Monday, May 3, 2010

ESPN Stirs Some NASCAR Memories


ESPN took a big swing at the network's ongoing NASCAR TV problems during the off-season. There were changes in on-air personnel, program formats and scheduling. Now with only a few months of the 2010 season in the books, those changes are already paying dividends.

Friday night in Richmond signaled the first of five races that will feature Allen Bestwick returning to the play-by-play role. His next race will be Charlotte followed by Road America, Daytona and Montreal.

Some fans may remember that Bestwick began his new TV role as a utility player for ESPN. He handled pit road reporting duties, but also hosted the pre-race show and then called the action for several of the network's stand-alone Nationwide races.

Since that time, Bestwick has become a crucial part of ESPN's overall NASCAR coverage. He righted the ship on Mondays by hosting the one-hour version of NASCAR Now . That show has become the weekly cornerstone for the studio series. He also stepped-in and returned much needed credibility to the Infield Pit Studio.

Moving Bestwick to the booth in Richmond again opened the door for Nicole Briscoe to host the pre-race show and fill the infield studio role. Briscoe's baptism by fire had come in Texas, where she filled three hours of live rain delay programming with interviews and features. It was an impressive debut.

Positive comments filled the TDP Texas live blog as ESPN offered a glimpse into the past. Dr. Jerry Punch sat down with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for an impromptu garage interview. Thoughtful questions from Punch brought out the best in Junior on a wide variety of issues. This was clearly what ESPN had been missing and only Punch could provide.

Friday night in Richmond, Bestwick took control of the TV team and led them through a telecast that had a very familiar feel. It was comfortable. Bestwick in the booth, Punch on pit road and Briscoe in the infield really clicked on the air.

Mike Massaro, Dave Burns and Vince Welch are also going to play new roles this season. Massaro has been solid as a full time NASCAR Now host after relocating his family to Connecticut. He has also been asked to return to pit road for select races and report for NASCAR Now and other ESPN programs when he is on the road. This year, Massaro is a very busy man.

Burns and Welch will also get an opportunity this season to step into the play-by-play role. Anything will be better than the ill-advised "Backseat Drivers" scenario of 2009. Burns will handle the upcoming Nationwide Series race at Gateway. Welch will call Nashville, ORP in Indianapolis, Iowa and the second Gateway race.

Real credit goes to the ESPN management for making these changes. Suddenly, the entire NASCAR on ESPN programming category has a new lease on life. The daily news show is informative and well hosted. The Nationwide races have become fun with Marty Reid and Bestwick calling the action.

The final piece of this puzzle is the big one. This is ESPN's fourth swing at The Chase for the Championship. In total, the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series races will be on ESPN. This time, it needs to be right.

Judging from the early reviews, ESPN's new cast of NASCAR characters have started the season on the right foot. It should be interesting to see if this momentum can continue to build as both ESPN and NASCAR could certainly use a strong run to the finish line this year.

TDP welcomes your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. 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.

27 comments:

Todd Crane said...

I needed to pour her over my pancakes, while Allan SHONE as I knew he would. Why they never picked him as the PBP guy.... oh well who am I.

Sally said...

ESPN has really impressed me this year. The changes they have made to their on air lineup have produced some stellar race coverage. The guys in the truck have been making an effort to show more than just the top 10 cars running on the track, and more wide shots have kept the racing in a perspective that keeps me much more involved. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this continues thru the dreaded 'chase' races. To me (and, apparently, many other fans) being forced to watch just those drivers involved in the contrived 'chase' has taken much of the joy out of the final races of the season. Since who wins the championship has always been of secondary importance to the race taking place on the track, the skewed coverage has never worked. It may also help explain why TV viewership is still generally heading down hill. ESPN has proven that so far they have listened to the fans who they depend on to watch. I can only hope they carry this new perspective into the end of the season.

Anonymous said...

Alan Bestwick is so much better than Marty Reid. ESPN should make the change to AB permanent.

Anonymous said...

With AB in the booth even Rusty could not ruin the broadcast.

We were watching the Sox on NESN, switched during a commercial and something just seemed right about the broadcast. Took a few minutes to figure it out: AB was running the show. So much for the Sox, the race stayed one.

Short track, AB in the booth, good camera work, what's not to like? Just Rusty, oh well nothing is perfect...

saltsburgtrojanfan said...

From what i hear ESPN made changes but for the better. Jerry Punch is back on pit road. A credible play by play announcer in Marty Reid. Just get rid of Rusty. Keep up the good work ESPN>

Anonymous said...

you left out the most important part.....waltrip-free coverage. all hail espn

Anonymous said...

I like Marty Reid better than AB. Theres someting about AB that puts me to sleep

David Dubczak said...

I didn't get to watch the whole thing, but I watched the first 80 laps or so, and I liked what I saw. Allen, Rusty, and Andy had a chemistry that I haven't seen in a long while, and Tim Brewer went through two straight reports without saying "actually"!

I've felt over the past few years that ESPN puts on thorough, well-done productions, and the on-air personalities have been the true weak link. This race, the personalities really shined.

matriarch said...

I look forward to the upcoming ESPN coverage of the Chase. Almost anyone they put in the booth will have a distinct advantage over Fox's excruciating coverage. I think they have sorted out their personnel and made real progress in putting the right people in the right job.

majorshouse said...

I really have enjoyed the coverage that ESPN has given us and enjoyed AB last night, but love Marty Reid's excitement and if we could become Rusty free that would be as good as Waltrip free. I did not like Rusty as a driver and like him even less in the booth or the NASCAR Pit Studio.

51 yr. fan said...

I'm just catching the Trackside
repeat on Speed. Jaws seems to
thing the retro Bud car is honoring
drivers and not for Junior Johnson's introduction in to the
HOF. For DW everything is all about himself.

Anonymous said...

Where is Dale Jarrett? He's soooo much better than Rusty!!!

TexasRaceLady said...

Fantastic production last night --

Good camera work (still a little heavy on the in-car, but still saw improvement)

Loved the booth crew. Rusty is still a bit over-the-top, but then that's just him. Andy Petre really came alive. As for Alan, there are no words to describe just how good he is at PxP and running the show.

The pit reporters were really on their game last night. Having Doc on the prowl puts the others on their toes, and keeps them sharp.

ESPN is really making the effort to get the fans back in their recliners to watch the RACING!

As Kenny Schrader would say
"1 and a 1/2 thumbs up."

JohnP said...

ESNP.. YeeeHaa!! What a WONDERFULL broadcast last night!! Thank You!! AB was on top of his game, as he always has been since I first heard him broadcasting radio from the Dover track. The cameras were actually on the cars that Alan was talking about. Good camera work. Thank you. Less use of the in-car cams(sponsor commercials). Overall a very good race and my hat is tipped to ESPN. ESPN has the potential to be great during their broadcast for Cup this fall.

For the folks who say we are always negative here. No, your totally wrong - we just tell the truth about what we see at HOME on the tv.

Kudo's to ESPN. Keep AB in the booth for Cup.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Bestwick is far better than Marty Reid,but I'm not a fan of Rusty or Nicole. Sorry....

Daly Planet Editor said...

I guess I just look at folks like Suzy Kolber, Erik Kuselias, Brent Musburger and Chris Fowler. All of them have hosted pre-race shows for ESPN.

Nicole is a cut above that bunch.

Anonymous said...

And the best part is, NOT A WALTRIP IN EAR SHOT!!!!!!!

Tom said...

I have always liked AB a great deal and he does a great job. I am of the opinion right now though, that Marty Reid is the best PXP guy. He may not have the longevity and history that AB has, but I gotta say, he is smooth, and has a level of excitement I haven't seen since the old days of Bob Jenkins and crew. He also is not afraid to say what he thinks is important, and as much as I like AB, He is an MRN guy and probably always will be.
It is nice to have him on for a few broadcasts, but I wouldn't want to change the ESPN PxP guy right now. They have a great one in Reid.

Tom
Inverness, FL

David said...

I like alot of what ESPN has done this offseason. They have made huge strides thus far, even from Daytona when it was Danica all the time. Let alone where they were a year ago.

AB did a fine job last night but like another person I prefer Marty Reid on a full-time basis and using AB intermittently. Alan is a great guy and an excellent play by play guy, but I like him in small doses. Reid takes charge of a broadcast, is honest with the audience to a fault, and polite as well. I look forward to what happens as the season continues.

I pray the camera work will become more consistently good than occasionally great.

Brendan said...

AB is one of the best. Marty is miles ahead of Jerry Punch but I still think AB is far superior in the PxP role. Marty has has his off moments, I thought there was absolutely no play by play of that last lap at Talladega last week. Meanwhile AB made a solid call of the last few laps last night.

Richard in N.C. said...

While I do really, really enjoy AB's work in the booth - and have for years - if I had to choose just one spot, I would choose to have AB do the Monday N-Now roundtable over the race PXP. In my opinion, NBC went into the crapper when they took AB out of the booth. I would point out that AB is an MRN alumni, where all the best PXP guys got their start.

Charlie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

Not a huge fan of Allan Bestwick but he definitely isn't awful. Just something doesn't click with me.

Too bad we couldn't get Bob Jenkins back.

MRM4 said...

I said all along that I preferred Allen Bestwick in the PxP role over anyone else that ESPN has. Marty Reid is a nice improvement, but Bestwick would have been the best direction to go.

GinaV24 said...

Nicole did a fine job in the booth and man oh man, it was so great to hear Allen in the booth doing the PXP. This is not to take anything away from Marty Reid's efforts since until he came into the booth for ESPN, I just couldn't listen to the Nationwide races on TV at all. I can still use less Rusty, Brad and Tim Brewer. I'm just not interested in what they have to say - people in the broadcast booth should not have cars on the track. Sorry, that's just how I feel about it.

Seeing Dr. Jerry do what is so obviously his "thing" on pit road has been great this year. He is such a fine pit reporter and it has raised the game for the others who are doing that job as well. The drivers like him -- you can tell it from their interaction and it makes a difference to those of us viewing and listening to the race at home. The camera work from the Nationwide race at Richmond was great.

I DVR Nascar Now but I always enjoy seeing Allen at work -- he is so smooth at all this it is awesome.

ESPN has made watching the Nationwide series something I enjoy again and it is great. I really truly hope they can continue to do this when they get to the Sprint Cup broadcasts as well -- if they let the fans down at that point, well, I will be very disappointed and with the mess that Fox has been making of the Cup series so far this year, it may well be the death knell for TV ratings if ESPN figurately drops the ball on this.

Thank you ESPN for listening to the comments and acting on them. Keep up the good work.

GinaV24 said...

that should be "figuratively" drop the ball! Must be Monday.

Richard in N.C. said...

Since Mr. Hinton is scheduled to be on, will be watching Jimmy Spencer tonight in place of NASCAR Now.