Sunday, March 16, 2008
It did not start out well for the NASCAR on Fox gang when the star of the show could not talk. (Updated info on DW in the COMMENTS section)
Surrounded by a veteran supporting cast, Darrell Waltrip is the center of the Fox NASCAR coverage around which everything else revolves. Love him or hate him, "old DW" really is the show.
After a long stretch of bad weather and lots of pesky illness going through the NASCAR garage, the TV guys just need a break. This feeling was clear on Fox as the Sprint Cup broadcast was just a little bit off from the network's normal presentation.
Why Waltrip was not moved to the Hollywood Hotel or given the day off is anyone's guess. If the network had moved Jeff Hammond upstairs for one race, or even called on SPEED's Phil Parsons to step into the broadcast booth, the viewers would have been better served. Some folks suggested asking Ned Jarrett to sit-in for a while, since he was the honorary starter.
All this was not to be, as TV viewers were subjected to hours of listening to someone who was clearly under the weather try over-and-over again to talk. The Fox executives made the decision to keep Waltrip in the booth, after having him croak his way through the Hollywood Hotel pre-race show.
Cold and wet weather affected not only the announcers, but also the NASCAR TV networks who struggled with some TV glitches throughout the weekend as well. Fox had computer problems which affected some in-progress graphics, but veteran Mike Joy was quick to keep the audience informed about the issue.
Joy had to deal with the new racing dynamic at Bristol, which actually featured racing instead of demolition derby action. His cool and calm manner kept things on-track even with DW ailing and the pit reporters having trouble hearing in the infield.
Larry McReynolds stepped-in to take a lot of the replay calls normally assigned to Waltrip, and McReynolds continues to be the most focused person in NASCAR TV. With Waltrip contributing on a very limited basis, Jeff Hammond was also asked to remain live throughout the telecast and his active participation helped to fill the gap.
Timing at Bristol is always tough, and Fox worked well to coordinate commercials. Unfortunately, just like ABC on Saturday, late commercials always seem to come when something major is happening in the race. Fox did well to keep viewers updated on what they missed, and kept the "Digger" cam to a minimum.
This year, the finish of the race was seen in a nice wideshot that allowed fans to see the final scramble to the line. What is missing is the graphic that pops-up the car numbers as they cross, so fans can know where their driver finished. Tracks like Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond are especially important in this regard.
A quicker than normal race left the crew to fill, and the veteran pit reporters did a fine job of catching almost everyone who needed to be interviewed. This time, Steve Byrnes drew the job of walking on thin ice and trying to open the door to get Tony Stewart's comments. Byrnes threw a softball, but he clearly was trying to get an answer out of a very frustrated Stewart.
Krista Voda did a nice job with Dale Jarrett. The always well-spoken Jarrett closed-out his career with a tough showing, and Voda kept the questions framed in the positive manner she needed to get DJ's "bigger picture" answers about his career.
Fox also recapped the Top 35 issue, which is going to become another weekly story beginning in Martinsville. Some big teams are on the outside looking in, and it is going to be a sad time if more historic NASCAR teams slowly fade out of the sport as the season progresses. This conversation was capped with a condemnation of points swapping in mid-season to allow certain teams and drivers to make the race fields.
Hopefully, after a week of rest and no travel, a refreshed NASCAR on Fox crew will be able to ramp-up the excitement of a tough old Martinsville Track.
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While NASCAR fans always have fun watching racing on Sundays, those of us who like to talk about TV are looking forward to another exciting Monday.
This season has seen the balance of power shift from SPEED to ESPN2 on Monday nights, and it has not been pretty. The much anticipated transition from Inside NEXTEL Cup to the new This Week In NASCAR on SPEED has not quite gone the way the network intended. There is only one reason why.
His name is Allen Bestwick, and he was the longtime host of Inside Winston/NEXTEL Cup on SPEED. Bestwick has since migrated to ESPN. Now, after a first season of slogging through the trenches once again on pit road, he has emerged as the key piece of the ESPN NASCAR puzzle.
ESPN2 expanded the Monday edition of NASCAR Now to one hour in length early in 2007. This was a great idea. It promised to offer fans extended highlights of all three series and interviews with the drivers and personalities involved in the big stories of the weekend. Unfortunately, it turned into a one hour train wreck.
Eliminating both the Busch and Truck Series completely, the Monday hour instead turned into an exercise in pushing hype and sensationalism onto stories that simply contained racing action and the human dynamics that go with it. Sometimes, it was downright embarrassing.
This season, in continuing with ESPN's pledge of across-the-board support for NASCAR racing, things are heading in a decidedly different direction. Allen Bestwick now hosts a program with three panelists who talk about a wide variety of topics from the racing weekend. ESPN calls it the "roundtable" version of NASCAR Now.
This week, Bestwick will be joined by Rusty Wallace, Mike Massaro and Ray Evernham. Bestwick leads the panel through an informal session of watching highlights or interviews and then adding comments from their own perspective. In a very strange way, it is the ESPN version of the original Inside Winston Cup Racing that Bestwick hosted for SpeedVision.
Over at SPEED, it is Steve Byrnes who has been asked to come in and try to change one established program into another while fighting off the expectations of loyal viewers who yearn for Bestwick and the "old days." Byrnes has hosted all kinds of programs on SPEED, but nothing prepared him for the feedback from fans once This Week In NASCAR hit the air.
SPEED has re-focused this program using extensive pre-produced "features" that serve to de-emphasize the live conversation from the downsized panel of two. This week, Byrnes will be joined by Michael Waltrip and Greg Biffle.
Veteran fans know that this program was formerly driven by the personalities of the panelists. It is now driven by the pre-produced portions of the show and the extensive SPEED promotions featured throughout the program.
It clearly does not have the same dynamic, and the downsized panel of two puts Byrnes in the position of often adding his opinion as the "third voice."
SPEED is laying low as to why Kenny Schrader is not being featured on this series every week, and continues to rotate a group of panelists through the program. Chad Knaus has been the new member of the crew, but viewers have only seen him once.
This week should be interesting, as Waltrip and Biffle have personalities that have often relied on the veteran Schrader to mute any brewing conflict. Schrader was literally positioned between them, and viewers have seen Waltrip snap at Biffle as though he was a mis-guided teenager who happened to race.
While Byrnes has his hands full trying to build a new program from the ground up, Bestwick has taken what he used to do for SPEED and turned it into an exciting program that fans are still discovering. What Bestwick added to NASCAR Now was quite simply an element of fun.
ESPN still makes the cast wear suits and ties, but even though they look like Digger Phelps or Mike Wilbon, the NASCAR guys are not taking themselves too seriously. This is exactly the type of on-air style that fans enjoy.
One key element has been the contributions of the often overlooked Mike Massaro. His ability to contribute on any NASCAR topic as a veteran reporter has been outstanding, and Bestwick has stepped aside and let him have the spotlight.
As both programs prepare for a key Monday show before an "off week," it should be interesting to see what they decide to bring to the table as this Monday Night TV Match-up kicks into high gear.
NASCAR Now is up first on ESPN2 at 5:30PM Eastern Time, and This Week In NASCAR follows at 8PM on SPEED.
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Due to popular demand, we are going to create this post so fans can continue to talk about the TV coverage after the Sprint Cup race from Bristol, TN on Fox Sports.
ESPNEWS does live press conference coverage from the Infield Media Center. The SPEED Report comes along on SPEED at 7PM, and then is followed by Victory Lane and Wind Tunnel.
These shows offer a wide variety of ways that fans can get additional information and interviews after the actual race is over.
This page will serve to host your comments about the post-race TV programs and coverage of the Bristol day race. To add your comments, please click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the directions.
Thanks again for dropping by, if this post is popular we will begin to offer a post-race comment area after every Sprint Cup race.
The weather is clearing, and the NASCAR on Fox gang is ready for live coverage of the day race from Bristol, TN.
Chris Myers will host the pre-race coverage from the Hollywood Hotel with Jeff Hammond and Darrell Waltrip alongside. Waltrip will then move up into the booth with Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds.
Down on pit road will be Krista Voda, Matt Yocum, Steve Byrnes and Dick Berggren. This is the most experienced pit road team in NASCAR TV.
Issues for fans to look for include the integration of the "Digger" cam into the broadcast. Also, this is a fast track and getting caught in commercial during a restart, especially after a "quickie yellow," is a real possibility.
Look for Fox to continue to use the dreaded "quad split" that shows four video boxes during pit stops. The positive and negative issues associated with this effect have been debated here for weeks.
Bristol is also very loud, and it is tough for the pit reporters to hear once the race is underway. The NASCAR on Fox Pit Producer is a multiple Emmy Award winner, and watching the integration between the pits and the booth announcers should be interesting.
Finally, the finish of this race last season was a disaster. The Fox Director chose to show only the winning car, despite the fact that a gaggle of top names in the sport were right behind him and crashing into each other coming to the stripe. Watching a tired Fox team decide how to cover the finish of this race after more than four hours of being on the air live should be something to pay attention to as a fan and TV viewer.
Please feel free to add the elements that you feel viewers should be watching for, and what you would like to see changed or improved. Feedback from your comments has been very effective in helping to motivate changes in the TV coverage of the sport.
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Back by popular request is one last attempt to offer in-progress comments for the two hour NASCAR RaceDay program on SPEED.
This show is hosted from just outside the speedway, and should feature a wide variety of hard news and features.
John Roberts hosts, along with Kenny Wallace and Jimmy Spencer as the analysts. Hermie Sadler stops by with a track description and also helps with some reporting duties. Wendy Venturini is the news reporter from the garage area, and also contributes a popular feature called The Real Deal each week.
This program begins at 11:30AM Eastern Time, and runs until 1:30PM as the lead-in to the Fox Sports coverage of the Sprint Cup Series event.
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NASCAR fans watched Allen Bestwick work hard all day on Saturday as the NASCAR on ESPN team took to both ABC and ESPN Classic in order to finally get the Nationwide Series race completed. Bristol, TN had once again offered nothing but bad weather for this early season race in the mountains.
Alongside of Bestwick in the Infield Pit Center was Rusty Wallace. Now firmly in his element, Wallace spent hours talking about all kinds of topics with all kinds of guests. Both Wallace and Brad Daugherty were outstanding during this "rain fill."
As the Sunday morning NASCAR Now took to the air on ESPN2, viewers once again heard the familiar tones of Bestwick. Once the camera revealed the Bristol, CT studios of ESPN2, they also saw the smiling Rusty Wallace.
This season, ESPN has made a commitment to NASCAR that is astounding. Switching gears and changing direction, the network on this Sunday added a new twist. The A-team from the NASCAR crew was now going to be featured on the Sunday morning NASCAR Now.
Mike Massaro was up next from the track in Bristol. ESPN's most experienced NASCAR reporter set-up the day, the weather and the on-going Hendrick saga. Massaro was clear and concise in this NASCAR reporter role that he helped to define.
Viewers knew that ESPN's Dale Jarrett would be driving in his final race on Sunday. Bestwick led into an outstanding profile of DJ that was voiced by Jarrett's longtime friend Jerry Punch. This feature was important, because it was the transitional moment for both Jarrett and ESPN. While NASCAR loses an active driver, ESPN may have changed their NASCAR fortunes for the future with this one key addition to the TV team.
Lead Reporter Marty Smith has been smiling this season. After dealing with less-than-stellar hosts in the studio last year, Smith has been featured this season and has been surrounded by the best TV talent available in the business. As he continues to expand his opportunities, fans have seen Smith create full-length feature interviews and move from strictly a "reporter" into more of a multi-faceted TV personality role.
Smith interviewed Jarrett as the "tag" to the Punch feature. DJ was frank in explaining his struggles both professionally and personally as he worked to pursue a NASCAR career. Smith asked the right questions, and drew from Jarrett some "bigger picture" answers that gave viewers an insight behind the public persona of Jarrett.
Wallace added his thoughts on Jarrett and had a great perspective as someone who has been through the same process. His honest thoughts on Jarrett, and his personal memories of retirement worked well to end this theme in exactly the right way.
The Nationwide Series race wrap-up put things in the right perspective, and Bestwick and Wallace added the missing elements. Most important was that Kasey Kahne did not push Clint Bowyer for the win. The best part of the discussion was that both Bestwick and Wallace were there for the action, and speaking from first-hand knowledge.
A surprising feature on the COT voiced by Marty Reid was outstanding. The soundbites from the drivers and the viewpoints about this new car were very interesting. A year later, the COT struggles continue and Marty Smith caught-up with Kyle Busch for some additional comments about the level of competition that this car offers. It continues to be nice to see a grown-up and well-spoken Busch still being outspoken about NASCAR topics.
Bestwick is starting to get a little bit tired, and it showed toward the end of the program. Daly Planet readers often ask in their email about just how long Bestwick can keep this pace going. The season lasts until November, and the ESPN portion of the NASCAR TV package is the largest by far of the four NASCAR TV partners.
Marty Smith finished his time on-the-air with a couple of more interviews. Once again, the ambient noise problem reared its ugly head. The background noise sometimes overwhelms the primary audio, and this time even Bestwick was forced to apologize. Since this was a taped interview, it might have been a good move to just tape it over again. This problem has dogged NASCAR Now in 2008.
Chrissy Wallace is going to be story in a while. An "all access" interview with this young lady proved to be very interesting. It is clear that family plays a big role in the Wallace family, and the mix of racer vs. daughter was interesting. She has the Wallace toughness in a very different kind of personality package.
Having "uncle Rusty" follow-up on this story again confirmed the fact that Rusty Wallace has found himself in the right role at ESPN. Wallace even mentioned that his son Steven had been struggling simply because of crashing, and made sure that Chrissy should know that was the one thing to avoid at all costs. That sure sounded like the guy who was writing the checks.
Closing out the show was a prediction from Wallace that Carl Edwards was the favorite in Bristol. Bestwick predicted a lot of cautions, and said goodbye. The content of this show was again outstanding, and if ESPN can fix their studio and remote audio problems, NASCAR Now will become a franchise program for ESPN2.
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