Sunday, March 2, 2008
The TV Weekend NASCAR Really Needed
There may have been a lot more things coming together for NASCAR this weekend than just the COT and the weather. While a big crowd at the track enjoyed some great racing and the Las Vegas sunshine, NASCAR fans watching on TV also got a treat.
For the first time in a long time, the NASCAR TV programs offered by Fox, ESPN2 and SPEED all hit a home run. Anyone who struggled through some of the offerings of last season had to be smiling at both the quality and the quantity of the NASCAR TV over the last few days.
The SPEED and Fox announcers combined forces to handle the Las Vegas practice and qualifying sessions, with Steve Byrnes and Mike Joy hosting the shows. The casual atmosphere and the day-long commitment to the on-track action is exactly what fans needed. This group has shown the true spirit of cooperation this season.
Capping the evening on Friday was another edition of Trackside. This program has become a mini-version of RaceDay, with the big crowds and the top drivers. Having Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards stop-by was exactly the right touch going into the weekend and it paid off in an outstanding interview with Busch.
Still in his driver's suit, Busch was on his game and sent a message to the 2008 NASCAR fan base that this was going to be an exciting year and he was going to be the one to make it that way. Love him or hate him, this supposed "cast-off" seemed to be enjoying his new role in the spotlight.
SPEED then returned to handle the on-track duties right up until the Nationwide race. With another seamless transition, the re-vamped ESPN2 crew took up the challenge of fixing the mess they created last season with the Busch Series.
Dale Jarrett has been a beacon of light for Jerry Punch in the announce booth. Punch is still working to define himself as a play-by-play announcer, and DJ sometimes prods him back into that role when he strays. Both of these men kept the information flowing and the issues with the track and tires center stage in this event.
Andy Petree gave his strongest performance to date as an analyst, and seems to be enjoying this change in the booth. Rusty Wallace and Ray Evernham were not involved in this weekend's telecast. ESPN will continue to rotate the on-air announcers throughout the long season.
As Sunday rolled around, NASCAR fans had a good look at two very different network styles that both get across good information. The more formal style of ESPN was on display as Nicole Manske and Boris Said hosted NASCAR Now from the ESPN2 studios. Manske has been nothing short of totally professional since she set foot in ESPN, and her hard work at Daytona really set a tone for this series.
ESPN said in the pre-season that they were going to work to integrate all the NASCAR announcers into one big team, and they have kept their word. Manske had most of the members of the ESPN2 broadcast team on the show, along with Marty Smith and the news.
A short time later, SPEED unleashed another live version of RaceDay. Once again serving the role of the "Super Wal-Mart of NASCAR," this two hour show contains news, features, interviews and sometimes mind-numbing treatment of the English language.
From the college-educated and professionally trained Wendy Venturini to the pride of the Berwick High School Bulldogs Jimmy Spencer, RaceDay truly has something for everyone. John Roberts is a very busy traffic cop as he maintains control while simultaneously trying to encourage Spencer and Kenny Wallace to occasionally use punctuation.
The interesting thing is, both RaceDay and NASCAR Now cover the exact same stories and work in exactly the same manner. The only thing separating them is their on-air styles. ESPN reflects the overall on-air look of a big media company with lots of rules and regulations about being on-the-air. SPEED reflects the dress and tone of the NASCAR garage area.
When RaceDay steps aside, the highest profile TV team in NASCAR steps-in. Mike Joy used Las Vegas to remind us once again of why he is simply the best in the business. Keeping track of the race, the TV components that must be integrated and also directing traffic between eight other on-air announcers is no easy task for three hours. The NASCAR on Fox leader was great in Vegas.
Despite an extended pre-race show, fans needed a good race with good weather and good TV coverage to get things back on-track for the season. Fox made great pictures and put out great sound to thrill the HD crowds around the country. The fact that the race contained all kinds of drama and action really capped the day in the right way. Even adding a replay of the finish worked to emphasize the fact that the Fox crew was aware of the issues of the past.
Even as Joy was signing-off, Victory Lane on SPEED and live post-race coverage on ESPNEWS was beginning. Fans had their choice of live interviews in the Media Center or Spencer and Wallace talking about the race from the infield.
This has been a weekend where individually all three of NASCAR's TV partners were outstanding. Fans had a tremendous amount of live on and off-track coverage of the sport since Friday. As we have said before, the combination of good TV and good racing can bring this sport right back to the forefront.
After the performance of this weekend, and with the fast and exciting Atlanta track looming, NASCAR fans can finally be optimistic that the TV woes of 2007 are on their way to becoming just a memory.
Monday night brings the one hour NASCAR Now at 5:30PM on ESPN2 and the brand new This Week in NASCAR on SPEED at 8PM.
Please feel free to add your TV-related comment about this past weekend's NASCAR coverage. To add your opinion, just 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. Thanks again for dropping by.