Sunday, November 16, 2014

ESPN Implodes at Daytona

Update: Originally published on 2/18/07

It had all the essential ingredients. Brent Musburger was at the host position, Chris Fowler was on the set, and Brad Daugherty was on-hand to provide the commentary. There was only one problem. This was not Chapel Hill, Providence, or Georgetown. This was Daytona, and no one was playing college basketball. Apparently, this was not a problem for ESPN.

The network decided to move its successful Gameday franchise to Daytona, instead of investing in an original NASCAR-based concept like Raceday on SPEED or the Hollywood Hotel on Fox Sports. ESPN was clearly declaring that the story of Daytona this year was that ESPN had arrived, and then there might be some racing, some cheating, and a whole lot of "good old boys."

Brent Musburger in the NASCAR Fan Zone looked like Rush Limbaugh at a ACLU Meeting. There were no fans in sight, just Brent in his big hat looking as uncomfortable and out-of-place as it is possible for a human being to be. His unfamiliarity with NASCAR was obvious, and his inability to speak in racing terms made his interaction with others on the program embarrassing.

For some reason, good guy Chris Fowler found himself at Daytona surrounded by the likes of Rusty Wallace, Alan Bestwick, Jerry Punch, and Andy Petree. Fowler is a professional, but eventually couldn't stop grinning and chuckling at the antics of both the drivers being interviewed, and his temporary co-host Boris Said. One had the feeling Fowler was going to call his wife later and say "I went to the NASCAR race at Daytona!"

Seeing Alan Bestwick in a firesuit as a pit reporter for ESPN can turn the stomach of any veteran NASCAR fan. Bestwick has more NASCAR knowledge than Musburger, Fowler, Daugherty, and Punch combined. Unfortunately, he has not been on College Gameday, so he is apparently unable to be featured by the network. Only Bestwick could handle a live interview with the volatile Bobby Hamilton Jr. after an incredibly weak taped tribute piece aired by the network about his father.

While strong in her host role at SPEED, Shannon Spake was over-matched in her debut at a live reporter for ESPN. Perhaps, she will gain the technical knowledge and on-air presence associated with live network television over the course of the season. Unfortunately, ESPN did not choose to use her skills in reporting stories, but limited her to brief interviews and introducing pre-produced features.

Finally, the Brad Daugherty issue has to be addressed. While certainly a pleasant and well-spoken television presence, he has little NASCAR experience. That showed in his mis-placed comments about the "danger" of the Daytona Busch Race, and the prediction of ten caution flag periods. Daugherty has never raced a car, never been a crew chief, never been a team member, and never worked as a reporter for any type of NASCAR media. So, what is his role, and why is he there? By the end of the pre-race show, his contributions were limited to thirty second comments prior to commercial. He was not used in any pre-produced features, interviewed no one, and never interacted with any fans or drivers throughout the telecast. If ESPN is going to commit to this classy gentleman as a fulltime Busch telecast regular, they need to step up to the plate and challenge him with feature assignments and interview duties.
Rusty Wallace had a year to cut his teeth on the ESPN/ABC coverage of the little watched IndyCar Series. Other than the Indy 500, Rusty was below the radar trying to analyze the action between Dario, Helio, Marco, and Kosuke. Wallace is so relieved to be back in NASCAR that nothing phases him. He was clearly annoyed with Fowler and Daugherty's amateurish comments in the pre-race show, but corrected them and finally dashed off to the place he longed to be, the broadcast booth. Wallace, with his credibility and outspoken manner, will be ESPN's saving grace during their first season back in the NASCAR world.
ESPN enjoys "feature presentations" like the over-hyped deubut of the Busch Series at Daytona. But, reality has a way of sneaking in when the season is only halfway over, its one hundred degrees, and you are in Memphis, TN. Hopefully, by then ESPN will have realized that NASCAR fans would tune in if the race was on the Lifetime Network between weepy chick flicks. The network needs to bring the content and focus that viewers have become accustomed to, and understand that NASCAR did just fine without them for the past six years.

ESPN Faces Season Six Challenge

Update: Originally published on 7/28/12

It's that time of the year once again. FOX and TNT are done with the Sprint Cup Series and now ESPN adds that coverage to the network's ongoing Nationwide Series effort. In other words, it's crunch time.

The Worldwide Leader returned to NASCAR in 2007 and quickly found that times had changed. The on-air product was just not clicking with the fan base. As a result, there have been many changes in key on-air personalities over the years. This season, former crew chief Tim Brewer has been quietly phased out and his Tech Garage has been parked.

Starting with the Brickyard 400, it will be Allen Bestwick calling the Sprint Cup Series races with Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree alongside in the TV booth. Marty Reid will step-in to call the Nationwide Series races. Once again this season Jarrett and Petree will do double-duty on both series.

Nicole Briscoe will anchor the telecasts from the infield with Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. The versatile Briscoe has been co-anchoring the "NASCAR Now" news program and also working as a field reporter for ESPN since coming to the network from SPEED in 2008.

Moving Dr. Jerry Punch back to pit road from the announce booth was a solid move. It let him return to his best role as a reporter. This season Punch will be joined once again by veterans Vince Welch, Dave Burns and Jamie Little. Also working on pit road assignments will be Mike Massaro and Shannon Spake.

A welcome addition to the Brickyard 400 coverage will be Ray Evernham. Located in the infield, Evernham will provide a unique perspective that Wallace and Daugherty simply cannot. Evernham is long since removed from controversy and now can speak to a wide variety of topics as a major figure in the sport's history.

In terms of technology, ESPN's Sprint Cup Series coverage will once again use ESPN Non-Stop. That is the network's name for the split-screen commercial format shown above. During the second half of each Chase for the Championship race, the national commercials will be shown this way. That means the first seven races, starting with this weekend's coverage, will be presented in the traditional full-screen fashion.

14 of the final 17 Sprint Cup Series races will be on ESPN with the other three on ABC Saturday nights. The ESPN races will be available online through WatchESPN, but only to select ESPN cable TV subscribers. The WatchESPN service basically allows the cable network's feeds to appear on laptops, tablets and smart phones. The good news is that it makes ESPN's family of networks portable. The bad news is that not all cable companies offer it.

While ESPN did not update this information, all 14 of the ESPN Sprint Cup Series races as well as the Nationwide Series events will have the online RaceBuddy located at the website. This property is managed by Turner Sports, so ESPN chooses not to include it in any media materials about NASCAR.

Just like last season, the transition between the tech-heavy TNT and the traditional ESPN coverage should be a tad rough. Hopefully, this weekend RaceBuddy will be aided by the fact that both MRN and PRN radio networks stream every Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series race online for free. Unfortunately, those things cannot help with the biggest TV issue of the season.

The amount of TV commercials shown in Sprint Cup Series races has not changed, but the expectations of the fan base certainly have. Now informed by social media, fans are acutely aware of just how much race content and information is being swept aside during commercial breaks. The tipping point was the TNT race from Kentucky, where one-third of the racing was covered by what seemed to be the same three or four commercials.

In the ultimate irony, TNT then presented the Daytona race without any full-screen commercials and used the "Wide Open" coverage to show the real potential of modern TV production techniques. The final TNT race from Loudon quickly restored the grim reality of what ESPN will face at Indy. That is trying to integrate commercials into a race where passing is done on pit road and long green flag runs are the order of the day.

In the past, ESPN has over-hyped the Brickyard 400 by trying to make it NASCAR's version of the Indy 500. This year, instead of the Infield Pit Studio, Briscoe and her three analysts will be sitting outside on a terrace of the famed infield Pagoda for the pre-race show.

One of the Saturday pre-race features will be reported by Katie Couric, now an ABC journalist. She will speak to part-time Sprint Cup Series driver Danica Patrick. The topics Patrick will discuss are listed as "her transition to NASCAR, how people perceive her as a person and possible sexism she might face on a daily basis at the racetrack."

The hype of 74 cameras, a Super Slo-Mo cam for pitstops and the return of the 80 mph frontstretch "bat cam" will be over after the Brickyard. What comes next is something so familiar to fans it has become a running joke. The focus on the Chase for the Championship begins right after Indy.

For the past six years, ESPN has taken out the Chase hype stick and beat fans over the head with it for the better part of four months. We have repeatedly answered that loyal fans of one driver do not make a change if their driver is not in Chase contention. Eliminating TV coverage of these drivers simply eliminates the fans of that driver as TV viewers.

Fans of Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya want to see coverage of these drivers. All three may miss the Chase. Should that change their TV coverage? If history repeats itself, all three may not be even mentioned in an entire race telecast during the Chase unless leading the race or crashing.

The fundamental problem with NASCAR's "playoff system" is that all the teams are still out there racing. While TV tries to show the race leaders and also constantly update the Chase, the sad reality is that entire teams fall off the radar. This year those teams may be from Hendrick, Ganassi and other powerhouse players in the sport.

As it has for the last several seasons, ESPN must ultimately decide to cover the race or feature the Chase. We certainly know what that choice has been in the past and welcome your comments about ESPN returning to Sprint Cup Series coverage for season six.

ESPN Closes Tech Garage

Update: Originally published on 7/17/12

Tim Brewer was the youngest crew chief ever at Bowman Gray Stadium in his native Winston-Salem, NC. He called the shots for local driver Ernie Shaw. Brewer was 14 years old. Four years later, he became one of the youngest crew chiefs in NASCAR history when he joined the Cup Series team of a popular driver named Richard Childress.

Since 2007, younger NASCAR fans know Brewer for a very different reason. He has been stationed inside the ESPN Tech Garage at both Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races carried by the network. ESPN made a larger commitment of resources to the Nationwide Series telecasts than any network before. That included Brewer's mobile garage and a full infield studio of three on-air personalities.

When coming back into the sport, then ESPN president George Bodenheimer called the Nationwide Series a diamond in the rough. Now, during season six, that diamond seems to have lost some of its luster. The network has confirmed that Brewer's recent hiatus from the Nationwide Series coverage will be permanent.

ESPN returns to Sprint Cup Series coverage in July with the Brickyard 400. The Tech Garage will also not be part of that coverage. This year the final seventeen Cup Series races will be without Brewer on TV.

"It has been a great feature of our NASCAR coverage," said a network spokesman. "We will continue to look for places to showcase the garage where appropriate."

That means that while ESPN did not sell the Tech Garage, the unit is parked. Unfortunately this also affects more ESPN team members than just Brewer. In addition to the camera crew inside the studio, the Tech Garage also had "runners" who grabbed damaged pieces of cars during the race and brought them back for Brewer to explain.

The upside of the Tech Garage was that Brewer presented information that was custom-tailored to each race. During the pre-race show, Brewer's role made a lot of sense and he could show-off the decades of knowledge he had about the sport. His timely reminders of what could go wrong often ultimately told the tale of the race.

It was once the green flag flew that Brewer's role became convoluted. At many tracks, the live action just did not lend itself to creating an opening that made time for Brewer's updates. Often, he became a presence on the air that seemed forced. There are only so many times that tight, loose and push can be explained to the same audience.

With the significant commercial load that NASCAR's TV partners carry, there was often just no natural break to insert Brewer into the coverage. Instead, forcing him in meant missing green flag racing while a technical explanation about a part failure or team change was done. It sometimes meant missing key pitstops while an update on a relatively simple topic was repeated once again.

Brewer's insertions into the live racing became a running joke, especially if there had been no accidents, engine failures or mechanical issues on the track. The producer was once again made to use Brewer who now had no choice but to once again repeat his keys to the race or a basic NASCAR topic.

Perhaps, Brewer's personality and knowledge were used best on the now defunct one-hour Monday NASCAR Now roundtable show. Brewer got feisty at the drop of a dime, never minced his words and kept the old school racing mentality that he developed in North Carolina on display. Host Allen Bestwick clearly loved it.

One truth about sports TV is that comfortable goodbyes rarely happen. Normally, parting is awkward and rarely done under circumstances chosen by the person leaving. This seems to be the case for Brewer, who quietly went on hiatus weeks ago and now will not return for ESPN's stretch run.

His on-air look was unique from his hair to his jewelry. He made no apologies for who he was and never got flustered under fire. It's too bad he never got a TV series that could show-off his knowledge about the sport to the fans and let his personality come out as well.

So, thanks to Tim Brewer. He kept a level head and sense of humor through it all and ultimately ESPN's NASCAR coverage was better off because of his presence. As they say in TV, see you down the road.

We invite your opinion on this topic. Comments may be moderated prior to posting.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

"Diamond In The Rough" Not Shining On TV

Update: Originally published on 7/12/09

It was 2006 when the details of the new NASCAR TV contract were released. In addition to the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series races, ESPN was going to be televising the entire Nationwide Series beginning in 2007. It was a wonderful opportunity.

ESPN President George Bodenheimer praised the series as a diamond in the rough that would be polished by the single-minded attention of the NASCAR on ESPN production team.

Friday night, TV viewers saw just how polished the coverage of the Nationwide Series has become as ESPN televised the race from Chicagoland Speedway.

It was NASCAR TV pro Allen Bestwick who led his team of Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty through the pre-race show. Bestwick used his pit reporters to offer interviews with selected drivers and let Wallace and Daugherty crank-up the enthusiasm. Then, the race coverage began.

At Chicagoland, the field gets strung-out and it is up to the TV network to scan the track for racing and storylines. Right from the start, the production approach was a familiar one. Tight shots of selected Sprint Cup Series drivers were mixed with in-car camera shots to create yet another forgettable telecast.

Quite simply, it feels like ESPN has given up on the Nationwide Series and is patiently awaiting the network's return to the Sprint Cup telecasts. This monochromatic approach is led by Jerry Punch, who once again rattled off car numbers and driver names while leaving any attempt at excitement to analysts Andy Petree and Rusty Wallace.

These telecasts are led by the producer, who instructs the director on how to present the race and then leads the talent through the live event. Quite simply, nothing was shown on the TV screen for the vast majority of the race except camera shots of single cars. There was a lot of zooming on this telecast and none of the cameramen were zooming out.

When the pit reporters took a moment to recap the top ten, it was as if TV viewers were being introduced to teams that they had never seen before and would probably not see again. Where ESPN is concerned, the Nationwide Series is about Sprint Cup drivers and nothing more.

There is a fundamental belief that what TV viewers should be seeing at home the vast majority of the time is what the fans in the stands at the race are watching. It was highly doubtful that fans were cupping their hands around their eyes to watch either Joey Logano, Kyle Busch or Carl Edwards one car at a time.

The "racing perspective" was never established and the stories of all the teams on the track were never told. As TDP has said for the past three seasons, NASCAR races are not about who is leading at lap 50 when there are hundreds of laps and several fuel runs left in the event.

Regardless of the driver names, the Nationwide Series teams all deserve TV coverage and not just a mention in passing. Good racing in the middle of the field is more interesting than single-file cars holding the top five positions. How has this not translated itself to the ESPN production team three years into this TV coverage?

Give credit to Petree and Wallace who tried with all their might to inject some excitement into the race. When they paused in their commentary, however, the emotionless monotone of Punch continually sucked any energy from the telecast. Even two hours into the race, Punch was still offering car numbers, driver names and lap counts.

How can it not have sunk in to ESPN that every Nationwide Series team running the entire race needs an opportunity to be on national television? In a multi-hour event, this should not be a problem. It seems ironic that ESPN took the time to discuss Brad Daugherty's team starting and parking, yet never took the time to show the other teams who entered to actually race.

Two moving sports information tickers, fancy graphics and snappy video bumpers leading into commercial cannot take the place of telling the story on the track. Single car camera shots more suitable to practice coverage can never relate the story of where that car is on the track and what is actually going on in the race.

Next Saturday night at 9PM, ESPN will telecast the Nationwide Series stand-alone race from Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis, MO. It is the final event before ESPN starts coverage of the Sprint Cup Series. The race is in primetime and should have a strong field.

This will be an outstanding opportunity for ESPN to change the superficial coverage of this series and work hard to get the remaining TV viewers to continue watching down the stretch.

Fundamental lessons learned from the TNT coverage this summer include keeping a broader perspective, moving through the field to find the racing and telling the stories of the event as they unfold regardless of the driver's popularity rating.

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. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

ESPN Pushes NASCAR To The Back Burner

Update: Originally published on 10/28/07

This is a hard topic to discuss without opening a big can of worms. Unfortunately, after this weekend's efforts by ESPN to present live NASCAR racing, this issue now must be discussed.

It also desperately needs the input of NASCAR fans speaking clearly and in concise terms about what they expected from ESPN this season, and what they have gotten.

Back in the spring, The Daly Planet ran a column suggesting that ESPN use their faltering ESPN Classic Network to handle the logistical problems that the network would encounter with NASCAR all season long. We were almost laughed off the Internet.

What we suggested was that the company use the actual ESPN Classic "channel" to create an temporary "ESPN3" Network to handle the logistical nightmares that routinely come with NASCAR.

Anyone, like me, who has been sitting in the rain at Daytona at midnight still waiting for the Pepsi 400 green flag can relate. Rain and red flags cause problems for this sport with TV, and always will.

That said, NASCAR has done a great job over the years of picking TV networks as partners that did not have other programming issues that conflicted with the races.

We all remember the days of TBS Sports, TNN, and even NBC. Fox and TNT are good examples in the current contract. We are not talking about coverage issues, but just a big "broadcast window" being made available to cover the races even if it rains or the event runs long.

Now, NASCAR finds itself involved with ESPN2 on the cable TV side and ABC on the broadcast side. Both of these networks had been functioning just fine before NASCAR came along. They were full of quality programming, and profitable.

When the NASCAR contracts were announced, TV types like myself were left scratching our heads and asking the same thing over-and-over again. Where are ESPN and ABC going to put all that programming? Over the last several weeks, it has been made very clear to NASCAR fans exactly where they are going to put it.

Very slowly, the network has pushed NASCAR to the back burner on the ESPN/ABC stove. Race fans know exactly what I am talking about. Now, with empty stands at Busch races, TV ratings for NEXTEL Cup down, and a continued distain for NASCAR on SportsCenter and other ESPN shows, one thing is very clear. The NASCAR pot on the ESPN back burner is cold, and no one seems to care.

The year began with ESPN losing Friday NASCAR practices and qualifying to live Women's Tennis in-progress. Sometimes, it was fun just to hear ESPN tennis announcer Cliff Drysdale try to segway between an Elena Dementieva backhand and trying to promote the Busch Series at Nashville. This was the first sign that things were going to be interesting for NASCAR on ESPN. There would be a lot more to come.

When ESPN2 began their live Cup coverage of practice and qualifying, veteran fans noticed that ESPN had quietly eliminated the first Cup practice. Suddenly, it was clear to NASCAR fans that this big company of multiple networks was juggling a lot of programming that had nothing to do with NASCAR.

Then, a funny thing happened. ESPN got caught with other live events like the Little League World Series in-progress at race time. Since NASCAR was going to start the races anyway, ESPN had to show them somewhere. Where did they move them?

That would be directly to ESPN Classic. Somehow, the laughter that The Daly Planet heard when we suggested this network for NASCAR programming was quickly dying down.

As the college football season got underway, things got ugly quick. Scheduled between two live games, the Busch Series was sitting in "No Man's Land." When the preceding football game ran long, there was only one network where NASCAR could go...that's right...ESPN Classic. Think about that for a moment.

The Busch Series has sometimes hopped between three ESPN networks in one single race. ESPN, ESPN2, and the good old ESPN Classic. NASCAR fans who are trying to watch the race live can sit and click the channels when told, but this is 2007 and every move from network to network kills all TiVo's, DVR's, and even the old VCR's loyally grinding away so fans can come home and watch "their" sport.

This weekend, ESPN's scheduling woes had already eliminated the practice and qualifying for the Busch Series in Memphis. This was tough, because this stand-alone race featured a wide variety of drivers trying to get in the field. Qualifying would have been outstanding at a great track for the Busch Series like Memphis.

Then, as luck would have it, overtime in college football once again pushed the Busch Series pre-race telecast to ESPN Classic. Announcer Marty Reid is an ESPN veteran, and he led a small group of viewers who were watching live and had ESPN Classic through the start of this thirty minute show. But, on this day, there was a problem.

ESPN Classic already had a live college football game scheduled in thirty minutes. This meant that a very interesting moment for both ESPN and NASCAR was finally about to occur. If the game that forced NASCAR to ESPN Classic was not over, ESPN would have to choose between college football and NASCAR. ESPN had three live in-progress programs for only two national cable networks. Can you guess who lost?

In Memphis, the caps were off, the heads were bowed, and the prayer before the race was underway. Then, suddenly on ESPN Classic...NASCAR was no more. College football on ESPN took to the air right in the middle of the NASCAR prayer. Does it get any worse than that? In the middle of the prayer and without Marty Reid saying a word.

NASCAR fans quickly grabbed their remotes and switched back to ESPN2...only to see live college football. Switching to horse racing. Ladies and gentleman, The NASCAR Busch Series had left the building...and the network...and the airwaves.

NASCAR had been told where it stood very clearly, and only a nice tackle by a young man from the Iowa Hawkeyes ended the ESPN2 game a short time later and allowed NASCAR to once again return to the air. But, the point had been made clear to race fans.

The stick-and-ball world of ESPN will never come to NASCAR. This season, the sport has lost its practice and qualifying both on the Busch and Cup sides. It has been pre-empted for news about sports, even though ESPN has its own ESPN News Network.

Races have been shifted between ESPN's cable channels like no other sport. Crucial races on ABC have been pushed off broadcast network TV to protect the ABC News. Races have been ended with no interviews, no follow-up of events, and have even left crashed cars on the track with absolutely no explanation. It has been insane.

Then, to add insult to injury, no live post-race coverage from the track is offered on ESPN News because they are caught-up in the very same college and NFL football coverage. Can you image that?

All the ESPN NASCAR people are in-place at the track, the satellite feed is up and there are stories to tell, but the lack of communication at ESPN between those who produce the events and those who produce the news is mind-boggling.

When viewers tune-in to SportsCenter, they are greeted with ill-informed anchors who often openly mock the sport itself. Last week many time champion Jeff Gordon was called "Gordo" and when a pit crew member dropped a catch-can, the anchor said with a snide grin..."whatever that is."

Let's face facts, aside from debating the quality of the coverage, the "network logistics" of this season on both ESPN and ABC in this first year of their NASCAR TV contract have been a disaster.

Rain and red flags have been a part of NASCAR for decades. These simple issues should not be throwing for a loop the company that considers and promotes itself as the "Worldwide Leader In Sports Broadcasting."

While Iowa Hawkeye fans are thanking junior defensive back Drew Gardner for a game-saving and possibly season-saving overtime tackle, NASCAR fans should be thanking him as well. Without his help, the Busch Series race in Memphis would have started with absolutely no national TV coverage from ESPN.

Just how much more of this treatment can NASCAR fans take? Apparently, we will all find out together. Next Saturday, the Busch Series is again following an Iowa Hawkeye live football game. Let's hope Mr. Gardner stays healthy.

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Day Two: The Silent Tears Of IRP

Update: REPOST FROM 7/27/12

Built in 1960 on farmland seven miles down the road from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the motorsports complex known to veteran fans as Indianapolis Raceway Park (IRP) is legendary. The facility contains a drag strip, a road course and a flat oval track with the famous length of .686 of a mile.

On Labor Day weekend, the NHRA holds a celebration of speed known as "The Big Go." Just before the IndyCars race at the Brickyard, the USAC midgets stage "The Night Before The 500" race. When NASCAR comes to town in late July, the Kroger Speedfest gets underway with three nights of racing.

Designed as a companion event to the Brickyard 400, Speedfest became a mandatory destination for fans. Three classes of USAC and the ARCA series raced on Thursday. The Camping World Trucks raced on Friday and the Nationwide Series was the star of the show racing on Saturday night. It truly was short-track heaven.

The grandstands were full, the drivers loved it and watching the trucks and Nationwide Series battle it out at the bull-ring made for great TV. It was the perfect lead-in to the Brickyard 400 and the spectacle of the Sprint Cup Series teams racing on a track made famous by the IndyCars.

One year ago,'s open-wheel reporter John Oreovicz reported news of a change in plans. Click here to read his story. In order to deal with sluggish ticket sales at the Brickyard, NASCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) were expanding the racing being offered on that weekend.

Two of NASCAR's in-house properties, the Rolex Grand-Am and Nationwide Series, would start racing on the Brickyard 400 weekend at the big track. In order to make sure the fans focused on IMS, NASCAR also cancelled the Camping World Truck Series race that weekend. Just like that, it was over for IRP.

"It was a complete shock and obviously we're pretty disappointed by it," IRP general manager Wes Collier told Oreovicz. "This was pretty much NASCAR's decision and there wasn't a thing we could do about it. We were willing to do whatever it took to keep the event here. But it was a business decision between NASCAR and IMS that left us on the outside looking in."

The new pitch for the Brickyard 400 weekend is three races for fans to see. The Grand-Am cars race on the infield road course Friday, the Nationwide Series on Saturday and the Sprint Cup Series on Sunday. What is left of Speedfest at IRP is the ARCA series and three classes of USAC open-wheelers.

The current title sponsor at IRP is Lucas Oil. Company founder Forrest Lucas is not happy about the change. "They're going to give up a really good race where the fans love the racing," Lucas told "It's good television and the fans can watch it. There are some races that are better to watch on a short track. They might make that weekend bigger to have all three classes there, but I can't see 'em having any fans."

"I hate to see it move," ESPN NASCAR analyst Dale Jarrett told Oreovicz. "Races like that one that are separate from Cup races helped give the series its own identity and I think they need more of those." There are currently seven Sprint Cup Series drivers who will cross-over and race on Saturday at the Brickyard.

NASCAR's goal is to elevate the relocated Nationwide Series race to high-profile status. The race gets ESPN exposure on Saturday with the network using all the special TV equipment brought in for the Sunday event. It's also important for ESPN to pull-out all the stops for another reason.

During the Nationwide Series pre-race show, ABC journalist Katie Couric will interview Danica Patrick in a pre-produced feature as the centerpiece of the program. The ability to promote a media star like Patrick on a big stage is what ESPN does best. The ultimate script for NASCAR, IMS and ESPN would be for Patrick to finally get her Indy win in the inaugural Nationwide Series race at the Brickyard.

Meanwhile, over at the small track the beat goes on. The loss of the two NASCAR races will not sink the facility. In fact, Lucas Oil is staying on as title sponsor and there will be over one hundred events on the calendar this year alone.

Change is certainly a constant in life, but after 30 years of NASCAR racing with more than 15 in support of the Brickyard 400, the silent tears of IRP are easy to understand.

We invite your opinion on this topic. Comments may be moderated prior to posting.