Saturday, August 30, 2008

Nationwide Series Returns To The Back Burner

With several hurricanes churning out in the open sea at this time of year, it was actually ESPN2 that had the perfect storm this Saturday night.

It was 10:23PM when Dr. Jerry Punch welcomed NASCAR fans to ESPN2 and the Nationwide Series race. The telecast had actually been on-the-air since 9:45PM and the race itself was in-progress. Veteran NASCAR fans knew it was college football season once again. The Nationwide Series telecast had started on the ESPN Classic Network.

After a very nice seven months of live coverage on ESPN2, college football pushes the Nationwide Series to the back burner on Saturdays as soon as the season starts. Joining the Fontana telecast 38 minutes into the coverage is going to open a running debate about why this is happening again this season.

In reality, that debate makes no sense at all. ESPN has been doing college football since the 1980's and knows exactly how long it takes to play a game live on TV.

Since 2007, the first season of the new NASCAR contract, ESPN has consistently scheduled Nationwide Series races in timeslots that make no sense during football season.

On this night, NASCAR fans without ESPN Classic had to turn to for the online stream of the race telecast. It appeared without audio and was not fixed until slightly after 11PM. The commercial elements that ran from's Atlanta, GA location worked fine all night. It was the ESPN feed that had the problem.

Basically, NASCAR fans without the ESPN Classic network or a broadband computer connection were out of luck. That is exactly what NASCAR did not want to see in prime-time on a Saturday night. It does not bode well for the remaining races.

Allen Bestwick ran his crew through a quick 15 minute pre-race show and then handed-off to Dr. Jerry Punch and the regular NASCAR on ESPN gang. The high point of the telecast came when the public address announcer forgot the name of actor Ron Perlman's new TV show as he introduced him for the starting command. At least Perlman knew it, delivered a good line and rolled the field off to the flag.

Once the race began, ESPN did a great job of focusing on the Nationwide Series and leaving the overlap of last year behind. The Sprint Cup was promoted, but not dragged over to Saturday's race. Unfortunately, the Nationwide gang produced a rather bland event.

Draft Track was out early, Bestwick was promoting shows from the infield and Tim Brewer was showing everything he could think of from the Tech Center. The pit reporters worked hard to contribute any kind of content on the relevant topics and the Director searched for racing. The problem was, there wasn't any.

Several nicely timed cautions bunched the field, but when the green flag waved it only took a couple of laps until the field was strung-out and on a test drive to the next pit stop. Kyle Busch was "stinking up the show" once again.

This (click here) commentary from Lee Montgomery finally spoke to the issue TV viewers ask about constantly where the Nationwide Series is concerned. With a short field of real teams, NASCAR allows "start and park" teams to enter and qualify for the races.

These teams often do not have pit crews and are only going to run up until the first gas stop. They get to collect the money that is awarded for just starting the race and then go on their way. Montgomery's point is that NASCAR would be better off running with a short field of real teams like the Truck Series does each race.

Fans are often confused when the ticker at the top of the screen shows as many as 10 cars out of the race when no caution flag has flown. This Saturday in Fontana, 8 cars took the easy way out and headed for the trailer before pit stops began.

Brad Keselowski left the race with engine trouble and headed to the garage. ESPN never sent a pit reporter over to find out what was going on. That is the type of fundamental TV issue that this team has struggled with on the Nationwide Series.

By lap 110 of the 150 in the race, ESPN has once again returned to coverage of the top five cars and nothing more. It was the perfect time for a full field recap, but it did not happen. It was the perfect time for some laps from an in-car camera perspective, but it did not happen.

Instead, Tim Brewer was addressing the possible problems with Keselowski even though no pit reporter was sent to find out the reality. Keselowski's car was seen surrounded by crew members and specialists, but not one ESPN reporter. Without some information from the garage, Brewer was simply speculating.

Over twenty laps later, when Keselowski re-joined the race, there was a brief and rather confused report from Dave Burns about a mysterious rotor problem. Burns asked Brewer to explain it, but once again the coordination with the Tech Center resulted in Brewer talking and showing things long before the viewers saw the Tech Center on the screen.

Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree did everything they could to address the issues in the race, but essentially there were few. Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty were almost silent after halfway because there just was very little to talk about.

A restart with 15 laps to go made it a bit interesting, but Punch just simply cannot boost the excitement level when that skill is needed from the play-by-play announcer. Punch watched the action with the viewers and said absolutely nothing.

Exciting moments seem to work best when they are replayed and Jarrett and Petree handle the commentary. Punch simply does not seem to be able to speak while something exciting or even dangerous is in-progress. Jarrett and Petree have become experts at stepping-in and filling-in the gaps for the TV viewers.

As usual, the race closed with Kyle Busch leading the way and not one drop of excitement anywhere to be seen or heard. This was a tough start to the Nationwide Series races for the remainder of the season now that college football has started.

ESPN made good pictures and sound, but lacked speed shots, in-car angles and use of the blimp which was on-scene. Even the Director had a tough time finding excitement on this warm night on the West Coast. He was not alone.

Next week it will be the Sprint Cup Series that faces-off with the college crowd as the Saturday night race from Richmond, VA is scheduled for the ABC television network at 7PM. The preceding football game kicks-off at 3:30PM, so this broadcast window is finally one that should fit.

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UPDATED: Nationwide Series Race

On a day dominated by college football, ESPN2 will give some time to NASCAR on Saturday night. It will be 9:45PM when the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show begins. The only questions is, on what ESPN TV network?

The first hurdle for NASCAR may be finding a place to start the race. With a college football game beginning at 6:45PM ET on ESPN2, Allen Bestwick's pre-race show is scheduled for only three hours after the kick-off. As viewers know all too well from last season, college football has a way of affecting the Nationwide Series coverage.

ESPN Classic Network appears to be the company's only option, as all the other networks continue to have live college football in-progress. If things all go as scheduled, it will be ESPN2 where Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty will appear with Bestwick from the Infield Pit Studio.

This is an abbreviated pre-race show of only fifteen minutes. At 10PM, coverage of the actual race begins with ESPN's regular NASCAR team. It will be Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree calling the action. Down on pit road will be Shannon Spake, Jamie Little, Mike Massaro and Dave Burns.

Fontana is a wide track with multiple grooves that should make for great TV pictures. Look for the possibility of Draft Tracker coming out and for the great triple splits on caution flag pit stops. Fontana has some of the biggest pit boxes on the circuit.

The long pace laps should leave plenty of time to Tim Brewer and his Tech Center. Brewer was essentially put on hold last week with the sixteen second laps at Bristol. Both Brewer and the Infield Pit Center gang should see a lot of air time on the race tonight.

The challenge once again for the ESPN gang will be to deal with the race and not The Chase all the time. Keeping both these issues updated will be the toughest assignment for the TV crew. Agendas are bound to overlap and the pit reporters will once again be put on-the-spot for issues that may be uncomfortable for drivers and crew chiefs to deal with on-the-air.

This post will serve to host your comments about the ESPN2 coverage of the Nationwide Series race from Fontana. To add your TV-related comment, 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 taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Saturday On SPEED: Fontana Practice And Qualifying

Fans of programs like NASCAR Live and Victory Lane get a treat this Saturday as veteran host John Roberts goes "upstairs" and into the broadcast booth to call the action during Nationwide Series Qualifying at 5:30PM ET.

Roberts will be joined by Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds for analysis. Down on pit road and handling the interviews will be Randy Pemberton and Hermie Sadler. This session should run a little bit over an hour.

Next up on SPEED will be Sprint Cup Series practice at 7PM. Steve Byrnes will join Hammond and McReynolds while down in the garage area it will be Wendy Venturini joining Pemberton.

The same broadcast team will stay right where they are for Happy Hour that starts at 8PM NASCAR Time. That is the polite way of saying things sometimes get a little backed-up due to circumstances. NASCAR builds in a little extra time, so this broadcast will actually end at 9:30PM.

Controversial journalist Mike Mulhern makes a rare appearance on Tradin' Paint at 9:30PM. This TV series is trying to get back on track after a tough stretch and Mulhern is just the right guy to do it. If the Producer selects topics that interest the race fans and offer a diversity of opinion, this episode should be fun.

ESPN starts coverage at 9:45PM and there will be a new post for the NASCAR Countdown show and the Nationwide Series race. Remember, live college football precedes these telecasts on ESPN2 so keep up to the minute with The Daly Planet on this issue.

This post will serve to host your comments about the Saturday coverage of NASCAR from Fontana, CA on SPEED. To add your TV-related comment, 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 stopping by The Daly Planet.

Here Comes College Football On ESPN2

The match-up of the powerhouses on ESPN2 will begin this Saturday with the Mississippi State Bulldogs from Starkville, MS facing the NASCAR Nationwide Series from Fontana, CA.

The Bulldogs are led by Head Coach Sylvester Croom and his starting quarterback Wesley Carroll. The Nationwide gang is led by Series Director Joe Balash and emerging star Brad Keselowski. It should be an interesting match-up.

As Nationwide Series fans know all too well from 2007, college football games run about three-and-a-half hours from start-to-finish. With several injury time-outs over the course of a single game, it is not uncommon to have an event that runs closer to four hours. TV networks try to build-in post game shows to absorb these potential over-runs.

On Saturday, the Bulldogs will kick-off against rival Louisiana Tech at 6:45PM Eastern Time. It should be a great opportunity for both programs to get some national TV exposure right at the start of the season. If the game runs on schedule and without any overtime, it should end around 10:15PM.

While the Nationwide Series enjoys a 30 minute pre-race show early in the year, all that changes when college football comes to town. This Saturday, it will be 15 minutes of Allen Bestwick, Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. This mini-show is scheduled for 9:45PM. That is only three hours after the MSU kick-off.

ESPN is heavily invested in college football and has just announced a long-term deal that brings SEC events to the network for more than two billion dollars in rights fees. The media company uses three cable TV networks, one broadcast network and multiple pay-per-view channels to get that product to the consumer.

Last season, college football spun the Nationwide Series around like a top. Once the football season is underway and begins to heat-up, NASCAR's second series staggers through the final nine events trying to get some TV time on the ESPN family of networks. Comparisons between the importance of the two sports are not relevant because NASCAR fans have been following the Nationwide Series on ESPN2 since February.

Now, less than three months away from the final race in Homestead the reality of college football will begin to play a role in the sport once again. Last weekend, the IRL telecast began on the ESPN Classic Network because of an over-run of LPGA Golf. NASCAR fans should once again become familiar with that channel location on the cable dial. It may well have its first use this Saturday and has the potential for many more during these last races of the 2008 Nationwide Season.

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Birth Certificate Luckily Not A Problem For Logano

Now that 18 year-old Joey Logano has officially joined the ranks of the Sprint Cup Series, the "TV packaging" of this youngster has begun. Already having appeared on NASCAR programs on ESPN and SPEED, Logano is about to hit prime-time.

Tuesday's edition of ESPN's news magazine show called E:60 will feature a behind-the-scenes profile of Logano. Many fans have seen Logano's father Tom, pictured above, but have not been exposed to any other parts of this young man's life. That is about to change.

E:60 will be "hanging with Joey" and watching him do all the things that teenagers do before he becomes just another scheduled and managed millionaire Sprint Cup driver. Joey at the pool. Joey at home. Joey at the beach.

Ironically, Logano is finally in this position because he turned 18. That is the magic age to compete in NASCAR and thankfully his birth certificate was checked thoroughly by the sanctioning body before allowing him on the track with the big boys.

This is important, because interviewing Logano will be E:60's Tom Farrey. If the name sounds familiar, it may be for a controversial ESPN video that is still floating around the Internet.

It was earlier this year that Mr. Farrey took a camera crew to the Dominican Republic. They were not looking at the scenery. They were looking for Major League Baseball player Miguel Tejada. They started at his family home.

"They went to my father's house," Tejada told the AP. "They got the camera everywhere in my father's house. I don't know what they tried to find. They interviewed my father, and they interviewed people from my neighborhood and everything. They [ate] in my father's house. They make my sister cook for them. That's why I feel mad. ... I had an enemy inside of my father's house, and my family treats you nice. And look at what they did to me. My family is really mad right now."

Although Tejada insists that ESPN told him these interviews were about baseball and his team, The Houston Astros, it did not work out that way in the end. What Farrey was hunting was Tejada's true age.

After shooting the Dominican Republic footage, Farrey got Tejada himself on-camera for an interview. Instead of talking baseball, Farrey produced a birth certificate and confronted an embarrassed Tejada about being 33 years old and not 31 as he was listed by the Astros and Major League Baseball.

A sports prodigy just like Logano, Tejada changed his age from 19 to 17 so American baseball scouts would look at him as a younger man who could be considered a pro prospect. To a poor boy from a poor family deep in the Dominican Republic, it made complete sense.

"When they signed me back in '93, I was a young kid," Tejada said. "I really wanted to sign with professional baseball because I thought that was the only way I could help my family. That's the way that everybody did it back in those days. My coach told me that's how we are going to do it, and I followed him."

When Farrey confronted Tejada on-camera about his age, ESPN had deliberately not told Tejada in advance that this would be a topic. He had been called only two days earlier for the sit-down with Farrey and was only told the topic would be "baseball."

Embarrassed and upset, Tejada walked-out. Rather than apologize and try to schedule another interview, ESPN kept and aired the Tejada footage in the very same way that Clint Bowyer's misdirected comment about Michael Waltrip was used this past week.

Tejada walking-out was everywhere. It was on the promos, it was on the Internet, it was being "teased" on SportsCenter and other ESPN programs. To those at ESPN in the current mindset that NASCAR fans are now seeing, Tejada's personal embarrassment was "video gold."

Once Tejada had been "used" and the talked-about E:60 story had been run complete with the walk-out footage, a funny thing happened. Major League Baseball, The Houston Astros and many ESPN viewers all asked the same question. Why did ESPN choose to do things this way?

Houston General Manager Ed Wade said Tejada's age revelation "has no effect on our club. I don't think there is any kind of short-term impact on our club and I don't foresee any long-term impact. He's still a premium player. We are happy to have him. He has a couple years left on his deal. I would like to see him play a lot longer than that in our uniform." Tejada's contract with the Astros expires at the end of the 2009 season.

All this work, all this expense and all this hype to embarrass one professional athlete on ESPN...for nothing more than TV ratings. Sound familiar?

E:60's Farrey is the reporter who will be showcasing Logano to ESPN viewers in prime-time on Tuesday night at 7PM ET. While we do not know what Farrey has up-his-sleeve for this report, we can rest assured that Farrey and his crack staff will be using their new found expertise to confirm for America that Logano is really 18 years old. What a relief.

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(photo courtesy of Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

ESPN Rookie Joins "NASCAR Now"

NASCAR Now got a nice present on Thursday when's rookie NASCAR writer made his first ESPN network television appearance.

You may have heard of him. His name is Ed Hinton. That is Hinton above back in 2006 talking with Junior. Pictures of Hinton alone are hard to find. He seems to almost always be seen talking to someone.

It was host Ryan Burr who introduced the former Orlando Sentinel writer to the NASCAR Now audience. Unlike Hinton's sometimes raucous appearances on SPEED's Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain, this time he had to play it straight. After all, this was ESPN.

Dressed in a nice suit and tie, Hinton tried with all his might to tow the ESPN company line for Mr. Burr and the viewers. That lasted about two questions.

In the blink of an eye, Hinton was at full-speed and enjoying the freedom of TV. This time, no editor was going to come along and take out a paragraph or two. Hinton was off to the races and Burr let him run. What he said may still be bouncing around the Bristol, CT studios of NASCAR Now.

Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards facing-off down the stretch was the first topic. Hinton started with a plea to NASCAR's Mike Helton and team owners Joe Gibbs and Jack Roush.

"Leave these guys alone...let them rip!" said Hinton. "Don't try to cool off their jets. If you cool their jets you are going to cool the hottest thing that has come to NASCAR in a long, long time."

Next on the agenda was the topic of the COT and recent NASCAR rules enforcement. There was little doubt this one was going to be interesting.

"They are legislating themselves into blandness!" said Hinton of the NASCAR rule makers. "Everything is considered cheating now. They are taking the outlaw spirit and the innovative spirit out of NASCAR." Hinton used as an example the talented Chad Knaus and his current inability to push the rules and keep things interesting. "It's very fitting that the car is boxy because it is a box that the teams can't get out of," concluded Hinton.

Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske were up next. Both of these veteran race team owners were not having success in NASCAR. Burr simply asked why and then stood back.

"You've got to spill 100% of your guts and your effort and (put) everything into NASCAR," stated Hinton. "Look at Roger Penske, he has been trying to apply Indy Car methods to NASCAR for thirty years. He Daytona 500 win and that was a bit of luck."

"Newman is leaving him (Penske) for what he feels like is a stronger team," said Hinton without a moment of hesitation.

"Chip (Ganassi) is going to have to realize that you don't see Joe Gibbs or Rick Hendrick off running Indy cars and sports cars," added Hinton. That is an opinion the likes of which may have never before been heard on NASCAR Now.

"To win in NASCAR its got to be has got to be a total effort," said Hinton. He concluded by saying that anyone trying to bring an IRL or other cross-over method to NASCAR is destined to fail. "It just doesn't work," he said.

Hinton was only on the program during two segments where he responded to Burr's questions. Fans who had not seen Wind Tunnel may have been left asking one thing. Who is that guy and when can he come back?

The broader perspective on the sport that a veteran journalist like Hinton brings is just what NASCAR Now needed to add another solid piece to the puzzle that ESPN has been working hard to put together this season. Last year at this time, fans were livid at the inexperienced host and the forced storylines on this TV series as The Chase approached.

Now, Burr has established himself as a solid host and his patience and treatment of Hinton once again backed that up. Allowing Hinton to speak completely and expand on the issues that Burr raised really worked well on this Thursday night program.

Hopefully, this is an opportunity for Hinton to participate in other NASCAR on ESPN programs including the Monday roundtable and the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show. While Brad Daugherty has been holding his own, it is unvarnished perspectives on issues in the sport that have been missing from this coverage. Hinton does not seem to have an agenda and his experience certainly allows him to speak to almost any NASCAR topic.

This first toe-in-the-water moment for Hinton on ESPN2 went well and gave fans a lot to talk about. If ESPN can find a place for him on additional NASCAR TV shows, it should add a nice touch to coverage of The Chase as the season hits full stride.

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ESPN's Silence Is Golden

Apparently, silence is golden at ESPN when unplanned NASCAR issues suddenly pop-up. Heading into the California weekend for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series, there are still a couple of TV-related issues on the table that sit unresolved.

In Michigan, Tim Brewer told ESPN viewers that Tony Stewart was directly involved in "magnet-gate" with the Gibbs Racing Nationwide Series teams. Subsequently, the Gibbs team members involved were identified and the drivers were cleared.

Despite several national media appearances on both ESPN and Sirius, Brewer refused to address his comments. An apology to Stewart on ESPN never happened.

Saturday night in Bristol, TN the ESPN Producer tried to raise the excitement level of the Sprint Cup race under a red flag by playing-back Clint Bowyer's now infamous "worst driver" comment about Michael Waltrip.

NASCAR's largest TV partner made sure to include the part where Bowyer dumps on NAPA for returning to MWR for 2009. That had to make the ESPN Ad Sales department go into group cardiac arrest. Keep an eye on the number of NAPA ads in Sunday's broadcast.

This recorded audio play-back happened several minutes after ESPN interviewed Casey Mears who explained how the accident occurred. Mears said Waltrip was not involved and apologized to the teams affected.

After running the Bowyer audio all weekend on SportsCenter, ESPNEWS, NASCAR Now and posting it on, many thought Monday would produce cooler heads.

The one hour edition of NASCAR Now is led by Allen Bestwick, who had worked alongside Waltrip for many years on SPEED Channel. Certainly, Bestwick would be able to put the issue to rest.

Instead, Bestwick avoided the topic for the entire program. Coming back from a commercial, NASCAR Now played an edited highlight from the weekend and there it was again. Nice and loud and just as out-of-context as it had been originally. Again from Bestwick, there was silence.

Finally, Saturday night brought another Earnhardt Jr. interview reminiscent of Mike Massaro grilling Junior after he fell out of Chase contention last season. This time, it was pit reporter Shannon Spake.

Everyone watching ESPN had seen Junior jump the start and never recover from the resulting penalty. Racing furiously all night long, he never got his lap back and finished 18th.

Whipped and embarrassed, Junior was perched on the back of his transporter looking just like a man who made a very stupid mistake and paid the price. Spake bent over to Junior and asked "...the last couple of races you seem to have fallen off a little bit, what do you think has changed?"

If Tony Stewart was on the receiving end of that question, we would probably still be talking about his answer. When Junior stuttered, Spake asked if it was a problem with the car set-ups or possibly the tracks? This had "big moment" potential.

Earnhardt took a very deep breath and politely told Spake there were probably other drivers that she should be interviewing rather than the 18th place finisher who was one lap down. That answer might put Junior on the short list for the next Nobel Peace Prize.

Squinting up at Spake, Junior did say that he "appreciated her pointing that out" about the team's lackluster performance. It was obvious to everyone but Spake that one very public error at the start had cost Junior a possible top five finish.

This footage was replayed on Monday's NASCAR Now. Although it made no sense and Spake's questions were ill-informed, Mike Massaro jumped-in without prompting to say he believed Spake's questions were fair.

Fans do not have to think very hard to remember Massaro pressing an upset and tired Earnhardt with repeated questions about his failure to make The Chase last season. No matter what Junior said, it was not enough for ESPN.

The media walks a very fine line with the drivers. Access is unprecedented in NASCAR for the TV network covering the race. When an ESPN reporter shows up, all interviews stop and all TV and other media step back. ESPN paid a lot for the exclusive live rights to the races and they get everything first.

In Bristol, ESPN avoided Tony Stewart like the plague. On Monday, Bestwick avoided the Waltrip issue completely. This weekend in California, it should be interesting to see if Spake avoids Junior.

There are twelve races remaining in the Sprint Cup Series schedule for 2008. Waltrip, Stewart and Earnhardt have already been on the receiving end of negative ESPN coverage in just the last couple of weeks.

In California, ESPN will once again be on-hand only for the races. SPEED will handle practice and qualifying for both series. The drivers will not have to deal with the ESPN pit reporters until race day.

It will be interesting to see how the three drivers mentioned above will treat ESPN if they are interviewed before or after the race. Despite the network's silence, there is bound to be some lingering bad feelings when unfounded rumors, incorrect statements and ridiculous questions are littered in ESPN's recent NASCAR history.

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