Saturday, January 12, 2008
ESPN Mum On Jarrett's Role In 2008
Back in April of 2007, Dale Jarrett officially joined the NASCAR on ESPN announce team as a "part-timer." The network press release said that Jarrett would appear on ten Busch Series race broadcasts for ESPN2. As we all know, things changed drastically from that original plan.
As both Rusty Wallace and Dr. Jerry Punch struggled with their new roles, DJ was often a frequent guest on the ESPN and ABC races. Alongside Suzy Kolber and Brad Daugherty, Jarrett used his personality and his Dale Carnegie training to quietly cement himself a place in each telecast.
Often, as the race progressed, the members of the broadcast team would begin asking questions directly to Jarrett, even though he was sitting in the Infield Studio as a "guest." The entire direction of the telecast shifted when Jarrett was present.
Unfortunately, this left the flaws of the TV crew exposed for all to see when suddenly they were left without Jarrett's presence. Momentum in TV usually goes in only one direction, and it was very clear by season's end that the wheels had come off the ESPN NASCAR train.
Now, we turn our attention to the 2008 ESPN2 line-up of Nationwide races that begin in February. Several weeks ago ESPN put out a press release about their plans for the upcoming season. It was the subject of a Daly Planet column, which can be read by clicking here.
It was well written, clear and very concise. It contained the story of their continuing commitment to the series, and that once again each race would be live and in High Definition. What it did not say is who would be announcing...any of it.
Over at DaleJarrett.com the news stories talk about new crew chiefs and testing schedules as if 2008 will be a full season of racing. There is not a word about Jarrett's potential break-out year as a TV commentator for ESPN and ABC.
Last May, former ESPN broadcaster Ned Jarrett joined his son as an analyst in the ESPN2 booth for the Busch Series race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. From the start, the senior Jarrett did not miss a beat. It was clear he was prepared and had done his homework for this one single Busch Series assignment.
He did not mispronounce a driver name and remained excited about the racing action from the green flag through the last lap. Ned Jarrett is 75 years old.
This season, there is growing pressure to heighten the presence of the younger Jarrett on the ESPN and ABC races. No one is questioning Rusty Wallace's dedication, but often success or failure on TV is a direct result of a color analyst's own personality. It either works, or it does not. Rusty's intensity sometimes got him in hot water with the teams and the fans.
Wallace also suffered from being the "face" of the ESPN technology like Draft Track. Forced into races and into situations where it did not fit, Rusty was on the hook for information that sometimes seemed to be slightly less than credible.
We expect ESPN to announce their on-air line-ups this week for the Nationwide Series races. Since they do not return to the Sprint Cup events until months down the road, the choice of who will participate in the final seventeen high-profile events might be delayed. For right now, fans only want to know what personnel the network will roll-out at Daytona to greet the new Nationwide season.
These choices will either go a long way toward re-establishing ESPN's credibility, or continue their apparent problems in dealing with NASCAR as a major professional sport. Thursday, February 14th at 9:30AM Eastern Time the Nationwide Series takes to the track for Daytona practice on ESPN2.
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