Monday, January 21, 2008

SPEED's "Monday Thunder" Covers The Bases

John Roberts and Ray Dunlap kicked-off the week for SPEED's continuing NASCAR Pre-Season Thunder shows. The duo never mentioned the absence of Phil Parsons, normally the analyst for the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series pre-season shows.

Dunlap provided a lot of information from the analyst chair in the studio, and showed-off his vast knowledge of the personalities involved in the sport. It was nice to have Dunlap to guide viewers through many of the new faces who will be involved in the series for 2008.

Roberts gave Dunlap free reign to present the news, and his work resulted in a very interesting profile of the new Nationwide Series. Several topics were covered, including the focus of the series as new driver development and the potential issue of an age limit increase for the Sprint Cup. These were the drivers most affected.

Then, Dunlap broke out the big issue. He said that it was going to be next to impossible for an independent Nationwide team to compete against the "super teams" of the Sprint Cup owners.

He acknowledged that even with the advent of the COT in the Sprint Cup series, fans were probably in for another year of dominance by those drivers in the second-tier Nationwide tour. Carl Edwards was interviewed, and he once again committed that his "super team" was going for the Nationwide championship.

It was nice of John Roberts to have a video update of NASCAR VP Robin Pemberton announcing the change in the Sprint Cup qualifying. It was bold of Ray Dunlap to immediately say NASCAR "almost" got it right. Dunlap pointed out that the non-top 35 cars need to qualify before the rest of the field in case of rain. That certainly seems like a common sense issue.

Give credit to SPEED for showing the weekend testing highlights of the Nationwide action. This extra bit of effort really helped. Dunlap also presented the regular "tech tip" and updated viewers on the new restrictor plates that will be used on the Nationwide cars during the season.

In The Daly Planet Sunday column previewing this show, we suggested that it was going to be important for SPEED to "take the temperature of the Nationwide Series, and then report honestly on the overall health of the patient."

As John Roberts closed out the show with Dunlap, he asked Ray "what is your opinion of the health of the Nationwide Series?" You really can't get any better response from a TV network than that.

Dunlap acknowledged that there will be less than full fields this season, and suggested that NASCAR scrap their previous practice of "assisting" some teams to get to the racetrack so the field would be full of 43 cars.

Dunlap suggested cutting the fields to 36, but keeping the prize money the same and distributing it to the smaller field. He also reminded viewers that in 2009 this series would go to their own version of the COT. The tough issue this season for owners is that every current Nationwide car will be off the track next year.

This was a well put together show by SPEED. It updated the weekend action, as well as the Monday happenings. It contained video from The Media Tour, a Bob Varsha promo for the Rolex 24 and lots of good driver soundbites, including the series champion Carl Edwards.

Very quietly, SPEED has made something very interesting out of what most of us thought was boring. That would be pre-season testing. By combining the production resources of the network as a whole, these weeks of coverage have become solid programs that are "can't miss" viewing for fans waiting for the season to begin.

There is one more Nationwide testing show on Tuesday, and then SPEED steps into first-time TV coverage of the Charlotte Media Tour. The Tuesday program is at 7PM Eastern Time.

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SPEED Stays With Three For "Tradin' Paint"

SPEED has decided to return the popular Tradin' Paint program intact for 2008. After Kyle Petty replaced Michael Waltrip on this show last spring, The Daly Planet ran a column which can be read by clicking here.

The show took on a new dynamic with Petty, who had a very low tolerance for even the most veteran media members in the NASCAR press corp. Few can forget national AP reporter Jenna Fryer asking host John Roberts, "can I just leave right now?" She had been blindsided by the level of Petty's contempt for what he considered fabricated reporting. A review of that show can be read by clicking here.

Poor Bob Pockrass from did not get any better treatment. Pockrass was in full "NASCAR baiting" mode, and got Petty riled-up on a variety of topics until he finally snapped. Petty wound up yelling that Pockrass was "full of BS" and spends his time "blowing smoke up people's butts."

Pockrass dismissed the chance of Montoya winning this season, and Petty told him the whole point of NASCAR was that any driver could win on any Sunday. Pockrass narrowed his eyes and asked "does that include you?" Fans were wondering what they would see when the show came back from commercial. Read about that one here.

The key to this show is John Roberts. When he simply directs traffic and acts as the referee, the thirty minutes goes by in a snap. But, when Roberts steps-in and becomes the third panelist, things go astray. After this happened several times last season, it had us asking if maybe a second guest would help the balance.

Tradin' Paint then added Jeff Gordon for what may have been the best episode of the regular season. A review of that show is located here. Having a third panelist to make the discussions "less personal" really worked. Unfortunately, it did not work in a thirty minute format.

In the end, logistics prevented SPEED from expanding this outstanding program to one hour in length. That is about forty minutes of real content, with the rest being promos and commercials.

The program schedule for the series dances around a bit, depending on whether the Cup races are day or night, but the show can be found with a little work. Unfortunately, SPEED has decided not to add a Monday airing for 2008. That is disappointing.

There will be a new set for the series, and the first program will be February 8th at 9PM Eastern Time. That will be a part of the new roll-out of SPEED HD and their "100 Hours of NASCAR" promotion.

This should be a good year for Tradin' Paint, a program definitely worthy of making part of your regular viewing all season long.

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Economaki And Jarrett Featured On ESPN Classic

The ESPN Classic presentation of historic Daytona 500 races continued on Monday with Derrike Cope's moment in the sun.

The 1990 race was noted for its dramatic finish, with the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. coming up just a bit short of the win after a flat tire on the final lap. The race itself featured wonderful teams and drivers from the past that fans had not seen for many years.

On this day, Ken Squier was joined in the announce booth by Chris Economaki and Ned Jarrett. This wonderful mix of personalities made for a slightly less dramatic, but much more informative TV program.

Squier proved once again to be the best play-by-play announcer in racing, by calling the action while allowing plenty of time for both Economaki and Jarrett to add to the commentary.

Fans who have not experienced Economaki's unique voice and unwavering curiosity about racing may have been in for a surprise. He peppered Jarrett with questions, provided lots of topics for Squier, and made many observations from his perspective as a veteran racing reporter.

Even back in 1990, Ned Jarrett was already the ultimate gentleman. He spoke when the time was right, and answered all the questions and provided all the expert commentary without any fanfare or hype. Often, his calm voice provided the perfect counterpoint to the excitement of Squier and Economaki.

CBS Sports unveiled its "bumper cam," which gave fans a view from the front of the car seemingly only inches above the ground. Added to the other in-car cameras and the great view from the Goodyear Blimp, the pictures were once again outstanding for their wide angles and views of cars throughout the field.

In this race, there were two pit reporters who still have a strong presence in motor sports today. Mike Joy and Dave Despain both displayed their very different personal styles, which worked well with the diverse personalities of racing back then.

It was interesting to see Despain as a crusading reporter, literally jumping into the middle of on-going situations in the pits and sticking that mic right in the faces of the rather surprised crew members and drivers. His interview of a disappointed Ken Schrader after falling out of this race is a classic.

Joy was his normal smooth self, with the ability to work in-and-out of the pit boxes seemingly without effort, and to gather information with a low-key and friendly approach. Even then, it was clear that Joy was welcomed by the teams.

The final five lap green flag shoot-out of this race was classic, with Squier hammering hard on the excitement button, and Jarrett providing the counterpoints. When Earnhardt finally had his moment, Squire took viewers through it professionally and kept the excitement high.

This program was once again an opportunity for new fans to sample the "old school" NASCAR TV telecasts and the men who provided the commentary. It showed the class and style that pioneers like Squier brought to the national coverage of the sport.

This program series continues next week at 2PM on Monday with the 1998 race that finally fulfills the dreams of Earnhardt Sr. in front of a screaming crowd. If you are going to tape any program in this series, this is the one.

Fans can vote on's NASCAR page for their favorite race in this series, and then watch a marathon of all six on the night before this year's race.

Update: ESPN Classic has just another NASCAR related program:

The 1989 Holly Farms 400 from North Wilkesboro, NC was a race featuring lots of rough short track driving and a wild last lap. Needless to say, once again Dale Earnhardt Sr. was involved. This time with Ricky Rudd and Geoff Bodine. The "DVR/TiVo theater" presentation will be aired at 3AM on Friday, January 25th.

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