Monday, December 10, 2007
Final Busch Series Banquet Tuesday On ESPN2
With all of the changes taking place in the sport, it almost hasn't sunk in yet that the good folks at Busch Beer are gone. Anheuser-Busch has a long history in NASCAR of all types of sponsorships. Now, seemingly everything is changing.
Just when fans are coming to grips that Dale Junior walked away from the Bud car, now they are faced with the fact that the fun and fast Saturday races will be themed around insurance and not adult beverages.
The final one of the three televised NASCAR Banquets will be on ESPN2 at 7PM Eastern Time on December 11th. It will be the final Busch Series Banquet. As with most everything else associated with this "little brother" series, it will be the shortest of all three. The edited program will be only one hour in length.
The good news is that Allen Bestwick and Shannon Spake will be hosting the event, which was held this past Friday at the Portofino Hotel in Orlando, FL. Comedian John Pinette and the lead singer of Five for Fighting, John Ondrasik will be performing.
This series is a bit different, for a couple of reasons. First, as most fans know, it remains open to the NEXTEL Cup drivers who routinely dominate the races when their schedule allows them to participate.
Secondly, this was the first year that the entire series was on the ESPN family of networks. That is the important point for this TV column.
Back on February 8th, the ESPN press release announcing the coverage of the Busch Series was very definite in the commitment of the network to building this "brand."
"Having the NASCAR Busch Series entirely on one network is going to serve the NASCAR fan and allow us to tell a story all year long." said John Skipper, ESPN's VP of Content.
"With ESPN's full-season broadcast of the Busch Series, I believe it will help more owners secure sponsorship dollars." said Busch Series owner Kevin Harvick. "I also think that ESPN will bring a lot of new features to their broadcasts that will entice more fans to join the world of NASCAR."
The press release goes on to emphasize the manner in which ESPN will help to grow the series "brand" through their programming and technology. In addition to all 34 NBS races, the ESPN networks will also televise 17 sessions of practice and qualifying, the Banquet, and a year-in-review special.
As most fans know, the year-in-review was a thirty minute program featuring absolutely no one from the ESPN on-air staff. It was shown in non-primetime with almost no promotion. This coming Tuesday, the Banquet is sandwiched between College Football Live and a billiards show.
ESPN's two primary support programs for their season-long commitment to the Busch Series were NASCAR Countdown and NASCAR Now. Countdown was the pre-race show that featured the ESPN Infield Studio and the pit reporters. NASCAR Now was the network's daily show from the ESPN HD Studios in Bristol, CT.
Back on April 28th, The Daly Planet ran a column that got a lot of email. It was entitled "ABC Busch Series Pre-Race Show Never Mentions...The Busch Race." You can read that column by clicking on the title.
Basically, the ESPN on-air crew did a full thirty minute Talladega pre-race show for the NEXTEL Cup race the next day, which was on the Fox Television Network. The cast of characters ESPN had assembled for this big telecast on ABC was impressive. Brent Musburger was hosting the Infield Studio, and alongside was Brad Daugherty with in-studio guest Jeff Burton.
They talked about Tony Stewart's Sirius Radio show, and about "the big one" at Talladega. The prospect of a "big one" really got both Brent and Brad pumped-up. Daugherty related how he had spoken to Jimmie Johnson about how hard the racing was going to be on the drivers. Johnson was not entered in the Busch race.
Dr. Jerry Punch showed-up with his whole ESPN broadcast crew and they discussed deal making, restrictor plates, and then Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Talladega history. Junior was not in the Busch race.
The big feature of the show was Junior visiting a US Navy ship, because they were his new Busch Series team sponsor. His Busch Series driver Shane Huffman came with them on the trip. He was never seen or heard from during the TV feature.
Back in April, we wrote that Huffman was like the Busch Series itself. Nothing more than a Wooden Indian standing by the door. Everyone walked past...and no one cared.
ESPN's Mike Massaro "tagged" the feature piece live with a Dale Junior interview. Massaro asked Junior about contracts with DEI and Sunday's NEXTEL Cup race. Massaro never mentioned the Busch Series Talladega race. He was standing on the Busch Series starting grid.
The ultimate shame of this ABC and ESPN moment in time was the young man standing at the very front of the grid. Nineteen year-old Brad Coleman had wheeled his Carino's Italian Grill Chevrolet onto the pole for the first time in his career. A Busch Series "regular" was going to lead the entire field to the stripe live on national TV in only thirty minutes...at Talladega.
Young Mr. Coleman was never interviewed. He was never shown. He was mentioned once. Two hours later, he finished ninth on the lead lap behind Kevin Harvick and Juan Montoya. Next season, he will run the full Nationwide Series schedule with Brewco Motorsports with the aim of winning the series championship.
After the Saturday races, NASCAR Now had a one hour Sunday morning program and another one hour Monday evening wrap-up show. There was just one little problem with both shows. Usually, they refused to show Busch Series race highlights, the winner interview, or any additional "soundbites" with other Busch Series drivers.
On April 15th, even before the Talladega race, The Daly Planet ran a column entitled "ESPN's Sunday NASCAR Now Sputters Badly." To read it, click the title. It sums up the frustration of ESPN not reviewing their own race from the previous day, and focusing on previewing the NEXTEL Cup race which they were not even televising.
This was the ESPN TV fate of the Busch Series all season long. In a word...short-changed.
This Tuesday, that treatment will surface again. NEXTEL Cup driver Carl Edwards will walk away with the Busch Series trophy. Featured will be the NEXTEL Cup owners who "dabble" in this series, and the other NEXTEL Cup drivers who "have fun" Busch racing before they go to their "real job."
The longtime title sponsor of the series is gone. The number of teams for next season is unknown. Attendance at tracks like Phoenix was so bad it was not even made public. Finally, a NEXTEL Cup regular won the title again.
Back in February, ESPN President George Bodenheimer called the Busch Series "one of the jewels in the rough of the (NASCAR TV) deal." The press release reminded us of ESPN's seventeen Sports Emmy Awards for NASCAR, and the fact the network was credited for popularizing the sport in North America.
Now, after a full season of exposure on ESPN and ABC, the question is simple. Is NASCAR's second-tier national touring series better off now then it was on February 17th when the first race hit the air on ESPN2?
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