Saturday, July 25, 2009

ESPN's NASCAR Curveball

The buzz has been around for several days now, but ESPN has finally just confirmed what Ray Evernham told SiriusXM radio. The NASCAR on ESPN team is shaking things up and the Michigan Nationwide Series race in three weeks is when it will happen.

Here are some excerpts from ESPN's official announcement:

ESPN’s live coverage of the Aug. 15 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Michigan International Speedway will have a new and different approach as the telecast will prominently feature five former NASCAR champions and will be done without a traditional “play by play” announcer.

“Our goal is to give viewers a different presentation, one filled with discussion, observations, and stories from some of the most respected champions NASCAR has crowned, and their unique unfiltered perspective on an event,” said Rich Feinberg, ESPN vice president, motorsports.

“This is an opportunity for our viewers to have the experience of sitting around watching a race with these champions from their couch at home, and without the traditional approach to sportscasting.“

The official release goes on to document that in the announce booth will be Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Andy Petree and Evernham. Tim Brewer will stay down in the Tech Garage. Allen Bestwick will host, probably from his normal infield studio location.

ESPN's Feinberg took a bold step already this season by bringing veteran announcer Marty Reid over to NASCAR. Reid was available after ESPN chopped its IRL TV contract into pieces, leaving the vast majority of the races and other programming to the Comcast-owned Versus TV network.

Reid was tagged to come over and relieve Jerry Punch of having to call both the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series races as well as the Nationwide events. This was a smart move and shows that ESPN recognizes things are not going well on the NASCAR trail where TV coverage is concerned.

This MIS experiment has several layers to it and they are all interesting. Despite the enthusiastic statement, Feinberg knows that every single live sports TV telecast needs a leader. As fans of TDP know from the past three seasons, there are duties to perform in the booth and an order to be established for a good telecast. We often refer to this as directing traffic.

There is little doubt from my vantage point that this exercise is about one individual. No, it is not the miscast Jerry Punch who has struggled with even the most basic play-by-play fundamentals for the past three seasons. This experiment is about ESPN's current NASCAR Lead Analyst Dale Jarrett.

Many TDP columns have thanked Jarrett for stepping in and taking over when Punch is unable to translate the excitement on the track to the TV viewers. Jarrett also offers a lot of the ordinary play-by-play coverage simply because the only alternative with Punch in the TV booth is silence. NASCAR on ESPN viewers are used to that.

This Nationwide Series race is a great opportunity to put Jarrett in a play-by-play role without ever admitting it. The Saturday race also saves face for Punch, who on the surface is not involved in this little experiment at all. Reid was listed as doing the Nationwide races down the stretch this season.

Jarrett gets to partner with Petree who is already his normal co-analyst. Evernham comes to the booth still learning how to handle the national TV spotlight. This should be a good test of just how much he has learned in his time with ESPN. Wallace is best in controlled doses and having four announcers in the booth will require patience from all concerned.

It should be Jarrett who calls the action on the track, leads into the replays and works to keep a good balance between announcers. Even with a Nationwide Series race, the TV skills of a play-by-play announcer are needed to keep order.

With four voices in the booth, four more on pit road, one in the Tech Garage and one in the Infield Pit Studio a large part of this broadcast is going to be what we referenced earlier, directing traffic. Jarrett should fill that role.

As this experiment gets closer, there is no doubt we will begin to hear a little more about the specifics. It certainly is curious that only a couple of days before Punch begins his Sprint Cup Series stretch, ESPN makes public plans to televise a NASCAR event with basically everyone else on the TV team except him.

Even in the heat of a NASCAR summer, who says sports television isn't interesting?

TDP welcomes your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for stopping by The Daly Planet.


Andy Marquis said...

What bar were they sitting at when they came up with this idea? Maybe they found Jeremy Mayfield's stash.

West Coast Diane said...

Interesting. I'm opening to anything that gets Jerry Punch out of PxP.

Only concern is...4 guys????

Should be a fun time at TDP. Maybe I'll break my rules and watch live and follow with TDP.

Anonymous said...

I've been wondering when networks would experiment with alternate audio tracks, kinda like on a DVD. It might be great to watch a race with these guys. There might be stretches where on-track action takes a back seat to a funny story, but it might be more entertaining.

But at the end of the day, Jerry Punch is still calling Cup, so I can't get that excited yet.

Anonymous said...

Totally concur this is a move made to see if Dale Jarrett is as good with the play by play as we anticipate it.

I can't escape drawing a comparison to Pat Summerall, who actually played pro football (albeit as a kicker) before moving to the broadcast booth and becoming the perfect partner for John Madden at CBS and FOX.

bevo said...

I was hoping there would be a follow-up about this, didn't think I had heard things wrong when Evernham mentioned this the other day.

I do see this as an audition for DJ. Hope Rusty doesn't derail him. I like that ESPN is trying something different.

I still think one of thee coolest things they ever did was a few years ago at the start of the college football season for a Florida State game on a Saturday night. The game was on ESPN, production truck on ESPN2, a four screen with each sideline and a solo camera on one player on each team on ESPNU and a running commentary with fan feedback on ESPNews. I think it would be great to do something like that for a race.

Anonymous said...

I have always enjoyed DJ's professionalism and insights. Reid doesn't impress me in the least. I can't imagine Rusty keeping a low profile though. My greatest wish is that I never hear the voice of anyone named Wallace or Waltrip ever again! I look forward to the new look.

Unknown said...

"I still think one of thee coolest things they ever did was a few years ago at the start of the college football season for a Florida State game on a Saturday night. The game was on ESPN, production truck on ESPN2, a four screen with each sideline and a solo camera on one player on each team on ESPNU and a running commentary with fan feedback on ESPNews. I think it would be great to do something like that for a race."

ah yes, i remember that from duke/north carolina games also. i dont see them doing that for a nascar race though.

i like this idea. its different. so what if it fails? at least they tried. and they picked the perfect track to try it at...

KoHoSo said...

Maybe I'm wrong, but I see this as nothing but a gimmick to increase ratings...not that a "gimmick" is necessarily a bad thing.

But, maybe I feel that way because I think the solution for at least 50% of ESPN's problems sits being underused in the infield studio instead of up in the booth where he belongs.

I mean, why "experiment" with DJ when AB is on the payroll...unless ESPN is just killing time while negotiating to bring in Bill Weber. :-D

red said...

my concerns:
1. 4 is a whole lotta voices for a n'wide race and . . .
2. who's gonna rein it in and make certain everyone gets time to speak? or will rusty be able to take over? evernham is naturally soft-spoken in the booth: this could mean an "invisible ray."
3. will dj be able to NOT do PxP? he's strong in that role and has naturally assumed it repeatedly.

here's the thing: the announcing team should (in my world) be balanced. if we're going to experiment with no PxP person, then, ideally, we'd have a crew chief, a driver and an owner (who does NOT have a car in that particular race.) these 3 should be able to speak to any technical issues which might arise so a tech center isn't required. this group has a muddled feel to me: dj = driver; rusty = driver and owner AND father; andy = crew chief; ray = crew chief and former/current owner. too much, just too much. why not just run with 3: dj, andy, ray? or dj, andy and (sigh) rusty?

this feels a bit forced to me but i'm going to give it a go. i've generally given up on n'wide, mostly b/c i'm finished w/cup regulars running in that series and stomping all over the n'wide regulars. unless and until nascar looks at this in the off-season, i won't be watching n'wide consistently, no matter how the broadcast booth is composed.

and if espn decides this "works," will they send this group to the stand-alone n'wide races or is this only for n'wide/cup weekends?

but honestly, it feels as if espn is trying to paint a rock pretty and shiny colors and divert attention from the bigger issue: the composition of the field, the rate of S&Pers, the status of sponsorships, etc.

it's become my mantra this season when discussing all-things nascar: remember that the primitive mind is drawn to the shiny object. this "experiment" has the look of a shiny object to me . . .

jamie in n.c. said...

there is one ray of light in this shakeup......nary a mention of the word ...waltrip!!!!

i love nascar on espn.

TexasRaceLady said...

red said "but honestly, it feels as if espn is trying to paint a rock pretty and shiny colors and divert attention from the bigger issue: the composition of the field, the rate of S&Pers, the status of sponsorships, etc.

it's become my mantra this season when discussing all-things nascar: remember that the primitive mind is drawn to the shiny object. this "experiment" has the look of a shiny object to me . . ."

red, you took the words right out of my mouth.

4 voices in the booth makes for uncontrolled chaos. They are going to wind up stepping all over each other.

I think I'll do some finger exercises for the next 3 weeks to limber up. hehehe

Anonymous said...

As long as this site is zeroed in on ESPN and Jerry Punch you will continue to miss many other opportunities to really improve coverage.Yesterday was one of those to compare SPEED and ESPN ,who had practice coverage one after the other. I watched both, first ESPN, good commentary any enjoyable. Not perfect but I enjoyed it, the booth having an idea hat viewers want to hear.Then SPEED. J Hammond trying to explain Goodyears supposedly new approach to testing. Either he didn't know what it was or did not have the ability to explain it to us. He stumbled and bumbled , which is too bad, as I would be interested to learn about it. There are many other examples of his weak on air abilities.Then poor Larry Mac, a good guy, but with speaking skills and a voice that does not suit the booth.Speed needs to use Larry like TNT did, he was really good in that role and replace Hammond who does not belong in this role.

Mary said...

Sounds good to me apart from Rusty (sigh)

Sicklajoie said...

Having Rusty back in the booth kills the whole idea.

dawg said...

All this intense focus on the coverage, overlooks the fact that the product is flawed. That will be most evident at Indy. In 1911, a 500 mile race was such a novelty, that it's sucess was practicly quaranteed. Today the novelty is gone. Thankfully we are only subjected to 400 miles. This track doesn't lend itself to good stock car racing. Never has, never will. NA$CAR is stuck with way too many tracks, because of who owns ehem. Not because they produce good racing.

Spaw said...

Do you ever notice that almost everyone enjoys playing programmer and there are a lot of great ideas out here in in "Fandom" that are often better than the networks? Also, most fans are loathe to throw anyone under the bus and are seemingly happy to keep them around but in a different role.

Except for Bill Weber and Rusty Wallace......the bus runs over them almost every time!

I'd like to help out here and suggest they pair up on Versus as the exclusive broadcast team bringing Pedal Car racing to Latvian reindeer wranglers. Maybe Rusty can fix Stevie up in a Pedal Car! It'll be perfect. Bill and Rusty can bring their lack of knowledge and know-it-all arrogance to an ideal which speaks a different language.


50 yr. fan said...

Dawg said it best. Indy isn't a
stock car track. Despite all the
hype and history it's a IRL go-cart
track. Give us back Rockingham,
Wilkesboro, or a second Darlington.

Anonymous said...

DeWalt is leaving the championship 17 team and Mayfield is close to signing a deal that will give him $15 million in cash to build an elite team?

Give me a break - what a liar!

Newracefan said...

When I first heard the news, (isn't Twitter wonderful) after wondering what JD was going to say, was that I guess DJ will just take over the PXP duties. Then I found out Rusty will be in the booth too I'm not as confident. He has a habit of running off at the mouth and I would much rather hear from Ray. He could be ESPN's Larry Mac and give us the possible strategies during the race. AP never has time because he was always helping out with the PXP. This is going to be interesting all the way around.

West Coast Diane said...

Follow up...besides changing "opening" to "open" in first post. (Must have JD's laptop).

On further thought...Rusty in the booth is not a good thing. I am sure they have a contract with him. Whenever it is up, Rusty needs to go be an owner full time.

Second. All the best booth people in the world can't help poor production/direction, whatever you call it. Without the appropriate camera work what difference will it make. A shot with a single car in the lead, ahead by 4 seconds, bumper cams, in-car cameras. What can the booth say that will fix that problem.

Sophia said...

@Red great comments

@W.C. Diane

AGREE about camera work. Booth is useless if we are not SEEING real racing in WIDE CAMERA SHOTS.

More boys, more toys, but still less racing on the screen? sigh
Not a fan of a couple in the booth for this race.

I would be excited.

Anonymous said...

This looks & sounds like chaos. 4 people in 1 booth is a problem. ESPN already has too many talking heads, oversaturation doesn't fix it. They should not avoid the main problem: tight shots, set scripts, & the teams from 10th on back getting 0 attention. Its hard to get sponsorship to improve your team when the camera's focus is only on 5 cars.

All the Nationwide Series needs is Allen Bestwick, Dale Jarrett & Andy Petree in the booth, Mike Massaro run the pre-race show like he did at Gateway, and the other 3 pit reporters. There is no need for Tim Brewer to explain what a lugnut is, no need for an infield studio to bring life support into the broadcast, and no need for 4 analysts stuffed in a booth with no play-by-play.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an opportunity to listen to the race on the radio (usually a better option anyway).

drpep said...

Hello MRN/PRN goodbye ESPN.

Richard in N.C. said...

I'm intrigued that EESPN is going to try something new and looking forward to it, although 4 in the booth sounds like it could get a little crowded.

Sophia said...

Indeed, I will have MRN handy anyway as long as ESPN FOCUSES on the wrong things.

How in the world all these voices...I have said you could have the savviest, most fun bunch; but if the CAMERA DIRECTOR has the vision of somebody blindfolded...Tight shot, roof cam, bumper cam, in car cam, BRIEF wide shot or maybe 2 cars, roof cam bumper cam...Lather, rinse, repeat.

Still say the camera work is the main issue..and a bat cam won't fix that issue.

All drivers are deserving of some love on the tv as are their sponsors. Working the camera through the pack, as many have remarked about here, would help us "UNDERSTAND what track they are on". Would give a glimpse of the Sponsors... would give the fans what we REALLY want..the racing.

In these tough economic times, BCW-Better Camera Work could help NASCAR better than talking heads 'musical chairs' in the booth.

GinaV24 said...

Geez, well, I like DJ a lot, but having Rusty in the booth is a non-starter for me. And 4 is too many people. I like that ESPN is listening, I guess, but until they change something in the cup booth and show the RACE that is actually happening on the track and not whatever "script" they have in mind, I don't expect this to be enough. ESPN needs to impress the heck out of me QUICKLY or I won't be watching for long.

Anonymous said...

ok ... I'll give ESPN an applaud for trying something new. Remember when the NFL and I think NBC tried to do a game without announcers? didn't work! there is a reason why this formula works in sports! people like it!
ESPN spin doctors will do millions of press releases and they will say things like "never been done" going where no broadcast has gone before" ...everything saying how great ESPN is and how they are the greatest minds in sports TV.
I would like to ask mr. fienberg if he had square wheels would he want to try them on his car? actually make sure you try it on the taurus before the BMW. I don't get why they think they have to do all of this come up with new ways to invent the wheel.
the 4 guys won't work because they will have no direction and let's face it...none of those guys are stellar broadcasters with any real years of experience. I mean rusty is the longest and he should quit. I hope they let them drink before the show...then I might watch!

Anonymous said...

Stop messing with the gimmicks, dammit!

The race is interesting enough without them, IF you'll show the actual racing on the track.

Anonymous said...

Dumb, stupid idea, just let MRN call the race, those guys know how its done

Delenn said...

Quoting Anonymous @ 8:27 PM

the 4 guys won't work because they will have no direction and let's face it...

That's the point. We all expect DJ to drop naturally into that role. He does anyway.

All the exercise, and last night at ORP, will do is add more evidence to the pile that shows change at PxP is necessary.

For me, all this exercise will show is that ESPN have 3 PxP options that are better than what they are currently doing for Cup. (DJ, AB, MR) I just hope this public experiment means they now admit a change is needed. Won't hold my breath.

Finally, I want to add my support to the view that the camera shots chosen is the biggest problem with ESPN. Last night at ORP was not perfect, but was a whole lot better than we have seen from ESPN Cup races in the past. A good director and good pxp is what the TV can do. Then, of course, they need Nascar to provide good racing for them.