Sunday, July 31, 2011
Live Blogging Sprint Cup Series From Indy (ESPN - 12PM ET)
ESPN has pulled out all the stops for the Brickyard 400. Allen Bestwick is in as lap-by-lap announcer. There is a new graphics package. Nicole Briscoe is hosting the infield studio. Dual-stream technology will allow two in-car camera views from the same car. The "Bat-cam" that runs 80mph on a wire above pit road is back.
The big question is will all that make a difference if the production of the race is once again horrible?
Since 2007 ESPN has struggled with this event. It's really not clear why. The network produces all different kinds of live sporting events around the world. What is the challenge at Indy?
Briscoe will kick-off the coverage at noon ET with Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty alongside. Wallace is coming off a disjointed Nationwide Series telecast on Saturday night that saw him pick his brother Kenny to win the race and then watch as his son Steven destroyed both of the RWR cars in a violent wreck of his own making.
Daugherty has become increasing isolated on these telecasts, especially once the actual racing begins. At one time, Bestwick called Daugherty "The voice of the fans." It may well be that next season Daugherty is a fan on a full time basis.
Tim Brewer will once again be in the Tech Garage. It should be interesting to see how ESPN gets him into the telecast if long green flag runs are the order of the day.
Putting Bestwick in the booth was a hint to the reality of the continued struggles of Marty Reid in that position. There was never a mention by ESPN that any change was coming, it just did. Over the past five seasons, Bestwick has been the best thing that ESPN has going for it on the NASCAR trail.
The pressure on Bestwick is to balance the reality of this "no passing" style of aero-driven racing with the spectacle of the Brickyard. He has been in these situations before and makes no bones about being a pro-active supporter of the sport.
The two items that Bestwick repeats over and over again are simple to understand. NASCAR cars racing at speed on any track are not boring. Secondly, every race is not over until the checkered flag. When some media folks offer boring racing as a problem, Bestwick disagrees. His checkered flag scenario has proven itself time and time again.
This is a big shift for ESPN. Bestwick is not "their man." The loyal soldiers Jerry Punch and Marty Reid were used long before ESPN took a glimpse at Bestwick. The only reason this move happened is because ESPN realized the coverage was at risk with Reid at the helm.
The big story overshadowing this race is the status of Carl Edwards. Lee Spencer of FOX Sports reported Edwards is going to the #20 for JGR with a huge signing bonus and contract. Now, media outlets are reporting that Ford Motor Company is trying to out-bid JGR and keep Edwards at Roush. It's no secret the Roush sponsorship picture is not a pretty one for next season.
The vast majority of passing will be done on pit road. Jamie Little, Punch, Dave Burns and Vince Welch will be the reporters. Bestwick is a stickler for information, so look for him to ask a lot of questions and want details from the four TV veterans patrolling that area.
Saturday night, it only took ESPN about ten laps to return to the problems of last season in terms of directing the coverage. Rather than open the cameras and show all the racing on the track, ESPN zoomed-in tight and showed two-car battles all night long.
Late in the race, the network went to commercial with Justin Allgaier's car on fire and still circling around the track. By the time the coverage returned, Allgaier was gone and the entire complexion of the race had changed. ESPN missed everything.
The top challenge for the network today is to keep the larger perspective in frame for the fans, especially if passing is at a premium. Just like ESPN does for the Indy 500, use the wideshots and aerial views to continue to keep fans interested.
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