Saturday, September 27, 2008

Kansas: The TV Calm Before The Talladega Storm

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The big crowds and wonderful scenery of the Kansas Speedway are going to set the NASCAR on ESPN TV crew up for a "can't miss" afternoon of racing. Sunday afternoon should see a mix that includes a great track, strong racing and pit strategy serve-up what may be the best race of The Chase.

This is great for all concerned for one little reason. Next week, it all ends. Talladega brings the teamwork dynamic back into play with groups of team cars pushing each other like freight trains. It is also a track where one false move could easily lead to disaster for ten or more cars at one time.

Kansas has shown itself to be a track that allows for exactly the type of racing that the TV cameras enjoy. Big sweeping turns lead to three and even four-wide racing that can push the excitement level high at any time. The pictures from this facility are fantastic down the backstretch and even the in-car cameras shine because of the smooth surface.

The ESPN on ABC production gang will offer a one hour version of NASCAR Countdown to begin the day at 1PM Eastern Time. Allen Bestwick will host the program with Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty alongside. The Infield Pit Studio has been a very good investment for ESPN this season in more ways than one.

This innovative unit has seen Bestwick and his crew serve-up some solid programming in both good weather and bad. They have filled hours in rain delays, hosted countless drivers and erased the memory of Suzy Kolber and the network's first season. Regardless of the weather outside, this facility has been on-the-air and working. That is a true testament to the design and the tech crew.

The pictures above are the Infield Pit Studio exterior and interior. Click on the pics to see them full-size. Thanks to ESPN for the images.

Bestwick has a lot of stories to review this week from Montoya's penalty to driver changes and The Chase. As usual, two storylines will be running side-by-side with the race and The Chase both looking for attention and TV time.

The Saturday Nationwide Series race proved to be tough for Jerry Punch who had a hard time with both driver names and following the on-track action. His partners Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree called a large amount of the play-by-play and both have become pretty solid where that TV skill is concerned.

Punch will have his work cut-out for him at 2PM on Sunday, as Kansas has a lot of action and many of the Chasers will be starting far back in the field. This might be the biggest play-by-play challenge for him in quite some time. ESPN has always been mesmerized by the leaders of the race and on Sunday there may be only one or two Chasers among the top five cars. That should be interesting to sort-out.

Tim Brewer seems to have found his stride of late and did quite a good job on-the-fly describing the Montoya penalty and showing viewers exactly what happened. Kansas has been shown to be a track that can stress everything from shocks to batteries, so fans should be seeing Brewer on a regular basis in the telecast.

It's tough times for Shannon Spake on pit road this year. As the full-time rookie of the ESPN group she has found herself on the receiving end of criticism for her lack of racing knowledge and her sometimes off-balance comments. Just like Joey Logano, Spake is basically trying to get some "TV seat time" this season and learn for the future.

As the races wind-down and the tempers crank-up, both Spake and Jamie Little may find themselves confronting more angry drivers and crew chiefs face-to-face. Learning to deal with NASCAR's intensity is something that both of these two reporters are still in the process of understanding. Kansas may be a good warm-up for Talladega where tempers are concerned.

Mike Massaro and Dave Burns continue to fly under-the-radar this season. Both have been given the opportunity to expand their pit reporter roles and made the most of these chances. Massaro is now a regular on the Monday NASCAR Now roundtable and Burns hosted NASCAR Countdown pre-race shows in his firesuit before Nationwide races. They may both wind-up with bigger roles on ESPN's NASCAR coverage next season.

Perhaps the key person on Sunday for ESPN will be the Producer. As the one who decides what direction the overall coverage should take, the "racer vs. Chaser" problem will fall squarely in his lap. What portion of the coverage should focus on the race and what portion should follow the progress of The Chasers? This was ESPN's toughest challenge last season and has proven to be an issue again this year.

Since so many of the Chase contenders are starting in the back of the pack, ESPN will probably choose to watch them come up through the field as the early portions of the race progress. If Sunday is anything like Saturday, there will be packs of cars running in three lanes and lots of passing.

Last week in Dover, full field recaps were a struggle because of the fast laps and the frequent interruptions in the action. ESPN did two full field rundowns on Saturday in the Nationwide race, so perhaps the network will aggressively keep viewers up-to-date on Sunday as well.

One outstanding Saturday element from ESPN was interviewing drivers who were out of the race. From a discouraged Mark Martin outside the Infield Medical Center to a tired Bobby Hillin who was back racing after a long break, the network followed-up. This element has long been missing on the Cup side and perhaps it will return on Sunday.

The chaos of Talladega surely has begun to trickle into the minds of the TV crew as they look out at the serene Kansas landscape. Sunday afternoon will be a great opportunity to put a solid race telecast in the books and head into Talladega with the ESPN momentum high.

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Dot said...

JD, can I ask a question before the comments start rolling in on this topic? I have read on previous posts here about the F1 booth guys not being on site? Where are they? How does this work? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

They sit in a studio while Peter is always at the race tracks.

As for Shannon Spake she's doing a great job, get off the Manske bandwagon. If she's so good in your eyes why can't she be on everynight?

Anonymous said...

Dealing with Nascar's intensity is the least of the problems Little and Spake may have to deal with today. Little,Spake and Manske are all over their heads in my opinion. I'll spare you the details of one of spakes slip ups yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget the economy. I believe another blog entry pointed out how important it would be to talk about it. Nothing gets me more pumped up about a race than news about our economy.

Anonymous said...

Just curious JD - you offer "Shannon Spake who has received critisism this year"

Wonder if you are willing to explain.

Has NASCAR critisized her?

Has Mike Helton or Brian France called ESPN about her? Have ESPN executives said anything to you or publically or privately about her performance.

What is the origin of your comments? Or is it just your opinion.

Anonymous said...

I believe he is referring to the dozens of posters to this blog who have complained that she doesn't know what she's doing on pit road.

Daly Planet Editor said...


That is certainly an interesting mix of comments.


Just like Anon 3:15AM said, it would be too expensive to have the talent travel globally for a short race. They voice F-1 from Charlotte. The F-1 guys produce a "feed" that all the networks voice, many do it the way SPEED does it. Peter is the insert from the track and he has served them well.

I had the pleasure of doing F-1 when it was on ESPN in the 1980's and we traveled the talent. It was a nightmare. This is certainly the way to go and the presentation is solid.

Anon 3:15AM,

Not so sure what you are talking about. Manske and Burr alternate traveling to the tracks. Manske is in Kansas this week and Burr is in the studio.

The studio hosting position and reporting for the show is completely different from handling the pit reporting duties.

Anon 9:14AM,

NASCAR is not in the habit of talking about TV reporters for the networks. As for ESPN, why would they do anything like that in public?

Shannon was part-time last season and just stepped into this full-time role. She is a stick-and-ball girl from Charlotte who made her way into this sport without any previous motorsports experience.

That makes it tough, especially when you have to talk technical or ask the one right question on-the-fly.

Remember, she did a good job for SPEED with an earlier show and also contributes to NASCAR Now almost every week.

This is her first season of being in the high-profile pit reporter role during The Chase. I hope things work out for her down the stretch.

Anon 6:45AM,

I don't know where you live or what your economic situation is, but if you don't believe the economy is the biggest factor this season in NASCAR's attendance issues, you may want to re-think.


bevo said...

Hey JD could you please tell someone at Speed to turn of the ringer on the phone in the studio during the F1 race?

Anonymous said...

I posted some of these thoughts over on the NN series comments but I wanted to reiterate them here.

I think Doc did a much better job during the first half of the NN race. He tried to keep up with the lucky dog, who was on and off pit road and who was in the garage. He stopped himself from a 'story' to address action on the track and was obviously trying to not pair drver names and numbers. He lost focus fairly quickly, but he was trying to address some of the things we complain about.

The pit reporters stopped that "I talked to so n so" and the fluff lead-ins to little info, so I feel the reporting is getting tighter and more sucsinct.

I am confused as to whether it is the producer or director who chooses what we see, but whoever it was did a great job durning the NN races; while during Cup races it SU*ks. Not being aware of what I am NOT seeing is a real plus.

I am almost always happier with the NN coverage for what ever reason, and am also always disappointed on Sunday when it goes back to being just lousy.

Anonymous said...

Oh and....

Statistics are like a bakini?

Ok Ryan

Anonymous said...

'Anonymous said...

Dealing with Nascar's intensity is the least of the problems Little and Spake may have to deal with today. Little,Spake and Manske are all over their heads in my opinion. I'll spare you the details of one of spakes slip ups yesterday.
September 28, 2008 6:33 AM'

I agree with this poster. Spake and Little have been doing this long enough by now. I don't buy their 'needing more seat time' excuse anymore.

Anonymous said...

Doc was trying not to pair driver names and numbers yesterday? The only way I could agree with that is because there were times he just didn't even mention the driver's name and only said the car number. "There's the 88 being followed by the 11 car..." and then nothing else. That was Jerry Punch's effort to try and call the race.

I don't think that would be acceptable other than if I went to the local track and tried to announce a race without a program or knowing ANY of the driver's names.

But on this stage and on this network at this late in the season?

Announcer grade = F

Anonymous said...

A little off the subject but I have a question/comment about what seems like the lazy Nascar media the past week. A lot of writers keep saying that the Chase has ruined Kyle Busch's chances for a title and that it's a shame that two races could effect his chances as much as they have.

Yet, when calculating the points after these last two races WITHOUT adjusting for the Chase, Busch would actually be behind Carl Edwards by 30-something and only 20 ahead of Jimmie Johnson.

None of them seem to mention that and it makes many of the media seem like they don't care about facts and go for the dramatic statement or that they just don't know enough about Nascar or auto racing. Does anyone 'fact check' the Nascar media on things like this?

As much as I'm not a fan of Kyle Busch, you can't go out and finish 34th and 43rd in two straight races and expect many people to feel sorry for your chances to win a title, Chase or no Chase.

Anonymous said...

Now Doc wants to tell DJ and AP that KyBusch can, in fact, come back.

Yeah, Doc, come on. while it is mathematically possible, your own announcers said two weeks ago when the Chase started that you could MAYBE have one bad week; two were insurmountable.

You just embarrass your co-workers when you try to force them into agreeing with you.

Anonymous said...

Oh, good, now Punch has memorized the drivers' names, so he can say, "Earnhardt, Gordon, Allmendinger" when they're on his monitor instead of just listing their car numbers!

Anonymous said...

Amazing how Shannon Spake kept saying that Greg Biffle was struggling when he ran in the top 5 for most of the race. Also Jerry Punch is not a play-by-play guy. He's a pit reporter. I think ESPN rewarded him for his loyalty to the network. ESPN needs to swap Bestwick for Doc.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

JD, fellow posters. As much as I love you all, I can't wait until the week I don't need to come on here and read about how bad everyone else thinks this is, and to add my collection of complaints.

From Kolber, through Digger to Doc and Draft Track, the mistakes are frequent, the patronising endless.
Anyone who is in any doubt what a race telecast should look like, just watch the trucks on Speed. They have
(1) someone who can call the race
(2) a colour commentator who knows what he is talking about (that he is called Parsons probably helps)
(3) pit reporters who don't ask stupid questions
(4) no gimmicks, gophers, draft graphics
(5) a director who can show the race, all of it.

Sprinkled amongst the junk we have had to put up with this year have been a few jewels.

(1) Mike Joy and Allen Bestwick. The best PxP there is. Shame only 1 is doing it.
(2) Larry Mac, Andy Petree, Dale Jarrett, Wally Dallenbach, Randy LeJoie. Analysts who really add something.
(3) Wendy Venturini, Krista Voda, Lindsay Czarniak. Women who know something about racing, and show it on the broadcast.
(4) Matt Yocum, Dick Berggren, Dave Burns, Steve Byrnes. Pit reporters that get the job done.
(5) Some fantasic cameramen and soundmen, who bring some of the best pictures and sound in motorsport.

The problems unfortunately outweigh the good stuff. Poor race direction, poor choice of PxP, poor questions and choice of interviewees, inappropriate product placement, poor race timing, poor use of "toys", inappropriate storylines... Do I need to carry on?

All 3 telecasts need tweaking. ESPN needs tweaking the most.

And until then, I will be here, thankful that I am not alone in my wish for a decent telecast, and ever hopeful that someone from the Worldwide Leader, or someone called France, gives a damn, and makes the changes the coverage so desperately needs.