Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Ralph Sheheen And Double-File Restarts Save Loudon
The biggest story of Sunday was supposed to be the threat of rain. As it turned out, rain was the last thing on the minds of the TV crew at the start of the telecast.
Play-by-play announcer Bill Weber had been involved in an incident at his hotel late Friday night and had been sent home. TNT did a great job of hiding that issue until Sunday morning, when (click here) this brief statement was released.
Weber's absence caused some changes in the on-air line-up. Pit road reporter Ralph Sheheen is a TV veteran and he was asked to move into the play-by-play position for this event. Unofficially, the Weber suspension is for one race. We will pass along Weber's status for the upcoming Dayonta event when TNT makes it official.
TNT's own Marc Fein expanded his duties from hosting the one hour pre-race show to handling everything right up to the green flag. He hosted NASCAR on TNT Live with Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds and then handled the Countdown to Green show with Wally Dallenbach.
Fein has come a very long way from his first season of NASCAR coverage. On this Sunday, Fein bridged the gap left by Weber and handled the entire pre-race like a pro. While TNT never even mentioned Weber, the professional approach to the pre-race telecast set the tone for the race coverage.
Several weeks ago, Sheheen was the guest host on This Week in NASCAR on SPEED. After a couple of minutes, his presence was not an issue. Like a good basketball referee, Sheheen lets others have their time in the spotlight and just works to keep order.
On this day, it was apparent that Petty and Dallenbach were going to experience a very different on-air dynamic than Weber brings to the table. Sheheen was consistent from the start with his calling of the action and ability to let both analysts speak their mind. It was certainly a breath of fresh air.
Petty and Dallenbach continue to present a very different kind of commentary. Two very distinctive personalities have managed to blend into an enjoyable TV presence. One key to their success is the continual information provided to the booth by Larry McReynolds from the infield.
TNT allows all the members of the TV team to speak freely. This allows the pit reporters to interact with McReynolds in the infield as well as the trio in the announce booth. This race had the potential early to be another slip and slide COT event. Then, the restarts and the commercials began.
After some early boredom, a pattern emerged that should be validated when the TV commercial totals are posted over at cawsandjaws.com on Monday. TNT was just forcing commercial breaks into this telecast early on. The situation was similar to last year's race, where we questioned if this had something to do with the upcoming Wide Open coverage from Daytona.
TNT's remaining pit reporters hustled to get the stories and things worked out well on pit road. The triple-splits on the pit stops really served to show fans the various strategies and ESPN should have taken notice. With so much passing on pit road under caution, this coverage was critical.
Petty is not afraid to speak his mind and he did so once again from start to finish. He has worked very hard to invite NASCAR fans to have fun during this six race stretch. In addition to riding his motorcycle to this event, Petty continually communicated with the fans directly via Twitter as did Marc Fein during the race.
NASCAR's new restart rules injected just the right touch of excitement into this race and created stories for the TV team that lasted long after each new restart. This new dynamic lent itself to fans getting more interested in who was where because now it actually mattered.
Rain continued to be a threat, but TNT followed the lead of other NASCAR TV partners and did not update the weather radar once the race was underway. In NASCAR's TV world, viewers only know the rain is falling when the caution flag comes out.
In the end, the Logano victory will keep fans talking until Daytona and give the sport a week of solid news coverage. TNT debuts the Wide Open commercial-free coverage on Saturday night once again this season. With RaceBuddy and continuous coverage on TV, the next Sprint Cup race may prove to be an elusive look into how NASCAR TV should be, but will apparently never be in the near future.
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