Sunday, September 21, 2008
Sprint Cup Series on ABC Sports From Dover
The chaos of Dover is about to unleash itself on the 43 teams in the Sprint Cup Series. That is the known. The unknown is how that chaos will be handled by the ESPN on ABC production team.
Just as Dover calls for the drivers to be "up on the wheel" all the time, the track also calls for the TV announcers and crew to be "alert and focused" for the entire event. Which will be the bigger challenge is yet to be seen.
It will be Allen Bestwick anchoring the pre-race coverage from the Infield Pit Studio. If there was ever a track that sends Brad Daugherty completely over the edge, Dover is it. Look for the cheerleading volume to be set on high. Rusty Wallace rounds-out the infield panel and he has a great perspective on this track. Look for the Producer to try and use Wallace during the race for observations and questions to Andy Petree and Tim Brewer.
Petree will be with his broadcast partner Dale Jarrett and the face of ESPN's NASCAR coverage, Jerry Punch. This trio hosted the Nationwide Series race on Saturday and Punch struggled to even remember the names of the drivers in the cars. Often, it was Jarrett or Petree who called the action on the track or alerted Punch to a caution flag. This on-air dynamic will be key to watch as the 400 laps slowly tick away.
The pit road at Dover is completely inadequate. The four ESPN pit reporters are going to have to put in a little extra effort all day long where pit stops are concerned. Things happen quickly and there were both pit crew injuries and a pit road accident during the Nationwide race.
Unfortunately, all 200 laps of the Saturday race clicked away without ESPN being able to offer even one full-field rundown. While the ticker on the screen may carry the position of the cars and even some minimal data, only the pit reporters can fill-in the fans on the stories behind the positions on the track of the teams. Keep an eye on how often a rundown is offered, and what positions the network chooses to update.
There are two bridges over the Dover track and it is important to note how hard the Director has to work to eliminate them from the TV coverage. While they will be seen on replays and aerial shots, the ability of the cameraman to frame the shot just under the bridge on each and every lap makes for smooth coverage for the viewers at home.
Dover also lends itself to "speed shots" on the front stretch and from track level. Mixing these into the coverage helps the Director to convey to the fans the real feeling of speed as the hundreds of laps wind-down. The "speed shot" is where a small lipstick size camera is mounted in a fixed position and the cars speed by close to the lens.
Replays under green have been an issue at Dover for years. Choosing to replay a pit road incident or even a pass on the track while the race is green means flirting with disaster. Showing the replay full-screen is the big risk, but by using two video boxes on the screen and keeping the "line cut" of the race visible the Director can always switch quickly to the live box in the event of an accident.
On Saturday, pit reporter Shannon Spake moved to the Infield Medical Center and attempted to interview the drivers involved in incidents on the track. This is a crucial issue for the fans. In last week's race, ESPN was only interested in interviewing drivers if they were involved in The Chase. Anyone outside of the top 12 was suddenly not important.
What the network forgot was that NASCAR fans keep their drivers all season, and in many cases for a lifetime. Simply because that driver did not make The Chase does not change the loyalty of the fans. With all the incidents at Dover, watching to see who ESPN chooses to interview could be a big tip about the network's coverage philosophy over the final Sprint Cup events.
In the old days, the TV crew used to call this race "The 24 Hours of Dover" because of the multiple caution flags and the grinding 400 laps. Perhaps, the dynamic of The Chase will lead to more conservative racing and long green flag runs.
NASCAR Countdown hits the air at 1PM and race coverage begins at 2PM. You should be able to find both programs on your local ABC television station.
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