Monday, May 25, 2009

Rain Dancing On ESPN2


It was SPEED that was on the air when the rain started during the Sprint Cup Series happy hour coverage from Lowe's Motor Speedway. Mike Joy pointed out that it looked like it was going to cause a long delay for the upcoming Nationwide Series race. He was right.

ESPN2 taking the air at 7PM led to two hours of pre-race coverage before the track was ready. Allen Bestwick has been working in NASCAR for decades and his conversations with Dale Jarrett and Brad Daugherty ranged from race tactics to drug policy issues. Analyst Andy Petree and all three ESPN pit reporters worked hard to cover the bases during the delay.

One interesting note was that the ESPN team did not interview Shawn Johnson, the Dancing with the Stars winner, who was at the track and is pictured above. That series is a huge entertainment hit for ABC and Johnson's appearance at the track was well-publicized. After all, they had two hours to fill.

Starting the race under caution brought Dr. Jerry Punch to the telecast and he led the TV team through an extended conversation while the field circled. Once underway, the track provided great racing action. Unfortunately, that did not translate up to the broadcast booth.

The LMS track lighting made great pictures and the ESPN Director was solid in updating the leaders while following the best racing. Kyle Busch coming from the rear of the pack was the story early and certainly gave the race a theme.

Credit goes to the ESPN Producer for breaking away from commercial to return to the live action. The network also took the opportunity to utilize a split-screen to keep the live action visible during interviews and green flag pit stops. As usual, the ESPN triple-split on the caution flag pitstops remains the industry standard.

Punch faded down the stretch and once again the hard work of Jarrett and Petree was on display as they inserted facts and updated race information. That duo has really been the saving grace for these telecasts. Regardless of the reason, Punch is sighing deeply and mumbling car numbers about one hour into these races. TDP has received multiple emails from fans actually concerned about Punch's health.

As rain closed-in to end the race, Bestwick and Daugherty again were on-camera and immediately the vibe changed as they teased Rusty Wallace and recapped the field. Bestwick ultimately closed-out the telecast after the win by Mike Bliss and tried to put the finishing order in some perspective. There was a good reason why.

In this race, the start-and-park issue was simply buried by ESPN. That is not fair to race fans. To have cars suddenly leave the race and never be mentioned again on the telecast is a fundamental mistake. It causes TV viewers to wonder what else is not being reported.

Pit reporter Shannon Spake worked hard in the absence of Jamie Little and Vince Welch, who were off working the Indy 500 for ABC. Spake is finding her on-air groove and perhaps hosting a week of NASCAR Now in the ESPN studios recently helped her confidence. Mike Massaro returned without missing a beat.

As the caution came out to shuffle the field and leave Bliss alone on the lead lap, Punch became lost. There was silence on the air as he tried to organize the information that he relies on for his continual updates of facts. The ability to simply talk about what was going-on once again could not be accomplished.

Despite the fact that this race was delayed by rain, it was still a short Nationwide event and not an extended Sprint Cup Series telecast. Punch got lost and never even mentioned Bliss had won until after his winner interview with Spake.

The rest of the ESPN team has shown they are ready for the Sprint Cup transition, but it is clear from the total lack of excitement, enthusiasm and information being offered to TV viewers that Punch needs to step aside. It certainly is a shame, but the experiment of putting one of the best pit reporters in NASCAR history in the play-by-play role has not worked.

TDP welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the comments button below to add your opinion on this topic. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

Thank you for taking time out of your holiday weekend to stop by The Daly Planet.

17 comments:

Jimbacca said...

The whole finish coverage was odd. Brendan was swapping the lead with Bliss. Yet Bliss was the only one of the lead lap, How does that work?
The whole ending was like watching someone with sundowners syndrome. Just lost and wandering. The cameras showed Bliss getting out excited with the PRN reporter ready to go. But they were still talking restart. The coverage was quite good otherwise. Just the ending was a total loss.

rob said...

Bob Jenkins is hiding over at Versus, that would be a great improvement, he made a great team with Ned and Benny. Back when Espn put Nascar on the map.

slander q. libel said...

@Jimbacca:

Bliss was the only one on the lead lap, but Brendan was the first a lap down, so he was back on the lead lap on the restart.

Newracefan said...

I came home expecting to see the last 20 laps and surprise there was only 70 in the books. I'll watch the DVR of the rain dance at some point. Once that bizzareness of 1 car on the lead lap hit I became confused. Did they ever tell us Brenden got the free pass and was back on the lead lap and get's to be second and not 20th. Larry Mac and DW not to mention Mike Joy would have been all over that one. They did a great job with the camera showing us Mike and Brendan but nothing from JP, I think he was watching the cars in front but they were not the leaders, I was actually glad to see Rusty he livened things up, talking over everyone even when the mike had gone back to Massaro. Too funny. Well the good thing about no excitement at the end of a night race I can go to sleep faster.

GinaV24 said...

Egads, I got home and watched the end of the race. If this is what the fans can expect from ESPN on the Sprint cup broadcast with Jerry Punch doing the play by play, I know what I will be doing when ESPN takes over -- NOT WATCHING THE RACE ON TV!

Glad that Bliss got a win -- glad honestly that it wasn't a cup guy - that has become a major bore factor for the Nationwide series.

Good job by Jarrett and Petree -- for heavens' sakes, ESPN, make the daggone change in the booth for the PXP person and at least give yourselves a fighting chance that the fans will tune in during the summer.

Daly Planet Editor said...

I really felt bad for the whole TV team because Jerry got lost. The others tried to keep things straight, but when Brendan was battling Bliss for the lead with the rain coming there was absolutely no excitement at all.

There is no other major event series on ESPN that would be allowed to experience this problem. As you can see in the media, they swap announcers until they get it right.

As I mentioned in my column, I have actually been receiving email from healthcare professionals asking if Punch is OK.

Something needs to be done about this situation. We all love Jerry and the last thing that should happen is for him to be left out to dry again on national TV.

JD

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Daly Planet Editor said...

Please address the topic we are discussing. Once again, if you have any other issue just use the email link on the main page so we can address it.

JD

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Matthew said...
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Anonymous said...

NRF- That whole lead lap thing confused me. I was discussing this with some people last night and this is the question that I asked that no one could answer:

If someone had a pit road penalty they would start at the tail end of the longest line. But with all those cars starting on the tail end of the lead lap and directly in front of the leader, then the tail end of the longest line was in front of the cars on the tail end of the lead lap.

Writing that out shows how Brendan was in 2nd, since being the lucky dog, he too had to start at the tail end of the longest line, which put him in 2nd, directly behind Bliss.

IHMO, that's messed up.

stricklinfan82 said...

Other than messing up fairly badly trying to cover the first round of yellow flag stops I thought the production truck did a solid job of covering the best on-track racing all night and not following a script. I'd still like to see them adopt the Fox strategy of keeping the on-track leader in one box at all times during green flag pit stops so we can follow the race and the pit stops simultaneously, but other than that I didn't see much more room for improvement from the truck.

I continue to hold out hope that what we saw from the production truck on Saturday night will translate to their Cup broadcasts in the fall. As you may remember last year's ESPN Nationwide broadcasts were solid for the most part as well but almost never translated to the Cup races that were dominated by scripted coverage that didn't react to what was unfolding on the track. I certainly hope things will change this year, but the Phoenix Nationwide debacle a few weeks back has definitely curbed my enthusiasm and optimism.

ESPN has a major opportunity this fall to get back in the good graces of the NASCAR fans that are extremely frustrated over Fox dropping the ball in many ways during their coverage of the first part of the Cup season. I for one sure hope they take advantage of this opportunity. When one network raises their game that generally causes the others to follow suit to keep up, and in the end the TV viewers become the big winners. For that reason this fall ESPN Cup schedule may prove pivotal in determining whether or not we see Fox do anything to fix their issues this off-season.

Anonymous said...

JD,
You need to get over your personal beef with JP. He performed very well last night. You have stopped providing objective commentary for quite some time.

You need to get over the fact that Jerry decided to head for the college football sidelines in order to continue his career.

Apparently, when somebody dares to cover a stick-and-ball sport, you lose all objectivity and do everything you can to trash them.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Or....that is my opinion and has been for the last three seasons as we watched ESPN change everything around Punch to try and help him out.

It did not work. Read through the comments left on this site over the last two seasons about how Punch has left NASCAR fans in a lurch with his problems.

I am happy to have your opinion on the Punch issue, but you left several things out.

We have repeatedly said Punch is a future NASCAR Hall of Famer for his contributions in the early ESPN days.

We have said he would be great in the infield pit center, long before Allen Bestwick was placed in that position.

The next time you stop by, try helping us out with some of the positive aspects of Punch's play-by-play performance at LMS that you liked.

JD

Anonymous said...

You need to get over your personal beef with JP. He performed very well last night. You have stopped providing objective commentary for quite some time.

You might as well tell the rest of us to do this, too, because JD is FAR from the only person who believes Punch is doing a poor job.

He's become the Harry Caray of NASCAR--well-liked, but not at all good at play-by-play.

His calls consist of saying the number of the car currently on the screen, repeating the same (one) fact he seemingly knows about that driver, and then telling us he's "sailing into" the next turn.

When something happens on the track, Punch is rarely able to explain it. He was so far at sea regarding the whole Bliss-Gaughan situation, I wanted to call the booth and explain it to him.

He's not suited for the booth job, and is, in fact, a living example of the Peter Principle, which says that a worker will be promoted until he gets to a job he can't do, and then will stay stuck in the that job.

Anonymous said...

Punch got lost and never even mentioned Bliss had won until after his winner interview with Spake.Mike Joy was too lost to realize NASCAR called the race when haulers were pulling off, drivers were in street clothes, and victory lane was being set up.