Sunday, September 21, 2008
ESPN Adds Some New TV Wrinkles For Dover
ESPN's NASCAR team continues to mix things up down the stretch as the network goes head-to-head with the afternoon NFL Football games. TV viewers noticed several changes in the ABC telecast designed to help some struggling areas of the coverage get better.
Allen Bestwick welcomed drivers in their firesuits and ready to race into the Infield Pit Studio during the pre-race show. This was quite a switch from having the frantic ESPN pit reporters tracking down the drivers for interviews. The quality of the questions from Bestwick and Rusty Wallace were far superior to the one or two question interviews with the pit reporters. Nice move by ESPN to fix a problem.
What ESPN could not fix was Brad Daugherty. In some situations, his constant cheerleading and discussions of the obvious waste time that could be used for much better purposes. By now, viewers understand that Brad likes NASCAR and all the good drivers are "wheel men."
Another switch was getting the pit reporters to climb the ladder and go get the interviews with the crew chiefs. This was a glaring hole in the Sprint Cup coverage and the network made a first attempt to fix it. Ultimately, it paid big dividends after key pit stops to hear first-hand why decisions were made that were about to change the complexion of the race.
A nice day in Dover made for great pictures and sound throughout the race. The Directing was solid and made the two bridges across the track invisible for the entire event. Adding in the speed shots and the aerial angles really helped to make a long and sometimes boring race fun to watch.
The ESPN team worked hard to catch-up with drivers in The Chase when they ran into trouble, but non-Chase drivers still get the second-class treatment where interviews are concerned. The same can be said for pit road penalties, lucky dog awards and cars spending excessive time in the garage.
Luckily, the drivers put on a very good show with a lot of changes for the lead and some good stories happening throughout the event. The problems with Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were well-documented. The Denny Hamlin situation was not. This has been a tough two weeks for Tim Brewer and his Tech Center.
As viewers have seen over the past three races, it is often Dale Jarrett who steps-in and takes-over the play-by-play role when the situation is crucial and the excitement level needs to be high. Sunday afternoon in Dover was no different.
Andy Petree and Jarrett have proven to be a combination that clicks where frank and honest commentary is concerned. They can disagree, discuss topics on-the-fly and interact with anyone on the ESPN production team. In this event, they sometimes talked overtop of Jerry Punch when a point had to be made and Punch was trapped in his rambling metaphors and catch phrases.
While pit reporter Jamie Little can sometimes be too harsh, she worked well in the new environment of aggressive reporting and on-camera interviews. Her post-race face-to-face questioning of Carl Edwards was still off-base. She needs to learn to ask the same questions without the urgency or volume that she used with Edwards. That simply does not play well with the NASCAR audience.
The Chase has sparked a good variety of stories that will serve ESPN well for the week. Hopefully, the team radio hype and the singling-out of Dale Earnhardt Jr. will cease. Fans deserve the focus of ESPN and the daily NASCAR Now show to be on the racing and the teams down the stretch.
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