Wednesday, July 22, 2009

ESPN Hopes Third Time Is The Charm

The big shift is on at ESPN where NASCAR is concerned. The final seventeen races of the Sprint Cup Series are coming back to the ESPN family of networks. There is a lot of hope in Bristol that the third time is the charm.

In all big companies there are things that work well and things that do not work well. ESPN has been leading the way in the reporting of NASCAR news on TV through the daily NASCAR Now series. The once laughable program is now firmly entrenched as "must see TV" for hardcore fans.

On the flip side, ESPN has been struggling to figure out how to get through to NASCAR fans on the Nationwide Series telecasts. The network has been drawn to the Sprint Cup stars who cross-over to the Nationwide Series for the last two years. It seems that the stories of the other drivers simply do not matter.

Once ESPN begins actually covering the Sprint Cup Series, the Nationwide telecasts get batted around like ping pong balls by ESPN's significant college football commitments. This year, the company has added even more games to the schedule. It should make for another interesting year of the Saturday races trying to get on TV.

Last year, the ESPN Sprint Cup season began with the Indy tire debacle and continued through a lackluster Chase for the Championship. This year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has already put himself out of contention and Kyle Busch seems to be trying hard to do the same. The Roush cars are in the cellar and Richard Childress suddenly seems to be having big trouble down the stretch.

Instead of cutting back, ESPN has decided to jump into the deep-end and surround Indy with all kinds of TV coverage. Give them credit, in these tough economic times the network could simply have slashed the budgets and presented a trimmed-down Indy event to start the season. Instead, Allen Bestwick will kick off four days of NASCAR TV on Thursday.

NASCAR Now is relocating to the Infield Pit Studio for the 5PM Thursday show, which will be expanded to one hour. Bestwick will host and will no doubt offer an extended preview of the Indy tripleheader weekend. Marty Smith and Nicole Manske will both be on-site to add to this program.

This show sets-up a unique NASCAR original documentary that ESPN has never done before. Feel Your Heart Race is the title of this one-time special by veteran documentary filmmaker Doug Pray. Click here for a link to the trailer on You Tube. The program airs at 6PM and might be worth recording for a second look.

The Thursday nightcap is on ESPN Classic at 6:30PM following the documentary. The 2007 Brickyard 400 is replayed in a two hour timeslot. This is the last of the four replays during the week on ESPN Classic. Everyone agrees there is no need to replay last year's event.

Friday and Saturday the Sprint Cup Series on-track action is split between ESPN and SPEED. The complete schedule is on the right side of The Daly Planet main page. One ESPN team is at the speedway, while the other is across town at O'Reilly Raceway Park (ORP) where the trucks race Friday night and the Nationwide Series on Saturday.

Marty Reid will be joined by Rusty Wallace and Randy LaJoie for the Nationwide telecasts from ORP. These three have good chemistry and Reid and LaJoie love to tease Wallace about the tough luck of his Nationwide team. This weekend should be no exception.

As usual, the actual Sprint Cup Series telecast on ESPN Sunday will be surrounded by support programming before and after the race. Don't forget, this is the time of the year where ESPN offers a Sunday night one-hour review program that is fantastic. It runs through the end of the season.

TDP begged the network to expand it to the entire Sprint Cup Series schedule, but apparently the fact that Fox and TNT carry those telecasts played a little bit of a role. This show was a big hit last year and promises to compete with SPEED's Victory Lane once again.

There are 76 High Definition cameras ready for the Sprint Cup Series on Sunday. This year, the Bat-Cam will also debut. A hybrid of the Cable-Cam, this one will zoom down the frontstretch and over pit road at up to 80 mph. It should offer some great shots for the races off pit road and the double-file restarts.

Once again this season, ESPN is rolling out twelve voices to handle the live race. Bestwick will handle the Infield Pit Studio with Wallace, Brad Daugherty and Ray Evernham. Right next door will be Tim Brewer in his Tech Garage. On pit road will be Jamie Little, Shannon Spake, Dave Burns and Vince Welch.

The key to this broadcast will be the three men upstairs in the announce booth. Jerry Punch will again handle the play-by-play duties. He will be joined by Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. Punch will be the traffic director for the eleven other voices on this telecast.

If we agree that tires will not be a problem, Punch may be looking at a very dynamic and exciting race. Double-file restarts at the speedway are going to make for a very different kind of racing than fans have seen in the past. It will also demand that the ESPN Director follow the double-wide action every single time.

This year, it may take multiple laps for the two-wide battles to sort themselves out, even with the bigger Sprint Cup cars. Avoiding the in-car cameras and letting the TV viewers watch the action from a fan's perspective is going to be a struggle.

ESPN has proven to love their TV toys and NASCAR coverage has often been an in-car camera festival. Losing the perspective of the track and the cars being shown by switching to an in-car camera is rough on viewers. TNT was outstanding this season in keeping the wideshots and cutting in-car when it made sense.

One thing to keep in mind is that ESPN also produced the Indy 500 this season and it was fantastic. The entire telecast was crisp and interesting from start to finish. The same management team that coordinated that telecast will be in charge for the NASCAR event.

The table is set and this is the third time for all the pieces to come together. With a good tire, good weather and NASCAR's double-file restart gift, ESPN may be getting off to the best start ever for their portion of the Sprint Cup Series season.

TDP welcomes your comments on what you would like to see from ESPN during this telecast. We open the floor to subjects from topics in the pre-race shows to on-track action and post-race coverage. As NASCAR fans who have been watching this series since February, this is a great time to suggest and then see if ESPN delivers.

To add your comment, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by. TDP will offer live blogs for all the Indy weekend races. Please join us.


Nathan Brice said...

This is Jerry Punch's time to shine as play-by-play man. Andy Petree and Dale Jarrett worked well in the booth together. They gave Vince Welch a chance to pit report, which he probably deserved. Allen needs to be more integrated into the race coverage with Ray and Brad. Shannon Spake and Jamie Little are good pit reporters. Dave Burns is alright. I wonder if they will give Nicole a larger role next year. That will be interesting to see. I am ready for ESPN to take us all the way to Homestead.

Anonymous said...

I dread Sprint Cup with Jerry Punch.

Karen said...

Anon @2:39, I wholeheartedly agree.

JD said ....

The table is set and this is the third time for all the pieces to come together. With a good tire, good weather and NASCAR's double-file restart gift, ESPN may be getting off to the best start ever for their portion of the Sprint Cup Series season.

You're awfully optimistic, JD.

bevo said...

JD- Today on Sirius Speedway Ray Evernham mentioned that at Michigan they will have him, AP, DJ and Rusty calling the race with no play-by-play. Didn't catch if it was the Cup or Nationwide race. He joked that they might have problems going into and out of commercial breaks but the idea is to just have them sitting around talking about the race.

Karen said...

bevo, can't wait for that.

Karen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen said...

bevo, I assume one of them will have to take control and go to commercials and I nominate DJ or AP. What's your opinion?

Anonymous said...

No amount of hype or positive attitude is going to change the fact that Punch will be the same as ever. He is what he is.

Anonymous said...

high hopes, very low expectations

probably sums up most of our sentiments.

it is amazing how doggedly dismissive ESPN continues to be about replacing Jerry with allen

man oh man

Vicky D said...

Anon at 6:57 - yes Man oh man! I think they should get Adam Alexander too and change the PXP guy but we've been saying that for how many years now? This week's Brickyard races on ESPNC have been nice to watch. Bob Jenkins did a really great job calling them with real enthusiasm. I also think that ESPN should replace Nicole for NN she's not getting any better, but maybe once she gets married she'll move to Australia or NZ and we won't see her anymore.

50 yr. fan said...

76 cameras is enough to forewarn
me. I won't need any refreshments
as my head will already be spinning
from the director's choices.

Just show the racing and forget about the ESPY's!

stricklinfan82 said...

Here's a very simple and elementary starting point for how ESPN should handle Indy race weekend:

On Friday and Saturday during ESPN's practice coverage, keep the focus on televising practice and only practice. Put Punch, Petree, and DJ in the booth (not in the Tech Center or in the garage to follow the one "pre-determined team of interest") and give Brewer the day off.

On Saturday during qualifying, show all 47 qualifying runs in their entirety.

It's a simple philosophy. When you're getting paid to do the job of covering a sporting event, you should cover that event. Even the greenest of interns should be able to do that much.

In my opinion it will take no more than 60 seconds from the time ESPN hits the air on Friday at 2:00 to know if there's any hope for a positive change at the network in 2009.

If Punch, Petree, and DJ greet the TV viewers from the broadcast booth that'll be a positive start. However, if 9 months of preparation for their Sprint Cup return culminate in those 3 not being in the booth and practice again becoming nothing but backgroud noise it will be plainly obvious to me there will be no hope that the "third time will be the charm".

Anonymous said...

Stricklin I could not agree more.

I am hoping against hope ESPN gets it right, since this is the only race I will watch if they get all "bspn overload" with the batcam, bumpercam 12 voices( aka too many voices) & Doc doing his crickets impersonation.

Just show the cars on the track, show the racing, forget the ESPYs, or this viewer will turn it off lap whatever and start writing letters as soon as race ends online & radio.

I refuse to sit thru any more crummy "coverage" - now its up to them to show me they know how to cover racing - not tell me.

Dot said...

I'm not very hopeful about the coverage on BSPN this weekend. I so want to be wrong but, if the NW races are any indication w/JP, we're doomed.

Then there's those wonderful views of the cars up close and personal. Why even bother with cameras on the track? BSPN could cut costs by just showing the race from inside the cars, the bumpers and the roof cams.

chase said...

I too am filled with trepidation having to face and hear Andy Petree AGAIN. What is it that ESPN just doesn't get??? Do they not see what most of us do?? The mere tone of his voice makes me tired! I will watch and perhaps a miracle will occur but I'm not counting on it. Thanks JD!!

Anonymous said...

Mr Daly,
First of all your blogs are always interesting to read that sometimes I wished that it went on and on.
Well I am looking forward to the kind of coverage Espn will give us not just for Indy but for all the other races as well. Its time Jerry Punch steps up and call the races well.If he fails to set a good tone there will be no doubt that the telecast will be boring to watch.
Good Luck ESPN.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one to notice that there seems to be 6-8 hours of pre race coverage across the networks and ten minutes of coverage immediately after the race ends? Personally, I've grown tired of all the hosts,analysts, and ex drivers. Perhaps all the economic bad news has given me a dose of reality, but I'd bet that we Nascar fans would fall over if we learned how much the "talking Heads" make a year sharing their opinions with us. Half the people in the booth could be eliminated and no one would notice. It's obvious that certain topics and drivers are off-limits while they focus on topics like Danica. In my opinion, if Danica is the solution to Nascar's many problems,then we're all in trouble.

West Coast Diane said...

12 voices...8 to 9 too many. 76 cameras...I fear 70 will be in-car and bumper cams.

Jerry Punch. Sorry, he just doesn't have the voice or demeanor to be a PxP guy.

Please ESPN, no razzle dazzle.

1) Just show racing. Defined as 2 or more cars racing side by side or trying to make a pass.

2) Show pit stops. Defined as triple splits with full shot of pit road following entire pit stop of selected cars. Then resetting field and replaying any problem stops.

3) Update the field. Defined as the entire field through out the race.

4) Really cover practice and qualifying. Defined as showing the cars on the track. Get rid of the tiny box with all the junk around it. Start the qualifying run with personal info to the side for a few seconds. Put tracker on bottom of screen. Speaking of...

5) I do not want to see the SportsCenter Update ticker...EVER. First, double tickers make JD sick! Second, I do not want to know who won the Tour de France. Some of us follow more than one sport. Some of us use a device called a DVR to allow us to watch multiple sports when there are time or personal conflicts.

Know there are more, but just these would make me very happy.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I pray that Espn dosen't give us the tight camara shots, bumper shots, roof cams and give us more wide shots like TNT did.Also, I hope that espn dosen't focus the cameras only on the leader to third place cars.Coverage on mid-pack to the Back of the pack cars would be appreciated.

Sophia said...

Y'all gave great criticisms/comments.

Color me NOT optimistic. To make it worse Tony Stewart is the in car cam driver according to Twitter (wah-MOMMY!) I better wear both Tshirts, his cap and JACKET (if it's not too hot) to root him in the race from my couch but I digress.

Bat cam? No bueno. We go from ground rodent to flying one. Is there a new Batman movie or somethin?

To Diane or somebody;
I ALSO worry 70 of the 76 cams will be In car/bumper/roof cams/Zoom.
Thus 150 cams would not IMPROVE the coverage.

Wide shots and a Mike Wells type director could help everything

And side by side adds.

Hey will this race be on MRN since it's from IMS? Don't they have their own radio station? ouch if no MRN

Now even more Cynical Sophia with no MRN access? (

Anonymous said...
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tom in dayton said...

I'm about forty miles north of you. I've seen some of your complaints in previous postings, so here's what I do.

When I switch to radio(MRN or PRN), I'll usually use WGYG-FM (both-Cin) or WONE-AM in Dayton. Both of these stations have internet streaming, so I listen over the internet. For races from IMS, WCKY-AM or WING-AM offer the same internet streaming.

Google these stations and bookmark their websites, set up your internet connections and listen well!

Thornton, Colorado said...

I'm sorry. You paint cr*p and it's still cr*p. ESPN could show up at my house with a million dollars, and I'd rather go hungry, than accept their "generosity". They had their chance with me three years ago. They blew it. I don't forget, and I don't forgive.

Sophia said...

Tom Thanks

Trouble streaming WCKY with FFox right now and will figure it out by Sunday I hope. I listen to podcasts sometimes after the fact on some stations so don't know what the hiccup is here. THen again my older laptop seems to play things better but it's a mess (Lid held open by C Clamp and duct tape! and takes 3-19 attempts to boot up due to bad motherboard)

Thank you so MUCH for the information. Will work on both.


See another reason why I love this blog. Folks are so HELPFUL!

Daly Planet Editor said...

Yep, media folks are still talking about the info in our Mayfield posts from last week.

Guess that was another eye opener for many in the "mainstream media" that the real base of NASCAR knowledge is spread out across this country and works at regular jobs every day.

That would be you guys.


Anonymous said...

"NASCAR Whenever Nothing Else Is Going On"
5:00PM Eastern Time Or whenever we feel like
Rerun latter that day after some other show has used 20 minutes of the time slot & scheduled over night (West coast) there is Poker in the slot????????

Yes that is coverage you can depend on, not being there on your DVR

Even chasing races on race day thru three or four channels to complete the race last year ABC, ESPN, ESPN 2, & ESPN NEWS or Classics

glenc1 said...

I just have to say, I think it's funny they're showing 2007. Ya mean, they don't think last year's Indy race was a 'Classic?' It was actually a bit like a train wreck, I just couldn't take my eyes off of what disaster was going to happen next. They keep saying that Goodyear could have repaved the track with what they spent on tires & testing. Let's hope it works. I sure don't want to see 'temper tantrum Tony' if it doesn't.

I like your optimism, JD. I don't mind extra camera do-hickeys if they're used sparingly. Some times the angles are kind of cool, so we'll have to check out 'bat cam'. I don't understand how JP could have been pretty good on some of the NW races last year and then fall flat for the Cup; you'd think he could watch his own tapes and see the difference. I do look forward to DJ and AP. But if I get worn out, it's MRN/PRN here we come. BTW, there's a station in TN (WYSH) that live streams NASCAR. It's the only one they didn't block at work during the twins in February.....

Anon 12:10, I totally agree. In February, I can't get enough, but after a couple months, I just don't care unless there's a breaking story. Way too much speculation, and at least half the time it's bullcrap about 'momentum' anyways.

As for the pit reporters...well, I used to think Jamie was okay until she showed such poor judgement with Jack Roush during that NW race (assuming it happened as it appeared to). Yikes. You have to be aware what's happening with the teams and not be asking questions while they're doing their jobs. Hopefully she learned from that.

darbar said...

I love the comments in today's USA Today where one ESPN producer says "We just have to get more people watching the races. We'll crack this nut".

Just one more example of not getting it. Like the author of the column said, it's not the recession keeping people from watching the races. But then, what is? Well guess what? It's not the recession, nor the lack of sponsors or sagging businesses. It's the racing, STUPID !!! Yes, the coverage of the races is pretty bad with over-hyping of everything, too much silly technology, boring/bored play by play announcers, and all the rest. But wake up, Nascar !!! It's not all the fault of the TV coverage. Nascar, you have put a boring product on the race track, and not even the greatest announcers, past or present, can cure that. You tinker with rules, make a terrible car in the COT, have a points system that's totally stupid and teams of haves and have nots that can't compete with each other. Unless you drive a Hendrick car, you can forget winning a race, or even finishing in the top 10.

But ESPN, and all the rest, is trying to cover the bad racing with too much fancy stuff. You can't fix stupid, nor can you fix bad racing with silly technology. If the networks want more viewers, they need to get Nascar to change what's making the sport boring. If you put on great racing with exciting stories and giving drivers other than Hendrick's a chance to win, your viewership will follow. It's just like in the stick and ball sports, you put a winner on the field, you'll have butts in the seats. But put a stinky product out there, you've got nothing.

Anonymous said...

I think Jerry Punch is unfairly picked on at this site. After FOX and the Waltrip brothers, anyone sounds like an all star to me.I dread the FOX/SPEED shows about NASCAR.It seems most old school people like myself prefer TNT/ESPN and some newer fans like FOX. I was just reading Gary London of National Speed Sport News, a longtime motor sports writer and like most like him, dreads anything on TV by FOX/ SPEED. He said he was ill from the fact that M. Waltrip was quitting racing and someone may be dumb enough to give him more TV time. I feel the same way. So you Punch haters, quit following the pied piper and realize that he is a very good professional broadcaster.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous 5pm
Jerry Punch's performance has nothing to do with FOX or TNT. It is about his lack of performance as PxP. Whatever the reason, he is not making the grade.

I, too, post "anonymous", but I sign all my posts.


darbar said...

Dr Punch might be a very professional broadcaster, but he seriously lacks in play by play announcing. His forte is working in the pits and reporting on the goings on there. But he just doesn't have the ability to do PbyP as his style is not conducive to that kind of broadcasting. His monotone and flat affect does not a great play by play man make.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 5PM,

I notice you left the words "Mike Joy" out of your post. I find that strange, as he is the play by play announcer for Fox. Problems with him too?

We respect Punch but this is his third try at getting the play by play role down and so ain't working.

Just tell us what is going on down on the track and then let the analysts and pit reporters fill in the blanks.

We will see how it goes in a couple of days.


Anonymous said...

Julie Sobieski, is an ESPN programming vice president, not a producer. A VP and a producer speak 2 entirely different languages.
Ms. Sobieski cares about the revenue and viewership the event draws. The producer cares about the content of the individual event.
I wouldn't breathe to much into her comments and hope that the rank and file at ESPN can deliver us a good show thru the chase.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Who can forget one of her most memorable creations? BassCenter.

Anonymous said...
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Lost on the Straightaway said...

Amen on there being too much coverage prior to the race and not enough following the race.

I hope ESPN can deliver a good weekend and not keep us zoomed in on one car the whole time.