Monday, May 25, 2009

Patience And Patriotism Mix At LMS

After a while, it did not matter if you were a TV viewer or a crew member. Patience was at a premium during the long weekend at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Fox defaulted to non-NASCAR programming on Sunday as rain delayed the Coca-Cola 600. The TV effort began on Monday with a one-hour version of RaceDay on SPEED. That group did a good job of resetting the scene for the race and updating the mood of the drivers and teams.

Once Mike Joy led the Fox team onto the air, circumstances continued to test the patience of all involved. Chris Myers and Jeff Hammond were the relief team for the guys in the booth as the rain interrupted the racing time and time again.

During one break, Larry McReynolds gave fans his report card for the various Sprint Cup teams through this first part of the season. Fox only has one more race remaining at Dover, so they are beginning to transition into wrapping-up the details of their part of the Sprint Cup season.

Waltrip and Hammond disagreed frequently on the grades being assigned to the various teams by McReynolds. Opinions are good to hear, but there was a lot of judging going-on in terms of what should have been and what could be.

After a while, the TV coverage was just following the leaders after the restarts. Trying to capture the racing at the back of the field was apparently a tough assignment once again. There were no triple splits on pit stops, but the real-time scoring worked well as the cars left. Several times, major changes in the field were lost when they happened on pit road.

Mike Joy did a good job of keeping on top of the stories, but the inability to then show what he and the other members of the booth were talking about was rough. Over these final Fox races, Joy has taken to calling out the number of the turn where the action was happening. This is certainly a gentle reminder for the TV team to follow the real leader of the pack.

As the racing action ground toward 3PM, a new wrinkle developed in the officiating of the sport. NASCAR threw a caution flag, slowed the field to a stop on the frontstretch and shut-off the car engines. In the same kind of show of patriotism that fans know from the opening ceremonies, the crew members lined pit road and the entire speedway joined the nation in a minute of silence honoring the military veterans who have served this country. That was a great moment to put things in perspective.

The rain started again shortly after the restart, beginning the familiar cycle once again. The TV scramble was on and everyone possible who cooperated was interviewed. Unfortunately, that did not include Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Tony Eury Jr.

It was over five hours after the first laps when the Fox TV cameras showed a pensive David Reutimann squatting next to his wet car. He was leading when the rain came after taking a chance by staying on the track. The tension on his face was in sharp contrast to the smiling Michael Waltrip who seemed to be smelling a Sprint Cup Series win as an owner.

Eventually, the normally optimistic Jeff Hammond began to tell the tale that in his mind things should be done. He pointed to the crews, drivers and others who needed to begin the turn-a-round to head for Dover. Ironically, it was Hammond on Sunday who kept telling TV viewers that the race was getting set to begin in just a short while. That never happened. Talk about a real turn-a-round.

The final rain showers came around 6PM and NASCAR finally called it a day. The winner's interview was solid and having an underdog like MWR win a race made for a good story. There was one final deep breath from the TV crew and then it was done.

This was a bittersweet way to close-out the Fox telecast. The TV team travels to Dover for what is normally a grinder of a race and then is done. LMS was really the last big stage that Joy, McReynolds, Waltrip and Hammond get to share. It will only be remembered as wet, dreary and very long.

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Live Blogging Monday at LMS

Note: If your Fox local station leaves the NASCAR coverage, please go to our comments section and tell us your city.

Things change in a hurry in TV land, so this Monday is going to feature two TV networks scrambling all day long. SPEED is first with a one hour edition of RaceDay at 11AM ET. This will serve as the pre-race show, since NASCAR starts all rain delayed races as close to the top of the hour as possible.

That means when the NASCAR on Fox gang comes on the air at 12PM, they will be able to say hello and then the cars will hit the track. The full Fox crew returns led by Mike Joy in the announce booth with Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds.

The Hollywood Hotel may or may not be back, but my guess is Chris Myers and Jeff Hammond should be on-board as usual. Myers dropped his comedy act on Sunday and led the TV team through some great discussions of NASCAR topics in the news. It was an eye-opener for those fans who argue that he is most effective in his assigned role as the class clown.

LMS has taken a lot of water and that normally means that the grassy area inside the frontstretch dogleg will be very damaging to the COT cars should they spin into it. We may well see careful racing because NASCAR is obligated to run the full 600 mile distance unless weather shortens the event after halfway.

No doubt there are some tired TV crew members on both the SPEED and Fox teams. Once the race is over, SPEED has some decisions to make. Originally scheduled for 8PM but taped in the early afternoon is This Week in NASCAR. Fox pit reporter Steve Byrnes is the host, with drivers Michael Waltrip and Marcos Ambrose as the panelists this week.

Also on tap is the Victory Lane show where host John Roberts interviews the winning driver and crew chief with Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace. That program was scheduled for 11PM on Sunday and is not TBA in terms of air times. Perhaps, SPEED may be forced to put Victory Lane into the TWIN spot this week and just move on.

Fox is a broadcast TV network, not a cable outfit like SPEED. Most probably, the decision to show cartoons as standby programming during the rain delay and not NASCAR programming was driven by that issue. Some wonderful programs like Behind the Headsets and the SPEED broadcast of the All-Star race would have fit the bill, but the Fox local stations are used to cartoons in that timeslot. As previously mentioned, some West Cost viewers got to watch infomercials for two hours.

Monday is a new day and optimism is high that the race will be run. This post will serve to host your comments on the Fox broadcast of the rain-delayed Coca-Cola 600 and the RaceDay pre-race show. To add your TV-related opinion, just click on the comments button below.

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Rain Dancing On ESPN2

It was SPEED that was on the air when the rain started during the Sprint Cup Series happy hour coverage from Lowe's Motor Speedway. Mike Joy pointed out that it looked like it was going to cause a long delay for the upcoming Nationwide Series race. He was right.

ESPN2 taking the air at 7PM led to two hours of pre-race coverage before the track was ready. Allen Bestwick has been working in NASCAR for decades and his conversations with Dale Jarrett and Brad Daugherty ranged from race tactics to drug policy issues. Analyst Andy Petree and all three ESPN pit reporters worked hard to cover the bases during the delay.

One interesting note was that the ESPN team did not interview Shawn Johnson, the Dancing with the Stars winner, who was at the track and is pictured above. That series is a huge entertainment hit for ABC and Johnson's appearance at the track was well-publicized. After all, they had two hours to fill.

Starting the race under caution brought Dr. Jerry Punch to the telecast and he led the TV team through an extended conversation while the field circled. Once underway, the track provided great racing action. Unfortunately, that did not translate up to the broadcast booth.

The LMS track lighting made great pictures and the ESPN Director was solid in updating the leaders while following the best racing. Kyle Busch coming from the rear of the pack was the story early and certainly gave the race a theme.

Credit goes to the ESPN Producer for breaking away from commercial to return to the live action. The network also took the opportunity to utilize a split-screen to keep the live action visible during interviews and green flag pit stops. As usual, the ESPN triple-split on the caution flag pitstops remains the industry standard.

Punch faded down the stretch and once again the hard work of Jarrett and Petree was on display as they inserted facts and updated race information. That duo has really been the saving grace for these telecasts. Regardless of the reason, Punch is sighing deeply and mumbling car numbers about one hour into these races. TDP has received multiple emails from fans actually concerned about Punch's health.

As rain closed-in to end the race, Bestwick and Daugherty again were on-camera and immediately the vibe changed as they teased Rusty Wallace and recapped the field. Bestwick ultimately closed-out the telecast after the win by Mike Bliss and tried to put the finishing order in some perspective. There was a good reason why.

In this race, the start-and-park issue was simply buried by ESPN. That is not fair to race fans. To have cars suddenly leave the race and never be mentioned again on the telecast is a fundamental mistake. It causes TV viewers to wonder what else is not being reported.

Pit reporter Shannon Spake worked hard in the absence of Jamie Little and Vince Welch, who were off working the Indy 500 for ABC. Spake is finding her on-air groove and perhaps hosting a week of NASCAR Now in the ESPN studios recently helped her confidence. Mike Massaro returned without missing a beat.

As the caution came out to shuffle the field and leave Bliss alone on the lead lap, Punch became lost. There was silence on the air as he tried to organize the information that he relies on for his continual updates of facts. The ability to simply talk about what was going-on once again could not be accomplished.

Despite the fact that this race was delayed by rain, it was still a short Nationwide event and not an extended Sprint Cup Series telecast. Punch got lost and never even mentioned Bliss had won until after his winner interview with Spake.

The rest of the ESPN team has shown they are ready for the Sprint Cup transition, but it is clear from the total lack of excitement, enthusiasm and information being offered to TV viewers that Punch needs to step aside. It certainly is a shame, but the experiment of putting one of the best pit reporters in NASCAR history in the play-by-play role has not worked.

TDP welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the comments button below to add your opinion on this topic. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

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