Sunday, November 2, 2008
In-Progress From Texas: Sprint Cup Series on ABC
Three races to go and this may be the one that confirms Jimmie Johnson as the 2008 champ. The ESPN on ABC bunch is going to be facing a very high-speed track with multiple grooves and lots of fast-paced racing.
Allen Bestwick will start the show at 3PM ET with NASCAR Countdown. Bestwick will be joined by Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. There have already been two races at TMS this weekend so it will be interesting to see if Countdown chooses to show Nationwide and Truck Series highlights.
The knock on the ESPN production team is that this stretch has been "all Chasers all the time" since the final ten races began. Today may be the litmus test of that theory as Johnson is in position to lock things up with a strong performance. Keep an eye on the topics discussed in the pre-race show and which drivers and personalities are interviewed or profiled.
Once the race coverage begins at 3:30PM, Dr. Jerry Punch will have 17 minutes before the teams take the green flag. Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree will join Punch to call the event. On Saturday afternoon, this trio handled the Nationwide Series race and ran out of gas long before the cars on the track.
This is the second season of NASCAR on ESPN and the network is looking like a group of outsiders. Racing action on the track is now pushed aside for Chase-driven coverage. Interviews and features are all about Johnson, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. Perhaps, there might be a Jeff Gordon soundbite thrown-in for old times sake.
It seems as if the reality of this bad coverage has put the ESPN group into some kind of denial. Unfortunately, anger is not going to solve the problem of never telling the story of what is happening on the track beyond the first five cars and the Chasers.
Even in the Nationwide Series race on Saturday, the ESPN crew could never pull-off a full field rundown and struggled to keep viewers understanding who was where and why. Today, with the double agenda of the racers and the Chasers running side-by-side that challenge will only be much more difficult.
Jarrett and Petree are again going to be asked to carry a significant portion of the play-by-play load as Punch has relegated himself to repeating car numbers, driver names and the most basic of information. It is only when he is sending the network to commercial break or reading a scripted promo that Punch regains the excitement that fans used to know from his NASCAR days in the 1980's and 90's.
The ESPN pit reporters are going to have to be ready to deal with a wide variety of issues. This is the time of the season where the casual words and happy chats are over. Tight tempers and drivers fighting for jobs will dominate the agenda in Texas. One too many questions from a pit reporter may result in some rough answers.
With only Phoenix and Homestead left to go, this Texas race is going to be the last truly high-speed and fast-paced live TV race for the NASCAR on ESPN team. A good broadcast will go a long way toward putting things right for next July when the group again takes over the Sprint Cup Series coverage.
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