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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