Saturday, February 28, 2009

Las Vegas A Truly Amazing Race For ESPN

After two seasons of Nationwide Series telecasts, the third time was the charm for the NASCAR on ESPN team. Las Vegas was the third race of the 2009 season and may well be remembered as the best NASCAR event televised since the network returned to the sport.

A brief over-run of college basketball moved the first several segments of the NASCAR Countdown show to the ESPN Classic Network. Allen Bestwick teamed with Dale Jarrett and Brad Daugherty to present a program that included lots of Las Vegas references and color. Rusty Wallace had the weekend off.

It was when Jarrett moved up to the announce booth that something unfolded that NASCAR fans have not seen from the telecast team. ESPN finally put all the pieces of the Nationwide Series jigsaw puzzle in place. From the drop of the green flag through the overtime ending, this was the kind of live event coverage that fans originally expected from The Worldwide Leader in Sports.

The TV team stripped all the unwanted extras from the telecast and focused the entire four hour production on the racing. Mike Massaro moved from the studio to pit road and led a team of reporters that finally dropped the hype and focused on interviewing drivers out of the race and keeping things updated for TV viewers.

Dr. Jerry Punch is a new man in 2009 and his focus on simply calling the play-by-play action has resulted in a new on-air dynamic. Even after almost four hours and with a green-white-checker finish looming, Punch was excited and setting the scene for the fans.

Without Punch continually asking questions of his analysts and using the same tired catch-phrases over-and-over again, Jarrett and Petree have come alive. This may have been the best telecast for Andy Petree since he joined the ESPN team. Petree was outstanding in his knowledge and understanding of the events and strategies unfolding in the race.

Jarrett used his best skill in this event and that is listening. Rather then step-in and try to help Punch with the call of the race, Jarrett took the role of his father and added his opinion when it was needed. The timing was perfect as Petree and Punch really took the lead in this telecast.

Ultimately, the biggest contribution was from the producer and the director of the race. Gone from the telecast was the loud music into commercial. Gone were the endless ESPN promos. Gone was the fascination with only reporting the positions of the Sprint Cup Series drivers. This live event was balanced and represented the first real hardcore racing telecast from ESPN in a very long time.

Even after the race running more than thirty minutes over the scheduled timeslot, ESPN2 stayed for a live interview with the winner. This smart move, even for the second-tier Nationwide Series, will leave a lasting impression among the fans.

What was your reaction to the Nationwide Series race telecast on ESPN2? Please feel free to add your comments by clicking on the comments button below.

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Live Blog Of The Las Vegas Nationwide Series Race

ESPN2 will present the Nationwide Series race at 4PM. Allen Bestwick will host the pre-race show with Dale Jarrett and Brad Daugherty. Rusty Wallace has the weekend off as does Vince Welch in the pits. Mike Massaro will sub for Welch.

Dr. Jerry Punch will call the action with Jarrett and Andy Petree alongside. The regular pit road cast of Jamie Little, Shannon Spake and Dave Burns will also work the race.

The track is fast and the Nationwide field is a mix of Cup drivers, Nationwide veterans and lots of drivers will very little experience on ovals like Vegas. Keep an eye on the tail of the field to see if there are some "start and park" teams in this event.

This post will serve to host the in-progress comments about the race. Just click on the comments button below to add your TV-related comments. This website is family-friendly, please avoid foul language or hateful speech. Thanks and happy posting.

Rusty Wallace Takes The Weekend Off

The Nationwide Series TV team from ESPN will be using Dale Jarrett for double-duty this weekend. Rusty Wallace has a scheduled weekend off, so Jarrett will be calling the race and also appearing as a panelist on the pre-race show.

It will be Allen Bestwick and Brad Daugherty alongside of Jarrett at 4PM ET as the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show takes to the air. After thirty minutes, Jarrett will scoot upstairs to join Dr. Jerry Punch and Andy Petree for the live race.

Once again this week, the Nationwide Series coverage on ESPN2 follows a live basketball game. Last week, NASCAR Countdown was forced to start on the ESPN Classic Network as basketball ran long. This week, race fans can only hope that either Illinois State or Creighton pulls away in the second half.

SPEED will start the day with Nationwide Series qualifying at Noon ET. At 1:30PM the NASCAR on Fox team will call two sessions of Sprint Cup practice on SPEED leading right up to the Nationwide Series race. Steve Byrnes will anchor the Nationwide qualifying coverage and Mike Joy will lead the Fox team.

SPEED's Hermie Sadler is doing a fine job in his role as analyst on the Nationwide Series practice sessions. Teamed with Jeff Hammond and Steve Byrnes, Sadler continues to expand his presence on SPEED this season. Saturday will find him alongside John Roberts on the SPEED Stage providing commentary during breaks in the on-track action.

Fox has expanded the Digger presence far beyond the races. On Friday night's Trackside show, Darrell Waltrip was nowhere to be found at the start of the program. Eventually, he appeared in a golf cart with the Digger costume character along for the ride. Waltrip explained he and Digger had been over on the QVC shopping network selling Digger merchandise. And the beat goes on.

One final ESPN note. It will be Nicole Manske stepping into the host role for the Monday version of the NASCAR Now roundtable on March 2. Allen Bestwick takes a break as Manske plays host to the now familiar faces of Ray Evernham, Ricky Craven and Randy LaJoie at 5PM for the program.

There are seven and a half hours of live NASCAR TV on Saturday. It should be interesting to see how Nationwide Series qualifying shakes out, how carefully the Sprint Cup teams choose to practice and then what kind of racing the Las Vegas track will offer as the real action finally begins.

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