!!!!

SophiaZ123 said...

Anybody see this live streaming from

Its a good half a minute or so BEHIND the tv..and the picture is SMALL and quality stinks.

Suppose this is NASCAR trying to APOLOGIZE for ESPNFU??

Anonymous said...

Yikes! I tivo'd the Busch race! Or I think I have. I'm reading the posts to this article on Friday's coverage and you all start ranting about the 2 step shuffle on the race. I'm calling the Bristol, CT headquarters on this...forget emailing. I'm sure they don't even read them. I just want to watch racing...practice, qualifying, the race and some shows covering the race news or stories on the race participants. Why is this so difficult for ESPN. I want to scream!!!

Anonymous said...

Let Nascar know how you feel, I have. E-mail @