Saturday, August 30, 2008
Nationwide Series Returns To The Back Burner
With several hurricanes churning out in the open sea at this time of year, it was actually ESPN2 that had the perfect storm this Saturday night.
It was 10:23PM when Dr. Jerry Punch welcomed NASCAR fans to ESPN2 and the Nationwide Series race. The telecast had actually been on-the-air since 9:45PM and the race itself was in-progress. Veteran NASCAR fans knew it was college football season once again. The Nationwide Series telecast had started on the ESPN Classic Network.
After a very nice seven months of live coverage on ESPN2, college football pushes the Nationwide Series to the back burner on Saturdays as soon as the season starts. Joining the Fontana telecast 38 minutes into the coverage is going to open a running debate about why this is happening again this season.
In reality, that debate makes no sense at all. ESPN has been doing college football since the 1980's and knows exactly how long it takes to play a game live on TV.
Since 2007, the first season of the new NASCAR contract, ESPN has consistently scheduled Nationwide Series races in timeslots that make no sense during football season.
On this night, NASCAR fans without ESPN Classic had to turn to NASCAR.com for the online stream of the race telecast. It appeared without audio and was not fixed until slightly after 11PM. The commercial elements that ran from NASCAR.com's Atlanta, GA location worked fine all night. It was the ESPN feed that had the problem.
Basically, NASCAR fans without the ESPN Classic network or a broadband computer connection were out of luck. That is exactly what NASCAR did not want to see in prime-time on a Saturday night. It does not bode well for the remaining races.
Allen Bestwick ran his crew through a quick 15 minute pre-race show and then handed-off to Dr. Jerry Punch and the regular NASCAR on ESPN gang. The high point of the telecast came when the public address announcer forgot the name of actor Ron Perlman's new TV show as he introduced him for the starting command. At least Perlman knew it, delivered a good line and rolled the field off to the flag.
Once the race began, ESPN did a great job of focusing on the Nationwide Series and leaving the overlap of last year behind. The Sprint Cup was promoted, but not dragged over to Saturday's race. Unfortunately, the Nationwide gang produced a rather bland event.
Draft Track was out early, Bestwick was promoting shows from the infield and Tim Brewer was showing everything he could think of from the Tech Center. The pit reporters worked hard to contribute any kind of content on the relevant topics and the Director searched for racing. The problem was, there wasn't any.
Several nicely timed cautions bunched the field, but when the green flag waved it only took a couple of laps until the field was strung-out and on a test drive to the next pit stop. Kyle Busch was "stinking up the show" once again.
This (click here) commentary from Lee Montgomery finally spoke to the issue TV viewers ask about constantly where the Nationwide Series is concerned. With a short field of real teams, NASCAR allows "start and park" teams to enter and qualify for the races.
These teams often do not have pit crews and are only going to run up until the first gas stop. They get to collect the money that is awarded for just starting the race and then go on their way. Montgomery's point is that NASCAR would be better off running with a short field of real teams like the Truck Series does each race.
Fans are often confused when the ticker at the top of the screen shows as many as 10 cars out of the race when no caution flag has flown. This Saturday in Fontana, 8 cars took the easy way out and headed for the trailer before pit stops began.
Brad Keselowski left the race with engine trouble and headed to the garage. ESPN never sent a pit reporter over to find out what was going on. That is the type of fundamental TV issue that this team has struggled with on the Nationwide Series.
By lap 110 of the 150 in the race, ESPN has once again returned to coverage of the top five cars and nothing more. It was the perfect time for a full field recap, but it did not happen. It was the perfect time for some laps from an in-car camera perspective, but it did not happen.
Instead, Tim Brewer was addressing the possible problems with Keselowski even though no pit reporter was sent to find out the reality. Keselowski's car was seen surrounded by crew members and specialists, but not one ESPN reporter. Without some information from the garage, Brewer was simply speculating.
Over twenty laps later, when Keselowski re-joined the race, there was a brief and rather confused report from Dave Burns about a mysterious rotor problem. Burns asked Brewer to explain it, but once again the coordination with the Tech Center resulted in Brewer talking and showing things long before the viewers saw the Tech Center on the screen.
Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree did everything they could to address the issues in the race, but essentially there were few. Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty were almost silent after halfway because there just was very little to talk about.
A restart with 15 laps to go made it a bit interesting, but Punch just simply cannot boost the excitement level when that skill is needed from the play-by-play announcer. Punch watched the action with the viewers and said absolutely nothing.
Exciting moments seem to work best when they are replayed and Jarrett and Petree handle the commentary. Punch simply does not seem to be able to speak while something exciting or even dangerous is in-progress. Jarrett and Petree have become experts at stepping-in and filling-in the gaps for the TV viewers.
As usual, the race closed with Kyle Busch leading the way and not one drop of excitement anywhere to be seen or heard. This was a tough start to the Nationwide Series races for the remainder of the season now that college football has started.
ESPN made good pictures and sound, but lacked speed shots, in-car angles and use of the blimp which was on-scene. Even the Director had a tough time finding excitement on this warm night on the West Coast. He was not alone.
Next week it will be the Sprint Cup Series that faces-off with the college crowd as the Saturday night race from Richmond, VA is scheduled for the ABC television network at 7PM. The preceding football game kicks-off at 3:30PM, so this broadcast window is finally one that should fit.
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