Saturday, September 20, 2008
Dover Biggest TV Challenge Of 2008 Chase
The unique layout of Dover where visibility and TV coverage is concerned should make Sunday's race the most challenging of the ten Chase races for the ESPN on ABC gang.
Veteran NASCAR fans know all too well the struggles of the TV networks to keep viewers informed during this fast-paced event. Simply remembering the single big accident of the last Sprint Cup Series race at Dover will serve to tell the tale. Cars continued to pile-into an accident seemingly forever and the resulting mess challenged the network to keep-up with the action.
ESPN is a TV crew that works to manage an almost scripted performance. The focus and emphasis of the NASCAR telecasts have been long since decided before the pre-race show hits the air. The on-going struggle for ESPN is to manage the clash between what the network wants to cover and what is actually happening in the race.
Even the dependable Allen Bestwick must follow the scripted performance where the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show is concerned. Although still light years ahead of the Hollywood Hotel, Bestwick has dutifully been spouting "The Chase" in every sentence and leaving the actual stories of the racing behind.
On this weekend, NASCAR has already run both the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series races. There is a big change in the controlled substance policy for the sport. Another discrimination lawsuit has been filed and one of the top team engineers in Formula-1 racing has left the sport to join Michael Waltrip Racing. All of those stories should have a place in Bestwick's pre-race show. It should be interesting to see how many of them make the script.
Dr. Jerry Punch had a tough time in Saturday's Nationwide Series race trying to pay attention to both the TV monitor in the announce booth and also look out at the track. It was often Dale Jarrett or Andy Petree who first saw trouble and reported where it was to both the audience at home and the TV crew in the truck.
That was during a race that had 200 laps. Sunday, Punch faces 400 laps with both the story of the race and the story of The Chase running side-by-side all afternoon. The grind of The Monster Mile calls for a level of determination and intensity that Punch has not yet displayed this season. Jarrett and Petree have become critical partners in keeping the ESPN viewers informed of even the most basic information.
Saturday's race also saw a new commitment by ESPN to interviewing the drivers involved in accidents as they exited the Infield Medical Center. Pit reporter Shannon Spake did a solid job of simply being on-scene and letting the drivers talk. Hopefully, this continues on Sunday with the Cup Series drivers. ESPN has been recently eliminating this practice unless a Chase driver was involved.
Spake, Jamie Little, Dave Burns and Mike Massaro face the challenge of calling the action from one of the worst pit roads in NASCAR. A simple mistake by a team or a driver on pit road in Dover can be catastrophic where a chance to win is concerned. That was never more evident than in Saturday's Nationwide race where two of the top contenders collided exiting the pits.
ESPN had a fantastic telecast earlier this season from Bristol, TN. The production team recognized that the action was so frantic on the track that changes needed to be made to what the viewers saw. Tim Brewer and the Tech Center was essentially out unless he could appear during a caution or quickly coming back from break. Bestwick and his infield team could be heard, but did not need to be seen once the green flag waved.
These changes resulted in the emphasis being put back where it belonged, on the racing. This week, 43 teams are going to enter an endurance contest where pit strategy and sheer luck may have a strong role in determining the winner. The same approach is needed.
The TV crew will be ducking a bridge over the track on every lap. Cars will constantly be racing on the front and back stretches simultaneously. Accidents happen so quickly that the car is often already at the bottom of the big Dover banking before the Director can call for the right camera.
Upcoming tracks like Kansas and Talladega are going to seem like heaven to this TV crew after a Dover weekend. With all the wrecks and laps under caution, this race has been referred to as "the 24 hours of Dover." Everyone on the ESPN crew is going to know they have put in a full day's work when this one is over.
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. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.