Monday, November 22, 2010

TV Police: Sprint Cup Series On ESPN From Homestead

It's been a long season for the Sprint Cup Series on TV. Four networks, over thirty on-air personalities and very different telecasts provided for fans.

SPEED handled the Daytona Duels and the All-Star race. FOX, TNT and ESPN/ABC covered the points races with ESPN televising all ten Chase races. A combination of SPEED and ESPN2 handled practice and qualifying.

Sunday, it all came down to the final ESPN telecast from Homestead. After a one-hour pre-race show on ESPN2, the coverage switched to ESPN and the race began. Investigating this coverage requires the ultimate TV cop.

Allen Bestwick anchored the pre-race with a full hour in the Infield Pit Studio. Rusty Wallace, Brad Daugherty and Ray Evernham discussed the topics of the day and watched a lot of edited features with the TV viewers.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France showed up for a brief interview where he spread his positive message of change for the better and promoted a new eco-friendly sport. Wallace and Daugherty both asked him clearly scripted questions for which he was well prepared.

Bestwick and company eventually handed off to Reid and the guys in the booth. For several years now, ESPN has struggled with trying to cover the Chase and the race. It's a tough task that may be rather unique in sports.

On this Sunday, fans saw a new element this season with a designated graphics bar at the top of the screen detailing the Chase points as they changed live. This made the graphics stack at the top of the screen three deep. As usual, ESPN continued to also insert a lower third graphics crawl with other sports scores.

Denny Hamlin had a spin early on, creating a story that ESPN was challenged to cover. The Hamlin saga continued to unfold during the race, with the situation of updating the other two Chasers, the race and Hamlin proving to be tough.

Joey Logano was an accident victim and his exit was followed-up with a garage interview. The normal TV issues like showing debris on caution flags, following the racing instead of the stars and updating Lucky Dogs and restart information continued.

As we have seen so often in Chase races, new names like Stewart and Burton would suddenly pop-up as being in contention and passing cars. These top teams were never updated and big names like Junior, Mark Martin and Juan Montoya were rarely uttered.

For those fans who are also online during the race, there was certainly lots of information flowing that never made it to the TV telecast. Conversations between drivers were replayed many minutes later, information like cars hitting the wall was never mentioned.

A late penalty on Kevin Harvick was not really shown because of a pit road injury to another crew member. Cautions with Dave Blaney and Jeff Gordon were reported on the air long before the cameras found the cars involved. Joey Logano and Montoya mixing it up was never shown and mentioned only once. It's been an issue when something happens that ESPN has not planned to cover in advance.

The accident with Harvick and Kyle Busch was treated delicately on the air. The follow-up interview was polite, but the incident in general was brushed aside by the TV booth. There were once again no strong opinions expressed.

Commercials are part of every race. During an event like this that is being run both for a race win and a championship, commercial breaks are rather painful. ESPN stayed with the heavy commercial rotation and it was rough for an event like this with no big caution periods.

ESPN has allocated post-race time for this season and it has worked out very well. Finally allowing the stories developed during the race to be completed made sense. Hopefully, this practice will continue for next season.

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