Saturday, May 31, 2008

The "New" ESPN Team Continues To Impress


The clock on the wall said 8PM Eastern Time as the NASCAR on ESPN pit reporters talked to the drivers after the Nationwide Series race in Dover.

The NASCAR TV team had been on ESPN2 since 2:30PM and never wavered in their focus on presenting the race. Now, five and a half hours later, the same TV crew was wrapping-up a marathon that NASCAR fans are going to remember.

This season, the new NASCAR on ESPN team and the new approach of the network to the sport has continued to impress. Leading this effort in no uncertain terms has been Allen Bestwick.

At 2:30PM, it was pouring at Dover International Speedway. The rain had begun as SPEED was on-the-air with the final Sprint Cup practice session. Before they left the air, Steve Byrnes relayed that the area was under a tornado watch.

One element of Bestwick's season as the leader of this new crew has been his steadfast focus on NASCAR topics regardless of the weather issues. No longer does ESPN bombard TV viewers with SportsCenter Updates and extended interviews with athletes at the racetrack to promote other ESPN programs.

The focus this season is on racing and the results have been fantastic. There might be no better example of that than Saturday at Dover. Bestwick brought a parade of drivers into the ESPN Infield Pit Studio that included Kevin Harvick talking about his teams while Brad Daugherty ate all of Delana Harvick's chocolate chip cookies. Those cookies were about the only thing the ESPN team did not share during this telecast.

Rusty Wallace continues to be one of the best comeback stories of the year. After ESPN announced that Dale Jarrett would take over the Lead Analyst position in the booth, Wallace was moved to the Infield Pit Studio. He would move back up to the booth for selected races when Jarrett was on vacation. Dover was one of those races and Wallace made the most of his opportunity.

After hanging-in with Bestwick and Daugherty for the "rain fill" portion of the telecast, Wallace then moved-up to the broadcast booth and called the entire race with Dr. Jerry Punch and Andy Petree. He was focused and funny while it rained, and then he turned-on the Wallace enthusiasm and kept the excitement level high for the entire event.

The new versatility that Wallace has shown this season with appearances on NASCAR Now, ESPNEWS, SportsCenter and NASCAR Countdown has been a welcome addition to the ESPN effort where NASCAR is concerned.

One point to remember is that the ESPN team is even better when Jarrett is involved. While Wallace moves to the infield, both he and Bestwick participate on a regular basis as the race is in-progress. Even Brad Daugherty has come a very long way this season in keeping his comments focused as he lets his personality come through at last. If Daugherty is given the chance to do some feature interviews, he may continue his TV growth.

Punch was low-key before the race, appearing only a few times. That kept Bestwick front-and-center and the attention down in the infield. Once the race got back underway, Punch kept things simple and it certainly worked well for him. No longer the verbose storyteller, Punch described the action and let his two analysts fill-in the details.

Two unexpected TV twists were highly effective. The first was Tim Brewer in the Tech Center. Brewer may have finally gotten this TV thing, as he was on-top of the issues right down to the tethers on the rear deck lids. This was by far his best race.

NASCAR Now cult favorite and veteran crew member DJ Copp wore a microphone and a helmet camera during the pit stops and the resulting footage yielded a new and very effective angle for TV viewers. Having his audio on during the stops and hearing the conversations was a brand new twist in a sport where it is sometimes very hard to discover anything new where TV is concerned.

ESPN found its groove in this race, right down to the final lap. After the frustration of Fox this season, ESPN showed a nice wide shot of Dover and let the lead lap cars run through the screen as the graphics revealed the finishing order. It answered all the questions of who was where and paid-off the stories that the pit reporters had been following all race long. What a nice touch.

As a tired TV crew signed-off the air, Bestwick made sure to say thanks to all of the engineering and production people who had endured a very long day in the rain. His thoughts were no doubt echoed by many fans who could not believe that the network that struggled with the very basic elements of NASCAR TV last season had stayed live for almost six hours to present a Nationwide Series race.

This may bode quite well for the fans. ESPN seems to be building-up momentum before the network adds the final seventeen Sprint Cup races to the remainder of the Nationwide schedule after TNT finishes its run in seven weeks. Dale Jarrett will return to ESPN in New Hampshire and will then work all of the Sprint Cup races down the stretch.

What are your thoughts on ESPN hanging-in at Dover, filling all that time live from the track and then doing a nice job of covering the race?

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20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Any answer to what happened during qualifing? The -we are live from Dover but showing a tape, while calling a live run

Daly Planet Editor said...

Things have been happening this season while the networks are trying to save all the runs and then show them all on-the-air.

We have all become familiar with the TiVo style qualifying, as we call it. Hopefully, the fans helped the networks to decide to try that approach that SPEED has perfected.

ESPN still needs a little work in that department. I don't think there is any suggestion that there was some kind of attempt to present a taped run as live, just that in the overall show, it takes a good deal of coordination to get all the runs in order on-the-air in the current commercial TV format.

Does that help?

JD

Matt said...

Great article.. you pretty much summed up my thoughts. It's clear that this new and improved ESPN is led by AB.. he did an excellent job as always.

I really liked the tire changer cam too.. something new that I think old and new fans can enjoy.

AMS fan said...

I'm still trying to be an ESPN fan. Broadcasts like today help. Every person that worked today should have gotten one of those cookies. I agree with this whole column. Good Job!
My one complaint is there are still some reporters that (by appearance) won't let it go.
It is their job to ask the question, sensitive issue or not, I get that, but why does it have to be asked in a agressive manner that adds fuel to a burning fire. And after that fuel is added they go back for more. It seems they try get the person interviewed to blow up and "make" headlines. From my side of the screen it just looks unprofessional. The good thing is there are only a few reporters still doing that style of reporting.
Lastly, there were numerous "Busch" races last year where we couldn't find anything wrong with them. Raving reviews by the bloggers here, almost perfect broadcasts!
Then came the Sunday Cup Race.
HAPPY RACIN' TO ALL!!!

SophiaZ123 said...

ams fan

You are COREECTOMUNDO about last years Busch races (being good) then the ESPN Cup race (everything but the kitchen sink thrown at us)

Still wish both races would be approached the same way. Simple, less toys, less green flag video/interviews.

Time will tell.

Letting us see the end of the race finish line of cars FROM THE FRONT is a good start. :)

Or shall I say good finish.

Anonymous said...

ESPN did a very good job with the rain delay and the race itself, complete with post-race interviews.

Adam T. Martin said...

I hope ESPN/ABC can keep this positive momentum going for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series coverage.

stricklinfan82 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stricklinfan82 said...

ESPN's practice and qualifying coverage were terrible as I documented earlier. They still need to focus ON THE TRACK and stop with all the other nonsense like full-screen video packages and random booth chatter about anything but the on-track action during these broadcasts. What we saw on Friday and Saturday on ESPN during these two sessions was unacceptable and needs to be drastically changed before the Brickyard rolls around.

But the Nationwide race broadcasts have been excellent from where I sit. Besides a few hiccups (most notably at Daytona and Mexico), their finish line camera work has been absolutely top notch.

Allen Bestwick and the Pit Studio continue to produce tremendous pre-race and rain-fill shows. I would still love to see what AB could do if he was given a chance to do play-by-play with DJ and Andy at some point.

I am just keeping my fingers crossed that this same production quality of the races carry over to their Cup races. I'm just praying that once the Allstate 400 rolls around we won't go back to seeing only a winner at the finish line, Sportscenter Minutes, infield studio guests during the race, draft tracks, and the memorable combination of Brent Musburger, sneakers, a podium, and the Sprint Cup trophy.

Please ESPN, don't let this tremendous Nationwide race coverage prove to be nothing but a mirage once the Brickyard rolls around! And please re-tool your practice and qualifying coverage. Treat practice and qualifying like they matter to you and stop making the on-track action come across as nothing but background noise to the fancy NASCAR talk shows you're trying to produce during these sessions.

Spring Rubber said...

The SportsCenter updates will certainly be present for the night races on regular ESPN and ABC. Those updates are required for all sporting events that air during primetime on those two networks.

Bill H said...

JD

Yesterday nascar.com was simulcasting the bationwide race. About 1/2 waythrough their stream ended. A big uproar ensued in their chat room. Seems Nascar.com only purchase a block of time to cover the race and when that block was over, so was the stream. No one thought of telling the stream providers, "Hey race was late we are gonna run late". After about 45minutes they got the stream going again.

The reason I bring this up, "Race Buddy". Will the same thing happen during a rain delay when TNT's Race Buddy is streaming through nascar.com?

BillWebz

Vicky D said...

I too was amazed that ESPN stayed at the track until race time, thinking they were going to announce a postponement of the race until Monday. A job well done by AB, BD & RW, and I could not believe how many of the drivers came in to do interviews. Especially liked the tire changer that called out loud each lug nut when it came off and when he put them back on. I think RW was impressed as well. But I've got to add this, I still think they don't focus enough on the fulltime Nationwide series drivers.

SallyB said...

Excellent job of having interesting and informative intrviews during the rain delay. Reminds me of 'the old days' when interviews during rain delays were often the highlight of the day. very inpressed that they didn't duck some of the more controversial interviews, like the Keslowski/Hamlin incident. This is the sort of thing we had come to expect from ESPN. Glad to see they are making such an obvious effort to upgrade their 'product'. Keep up the good work.

Brian said...

Where is Nicole Manske? It seems like she hasn't been on ESPN in weeks.

TexasRaceLady said...

I couldn't stray far from the TV yesterday during the rain-delay --- I was afraid I would miss something!

That was live TV, wing-it at its finest. Brad, sitting there, munching away on those cookies, had me howling.

I, too, was pleased to see that some hard questions were asked. The N'wide regulars really gave me an earful --- and I hope, JGR honchos --- of what they thought of Hamlin's comments.

DJ Copp had me counting with him. Sure am happy that he didn't miss any lugnuts. :-)

A very entertaining show --- and it was a good show until the end. Kudos to ESPN.

Alex said...

For the first time in a while, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching a rain-delayed race to its completion. The issues and discussion that Bestwick & co. were able to bring up during the rain delay were fantastic. That kind of discussion, the centerpiece of the Monday NASCAR Now, was honest and entertaining.

Even though I've been quite critical of Jerry Punch (and will continue to say that he's not the best play-by-play voice), he's improved quite a bit. The entire cast and crew kept the broadcast fresh and interesting throughout and kept my attention.

Job well done to ESPN2 today! :)

Daly Planet Editor said...

brian,

She is off this Sunday and hosted the show from the studio during the week. Jamie is handling the interviews from the track for NN.

JD

Anonymous said...

I thought it was awesome! I usually leave and do housework during rain delay's...but not yesterday! I was glued to the TV. ESPN has definately stepped up to the plate here.

Now, just please let them carry it over to the Cup level and they will have a fan for life!

Nascar Momma

steadicam_clay said...

I want to thank you for this article. Although I don't have cable I watched the live stream at nascar.com for about an hour during the rain delay. Having had the opportunity to work a few races, and a rain delay or two, in the nineties for ESPN as a camera operator, I know exactly how difficult, tiring, and frustrating, putting on the show can be. For engineering alone, just trying to keep all the equipment working seems to be nothing short of a miracle. From Allen Bestwick to the nameless army of Production Assistants, they're simply the best in the business.I have to admit, however, that I didn't understand why Brad Daugherty didn't share those cookies!

Anonymous said...

I had to record the race and haven't watched it yet but I'm glad to read about the good coverage.

If I could add something, though, I'd like to thank ESPN for doing a better job of showing the pre-race activities this year, including the flyover. That was one of my biggest gripes about their coverage last year but they've really stepped up to the plate on this and I appreciate that they give our military proper respect this way.