Saturday, February 23, 2008

ESPN Talks NASCAR For Three Wet Hours

If there was ever any doubt that Allen Bestwick was the right man to put in the ESPN Infield Pit Studio, it was erased on Saturday night.

Hosting NASCAR Countdown at 7PM, Bestwick began a three hour journey that showcased the resources and deep racing knowledge that ESPN has finally been able to coordinate for their NASCAR coverage this season.

Hands down, this was a moment for the NASCAR on ESPN team that may serve as a rallying point for the rest of the 2008 season.

Between the Infield Pit Center announcers, the pit reporters and the race announcers in the booth, the network stayed on the air for three hours without a wheel turned on the track.

Now, during the year when ESPN runs into a difficult circumstance with their race coverage, they have something to reference that can serve to inspire the whole team. Simply by remembering that night when they all pulled together to fill three hours in the rain of Southern California, things are not going to seem all that bad when a "TV moment" happens.

Bestwick was simply masterful in organizing the troops, and credit needs to be given to the pit reporters, including newcomer Shannon Spake, who worked in the rain to get interviews and covered a tremendous variety of topics. Sometimes about news, sometimes about personal issues, and sometimes simply about goofy rain delay fun, ESPN got it right.

The amazing thing was that there were no SportsCenter cut-ins, there were no ESPNEWS updates, and there was not a Hollywood celebrity in sight.

This was "old school NASCAR on ESPN." We are at the track in the rain and we are going to stay until it's over. Dare I say, it was even fun to watch.

The cooperation of the NASCAR drivers was outstanding. Fans may have switched favorites after some of the extended interviews and frank conversations exchanged during this coverage. Once again, Rusty Wallace proved himself to be perfectly suited to the Infield Pit Center analyst role alongside of Bestwick.

These two have known each other for years, and Wallace knows that Bestwick will keep him from getting out of hand or too excited. Even Brad Daugherty was key in explaining his former role as a member of NASCAR's committee that serves to hear appeals of penalties for the national series.

Upstairs, Jerry Punch was very comfortable using his reporting skills to draw candid conversation from Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. It was especially nice to see Petree open himself up and show more of his true personality. Tim Brewer pitched in from the Tech Center, and only the bad weather kept him indoors.

In the end, the rain cancelled everything, but from one perspective that did not matter. Everyone on the NASCAR on ESPN TV crew now knows two things they did not last season.

One, they have a new leader in Allen Bestwick. Two, now they can handle anything.

Once everyone dries out it will be interesting to see how Fox and ESPN deal with the pending Sunday TV network scramble.

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.


l_long said...

The way the rain delay was handled what super! It's the kind of thing we haven't had happen in recent times -- a lot of people, a lot of talk, interviews, jokes, a couple of taped features that were interesting and stuff not seen before, and so on.

It was entertaining and informative.

I loved Rusty's interview of brothers Wallace. Those guys are so much fun. And it was interesting to hear about Mike's daughter and her budding race career!

I think I enjoyed the rainout more than I might have enjoyed the race...

Brett Baldeck said...

What a difference a year can make. This time last year FOX was being praised for its coverage and ESPN was struggling.

I have to thank ESPN for making the changes over the offseason. This year is so much better! Tonight was awesome and reminded me of the old ESPN. I can't wait to see what you guys do with the broadcast tomorrow night.


gagirl said...

I've got to hand it to ESPN -- they got it soooooo right tonight. It was informative, quick paced and downright fun. Who know a three-hour rainout could be so enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

ESPN's rain-delay programming was wonderful. And, no ticker, no interruptions for "sports updates". I think they get it now.


Vince said...

I can't believe I watched ESPN's rain delay coverage for 3 hours and didn't see a SC update or cut in. Have they finally figured it out? AB was great and Rusty has finally found his role, I think.

Good job ESPN and good job all the pit reporters, guys in the booth (both upstairs and downstairs) and good job guys in the truck. You all got it right tonight. Keep up the good work.

SquidBuzz said...

My thoughts and praises have already been said here. I was quite surprised that I was able to watch all 3 hours without getting mad at what they were doing. I even caught myself laughing a time or two.

Good Job ESPN.

SophiaZ123 said...

JD, leave it to YOu and others to point out the obvious. NO CUT INS about the other stuff in sports? I did have a ticker on the bottom of my screen (watched from the 31 inch tv in my room as opposed to kitchen tv where you can zoom out the ticker)

Like somebody else said, hello, I think I enjoyed THIS more than the race. It was total fun and AB IS DA BEST.

Even more, I enjoyed EVERYBODY from ESPN.

FEW have given more grief to this station than I and I just want to say, ESPN, were you LISTENING to yourselves tonight?

This was fantastic television. I even did not get annoyed with the Petty moving again tape with Brad. I FINALLY see Brad's connection to the sport and his love for it. And the chemistry tonight was terrific.

It was like the guys on Fox, the ESPN boys were having fun. I got a hoot out of the interview with the Wallace Brothers. It was great "reality tv."

Good job.

Thanks for the column, JD.

Anonymous said...

@12:06, I misspoke. I meant to say "no SportsCenter", instead of tickers.


Anonymous said...

Ditto above comments. Coverage was so good for so long, I almost forgot there was a race.

Kingston, NY

Bill H said...


Last nights rain out makes me wonder, are the sports center cut ins planned before the broadcast or are they a decision made on the fly by the producer?


SallyB said...

This was coverage theway it used to be! For years, rain delays could be more entertaining than the races, giving drivers and team owners a chance to show more of their personalities. Everyone at ESPN did an outstanding job keeping things interesting for the fans, and I was never tempted to change the channel, even when it became apparent there would be no racing. An exceptional effort on the part of television coverage.

Anonymous said...

ESPN did a pretty good job, and I have a new-found respect for Brad D. after watching him ad-lib for this whole show.

Anonymous said...
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Statboy said...

I too thought ESPN did a great job. I'm just concerned if this was a one-time only kind of thing, or will they be able to do as well as they did last night for the entire season.

Anonymous said...

Well, I watched the whole three hours and wish it would have been longer.

Great work by all players - every single one of them. The DJ and Petree discussion about cheating was priceless. That's the kind of gold you can mine during a rain delay if you work at it.

I also really enjoyed the McMurray/Biffle interview and thoroughly enjoyed the Wallace brothers interview even though I really don't like the Wallaces...

Great work again ESPN, and thanks for satisfying my NASCAR appetite for Saturday night.

ri88girl said...

Thank you ESPN! and all of us who have tried to help them and now see the fruits of it all. My best compliment to ESPN is to say that even though I knew the race was NOT going to happen by about 8:30 I never turned the channel. I was having too much fun watching everyone having fun.

Tripp said...

I'll add my congratulations to the throng of people who made this broadcast from soggy southern California work. Great job.

Alan Bestwick proves, again, that he is THE guy to pilot ESPN's coverage. This role fits him like a finely tailored suit.

The guy that continues to surprise me is Rusty. Watching him last year was painful, but this year his insight, enthusiasm and good humor have blended to manifest a personality that is really a pleasure to watch. I don't know what changed over the off-season, but was well worth whatever it cost. Great job Rusty.

ESPN's attitude transplant and reorganizing of roles over the winter is paying dividends for the NASCAR fans. As one who enjoyed last night's broadcast, I'll simply say thanks.

Anonymous said...

Great show!The only thing bad about it it Dale Jarret's UPS brown suit that he always wears.It looks like it's the only one he owns.

Anonymous said...

It wasn't as much fun as a Fox rain delay, but it was far above anything ESPN did last year. The Wallace, Wallace, and Wallace interview was excellent and Shannon and Jamie, though lacking the insider status of Wendy, Dilner, and Dr. Dick, impressed me with their professionalism under trying conditions.

Truck Series Fan! said...

JD, yes the ESPN show was great and I kept on thinking how can they keep going but they did without stumbling. The drivers coming over into their studio was wonderful too (one of my favorites is Carl). And they got lots of Nationwide series drivers' interviews too (isn't it amazing how many of those young kids have braces?). Brad's interview with Richard Petty was interesting more so as a fan than a reporter - he's so enthusiastic I find him enjoyable to watch. They have found a niche for Rusty too he did a great job. Hats off to those guys and gals they must be exhausted today and a long day ahead for them.

Newracefan said...

I DVR'd what was suppose to be the race and after reading JD and the posters I decided to go ahead and watch it anyway. It was definately the right thing to do. Biffel was hysterical, Andy's electric spoiler (I wonder who the driver really was). ESPN has really turned the corner with the non-race TV which does make me hopeful for the actual race coverage. Hopefully we will find out on Sunday.

PS to who ever is doing the rain dance- PLEASE STOP. We had enough rain last season I would really like a dry 2008 season.

Anonymous said...

Excellent job by ESPN. I was shocked to look at my clock at one point and realize that a) more than two hours had passed, and I was enjoying myself immensely; and b) I was secretly, deep in my heart, hoping NASCAR would delay cancelling the race so I could watch more of this wonderful show.

That, folks, is how you learn from your mistakes, and how you listen to your audience. What an incredible change from last year. It can't be easy to hear people say "You're crap, go away", but I have to admit they've taken the criticism and instituted enormous positive changes. Kudos to ESPN.


Anonymous said...

C'mon people; you would rather watch rain delay fill than actual racing. Give me a break.

Espn did what other networks have done many times during a rain delay. Could it be that the expectations for an ESPN broadcast are so low that they now receive praise for actually doing their job?

Anonymous said...

I look at it as, I give credit where credit is due.

ESPN did an excellent job with the rain delay, as did SPEED on Friday afternoon. They kept me watching when I had no plans to do so.

Yes, they're doing their jobs as they should - but would you like to do your job for an entire year with no positive feedback? If they do well, I say so. If they don't I say so (thanks to Mr. Daly for allowing us to do that!)

Anonymous said...

Yippeee! It was just like the good ol' days. Loved the interviews, the fun, the jabs. It was great. In fact, I had planned to switch back and forth between the race and the big Tennesssee-Memphis State game, but I couldn't do it. I was enjoying the race coverage too much. Thanks, ESPN. This is what we've all been asking for. And way to go, Alan Bestwick. You and your gang were awesome.

Anonymous said...

JD, note ann 1243 and 1249 how true is it. Kind of the way we want it to be. Love this blog, thanks.

Kingston, NY

Anonymous said...

JD, opps, meant 1249 this blog

Kingston, NY

chase said...

ESPN HIT IT BIG! And who would ever have thought I would say that!!! They've got it going with AB at the helm and in charge - what a thoroughly entertaining and informative program! It was the most enjoyable 'rain delay' I have ever sat through!!! Even Rusty was palatable - but barely so. ESPN has finally done something right for the fans and that is AB - now if they can keep it up and not lose him then I can almost look forward to the ESPN part of the season! Here's hoping ESPN realizes the awesome talent they have in AB - if they had only used him last season ESPN would have saved themselves. Thanks John!