Thursday, February 14, 2008

In-Progress At Daytona: Nationwide Qualifying on ESPN2

Dale Jarrett debuts as the new NASCAR on ESPN Lead Analyst as ESPN2 covers the Nationwide Series qualifying from Daytona at 3PM Eastern Time.

Jerry Punch and Andy Petree will be alongside Jarrett. The new ESPN crew also features Allen Bestwick in the Infield Studio as host. Joining Allen will be Rusty Wallace, Brad Daugherty and Ray Evernham. Returning pit reporters are Jamie Little, Shannon Spake, Dave Burns and Mike Massaro.

Just how many of these folks will be used in this qualifying show is yet to be seen, but it should give us a good indication of the changes ESPN has made for this season.

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SPEED Makes The Most Of The Daytona Duels

So far in this young season, SPEED has set a blistering pace when it comes to covering NASCAR on TV.

Expanding and upgrading their pre-season coverage was just the start of what has now become an all-out "TV assault" on the Daytona International Speedway.

Hardcore fans have been glued to the SPEED coverage all this week that has included both on and off-track activity. From chasing engine failure stories on pit road to talking Daytona TV history with Ned Jarrett and Ken Squier, the network has offered it all.

Thursday afternoon finally got the 2008 ball really rolling with the Gatorade Duels, which featured a combined TV crew of the NASCAR on Fox gang and the SPEED regulars. It was an effective line-up that cemented the reputation of both networks with the fans. These guys know NASCAR.

By surrounding the Mike Joy led Fox crew with SPEED's franchise program RaceDay, and the popular Victory Lane, the network really offered fans an all-inclusive package.

Krista Voda stepped-in as the infield race host, the same role she has on SPEED for both the Craftsman Truck Series and the All-Star race. Voda and Jeff Hammond worked well together to give the booth announcers a break, and provide a different take on the happenings of this unique day.

The season always begins with cooperative drivers and happy crew chiefs and this was no exception. The solid group of pit reporters from Fox continues to be the best on TV when it comes to NASCAR, simply for one reason. They don't take themselves too seriously.

When someone makes an on-air mistake, they admit it. When someone talks to a driver, they ask plain and up-front questions. No NASCAR personality is ever put in the position of being "baited" into anger or purposefully embarrassed by this group. The reaction from the NASCAR community to this treatment is easy to see. It is simply called "access."

When it comes to the Gatorade Duels broadcast on SPEED the best word to use is "flow." This telecast just flowed from beginning to end. The TV production crew effectively used a split-screen to show both the winner of each race and the fight for the transfer positions into the Daytona 500. There was no fuss, it was just done right.

Outstanding graphics during the event kept viewers informed of who was where and what their status was in reference to the big race on Sunday. This was especially effective during long green flag runs when the announcers were working several different stories in the field at the same time.

Mike Joy kept things in very good perspective, but he looked as uncomfortable as Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip in the wardrobe SPEED provided for their on-camera segments. While not necessarily needing a tie, one might suggest that SPEED consider adding some blue blazers to their next SWAG order.

That said, the booth announcers continue to have a chemistry that has truly stood the test of time and actually continues to grow. While Darrell Waltrip has his loud and over-the-top moments, Mike Joy and company have a way of moving him back into the conversation at hand without interrupting the flow of the broadcast.

Larry McReynolds continues to be the top analyst in the sport, providing more detailed information and specifics than anyone else on any network. Regardless of whether the analyst is a former driver or crew chief, McReynolds is the man with the facts that matter. Thursday afternoon, he had every topic covered the moment it was mentioned.

Last season, the NASCAR on Fox Director chose to show only the winner of the race coming to the start-finish line. At Daytona, fans got two cars only because they happened to be side-by-side. Short track or superspeedway, the network was apparently only interested in the drama and the story of first place.

Despite the best efforts of the announcers and others to change this style, it stayed in place for the entire Fox portion of the NEXTEL Cup package. You can read about this issue by clicking here and also here.

Thursday afternoon, the NASCAR on Fox crew producing for SPEED made sure to use wider camera shots and include all the cars finishing the race. With the insertion of an unfortunately unlabeled split-screen effect, viewers actually saw both the finishes all the way to the line. Regardless of the level of drama, providing this type of complete coverage must be the mandate of the TV networks this season.

A beautiful day at Daytona provided an opportunity for outstanding technical production of these races. Wonderful HD pictures continue to be a key element of NASCAR that separates this sport from all others. The HD in-car cameras and the return of the bumper-cams with audio made for outstanding pictures and sound.

Sometimes, things just line-up and result in a totally fan-friendly sports TV experience. Luckily for NASCAR fans, this moment came with the Thursday coverage offered by SPEED from Daytona. RaceDay, the Duels and even Victory Lane provided a strong set-up for the three days of racing to come on SPEED, ESPN2 and Fox Sports.

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Program Notes: Dale Junior and Dale Jarrett Both On ESPN2 Friday

Just a reminder that the very interesting Shifting Gears TV series featuring Dale Earnhard Jr. will be airing the second episode Friday evening at 6:30PM Eastern Time.

This timeslot is just early enough to miss it as it airs, so this would be one show to add to the DVR or TiVo line-up. This ninety minute episode follows a 6PM NASCAR Now show hosted by Ryan Burr. Co-host Nicole Manske will be reporting from Daytona.

ESPN2 also offers Dale Jarrett on-the-air at 3PM as a part of the broadcast team covering the Nationwide Series qualifying. Fans are already a little upset that the network did not choose to cover earlier practice sessions, but ESPN2 gets a clean slate for their coverage this season. We wish them all the best.

There are lots of changes on the ESPN broadcast team, and this qualifying show will be a good "teaser" of the personnel in-place for the Saturday Nationwide race.

SPEED will also be live from Daytona on Friday from 10AM to 3PM Eastern. The network will carry a NASCAR Live program, and then cover the Sprint Cup practice for the 500.

Following that afternoon session, Trackside is at 6:30PM, NCTS Set-Up is at 7:30 and the Truck Series race follows at 8PM.

It should be a fun day and night of NASCAR TV with a great ending.