Sunday, April 15, 2007
The solid performance turned-in by the announcing crew of the NASCAR on Fox telecast was again upset by the decisions of the Producer and Director from Fox Sports. After an incredible performance by the booth announcers, the pit road team, and even the Hollywood Hotel gang, it seems incredible that TV viewers nationwide saw only two cars cross the finish line in Texas. Let me say that again. TV viewers saw only two cars finish the race.
When this happened at Bristol, I said it was a big problem. When it happened at Martinsville, I said it was incredible. Now, at the huge Texas Motor Speedway, Fox asked viewers to watch a multi-hour race and then showed only the top two cars crossing the finish line. This is a fundamental failure that NASCAR must correct.
It is almost like Fox has adopted a policy that NASCAR fans are now so stupid they think the race is over when the winner crosses the line. How else to explain this incredibly bad decision that immediately flooded The Daly Planet inbox? Every fan understands that when the winner "wins," the rest of the field is still racing!
As if this incident was not enough, the announcers in the booth were clearly trying to call the remaining cars coming across the finish line, where drivers were battling door-to-door throughout the field to get their best finish. The Fox Sports Director even tried to cut back to Jamie McMurray, only to show two cars already finished driving away from the camera. This was just a fundamental mess on an Emmy Award winning telecast. Why?
Drivers that fans had watched for three hours deserve to be seen ending their race. Drivers that fans love, are endlessly loyal to, and proudly wear their colors deserve to be seen ending their race. Drivers whose sponsors advertise on the NASCAR on Fox telecasts and spend millions of dollars in support of their team deserve to see their car cross the finish line. Period.
What in the world has happened to the NASCAR on Fox production team? Whose bright idea is this, and how do we end it? Both ESPN2 on the Busch Series, and SPEED on the Craftsman Truck Series do not have these problems. They both celebrate the entire field finishing, and follow the other close finishes throughout the field until the race is done.
This is the third column that has been forced to skip over the wonderful aspects of a NASCAR on Fox telecast to register the shock and dismay of not only The Daly Planet, but the NASCAR fans who cannot believe they never saw their driver finish the race. As I mentioned earlier, what in the world is going on here?
During this season, RaceDay has been the best NASCAR-themed television show on any cable or broadcast network, hands down. This two hour extravaganza plays host to very serious discussions of NASCAR issues one minute, then features Kenny Wallace completely goofing on something ridiculous. Earlier this season, The Daly Planet referred to it as "Speed-a-palooza." Host John Roberts and reporter Wendy Venturini have established themselves as top TV professionals in the sport through their performance on this series.
Normally, Jimmy Spencer knows his place. As a retired driver with a questionable reputation, Spencer is a great foil for both Kenny Wallace and the numerous guests that appear on the program. He has kept himself well-informed, and grown into a much better television personality with each passing season.
On Sunday, Wendy Venturini presented an excellent two-part feature on Max Siegel, the new President of Global Operations for DEI. During the report, Mr. Siegel and Venturini mentioned Dale Junior's sister Kelley, who is his agent and business manager. It is no secret that getting the two Earnhardt "camps" together is Siegel's key goal. The end of the report led back to the set, where Jimmy Spencer waited. Then, all hell broke loose. And Jimmy Spencer may wind-up regretting it.
"Theresa Earnhardt gave Dale Junior his opportunity to race." It was with those ominous words that Spencer began his comments. After making sure that Junior knew his place, Spencer moved on to Dale's sister, Kelley Earnhardt Elledge. "I am shocked that she kept her middle name. Why keep Earnhardt? I think her ego is so big and she is backing Theresa and Max (Siegel) into corners. She's not a good negotiator. If she was working for someone else they would probably fire her."
Spencer continued his comments with "I think she is using ego to control this direction, and Dale needs to be careful about it." Now done with Kelley, Spencer switched his aim back to Dale Junior, and was very eager to invoke the name of Dale Earnhardt Sr. as the basis of his argument.
"There are a lot of true Dale Earnhard Sr. fans who will lose respect for Dale Junior (if he leaves DEI)." Spencer stated "I don't think Dale Junior needs to leave the organization. I don't like what Kelley (Elledge) is doing...how she is putting them (Theresa and Siegel) in corners."
Spencer closed with "Dale and Theresa and Max need to sit down and get this worked out. If the old man was still living, he would kick Earnhardt (Junior's) butt. I would hate to see that organization fall apart."
Whatever Spencer's motivation, his attack on Kelley Elledge was poorly timed. It has been well-documented that she had just undergone serious surgery, and is in the process of recovering. While she was on-hand at the opening of JR Motorsports new shop this week, she is far from full strength. In addition, RaceDay has always gone out of the way to be fair to all parties involved in NASCAR issues. This time, there was no Earnhardt Junior or Kelley Elledge standing by with Wendy Venturini to address this discussion. Had they been there, Spencer may have been singing a completely different tune.
I believe we have not heard the end of the reaction to these comments on national television. If the print media takes the ball and runs with it, there may be bigger issues on the horizon for Jimmy Spencer than his apparent hatred for Junior's sister.
UPDATE 9PM EASTERN TIME SUNDAY 4/15/07: On the Victory Lane program airing Sunday night at 8PM on SPEED, Jimmy Spencer issued an apology to Dale Earnhardt Junior's sister, Kelley Elledge. In reference to the comments detailed above, Spencer said he "kind of took it personal and he is sorry for what he said to Kelley." From this quote, I believe we can assume that Spencer felt he was somehow representing the interests of Dale Earnhard Sr. in his commentary during the RaceDay program. We can only see what repercussions these strong comments, and this brief apology, have on both the Earnhardt family and the fans.
ESPN had some 'splaining to do on Sunday. After making a major commitment to re-energize the Busch Series this season, big problems overtook the network before race time on Saturday. For the second time this year, ESPN allowed a live telecast of a women's tennis semi-final match to cancel the pre-race show, and run into the allotted time for the actual race. Then, live NHRA qualifying pushed the re-air of the race in prime-time back a considerable amount on Saturday night.
NASCAR Now took to the air on Sunday morning with the usually responsive Ryan Burr as the host along with Stacy Compton and Boris Said in the studio. Right from the beginning, it was clear that this was not the normal Ryan Burr, and this was not the normal NASCAR Now.
There was absolutely no mention of the Busch Series race in the opening segment of the telecast. How is this possible? For some strange reason, Brad Daugherty appeared live from Texas to address the age-old issue of missing a race. Said Daugherty, "if you miss the race, you lose momentum." He added, "its a real morale deficit if you do not get to participate on the weekend." What? Excuse me Brad, but where are the Busch Series race highlights and the interviews with the top five drivers and the winner? Michael Waltrip's team went home because of owner points. They did not fail to make the race on time. Brad described the "thousands of people" that companies bring in for races, and how its a shame when the car does not then race. Let me ask a question. Do you think Ward Burton's team brought in thousands of people from "State Water Heaters?" How about Kevin Lepage and his "MyAutoLoan.com" car? What is Daugherty talking about, and why is he doing it on national television?
NASCAR Now went on to run a day-old interview with Mark Martin and Shannon Spake addressing his return to the track. ESPN is having trouble digesting the fact that Mark is running a part-time schedule. They want controversy and problems, and what they are getting is NASCAR. Ryan Burr dramatically asked Stacy Compton, "what does it do to the field to have Mark Martin back?" Stacy looked at Ryan and said, "not a lot." When will ESPN get that NASCAR is not about drama? We don't have Pedro Gomez following Barry Bonds, don't have Dice-K shadowed by Peter Gammons, and we don't have Pacman Jones in handcuffs again. Focus on the racing!
As if things could not get more off-track, NASCAR Now actually ran a feature on the pretend Jeff Gordon vs. Jimmy Johnson "controversial finish." Race fans across America had to be shaking their heads. This two week old "non-story" could only appeal to the stick-and-ball guys at ESPN. Ryan Burr actually asked Stacy Compton if "there is any fall-out from this?" Again, Stacy looked puzzled and said, "no, I don't think so...they are still friends." He almost had to stifle a grin at the level of racing comprehension by ESPN. Boris Said, alongside on the set, did not have the same level of self-control. He was laughing.
Still waiting for the Busch highlights, Shannon Spake appeared to address the "Texas bump." Tongue-in-cheek firmly, she described the Texas repairs as "an implant for the track." Thanks to Dale Junior for coining that phrase. Ryan Burr then asked the studio panel, "doesn't every track have its quirks?" You could have knocked Compton and Said over with a feather. Burr then asked if this was "an over-blown issue?" It didn't take Compton more than a second to politely say, "I think so."
Incredibly, NASCAR Now picked raceday to dig-up the two day old story of Kelly Elledge addressing the DEI situation. This was on raceday with the cars on the grid. It was a last ditch attempt at drama. But, Marty Smith came on and politely told Ryan Burr that Junior is fine with everything, and "does not even talk about it." How much more embarrassment can ESPN take from their own reporters and analysts? Continuing to air dated material on raceday, ESPN then aired a piece about the Wednesday opening of JR Motorsports new shop. What this has to do with NEXTEL Cup racing, Texas, or raceday is beyond me. Imagine, ESPN ran a feature on the opening of a new Busch Series shop before they ran highlights from their own Busch Series race. Absolutely incredible.
Finally, Ryan Burr introduced the video highlights of the exciting Busch Series race from Saturday on ESPN2. The entire highlight package ran fourteen seconds, and showed absolutely nothing. Matt Kenseth crossed the finish line even as Burr described a "great pass" for the lead to win the race...which we did not see. Nothing has surprised me more than NASCAR Now's total disdain for the Busch Series, which was never more clear than in this program. Once again, it was treated as a minor support race, with short highlights, and then dumped for more NEXTEL Cup drama.
Brad Daugherty returned, and picked his three NEXTEL Cup favorites for Texas. Brad is great on-camera, highly-respected, and well-educated. The only question remaining is, why is he on NASCAR Now? He categorized Jeff Burton as "on-track to become one of the legendary great racers of the circuit." No reason why, of course, because Daugherty just speaks in general terms about everything.
The focus of the Sunday version of NASCAR Now on ESPN at this time of the season is to recap the racing activity from the previous day, and preview the racing activity about to happen. This version of NASCAR Now failed miserably. What happened? RaceDay on SPEED did a two hour program that gave fans a tremendous overview of what was happening at the track, what happened since the cars arrived, and what the race holds in terms of the teams and drivers. No drama, no controversy, no problems. Just information.
Earlier this week, when NASCAR Now failed to mention the start of the NASCAR Modified season, I said it was a "swing-and-a-whiff." This entire one hour version or NASCAR Now was three painful strikes in front of a sold-out crowd. Please, Ryan Burr, walk back to the dugout with your head hung down. This was one hour of absolutely painful television.