Friday, September 26, 2008
Infield Pit Studio Worked For Punch On Friday
It was a long day for the ESPN on-air crew Friday from the Kansas Speedway. As it turns out, the on-track activity ended with an interesting twist.
Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree used the Infield Pit Studio as a base of operations while Punch hosted a variety of shows. While it was still the same task of analysis for Petree and Jarrett, it was a completely different environment for Punch. He has been used in a variety of roles for ESPN, as readers can see from a picture of his days as a top pit reporter years ago.
On this day, gone were his metaphors and catch phrases. Gone were the awkward silences and the TV moments where things were clearly off-balance. To even the most casual viewer, Punch was energized and in control. In other words, he was home.
Despite Punch's new comfort level, the ESPN coverage of Sprint Cup practice at 12:30PM was absolutely horrible. There must be some serious pressure on the ESPN Producer to "glamorize" practice or to try to make it "more interesting." The results have been a disaster and this one hour program was another example.
Almost instantly, the cars on the track became nothing more than background noise. Where SPEED focuses solely on the on-track action, ESPN offered a mind-altering amount of recorded video featuring last week's Dover highlights in painful detail, previous finishes of multiple Cup races at Kansas and even edited features from way back including one from 2007. All of this while Cup cars whiz by in the background. What is ESPN thinking in the heart of The Chase?
Punch led the live coverage of Cup qualifying next and this formula has been more successful for the network. The cars on the track are inserted into a video box surrounded by lots of graphics while another video box is used for everything from live interviews to pictures of crew chiefs and owners looking at the stop watch.
A lot of information comes at viewers during this program and Jarrett and Petree are very good at keeping the conversation flowing with Punch "directing TV traffic" from his host position. The pit reporters kept their interviews brief and showed a lot of hustle during this session. The casual attire instead of the ESPN firesuits works very well to set the only relaxed tone ESPN will allow during the weekend.
Punch saved the best for last and that was Nationwide Series practice. ESPN shelved all the bells and whistles and just showed the cars on the track. It was a lot of fun and really helped viewers to understand just how comfortable Punch can be in this infield role. Nothing brought this out more than the breaking news that happened during this live session.
Punch smoothly introduced Jamie Little with the bulletin that Juan Montoya's time had been disallowed and he was going to be moved to the back of the pack for problems with the shock absorbers.
Without missing a beat, Punch let Petree speak to this briefly and led right over to Tim Brewer in the Tech Center. Brewer had the part in question and explained the issue in easy to understand terms.
Once Brewer was done, Punch got a strong reaction from Dale Jarrett who backed NASCAR by saying a performance advantage should result in this penalty. Even as this program was slipping off-the-air, Punch was advising viewers to stay-tuned and that NASCAR Now was going to follow-up immediately with a full report. This is the NASCAR on ESPN crew in action that viewers enjoy.
Sure enough, NASCAR Now host Ryan Burr went on-the-air and sent it right back to Punch in Kansas. For viewers just tuning-in, Punch recapped the situation, let Petree and Jarrett comment and then led to a Jamie Little interview. Short and to the point, Little talked directly with Series Director John Darby who explained the situation and the penalty.
Once again, Brewer did a full explanation of the situation compete with the part in question and exactly what Montoya's team had done. Punch then wrapped the entire situation up very neatly before sending it back to Burr in the ESPN studios.
Viewers had seen very clearly what TDP has been talking about for months. ESPN has one of the top reporters in NASCAR on staff and on this day he was leading the broadcast from the infield studio and doing an exceptional job.
Regardless of what each show Producer had asked, Punch had responded. From the disjointed coverage of Cup practice through the heavy graphics of qualifying and into the relaxed telecast of the Nationwide Series, Punch had been able to adjust and deal with each individual set of circumstances.
He topped the day off with a breaking news story, transitioned smoothly between live programs and then presented an entire segment on-the-fly that featured two studios, five announcers and a live interview with a NASCAR executive.
In some ways, it will be a shame to see Punch again take the elevator to the broadcast booth to call the Nationwide Series race. His hard work and strong performance on Friday from the infield combined years of TV reporting experience with a perspective and knowledge of NASCAR that few possess.
On Saturday afternoon for Punch, it's back to calling the action in turn 2 with 100 laps to go.
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Note: You can click on the picture to see it full size or to save it to your computer. Thanks to ESPN for the photo.