Sunday, January 20, 2008

SPEED Will Glimpse Nationwide Series Reality

Executives at ESPN will be glued to their TV screens at 7PM on Monday evening.

What they will be watching is SPEED's continuing coverage of NASCAR Pre-Season Thunder. This will be the first time that everyone gets a TV reality check on the health of the Nationwide Series for 2008.

The creeping concerns began last season, when the Busch Series often had teams filling out the field that were rather "colorful." When the series traveled to California, Las Vegas and Montreal the rumors of "tow money" to teams that made the trip were rampant. Needless to say, team sponsorship problems for the series made things rough.

One important thing to keep in mind is that the Nationwide schedule is ESPN's only full NASCAR Series. On the Sprint Cup side, they cover the final seventeen races, less than half of the season. The network is not involved in the Craftsman Truck Series telecasts. Where ESPN is concerned, the Nationwide Series in many ways is their franchise NASCAR TV property.

That may sound strange to some, but think about it for a moment. Without a doubt, the Sprint Cup has a higher profile. Unfortunately, ESPN does not become involved in that series until the Brickyard 400 is run in late July. The presence of the network in NASCAR racing from February through almost August is solely the Nationwide Series.

It would seem then that the network would focus their resources on the build-up of the first race at Daytona. Currently, their presence at the Daytona testing is reporter Marty Smith who has been reporting for ESPN News and SportsCenter.

As the teams continue their testing, it is going to be fascinating to see how many of the cars are independent Nationwide teams, how many are "race for fun" teams owned by Sprint Cup drivers, and how many are "driver training" teams run by current Cup owners. The first two days of this Nationwide test had no TV coverage.

The Monday evening program will give us the first "reality check" of the overall health of the series that ESPN will be producing for the entire season. Along with meeting the drivers who will be racing, we will be seeing what sponsors are coming along for the Nationwide ride, and what teams have just enough money for Daytona, and nothing else.

This was the situation that NASCAR has worried about since the decision to insert the COT into the sport fulltime. With the hard splitter, the fixed wing, and the inability to shape the body, one very big thing changed for 2008. Now, absolutely nothing is to be gained for the Cup teams by racing in the Nationwide Series.

No information about shocks and springs and set-ups or anything else will translate between the Nationwide and Sprint Cup cars. One popular school of thought was that the Truck Series would better serve the Cup teams as far as set-up information was concerned. It was going to be interesting to see which Cup teams chose which support series to run in 2008.

Now, we will get our first look at the number of teams, the quality of the teams, and who will be driving. SPEED is going to have an unusual opportunity to break new ground, as this is the first time that the Nationwide Series has raced alongside the COT. Hopefully, this issue will be explored by John Roberts, Phil Parsons and Ray Dunlap in Daytona.

So far, the SPEED team has done an outstanding job of interviewing top crew chiefs and drivers as both the Sprint Cup and Truck Series teams tested. Monday, however, may bring a brand new reality as many of the cars on the track at Daytona might not be seen after that race.

It will be important for SPEED to take the temperature of the Nationwide Series, and then report honestly on the overall health of the patient. After the Monday diagnosis, it may be the TV executives at ESPN that suddenly need a very good doctor.

Reminder: ESPN Classic's continuing series of Daytona 500 highlight shows airs at 2PM Eastern Time on Monday. Set those DVR's and TiVo's to watch Derrike Cope's moment in the sun. The Monday program is two hours in length.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

The Media tour begins today in charlotte from what I've seen on Jayski and Brian France usually gives a speech and makes announcments today. Is this going to be on the show tonight or on ESPN? The schedule in your original Preseason Thunder writeup shows Media tour programs Wednesday -Friday on Speed with Nationwide from Daytona today and tomorrow as you write here.

Surely if Brian makes a big announcment or statement it will be on the show though he's not in Daytona.

Anonymous said...

JD, I don't have any optimism that the Nationwide series will improve for the 2008 season. It's been going downhill for years with cup drivers racing in the races - JUST FOR FUN or cup teams stealing sponsors away from the Busch Series-only teams, and the worse yet is so many Busch teams closing their doors. I love the old timers who are, unfortunately, watching the races from their lazyboys instead of being in them!

Anonymous said...

It may be early to comment on the health of the series, but the fact that SPEED is the one doing the diagnosis is pretty sad in itself, considering ESPN is the one with the Nationwide series broadcast. IMHO, it's part of their job to be the cheerleaders for giving this series proper attention, which is obviously NOT happening--no wonder teams can't find sponsors.

Best case I think would be for Nationwide to go back to doing what it did best--a place for developmental personnel and teams, as well as a place for medium level sponsors who can't afford Cup to still be involved in racing. And some of the teams were very consistant with experienced drivers who chose not to go to Cup (guys like LaJoie.) Worst case is, with the economy being what it is, we continue to lose sponsors/teams who don't find their ad dollars well spent here.

I have mixed feelings about the 'Sprinters' running in Nationwide--I have been to the 'then Busch' series races that were stand-alone, as well as those run tandem with Cup. Obviously, attendence was a major difference. But you had a lot more locals who could actually afford tickets at stand-alones, which you'd think would be a boost for regional sponsors (including some who may be involved in Camping World East & west.) It takes a lot of work, I would imagine, to arrange those multiple sponsors as they do in Cup, only you'd have fewer personnel to do it (the business side, I mean.)

As far as the drivers go, they claim they learn nothing, but I don't believe that--even with different cars, I think they learn some characteristics of the track as the race goes on. If they continue to flood each tandem race, for 'fun' or whatever, I personally would limit any given race to the top say, 7 or 8 Sprinters and the rest go home. If it ends up not being an issue because of the COT--well, perhaps it can go back as it was. As far as 'sponsor stealing'--well, I think those sponsors probably wouldn't have been interested in the first place unless they had the Cup guy.

I know analysts have expressed concern about the Truck series then ending up with the same problem (Ray Dunlap or Bob Dillner, maybe???) But I think you have to cross that bridge when you get there; the same ideas would apply though.

E-Ticket said...

This is from the TV column in today's USA TODAY. Imagine if they would do this for NASCAR but nooo they had to do it for TENNIS. Maybe they should watch their tennis broadcasts for ideas for NASCAR

Here is the quote
"ESPN2 stayed with live coverage of tennis' Australian Open, rather than taking scheduled programming breaks, to produce nearly 15 consecutive hours of live action."

Me again..
Wow... Would it be cool if they could do that for only a few hours. But I guess I should learn to love Tennis just for decent coverage..

Daly Planet Editor said...


The TV coverage of the media tour starts on Wednesday. Any announcements made today during the annual R&D stop will be carried by the mainstream press as news.

I would suggest keeping your eye on, Yahoo! Sports, or Jayski.



Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 6:37AM,

When you get a chance, could you drop me an email at please?

Links to other sites and promotions for third party articles need to be run by me first. We had a big problem early last season with this issue.

I have never heard of that site, and I would be happy to review any content that you would suggest.



GinaV24 said...

I'll look forward to seeing what Speed covers on Monday for the Nationwide series, but if Brian France is on flapping his gums, I probably won't tune in for long. I'd like to see the Nationwide series go back to being what it used to be -- a training ground and opportunity for up and coming drivers or for teams/sponsors that couldn't afford the $ of Cup entries. I always enjoyed the Busch series until it was ruined, in my opinion, by so many Cup teams coming in and beating the snot out of the regulars.

Unknown said...

Why does Nascar allows its second most popular division (Nationwide) live or die based on the Cup series? If Nascar wants the Nationwide series to grow and be a stand alone series, they need to divorce it from the Cup series influence as they did with the Truck series. The truck series has shown that you can have exciting racing without 1/2 of the drivers being from the Cup series. They need to do the same with the Nationwide series.

The deal ESPN has with the last 17 races and all of the Nationwide series reminds me of the commercials you see on TV. But wait, if you purchase the last 17 Cup races of the season right now, we will throw in the Nationwide series free (plus additional shipping and handling).


Anonymous said...

I find it sad that so many fans are saying such negative things about the sport. Their is no optimism or anything to look forward to in your minds, and everything is NASCAR's fault and nothing will every improve. What caused this kind of thinking in NASCAR fans? And don't say one season a bad coverage, because that should not be enough to bring down such a major sport.

GinaV24 said...

Anonymous 12:26 -- that's the thing, it isn't just one season that has caused many NASCAR fans to have such negative opinions of the sport. This is a cumulative effect based on decisions made by NASCAR since 2001. The suits in Daytona wanted to take it so "mainstream" that they alienated many of the long time fans AND they forgot that its supposed to be fun for the fans. I still enjoy the sport, just not as much as I once did when the driver's had some personality, when the tracks were unique and I wasn't inundated by all of the "hype" and feeling like it is WWE on Wheels. The decline in viewership and attendance has been happening for several years. I think that NASCAR thought it was just a blip or a leveling off; I don't think they realized that it was going to be a significant drop.

Anonymous said...

Is the full field clause still in the contract with ESPN? I think we will see local drivers from Nascar North ,South,East and West showing up at the tracks along with Arca drivers with one race sponsorship. I haven't seen any ads on ESPN touting the start of the Nationwide racing season. Fox has been hot and heavy on their Daytona kickoff. I wonder what kind of paint scheme BIG MAMA'S WAFFLE HOUSE will have?

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 12:26PM,

Nothing in life is harder than change. To begin the discussions about why and how things need to change might be only slightly less difficult.

This site is not about the racing, the drivers, or the management of the series. It is simply about how and why the TV networks present the sport in the manner that they choose.

Sometimes, the choices result in absolutely memorable moments that are going to be with us forever. But, sometimes things get out of control when the agenda of the network over-rides the agenda of the sports itself.

No one asked TNT to show us non-stop promos for their shows in every race at every moment and then run more promos attached to the commercial breaks.

No one asked Fox Sports to have us join them for a three hour telecast, and then to be shown only the winning car finishing the race.

No one asked ESPN to assault us with non-NASCAR experienced announcers and features and cut-ins and updates and interviews and everything else...but the race.

Nothing is more frustrating that sitting at home and being handcuffed by the very TV network that asked you to come and watch the race.

What would happen in an NFL playoff game if the camera stayed on the quarterback after he passed the ball...and then they replayed the touchdown catch?

What would happen in the NBA if a player put up the winning shot at the buzzer and the camera showed the players reaction...and then replayed the ball going through the hoop?

The simple answer is, all hell would break loose. The bottom line is, that is exactly what happened in many situations to NASCAR in 2007 and the fans are here saying it better not happen again.

Holding a TV network accountable for doing the job they promoted and told you they would do is fair and honest.

We did that all season long in 2007 and affected a lot of discussion and change. If we do it again in 2008, hopefully it will continue to positively affect the NASCAR TV product that you see at home.


Anonymous said...

Yesterday as many did,I watched the Packers,Giants game on Fox. i found myself watching how they placed and timed the breaks for ads and compared it to the Nascar coverage. They didn't miss one play. They were always back on time for the snap after a short time out was called on the field. If they can do that with football, why should we ever miss a restart at a race? Is there more fear of the football fan than the Nascar fan? The networks have the knowledge to give us great coverage as shown by the football coverage. Why can't they just apply it to the racing?

Anonymous said...

you cannot compare the coverage. In football there is someone on the sidelines that will not let the game continue unless the TV broadcast is on the air. You cannot do that with NASCAR. NASCAR does not have a job like that where someone is saying, don't restart yet, coverage is not on yet. So, it is not because FOX can always come back right before a play, it is because football officials wont let the game continue until the broadcast returns. it is sometimes called a "TV timeout" in football. We definitely cannot that in NASCAR. I don't think a "TV caution flag" would work well for anyone.

Andy Marquis said...

I think you're being unfair. CBS missed snaps, CBS got carried away in irrelevant conversation. FOX does football best. FOX and TNT do NASCAR best. It's not FOX needs to do NASCAR better, the problems are ESPN's mickey mouse graphics and amateur commentators.

I still think the entire IndyCar Series screw (minus Marty and Scott) should go to ESPN NASCAR and they should swap them around and give IRL the amateur pit road commentators (well, Brieene is an amateur but she's better than Jamie Little). The only people ESPN should keep are Brad, Allen and DJ.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'm really glad that SPEED is continuing the coverage and that they are covering the media tour. If it was on ESPN, I wouldn't watch a single minute of it.

I agree that the Nationwide series needs a lot of help with sponsorship and that the teams need money to stay in the series. I don't agree that Cup drivers shouldn't be allowed to race in the series, though, which seems to be how a lot of fans feel. As far as I'm concerned, the Cup drivers (mostly the veterans), have more than paid their dues and I think they've earned the right to run a partial or full-time Nationwide schedule if they want. Change the point system so that the full-time newbies benefit more. Reward them with more money, too.

There was an article on over the weekend about the veterans retiring, about how the drivers (even the youngsters in the Truck and Nationwide series) are less and less accessible to the fans, about how the fans don't know much about the new drivers and what they are like. The basic gist of the article was that there's a disconnect between the fans and these newer drivers. The long-time fans do not identify with the young drivers because they know nothing about them. There's also the fact that most of these guys came up the racing ranks fast because their parents had enough money to give them the best equipment possible and that they never worked on their own cars because they had a small crew that did it for them. Not all of these kids are working a day job, or two jobs trying to scrape money together for the next race at their home track-mommy and daddy are providing all of it for them. Once they have a Truck or Nationwide series ride, these guys aren't out there among the racing public meeting fans, signing autographs or showing any part of their personality. All the fans get is what's on t.v. during an interview.

This is why I like it when Cup drivers are in the Nationwide races, including my most favorite driver, Bobby Labonte. If there were no Cup drivers in the Nationwide series, I wouldn't watch them and I wouldn't attend the race, either, even though I'm a season ticket holder at TMS. The reason for this is that there are hardly any young, full-time Nationwide drivers that I identify with, that I know something about. Sure, it's great that Steve Wallace is running the series but I don't know a thing about him other than who his dad is. What's he like? Is he nice or is he a jerk? Is he one of these drivers who doesn't want to be bothered by his fans? Or does he love to autograph stuff for them?

Jason Leffler is one driver that I know a little bit about just from reading about him and seeing interviews. Back when he was with JGR in the 11 car, he had an autograph session at his souvenir trailer at TMS so I went and stood in line and got his autograph on a cap. He was very nice and seemed to genuinely appreciate the people who came to see him. Other than this, I really don't feel that I know enough about Jason Leffler to where I'd go to a Nationwide race without any Cup drivers in it.

Why aren't these new guys having autograph sessions at their souvenir trailers? Why don't all of them have souvenir trailers? Or, at the very least, souvenirs at all?

Now if I were a young whipper- snapper with a Nationwide series ride, be it part-time or full-time, I'd love to see Cup drivers in the garage. That's an opportunity to talk with them about their career, hear some really great stories and ask for advice about certain tracks or something.

I think these kids are very fortunate that they do have Cup drivers who are willing to share information with them, willing to mentor them like Mark Martin did with David Ragan a couple of years ago.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 6:24am said
"Why aren't these new guys having autograph sessions at their souvenir trailers? Why don't all of them have souvenir trailers? Or, at the very least, souvenirs at all?"

This might be another reason to require that some of these "youngsters" stay in the minor leagues for a few years. If they had to learn to suck up to sponsors and fans they'd be a bit friendlier and really know what "payin' yer dues" means.
The racers used to bring their fans with them to the big leagues, now they fly right through the lower tiers no one knows who they are or where they came from, especially when daddy pays all the bills.

elena said...

The article in over veterans retiring and the old fans not connecting to the new drivers, is further proof why advertisers value younger viewers. Old folks just are so set in the "good ole days" and "the way things were", that they don't buy new products.

How many older fans are going to start drinking AMP? How many are going to buy a Wii? How many know how to text-message?

That's one of the reasons Jr is such hot property. Could Rusty sell AMP? No way jose. Could Bobby? No. Could Kyle? YES.

I took a survey in one of my classes (college) a couple of years ago to see how many had a cell phone that was over 12 months old? NO ONE! Some of these students had had as many as 5-6 phones already.

As companies come out with new products, they will find the athlete who can "sell" that product. Try to get an older person to eat sushi, vegan food, Thai food, pay $270 for Nike's, buy a new computer every 12 months, or a camera, etc.

This should be a wake-up call to older drivers who are looking for sponsors.

I think some NASCAR fans should take a page from other sports. When Kobe Bryant and LeBron James became pros at 18, they were embraced by fans and many retired players. The fans rushed to watch them play. They sold out home games. The same with Tiger Woods. I see what respect Tom Brady gets from fans and the retired quarterbacks. The same with Payton Manning.

Youth is the future. I hope more people embrace them. It would help if older drivers did not dis them so much. Thank goodness for Mark Martin! Now there's a guy who loves youth.

Anonymous said...

I think it might be good for some of the younger drivers to stay in Nationwide.

Kobe and LeBron are parts of teams, so it's easier for person 30 and up to support them at age 18. They've been supporting that team all along.

Jimmy Spencer said who do you see at the track with David Ragan and Reed Sorenson t-shirts? It's true. If they'd won a Nationwide championship or two, they might have a bigger following.

Plus some of them might learn some humility. I'm 28, and I remember Denny Hamlin (same age as me) on RaceDay in the middle of his rookie year two years ago talking about his new plane. He bought a plane his rookie year! It immediately turned me off him. Contrast that to Kasey Kahne who probably has more money than Denny abnd is a year younger but just bought a plane recently, before the beginning of his fifth Cup season.

Then Denny bought the lot next to Joe Gibbs at the end of his rookie season and built a bigger house than Joe. JD Gibbs joked even he couldn't afford to live there.

It's that kind of arrogance - from a two year 'veteran' - that turns people off. Some of the Nationwide drivers might be Denny-like in their attitude toward Nascar and what it can get for them if they get to Cup. Staying in Nationwide for a while might temper that.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 6:54--the answer is they DO. Have you been to a 'Nationwide-former Busch' race lately, or surrounding community events? I have several autographs from 'Busch' drivers. They do their time, and the ones I've met have been very, very nice. I know they can't be everywhere, but they do what they can. The more hype, the harder they are to get to, but they are there, they know the drill. And the NASCAR East series (not sure about West cause I haven't been to a race) was always fan friendly, especially to kids. Having a souvie trailer costs money not all of them have. Sometimes there are sales at manufacturer or owner rigs, you just have to look.

Anonymous said...

Plus some of them might learn some humility. I'm 28, and I remember Denny Hamlin (same age as me) on RaceDay in the middle of his rookie year two years ago talking about his new plane. He bought a plane his rookie year!

That's not about humility, it's a sign of very bad money-handling skills.

There's no safety-net for drivers who lose their rides, and it's just stupid for a rookie to be throwing money around like it'll always be there.

Of course, that's something the old-school guys understood, because they actually earned that money.

Anonymous said...

Youth is the future. I hope more people embrace them.

Give me a reason. So far, what I see is a bunch of guys who act as if they're owed their Cup ride.

Look at Denny: he was thrilled to be in the Show his rookie year. But by the second year, he was trash-talking, nothing was ever his fault, the crew wasn't good enough, his car was bad...

Who can support a kid who says things like that?

Anonymous said...

I appreciate SPEED’s coverage of the testing. Being basically an easy-going positive person, I have hopes that the NW series will have good TV coverage by ESPN this season. During a race weekend, I attend/view all of the racing activities of all three series. Same goes for ARCA or any other series that races during that weekend.

I dislike labels being assigned to groups of people. When people are labeled by gender, age, geographical location, etc., etc., the labeler is showing bias and is usually wrong. As a veteran fan, I enjoy both veteran and newer drivers. It all depends on the driver. I have met veteran drivers, rookie drivers and in betweens; some I liked and some I didn’t. Again, it all depends on the driver.

Cup drivers have been racing in the NW series since the beginning. Some seasons more, some seasons less. I’ll leave any changes up to the NASCAR officials. I’ll attend/view the series in whatever form.

There are teams in all three series having difficulty finding sponsorship money. It will sort itself out. If sponsors are only looking for a teenager to sell their product, they are very shortsighted. Veteran fans come in all ages and newer fans come in all ages. I imagine most people purchase products for people other than themselves. I support NASCAR sponsors, even if I don’t buy their driver’s merchandise. I appreciate the NASCAR sponsors making it possible for me to attend/view my sport.