Wednesday, April 30, 2008
NASCAR Without TV On Friday Morning
The excitement building up to the big Friday and Saturday night races at the Richmond International Raceway has been right on schedule.
After a season of bickering drivers and complaining crew chiefs, Talladega put the racing back in the sport once again. NASCAR's momentum going into Richmond is fantastic. TV viewers can hardly wait to see this track and the races.
This is the classic "two day show." Open the garage Friday morning and let chaos ensue. Put the cars on the track for practice only one time and then qualify. Race the Nationwide Series on Friday, race the Sprint Cup guys on Saturday and then head home.
This format puts the emphasis on the action that will be taking place on the track on Friday morning. The Nationwide Series has their only practice session from 8:45 to 10:55AM Eastern Time. Immediately following a track inspection, the Sprint Cup cars take to the track at 11AM for a non-stop session that will last until 1PM.
The stories of what is happening in both those sessions will probably be the stories of qualifying and possibly of the race. This little "bull ring" also has a reputation for incidents in practice that will make both these full speed sessions a bit more dangerous than normal.
The Nationwide Series has a fascinating mix of Cup drivers, Nationwide regulars, and new names like Ryan Hackett, Chad Beahr and Andy Ponstein. The practice session with all of these cars on the track should be fun to watch.
Unfortunately, that is going to be a problem. There is no live TV for the only Nationwide Series practice on either ESPN2 or SPEED.
On Friday at 8:45AM, ESPN is showing SportsCenter, ESPN2 has Mike and Mike in the Morning, and ESPN Classic has a vintage NBA film. SPEED has Monster Jam and then PINKS All Out.
While you enjoy one of these fine TV programs the Nationwide Series, featuring a dozen Cup drivers, will be trying to come up-to-speed in Richmond in a non-stop single practice session.
At 11AM, the Cup field will take to the track to try and get dialed-in for one of the toughest races on the schedule. SPEED is the network that televises practice and qualifying for the Cup Series during the NASCAR on Fox portion of the schedule. While the cars are on the track at 11AM, SPEED will be showing...infomercials.
What SPEED has decided to do is tape delay the practice and put a ninety minute version of it on-the-air at 1:30PM. This will follow a thirty minute NASCAR Live and after the practice is replayed there will be the weekly Go or Go Home show.
All of that will then lead into SPEED hosting the back-to-back qualifying sessions for the Nationwide and Cup Series. So, not carrying the live practice sessions lets SPEED make one big NASCAR block, despite the fact that Cup practice actually took place two and a half hours earlier than it is being presented.
Again this season we are seeing the interesting choices and some very public "posturing" as the NASCAR TV partners focus on their own agendas and schedules. Regardless of who offered the TV rights to whom, or what other programming issues are on the table, the only loser in this mix is the NASCAR fans.
Since SPEED does not have any of the actual Nationwide or Sprint Cup points races, why won't the network show the Friday practice sessions live? Monster Jam and PINKS have aired before, and missing an infomercial or two will not affect the network's TV ratings.
As the off-track shows like NASCAR Now, RaceDay and Victory Lane have continued to mature and develop, it is the on-track action that has suffered.
Fans are now used to "dark" practices with no TV. When the ESPN/ABC portion of the Sprint Cup schedule begins, TV viewers will once again not be seeing practice for the final "Chase for the Cup" races. That is simply amazing.
This is not batting practice. It is not football players tossing pre-game passes. No one is running lay-up drills on the court or stretching. This is NASCAR, and the moment that the cars hit the track every single practice lap has meaning in terms of both qualifying and the race. It is especially true in Richmond.
The stories about the sport each week begin when the engines fire for practice and continue through the checkered flag. It is a shame that the NASCAR TV partners and NASCAR itself cannot coordinate the availability of a cable TV network so fans can watch the stories unfold rather than just read about them.
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