Thursday, November 19, 2009

Too Much Sunday TV At Homestead

Once late July rolls around, the remaining NASCAR TV partners are just ESPN and SPEED. They co-exist in an environment that often has them sharing TV crew members, facilities and even the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series activities.

On any given weekend, fans are just as likely to see SPEED cover practice and qualifying for the top two series as they are ESPN. Ultimately, NASCAR TV becomes a blur of first names. Larry, Dale, Jeff, and Andy are upstairs while Jamie, Wendy, Hermie and Dave are downstairs.

What fans want is coverage of the activity at the track shown to them in a clear and concise manner. The current NASCAR TV contract has fans spinning the dial like never before, but SPEED and ESPN have worked with NASCAR to avoid overlaps unless they occur when a race runs long.

One of the most interesting changes has been the move of SPEED's big RaceDay program one hour earlier. This avoided conflict with Fox, TNT and now ESPN's own pre-race show called NASCAR Countdown. Two year ago, fans had to choose between Wendy Venturini and Jamie Little as they both interviewed the same drivers on the same live shows within minutes of each other.

RaceDay and NASCAR Countdown went head-to-head in a contest that neither could win. This year, NASCAR Now's morning edition was at 10AM, which left plenty of time for two hours of RaceDay and then the ESPN/ABC pre-race show for yet another hour.

Sunday at Homestead, things are going to get interesting. First, SPEED expanded RaceDay to three hours. They have done this in the past and the results were mixed. This is the Homestead-palooza show that has ten on-air announcers and uses several different sets. Perhaps fans remember "the beach" and several lifeless comedy skits from past years.

In addition to the morning hour of NASCAR Now, ESPN has added a ninety minute special under the SportsCenter banner before the ABC pre-race show. The special will feature Mike Rowe from "Dirty Jobs" offering some glimpses of the dirtiest jobs in NASCAR. Pit reporter Dave Burns is assigned to the #48 team and veteran Marty Smith has the task of following Jimmie Johnson all day long.

Let's try to sum all this pre-pre-race TV programming up. NASCAR Now at 10AM, RaceDay at 11:30, SportsCenter special at 1PM and then another hour of the official pre-race show at 2:30PM. That's over six hours of live TV to basically talk about Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson and the weather.

The really unfortunate part is that RaceDay and the SportsCenter special overlap, so NASCAR fans have ninety minutes of choosing who to watch as the primary source of information before the race. It was assumed this problem was exactly what NASCAR wanted to avoid when they moved RaceDay to an earlier time.

While the complete NASCAR TV schedule is posted on the right-hand side of TDP's main page, NASCAR fans are going to have to make sure to plan in advance their Sunday TV viewing as the offerings from SPEED and ESPN are a bit different from the usual line-up.

The question for fans is, do you care? Opinions in the past have ranged from strong support for one specific program or network right down to the fact that pre-race shows are background noise for Sunday housecleaning duties. Are you going to take hours before the race and watch, or just join when you hear the engines fire for the race?

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