Friday, November 7, 2008
When championship contender Ron Hornaday Jr. spun and was collected in the very first lap in Phoenix, it was possible that the story of the 2008 Truck Series was over. While Hornaday limped around PIR, his counterpart Johnny Benson merely had to keep his nose clean and collect all the points possible during the race.
As veteran fans know, things in the Truck Series are rarely that simple. Benson himself was subsequently caught-up in an accident that resulted in hard contact with the retaining wall. Benson then had to leave the track for repairs.
Meanwhile, still making laps was the battered truck of Hornaday. As SPEED's play-by-play announcer Rick Allen called the action, Hornaday actually passed Benson on the scoring sheet while Benson sat helplessly in the garage area.
It was SPEED's Michael Waltrip and Phil Parsons who were still reeling from the turnabout in fortunes for both Hornaday and Benson. No one could write this script, with two veterans both getting caught-up in situations of their own making live on national television in the next-to-last race of the season.
Meanwhile, back on the track and running at full speed was the normal compliment of Truck Series regulars and Sprint Cup cross-overs. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were tussling with Todd Bodine and Eric Darnell. "Mr. Red Bull" Scott Speed was going toe-to-toe with hard-nosed rookie Brad Keselowski. It was just more good Truck Series racing.
This entire series has been a goldmine for SPEED in 2008. With the COT creating rather boring racing and the Nationwide Series nothing more than Clint Bowyer vs. Carl Edwards, NASCAR fans found the trucks. TV ratings for this series have been through the roof, including a 38% increase for the last race from Texas.
Producer Keith D'Alesandro has lead a focused team this season that is a combination of the TV folks who work for The NASCAR Media Group and a select group of SPEED professionals. All of the folks in the TV compound seem to have a blast working on the Truck Series races.
The SPEED presentation is straightforward and upbeat. Pre-race host Krista Voda, seen last week in green make-up as the Wicked Witch of the West, was Friday standing on Rattlesnake Hill with a beautiful sunset behind her. Her pre-race content was simply dedicated to the event and the championship race.
Originally, NASCAR was set to unveil the new Camping World Truck Series logo for SPEED viewers, but that has been moved to next week in Homestead for the final race weekend. That might be a nice way to set the table for next season.
Once again, SPEED opened-up the cameras and the Director chose to show fans the racing on the track regardless of what position the trucks were chasing. This resulted in an action-packed telecast that was topped-off by the well documented struggles of the two point contenders. Nothing was missed from start-to-finish and there were more than enough replays to go around of every incident.
Despite covering more than 30 teams on pit road, reporters Ray Dunlap and Adam Alexander seem to be everywhere and asking the right questions. Alexander's interview of Kevin Harvick in Victory Lane was outstanding. He continued by talking to both Johnny Benson and Ron Hornaday Jr. after their tough outings.
SPEED will kick-off coverage of the final racing weekend from Homestead, FL at 7PM on Thursday, November 13th with Truck Series practice. The network returns at 5PM on Saturday for live qualifying. Voda hosts the pre-race show that same evening at 7:30PM and the race follows with Allen, Parsons and Waltrip at 8PM.
What a year to remember for the Truck Series. A new multi-year sponsor, TV ratings up across the board and a championship battle separated by only 3 points going into the final race. It has just been a bonus for fans that the TV coverage this season has been outstanding. On to Homestead for the SPEED gang.
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It might as well be a mission to Mars. We are now one month away from the Sprint Cup Series banquet in New York City. Put on your NASCAR space suit.
There is no place in the United States more diametrically opposed to all things NASCAR than New York City. There is no borough of the city more completely counter-culture to the NASCAR set than Manhattan. This year more than ever before, NASCAR's entry into NYC for the week is going to be a lunar landing.
Gone are the good old days of Richard Petty in his cowboy hat and the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. in those wrap-a-round sunglasses mixing with the locals. Gone are the days of the big headlines and the national media coming over to cover the Southern stock car boys in town. This year, even the mini-parade has been cancelled (click here) by the city government.
New York City made its feelings known earlier this season when NASCAR's Sprint Cup media tour came to town for a two-day swing to promote The Chase for the Championship. Click here for the NY Daily News story on that event.
ESPN had to send a reporter to the media tour because the network's NYC studios are closed. TNT and Fox Sports sent no one. SPEED sent a reporter, even though that network does not even have a NASCAR news program.
The NASCAR Media Group cameramen made sure to document the driver's awkward group appearance on David Letterman (click here). Even more awkward were the attempts to talk with the ABC and CBS morning shows. Since Fox has no morning program, several drivers crossed-over to the cable TV side and stopped-by Fox News to say hello.
NBC's Today Show told NASCAR not to even bother stopping by. The morning was topped-off (click here) by six drivers including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson tossing ice cream at each other with Regis and Kelly.
It will be December 5th when the NASCAR gang again comes to town. It will be right on the heels of the worst financial meltdown in decades and shortly after a divisive Presidential election. At a time when American automakers and many citizens are literally struggling to survive financially, the welcome by the citizens of New York City should be a memorable one.
Both the Craftsman Truck and Nationwide Series have their banquets in Florida. The NCTS will be at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, FL on November 17th. The Nationwide gang will once again be at the Portofino Bay Hotel in Orlando, FL on November 22nd.
Only the Sprint Cup Series clings to the decades-old belief that having this function in New York City actually serves a real purpose for the teams and sponsors. It certainly does not serve the NASCAR media judging from the emails and news stories of last year. Almost all the reporters are from the Greater Charlotte area, just like the teams and drivers.
The televised portion of the banquet is tough to watch. Even though Dr. Jerry Punch worked hard as the Master of Ceremonies last year, the entire evening is completely scripted from start-to-finish. How and why the banquet has become a politically correct evening of boredom is anyone's guess.
Click here for a video peek at the 1993 banquet hosted by Bob Jenkins, the late Benny Parsons and Punch. The festive atmosphere and solid TV production made fans feel they were a part of the evening, rather than intruding. It was Christmas time in New York City, the racing was over and smiles were all around.
After this season, it will be interesting to see if NASCAR finally relents and moves the function to the Charlotte Convention Center. Next summer the new NASCAR headquarters in downtown Charlotte will be complete. That building is attached to the new NASCAR Hall of Fame that MRN veteran Winston Kelley is in charge of opening.
So, set the DVR or the TiVo for December 5th at 9PM on the ESPN Classic Network. Just like last season, NASCAR is bumped to the "overflow" channel for the original airing of this function. It will re-air in a two-hour version on December 8th at 2PM on ESPN2.
What a way to end a ten month season for NASCAR fans who would like to see the top ten drivers out of their firesuits and in an awards show setting with their families as the final memory of 2008.
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Over the past nineteen months, TDP has received tons of email about the various NASCAR websites available to Internet users for all kinds of purposes. From the streaming of live races to online video games, no website has generated more email than NASCAR.com, the official Internet home of the sport.
Some fans are surprised to learn that NASCAR is not in the Internet business. However, most fans do know that NASCAR is in the business of making money. With that in mind, NASCAR licensed the online rights to the sport. NASCAR.com is operated by a company in Atlanta, GA called Turner Interactive. Here are some official facts:
Turner Sports Interactive, a Time Warner Company, acquired all of NASCAR's interactive rights in October 2000 and became the exclusive producer of NASCAR.COM, the official site of NASCAR, in January 2001. Turner Sports Interactive bases its NASCAR.COM staff in Atlanta, with additional personnel in Charlotte and Daytona.
NASCAR.com is a tremendously popular website for a variety of reasons. Each year, it attracts over one billion visitors. The Turner Interactive group also runs additional websites for both in-house interests like TNT and clients like the PGA Tour. Turner was recently awarded the NBA.com website and is continuing to gear-up for that project.
The NASCAR.com frontpage has changed over the years and now seems to be trying to serve far too many masters. There are over 100 icons and words on the homepage that invite fans to click on them for everything from watching live races to shopping for T-shirts. Users can find a local garage for car service or start their own NASCAR blog. Rather than nudge users toward an ultimate destination, this homepage presents a menu with an almost overwhelming number of choices.
Turner Interactive and NASCAR have been working toward expanding the video choices on the website. The "video control room" is easy to access and has lots of content from SPEED TV programs, including This Week in NASCAR, Tradin' Paint and NASCAR Performance. Ultimately, this large selection of video will have to be given a larger presence among the text-based content now dominating the site.
Fans who have tried the race streaming or other live information services from this website have found that the interruptions in service and the problems with slow delivery of information have been fixed. This summer, TNT used NASCAR.com to offer RaceBuddy, an interactive broadband companion to six Sprint Cup Series races. It was a big hit and hopefully NASCAR and Turner may expand that service to other races and series.
This weekly opportunity for users to comment on various NASCAR-related websites should be taken seriously. It is a good opportunity to address three questions.
What NASCAR.com features are difficult to use or make information hard to find?
What are the best NASCAR.com features and what should be done to expand them?
What should be added to NASCAR.com that would upgrade your user experience?
The Turner folks have been very cooperative with TDP and worked directly with us to offer the best information about RaceBuddy, NASCAR.com and the TNT race package. No doubt your comments will be reviewed and discussed during the off-season by the NASCAR.com group.
To add a comment about your experiences with NASCAR.com, just click on the COMMENTS button below. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to help us with this new feature on The Daly Planet.
It looks like a nice night in Phoenix, but the stands are very empty. Perhaps, they will fill up a bit for the Craftsman Truck Series race.
Krista Voda will kick things off tonight at 7:30PM on SPEED with The Set-Up. She was originally going to have the CEO of Camping World, but NASCAR decided to push the unveiling of the new Truck Series logo back one week to Homestead.
Rick Allen will be along with Michael Waltrip and Phil Parsons to call the race at 8PM live. Ray Dunlap and Adam Alexander will cover pit road.
This should be a great race on a fun track for the trucks. Look for the continued theme of the evening being the fight between Ron Hornaday Jr. and Johnny Benson for the season championship. Hornaday has something to prove after dealing with a media-driven "steroid" scandal this season. Benson has just announced that he will not be back with Bill Davis Racing next season and might retire. There is a whole lot on the line tonight for both of these drivers.
In the meantime, there are a lot of Cup drivers crossing-over to race in the Truck Series from Phoenix. This should add some great spice to the race as they mix it up with the series regulars. SPEED puts on a good telecast with the focus on the racing and the night sky in Phoenix and the lights at the track should make it quite an evening.
This post will serve to host your comments on the Craftsman Truck Series race 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. Thanks again for stopping by. Only one race left after tonight!