Saturday, October 11, 2008
As someone famous once said, "it's time to make the donuts." The Friday night support race is over, the talking head TV shows are winding-down and fans across the nation are tuning-in. It's Saturday night at 7PM and the pressure is on.
No race in the remainder of The Chase will get the hype and media attention of the Charlotte night race. The Musco lights make for pretty TV pictures and the track makes for tough racing and tight tempers. Casual fans surfing through the channels will stop when they see NASCAR racing at full speed on ABC. The big question is, will they stay?
All season long the NASCAR on ESPN group has been working with one goal in mind. That is the final ten Sprint Cup Series races of the year. Now, after the early stories of The Chase have begun to fade, it is once again time for the racing to return to the intensity that old-time fans used to know so well.
This is the best combination of ingredients that ESPN has enjoyed before a race all year. A fight in the garage, a bunch of drivers racing to keep their rides and a track that reaches up at the worst possible moment and claims numerous victims.
Dr. Jerry Punch is going to have to step-it-up to serve the broader mainstream audience of a Saturday night. Key to his success is going to be the intensity of Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. Alongside of Punch in the announce booth until well after midnight on Friday, these two analysts are going to be the real face of the ESPN coverage to TV viewers.
Hustling on pit road the four ESPN pit reporters are going to be facing three challenges. One, the story of the race. Two, the story of The Chase. Three, this is the backyard of every team and no one wants to get pushed around on their home field. NASCAR politics are going to be pushed aside and intensity is going to be on display from the green flag. One bad or ill-prepared question from a pit reporter might get a very direct response.
Setting the table will be Allen Bestwick, Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty from the Infield Pit Studio. Bestwick has been steady and solid this season. Wallace has been himself and seems to enjoy his role as a commentator instead of an analyst. Daugherty has been the dependable cheerleader and NASCAR supporter.
Viewers of the Saturday night Nationwide Series race saw ESPN strip-down the telecast and put the bells-and-whistles on the shelf. The result was limited interruptions from Tim Brewer in the Tech Center. Bestwick was often heard but not seen and Wallace and Daugherty faded quickly into the background under the green flag.
The Director laid-off the bumper cams and used the in-car cameras only when they made sense. The low angle "speed shots" are great at LMS, and ESPN is famous for cranking the audio as the cars roar by. Fighting the tendency of the camera guys to zoom-in and show one or two cars instead of groups will be key. Also, look to see if the cameras frame the track and let the cars race in or if the coverage just keeps the same "camera loop" going under green.
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Since things are a little bit different this week, we are going to try and keep a live post going as the Saturday afternoon pre-race TV shows crawl along.
NASCAR Now was great at 10AM with Ryan Burr and Ricky Craven. Nicole Manske and Marty Smith reported from LMS. The only bummer was Tim Cowlishaw, who for some reason appeared on this show. ESPN seems to have taken a liking to Craven.
A fun SPEED show is Tradin' Paint . This week, there was no "walk on" of the guests and Jeff Hammond and Kyle Petty were on the set to start the show.
Hammond and Petty disagreed about the Talladega finish. Hammmond sided with NASCAR as the yellow line being totally out of bounds. Petty said Smith should have spun Stewart and the current rule does not work.
Five minutes into the show and Petty and Hammond are already pointing the fingers at each other while Roberts quietly lets them talk.
The panel had a great discussion about racing tires. Both have a long history in the sport and Petty updated the Indy tire test. Hammond dumped on Hoosier while Petty said he has not run a Hoosier tire in fifteen years.
Carl Edwards needs to "mature up" said Hammond. The panel was talking about the growing unrest about Edwards in the garage. Petty asked why Edwards bumped a teammate in the corner during the race but not no the last lap? Thinking about the outcome is what Edwards has to consider before he acts said Hammond.
Jimmie Johnson is peaking at the right time of the season, says Petty. He compares Johnons's Chase experience to Michael Jordan in the play-offs, where a true champ steps-up his game. Hammond thinks Johnson is going to grind the other Chase contenders into the ground at LMS on Saturday night. This program turned-out to be fun, although some hot topics were avoided as usual.
Larry McReynolds, Chad Knaus and Bootie Barker were also talking tire troubles at Talladega on NASCAR Performance. The show featured some new products but was a bit lower-key than normal. NASCAR in a Hurry has less video to work with because of the Thursday rain-out. The show is going to back-up to Talladega to fill the gap.
RaceDay is on the air and making some noise from outside the track.
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The night race at Charlotte changes lots of things on the weekend for NASCAR fans. One of them is the TV menu. Saturday brings a rich mix of NASCAR TV programs that have been on-the-air since February and are now in full stride.
The morning starts with the 10AM version of NASCAR Now. This week, Ryan Burr is hosting the show from the ESPN2 studios and his partner Nicole Manske is reporting live from Lowe's Motor Speedway. This show has been solid all season and this is the scenario that works the best.
Burr has an extensive studio news background and was a fulltime anchor on the ESPNEWS Network. Manske hosted The SPEED Report last year, but her background is field reporting and interviews. This duo has really clicked and this high-profile show should be well worth watching.
It will be SPEED up next at 3:30PM with Tradin' Paint. Jeff Hammond from the NASCAR on Fox team will be the media guest. He will join host John Roberts and Kyle Petty for a conversation on the NASCAR issues of the week. Last Sunday, Ray Dunlap was the guest and almost blew a gasket arguing with Petty in what may have been the most interesting show of the season.
There are lots of topics for the Tradin' Paint Producer to select from this week. Tight tempers from The Chase drivers, a sour economy and the possible Chapter 11 filing by GM could well be on the agenda. This program either thrives or dives depending on the topics being discussed.
At 4PM on SPEED is NASCAR Performance. Larry McReynolds and his Producer from the NASCAR Media Group (NMG) have worked very hard to make this show a fan favorite. Chad Knaus and Bootie Barker have completely opposite personalities, yet each is in the exact same job with good results. Those two combine with McReynolds to answer viewer email and talk about the tech topics of the week.
An original creation this year is a TV series called NASCAR in a Hurry that can be seen at 4:30PM. SPEED put this show together with hosts Adam Alexander and Randy Pemberton to re-purpose the video shot by the TV crews and NMG of the racing weekend. It is an easy way to get up-to-date on the current NASCAR happenings and has been a success in its rookie season.
SPEED rolls-out the franchise at 5PM with NASCAR RaceDay. There should be a huge crowd for this live show right in the backyard of the SPEED TV Network. Host John Roberts basically spends two hours trying to corral his panelists Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace. Hermie Sadler and Wendy Venturini are the reporters for this program who play a very important role in updating the stories from the infield while the SPEED Stage sits outside of the track itself.
This week, Roberts and company will be welcoming the duo in the news from last week. Tony Stewart and Regan Smith will both be live guests, no doubt reviewing the exciting finish from Talladega. Nationwide regular Brad Keselowski will also be on the program.
The NASCAR TV train moves over to ABC at 7PM for NASCAR Countdown. Allen Bestwick hosts the program from the ESPN Infield Pit Studio. As usual, Bestwick will have Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty on his pre-race panel. This program follows live college football, but the schedulers left enough room for this thirty minute show.
The big Sprint Cup Series night race is next at 7:30PM. This is a long and grinding race that demands a lot of energy from the TV crew and announcers. Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree worked a long day on Friday that went into early Saturday morning. The Nationwide coverage had red flags and big accidents but good coverage by the ESPN team.
On Saturday night, Tim Brewer will be in the Tech Center and ESPN will have four pit reporters. Mike Massaro, Dave Burns, Jamie Little and Shannon Spake will be hustling to try and keep up with both the stories of the race and the stories of The Chase.
One big surprise has been the strong NASCAR Now wrap-up show that follows the Cup races on ESPN2. All of the strongest parts of the NASCAR on ESPN and NASCAR Now TV resources get poured into this one hour program. On this Saturday, the program will air at 11:30PM after the race. Ryan Burr will be the host.
Unfortunately, ESPN only airs this wrap-up show during the ESPN/ABC portion of the Sprint Cup coverage. Perhaps, the program might return on a fulltime basis in 2009. Scheduled on Sunday race days at 10PM, this show sneaks-in right behind the three hour racing review shows on SPEED.
Speaking of SPEED, they are once again holding the Victory Lane program until 8PM on Sunday night. This is the middle piece of the Sunday night puzzle with The SPEED Report starting the evening at 7PM and Dave Despain and Wind Tunnel coming along as the finale at 9PM.
SPEED has a tough time scheduling Victory Lane on a Saturday night for one simple reason. There is no way to tell when the Sprint Cup race will end. As NASCAR fans who have watched live races at midnight and beyond know all too well, NASCAR likes to get the show in and move on.
NASCAR fans get to choose from almost ten hours of TV programming on Saturday alone. This diverse schedule and the featured race should be enough to satisfy any racing appetite. Well, until the next racing weekend of course.
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