Wednesday, February 13, 2008

ESPN Daytona Press Conference Reveals Changes

Wednesday morning, ESPN held a press conference in the Infield Media Center of the Daytona International Speedway. Several items were discussed, some good questions were asked and one big announcement was made.

First, the announcement was that Ray Evernham will be joining the NASCAR on ESPN team for the entire 2008 season in a variety of roles. Evernham was a frequent guest in the Infield Studio in 2007, and he seemed to work well with the ESPN crew.

NASCAR Now will feature Evernham on their Monday roundtable segments, and he will also appear on other days to add opinion and commentary to that series. Up in the announce booth, Evernham will be the Lead Analyst for the Nationwide races from Mexico City and Loudon, NH.

Finally, Evernham will appear during the pre-race NASCAR Countdown show for selected Nationwide races, including the upcoming event from Daytona. While that ends his racing obligations, ESPN has said that Evernham will appear on ESPNEWS and on SportsCenter as needed during the season beginning with Daytona.

In this press conference, Rich Feinberg from ESPN once again stated that he was proud of the network's NASCAR efforts last season and that this year was going to see some changes.

"Draft Track" is being revised, or as Feinberg says "updated." It will be seen at less races, but when it is used their will be more applicable information available. It will be interesting to see what new Lead Analyst Dale Jarrett makes of that gizmo.

Commercial rotation and load is being studied, and perhaps will be varied by track. By that Feinberg means that for the road courses and superspeedways, a longer commercial break may fit under a caution flag. Conversely, at short tracks the network might go away for one minute at a time instead of three. This would allow the production team to catch re-starts at a track with lap times under thirty seconds.

Rusty Wallace was present, and indicated that he thought ESPN did an outstanding job last season, despite "taking some heat." He re-committed to his new role in the Infield Studio alongside of Allen Bestwick and Brad Daugherty. That combination should be an interesting one to watch.

Dale Jarrett was poised and once again seemed to be the right person to step-in and get the ESPN NASCAR "ship" back on course. His remarks were measured, honest and made complete sense in terms of his transition from driving to the commentator role.

One of the key points that Feinberg admitted was that ESPN's team that produced the race coverage was completely separate from the studio-based team that produced the NASCAR Now TV series last season. This certainly would explain why with all the experts and analysts on-site, NASCAR Now traveled ESPN "pool reporters" with little NASCAR experience to the races.

ESPN's Wendy Nix, Bob Holtzman and David Amber were unable to offer NASCAR Now anything other than "amateurish" news reports from the track. You may remember that it was David Amber who drew the wrath of Tony Stewart for Amber's reporting style in the garage area which would have been better suited to EXTRA or Access Hollywood.

Feinberg indicated that this year, all of the NASCAR TV production across the board has been merged into one big unit. This should result in more of the ESPN NASCAR personalities being featured on NASCAR Now, SportsCenter, and ESPNEWS. Hopefully, this influence will also spread to ESPN Radio and result in a higher profile for the sport in the giant media company that ESPN has become.

So, the ESPN crew is set and the final press conference had been concluded. On Saturday, ESPN begins once again to try and tackle one of the biggest TV committments in terms of manpower, expense and logistics that the company has ever take on.

With lots of positive changes and a renewed sense of enthusiasm, 2008 promises to bring better racing TV to the NASCAR fans from the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

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...

I already posted this on the other NASCAR Now blog, but I'll repost it here. My biggest concern with the Nationwide coverage is too many cooks in the kitchen, especially for a race than traditionally is half the length of a Cup race.

I know that by the numbers ESPN doesn't have many more people doing their broadcasts than Fox does, but it seems they had more difficulties balancing all of their talent last season. But that could've been that some of the talent was out of place, and really didn't add anything to the telecast. I'm just interested to see how that plays out this season.

Tripp said...

This is good news. Ray is great on both radio and TV. His mix of enthusiasm, warm personality and penchant for telling it like it is should be a welcome addition to the ESPN line up.

Does this mean that there's no more "Race Wizard"? I thought it was a cute show and great for kids.

stricklinfan82 said...

It's encouraging to hear that Mr. Feinberg understands that ESPN had some major problems with their coverage last year and plans on making changes.

I just don't understand why someone couldn't have figured out these things LAST YEAR. Better late than never I suppose, but last year it just seemed like the ESPN people made some very simple mistakes that should have never happened. Thoughts like "we'll use longer commercial breaks on road courses and shorter commercial breaks on short tracks so we don't miss restarts" should have been figured out during pre-season production meetings LAST YEAR. It just seems like ESPN did zero research or preparation last year and put no effort into providing credible coverage to the race fans.

I'm glad that they have gotten rid of almost all of the non-NASCAR guys (Banks, Kuselias, Musburger, Kolber, Fowler) and given Allen Bestwick more of a prominent on-air role. That's a great start so let's see how the actual race, qualifying, and practice coverages turn out. That's where we will see if something has actually changed.

One bad sign already - during Nationwide practice today, ESPN2 is airing a car auction and GET THIS a Sprint Cup Preview Show and a Nationwide Preview Show. That's right, ESPN is too busy airing taped NASCAR preview shows to cover Nationwide practice today... and just like last year it seems like their TV contract must forbid Speed Channel from televising the session in their absence, since Speed is only airing a 90 minute 'NASCAR Live' show while the practice is going on.

So far this year is beginning to look a lot like last year did.... JD, I thought you said something last year about NASCAR doing something to change the issue of having no TV coverage of practice sessions during ESPN races last year. Based on what's happening in Daytona today it looks like nothing has changed and once Indy rolls around we'll be back to having no TV coverage of any practice sessions other than Happy Hour in both the Cup and Nationwide Series. SIGH.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this info. I'll be the contrarian here and say I wish Ray Evernham would stay off my TV. He spent the last few weeks during testing and the media tour and also the end of last season saying over and over again that he was burned out and he was going to stay away from the tracks and keep a low profile. I told my wife he wouldn't be able to stay out of the spotlight for very long, he loves it too much. I have to email her now and say I told you so. Wish he would go away and devote his energy to his struggling race team, which seems to be very low on his list of priorities these days. Trust me, he wouldn't be in Daytona this weekend with his team if Erin Crocker wasn't entered in a race.

Also contrarian: I felt like David Amber was in the wrong place at the wrong time - it was his bad luck to come up against whiny Tony Stewart rather than something being wrong with Amber. He's actually quite impressive on Outside the Lines on ESPN.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 2:42PM,

I agree on Amber. His work on anything without wheels is very professional, as is the work of the other two reporters mentioned in my column. They absolutely got thrown into the mix, which is part of what I think Feinberg admitted today.


Newracefan said...

At least they appear to be listening to our gripes form last season and are trying to make changes. I'm glad to see a more coordinated effort and truth be told I'd rather listen to Ray that Tim Brewer. I'm keeping an open mind

stricklinfan82 said...

Boy this is painful. Thanks to ESPN the Nationwide cars are on the track practicing and all we get to see on TV is talking heads on Speed Channel, since ESPN2 is busy airing a taped NASCAR preview show instead and not letting Speed cover this session in their absence.

And now to make things worse Rutledge is in the infield driving on a scooter... adding no useful information and completely wasting the viewers' time and Fox's money. Are you kidding me with this guy?? I can't imagine being the producer of this show making these commands: "Let's go to Wendy with the Hendrick engine guy, then get Randy and Hermie's thoughts on the engine changes and starting in the rear of the Duel races,.. and now let's go to the goof riding around on a scooter in the infield so he can joke about not knowing a thing about the engine situation." Huh?

Enough is enough with this guy. I don't see the point of his role on these broadcasts.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Feinberg got a message from "above": get it together this year or we'll go in a new direction. Wasn't he the one who thought everything was great last year?

Ray Evernham was very good on the ESPN pre-shows last year. He's obviously very media friendly and he worked well with Brad and Rusty, like JD said.

But...I agree that it's a bit strange that he's doing all this media stuff this year, especially signing up for it so early. If I was a great crew chief and endured a year like I did last year, I would be spending every waking hour working with troubleshooting my cars, because if Kahne and Sadler have bad years this year, everyone is going to write them off. And Carpentier is going to need a lot of help. I don't think an owner like Hendrick would want to be in the media much if he had even a taste of the bad year EMS had in 2007. He'd be bunkered down spending his time righting the ship.

But Ray is not Rick Hendrick. From what I understand, he didn't show up for Cup or Nationwide testing last month, but came to Truck testing to watch Crocker, and she's not even racing for him anymore, I don't think. I believe I read an interview with him from there. I wonder how he'll deal with talking about his teams on NASCAR Now and such if they aren't doing well.

Anonymous said...

ESPN is making appearances of making the viewing experience better. However, they are missing one key piece...

Not broadcasting green flag racing.

The timing and length of the commercials during green flag racing are the problems. ESPN and Fox have to learn that they need to broadcast as much of each race as possible with commercials during cautions only. And, they both have experimented with the technology to broadcast the entire race without missing a single lap. That being the side by side broadcast method used selectively last season. Keeping the race broadcast live on half the screen during a commercial break is the only acceptable action to take to keep TV fans watching.

SophiaZ123 said...

thanks for the article JD but talk is cheap.

As others have said it was a NO BRAINER To tweak and fix things LAST SEASON.

Still have Draft Tracker? Guarantee, we will get screwed out of green flag racing more.

like Stricklanfan said, the fact we can NOT EVER see Practice and qualifying with ESPN Speaks volumes

Actions speaks louder than words...I still have concerns about race coverage.

Also Rusty is still clueless to say ESPN did well even tho they took some heat?? WTH?

So, if ESPN can't give me practice and qualifying for the HUGE WEEK at DAYTONA, that says a lot right there.:(

Anonymous said...

But...I agree that it's a bit strange that he's doing all this media stuff this year, especially signing up for it so early. If I was a great crew chief and endured a year like I did last year, I would be spending every waking hour working with troubleshooting my cars,

Anonymous Poster @3:49, there are some articles coming out now with more Ray comments. He really isn't going to be involved in Gillett Evernham. He says you have to be devoted 100 percent to either the business side or the crew chief side, and he is neither right now. He wants to do other things in racing like TV. Rusty better watch out, he'll get another job pulled out from under him.

I'm one of those stereotypical crazed younger Kasey fans (smile), and I'm irritated and pouting right now, since Ray says he should have left three years ago. Say what? Grrr! I like Ray, but it's going to be hard for me to watch him on ESPN since if he was going to be uninterested like that, he should have let Kasey go to one of the other teams that wanted him before Kasey re-signed with Ray (RCR or Gibbs especially). I'm mad at him right now.

"I have taken a role of no role."

Somehow I am going to have to find a way to work that saying into a conversation!

---Signed, Vanessa

Anonymous said...

JD, Is every episode of NASCAR Now going to be an hour long from now on? Or is this just for Speedweeks?

Anonymous said...

Evernham quote about ESPN from the press conference:

"To be able to comment on something I love so much and be involved in an analytical atmosphere works out perfectly for me. I wanted to take some time as I go into a different role in being a minority owner and do some things I enjoy, and for this program to come up and me be a part of this, I'm really looking forward to it. I think, together, we can make the shows better and bring some new fans in and help teach people about the sport we love so much".

Awful Announcing is questioning if this is the first time a current owner has been a TV analyst, comparing it to what if Jerry Jones from the Cowboys was a host on Monday Night Football Countdown.

PammH said...

Ray is talking out of both sides of his mouth. A wk or so ago, he said he wanted to spend more time w/his family! He has basically abandoned his team-guess the pressure was too much. I don't expect much out of him in his ESPN TV deal either.
As an afterthought-Rusty needs to BUY a clue!

Truck Series Fan! said...

Ray is like Roger Clemens - stating that he will play on the Houston Astros in order to spend more time with his family but as soon as another team, in his case, offers him more money he's gone! I don't particularly care for Ray or his opinions I think he should just spend more time with his race teams like Jeremy said a couple of years ago.

Steve L said...

Steve L.

When I covered the Sprint Sound and Speed festival in Nashville last month, Evernham said during an interview that he was going back to research and development because he was an "engineer at heart" and wanted to devote more time to making the team better.
He said he wasn't going to spend 'as much' time at the track and wanted more time at the shop. He said he wanted a better balance of personal and business life. He has a very pleasant speaking voice and works well in front of the camera.
I too was displeased to see the Nationwide cars running on the track but not any coverage of them on TV. I'm afraid it's going to be the same ole cr@p as last year when it comes to decent coverage of the #2 NASCAR Series.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember that Ray was actually in the analyst role back on the last year of the ABC Sports NASCAR telecasts (Brickyard 400 and a couple other races). I forget exactly what his role was though.

Anonymous said...

Espn needs to go deeper with their changes. Punch out of the booth and AB in the booth. Every other word with Punch is "my dear friend" so and so. I've noticed not too many people react to him in a dear friend mode. Punch actually appears to be very out of touch with present day Nascar, the drivers, teams, etc.

Anonymous said...

Well, in a lot of ways, ESPN has no place to go but up!

Anonymous said...

Awful Announcing is questioning if this is the first time a current owner has been a TV analyst,

ESPN was willing to do this is last year's Busch series, where Rusty continually made excuses for his son's poor car handling and questioned the officiating on the air.

I would have thought they'd see the inherent problem with this and eliminate the "owner as talent" concept, not add another person with the same conflict of interest.

chase said...

'TOO MANY COOKS IN THE KITCHEN" -- Anonymous said it all in that one short phrase. And what are Nix, Holtzman and Amber doing back involved with NASCAR? Did ESPN indeed learn anything from last year? And the inane comment from Feinberg actually saying that he was proud of last season? Please, Mr. Feinberg, give us a break. I think if you admitted that ESPN did not provide proper coverage for the race fans, that would have gone very far in our minds rather than saying you were proud of the lousy job ESPN did last season. I will continue to watch with hope - Bestwick and DJ are very welcome and necessary additions -- and let's hope the ship doesn't sink any deeper this year!

Anonymous said...

Ray Evernham needs to make up his mind what he wants to do before he opens his mouth.

First, he's still involved with the team. He will be working at the shop. Then, he's going to spend more time with his family. Then, he's going to do TV.

Meanwhile, he's in danger of joining Teresa in the "deadbeat owners" club--he's already failing to show up at the track unless Erin Crocker happens to also be there.

Anonymous said...

I'm so disappointed in Ray. He has a car that has to qualify for the 500 (the #10). He should be (and should have been for a while) in the Daytona garage right now doing everything to make sure that car gets in the 500 rather than giving interviews about his new ESPN job and his opinions on Champ Car (!) to every reporter under the sun.

I think this ESPN job is going to hurt his reputation if GEM doesn't perform. Every time you see him on a TV program spouting his opinions, you're going to think why isn't he at the shop when the team that has his name on it is doing terrible?

And to think he was getting all huffy and puffy last year because some teams were trying to get Kasey Kahne since Ray was selling part of the team and Kasey supposedly could opt out of his contract with a ownership change.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the posters who find Ray E. to have been disingenuous with all of his various comments that last few months about wanting to spend time with his son, or wanting to be at the shop.

Its clear that he was shunted aside by the new owner and really had no role except following Erin to races. I think this is an attempt on his part of feel important and to be in the lime light.

I thought his other ESPN show was unwatchable.

I never liked Rusty commenting on races his kid was in, and I won't like Ray commenting when GEM has a car in the field.

Anonymous said...

WOW! You guys just gotta be mad at somebody don't you?
I'll save my comments for a less heated group.