Friday, May 22, 2009

ESPN Stops In SPEED's Backyard

Last weekend it was the All-Star race and the TV activity surrounding that event. This weekend, SPEED is once again the dominant TV network at the Lowe's Motor Speedway when it comes to the amount of hours on the air. That seems to be fitting, as SPEED's new headquarters and studios are literally right down the street from the speedway.

Saturday brings SPEED back once again to cover the Sprint Cup Series early practice, Nationwide Series qualifying and the Cup Happy Hour. Then and only then does ESPN step-up and originate live coverage of the Nationwide Series race at 7PM ET on ESPN2.

Dale Jarrett is back from his vacation, so it is only fitting that Rusty Wallace enjoys the weekend off. NASCAR pit reporters Jamie Little and Vince Welch are working ABC's coverage of the Indy 500, so Mike Massaro will step-in to team with Shannon Spake and Dave Burns on pit road.

As usual, Dr. Jerry Punch and Andy Petree will handle the commentary with Jarrett, once he is done working the pre-race show with Allen Bestwick and Brad Daugherty.

Marty Smith has been the face of ESPN during these back-to-back race weekends as the network has only originated live reports for its NASCAR Now news program. As viewers have seen, Smith has been busy working stories ranging from Tony Stewart's first win as an owner to the continuing saga of suspended driver Jeremy Mayfield.

Now, it will be Punch's turn to finally lead ESPN onto the air with a live NASCAR race telecast from LMS. The intensity of this Nationwide Series race is hard to top. Cup drivers having fun, Nationwide regulars trying to impress and young drivers with absolutely nothing to lose make for a volatile NASCAR cocktail.

There are many good parts to ESPN's Nationwide coverage this season, including the best pit road camera coverage and the outstanding graphics package. The downsides have included the return of a suggested script for the races and the continued tough time of Punch in the booth. Now in year three, it is very hard to watch a great guy like Punch stuck in the play-by-play position.

As TV viewers know from the All-Star race, LMS makes great pictures at night under the original Musco track lighting system. Low-level infield lights shine into mirrors to illuminate the track without tall light towers blocking the view of the fans.

With the COT cars parked in the Cup garage, this Nationwide event promises to be fast-paced and intense from the start. While Bestwick will surely set the stage, it is going to be up to Punch to capture that enthusiasm and continue it throughout the broadcast.

During this time of the season, the NASCAR on ESPN team seems to just show-up for the Nationwide races and then leave town. The TV team will next have to wait-out the TNT gang before the ESPN/ABC coverage of both top NASCAR series begins down the stretch in July.

So, SPEED kicks-off Saturday at 2PM and leads the NASCAR fans directly into the ESPN2 Nationwide Series telecast at 7PM. The complete weekend TV schedule is located on the right side of the TDP homepage.

There will be a new post up as we live blog the Nationwide race, but please feel free to add your comments on the SPEED coverage or the ESPN TV team to this post. TDP is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by on this holiday weekend.

(Updated) NASCAR Media May Not Be Taking This Friday Off After All

Confirmed: No Mayfield lawsuit filed by the close of business on Friday. NASCAR fans can actually watch the racing and leave the legal drama until next week.

Updated: NASCAR has called a mandatory meeting of all licensed Sprint Cup Series drivers for Tuesday morning at the Research & Development Center in Concord, NC. The rumor is this closed-door meeting will address the current drug policy issues. TDP now has confirmation that Brian France and Mike Helton will be at the meeting in which drivers can ask any questions. NASCAR spokesman referring to the format as "town hall style."

Thursday was a big day at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Ryan Newman earned the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 and SPEED was on the air with NASCAR from noon through 9:30PM.

On this very unique week, the LMS track is dark on Friday as the racing focus shifts across the street to the dirt track. The SPEED TV crew follows the racing for live sprint car coverage that begins at 8PM.

The SPEED Stage rolls down the road to downtown Charlotte for the annual event called Speed Street. The Trackside bunch leaves the confines of the track and takes their act into the rowdy crowd for what should be a memorable 7PM live show. Jimmie Johnson and NASCAR Hall of Fame Director Winston Kelly are the featured guests.

The traveling NASCAR media began Thursday with the dedication of the deadline media room at the LMS infield media center in the name of David Poole. The picture above is posted courtesy of David Yeazell at The Bleacher Report, a great sports website. Poole was a strong presence on the NASCAR scene and the media dynamic of the sport is still trying to sort itself out after his passing.

While normally busy on Fridays at the track, that same deadline media bunch may now find their planned day-off rudely interrupted. It will not be by racing news, but by another chapter in the increasingly difficult to understand saga of Jeremy Mayfield.

Bill Diehl, who is Mayfield's attorney, has hinted that he may start legal action against NASCAR on Friday in a North Carolina court. It seems that Mr. Diehl is very skilled at using the media for maximum publicity in support of his client.

He appeared on Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody to issue veiled threats that NASCAR had defamed his client and once again suggested that Mayfield did not consume any recreational drug as publicly alleged by NASCAR Chairman Brian France.

While this may be a complete headache to many fans, it is big news in terms of the first official challenge to a complex and sophisticated drug testing plan newly installed by NASCAR for this season. What topic Diehl chooses to attack may finally signal for all the direction Mayfield will be taking in his legal challenge.

Unfortunately for Diehl, there is no NASCAR Now program on Friday and the only live NASCAR show scheduled for SPEED is Trackside. To make the ESPNEWS line-up or crack into SportsCenter at this time of the year, Mayfield's allegations against NASCAR would have to be earth-shattering.

It will be the Internet that carries the Friday Mayfield news and not TV. The same tired journalists who spent a long Thursday at the track will no doubt be front and center as this ugly confrontation continues to escalate. TDP will create a new post if and when all of this begins to happen.

Diehl might be well-advised to consider taking the holiday weekend to talk things over with Mayfield instead of using the off-day to try and generate even more media coverage of this issue. Fans are sounding-off in loud numbers that all this drama is turning them against Mayfield simply because of the half-truths and confusing allegations by him since the suspension was announced.

Marty Smith, Jenna Fryer, Bob Pockrass, Mike Mulhern and the rest of the media bunch were looking forward to a nice day off. Instead, they may well find themselves back on the phone and typing on the computer if Diehl follows through on his threat.

TDP welcomes your comments on these topics. Just click the comments button to add your opinion. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.