Monday, March 31, 2008
It was somewhat ironic that Brent Musburger was the play-by-play announcer on the opening day Chicago Cubs game on ESPN2. Musburger's appearances on NASCAR programs in 2007 were memorable for many reasons.
The focus of each week on NASCAR Now has become the "Big Monday" show that the network calls the roundtable. They assemble three panelists to join Allen Bestwick for a full hour of conversation about NASCAR topics. The program airs at either 5:30 or 6PM Eastern Time.
On this Monday, Major League Baseball and NASCAR Now had a manifest destiny that would ruin the plans of many East Coast NASCAR fans. After two rain delays, the Cubs game began again and quickly swallowed-up the edition of Baseball Tonight that was scheduled for 5PM.
As the scoreless game began to approach the 6PM hour, it became clear that all the effort of the network to prepare the "Big Monday" show was about to be scuttled. On a nasty and rainy day in Chicago, the play was sloppy and the game was boring.
This week, NASCAR Now was simply loaded for bear. Panelist Johnny Benson had moved his way through the Truck Series race on Saturday only to be spun on the last lap by an over-enthusiastic Kyle Busch. This prompted some post-race festivities between pit crews that NASCAR settled quickly. This would be the first opportunity to see Benson on-camera, as the NASCAR on Fox crew chose not to interview him during the post-race coverage.
Also along for the ride was Mike Wallace. In a surprise move, Wallace flew to Bristol, CT on Saturday night after the Truck race and co-hosted the Sunday morning edition of NASCAR Now with Ryan Burr. Later, Wallace appeared on ESPNEWS to talk about the race and help the anchors interpret the live post-race comments from the Infield Media Center.
Monday morning, Wallace was on the First Take program talking NASCAR. With all this as a warm-up and the fact his daughter Chrissy had finished in the top twenty in the Truck race, Wallace was going to have a lot to talk about.
The journalist on the panel was Mike Massaro, ESPN's most veteran NASCAR reporter. Massaro has a long history in the sport, and certainly was going to have some views on the news topics of the weekend, including "Part-Gate" and the return of Hendrick Motorsports.
As NASCAR fans began tuning-in, the clock went past the 6PM hour and Brent Musburger continued to talk baseball. Musburger never even took fifteen seconds to do a "scene set" for NASCAR fans and explain what was going on. At least the graphics department inserted a crawl that indicated NASCAR Now was coming up next.
There was wall-to-wall baseball on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNEWS. It was opening day and this was the featured sport. There was, however, one place where baseball was not on-the-air.
Over on the ESPN Classic network the 6PM hour featured two editions of Stump the Schwab. Howie Schwab was the original ESPN "stats and research" guy and has a ton of sports knowledge. While Howie is a great guy, both of these programs were re-runs.
Last season, when NASCAR programming was being pushed around by live stick-and-ball sports, the company took the bold step of putting live racing on ESPN Classic. As with everything there were drawbacks. The size of the network is smaller and the TiVo's and DVR's did not know to switch networks, so video recorders missed the racing.
The one thing this move did for NASCAR fans was to show them that ESPN understands the sport and their passion for it. The company took positive action to try and get whatever they could on-the-air for the fans and it was appreciated.
Monday at 6PM, it might have been appreciated if NASCAR Now was switched to ESPN Classic. At least the viewers tuning-in at that time could have been sent to that network and seen the program they had intended to watch. The earliest re-air of the Monday program was actually Tuesday at 1AM Eastern Time.
The Cubs game finally ended at about 6:54PM, and most TV viewers thought that an abbreviated version of Baseball Tonight would serve as the "bridge" to the next live baseball game at 7PM.
Instead, the crew of NASCAR Now appeared from the studio and tried to make use of this shortened program time. Bestwick led a review of the Martinsville Cup race and a preview of the Texas event next weekend. The panelists sounded great together, and NASCAR fans were reminded of just how far this program has come since February.
For baseball fans, this must have been an interesting moment when four NASCAR types appeared for six minutes between live games to talk about a NASCAR race that aired on Fox. Perhaps, by that point Baseball Tonight would have been a better choice.
The Daly Planet, along with lots of NASCAR fans, will record the 1AM version of this program and then offer some comments on Tuesday about the show. What a shame that after a big weekend of racing and a great line-up of talent, the reality of ESPN's extensive live sports line-up became apparent once again.
It should be interesting to see if the Tuesday evening version of this show includes any of the content from Monday's missing episode. For fans who do not record programs, this might be the only way to see what we all missed when the baseball blues hit NASCAR Now.
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Steve Byrnes started This Week In NASCAR with a great review of the topics that race fans wanted to talk about. With Michael Waltrip and Chad Knaus on the set, Byrnes talked about Jack Roush's "Part-Gate," Jeff Burton's post-race comments and the Jimmie Johnson Martinsville spin.
Then, continuing to frustrate fans, Byrnes aimed the program at the upcoming race in Texas. Only a couple of minutes into this program, and with the conversation flowing, this change once again did not make any sense.
The saving grace of the Texas conversation was the evolving dynamic between Chad Knaus and Michael Waltrip. These two seem to have figured out a nice way of relating, even though they are completely different. Unfortunately, this change kills the momentum of the show and makes it tough to switch-back to current events.
SPEED has decided to lighten-up the set and apparently one way to do that is to arrange for all three on-air talent to wear khaki-colored shirts. As Michael Waltrip said, he feels like he is in his PJ's. The look was certainly interesting.
The pre-produced features about Texas continued and for fans looking for a continuation of Martinsville topics, there was nothing left. The video editing and the sound is outstanding, in the normal manner of the NASCAR Media Group. Unfortunately, these features are produced as complete segments that really do not require any additional conversation from the panel.
As the program continues to transition from the original program format to this one, the pro's and con's of the changes are becoming clear. Trying to motivate fans to look ahead first is tough to do. Even with the great video features, the action from one year ago just does not trump the race from the previous day.
It was twenty minutes into the hour when the panel was allowed to delve into the Martinsville racing weekend. Knaus and Waltrip did a solid job of talking about the highlights. Waltrip sounded like he wanted to have some fun, but Byrnes keeps the show on a relatively short leash.
Knaus has been working on speaking-up and participating, and this was his best show to date. He is good on the mechanical and crew chief issues, which works well to compliment the driver and owner perspective of Waltrip. It also makes for the fun moments of the show.
One of the best moments involved Waltrip asking Knaus if Dale Earnhardt Jr. has access to Jimmie Johnson's set-ups and car information. Knaus did a good job of explaining how the teams work together, and put a new spin on the low-key Tony Eury Jr. situation now that Eury is at Hendrick.
As Byrnes continued to work his way through the highlights, Knaus and Waltrip continued to feel free to ask each other questions about racing issues. Their hilarious description of Matt Kenseth losing his temper and spinning David Gilliland was outstanding.
This energetic discussion of the race from the previous day is the best part of the show. What a shame it is not held right at the top of the show to keep the viewers and pump the panel up for the rest of the hour. Maybe we will see some adjustments as SPEED and NMG continue to work on this new show.
The Truck Series discussion focused on the Kyle Busch vs. Johnny Benson confrontation and let both panelists voice their views. Both Waltrip and Knaus took the high road, but it was clear that everyone felt Busch's conduct was not expected from a Cup Series driver.
Dave Despain continues to lend his opinion to the show each week. This role is perfect for Despain and is a good weekly promo for fans that might not know about the wonderful Wind Tunnel on Sunday nights.
A weekly interview feature is interesting, and this week the person being profiled was Max Siegel, the executive in charge at DEI. There is no reporter on-camera asking questions, and the feature is essentially what is called "soundbites" from the subject on various topics. Even though the in-studio talent "tags" this feature, it certainly would be better to have the subject in the studio.
Byrnes keeps the program upbeat, and even as this show continues to find a firm footing, the potential for good things in the future is there. Waltrip and Knaus have worked out a good on-air relationship, but not having three panelists is still tough. It should be fun to watch SPEED continue to tinker with this show as the season progresses.
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As the 6PM start time of the Monday NASCAR Now roundtable program approaches, we are going to document how ESPN handles a a live program situation on ESPN2.
The Chicago Cubs are playing live and two rain delays have extended the game. It will definitely run past 6PM Eastern, which is the start time of NASCAR Now.
Update #1: Nothing has been said about the NASCAR Now program by the baseball crew and it is 5:58PM. ESPN Classic has two repeat episodes of Stump the Schwab, but no indication that NASCAR Now will be moved to that location.
Update #2: It is now 6PM and live baseball is coming back from commercial. Musburger never mentioned NASCAR Now and only referenced baseball. There is no program change alert on the screen, Stump the Schwab is on ESPN Classic. It appears at this time that the 6PM original airing of this program is cancelled.
Update #3: At 6:04PM a crawl has appeared on the screen saying NASCAR Now would be seen following the baseball game. Earlier, a crawl said that Baseball Tonight would follow the game.
Update #4: There is a live baseball game at 7PM which will start on ESPN2 on time as scheduled. Whatever program follows live Cubs baseball will be collapsing down to the 7PM start time of baseball. A one hour version of Baseball Tonight was originally scheduled at 5PM before NASCAR Now.
Update #5: It is now 6:14PM and the bottom half of the ninth inning is about to get underway. Even if it only lasts fifteen minutes, that will bring the network to 6:30PM. The only way to get NASCAR Now on the air and make any sense would be to do it live. Meanwhile the Baseball Tonight crew is already live and on standby in the studio. It should be interesting to see what airs.
Update #6: The content of NASCAR Now and the name of Allen Bestwick has never been mentioned by Brent Musburger on ESPN2 now 20 minutes into the scheduled show time. There is no graphic alert on the screen to say it it coming up next.
Update #7: The game is in-progress at 6:38PM, so we can assume NASCAR Now is cancelled. The program re-airs at 1AM Eastern Time. What a shame ESPN Classic could not have been used to run this program at 6PM as scheduled.
Final Update: Allen Bestick and NASCAR Now got about six minutes after the baseball game suddenly ended. Bestwick led a review of the Martinsville Cup race, a preview of Texas and promoted the re-air of the show at 1AM Eastern Time. The panelists looked great, and I hope everyone takes the time to record the show at 1AM...but just in case you might want to record an extra two hours as another live baseball game is before the 1AM show.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
The two Monday NASCAR TV shows will be back in full force this week. NASCAR Now on ESPN2 and This Week In NASCAR on SPEED will both have the usual one hour shows.
First-up is NASCAR Now at 6PM Eastern Time. The network has a rotating panel of analysts and this week they have hit on a great combination. Whoever arranged late last week for the guests on this program should make sure to play the lottery this week.
Host Allen Bestwick will be joined by Johnny Benson, Mike Wallace and Mike Massaro.
Benson is fresh from being spun by Kyle Busch on the final lap of the Truck Series race, and then having some post-race festivities on pit road involving the crews. He is also the subject of much speculation about a future Cup Series ride.
Mike Wallace just spotted for his daughter Chrissy as she piloted her way to a top twenty finish in her very first Craftsman Truck Series race. Mike flew directly to ESPN after the race, and co-hosted the one hour Sunday morning edition of NASCAR Now with Ryan Burr. ESPNEWS viewers then saw him on-the-air with post-race analysis and commentary Sunday evening.
Mike Massaro is the journalist on the panel, and has been a great spark for discussions when he has been included in these "roundtable" programs. Massaro has a great perspective as the only ESPN employee who stayed on the "NASCAR beat" during the entire time the sport went away from the network.
This group should really set the table for Allen Bestwick to cover a lot of ground on Monday. Bestwick has come into his own since being upped to a high-profile position on the NASCAR on ESPN package. For those fans who used to enjoy Inside NEXTEL Cup on SPEED, the irony of Bestwick on ESPN2 hosting a one hour show with three panelists is not lost.
Speaking of SPEED, they are up next with the new This Week In NASCAR show hosted by Steve Byrnes. This week, Chad Knaus and Michael Waltrip will be the "expert panel" for the full hour. Max Siegel from DEI will be a featured interview.
This is a new program that is more driven by video highlights and features than by the conversation of the panelists. The new dynamic of spending an extensive amount of time previewing the next race at the top of the show has been a tough change to swallow.
Byrnes is a TV veteran, and he will work until both the program format and the personalities are right. This may take some time, as the current format is scattered and the series is currently searching for an identity. The off-beat antics of the INC show are gone, and with Kenny Schrader no longer a panelist, things are very different.
There will be columns up shortly after both of these programs are over on Monday that will serve to host your comments.
The task for the veteran NASCAR on Fox crew was simple. Deal with the awful spring weather in Martinsville, Virginia.
The temperature was in the 40's, the skies were gray and the threat of rain was constant. TV viewers knew from the drop of the green flag that this race would probably be to the halfway point.
Mike Joy and crew were upfront about the weather from the start of the telecast. Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds used their experience to continually update the race strategies crews were considering with all the weather elements. This really added a nice touch to the broadcast while it was in-progress.
The gray skies and the on-and-off drizzle put a damper on the mood, but the pit reporters continued to follow the stories and worked hard to update the TV viewers. Their reports often featured the reality of the outdated Martinsville pit road.
Fox continues to try and use the quad-split effect that shows four cars during the pit stops. The theory is that each car's stop can be seen, timed, and then a wideshot can catch the race off pit road. At least that is the theory.
The reality of a winding pit road at Martinsville forced the Director to often leave the "effect" before all four cars were done and the chaos of the departing cars sometimes left viewers lost. Sometimes, theory is better abandoned when reality suggests things should change.
Fox has embraced "Digger" the Gopher Cam, but there is no feedback to suggest viewers have done the same. Used as an occasionally "different" camera angle, this track-level view first used on Thursday Night Thunder on ESPN is interesting.
Used regularly as the race is in-progress, it becomes distracting and slowly grinds down the patience of the viewer as the laps are interrupted by this now sponsored element. Fortunately, the constant racing action forced the Director to limit his use of this toy. Only a few wrecks and passes were missed while "Digger" was on-the-air live under green flag conditions.
Mike Joy never faded with his commentary and worked to keep the storylines fresh even as the soggy laps continued to grind-down. Once the race went past the halfway point, the real stories of the event began to emerge. From the Top 35 in points to Cup rookies to Hendrick Motorsports, Joy did a solid job of relaying a big amount of information throughout the event.
Unfortunately, after a very long race in very unfavorable conditions, the Achilles Heel of the Fox coverage reared its ugly head once again. Over the last twenty laps, the announce team did their best to "set the table" for the racing action that was about to reach a fever pitch. With only a few cars out of the race, this was going to be a dash to the finish that would be remembered for a long time.
Over the past several races, the Fox Director has made very interesting decisions on the final lap of the race. Martinsville would be no exception. Despite the racing for position throughout the pack, TV viewers saw only winner Denny Hamlin cross the finish line. No other cars were shown finishing the race.
After Hamlin crossed the line, viewers saw his in-car camera as he began to slow down. Meanwhile, the announcers were still calling the action and watching the rest of the field beat-and-bang to the finish. It was only the TV announcers and the fans in the stands who watched the field finish the race.
Once the race was over, things got awkward on-the-air. Fox tried to replay some of the cars on the final lap, but it made no sense and the announcers never knew it was coming. The bottom line is, once again TV viewers were shut-out of the live race finish.
It was somewhat ironic as the Fox pit reporters talked to several of the top finishers. The questions and answers focused on the race finish, which apparently was quite exciting for many teams. TV viewers will never have that perspective, and the NASCAR on Fox crew made the decision not to replay the finish of the drivers that were being interviewed.
As they left the air, this now off-balance crew did not update the critical Top 35 points list that will set the table for next week in Texas. Perhaps, the fact that no one in North America except the fans in the stands saw the finish of the race had finally sunk-in.
Fans of Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson had to be sitting in front of the TV and asking the same question. Why? Fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr. who had watched him run an outstanding race wondered why his hard-fought sixth place finish was not shown. For some teams, the final lap at Martinsville might have made the difference between making the Top 35 and being sent to "Go or Go Home land."
Each TV network chooses how they approach the finish, and Fox has the right to do as they please because they paid for the rights to telecast the events. If the focus on the winner fits their network agenda, that is what viewers will see until their portion of the Sprint Cup TV package is done.
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Once again, the NASCAR on Fox crew will be dealing with a dicey weather situation when they take to the air at 1:30PM for a scheduled 2:15PM Eastern Time green flag. The Sprint Cup race follows the Fox presentation of the Craftsman Truck Series on Saturday, as no Nationwide event is scheduled for this weekend.
Mike Joy will lead the veteran Fox crew with Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip alongside. Waltrip provided the color commentary on the Truck Series race, and did an outstanding job of relating his personal experiences about the Martinsville track to the viewers. Look for him to be on his game once again today.
Chris Myers and Jeff Hammond will anchor the Hollywood Hotel, with Myers hosting the pre-race show and continuing to provide a presence during the race. Hammond works both with Myers on the set and then outside that trailer as he provides tech information with the Fox cut-a-way car and other equipment. With the temperature in the 40's, that should be an interesting transition.
Fox has the most veteran pit road team led by Dr. Dick Berggren. This quiet man co-founded Speedway Illustrated magazine, and continues to be the Executive Editor. Berggren has a doctorate in psychology from Tufts University, and was inducted into the Sprint Car Hall of Fame back in 2002. His TV career started in 1981 as a pit reporter for ESPN's brand new coverage of NASCAR on cable TV.
Joining Berggren will be Steve Byrnes, Matt Yocum and Krista Voda. Byrnes and Voda will be sorely missed when the Cup coverage transfers over to TNT. Yocum continues with that package, and then all three are gone from the air when ESPN takes over in late July. Viewers have come to rely on these three for access to NASCAR personalities throughout the sport. Although they may sometimes not press for an answer, they live in a world where they must walk a fine line on race weekends.
Fox continues to struggle with the "ticker" portion of its graphics package. Somehow, the same information that gets passed along to other networks and online sites covering the race just does not make it to the Fox ticker in a timely fashion. Now, the network has moved to a top ten listing and made other changes to this feature which have resulted in even more confusion. Hopefully, this situation will be resolved shortly.
Fox also continues to use four video boxes on the caution flag pit stops, which covers the entire screen. This does not allow for a view of pit road, so while one additional car is seen, the perspective of the race off pit road is lost. It does not seem like the trade-off is worth it, because any car that takes only two tires or just fuel can be first out of the pits and not featured in one of the four video boxes. Lots of times, the effect is meaningless and the viewer is left asking "where did he come from?"
"Digger" the Gopher Cam is quickly becoming the Draft Track of Fox Sports. If they eventually tell us that when cars go by at speed "Digger" accomplishes "Gopher Lock" it will be all over. Using this video angle when it has meaning is one thing, using it because you can is another. This camera angle was so dominating in the Craftsman Truck Series race on Saturday that viewers missed many wrecks and several key moments. In this very long race, it should be interesting to see how this technology is used.
Finally, this race will not have Dale Jarrett or Kyle Petty for very different reasons. Jarrett has retired to a TV career, and Petty simply missed the race. Look for the announcers to mention Jarrett, but to deal with the bigger issue of teams like Petty, the Woods Brothers and Yates beginning to fade as the super-teams dominate.
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Once again ESPN has slowly been focusing on the NASCAR programs that fell through the cracks last season.
The Sunday morning NASCAR Now in 2007 was an hour of opinion and commentary. Host Erik Kuselias made the announcers "pick" and "choose" and answer his biting questions. In the entire hour, the Busch Series and the Truck Series were usually never mentioned. Hype and innuendo ruled the day.
This Sunday, Ryan Burr was joined in the ESPN2 studios by Mike Wallace. Reporting from the track was Marty Smith, who worked very hard in 2007 to keep the news portion of this TV series current. This season he has adopted the Lead Reporter role and has been participating in more on-air roles for the ESPN Networks.
Burr and Smith work well together, and it certainly helps to have a current NASCAR personality like Mike Wallace along for the ride. The fact that Wallace had been featured spotting for his daughter Chrissy on Saturday as she drove in the NCTS race made it even better.
Burr welcomed Robby Reiser to the program from Martinsville and got a nice dose of NASCAR reality. Burr asked Reiser about "his mandate" from Roush in his new role. The look on Reiser's face was priceless. This is racing, not rocket science.
Now understanding his subject much better, Burr toned-down his high-brow questions and walked Reiser through a review of his transition into management and some of his frustrations with being "in the office." Mike Wallace put a nice cap on the interview with a summary of the Roush season in 2008.
A feature on Petty Racing's pit crew seemed to be strange, as Kyle Petty had missed the Martinsville race. A snippet of a post-race crew meeting and a look at the workout and practice routines of the group was a bit strange on a Sunday morning race preview program.
NASCAR Now again played the Jack Roush quotes from the Martinsville Media Center. Roush continues to ignore common sense and public relations advice with his comments. The program brought-in reporter David Newton who followed-up with the information that Michael Waltrip had already "plead guilty" to the Roush charges, and the incident actually happened back in 2007.
Mike Wallace is a plain-spoken guy, and he put a "bigger picture" perspective on the issue of missing parts. Wallace pointed the conversation in the direction of the teams and the unspoken code of honor in the garage area. His re-directing of the discussion back to reality and away from the hype was exactly what the program needed.
Burr finally brought-up the topic of Chrissy Wallace and her Martinsville performance. Mike lit-up immediately and provided some of the real emotion that is so often lacking on the NASCAR Now set. A great touch was having Chrissy Wallace by satellite from Martinsville after the highlights.
Burr sometimes makes NASCAR a bit too complicated, and the Wallace family brought him back down to earth by emphasizing once again the simple fundamentals of racing. Mike got to ask his daughter a question, and it made her look a lot more like a teenager than a NASCAR driver. What other sport brings the mom and dad connection right into the event while it is in progress? The Wallace interview put a nice family spin on this show.
Burr got another learning experience when he asked Mike Wallace about Martinsville and got a professional lesson from a veteran driver. Wallace showed his value and his years of experience as he laid-out point-by-point the dynamics of both the track and the race itself. This was an outstanding preview of the Sunday race.
As a continuing statement about the growth of the NASCAR Now production team, a feature report on the late Alan Kulwicki suddenly appeared on-the-air. Featuring veteran journalists and NASCAR personalities, a profile of the unique owner and driver emerged that was outstanding.
Educating new fans and reminding older ones of the past has been a tough challenge for NASCAR Now. The voices of Bob Jenkins and the late Benny Parsons on the old ESPN telecast went a long way to filling that void.
In closing the piece, NASCAR veterans Paul Andrews, Kyle Petty and journalist Steve Waid put an emotional stamp on the feature with their memories of Kulwicki's transporter leaving the Bristol track after the plane crash that took his life.
Mike Wallace once again pointed-out just how small the NASCAR family really is by relating that Paul Andrews was in Wallace's wedding, and the family originally thought that Andrews was also on the plane that crashed. This is exactly the type of commentary and first-person perspective that NASCAR Now needs to embrace and continue this season.
Marty Smith re-appeared in the final segment with Elliott Sadler to update his health situation and his plans for the race. Having a veteran like Smith at the track in this role instead of a "general assignment" reporter like David Amber or Bob Holtzman has made all the difference in the world for this Sunday show.
NASCAR Now has gone through a very public process of pulling itself up by its bootstraps from the disaster of 2007 to the emerging success of 2008. Individual programs like this one go a long way toward cementing in the minds of the fans that ESPN is back and committed to this sport for the long-haul.
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Saturday, March 29, 2008
The two hour live NASCAR RaceDay program comes along from Martinsville, VA at 11:30AM Eastern Time on Sunday morning.
John Roberts is hosting, with Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace alongside. Wallace should be interesting to hear since he will have the inside scoop on Chrissy Wallace's top twenty finish on Saturday in the Craftsman Truck Series.
Hermie Sadler will also be on the show to offer his track information and continue to grow his role as both a commentator and reporter. He certainly will have the latest information on his brother Elliott, who is suffering back pain and may not be able to go the distance on Sunday.
The guests scheduled for the program include Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards and Aric Almirola. Those three drivers should lead the panel into some good question-and-answer sessions. Jeff Burton's recent slam of the Nationwide Series "regulars" is going to be a hot topic when the two series meet again.
Wendy Venturini continues to carve-out a charmed legacy in the sport through her strong work ethic. This Sunday, her Real Deal feature will talk with three personalities at GEM. Ray Evernham, Kenny Francis and Kasey Kahne will all be included in this feature.
One big topic for the panel will be the absence of Kyle Petty from the field, and the continuing saga of the Top 35 rule. Also, this week Jack Roush made some more statements about "Part-Gate" while he was in the Media Center. Roush refuses to back down from his claims, despite Michael Waltrip stepping-up and pleading guilty to the charges. NASCAR continues to call it like the NBA, no harm no foul.
With no ESPN presence on-site except for a NASCAR Now reporter, RaceDay will be the star of Sunday morning. The program leads directly into the NASCAR on Fox coverage at 1:30PM Eastern Time.
ESPN counters with a one hour version of NASCAR Now at 10AM Eastern from the Bristol, CT studios hosted by Ryan Burr. Mike Wallace will be with Burr in the studio, and will also appear on the one hour Monday show with Johnny Benson and Mike Massaro.
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The email began to arrive once the IRL action got underway from the Homestead, FL track. It was not about the good pictures from ESPN or the good action from a series trying to survive.
What NASCAR fans had seen, apparently many for the first time, was the TV commercial breaks in the live IRL coverage. They had experienced the "missing link" in the TV coverage of NASCAR. They had seen ESPN's "side-by-side" commercial breaks.
The network runs the commercials in a big box on the right side of the screen. At the same time, they keep the live coverage of the race in another smaller video box on the left side. They also include a top three scoring graphic that immediately changes if there is a pass on the track. Simply put, it is fantastic.
The question of why NASCAR cannot do this has been addressed by everyone from NASCAR to the TV networks. From what I understand, it all hinges on the coverage of the Sprint Cup Series.
Unlike the IRL, NASCAR's top series is split between three TV networks during the season. Fox, TNT and the ESPN/ABC combined media company comprise the coverage of the February through November season.
As you might expect, these three networks are not friends in the corporate sense of the word. Though they must combine at the tracks in terms of facilities and manpower, their sales and programming departments operate to serve only their own companies.
To arrange for side-by-side coverage, three networks would have to meet and work through a wide variety of issues. Each of these companies has paid NASCAR a lot of money for the rights to the races they televise. The single driving reason for full-screen national ads is to get as much revenue from each commercial as possible.
Writers from Marty Smith to yours truly have addressed this issue. We believed that with the new TV contract, ESPN would lead the way in advocating this change. While network executives expressed an interest, they simply could not convince the many NASCAR advertisers to participate. So, here we are.
This NASCAR reality hit home for many people who ran across the primetime showing of the Homestead IRL race. At the height of the excitement, in front of what appeared to be a full house, ESPN announcer Marty Reid made the point over-and-over again to assure TV viewers that they would not miss anything as the network went to commercial.
This technology seems simple and with ESPN already doing it for the IRL, is should be easy to do for NASCAR. This theory and the cold, hard reality of national advertising dollars have so far been unable to meet. The IRL stresses that it worked hard as a sanctioning body to help facilitate this issue.
NASCAR spokesman have repeatedly stated that NASCAR sells the rights to TV networks and conducts the races. Once again, the struggles of NASCAR where media issues come into play are brought to the forefront with the success of the IRL and the side-by-side commercial format.
So, I certainly appreciate the NASCAR fans once again asking about the side-by-side coverage, but can only offer what everyone else seems to be saying. It is a great idea that is lacking the leadership to accomplish it across the board in the sport. Whether that comes from NASCAR or from a committee of the NASCAR TV partners is yet to be seen.
What is certainly being seen is every single national TV commercial full-screen while green flag racing goes on only in front of the people in the stands. As we all look around at our laptops, HDTV's, DirecTV satellite dishes and Blackberrys, it seems strange that three TV networks cannot use a technology that has been around for many years to accomplish this single goal for the good of the sport.
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The storylines for the Saturday afternoon Craftsman Truck Series race on Fox were fantastic. The diversity of the drivers in the field almost guaranteed a race with action from start-to-finish.
There were the Truck Series regulars that ranged from Rick Crawford to Ron Hornaday Jr. The Martinsville "visitors" included Modified champ Donny Lia, open-wheeler Scott Speed and young Chrissy Wallace. Almost the entire field had a story to tell.
Certainly, one of the most compelling was the ride Dennis Setzer was piloting. The remaining pieces of the late Bobby Hamilton's racing operation had been slowly coming together with lots of help from lots of people in racing. Combined with Setzer's well known short-track prowess, things could not have gone better.
It was Chris Myers and not Krista Voda who manned the Hollywood Hotel since this Truck race was on Fox. Regular Truck Series viewers are used to a competent and energetic Voda setting the table for the race. That was not to be the case here.
Myer's acknowledged "act" is ridiculous, as anyone who has seen the real personality of Myers on other cable sports programs knows all too well. Myers hosts Center Court, the signature interview program on The Tennis Channel.
That Chris Myers speaks intelligently to a diverse group of athletes, coaches and tennis personalities one-on-one. The difference between a stuttering and stammering Myers in the Hollywood Hotel and the sophisticated interviewer asking informed questions to international tennis stars is amazing.
On Saturday at Martinsville, Myers was simply a distraction while the rest of the broadcast team scrambled to provide the information fans needed. These Truck broadcasts on Fox have no pre-race show, so at least the racing was underway in a timely fashion.
Back after throat problems, Darrell Waltrip filled a nice role on this telecast. He and Phil Parsons have worked out a very good relationship on-the-air. DW talks big picture and Parsons fills-in the details. In this broadcast, that partnership was effective throughout the race. Between Waltrip's Martinsville history and Parsons Truck Series knowledge, the issue of Michael Waltrip being absent for this telecast did not arise.
Early in the race, it was clear that even on a cold Martinsville spring day, the Fox team was going to make good pictures and sound. Despite the gray skies, the technical crew delivered consistent coverage and just like a good basketball referee, was not really noticed. Everything just worked.
With 250 laps to run, the Fox Producer allowed viewers 25 laps before he introduced the one consistent presence that viewers would be seeing for the entire telecast. "Digger" the Gopher Cam was introduced on this short track with his animation and the race would never be the same.
The action on the track was outstanding, the stories throughout the field were compelling and the pit reporters were right on-top of the action. Unfortunately, by lap 37 the Fox Director had decided that "Digger" was going to be a part of the regular race coverage and not just a toy to use once and a while.
It was 58 laps into the race when "Digger" became a total distraction. As the field sorted out and the stories of the race began to unfold, "Digger" was now being used by the Director more frequently. The change in the perspective from high-to-low and the lack of any ability to see what was going-on in the race began to take its toll on the coverage.
During green flag racing, "Digger" would be used as the camera to frame a graphic for promoting other Fox programming. The meaningless tires of the Trucks would just stream by without any reference or meaning.
During a caution on lap 82, Fox introduced a new feature from the Hollywood Hotel. The Craftsman Tools of the Trade feature put a new air impact wrench on the set for Jeff Hammond to explain. Chris Myers holding an air gun looked like Superman handling kryptonite. It was clear he had never seen one before.
Hammond patiently explained that it was almost like the air guns the crews used down on pit road. Myers was puzzled, and asked "and what would you use it for in the pits?" As America drew a deep breath, Hammond quietly said, "taking lug nuts on and off." Is there anything more that needs to be said here?
Fox had now found yet a new use for "Digger." This was the camera angle used while going to commercial under caution. It was also the camera angle used to come back from commercial.
After lap 100, "Digger" began to dominate the telecast. Now, this camera was actively being "cut" into the telecast as a regular "camera cut" on a lap. "Digger" was now part of the live race coverage.
Slowly, all of the positive NASCAR on Fox production elements began to fade as "Digger" began to overwhelm viewers. The quad-split for the pits, the double video boxes for interviews and the nice crisp Fox graphics lost their luster.
The race recap just past halfway was nicely edited, but transitioned into Chris Myers selling "Digger" T-shirts from the Hollywood Hotel. Hammond seems mildly amused by all of this hype, and told Myers that "Digger" is "just as funny as you are." That quip was not lost on veteran fans.
With only 100 laps to go, "Digger" was once again on the air while 6th place Denny Hamlin spun. At the time, the announcers were once again talking about"Digger." With 67 laps to go, "Digger" was on the air when Brian Scott spun. Viewers saw the action on the track once again through multiple replays. Of course, the final replay angle was "Digger" complete with the animation and sound effects.
The big "Digger" moment came with only 13 laps to go when Rick Allen yelled "problems as Jack Sprague gets turned around coming out of 2!" Once again, Fox viewers had been watching big truck tires drive past "Digger" and missed another key moment of the race. The Director had been using his favorite toy and not covering the action on the track with less than 15 laps to go.
At the finish, a big gaggle of Trucks raced to the line. TV viewers saw the action from a nice wideshot, and in this case the benefit included two spins from the second and third place Trucks. This was the story of the race, Kyle Busch spinning Johnny Benson out on the last lap.
After the post-race interview with the winner, Fox made some very interesting choices. Chrissy Wallace was interviewed on her top twenty finish and Kyle Busch was interviewed on his "accident" on the final lap. Johnny Benson was left out in the cold even though he was a key story.
Fox also did not speak with Whelen Modified champ Donny Lia, or open-wheel veteran Scott Speed, who finished ninth and tenth respectively. Throughout the race, the unfolding Brendan Gaughan saga was documented extensively. Gaughan battled back from his late pitstop for fuel and finished in eleventh place. Despite his Davidson College storyline and the NCAA Tournament tie-in, he was not interviewed.
The SPEED crew produces their Craftsman Truck races as a "feature presentation." The effort from Krista Voda's pre-race show all the way through Rick Allen's final sign-off has been nothing short of outstanding for several seasons. The production choices are made because the team knows the on-going storylines of the series by heart.
At Martinsville, the announcers in the booth and the reporters on pit road turned in solid performances and gave the viewers all the information they could handle. The "hole" in this telecast was the over-use of one single "toy" that Fox has inserted into coverage this season for absolutely no specific reason.
Once in a while, the track-level perspective of "Digger" the Gopher Cam is interesting and makes for entertaining viewing. The key words in that sentence are "once in a while." It was unfortunate that the Director chose to insert this one production element far too many times in this Truck Series race.
It distracted from the good stories on the track, prevented viewers from seeing lots of key action, and ultimately became a storyline itself with the endless promotion and hype. Fox has been to this track for years without "Digger" and never had a problem with camera selection during the race. The same cannot be said for this season.
With a much longer Sprint Cup race on-tap for Sunday, it should be interesting to see if the NASCAR on Fox crew continues to shift the focus from the drivers and action on the track to their new "toy" that comes complete with a full line of merchandise. As we said in the headline, it was "Digger" that dominated this event from the drop of the green flag.
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This afternoon at 3PM Eastern Time the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will be on the air from Martinsville, VA. The NASCAR on Fox production team will handle the broadcast, which means several things to TV viewers.
Krista Voda and The Set-Up will not be seen as the pre-race show because that is a SPEED program. Voda will be a pit reporter during the telecast, along with Adam Alexander. Sometimes, Fox chooses to add a pit reporter like Steve Byrnes or Matt Yocum to these stand-alone Truck races.
It will be Darrell and not Michael Waltrip joining Rick Allen and Phil Parsons in the booth to call the action. DW is a "Fox guy" and Michael is a "SPEED guy." DW has a long and distinguished history at Martinsville, and should be able to provide some good overall perspective while leaving the details to the "Dean" of the NCTS, Phil Parsons.
There is a weather situation in the area, and the Fox telecast is scheduled to run until 5:30PM. The Fox East Coast primetime line-up does not begin until 8PM with Cops, and many Fox stations do not originate local news at 6PM on the weekends. This is very different than the ABC situation fans know all too well from last season.
Rick Allen has come a long way as a NASCAR announcer, and works especially well on the longer tracks where the action is continuous. Martinsville provides a special challenge to the TV play-by-play announcer because the short laps and flat track make the racing sometimes less than stellar.
Hopefully, the Fox production team will remain focused on the personality stories contained within the field and not lose sight of everyone except the lead pack as the racing progresses. Martinsville contains some of the most memorable runs to the flag of any NASCAR track, so viewers should be allowed to watch the lead lap Trucks race to the finish line. In person, the final laps are just great.
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The Craftsman Truck Series will qualify on SPEED beginning at 10AM Eastern Time on Saturday. This is a weekend where the NASCAR on Fox production team is handling the Truck activities. The regular SPEED production crew is home watching.
During practice on Friday, play-by-play announcer Rick Allen struggled to try and integrate Darrell Waltrip into the coverage. Allen and his partner Phil Parsons have been doing the Truck Series for years, and normally have Michael Waltrip alongside on the SPEED broadcasts.
DW is a very different person on TV than Michael, and Allen is going to have to figure out how to step-back and let DW have more of the spotlight. In practice, Allen was making jokes and references that were just a little bit outside of DW's base of knowledge, and that did not translate well on TV.
If they can get the on-air dynamic sorted-out on Saturday morning, that will make things much better for the race in the afternoon at 3PM Eastern on Fox. As most fans know, other than Kyle Busch vs. the Truck Series regulars, the other big story is Chrissy Wallace getting in the field for the first time.
It should also be interesting to see folks like Modified standout Donny Lia and some lesser-known names take to the track on national TV to qualify. The Truck Series is always good for some surprises and with Krista Voda on pit reporter duty, viewers should get the inside scoop.
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Friday, March 28, 2008
Ryan Burr hosted Friday's edition of NASCAR Now. Focused on the Martinsville qualifying, Lead Reporter Marty Smith joined Burr from the track with a wrap-up of the action and an interview with Jeff Gordon who is on the pole for the Cup Series.
Smith then added some additional information on other news stories, including Greg Biffle's contract negotiations with Roush-Fenway Racing and Elliott Sadler's bad back. Smith was up-to-date and seems to work well in this scenario with Burr.
With the hard news done, Burr led the show into tying up some loose ends from earlier in the week. NASCAR Now had interviewed new MWR driver Michael McDowell and tried to get his impressions on replacing Dale Jarrett as he retired.
Unfortunately, it was teammate David Reutimann who was taking over the UPS sponsorship and therefore what most fans will know as the Jarrett ride. McDowell was the new kid on the MWR block and he was not ready to face those kinds of issues on national TV.
Friday, Reutimann appeared on the show with the UPS hat firmly on his head and spoke with Burr about his change of teams. His answers worked well to clear-up any confusion from earlier in the week about who would be driving what. Give credit to Burr, who corrected himself and then followed-up with Reutimann.
Jack Roush and his missing part were up next. ESPN's Terry Blount had been put in the tough position of reporting a story involving Roush that had actually taken place several weeks prior and even involved a totally different ESPN reporter. But, it was Blount who opened the door to "part-gate" and left almost as much confusion in his wake as Roush did with the allegation.
Burr presented unedited footage of Roush addressing this issue from the Infield Media Center at Martinsville. Unfortunately, it made Roush look rather petty and foolish while it explained how ESPN had been made a pawn in the ego war between Roush and Toyota's Lee White. Burr explained the entire timeline and finally made sense of Blount's story.
One headline this week has been Mike Wallace's daughter Chrissy attempting to run the Craftsman Truck race in Martinsville. During earlier testing at that track, NASCAR Now had hosted Chrissy on a satellite interview. This was a great opportunity to get her face and personality across to the fans.
Unfortunately, huge sunglasses covered a lot of her face and the content of the interview was affected by this distracting issue. Friday, Miss Wallace appeared with her hair away from her face and with her huge sunglasses in her pocket. The interview included a soundbite from Tony Stewart and great treatment of this young driver by Burr back in the studio.
This show really closed a lot of the loopholes left from a rather hectic week of NASCAR news. MWR got their driver swaps sorted-out, ESPN got the Roush timeline on the table for all to see and Chrissy Wallace got her pre-race interview on national TV.
These good editorial choices by the NASCAR Now team continue to show how this TV series has matured. This effort put these stories "to bed" before the weekend racing and left the table clean for a new batch of interviews and news from Saturday and Sunday.
NASCAR Now returns with a one hour Sunday show at 10AM Eastern Time, and then the "Big Monday" roundtable version of the show airs at 6PM on Monday.
Update #1: The NN folks are saying that indeed Mike Wallace will be in the studio for the Sunday morning one hour edition of NN from Bristol, CT. Good choice.
NASCAR Fans Make Note: The Monday show will be hosted by Allen Bestwick, but the panel will consist of Mike Wallace, Johnny Benson and Mike Massaro. That should make for a very interesting dynamic with three very different personalities on the panel. Thanks to our friends at ESPN for that info.
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This is an all Fox and SPEED weekend because the Nationwide Series has the weekend off. SPEED is shifting the Martinsville NASCAR programming around the Barrett-Jackson auto auction, so some on-track action will not be live.
Friday on SPEED kicks-off with one hour of Truck Series practice at 11AM Eastern Time followed by three hours of the auction. At 3PM, SPEED returns with the Go or Go Home show looking at the teams outside of the Top 35 in points. This is going to be a very important issue as the 2008 points have now begun to set the field.
At 3:30PM, the NASCAR on Fox crew presents Sprint Cup qualifying action for approximately ninety minutes and then SPEED continues right into the final Craftsman Truck Series practice session.
At 7PM, the network wraps-up the day with a Trackside show featuring Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray. Those three drivers have a lot to talk about from recent weeks, and perhaps McMurray will be the biggest story after qualifying. The show is hosted by Steve Byrnes with Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds alongside. It will be live at the SPEED Stage outside the Martinsville track.
This page will serve to host your comments about SPEED's coverage of the Friday action at Martinsville. To add your opinion, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. This blog is TV-related, so please keep your comments focused on the TV coverage of the sport. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
The recent buzz about the turnaround at ESPN's NASCAR Now and the changes that network made to the TV team at the tracks has not gone un-noticed.
Fox Sports and the SPEED Channel folks have aimed their "TV sights" directly at Martinsville, Virginia. With no Nationwide race scheduled, Fox, SPEED and NASCAR would normally be the stars of the show.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, this is also the big weekend of the Barrett-Jackson auto auction in West Palm Beach, Florida. As you may remember from last year, SPEED shows a whole lot of that live. Here is a rundown of the weekend from a NASCAR standpoint.
The NASCAR on Fox production team will be handling the duties for both the Craftsman Truck and the Sprint Cup Series telecasts from Martinsville. While the Truck Series announcers will essentially be the same, the entire TV crew will be from Fox. This group will also host the Truck and Cup telecasts of practice and qualifying. Both the Truck and Cup races will be on the big Fox Broadcast Network.
Friday at 11AM Eastern Time the Truck teams kick-off a one hour practice session that will be carried live on SPEED. Because of the auction, the NASCAR action does not return until 3PM for the Go or Go Home Show. This program is supposed to recap the situation with the teams outside the Top 35 in points, but often strays back into interviews with the "stars" of the series.
At 3:30PM, the Fox crew televises Sprint Cup Qualifying that is scheduled to last until approximately 5PM on SPEED. At that time, the network continues NASCAR coverage of the Truck Series final practice.
Trackside wraps-up the NASCAR portion of SPEED's Friday with a good program scheduled for 7PM. Steve Byrnes hosts as usual, joined by Darrell Waltrip, Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond. This week, the show welcomes Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray. That is a lot jam-packed in a one hour live program.
Saturday, the Trucks qualify on SPEED at 10AM Eastern and then a flexible NASCAR Live program will take the network back to Noon and the auction once again.
The Trucks will race on Fox at 3PM Eastern Time on Saturday, and are scheduled in a two and a half hour broadcast window. This should be an interesting event with several storylines playing out, and the exposure on Fox will be good for the series.
The Rolex Sports Cars own SPEED at 6PM, and after a three hour race the NASCAR programming returns. SPEED puts the final Cup practice on from 9 to 10PM, and then NASCAR Performance hosted by Larry McReynolds is next for thirty minutes.
NASCAR fans should make this note. Set the DVR or the VCR or the TiVo for 10:30PM on Saturday night. The one and only Bob Pockrass will be visiting Kyle Petty and John Roberts as the media guest on Tradin' Paint. Bob is a NASCAR writer for scenedaily.com and he and Kyle are like oil and water.
This combination, when controlled by Roberts, has been one of the most entertaining on Tradin' Paint in years. Both men have strong viewpoints and very different personalities. With Mr. Roush on the topic list, it should be interesting.
On Sunday, SPEED returns at 11AM with the quirky NASCAR in a Hurry program that uses footage from the weekend to review the action on the track and on SPEED. This is an interesting program that more resembles CNN Headline News than anything else. Thirty minutes of review and then gone. Truck Series veteran Adam Alexander hosts.
RaceDay then follows at 11:30AM for two hours of live interviews and features. John Roberts hosts, and this week Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards and Aric Almirola will be guests. Wendy Venturini's Real Deal feature focuses on Kasey Kahne and Ray Evernham.
The NASCAR on Fox crew take to the air at 1:30PM for the Sprint Cup race, and then SPEED closes-out the evening with Victory Lane at 8PM. It certainly should be interesting to see who John Roberts, Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace get to interview after this event. Toyota vs. the rest of the field is the storyline.
There will be posts available for in-progress comments, and fans should be watching to see how the Truck Series translates to the Fox Network airwaves on Saturday.
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Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Amid all the talk about the new hour-long Monday show and the continuing presence of co-host Ryan Burr, there is another developing story on NASCAR Now. Perhaps, no one is under more scrutiny this season than Nicole Manske.
Brought-in back in August of 2006 by SPEED to replace several popular on-air veterans at The SPEED Report, Manske struggled. The new format at SPEED and a non-supportive co-host put Manske behind the 8-ball.
She was put in the role of the dizzy blond newscaster, regardless of the reality of her professionalism. Her attire was scrutinized every time she hit the air and even posted on the Internet. Sometimes, those clothing choices led TV viewers to draw their own conclusions about her on-air abilities and her off-camera personality.
At the conclusion of the 2007 season, both Manske and her SPEED Report co-host did not have their contracts renewed. Transition in the television world is normal, but it was Manske who announced that she would be moving to Bristol, CT and co-hosting NASCAR Now.
After a tough season, ESPN was re-vamping this daily show from the ground-up. Manske would be part of a three person hosting team that included distinguished veteran Allen Bestwick and former ESPNEWS anchor Ryan Burr. It was a total on-air change.
From the first moment she stepped onto the ESPN2 set, Manske experienced a new level of exposure and began to understand what it meant to be an ESPN anchor. As many on-air talent have learned, ESPN throws a lot of work at you right away, and Manske was no exception.
Assigned first to the field, Manske began to establish herself with interviews of drivers and personalities that had a bit of spice and attitude. She knew her NASCAR, and often took her interviews a little bit off the beaten path to the delight of those answering the questions.
In addition, she began a careful re-structuring of her on-air image that has continued to this day. Gone is the blond hair and the "interesting" outfits. Manske now joined the other female ESPN announcers in a dress code that takes the focus away from the TV anchor and puts it right back on the subject at hand.
Her first big test came with the assignment to anchor a one hour weekend edition of NASCAR Now from the racetrack. Sitting alongside Rusty Wallace, Brad Daugherty and other ESPN personalities Manske established herself as a credible presence and began a positive change in her public perception.
Now, a little over one month into the NASCAR season, Manske has quietly done what good TV anchors learn to do. She gets out of the way. Just like her co-host Allen Bestwick has done for years, Manske directs traffic and lets the attention be drawn to the news being discussed or the person being interviewed.
Given a fair chance by ESPN, Manske is continuing to grow into the role of a national TV anchor/reporter with solid results. After watching her struggle through the off-balance and "trendy" SPEED Report, many of us were curious as to how she would transition to the ESPN stage.
Say what you will, one of the big stories of this season's NASCAR Now has been the easy integration of Manske into the NASCAR on ESPN team. Her ability to talk effectively with a wide variety of racing personalities has been on display for some time now, and is only getting better.
When ESPN made the commitment to change this show, they took a risk on a former local TV station anchor who was appearing once a week on a one hour motorsports show. Now, it seems that gamble has paid-off and the network has found a reliable and credible co-host for this high-profile daily series.
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Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Update #2: I will be joining Dave Moody on Sirius Speedway Wednesday afternoon at 4:40PM to talk about some NASCAR TV topics, including the one contained in this story. Please join us on Sirius Channel 128 at 4:40PM Eastern Time for some live conversation.
It was February 26th when reporter Terry Blount appeared on NASCAR Now with "breaking news." His news was so important that it was the first story on the program with a big "breaking news" graphic on the screen.
It was only hours later when his "news" was revealed to be completely full of holes. The link to the column that appeared on The Daly Planet that day can be read by clicking here. Nothing that he reported was anything more than bad gossip and ridiculous speculation.
Blount reported on national television that California Speedway President Gillian Zucker was seriously considering tearing-up the racing surface after the disastrous rain-plagued weekend. Blount reported Zucker was considering installing high banks and making the Speedway a restrictor plate track.
Needless to say, it took the International Speedway Corp. about five minutes to issue a terse release saying there would be no changes at "their" speedway in California. It took less time for other analysts and reporters to point out that any experienced NASCAR journalist would never have gone on-the-air with that information.
Such is the fine line that NASCAR Now has only crossed once or twice this season. The one where hardcore reporting and expert analysis give way to the dark-side of NASCAR journalism that most reporters detest. Gossip and unfounded allegations that are rushed to the national TV airwaves before common sense is allowed to prevail.
Monday, Allen Bestwick led a panel of three through a one hour version of NASCAR Now from the Bristol, CT studios. There was no dark-side reporting and no unfounded gossip. Instead, there was fun and conversation and the one thing that NASCAR Now has been trying hard to build since February's Daytona 500. That is credibility.
Host Nicole Manske led Tuesday's NASCAR Now directly to Mr. Blount once again. This time, Blount had been assigned the task of trying to sell magazines for ESPN. In all of the hype that fans witnessed on this TV series in 2007, there may have been nothing to top this effort.
Suddenly, Blount was revealing that Jack Roush found a Roush-Fenway part on a Toyota car in the garage area. Roush alleges that it was a part that his company created, and suggests in so many words that it may have been stolen. What a NASCAR bombshell. Imagine, a story this big breaking on a Tuesday afternoon.
Unfortunately, here is the reality. This story was not breaking and had nothing to do with Tuesday's NASCAR news. It was simply planted in NASCAR Now to sell ESPN the Magazine.
Like a fifth-grader trying to make enough money for the big class trip, Terry Blount was at your door and really needed you to buy it now. Twenty-six issues of ESPN the Magazine for only $26.
The line in ESPN-owned Jayski.com says it all. "ESPN the Magazine has an interesting and potentially explosive quote from Roush-Fenway Racing co-owner Jack Roush as part of its 10th Anniversary issue, which is on newsstands this week."
Imagine that. You can buy ESPN the Magazine to see the actual article that talks about the two-week old quote from a car owner who is still steaming at Toyota for comments earlier in the season. Surprisingly, the Roush story is about Toyota allegedly doing bad things to him.
There were thirty-four comments on the ESPN.com page about this story late Tuesday night. Fans suggested that the stolen part may have been an oil-cooler lid or perhaps the gas pedal from the 26 car, which apparently is missing. Words like "sour grapes, whining and even pre-school" were featured in the ESPN comments.
After a Monday of wonderful NASCAR conversation and information, this story caused me to turn-off this program for the first time in two years. Going from Bestwick, Marty Smith, Brad Daugherty and Andy Petree to this reporter selling junk once again as truth did me in.
Regardless of how slickly Blount worded his script and regardless of how delicately he skated around the timeliness issue, this was a planted story aimed at selling magazines. Regardless of the actions of Jack Roush in the future on this issue, it was presented to try and drive NASCAR fans to another ESPN property.
Over at the SPEEDtv.com message boards, one reader said very clearly what many people were thinking. "If Jack actually made these comments at Atlanta why did no media outlet other than ESPN The Magazine report it? They had no problem reporting the rest of his accusations against Toyota, why not this too?"
All the good will and outstanding content generated by the Monday show now has a black could hanging over it from this repeat of the dark days of 2007. Erik Kuselias and Doug Banks may be distant memories in the minds of many fans, but Terry Blount has drawn the short-straw this season.
The "hype" he has been offering may serve once again to motivate fans to simply skip this TV program and go directly to the Internet for their NASCAR content. NASCAR Now needs to understand that a direct alternative to their efforts is at the fingertips of every fan, and does not require them to tune-in at 5:30PM.
Update #1: Here is the link to Dave Moody's blog story that some of you have been asking about. His original words are the ones I listed from Jayski in reference to this topic. Just to make sure we are all on the same page.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy directions. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page. Thanks again for stopping by, and sharing your opinion.
Monday, March 24, 2008
In the middle of the college basketball season, ESPN's NASCAR Now team stepped-up to the free throw line with everyone watching. The TV cameras were on, there was a high-profile visitor watching and there was an hour to fill.
The starting line-up ESPN chose to put on the floor was Allen Bestwick, Marty Smith, Andy Petree and Brad Daugherty. These veterans were ready for action.
Bestwick led the show with an explanation of the lack of suit jackets on the panel. The last time Brad Daugherty forgot an item of clothing, it was his suit pants. While ESPN was able to find a pair in time for the show, there was going to be no such luck in finding a suit jacket for a seven foot tall adult in Bristol, CT. Even the Men's Warehouse could not fill the void.
Without a Cup race, the manner on the show was easy and relaxed. This is exactly what the show needed as it continued to build momentum. A feature on the season-in-review led the panel into a serious discussion of pressing NASCAR issues. Daugherty, Smith and Petree all raised big topics that had not really been raised by the mainstream NASCAR media.
The type of free-ranging discussion led by Bestwick is the key to the success of this show. Daugherty was criticized at first, but often puts his views on the table so they can be discussed by the more experienced members of the panel. Give Daugherty credit, his enthusiasm never wanes and this is a good TV venue for his skills.
Early on, it was clear that the program would be an issue-oriented discussion. As the show went on, it then became apparent it would be the theme of the entire hour. What a nice change of pace for fans who are lambasted with highlights on most NASCAR TV shows on a regular basis.
Continuing to erase the painful memories of last season, it was clear that the NASCAR Now Producer had been given the green light to throw the doors wide open and talk about everything and anything under the NASCAR sun. From dollars to tires, and from personalities to failures, this show may have taken its format from the NASCAR message boards on the Internet.
Time-and-time again, the conversation came back to money. The country's economic crisis has taken a toll on NASCAR and is now actively affecting all three series. All four panel members were very clear in making solid points about the problems, and what can be done to address those issues. It was not a pretty prognosis.
At halftime, Bestwick changed the strategy and offered one topic for a quick comment from the panelists. The COT, Toyota, and Goodyear got some great reactions and some interesting comments from the panel. Petree was outstanding in his hardcore racing comments from his crew chief perspective, and his knowledge served to set the table for the comments from Smith and Daugherty. It was a nice mix of talent.
Surprisingly, Bestwick launched the most controversial topic when he said the words "NASCAR officials." To have an ESPN TV series that focuses on NASCAR having an open discussion about officiating borders on amazing.
The show included a nice recap of the Saturday stand-alone Nationwide Series race at Nashville, TN. It included soundbites from the winner and a good selection of highlights that told the story of the race. The Kyle Busch spinning discussion was interesting, and the panel pointed the finger at Busch for his actions.
IRL driver Danica Patrick was at ESPN promoting the upcoming season opener at Homestead. In another statement about the maturing of this series, she was quickly asked to come on the show and talk racing. The results may have done more to promote the IRL race than all her other ESPN appearances. Does anyone watch First Take?
Patrick was made to feel comfortable right-off the bat, and responded with a good interview. She was blunt in her response to her failure to win an IRL race, and was clear that she was gunning to win this season. In terms of NASCAR, she put her perspective on the table and then asked the panel why she should "come over" to NASCAR?
As the discussion progressed, it was clear that she was a politician and left the door open to the other "art form" of racing in the closed-wheel ranks. It was fun to watch her put the panel on the spot, and the "guys" struggle to tell her why she should change series. If she ever did decide to jump ship, it certainly would bring some new fans over to NASCAR.
As you might expect, the panel closed the show with a look ahead to the Martinsville weekend. This preview really put a nice end to a fast-paced and interesting hour program. NASCAR TV is being well-served on Mondays, and the mix of personalities in this show really clicked.
ESPN2 answered the question of how this NASCAR Now team would fill an hour with only one race to review. Each panelists came through with some interesting opinions and Petree predicted firmly that Hendrick Racing would be back up-front at Martinsville.
The result of this hour was that NASCAR fans are going to make plans to return next Monday, get some great NASCAR information and see if the ESPN2 dress code has changed once again. Maybe the panel could take turns forgetting a suit jacket, because the shirts-and-ties edition of NASCAR Now really clicked.
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Sunday, March 23, 2008
Updated: For those asking, LW Miller did win the weekend opening Whelen Modified race at Caraway Speedway. He was almost chased down by Teddy Christopher, the Northern Modified veteran. Miller was featured in a NASCAR Now interview with Nicole Manske last week, and the show deservedly received great reviews for keeping the regional NASCAR racers on the agenda for this season. Maybe on Monday night there will be some race results.
When ESPN employees talk about "Big Mondays," they are referring to the basketball double and now triple-headers that feature top college teams. Debuting in the 1980's, it was the first presentation of college hoops during the week on ESPN. It changed the way TV viewers watched sports.
This Monday, ESPN2 will host another edition of what is rapidly becoming "Big Monday" for NASCAR fans. Even without a Sprint Cup race being run, Allen Bestwick will host a one hour edition of NASCAR Now from the ESPN studios.
Each week, Bestwick has been matched with a panel of three veterans from the NASCAR on ESPN team. This week, he will be joined by NASCAR Now's Lead Reporter Marty Smith, analyst Andy Petree and Brad Daugherty.
Over the past several weeks, it has been reporter Mike Massaro who has provided the spark on this panel, and it should be interesting to see how Smith does in filling the journalistic role. Petree was on-hand to call the Nashville Nationwide race, and is having a very good year in terms of his comfort level on TV.
Daugherty continues to fill a very unique role. In some settings, like the NASCAR Now Monday shows, he can be entertaining and opinionated. Featured on the weekday shows alone, he is not given a role in which he can thrive and often speaks simply as a fan. On Cup weekends, he poses questions to the experts from a fan perspective. When Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree are answering those questions, the results are bound to be interesting.
Ray Evernham is the newest member of the ESPN team, and his appearances on NASCAR Now have drawn both positive and negative comments. While he is off this week, it should be interesting to see if Evernham can continue to build his personal credibility back with some fans through his on-air exposure. His perspective as a team owner does bring good information to the show, but his off-track issues continue to linger.
Since the inception of this "roundtable" format, this show has drawn the attention of fans in exactly the way ESPN had planned. Memories of the disaster that was last season's Monday programs has been completely erased. NASCAR fans respond to commitment and that is what ESPN has delivered this season.
As the show continues to grow, look for additional reports from the field as well as a continuation of the slickly-edited weekend wrap features. ESPN has shifted their NASCAR resources to provide a wealth of talent and experience in support of this featured program.
Monday at 5:30PM Eastern Time, it should be interesting to see what topics the panel will discuss following a stand-alone Nationwide Series race weekend. Hopefully, this hour program will provide an opportunity to open the door on some pressing issues in NASCAR. One thing is for sure, lots of NASCAR fans are already getting ready for their own "Big Monday."
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The debut of the new program series from the NASCAR Media Group filled a void that fans had been asking SPEED Channel to fix for several years.
Few things can be better than Ken Squier as the first voice fans heard on NASCAR Confidential. Squier set-up the debut as a slice-of-life program following several different and diverse personalities on the Daytona 500 weekend.
For the past several years, the official TV production arm of NASCAR was called NASCAR Images. Originally a joint venture with Fox, the company is now part of a broader organization called the NASCAR Media Group and is totally owned by NASCAR.
The organization is diverse, and provides everything from on-site TV production services to NASCAR home videos. One other thing the company provides is outstanding post-produced TV series. Several networks have provided the outlets for this type of product, but things have been a bit slow over the last several years.
ESPN has almost no room for additional long-form NASCAR programming like NASCAR Confidential. They have added a ton of NASCAR content with races and a daily news show called NASCAR Now. The burden of carrying additional NASCAR content like this really falls to SPEED.
With 24 hours dedicated to motorsports, SPEED has been focusing their NASCAR efforts on programming that originates from the track. Ironically, it is the NASCAR Media Group that produces all those shows seen on SPEED from Raceday to Victory Lane. Finally, SPEED has decided to add this new six episode series.
“SPEED knows how devoted NASCAR fans are and how much they want every tidbit of information and insight they can get their hands on,” said Steve Craddock, SPEED Senior VP of Programming. “NASCAR Confidential will give viewers a different take on the behind-the-scenes workings in NASCAR. It will bring NASCAR to the fans in more depth and detail than they’ve ever had before.”
In this first program, cameras followed T. Taylor Warren, the photographer who has chronicled in photos every Daytona 500. Also, DeLana Harvick, wife of 2007 Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick and Jay Howard, president of JHE, the company in charge of pre-race entertainment were featured. Finally, both Ryan Newman and Michael Waltrip showed-up as drivers with unique perspectives going into this event.
The stories of each of the participants were told in slices and were weaved together quite well. The pace was fast and this series was different than the single-theme programs we have seen from NMG in the past. It was refreshing to once again be able to see behind-the-scenes in a realistic way the sport that contains so many diverse human interest stories.
Perhaps, you could tell us what you thought of this pilot episode. The show will re-air on Monday in the TWIN timeslot at 8PM Eastern Time on SPEED if you missed the original airing. Maybe SPEED could be persuaded to continue this series beyond the original six episodes ordered so far.
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Saturday, March 22, 2008
In some ways, the ESPN coverage of the Nashville Nationwide Series race echoed the fate of Kyle Busch.
ESPN brought all the bells and whistles to the track, including the entire Pit Studio and production team. Kyle Busch brought a fast car and was poised to run away with the race from the start.
ESPN2's Saturday morning coverage consisted of Friday's final practice session. Since ESPN chose not to televise qualifying live, it would certainly be reviewed for the fans on NASCAR Countdown...right?
Kyle Busch was starting in the front of the field and from the drop of the green flag he left everyone else in his dust. He began lapping cars shortly thereafter and threatened to dominate the entire event.
ESPN's Allen Bestwick started-off the telecast with Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty in the infield Pit Studio. There was tension on the set between these three, and it showed in the attempts to conduct conversation. Wallace and Daugherty have been working well on the broadcasts so far this season, but something was off-kilter. It quickly became apparent what it was.
ESPN had decided to return to the coverage philosophy of last season. This race would be about ESPN, and not the Nationwide Series. Just like the endless questions about naming the Fox "gopher cam," Nashville would bring a slew of ESPN agenda items that viewers would be dealing with for the entire event.
Kyle Busch had begun to "stink-up the show" with his performance. Veteran fans, however, sensed that perhaps he needed to figure out how to pace himself for the long haul. The coverage became a "TV vigil" to see what would happen to him...again.
ESPN had already decided to ignore qualifying completely. Since they did not show it, it simply did not exist. What ESPN did have time for is to hammer home the fact that the network's fascination with Carl Edwards was going to continue.
Edwards would be the in-car reporter, and in this race he would be answering questions from viewers that fans could send in to the ESPN.com website. Just like Kyle Busch, veteran TV viewers were just waiting for the disaster that would follow.
On the practice coverage, an bubbly pit reporter asked Edwards if he was excited about being the in-race reporter and taking questions from fans during the race. The look on Edward's face was priceless as he said that he knew absolutely nothing about it. What he did mention was that the ESPN in-car camera was right in his face and it distracted him while he tried to drive.
Thus set the tone for a disjointed ESPN presentation of the first stand-alone Nationwide Series race. After ignoring qualifying, ESPN replayed Jeff Burton's amazing "slam" of the Nationwide regulars and jumped into the hype mode once again.
Without setting any kind of parameters for discussion, Bestwick let Rusty Wallace say that the Nationwide Series "is very, very strong." Even as the Nationwide-only teams struggle to get cars to the track, Wallace called the series "the second most popular form of motorsports in the USA." On the real question of what to do to allow the regulars to survive the season, Wallace said NASCAR needs to "do something."
A case in point was the studio interview of Stephen Leicht. Despite being a talented driver and good on TV, Leicht only found his way back onto the track in the Nationwide Series by working for a Sprint Cup car owner. There were no solutions being offered by the panel, and his case made for a sad story about NASCAR in 2008.
Marty Reid was filling-in for the vacationing Jerry Punch, but was not seen or heard during the entire one hour pre-race show. Reid is a veteran, but his knowledge of the Nationwide Series and the constantly shifting driver line-ups did not work well for this telecast.
Even through Reid was scheduled to call the action, it was Bestwick that had his hands all over this telecast. Reid struggled to know the right names and follow the action. Wallace and Petree tried to get back in sync, but they settled-in to the same relationship they had last season.
With Busch still dominating, Wallace went to Carl Edwards for the first time as the in-race reporter under caution. These two do not hit it off, and Edwards wound-up pulling his face shield down. He had just about had enough of a competing car owner asking him about his race tactics. Needless to say, not one fan question was put to the in-race reporter on the entire telecast.
An extended caution pushed Bestwick back into the TV forefront, and turned the remainder of the race into a battle for control. Bestwick has been known to want the ball, and the Producer slowly built the remainder of the telecast around him.
ESPN again made good pictures and sound. The graphics package worked well this week once the race started, and it was nice to see the triple-split on the pit stops. This allowed for a great wideshot of pit road to see the cars pulling out and the race to the line. The recap of the newest Nationwide Series drivers mentioned in the pre-race show also worked well in the video box effect.
With 62 laps to go, the end came for Busch. Once again taking himself out of contention, the network got a brand new story dumped into its lap with Busch no longer a factor. Andy Petree stepped-in and took control when the key issue of fixing Busch's car was on the table.
Petree had been enjoying life this season with Jerry Punch and Dale Jarrett. Now once again alongside the opinionated Wallace and the struggling Reid, Petree continually spoke-up and often did it to quietly correct Wallace.
With less than fifty laps to go, it was the voice of Allen Bestwick who took over to lead an entire segment from the infield Pit Studio. Bestwick led to each of the pit reporters for a summary, and then spoke with Brad Daugherty. After voicing the entire segment, Bestwick threw to break with forty laps remaining.
The shift between Reid and Bestwick as the "lead voice" of the telecast while the field was under green continued to affect the overall program. Reid was given the race back with thirty-five laps to go, but had never really gotten an opportunity to get himself in rhythm. Reid was the substitute teacher who was very nice, but who could be taken advantage of by the class.
Even with all of the extra commercials during an early extended caution, ESPN forced Reid to go to break with thirty laps to go. The coverage returned with only twenty-four laps remaining, and the voice that viewers heard...was Allen Bestwick.
It was Bestwick that would close-out the race from the infield Studio and allow Daugherty to predict that Clint Bowyer would run out of fuel. Viewers heard Marty Reid again only to throw to a completely ill-timed video soundbite from Scott Wimmer about his goals for the 2008 season even as he raced hard with twenty laps to go. Reid should have been working hard himself to build-up the excitement for the finish, but it was not to be.
By the final laps of the telecast, viewers had heard so many voices and had their focus shifted so often that the end of the race was anti-climactic. No one ran out of gas on the track, Scott Wimmer led clearly to the line, and the announcers never pointed-out that Wimmer and Bowyer were teammates.
Once again, ESPN fell victim to "the curse of the winner." Only two cars were shown crossing the line, with the ESPN Director choosing pit-crew members high-fiving and cars slowing down over the rest of the lead-lap cars racing to the line in a fuel mileage contest.
At the end of the race Reid was done. Bestwick handled the extended post-race activity beginning with a poorly-handled winner interview by Shannon Spake. She seems to be unable to process what the driver is saying and react. She has her next question already prepared, and uses it no matter what the circumstances. This effort showed exactly that problem from beginning to end.
Mike Massaro was lucky enough to catch Clint Bowyer before he headed for the airplane, but Kyle Busch was having absolutely none of Vince Welch. His pressing style showed ESPN's lack of understanding of how to work with high profile NASCAR drivers in stressful settings. I doubt Welch would have approached many IRL drivers in the same blunt manner. With plenty of time on the clock, giving Busch a moment to cool-off may have resulted in a very different outcome.
It was wonderful of ESPN to show a wide variety of drivers in post-race interviews. Unfortunately, even with a highlight package shown in the post-race show, none of the drivers being interviewed had been shown finishing the race. As the pit reporters talked about great finishes and final lap action, the reality of ESPN's Nashville effort was revealed.
Just like Kyle Busch, the day had started with a lot of promise and ended on a low note. Eight of the key drivers that ESPN had profiled during the pre-race show had been interviewed after the race. None of them had their final lap shown. No one knew how they finished or what had happened because ESPN did not show it.
Somehow, the lure of the winner and the drama has taken the common sense away from the NASCAR TV networks again this season. Fans of the winner might be happy that he was featured, but that leaves the fans of forty-two other cars wondering what happened to the driver they had been keeping track of for the past several hours.
The stories ESPN had been building were never paid-off with a race to the line. Brad Keselowski finished fourth. Kelly Bires finished fifth. Cale Gale finished eighth, and sentimental favorite Bobby Hamilton Jr. was tenth. These were the stories of the race.
Saturday in Nashville, only the fans in the stands knew what happened on the final lap to any car other than Scott Wimmer and Clint Bowyer. Now in the second year of Nationwide Series coverage, ESPN has to ask itself some hard questions about why fans would return to watch the next race when the prospect of never seeing their driver finish is a very good possibility.
Update: I woke-up to a phone call on Sunday morning. The voice of the NASCAR TV personality said he had good news and he had bad news for me. When I asked for the good news first, he said "at least you got the State right." This is going to be an Easter to remember.
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