Saturday, October 18, 2008
NASCAR TV Networks Finally Warming-Up To Burton
He might not have the volatility of Tony Stewart or the youthful enthusiasm of Kyle Busch. He does not have the swagger of Clint Bowyer or the fan base of Dale Earnhardt Jr. The only thing Jeff Burton has is experience and momentum.
It has taken the NASCAR TV networks a while to warm-up to the fact that Burton is here to stay in this season's Chase for the Championship. Sunday is a good example of how SPEED and ESPN/ABC have begun to integrate Burton into the weekend coverage.
He will be a live guest on SPEED's RaceDay at 11AM. That show hits the air right after ESPN2 does a full hour of NASCAR Now at 10AM. There is little doubt that Burton will be featured by host Nicole Manske on that program as well.
SPEED recently had Burton on Trackside and ESPN had him stop-by the Infield Pit Studio to chat. On Sunday, after running the entire Martinsville race, Burton will be Dave Despain's guest on Wind Tunnel. That might be the only time fans may have the opportunity to ask Burton their own questions on television.
The coverage of NASCAR began by both ESPN and SPEED back in February. Burton was not even a blip on the radar. Then, the Toyota era of Kyle Busch exploded and Burton faded even further out of range. The TV networks tried to keep Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the picture, but the dominance of Busch and JGR made it hard to do.
When the networks talked about Richard Childress Racing, it was usually Clint Bowyer or Kevin Harvick who were the topics of conversation. How did race fans remember Burton? He was the nice guy in the commercial driving so slow his kids were embarrassed.
As The Chase unfolded, there was almost a sense of loss on the part of the NASCAR on ESPN team as Kyle Busch began to fade. The network tried hard to keep Johnson and Edwards front-and-center, but once again reality re-wrote the ESPN script.
It was Greg Biffle who grabbed the early publicity. A regular on SPEED's This Week In NASCAR, Biffle has finally been mellowed by marriage and seems happy to just be in the running. For SPEED viewers, Biffle was already someone they knew quite well. Now, it seems to be Burton's turn in the spotlight.
In a very difficult time for the sport and the country in general, Burton may be just the "face" that NASCAR needs in front of as many TV cameras as possible. As the unofficial mayor of the Sprint Cup garage, Burton has been the thoughtful man behind many ideas that ultimately resulted in change in the sport.
As NASCAR fans watch the Sunday racing TV shows unfold, it will be Burton and his personality of quiet dignity and good family values that is seen nationwide. Should he come away from Martinsville with a strong performance, Dave Despain and Wind Tunnel may wind-up with a much more interesting interview than they originally imagined.
The one missing component that the TV networks have yet to show is an interview with Burton's older brother Ward who has a long NASCAR history. In the past, these two made quite a pair when interviewed together. Jeff was often referred to as Ward's translator. Perhaps, Despain and his staff might dial-up Ward on Sunday night and add that missing piece of the Burton puzzle.
So, with only five races left in the season, fans should see a lot more of Burton on Sunday then they normally would. How all this media exposure will affect him both on and off the track will be something to watch over the next month.
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