Saturday, April 26, 2008

Punch In Need Of A Good TV Doctor


Few current NASCAR personalities have as much admiration from the fans as ESPN's Dr. Jerry Punch. Throughout the early years of ESPN's coverage, Punch was a crusading pit reporter. His professionalism and good humor lent itself to the type of coverage the sport needed in the 1980's and 90's.

This is Punch's second season as the play-by-play voice of the largest NASCAR TV package. He leads the charge across ESPN, ABC and ESPN2. The ESPN TV package delivers all of the Nationwide Series races, seventeen Sprint Cup races and lots of qualifying and practice. Unlike some other NASCAR TV partners who come and go, the ESPN bunch is on-the-air from February through November.

Before this season's Daytona 500, ESPN held a press conference to announce a host of changes in their NASCAR television commitment. The network would change the studio show hosts for NASCAR Now. They would incorporate ESPNEWS and SportsCenter into the NASCAR coverage. They introduced Ray Evernham as a new member of the ESPN announcing team.

Finally, they got ready to talk about who would handle the race telecasts for 2008. Dale Jarrett was going the be the new lead analyst, and Rusty Wallace was moving to the Infield Studio. Suzy Kolber was also out, and the network then had to decide who would be the new infield host for all the races. They chose Allen Bestwick.

This put Jerry Punch, the veteran reporter, back in the broadcast booth as the play-by-play announcer for the entire year. When Punch needed a break, it was going to be Marty Reid who stepped-in as a substitute.

Returning Punch to the broadcast booth may have been well intended, but it has not yielded the desired results so far this season. Saturday at Talladega, it was painfully obvious that Punch is still struggling in this role.

Last year, this column spoke about the tough times in the broadcast booth for Punch. There was lots of opinion that laid the blame squarely at the feet of Rusty Wallace for ESPN's problems. Now, with Rusty "downstairs" and Dale Jarrett in the booth, it is quite clear that perhaps something else is off-kilter.

This season, ESPN has not been involved in many of the Nationwide Series practice or qualifying sessions. At Talladega, it was SPEED that carried qualifying on Friday, while the Thursday practices went without TV. Essentially, the NASCAR on ESPN gang showed-up for the race and then went home. That did not help gain experience for the new on-air team.

The good news is that Dale Jarrett has given Andy Petree the kind of freedom and respect that has taken Petree to the top of his game. Whether on NASCAR Now, ESPNEWS or a race telecast, Petree has become one of the top analysts on TV. This partnership has yielded outstanding results in only a short time.

Now, as ESPN takes to the air they have an outstanding team in place. Bestwick, Wallace and Brad Daugherty have fun in the Infield Pit Center. Tim Brewer has finally gotten comfortable in the Tech Center. Jamie Little has toned-down her act, and the pit reporters now present substance and not hype.

The only member of the on-air crew still looking for an identity is Punch. At Talladega, Dario Franchitti getting hit in the driver's door at full speed elicited no emotion from Punch. It was only the replay that told the story to viewers and Punch never stepped-in and took control. It is almost like he is stuck in low gear.

That was never more obvious than when Kevin Lepage chose to drive his Nationwide car directly in front of the Talladega field moving at full speed. The resulting violent accident involving many cars was met with nothing more than confusing phrases and awkward silence from Punch. Jarrett and Petree stepped-in and took control once again, as they often do when Punch is out-of-sync.

Even during the replays, Punch never raised his voice, changed his inflection, or exhibited the least bit of emotion. As Jarrett, Petree and the pit reporters followed-up on the incident during the resulting red flag, Punch's monotone continued. His total lack of energy was more than curious, it was downright strange.

Several times, Allen Bestwick appeared during the race to provide a break for the announcers during the red flag and offer race recaps. It was during this time that viewers were reminded once again of the excitement and energy that Bestwick seems to bring to each telecast. Since Bestwick has prior play-by-play experience, the thought has to cross the minds of the ESPN executives that maybe viewers would be better served with the roles reversed.

Punch has great credibility, a super personality and handles interviews with anyone and everyone with no problem. His days on pit road and then as an ESPN college football sideline reporter will never be forgotten. Perhaps, giving Punch an Infield Studio weekend and moving Bestwick to the booth for one race would give ESPN a baseline on which to fairly evaluate the network's late summer Sprint Cup on-air line-ups.

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33 comments:

stricklinfan82 said...

JD,

I agree with your comments about Dr. Punch. It pains me to even be critical of him because he's a great guy and I've been a huge fan of him since his first days working NASCAR races for ESPN in the mid 1980's. I was very happy for him in '06 or so when they announced he was getting the gig as the play-by-play guy for ESPN's return to NASCAR.

As much as I hate having to be critical of one of my personal long-time favorite NASCAR TV personalities, I have to agree that it's just not working having him in the play-by-play position. The lack of emotion to what's going on on the track has been very evident for the last 2 years. Last year's monotonous call of the finish of the same Talladega Nationwide race was mirrored throughout today's broadcast. There were many times where he either layed out completely as action was going on, or led long-winded discussions that completely ignored the lead changes or other action going on on the track.

I would definitely be interested in seeing Allen Bestwick get a chance to sit between DJ and Andy on Dr. Punch's next off-weekend to see if things would be any different.

I've had no problems in the past being very critical of "outsiders" like Brent Musburger that showed little respect for the sport I love so much. But like I said it does honestly hurt to suggest a re-assignment that could be considered a demotion for one of my beloved "NASCAR guys". But I feel it's the right time to come out and say that it would be in the best interest of everyone involved to put both Allen and Dr. Punch back into the roles they have flourished at the most in their careers.

Allen Bestwick deserves to get back the play-by-play position he rightfully earned and was wrongfully stripped of by NBC. And Dr. Punch certainly deserves better than to have the final portion of his legendary NASCAR TV career tarnished by all the criticisms he has received while being in a role that he's not best suited for.

kang said...

I do not have a problem with J.Punch not showing emotion.Pat Summerall was the best NFL announcer,maybe ever.In his prime back in the 70's and 80's Pat Summerall almost never showed emotion.It was great.Let the game speak for itself.I would also say Summerall always spoke in a monotone back then.Those are not Punchs problems.His trouble is he isn't a play by play man.He is good at hyping a ESPN show, or saying how bout that (fill in the blank car), but he just does not know whats going on in the race.

SophiaZ123 said...

I don't need a maniac in the booth but the fact indeed, that Punch shows little emotion or feeling in his voice, EVEN after the scary crash with Dario and NOBODY in the booth addressing that?

Totally bizarre? We sat her e understanding the camera does not linger if serious injury may be present, but the camera not only stayed away from Dario's car (except for all the replays) they announced the cars on pit road, virtually ignoring Dario's wreck. A few people asked me if it was because Dario is still an 'outsider' from OW. That never even occurred to me but who knows.

Towards the end of the race, they showed some old race highlights with Andy Petree jumping on the hood of a winning car and Punch FINALLY showed "enthusiasm" in his voice that only made a brief appearance.

I am not a fan of the IRL guy that fills in either, sorry to say. He can have fake emotions during the IRL races and his timbre can be a certain pitch, well, I just don't enjoy listening (Marty Reid is who I am thinking of)

AB is SORELY needed in the booth.

I have only been watching NASCAR since 2004 but it pains me to see so many old fans of Punch ache for him and the way he just is not a good fit in the booth. For crying out loud, ESPN should see this and move him to pit road, and not put an old announcer vet and fan favorite where he is just stumbling.

I don't like to see it either as it's painful for me to watch.

Rusty was a problem but the ESPN problem in the booth, still exists.

Now if only we could get the GREAT camera guys/producer/director for the Fox races and all would be well with the world.

It is a long season and Dr. Punch is just not up for it.

Brian said...

+1 We need to do this.

bevo said...

JD-

You and stricklinfan are 100% correct. It seems like he's constantly distracted during the race thinking about something else. He's been great in the past as a pit reporter but this just isn't a strength of his. I don't need a maniac calling the race but it would be nice to have someone who sounds like they're into it.

wickedj said...

once, just once..please let Allen do the broadcast..maybe Milwuakee again. hell thats all i want for Christmas lol

Tom said...

As much as I hate to admit it, I am convinced that a JP/AB switch should be tried. I feel the same as Strick, in that Jerry has always been a favorite, and after all he has been through in the non-NASCAR years, he above all deserved a shot. But I don't think it is working. This was brought to the forefront when after watching the race yesterday, I went back and watched a DVR of F1 Q3 and the excitment level from all 3 announcers on the final lap really added to the overall excitment. I also noticed that DJ handed over to Jaimie directly on at least one occasion, which while a minor issue, really struck me.
It just strikes me that JP isn't really enjoying himself, at least that's how it feels. With just about any other option I would be behind JP, given his integrity and stansing in the sport. The fact remains that AB is also a known quantity, with a background and respect that equals JP. Let's try him out and see if the other changes and Petree's strengths can gel as the top announce team.

Tom
Inverness, FL

Anonymous said...

Jeezzz.. you all crusify anyone in the booth. That accident that Dario had wasn't "exciting" nothing came of it. He was moving in the car and out of he car immediately... what was there to get excited about or show emotion over?

Just my opionion... but the "uh uh uh" that comes out of DJ's mouth and his non stop talking at times is a lot worse than what they had last yr in the booth.

And Petrees comments about the Mexico race thru the week border on racism if you ask me. You don't hear comments like that out of him over the race in Montreal.

Anonymous said...

Bob Jenkins... Where are you?

Anonymous said...

Punch gets distracted - probably because of the new technology in the booth since 2000.

Jerry said at the end that it WASN'T a Green/White/Checkered finish yesterday. Guess he wasn't watching the cars go around the track under yellow and laps remaining stayed at 3 - When he gets distracted he goes to the vault for recycled comments over the years instead of thinking on his feet.

When AB was demoted to pit reported he took it in stride and grace. Why can JP do the same for the good of NASCAR and the network?

Anonymous said...

anonymous said
And Petrees comments about the Mexico race thru the week border on racism if you ask me. You don't hear comments like that out of him over the race in Montreal.
===================================
Canada is a civilized country while Northern Mexico is dangerous territory. Teams don't need Police escort in Canada like they do in Mexico.

Petree thinks like the crew chief he once was and thinks of logistics and money only.

Mexico City also had a lot of empty seats and perhaps that race would be better utilized in the US.

There was no racism. Get over it.

You expressed your opinion and AP expressed his. He is not the only one who is saying this.

Thornton, Colorado said...

The accident with Dario WAS bad. He fractured his left ankle, and with a driverside impact, it SHOULD be addressed! Apparantly, people have short memories, ala Bobby Allison at Pocono,etc. Instead, we had several cameras focused on the points leader who had right side damage, but was still rolling.
I agree: no maniac in the booth, but please get excited! It's racing,not golf. Ooops, I probably made several readers mad, but you get the idea.
Has anyone ever heard the one about a player that wants to be traded, so he lays down on the job, so he could get out of his contract?

Anonymous said...

I agree that Dario's accident was major and needed to be the focus of the broadcast when it happened. They should have been discussing why the 91 who was far back didn't slow and why he was going full speed at the time of the impact. He was far enough back that he had plenty of time to slow down or even stop, yet he was still close to full speed when he slammed in the driver's side door. Even if they pulled away from the accident until Dario's injury could be assessed, the focus of the conversation should have been about the incident and ESPN dropped the ball on this one.

I will say, however, they did a much better job with the Lepage incident. They were able to ask nascar and find out the correct blending rules - which directly contradicted what Lepage thought they were. Clearly, he wasn't paying attention in the driver's meeting. At any rate, the crew did a much better job for this incident. That said, do I recall that AB stepped in and covered most of it from his infield postion??

Anonymous said...

tom said
I also noticed that DJ handed over to Jaimie directly on at least one occasion, which while a minor issue, really struck me.
==================================
I noticed that too - for those that do not know- the producer talks to the announcers and pit reporters and those that have scanners at the track are actually listening to the production frequency. Anyways the producer tells the booth who to hand off to and apparently he was saying send it to Jamie. Now Punch should be the QB and handle these hand-offs but DJ for some reason did it. Interesting.

CORRECTION: Jerry was right - it was not a Green/White/Checkered finish but finished in the allotted 117 laps. I stand corrected.

Ken-Michigan said...

I've said it very early on in this 2008 season on this board.

Punch does not and should not belong in the TV booth. He IS NOT a play by play guy.... period.

Bestwick IS a play by play guy, and one of the very best, BUT... few people know if he even wants or if contract allows him to go to the booth.

Geez said...

I also enjoyed Jerry Punce as a oit reporter in ESPN's first go around with NASCAR. He was one of the best.

Switch him and Bestwick around and they will have a winner.

And is it me or the word varification for posting harder to read as of late

Newracefan said...

I totally agree JD, I don't want mania in the booth but I want some excitement. Lets face it these races are long an you can't stare at the TV for 4-5 hours straight and having changes in voice increase the attention level. Mike Joy is a master of this. I also find it interesting that it's a Crew Chief that has stepped up, AP reminds me alot of Larry Mac and he saves TNT broadcasts IMO.

PS Word veri was very hard yesterday but really easy today I don't have one and it still posts

Daly Planet Editor said...

nrf,

Verification is removed for today. See, I listen.

JD

Newracefan said...

Thanks JD we are all very thankful for some reason it was a real bear yesterday and I don't usually have a really hard time

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I was stunned when the espn crew threw to Tim Brewer so quickly after the accident and he touted the safety of the nationwide (read: last year's cup cars) as though it was some news!. Turns out old Dario was NOT fully protected -broken leg?-
Proves you gotta have all the facts before you make conculusions.

Reagrding Punch vs Bestwick in the booth, Jerry is the best pit reporter who ever did that job. Thats where he should be

Newracefan said...

On a side note Marty Smith's father passed away on friday. Did it get mentioned at all on Sat? I missed NN perhaps there?

SophiaZ123 said...

JD,

Thanks for removing that ^%$#@ word veri deal!! even the audio version was long and hard to hear with all the yakking in the eery background.

Thanks for listening! You should produce and direct the races! Well, the last lap anyway.

RaceDay FINALLY called the 91 car an idiot for hitting Dario at full speed...i wondered this yesterday. Ok Spencer called that car an idiot and LePage as well.

I love it when truth over rides PC!!!

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 12:20PM,

If you would like that information, just drop me an email at editor@thedalyplanet.tv when you have a moment. Thanks.

JD

Anonymous said...

If memory serves, Bestwick and Joy were the first choices of NBC and Fox for the booth. The booth positions were not offered to Punch which is why he opted to stay with Espn rather than acccept a position second to Bestwick.


Obviously, in this case, Fox and NBC knew what they were doing, and Espn would do well to follow NBC's lead and AB back in the booth.

Vicky D said...

I concur with your comments on JP, JD.

Anonymous said...

Why not bring the truck announce team up to the Nationwide series. Get them warmed up for Sprint Cup.

Richard in N.C. said...

Jerry P "earned" it, but I am sorry to say he is in the wrong job. In fairness to Jerry P, he is being compared to 2 of the very best there have been - Mike Joy and Allen Bestwick. Jerry needs to be set free from play-by-play and put in a position, like the one Allen B has now, where his knowledge and contacts in the sport can be better used. On one hand I feel I should applaud ESPN for being loyal to Jerry, but on the other hand they have misused 2 fine people.

Ryan said...

I've said it before, I'll say it again. The reason Bestwick isn't in the booth is because he's difficult to work with on anything outside of a "scripted" program (usually scripted by him). He's a perfectionist to the Nth degree and rubs those around him the wrong way.

You can cry for Bestwick in the booth all you want, and he's excellent there, but his social skills and reputation hinder any possibility of him getting the play-by-play position.

Remember when AB got kicked out of the booth at NBC and they moved Bill Weber in? Many of you cried foul, for good reason. But the reason the switch was made is because his fellow booth personnel (not naming names) had a major problem with his personality.

That said, I'm sure Bestwick has learned from his experiences, and deserves another shot in the booth. He really is the best man for the job...when it comes to calling races for the tv audience.

Anonymous said...

The thing thats makes me upset about Jerry is when there is a crash shown all he ever says "Oh. Trouble on the race track."

He never gets anmiated during accidents like Mike Joy or even Bill Weber does.

Anonymous said...

Ryan, where did you get that information about Allen Bestwick?

I always thought Wally, Benny, and Allen got along great. I actually think it is the other way around and Benny/Wally thought Bill was sometimes over powering.

Anonymous said...

Jerry should be moved to head-up pit road and Bob Jenkins should be moved into the play-by-play.

I don't see that happening anytime soon. But its my draft pick so to speak.

Anonymous said...

OK ... AB goes to the booth , Jerry to pit road (one of the ladies to the care center?)& EITHER Bob Jenkins OR John Kernan to the host in pit studio , YEP that's the answer .....DON in CALIF