Saturday, August 9, 2008

Road Course Baffles ESPN

It was promoted by infield host Allen Bestwick as a fun afternoon.

There was a wide variety of drivers in the Nationwide Series race from Watkins Glen. The weather was beautiful and the HD pictures from ESPN looked great. Then, the race started.

This was the first road course race since ESPN took over the Sprint Cup telecasts this season. It was Marty Reid and a different TV crew that handled the Montreal Nationwide race one week ago. This time, it was the "A team" of Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree on-the-air.

Bestwick ended the pre-race show and then passed-off to Punch. That moment signaled the beginning of what may have been the worst NASCAR on ESPN telecast of the year. There seemed to be no philosophy or common sense to the coverage. The focus was on the Sprint Cup drivers and not the actual story of the Nationwide Series race.

The early action was exciting, but ESPN kept the TV viewers watching the leaders. Often, the cameras would be catching two-wide racing and passing outside the top ten. To ESPN, it did not matter. They were going to follow the leader and replay anything else that happened. The problem was, a whole lot happened.

Just like last season, by the time this race came around in the afternoon the energy and focus was gone from Punch in the play-by-play role. It was up to Jarrett and Petree to carry the conversation in the booth and interact with the pit road announcers and the Infield Pit Center crew.

When Punch is tired, he asks a lot of questions because he is a reporter at heart. In this race, he often started his sentences with the words "how about" as he repeatedly made-up questions for Jarrett and Petree to answer rather than calling the action on the track.

Silence is something that is normally not heard during a top-level NASCAR race by the fans watching on TV. Saturday at Watkins Glen, silence was everywhere. It came as awkward pauses or when an incident was happening. It came when the camera changed to a different car or when a car that had spun was shown sitting off the track.

As The Daly Planet mentioned in an earlier article, this race was the third live telecast the same on-air crew had done since mid-morning. First-up was Nationwide qualifying and then Happy Hour for the Cup Series. Punch had handled the play-by-play for all three programs. There was no relief pitcher to be called in.

This biggest challenge on a road course is to go back through the field to where the racing is actually happening. Otherwise, TV viewers just watch a parade of the leaders staying nose-to-tail and waiting for the next pit stop. Meanwhile, the real racing may well be going-on just outside the top ten.

In this event, there were many stories that unfolded on pit road. Where the ESPN pit reporters were concerned, this was a complete implosion. Coming off a wonderful Monday episode of NASCAR Now, Jamie Little and Shannon Spake were not in-sync all day long. Several drivers, crew chiefs and even Andy Petree questioned the accuracy of what Little was trying to pass off as fact. Kevin Harvick was a classic.

Late in the race coming back from a commercial, Allen Bestwick took over and coordinated a short strategy session with the announcers. It was like night-and-day when the green flag came out and instead of describing the action, Jerry Punch said "restarts are quite an adventure here."

As the cars got up-to-speed, ESPN interviewed crew chief Todd Parrott and then driver Sam Hornish who was out of the race. Both of these interviews should have waited until the field had at least completed one lap. Viewers had no idea what was going-on as they watched the field scramble while listening to a driver plug his sponsor.

With less than thirty laps remaining, awkward silence was the main contribution of Punch to this telecast. The Producer turned to Bestwick, who lead another long discussion of pit stop strategy and track position. The contrast between the detail-oriented Bestwick and the veteran reporter Punch put could not have been more clear.

With twenty laps to go, Kyle Busch hit Jeff Burton and both cars spun-out. This happened during commercial. Both cars continued and a clearly upset Burton was now tracking down Busch for a pass and possibly some revenge. After replaying the incident, ESPN followed-up by reading a promo for Dancing With The Stars over live action and then transitioned to another commercial.

Andy Petree was the saving grace as he took the strategy lead coming down the stretch. Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty were silent as was Tim Brewer. Petree kept the viewers updated as much as he could in the middle of this confusing television coverage.

In the final ten laps, Punch was only able to talk about the top five cars. The only moment where the tenth place car was mentioned was to show viewers it was Joey Logano. Many of the cars in this race were never shown or mentioned once the race began. Stories from earlier in the event like Carl Edwards, Robby Gordon and Kevin Harvick were never updated.

The closing laps were tough to watch. ESPN locked on the top two cars and held onto them. No other cars existed on the race course. The two never passed each other or even touched. With four laps to go, there were suddenly cars shown on the TV screen with engines blowing-up and others were shown spun-out. Punch never even mentioned it.

Marcos Ambrose made his fuel last and won the race. It was only fitting that as the final lap was winding down the caution flag came out and viewers never saw the reason why. Thankfully, the win was a popular one. It cannot, however, make up for a very disjointed effort by the television network covering the event.

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TV Build-Up For Sunday Not About That Race

Several months ago, the focus of the NASCAR media was drawn to events away from the track. Text and video content from the Internet mixed with reporting on ESPN's NASCAR Now and other TV shows to give fans the first glimpse into the Mauricia Grant lawsuit.

Now, this (click here) long and diverse article from new writer Ed Hinton sets a very firm foundation for that focus to return to Ms. Grant.

Friday afternoon, NASCAR itself finally came out publicly with a reaction to the Grant lawsuit. NASCAR's legal response is (click here) contained in this story. Apparently, the time had come for NASCAR to begin this potentially long and costly legal fight.

All of this media attention will come to a head on Sunday at 9:30AM ET when Bob Ley will host a special ESPN edition of Outside The Lines. Ley and his team of journalists will focus on what ESPN is calling "the work culture inside the NASCAR community."

This is not a program from The NASCAR Media Group or the people who produce the races on TV. It is, however, a program from NASCAR's largest TV partner. That already has some fans speaking out about its potential objectivity.

OTL is an ESPN news franchise. Ley has over twenty-five years at the network and is the only original ESPN anchor still appearing on a regular ESPN TV series. His Lead Reporter is an ESPN veteran named Kelly Naqi. She has been involved in a number of controversial interviews for OTL on a variety of subjects. Sunday, she tackles NASCAR.

In the most recent (click here) promo page on for OTL, there is a statement that may well get the attention of NASCAR very quickly. In describing the upcoming Sunday episode, says the following:

"In light of Grant's allegations, Outside the Lines' Kelly Naqi spoke with other minorities and women, some of whom expressed similar experiences of racial discrimination and sexual harassment in NASCAR circles."

While the video clip linked at the bottom of the page contains only a small taste of this episode, it certainly does serve the purpose of painting a broader picture of issues in NASCAR relating to race and gender. That is exactly what NASCAR does not want to happen.

Recently, one feature on OTL about the criminal records and behavioral problems of players on the Penn State University football team changed the reputation of that university in many minds and resulted in a slew of national publicity. None of it was good.

This is a critical time for NASCAR. Only 34 Craftsman Trucks will start the Saturday night race in Nashville, TN. Many of those teams are searching for sponsorship and some are clearly funded privately. How many more races those teams can run is anyone's guess.

In the Nationwide Series last week, 11 cars that started the Montreal race ended that effort with less than 20 laps gone in the event. A total of 9 cars had parked before lap 10. One of those was Stan Barrett. He is best known for being the first man to reach the speed of sound in a ground vehicle. That feat was accomplished in 1979. Mr. Barrett is now 65 years old and wanted to drive in a NASCAR race.

While the Sprint Cup Series continues to attract a full field of 43, names like The Wood Brothers, Yates Racing and even Petty Enterprises are beginning to fade from the limelight. With tough economic times affecting the auto industry, NASCAR's highest level of national racing is facing a litmus test like none before. That test can only yield two results.

Often lost in the treatment of Grant's lawsuit on TV is that only the Nationwide Series has been the focus of these allegations. Should ESPN lose sight of this during OTL, fans will be less likely to give credibility to the TV program. On the other hand, if the resulting interviews hint at a broader problem, ESPN may be paving the way for additional legal actions from others.

Sunday morning at 9:30AM ET on ESPN may well be a moment in time that brings change to the sport. The current NASCAR minority and female professionals interviewed on OTL will have their opinions shared nationwide. That may change some current workplace relationships in a hurry.

The OTL content will also live for a long time on the website in both text and video form for worldwide access anytime.

How and where NASCAR chooses to respond to OTL will be of interest. It may well come on the Sunday NASCAR Now program on ESPN2 at 10AM or the Sprint Cup Series pre-race show called NASCAR Countdown at 1PM ET.

If rain comes to Watkins Glen on Sunday, infield host Allen Bestwick and his panel may have one new topic to discuss. While it may not be pleasant, one thing is now certain. It is not going away.

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NASCAR TV Hits A Brick Wall In Canada

After a tremendous fan turnout for the Montreal race weekend, Canadian fans of NASCAR are looking forward to the extended TV coverage from ESPN of both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series this weekend from Watkins Glen. Unfortunately, they will have to look very hard.

ESPN is not carried in Canada. So, ESPN has an affiliated network called The Sports Network (TSN). While ESPN has a minority stake in the network, it is actually owned by CTVGlobeMedia, a Canadian TV company. This single channel is very busy with sports from both the US and Canada, so it must sometimes expand to a second temporary channel. This is called the TSN - Alternate Feed (TSN-AF).

On Friday, TSN-AF will carry the Sprint Cup qualifying from The Glen. Saturday, it will host the Nationwide Series qualifying. The live Nationwide race will be on TSN-AF and areas of Canada that receive the ABC Television Network on cable.

Finally, on Sunday the TSN - Alternate Feed alone will have full coverage of the big Sprint Cup Series race. That is the good news.

Here is the bad news. Effective July 29th, almost all of the Canadian cable TV providers have dropped their distribution of TSN-AF. A couple of big systems out West were first and now the East side providers have also given up.

Originally, the TSN-AF "overflow channel" was provided free of charge to the Canadian cable TV companies so they could show more sports. Not anymore.

Now, TSN wants the cable companies to agree to carry a new sports network called TSN2 when it comes online in the Fall. The cable companies who do not agree to add this new fulltime channel lose the ability to show the TSN - Alternate Feed programs for free.

The response from the Canadian cable companies has been swift. Most of them have said no and TSN-AF has been discontinued. The cable companies are saying TSN pulled the feed, while TSN has been silent. All we know is that where Canada is concerned, a large chunk of NASCAR TV programming is suddenly in the dark.

Needless to say, many Canadian NASCAR fans are in for a rude awakening this weekend. Click here for the link to the TSN blackout story in the Toronto Globe.

Here is the TSN-AF program list
that shows Canadian viewers missing the IRL race from Kentucky and NFL pre-season football among the sports no longer available. Here is a bigger motorsports list for some perspective.

TSN will re-run the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races on a tape-delayed basis very late that same night, but that certainly is not the same experience as seeing them live on TV.

How and when this mess will get sorted-out is anyone's guess. It just seems a shame that after a memorable Montreal weekend, Canadian TV viewers are suddenly shut-out of a classic NASCAR road racing weekend at The Glen.

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In-Progress At Nashville: Craftsman Truck Race (7PM SPEED)

A smaller than normal field of only 34 trucks will take the green flag on Saturday night at Nashville Speedway on SPEED.

Rick Allen and Phil Parsons will handle the action from the booth with Adam Alexander and Ray Dunlap reporting from pit road. Update: Michael Waltrip is also along for the race tonight.

Things get underway at 7PM with The Set-Up pre-race show hosted by Krista Voda. This post will serve to host your comments about this program on SPEED.

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. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.

In-Progress At The Glen: Nationwide Race (ABC 2:30 PM ET)


Saturday is a very busy day for Dr. Jerry Punch and the entire NASCAR on ESPN team. That will continue at 2:30PM ET when coverage of the Nationwide Series will switch over to the ABC Television Network.

Allen Bestwick will begin the telecast by hosting NASCAR Countdown. This pre-race show will feature Bestwick in the Infield Pit Studio with Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. The program is scheduled for thirty minutes in length.

Next-up will be Punch along with his "booth team" of Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. By the time 3PM rolls around, Punch and company will have already done three hours of live NASCAR TV on Saturday. Now, it will be time to call the full Nationwide Series race.

Shannon Spake, Mike Massaro, Jamie Little and Dave Burns will join this telecast as pit reporters. Once again, this type of road course racing is very different and pit road is no exception. Pit strategy should be interesting to follow during the race.

Last week in Montreal, eleven cars were out of the race with less than 20 laps gone in the event. It should be interesting to watch the ESPN graphic ticker and follow the attrition in the rear of the field.

Also like Montreal, this Nationwide field consists of Sprint Cup cross-over drivers, road course specialists and a tattered field of Nationwide regulars. The on-track dynamic once the race begins should be fun to watch.

This post will serve to host your comments about the Nationwide Series race on ABC Sports. 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. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

In-Progress At The Glen: Sprint Cup Practice (1:30PM ESPN2)

Noon brings another one of the recently-added Sprint Cup practice sessions being shown on SPEED. Originally, this action was not scheduled to be on TV and only "Happy Hour" was going to be covered. ESPN2 will follow with that coverage.

It will be Steve Byrnes, Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds calling the action on SPEED. Joining them as reporters from the garage will be Bob Dillner and Wendy Venturini.

ESPN2 will handle the final practice session after SPEED is done at 1:30PM ET. Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree will be joined by the four ESPN pit reporters.

One interesting note is that ESPN commentator Boris Said has been added to the Sprint Cup field. Despite missing the race in his own car because qualifying was rained out, Said is going to step into the #45 car and replace Kyle Petty. More details of this switch will be coming during the SPEED and ESPN coverage.

"Happy Hour" coverage will run ESPN right into their ABC coverage of the Nationwide Series race. That will be reflected as a new post.

Feel free to add your comments about these two practice sessions on SPEED and ESPN2. Just click on the COMMENTS button below. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for stopping by.

RaceBuddy Will Be Missed At The Glen

It has been two races since the change-over to ESPN from the TNT gang. Lots of good things are going on and the racing from Watkins Glen should be some of the best of the season. There is, however, one thing that could make it a little bit better. That is RaceBuddy.

This summer, along with the six Sprint Cup races on TNT, viewers were given a bonus. made RaceBuddy available through that website for all six events. Free to NASCAR fans, RaceBuddy was an online companion to the TNT coverage.

Featuring four cameras, scanner audio and many interactive features, this broadband computer application proved to be tremendously popular. It gave fans who did not have DirecTV’s Hot Pass or’s Sprint RaceView an opportunity to see several different camera angles during the live race.

RaceBuddy had one in-car camera view that changed several times during the event. The way it changed was by a popular vote of the users online. It also had a battle-cam that focused on the best racing on the track, regardless of position. The third feature was a speed-shot angle that was also changed during the telecast. It gave fans a nice view of the car roaring by on various parts of the track.

Finally, RaceBuddy had a free-roaming pit camera. Positioned at the end of pit road, this angle let viewers see the cars coming into the pits and getting service that did not make the TV broadcast. It also showed the crews cleaning-up and the always interesting moves of the NASCAR inspectors on pit road.

This week at Watkins Glen, RaceBuddy would be great. It is tough for one TV network to keep all the things going-on during a road course event updated on just one channel. ESPN has to focus on the leaders, the pit stops of the top cars and try to get commercial breaks in every couple of minutes.

RaceBuddy allowed the NASCAR fan a bigger video window into what was happening around the track and in the pits. Fans could see cars that perhaps would not be on the TV telecast once the green flag dropped. In today’s Sprint Cup TV coverage, it is all about the stars of the sport and the leaders of the race.

While this RaceBuddy application was created by the minds at Turner, it does not have a specific network attachment. RaceBuddy was free because the commercial sponsors of the sport stepped-up and put their money into this online extra for the fans

Perhaps, NASCAR fans may one day see RaceBuddy as an online companion to the Fox and ESPN race coverage. Until then, Watkins Glen and the remaining fourteen Sprint Cup races in this season will just go it alone.

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Punch Gears-Up For Very Long Weekend

Watkins Glen is an exciting track for the NASCAR drivers. Over the last several years, this road course has been the scene of some memorable action on-and-off the racing surface.

2007 was the first time that ESPN had returned to Watkins Glen with NASCAR in a very long time. The network was only a couple of races into the Sprint Cup package, but had been producing the Busch Series telecasts since February. Watkins Glen was the location where these two series finally joined together to present a new challenge for the ESPN team. It was a challenge that Jerry Punch will never forget.

This was the column about the TV coverage of Saturday at The Glen from last year. It was a day-long marathon that put Punch on-the-air hour-after-hour with no relief and no break. This year, if everything goes as scheduled, at least he will get to eat lunch.

Friday has Sprint Cup practice at Noon ET, qualifying at 3PM and then Nationwide Series practice at 5:30 on ESPN2. Punch will handle all those telecasts and that is just the appetizer. There are 46 Cup cars trying to make the 43 car field.

The pressure is on ESPN to ramp-up the qualifying coverage to feature the cars and teams rather than random interviews and pre-produced features. Watkins Glen is a great place to start the transition to putting the focus back on the on-track action.

Saturday starts on ESPN2 with Nationwide Series qualifying at 10AM ET. This telecast is scheduled for two hours and there are currently 49 cars that will try to make this 43 car field. Who goes home is going to be a big story this weekend.

SPEED has stepped-in and snatched-up the Noon ET Sprint Cup Series practice on Saturday that runs until 1:30PM. That takes a little pressure off the ESPN gang and lets them eat a sandwich. It will be Steve Byrnes, Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds handling the practice telecast.

Punch, Dale Jarret and Andy Petree return to call the Happy Hour action at 1:30PM for the Sprint Cup teams. This hour will lead directly into the channel change to ABC and the Nationwide pre-race show called NASCAR Countdown at 2:30PM. Hosted by Allen Bestwick, this thirty minute show will transition into the live Nationwide race at 3PM that is scheduled to run for three hours.

Since the Indy weekend featured a stand-alone Nationwide Series race at ORP with a different announce team and the Pocono weekend had ARCA as the support event, this is the first weekend where Punch will be handling practice, qualifying and the races for both of ESPN's NASCAR series.

By the time that Sunday at 5:30PM rolls around and the Sprint Cup Series race is over, Punch will have been on-the-air for almost fifteen hours calling the play-by-play action over the previous three days. Should rain delay the festivities, it could be a lot longer than that.

Unlike the partnership between Fox, TNT and SPEED, ESPN does not share announcers and Punch will have no relief, even for the practice sessions. It will fall to Allen Bestwick to help during the races, but Bestwick and his partners are not present for practice or qualifying. Punch, Jarrett and Petree put on their ESPN shirts and call the action from the Infield Studio.

With back-up announcer Marty Reid off doing the IRL telecast and Allen Bestwick designated for infield duties, it will fall to Punch to handle the the vast majority of the on-air NASCAR coverage for the ESPN networks at The Glen. As fans may remember from last season, this is just the beginning of the run to Homestead for the NASCAR on ESPN gang.

Once this weekend's racing is over, there are fourteen Sprint Cup events remaining without a single weekend off for the TV crew. They take place on the West Coast, New England and in the Southeast ending up in Florida. Eleven of those weekends have the Nationwide Series as companion races, forcing the ESPN announce crew to double-up.

For ESPN, the honeymoon of Indy and the relief of a good race at Pocono is over. To use the classic line from a famous TV commercial, "it's time to make the donuts." Beginning on Friday, all that lies ahead for this TV crew is a lot of hard work.

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In-Progress At The Glen: Nationwide Series Qualifying (10AM ET ESPN2)

The weather forecast is looking good for Saturday. The chance of rain is now listed at only 20% and the temperature is rising. It is expected to reach 77 degrees by the afternoon.

The NASCAR TV day will begin at 10AM with Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree calling Nationwide Series qualifying. The Sprint Cup session was rained-out on Friday, so this is the first qualifying session of the weekend.

Handling the interviews on pit road and the garage area will be Mike Massaro, Dave Burns, Jamie Little and Shannon Spake. ESPN is still working on the TV presentation of qualifying and often seems to be more focused on doing interviews, features and promos than the action on the track.

In the ESPN format, Punch and company call these sessions alone. This eliminates Allen Bestwick, Brad Daugherty and Rusty Wallace on these telecasts. In this case, there will be 49 cars trying for 43 positions, so this session may be a long one. Currently, it is scheduled for two hours and the cars will be out on the track in a staggered format.

This post will host your comments about the Nationwide Series qualifying on ESPN2. 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 drop by The Daly Planet.