Friday, July 3, 2009
This has all the potential to be a very special night for the NASCAR on ESPN team. NASCAR has added the new restart rules to the Nationwide Series and the field is full of cross-over Sprint Cup Series drivers.
Allen Bestwick is going to start the night with NASCAR Countdown at 7:30PM. Brad Daugherty and Dale Jarrett are alongside.
Update: TDP error. Rusty Wallace was not scheduled to be on this telecast.
Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree are going to call the event. Jamie Little, Shannon Spake, Mike Massaro and Dave Burns are on pit road.
If there was ever a night to get things right, this is it. The entire ESPN TV team is on-hand for this huge event. The weather has cleared and the Nationwide Series cars under the lights in Daytona should make great pictures.
Look for the triple-split issues that ESPN has been experiencing on pit road under caution. The race to the line in the pits may play a key role in letting teams get track position with tire and fuel choices.
Daytona has long caution laps, so TV commercials and replays should not be an issue. Bestwick and company have been good at resetting the scene for viewers during the event and the ESPN pit reporters have been getting better at offering information and not hype.
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Update: Rain stopped Nationwide Series qualifying with only two cars left to go and cancelled Cup quals totally. Nationwide Series on ESPN tonight at 7:30PM with entire field set on points.
ESPN2 is up first with coverage from Daytona of Nationwide Series qualifying at 1PM ET. Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree will be calling that session. Dave Burns, Jamie Little, Shannon Spake and Mike Massaro will be handling the interviews.
This is a race that features many Sprint Cup drivers crossing-over to race. Unfortunately, qualifying coverage at Daytona is tough on TV because of the lack of drama. The NASCAR on ESPN team is going to have to use interviews and lots of commentary to make this program interesting.
There are lots of stories going on in the sport and it should be interesting to see if ESPN has the Infield Studio open for this session. Allen Bestwick, Brad Daugherty and Rusty Wallace sitting in the air conditioning could really lend a hand to this coverage.
It is a steaming hot day in Daytona with rain on the way later in the afternoon. ESPN's goal is certainly going to be to get this session over without an incident or delay on the track. Then, let everyone get cool and begin the build-up to one of the biggest Nationwide Series races of the season at 7:30PM on ESPN.
SPEED will come along at 4PM and handle qualifying for the Sprint Cup Series. Steve Byrnes will be joined by Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond. Ralph Sheheen and Matt Yocum will cover pit road.
The drama of this session should only be at the rear of the field. Most top teams are concentrating on race set-up and not putting effort into an attempt at the pole. SPEED offers coverage that focuses more on the cars on the track than other stories in the sport. It is a straightforward presentation that should serve as a good warm-up for Saturday night.
A half-hour version of Trackside airs on SPEED at 7PM, while NASCAR Now airs at the same time on ESPN2. Then, Bestwick and company begin the primetime coverage of the Nationwide Series race over on ESPN. TDP will be live blogging that event.
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There is nothing like the distinctive voice of future NASCAR Hall of Fame member Ken Squier to bring the sport back in focus just in the nick of time.
That is a young Squier on the right, hosting a Thunder Road Speedbowl awards banquet in the early 1960's. Squire, then a local radio station owner, still co-owns that track in Barre, VT. Click on the picture to see it full-size.
At long last, the first full list of names was released detailing the nominees for the new NASCAR Hall of Fame. It was a Thursday night TV special on SPEED that served that purpose.
Produced by the NASCAR Media Group, the program originated from the still-under-construction interior of the Hall. Squier was alone, although briefly visited by Brian France and NASCAR Historian Buzz McKim.
These days, this type of setting is where Squier is at his best. Stripped of the roaring engines and the color announcers, Squier simply talked about the people he knows so well. In his no-nonsense New England style, Squier introduced names and faces that already have a distinguished place in the sport. Soon, that status may change. The Hall of Fame now awaits.
The producers broke the nominees up into several groups presented in chronological order. That overlayed an easy to understand theme for even the most casual fan. Navigating from the early days of the sport to the Darrell Waltrip era was not a simple task. Thankfully, there was something to help with the journey.
Once again, it was the use of historic footage that put the NASCAR Media Group stamp on this program. For veteran fans, it was a chance to celebrate the past and remember the roots of the sport. Younger viewers may have seen NASCAR legends like Junior Johnson and Fireball Roberts for the very first time.
Nothing serves to put the current issues of the sport in perspective better than seeing the struggles of those who raced in the past. Long before full-face helmets, soft walls and the COT there was a very different style of racing and a very different breed of driver.
With all of the off-track distractions weighing on the sport right now, this simple one hour show did a very nice job of reminding the TV audience of the real reasons millions of Americans flock to watch NASCAR races.
Nowhere in today's modern culture is there a dynamic sports story of risk and dedication like NASCAR. As Squier said, the element of danger and the courage it took to face new racing challenges for the first time is a very unique slice of American history.
Click here for the NASCAR.com page that allows fans to vote for their five nominees from the twenty-five men on the list. This interactive element is a great piece of this new puzzle and points to the fact that Winston Kelly and his Hall of Fame team put this process together with care.
This is a weekend where Jeremy Mayfield is rumored to be headed for Daytona. Goodyear is again struggling with tire issues. The forecast at the track is for thunderstorms. Bill Weber was fired by TNT. Michael Jackson's death is still dominating the cable news networks. An upbeat story is hard to find.
Perhaps, Squier and his Thursday night TV program can serve to redirect the conversations among the teams and fans to which five nominees should make the NASCAR Hall on this first ballot. Talking about the courage, honor and determination of twenty-five distinguished Americans is a very nice way to move gracefully into this holiday weekend.
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Nicole Manske opened the Wednesday NASCAR Now program with the right topic. The stunning decision from a US District Court granting Jeremy Mayfield a temporary injunction against NASCAR had come down only hours earlier. That is Mayfield and his attorney, Bill Diehl, pictured above leaving the courthouse.
ESPN reporter David Newton actually called into the show by phone. The only video shown included one soundbite from Mayfield and one from NASCAR's Ramsey Poston. Neither was in context and they made little sense. Mayfield said he had cleared his name and Poston commented about future testing.
Earlier this year, NASCAR Now had interviewed a drug testing expert from the World Doping Association. Dr. Gary Wadler gave his views on the myriad of problems with NASCAR's current drug policy and the specific reasons he thought it could be successfully challenged in court. Click here for a review of that program.
"Woefully lacking in details," said Wadler of the NASCAR policy. On this day, that was also true of NASCAR Now's ability to deal with this issue. During his "phoner," Newton said this was a huge case for NASCAR. So, how did Manske follow-up on this breaking story? With an interview of Brad Keselowski promoting ESPN's Nationwide Series race on Friday night.
Even a small local TV station covering a court hearing has a reporter on-camera who offers a complete story of the activity of the day. That includes questions asked of the key participants, a recap of the issues and an on-camera presence. For ESPN to offer Newton on the phone as the single source of information on this issue was inexcusable.
There was a live shot next, but it was ESPN's Dave Burns. He again promoted the ESPN Nationwide Series race at Daytona. Manske ran Burns through a series of painfully scripted questions about Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards' Nationwide Series teams. Fans know that script all too well where ESPN is concerned.
None of the Dr. Wadler footage addressing the Mayfield issue was shown. No legal analyst was on the show to help fans understand what the ruling really meant. No NASCAR executives were interviewed for their reactions to the ruling. Both Mike Helton and Brian France were in the courtroom for this hearing. If they refused ESPN's request to be interviewed, that should have been stated.
Meanwhile, back on the show Matt Kenseth's team got their Daytona 500 rings. Tony Stewart and Kenseth drove at a local track. NASCAR Now promoted an IRL race while leaving the Sprint Cup Series Daytona race off the motorsports schedule. Finally, a live shot with Matt DiBenedetto who won the Camping World East race in Loudon wrapped the show.
In the end, there was no on-camera reporter outside the courthouse in the very home of NASCAR. There was no reaction from the NASCAR President or Chairman to a precedent-setting day for their sport. There was no perspective from ESPN's Ryan McGee who touched-off the entire drug issue with his Aaron Fike interview. There were no opinions from Ed Hinton, Dale Jarrett or even medical doctor Jerry Punch.
NASCAR Now may have found their on-camera talent this season, but behind the scenes things have to drastically improve. This program was about promoting ESPN's Nationwide Series and IRL races with some filler stories thrown-in. Newton's update by phone was almost an interruption in the scripted scenarios that have plagued this network from the start of the NASCAR coverage in 2007.
What a disappointing show at a critical time in ESPN's evolution of NASCAR credibility. There is no NASCAR Now on Thursday as on-track Daytona schedules cancelled the show. The next time fans see Manske it will be at 7PM on Friday right before the Nationwide Series coverage. What a coincidence.
Update: Click here for Marty Smith's Thursday column on Mayfield and this issue.
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