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.
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