Sunday, July 20, 2008
Delays At Gateway Make It A Long Night For Punch
ESPN closed the Infield Pit Center for the weekend and sent Allen Bestwick and Brad Daugherty off on vacation. All Jerry Punch and the ESPN crew at Gateway would have to do is host one little Nationwide Series race without them. What a task that turned-out to be.
It was Dave Burns expanding his pit reporter duties and stepping-in as the semi-host of the pre-race show. Burns has come a long way in his TV career and has recently started doing feature reports for ESPN2's NASCAR Now. This was another new assignment that he handled quite well. Burns directed traffic early-on before handing-off to Punch in the broadcast booth.
The "big boys" were on hand for the network as both Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree were well-rested and ready to make the long run to the end of the season in November. Petree comes alive when he is with Jarrett and the duo was informative and confident in their comments and analysis throughout the race.
Jerry Punch is working hard to figure-out how to add excitement to a telecast that sometimes may not be exciting. Punch is very loud on the ESPN network promos and he enjoys introducing pre-recorded features. Going to commercial break is apparently very exciting and his volume rises quickly.
What really has not changed is his confusion when something happens on the racetrack. Several big accidents, including one that caused an extended red flag elicited nothing more than partial phrases and terms like "oh" and "ah" to sum-up the action. Jarrett and Petree are quick to jump-in and help, but the damage is done.
When Punch gets nervous or put on-the-spot, catch phrases like "young man" and "sails it into the corner" come out over-and-over again. Carl Edwards once again became a "young man" as he crossed the finish line to win at Gateway. Punch was like a starting pitcher in the ninth inning, out of gas and in need of some relief.
Standing in front of Punch are seventeen of the highest-profile Sprint Cup races of the season. That load is going to be heaped upon his existing Nationwide Series commitment for the rest of the year. ESPN is also adding practice and qualifying sessions for both series, as well as making Punch appear on the weekend editions of NASCAR Now. Talk about needing a relief pitcher.
ESPN was admittedly short-staffed at Gateway. Jamie Little and Tim Brewer were also on vacation. Little was missed as the three pit reporters scurried about to fill time during the extended red flag. Brewer's fill-in DJ Copp did a good job, but was not used as much as he could have been in the red flag and caution periods.
There is no doubt that the ESPN crew is going to walk away from Gateway needing a hot shower and a good night's sleep. They only have a couple of days to relax before coverage from The Brickyard begins next Friday. After that day, there will be little rest until Homestead in November. Seventeen straight weeks on the road will put anyone to the test.
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