Saturday, August 9, 2008

Punch Gears-Up For Very Long Weekend

Watkins Glen is an exciting track for the NASCAR drivers. Over the last several years, this road course has been the scene of some memorable action on-and-off the racing surface.

2007 was the first time that ESPN had returned to Watkins Glen with NASCAR in a very long time. The network was only a couple of races into the Sprint Cup package, but had been producing the Busch Series telecasts since February. Watkins Glen was the location where these two series finally joined together to present a new challenge for the ESPN team. It was a challenge that Jerry Punch will never forget.

This was the column about the TV coverage of Saturday at The Glen from last year. It was a day-long marathon that put Punch on-the-air hour-after-hour with no relief and no break. This year, if everything goes as scheduled, at least he will get to eat lunch.

Friday has Sprint Cup practice at Noon ET, qualifying at 3PM and then Nationwide Series practice at 5:30 on ESPN2. Punch will handle all those telecasts and that is just the appetizer. There are 46 Cup cars trying to make the 43 car field.

The pressure is on ESPN to ramp-up the qualifying coverage to feature the cars and teams rather than random interviews and pre-produced features. Watkins Glen is a great place to start the transition to putting the focus back on the on-track action.

Saturday starts on ESPN2 with Nationwide Series qualifying at 10AM ET. This telecast is scheduled for two hours and there are currently 49 cars that will try to make this 43 car field. Who goes home is going to be a big story this weekend.

SPEED has stepped-in and snatched-up the Noon ET Sprint Cup Series practice on Saturday that runs until 1:30PM. That takes a little pressure off the ESPN gang and lets them eat a sandwich. It will be Steve Byrnes, Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds handling the practice telecast.

Punch, Dale Jarret and Andy Petree return to call the Happy Hour action at 1:30PM for the Sprint Cup teams. This hour will lead directly into the channel change to ABC and the Nationwide pre-race show called NASCAR Countdown at 2:30PM. Hosted by Allen Bestwick, this thirty minute show will transition into the live Nationwide race at 3PM that is scheduled to run for three hours.

Since the Indy weekend featured a stand-alone Nationwide Series race at ORP with a different announce team and the Pocono weekend had ARCA as the support event, this is the first weekend where Punch will be handling practice, qualifying and the races for both of ESPN's NASCAR series.

By the time that Sunday at 5:30PM rolls around and the Sprint Cup Series race is over, Punch will have been on-the-air for almost fifteen hours calling the play-by-play action over the previous three days. Should rain delay the festivities, it could be a lot longer than that.

Unlike the partnership between Fox, TNT and SPEED, ESPN does not share announcers and Punch will have no relief, even for the practice sessions. It will fall to Allen Bestwick to help during the races, but Bestwick and his partners are not present for practice or qualifying. Punch, Jarrett and Petree put on their ESPN shirts and call the action from the Infield Studio.

With back-up announcer Marty Reid off doing the IRL telecast and Allen Bestwick designated for infield duties, it will fall to Punch to handle the the vast majority of the on-air NASCAR coverage for the ESPN networks at The Glen. As fans may remember from last season, this is just the beginning of the run to Homestead for the NASCAR on ESPN gang.

Once this weekend's racing is over, there are fourteen Sprint Cup events remaining without a single weekend off for the TV crew. They take place on the West Coast, New England and in the Southeast ending up in Florida. Eleven of those weekends have the Nationwide Series as companion races, forcing the ESPN announce crew to double-up.

For ESPN, the honeymoon of Indy and the relief of a good race at Pocono is over. To use the classic line from a famous TV commercial, "it's time to make the donuts." Beginning on Friday, all that lies ahead for this TV crew is a lot of hard work.

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Anonymous said...

Good Grief! How is Doc gonna hold up thru all he has scheduled for him? He sounds exhausted with just Cup races, this is gonna kill him.

Lou said...

Oh my, it is not only a busy weekend for the Doc. But for us also. He has his cup full. Will do my best to keep up.

Lou said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lou said...

Went back to review your column of 11Aug07. What a difference a year can make. The tech center with Tim Brewer is one difference. Oh yea, Doc gets a lunch.

Anonymous said...

ESPN really should just let their pit reporters appear on SPEED like TNT and Fox and give the ESPN announcers a break for practices.

Sometimes, it's a shame ESPN has to be so cocky.

AMS fan said...

Thanks a lot JD.
How depressing. Not to much to look forward to. (except maybe rain tires Saturday)

Anonymous said...

@lou--nap early!

DVR is ready even though I should be home...have a few things to hopefully get up early Friday for.

It'll definitely be interesting to see if Dr. Jerry has enough wind to keep him going this weekend...

Dot said...

Jo, too funny.

Do we really need all three in the booth at once? I think DJ and Andy can handle it by themselves. At least long enough for JP to take a nap(typed with love).

ESPN needs to hire some ringers for weekends like this.

Anonymous said...

Punch is dismantling his legacy by doing these races.

Instead of being remembered for his expertise, he's going to be remembered as the guy who had trouble calling live race play-by-play and never seemed to know what was happening on the track.

It's a shame.

chase said...

Well, we're all in for it now - God help us all! Punch doing the whole thing? I'll be tired just listening to his tired and listless voice. Thank God for Andy and DJ and why doesn't ESPN take Punch out, save him for the Cup race, and put AB in his place? Now THAT would be a coup! And what a broadcast that would be! High time ESPN realizes they have a serious problem on their hands and correct it. Thanks John for giving us the 'heads up'!

Anonymous said...

I know all of you are in love with Allen Bestwick, but I've heard him stumble, too.
How about giving Punch a break and just watch the race. You seem to know more about it than he does anyway....
My Opinion......continue on your Punch-Bashing....

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 12:00PM,

Apparently, you did not take the time to read the other articles and comments about Dr. Punch.

He is a respected and beloved NASCAR figure, which makes the position that ESPN has put him in all the more tragic.

Punch would be outstanding hosting the Infield because of his extensive background as a reporter. No one here has said a bad word about the man other than the fact he is in the wrong job.

The only reason Bestwick's name came up is because he was already on the ESPN team and has done PXP before. That would allow Punch to remain on the ESPN broadcasts, as opposed to being dropped for an outside PXP announcer.

Hope this gives you a little perspective on what has been going-on in this discussion.


Lisa Hogan said...

Yeah, what JD said!!!

Anonymous said...

Punch-Bashing? Isn't that redundant?

ri88girl said...

I agree with JD 100% We all love and respect Jerry Punch, and we all know he would excel in the Infield studio or back on pit road, but not at pxp. I think it goes deeper than just he isn't good at the pxp, he should be and we all sense that. I think ESPN is doing him a diservice by pushing him so hard. He is not a quitter as we can all see, the rest of the team is trying like heck to help him, the fans are pulling for him, and yet it isn't working so someone at ESPN needs to be the adult and make the change to Bestwick (or someone else) in the booth and Punch in the infield wher he can tend to the ego of Rusty and help Brad hone his skills.

I'm genuinely concerned for the stress this puts on Jerry both mentaly and physically. The spirit is willing, but.

Newracefan said...

Even aas a newer fan I have heard JP be excellent but it has been for things other than the PXP position. How about DJ and AP doing practice by themselves or at least qualifying it's not like there are 43 cars on the track at the same time. I am very worried we will all be screaming for TNT or Fox after this weekend. I really hope I am wrong.

Brian said...

Hey, just a quick thought. With ESPN leaving the IndyCar Series... Maybe ESPN could make Marty Reid and Randy Lajoie full time Nationwide Series commentators in the future? I think they both do a great job. I'm sure the Doc would be alright with it.

Vicky D said...

I always thought that ESPN should put a separate Nationwide broadcast team together Marty & Randy would do a great job by themselves (good idea Brian). It would help with NW's identity but please leave RW locked outside the booth.