Saturday, October 6, 2007

Talladega Qualifying "Drama" Unfolds On SPEED

The focus of the weekend at Talladega was clearly on the fact that forty-three drivers would be piloting a COT when the green flag fell. Stories in the media centered on drafting, passing, and even the dreaded restrictor plate.

What most of the print and Internet media failed to mention was the fact that qualifying for this race was going to be a sports moment to be remembered. The words "impound race" are universally hated around the garage, and totally embraced by the NASCAR administration. This simple procedure along with the "top 35" rule has worked to create two entirely different competitions on qualifying day.

With ESPN and ABC stepping aside for both the practice and qualifying at Talladega, the SPEED team of Steve Byrnes, Jeff Hammond, and Larry McReynolds made the most of this opportunity. These three in the booth for qualifying really show the key weakness of the ESPN broadcast team. The casual and personal approach of SPEED simply cannot be topped by the formal and impersonal format of the ESPN/ABC gang.

When SPEED throws in the experienced Randy Permberton and the very well-connected Wendy Venturini on pit road, viewers cannot help but think of Jamie Little and Dave Burns on ESPN. The tone and approach of Pemberton and Venturini allows the NASCAR personalities to have fun and talk plainly about what is actually going-on at the track.

This season, we have seen several episodes where various NASCAR drivers have felt that ESPN has "violated" the normally good rapport that the TV networks covering the sport have with the drivers, crew chiefs, and owners. SPEED does not have their reporters throw softballs, but they approach issues from an informative rather than tabloid perspective.

As the Talladega qualifying wound down, SPEED could have shown the faces of the drivers and the crew chiefs as their cars were bumped out of the field. They could have shoved the microphone in their faces and said "how do you feel about that?" They did not. What they did instead was keep the focus on the action on the track and interview the personalities involved in the on-going stories of this crazy day.

SPEED's Steve Byrnes has become a very versatile announcer, and his frustration about the qualifying procedures and the "go or go home" cars showed him to still be a fan. Suggestions on changes for next year included heat races and reducing the number of teams guaranteed to race. Byrnes has not been afraid to bring-up topics sensitive to the NASCAR executives, and the SPEED team did that several times.

As the "embarrassing" afternoon of qualifying came to an end, it was clear that this was a moment that needed a veteran perspective and a calm head to explain. Though not a language scholar, Larry McReynolds has proven this year that he is far and away the best NASCAR analyst in the TV business.

Fans watched McReynolds anchor the Fox package, and then single-handedly keep the struggling TNT NASCAR coverage on-track with his insightful comments from the spinning infield stage. Often on TNT, the announcers in the booth would literally seek out McReynolds to "interpret" what was happening in the race.

Saturday on SPEED, McReynolds carefully laid-out for viewers that these normally slow cars were only leading the speed charts because of the impound format and the fact that the top 35 teams were already locked-in. He kept the two different "races" in perspective, and organized for viewers who was on the bubble, even though that driver might be in the top ten in speed. When is the last time that happened?

SPEED deserves credit for calling it like it was, with the "go or go home" cars in qualifying trim and everyone else in their racing configuration. Several veteran teams seemed to purposefully be coasting their way through qualifying, giving further proof to the mistakes in this new system.

In wrapping things up with "pole-sitter" Micheal Waltrip, SPEED's Randy Pemberton kept things in perspective and let Waltrip choose his own words when trying to legitimize the fact that he was fastest on this day. There was no need to try and put Waltrip deeper into a situation that he was already going to be spending a lot of time explaining to the media.

Unfortunately, time constraints did not allow the run of every car to be show, and hopefully this is something that the NASCAR TV partners can address for the 2008 season. As this sport continually changes, it is clear that all of the competitors should be treated equally when it comes to showing NEXTEL Cup qualifying to a national TV audience.

With SPEED Channel now reaching slightly more than seventy million cable homes across the nation, there is a real feeling among fans that the disparity between the SPEED qualifying coverage and that of ESPN may need to be addressed down the road.

It is one of the most popular Internet topics on chat boards and in The Daly Planet email. How can things be so comfortable and casual one week, and so impersonal and over-blown just one week later?

NASCAR fans will have a chance to compare for themselves when qualifying and practice for the NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series returns to ESPN next weekend in Charlotte, NC.

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.


Tripp said...

Qualifying on Speed is like slipping on a pair of warm fuzzy slippers. It's just comfortable.

If there's a better analyst than Larry Mac, who is it? He lays out the salient facts for the serious fan without talking over the head of the casual viewer. No small feat that. Byrnes and Hammond round out one of the best announcing teams covering NASCAR.

Although Speed didn't use the TiVo technique in Talladega, they did report on each driver's run. Makes sense though. The TiVo approach would have made it a longer broadcast than a Red Sox-Yankees game.

Randy Pemberton continues to impress. Maybe it's his being part of the NASCAR family or a great deal of hard work to get everything he can on the air. Whatever he has, it works. He was the right guy to interview Michael Waltrip once he secured the Bud pole and did a good job of putting his zero-to-hero day into context of his whole racing year.

Clearly there are significant cultural differences between ESPN and Speed when it comes to NASCAR. A network that spends something near to half of its financial and personnel resources living inside NASCAR is going to cover the sport from a completely different perspective than one that squeezes racing in between the major stick and ball sports. While ESPN has been trying to develop their template for NASCAR coverage, Speed had been living theirs for just shy of a decade. The results show in nearly every NASCAR program on Speed.

It's like ESPN is a pair of Bruno Magli shoes. All fancy and shiny. While Speed is more like Ugg boots. Which do you want to wear as the frost starts to form on the pumpkin?

Sophia said...

Well, even though I was HONKED OFF at missing many cars, I must say, I also love watching this gang on tv.

It's a darn CRIME ESPU will NOT allow these guys to show qualifying and practice EVERY WEEK. ESPN cares not one whit about the importance of this for the passionate, and did I mention, LOYAL fans?

And no offense but I just can hardly STOMACH the guys in the booth and the gals on the track.

The CONTRAST as mentioned in the first post, speaks VOLUMES.

SPEED has learned to give the fans what they want, have a good time, and not worry about following a script.

ESPN people act like they know MORE THAN WE DO even though they mispronounce names, can't ID the drivers,and must rely on gimmicks of an expensive, overated, hallucinatory "animation" to tell us what the draft tracker is about...I wonder what the late Dale Sr would think of this over priced junk.

I must admit, when I first got turned on to NASCAR and heard Larry Mac speak, I almost lost my mind with his um, unique use of grammar. But once I 'let go of that' and LISTEN to what he was saying, I felt like I was getting an education into this sport I immediately fell in love with.

Never have I heard a person with such bad grammer, have such detailed knowledge of what is going on at the track.

ESPN has nobody even close. Their head spinning use of too many talking heads makes me feel I am developing multiple personality disorder. It's dizzying yet WE LEARN NOTHING.

No follow up to crashes, cars sent to the garage, penalties handed out on pit, zilch, nada.

So, though I hope SPEED will never again practice the ESPN version of 'alleged qualifying', I will overlook today's event since there was a live car race going on for 10 hours. I just wished they had been FORTHCOMING up front with the fans.

SPEED has spoiled us rotten with the great Friday coverage.

But I have removed myself out of the fetal position and improved my mood with some cookies and milk.

stricklinfan82 said...

This was by far the worst coverage of qualifying by any network this year. First of all it was inexplicably tape-delayed, and since they had to get it finished before the Truck Series pre-race show, they had to edit out a ton of qualifying runs to fit their 2 1/2 hour window. There were several points where they obviously skipped 8-9 minute chunks, skipping 2 cars' full 3 lap runs (including the warm-up laps) and then the warm up and first qualifying lap of the next car. Plus, just like ESPN, they skipped several go-or-go home cars. This is especially inexcusable at Talladega, because not only are the go-or-go homers the most important story because of the go-or-go-home drama, but because of the impound we knew those cars would end up occupying the pole and the other top 8 qualifying positions. Kevin Lepage was completely ingored during a break and they missed the provisional pole run of Brian Vickers AND THE POLE RUN of Michael Waltrip. Completely ridiculous and poor coverage.

The guys in the booth did a pretty good job following the go-or-go homes situation as each go-or-go homer ran. The only issue I had was seeing them go crazy when Carl Edwards ran on the apron in the tri-oval during his lap. Tons of cars did that very thing throughout the day, but when Edwards did it right at the end of the session they went nuts saying how they have never seen anything like that before.

Wendy normally does a good job but I thought she struggled today. She asked Villeneuve a question about how the bump-drafting felt in practice when we all knew he only practiced in single-car mock qualifying runs. Then she ended a question to Joe Nemechek saying "and unfortunately you knocked out Scott Riggs". How is Joe supposed to respond to that? I'm sure he didn't feel too bad about it.

As an aside, the impound rule is terrible. As Larry Mac said, it doesn't save the go-or-go homers any money because they still work on qualifying trim, and gives them a huge disadvantage in the race. Today, what was it, the top 11 qualifiers were go-or-go homers, and Dale Jarrett, who qualified 8th, has to start 43rd because that's where the 8th fastest go-or-go-homer has to start when the champion's provisional isn't used.

Ugh, I am completely disgusted with Speed and NASCAR right now.

Anonymous said...

agree w/stricklinfan82. speed has been great all season. yesterday was not one of the best days. larry mac great as usual. dont like the impound rule . hope one of the top 8 go or go home win to prove the point.

Anonymous said...

Miserable job of covering this event, SPEED. (We're lucky it isn't typical.)

When you miss the run of the fastest car in qualifying, you've screwed up big-time.

Anonymous said...

The different "feel" of NASCAR between SPEED and ESPN reminds me of a personal situation: In my company, a very reliable employee was promoted to supervise the company's most productive unit of workers.

The new manager had always conducted himself "by the book". One thing he could not abide was tardiness. It did not matter whether a worker was 2 minutes late or an hour late. If caught, they were all sent home for the day. The unit's production rate spiraled downward as a result.

Like the new manager, ESPN broadcasts NASCAR by the book. If "X" happens, they always react with a predictable "Y" in response. There is little flexibility. While often technically superior, the empathy and emotion is somehow missing in ESPN broadcasts. A near perfect ESPN production seems to lack soul.

SPEED's seat of the pants style, personified in the Byrnes, McReynolds and Hammond team, provides fans with the very same information. However, their emotional investment in the sport is obvious. SPEED's productions can be a little rough around the edges at times, but one cannot deny that it is a labor of love.

With their tape delay, I already knew, via the Internet, much of the qualifying information SPEED was relaying. Even so, the passion of the broadcast team kept me tuned into the event. However much we might object to the way a program is produced, there is little the announcing team can do about it except to keep talking. Even in SPEED's edited version, the "soul" component was there.

Anonymous said...

Daly I think you are correct here re Speed v ESPN on this weekend's coverage. Speed stepped up to the plate (pun intended) and delivered. I have stayed glued because of the events this weekend offered: Franchitti, Speed in the ARCA race, JV in the Truck race, Cup quals, etc. SPEED has done a nice job. I will always come back to my two bones of contention with them: reduce the fake MW's presence significantly because he isn't that good at all and is self-serving (seems in the real world this would be looked at as a conflict of interest); and quickly -- as in a NY minute -- fire the absolutely fish-out-of-the-water Jimmy Spencer (and put on a criminal tribunal of the guy or gal whose brilliant idea it was to hire that fool). What on Earth were they smokin? Other than those two items SPEED in on track (pun intended). It will indeed be interesting to juxtapose the coverage by the two networks this weekend: the informal yet workable coverage of SPEED v the in-your-face Aero Push, dumb-down-to-the casual fan circular coverage of ESPN. And by the way for you at SPEED who do look at these posts I did do this weekend what I have never done before in over 40 years of listening or viewing NASCAR coverage: I did turn on SPEED to watch the truck race because of JV (I am becoming a fan of JV and hope he can ride this difficult transition because I do think he is a brilliant racer), BUT I DID MUTE the sound because I cannot stand to hear MW's shrill, inexperienced voice over the airwaves as he tries to do whatever he does in the booth. I did turn on my Bose and get the audio from MRN. Those guys are professionals, they don't try to drive race cars and announce, they just announce. And to my surprise this was WAY WAY better than hearing MW pitch his view -- again in many many ways in the REAL world MW as a real-time driver/owner and in the booth is just a conflict of interest. So this is real.And by the way Phil parsons and the other guy in the booth are very good and this part of your coverage works. So you should be proud of the job you do but you have a couple (MW/JS) of kinks to work out. Hey maybe you guys can bid on this Cup coverage when the contract is up if ESPN doesn't improve. And by the way I still think a Punch, Petree, and DJ trio would be awesome in 2008 (I have no dogs in this fight whatsoever). But it was clear to me that those guys have a lot of chemistry -- they should they are boyhood friends. And with some coaching on the rough edges of ESPN's overall coverage, that just may be the ticket to getting back to the premier spot ESPN used to be.

Anonymous said...

I love SPEED qualifying, but it was NOT LIVE! It was on tape delay. They had no excuse for not showing Waltrip's pole run. I only know it was on delay because a friend of mine is at the race and he called me as soon as qualifying was done and said that Waltrip was on pole and Gordon qualified like 50th.

I told him that speed was just showing Jeff Burton's run. He said that it was already over and the SPEED guys were out running around in thier COT cars for a taped segment for Raceday.

Just thought I would let everyone know that it was not Live qualifying.

Anonymous said...

I was shocked it was not live. I took the day off work to watch all of the action from the track and just assumed SPEED was carrying qualifying live.

Granted, I should have done more diligent work on my own to see when qualifying started but I trust SPEED with all of my heart and assumed they would be live.

How horrified do you think I was when I cranked up PitCommand on and turned on SPEED and found out 10 cars had already run.

Oh well, I guess there's not much I can do about it now.