Friday, July 4, 2008
LIVE NOW: In-Progress At Daytona - "NASCAR Countdown" and Nationwide Series Race on ESPN2
There is going to be a very interesting race tonight. Not only from a NASCAR perspective, but also from a TV perspective.
The Nationwide Series event from Daytona will be a full dress rehearsal for ESPN's Sprint Cup coverage that begins in just a couple of weeks.
Network executives will be watching the "A team" of Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree call the action on this superspeedway. The chemistry between these three is going to be the key to ESPN handling the pressure of the Cup Series down-the-stretch.
Fans do not have to think very hard to recall the Brickyard disaster of 2007, as this column reflected. ESPN went on to have a rough Pocono race, and the troubles continued all the way to Homestead. What a NASCAR TV season to forget.
Now, Jarrett has breathed new life into the ESPN line-up in the booth and his magnetism has been contagious. Petree has been having his best season to date, and Jerry Punch is trying to regain his focus and stay energized for the entire telecasts.
The cast has also been set for the Cup Series on pit road. Mike Massaro is the veteran, although put in some difficult positions last season by the production staff. Dave Burns continues to fly under-the-radar and produce good information without the comedy routines that used to be his trademark.
Both of ESPN's female pit reporters have been put on the spot, and responded. Jamie Little is having her best season ever having lowered the volume and the intensity. She seems to be enjoying herself this year and it is coming across on-the-air to viewers. Shannon Spake is clearly the rookie and she continues to work hard to keep her focus and not be intimidated by her surroundings.
There is no doubt that the biggest smiles from the ESPN bunch are reserved for Allen Bestwick. Doubling as both the host of NASCAR Countdown and the one hour Monday edition of NASCAR Now, Bestwick has been a war horse for the network since February and shows no signs of stopping.
If there is anyone who is going to take the lead and guide the ESPN NASCAR team through the final seventeen weekends of the season, it is Bestwick. Televising both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series during this stretch is brutal and last season Jerry Punch showed the effects of handling the races, practice and qualifying with very little help from the infield.
This season, seated in the infield for ESPN will be one of the most respected NASCAR TV veterans in history. Earlier this season, viewers watched Bestwick and company fill hours of rain delay with no problem. Bestwick welcomed guests to his studio set, used the pit reporters for interviews and allowed the announce team in the booth to take a well deserved break. This is the winning combination for ESPN where NASCAR is concerned.
Friday night in Daytona, ESPN will expand the NASCAR Countdown show to one hour. Bestwick will be faced with the task of dealing with topics from Mark Martin at Hendrick to the shrinking fields for both the Cup and Nationwide Series. ESPNEWS has been running the exclusive interview with Mauricia Grant, so doubtless Bestwick will have to touch on the subject of Grant's lawsuit.
As you watch the telecast, keep an eye on Jarrett's emerging role as more than just an analyst. The ESPN production team has been allowing Jarrett a lot of freedom. He often asks questions of fellow analyst Andy Petree, he speaks directly with the pit reporters and is often called upon to help Jerry Punch when he gets tongue-tied at certain moments. Jarrett has the ability to do a lot on TV and that certainly opens-up some interesting possibilities.
ESPN may have solved their problems of 2007 with a couple of personnel changes and some flexibility in the production truck. This Daytona Nationwide race should be a good indication of what fans will be seeing from ESPN when they cross-over to the big time for the final seventeen weeks of the season.
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