Saturday, August 23, 2008
In-Progress From Bristol: Sprint Cup Series Race on ESPN
Things are getting serious this time of the year for both the teams and the TV networks. The ESPN coverage is on the verge of shifting over to the ABC Broadcast Network for The Chase and Saturday night in Bristol should be a good test of the TV crew.
Allen Bestwick will host the hour-long NASCAR Countdown show at 7PM from ESPN's Infield Pit Studio. He will be joined by Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. This newly-paved track has resulted in some very different racing and that should be the main topic of conversation.
It will be Dr. Jerry Punch calling the play-by-play action from the announce booth in the race tower with Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree alongside for analysis. Down on pit road will be Dave Burns, Shannon Spake, Jamie Little and Mike Massaro.
This crew is coming off a Nationwide race that was so fast and so furious that no one really got a handle on the action until it was almost over. Incidents were missed in commercial, the championship fight took precedence over the racing action and the lack of frequent caution periods made the commercials seem incredibly intrusive. Basically, it was a tough night for the TV gang.
It should be interesting to see if ESPN stripped-down the broadcast to deal with the sixteen second laps and the two-wide racing under green that will probably dominate the night. Almost all the production elements from the SportsCenter updates to the Tech Center explanations and the replaying of the driver audio simply did not fit into the tight time constraints that this race mandates.
ESPN tried to force pre-recorded "soundbites" with the drivers into the telecast. Also, pre-produced "bumpers" of drivers walking-up and looking into the camera before commercial break were used while the race was under green. The results were disastrous. Lap-after-lap of green flag racing was missed.
Sometimes, the network would return from commercial, do a recap of what was missed and then go right back to another commercial break. As a viewer, it was maddening.
On Wednesday night, SPEED aired the Craftsman Truck Series race from this very track. The action was intense and the racing was outstanding. Viewers saw SPEED take a stripped-down approach that put the focus of the telecast on the track and nowhere else. Pit reporters were heard and not seen, all the teams were covered and the commercials were inserted right after a pass was completed. It worked.
There are a lot of forces at work on the ESPN coverage that makes shrinking the telecast very hard. ESPN has ten announcers, a Tech Center, an Infield Pit Studio, SportsCenter updates, a bottom line constant sports crawl and a lot of promos to do.
Even the short Nationwide Series race was so fast that it ended almost forty-five minutes early. If the Sprint Cup Series decides to run side-by-side and fight it out in the pits for position, it could be one of the shortest races in Bristol history.
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