Friday, February 12, 2010

NASCAR TV Season Off To A Great Start

Well, what a start to the NASCAR TV season. Thursday featured a full day of coverage from both ESPN and SPEED. There were a wide variety of personalities working hard to cover the activity both on and off the track. We are going to feature some of those folks in this column and then ask for your opinion on their performance.

Pictured above are Statler and Waldorf. Those are the two muppets who sit up in the balcony and generally pass judgment on everyone below them. If you have been watching SPEED, you have seen Dave Despain and Ken Squier appearing on camera from their infield perch.

This is not to suggest for even a moment that Despain would have a somewhat cynical view of NASCAR or that Squier would sometimes hearken back to the good old days in his comments. Those two would never bicker between themselves and would probably stay focused on just one topic during their time on the screen.

Actually, during the downtime between sessions on the track or before practice begins, Despain and Squier have been hilarious to watch. No matter the weather, Despain looks grumpy and Squier does his best to poke fun at him constantly. The best part of Squier's routine is that he only uses Despain's last name in addressing him on the air. "Oh, Despain come on!" says Squier in mock disgust.

The new lightning rod for the SPEED team is Kyle Petty. Taking over on both RaceDay and Victory Lane this season, Petty has also been featured on the many NASCAR Live programs during Speedweeks. The results have been fantastic.

Petty will jump in and discuss any NASCAR topic at the drop of a hat. This former driver has seen the highs and lows of this sport in so many different ways. His work at TNT in the summer and his interest in social media have made him a fan favorite. This is about to be a very big year on TV for Kyle Petty.

It was the NASCAR on Fox team that called the Gatorade Duels Thursday for SPEED. Having Mike Joy back on the air was a big positive for the sport. Certainly, he has a definite ability to be politically correct at times, but the excitement he can generate doing play-by-play has been missed.

Joy is a master at directing traffic on the air and he shows how a smooth broadcast with many voices can be run efficiently. The chaos of the Duels, with the many scenarios underway in each race, was handled quite well from the announce booth. Joy is a trusted personality and having him set the tone for the season has been a big plus.

The line from ESPN's Marty Reid was very simple. As the play-by-play announcer, Reid did what is called a "throw" down to pit road for a Nationwide Series report. That was the easy part. The hard part came when Dr. Jerry Punch took a deep breath and started his new life as a NASCAR pit road reporter.

Following a cycle that saw him stay with the network when NASCAR left, Punch became a well respected college football sideline reporter. When NASCAR returned, Punch was inserted into the play-by-play role for ten months of non-stop coverage, including the Chase for the Championship. It never clicked.

This season, he is back home where he distinguished himself and helped to grow a grassroots sport into a national phenomenon. Veteran fans remember Punch jumping in to save the life of Rusty Wallace after a violent crash near pit road. Punch was there in the sweltering heat of a Darlington summer day and almost single handedly helped many Americans come to know a rough and tough driver named Earnhardt.

Nothing could help this TV season get back on the right track more than the revamped NASCAR on ESPN team clicking right out of the box. After three years of changes, frustration and embarrassment this may be the year that ESPN finally delivers.

Friday night, Michael Waltrip will be calling the truck series race as a color analyst. Waltrip appeared Wednesday on the debut of Inside NASCAR on Showtime, where he is a panelist. He also called truck series practice and qualifying sessions for SPEED this week.

Thursday, during the Gatorade Duels, Waltrip appeared in his firesuit in the Hollywood Hotel and joined Krista Voda and Jeff Hammond on camera. Waltrip cried when he made the Daytona 500 as a result of another driver's finishing position in the second race. Waltrip had crashed in the first.

After this Sunday, Waltrip will not be in a firesuit on TV. He will not be in the Hollywood Hotel. He will not be in the truck series booth. There are no races for several weeks. His TV exposure will be a mid-week late night talk show on a small premium cable network.

Love him or hate him, Waltrip has been a consistent TV presence for over a decade. It should be interesting to see how things sort out for both Waltrip and his fans as the reality of his new situation sinks in.

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saltsburgtrojanfan said...

We'll see JD

We'll see if the races by the networks, particularly ESPN/ABC, has changed their ways. I'll or we for that matter will believe it when we see it. But we still have our doubts.
So far it is good though
Saltsburg, Penna.

Anonymous said...

We were treated to two great races Thursday afternoon and superb coverage too. On the ESPN side I am not a fan of Marty Reid but Doc Punch was awful in the booth. Why didn't ESPN promote Allen Bestwick instead? As a big fan of Kyle Petty I have been disappointed by his work so far on Speed TV's other shows.

Jack from PA said...

I watched most of SPEED's coverage from Thursday, and was very pleased. My only gripe is that in years past, the producer would only focus on the "bubble spots" and almost ignore the battle for the win. Today, they paid full attention to both finishes (as good as they were), but it took another 15 seconds or so to see who made it into the 500 and who would go home. I wish SPEED would have done a double box, showing both groups of cars coming to the checkered.

I love Kyle Petty on TNT, and I knew when SPEED signed him to to RaceDay and VL, he would be great. He has not disappointed at all.

I'll be honest... I haven't watched really any of ESPN's coverage of practice at Daytona, but am looking forward to Dr. Punch's "new" role on pit road. I'll take your word for it, JD, that ESPN may be hitting its stride. It would not shock me, as they really were only a couple small changes away from putting together solid broadcasts. Perhaps this year is it.

Shirley Buttacavoli said...

Despain and Squier in Daytona signals the start of Speedweeks. They each have their own charm, whether it be with a frown or a grin.

IMO, there are no better with NASCAR play-by-play than Mike Joy and Allen Bestwick. They both seem to have a natural flow. And their knowledge is not 'researched' but part of their daily life.

I cried just as Mikey did when he realized he made the race. It was so refreshing to not have someone kidding him, or making fun of him. I never have understood why so many people are needed for pre-race, and think today proved it is not necessary. Krista Voda & Jeff Hammond handled the complex scenario of Daytona 500 qualifying to perfection.

The 'winner' for fans is Kyle Petty. I haven't watched RaceDay or Victory Lane for at least 2 years. I'm watching the replay of Victory Lane again right now. I'm actually looking forward to watching RaceDay this weekend.

When something clicks, it just clicks. SPEED seems to have that figured out.

ESPN has definitely taken a step forward. Unfortunately, IMO, they took several steps back thanks to the overwhelming coverage of a particular individual the past month or two.

When does the IRL season start?

Jonathan said...

wow just wow is all I can say! This day was special! Thank you Nascar, Thank you Speed, and Thank you ESPN this season is going to be magical! Those duel races go down as the best i've seen since I started watching in 04! I was so happy for Mikey and Max those 2 made me cry tears of joy today!! wow Heck I took off work at UPS tonight to go out and when I got to one of the biggest bars in Chicago i was pleased to see 70 percent of the tvs had Nascar on and everyone was loving it (mind u it was the reply of the duels) I turned many on to the sport tonight!

Hotdogger said...

Couldn't agree with you more. This is going to be a great year for NASCAR on TV.


51 yr. fan said...

I made it through ten minutes of
Inside Nascar last night before
changing channels. The first five
minutes were subjective conversations on old news. The
next five were a rerun of old topics already covered the last
few days. I think for someone to
enjoy the program they would have
had to been out of the race world
for a long time. Run Randy, run.

Donna DeBoer said...

TV coverage is looking very optimistic. That's all I'll say for now. Two of the BEST Duels I've ever seen didn't hurt! Not liking Despain on NASCAR Live at all, but you're right about Squier. Plays like an older version of the Randy-Rusty fun. I can only take so much of Kyle Petty but so far he is holding the tone to what he's done the last few years. If he stays like this it will be very good. The rest of the SPEED, ESPN, Fox regulars- doing as well as always... with the exception of DW, but I've always treated his "opinions" with a grain of salt, so doesn't make or break for me. Will never have SHO so I can't comment on Inside NASCAR but I don't mind MW in the Truck booth. It was awesome to see Jerry Punch work it, you could see the positive demeanor towards him in the people he interviewed.

glenc1 said...

thanks for the photo of Waldorf & Statler...made me laugh out loud this morning, great analogy, I have enjoyed Ken & Dave in spite of myself. I didn't get to see ESPN yet other than NASCAR Now, but it sounds very promising. I like Marty, look forward to hearing him. As for Speed, I like Kyle just fine; I'm just grateful to have less Spencer. Unfortunately, it's finally gotten to the point where I groan when I even hear Michael Waltrip's voice. And I used to be a fan. The only good thing is, if he made the race it means they won't try and put him in the booth. One Waltrip is enough. I look forward to the rest of the weekend.

GinaV24 said...

I watched my recording of the first duel when I got home, since that was the one that my driver was in. Love Mike Joy and I think Ken Squier is one of the best guys to listen to radio or TV. Despain leaves me pretty cold since he does always appear "grumpy". I get enough grumpy in real life, don't need to tune in to watch it.

I was so glad to see Dr Punch back doing the thing he is so good at during the ESPN portion of things. I like Marty Reid, but ESPN is going to really have to wow me to keep me tuning in this season. I really enjoy the Nationwide series except when ESPN goes into overkill mode with any one topic.

West Coast Diane said...

Just a note. Listening to FOX off and on, on scanner, during the race.(Row 50 Sprint tower. Weather was not too bad, everyone had to remove tons of layers when the sun was out, then get "redressed" when it went

During commercials, you get off air banter. First, on ESPN, Marty made a comment about people complaining about too much Danica. He basically said...she's out there running the most laps. Tony S ran 2, what can you say about 2 laps.

It was interesting listening to Krista and Jeff. She was letting him do most of the directing. Asking him 'should I say this', 'do you like this lead in'. She was letting him coach her. Think she was being deferential to Jeff's experience. Sounded like they worked well together. Krista in, Chris M, out?? Funny note...they debated the weather lead with Artie in guessing the wind speeds at race start. Finally gave up and said use 'light'.

Weather is the pits this year. But it is still fun being here.

Anonymous said...

In general, this has been a great TV start to the new NASCAR season. Kudos to both networks for their coverage.

But---what happened during SPEED's coverage of truck qualifying? I have come to expect high quality and this wasn't it. Too much Mikey, too much personal stuff, too little of the individual trucks and their qualifying runs. Sometimes I didn't know who was on the track or how they were running. Sooo frustrating! Please rein Mikey in or replace him and get back to factual, driver by driver coverage. At least identify the driver verbally and on the screen. I finally just turned it off.

Ziggy said...

A 260 some thousand dollar payout was on line for the 43rd qualifier. In this case we were lucky to witness the emotion 1st hand of said qualifier. Like him or hate him NASCAR needs him. Thank you Mr Speed Network Producer.

1st shot of Dr Punch back in the pits the 1st thing I thought of was Ned, Benny & Bob Jenkins.

Anonymous said...

Krista Voda is an absolute delight as a studio host. She is so natural and well informed.

Inside Nascar follows the format of Inside the NFL very closely. Smartly produced using numerous sets and combinations of the on-air personalities. It was different seeing Michael Waltrip in a suit/tie and not being the "class clown." I could live without Chris Myers being the "host," but he kept everything in check. Since I am a fan of the Inside the NFL, I enjoyed the format. Will watch it again to see how it handles things when there is an actual race to re-cap.

Watching the Duels - I found it hard to keep track of who was in and out, but then things were moving pretty quickly on the track. I missed what happened to Jr and I never heard it mentioned other than saying he never got back to the front. So, they weren't keying in on him.

Max Papis interview was great. A man genuinely happy to be in the field. Bootie Barker has moved around a lot, but he always seems to produce results.

Looking forward to the three actual races. Will tune in to Race Day to see the new combination. Glad Spencer is gone from it - Kenny and him together were too much. Kenny is still "over the top," but that is his personality I guess. I enjoy Kyle Petty.

Summary - everything is vastly improved from last year from the racing to the programming.

There are a lot of interesting personalities driving the cars - without the threat of censure, the races this year should be way better than last year. I've bought into the hype for this year to have much better racing.

Anonymous said...

A promising start by all the networks for sure. I'll believe its permanent later in the season when after Indy I don't turn off the TV in disgust like last year.

Doctor Punch back where he belongs, is just great for us fans. Now the newer fans will understand why us "older fans" were so upset with him being stuffed in the wrong job. Is it Speedweeks & my happiness the sport is back, or were Jamies questions better?

Kyle is a big plus anywhere he is on TV - who stole his hat?
; )

Now the most glaringly obvious & annoying one out there is Kenny Wallace when he is talking down to "you fans" who need to "listen up" while He tells us how wrong & insignificant our opinions are. 'Scuse me? I don't need some one else telling me what to like or not like thanks anyway,Kenny.

Despain & Squier are great to watch & does anyone know if Mr. Squier is going to do a history piece again this year, similar to the one last year? That was just awesome. I learned to burn to DVD from DVR to keep that one.

I'm hoping this very un-Florida weather doesn't wreck my days TV watching.

All in all a really good start to our season.

Zieke said...

First to Kyle. He is lots of fun and provides great entertainment value. Hope he stays on. JP will do just fine in his pit reporter style. I look forward to hearing his expertise. Krista is great fun to listen to, and she and Jeff appear to hit it off on TV together. Hope she doesn't "pee her pants" over a race finish tho. Hilarious. Now the Fox folks need to bury the Waltrips in Wal-Mart jobs or etc. Am I wishing for too much?

JohnP said...

After watching almost everything on Speed and Espn the last two days I thought Speed did awsome!!

Congrats Speed!!

The coverage of the Twins in the booth was professional and fun at the same time. The camera angles were the best I've seen in a long long time. At the end of each Twin they split the screen letting the viewers see the race for first place, and the race to get in the 500. Absolutly awsome, I'm so ready for the Truck race tonight.

Espn, I'm still worried about them. I'm a Danika Patrick fan, hope she does well Saturday. However, I don't need to be told over and over again that the coverage is all about her because of ARCA's 59% boost in ratings.

Not sure how to say this correct to get my view across. But I'll try.

Espn seems to be stuck in the mold that Nascar has been stuck in for the last several years. Espn is overplaying Danika trying to pull the new fans into the sport, at the expense of loosing the fan base. Nascar might of learned their lesson. Not sure about Espn. New fans generally are short term fans, long term fans are just that, don't tick them off. If Saturdays Nationwide race is a Danika race, like the Chase was a Jimmy Chase I'll turn the race off and wait for the 500.

Again, Speed did awsome during this segment of Speedweeks.

Darcie said...

Watched the entire Inside Nascar on Showtime and all I have to say is one word: Boring !!! Perhaps it's because it was the first show of the season, but wouldn't one think that they'd want this show to be a grand slam right from the start? First of all, cannot stand the buttoned down suit wearing talking heads. This is Nascar, for God's sake, not CNBC. And second, who does every show have to spotlight Mike Waltrip? Are there no other former drivers who can lend a bit of credence to the issues at hand? Waltrip's good ole boy schitck wears thin very quickly, and no matter how many fancy suits you put him in, he's still MW.

Most of the content was not all that new, and the four guys just sat and rehashed topics that have been discussed on every other outlet. Sorry, but they looked uncomfortable sitting in their suits, on the sofa, talking Nascar. This show needs to get less formal, dump the sofa and just let the guys sit there like guys do and talk racing.

Ken said...

I watched the races yesterday and got so frustrated with all Michael all the time, I was tempted to turn the TV off. We had to watch his poor performance in the first race until he has his predictable wreck and we then had to watch him on TV as he watched the race. I have gotten very sick of seeing the self-promoting goofball ruining an otherwise good telecast. It will be difficult to watch the truck race if he is involved.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree a little bit on the coverage yesterday. I thought the Duels and the overall racing was great. It bodes well for the race on Sunday and am looking forward to it. What I took issue with was the entire 2nd race turned into "Will Mikey make the race" and nothing else. There were other drivers, probably more deserving and arguably more talented on pins and needles as much as he was (Mears). Focusing solely on him and him being in the "Hotel" during the race showed favoritism and was a total turnoff. Mears is actually trying to run a full schedule this year as well, Michael is not. I don't care if he has won there before. He hasn't been good for a long time and he hasn't finished a race he started in yet this year.

Ford Boy From Canada said...

Really great to see such balanced commentary from good ole DW on the Duels, esp since his brother was involved.

Ford Boy (used ta be Dodge) from Canada

GinaV24 said...

@FordBoy -- I can see you have your tongue firmly planted in your cheek! Great comment!

I didn't bother to watch the 2nd Duel once I realized that my recording was going to be all Mikey all the time.

Anonymous said...

"After this Sunday, Waltrip will not be in a firesuit on TV. He will not be in the Hollywood Hotel. He will not be in the truck series booth. There are no races for several weeks. His TV exposure will be a mid-week late night talk show on a small premium cable network". HALLELUJAH

Richard in N.C. said...

YO JD, one of the very high points of SpeedWeeks = the continued outstanding quality of TDP. Thank you, very much. I believe SPEED & EESPN stepped up their game to keep up.

Bill said...

Inside NASCAR on Showtime was a very well done production. Gone was the silliness that TWIN had become.

Too bad many NASCAR fans will not get to see it...

Anonymous said...

As a retiree and long time Nascar fan. I had the opportunity to watch about all their was Nascar-wise last year. I'm already burned out this season. If I never see or hear Michael Waltrip again,it would be too soon. DW, with his bs, isn't far behind. I'm sure we'll hear this weekend that ..'you have to slow down to go fast..." One surprise was Jeff Hammond. Gone is the super ego. His reporting was calm, deliberate and factual. "Listen race fans" Kenny Wallace made ne hit the Mute button while I watched in silence while admiring his thickening hairline. Seriously though,way too much Danica so far.

Ann_Ominous said...

I just got back online yesterday after being offline for two weeks with modem and isp issues.

The thing I really noticed was NO DIGGER!!!!! Is the little varmit still hibernating or is he gone for good??!!!

The second thing I noticed is that after trying to get an answer from you (JD) for a long time (and my apologies if you did post it in the past two weeks while I was offline) is that yes, DirecTV does have NASCAR HotPass again this season. There are 4 cars covered and it is free. That is all I know. I've got no idea what we will be hearing in the way of audio (scanner, tv crew, mrn coverage?) or when (during commercials?).

Anonymous said...

I have heard over and over that the tires start going away on these cars after 10 laps, and that after 30 laps they need to get single file.

That means Waltrip will spin out on Lap 25, Hornish will spin out on Lap 60, Waltrip will spin out a second time on Lap 95, and Robby Gordon will spin out on Lap 120.

Plan your bathroom breaks and kitchen runs accordingly.

The Loose Wheel said...

I have to give SPEED alot of credit. We made it an entire day on SPEED yesterday without saying Danica's name.

What is the status for tonight? What are you hearing about the weather JD or anyone?

Palmetto said... says the Trucks will be delayed until appx. 10:00 pm.

DinX said...

You all that despise Michael Waltrip, you couldn't run a lap at the least of the NASCAR tracks without hitting the middle pedal. He is one of the traditional characters and flavors of NASCAR. It seems to be great sport to bash MW here, because apparently an irreverent smart southerner just insults your refined ESPN/NASCAR/"grown up" tastes. As this season evolves, I and most other readers will watch you all start taking apart everything and everyone in the NASCAR scene because it's not being done all proper all of the time.

Daly Planet Editor said...


It's called opinion and you are certainly entitled to yours.

I like MW for a lot of things and dislike him for others.

Over the past three years, we have talked about MW, his TWIN show, his MWR operation, his truck series announcing and even his DUI.

Public figures get lots of attention. MW loves that and everything that comes with it.

It would be nice if he went out with a strong finish on Sunday.


Anonymous said...

sooooo...Dinx...explain why many of us like Hammond, McReynolds, Kyle Petty, Andy Petree, all somewhat 'irreverent' southerners? Gee, maybe it's because we don't care where they come from, only how well they perform as broadcasters. And FYI...some of us *are* southerners. Imagine that.

Rainy/Jimi/J.C. said...

I have a question....was I the ONLY one who listened and saw during the second twin the GAFF that Drowl Waldrip came up with? While watching the incar cam of Junyer, Drowl kept emphasing that Junyers car was really out of whack, citing that any time you had to have to turn the wheel that much to the left, your car was in deep trouble. HUH???? What I saw on my lil 24" screen was Junyer PLAINLY taking his right hand OFF the wheel to reach OVER to the left. IN NO WAY was he turning the steering wheel any more than any other driver who had an in car cam...Am I crazy?? Does anyone have a tape of Twin2 to verify what this 58 y/o fool saw??? Thank you for allowing my tirade against the WORST nascar announcer in HISTORY and his misguided analogies.