Less than ten laps of the Nationwide race on the road course in Montreal had been run on ESPN2 when the rain came. It was the first time NASCAR had run a points race in the wet conditions.
Teams broke-out the rain tires, the windshield wipers and the brake lights. The idea was to only allow three minutes for the change-over to wet conditions, but things did not go as planned. It was more than ten minutes before cars were circulating again and the number of cars emerging from pit road was significantly less than the 43 that started the race.
This issue was totally avoided by Marty Reid and the ESPN2 commentary team. Only twenty-five laps into the race there were ten cars parked in the garage. Surprisingly, there had been no accidents and no yellow flags other than the rain delay. The mysterious cause for this high rate of attrition was never addressed.
It was veteran reporter Jack Arute that rolled-up his sleeves and took TV viewers right into the middle of the first-ever change-over to wet tires. Arute is unafraid to get the story even as it unfolds and he filled the fans in on the specifics and issues involved in this "thrash" on pit road.
Marty Reid decided that this race was going to be historic, a term viewers heard more than fifteen times in his commentary. Randy LaJoie continued to keep his irreverent sense-of-humor throughout the entire telecast, despite the wet blanket being thrown on the entire race by the presence of Rusty Wallace.
Last season, Allen Bestwick and LaJoie had combined to call a great race in Montreal that featured lots of hot tempers, spinning cars and amazing calls by NASCAR. Putting LaJoie on this series is perfect, because the Nationwide crowd is a hybrid of Sprint Cup cross-overs, series regulars and often road course specialists just running for the win. LaJoie keeps things in perspective and does it all with a good sense of humor.
Basically, it was tough to have two former drivers in the booth talking over-top of each other for the entire race. While LaJoie was relegated to the crew chief role for the in-race reporter feature, Wallace was clearly the delegated leader and spoke over anyone when he felt strongly about an issue. Wallace was shuffling back and forth between the Cup and Nationwide Series for ESPN and was not really up-to-speed on the rain issues.
At the halfway point, 32 of the 43 cars were running. There was no full-field recap done by ESPN at this point, because the network would have to explain the small number of cars on the track despite no mechanical failures or accidents. The ESPN graphic crawl was changed as frequently as possible to avoid revealing the reality of this "start and park" festival.
The normally dependable Marty Reid was off-balance from the beginning of the rain through the end of the race. This was possibly helped by the poor TV directing which often featured tight camera shots of two cars running together, but rarely used a speed shot or a panorama to show fans any kind of overall perspective.
One of the biggest problems Reid and company had in this race was the lack of communication with NASCAR. Often, there was awkward silence as pace car lights remained on even though Reid had just said the green flag was coming out. Needless to say, it did not and NASCAR just continued to run under caution in the rain.
Because ESPN was refusing to recap the cars still running, lots of stories were lost as the network concentrated on the top four or five cars. Points leader Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and others never had their strategies updated despite the occasional attempts to do just that from Arute on pit road.
On lap 40 of the 74, Wallace related that he had been hearing complaints from teams about the drivers not being able to see. This was not related earlier and never updated as to the reason why. Teams used Rain-X, a single windshield wiper and even squeegees inside the car to help with both rain and fog.
During the last series of pit stops, the Producer was far behind as the cars entered pit road. Often, TV viewers saw a car already parked and then getting ready to leave and without a reporter ready to describe the action. Teams were apparently having vision problems both inside and outside of the cars but ESPN just could not update this issue.
Basically, ESPN had to wait until the entire field cycled through the pits to get any kind of realistic picture of what was happening on the race track. Even with the computer scoring, the actual story of the race was simply not being told. The rain picked-up with thirty laps to go and there was no doubt the remainder of the race was going to be slow and very wet.
The big rain hit at 6:35PM Eastern Time with twenty-five minutes left in the show until the X Games were supposed to begin. If the race had run the full length at these slow rain speeds, it would have been about thirty minutes long. Instead, NASCAR was merciful and put out the full course caution. The reason was standing water on the race track.
The official end of any hope for this telecast was when Canadian favorite Jaques Villeneuve and youngster Joey Logano both wrecked their cars under caution in separate incidents that ESPN could not show. After seeing the severely damaged cars, ESPN both times went to commercial to search for the replay and came up empty.
At 6:45PM, NASCAR stopped the cars and the misery was almost finally over. The way that viewers found-out that the red flag was out was during a pit road interview with a crew chief. Once again, the TV crew was one step behind the reality of what was happening on the track.
It was Carl Edwards in another pit road interview who told ESPN2 that the race was over, called officially at 6:55PM. Marty Reid, by now perhaps more than a bit frustrated, told viewers that NASCAR had still not informed the TV crew that things had been called. A very chaotic end to a very chaotic telecast.
Despite the fact that nice guy and Canadian Ron Fellows was officially the winner, it was once again not a Nationwide Series regular who was victorious. Reid closed-out the show and the skateboarding and vert competitions began. ESPN2 was back to normal.
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