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.
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