Tuesday, July 8, 2008
It is time to talk about TNT and their summer run, including the "wide open" coverage from Daytona. What better place than with the Godfather, Dave Moody and the crew from Sirius Speedway.
Wednesday evening at 6PM yours truly will be stopping by Channel 128 for some NASCAR TV conversation. With ESPN about to step into the picture, we will no doubt be talking about the many changes that network made to pump-up the Sprint Cup coverage for The Chase.
With many thousands of page views and over one hundred comments, the "wide open" TNT coverage from Daytona is one of the most popular Daly Planet posts. As usual with NASCAR fans, some loved it and some hated it.
Update: Thanks to Dave and Suzi and the crew. Had a wonderful time and will update our discussions in the comments area.
Please join us if you can at 6PM Eastern Time on Sirius Channel 128 for some good NASCAR TV conversation. If you have a TV topic that you might like us to discuss, please feel free to add it to this post in the comments section or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org anytime. Thanks as always.
Expectations were high for the Richard Petty one hour special on Tuesday from the good folks at NASCAR Now. This TV series on ESPN2 had earlier presented a very warm and personal special from DEI on the anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s passing. This show would be much different.
Back then, Nicole Manske was the single host and she showed her skills in conversation and interviewing with a wide variety of personalities. This time, Shannon Spake was going to be on-site at the Petty Museum in Randleman, NC. It houses a wonderful collection of trophies, cars and memorabilia. At the opening of the show, it was made clear that no ESPN personality was on-hand at the new Petty shop in Mooresville, NC. The focus of this show was going to be fifty years of history.
Surprisingly, it was Nicole Manske appearing on-camera at the beginning of the show. After a brief introduction, she introduced Spake who was in the interview location. The interaction between the two was awkward and it was clear from the start that Spake was uncomfortable in this role. As Manske would introduce Spake and her new set of guests, Spake in return would then re-introduce them again every single time as if she could not hear the "toss." Nervous and tentative, Spake would then ask basically the same question over-and-over again with a different subject. It was tough to watch.
Fans tuning-in were looking for a walk down memory lane and what they got instead was a lot of sitting. A whole lot of sitting. The problem was this was not the ESPN studio, it was the Petty museum and NASCAR Now was avoiding the very reason they were on-site. They were surrounded by fifty years of racing history and never even gave the TV viewers a tour. What a shame.
Manske is a TV pro and she zoomed through the news stories of the day, allowing David Newton to pay-off the Truex team penalties and offering a video denial by Max Siegel that DEI is for sale. During the show, Tim Brewer and DJ Copp combined for a fun look at the pit stops of old and that is exactly what the show needed a lot more of...a lot.
Spake talked with Dale Inman, Kyle Petty and the King. Her questions were basic and often seemed uninformed. ESPN2 played back video features that had been used before and one voiced by Allen Bestwick for this program. Unfortunately, neither Spake or Manske got up and walked. Petty is incredibly proud of the cars, trophies and memorabilia in the museum. He never got a chance to show it.
How incredibly strange that the program revolved around folding chairs and two reporters in the same building at different locations. If Manske and Spake had gotten-up, they would have experienced the Petty museum just like the NASCAR fans in these pictures. They might have actually had a good time.
Not a lot more can be said about this show except that it missed the mark. NASCAR Now has been an outstanding studio program this season and Manske's programs on-location from Daytona and DEI worked well. Unfortunately, this special show just did not click. Back to Bristol and the studio on Wednesday for Manske and company.
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As NASCAR makes the turn and begins the slow downhill trip to the end of the season, it is a good time to sample your opinion about memories from the first TV half.
January saw SPEED make a commitment to cover testing at more venues that just Daytona. The month also saw Inside NEXTEL Cup become This Week In NASCAR. Steve Byrnes and Chad Knaus signed-on, while Kenny Schrader signed-off.
February was crazy for NASCAR TV-related news. ESPN announced Nicole Manske was in at NASCAR Now, Dale Jarrett was in as Lead Analyst and Allen Bestwick was going to be very busy. Bestwick would host a new edition of NASCAR Now on Mondays, and handle the NASCAR Countdown pre-race shows for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series.
There was also someone else tagging along for the ESPN February press conference in Daytona. Ray Evernham was going to be joining the network in a versatile role that will put him in the announce booth, in the infield studio, on NASCAR Now and would feature him on other ESPN media outlets. This was a surprise, because Evernham was an active Sprint Cup Series owner.
SPEED returned their group intact, and then led the TV mess that was the California race this year. Seeping water and upset drivers led to a lot of hard feelings and another California disaster. Monday races were once again becoming familiar. The Fox gang hung-in there and everyone left town in a hurry.
By March, TV viewers began to understand that this "Digger" thing was not going away anytime soon. Neither was the philosophy of not showing the lead lap cars finishing the race under green. Fox had returned. Bestwick had led NASCAR Now to a resurgence of credibility and Manske seemed to be a solid fit for the team.
The month ended on a controversial note, as TWIN made a big decision...to go khaki.
April started hard with ESPN.com's Ryan McGee appearing on NASCAR Now and detailing his interview with former Truck Series driver Aaron Fike. As we all know, Fike had become a heroin addict and driven in several races with the drug in his system. Needless to say, additional media folks weighed-in on the issue and it is still a topic being discussed by NASCAR at this point.
This was also the month that Fox got caught between baseball and NASCAR...and flinched. Trying to tell the future did not work out for either sport. The middle of the month saw ESPN struggle with the racing in Mexico, Boris Said lose his cool on NASCAR Now, and David Poole travel to ESPN for a guest appearance.
The month closed with several NASCAR media and TV partners picking-up some hardware for their efforts.
May turned-out to be a huge TV story month, and featured Wendy Venturini getting her first primetime TV special during All-Star week. As usual, SPEED pulled-out all the stops for their only Sprint Cup Series event.
The NASCAR on Fox gang saw their season wind-down, and faced some interesting viewer reactions focused around Darrell Waltrip's interest in Kyle Busch.
Over in ESPN land, all kinds of things were shaking. ESPN is dropping the recorded SportsCenters in the morning, and doing them live with a high-profile anchor. Rumors were everywhere that the company was also looking to change ESPN Classic Network into something new very soon.
For comic relief, viewers were having fun with the "interesting" wardrobe choices being made by SPEED for the on-air personalities.
June saw the Fox crew leave and the "new look" TNT guys walk in with their new RaceBuddy. The TNT guys had fun at Michigan, but left a bit early.
Meanwhile, Allen Bestwick hosted an "all Wallace" edition of NASCAR Now. This program continues to be the surprise of 2008.
June also saw the ugly civil lawsuit from Mauricia Grant, which is going to put NASCAR to the test whether they like it or not. Brian France continues to react publicly to this with poorly-chosen words, as chronicled by Lee Spencer of Fox.
ESPN continued to have troubles with the ABC local TV stations. The Nationwide Series telecast from New Hampshire actually overlapped ABC's own feed of children's programming, and some West Coast affiliates in big markets just joined the race in-progress.
The on-air folks continued to be stories, this one about Dale Jarrett working quite well for ESPN even as Jerry Punch continues to have a tough time. The month closed with Michael Waltrip actually having fun again on Monday nights.
Now, here we are basking in the glow of the full-screen commercial free TNT Daytona telecast and wondering how the next six months will play-out with ESPN about to take over both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series.
SPEED this year will schedule RaceDay early as to not conflict with ESPN's NASCAR Countdown. That is a big change for viewers, after SPEED worked so hard to go head-to-head with both ESPN and ABC down the stretch.
If you have some thoughts after reading some of the columns above about the first half of the NASCAR TV season, please share them with us. Good or bad, you have consumed many hours of NASCAR TV coverage since January and your opinion counts.
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Fans of This Week In NASCAR might have known this Monday's show was going to be a good one when the panelists and host openly mocked the program's seemingly backwards format on-the-air. A little mischief is exactly what the doctor ordered for this TV series.
Host Steve Byrnes has finally figured out that the stars of the show are the two panelists and he does not have to carry the load by himself. SPEED has finally loosened-up the on-air leash and the resulting fun is noticeable.
After an opening segment that built the excitement of the racing action from Daytona, the panelists knew that the "big switch" was about to come and made sure to express their frustration that the Daytona action was about to be put on the back-burner for thirty minutes. It was time to preview Chicagoland Speedway and no one was happy about it.
Luckily, the personalities of Knaus and Waltrip combine quite well to address the different issues associated with the upcoming events. Knaus was in the middle of several good answers to questions when he was once again interrupted by Waltrip.
This time, it was all good. Waltrip got the name of the show wrong, told Knaus how smart he was and finished by saying Knaus was a "little lengthy" in his answer. One thing was certain, the fun was back on Monday nights. The "odd couple" was on TV.
Waltrip wound-up the Chicago preview by saying the two most effective ways to win at the track are good gas mileage or running-over the guy in front of you. After Knaus recovered from his mini-stroke and Byrnes stopped laughing, Waltrip continued with a discussion of his favorite television commercials.
By the time things got to the Daytona highlights, the crew was at full speed. Waltrip had talked to Tony Stewart to follow-up on his illness and Knaus took the opportunity to address NASCAR's policy of making ill drivers start the race for points. Waltrip slipped-in a mention of his XM radio show and tried his best to get Knaus completely off-track.
A lot of credit for the recent success of this show has to go to Knaus. It was painful to watch him early on in the season, but once he figured out that it was Steve Byrnes issue to maintain control and all he had to do was have fun, things turned around. The back-and-forth between Knaus and Waltrip is just hilarious to watch.
The show covered a lot of Daytona-related topics and then used a nice piece of video that showed Dale Earnhardt Junior's early days when he first joined the NASCAR world. Waltrip and Knaus both had good and strong words in reference to Junior's character and their reflections and memories really set this episode apart.
The program is loaded with sponsored elements and Byrnes has figured-out that the best way to handle this is just make fun of it. He slowly pronounces each feature and is often echoed by Waltrip who sometimes adds his own random thoughts. Last week, he decided the picture given to a fan should be of him. It was.
Since February, fans have slowly watched this program crawl and then walk. Now, the only remaining change needs to be presenting the past weekend's race highlights and conversation first. The NASCAR Media Group producers have slowly removed the pre-produced features from the program and now have a good mix for the viewers.
It is a nice change of pace when elements like Scanner Chatter and the other highly-edited features come along. It is made all the better when Waltrip and Knaus are waiting to follow-up on them with their own "odd couple" brand of humor.
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Allen Bestwick normally plays host to a revolving panel of three on the Monday hour-long edition of NASCAR Now. This week all three panelists were in place, but one perspective was missing.
It was Johnny Benson who joined Ray Evernham and Boris Said in the ESPN2 studio to talk about the weekend at Daytona and preview the upcoming Chicagoland race. Bestwick did not mention to viewers why reporter Marty Smith was not on the panel as previously announced.
This changed the dynamic of the show and left Bestwick as the only media representative. Normally, ESPN reporter Mike Massaro has been the semi-regular media guest with the exception of themed shows like the recent "all Wallace brothers" program. Marty Smith and Brad Daugherty have also sat in the media chair on the panel.
There is certainly no problem with having two drivers and one crew chief/owner making up the program, but it leaves a slice of the NASCAR pie on the table. Massaro and Smith bring observations from a media perspective, something Bestwick is lacking because of his current Infield Studio role.
In the host role on this show, Bestwick had to work harder than normal to get some energy out of the panel. The three personalities he had to work with are just not the type to respond in the same way as a Dale Jarrett or a Marty Smith. There was simply no spark for the discussion.
Viewers might have found it interesting that the authoritative Benson often left Said with nothing to say. Benson has a vast amount of experience compared to Said in NASCAR and currently drives full-time in the Craftsman Truck Series. This appeared to be an uncomfortable role for Said and it showed.
Responding to Said's comments about bumping on the closing laps, Benson offered the opposite view and told Said it was not OK to just drive "like a dog with a hand grenade in its mouth" as Boris likes to say. Said's own accident in the race was not discussed.
Normally, this program features two "liveshot" interviews with NASCAR personalities. Surprisingly, this episode did not. Bestwick just gamely led the panel through a wide variety of issues that received factual but not very interesting answers.
Fans of Johnny Benson had to be pointing to the fact that he and Evernham usually teamed to answer the NASCAR questions on this program. Benson had a long run on Inside NEXTEL Cup on SPEED before being dismissed, and one wonders why he does not show-up on other NASCAR TV shows.
It seems that Bestwick enjoys Benson and Massaro on this Monday show and both have been frequent guests. As ESPN takes over the Sprint Cup Series telecasts in a couple of weeks, it should be interesting to see which panelists the NASCAR Now Producer selects down the stretch.
This was an informative show but had less of a vibrant feel than most episodes. Despite working hard, Bestwick was not able to make the panel respond and have some fun with their comments. Having no interviews or liveshots in the program also contributed to a less than stellar hour.
Once again, NASCAR Now paid less attention to the Nationwide Series than was deserved. Since ESPN telecasts the entire series, this continues to be confusing. After much-too-brief highlights, Bestwick led the panel into a discussion about Toyota having an advantage in the Nationwide Series.
Bestwick closed-out the show with a Chicagoland preview and Evernham showed his value to ESPN with a great explanation of what teams will face running at night under the newly-installed lights without testing.
While all three personalities made good points in this program, it was clear that the show needed a spark from a media type or even commentator Brad Daugherty. The three "human ingredients" Bestwick was given were familiar, but no matter how hard he stirred there was just no excitement or fun to be found from this combination.
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Over the past seventeen months, ESPN has been back in the NASCAR business. Like anything in life, there have been highs and lows. The Friday night Nationwide Series race from Daytona was not a high.
Looking around at the cast of characters working for the network, it was hard to believe that some things did not click on-the-air. Names like Bestwick, Punch and Jarrett are well known to NASCAR fans and have a distinguished history in the sport.
In many ways, this event was a dress rehearsal for the Sprint Cup race from the Brickyard that will signal ESPN assuming the TV coverage of that series for the rest of the season. Like many dress rehearsals, perhaps some changes might be in order before opening night.
Call it nerves or believe it was intentional, but once the fast-paced and exciting Nationwide race got underway, viewers were treated to a telecast that featured only the top five cars and emphasized the Sprint Cup drivers. The ESPN of old was back as the Director chose to show only the top of the field for almost the entire event.
One function of ESPN televising the entire Nationwide Series is to focus on the younger drivers and the Nationwide regulars that Allen Bestwick mentioned in the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show. Once things switched from the Infield Pit Studio and Bestwick's crew upstairs to the "Punch bunch," there was a very different story being told to the viewers.
ESPN still has strong points. The triple split for pit stops under caution is wonderful and the pit reporters work harder on these telecasts than any other NASCAR TV series. Good pictures and crisp graphics have become a trademark of ESPN this season where races are concerned.
Just like a NASCAR team, there has to be a point person designated to lead the effort once the race is underway. ESPN's on-air focal point is Jerry Punch. Last season, Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree looked at Punch in the announce booth quite often for on-air guidance.
As we documented in this column, Punch struggled in his first season in the unfamiliar territory of the play-by-play position. Many of us remember Punch as a pit reporter on NASCAR and a sideline reporter on college football games for ESPN.
This season, ESPN has added Dale Jarrett as the Lead Analyst for the NASCAR races and kept Petree to provide the crew chief perspective. Punch is surrounded by two top-notch NASCAR professionals and two very good TV personalities. Unfortunately, as fans discovered at Daytona, it is not enough.
The veteran reporter in Punch likes to let things happen on the track and then react. His reaction is often in the form of a monotone question to his analysts. The role of the play-by-play announcer is to call the action as it happens and build the excitement of a live NASCAR race for the fans at home. That is not happening.
Throughout the Daytona Nationwide Series event, Punch would sometimes raise his voice and get pumped-up. Unfortunately, it was normally as he "threw" to commercial break or read a promo for an ESPN show. Punch also gets excited about ESPN's pre-produced features and other things like the Daytona skyline. What he does not get excited about is the racing.
Punch has represented NASCAR in a variety of difficult situations with dignity and class. He talks on a wide variety of racing-related subjects with the authority of a NASCAR historian. The Ultimate NASCAR series that he hosted was perhaps one of the finest pieces of NASCAR TV production ever done. Those who worked with him on that series enjoyed his professionalism.
What is not pleasant is watching someone you respect struggle in a role that does not fit their qualifications. It is even more difficult when they are doing it on national TV. Hour after hour and race after race it is becoming clear that ESPN needs to perhaps consider moving some additional personnel around on the NASCAR broadcasts.
Rusty Wallace was rejuvenated with his new role this season and has been sensational on NASCAR Countdown, NASCAR Now and other ESPN programs. Nicole Manske has been solid in the studio and Bestwick has been outstanding as the pre-race host. All of these changes brought positive results, so there is no doubt that change paid dividends for ESPN where NASCAR is concerned.
Last season, Allen Bestwick was several times dispatched to stand-alone Busch Series races. With no Infield Pit Studio or fancy announce booth Bestwick would host the pre-race show, call the play-by-play for the race and then handle the entire post-race show no matter how much time had to be filled.
Working with partners like Randy LaJoie, Bestwick embraced this role with the same professional enthusiasm that he has brought to the Infield Pit Studio and NASCAR Now. Whether the race was at an oval like Nashville or a big road course like Montreal, Bestwick was the first face fans saw and the last one telling them goodbye.
Perhaps, as ESPN closes-in on the network's Sprint Cup package, there might be an opportunity to give Punch a relief driver on coverage of some races, practice sessions or qualifying telecasts. Last season, Punch handled both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series alone and that was too much.
Everyone deserves an opportunity to learn a new position or come up-to-speed on a new challenge. Ultimately, it is also that person's responsibility to ask for help when the task is not exactly what they believed it to be. Maybe, just a little assistance with the heavy lifting would help the entire ESPN team as they get ready for their real opening night performance.
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Lots of email and links starting to come in about the rumors of Max Siegel buying Teresa Earnhardt completely out of DEI.
The very unofficial scoop is that she keeps the rights to the Dale Sr. name and logos and Siegel uses an outside investor to take-over the company. Earnhardt gets a generous income for life and out of the public eye. Interesting.
ESPN2 is currently scheduled for a big Richard Petty 50th anniversary NASCAR Now show from Petty Enterprises at 6PM. Shannon Spake is set to host this special and no doubt some plans are changing as we speak.
The weakness of ESPN is that they do not have a small studio or even an office on the ground in Mooresville, NC. They do have a company called ESPN Regional Television (ERT) down on the southside of Charlotte, but that is a long way from Mooresville, especially in traffic. ERT is the location most of the NASCAR Now Charlotte liveshots originate. There are no NASCAR reporters based at ERT.
Links to the story as it develops:
Captain Thunder - Updated
Dave Moody - Sirius Speedway
That's Racin blog - Mark Young
Virginian Pilot - Dustin Long
Update: Max says not right now - ESPN
Tonight's NASCAR Now should be a good one to record or watch as ESPN continues to become the source for NASCAR TV news on a daily basis. What a difference a year makes.