Saturday, May 31, 2008

The "New" ESPN Team Continues To Impress

The clock on the wall said 8PM Eastern Time as the NASCAR on ESPN pit reporters talked to the drivers after the Nationwide Series race in Dover.

The NASCAR TV team had been on ESPN2 since 2:30PM and never wavered in their focus on presenting the race. Now, five and a half hours later, the same TV crew was wrapping-up a marathon that NASCAR fans are going to remember.

This season, the new NASCAR on ESPN team and the new approach of the network to the sport has continued to impress. Leading this effort in no uncertain terms has been Allen Bestwick.

At 2:30PM, it was pouring at Dover International Speedway. The rain had begun as SPEED was on-the-air with the final Sprint Cup practice session. Before they left the air, Steve Byrnes relayed that the area was under a tornado watch.

One element of Bestwick's season as the leader of this new crew has been his steadfast focus on NASCAR topics regardless of the weather issues. No longer does ESPN bombard TV viewers with SportsCenter Updates and extended interviews with athletes at the racetrack to promote other ESPN programs.

The focus this season is on racing and the results have been fantastic. There might be no better example of that than Saturday at Dover. Bestwick brought a parade of drivers into the ESPN Infield Pit Studio that included Kevin Harvick talking about his teams while Brad Daugherty ate all of Delana Harvick's chocolate chip cookies. Those cookies were about the only thing the ESPN team did not share during this telecast.

Rusty Wallace continues to be one of the best comeback stories of the year. After ESPN announced that Dale Jarrett would take over the Lead Analyst position in the booth, Wallace was moved to the Infield Pit Studio. He would move back up to the booth for selected races when Jarrett was on vacation. Dover was one of those races and Wallace made the most of his opportunity.

After hanging-in with Bestwick and Daugherty for the "rain fill" portion of the telecast, Wallace then moved-up to the broadcast booth and called the entire race with Dr. Jerry Punch and Andy Petree. He was focused and funny while it rained, and then he turned-on the Wallace enthusiasm and kept the excitement level high for the entire event.

The new versatility that Wallace has shown this season with appearances on NASCAR Now, ESPNEWS, SportsCenter and NASCAR Countdown has been a welcome addition to the ESPN effort where NASCAR is concerned.

One point to remember is that the ESPN team is even better when Jarrett is involved. While Wallace moves to the infield, both he and Bestwick participate on a regular basis as the race is in-progress. Even Brad Daugherty has come a very long way this season in keeping his comments focused as he lets his personality come through at last. If Daugherty is given the chance to do some feature interviews, he may continue his TV growth.

Punch was low-key before the race, appearing only a few times. That kept Bestwick front-and-center and the attention down in the infield. Once the race got back underway, Punch kept things simple and it certainly worked well for him. No longer the verbose storyteller, Punch described the action and let his two analysts fill-in the details.

Two unexpected TV twists were highly effective. The first was Tim Brewer in the Tech Center. Brewer may have finally gotten this TV thing, as he was on-top of the issues right down to the tethers on the rear deck lids. This was by far his best race.

NASCAR Now cult favorite and veteran crew member DJ Copp wore a microphone and a helmet camera during the pit stops and the resulting footage yielded a new and very effective angle for TV viewers. Having his audio on during the stops and hearing the conversations was a brand new twist in a sport where it is sometimes very hard to discover anything new where TV is concerned.

ESPN found its groove in this race, right down to the final lap. After the frustration of Fox this season, ESPN showed a nice wide shot of Dover and let the lead lap cars run through the screen as the graphics revealed the finishing order. It answered all the questions of who was where and paid-off the stories that the pit reporters had been following all race long. What a nice touch.

As a tired TV crew signed-off the air, Bestwick made sure to say thanks to all of the engineering and production people who had endured a very long day in the rain. His thoughts were no doubt echoed by many fans who could not believe that the network that struggled with the very basic elements of NASCAR TV last season had stayed live for almost six hours to present a Nationwide Series race.

This may bode quite well for the fans. ESPN seems to be building-up momentum before the network adds the final seventeen Sprint Cup races to the remainder of the Nationwide schedule after TNT finishes its run in seven weeks. Dale Jarrett will return to ESPN in New Hampshire and will then work all of the Sprint Cup races down the stretch.

What are your thoughts on ESPN hanging-in at Dover, filling all that time live from the track and then doing a nice job of covering the race?

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Rusty Wallace Back In The Booth In Dover (Rain Delayed Race Start 6PM)

As Dale Jarrett takes some planned time-off, Rusty Wallace has been making the most of his time back in the TV announce booth. Once again this weekend, it will be Wallace joining Dr. Jerry Punch and Andy Petree to call the action on ESPN2.

The network will be presenting the Nationwide Series race from Dover International Speedway on Saturday beginning at 2:30PM Eastern Time live. The race is also shown on ESPN2HD, and in Spanish on ESPN Deportes.

This season, Wallace has assumed the role of joining Allen Bestwick and Brad Daugherty to form the on-air team in ESPN's Infield Pit Center. Their interaction has been great, and has added a new dimension to the telecasts. This threesome will once again host NASCAR Countdown from Dover to begin ESPN2's coverage. Wallace will then head upstairs to the booth.

The rest of the NASCAR on ESPN team at Dover will include Dave Burns, Shannon Spake and Jamie Little on pit road. Mike Massaro is off this week. Tim Brewer will be on-scene with his reports from the Tech Center.

Needless to say, all eyes are on this race because teen phenom Joey Logano takes over the driving chores of the Gibbs Racing #20 car that has been so dominant this season. Logano has just turned 18, which is the age mandated by NASCAR to compete in the Nationwide Series.

This will give the ESPN team a good opportunity to pump some new life into the Nationwide Series, which has been struggling. Wallace is a team-owner in the series, and his son Steven has been having an up-and-down year as Rusty's driver.

With the Monster Mile offering a tough test, the storyline could not be better for ESPN. Logano against both the other Nationwide drivers and the "cross-overs" from the Sprint Cup side. Finally, the focus will be on the Nationwide action.

Before the ESPN2 telecast, SPEED sneaks-in Sprint Cup practice and happy hour starting at Noon Eastern. Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds will be in the booth. On pit road will be Krista Voda, Dick Berggren and Matt Yocum.

Tradin' Paint comes along after the race at 7PM with host John Roberts and Kyle Petty being joined by veteran reporter Nate Ryan from USA Today. NASCAR Performance is at 7:30PM with host Larry McReynolds being joined by Chad Knaus and Doug Richert filling-in for the suspended Bootie Barker.

This post will serve to host your comments about the Saturday NASCAR programming on both ESPN2 and SPEED. To add your TV-related comment, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page. Thanks for stopping by.

What The Heck Is On ESPN2?

Anybody have a clue about the program on ESPN2 at Noon? Is it a re-air of the same Lifelock program that was shown before?

We were told it was just a paid advertising program, but it sure looks like a well-produced special featuring a lot of the ESPN racing folks.

Here is the link to the Lifelock Racing website.