Sunday, August 12, 2007

What A Difference A Race Makes For ESPN

NASCAR fans who sat through the Pocono race on ESPN were ready for action this week. With the remote in their hands, they were on the lookout for Rihanna, Aerosmith, or any other bizarre music video that somehow has become the standard for ESPN's NASCAR coverage. The mute button was at the ready. Well, what a difference one race makes.

The Watkins Glen coverage transitioned from NASCAR Countdown and resembled the ESPN of old. Straightforward and clean, Jerry Punch led an opening segment free of the non-racing clutter that has plagued ESPN's coverage. Basically, it was a wonderful change for viewers.

Punch, Andy Petree, and Rusty Wallace talked about things that mattered right off the bat, then finally led the network through an organized and respectful opening ceremony. No hip-hop beats were pounding, no guitar riffs were screaming, and the network even showed the fly-over.

During the entire pre-race, things were very different. No hype, no drama, and good information. The pit reporters were on their stories, talking about their drivers, and following the building tension as The Chase approached. Things were focused on racing, and it was great. Did I mention that?

From the drop of the flag, things were stripped-down, and it was all about the on-track action. The HD pictures and audio were again excellent, and that is always a challenge at a road course. Despite the bobble with Montoya on the radio, things were looking good after the network just rolled with the punches.

Since the beginning of the season, The Daly Planet has been complimentary to the ESPN on-track efforts of the booth and pit announcers. This race was no different, although it appears that there are some tired faces among the troops. Their Sunday efforts were even more impressive when you note that most of the crew worked over a twelve hour day on Saturday, including about seven straight hours on-the-air. That is truly a broadcast marathon.

NASCAR star and ESPN centerpiece Rusty Wallace seems to be working hard and paying attention to his early on-air issues. His vocabulary and mannerisms were mostly a thing of the past, and his comments were very candid. This is what fans want from Wallace. He does not need to know everything, just to speak up with his opinion.

Andy Petree continues to do his best Larry McReynolds imitation in terms of understanding and explaining race strategy. Is there anybody better than these two? Petree really helped viewers understand the road course mentality and how the race is actually run backwards by teams in terms of pitting for tires and fuel.

The Infield Studio and Suzy Kolber did not interfere with the racing, and only appeared to offer recaps and occasional commentary. This big change from the promotional heavy use of this group for frequent interruptions of green flag action was a welcome change. They have a place, and they may have finally found it.

The on-track action led to many moments for the production team, who often had to choose between battles for the lead, and great action back in the pack. They worked hard, and while they missed some action live, it was always replayed without delay.

Road course races offer some unique moments, like Harvick and Montoya hand-slapping like twelve year old girls on national TV. ESPN kept it together, followed-up on the story, and then stood-by while things calmed down. Showing the replay quickly to the Harvick camp helped to calm down any suggestion that Montoya dive-bombed the corner.

ESPN was intimately involved in this race just like they used to be back in the old days of their former TV contract. I mean that only as high praise. There was a focus on each lap of green flag racing as being special and telling a story that fans want to see, and understand. This week, racing was not just background for the talking heads.

Good humor was a trademark of ESPN back then, and when a fan decided to approach Matt Kenseth for an autograph in his car under the red flag, they had some good fun with it. I think this moment, in many ways, broke the tension of the race broadcast and put things back in perspective for the crew and the viewers.

The network will be criticized for missing Jeff Gordon's spin live, but he was solo and is such a veteran driver, the Director just guessed who to follow, and missed. The replay was quick, and told the story right away. They did catch Carl Edwards on the last lap, and then did the best thing ESPN has done all year long.

The camera went nice and wide, the live scoring graphic was inserted, and viewers got to watch the top twenty cars race to the finish. ESPN let viewers watch the field finish in a NEXTEL Cup race live. That was a very nice moment, and clearly let fans see their driver cross the line, and read the result.

After a tough Pocono, ESPN put in a marathon on-air effort Saturday and then followed it up with a much improved broadcast on Sunday at The Glen. Anyone who watched the efforts of this crew on both days has to have a good feeling about what the rest of the season will bring on the track. How about that for a comeback?

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 and leaving your opinion.


Matt said...

While I agree that ESPN's coverage was better, there still seems to be a chemistry issue with Andy, Rusty and Jerry. They just don't seem as comfortable with each other as they should for a team that's been workin together for almost a year. I also think that sometimes they over-analyze things and repeat themselves too often. But all-in-all, very impressive coverage. Maybe there is hope yet!

Anonymous said...

Agreed it was much better, but what about jumping to Sports Center so quick? That was disappointing. Luckily there's always Victory Lane on Speed to catch up.

Anonymous said...

I think it's utterly inexcuseable to completely miss the fourth car involved in the Harvick/Montoya/Burton incident...never any commentary from Jamie McMurray or his crew...or mention that he was hit and spun by Harvick's car...

They had a ton of time to cover that...I mean, they red flagged the race.

bevo said...

I didn't catch much of the ESPN show but the HotPass coverage was lacking. They only had one camera for each driver and instead of the driver position with who's in first, just ahead and behind each driver they were using the full field scroll. We don't need that, just push the blue button and we get the full rundown.

I did switch over to ESPN for the last lap and was surprised to see them show the end of the race with the graphic. Hopefully they'll continue that!

mymegasuccess said...

ESPN has been listening to the NASCAR racing community, which is commendable because the concerns many fans raised were legitimate. They eliminated the raunchy pop music, no draft track in this event and captured the group finishing behind the winner and runner up. The comparisons between Suzy Kolber & Alan Bestwick were a bit unfair as they serve the same role. Obviously, Alan is a seasoned NASCAR reporter but he still uses notes and basically sets up the analyst and into to the field team. Suzy might be new to the scene but is very smart and learns quickly. Like new team, ESPN and the studio are developing well. It takes a little time.

SophiaZ123 said...

huh...figures I mostly LISTENED to today's race and also watched it on tv but had company in the middle of it for awhile (taped that part, when Kevin and Juan got into a fight) but still enjoyed the radio.

Glad to hear they got rid of the acid flash back "draft track".

Maybe I will try listening and watching more TV next week. said...

I've been among the first to criticize ESPN this year for their coverage so I am going to be fair and give them credit for a very good race broadcast at Watkins Glen on Sunday.

I didn't watch the pre-race show because I was watching NASCAR Raceday so I can't comment on that but I thought their coverage of the race was very solid. They showed us all the cars cross the finish line so I give them an A+ for that. I also thought they did a good job of following battles throughout the pack all day and not killing our eyes and ears with tons of music videos and long video highlight packages such as "here is a full-screen, one at a time look at pictures of all the drivers that have swept Pocono races in the past while green flag racing is going on."

I know a lot of people have said that the Tech Center is being underused but I would prefer that the Tech Center only be used when it is necessary. I don't want to see ESPN make up random things to talk about on a racecar when there is racing going on on the track. On Sunday they were solid with only showing the Tech Center when necessary. How long did it take to get to Tim Brewer with the COT door foam illustration after the Vickers crash spilled foam all over the track? 30 seconds? Great job on getting to that so quickly.

Overall I didn't see anything to complain about with ESPN's coverage (besides missing the fact the McMurray was also involved in that Montoya-Harvick crash). Split-screen coverage during commercials would be nice if you're listening ESPN and any potential advertisers but other than that I have to give them credit for a very good production.

The race coverage is good ESPN, now if you can work on letting the fans see practices on Friday and Saturday mornings (either on your network or by letting Speed Channel air them in your absence) and adopting TiVo style qualifying without live interviews via satellite from the X-Games in the middle of the session that would be another step in the right direction. Oh yeah, did I mention working on the NASCAR Now host situation? And by that I don't mean by bringing back Doug Banks, LOL.

Daly Planet Editor said...

wow, a Doug Banks mention...that has got to mean bonus points.

Steve in Indiana said...

Only 2 things bothered me.

1. They never talked to anyone in the McMurray camp.

2. Where was Shannon Spake?

Tripp said...

Straight up race coverage... You gotta love it.

Lean and mean. That's how ESPN presented the race at the Glen. Just as it should be. Aerosmith... gone. Draft tracks, Full Throttle, stars dropping by the booth, and all the superfluous frippery... gone. And life is good.

Tim Brewer presence seems to be fading. Rusty did the v/o over the engine animation after Jr's engine expired. Conscious decision or was Tim in the biffy? ESPN continues to struggle in integrating Tim's Tech Center into the rest of the broadcast.

The booth team improved over their work in the Busch race. Practice paves the way to a proper broadcast. That or a good night's sleep. Rusty still has the most wood to chop in the booth. Perhaps it is better to accept that Rusty will always be Rusty, first to voice the things he does not like and never quite in sync with Andy and Doc. Armed with low expectations, it is encouraging to note that becomes slightly less of a drag on the broadcast each week. He can either improve or become part of the background noise. There is no third option.

Now all ESPN has to do is to get the ratings up.

cwebs said...

Yep, ESPN did a pretty good job today. They did seem to rush off to SportsCenter pretty quickly after the race, though. What was that all about??? It's not like they were leaving to cover some other live event! SportsCenter runs at odd times on a regular basis, especially on the weekends. What would be wrong with another 5 or 10 minutes of post race coverage? There were plenty of stories that could have used some closure, and several important drivers left un-interviewed.

Speaking of stories lacking closure, what ever happened to Ricky Rudd? They gave him some coverage near the end of the race and noted that he was doing well, but somehow he ended up finishing 38th. While there were plenty of more important things happening during the closing laps, they really should have at least mentioned that something happened to the 88 car. Maybe they did, but I certainly never heard it.

Anyway, despite some minor issues, their coverage was much improved today. They even managed to correctly identify the F-16's that flew over during the pre-race ceremonies! Yay!!!

Anonymous said...

The 3 guys that call the race for ESPN each week are dull and boring for the most part. They don’t add excitement to the race, which is one of the most important part of being a broadcaster. Fox did an excellent job of adding excitement to the race with Larry Mac yelling at the top of his lungs, and Mike Joy adding in. Watch the last few laps of the 2nd duel race at Daytona or the end of the Daytona 500 and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Petree just seems to “talk” all race. He seems to make the same comments time after time, and has a way to make me want to go to sleep. For example: How many times has he said that teams spend tons of time in the wind tunnel getting their aero right, then beat the fenders out with a baseball bat? Geez, what does he want them to do? Take a set of dolly’s out and get the fender perfect? He also absolutely killed the finish at Talladega in the Busch Series. Punch had the finish lining up and Petree killed the momentum with “and he gets it”. Rusty Wallace is the only guy in the booth to add excitement to the race at times. Punch is slightly better than Petree, but defiantly isn’t no Allen Bestwick or Mike Joy.

karen said...

Did anyone but me see Kurt Busch spin out about two-thirds of the way through the race and it not being mentioned by the announcers, nor shown on replay? It was the Blue Deuce, I'm sure, but the camera was covering another incident at the same time and went elsewhere. Remember at the end of the race, they said he had restarted from 22nd position and had made it into the top 10. Did he spin or was I hallucating?

Gilbert Sam, Jr. said...

They still played Rihanna, "shut up and drive." And, I thought "oh Daly" is gonna have something to say about NASCAR going mainstream...

But, I agree with the Anonymous, why SportsCenter so quickly? You bought the rights afterall, I might tune to Speed's Victory Lane?

Anonymous said...

But Rusty is still calling them "Ripple Strips".....sadly.

Anonymous said...

Coverage was better. ESPN still force fed hip-hop on us throughout the race. Who is making the call to attempt to 'diversify' NASCAR with this hip-hop crap on their broadcasts? Smells like the mainstream media is up to their old tricks again.

whatawallop said...

Talk about repetitive. Rusty Wallace said "right now" 44 times
during the broadcast (21 times during the Busch race). Sometimes
twice in a sentence.

Sal said...

Yes,there were still some glitches, but overall, this was a team that focused on the racing instead of he gimmicks and recaps! Head and shoulders above their previous efforts, and better, I think, than Fox. If nothing else, it appears that ESPN has actually been lisening to the complaints of the fans. That's something that even Nascar refuse to do. bravo, ESPN!

jfs-va said...

I'm not convinced that this will be the norm for the rest of the races. Maybe it will be, but this was a road course and a much more exciting race than Pocono. Sure, it was pretty much a given that either the 20 or 24 would win, but all the spinouts, cars going through the gravel bed, the fight, etc, all made the race itself more exciting.

Also, were all these changes a direct response to criticism? It seems like everything NASCAR fans didn't like was either removed or toned down. I still don't see the point of going to Suzy and Brad during the race.

One thing I noticed, during the Busch race too, is that Andy corrects Rusty often. For example, in the Busch race Montoya was in the pits during a caution getting his front fenders fixed and Rusty mentioned taking time to get it right. Andy jumped right in and said he can't take too long because the field is coming back around.

Anonymous said...

They did do a better job in my opinion but they need to cover the guys not in the magical 'chase'. Bobby Labonte was on track to have a great finish if not for all the yellows and the late race tangle that seemed to catch Ricky Rudd up in it too. No follow up coverage at all. ESPN not everyone is watching your broadcast because they are Junior fans.

I completely missed that they didn't show the Aerosmith deal. Thanks for pointing that out!

Vince said...

Thank you ESPN! The coverage of Sunday's race was a 100% improvement. For the most part the camera work was great. I think there were one or two restarts missed, which is inexcusable as long as the laps are under caution. Anybody in the production truck have a stop watch?? The only camera shot I don't get is the in car shot of the drivers. Back in the day this was a great shot, but now with the full face helmets and wrap around seats you can't see much of the drivers anymore. The crew caught most of the action when there were lead changes or wrecks and replayed the stuff they missed.

I still fail to see why we need Suzy and Brad to yap after returning from the commercial break. They bring absolutely NO value to the broadcast. The other sports like football, baseball and basketball; don't go to somebody after returning from a commercial break. They just return to the action. Why are us NASCAR fans subjected to Suzy and Brad after commercial? Just return to the action. Jeez how hard is that?

I'm still not a big Rusty fan. He seems uncomfortable with Jerry and Andy. And I don't think he listens to what the other commentators are saying. He tends to repeat what Andy has just said a lot. But he is getting better.

As for Dr. Jerry, he's still a pit reporter. To me his delivery in the booth as lead analyst seems forced and not natural for him. Put AB in the booth and Jerry in the pits where he excelled.

Andy is great and a refreshing change after Larry Mac and Jeff Hammond (the butcher of the English language).

There was obviously no draft track graphic this week, because it was a road course and there is pretty much no drafting on a road course. So we'll have to see if the lame draft track returns this weekend at Michigan, which is a track where there will be drafting.

All in all the coverage was a vast improvement. Keep it up ESPN!

Anonymous said...

I still think that ESPN has a long row to hoe. Jerry Punch is great as a pit reporter. (Watch him at the Hooters 500 in 1992, Atlanta.) Tim Brewer is smart, but needs some Prozac. The coverage is less than average. They only had two replays of the finish, and both angles did not show Carl Edwards complete gravel trap trip. I honestly thought he was going to blast the wall!I can do without the rap crap, as well. It seemed to me that the first third of the race was Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. It looked like Happy Hour, with only a couple of cars on the track. It also seemed like it just burns the producers that someone other than the chosen few lead the race. When Bobby Labonte had to pit after leading a few laps, I think the producers breathed a sigh of relief, and thought, "Thank God."Or in Rusty's words, "Thank Gosh."

prospector said...

I also thought the entire Cup coverage was a significant improvement. No hip-hop, etc., and no celebrity fake NASCAR fans. But this may be a short lived. Remember this was "just" a road course in a small upstate NY town. Definatly not high on the celebrity watch list.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to ESPN for a pretty good race presentation. ( I won't comment on the pre race show). The race was the star with the announcers as the supporting cast. Every broadcast has a hiccup or two, but ESPN has demonstrated that they can produce an entertaining race. I think they did a good job.

Speaking of good jobs, Speed covered the Knoxville National's for sprint cars on Sat. evening. With Ralph Shaheen, Brad Doty and two pit reporters, the program was informative and fun. In the chaotic environment of sprint car racing, Shaheen did a great job keeping the show on track.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Does anyone else find Suzy's obnoxious Yankee accent to be not unlike nails on a chalkboard?? And what exactly does she add to the broadcast?

JHD said...

It actually was fairly decent coverage, much better than anything I've seen all year. They still have a long way to go, though.

However, it would be nice if ESPN would get their collective heads out of Juan Pablo Montoya's rear end, and quit sucking up to him so much. Yes, he was going for his 3rd road course win this year, but so was someone else. Kevin Harvick. (The ONLY person to note that on air is Wendy Venturini, by the way.) JPM is not the Second Coming, please stop treating him like he is.

The only other criticism I have is that once again ESPN didn't put up the final finishing order. Yes, they let the scroll run at the top for a while, but they kept stopping at 32 or 33 and taking the scroll off, only to put it back up 2 seconds later starting at #1 again. I never saw it on SportsCenter except for the top 8 plus "notables". (Why does ESPN only show the top 8 anyway?) Good thing my driver finished in the top 15, because I would never have known otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I also thought that ESPN did a much better job at this race, although they still have a ways to go before the catch up to FOX. The information that came from the Tech Center was on subject and timely. I thought they did a pretty good job with replays telling the story as they showed them. I also was looking for a better replay on the Carl Edwards incident, like who was the car infront of Tony and Carl that may have thrown up some gravel that Carl got into. But I also understand that they have limited places where they can put cameras.

The thing that I idin't like was the fact that during the red flag they had plenty of opportunity to do a complete rundown on the entire feild and they didn't. I was interested in seeing or hearing about Ricky Rudd, Terry Labonte, and some of the others that were back in the field. I also was disappointed that they left the race so soon after it ended to go to sportscenter. The only interviews I saw were of Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. I wonder if ESPN will get fined for not talking to the top 3 finishers like they would get fined for not talking to them. Couldn't they have waited the 10 extra minutes so they could have done a few more interviews? I recorded VIctory Lane guess I'll get my post race infromation from Speed.

Anonymous said...

Sorry. I thought the race coverage Was lousy. Not the commentators, but the directing, lack of camera coverage, and perhaps placement of cameras. Do not know if same production people were involved or not but the Busch camera coverage was much better. Lot of pack racing we never saw in cup race. Several on track incidents, such as Gordon's spin were only shown on replay. Camera example was the inner loop.In busch coverage you could see drivers up close out breaking to pass going into the inner loop. In cup cameras seem to be place slightly differently and you could only see this from a distance. I think the cup race was the worst camera and director work I have seen all year.

Dick Trickle said...

I was pleased with ESPN's race coverage at the Glen. Dr. Punch, Rusty and Andy were the best they've been all year. I believe the race wrap ended quickly because they were in overtime with NASCAR and they must get SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight on before going to their Sunday night Stick and Ball game. That's understandable considering sponsors involved.

What's not understandable is that the story on the following SportsCenter about the race. It was all about Montoyo/Harvick. Same for NASCAR Now Sunday night with Klueless. Top story was Montoyo/Harvick.

Funny thing is, I pick up my local morning paper and the headline in the sports section says "Gordon Spins, Tony Wins" That was the top story - Gordon, the road course king, showed he was human and spun out with 2 laps left! Stewart ties Gordon with 4 Glen wins.

Dale Jr's engine failure was a good second headline.

Thank God for Speed's Victory Lane, which is so loose with Smoke pouring water on Spencer and the gang live on camera. Insightful questions from Kenny and Mr. Excitement. They didn't get to the Harvick/Montoya scuffle until after Stewart was interviewed and they handled it like real news pros, "good for racing, don't block a redneck, misunderstanding and Truex was the culprit."

NASCAR Now host Klueless focused on the Harvick/Montoyo thing then was shot down by the female on-track reporting who's name slips my mind and played down the entire situation, as it should have.

Loving the site John...Let's begin a poll or something to bring down ESPN's hype machine and get the "NASCAR Frat Boys" back in control at the track and on the set.

Anonymous said...

Agreed... it was much better, but I was screaming so loud my wife had to remind me they couldn't hear me when they kept showing the reply of Jeff's spin and NOT a full lap of what I'm guessing was pretty good racing between Tony and Carl Edwards right after Jeff spun and Tony had to slow up just a bit giving Carl a chance to get on his bumper.

Truly a great bit of road driving by Tony for pulling back away so quick... Even if Carl hadn't headed into the gravel, he didn't seem like he was going to be able to catch him.

Milwaukee Mullet (and proud of it!) said...

Rusty Wallace is is bona fide Nascar star. He deserves his place on TV. I can even put up with Kenny because he's a cut-up.

But, c'mon, the other two Wallaces are stinking up the joint. Steve is nothing but a crash waiting to happen and Mike is about as bland on the track as he is off the track.

So, less Steve and Mike, more other racers. Simple as that.

Prospector said...

I realize this thread is about ESPN coverage but I would be remiss if I didn't point out a glaring error by Wendy in Raceday. I really like Wendy and think she does a great job. However, in interviewing Richard Childress she opened to conversation with the statement that, "I know we are not in wine country here but etc. etc."
Just to set the record straight, the Finger Lakes region of New York, where Watkins Glen is located is second only to the Napa Valley in the amount of wine produced in the US. It is second to NONE in quality.
Keep up the good work Wendy. If I knew where to send it I would send you a bottle of New York wine.

Anonymous said...

A really good crew in the booth would not have had to wait for replays to know what was going on. "Oh, a crash..." (long pause "...yeah, he's got some damage..." (another pause)"...and, uh, well, something happened..." No kidding. I can see that myself.

They also would have noted FOUR cars in the Montoya/Harvick/Burton/McMurray wreck. But no one ever said a word about McMurray.

Dirty Burt said...
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Gallo guzzler said...
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Livin' large said...
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Livin' large said...
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Daly Planet Editor said...

The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page. Posts must address the TV issues being discussed. This is not a forum for NASCAR talk about drivers and teams. Thanks again for continuing to provide such good opinions.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! PLEASE ESPN.... PLEASE STAY WITH THIS GAMEPLAN OF COVERING A RACE. I thought the coverage was great.

It was the first time all year that I forgot about the coverage and concentrated on the race. That's a HUGE compliment because every other this race year has been difficult to enjoy because I was so frustrated with the coverage.


Anonymous said...

Can someone explain why we needs recaps from brad and suzy? Seriously... that adds NO VALUE.

I can just imagine the NFL coming back from a break and showing us a recap of the action while 1st and 2nd down are going on. If you want to show a recap show it during the caution flags not during green flag racing.

Remember... as fans we are all wondering what is going to happen NEXT not what has already happened