Thursday, January 31, 2008

Fontana Testing Worth The Wait

Two final shows are going to close-out SPEED's pre-season testing coverage. John Roberts, Jeff Hammond and Bob Dillner were at the Fontana Speedway in California to cover the first day of the COT cars on that track.

Located on pit road, with cars on the track behind them, the trio kicked-off the coverage with morning session highlights. Continuing in highlight format, the coverage finally showed multiple cars on the track, but continued to "capsulize" the on-track action.

Driver "soundbites" worked well to whip-a-round the information about the different approaches and goals for the teams. From Mark Martin to Ryan Newman, the drivers seem to be very comfortable with the SPEED crew and their open and honest comments have been a foundation of this multi-week coverage.

The afternoon session had good highlights, and also raised an interesting question. Will the COT cars draft well in Fontana? Eventually knowing if the COT can provide the frequent passing and the abililty to raise the excitement level will be critical to helping the struggling California Speedway to survive. That area of the country is still a big problem for the oval version of NASCAR racing.

Bob Dillner was once again the garage reporter, and raised several good points in his report. The fast cars from Vegas were not the fast cars in Fontana. That was a surprise, but this was the first time with these back-to-back tests.

Dillner follow-up by reinforcing the interesting struggles of some high-profile teams. The big grip and banking of Vegas did not translate well to Fontana. Hammond talked from his crew chief perspective about why and how this situation occurred.

Roberts continues to be a key utility player for SPEED, and he worked his way smoothly through this next-to-last session. He introduced Hammond's Tech Tip, which showed very clearly some of the challenges facing the crew chiefs in dialing the car in at Fontana. Hammond's gift is his plain-spoken manner backed-up by a good knowledge of the nuts-and-bolts of racing.

The featured driver was Dave Blaney, who struggled last season constantly with the top 35 rule. Blaney was once again realistic about the Toyota issues and the fact that his team is working hard, but not yet come into its own.

The Pacific Time Zone pushed the afternoon session right into the SPEED show, and the drivers were going to be staying for an evening session. Hopefully, highlights of that activity will be included in the Friday coverage.

Lots of teams will be leaving early on Friday to head back to Charlotte, and it should be interesting to see what final conclusions Hammond and Dillner come up with in terms of this COT on these two tracks.

SPEED now has testing down to a formula, and it has worked to relay a good amount of information to the viewers during the off-season. Once the week is over, perhaps the network will sit down with their team and make some notes about next season. This coverage is here to stay, and will probably be expanding in the future.

Daly Planet readers have made some great suggestions about one hour TV formats, coverage back in Mooresville of the shop activity, and increasing the role of the Engine Builders and Crew Chiefs in terms of participating in the program on-camera.

Toward the end of last season, Brian France made it very clear that he wanted more original NASCAR-themed programming from his cable TV "partner" SPEED Channel.

This brand new coverage of testing and the media tour, including studio-based review shows on the off-days has gone a long way toward satisfying that goal.

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