Sunday, July 27, 2008
In-Progress At Indy: Sprint Cup Race On ESPN
After six months of rehearsing with the Nationwide Series, Sunday at 1PM brings the debut of ESPN's transition to the Sprint Cup.
Allen Bestwick will lead the panel of Rusty Wallace, Brad Daugherty and Ray Evernham from the Infield Pit Center through a one-hour version of NASCAR Countdown. This pre-race show is going to be talking about the critical Goodyear tire issue which will dominate this telecast.
This pressing issue is sure to change the scripted nature of what ESPN had planned for this hour and continues to change as showtime approaches. The pit reporters are going to be put to the test in this show.
It will be Dave Burns, Jamie Little, Shannon Spake and Mike Massaro who will be charged with keeping the viewers up to date from pit road, the garage area and the Infield Medical Center. Spake was a fill-in last season and is still coming up to speed with live TV, the other three are veterans from last season's coverage.
Upstairs will be Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. Punch will be handling the play-by-play duties for this second season with the very bright spotlight shining on this high-profile position. He struggled last year on these longer races and often appeared to be very tired only halfway through the event.
The big new fish in the ESPN pond is Dale Jarrett. He has been the savior of ESPN this season with his calm demeanor and his strong knowledge of the sport. Coupled with Andy Petree, this duo has all the bases covered for ESPN and should be the strongest part of the Indy coverage.
ESPN has been challenged to abandon the "scripted" approach to these races that drove fans crazy last year, and the Indy tire problems may be just what the doctor ordered. The network is going to be forced to deal with the reality of this problem rather than stick with the stories it chose to highlight in the pre-race show.
Look for solid triple splits on the caution flag pit stops with ESPN trying to do everything possible to cover the most important part of this event, the race off pit road. It is entirely possible that the order leaving the pits will be the order finishing the race with all the COT issues.
Bestwick is very different from former infield host Suzy Kolber, so TV viewers should not be subjected to celebrity interviews and ESPN promos during green flag racing. The network also has to choose when to insert SportsCenter updates and other non-racing content.
The HD cameras at Indy are always outstanding, and this season the ESPN crew produced a memorable Indy 500 IRL telecast. Hopefully, the outstanding pictures and sound will continue with the ESPN TV crew on this broadcast. Look for moving boom and jig cameras in the telecast, especially on pit road.
The final laps of this race call for the big decision on the part of the Producer. Show the drama of the winner alone crossing the finish-line or keep the bigger perspective and show the lead-lap cars all racing to the stripe. It should be interesting to see what ESPN decides this season. In 2007, they chose to show only the winning car and no others cross the line.
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