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.