Wednesday, April 30, 2008
The excitement building up to the big Friday and Saturday night races at the Richmond International Raceway has been right on schedule.
After a season of bickering drivers and complaining crew chiefs, Talladega put the racing back in the sport once again. NASCAR's momentum going into Richmond is fantastic. TV viewers can hardly wait to see this track and the races.
This is the classic "two day show." Open the garage Friday morning and let chaos ensue. Put the cars on the track for practice only one time and then qualify. Race the Nationwide Series on Friday, race the Sprint Cup guys on Saturday and then head home.
This format puts the emphasis on the action that will be taking place on the track on Friday morning. The Nationwide Series has their only practice session from 8:45 to 10:55AM Eastern Time. Immediately following a track inspection, the Sprint Cup cars take to the track at 11AM for a non-stop session that will last until 1PM.
The stories of what is happening in both those sessions will probably be the stories of qualifying and possibly of the race. This little "bull ring" also has a reputation for incidents in practice that will make both these full speed sessions a bit more dangerous than normal.
The Nationwide Series has a fascinating mix of Cup drivers, Nationwide regulars, and new names like Ryan Hackett, Chad Beahr and Andy Ponstein. The practice session with all of these cars on the track should be fun to watch.
Unfortunately, that is going to be a problem. There is no live TV for the only Nationwide Series practice on either ESPN2 or SPEED.
On Friday at 8:45AM, ESPN is showing SportsCenter, ESPN2 has Mike and Mike in the Morning, and ESPN Classic has a vintage NBA film. SPEED has Monster Jam and then PINKS All Out.
While you enjoy one of these fine TV programs the Nationwide Series, featuring a dozen Cup drivers, will be trying to come up-to-speed in Richmond in a non-stop single practice session.
At 11AM, the Cup field will take to the track to try and get dialed-in for one of the toughest races on the schedule. SPEED is the network that televises practice and qualifying for the Cup Series during the NASCAR on Fox portion of the schedule. While the cars are on the track at 11AM, SPEED will be showing...infomercials.
What SPEED has decided to do is tape delay the practice and put a ninety minute version of it on-the-air at 1:30PM. This will follow a thirty minute NASCAR Live and after the practice is replayed there will be the weekly Go or Go Home show.
All of that will then lead into SPEED hosting the back-to-back qualifying sessions for the Nationwide and Cup Series. So, not carrying the live practice sessions lets SPEED make one big NASCAR block, despite the fact that Cup practice actually took place two and a half hours earlier than it is being presented.
Again this season we are seeing the interesting choices and some very public "posturing" as the NASCAR TV partners focus on their own agendas and schedules. Regardless of who offered the TV rights to whom, or what other programming issues are on the table, the only loser in this mix is the NASCAR fans.
Since SPEED does not have any of the actual Nationwide or Sprint Cup points races, why won't the network show the Friday practice sessions live? Monster Jam and PINKS have aired before, and missing an infomercial or two will not affect the network's TV ratings.
As the off-track shows like NASCAR Now, RaceDay and Victory Lane have continued to mature and develop, it is the on-track action that has suffered.
Fans are now used to "dark" practices with no TV. When the ESPN/ABC portion of the Sprint Cup schedule begins, TV viewers will once again not be seeing practice for the final "Chase for the Cup" races. That is simply amazing.
This is not batting practice. It is not football players tossing pre-game passes. No one is running lay-up drills on the court or stretching. This is NASCAR, and the moment that the cars hit the track every single practice lap has meaning in terms of both qualifying and the race. It is especially true in Richmond.
The stories about the sport each week begin when the engines fire for practice and continue through the checkered flag. It is a shame that the NASCAR TV partners and NASCAR itself cannot coordinate the availability of a cable TV network so fans can watch the stories unfold rather than just read about them.
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The fascinating on-air dynamic of NASCAR Now continued on Wednesday with big news from two very unexpected sources. One of them happens to work for ESPN.
It was host Ryan Burr who started the show by chasing down Randy Moss on the phone and getting an interesting but disjointed explanation that the football player was forming Moss Motorsports and joining NASCAR.
Moss told Burr that he "had seen some" races and heard Joe Gibbs speak about NASCAR. That was apparently enough for Moss to commit his name and his dollars to the Truck Series for the second half of 2008 and fulltime for 2009. Moss was unsure of his driver, his crew chief or the details of the operation, but the announcement was certainly interesting.
It was ESPN commentator Brad Daugherty who followed the story to comment on Moss. After addressing the issues that Moss might be confronting, Daugherty dropped a bombshell of his own. Perhaps, some viewers might have seen this coming.
Daugherty is going racing in 2009 with his own Craftsman Truck Series team and made the official announcement on NASCAR Now. It should be interesting to see how this commitment affects Daugherty's ESPN career.
ESPN's Rusty Wallace already owns a Nationwide Team and Ray Evernham is a long-time Cup owner. Boris Said owns a Roush "satellite" team and is a regular analyst on NASCAR Now. Daugherty would make another ESPN on-air announcer that owned an active team, and it is going to be interesting to see "how much is too much" for the network.
Surprisingly, one of NASCAR Now's favorite interviews is Kyle Busch. He seems to really like being on the show, and Wednesday talked with Burr in his normally enthusiastic and entertaining style. Having him on this show is always a good idea but after his Talladega performance, it was outstanding.
Burr quizzed Busch on the topics that fans wanted to know about, and Busch was a great interview once again. It certainly has been interesting to see Busch learn how to be comfortable on-camera and relate to a host hundreds of miles away.
It was a nice touch to have Rusty Wallace "tag" the piece and add his perspective that Busch was the driver on-a-roll right now and was the man to beat. Wallace tempered his comments by saying Busch was not the best driver on the planet, but the best one on the planet "right now."
Shannon Spake has not been seen on NASCAR Now very much this season, and she came along to update the Kevin Harvick commitment to random drug testing at his company. This issue has really struck a nerve with Harvick, and he continues to put out the message that things need to change.
Spake also addressed the Lepage incident at Talladega with the information that NASCAR had changed the blend line location on Sunday at the track after the big accident on Saturday. Spake also indicated that Lepage was not going to be penalized, but did not point out why. If he did blend at the right point, she did not take the time to make that clear.
Tim Brewer has been trying to lay a weekly foundation for "The Brewer Tour." This pre-produced feature has been a bit disjointed as it stops-by a NASCAR shop and addresses one small issue. The feature is too short, and Brewer is not experienced enough to choose his words efficiently. The idea is good, and it will hopefully get a bit more organized with time.
For those of you who missed the original airing of this program because of the time change from 6 to 6:30PM, the program will re-air at Midnight Wednesday.
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This will be a post to discuss the live draw for post positions in the Kentucky Derby that was supposed to end at 6PM.
NASCAR Now was scheduled in that timeslot and the live Derby draw is still on the air at 6:20PM.
Your comments are welcome below as we all watch this on-air issue continue. I have not seen an explanation on the lower third information panel. ESPN is in SportsCenter, and ESPN Classic is in soccer.
Update #1: ESPN2 just ran a promo for SportsCenter at 6:20PM that talked about the show that began at 6PM, so it looks like the Derby show is being "time-shifted." They also used a lower third graphic to say NASCAR Now was coming up next.
Update #2: For those of you just coming home to review the VCR or the DVR for NASCAR Now, you actually have the draw for the Kentucky Derby. NASCAR Now was pushed back to 6:30PM, which loses a lot of viewers who normally record the show.
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