Sunday, September 14, 2008
Twelve Cars And Logano Race In Loudon
One tough aspect of The Chase for the Championship is that during the NASCAR "playoffs" all of the players are still on the field. Suddenly, this puts 31 teams outside of the media's area of interest and effectively ends their exposure on TV.
The only exception to that is a one-time story like Joey Logano making his first Sprint Cup Series start. The ESPN on ABC crew faced the challenge of dealing with these issues on Sunday afternoon in Loudon, NH.
Allen Bestwick and his Infield Pit Studio crew handled the pre-race show while the cameras showed the wet track in the background. Bestwick set-up the race and addressed only the Sprint Cup topics. There had been a lot more than just that going-on in Loudon.
ESPN decided to avoid mentioning the fact that the Craftsman Truck, Whelen Modified and Camping World East Series also raced at Loudon this weekend. What a really bad decision. NASCAR is NASCAR.
Something might be going-on behind-the-scenes as the normally happy faces were not on-camera with the ESPN team. Luckily, Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty were as spirited as ever, and worked hard to inject some excitement into what looked like a dreary day.
As Bestwick transitioned up to the broadcast team in the booth to call the race, TV viewers heard something a little different. "So, let's go upstairs for the call of today's race," said Bestwick. "Dr. Jerry Punch...ready to go...I assume?"
Punch and company had a tough challenge. A flat track with the COT on a cloudy day with a field starting on points is not exactly the way a TV network would like to kick-off a ten event playoff.
Once things got underway, the focus was on the Chase racers and the rest of the field was left behind. Kyle Busch provided the story with his mechanical problem and Tim Brewer was useful in offering suggestions for what might be the issue. He and Petree had good conversations about this problem.
Unfortunately, Jamie Little had a tough day. This issue was not something she understood and her comments were often a beat or two behind what was being said and heard on the broadcast. She has been working hard to keep her volume under control and her comments thoughtful this season, but tech issues are not something she does well.
After an update on Logano losing laps because of a pit penalty, he was never heard from again. This was the fate of most cars outside of the top ten until lap 128 of the 300 scheduled. The TV crew finally did a rundown of the cars outside of the top ten and it proved to be a segment full of stories and good information.
The remainder of the race featured a focus on The Chase that included driver interviews recorded earlier in the week and shown under green flag racing conditions. The racing can be seen on the screen in a nice-sized video box, but the comments of the drivers under green really take the excitement level of the broadcast down almost immediately.
Last season, ESPN caught some grief for not interviewing non-Chase drivers who had been involved in accidents. The network had been doing a great job during the first couple of Sprint Cup races this season, but that ended on Sunday. Only Matt Kenseth was interviewed after a big five car crash, simply because he was the only Chase driver involved. It had become all Chase all-the-time.
A top ten review was done with 37 laps remaining, but it was too little too late. Viewers had only been able to follow the field using the ticker at the top of the screen or other Internet information. Some fans emailed TDP that the DirecTV Hot Pass channels had once again provided better coverage than the main NASCAR TV network.
Pit stops after a caution with 32 laps left were chaotic, but once again it was Andy Petree and Dale Jarrett who put things in perspective for TV viewers. By this time, the video being seen under green was tight shots that often showed only one or two cars. Luckily, the network caught almost every incident on replay and did not have much of a struggle with commercial integration.
"Racing vs. Chasing" is going to be the ESPN on ABC crew's issue for the remaining nine races. As the final ten laps ran down, it was Petree and Jarrett who provided the commentary. Punch asked questions and made observations, but continues to refuse to call even the final laps in the traditional play-by-play manner.
This race ended with no excitement from the ESPN on ABC booth. It simply cannot be created by Punch. Even the winning pass got absolutely nothing in the way of a reaction from the booth. Immediately after the race, Punch suddenly came alive and his voice rose to an exciting level. He was introducing a commercial break.
It was a nice touch for the ESPN Director to show the field racing across the finish line. In addition, ESPN offered a nice line-up of post-race interviews although the questions were not exactly what the fans wanted. Some of the newer reporters are still working to understand the issues that need to be discussed after an event.
Bestwick and the Infield Studio bunch put the final wrap on the telecast. Even just ten minutes of listening to Bestwick lead the telecast after the silence and awkward style of Punch points to what might be the only remaining issue with this crew. That is putting the excitement back into the telecasts on a consistent basis and identifying a leader who can be the face of NASCAR for both ESPN and ABC.
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