Thursday, November 1, 2007

Mike Skinner Reminds ESPN The Truck Series Exists

The names of the drivers roll-off the tongue with ease. Mike Skinner, Ron Hornaday, Ted Musgrave, Johnny Benson, Jack Sprague, Dennis Setzer and Todd Bodine. The series is locked in the most exciting points battle in years. The action on the track since February at Daytona has clearly been the most exciting racing of the three NASCAR National Touring Series.

Joining the stars of the series have been Mark Martin, Kenny Schrader, Bill Lester, and Stacy Compton. Regular fans of the series know names like Travis Kvapil, Terry Cook and Rick Crawford. To many of these drivers, this series is their life as well as their career. They always come to race.

Thursday afternoon host Ryan Burr led ESPN2 viewers through a thirty minute edition of NASCAR Now. Right from the start of the show, Burr was promoting the excitement of the series and the fact that he would interview the points leader.

Coming out of the first commercial break, there was a "billboard." This is the sponsor mention that is given to a company that buys advertising time in the program. On this night, a red logo appeared and the audio boomed out "welcome back to NASCAR Now...presented by Craftsman."

Finally, the Craftsman Truck Series had found a way to be mentioned on ESPN's NASCAR Now. That would be the only way this series has found to get access to the ESPN airwaves on a regular basis. That way would be to spend money. This is the sad and tired saga of the Craftsman Truck Series on NASCAR Now.

Last Saturday was the most recent Truck Series race. It was at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, with the series running right alongside of the NEXTEL Cup gang. All of the ESPN on ABC personalities were on-hand to see the Truck race. All of the footage was broadcast live on a national cable TV network.

Monday night NASCAR Now was one hour in length. Tuesday and Wednesday...thirty minutes. Now, on Thursday night the first frames of video appeared that contained the Truck Series highlights from Atlanta. What they showed was Kyle Busch rounding the final corner, doing a burnout, and waving. They lasted all of fifteen seconds.

In this race, there was a battle between the series "regulars" and several Cup stars who had crossed-over and were simply running for the win. As mentioned earlier in The Daly Planet, Kyle Busch had his window net fall down while running at full speed in the race. His solution was to hold it up with one arm, drive with the other, and not slow down. He was doing one hundred and ninety miles an hour at the time. They fixed the net during a caution, and then he won the race.

Burr never mentioned what really happened, never showed the actual highlights of the whole race, and never followed-up on any stories. What he did instead was welcome one of NASCAR's veteran drivers onto the show, and then enjoy his charm and personality. Mike Skinner is a character, and he is built for the Truck Series in almost every way. This season has been fantastic for him, and the racing he has done with his fellow drivers has been the best on TV.

Skinner speaks in plain language and makes it clear from the start that he loves to race. He is great for the sport, and great for the series. Burr asked good questions about the title fight, and Skinner gave good answers. While Skinner talked, NASCAR Now showed lots of generic footage from the series. Skinner would up the interview by remarking that he would see NASCAR Now at the season's end. He is always the optimist.

When Skinner was gone, Burr threw to the next commercial. Before it started the announcer once again said, "brought to you by Craftsman, the official tools of NASCAR." Then, amazingly enough, there was another Craftsman commercial.

Every year, lots of college students decide to study Communications. This involves a mix of journalism, radio, television, and even some marketing studies. One course that everyone takes is called Ethics. What this class does is help the students to understand that facts have to be evaluated fairly in order for a newspaper, radio program, or TV show to be taken seriously. Reality has to be respected.

Since the start of the NASCAR season in February, ESPN's NASCAR Now has routinely treated the Craftsman Truck Series as if it simply did not exist. There are no highlights or results shown on the big one hour Monday wrap-up show. When ESPN expanded this show to sixty minutes early in the season, they stated it was specifically to add additional highlights and interviews.

Somehow, the ethics of reporting on one of NASCAR's three touring series took a backseat to the fact that the series happened to air on a network other than ESPN. There can be no other explanation.

ESPN has never had a reporter do interviews of Truck Series drivers after a race. They have never done a Monday feature on the Truck Series. When NEXTEL Cup drivers mention the Truck Series during an interview, they are immediately forced into a change of subject. It is a purposeful campaign that has affected the credibility of both NASCAR Now...and ESPN as a whole.

Last Monday night, one hour of NEXTEL Cup content was shown on NASCAR Now. Many story themes were repeated over-and-over again. Busch Series highlights consisted of a short music video with no announcer. Truck highlights consisted of exactly what they had been all year long...missing.

My old friend Bob Ley heads up the Emmy Award winning ESPN News unit that produces Outside The Lines. This show examines issues in sports that take place off the field. It is a great series, and has done some fantastic work. When Outside The Lines appears on ESPN, the show needs to be taken seriously by the viewers. The reputations of the journalists ride on the credibility of their information.

In the same company, on the same family of cable networks, and from the very same building comes the only daily NASCAR-themed news program that ESPN produces. When NASCAR Now takes to the air, the studio analysts, the "Insiders," and the field reporters want to be taken seriously by the NASCAR fans. Just like Outside The Lines, the entire success of NASCAR Now rides on its credibility.

Unfortunately, even the most basic NASCAR fans know that ethics in this particular TV series have long gone by the wayside. The tug-of-war between reporting on the sport as a whole, and reporting on only the ESPN slice of the NASCAR pie has been decided. The "slice" has won hands down.

One of the strategic roles of NASCAR Now was to support the Busch and Truck Series in addition to promoting the NEXTEL Cup Series and the Chase For The Championship. This was the TV series that would "overview" NASCAR, and would also give time to the regional series and their future stars.

Back in February, ESPN's man in-charge of both studio and event production addressed the debut of NASCAR Now. Norby Williamson said "In the history of ESPN, news and information have been a key part of our growth, and it's at the heart of everything we do. We're really proud to have the opportunity to extend that on a daily basis to NASCAR Now."

Little did NASCAR fans know that it was only going to be the news and information that ESPN "chose" to share. Little did they know that "extending the ESPN brand" to NASCAR meant stepping around the ethics of reporting and being force-fed one single slice of the pie for ten long months.

Now, as the NASCAR season comes to a close, ESPN might finally be realizing how much their network credibility has been damaged by over two hundred and fifty hours of this type of reporting on one of the biggest professional sports in North America. After watching this series all year long, the only question in my mind is...what else are they not telling us?

The Craftsman Truck Series races at 8:30PM Friday night under the lights of the Texas Motor Speedway.

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.


Matt said...

I personally have no problem with Thursdays being the day that the Truck Series is featured, even if it is because Craftsman sponsors the show. I think it's a great way to promote the series if the fans know every Thursday is "Truckin Thursday." I just wish ESPN would give Thursday's Truck segment a name like I mentioned and would supplement it with highlights of the weekend's Truck race on the Sunday Morning and Monday Night shows. I think that's a reasonable and respectable way to cover the series. Oh, and one more thing that would be good for the Trucks would be for ESPN to give it their own reporter, who can interview, report and discuss the series exclusively (Ahem, Bill Lester).

drh277 said...

Ethics, you want ethics? They went away when ESPN sold their soul to the Disney Corp. ESPN did the same thing to Hockey as it has done to the Truck series. When the NHL sold their TV rights to the highest bidder, not ESPN (gasp!!), ESPN just pretended the NHL never came back from strike. No Sportscenter (unless someone got hit in the head with a stick), no sports reporters, no around the horn, no PTI, no soup for you!!!

Ann_Ominous said...

ESPN has joined the lofty ranks of IBM, AT&T, American Express and Microsoft as companies who believe their own hype and think their bleep don't stink!

SophiaZ123 said...

Well, some talk radio (non sports) has been about how HORRIBLE TV coverage is for football and other sports.

A friend of mine is going to the Ohio State game saturday. HE HATES how you have to sit there in the stands, waiting for the TV time outs (commercials) to end. It kills the momentum and sometimes the mood.

I refuse to try and watch NASCAR NOW. I WAS tempted after a favorable post this week but of COURSE, the midnight viewing was not available.

Still, I will stick with reading the reviews by JD.

I am not kidding when i say I loathe and detest ESPN so much, I will ONLY watch when held hostage during the races.

I will watch qualifying on SPEED but will try to color the roots of my hair so I wont' be TEMPTED to sit in front of it during QUALIFYING. I just scream and want to pull my hair out then anyway. ;-)

I am glad to see the TRUCK SERIES get attention but HATE they had to buy their way in. I agree with the other comments about ESPN.

STILL, JD, is NOBODY ASKING NASCAR directly for the dissing of their TRUCK and Busch series on the tv ????

NASCAR NOW is NOT bipolar. It's multiple personalities...ala Sybil.

Thanks for the update. I enjoy Skinner. He won me over very early in the season (Daytona I think?) when he dedicated his win to his late dog Opus. GOTTA love a guy like that.

I am a catwoman but totally got the sentiment.


Richard in N.C. said...

I disagree about ESPN's attention to NHL, since it seems like the former hockey player? or coach with the strange hair is on SportsCenter for several minutes just about every night during the season. I may be biased, but it seems to me that SportsCenter gives NHL an inordinate about of attention compared to NASCAR in light of the NHL's national following and I like hockey.

This week's Truck race seems to be perfect for Texas since it is like 2 old gunfighters going at one another.

Anonymous said...

JD, I don't understand what Mike Skinner has to do with this story.

Anonymous said...

Well, Erik is no where is sight. What happened to him?

I'm glad that the Truck Series was featured on Thursday. Better late than never.

I hope ESPN spends the off season making a better product for next season. Thank goodness I have a computer and can look data up, but they should be giving us information during the long green runs.

I wish they did not act as though it's only a 2-3 man race. They could keep us informed who is in the top 5 and the top 10, 15, 20. When drivers are lossing spots they could inform us.

The casual viewer may or may not know how a difference in a few spots makes millions of dollars difference when they get to New York. It would make the race more exciting to watch all these guys fight for position.

They have all this data, why can't they tell us when a driver is reaching or passing a milestone or breaking someone's record. Last week Jimmie won his 31st race in 216 races. Tony has 32 races in 317 races. That is quite a feat. JJ is getting to Tony's record and doing it by racing 100 fewer races. Nothing was mentioned. You would think that would be mentioned since they are thought to be 2 of the top 3 active drivers.

They could also show us the list of owner points as they change. Being in the top 35 also means millions and millions of dollars to the teams.

These race announcers have very little intersting to say while the race is going, why can't they go through the whole line-up. They have nothing good to say, and we would like to know about all 43 drivers. It always seems they hurry through the list of 12, and then it's just bla, bla, bla.

Thanks for the chance to vent. Sorry for rambling.


Anonymous said...

So many of us had high expectations for ESPN's return to NASCAR. It has been tragic to watch them destroy their huge reservoir of good will. I think you hit on the one major flaw in ESPN's coverage. They are not treating NASCAR in an ethical manner as sports journalists.

Most recent press comments about NASCAR on ESPN have been negative. The coffee shop anti-ESPN buzz where I live has been getting louder by the week. It is really too bad.

I sincerely hope that they regroup over the off season. They have the potential to be the best, but they have yet to show it.

stricklinfan82 said...

Well said JD. I totally agree with you about the joke that NASCAR Now has become.

It's still completely ironic that there are two Monday "wrap-up shows" on cable TV.

The one titled "Inside Nextel Cup" reviews the Cup, Busch, and Truck Series.

The one titled "NASCAR Now" only talks about the Cup Series.

Isn't that backwards, LOL?

It seems like ESPN had no idea that "NASCAR" encompasses more racing series than just Nextel Cup Series. Apparently their intent was to create a show that revolves around the Cup Series only and they didn't understand that naming the show "NASCAR Now" would create expectations among fans that they would be talking about ALL OF NASCAR and not just the Cup Series. Yet another example of how much of a debacle ESPN's coverage of NASCAR has been this year.

Just go away ESPN, the sport thrived more than ever in the 6 years you were gone and your return to the sport is completely ruining our sport and could very well drive it into the ground over the next 6-7 years. After the "NASCAR Summer Series" I NEVER thought I would say this but bring back TNT and put the Cup and Busch races there! Put them on Speed Channel. Put them on TBS. Put them on FX. Put them on PBS. Hell, put them on Oxygen! Put them anywhere but the ESPN Family of Networks!!!! It can't get any worse than it is right now.

Daly Planet Editor said...


There is no problem with Thursdays, but "news judgement" should tell you that Monday's wrap-up show should include Trucks and Busch. That is the purpose of the show as explained by ESPN to both the viewers and NASCAR.

My next column about this issue will be addressing the damage done to the Busch Series using the quotes and information ESPN and NASCAR put out when they gave ESPN the rights to every single Busch Series race.

Thanks again for your comments.


Anonymous said...

stricklinfan82 said

It's still completely ironic that there are two Monday "wrap-up shows" on cable TV.

...does NASCAR really need two different "wrap-up shows on Monday" ?? This is after 2 wrap-ups on Sunday night-
I think 4 shows in 24 hours is just real overkill..As wierd as it sounds NASCAR Now is good in that the News is spread out a little.Mon-Cup, WED-Busch, Thur-Truck...

Anonymous said...

Why did he(Skinner) not remind SPEED that their own series was having practice,qualifying and happy hour on Thursday. I saw none of this on SEED.

Anonymous said...

Why would SPEEDTV not show the Trucks on Thursday? It's not like their ESPN and have other sports to cover, They cover motorsports and I don't think their was any other live motorsports events to keep them from showing their NASCAR series practice,qualifying and happy hour.

Ritchie said...

I also feel uncomfortable with news being driven by what corporate sponsors want you to cover. I'm sure that ESPN could form an argument that showing highlights does not constitute news, and that they somehow differentiate highlights from news segments. However, on almost every show they have racing reporters giving news reports along with the highlights, and it is very difficult to tell what has been bought by a sponsor and what is strictly news content.

I realize that it is tough being in the sports business, and that ESPN wants to see a good return on their NASCAR investment, but they are being very shortsighted on every decision they are making with regard to this sport. If they want this partnership to payoff in the long term, selling your integrity to the highest bidder is not the way to do it.

Anonymous said...

This column immediately made me think about 2001 and Daytona when FOX refused to show the car hoods or mention sponsors on-air if they hadn't paid a fee to FOX.

Is this ESPN's "clever" way of generating revenue? Force the supporting series to pay a fee to get their content included in NN?

If my cynical theory is even close to the reason Craftsman felt the need to sponsor the show, then all of ESPN needs to take a remedial Ethics course.

Anonymous said...

from glenc1

Remember the old RPM2Night? One thing they did particularly well was featuring different series on different days and interviewing all kinds of people in motorsports. It was a simple format, not a lot of bells and whistles, with good informative hosts giving the news (we miss you John Kernan--glad you found a radio home). It would not SEEM that it would be so hard to bring back that format, even if this time it focused solely on NASCAR and not on motocross, drags, etc. Yet NASCAR Now is so horribly dismal in comparison. Most of the time I don't watch, so I'm sorry I missed Mike; he's always a good interview. The Trucks & Busch never get their due here. I was shocked to have seen earlier this season NN did have a few token interviews with a few lower series drivers (Busch East, etc) so you know they *know* these series exist, but why they get SO LITTLE coverage is a mystery. RPM2Night always managed to fit more in, and that was with ALL motorsports, one half hour every day.

Good suggestion from matt to make Bill Lester a truck reporter; I thought he came across well on air. And pick an 'exclusive' Busch driver too (no Cup guys...)

But John mentioned stock footage, and it's a small point but I wanted to bring that up as well. Last week another blogger noted it too. I don't know why, but ESPN's stock footage is very repetitive to the point of being annoyingly recognizable. There is a clip of a few of Junior's cars after engine blow ups that I must've seen 15 times. To the point where I noticed 'Charlie's towing' from Watkins Glen is getting a fair share of free advertising as it pushes Junior's car. Honestly, how much work would it take to vary the clips a bit, or simply show the reporter's face instead?

Anonymous said...

(we miss you John Kernan--glad you found a radio home).

His home is also ESPN where he is a full-time pit reporter with the NHRA, which is showing the growth that NASCAR had a few years back.

Desmond said...

Thank you, John, for mentioning the ethics angle! I have not thought of that.

Anonymous said...

@Matt--I agree. It's like how SPEED *used* to have daily themes such as Winston Cup Wednesday or Two Wheel Tuesday. And in reviewing some of my saved IWC shows Mondays almost were too because after IWC they had the Pick 'em Ups enhanced replay.

@Elena--it would INSTANTLY become a better product just by getting John Kernan back from NHRA or giving Allen the gig.

@anonymouses 5:31 & 7:01-as long as they've been on SPEED I can't recall Thursday Pick 'em Ups coverage. However, always has coverage on their site :). I also seem to recall a few years ago them saying that they'd cover *all* qualifying for the Pick 'em Ups, it hasn't happened.

@anonymous 9:01--yes that was what was SO awesome about RPM was they covered EVERYTHING and well even though they had to run drivers down at the Helpads and use still pictures because they couldn't show live action. I've heard two different stories on this--one I heard Fox wouldn't allow it and then another that NA$CAR wouldn't allow it.

Vince said...

JD, you mentioning ESPN and credibility in the same breath is hilarious. Just about as funny as mentioning ESPN and ethics in the same breath. I think after ESPN's sorry coverage of the races and their putrid daily Nascar show (NascarNotNow) their credibility as "the leader in worldwide sports broadcasting" is a big fat ZERO.

Erik said...

Based upon the number of people in the grandstands, NASCAR fans don't know the Busch or Craftsman truck series exist. The attendance is rather dreadful. The coverae on NASCAR Now simply reflects the overall importance NASCAR fans place on those two series, which isn't much at all. If people want more coverage, they need to actually attend the races.

batchief said...

Erik, I just looked up the capacity of Texas Motor Speedway. It is 212,585. If it is just 25% to capacity, which I believe it is at least that, there are over 50,000 people there. That is not bad for a truck race.

Daly Planet Editor said...


Normally I can tolerate your nonsense, but on this you are absolutely off-base.

One of the key reasons that NASCAR gave the entire Busch Series to ESPN was so that the network could bring all of its "multi-platform" resources to bear on improving and raising the profile of this product.

The result was ESPN2 Busch pre-race shows that never mentioned the Busch race and talked only about the Sunday NEXTEL Cup event, which was on Fox or TNT.

Early columns in The Daly Planet reflect the amazement that followed by the fans. The Busch Series was ignored, treated as minor league baseball, and then driven into the ground by ESPN this season.

In fact, NASCAR's plan calls for three different series running three different vehicles to tour the nation. With the Trucks firmly entrenched on SPEED, it was up to ESPN to focus on the drivers and teams in the Busch Series.

Hopefully, NASCAR can address in the off-season the unbalanced coverage of ESPN and assist the network in creating a Busch Series announce team that would focus on the series, including the practice and qualifying. Can you say Dale Jarrett and...?

Only quality TV exposure by ESPN in 2008 can help the Nationwide Tour to return to the status it once had as a place where fulltime drivers could make a good living matching-up against their big brothers on the Cup side.


Anonymous said...

ESPN needs to quit wasting our time with truck series coverage and focus on what NASCAR fans really want to see: the Aerosmith video.

Erik said...

I just respectfully disagree. You are putting the cart before the horse. Attendence at stand-alone Busch and Craftsman Truck races are even worse than those paired with Cup races. No matter how much Brian France wants to spin it, these are minor league racing series. Ask any truck or Busch driver which series they want to drive in. That has to change if NASCAR wants to elevate those series to the level of the Cup series.

Vince said...

Erik said...

I just respectfully disagree. You are putting the cart before the horse. Attendence at stand-alone Busch and Craftsman Truck races are even worse than those paired with Cup races. No matter how much Brian France wants to spin it, these are minor league racing series. Ask any truck or Busch driver which series they want to drive in. That has to change if NASCAR wants to elevate those series to the level of the Cup series.
November 3, 2007 12:11 PM
Gee Erik, that's an interesting version of reality you live in. Last time I looked the Busch stand alone races, Mexico, Canada, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Kentucky, Memphis, Nashville and ORP all looked pretty sold out to me. Does the Truck series have any stand alone races? I don't think so. They race with Cup, Busch or IRL races.

Like JD said, ESPN signed on for a full season of Busch coverage and they haven't delivered. Oh, they've televised the races, but otherwise they've ignored the Busch and Truck series. I'm sure that's not what Nascar expected from ESPN and I'm also sure we'll see changes next season.

Emerald Chickpea said...

I can offer a couple of compelling reasons for people to attend a Busch or CTS race.

* Tickets are affordable, and AVAILABLE, to people who don't deep pockets and/or massive credit lines.

* If you go for RACING more than for HYPE, attend a lower level race.

I attended several CTS races in NH, along with the Busch North racing. I saw good, if not excellent, racing by both groups, and was well satisfied with my trip to the track for the princely sum of around $40 per ticket.

And even though I did pre-purchase my tickets, I could have gotten tickets "at the gate" if I'd needed to, or if I'd needed to get extra tickets because I'd convinced others to attend with me.

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