Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nationwide Series Banquet Highlights Nicely Done By ESPN


During the off-season, it has been mostly gloomy topics that have dominated the NASCAR scene. The ESPN2 telecast of the Nationwide Series banquet proved to be a pleasant distraction on Sunday afternoon.

Both the Nationwide and Truck Series have recently changed their banquet TV coverage to an old school "Tonight Show" format. On this telecast, it was Allen Bestwick behind the desk as the late Johnny Carson and Shannon Spake sitting to the side and doing her best Ed McMahon. Once again this year, it worked like a charm.

After watching the tightly-wound Bestwick all season on ESPN and ABC, it was a very different TV personality that viewers saw on Sunday. As each of the top ten drivers came over to the "set" to be interviewed, Bestwick related personal stories, teased them about off-track issues and asked each of them at least one hilarious question.

"You're a young guy," said Bestwick to runner-up Brad Keselowski. "Those of us who have been around for a while know that those who wear the Nomex (fire suits) tend to attract women. So, this been a good year for you?"

"Awwww man!" said Keselowksi blushing. "Well...it can always get better," he continued as the crowd roared. "Thanks for that one," Keselowski croaked.

This is "banquet lite TV" with little in the way of real content. It is basically a fast-paced whirl through the drivers with a musical performance along the way. Hardcore fans are once again going to be thrown off-guard, as this show simply skimmed the surface of the season and focused on quick conversations and a couple of brief speeches.

Shannon Spake was in good form and kept her questions to relevant topics. Some drivers talked about the season while others talked about family or real life events. Spake and Bestwick combined to offer a good mix of personalities in this highlights format.

Over the years, NASCAR has struggled to figure out how to translate the post-season festivities to TV. This highlight format basically assumes a small TV audience and is more an hour of conversation than anything else. One has the feeling that a collective "whew, that is over" can be heard as the teams head out for vacation.

This signals the official end of the Nationwide Series season and closes the ESPN coverage for the second year. Bestwick and Spake certainly did their best to keep the mood light and the TV program moving along. The TV schedule for the Truck and Sprint Cup Series banquets is located on the right side of the main page.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to drop by.
TV/Media Notes:
Are you watching the Nationwide Series Banquet highlighs on ESPN2?

David Poole is reporting that Ray Evernham has completed his deal to purchase a local short track in North Carolina. That would be a strong indicator that Evernham will be out of GEM shortly and free to fill a broader role at ESPN.

With the recent talks about cutbacks in the TV staffing and facilities for next season, it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out. ESPN has two completely different TV packages. First, they cover the entire Nationwide Series from start to finish. Then, they cover the final 17 Sprint Cup Series events.

Should ESPN decide to downsize the Nationwide Series coverage significantly and bring in a different on-air TV crew to handle the 17 Cup races Evernham could wind-up playing a big role. We will keep you posted.

By the way, if you ever wondered why print reporters should not do TV/video work without a producer, click here for the answer.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

ESPN Lets Ed Hinton Discover The Internet


It seems former Orlando Sentinel writer and Wind Tunnel guest Ed Hinton has made a little discovery since he changed teams.

Now playing on the biggest sports field in the world, Hinton has discovered the joy of writing on ESPN.com and having Internet users comment on his topics.

Click here for one of the funniest columns about NASCAR haters in recent memory. It seems that during his time at ESPN, Hinton has discovered that a very large slice of the sports TV pie contains diehard stick-and-ball types who loathe even the mention of the word NASCAR.

The true irony of Hinton's column is that some of the biggest NASCAR haters are employed by ESPN in positions of great power. Here are some suggestions of locations within the ESPN family that Hinton might visit.

Perhaps, he could stroll over to Tony Kornheiser and have a little NASCAR conversation. "Not a real sport!" screamed Kornheiser recently on Pardon The Interruption when talking about ABC dumping NASCAR viewers to ESPN2 during the Phoenix race.

How about stopping by the studios of Around The Horn and asking Tony Reali why NASCAR is completely ignored and often publicly abused on that TV series? After all, ESPN's "NASCAR expert" Tim Colishaw is a frequent guest.

Hinton needs look no further than the ESPN Radio studios to find the Mike and Mike In The Morning show. Both Golic and Greenberg ventured to the Texas Motor Speedway only to completely ignore the sport with the exception of a brief Jimmie Johnson interview at the end of this special "NASCAR show."

Wrapping-up this first NASCAR haters tour of ESPN would be a meeting with the good folks at ESPNEWS. From February to late August, the ESPNEWS team wowed NASCAR fans by carrying the post-race news conferences from each Sprint Cup Series race.

As you might expect, there was a wide range of emotion on display from anger and frustration to complete joy and relief. The top NASCAR drivers, crew chiefs and owners all took their turns facing live questions from a frequently rowdy NASCAR press corps. One of the reporters heard quite often was named Hinton.

But, a funny thing happened on the way to Homestead. In September, once college and pro football got underway there were some changes at ESPNEWS.

Despite the fact that loyal NASCAR fans had been making ESPNEWS a post-race destination for more than six months, the NASCAR coverage was suddenly long gone like Terrell Owens through the Seattle Seahawks backfield.

The post-race press conference coverage during the ten ABC Chase for the Championship races was just dumped like a bad blind date and never heard from again.

Despite a deluge of comments and emails to ESPN asking why, NASCAR fans were ignored by The Worldwide Leader with a deafening silence.

For the moment, Mr. Hinton can leave First Take, ESPN's Hannah Storm and the new morning SportsCenter for his next NASCAR hating excursion.

Before he experiences the brutal NASCAR reality of those three he has to figure out this whole Internet thing. Welcome to ESPN, Ed.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Your Favorite NASCAR TV Studio Analyst Of 2008?


As we wrap-up the "best of" series over the next several days, we are trying to cut the TV pie into pieces that make sense to discuss. NASCAR offers a lot of experts on TV and one big category is the guys who talk to us during the pre-race, the race itself and from the studio.

Let's get your opinion on the analysts who work at the track or the network headquarters. We'll start with the folks who travel to the races.

The NASCAR on Fox gang kicks-off the season with Jeff Hammond in the Hollywood Hotel. Although he is joined by Darrell Waltrip during the pre-race show, Hammond goes it alone as the infield expert while he watches the race with Chris Myers.

Hammond is another one of the hardcore NASCAR TV personalities. He works on several TV programs every racing weekend. These include "Trackside" on SPEED along with the practice and qualifying sessions for the Nationwide and Cup Series. Hammond moves seamlessly between the broadcast and cable TV networks.

Although previously mentioned in the booth analyst category, the name Larry McReynolds pops-up again in this one. McReynolds moves down to the infield for the six TNT races and his presence has made quite an impact. His role is to provide advice on race strategy during the live telecast.

McReynolds could easily have become the fourth man in the booth. TNT's Kyle Petty kept a running commentary with him and continually asked his perspective on race-related issues. Several times it was McReynolds who predicted the racing strategy used to win the TNT Sprint Cup Series races.

Credit goes to Rusty Wallace for being a team player. Moved from the Lead Analyst position down to the ESPN infield, Wallace made the best of his new role and never was at a loss for words. Aided by the professional TV presence of Allen Bestwick, Wallace seemed to enjoy his new role.

For better or worse, Brad Daugherty has to be put into the studio analyst role. In addition to his season of work in the Infield Pit Studio, he was a regular on ESPN2's "NASCAR Now" and routinely addressed all types of NASCAR topics.

As the season moved on, Daugherty became the cheerleader while Wallace was often the skeptic. Both of these roles had their place and Bestwick really made the most of this duo. They are the only ones who worked together in this setting for the entire ten months of the racing year.

The other pre-race analysts are on SPEED. Jimmy Spencer has a personality that is defined on "RaceDay" by large cigars and a rather unique hairstyle. He is also well-known for his hard-nosed opinions and very direct style. Spencer means well, but his rough and tumble upbringing sometimes leaves him just a bit short in the sophistication department.

His tag team TV partner is Kenny Wallace. "Herman" has been around the sport for a very long time and is a personality that many fans just love. Enthusiastic and honest, Wallace has worked hard on his TV skills in order to handle his roles on both "RaceDay" and "Victory Lane."

One key TV element of both Wallace and Spencer is their ability to laugh at themselves. Whether dressed up in black gowns and white wigs to hold court or being featured in "RaceDay" pieces that question their ability to form complete sentences, these two keep things in perspective where TV is concerned.

Another face that viewers saw in 2008 was Boris Said. He became a semi-regular in the ESPN studios on "NASCAR Now" and was often the analyst in the network studios on Sundays handling two shows. Said is eager to learn better TV skills and came a long way this season.

The final name in this category is Ray Evernham. Moved around by ESPN this year, Evernham settled into a role in both the Infield Pit Studio and on Monday's "NASCAR Now." Rumored to be selling his interest in GEM and retiring from NASCAR, fans should expect to see a lot more of Evernham in 2009 where ESPN programs are concerned.

An honorable mention goes to Ricky Craven. He was a frequent panelist on Monday's "NASCAR Now" and was then invited several times into the studio on Sunday to work alongside Ryan Burr or Nicole Manske. He handled all these assignments well, but was not a TV regular where ESPN was concerned. It should be interesting to see where Craven lands for next season.

When you listened to these men speak about NASCAR topics in 2008, who did you trust and understand? What person gave you a perspective that made sense and talked in terms that brought the sometimes complex issues of NASCAR to you in an orderly manner? There was a whole lot of talking going on in 2008. Who did you listen to?

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and share your opinion.

Best NASCAR TV Pre-Race Show Host Of 2008?



Now that we have discussed the play-by-play, booth analyst and pit road positions it is time to move onto what should be a very interesting category. There are lots of strong feelings, both pro and con, about the NASCAR TV hosts that come into our home for the ten months of the season.

Originally, we were going to combine all the show hosts together but we got lots of email about this topic and decided to only put the pre-race show TV hosts in this column. That is the exterior and the interior of the ESPN Infield Pit Studio above. You can click on the pictures to see them full-size. Thanks to Andy Hall from ESPN's PR staff for the photos.

Chris Myers starts the season off in the Hollywood Hotel and then hangs-around during the race to provide inserts with Jeff Hammond during the event. Myers has been on the NASCAR on Fox package for a long time and is a TV veteran. He can be seen on other Fox Sports events and fans may remember him from both The Tennis Channel and his long-running "Up Close" interview show on ESPN.

On Fox, Myers represents the "outsider" or the casual fan. Even after all these years, his role in the telecasts has not changed. He is the straight man, the goofy guy and the clown. This is such a complete opposite role from his other TV appearances that it is amazing.

When TNT comes along, Marc Fein and Bill Weber combine to host ninety minutes of pre-race TV. Fein is a Turner Broadcasting "in-house announcer" and works on many other sports for that company. He is well-known in other professional circles, but new to NASCAR.

Fein's role was to direct traffic during the pre-race show down on the TNT infield stage. His six race run was solid, although he battled some tough weather conditions on the outdoor stage at times. Fein was perhaps helped the most by having Larry McReynolds alongside to provide the NASCAR expertise while Fein continued to direct on-air traffic.

Weber stepped-in for the final thirty minute pre-race show done from the TNT "cocktail table" up in the announce booth. Joined by Wally Dallenbach, Weber showed off his journalist skills and covered a wide variety of topics. Weber is primarily a writer and this came through in several outstanding commentaries.

ESPN's ironman is Allen Bestwick. In 2008, he handled the pre-race shows for the entire Nationwide Series schedule and the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series events. After each race, Bestwick flew back to Connecticut and hosted the one hour "NASCAR Now" Monday roundtable show.

After a tough first year with Suzy Kolber, Brent Musburger and a cast of thousands, Bestwick was just what the doctor ordered for ESPN and ABC. He took the laughable pre-race show and used Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty to turn the Infield Pit Studio into something many viewers wanted to watch.

One of the most memorable TV moments from 2008 was Krista Voda hosting the Phoenix Truck Series pre-race show from Rattlesnake Hill with the beautiful sunset in the background. The stripped-down and basic approach of SPEED paid-off this season and Voda was a big part of the reason why.

All season long, Voda has provided just the right touch for the Truck Series telecasts. Nothing is overdone, things are kept in perspective and the SPEED announcers and the truck teams make viewers feel they are part of an extended family. From the sublime to the ridiculous, Voda has seen it all this season.

So, there you have it. The five faces that helped you through the pre-race programming for the past year and left some kind of impression that we would like you to share. Telling us what memories you might have of your favorite TV host and letting us know what rubbed you the wrong way this season would be appreciated.

To add your comment, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet in the off-season.

Best NASCAR TV Pit Reporter Of 2008?


As you can see from the picture of TNT's Lindsay Czarniak above, the 2008 group of NASCAR pit reporters came in all sizes, shapes and ages. Rookies and veterans combined to offer both compelling coverage and awkward moments on national TV where NASCAR was concerned.

This post is going to offer a thumbnail view of the 13 personalities who regularly patrolled pit road in 2008. What we are asking you to do is pick your favorite and perhaps offer some observations about moments you may remember.

SPEED's Truck Series pre-race host Krista Voda recently joined the NASCAR on Fox team as a full-time pit reporter for the Sprint Cup Series coverage. Voda is a well-known TV veteran who has been in various hosting and reporting roles over the past several years. Her upbeat and friendly style makes her popular with both the teams and the TV viewers.

Dr. Dick Berggren is a long-time NASCAR and racing aficionado who continues to be active in the publishing world. Berggren brings a veteran perspective to Fox, but continues to be a nice guy in an industry rapidly filling with tough guys. He has the ability to draw-out comments from drivers, crew chiefs and owners because of the trust he has built up over the years.

One of the busiest men in the NASCAR world is Steve Byrnes. Handling the pit reporting for the Fox package is only the start of his resume. Working for SPEED on Trackside, This Week in NASCAR and as the host of practice and qualifying shows he is on the NASCAR trail all season long. His sense of humor and good nature is well-known throughout the NASCAR world.

Also very busy this season was Matt Yocum. On pit road, he works for both the Fox and TNT race packages. Yocum often flies under the radar, but he is a talented TV-type who always has multiple projects underway. He may be best-known for producing the Tony Stewart radio program on Sirius. Veteran fans may also remember Yocum for his work on both ESPN and TNN's NASCAR coverage.

As TNT began, it was Czarniak who was the outsider trying to make her way into the NASCAR garage. Her full-time job is a local station sports anchor and reporter for NBC-4 in Washington, DC. Czarniak worked on practice and qualifying coverage for SPEED as well as the six TNT races. Her hard work won her a lot of praise from teams and her part-time job seems to have turned-out quite well.

Ralph Sheheen stepped-over from SPEED to report for TNT and walked back into a sport he knows very well. The past several years have seen him working on AMA, World of Outlaws and various sports car series on several networks. Sheheen is another TNN veteran and is now one of the hosts of the re-vamped SPEED Report.

If there is anyone on the TNT crew that has been around racing from the beginning, it is Marty Snider. A regular at Caraway Speedway, he eventually graduated from UNC Chapel Hill and headed for MRN Radio. Since that time, Snider has been on TV and radio continually for a variety of networks.

When ESPN rolled-out the 2008 pit reporter line-up it was anchored by Mike Massaro. He has been a blessing for ESPN with long-time ties to the network and a credibility that has been earned over some very tough years. Massaro became a semi-regular on the Monday NASCAR Now program and perhaps has an opportunity to expand his role for 2009.

Shannon Spake found herself as a full-time pit reporter for ESPN on both the Nationwide and Cup coverage this season. Ready or not, this was her chance to step into a full-time role. Despite some weakness with live interviews and a non-assertive presence at times, Spake kept the details straight and survived the very long season. With little experience on this level, that was a victory in itself.

A veteran with a long and diverse history is ESPN's Dave Burns. This season, the versatile Burns was given the opportunity to host several pre-race shows for Nationwide Series races and did a great job. But, many fans still remember him from standing-by while Leonard Chesser dunked the swamp buggy queen in the "sippy hole" on TNN's American Sports Cavalcade with the late Steve Evans.

A lot of attention follows Jamie Little everywhere she goes. Since moving over to the NASCAR package in 2007, Little has won the Long Beach Grand Prix Celebrity Race and regularly golfs with her ESPN co-workers. Little improved in 2008 and tried hard to integrate herself into the NASCAR culture. A model, reporter and mountain biker, Little may be the only pit reporter with an X-box and Playstation video game on the market.

Smiling all the way to the bank this season has been Adam Alexander. Although somewhat new to the Truck Series, Alexander stepped-in with no problems and handled the live national TV races all season long for SPEED. In return, the network expanded his role with hosting duties on NASCAR in a Hurry and The SPEED Report. He capped the season with a memorable Glinda, the Good Witch performance on Halloween.

Perhaps the most colorful pit road announcer once again is Ray Dunlap. His style is often times hilarious and his ability to poke fun at himself is well-known. This year, Dunlap made it through with no suspensions and no off-track antics that made the newspaper. He has been with the Truck Series and SPEED for a long time and perhaps exposed more viewers to Craftsman Tools over the years than anyone else. Unfortunately, it is going to take the entire off-season to block-out the memories of Dunlap skipping down pit road as Dorothy in a blue dress complete with Toto in a basket.

Since Speedweeks in February, some of these pit road personalities have been working continually on the Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races. While the four ESPN pit reporters carried the heaviest load, the diversity of the overall group is amazing.

For those of you wondering about names like Wendy Venturini, Hermie Sadler and Marty Smith, there will be an additional posting for the reporters who did not participate in the actual race coverage of the three national series.

Please take a moment and share with us your favorite pit reporter choice for 2008 and perhaps some other memories of interviews and moments on pit road that got your attention during the ten long months of the NASCAR season.

To add your comment, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet during the off-season.

Best NASCAR TV Booth Analyst Of 2008? - Weekend Comments


As we continue our "best of 2008" conversation, this time we are going to ask for your opinion of the TV booth analysts.

To limit the field this season, we are going to concentrate on the men who called the races for all three of NASCAR's national touring series. You can click on the picture of Andy Petree above to see it full-size.

Darrell Waltrip is the first person that many fans hear as the season begins. His style over the years has changed and 2008 saw Waltrip get very emotional when the Fox season came to a close. This year also marked Waltrip as the centerpiece of a "Let's Go Racin' Boys" song that was unveiled at Daytona to mixed reviews.

Waltrip's season was memorable for the Michael McDowell crash. "I've never seen anything like that in my life," said Waltrip at the time. There was also the very public primetime moment when Waltrip watched Kyle Busch make contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Richmond. "Oh, he turned him!" yelled Waltrip.

The dichotomy of Waltrip as either an elder statesman of the sport or simply a sponsor-driven pitchman continues to haunt his every TV appearance. One minute speaking eloquently about racing issues and the next minute hawking "Digger" T-shirts on his website, Waltrip is someone fans have strong opinions about.

Waltrip's time in the booth is spent with the hardest-working man in NASCAR today, Larry McReynolds. While continuing to re-define the English language, McReynolds may be the most trusted of the booth analysts. While he plots strategy and fills-in the details for the Fox TV package, that is only the tip of McReynolds' TV iceberg.

He moved to the infield for TNT's coverage and proved to be a key to the network's summer success. In addition, he teamed with Jeff Hammond to call practice and qualifying sessions for both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series telecasts on SPEED.

Add to that his presence on Trackside and his hosting of NASCAR Performance on SPEED and there is no doubt that to many fans McReynolds is the top NASCAR TV authority.

McReynolds shared the TNT broadcast with Kyle Petty. With his career in transition, Petty learned from his Tradin' Paint TV experience with SPEED and let his personality shine through on the TNT broadcasts. The results were fantastic.

Petty helped TNT to one of their best summers ever. Fans also got to learn more about his off-track personality and knowledge of the sport. Certainly, all race car drivers have egos, but Petty managed to create a team environment and treat all the on-air TV personalities as equals. He will return to TNT in 2009.

Wally Dallenbach Jr. needs to be mentioned, but his priorities lie elsewhere right now as TV viewers can attest. An avid outdoorsman, Dallenbach is deeply involved in TV programs about hunting, fishing and conservation. He does not attend NASCAR events or participate in any other NASCAR TV programs than the six TNT races.

Dale Jarrett became ESPN's Lead Analyst this season and stepped into Rusty Wallace's former role. Much like his father, Jarrett uses a carefully practiced and polished approach to live TV broadcasts. It is clear he has been well-trained and is always professional and well-mannered. His strong work ethic this season has been regularly called upon as ESPN struggles to find a direction for its racing coverage.

Flying under the radar once again has been Petree. After a season of being talked-over by Rusty Wallace and routinely having his opinions dismissed, Petree came to life in 2008. Jarrett and Petree were the perfect pair to deal with the wild set of issues TV viewers saw NASCAR endure this season.

These two had to watch the Indy debacle, try to inject some excitement into The Chase and call lackluster Nationwide Series races all season long. Often, it was these two who combined to provide the majority of the play-by-play descriptions for viewers of The Chase races. Jarrett eventually may be a good candidate for that position.

Phil Parsons has been the voice of the Truck Series for a very long time. With his distinct mannerisms and voice, Parsons commands respect on the air from viewers and competitors. Over the seasons, Parsons has worked with a variety of announcers and his steady demeanor has helped make all of them better broadcasters.

Parson's biggest challenge may have been Michael Waltrip. Assigned by SPEED to the Truck Series telecasts, Waltrip began by talking over-top of anyone and everyone during the races. As the excitement level rose, so did Waltrip's voice until he was overpowering the entire telecast.

This season, the patience of Parsons helped Waltrip to craft a role on the Truck Series broadcasts that actually worked. Finally, Waltrip figured out it was his knowledge and experience that viewers wanted to hear, not just his voice.

That is a snapshot of the group of people who have been in the NASCAR TV announce booth this season. Please take a moment to let us know who you enjoyed the most this year and why. If you would like to rank them in order, feel free to do so.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you again for helping us with this "best of 2008" series.

Best NASCAR TV Play-By-Play Announcer of 2008?


Thank you for returning to The Daly Planet in the off-season. To start the look back at the ten months of NASCAR racing on TV we are going to take an opportunity to talk about "the best of 2008."

Rather than hand-out awards, this seems to be a good time to take a deep breath and remember what we all liked best about the hundreds of hours of national TV offered to NASCAR fans this year. To start-off this post-season project, we are going to ask you to pick one of four men as the best NASCAR play-by-play announcer this season.

The picture above is of a very young Ken Squier on the right hosting a post-season awards program for his Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre, VT. Before TV came along, the best announcers were on the Public Address system. Squier and others like Chris Economaki felt it was critically important to be the source of excitement for the fans. It kept them coming back for more.

It was sometimes said that Squier could make a wheelbarrow race sound exciting. As NASCAR migrated to TV, it was often Squier and Economaki who continued to keep the excitement level high anytime cars were at speed. To them, the thrill of racing was something everyone should experience...even from the living room. Watching the Daytona 500 live with Squier on the call brought millions of fans to the sport.

Our four TV personalities have varied backgrounds and all came to NASCAR with the same goal as Squier. That was to give their best effort to translating the reality of the racing to those fans watching on TV. Let's meet the four TV professionals.

Mike Joy kicked the season off on Fox and then Bill Weber stepped-in to handle the TNT summer schedule of the Sprint Cup Series. Both of these announcers had limited exposure, but Joy also handled the Cup series practice and qualifying sessions on SPEED during the Fox portion of the schedule.

Perhaps, the most memorable moment of Joy's season was being live in the booth for the Michael McDowell crash in Texas. Click here for a column that will refresh your memory about how the TV veteran Joy handled that moment.

Weber does not have the luxury of handling practice and qualifying. He is here and gone in six short races. This season, Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds helped Weber have the best summer of his life on TNT. Relaxed and calm at last, Weber was able to keep his perspective and finally put his extensive knowledge of the sport to good use on the air.

Click here for a column that summed-up the TNT summer visit for 2008. One key to Weber's success was the outstanding TV directing of veteran Mike Wells. After the forced drama of Fox and Artie Kempner, Wells was a breath of fresh air who showed fans the race and aggressively followed the action from start to finish. It made a big difference for Weber.

Just like in 2007, ESPN made Dr. Jerry Punch double-up and call both the entire season of Nationwide races and the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series events. He also handled the practice and qualifying sessions for both series.

This NASCAR experience of the last two years has been rough for Punch. The veteran reporter and beloved NASCAR icon had a tough time in the role ESPN chose for him.

Click here for a column that talked about the team struggles of ESPN and the issues that happened over the 2008 season. Credit goes to Punch for hanging-in there and completing another season of the ESPN/ABC TV package.

The final person in our discussion is Rick Allen. A complete NASCAR outsider, Allen was imported from Nebraska and placed directly in the national spotlight on the third-tier Craftsman Truck Series coverage on SPEED. Needless to say, success has followed.

Click here to read about the great season the Trucks have enjoyed on SPEED and the role that Allen has played in that success. As with Joy and Punch, Allen also handles the practice and qualifying sessions for the Truck series.

There are always a variety of opinions on topics like this, but what we would ask is for you to pick the person among these four who you enjoyed most in 2008.

Feel free to tell us the reasons behind your choice and what memories you have from this year. While you may discuss the announcers other than the one you chose, please understand that derogatory speech will cause your entire comment to be deleted.

Thank you for helping us in this "best of 2008" series as we review the personalities involved in this past season. To add your comment, just click the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you again for stopping by.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hope You Are Having A Nice Holiday


Happy Thanksgiving to all and we hope the day goes smoothly where family and friends are concerned.

Below is the Thanksgiving menu at TDP for you to browse once the eating and football is done. Just click on the title to open the story and as always your comments are welcome.

Who was the best pre-race show host of 2008?

Your choice for best pit reporter this season?

Who was best in the booth when it comes to race analysis?

How about your favorite play-by-play announcer of the past ten months?

New: IRL chooses to use Brazilian ethanol in 2009 with an explanation.

How you are ultimately paying for these big ESPN sports TV contracts.

The TV cost-cutting talk has begun for the 2009 season with Fox and ESPN leading the way.

ESPN and GEM's Ray Evernham is making news for rumors of retirement.

TDP will return on Friday with the continuing "best of 2008" series and we greatly appreciate all the wonderful comments on these topics.

IRL Ethanol Story Not Making Americans Happy


Normally, we do not talk about the IRL but this story is a true lesson in media relations. As you may know, the IRL cars run on ethanol. Just like NASCAR uses only Sunoco racing fuel, the IRL also picks an ethanol supplier.

As the various US-based racing series move into 2009, everyone knows it is going to be very important to carefully think through every decision in terms of suppliers and manufacturers. Apparently, this left the IRL in a tough spot where an official fuel supplier was concerned.

Click here for the USA Today story about the IRL choosing to use only Brazilian ethanol in 2009 in exchange for promoting that product and other Brazilian-made products in the IRL telecasts.

As racing fans may remember, the IRL was effectively split in half by the power of ESPN this past season. After a long run on ESPN and ABC, the big media company told the newly-united IRL it was only interested in the Indy 500 and a handful of other races. Eventually, the IRL partnered with Comcast-owned Versus for its TV future.

The Brazilian ethanol decision has resulted in some hard feelings from US-based ethanol manufacturers. Click here for the letter sent to Tony George by the head of the Renewable Fuels Organization that outlines those concerns.

After a tough season of few cars and little drama, the IRL seemed poised to enter 2009 with a new energy and many more teams. Instead, it now limps into the new year with a TV contract on a still-struggling cable network, American ethanol manufacturers fuming and several top names in the sport defecting to the Grand-Am Sports Car Series to race Daytona Prototypes.

It was September 11th of last season when one of the biggest on-air miscues in recent memory showed TV viewers just how off-kilter the IRL television package had become. Click here for the TDP column about that incident with Marty Reid at Chicagoland Speedway.

The furor over the ethanol decision is going to grow because of the combined forces of the bad American economy and the holiday season. This is exactly what the IRL did not want to see as it tries to keep itself afloat in these difficult times.

This issue became so big that IRL executive Terry Angstadt issued a statement on Thanksgiving day. You can read it by clicking here. What Angstadt effectively said was that the IRL was unable to reach a deal with an American-based ethanol supplier. He further explained that the American supplier the IRL used in the past was going out of business.

It should be interesting to watch how the media and the Internet deals with the issue of the IRL racing on Brazilian fuel even if no American supplier wanted to participate.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why Ultimately You Are Paying For ESPN's Big TV Contracts


It was hard last year to try and really explain the overall strategic impact of the shift in NASCAR TV programming. ESPN acquired the ten Chase for the Championship races, the seven Sprint Cup races before the Chase and the entire Nationwide Series.

This effectively put ESPN in a tremendous position of power as far as the overall perception and impact of NASCAR in North America was concerned. While Fox makes a big deal out of the Daytona 500, that network is long gone before the real drama begins. TNT comes and goes very quickly, making the summer Daytona race the focus of their efforts.

It is ESPN that has surrounded NASCAR. They have the end of the regular season, all of the playoffs and the second-tier series. In addition, ESPN originates the only daily NASCAR news program and floods the Internet with NASCAR content through the ESPN.com website.

As most sports fans know, ESPN has made news by paying incredible amounts of money for the rights to SEC college events and most recently for BCS college football games. That leads to the question of where this large amount of money is coming from? The answer is easy to understand. It came from you.

Click here for the outstanding summary by Clay Travis over at Deadspin.com of the recent headline article in the New York Times. Clay summarizes for sports fans exactly how the ESPN financial engine works and what role cable TV customers play in that equation.

This is the original story from veteran sportswriter Richard Sandomir of the New York Times. Sandomir is factual and polite as he describes the sequence of events that ultimately led to ESPN winning the Bowl Championship Series TV contract.

It may come as a surprise that ESPN charges cable operators almost four dollars a month per viewer for channel access. The resulting four billion dollar annual windfall makes it pretty simple to outbid over-the-air broadcast TV networks that derive no additional income from cable TV carriage.

As NASCAR fans know, when the college football season starts, NASCAR moves to the back burner across the ESPN family of networks. The power of ESPN over NASCAR has been demonstrated since the contract first began in 2007.

Suddenly, practice sessions were not televised. The Nationwide Series races tried to survive between live college football games and the NASCAR coverage on ESPNEWS and SportsCenter effectively ended in September.

The balance of power was ultimately demonstrated in "the big switch" of the East and Central Time Zone audience from ABC to the ESPN2 cable TV network while the Phoenix Cup race was in-progress. Just a reminder, that was the next-to-last race of the season.

Both the Deadspin and NYT articles are much more effective than I could ever be in explaining the financial pathway that has enabled ESPN to become a media monopoly. It seems ironic that after paying billions of dollars for college sports contracts, ESPN is seeking to significantly downsize the NASCAR TV production costs for 2009.

Thanks for taking the time to read the linked articles and thanks to both Clay Travis and Richard Sandomir. The comments section is open for your views on this topic. Just click the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Your comments will appear shortly after they are submitted.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The TV Cost-Cutting Talk Has Begun


The outstanding Charlotte-based reporter Michael Smith offered an article Monday updating the concerns of the NASCAR TV partners about declines in advertising revenue for 2009.

While one way to keep the current advertisers in the sport is to offer a new level of cooperation and integration between the TV partners, there is also an eye toward cutting TV production costs for the upcoming year. You can click on the picture above to see the tremendous size of a typical NASCAR TV compound.

Click here for the link to the full Sports Business Journal article, while here are some excerpts:

Facing a discouraging ad market, Fox is talking to NASCAR and ESPN about ways the network can save money on its broadcasts of the sport next year. Fox was expected to meet with NASCAR this past week and ESPN in the coming weeks to explore potential cost cuts on the production side.

NASCAR's Paul Brooks said the sanctioning body will work with Fox to find savings as long as the viewers won’t notice a difference. “There are additional things we can look at as far as sharing and managing facilities in an even more efficient way,” Brooks said.

Can broadcasters get by with 55 cameras instead of 60? Can they share a production truck over the course of a weekend instead of using multiple trucks? Those are the kinds of cuts the TV networks will weigh.


“It’s something we’re very cognizant of,” said Rich Feinberg, ESPN’s vice president of motorsports. “Every business has been affected by the economy and we’re just trying to stay ahead of those things. Our content will still be there, but we’ve got to take a closer look at how we acquire that content. Are there areas where we can be flexible?”

The combined TV rights fee for Fox, ESPN and Turner averages $560 million a year through 2014. Additionally, each of the networks has a multimillion-dollar spend with NASCAR Media Group, which manages the TV compound at each venue and provides additional content, such as unique camera angles and audio.


Smith explains that NASCAR is happy with the balance between races on cable and broadcast network TV, so changes in that area are not going to happen. Neither will NASCAR consider moving any races to pay-per-view.

All three of the Sprint Cup TV partners had very specific reasons for buying into the current NASCAR TV contract and those reasons have not changed. The most likely scenario for 2009 is an increased sharing of on-site facilities between the TV partners.

No mention has been made of eliminating hard costs like The Hollywood Hotel, ESPN's Infield Pit Studio or the TNT rotating infield stage. We saw that TNT shot all the Wally's World features at Pocono in 2008 in order not to travel the cars and support personnel. Tim Brewer's ESPN Tech Center is also a very expensive item.

Reductions on that scale would no doubt result in less on-air and behind-the-scenes production folks traveling to the races. While all these elements would change the broadcasts as we know them, keep in mind that SPEED handled the entire 2008 Truck Series with four or five total announcers, no infield facilities and few added costs. The result was a tremendous increase in TV ratings and an outstanding year.

We will keep you updated on these issues and thanks again to Michael Smith and The Sports Business Journal for the information in his report.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ray Evernham Story Links


Thank you for all the email, but we are not yet aware of what role Ray Evernham will be playing for ESPN next season as an announcer. The recent news that Evernham will indeed sell his remaining interest in GEM and retire from NASCAR was expected.

As we mentioned in (click here) this column, Evernham was a surprise addition to the ESPN line-up in 2008 and the variety of roles he was assigned this season was clearly an audition for future opportunities.

Evernham has been in the broadcast booth as an analyst, worked on the Monday NASCAR Now roundtable show, provided NASCAR commentary for ESPNEWS and also most recently was a panelist in the Infield Pit Studio for the Cup Series events.

We will update his status with ESPN when news comes along. The comment section will remain open, but please post comments about Evernham's personal life elsewhere. Our interest is who he might replace on the ESPN team or if he will be added as an Infield Pit Studio panelist once again in 2009.

Click on the title to read the full story:
Evernham Leaving GEM and NASCAR (examiner.com)
East Lincoln Speedway Could Be Next For Evernham (Charlotte Observer)
Ray Evernham Leaving NASCAR (Bleacher Report)
Evernham To Retire (NASCAR.com)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

"RaceDay" Poet A Slam Dunk With Fans


This season, we talked a lot about the various aspects of NASCAR TV, but some TDP readers wanted to know a bit more about the resident poet of NASCAR. After all, he got a lot of exposure this season with poetry previews of each Sprint Cup Series race for SPEED's RaceDay.

Boris "Bluz" Rogers has been quietly expanding the world of "poetry slams" beyond his native Charlotte, NC for the past six years. For those of you who may need to have your memory refreshed about his TV role, just click on the link below.

Here is the You Tube video of the Talladega slam.

The following excerpt is from a Charlotte Observer story about Rogers that ran earlier this year:

Boris Rogers didn't always dream of being a poet. His high school English teacher encouraged him to write down his feelings, told him he had talent. He did what she suggested, but he hardly expected to become the next Langston Hughes.

After high school, Rogers majored in communications and journalism at UNC Charlotte. That made sense to him. After all, his teacher had said he had a talent for writing.

Then tragedy struck -- the kind of tragedy that befalls all college students at some point. He laughs. "It's the old story: I met a girl, lost a girl, and that's when the writing really started flowing out."

His first poems were navel-gazers -- "really self-centered and depressing -- that kind of clich├ęd, `Why is this happening to me?' sort of thing," he says.

That's not the kind of thing the 31-year-old reads and writes today. Rogers, who performs under the pen name Bluz, is an acclaimed slam poet. Last year he ranked No. 13 in the world at the Individual World Poetry Slam contest held in Vancouver, Canada.

He's also the leader -- or "slammaster" -- of the award-winning CharlotteSlam (click here), the local poetry team that took first place in August at the National Poetry Slam in Austin, Texas. As slammaster of the team, Rogers coaches younger poets and hosts a regular poetry event at McGlohon Theatre on the third Friday of each month.


Click here for an easy link to a video of Rogers talking about his poetry style and how it all came to be.

Rogers has worked for many TV networks and production companies. The fact that The NASCAR Media Group brought him into the NASCAR world is a strong testament to the production values of that group. The results were fun to watch.

As we head into the 2009 season we will make a better effort to keep tabs on Mr. Rogers and his unique brand of NASCAR poetry. Thanks once again to the TDP readers who asked us to follow-up on his story.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the comments button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

Click here for a link to PoetCD.com, which has several of Rogers' CD's for sale.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

To The Victor Go The Spoils


Here is the new issue of Sports Illustrated with Jimmie Johnson gracing the cover. The issue should be on news stands soon. Many thanks to our friends at Sports Illustrated for providing this sneak peek.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Truck Series Finale Gets Big TV Ratings


Here is the official scoop from the folks at SPEED:

The dramatic NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series finale on SPEED peaked at more than one million households and put an exclamation point on the most-watched season since the series moved to the network in 2003.

The race at Homestead-Miami Speedway scored a Nielsen Household Rating of .96, up 146 percent from last year’s .39. The broadcast peaked at a 1.39 and marked the highest year-to-year average rating increase of the season.

“What a way to finish,” said SPEED President Hunter Nickell. “The last lap of the last event and we still weren't sure who the champion was going to be. Johnny Benson and Ron Hornaday put on an awesome show for the fans."

The 2008 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season on SPEED was the highest rated ever, averaging a .80 rating. On the year, 19 of the 22 races on SPEED saw year-to-year Nielsen Ratings increases, 15 in double digits.

SPEED will air highlights from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Championship Banquet on Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. ET.


Update: The TV ratings for the ABC Sprint Cup Series Homestead race declined by slightly over 5% compared to last season. 2007 was the first year for ABC back in NASCAR TV.

Nice job by SPEED this season, but a tough road for the ESPN and ABC group. Feel free to leave comments on these topics below.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"This Week In NASCAR" Ends A Successful First Season


NASCAR fans got word that SPEED was re-working the longtime Inside Sprint Cup TV series for 2008 and would make some big changes. While the timeslot and the studio stayed the same, SPEED wanted to freshen-up the Monday franchise.

Out as host was Dave Despain and in was the NASCAR TV veteran Steve Byrnes. In was Michael Waltrip and out was Kenny Schrader. Although very popular, one reason for Schrader's departure was the "expert panel" being cut from three members to two.

Greg Biffle was the sole survivor of the faces that had come and gone from the "second guest" chair since original member Johnny Benson had been fired several years ago. This was not the end of the changes, as SPEED had a surprise to unveil.

Chad Knaus would join the panel and rotate appearances with Biffle. This was the first non-driver on the program and it was going to be interesting to see how a crew chief perspective would fit-in with the rather unique views of Waltrip.

Click here for a TDP column that talked about some of the early struggles this new series faced in early 2008. Byrnes and Waltrip worked hard to establish a relationship on this program and it took a while before it clicked. It was interesting to watch these early shows when Byrnes was still doing his best Despain imitation and trying to keep order.

Only when Byrnes finally relented and let the frequent Waltrip tangents flow did the show find an order. One big reason that worked was Chad Knaus. At first, Knaus had a classic deer-in-the-headlights look at almost everything Waltrip would say.

Then, one day Knaus started to give it right back to "Mikey" and suddenly things clicked. SPEED's version of The Odd Couple was born and the show has never looked back. When both Byrnes and Knaus just totally take whatever Waltrip throws-out in stride, the shows are great.

Credit this season also goes to Greg Biffle. Finally emerging from his TV shell, Biffle has proven to be a focused and intelligent person. He enjoys Byrnes and Waltrip because suddenly Biffle's opinion counts. That was a struggle for Biffle in the earlier version of the program with a different host.

Speaking of the third voice, the only way the final show could have been any better is if Chad Knaus was present. Several times this year TWIN has done special shows with three panelists and the results have been a much more diverse conversation.

As the program heads into next season, the suggestions have been simple. Add a third panelist and eliminate the long edited features. Scanner chatter, race highlights and a Humpy Wheeler monologue are plenty to overlay on some good conversation.

Fans were very appreciative earlier this season when the SPEED executives finally put the review of Sunday's race before the preview of the upcoming event. Several format changes were also made, including extended email questions and a review of all three NASCAR races from each weekend.

Watching the final program on Monday night revealed three tired guys who had worked and traveled hard over the past ten months. The commitment of all four personalities involved in this show should be applauded. The flexibility of The NASCAR Media Group who produce the show should also be commended.

After a rough start, it seems that SPEED has once again put together a cast of characters very capable of entertaining NASCAR fans for an hour on Monday night.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.

Tired Johnson Visits Final "NASCAR Now" Roundtable


"One hour of sleep," said a visibly exhausted Jimmie Johnson to NASCAR Now host Allen Bestwick. To Johnson, Bestwick was a very familiar TV companion.

It was Bestwick who handled the championship trophy presentation and the questions for Johnson on ABC's live telecast. Shortly after the race, it was Bestwick again with Johnson in the ESPN Infield Studio for the Sunday night version of NASCAR Now.

Here it was Monday afternoon and it was Bestwick and Johnson once again. This time it was the HD studios of ESPN2 and the duo was joined by Rusty Wallace and Ray Evernham. After a very long Sunday night, Johnson was in Bristol, CT for the finale of "the roundtable."

Bestwick has single-handedly restored the Monday hour to credibility after a horrendous 2007 season. Simply by inviting three guests to talk about NASCAR, Bestwick has established this show as the "can't miss" NASCAR TV show on ESPN.

This season has seen a tremendous variety of panelists stop by the NASCAR Now studio on Mondays. From drivers to journalists, ESPN has served-up a wide variety of personalities and asked Bestwick to blend them into something NASCAR fans want to watch.

TV viewers may remember all three Wallace brothers, Terry Labonte, Bill Elliot and journalists like David Poole on the program. Regulars like Mike Massaro, Ray Evernham and Boris Said have also done their share to make this TV series a success.

On this Monday, Bestwick worked very hard to keep Johnson engaged in the flow of the program and it worked. All of the questions and comments were aimed at Johnson, who has proven to be one of the most TV-friendly champions in NASCAR history.

Evernham and Wallace easily adjusted to secondary roles on this program with Johnson on the set. The Producer chose to break-out the old bar stools and leave the huge table off the set on this show. The fact that Johnson was able to stagger his way through this program was admirable.

The highlights had been seen before and the questions were the same, but having Johnson on NASCAR Now in Bristol the day after the race was apparently a priority for the network. Unfortunately, this ended the opportunity for the panel to talk as journalists about the year and the various series championships.

The ability to talk about NASCAR and deal with the pressing issues was mostly pushed aside, except for a brief conversation about off-season testing. Johnson proved once again after endless interviews on multiple networks that he deserved some eventual time off.

It was certainly a shame that this final MondayNASCAR Now chose not to feature the memorable and humorous moments of this TV show from the entire year. This was done quite effectively on other NASCAR shows and the decision to completely omit any reference to the many guests who appeared on these roundtable shows was tough.

One major positive is that ESPN has reclaimed Monday as a very watchable and enjoyable hour of NASCAR conversation. As next season rolls around, it will be interesting to see if hard-working ESPN personalities like Mike Massaro and Dave Burns get an opportunity to share in the host role.

The commitment of Bestwick to travel back from every single racing weekend and host this show really saved this series. Only taking one weekend off, Bestwick was the ultimate ironman and appeared to be none the worse for wear. Hopefully, the one hour roundtable version of NASCAR Now will return intact for 2009.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.
Monday TV/Media Links:
Click on the title to read the entire story.
Ho-Hum Evolution of The Chase (Sports Business Journal)
Is Cable TV the New Home of Champions? (Sports Business Journal)
A Tour of the Tech Center (Arizona Star)
Kyle Busch and NASCAR At Odds Over F-1 Test (UK - Home of Sport)
SPEED Announcers Weigh-In on Johnson (Florida Today)
Jimmy Spencer's Moment In The Sun (Yahoo! Sports)

The comments section is open below. Click on the COMMENTS button and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bittersweet Homestead Race Closes NASCAR TV Season


When the weather is right, Homestead certainly is the best place to close-out the NASCAR season. Sunday afternoon, the weather was right.

ABC made beautiful HD pictures and sound that served to remind viewers that a large part of NASCAR's attraction is the spectacle of racing. Once it got dark, the spectacle only got better. On TV, this was a beautiful race to watch.

By the time Allen Bestwick started the NASCAR Countdown show, TV viewers had already been offered four hours of pre-race TV programming. Along with a three hour RaceDay show on SPEED, ESPN2 had offered a one hour morning edition of NASCAR Now.

Bestwick found himself repeating some of the same features that had already been used on that morning show once again. This left the pre-race show rather flat and it seemed that Bestwick was not particularly happy. This has been a strong season for him and Ray Evernham, Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty all worked hard to contribute to the scripted program.

As one might expect, the focus was on Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards. Unfortunately, this came at the expense of other news stories. There are always a lot of management cooks stirring the soup at big events like this. This may have explained the lack of zest and fun from the Infield at the start.

Dr. Jerry Punch was once again helped by Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree in describing the action from the start. The in-race reporter was Dale Earnhardt Jr. and that was certainly an interesting choice for this final event.

The race followed the familiar scenario of the ESPN team hopping around from car to car without establishing an overall perspective. Snippets of information were continually offered about various cars without tying the field or race together. It was almost an exercise in offering graphic information and updates early-on in the event.

Just like a good basketball game where no one notices the referee, on this night the TV directing was first rate. While the stories might have been selected by the Producer, the images put on the screen were on-target and great to watch.

Unfortunately, the short attempts at adding some excitement to the race by Punch were not working. He is a reporter and was much more comfortable adding information and asking questions rather than calling the action on the track. Even as Tony Stewart charged to the lead in his final race for Gibbs, Punch never grasped the moment.

With the long green flag runs, Bestwick and company were mostly heard and not seen. Tim Brewer and the Tech Center could have mailed it in and were never a contributor to this telecast. Credit goes to Dale Jarrett for often trying to bring Ray Evernham and Rusty Wallace into the telecast by asking them questions directly.

Petree and Jarrett have kept ESPN viable this season with their easy-going conversations and veteran perspectives on the racing. They often mix directly with the pit reporters in conversation and it sometimes seems as if Dale Jarrett would like an opportunity to handle the play-by-play role now filled by Punch.

As the gas mileage wars raged in the final laps, it was Petree and Jarrett who helped the viewers understand all the issues. Live use of the team scanners played a great role in the final laps. TV technology worked well as the season came to a close.

This was a bittersweet ending for NASCAR this season. ESPN again struggled in areas that Fox and TNT did not. TV ratings were not the continued climb that having ESPN and ABC close-out the season were intended to bring. Add-in the on-going economic issues and this was basically a memorable season only for the success of Johnson and his team.

During the last off-season, the ESPN executives made wholesale changes in the on-air staff covering both the races and reporting from the studio. This year, ESPN.com has added NASCAR writers and began to integrate them into on-air roles.

Unfortunately, the ESPN culture continues to hate NASCAR regularly on the air. Tony Kornheiser's recent PTI comments again helped to confirm the ESPN belief that NASCAR is not a sport. Around the Horn will not even tolerate a NASCAR mention.

When college football began, ESPNEWS stopped covering the post-race news conferences and NASCAR was again pushed to the back burner across the company. Mike and Mike, First Take and the other ESPN sports-talk programs would rather take a sharp stick in the eye than talk NASCAR.

What ESPN Vice President of Motorsports Rich Feinberg does in this off-season is going to be critical to nursing the sport through 2009. Feinberg now has a firm foundation in the NASCAR Now studio and with his ESPN.com writers.

If he can make some positive changes in the broadcast line-up, next season may be a strong step in the right direction. Feinberg's biggest challenge may well be within ESPN. NASCAR needs fair and equal treatment across the board where TV programming is concerned, regardless of what other sports are in season.

As we end the final race, we would ask for your comments on this telecast and the ESPN season of seventeen Sprint Cup race telecasts. To add your comment, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and talk about the final race of 2008.

Sprint Cup Series Final Race On ABC From Homestead-Miami Speedway


The NASCAR on ESPN crew is at the end of a seventeen race Sprint Cup Series TV assignment. They began in July with the Brickyard in Indy and now find themselves in South Florida to crown a champion.

While there has been a relatively short string of races on the Cup side, this same ESPN crew has been working the Nationwide Series events since February. The coverage of the Nationwide race on Saturday showed a very tired Dr. Jerry Punch who could not muster even a moment of excitement during the event.

As the final three laps rolled by, it was Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree who once again jumped-in to add a description of what was actually happening on the track. It was Petree who said "two to go" as the cars flashed across the start-finish line. After the excitement of the Craftsman Trucks on Friday, this was tough to take.

That is the Sunday challenge for the NASCAR on ESPN team. Keep the energy and excitement high for this final time as two races unfold in front of the TV viewers. While drivers battle to lead and win the race, Jimmie Johnson will be battling to keep himself in the right position to win his third consecutive championship.

In the Saturday race, the long green flag runs resulted in limited exposure for Allen Bestwick and the Infield Pit Studio crew. Bestwick will start the day with NASCAR Countdown at 3PM with a 45 minute show. If long green flag runs are again the order of the day, his crew may be heard more than seen all race long.

ESPN has again expanded the infield staff by adding Ray Evernham to the mix. That puts him alongside of Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. Bestwick has to manage three opinions and personalities in every segment now instead of two.

The pit road reporters were frustrated on Saturday. Only once were they allowed to do a reset of the field and it was much shorter than needed. Jamie Little, Shannon Spake, Dave Burns and Mike Massaro have lots of information and just needed some time to relay it to the audience.

ESPN has changed the racing philosophy and now interviews drivers who are out of the race even though they are not Chasers. The pit road crew has become more in-tune with speaking directly to the crew chiefs rather than relying on scanner chatter and what they observe to offer facts to the viewers.

Tim Brewer was another participant who could have just taken a nap once the Nationwide Series race started on Saturday. Fast laps and lots of action on this multi-groove track left little time for the Tech Center. Long green flag runs and few engine problems on Sunday may afford Brewer another long rest.

Just as ESPN's SportsCenter has grown from two hosts showing highlights to a seemingly endless crew of talking heads offering opinions, this network philosophy is being reflected in ESPN's NASCAR coverage. This race will have twelve announcers all trying to contribute to a fast-paced live sporting event with no scheduled time-outs or halftime. That equation is perhaps not the best.

Keys to watch will be when and how the Producer integrates the various announcers and the role that the infield plays in the overall program. Which pit reporters have Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards will also be important. Look for just how often ESPN offers "up to speed" segments where the field is reviewed.

On Saturday, ESPN often went to the in-race reporter or inserted a feature instead of resetting the field after a caution flag and pit stops. This left the TV viewers relying on the silently scrolling ticker at the top of the screen for any information on the vast majority of the field. It was fundamentally poor TV producing.

Pay attention to how often Punch resets the field after a caution or a commercial break. This is the final race and there are a wide variety of reasons teams are going to be racing. Driver championship, Top 35, Rookie Points, Manufacturer title and many other issues will all be playing out on the same track at the same time.

Homestead is once again making great pictures and sound. With no grandstands anywhere but the frontstretch, this track has great camera placement and offers fantastic aerial views. Tough to catch for the Director sometimes is the long pit access road. Pit road, however, is great for viewers and the race off is going to be exciting.

The final lap coverage is always tough as so many things are happening at the same time. Race winner vs. Chase winner might be a tough call. After the final lap, NASCAR has a script that the TV network follows in terms of race winner first and Chase winner second. Keep an eye out for how that shakes-out live.

This is the final in-progress race post for 2008. To add your TV-related opinion, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you again for taking the time this season to stop by The Daly Planet.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Brian France On TV Sunday Afternoon


It seems only fitting that NASCAR CEO Brian France appear on SPEED's RaceDay this Sunday afternoon from Homestead, FL.

Over the course of the last two seasons, TDP has referred to RaceDay as the "SPEED-a-palooza festival" and "The Super Wal-Mart of NASCAR." Both of these terms refer to the fact that although the program is sometimes difficult to even explain to those outside NASCAR, most fans know that if they watch there will eventually be something for them.

Since Daytona, this TV series has tackled the obvious, the hilarious and the serious. There have been moments of total anger, mind-numbing lunacy and good conversation. Along the way the duo of Kenny Wallace and Jimmy Spencer has pandered, badgered and preached.

Sometimes the awkward ridiculousness of Rutledge Wood has only been topped by the sudden lack of long-term memory on the part of Spencer. Both Rutledge and Spencer often play "the fool" on this program. The difference is that Wood's role is by design and Spencer's is often self-induced.

The RaceDay production team knows how to use the parts and pieces they were handed to create this huge series. Two hours live each raceday on national TV for thirty-eight weeks is a task that would make most producers cringe.

The saving grace of RaceDay is that all the pieces come together in a cohesive manner. The professionalism and poise of Wendy Venturini works well with Spencer and Wallace because they respect her work. The newest addition, Hermie Sadler, had to gain his fulltime slot through a season of track descriptions and part-time assignments. Now, Sadler has established himself as a viable TV presence and has been rewarded with roles on other SPEED programs.

There are a lot of jokes about RaceDay host John Roberts being so tightly-wound he could spontaneously explode on-camera at any minute. SPEED viewers, however, have come to trust the hard-working Roberts as the best "TV traffic director" on the network. He might be a tad high-strung, but Roberts has emerged as one of the most recognized and trusted figures on the NASCAR TV scene.

This Sunday, RaceDay offers three different sets around the Homestead Miami track for an expanded crew of on-air personalities. The trio of Steve Byrnes, Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds will be joining the five RaceDay regulars for a Noon Eastern Time live show.

While Venturini has Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson together in her Real Deal segment, this year has pushed the championship a bit off the front burner. Even Tony Stewart appearing on the program before his final JGR ride and Johnny Benson stopping by to celebrate his Craftsman Truck Series Championship are not the top stories. That one is easy to guess.

NASCAR's Brian France as a guest on RaceDay tops the chart. Normally, France operates in the cozy confines of the Infield Media Center or in controlled environments. This time, he will be neck-deep in the reality of the NASCAR fans and live TV.

Rarely over the last decade has there been this type of generalized depression about both the sport of NASCAR and society in general. France appears after backing the losing candidate for the Presidency, cancelling all testing for 2009 and with the car count for the top three series the source of endless speculation.

As this column (click here) recently asked, how can the reality of what NASCAR fans see be so very different from what they hear from NASCAR itself?

This is going to be a key interview for the sport of NASCAR in terms of the fans returning for 2009. RaceDay will need to step-up and ask the most important questions about the sport and what direction France has decided to take the three top series for next year.

In a recent interview, France admitted that the Truck Series may not make it through the off-season. Yet on Friday, SPEED unveiled the new Camping World Truck Series logo with great fanfare about a new multi-year deal. Dale Earnhardt Jr. said the Nationwide Series was not financially viable for any team and NASCAR's response was to delay the Nationwide COT until 2010. These conflicts make no sense.

Bill Davis, the Wood Brothers, Petty Enterprises, Hall of Fame Racing and others seem to be within days of facing dire consequences. DEI and Ganassi trying to frantically merge two different brands, two different shops and two completely different cultures has finally shown NASCAR fans the reality of this downturn. The company that Dale Sr. built is in trouble.

France has avoided ESPN's NASCAR Countdown, avoided the daily NASCAR Now show and not appeared on Trackside or Wind Tunnel. This will be perhaps the first and only live public appearance on national TV of the CEO for the season. The scripted nonsense of the Sprint Cup Series banquet certainly does not count.

What comes of the France interview will be discussed long after Jimmie Johnson lifts his trophy and the race highlights are run endlessly around the nation. Once the final lap at Homestead is done, NASCAR becomes just another big business suddenly struggling to remain viable. France is the face of that business.

This post will remain up to get your comments about the RaceDay show and the appearance of Brian France. To add your opinion about any part of this program, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions.

The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to stop by, we look forward to your reactions to RaceDay on SPEED.

The Nationwide Series Limps Home


Luckily, the media still have two Sprint Cup stars to interview when it comes to the Nationwide Series. The TV networks still like to mention young Brad Keselowski, but when it comes to "big time TV" the stars are Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer.

The fundamentally wrong things with this racing series continue to be fundamentally wrong. The TV ratings again reflect the fact that the Nationwide Series has absolutely no identity of its own. Without the Sprint Cup cross-overs, the perception is that there is no excitement.

Well, this goes against everything that is fundamentally good with the series when it races far away from the Sprint Cup locations and gets to showcase itself. The stand-alone Nationwide Series races finally get back to the fun competition and qualifying that the series desperately needs.

ESPN handles the races, but SPEED often handles the practice and qualifying sessions like this weekend at Homestead. Incredibly, ESPN immediately drops the mention of the televised sessions from the ESPN2 NASCAR Now program if they are not ESPN-produced.

This week, even though it was the final racing weekend of the season, none of the Nationwide Series Friday and Saturday practice and qualifying sessions were promoted on NASCAR Now. Meanwhile, SPEED promotes all of the ESPN2 and ABC coverage of the sport regardless of the series or network.

Without a viable TV partner who will put NASCAR ahead of the network's own special interests, the Nationwide Series will continue to flounder. ESPN originates no Nationwide Series weekly or monthly TV shows. The largest percentage of pre-race interviews are with Sprint Cup Series cross-over drivers. Once college football begins, the Nationwide Series becomes an afterthought. It has been made clear once again this season that the Nationwide Series on ESPN2 is just not working.

Once again it will be Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree who will call the action from Homestead. Down on pit road will be Jamie Little, Shannon Spake, Dave Burns and Mike Massaro. Tim Brewer will be in the Tech Center.

It will be Allen Bestwick that leads-off the Nationwide telecast at 4PM Eastern Time with NASCAR Countdown. Bestwick will be joined by his regular team of Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. This week Ray Evernham will also join the infield panel.

Many of the races have been quite enjoyable on ESPN2, as the pressure and formality of the ESPN Sprint Cup broadcasts seems to be set aside. The announcers are clearly without the "Sunday pressure" of the big races and the mood is much lighter.

Great pictures come from Homestead, especially with no grandstands anywhere but the frontstretch. The HD in-car cameras are gorgeous and the banking of the track should make for some great side-by-side pictures. While the audio is not spectacular from this venue, the races off pit road should be fun to both watch and hear.

This is the track that has the jet ski's in the infield, farm land all around and absolutely no shade for the fans to be found. One interesting feature of the original track that remains is the "Le Mans" style pit road balconies that reflect the original design of the facility for sports car and motorcycle racing. TV viewers should also be able to see the interior road course layout.

This post will serve to host your comments on the final Nationwide Series race on ESPN2 for 2008. To add your TV-related opinion, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Saturday NASCAR TV Leads-Up To Nationwide Race


SPEED and ESPN2 once again combine on Saturday to offer many hours of live NASCAR TV from the Homestead Miami Speedway.

John Roberts will host editions of NASCAR Live at 11AM and 2:30PM surrounding the Nationwide Series qualifying and Sprint Cup practice. Once again this week, SPEED is stepping-in to handle the Nationwide Series action.

It will be Steve Byrnes, Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds who call the qualifying at 11:30AM. There are some good stories playing out in this series and these cars really work well at this track. Wendy Venturini and Bob Dillner will join the coverage handling the interviews.

The same on-air crew will remain in place as the Sprint Cup cars take to the track for practice at 1:30PM. This is another of the non-televised practice sessions added by SPEED this season. It has proven to be a great idea and one that has paid-off over and over again with important stories.

Today will be the final time on-the-air for this hard-working SPEED crew that has been covering practice and qualifying for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series most of the season. During both the NASCAR on Fox and TNT portions of the year, this crew handled everything but the race itself.

Only when ESPN comes aboard does the pattern change. Last season, many fans and TDP objected to practice sessions being non-televised and both NASCAR and SPEED stepped-in to solve that problem. Thanks to all who helped in that decision.

Byrnes, Hammond and McReynolds work hard to keep things informal and their on-air approach has been a bit hit with the fans. Dillner has come a long way with his people skills and is now a very informed and professional member of the TV corps. Venturini is versatile and at the top of her game. She continues to quietly work on the Sprint Cup Series races for DirecTV's Hot Pass as the only female handling play-by-play.

When the SPEED chunk of the day is done, the NASCAR on ESPN crew comes along to cover Happy Hour before the Nationwide Series race. Dr. Jerry Punch, Andy Petree and Dale Jarrett will be in the Infield Pit Studio to call the action. All four ESPN pit reporters will be in the garage area handling the interviews.

There will be a new post up for the Nationwide race, but this will serve to host your comments about the final Saturday coverage for the 2008 NASCAR season. To add your TV-related comment, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page.

Thanks again for spending a part of this final racing weekend with The Daly Planet!

Longtime TV Favorite Benson Wins Title




Here are some pictures of Johnny Benson winning the final Craftsman Truck Series title on Friday night from the Homestead Miami Speedway. Readers can click on the pics to see them full-size or right click to save them to the computer. Thanks to NASCAR for making them available.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Check The Rowdy.com Podcast For Friday


The guys over at Rowdy.com are talking TV and we were happy to chat. To catch the Friday (11-14-08) podcast just surf on over to Rowdy.com and click on the LISTEN NOW link on the podcast section.

Buck and Bass are always ready to play and the Rowdy podcast is consistently in iTunes Top 100 Podcasts. That is no easy feat to achieve.

The comments area is open, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for listening to the podcast and stopping by TDP.

Final Craftsman Truck Series Race of 2008


Here we go with the final race in what has been a fun series for the fans and TV viewers all year long.

Krista Voda kicks-off The Set-Up pre-race show with Darrell Waltrip as her co-host. There is lots of truck news and a great race to preview.

Once the action starts, Voda will move to pit road as SPEED has added a third pit road reporter for this event. Waltrip will move up to the booth and join his brother Michael for the race.

Rick Allen and Phil Parsons are the face of the Craftsman Truck Series on TV and their work has resulted in a tremendous year for the series and SPEED. Expect the entire on-air crew to be pumped-up for this Friday night finale.

The TV production has been a blast to watch. SPEED kicks it "old school" and lets the fans just watch the race with minimal interruptions. No infield panel, no long features and no fancy "bumpers" leading to commercial allow TV viewers to focus on the race and not the TV network covering it.

This post will serve to host your comments about the final night of the Craftsman Truck Series on SPEED. To add your TV-related comment, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page.

Thanks for joining us for this last truck race of 2008!