Friday, September 14, 2007

ESPN Kisses And Makes-Up With Ragan And Sauter

The ABC telecast was barely off the air when the email and comments began to fly all over the Internet. Sometimes, NASCAR fans can dial themselves in on a key TV topic immediately, and last Saturday night in Richmond was no exception.

The ESPN production crew that originates all of the races on ABC really had a tough night. From the hilariously disjointed pre-race show to missing the race restart after an extended Red Flag period, things had not gone the way ESPN had planned.

Suddenly, as the race was in the final fifteen laps, the action was really rocking at last. The racing was great, the stories were good, and there were two names in the top five that absolutely no one expected. Johnny Sauter had come through the field more than once to then wind-up with a fifth place finish. But, there was even a better story out there.

Sauter had been topped by the tenacious race of former outcast David Ragan who used a motivational bump from Casey Mears to up his intensity and finish second. Imagine, Ragan avoided the contact problems of his past, raced cleanly into the top ten, and ended his night with a career best third place finish.

In the recent past, Ragan has been routinely thumped in the media by both reporters and other drivers as the "out of control" rookie who had no business in the NEXTEL Cup Series. Now, even the cantankerous Tony Stewart offered his congratulations after the race.

Down on pit road, lots of people dropped-by the Ragan car to chat about his effort. Unfortunately, there were several key people missing in action on pit road.

The ESPN pit reporters assigned to Ragan and Sauter's pits were nowhere in sight. Even as Ragan and Sauter spoke to the MRN Radio reporters and the other assembled media, no one from the TV network that was carrying the race live was walking that way.

There were four ESPN pit reporters, two announcers in the Infield Studio, three booth announcers who called the race, and good old Tim Brewer in the Tech Center on-hand for ESPN's production team that night. None of them talked to David Ragan or Johnny Sauter on live TV. They finished third and fifth respectively.

The pit reporters and their assembled cast of cameramen, audio techs, producers, and security guards scampered back and forth on pit road. Each and every time they walked right by these two. ESPN had one thing on its mind, and that was The Chase.

Despite the heroics of both Ragan and Sauter, ESPN decided they were not the story that best served the TV network's interests. Viewers who watched the Richmond race know that Dale Earnhardt Junior fit that bill. It was only about The Chase, and the fact that Junior has missed it again. Basically, it was all Junior all the time.

In reality, of course, Junior had a snowball's chance of making it in and he knew it. Only when the ESPN announcers openly rooted against Kevin Harvick by showing their enthusiasm when he had problems did this "network agenda" emerge. It was almost scary to see, as suddenly the thought that Junior might "be in" began to take shape. Jerry Punch and Rusty Wallace could barely contain themselves.

But, all good things must come to an end, and that is certainly true with some of the DEI engines this season. After Junior's powerplant expired with five to go, his live extended interview put the official "cap" on ESPN's best-laid plans.

With Junior having said his piece, albeit somewhat painfully, ESPN continued to interview the remaining drivers in The Chase. Most of the interviews made little or no sense, because what the drivers wanted to talk about was the race, and what the network wanted them to talk about was The Chase.

Meanwhile, Ragan was pushed aside and relegated to SPEED Channel's Victory Lane show and offering some soundbites for NASCAR Now. At least he got to tell his story to someone. The best part was, it was a very good story.

This Friday, ESPN2 took to the airwaves from Loudon, NH with the qualifying show for the NEXTEL Cup Series. Shortly after Punch, Wallace and Petree did the mandatory Dale Junior recap, something interesting appeared. That something interesting was named David Ragan.

Punch welcomed Ragan to a seat on the Infield Studio set in his driver's suit, which he would need for the on-going live qualifying. If there were any lingering hard feelings, they were smoothed-over long before Ragan took to the air on ESPN2. His nice smile, professional appearance, and well chosen words really drove home the point of just how much great content ESPN missed last week by not speaking to him after the race.

Punch and company could just not say enough about Ragan, or his race last week. It would seem that somewhere in the NASCAR and ESPN "TV shotgun marriage," somebody got a little talking to. Even Rusty Wallace involved Ragan in almost every comment he made as the cars circled the track.

Eventually, Ragan himself slipped away to qualify. After several more cars attempted to qualify, something else interesting appeared in the Infield Studio. His name was Johnny Sauter. Still in his drivers suit, Sauter appeared nervous and high-strung, just like NASCAR in Primetime had portrayed him.

That's right, the other driver that ESPN had ignored on their ABC Richmond telecast had been the featured driver on ABC's Wednesday night primetime NASCAR series. After being thoroughly profiled along with his fiance, Sauter had driven the race of his life only three nights later. What a shame ESPN chose not to "tag" Sauter's NASCAR in Primetime appearance with a live interview in Richmond.

Thankfully, ESPN put both Ragan and Sauter on-camera several times during qualifying, and asked them both to participate as a guest analysts as the session rolled-on. Jerry Punch was falling all over himself to recap the strong finish of both of these two "young men" in Richmond.

It certainly would have helped this "make good" feel a lot better if Punch has just come out and said ESPN was sorry that during the confusion of interviewing The Chase participants on the ABC Richmond broadcast that Sauter and Ragan had "been missed."

As it was, both drivers got on-air time, the fans and NASCAR got calmed down, and ESPN delivered as close to an apology as anyone is ever going to get from a huge corporation like its parent company Disney.

In the long run, perhaps this was a valuable lesson learned for the "new" NASCAR on ESPN production team. Even in the era of the "artificial play-off format," NASCAR fans still want to hear from the key participants in the live and exciting race they have just watched. Even if their names are not Earnhardt.

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.


SophiaZ123 said...

Well, to be honest, I did not see any of the qualifying shows as I decided to just NOT WATCH ESPN unless I have to as I complain so much about them. That said, I am sorry I missed the interview with Ragan and Sauter. Better late than never.

But like you said, JD, an honest little apology would've been nice.

This whole Chase format is nauseating already. Heaven forbid we also like drivers outside the race. We won't be seeing them until next February.

Quick sidenote. Anybody see Glenn Beck? He had ONE HOUR with Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth. I caught the last half hour but heard NO PROMOTION of this and missed it if on Jayski.


Don't think so...if that were so, the CHASE would not have been invented AND we woulda seen Ragan and Sauter interviewed the NIGHT they deserved it. But thanks for the update John.

Anonymous said...

I was not able to watch the qualifying session today. I am glad to learn that ESPN made amends about overlooking the two drivers. Hopefully, that is indicative of a sea change in their priorities.

Whoever the ringmaster is of ESPN's TV circus seems to have created an A through D priority list of drivers to cover, rather than letting the racing action dictate who gets face time.

It is hardly Dale Jr's fault that so much of the ESPN/ABC coverage centered on him. I've seen misguided comments blaming him personally for the Junior Show at Richmond. His popularity was being exploited for ratings.

Now if ESPN will just tell us the finishing order of Busch races....

Matt said...

The funniest thing about the David Ragan interview was that I think David gave better analysis of the qualifying than either of ESPN's "paid" analysts. What does that say about ESPN's "hired help?"

stricklinfan82 said...
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cwebs said...

matt -

I was thinking the exact same thing!!! I was kind of hoping that Ragan might offer to trade places with Crusty on Sunday...


stricklinfan82 said...

ESPN still doesn't understand how to cover qualifying.

If you are going to do live coverage of qualifying and not the TiVo style version that let's us see every car run, DO NOT USE UP YOUR COMMERCIAL BREAKS WHILE THE GO-OR-GO-HOME CARS ARE RUNNING. Yet again we saw wastes of air time like Kyle Petty and Kenny Wallace's qualifying runs and missed the go-or-go-home cars of Sam Hornish, John Andretti, and Kevin Lepage make their laps.

Qualifying is about 2 things - the pole and the go-or-go home cars. If a car is either a pole threat or in danger of missing the race, that guy matters. All other cars are irrelevant.

If anyone at ESPN is reading this, here's the "NASCAR For Dummies" list of the car numbers that are acceptable to skip over for commercial breaks:

6, 7, 9, 15, 16, 18, 19, 25, 26, 38, 40, 41, 42, 43, 45, 66, 70, 88, 96, 01 (if Mark Martin is not the driver)

If any of these car numbers are in the top 10 in Friday morning practice... oops I better slow down here, that thing that goes on at the racetrack on Friday mornings that fans used to be able to watch live on Speed Channel before you bought the exclusive rights to it and decided to do NOTHING with it, then remove them from the "commercials acceptable list".

In the worst case scenario, if the entire top 10 in qualifying practice were on the above list (which will NEVER happen by the way, except for maybe Talladega or Daytona in the draft) and Mark Martin was in the #01 car, that still leave spots for 9 commercial breaks. NINE!!! For God's sake this isn't rocket science!

As an additional aside, when a car is on the track qualifying, NASCAR fans (you know, the only people that are watching qualifying in the first place) would rather see the live qualifying run instead of a highlight package of the spring New Hampshire race.

Hopefully this "NASCAR for Dummies" session will produce some kind of change in ESPN's abysmal qualifying coverage.

cwebs said...
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cwebs said...

JD -

Did Ragan get interviewed on Victory Lane last week? I thought they had "Chase Fever" just as bad as ESPN did that night. I don't remember either Ragan OR Sauter appearing on VL.

I don't remember any appearance or mention of either driver on NN this week either, but I may have missed something while fast-forwarding through…

I guess today’s qualifying coverage by ESPN was generally acceptable, though they virtually ignored the story of the 49 car getting disqualified. After making a big deal of Scott Riggs bumping Boris Said out of the field, there was no explanation for how Boris ended up making the show. As they reviewed the qualifying results at the end, Punch simply mentioned that Said qualified 43rd. Anyone watching the broadcast was left to figure out for themselves what had happened.

They couldn’t even be bothered to cover the story on NASCAR Now, either! About halfway through the show they interviewed Boris, and it was left up to him to say “I guess they threw the 49 car out”. No further explanation was ever offered. Where were ESPN’s intrepid pit reporters?? I guess ESPN couldn’t make time to cover the story properly - they were just too busy with all their pre-planned CHASE HYPE!!!

My favorite Rusty Moment of the Day was when he decided to create a new word, or I guess a new contraction. During Tony Stewart’s qualifying lap, the left-front wheel on the 20 car momentarily locked up under heavy braking. They cued up a replay, and instead of “left front wheel”, Rusty came out with “left freel”, or maybe it was a contraction – “fr’eel”. I swear, that guy is one of the best unintentional comedians around…

Oh yeah, BTW – SPEED was all over the Riggs/Said/Andretti qualifying story during their edition of “NASCAR Live!” that aired at 5pm (the same time as NN). Bob Dillner was down in the tech inspection area, and even managed to catch some temporary tech issues with the 10 car in addition to the disqualification of the 49. Later on, they had interviews with both Said & Andretti about the situation. They still managed to include plenty of CHASE HYPE too, but at least they were also paying close attention to actual events at the track, unlike ESPN!

Despite the silly antics of Rutledge Wood, I’d have to say that SPEED is winning the weekend so far. Just barely though, because ESPN scored some significant points by having Ragan and Sauter on during the qualifying broadcast. Let’s see what happens with tomorrow’s coverage. Somehow, I think ESPN’s tape-delayed broadcast of NNC Happy Hour is going to get lost in the college football shuffle…


Prospector said...

If a top 3 finishing driver is nit available for interview after a race he is fined by NASCAR. (see Tony Stewart & Greg Biffle) Why didn't NASCAR fine ESPN for not interviewing David?

When David showed up on the qualifying show I made a bet with myself that before the qualifying was over Sauter would appear.

This was such a thinly veiled attempt at pacifying the fans that it was sickening.

Anonymous said...

Can't believe ESPN devoted so much time to the expert analysis of David "Crash" Ragan. He's been a menace (although perhaps recently overshadowed by Juan Problem Montoya) to other drivers all season; then he has a good race and suddenly, he's an expert?

Even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut.

Don't use an appearnce on a show as some kind of an apology for an earlier mistake.

And, yes, ESPN needs to pay attention to where it runs breaks during qualifying. There's very little drama in the event--why in the world would they dilute what there is by missing the drivers who need to make the race on time?

Once again, we see that ESPN does not understand the sport it is covering.

Anonymous said...

Why didn't NASCAR fine ESPN for not interviewing David?

Because ESPN didn't sign an agreement to do so. The drivers do.

Anonymous said...

I had NASCAR Live and NASCAR Now on my DVR when I got home yesterday. Fortunately I watched NASCAR Live first or I wouldn't have had any idea about what happened with the 49 and the troubles the 10 was having in post-qualifiying inspection.

Another forgettable day for ESPN. Even the highly-praised Ryan Burr said Matt Kenseth is the only Ford in the Chase yesterday on NASCAR Now...

ESPN is lucky practice is going to be rained out today since they would be subject to tons of criticism for not showing Happy Hour live.

Anonymous said...

Another great write. Thanks Daly!

Mike24 said...

I did watch the Glenn Beck show with Burton and Kenseth, and even though Glenn Beck readily admitted he had no knowledge of NASCAR he did a respectable job with the interview,"to bad espn couldnt take some humble lessons from Beck". And your right on with the assement of Jeff Burtons comment on how NASCAR only changes rules for the fans. I have the utmost respect for Burton but he missed that call by a mile! As a fan for over 30 yrs he couldnt be more wrong from my point of view. Tell me this Mr. Burton what rule was ever changed for the fans or for that matter when have they ever listened to the fans?
As for Rusty Wallace in the booth rooting for Jr. I thought he was going to pee his pants at one point....geeze Rusty and all of you media types let this guy go and have a life. Rember there is a big field out there like Regan and Sauter etc. etc.
Daly keep up the good work, perhaps someday the powers to be will remember who the fans are and thanks to you they will hear how we really feel not how they think we feel.

Prospector said...

I am well aware that the drivers sign a contract that includes media responsibilities.

My comment that NASCAR should fine ESPN for not interviewing Ragan and Sauter was total sarcasm.

SophiaZ123 said...


I have also heard or read horror stories NASCAR has made race tracks NOT FAN FRIENDLY. Richmond and Martinsville make it a pain for those with campers. One of those, even though close to the track, makes folks walk a long way and I have read similar comments about Fontana and I can't remember about Phoenix.

Yes, I thought Jeff Burton was WAY OFF BASE as well and could not believe my ears. Glad somebody else heard it as well. :-) He sounded like waltrip then and I DO like MW

(sophia runs out of room before an errant shoe flies her way :-0 )

The complaints here are EXACTLY why I have given up trying to watch TV on Friday with PeeSPN covering things.

They simply urinate the fans off and appear to take pride in their LOCKING OUT SPEED who's shows at LEAST GIVE THE FANS ALL THE WANT AND Deserve.

Well, except for that Tattooed creep and the Rutledge nonsense...but I can take R in small doses.

I wish there was a repeat of the Glenn Beck show...i would like to catch the repeat.

Oh, and on MY TV, I DID NOT SEE RAGAN or SAUTER on Victory Lane either, Cwebs, or who ever commented.

Anonymous said...

obviously certain people do not give one iota about what others think.
To say "that are acceptable to skip over for commercial breaks:

6, 7, 9, 15, 16, 18, 19, 25, 26, 38, 40, 41, 42, 43, 45, 66, 70, 88, 96, 01 (if Mark Martin is not the driver)"
Is unacceptable mainly because those of us who are fans of those drivers rarely get to see then while the race is in progress so why shouldn't we get to see them in qualifying? And I'd like to know why its ok to miss the 01 car if Martin isn't in it? Please.
Its not ok to miss ANY of the cars. Do what hockey does: arrange for short breaks to run commercials. Wouldn't hurt anyone to wait 1 minute while 2 commercials run. and yes, I pull for one of the cars on you who give a crap list.

stricklinfan82 said...

Ask and you shall receive.

First off, I agree that we shouldn't miss anyone qualify. That's why I'm a huge advocate of the TiVo style format that lets us see every car run.

My basic point is the top drivers should always be shown because, simply enough, they are the best drivers. TV should never skip the Jeff Gordons of the world obviously. I took the top 13 in points (the 12 Chase drivers and Dale Jr.) and threw in Mark Martin on weeks he runs because he would be in that group if he had run a full schedule and made them the "untouchable drivers". They should also show every go-or-go home car, because qualifying is about two things - the pole and who misses the race.

If any of the other drivers (the guys 14th-35th, I kept both the 21 and 22 off the list because they rotate 35th seemingly every week) are not fast in practice they are not likely to "pull one out of the hat" and contend for the pole and they are not in any danger of missing the race so if ESPN has to skip someone they should skip exclusively drivers from that group.

They should start with 35th in owner's points and count up X number of spots until they fulfill their commercial obligations. If they know they need to fit in 10 commercial breaks, skip the guys 26th-35th in owner's points. If any of those guys happen to be legitimate pole threats based on practice speeds, remove them from the "skip list" and take the 25th, 24th, 23rd etc. teams to fulfill your commercial list. There should never be a scenario where anyone as high as 13th or 14th would end up being skipped under this format.

I'm sick of seeing ESPN show the guys in the back part of the top 35 in owner's points like Kyle Petty make their back of the pack qualifying runs and then skip the go-or-go homers like Sam Hornish, John Andretti, and Kevin Lepage.

I'm sorry if your favorite driver is in the bottom part of the top 35, but he is there because his team is not running well this year and on qualifying day those guys should be last in the priority list of guys that need to be shown because they're almost never pole threats and not in any danger of missing the show. Unless Kyle Petty, Jeff Green, Paul Menard, Tony Raines, etc. are very fast in practice or draw 1st or last in the qualifying order draw (TV's never going to skip the first or last qualifier) they should NEVER get priority over the top drivers or the go-or-go homers.

I don't like seeing anyone skipped on qualifying day, but if ESPN insists on skipping someone they need to skip the worst of the top 35 in owner's points. Does that make sense anonymous poster?

stricklinfan82 said...

To specifically answer your question about the 01 car. Quite simply it's a top 10 car when Mark Martin is in it and it's a 30th place car when Almirola or Smith are in it.

If there was no top 35 rule, then I would say ESPN should skip the worst cars in the field if they HAVE TO skip someone. Because there is a top 35 rule there is extra emphasis on the guys 36th through 50th in owner's points, so instead of skipping the worst teams in the sport they need to skip the worst of the top 35 teams.

Again, I don't like seeing anyone skipped but it makes more sense to skip the 35th place team than it does to skip a go-or-go homer. Yes, Jeff Green has outperformed Kevin Lepage all year but on qualifying day Kevin Lepage is a more important story.

cwebs said...

stricklinfan82 is absolutely correct. If they're not going to do the semi-delayed style of coverage where they show virtually every car, then they should carefully plan out which cars are the best to skip over.

Unfortunately, ESPN isn't savvy enough to recognize the ramifications of their own decisions. Probably, they figured that the only really important thing was to make sure they included all the CHASE drivers, plus Jr. Any further complications were beyond their understanding!

I was more bothered with their almost complete neglect of the Riggs/Said/Andretti story yesterday, but their inability to grasp the relative importance of the various cars during qualifying was irritating too.


stricklinfan82 said...
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stricklinfan82 said...

You're absolutely right cwebs. I didn't watch qualifying on my DVR until late Friday night and I turned it off right after the last car went. I went on Jayski right after that and saw that Andretti was DQ'ed. I was stunned to see your comments about ESPN skipping that story so I went back to the DVR to watch it myself and you were exactly right. As they left the air their starting lineup display had already kicked out the 49 car and put Boris Said in the 43rd spot with no explanation and NASCAR Now completely ignored the story too (I didn't DVR NASCAR Now on purpose, I just allowed my DVR to run 3 hours longer in case qualifying happened to get delayed).

I just figured that the 49 car's DQ came hours after qualifying was done. For it to happen while ESPN was on the air, and for them to know about it (based on their graphics that removed the 49 for the 98 car, they obviously knew about it) and not report it, that's a complete joke. ESPN just doesn't get it.

It's one thing to be completely clueless as to which cars they should be skipping over for commercials, but to deem the story of a go-or-go-home team getting DQed "not newsworthy" is COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE.

Shame on ESPN.... yet again.

Anonymous said...

@sophia--it was more than an interview, they were actually part of the qualifying show, so they were there giving their 2 cents and all. I missed Glenn! I'm bad about checking the email that his updates go to! Dang it!

@stricklanfan82--Yes I was doing some head scratching there too and I watched it. When I flipped over to NA$CAR Live (had NN recording) and they talked about it. I'm like I JUST watched qualifying and for darn well know that there was no mention of it at all...