Sunday, August 3, 2008

Reclusive Waltrip On TV Monday Night


It was the question everyone was asking during and after the race. Why had the ESPN crew not talked to Michael Waltrip, the first car out of the Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono?

This was a crucial moment in Waltrip's season as he retired from the event with apparent engine failure. Waltrip is the owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and this finish was going to deeply affect his points situation and qualifying status for the rest of the season.

Since Waltrip had another car in the race, the question of whether or not he departed the racetrack was never made clear by ESPN. Last season, TDP criticized ESPN's pit reporters for not following-up with the drivers that fell out of the race. What happened this time is not clear.

Even if Waltrip refused to speak, ESPN owed it to the viewers to update the status of a Sprint Cup Series driver/owner for the TV viewers. Waltrip is a very high-profile individual with his TV commercials and his various roles on SPEED programs that span more than ten years.

This lack of information had fans wondering what the real issue had become? Waltrip is a veteran driver and has experienced the highs-and-lows of racing over the years. Simply having an engine problem should be nothing more than an opportunity to encourage the team to do better and mention the sponsor.

Monday night at 8PM on SPEED should now be very interesting. Waltrip is scheduled to join Chad Knaus as the panelists on This Week in NASCAR. Steve Byrnes hosts this one-hour show that looks in-depth at both the previous weekend's event and the upcoming Sprint Cup Series race.

This program revolves around Waltrip. As they say in TV land, Waltrip is "the franchise." Characters like Allen Bestwick, Johnny Benson and Kenny Schrader have come and gone, but Waltrip remains as the personality who can draw a wide variety of viewers who either love or hate his very unique perspectives on racing.

This is what makes Waltrip's disappearing act at Pocono even more strange. During the rain delay it would have been responsible for ESPN to update Waltrip's status even if he refused to do a TV interview. If ESPN was dismissing Waltrip as a backmarker who fell out of the race, that certainly is going to be a big shift in status for this owner/driver.

In an interesting twist, it will be all four of the NASCAR on ESPN pit reporters appearing as the panelists on Monday's NASCAR Now on ESPN2. This 5PM ET show should be very different as host Allen Bestwick goes into this episode without a former driver or crew chief to lend expertise to the commentary. One of the pit reporters was however assigned to Waltrip, so viewers may want Bestwick to ask about the reality of what happened.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for stopping by.

47 comments:

speedangel said...

If ESPN was dismissing Waltrip as a backmarker who fell out of the race, that certainly is going to be a big shift in status for this owner/driver.

It actually wouldn't be as big of a shift as you make it out to be. In my opinion, this instance you bring up with Waltrip is symptomatic of something more encompassing with the coverage.

Waltrip does have a marquee name and many loyal fans, but he (like many others) fall short of the radar screen ESPN has for a seemingly select number of drivers. How many times has someone posted wondering if the commentators have even mentioned a certain driver's name during the telecast (i.e. during Indy I remember people asking if they had mentioned Regan Smith, and in jest asking if other drivers were even racing)?

On air they did mention Waltrip was in the garage, but it wasn't followed up on. That lack of follow-up has happened on many storylines this season (NW coverage included). It even happened later on in the Pocono race itself. None of the drivers that fell out of the race later on in addition to Waltrip -- Nemechek, Menard, Montoya -- were interviewed either.

So in my mind, it's just that ESPN has a certain list of drivers that they feel that it's paramount that fans know everything that happens to them, while there are others that fall through the cracks.

speedangel said...

I apologize for two posts back-to-back like this, but I forgot to say that Waltrip was interviewed after he went back to the garage. He said the following:
"Something wasn't right with the motor right from the get go. I'm really disappointed and I hate it for our Napa Toyota because we had the wreck at Indianapolis and now we are out early this week. We were on a good roll there for a good while and now we have had some bad races and it's frustrating. We are going to keep working and try to turn thing around next week."

Daly Planet Editor said...

speedangel,

Who interviewed him and where did that quote appear? Please attribute that information so we know where you got it.

It would certainly help this story to have that info. Many of the people who emailed me that ultimately caused me to generate this column were rabid Waltrip fans upset at the lack of coverage on TV.

Thanks a lot,

JD

Dot said...

speedangel,
you bring up something that drives me crazy too. Only certain drivers are ever mentioned regularly. (why aren't the owners/sponsors up in arms about this?) We should've been told about why Mikey was out of the race, interview or not.

This goes for all drivers. Is it in someone's job description to tell us? The booth, the pit reporters. Someone up the food chain keeping it a secret? Inquiring minds want to know.

TWIN ought to be interesting. Watch Mikey's body language.

Kyle said...

MW is a backmarker, and has been for the most part of his career. Hes got what 4 wins? All at drafting tracks. That said, he is a GREAT ambassador for the sport and his sponsors.
One of the more public faces of NASCAR, without a doubt in the top 10 in current drivers name recognition.
I doubt there is a person out there (other then jack rouchs sway bar) that would have a bad word to say about the guy.

The least ESPN could do is say, MW blewup and Elvis has left the building.

Anonymous said...

Tonight's TWIN should be interesting. I thought it odd that no one followed up with Mikey. As for the pit reporters, it was obvious that one was having a bad day based on the comments being made (like in not knowing what they were talking about). As for TWIN, I'm no big fan of Brian Vickers,but he does a much better job of explaining things than Biffle.I'll admit that Biffle is doing a better job lately.

Anonymous said...

Who cares to keep up with the MW issue other than maybe the Speed people wanting to get him some face time. Everyone knows that he is no race driver. He has been purely promotional material for commercialism. People are fed up with commercialism and MW as well.

Anonymous said...

Since when has any of the coverage this season gone running after a "back marker" (as someone up top called it) when they make their early exit.

I am a MW fan and this is NOT the first time that the coverage has not informed me of the reason he has exited a race early.....that is why I have RaceView.

Jeff

Anonymous said...

I'm really tired of hearing jery Punch say, "For you ___fans," if he's not talking about someone in the top 12, like he really means, "Who else cares about any other driver?"

In this case, he used the phrase about MW to promise information we never got on the broadcast: what happened to him.

His engine blew up, but you wouldn't know that by watching ESPN.

Dee said...

ESPN is really bad about talking about all of the drivers. It did seem to have a select few that it would talk about all the time. I never saw anything about why Waltrip left the race. If I did not have scanner to hear him and his crew discuss the engine problem I would not know.

Deborah said...

The quote from Michael that someone posted above was in the Toyota post-race notes so Michael did indeed make himself available at some point to explain what had happened.

This issue isn't something that's just specific to Michael or ESPN. No matter the network in general they do not do a good job of informing fans about what's going on with many of the teams. There are certain drivers and teams that will be discussed whether they're racing in the top ten or in 35th, but many of the other drivers never get mentioned unless they're involved in an incident. And forget about follow-up if a non-elite driver has a mechanical issue and drops out of the race. Like Dee, without Trackpass I'd have no idea what was going on with Michael, not just yesterday but every week. The same is true for many other drivers - instead of listening to the broadcast to find out what's going on with a particular driver in a lot of cases if I'm curious as to what their issue might be I'll switch to their radio channel on Trackpass or go to their fan forum if they have one.

Of course it's impossible for those in the booth to mention what's going on with all 43 drivers at every point in the race but at times it seems like there is a belief that fans are only interested in hearing about the top-tier drivers when in fact every driver on the track has fans who want to know how their driver is doing. Some drivers truly do go unmentioned during races - even sometimes when they are racing well - which is not only frustrating for fans but can't make sponsors too happy either.

Anonymous said...

He was on the radio immediately after he went to the garage. Mentioned it was unfortunate, but made a joke that he could talk longer since Pocono was such a long track.

Anonymous said...

The problem is not just that the ESPN guys don't tell us what's happened to these drivers.

The problem is that the ESPN guys don't know what's happened to these drivers.

When a car pits unexpectedly, Punch and crew have no idea why.

They guess.

But anyone with a scanner can tell you why...so why don't they get some Production Assistants (read: Interns) to listen to scanners and tell them what's happening?

Or do what the Fox crew does and pay attention? As much as DW gets flak, he looks out the danged window and sees the action before it shows up on the TV monitor, something that Punch and crew clearly don't do.

Ritchie said...

Mr. Daly,
You chose the perfect race to rake ESPN over the coals. Pocono, especially with a rain delay, did have a lot of time to bring up what happenned to Michael Waltrip. However, that doesn't mean that they should. I would say ESPN shouldn't take time away from coverage to give us an interview with Mr. Waltrip anymore than they should have taken time away from coverage to give us an interview with Joe Nemechek.

I believe it was Benny Parsons who used to say that if teams want to be on TV, they should run better. That should also apply to Mr. Waltrip. Mr. Waltrip gets so much free press from his last name, his brother being a commentor on FOX, his association with SPEED, his commercials, etc., that his commercial value is not balanced by his on-track performance. So forgive me if I have little sympathy for his plight. Joe Nemechek lost his brother to racing, and his plight doesn't warrant a blog about his lack of media coverage. Maybe he should make silly commercials instead of focusing on racing. His value as a driver would skyrocket.

Racing is a tough business. Many people lose hard earned fortunes (and lives) trying to participate in it. I can't see a reason why ESPN should choose to help one driver over the other in this regard.

Ken said...

TV coverage of the drivers is why the gap between the haves and have nots has widened and will continue to do so. A sponsor spends milions of dollars for exposure of their product. If they sponsor a front running team, they get exposure but if they sponsor an average team, they are ignored. They are better off being a part time sponsor to a "chosen" driver than to be a full time sponsor to an ignored driver.

Anonymous said...

Having Trackpass on Directv, I usually listen to MW's audio channel.

It was apparent right from the get go and MW said, that something was wrong with the motor.

It sounded like they lost a cylinder early and it was something internally, they checked everything under the hood that they could on pit road.

Radio traffic was basically, it's internal we can;t fix it. The ended up dropping quite a bit of oil on pit road and in the garage area. They were talking like they lost a lifter or something on the top sideof the motor.

One of the last radio transmissions from the team was that NASCAR ordered them to clean up the oil under the car before putting it in the hauler.

If I can get this info sitting in my living room, What's up with broadcast team?

Interns indeed. The 55 was the only car off the track It wouldn't have taken much for someone on the production team to listen in and get some info to pass on.

Dave in Wisconsin

Anonymous said...

I would say ESPN shouldn't take time away from coverage to give us an interview with Mr. Waltrip anymore than they should have taken time away from coverage to give us an interview with Joe Nemechek.

But they should.

When a driver, any driver, drops out of the race, we deserve--at a minimum--to be told why.

A quick interview wouldn't hurt, either,

Rockin Rich said...

Re - Ken @9:04 AM:

And there my friends, is a great "netted out" analysis of how the "tail is wagging the dog" in this sport!

It isn't just NASCAR, and the economy that is causing corporate America to reexamine the value race car sponsorship. TV coverage decision making is accountable too.

Rockin Rich said...

Oops, sorry, I was referring to Ken @ 9:02 AM, not 9:04.

Dmo said...

Perhaps ESPN ducked Mikey because of his affiliation with SPEED? Biffle and Chad Knaus are mentioned liberally on ESPN - but their respective cars are also top-10 and thus unavoidable.

speedangel said...

JD~

The question you posed to me was answered later on, but I'll answer it again anyway. He was interviewed on radio and his quotes did appear in Toyota's post-race quotes as well.

My main point, like some others have gotten a hold of, is that there are about 25 or so drivers whose engine could've blown and they probably wouldn't have gotten a TV interview. It's a different story with radio coverage, however.

Ritchie said...

This discussion that we are having is sort of associated with the fans who are upset with the coverage that Kyle Bush gets. Mr. Bush doesn't have as many fans as say, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has. However, he wins a lot of races and is very sucessful therefore he gets a lot of media coverage.

Unfortunately, race coverage is a zero-sum game. So, unless you divide the coverage into 43 equal segments for each driver, someone is going to be left out. Analytically, the teams who are performing poorly should get less coverage and the teams performing best should get more coverage.

Now, here is where it gets weird. If we pander to the Michael Waltrip fans, Mr. Waltrip deserved an interview because he blew an engine. However, Dave Blaney was running at the end of the race and no one thinks he deserves an interview.

So, the conclusion one could make is that you deserve media coverage if you do very well, or don't finish a race. If you finish the race, but aren't a contender, your sponsor gets no love.

This kind of thing is important because sponsors pay dollars for such media coverage.

That is why I don't believe Mr. Waltrip deserved an interview for finishing last.

Anonymous said...

Oddly, MRN managed to explain what happened to Waltrip, includidng an interview, and despite your "Zero-sum" assertion, I don't believe anyone is complaing that MRN's coverage was lacking as a result.

Used to be, when a driver went out of the race early, we were told why by the TV people. Heck, Punch even promised we would be, although he failed to deliver on that promise.

Daly Planet Editor said...

One of the key elements to keep in mind is that pictures and sound are different when a TV network is doing a live race.

In the older days, the pit reporter would talk to the driver who was out of the race while the video of the live race continued on the screen.

There was no issue about who "deserved" and interview and who did not. If a car fell out of the race the driver was interviewed as a part of the network's coverage. It did not matter if it was a traditional backmarker or a star.

With today's TV technology, two video boxes appear on the screen and an interview is done in one while the live racing continues in the other. There is no interruption in the live coverage of the race.

At the time Waltrip retired from the event, it was not in a big crash with multiple cars. He was the only car heading to the garage. ESPN made a decision to keep the pit reporters on pit road and call the pit stops.

This issue arose last season when ESPN absolutely avoided interviewing the drivers involved in accidents as they were released from the Infield Care Center. Fans had to scramble to the Internet or radio to find out the info about their favorite driver.

ESPN has three people in the Infield Pit Center, four reporters on pit road and three more announcers in the booth. With ten people on the telecast, there is no excuse not to follow-up on stories of the race.

Ultimately, as we see with other networks like SPEED, the ability exists to just have the driver put on a headset briefly and talk directly with the announcers in the booth.

In the end, there is a four hour window of live TV in which decisions are made about how to present this event to the TV viewers. Not speaking with a driver who retired from the race early and finding out what went wrong is fundamentally avoiding the responsibility of a NASCAR TV partner.

JD

Anonymous said...
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Ritchie said...

The Daly Planet editor wrote:
There was no issue about who "deserved" and interview and who did not. If a car fell out of the race the driver was interviewed as a part of the network's coverage. It did not matter if it was a traditional backmarker or a star.

I am man enough to admit if I mis-interpreted your original blog, but I'm not sure I did. You wrote an ENTIRE post about Mr. Waltrip not being interviewed after he fell out of the race early. Just Waltrip, nobody else. You pointed out that he is a car owner, TV celebrity, and how he has many fans. Does Mr. Editor believe readers are not going to infer from this that The Daly Planet thinks Mr. Waltrip deserves an interview regardless of other drivers who drop out of the race?

Its similar to visiting an art museum. The paintings that get an entire wall to themselves are considered the most important and valuable.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Ritchie,

There was no one else out of the race...how hard could it be?

Anonymous said...

Altho I think the ESPN people need alot more polish with their broadcasts, I did'nt miss a Mikey interview at all. All you would hear is him blaming someone else for his team's errors and how they will turn it around. How long do you think a sponsor is going to listen to that crap? I give him until the end of this year, at best. Since his Monday nite show is UNWATCHABLE I can do something constructive. Now if we can just think of a way to retire 'Ol DW from Fox, we could start improving their announce crew.

Newracefan said...

Many here are making this about Michael Waltrip but in my opinion it is not just about him. It's about all the cars that fall out of a cup race. At least give us an update about it and as JD said with the small video box we can even see the interview. Did they interview anyone who fell out or crashed out yesterday. Not that I can remember 55, 15, 78. We are not talking about start and park cars. Someone posted using Dave Blaney as an example while I agree he perhaps did not deserve an interview we could at least have heard about him once with view of his car during the race. I know we bashed FOX big time this year but they seemed to understand the every team deserved at least some type of mention even if it wasn't for a good thing. Heck show the poor guy getting lapped at least his sponsor will get some airtime.

Anonymous said...

All 43 drivers have their fans, and when only a few get talked about.........and not a word said about laps lost, or out of the race, it is a slap in the face to loyal fans. I stayed with the whole darn thng waiting for a mention of Mikey, watched Victory Lane...nothing.....D Despain.... nothing. Wonder how NN will handle it tonight.
Grani Girl

Anonymous said...
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Ritchie said...

Mr. Editor,

No, it would not have been difficult. As I said in my first response, you picked a great race to use as an example of this.

Also, like I said, if your only point is that EVERYONE who drops out of a race deserves an interview I would respectfully disagree, but understand your point.

If however, this became a serious issue when Mr. Waltrip didn't get an interview, I think that is disingenuous.

There were five drivers who dropped out of the race:
Yeley, Montoya, Nemechek, Menard, and Waltrip.

Did any or all of those guys get an interview? I admit, I wasn't keeping track, but I certainly will in the future.

Anonymous said...

Ritchie, your post makes the point.

I had NO IDEA so many drivers were out of the race, because ESPN didn't tell me!

That's part of their job; it isn't just some waste of time that takes away from covering the race. It IS the race.

Anonymous said...
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Lisa Hogan said...

I will check out TWIN and stick around if the show isn’t backwards. I will skip Nascar Now tonight as I have no interest in listing to more of the ESPN pit reporters.

Richard in N.C. said...

In light of the unusual strain on motors at Long Pond and since most of the Toyota motors (except JGR) come from the same place, I was surprised that ESPN had nothing on why MW fell out so early.

Kenn Fong said...

J. D.,

Are the pit and infield reporters expected to do find stories outside of their assigned beats, or must they be sent to cover stories such as MW (or other drivers) who left the race? How was this handled in your day?

Every driver has his own constituency. I would like to hear a "through the field" at least once every quarter of the race, supplemented by a chart bumper coming in or out of spots several times during the race. It could even become a shtick, with those who finish in the bottom 13 consistently taking on the sobriquet, "Unlucky 13."

Do you know if this absence of reporting on the field-fillers is a deliberate decision by the production team or simply an oversight?

Pacific Time Zone Kenny

[To those West of the Mississippi, please shout out where you are so the Eastern Time Zone folks know how many of us there are out here.]

Daly Planet Editor said...

Pit reporters are assigned drivers for the race, remember TNT doing a pit reporter run-down before the event?

There is a Pit Producer in the Truck who coordinates the movement and the on-air activity of all four pit reporters. This Producer also sends them to the garage or the Infield Medical Center as needed.

Each crew has a complete wireless camera crew with them (called RF) and can go anywhere.

JD

Anonymous said...

I am a MW fan, but that really isn't the point, ESPN had 4 hours including a lengthy red flag.

It wouldn't have mattered to me if they did an interview with the drivers who were out of the race but they should have at least mentioned why the drivers who were out, were out.

If any of the Hendrick drivers, Gibbs, Rousch, Childress drivers had just dropped out of the race that early, that RF crew would've had their work out start early.

I don't buy conspiracy theories about network affiliations being to blame, You think ESPN would avoid talking to Chad Knaus if JJ dropped out that early?

I don't think so.

Dave in Wisc.

Anonymous said...

I was going to make a nice comment about ESPN but everyone else pointed out how lame they are, so I don't need to. I DO want to point out, however, that even though you claim that this devastated Michael in the points, you couldn't be more wrong. He's still in the top 35, he's pretty good at road courses too. He's still got a good chance. I have noticed that you, Mr. Daly, have a bad habit of dogging Mikey every chance you get. Why don't you write something nice once in a while. Your article, honestly, was nothing but filler since you apparently couldn't find anything better to write about.

How about writing how Carl finally won a race this year without cheating? How about how Roush has finally stopped yapping like a chihuahua about Toyota(for now), how about Junior loses yet ANOTHER race, how about how close Tony got to winning finally? None of those interest you?

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 3:44PM,

That was a swing and a big whiff.

My feedback on TWIN with Waltrip has been overwhelmingly positive. Of course, that would require you to read those posts rather than just bashing me.

This column is pro-Waltrip in almost every way. It is asking why someone who is a driver/owner who retired in a race was never interviewed.

His issues were never detailed and he was dismissed as nothing more than a backmarker. My point is that this is unfair and should never happen in a Cup race.

If you would like I list of my recent columns promoting Waltrip and TWIN, just drop me a line. Be happy to help you with a little reality.

JD

Anonymous said...

Mike will be likely filling in the details tonight

He is a great guy and a great driver , nice to see him get back on track so to speak after the poor finish in the last 2 races.

Anonymous said...

JD, I think you were the one who pointed out yesterday that no explanation was offered re #7 being 2 laps down. ESPN's housekeeping during the race is poor at best. I agree w/Dave in WI that at least they could have updated all the cars that an abnormal day during the rain delay. I know we're not going to get any 43 car thru-the-field rundowns but ESPN can do better than they have.

Richard in N.C. said...

If the announcers give a full field rundown, or a rundown of the cars a lap or more down, or the cars out of the race that would fill some air time - without having to think - and give everyone in the booth a chance to catch their breath AND inform the fans. MRN and PRN both give frequent full field rundowns.

Newracefan said...

If the booth needs a break have AB do a follow up on the guys having problems as part of a commercial bumper or something. The point here is give us the info, I figured out what happened to Mikey from Pit Command (a TNT product) and Foxtrax (a FOX product) because ESPN wasn't giving me the info and they were calling the race. That's the issue and I was paying attention to Mikey but I missed the R Gordon issue and still don't exactly know why he was 2 laps down. The same thing happened with Reutimann at Indy, if I didn't have Pit Command I would have been clueless.

Jo said...

I listened to MRN and they run thru the field. Its simply laziness on ESPNs part. They have the ticker on top - which tells you basically zilch. OUT why is the car out? When did the car leave the field and why?

ESPN is supposed to provide race coverage, not a wheres the top 12, Jr. & the "newest fav driver" of the week, each race.

Race coverage -imho- should include updates of all the cars entered, where they are & why.

AMS fan said...

Good posts from everyone. A lot of discussion here.
I don't require an interview with any specific driver at any time. My personal opinion is the media is a little to close most of the time. These drivers do have a job. Driving a race car. Even Mikey, as a self employed owner/driver still has people to answer to and business to take care of. I say let the drivers take care of business then do the media tour. (I know it don't work that way)
All said, all I expect from a broadcast crew is to keep us fans aware of what happened,(other than he's in the garage) or in DW's case forsee the future when an engine is about to blow.
I haven't re-watched the race yet to find the Mikey interview that one poster said happened. Maybe tonight. If it happened, I missed it.
Just tell us what happened. I'm not there, I don't have a clue.
A quick thanks to all who contribute, it really makes me think about the good and bad.