Sunday, October 26, 2008

Even Atlanta Can't Provide TV Excitement

There is just no doubt that one of the problems the NASCAR TV networks are running into is the fact that there just does not seem to be a solid level of excitement in The Chase for the Championship.

Sunday in Atlanta, ESPN put an all-star line-up on-the-air. Ray Evernham was added to the duo of Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty in the Infield Studio. Allen Bestwick was hosting that venue. Three NASCAR owners with a veteran TV personality were ready to go.

In the broadcast booth was Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. Two veterans that have a combination of being drivers, crew chiefs and owners. Alongside was Dr. Jerry Punch, who may well be one of the best-known NASCAR TV personalities in ESPN history.

Down on pit road was the most veteran NASCAR reporter in the ESPN stable, Mike Massaro. He was joined by the versatile Dave Burns, Jamie Little and the team's full-time rookie Shannon Spake.

That put eleven voices on this multi-hour live telecast. Add-in the veteran ESPN production team in the TV truck and the potential for a very good sporting event was certainly at hand.

Bestwick and company had fun and previewed the Sprint Cup Series race during the one hour preview show. It would have been nice if the team acknowledged the new multi-year Camping World sponsorship of the Truck Series.

Daugherty has been working his enthusiasm for all it's worth, but Wallace and Evernham were the two NASCAR veterans who could really preview the event from an experience standpoint. They kept the energy high and handed-off to Punch and company for the start of the race.

As we have seen over the past couple of events, the choice of ESPN was to focus on a story that had been decided in advance. That story was named Jimmie Johnson. While fans are well aware of The Chase, what they were actually watching on TV was the race. From the drop of the green flag, ESPN made it clear the race itself did not really matter.

This is the exact same problem that plagued these ESPN on ABC telecasts last season. Why should The Chase spoil the race? With all the cars on the track, shouldn't all of the teams be treated equally by the TV crew and the announcers?

ESPN lucked into Johnson having a good first part of the race, but absolutely got lost when Johnson was hit with a penalty and dropped a lap to the field. Why this obsession with Johnson is anyone's guess.

Once again, listening to the radio call of this race was a surreal experience. ESPN focused on single car story after single car story while the PRN radio broadcast was calling the racing in the middle of the pack.

Dale Jarrett is clearly frustrated with the ESPN production team, as he mentioned many times on the broadcast that there was good racing going-on back in the pack. There was no response from the production team as the focus on the leaders and Johnson continued unabated.

When the Infield Pit Studio crew was allowed to talk, they injected the kind of excitement into this race that was lacking with Punch. Ultimately, Jarrett stepped-in and handled much of the play-by-play role for the final one hundred laps. He and Petree handled the load, but they were slaved to the pictures that had been selected for them to describe.

The crew offered a couple of half-hearted recaps, but they never just took a deep breath and ran-down the field for the fans. It is almost as if they are scared something will happen to the leaders while they are updating the field. Even the video recaps were quick and very basic. This is a shame, because the pit reporters were on top of their assigned teams and performed very well.

ESPN again blasted oldies as the music leading into the commercial breaks. The transition from themed music and expensive videos to oldies from a "Best of the 70's" CD continues to be rough. In the business, this is called using "random cuts."

The directing was solid, with the early over-use of the in-car cameras fading away and the good pictures and sound lasting throughout the broadcast. No technical problems on a location shoot this big is kind of like never mentioning the referees after the game. Solid tech job all around.

The use of the double video boxes was outstanding, but the pit stops lacked the pop of earlier broadcasts. No timers or triple splits was the order of the day, whether under caution or green flag racing. The pit reporters, however, were excellent in calling the pit road action.

There was a restart with 23 laps left, which led to the big accident of the race one lap later. ESPN caught the accident as it happened and showed all the replays. During this incident, Jarrett again tried to assume both the role of calling the action and offering analysis. Jarrett truly is ESPN's star of the show.

With an extended clean-up, the Producer turned the upstairs talent around and put them on-camera. This should have been done more this season and resulted in a short but smart appearance by all three booth announcers.

The final 16 laps of stop-and-go racing left things a bit in a lurch. Spake and Burns came through with good pit reports while Punch had a tough time filling the air with commentary. With 11 laps to go Jimmie Johnson hit the pits and the TV team was lost.

The restart with 9 to go had no reset of the field because ESPN chose to replay the first Edwards win at Atlanta years ago. Other than the ticker at the top of the screen, TV viewers had no clue who was where or why. This is the big problem with ESPN, the lack of basic information for the fans. Even Johnson's position was not reset after his late pit stop.

Luckily, Jarrett and Petree had Johnson to feature in the closing laps and gave all the information they had on his situation. With Edwards checked-out, Punch had to call the action as Johnson cut through the field. What viewers heard was silence and car numbers. Jarrett called the race to the end.

Nice coverage of the finish line and a great late pass by Johnson helped to end the race on a high note. Somehow, that did not really make-up for the previous four hours of mediocrity. Another tough day at the office where NASCAR and ESPN are concerned.

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Made-For-TV Story Comes With The Camping World CEO

NASCAR may have just struck pay dirt in more ways than one with the announcement of the new Camping World sponsorship of the Truck Series. This multi-year deal puts a new brand out in the marketplace and brings with it a story that is almost made-for-TV.

The Camping World CEO is named Marcus Lemonis. Rather than being just another corporate figure, Lemonis is one of the most dynamic young executives in American business today. This is just a slice of a Lemonis profile from Chicago Magazine:

It wasn't just any family that adopted Marcus Lemonis from a Beirut orphanage when he was nine months old. His new father and grandfather ran the largest Chevy dealerships in Miami and Tampa. After graduating from Marquette University, in Milwaukee, Lemonis returned to Florida and started selling cars at his grandfather's dealership.

At 22, he made a change. "I decided that if I wanted to be successful, I had to get beat up, learn from others rather than from my family," Lemonis said. He took a job at AutoNation, the country's largest car dealer, and worked his way up to regional manager.

Then he took some advice from a family friend, Lee Iacocca (the former head of Chrysler Corporation), who told him the path to long-term success lay in finding an industry that was ripe for transformation. Lemonis sniffed opportunity in the fragmented recreational vehicle industry. At the time, most RV dealers were small independents who typically sold only one brand and offered poor customer service.

Lemonis poured most of his limited savings into a business plan, inspired by the AutoNation model, for a national chain of RV dealers that sold and serviced multiple brands. His new company, FreedomRoads, began buying up independents and, in less than three years, has become the country's largest RV dealer, selling 18 brands and racking up more than $1.5 billion in revenues.

In June of 2007, FreedomRoads merged with the existing Camping World company to form a "super-power" RV corporation. This past June, only one year after the formation of the new Camping World franchise, Lemonis was named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the year for a Midwest-based business. Camping World now has over 100 retail locations and over 4,000 employees.

Mr. Lemonis is just 34 years old.

As the CEO, Lemonis has come a very long way from the Beirut orphanage. If there was ever a time when NASCAR needed a shot-in-the-arm and some fresh blood, this is it. To announce a sponsorship deal for the Truck Series in this economic climate goes a very long way toward putting aside a lot of negative rumors that have been circulating.

Friday morning, the Trucks take to the track in Atlanta for practice at 11:30AM on SPEED. Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip will be the TV team. John Roberts will be along with the news-oriented NASCAR Live at 1PM. Since the entire Truck Series is televised on SPEED and Fox Sports, you can bet that we will all become better acquainted with Lemonis over the next several days.

Krista Voda will host the pre-race show for the truck race Saturday afternoon at 1PM. It would certainly make sense to either have Lemonis on-hand for an interview or make sure that he is interviewed sometime before the show.

His life is just the type of story NASCAR fans love and the way this year is going a little love could go a very long way.

Click here for the Camping World sponsorship announcement at

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Sprint Cup Series From Atlanta on ABC (1PM ET)

This is a very big week for the entire NASCAR on ESPN TV team. Only Texas, Phoenix and Homestead remain when this Sunday's telecast is over. The weather is perfect, the track is fast and the stories are plentiful.

As usual, it falls to Allen Bestwick to set the table for the fans. Along with Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty, Bestwick is going to work his way through a wide variety of stories from The Chase to the continual speculation about team mergers.

It should be interesting to see if ESPN talks to Marcus Lemonis, the CEO of Camping World and the new seven-year sponsor of the Truck Series. As usual, the challenge for this telecast is to try and strike a balance between The Chasers and the racers.

Bestwick will hand-off to Dr. Jerry Punch at 2PM to get the fans ready for a 2:14PM green flag. Punch will be joined by Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree to call the race from the broadcast booth. Down on pit road will be Shannon Spake, Jamie Little, Dave Burns and Mike Massaro. Tim Brewer will be in the Infield Tech Center.

Punch faces a track that was brutal to tires in the previous race and caused all kinds of trouble for the drivers and teams. Goodyear and their performance will be a major issue once the green flag falls. Mike Massaro has the experience to handle the Goodyear issues and any interviews that may need to be done.

The Truck Series race on Saturday featured high and low groves and the type of run to the finish that this track has become famous for having. With the newly improved Goodyear tires and the COT offering another new combination, this may wind-up being a big story.

Punch will have to call the high-speed action after the restarts until the field gets strung-out and then work hard to keep the fans understanding where the drivers are and how they got there. Hopefully, full field recaps will be standard this week so the problems of the earlier Chase telecasts will fade away.

Tim Brewer may have his hands full this Sunday as this track has proven to break, bend or mutilate many car parts over the years. Brewer has been kind of isolated this season as he is only seen when something needs to be explained. He is really the odd-man out stuck in his own little world of auto supplies.

Fans should look for the triple split on the pit stops and the effective use of the double video boxes throughout the race. The ESPN Director has been very good at keeping the video of the race on the screen under green flag conditions even while doing replays and interviews.

The final lap at this track is always big and how the finish line is handled can add or subtract from the overall telecast. Watching the cars come off the last turn and run down to the line is key and has often resulted in big stories throughout the top ten and beyond.

Keep an eye on the cars that drop out of the race. ESPN has struggled to interview the non-Chasers and this has detracted from the telecasts. Accidents on this track are high-speed and the fans deserve to see and hear from the drivers involved.

This post will serve to host your comments about the Sprint Cup Series race from Atlanta 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. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Pre-Race TV Shows On Sunday Morning

The build-up to the Sprint Cup Series race from Atlanta is underway. Here is your opportunity to comment on the pre-race shows leading-up to Allen Bestwick and NASCAR Countdown at 1PM on ABC.

Here is the line-up this morning:
Tradin' Paint on SPEED at 9:30AM.
NASCAR Now on ESPN2 at 10:00AM.
NASCAR Performance on SPEED at 10:00AM.
NASCAR in a Hurry on SPEED at 10:30AM.
NASCAR RaceDay on SPEED at 11:00AM.

On the two-hour RaceDay show, Wendy Venturini's Real Deal feature will be on the psycology of sports. Guests on the program will include Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle and Alan Gustafson. Video features include Jimmie Johnson's 2004 emotional win in Atlanta and Carl Edwards visiting an Atlanta area children's hospital.

This post will serve to host your comments about the pre-race TV shows on both ESPN2 and SPEED. 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 The Daly Planet.