Saturday, June 28, 2008

Jarrett Sizzles As Punch Struggles On ABC


There is finally a star on the horizon for ESPN and NASCAR. There is finally a reason to be optimistic about watching "The Chase" on TV this season. His name is Dale Jarrett.

After a tough first season that featured Brent Musburger, Suzy Kolber and some of the worst motorsports television production in years, ESPN has righted the ship and named a captain. The Nationwide Series race from New Hampshire was a great example of what NASCAR fans can expect down the stretch from Jarrett.

After a planned vacation, Jarrett returned to the ESPN/ABC team that will produce the remaining Nationwide Series races and the final seventeen Cup events. His return was accompanied by the appearance of Ray Evernham in the announce booth replacing the vacationing Andy Petree.

In TV terms, Jarrett has "all the tools" needed to be an outstanding analyst. His background is well-known to even the casual fan who may only remember his Daytona 500 victories. His appearance is professional and his vocabulary is a dream in a sport where this is often an issue for TV personalities.

What makes Jarrett top-of-the-line for the ESPN Producer and Director is his ability to understand the inner-workings of the sports TV business. In the Nationwide Series race on Saturday afternoon, Jarrett performed flawlessly when his TV skills were put to the test.

In the analyst role, Jarrett handles the replays of the incidents on the track as well as providing the commentary about the on-going action. His Dale Carnegie training allows him to speak in measured terms while also expressing his thoughts clearly and without bias. It has been very effective.

Something else is fun to watch with Jarrett. During the race he "throws" down to the pit reporters for interviews, talks live with Allen Bestwick and Brad Daugherty in the Infield Pit Center and often asks questions of his fellow analyst in the booth. Jarrett makes every on-air personality involved in the ESPN/ABC NASCAR coverage an active part of the on-going TV conversation.

This ability to "include" rather than "exclude" all of the other announcers is a tremendous key to being a good TV analyst in this sport. In just the short time that he has been actively involved with ESPN, Jarrett has proven his ability to deal with a wide variety of topics and personalities on-the-air.

Fans may remember that this was the downfall of Rusty Wallace last season. Often, after Rusty spoke on a certain topic there was nothing more to say. Either you agreed with him or if you did not agree Rusty was there to belabor the point and continue the conversation. Rusty "excluded" the other members of the TV team without even meaning to do it.

Several times during the Nationwide Series race from NHMS, Jarrett was forced to step-in and talk about the action on-the-track. Covering for his friend Jerry Punch has become almost second nature to Jarrett as it has for Andy Petree. Punch is having a problem in his play-by-play role and everyone knows it.

Almost all of us remember the fine work of Punch as a reporter on the earlier ESPN racing package and also his follow-up career in college sports for the network. What many people do not remember is his attempt to handle the NASCAR play-by-play role when ESPN had the Craftsman Truck Series. It was not memorable.

Punch has outstanding racing knowledge and a thorough understanding of NASCAR from a tremendously unique perspective. What he does not have is the play-by-play experience to handle a four hour live race. That is an entirely different TV skill set.

Those types of skills are on display with Mike Joy, Rick Allen and Marty Reid. Even former ESPN NASCAR announcer Bob Jenkins keeps his voice on-the-air by calling the action in the IRL support series. Racing fans see and hear others like Bob Varsha, Rick Benjamin and Greg Creamer on other motorsports series. They are all "play-by-play guys."

Punch is often more excited talking about an ESPN promo or introducing a pre-recorded feature than he is calling the side-by-side action on the track. At NHMS, with less than 10 laps left in the Nationwide Series race, he began a discussion with Jarrett and Evernham about Patrick Carpentier getting the Sprint Cup pole for Sunday's race.

This is often the quandary that Punch finds himself in after a multi-hour event. His focus and energy are often gone and he struggles to even describe the action on the track. This is a TDP column from last season about just such a moment.

ESPN did a good job of correcting the problems and moving the personnel around this season to solve the first year issues. From hiring Jarrett to promoting Bestwick to creating the newly-improved Rusty Wallace, the results have been nothing short of fantastic.

Now, as the ESPN/ABC Sprint Cup Series coverage approaches, it is our old trusted friend Jerry Punch that is having a tough time. It was suggested a while back that perhaps Bestwick and Punch would trade positions for one race just to see if that helped, but the network has not seen fit to try that experiment.

Later this summer ESPN begins the big grind of handling both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series. It will be Punch alone handling the practice, qualifying and then the races for both. There is no Steve Byrnes to step-in for relief and no break in the schedule.

This is a TDP column from last August describing the ordeal for the single ESPN announce team at Watkins Glen. NASCAR fans are used to seeing changing TV faces with every practice and qualifying session, but ESPN has only one team. That philosophy is going to once again be put to the test long before Homestead rolls around in November.

So, the good news for ESPN is that they finally have experienced a solid beginning of the season while tuning-up with the Nationwide Series. The bad news is that in just a couple of weeks, there will no longer be an opportunity for change and ESPN will have to "run what ya brung" for the four months of Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series coverage.

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18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I enjoy DJ and Andy Petree, but I also think that Evernham does a very professional and credible job. Punch is trying to come up the curve regarding Nascar. He was away from it for awhile and is now playing catch-up. Two-three years ago,he'd confuse the two Busch brothers as well Casey Kahne and Casey Mears. It was embarrassing. Thank God the Suzy and Brent days are behind us!

Anonymous said...

No question, Alllen Bestwick is the best NASCAR play by play...and they are not using him...flat STUPID

Anonymous said...

Punch is a Toyota man, just listen at how many times in a race he will say it.

Anonymous said...

It would be a dream come true for ESPN to bring Bob JEnkins back into the booth. That man was a great play-by-play announcer.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised more isn't being made about ABC airing the S-bomb from Landon Cassill's crew chief.

Last year, Smoke's BS-bomb was on ESPN and the unfortunate F-bomb from Kyle Petty's scanner was on TNT.

Isn't it a totally different ballgame as far as the FCC is concerned since the race was broadcast over the air on ABC yesterday?

Anonymous said...

No doubt DJ is up to speed and running with the ball as they say. The very first time he did a broadcast on ESPN you knew he was a natural, much like Ned.

Dr Punch is the wrong man in the wrong job. Move him back to pit road where he does a great job.

The easy fix for play by play is AB. He can make it look easy. AB, DJ and Andy would be a great booth team.

The flip side of that is what does ESPN do with the host job AB is doing now? Would Dr Punch be able to handle that part of the broadcast?

earl06 said...

The last 10 laps of yesterdays race were not crisp. Granted, the outcome was not in doubt, but it sounded like everyone was getting ready to bolt for the airport rather than finish off the telecast.

Along with everyone else on the planet, I'd like to see Allen Bestwick replace Dr. Punch. To use an ESPN stick-and-ball analogy, you don't bat your cleanup hitter in the eighth spot.

bruce alan said...

Bob Jenkins is flat out the BEST play-by-play announcer NASCAR has ever seen. He probably doesn't want to go back to the grind and travel at this stage in his life.

Allan Bestwick is tremendously overrated. He spent way too much time under the wing of the WORST announcer NASCAR ever saw, Eli Gold. Bestwick has too many of Gold's bad habits -- the worst of which, saying "machine," or "entry," when you could just say car.

brucealan said...

Forgot the original reason I wanted to respond to this article:

Marty Reid is a hack! He's terrible!

Again, Bob Jenkins would be perfect in the IRL booth, alongside Scott Goodyear. Get rid of Eddie Cheever. He comes off sounding like an elitist, pompous ass.

Anonymous said...

Jerry Punch needs more excitement. When a wreck happens with a star of the race all Jerry says is "Caution on the race-track" in the most boring voice. He needs more excitement. He is way too monotone. Move him to the pit studio or even pit lane where he will do much better.

Anonymous said...

answer is very simple

punch=pits
bestwick=play by play


bray kroter

Sean said...

JD, how does ESPN not notice that Punch is struggling? Remember last year when Bestwick, Petree, and Wallace called a Nationwide race? That was probably the best broadcast of the whole year! Swap Punch for Bestwick and ESPN has themselves a perfect team.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Great comments everyone, thanks.

Sean,

It is just not that easy at this level of national TV. There are a lot of egos involved and high-profile people who mean a lot to the sport and also to ESPN.

That is the reason that readers suggested maybe Jerry and AB could swap for one Nationwide Series event to see how it went.

If it went great, maybe that was the way to go down the stretch. If it did not, then ESPN could work on getting some more support staff help for Punch or whatever he needed to get his head in the game for the full four hours.

The good thing here is that no one is questioning Jerry's integrity or his dedication to the sport. He has already proven that two decades ago.

It is just a matter of having the TV skill set to handle hour of play-by-play broadcasting. Hope it all gets sorted out before the Brickyard, last season that telecast was brutal.

JD

stricklinfan82 said...

I've been beating this drum for over a year now so why not do it one more time:

Allen Bestwick should be the play-by-play man for ESPN. He has acceled at the host position yes, but his current success in his current role should not prevent him from receiving the promotion to the play-by-play spot that he deserves.

If they "reward" his performance by keeping him right where he is and let someone else leapfrog him and take Dr. Punch's spot in the booth I'll be extremely disappointed.

If a change is made they need to change to the best candidate available (in my mind AB) and not the best candidate among people with a long-standing tenure at ESPN.

Adam T. Martin said...

I'm going to repeat this.

Allen BEstwick is better at play by play than Dr. Jerry Punch. I know Punch is trying hard, but he just doesn't have the finesse to be a great play by play announcer when he is excellent on pit lane.

This is my crazy dream to have Bob Jenkins or Paul Page call races as play by play announcers.

However, I'll gladly take Allen Bestwick.

Anonymous said...

I honestly don't think DJ is that great.

Kyle Petty and Evernham have him beat.

Fox is probably the best.
If only DW would stop the bias and trouble-making crap, him, Larry Mac and Hammond are very good.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Well anonymous person that stated that DJ wasnt all that great is so wrong!!!

DJ ROCKS!!! AB would be better at the play by play....JMO