Sunday, June 29, 2008

Monday Night Match-Up: Waltrip/Biffle vs. Jarrett/Evernham

On the heels of the chaos that was the Sprint Cup race from Loudon, both SPEED and ESPN are poised to offer one hour Monday wrap-up shows.

This Week In NASCAR continues to find its way in this first season. Steve Byrnes hosts the program with a group of rotating panelists. This week SPEED hit on a good combination with Michael Waltrip and Greg Biffle.

Waltrip is coming off a surprisingly good finish at Loudon and Biffle has just re-signed with Roush Fenway Racing. These are two of the top stories of the weekend and they land right in the network's lap.

It should be refreshing to hear the perspectives of both drivers on the Sprint Cup race and then their comments on both the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series events. Biffle raced in the Nationwide Series on Saturday and Waltrip is a commentator for SPEED on the Truck Series.

Debate continues to rage about why SPEED is sticking with the preview before review program format, and certainly this weekend is a good example of just how good things might work if that decision was reversed. Having Waltrip and Biffle get all the info and commentary about Loudon right out on the table would be a strong start to the show.

SPEED and the NASCAR Media Group that produces the program have been slowly clearing the clutter out to allow the panelists to talk and interact a lot more. As veteran fans know, this is the key to a personality-driven TV series like this one. This Week in NASCAR airs at 8PM Eastern Time Monday night.

Allen Bestwick continues his ironman performance for ESPN this season as he returns to host the "roundtable" version of NASCAR Now. This hour has proven to be a clear winner for ESPN with a continually changing cast of three panelists.

This week signals the return of Dale Jarrett to the show and he brings along his fellow ESPN Loudon commentator Ray Evernham. Semi-regular panelist Mike Massaro rounds-out the group and has brought a steady presence to the show when he is in attendance. Massaro often flies under-the-radar, but knows his NASCAR.

Jarrett is fresh after an extended vacation and is about to jump into the grind that will keep him hopping all the way to the Homestead race weekend in November. As he returns to NASCAR Now, he brings the kind of veteran presence that really lifts the show to a new level.

Just like his father, Jarrett gives-off a professional vibe that comes wrapped in a smiling personality. Keeping racing and life in perspective, Jarrett has proven to be exactly what ESPN needed to overcome the issues last year with Rusty Wallace.

Fans may also remember that this Monday show last season was a disaster. It is a bit ironic that for this Loudon review and Daytona preview edition ESPN may have assembled the strongest studio line-up since it began NASCAR coverage in 2007. NASCAR Now is on-the-air at 6PM Eastern Time on Monday.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers in advance of these shows. There will be a full column up on Monday shortly after these two programs air. To add your comments now, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page and thank for taking the time to stop by.

Drunk Monkeys And Technical Problems Headline "RaceDay" On SPEED

There has perhaps never been an edition of RaceDay on SPEED like the one from New Hampshire on Sunday morning.

Among other things, it featured a forty minute satellite failure that knocked the entire program off-the-air. Once things got back on-track, the wackiness included a monkey drinking beer, a front row fan flipping-off Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace talking St. Louis Cardinals baseball.

All that makes one wonder if host John Roberts will soon have his own personal sponsor...Motrin.

The theme of the program was supposed to revolve around Jimmy Spencer being honored for his past success in the NASCAR Modified Series. As this story from the Concord Monitor will attest, Spencer has not learned a lot since his retirement from driving. His view of the NASCAR world continues to be quite often fueled by personal anger.

While the Producer tries to make light of Spencer's brawling past and difficult viewpoints, the rest of the program continues to be a treat for fans. Driver interviews, news from the garage and pre-recorded features fly-by a a rapid clip. Even for a two hour program, the pace of RaceDay never slows.

At the core of this success is Roberts. He has been a steady hand ever since joining the SPEED team and has grown the RaceDay franchise from the start. Sometimes, it seems that Roberts is present on almost every SPEED program coming from the NASCAR tracks. Let's hope he gets paid by the show.

Kenny Wallace returned to RaceDay after a weekend off, and things were very different from the thoughtful comments the previous week of Hermie Sadler. Wallace is going through a period of change where he is deciding whether to continue his NASCAR driving career or focus on the TV world, where he certainly has a future.

Fans have not seen Wallace integrated into other SPEED programs like qualifying and practice sessions. He does not appear on Tradin' Paint as the media guest and does not ever join the Trackside panel. That is certainly curious.

Keep in mind that Wallace was a member of the old Inside Winston Cup Racing show back on SPEED and has also participated in many other TV shows over the years. Sometimes, his interpersonal skills and NASCAR knowledge are clearly on display. This is often the case on Victory Lane, where Wallace asks good questions of the guests and is clearly the most informed member of that panel.

As a regular member of the crew, reporter Wendy Venturini this week interviewed both Richard Petty and the new CEO of Petty Enterprises who is named David Zucker. It was very interesting that she did not interview them together. Something is just not quite right in this Petty deal, and this week the Real Deal missed the bulls eye.

SPEED's technical troubles began at 11AM when the signal ended from New Hampshire in the middle of the Jimmy Spencer modified feature. John Roberts spoke by phone to viewers explaining the problem and SPEED filled forty minutes with stand-by programming. Give the network credit, everyone kept their cool and when the signal was restored SPEED allowed the show to go thirty minutes longer than scheduled.

Roberts tried his best to direct the rest of the show into some kind of order, but when the program was stopped because a NASCAR fan's pet monkey in the audience was drinking a beer, you just knew it was hopeless.

The capper was Jimmy Spencer delicately saying that the Red Sox sucked. As usual, Spencer mis-spoke while trying to make another racing analogy. What he meant was the Red Sox sucked before their new ownership arrived. After the groans and boos rose from the audience, it was Kenny Wallace pointing-out that one fan in the front row had flipped Spencer off after the Red Sox comment.

Wallace went on to point out that it was actually his St. Louis Cardinals that had won more World Series even as Roberts voice was heard in the background pleading with the analysts to return to NASCAR at some point.

We have often said that RaceDay has something for everyone. If your choice of "something" includes drunk monkeys, obscene gestures, satellite failures and major league baseball, then the program for NHMS was right up your alley.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

In-Progress At New Hampshire: Sprint Cup On TNT

TNT continues to move through the six race package that comprises the summer TV for NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. This Sunday, the network is in Loudon, NH at the newly-named New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

After the ninety minutes of pre-race programming concludes, it will be Bill Weber leading the crew through the race. Joining Weber in the booth will be Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach. This trio has been effective and fun during the first portion of the TV package. Keeping Petty in the booth at Sonoma instead of having him drive in the race as a "reporter" was a great decision that resulted in a much better telecast.

Down on pit road the drivers and crews have responded quite well to TNT's Lindsay Czarniak in her pit reporter role. Surrounded by veterans Matt Yocum, Marty Snider and Ralph Shaheen, Czarniak has been using her TV skills and inquisitive nature to make-up for her continuing learning curve in the sport. These four have really been a key to the much better on-air presentation of the TNT package this season.

One of the biggest changes noticed by viewers is the outstanding TV Director handling the TNT races. We do not talk about the names of the behind-the-scenes folks, but NASCAR fans are overjoyed that they can see the battles on the track and more than just one or two cars in the camera shots being used.

From the pit stops to the final lap, the directing of this package has been exactly what the doctor ordered after the problems with the Fox telecasts. Keep an eye out for the wideshots that allow the viewer to see the difference on the track between cars and then the slow zoom to the car being discussed by the on-air team.

There were two grooves in the Saturday Nationwide Series race, so the Cup event may actually feature passing and competition despite the COT and the flat track. It should be interesting to watch the TNT crew come together for the final race before the big Daytona race and the "wide open" coverage of next week.

This post will serve to host your comments about the TNT broadcast of the Sprint Cup race from NHMS. To add your TV-related opinion, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

Breaking News: RaceDay Satellite Failure - 40 Min. Off-Air

UPDATE #1: RaceDay on SPEED has experienced a satellite transmission failure and is off-the-air as of 11AM. Host John Roberts used a telephone line to tell fans that SPEED would be playing standby programming until the problem was fixed. Keep it here for updates as the situation plays-out.

Update #2: RaceDay still off-air as of 11:30AM Eastern Time.

Update #3: RaceDay back on-the-air at 11:42AM and will air the remainder of the two hour program fully.

Before the first engines are fired, three of NASCAR's TV partners will originate a total of four and a half hours of pre-race programming. Here is the rundown.

It will be NASCAR Now on ESPN2 starting the day at 10AM Eastern Time with a one hour preview show. This program will be hosted by either Ryan Burr or Nicole Manske and features live reports from reporters at the track. This season, NASCAR Now has proven to be an effective and balanced program that does a good job of previewing the upcoming Cup race.

Long before NASCAR Now was a gleam in ESPN's eye, there was RaceDay on SPEED. Normally referred to as "the franchise," RaceDay is currently scheduled a bit earlier to avoid a conflict with the TNT pre-race programming. This Sunday, the two hour show begins at 10:30AM.

This week, Kenny Wallace returns to the program after a week away while racing in the Nationwide Series. Wallace re-joins Jimmy Spencer and John Roberts to form a very popular trio with NASCAR fans. SPEED's increase in ratings for RaceDay this season tells the tale.

On Sunday morning, the program will welcome David Gilliland, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth as guests. Normally, the drivers wear a headset to communicate with the panelists and are interviewed from the infield. Spencer and Wallace have developed a good on-air relationship with the folks in the garage, and these interviews are often surprisingly candid and refreshing.

In terms of features, RaceDay will look at the battle for 12th spot in the Sprint Cup point standings. Also included will be Jeff Burton's history at Loudon, Jeff Gordon's tough 2008 season and Rutledge Wood will host a look back at the NASCAR Modified career of Jimmy Spencer. That should be interesting.

Each week reporter Wendy Venturini handles the news reports from the garage area and also offers a pre-produced feature called The Real Deal. This week, Venturini sat down with Richard Petty and the new CEO of Petty Enterprises David Zucker.

There is no doubt that surrendering control of his family-owned business to a group of investment bankers from Boston was tough for Petty. Sitting alongside a former TV and video game executive who is now running your former company may be even tougher. The contrast between the North Carolina style of Petty and the hard-driving business style of the New Yorker Zucker is huge. This should be a Real Deal to watch.

TNT's first pre-race show called NASCAR on TNT Live! is up next at 12:30PM and is hosted by TNT's own in-house announcer Marc Fein. Along with Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds, Fein hosts this one hour program from the big TNT rotating infield stage thingy.

This week the show will feature an interview with Jeff Burton and questions from users. The NASCAR Future Stars segment will focus on Justin Allgaier who drives the #16 Chevy in the ARCA/ReMax Series. Lindsay Czarniak will tag along with Brian Vickers pit crew as they make their way over to nearby Dartmouth College to play ice hockey.

The big feature will have Wally Dallenbach sitting down for a conversation with the pride of Taylorsville, NC. That would be the one-and-only Harry Gant, recently named one of NASCAR's Top 50 Drivers. It should be interesting to hear Gant's opinions on issues like the COT and the youth movement in the sport.

The final pre-race show is the Allstate Countdown to Green hosted by Bill Weber from the TNT cocktail table in the announce booth. Dallenbach and Weber talk for thirty minutes as they zero-in on the race itself. Weber combines some hard news with one feature to which he usually contributes. This 1:30PM program leads directly into TNT's race coverage.

This post will serve to host your comments about all the NASCAR TV partner's pre-race shows. To add your TV-related opinion, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for stopping by.