Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuesday TV Toss-Up: Jeff Hammond

It's going to be an interesting 2012 for Jeff Hammond. His Twitter account is titled @hollywoodjeff, but this season Hammond will be without the infield studio that gave him the nickname. In his seat will be Michael Waltrip.

The NASCAR on FOX press release said that Hammond will still be on the Sprint Cup Series telecasts, but will assume the role of a roving reporter. The bottom line is that in TV land, that assignment is like having one foot out the door.

While Hammond has never been able to unseat Larry McReynolds and move up into the broadcast booth, his presence in the Hollywood Hotel was well defined. He was the voice of reason during the pre-race between Darrell Waltrip and Chris Myers. During the race, he provided information and perspective while continuing to counter Myers and his tired act.

The good news for Hammond is that he has found a role on SPEED that fits him like a glove. Working in the TV booth, Hammond is outstanding on practice and qualifying shows for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series.

The most recent twist for Hammond is his role on the newly-revised Trackside program. Sitting awkwardly alongside of Kyle Petty and Rutledge Wood, Hammond's style of hardcore NASCAR conversation just does not mesh with the two-man act of Wood and Petty.

One saving grace for Hammond is that Waltrip does not live near the SPEED studios. While McReynolds continues to appear Mondays on RaceHub, Hammond's appearances later in the week allow him to take center stage and make conversation with his friend and show host Steve Byrnes.

While we expect to see a healthy dose of Hammond on NASCAR TV next season, his highest-profile role will change at Daytona the first time Michael Waltrip takes his seat in the Hollywood Hotel.

Where do you stand on Hammond these days? What was your opinion of him in his former Hollywood Hotel role and the other programs on which he appeared? Give us your opinion by clicking on the comments button below. Thanks for stopping by.

UPDATED: Dear NASCAR TV: You Left Us Too Soon

Updated Tuesday 5PM ET: Jenna Fryer just reporting Mike Ford removed as Denny Hamlin's crew chief. Would be a nice night for RaceHub!

Updated 3:30PM ET: SPEEDtv.com senior editor Tom Jensen will bolster the media presence on tonights 6PM SpeedCenter special show. Bob Dillner will also be on. ESPN's Marty Smith passed along that he has interviewed Kurt and that will be shown in the 6PM SportsCenter on ESPN. Should be an interesting night for NASCAR TV after all.

Updated 12:00PM ET: Jim Utter got David Ragan on the telephone. Here is the official update: "David Ragan will be meeting with Penske Racing officials about 22 car. He has NOT been offered the job. Feels good about it." Take that for what it is...

Updated 11:30AM ET: Reporter Jim Utter now saying David Ragan will be the driver of the #22 Penske Racing entry in the Sprint Cup Series for 2012. Utter broke the original story of Kurt Busch being released yesterday.

Updated 10AM ET: Several developments have happened this morning. Penske Racing has confirmed that Kurt Busch has left the company. Also, SPEED has announced a special 6PM ET version of SPEED Center for tonight. Adam Alexander will co-host with Steve Byrnes. Larry McReynolds will be in studio for analysis. Awaiting word on additional guests. Stay tuned...

Tony Stewart was walking around ESPN and looking for a place to go. Literally. It was great that he was in what is called the "ESPN car wash" for the day. The idea is to get an athlete on campus and get them on as many TV, radio and online outlets as possible.

The only problem with the Monday after the final Sprint Cup Series race is that the five year old daily NASCAR Now series had ended...on Sunday. Stewart had fun on SportsCenter and Mike and Mike, but the bottom line was that the only ESPN motorsports show had ended the day prior to his arrival.

How hard would it have been to get one final NASCAR Now Monday roundtable show together for a sport that had just finished a ten month season? Imagine the mileage ESPN would have gotten if Stewart was seated with Allen Bestwick, Ricky Craven and Kenny Schrader for a one-hour recap of his final race.

It seems to be an amazing contradiction that ESPN would fly the champion to Bristol for the simple sake of congratulating itself for carrying the Chase races. What other purpose was there? Stewart appeared on some stick-and-ball shows, raised a championship flag for the still cameras and then was gone.

SPEED thought it had a better idea. The Monday through Thursday RaceHub show would stay around right up to the Sprint Cup Series banquet. The network would then produce the banquet and say goodbye to NASCAR fans for the season.

Unfortunately, SPEED will be wiping egg off its face for the next five weeks or so until RaceHub returns in mid-January. The problem is simple to understand. The NASCAR news does not stop in the off-season and in many cases it just gets bigger.

Sunday evening saw Jim Utter of the Charlotte Observer break the story that Kurt Busch had been fired from Penske Racing. ESPNEWS slipped in a mention between football and basketball highlights, literally. SPEED managed to get a crawl on the screen while a Dumbest Stuff on Wheels marathon rolled by in the background.

SPEED made an impressive commitment to NASCAR news programming with RaceHub. The network also has the new SpeedCenter show and the Sunday night Wind Tunnel program with the venerable Dave Despain. All of those programs came to a screeching halt when NASCAR ended on the network.

Couple the Busch firing with the departure of Steve Addington from the same team, the firing of former Tony Stewart crew chief Darian Grubb and the pending demise of the entire Red Bull organization. The stories unfolding in the Sprint Cup Series alone should merit continued television news coverage by these two NASCAR TV partners.

Ironically, the Nationwide Series is the only complete NASCAR national series carried by ESPN. The trucks are the only one carried by SPEED. Both of these series literally go into the dark during the off-season where NASCAR TV is concerned.

It might have been fine years ago to start NASCAR TV shows back up the week before Speedweeks in Daytona, but that is no longer the case. Social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook are instantly updating the fans on information and normally the follow-up would be on NASCAR Now and RaceHub.

There is a lot of big NASCAR news set to break before Christmas and the sad reality is that it will all be done online. My opinion is that rather than treat the off-season as a time of inaction, SPEED and ESPN should dedicate the resources needed to keep NASCAR's TV presence alive at a time when most of the change in the sport is unfolding.

We welcome your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.