Saturday, June 20, 2009
Truck And Nationwide Series TV Networks Awaiting Rule Changes
There was no better example of just how badly both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series need rules changes than Saturday's TV coverage.
SPEED was up first with what is left of the rag-tag truck series. On this Saturday, the flat track action on the historic Milwaukee Mile was going to be just what the teams needed to get some momentum back into the series. Then, reality hit.
The already thin field was scrambled by the pit stop rules that limit the stops to either tires or fuel. Combined with the restarts that keep the leaders single-file, the combination pushed truck-after-truck off the lead lap.
Rick Allen led Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip on a very good TV outing for SPEED. These three were focused on finding the racing in the field and getting it on-camera. This philosophy worked very well until the number of trucks on the lead lap began to dwindle to single digits.
Luckily, the story of Ron Hornaday Jr.'s birthday worked well for SPEED since he won the race. Without that, it would have been a rough afternoon. The shame of the thin field is that SPEED made great pictures, provided great sound and was solid from top-to-bottom.
Since TDP has pointed it out when Waltrip brings his over-the-top pitchman mentality to the series, we should point it out when he is on his game. Milwaukee showed Waltrip can be a partner in the booth and understand his role as the third man. On this telecast, he allowed Allen to call the action and Parsons to be the lead analyst. This trio clicked.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the trio ESPN put together to call the Nationwide Series event. The evening started well with Allen Bestwick running Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty through a variety of topics on the pre-race show. These three rarely leave anything on the table and Wallace clearly enjoys this role.
Wallace then moved up to the broadcast booth and was joined by Jerry Punch and Ray Evernham. While the NASCAR experience between these three is robust, the on-air dynamic was not. These three rarely work together and Punch's regular partners Andy Petree and Dale Jarrett were off.
Both Jarrett and Petree have gotten very good at generating the excitement in the broadcasts that Punch cannot muster. On this night, Punch was presented with great side-by-side racing, tense restarts and emerging stories throughout the field.
The only time Punch's voice rose above the monotone delivery of a news reporter was when he threw to commercial or read a promo. There was not a moment of excitement during the racing action. It was brutal.
Rusty Wallace tried to fill the air time, but by the end of the telecast he sounded like he had a very long night. Evernham is apparently used to being cued to talk and never was a factor in the telecast. Often, he simply agreed with Wallace.
The Producer tried to make use of Bestwick and the excitable Daugherty in the infield frequently, but when the telecast was returned to Punch the wind again came out of the sails. If there was ever a race where Bestwick and Punch could have traded places to see how it went, this was it. Unfortunately, it did not happen.
The shame of it all was that the racing was outstanding and the TV production by the NASCAR on ESPN team was solid from the start. The pit reporters hustled during the race, but a Kenny Wallace interview should have happened after he went to the garage with mechanical problems.
After the race, ESPN had almost forty minutes to fill and it was Punch and company who handled the post-race. Normally, this is a time for Bestwick and Daugherty to work with the pit reporters to chase down the stories. The infield gang only appeared for the last couple of minutes before sign-off.
Pit reporters Jamie Little, Shannon Spake and Dave Burns unfortunately lapsed into the "how does that make you feel" and the "walk me through that" questions as time began to drag. But, it was nice to see some Nationwide faces on national TV after a race.
One big question for both of these TV networks is when will NASCAR change some rules? The trucks need the new restart rules and a second look at the tires or fuel pit stops. It just does not work at some tracks. The Nationwide Series race would have been much more exciting if the new restart rules were in place.
Several times on both broadcasts various announcers mentioned the lack of the new restart rules as a gentle prod to get changes. NASCAR needs only to look at the number of start and park cars and trucks to realize that those changes better come now. Smaller fields mean that the lapped cars and trucks really change the race dynamic on the restarts in the later laps. That was very clear to see for TV viewers.
Saturday was a big day of racing with good weather and another NASCAR TV doubleheader. These side-by-side comparisons between series and TV networks really give a good look at just how different the racing and the approaches to televising it can be.
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