Sunday, September 14, 2008

Twelve Cars And Logano Race In Loudon

One tough aspect of The Chase for the Championship is that during the NASCAR "playoffs" all of the players are still on the field. Suddenly, this puts 31 teams outside of the media's area of interest and effectively ends their exposure on TV.

The only exception to that is a one-time story like Joey Logano making his first Sprint Cup Series start. The ESPN on ABC crew faced the challenge of dealing with these issues on Sunday afternoon in Loudon, NH.

Allen Bestwick and his Infield Pit Studio crew handled the pre-race show while the cameras showed the wet track in the background. Bestwick set-up the race and addressed only the Sprint Cup topics. There had been a lot more than just that going-on in Loudon.

ESPN decided to avoid mentioning the fact that the Craftsman Truck, Whelen Modified and Camping World East Series also raced at Loudon this weekend. What a really bad decision. NASCAR is NASCAR.

Something might be going-on behind-the-scenes as the normally happy faces were not on-camera with the ESPN team. Luckily, Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty were as spirited as ever, and worked hard to inject some excitement into what looked like a dreary day.

As Bestwick transitioned up to the broadcast team in the booth to call the race, TV viewers heard something a little different. "So, let's go upstairs for the call of today's race," said Bestwick. "Dr. Jerry Punch...ready to go...I assume?"

Punch and company had a tough challenge. A flat track with the COT on a cloudy day with a field starting on points is not exactly the way a TV network would like to kick-off a ten event playoff.

Once things got underway, the focus was on the Chase racers and the rest of the field was left behind. Kyle Busch provided the story with his mechanical problem and Tim Brewer was useful in offering suggestions for what might be the issue. He and Petree had good conversations about this problem.

Unfortunately, Jamie Little had a tough day. This issue was not something she understood and her comments were often a beat or two behind what was being said and heard on the broadcast. She has been working hard to keep her volume under control and her comments thoughtful this season, but tech issues are not something she does well.

After an update on Logano losing laps because of a pit penalty, he was never heard from again. This was the fate of most cars outside of the top ten until lap 128 of the 300 scheduled. The TV crew finally did a rundown of the cars outside of the top ten and it proved to be a segment full of stories and good information.

The remainder of the race featured a focus on The Chase that included driver interviews recorded earlier in the week and shown under green flag racing conditions. The racing can be seen on the screen in a nice-sized video box, but the comments of the drivers under green really take the excitement level of the broadcast down almost immediately.

Last season, ESPN caught some grief for not interviewing non-Chase drivers who had been involved in accidents. The network had been doing a great job during the first couple of Sprint Cup races this season, but that ended on Sunday. Only Matt Kenseth was interviewed after a big five car crash, simply because he was the only Chase driver involved. It had become all Chase all-the-time.

A top ten review was done with 37 laps remaining, but it was too little too late. Viewers had only been able to follow the field using the ticker at the top of the screen or other Internet information. Some fans emailed TDP that the DirecTV Hot Pass channels had once again provided better coverage than the main NASCAR TV network.

Pit stops after a caution with 32 laps left were chaotic, but once again it was Andy Petree and Dale Jarrett who put things in perspective for TV viewers. By this time, the video being seen under green was tight shots that often showed only one or two cars. Luckily, the network caught almost every incident on replay and did not have much of a struggle with commercial integration.

"Racing vs. Chasing" is going to be the ESPN on ABC crew's issue for the remaining nine races. As the final ten laps ran down, it was Petree and Jarrett who provided the commentary. Punch asked questions and made observations, but continues to refuse to call even the final laps in the traditional play-by-play manner.

This race ended with no excitement from the ESPN on ABC booth. It simply cannot be created by Punch. Even the winning pass got absolutely nothing in the way of a reaction from the booth. Immediately after the race, Punch suddenly came alive and his voice rose to an exciting level. He was introducing a commercial break.

It was a nice touch for the ESPN Director to show the field racing across the finish line. In addition, ESPN offered a nice line-up of post-race interviews although the questions were not exactly what the fans wanted. Some of the newer reporters are still working to understand the issues that need to be discussed after an event.

Bestwick and the Infield Studio bunch put the final wrap on the telecast. Even just ten minutes of listening to Bestwick lead the telecast after the silence and awkward style of Punch points to what might be the only remaining issue with this crew. That is putting the excitement back into the telecasts on a consistent basis and identifying a leader who can be the face of NASCAR for both ESPN and ABC.

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.

The Two Faces Of ESPN On Display

The lines are being drawn in the ESPN sand quicker than you can say "performance-enhancing steroid." A short time after ESPN the Magazine writer Shaun Assael delivered a blindside to NASCAR on the eve of The Chase, hard feelings and angry words have been flying around the ESPN world and it is not pretty.

Back on Thursday, it was Assael and ESPN who launched a well-coordinated media assault on Craftsman Truck Series driver and NASCAR veteran Ron Hornaday. In addition to the Internet content which was crafted to suggest performance-enhancement and downplay a 2005 timeline, Assael's steroid scandal was also the lead story on NASCAR Now .

Assael is one face of ESPN. This group of ESPN writers and reporters skips back-and-forth between sports as assigned. Their goal is to bring back from each assignment what ESPN calls "content" that can work for the company in several different types of media. This "steroid scandal" is a perfect example.

The Hornaday story was reported exclusively on three national cable TV networks. ESPN, ESPNEWS and ESPN2 all had the story on various TV shows. It was then placed on one of the largest Internet sports sites in the world,

It migrated to one of NASCAR's top Internet fan sites at Remember, this is a website that ESPN now owns. The Internet exposure featured video from ESPN specifically created to feature the Hornaday story.

Finally, Hornaday's name and the word "steroids" were scrolled across the ESPN bottom-line "ticker" on multiple ESPN TV networks endlessly.

Make no mistake. This was an effort that involved hundreds of ESPN employees of all kinds in various departments. It was planned and executed in a well-organized fashion that appeared effortless. We all know the reason why. It had been done many times before to others in the sports world.

On Friday, rain wiped-out the Sprint Cup qualifying from Loudon. ESPN's three top NASCAR announcers took to the air with two hours of live TV to fill and lots of resources from which to draw. Finally, fans would get some information about this Hornaday steroid issue from the people who bring the races to the fans.

It was Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree who were seated in the ESPN Infield Pit Studio watching the rain fall. This is the very atmosphere in which Punch thrives. Not only as a reporter, but for this story Punch would be able to address the issues from a medical perspective. What a great bonus for viewers.

In the second segment of the show, Punch addressed the issue that had been the lead story on NASCAR Now, was still at the top of the NASCAR webpage and had generated headlines around the world.

"Ron Hornaday will not be disciplined by NASCAR for the testosterone use for a medical condition, a thyroid condition," said Punch. This sentence took eight seconds.

Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree were silent. None of the ESPN pit reporters or on-site journalists appeared. Punch moved-on to host numerous drivers in the pit studio and introduce others being interviewed by pit reporters Jamie Little and Shannon Spake. Hornaday was not among them in the two hour program.

This is the other face of ESPN. The goal of the ESPN crew in the field is to follow a script. That is now to endlessly hype The Chase races for which ESPN paid hundreds of millions of dollars. That script was followed on Friday to the letter, despite the weather. That script did not include Hornaday.

It was left to Lead Reporter Marty Smith and host Nicole Manske to try and walk the fine line between the sleaze and innuendo of Assael's report and the reality of an angry NASCAR garage in Loudon. It was 5PM and once again time for NASCAR Now.

If you look up the term "deer in the headlights," you should find Smith looking just like he did on this TV program. After Manske handled a quick Chase preview, she opened the second segment of the show with a "soundbite" from Hornaday and then introduced Smith on-scene in Loudon.

"He has nothing to hide and he's not going to apologize," said Smith of Hornaday. "The fact of the matter is the man was very sick a couple of years ago and he had to take dire circumstances in order to figure out a way to feel better."

Smith introduced footage of a Hornaday press conference on Friday in Loudon. Hornaday immediately introduced a topic with his words that ESPN had failed to mention. That topic is deception. Click here for the link to the Jade Gurrs website that addresses this issue.

Assael had made contact with Hornaday and arranged an interview at his home under the guise of creating an ESPN story about Hornaday's pursuit of another Craftsman Truck Series title. Assael had lied to Hornaday, plain and simple.

Hornaday is a tough old-school driver and he related that Assael "took him out back to look at the beautiful lake" and got him alone. Only then did Assael confront Hornaday with the real reason for his visit. He wanted to know if Hornaday had every taken steroids.

"Yes, but you didn't have to take me out back," said Hornaday. "My family knows what I do and I have nothing to hide." These words did not seem to translate to the Assael story on (click here). That says Hornaday admitted steroid use only "when shown records from The Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center."

NASCAR Now continued with Marty Smith introducing more "soundbites" from driver-after-driver relating to the serious medical issue that Hornaday was trying to solve. "To a man, everyone said they do not feel like this was a performance-enhancing situation," said Smith to wrap things up.

"There are a lot of different health reasons that you would have to use steroids for," said Hornaday's Truck Series owner Kevin Harvick. "Synthroid is actually a form of steroids that is prescribed to him now to take care of his thyroid. If he does not take that now, he pretty much dies." Leave it to Harvick to present a truly sobering reminder of the reality of Graves Disease.

Manske and Smith presented a very different view of the issues raised on Thursday by Assael. They documented the first person response from Hornaday, they offered views from many parties associated with the sport and they refuted any allegation of performance-enhancement. There was only one thing missing. His name was Shaun Assael.

The first face of ESPN has perfected the hit-and-smear style of sports journalism that is currently thriving in society even as ESPN's second face promises more hardcore sports coverage of NASCAR and Monday Night Football during ESPN broadcasts.

The end result for NASCAR is going to be painful. No longer is the casual atmosphere and the open communication going to exist between the sport and the media. Tony Stewart's 2007 comment about ESPN reporters "sticking daggers" in the backs of the drivers could not be more on target where Assael walking into Ron Hornaday's house is concerned.

Hornaday was just another friendly NASCAR driver played for a sucker by an ESPN reporter and then made to pay dearly in the public eye.

Click here for just one example of what this single story can do to a repuation.

What Assael does not understand is that his actions have impacted the overall trust of both NASCAR and many fans of anything connected with ESPN. Punch, Petree and Jarrett may take to the air on Sunday for the Cup race as scheduled, but it will no longer be the same. The fans and those in the sport will now be on-guard. Waiting for ESPN's next sucker punch.

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. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.

Stewart And Earnhardt Slam ESPN

It was just a NASCAR teleconference in a long line of media appearances and interviews to promote The Chase. The 12 drivers were on the line Wednesday when a reporter turned the topic to ESPN. Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. spoke up.

The issue was about the use by ESPN of Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli's radio exchange after the Richmond Sprint Cup Series race. What was offered to viewers and Internet users was the outburst immediately after the race, but not the apology that was offered minutes later. The clip was used all over the ESPN TV networks and the website.

"I think it's just poor taste by the networks and I'm seeing it too often," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., making reference to multiple problems this season.

"That's ESPN," said Stewart. "We've had a terrible relationship with ESPN for years. We've been very outspoken with them as a company about how they treat the drivers, treat the teams."

"They're a (TV) production team that wants to do everything they can to stir the pot up," continued Stewart. "It's no secret ESPN and I don't get along."

"Do they have a right to air it?" Stewart continued. "Absolutely. Trust me, if there's anything negative I do, ESPN is going to pick up on it and run with it every chance they get."

"That just shows you what's important to them (ESPN). It's not the positive things in the sport. They want to pick up on everything negative they can," said Stewart.

"It's taking it too far where they're putting those type of conversations on network television and it's getting the kind of press it's getting," said Earnhardt. "It looks terrible for Tony. (It was) heat of the moment. You're going to say things you regret and I'm sure he regrets saying what he said and maybe Zippy regrets coming back at him."

Earnhardt said teams had asked NASCAR to allow them to switch to digital radios that couldn't be monitored by fans and media, but the sanctioning body won't allow the change.

Stewart talked about the unique advantages that ESPN and other TV networks have in covering racing.

"Things that (in) no other sports you're allowed to do," said Stewart. "Bringing fans that close to us before we can get out of the car, being able to hear what's going on in the race, being able to hear the drivers and crew chiefs talk. That's one thing ESPN has been good about is being able to find different angles to bring the fans that much closer."

"It's just what angle do they want to work with and how they use that," Stewart said. "Should they or shouldn't they? I don't think it's right or wrong. I don't think right or wrong comes into play."

It's really about class...or the lack of it," said Earnhardt.

It was one day after these comments from Stewart and Earnhardt that ESPN the Magazine reporter Shaun Assael unleashed the Ron Hornaday "steroid story."

The 2008 Chase for the Championship begins Sunday afternoon in Loudon, NH on ABC.

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. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.

Here are some story links on this subject:
Smoke Takes Shot At ESPN Over Spat
Taking Swipe At ESPN
NASCAR's Stewart Downplays Spat With Crew Chief
Stewart Says Richmond Comments Were A Sign Of Passion

NASCAR Parks The Times Square Parade

NASCAR made the first of what may be several strategic calls in cancelling the Sprint Cup Series "parade" through Times Square in Manhattan this coming December.

It is very clear that the wheels are coming off the greater NYC area where NASCAR and TV sports exposure are concerned. Despite the best intentions of those involved, none of the current NASCAR TV partners have a presence in NYC that makes sense for the sport.

This past week, drivers were run through a whirlwind of TV programs in NYC as an "advancer" for the upcoming Chase for the Championship. It was a disaster. The various TV morning shows had other pressing news issues and the momentary appearance of drivers was often beyond awkward. The biggest morning program, The Today Show on NBC, decided to pass entirely.

While Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon might be able to glide smoothly through NYC, the landscape of media exposure that benefits NASCAR in Manhattan has been shrinking for years. ESPN actually closed the network's Manhattan TV studio. TNT is in Atlanta, GA and the Fox Sports guys are headquartered in Los Angeles, CA.

This may be the first step in turning the banquets of all three of NASCAR's national touring series toward Charlotte, NC. Currently under construction in the downtown area is the NASCAR Hall of Fame that is directly linked to the Charlotte Convention Center.

Despite suggestions from Bruton Smith that Las Vegas should be the Sprint Cup Series banquet location, Charlotte seems to be slowly reeling-in the end-of-season festivities for several reasons. The reason at the top of the list is time.

Daytona testing begins in January and the next time many drivers and teams look-up it is almost Thanksgiving. Between testing and racing, the NASCAR Sprint Cup season in 2009 may be the longest in professional sports.

Charlotte has hosted an NCAA Final Four and other top sports events with no problem. The Convention and Visitors Bureau would love to figure out a way to integrate the NASCAR fans into some activities that could draw additional tourists to the Greater Charlotte area.

It might be a little cold for hot laps at Lowe's Motor Speedway in a Richard Petty Racing Experience car, but with all the NASCAR shops and the Hall of Fame within reach, the possibility of putting the banquets together in Charlotte makes a lot of sense.

Currently, the three banquets are in three different locations. Bringing them to Charlotte would free the team owners from substantial hotel bills and actually let the teams return home after the party in a bus instead of an airplane.

The TV networks hosting the banquet coverage would certainly appreciate the ability to use one set of TV trucks for all three events. The NASCAR Media Group studios will also be located in the Hall of Fame complex giving teams direct access to all kinds of television, radio and Internet access. Sounds like a package deal.

We will keep things up-to-date as last season the TV coverage of the three banquets was the subject of much discussion. The format of the evening, the personalities that host and even the always-interesting comedian and music choices were Internet topics for some time.

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.

Here are some story links on this issue:
NASCAR "Scraps" NYC Victory Lap
No New York Victory Lap
New Yorkers To NASCAR: Yawn
Chaser's Time Isn't Well Spent In Big Apple

Sprint Cup Series on ABC from Loudon

The track is wet, there are no lights and ABC wants NASCAR off the air by 6PM Eastern Time. Welcome to the first race in The Chase for 2008.

It will be Allen Bestwick and his Infield Studio crew of Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty who will be setting the table for viewers. NASCAR Countdown will be on-the-air at 1PM. Certainly, the weather and The Chase should dominate this program.

Coverage is scheduled to shift to the race at 2PM, but if weather is going to delay the program ESPN may choose to simply continue with Bestwick hosting the telecast from the Infield. Bestwick is a veteran who has hosted multi-hour rain fill programming on ESPN with great success. He opens a lot of topics up for discussion and invites many drivers and personalities to the Infield Studio for interviews.

If and when the race begins, it will be Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree calling the action. This team has been together all season calling the Nationwide Series races for ESPN and the seven months of experience has hopefully prepared them for the high-profile pressure of The Chase.

Down on pit road will be Jamie Little, Shannon Spake, Dave Burns and Mike Massaro. Tim Brewer will be along in the Tech Center. It should be interesting to see if ABC has SportsCenter updates on other sports inserted into the race.

This post will serve to host your TV-related comments about the ABC coverage of the Sprint Cup Series race from Loudon. To add your 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 taking the time to stop by.

NASCAR RaceDay on SPEED from Loudon

It is going to be a wet RaceDay program on SPEED from Loudon. As viewers first saw on NASCAR Now, the rain is continuing to fall and the area is very wet.

It will be John Roberts, Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace hosting RaceDay and with the weather they will probably be moved to the SPEED Stage, which is covered.

Hermie Sadler and Wendy Venturini are the reporters on this program. Venturini's Real Deal feature this week is on the amazing season of Kyle Busch at JGR.

Fan favorite and native New Englander Ken Squier will offer another "essay" that will focus on former Loudon track owner Bob Bahre and his contributions to racing over the years.

Roberts will lead a discussion about what is left for the teams outside the Top 12 who suddenly find themselves dropped from most NASCAR media coverage once The Chase begins.

RaceDay cameras tagged along with Joey Logano this weekend as he was in the #96 car with Home Depot sponsorship and will be in the Sprint Cup race whenever it is run.

There will be lots of guests stopping by. They will include Tony Stewart, David Ragan, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch.

When RaceDay takes to the air, there will be over three hours to the start of the race. Complicating that will be the fact that it is currently raining. This first Chase program is going to take some extra effort on behalf of all concerned to keep the fans interested even though the race will probably not start on time.

This post will serve to host your comments about RaceDay on SPEED. To add your TV/Media-related comment, 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. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

NASCAR Now on ESPN2: The Morning Edition

After almost eight months of racing and then talking about it, here we are. ESPN2's re-vamped NASCAR Now TV series is about to preview the first race in The Chase for the Championship for 2008.

This Sunday morning one hour edition has been slowly gaining ground on the big brother Sunday night wrap-up show at 10PM. Nicole Manske and Ryan Burr both host the morning show, which features a ton of ESPN folks with news and comments from the Sprint Cup Series tracks.

This weekend, ESPN fell victim once again to the "ESPN only" syndrome and eliminated all mention of NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series race in Loudon. The simple and childish reason it was pushed off the map is because it was on SPEED. This issue also happened last year at this time.

The Truck race was dumped off the NASCAR Now racing schedule page and was not even promoted by the ESPN announcers who were on the air from the very same track. A sad commentary on the current state of the ESPN and NASCAR relationship.

ESPN replaced the Truck Series race with NHRA information, even though the name of the show is NASCAR Now. So, it should be interesting to see if the Sunday morning show uses footage from the Saturday NCTS race. The race was pretty good, but the fight on pit road after was outstanding. Brought back memories of Jimmy Spencer at Riverside Speedway in Agawam, MA.

Dr. Jerry Punch is a former medical doctor who practiced for a very long time. His silence on the Ron Hornaday steroid issue has been puzzling. Perhaps, the Sunday morning NASCAR Now program is a good place for him to man-up and speak to fans about the testosterone replacement therapy that Hornaday was attempting and why it had nothing to do with performance-enhancement.

Also silent on this issue have been Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. Both men know Hornaday and Jarrett is about the same age. Their views on this subject should be interesting to hear. It was NASCAR Now's Lead Reporter Marty Smith who teamed with host Nicole Manske on Friday to deliver a stinging rebuke of ESPN the Magazine reporter Shaun Assael's assertions of Hornaday's steroid use as performance-enhancing.

The in-fighting at ESPN is almost more fun to watch than the COT on a flat track like Loudon. This show should also have the UPS news of David Ragan sponsorship and a look at Joey Logano taking to the Cup Series in the #96 rental car.

This post will serve to host your comments about the morning edition of NASCAR Now on ESPN2. A new post for RaceDay on SPEED will follow. To add your TV/Media-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.