Sunday, August 17, 2008
Excitement Tough To Find At MIS For ESPN
After another solid pre-race show from Allen Bestwick, it was time for the Sprint Cup Series to race at MIS. Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty had done their best to get fans pumped-up for what many believed would essentially be a fuel mileage race.
It was ESPN handling the telecast and that meant Dr. Jerry Punch, Andy Petree and Dale Jarrett calling the action. After focusing on the fuel mileage issue, the race began and Marcos Ambrose quickly became the story.
Ambrose had engine failure and was trailing oil down pit road. Rather than head directly into the garage, Ambrose stopped in his pit as if the problem might be a loose oil line. This is something that can happen early to a car when running at speed.
That decision caused a big oil-down of pit road and when the Wood Brothers team tried to back Ambrose up to push him to the garage, the neighboring pit crew physically stopped the car from backing up.
Unfortunately, ESPN ignored not only this situation but never followed-up with an interview of Ambrose. He was last week's Nationwide Series winner and the third place Sprint Cup finisher. Suddenly, Marcos Ambrose did not exist.
When the race settled down and the long green flag runs began, it was Andy Petree and Dale Jarrett who provided the information viewers needed to understand what adjustments were being made to the COT's on the track.
Tim Brewer did not play a very active role and neither did Wallace and Daugherty during the first seventy-five laps. Then, Bestwick began to take control out of the commercial breaks and integrated the other infield folks into the mix. With ten voices on the telecast, there is always going to be some decisions that have to be made about who is in charge of what is being heard on-the-air. Sunday, Brewer was the odd man out.
Dave Blaney was next to cause a caution after being spun and almost flipped during an ESPN commercial break. The accident was reviewed briefly when the network returned from commercial. The cause was never followed-up and Blaney was never interviewed. This is the attitude of ESPN. If you are not a top-name driver, you do not deserve ESPN's attention. Blaney is not on the "star list."
The accident did allow ESPN to award a "good hands of the race" sponsor feature to Carl Edwards. He seemed to simply turn left and drive around the accident with no real problem. It certainly seemed strange to insert this featured move of the race with less than 90 laps of the 200 completed.
Jeff Gordon was next into the wall and out of the race. He was immediately interviewed in the garage. He is a star. His accident and its cause were replayed numerous times and from several angles. The very different treatment of Gordon from both Ambrose and Blaney is exactly the reason fans are having problems with ESPN this Sprint Cup season.
Kasey Kahne was next out of the race due to mechanical failure. Kahne was only interviewed when ESPN could use Mike Massaro to push the "on the bubble" agenda. It was clear that if Kahne was not a "bubble boy" he would never have been interviewed. "Bubble boy" was the new ESPN buzzword of the race.
Sadly, ESPN is once again returning to the two topics that ruined the coverage last season. One is the constant emphasis on The Chase instead of the race. The second topic is named Dale Earnhardt Jr. Veteran NASCAR fans know how things panned-out last year for ESPN where Junior was concerned. Mike Massaro has definite memories.
Kyle Busch suddenly overtook Carl Edwards with 51 laps to go. It happened in commercial break and was never replayed. Other drivers had worked all day to come up through the field and into the top fifteen. With 26 laps to go, ESPN finally tried to review the field. The caution came out before they got to the second car. They never did it again.
Drivers like Burton, Harvick and Martin were never mentioned all day long and suddenly all three appeared in the top twelve. This is the Sprint Cup curse of ESPN. The coverage is so focused on the leaders, the big names and the "bubble boys" that the real story of the race is not being told.
Petree and Jarrett are great at talking about what is being shown on the TV screen and what they are being told to do. Bestwick is great at recapping the field and putting things in perspective. Unfortunately, Punch is not great at steering the ship. His short, clipped sentences often are never completed.
At the final pit stop, Junior and David Ragan stayed-out to set-up the finish. The network went to commercial. At last, ESPN was going to have some excitement to describe at the close of the event.
Eighteen laps were left and Punch needed to pump the excitement to the highest level. ESPN was on an in-car camera shot when Junior was involved in an incident. Fourteen laps to go and another debris caution where the debris was never shown. As we know, NASCAR fans are a suspicious bunch. They need to see what brings out the caution.
Nine laps to go and Punch is talking about the leaders while the three-wide racing is just behind them on the TV screen. ESPN tried to skip around the field and show some racing, but it was too little too late. Another caution with six laps to go made the race a shoot-out and put the focus back on Kyle Busch.
Instead of calling the final two laps, Punch was "hosting" the coverage. Big chunks of silence filled the air as Edwards battled Busch for the win. Punch told us about oil tank covers, manufacturers and Michigan. Once again, what he did not do was simply call the action on the screen.
This void in ESPN's coverage is glaring. So many of the other TV pieces are in place and so many of the other ESPN personalities are working well. The silence of the final two laps from Jerry Punch is the true story of this event for ESPN. It is an awkward silence that fans have heard many times before and will probably be hearing again in six days.
The final blow for many was ESPN leaving the telecast with six minutes remaining in the scheduled timeslot. Fans were looking for interviews with drivers and a recap of the race from some of the ten announcers on-site for the network. Instead, they got four drivers and the winner of the race. Bestwick and his crew never came back on-camera. Someone made a decision and suddenly it was time for SportsCenter.
The ESPN legacy where NASCAR is concerned continues to grow. The only question is, in what direction?
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