Monday, July 30, 2007

"NASCAR Now" The Day After Indy

ESPN had waited a long time to return to the "big stage" in NASCAR. They spent millions to invest in both the NASCAR Busch and NEXTEL Cup Series. In addition, they originated a daily NASCAR news and information show called NASCAR Now.

Monday, the one hour version of NASCAR Now took to the airwaves on the day after the first Busch and NEXTEL Cup weekend for ESPN in many years. At the track, ESPN had eleven on-air announcers covering the Brickyard 400, including Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett. For the Busch race, they had veteran Marty Reid and the colorful Randy LaJoie along with three pit reporters. With Shannon Spake doing double-duty in the pits, ESPN had fifteen on-air talent in Indy.

NASCAR Now started off not with Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace, and Andy Petree voicing over the highlights, but with inexperienced studio host Erik Kuselias trying his best to call the action at the Brickyard. Where was the ESPN NASCAR announce team? Why did they not include helping this show as a mandatory post-race activity? Send a "wrap package" to NASCAR Now.

Things went from bad to absolutely the worst when race winner Tony Stewart appeared on-camera. He was not being interviewed by one of the five ESPN pit reporters, and was not in the million dollar ESPN Infield Studio. He was sitting in the Media Center, providing what is called the "pool feed" for all the reporters. ESPN reporters did not even ask the questions. The "sound bites" with the Brickyard 400 winner came from the Media Center. How strange that Stewart had time for SPEED's Victory Lane program, but not ESPN.

SPEED Channel, which did not play any role in the race, had a post-race pit road interview with Kevin Harvick that appeared on both the SPEED Report and Victory Lane Sunday night. On Monday, ESPN used a graphic to type out Harvick's comments on-screen. Despite having five reporters on pit road and exclusive rights to "first interviews," they had no video of their own.

Incredibly, Shannon Spake voiced-over a "wrap package" that contained the same Media Center "pool" feed sound from Jeff Gordon. Spake did her best with limited resources to use interviews from the race itself to round-out her report. Once again, there was no primary post-race sound from the network itself in this piece.

Jamie Little's in-race interview with Jimmie Johnson was included on NASCAR Now because host Erik Kuselias found it amazing that Johnson had singed his eyebrows. Reporter Marty Smith was called-in to actually talk about Johnson's "mental status." Once again after this hype, analyst Stacy Compton on the studio set told Kuselias it was all a sham. Racing luck is fickle said Compton, and Johnson will be just fine. Basically, Compton refuted anything else Kuselias tried to offer on this subject.

Then, NASCAR Now did a brief recap of several drivers using the interviews from the ESPN pit reporters. None of this sound was created for this program, and the piece was disjointed because apparently that is all the "content" the NASCAR Now production team had to work with.

This recap missed two outstanding stories of the race. First, amid all the merger controversy, Mark Martin finished in sixth as a DEI driver. Second, the underfunded rag-tag "State Water Heaters" single car "made the race on time" team of Ward Burton finished fourteenth. Top twenty at the Brickyard for a single car part-time team.

Kuselias paid lip service to ESPN's Saturday night Busch race at ORP, but never even mentioned ESPN's own Marty Reid as the announcer providing the play-by-play for the highlight package. There was no interview of the winner, no "wrap package" from the ESPN announcers, and after a peek at the standings...NASCAR Now moved on. Did I mention it was the first ever Busch win for Toyota?

As The Daly Planet has mentioned on several occasions, ESPN likes to make people "pick things." Their latest time-filler on NASCAR Now is called "racer or chaser." Rather than offer more news or information, Stacy Compton was asked to look into the future and predict who would make "The Chase" and who would not. No feature on this program is more amateur or ridiculous. On the day after the first ESPN NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race since 2000, it was just embarrassing.

Late in the show, NASCAR "Insiders" Marty Smith and Angelique Chengelis showed-up to address some issues. Kuselias tried to suggest that Marty Smith was "one of the few" people who talked to Kevin Harvick after the race. That might have flown, had SPEED not used interview sound in both their Sunday night shows of Harvick right after he exited his car. Nice try, but no sale.

Chengelis updated the Kyle Busch contract story by telling viewers that something should be sorting itself out this week. She has been good at keeping this story up-to-date and accurate. Smith once again was asked to say that Mountain Dew and Pepsi were the key players for Junior next season. This information was made public by Smith last week.

Smith again refuted Kuselias claims that Jimmie Johnson's troubles are due to the absence of Chad Knaus on the pit box. "Absolutely not" was the Smith response, who has to be tired at this time in the season of repeatedly responding to the endless hype and speculation of Kuselias.

For some strange reason, the program then took a turn into a pre-recorded interview hosted by Kuselias with Kurt Busch. It may have been taped some time ago, when Busch was a guest at the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT. Kuselias is a sports radio talk show host who has transitioned to TV without any additional experience. His interview with Busch quickly took on a hard-edge with questions aimed at the personal problems and public issues Kurt has experienced. Busch never smiled the entire time, and eventually looked like a deer in the headlights. There was no explanation of why this appeared on-the-air Monday after the Brickyard.

After a brief Pocono preview and some final thoughts on Indy by Stacy Compton, Kuselias closed the show by saying the words fans have come to dread when watching ESPN.."Here comes Aerosmith." That's right, ESPN has removed the email address at the end of the show for fan suggestions and inserted the NASCAR on ESPN theme song as the close. That has to be some kind of statement by the network.

In this program, viewers never saw Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett or Andy Petree talk about the race they had just called on ESPN. They never saw the winner interviewed in the ESPN Infield Studio by Suzy Kolber and Brad Daugherty. The ESPN telecast host Brent Musburger never appeared to "sum up" ESPN's first race back in NASCAR after many years and thank the viewers.

To NASCAR Now, this week was just another race on the schedule. There was no perspective on the network's return. No interviews of the network executives, race producer, or even drivers about ESPN being there once again. In the disjointed and ego-driven world of ESPN, there was absolutely no cooperation between the people producing the event, and the people producing NASCAR Now.

What a shame that viewers could not hear Rusty and DJ's reactions to the race and hear the winner interviewed by the ESPN announcers. What a shame that the stories featured on the Internet websites about the race never made it to this one hour show. What a shame that Toyota's first Busch Series win did not result in a winner interview. What a shame that ESPN refuses to show Truck Series highlights because they race on SPEED.

For the first show after ESPN's return to NEXTEL Cup, NASCAR Now was just...a shame.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by and leave your opinion.

"NASCAR Now" On ESPN2 Changes Times

ESPN2's daily NASCAR news and information show, NASCAR Now, will be changing on-air times beginning Tuesday. On July 31st, the show moves one half hour earlier to air at 6PM Eastern Time. The one hour Monday version of the show will move to a 5:30PM start time. The weekend edition of this show, which is also one hour long, will continue to be at 10AM on the day of the NEXTEL Cup event.

ESPN just released this information as a schedule change, no reason was give for the switch.

Jimmy Spencer Brings The Thunder On "RaceDay"

It was supposed to be just another edition of SPEED's popular RaceDay program. The fans were standing across the street from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway alongside of the SPEED stage. John Roberts, Jimmy Spencer, and Kenny Wallace were happy and smiling in the Midwestern sunshine.

Roberts led a normal show that featured the storylines of the week, and used reporter Wendy Venturini to try and explain the DEI/Ginn merger like a grade school math teacher. Then, SPEED landed a live interview with Bobby Ginn and things took an interesting turn.

Fans accuse Jimmy Spencer of many things, and often times he is guilty as charged. Spencer can go from supportive cheerleader to sexist bully in about two seconds. As RaceDay has matured as a show, Spencer has matured as a TV announcer. He still has fun, but since the incident with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s sister, he has learned where to draw the line.

Beleaguered owner Bobby Ginn has had a rough time with the NASCAR experience. Hyped by many as a future "super team," Ginn now finds himself basically selling off his assets and fleeing the sport at a high rate of speed. Why he stuck around in Indy to answer questions from the media is anyone's guess. Perhaps, his own PR reps thought that doing damage control in person would be the best approach. Boy, were they ever wrong.

After some questions from John Roberts and Kenny Wallace, Mr. Ginn heard the voice of Jimmy Spencer. Live on national television, Spencer once again "stuck up" for the little guy, and let Ginn have it. Mr. Ginn might think about new PR guys after this.

Spencer laid into Ginn for coming into the sport and tooting his own horn. Spencer reviewed the fact that Ginn had hired crew members and drivers away from other teams with the promise of big money and success. Now, those same employees are out of jobs. "What'cha going to do for those fellas?" asked Spencer point blank.

Ginn stammered through a political answer and tried to put forward the idea that this deal was a merger, and not a buyout. Spencer was having none of it. "Did you buy part of DEI or did they buy you?" Spencer questioned. When Ginn persisted that this was a merger, Spencer asked Ginn if he would "be involved with that organization" next year? Ginn shrugged his shoulders and said "I am not going anywhere." The look on his face told a very different story.

Then, Ginn finally caved-in and said that DEI had a NEXTEL Cup car that was not in the top thirty-five, and he had one that was. He said he had no engine deal, and now his former cars would have DEI power. He said the money he was spending on his unsponsored cars could now be allocated to "other areas." What remains of Ginn at the end of the season is yet to be seen, but on RaceDay the truth finally came out.

Roberts thanked Ginn for coming by, but for NASCAR fans there had finally been an in-person explanation of the reality of the Ginn/DEI merger. This might not have happened had Jimmy Spencer not stepped-up and decided that someone had to get to the bottom of this, and it might as well be him.

SPEED's production team has been using Spencer in very different ways recently, and aside from his humorous "food tasting" on Sunday with Robin Miller, Spencer has finally been gaining some ground in the TV credibility world. With Victory Lane as another successful show of his, perhaps Spencer might take better "TV" control of himself and begin the process of presenting himself in a more professional manner.

As SPEED continues to grow its NASCAR programming, Spencer could play a role as a veteran who has a good perspective on "the old days" and also a solid foot in the day-to-day current activities in the sport. Maybe Inside NEXTEL Cup, the SPEED Report, and NASCAR Live could occasionally use a little Jimmy Spencer to spice up the mix.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for stopping by and leaving your opinion.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

SPEED's "Victory Lane" Answers All The Questions

Finally, SPEED has broken through with its one hour NEXTEL Cup wrap-up show called Victory Lane. Normally a hap-hazard and casual affair, SPEED has worked very hard over the past several weeks to bring this show up to a "network" level with increased production efforts and manpower.

Even as ESPN was still on-the-air, SPEED was beginning to record this tape-delayed show by watching Tony Stewart and his pit crew climb the Indy fence. Host John Roberts set the scene, while trying his best to control the enthusiasm of panelists Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace.

SPEED's Bob Dilner immediately had great sound bites with Kevin Harvick venting his frustration on Tony Stewart and the way he was treated. Stewart's version of what happened on the last several laps differed greatly from Harvick's. Both Spencer and Wallace basically called it "racing action."

Victory Lane's subsequent video highlight package of the race was outstanding. Then, the crew took the time to go through the entire field and document what happened to each and every team. This is exactly what ESPN needed to do before signing off the air.

Sure enough, race winner Tony Stewart walked right over to the SPEED set and appeared as the featured guest. Tony loves Jimmy Spencer, and they had a great time talking about the battle with Harvick. Good old Kenny Wallace asked Stewart about his new clean-shaven look and the kids that rode with him on his celebration lap. Stewart looked relieved and talked very clearly about his feelings and how his luck has been holding out this season.

This type of interview is exactly why viewers enjoy SPEED. There was no hype, no drama, and nothing phony. Stewart said things like "I pray for days like this" and "I wanted the track to be as slick as it could be." Then, Kenny Wallace was hilarious in kidding Tony about taking a big drink out of a bottle with his hands off the wheel in the final laps. Wallace asked if Tony was driving with his knees, and Tony said yes. These are the conversations that only happen on Victory Lane.

Juan Montoya talked honestly about his Brickyard experience with Bob Dilner, and he continues to build his reputation as a fan-friendly favorite. Juan keeps things simple, and complimented his team mate Reed Sorenson. Wallace and Spencer "tagged" this story with their comments on the entire Chip Gannassi team.

SPEED then wrapped with interviews of Sorenson and Jeff Gordon before the panel gave their views of the race, the next six events leading to "The Chase," and their predictions for the championship.

For a TV series that started as an afterthought, Victory Lane has proven to be a critical program for fans who want to know the "why" and "how" of the race they saw earlier that day. Spencer, Wallace, and Roberts have proven to be as popular with the drivers in Victory Lane as they are with the fans that flock to their RaceDay program. Sunday in Indy, they put on a very good show.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

Only One Car Finishes Brickyard 400 On ESPN

The email started pouring in minutes after Tony Stewart crossed the finish line of The Brickyard 400. It came from many different locations around the country, and represented fans of many teams in the sport, except one. Not one email was from a Tony Stewart fan, and that was for one reason. He was the only driver who fans saw cross the finish line at Indy.

Saturday night, the final lap of the Busch Series race on ESPN featured a group of tightly-packed racers who were thundering to the line at the wonderful short track near Indy called O'Reilly Raceway Park. As the winner closed-in on the finish line, ESPN took a wide camera shot and inserted the scoring graphic to show fans the finishing order.

Then, drama and inexperience took over and ESPN only showed the winner cross the line. They showed his pit crew jumping around, the winner slowing down, and then more of the pit crew. By that time, the entire field had finished the race, and there were cars spun on the track, paybacks still in progress, and at least one car with a window net down spoiling for a fight. Announcer Marty Reid was fit to be tied, because he knew fans had missed the entire thing.

The Daly Planet wrote in a Saturday column, "if ESPN decides that fans only need to see the winner of the Brickyard 400 cross the finish line and no other cars, there is going to be a problem." Well, Houston...we have a problem.

In what may be the most colossal sports blunder since the Heidi Bowl, ESPN welcomed themselves back to NASCAR by failing to show anyone other than the winner of The Brickyard 400 finish the race. ESPN had asked fans to join them for a one hour pre-race show, and then a three hour race. Unless you were a Tony Stewart fan, the reward for your efforts was...nothing.

If your driver was fighting it out for a top ten, or struggling for a top twenty finish, it did not matter to ESPN. All the stories they had been following for three hours suddenly did not matter. The fundamental fact that race fans want to see the battle to the line by the field did not matter. Even basic knowledge that people get passed in the final straightaway could not change ESPN's idea that what fans wanted was drama and not racing.

Earlier this season, viewers went through a run of this with Fox Sports. It infuriated fans when at a short track like Bristol or Richmond, the Fox gang chose to show only the winner, and purposefully excluded the entire rest of the field. Now, on its first race back into NEXTEL Cup, ESPN does the exact same thing...and at The Brickyard of all places.

Imagine being a fan of Juan Montoya, and about to watch him finish second at The Brickyard where he has already won the Indy 500 and participated in a Formula-1 race. How frustrating to have that moment yanked away so viewers could see Stewart slowing down, hear him yell on the radio, or see his crew jump around?

As The Daly Planet has said so many times, how can NASCAR continue to permit this to happen? One reader sent in this analogy. The Kentucky Derby only happens once a year, and it only takes several minutes to run. Imagine if the TV Director chose to only show the winning horse cross the finish line and exclude the rest of the field? Even in an annual horse race, with only fifteen participants, the TV audience would be outraged. The bottom line is, it would never happen.

Here in "NASCAR land," drivers race for about three hours with no break. Millions of fans nationwide support their driver and team with great devotion every week. They gather in all kinds of settings to "pull for their guy." If the driver finishes in the top ten, or even in the top twenty, doesn't that group of fans have the right to see him finish?

In the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, SPEED puts up a scoring graphic, "takes" a camera wideshot, and lets the trucks race to the line every time. When I spoke to a TV crew member about this issue, he said "how is that so hard to do?" It only takes literally a minute to watch a screaming NASCAR field thunder across the stripe.

This year in Charlotte, Kyle Petty guided his Coca-Cola sponsored Petty Dodge to a third place finish in the Coca-Cola 600. The ovation when he crossed the finish line was overwhelming, as it was his best finish in a long time and he had earned it. On TV, however, no one saw it. The only people who saw Kyle finish the Coke 600 in the Coke car at Charlotte were the fans in the stands. The NASCAR on Fox Director chose to show TV viewers the winner...slowing down.

Sunday's Indy mistake was huge because of the high-profile drivers excluded from the coverage. Montoya, Gordon, and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. Two of the best stories were Mark Martin finishing sixth, and Ward Burton leading his rag-tag underfunded team to a fourteenth place at Indy. If you are a NASCAR fan, you understand that these things are moments in history to be enjoyed.

What they are not, are moments to be taken away by a TV crew inexperienced in the sport or driven by an agenda of fake drama or hype. What fan would rather watch Tony Stewart slow down than see the entire field rumble across the finish line?

As The Daly Planet wrote on Saturday, "does anyone believe that there was even one fan at the track that watched the winner of the race cross the stripe and then put their hands over their eyes?"

While this may not apply to even one of the two hundred thousand plus fans at this race, TV viewers certainly know a group to whom it applies. Anyone unfortunate enough to watch The Brickyard 400 on ESPN.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for stopping by, and leaving us your opinion.

ESPN Changes The NASCAR TV Dynamic

Everyone was eagerly awaiting the first NEXTEL Cup race coverage by ESPN. Viewers had seen the broadcast team of Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree working on ESPN's Busch Series this season. What they had not seen was the added layer of "special TV stuff" that ESPN was going to bring to the table for The Brickyard 400.

Brent Musburger was heralded as the telecast host, although he played no active role once the racing began. After hosting the NASCAR Countdown show, Suzy Kolber, Brad Daugherty, and Dale Jarrett remained on the set and were featured frequently in the racing portion of the telecast. ESPN also bought Tim Brewer a new "Tech Center" to be used in explaining the technical issues that popped-up during the race.

Finally, ESPN had promoted their "Draft Track" coverage which allows an animated version of the air flow on the track between cars to be displayed on the screen by using colored graphic elements. All of these elements were newly added for the NEXTEL Cup coverage, and definitely changed the on-air dynamic that ESPN's Busch Series viewers had come to know.

No one was more deeply affected by this "shared attention" that Jerry Punch. Now, Suzy Kolber was being featured as a co-anchor, and she often voiced the program elements in the show like billboards and promos. The Infield Studio was used frequently during a caution period instead of the normal flow of pit reporters bringing viewers up-to-date about activity on pit road. Punch was not the star of the show, as he had been for the Busch Series races.

Veteran ESPN viewers who watch other sports on the network have seen this approach before. The actual sporting activity becomes almost secondary to the many announcers, the technical TV "tricks," and multiple TV studio sets that seem to be present on many ESPN events.

Punch was working hard to maintain his focus on racing as things on the track began to tell the "real" story of the race. Give Rusty Wallace credit, he was as plain spoken as he has been on the Busch Series, and so was his partner Andy Petree. Unfortunately, this flow was often interrupted by the Infield Studio crew who had their own agenda.

One program element that did not work out was the use of Dale Earnhardt Jr. as ESPN's in-race reporter. Although his crew chief was helpful to Andy Petree, Junior was having absolutely none of Wallace asking him questions and seemed to be on the edge of being very annoyed. Maybe we will subsequently find out what that was all about.

Tim Brewer was the mystery man, as he and the "Tech Center" were used sparingly. After all the hype in the media, Brewer was the odd man out because there was no real time for him to talk. He also did not appear well-informed on several occasions, but did a nice job with the Junior engine failure. The Infield Studio and Suzy Kolber took-up a lot of the content time that normally would be given to the "Tech Center."

Musburger returned about halfway through the race, and after asserting his presence Suzy Kolber appeared and allowed Dale Jarrett and Brady Daugherty to offer their analysis of the race. Once again, this would have been a perfect time to allow Tim Brewer to point out the "tech issues" that were key to the race. Instead, Daugherty again summed-up the obvious and led into a pre-produced feature on Jeff Gordon actually placed in the middle of the race. This was a big wow for veteran fans. What was happening on the track, and in the race, was again made secondary.

Around 5PM Eastern Time, ESPN cut-into the NASCAR race to update viewers on Barry Bonds and his baseball pursuits. Musburger followed with another trivia-style factoid before returning the broadcast to Punch and crew. Unfortunately, the racing action on the track was sizzling, and it included both a car into the wall and a head-to-head battle for the lead. Again, the actual racing action appears to be "secondary" to ESPN's pre-planned production features. Perhaps, many NASCAR fans are asking...Barry who?

With less than fifty laps to go, ESPN finally offered an actual race recap using the pit reporters. This helped viewers to get a clue about the on-track activity of the non-leaders because the network was having a hard time following the stories of the teams coming back-up through the field. Clint Bowyer was a good example.

In this race, even under green flag conditions, ESPN used Kolber and the Infield Studio to show video highlights of the race in-progress. Jarrett and Daugherty commented on the highlights and then returned the broadcast to Punch and company in the booth. In the "old" ESPN NASCAR days, there would never be an interruption of green flag racing by a pre-produced element. Several key points of this race had to be replayed because of ESPN's own production elements being played.

As usual, ESPN continued to have a good technical season in "NASCAR land" this year. The Brickyard pictures were excellent, the audio was consistent, and the graphics were crisp. The "triple split" on pit stops worked well, and the in-progress race graphics scrolled at a good speed. Very quietly, the ESPN technical operations gang has put together an excellent season of quality TV for NASCAR fans.

With twenty laps to go and the race raging, ESPN finally let Dale Jarrett talk directly with Wallace and Petree in the booth. DJ really lent another veteran perspective to the coverage and helped bring this broadcast another point of view. Wallace and Petree really click well with Jarrett, and it allowed the announcing crew to end their part of the race on a good note.

Unfortunately, Dave Burns conducted a horrible interview of winner Tony Stewart. It was clear that Stewart was increasingly annoyed with Burns inept questions, and this anger ultimately resulted in a profanity on national television. Perhaps, Mr. Burns will be relegated to the goofy stories which are his specialty.

The final lap of this race is going to be the subject of an additional post. Please leave your opinion about the ESPN general coverage of this event on this column.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published.

ESPN's "Countdown" Leaves A Lot On The Table

The opening "tease" for the NASCAR Countdown show on ESPN was a strange mix of hype and drama. It assumed that NASCAR fans were tuning-in to the first race of the season. In fact, there were only seventeen races remaining in the year long schedule. ESPN had just not televised any of them.

Brent Musburger opened the show with a very strong statement that Indy was the top race in NASCAR for history and drama. What Brent really was saying is ESPN does not telecast either of the races from Daytona. So, for ESPN, this is their Daytona 500 and they are going to eliminate all references to the earlier part of the season.

After Dale Jarrett missed the race, he was added to the Infield Studio panel. Suzy Kolber hosted, with Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty alongside. Kolber has been a quick study in NASCAR, and rarely misses a beat. She quickly sent the telecast down to Allen Bestwick for an interview with the pole sitter.

That done, ESPN had to decide on how to fill the remaining hour. Apparently, an Aerosmith music video was just what the fans needed. It certainly was strange that almost none of the racing video used during the song was footage from The Brickyard. In fact, the video featured lots of Daytona footage. That must not have made Mr. Musburger very happy. Maybe, "Sweet Irony" could be the next Aerosmith CD title.

Suzy Kolber left the studio for a pre-recorded interview with Chip Ganassi and Juan Montoya. Why this was not done by Rusty Wallace or Brad Daugherty is a good question. Kolber asked scripted questions that resulted in a fun interview but did not get across the kind of information that NASCAR fans needed about this race. Once again, ESPN's perspective is that this is the "first" race, while fans have been on this trip since February.

Brad Daugherty has been hanging in there since his introduction as the "voice of the fans" back in February. Alongside of Rusty and Dale, he was limited to answering general questions about non-technical issues. Why Daugherty was not allowed to interview anyone, prepare any kind of feature, or do anything outside of his little "box" begs the question of why he is along for the ride?

ESPN carefully avoided the reality of the DEI/Ginn merger. During a Dave Burns interview with Martin, nothing was said about the points situation, or the abrupt lay-offs of both drivers and crews. Mark Martin was never put on-the-spot about anything, and he carefully stated the company line that this merger was all about improving DEI as opposed to a sell-off of a failing team with only two assets, Mark Martin himself and a car in the top thirty-five.

Musburger returned halfway through the show to re-direct the focus of the telecast to Midwestern drivers who grew-up racing dirt. This was another professionally produced ESPN feature, and it gave fans a view of the sprint and midget car series that spend summertime racing across the Midwest. This feature would have been better served to appear in NASCAR Now, ESPN's weekly show.

It actually had nothing to do with the race itself, and took time away from the "hard news" stories that ESPN ignored like DJ missing the race, the "hired guns" in the field used to qualify, or the fact that NASCAR decided this would not be a a COT race. The COT for next year was never even mentioned.

In a very strange twist, ESPN re-aired a feature on Kevin Harvick that viewers had already seen earlier this week. NASCAR Countdown is the big time, and using dated features that have already aired is a bad decision. In addition, there was no live folow-up or "tag" with Harvick. Instead, Dale Junior was interviewed by Mike Massaro and gave fans solid information about his car, and his feelings about his chances.

Finally, with only ten minutes left in the show, ESPN's NASCAR "Insider" Marty Smith appeared to address some "hard news" issues. Following up on the Dale Jr. interview, Smith updated the DEI details with regards to "number gate," DEI sponsors, and for the first time exposed Mountain Dew as a player in the sponsor game.

Incredibly, Kolber then lead Around The Horn's Tim Cowlishaw and Brad Daugherty on a completely speculative "pick 'em" feature about who gets in "The Chase" and who does not. The transformation between the "NASCAR experts" like Wallace and Jarrett and the "ESPN experts" like Cowlishaw and Daugherty was harsh.

With only minutes to go before race time, this topic was off-center and bordered on the ridiculous. One spin, one blown tire, one bad pit stop, and these "expert" picks go right out the window. Maybe that stuff works in baseball, but not NASCAR.

With only minutes left in the NASCAR Countdown show, viewers finally saw Allen Bestwick. Following a feature on Jeff Gordon's Bowling Tournament, Bestwick only got a minute to try and get Jeff's feelings on the actual race and his chances. Then, Dr. Jerry Punch was finally introduced and his on-air team took a quick look at the race and the field.

Wrapping-up NASCAR Countdown was Brent Musburger in the new ESPN "tech center." The network's attempt at expanding the cut-a-way car has resulted in a stand-alone unit that gives Tim Brewer a quiet location to offer his technical information. Incredibly, with both Mike Massaro and Allen Bestwick only a short distance away, it was studio host Suzy Kolber who interviewed Jimmie Johnson on the starting grid.

Several things are clear from ESPN's first NASCAR Countdown show before a NEXTEL Cup Series race. Everything that happened in the past, broadcast by either TNT or Fox Sports, will never be mentioned or referenced. For ESPN, the NEXTEL Cup series starts with The Brickyard 400 and continues to Homestead.

In addition, fan favorites Mike Massaro and Allen Bestwick have been pushed aside by Shannon Spake and Jamie Little, true ESPN "cast members." Finally, everything revolved around Suzy Kolber and Brent Musburger. Neither of these two even took a minute to offer an introduction of Jerry Punch, Andy Petree, Tim Brewer, or any of the pit reporters. This was ESPN's first NEXTEL Cup race, with many new fans tuning-in.

What was new to fans, and should have been addressed, was ESPN's own history with NASCAR, who was going to be on-the-air this season for the NEXTEL Cup broadcasts, and what other NASCAR-related programs like the Busch Series and NASCAR Now are also on the ESPN family of networks. None of this was done.

Dr. Jerry Punch is the face of NASCAR on ESPN at the track. He has put his heart-and-soul into the year-long ESPN efforts with the Busch Series races. He should have been an integral part of this pre-race show, instead of being excluded. He could have interviewed Ganassi, done the feature with Gordon, or been able to offer his views on the topics discussed in the pre-race instead of Daugherty. Punch was the odd-man out on NASCAR Countdown.

ESPN now has sixteen more versions of this show to produce, and soon Kolber will also be doing double-duty as the sideline reporter for Monday Night Football. Now, with the glitz and glamour of Indy gone, the crew will move to the Pocono hills and be faced with the daunting task of focusing on the actual racing, the team stories, and the beginning of "The Chase."

It will be interesting to see how things go on NASCAR Countdown when Brent Musburger has to say "You're looking live at a big, boring track in Pocono, its really hot, and there is no room service at my hotel."

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by, and leave your opinion.

Early Sunday "RaceDay" Misses The Mark

With The Brickyard 400 looming, SPEED decided to split their popular RaceDay program in two. The first thirty minute live show aired at 10AM Eastern Time, and the full two hour show would follow at noon. This was a new approach for the network, and the first thirty minute show required some collective thought about what to include.

Instead of twisting the program around to serve as a "teaser" for the following two hour show, SPEED tried to "squeeze" everything down to fit in this version. Unfortunately, it was a little off key and disjointed.

The RaceDay set is one of the best in racing. The crowd loves to be on camera, and even though SPEED cannot bring itself to focus on one sign or family at a time, its always good to see Americans out and having fun. Indy was no exception, with a great crowd enjoying the sunshine and the TV antics.

John Roberts, Jimmy Spencer, and Kenny Wallace were in a great mood, and had a great time over-stating the importance of this race, just as they over-state everything. That, of course, is one of the reasons fans watch RaceDay. Wallace and Spencer are hilarious in their enthusiasm and opinions. So far this season, its been a roller-coaster ride for those two in the credibility department. But, its always fun.

Roberts and company should have used this show to "set-up" their feature program, but other than "teasing" Wendy Venturini's Real Deal interview with Jeff Gordon, nothing else was focused on that goal. Spencer and Wallace both reacted to the DEI/Ginn merger with some politically correct answers after a colorful explanation of the merger by Venturini.

Unfortunately, SPEED inserted Ricki Rachtman for a weak feature about golfing at Indy. This was time consuming, and ultimately cost Wendy Venturini an opportunity to speak with the key man of the day, Chip Gannassi. Rachtman should have been saved for the two hour show, where his scripted antics can simply fill some time.

This edition of RaceDay was off the mark, and you had the feeling that both Roberts and Venturini knew it. There was no mention of SPEED's Friday night Truck Series race, and no highlights of the Busch race at ORP from Saturday. Team mates Reed Sorenson and Juan Montoya should have been interviewed live, or on tape, about their pole runs. Fans needed news, not goofy golfing.

If SPEED splits RaceDay in the future, perhaps they will focus on the fact that twenty-two minutes of content goes by quickly, and designating a significant amount of that time to preview the "big show" would be a better focus.

With ESPN going head-to-head with this early show with a one hour version of NASCAR Now, SPEED is going to have to clearly understand, as The Daly Planet pointed out earlier, things in "TV land" have changed. Now, when SPEED turns around, they are face-to-face with the most successful TV sports network in the history of cable television. The eight hundred pound gorilla has moved into their house, and is not leaving. Its time to acknowledge that fact, and deal with it.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thank you again for taking the time to stop by and leave your opinion.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Busch Race Finish Lost For ESPN Viewers

There was a good mood going when ESPN took to their airwaves with the Busch Series race from ORP as a part of the big Indy weekend. Fan favorite Mary Reid was back, and alongside of him in a "fill-in" role was former Busch Series driver Randy LaJoie. Down on pit road, ESPN broke out veteran Jack Arute along with newcomer Shannon Spake and IndyCar's Vince Welsh.

As a new group of announcers, things went quite well after the initial on-camera "opening" segment. LaJoie was not very happy to be dressed in a coat and tie with the nation staring at him, and looked as if he was trying to decide between fleeing or throwing-up. Thankfully, he chose to stay.

The Busch race at this track is normally a beating-and-banging affair, even if the second groove at the bottom comes in. This was no exception, with the normal spins and hot tempers. However, it was a good mix of veterans and newcomers racing, so it had a lot of fun elements.

Marty Reid eventually got Randy Lajoie to relax, and his funny and entertaining personality finally got a chance to come through. In person, LaJoie is hilarious. Reid worked hard to get Randy in the flow, and he responded by keeping the good information and the good humor constant throughout the telecast.

Jack Arute is a little rusty, and his reporting was spotty at best. Both Spake and Welch worked hard on pit road to keep on top of the breaking stories, and ESPN deserves credit for quickly reporting on two crew member injuries that looked a lot worse on video than they were in real life.

As the race wound down, ESPN seemed poised for a classic finish with the entire field streaming nose-to-tail for the line banging off of each other. Veteran Greg Biffle was first, and trying to hold off the open wheel veteran Jason Leffler. Toyota's David Reutimann took some hard knocks in the closing laps, but Leffler got around both drivers and was in front as the checkered flag fell.

Unfortunately for TV viewers, the only people who saw any car other than the winner finish the race were in the stands. ESPN fell squarely in the same trap that got Fox Sports earlier this year. For some strange reason, the Director and Producer chose to show TV viewers nationwide the winning pit crew jumping around instead of the entire field of cars crossing the finish line.

If this had been a superspeedway, it might have been OK. But, as it happened, there were several incidents before, during, and after the finish that ESPN totally missed because of this one mistake. NASCAR fans had to watch the winner slowing down and waving even as other cars spun, bumped, or continued to settle some issues that may have arose on the final lap.

Marty Reid struggled to keep his demeanor while describing the "other things" going on after the finish that were different from the sanitized version that ESPN chose to show the TV audience. What a shame that a good race, with a good announcing team, could be ruined by one bad decision from the TV truck.

I never saw my driver finish. I think he was in the top five. Many fans never saw their driver finish, even if he was fighting tooth-and-nail for a spot on the final lap. Just like Fox, the TV crew decided that they have the right to limit the finish of the race to just the car, or cars, that they choose. That is fundamentally wrong.

Does anyone believe that there was even one fan at the track that watched the winner of the race cross the stripe and then put their hands over their eyes? That makes absolutely no sense when you have over thirty cars screaming toward the finish line at high speed on a short track. How then can the TV Producer and Director decide that anyone watching at home should see the winner, and then see nothing?

If ESPN decides that fans only need to see the winner of Sunday's Brickyard 400 cross the finish line and no other cars, there is going to be a problem. ESPN might have gotten away with this Busch mistake because only The Daly Planet has the guts to address this issue, but if they try to pull-it off on the NEXTEL Cup race, even the "gravy train" national NASCAR media types might perk-up and notice.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for stopping by, and leaving your opinion.

Sunday Showdown: SPEED's "RaceDay" vs. ESPN's "Countdown"

TV sports contracts are very big documents. They require lawyers, negotiations, and lots of maintenance to see that they are working properly. Many professional organizations like the PGA Tour, the NBA and the NFL use those contracts to address all kinds of issues. One of those is the TV competition.

NASCAR itself has only been in the TV business for a relatively short period of time. While the move by NASCAR to put as many races on "free" broadcast network TV was good for the sport, it also brought in a network that did nothing to support NASCAR other than show their contract races. That network was NBC.

This season, NBC is out and ESPN is in as the TV partner carrying the final seventeen NEXTEL Cup races. As a part of the contract, NASCAR demanded that ESPN put the final ten "Chase" races on the ESPN-owned broadcast network, ABC. This weekend, the ESPN contract begins with The Brickyard 400.

Long before ESPN came back into the sport, SpeedVision had been purchased by the Fox Cable Network group, and re-branded into SPEED Channel. As the network felt its way through an expanding relationship with NASCAR, they began to build a franchise by providing the "support" programming that the broadcast networks could not.

Simply by positioning themselves at the NEXTEL Cup track, SPEED generates more than ten live and tape delayed programs about the sport. One of the strongest is the NEXTEL Cup pre-race show called RaceDay. Originally one hour long, the show is now two hours in length and features hard news, original interviews, and multiple guests.

Earlier this year, The Daly Planet referred to RaceDay as the "Super Wal-Mart" of NASCAR TV. SPEED has done a good job of including the serious, the funny, and the informative in a program that is very easy to watch as fans wait for the race to begin. RaceDay has become one of the strongest franchises on SPEED among all their programming.

On Sunday, ESPN will unveil the NEXTEL Cup version of their pre-race show called NASCAR Countdown. This program has been done for the Busch Series in a thirty minute form, but Sunday marks the one hour version of the program. ESPN struggled with the early episodes of this show, but decided on TV veteran Suzy Kolber as their host.

For ESPN, this will be their first pre-race NEXTEL Cup show in history. They have put a lot of work into this concept, and have a big crew at the track operating in support of Countdown. Brent Musburger will be the "telecast host" while basketball great Brad Daugherty will be alongside Kolber in ESPN's new Infield Studio. Booth analyst Rusty Wallace will visit the set for the first portions of the show.

RaceDay begins at noon, and goes until 2PM Eastern Time. NASCAR Countdown begins at 1PM and goes until 2PM. This puts one hour of overlap between the two programs. One hour where the "official" TV network pre-race show overlaps with the established NASCAR TV partner who has been broadcasting for years. How interesting.

SPEED is betting that fans already know RaceDay, and they will choose to "hang" with the popular show. ESPN is betting that as the "new kids in town" they will bring the many viewers without digital cable directly to Countdown. Many cable systems require a digital upgrade to view SPEED, where ESPN is considered part of most "basic cable" packages.

On-the-air however, it should be interesting. RaceDay reporter Wendy Venturini will be live in the NASCAR garage on national TV while ESPN is also live with their reporters in the same area, looking for the same stories and interviews. Did I mention this should be interesting?

There is no other situation like this for ESPN, and it is going to be interesting to see how long they put up with it. ESPN has the exclusive TV rights to the race itself once their broadcast begins at 2PM, but NASCAR is the "referee" for the pre-race portions of any live TV program.

So, this gives viewers a choice. ESPN puts its best foot forward with Suzy Kolber, and SPEED returns the popular John Roberts. Fans can tune-into ESPN for a fresh perspective, and as a relief from the horrible Countdown To Green show offered by TNT. For ESPN, its an absolutely clean slate.

SPEED needs to step-up and work hard to keep the viewers attention for this key second hour of RaceDay. No doubt Roberts and company will have something special planned to try and keep the fans with SPEED. Either way, as we mentioned earlier, it is certainly going to be interesting. Who will you be watching?

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for stopping by and leaving your opinion.

Rain Puts ESPN And SPEED Head-To-Head On Saturday

The fall-out of the weather problems at Indy was never more obvious then late Saturday morning and early Saturday afternoon. As SPEED followed its regular schedule of shows from the SPEED stage, ESPN scrambled its programming line-up to deal with changes in the NEXTEL Cup practice schedule.

The result was exactly the thing that ESPN had been trying to avoid at all costs. They were now live on-the-air simultaneously with SPEED in a head-to-head competition for viewers. It certainly did make things interesting.

As The Daly Planet wrote in a Thursday column, ESPN has found itself basically surrounded by SPEED at Indy. Safely inside the racetrack, ESPN has avoided even acknowledging that there is another network present at the track. Meanwhile, SPEED has a comfortable set-up across the street where viewers can watch SPEED's weekend line-up of live programming.

Perhaps, the best moments of Saturday came while ESPN was live on-the-air with NEXTEL Cup practice, and SPEED was on-the-air with NASCAR Live. While Suzy Kolber led the team on the ESPN side, Steve Byrnes led SPEED's NASCAR Live effort.

Viewers were put in the unusual position of watching two NASCAR TV partners try to cover the exact same practice session. While ESPN has the "rights" to the practice, SPEED was often showing on-track activity as well during their show. Certainly, the thrust of the ESPN coverage was the on the track, while SPEED concentrated on explaining what teams were doing what, and interviewing drivers and crew chiefs.

The most intense part of this unexpected head-to-head contest pitted SPEED's Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond against ESPN's Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree. There is never a time where two TV networks are covering the same NEXTEL Cup race live, so this practice session coverage was about as close as things will ever come.

Both teams of analysts delivered good information, with the advantage going to ESPN who could use the live on-track coverage, their own pit reporters, and Tim Brewer in the new "tech center" to fully integrate all the on-going stories. Hammond and McReynolds were contained on a set outside the track, basically using their pit reporters and watching the computer update the practice laps.

We knew that ESPN's arrival in the NASCAR community was going to result in some flexible scheduling and on-air changes, but it certainly was amazing that SPEED was able to broadcast live while ESPN was simultaneously on-the-air with NEXTEL Cup practice. Once ESPN discovers that someone else was broadcasting quality coverage of exactly the same activity that ESPN is paying millions to have as "exclusive," it should be interesting to see how these types of changes play-out in the future.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

John Kernan Returns To ESPN Motorsports

Just a quick note for veteran NASCAR fans. Former RPM2Night host John Kernan has returned to ESPN as a field reporter on ESPN's coverage of the NHRA tour.

Kernan is currently the host of The Driver's Seat, a daily morning radio program on Sirius Satellite Radio.

This ESPN assignment puts Kernan back in the ESPN family of motorsports, and may set the table for future assignments. Your comments are welcome.

"Trackside" On Friday Was Just What Indy Needed

On a dreary Friday in Indy, NASCAR was absolutely stalled at the gate. The clouds were overhead, the rain was coming, and everyone knew that the on-track schedule was going to be out the window. It was the first day of a big three day racing weekend, the first day of a seventeen week stretch, and the first NEXTEL Cup race on ESPN in seven years.

Somebody had to step-up and inject the fun back in this day. Something had to get race fans back to being excited about this race. It had to be someone who can poke fun at himself, play well with others, and keep a sense of humor under any circumstances...including a day of rain.

This situation called for the one man who has quietly established himself as a NASCAR TV favorite among both the fans and racers. Someone who perhaps will be seen a lot more on NASCAR TV in the future. That man is Steve Byrnes, and his show is Trackside on SPEED.

Unless you have been living in a basement without cable TV, you should probably still be laughing from the Chicagoland version of this show. Panelist Elliott Sadler, who is an outstanding athlete, threw a fastball to "batter" Jeff Hammond to show off his major league arm. Unfortunately, even in full protective gear, Sadler's pitch beaned Hammond like a Nolan Ryan fastball.

In typical Trackside style, Hammond opened the Indy show with half a baseball pinned to the back of his head and still complaining of a headache. Larry McReynolds and Byrnes could not get enough of this one. The best part of this show is the fact that these four guys work well with each other, and each one is given an opportunity to shine in their own right.

Steve Byrnes has been hosting Trackside, along with NASCAR Live, for the entire season. Like any good host, he builds on the stories and experiences of the previous race. Watching Trackside is a double whammy. Viewers get the current news and information while also looking back on the past races and keeping things in perspective. This has been a tremendous struggle for other NASCAR TV partners.

No one evokes more eye-rolling among the NASCAR TV gang than Kenny Wallace. "Herman" has countless jokes out there about his ability to talk non-stop until the people around him beg for mercy. On Trackside, infield reporter John Roberts gave "Herman" a chance to talk, and the Trackside gang took full advantage.

Nothing was funnier than seeing Hammond, Sadler, McReynolds, and Byrnes pretend to be asleep on the SPEED stage while a "Kenny clock" runs on the screen. Without being able to see what was going on, Kenny kept talking and talking and talking. It was hilarious. This is why fans have come to enjoy this program on a regular basis. They have fun.

On this one show, the panel welcomed Casey Mears to talk about his Indy connections and his family history. Then, Kasey Kahne stopped by to talk about his year and the Evernham team's progress. He also took a good-natured ribbing for his now famous "Yak" commercial. Finally, Max Siegel from DEI stopped by to explain the DEI/Ginn merger and update the fans on why and how things took place.

What more could viewers want on a dark, dreary, and rainy Friday from Indy? On stage was Larry McReynolds, the savior of the TNT race package and NASCAR guru. Jeff Hammond always has a good opinion and a solid race perspective. Elliot Sadler has turned out to be a good TV personality, and his gaffs including falling off the stage in Charlotte and beaning Hammond have been hilarious.

Finally, the heart-and-soul of the program is Steve Byrnes. He has moved himself up a notch in the NASCAR pecking order, and now finds himself poised to step-up to a play-by-play role on a regular basis after his hosting of NASCAR practice sessions on SPEED. His versatility in the studio, on the infield stage, and in the broadcast booth have made him a sought-after property for next season.

If you haven't seen Trackside, its a good program to put on the DVR and view before the race. Its also a blast to watch live, and contains a lot of the good-natured fun that SPEED has captured in their RaceDay program. As SPEED and ESPN continue to share the NASCAR spotlight for the rest of the season, Trackside is a home run for the network and a blast for the fans.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for stopping by.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

ESPN Surrounded By SPEED Channel At Indy

Over the last six years or so, there has been a TV dynamic at work in NASCAR that was quite unique. NASCAR's NEXTEL Cup Series was carried by Fox Sports, TNT, and NBC Sports. Most of the "support programming" like practice, happy hour, and qualifying was carried on SPEED Channel.

Viewers got quite comfortable with seeing TNT announcers like Bill Weber and Wally Dallenbach doing the early on-track sessions live on SPEED. The same was done for the NBC package. Lots of early parts were on SPEED. With Fox Sports, SPEED is actually a sister company also owned by Fox, so the announcers simply bounced back and forth between the two networks. Often over the years, many practice and qualifying crews were a combination of announcers from SPEED and the network broadcasting the NEXTEL Cup race.

In addition, SPEED literally surrounded the NEXTEL Cup events with a strong line-up of on-site programming including NASCAR Live, Trackside, RaceDay, and Victory Lane. While the NEXTEL Cup racing was on a non-SPEED network, fans knew to turn to SPEED for everything else.

On Friday of this week, all that changes. Enter ESPN, ABC Sports, and Disney. There will be no "sharing" of announcers for the rest of the season. You will not see Jerry Punch doing play-by-play on SPEED. You will not see Andy Petree offering analysis on SPEED. Add to that list Rusty Wallace, Brad Daugherty, Brent Musburger, and Suzy Kolber. The lines have been drawn.

This is an awkward situation for ESPN. There is no other venue where the network does not control almost everything on-site. There is no Fox Sports pre-game show before ESPN's Monday Night Football from the stadium grounds. There is no USA Network post-game show right after the last pitch of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. There is no two hour live preview show from the X Games venue on MTV or SpikeTV.

At Indy, ESPN will be up against a network that has worked hard to gain credibility in NASCAR by doing it the old fashioned way. They worked for it. Along the way there has been success with Trackside, RaceDay, and Victory Lane. There have also been failures like the memorable NASCAR Nation. But, SPEED hung-in there, produces a solid Craftsman Truck package, and even features NASCAR prominently on shows like the SPEED Report and WindTunnel.

When ESPN looks around at Indy, they will not see the College Gameday set with Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, and Kirk Herbstreit. They will see the SPEED Stage with Steve Byrnes, Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds. When ESPN looks again they will see John Roberts, Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace staring back at them. That crew will be doing a two hour pre-race show at an "ESPN track" before an "ESPN exclusive race."

SPEED viewers are used to Wendy Venturini roaming the garage area for two hours during the RaceDay program that is telecast live just before the NEXTEL Cup race. During the 2007 TNT package, RaceDay actually overlapped with TNT's own ninety minute pre-race show. ESPN would not, and will not, ever permit that sort of thing to happen with SPEED. Just how far they will permit Wendy and RaceDay to roam in Indy remains to be seen.

ESPN has its own fleet of TV trucks, and its own army of technicians. But, at NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races, the TV compound is controlled by NASCAR's own official television and media production company called NASCAR Images. ESPN will have to nestle-in beside DirecTV's Hot Pass package, InDemand's Pay-Per-View in-car package, and the RaceView package. For NASCAR Images, ESPN is just another client in this racing season. That's right, just another TV client in the NASCAR package.

All these issues have been given lip service by NASCAR, ESPN, and SPEED. Everything is going to be just fine they all say. Well, talking has been the only way to deal with these potential problems because until Friday they have not been real. There have been no conflicts, no problems, and no egos colliding into a screaming television mess. Rival fraternities have not been forced to live in the same frat house...until now.

As you go through the many live hours of NASCAR TV this weekend from Indy, try to appreciate the new dynamic in play. ESPN's previous coverage of the Busch Series has absolutely nothing to do with this. The network had been the "bottom feeder" to the NEXTEL Cup broadcaster. Now, with the click of another day in time, they are instantly the big fish in the NASCAR pond all the way through Homestead in November.

For veteran fans, the most interesting moment may be when SPEED begins to tape its Victory Lane show. This program begins taping when the winning car crosses the finish line in the NEXTEL Cup race. SPEED announcers watch over their shoulders as the winner comes into Victory Lane, gets out, and does the mandatory live TV interview. Then, almost immediately, the winner goes to SPEED for a Victory Lane interview with John Roberts and his co-hosts.

Imagine ESPN on-the-air live with the winning driver interview while SPEED tapes a TV show right behind them. Can you see ESPN allowing their "exclusive" winner interview to be shown later in Victory Lane as "background?"

Best of all, with ESPN SportsCenter, NASCAR Now, and the ESPN News Network waiting for interviews, can you really see ESPN giving up the winner of "their" Brickyard Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace?

Stay tuned fans, this is going to get interesting...and probably by Sunday afternoon.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"NASCAR Now" Moves Its Hype To ESPN

Last week, The Daly Planet celebrated the fact that ESPN had made some significant changes to its NASCAR Now program. Out was Erik Kuselias, and in was ESPN's own Ryan Burr. Race fans were upbeat, and the programs were outstanding.

This week, viewers could not believe that Kuselias was returned to the airwaves on a key week for both the network and NASCAR. The results have been a mess for both parties. On Wednesday, ESPN telecast a special version of this ESPN2 program.

The one hour version of this program began with the "merger mania" that is sweeping the under-funded NASCAR team world. As opposed to Ryan Burr, Kuselias is a "reader" who has no knowledge about the sport, and reads questions "in order" to his reporters. It changes the dynamic of the entire program when the host cannot speak freely about the sport with some authority.

Once again this week, feisty reporter Marty Smith talked over the host and added his feelings as a "tag" to a scripted question from Kuselias. The deer in the headlights look on Kuselias face always tells the tale. Someone has deviated from the script, and this is a big problem. Because Kuselias does not know...anything about NASCAR. This time he got off easy because no one asked him to provide an answer.

Over the past six months, The Daly Planet has referred to NASCAR Now as "bi-polar." This show was no exception. Kuselias was literally screaming from the opening tease throughout the show. Someone obviously told him "more excitement" and he interpreted that directive as "move volume."

Last week, the professional Burr was smooth and calm while delivering news and information at a rapid pace. Its almost tough to believe that this is the same network.

Both Terry Blount and Shannon Spake were put in uncomfortable positions on Wednesday by ESPN. Blount was forced to comment on the possible future contract restrictions that ESPN has decided are now needed for NASCAR drivers.

This has all come about because ESPN discovered that Carl Edwards got his thumb out of joint, literally, in a Late Model race last week. Blount took a deep breath and towed the company line while laughter echoed in the background since drivers are "independent contractors" and racing to most of them is life itself, not an optional behavior to be negotiated. At least he did it with a straight face.

Spake was forced to "hype" the theory that NASCAR events have to be "ranked," which is something that ESPN loves to do. She then was sent on a snipe hunt to ask around about what four NASCAR races are the "majors" of the sport. This feature showed a lot of racing types offering their opinion, and concluded the exact same way it started, with nothing solved.

Instead of the Blount and Spake reports, perhaps ESPN could have told viewers that there are three events this weekend in Indy. Friday night, the fantastic and exciting Craftsman Truck Series will be live on SPEED from O'Reilly Raceway Park. Saturday, the Busch Series takes to the same track live on ESPN2. This might be the best racing of the weekend.

Unfortunately, none of this matters to ESPN even in a one hour preview show on a Wednesday. They are obsessed with NEXTEL Cup, and will not lower themselves to deal with these "lesser" series unless they are forced to do so. It is the height of arrogance that ESPN shuns these two series, and the height of hypocrisy that NASCAR lets them get away with it.

This week, Ryan Burr and co-host Allen Bestwick have been absent on NASCAR Now. As the network leads up to its key NASCAR weekend, the executives have made the conscious decision to use the struggling Erik Kuselias during a week where many new NASCAR fans are being courted by the network.

Following a week of quality programming, NASCAR Now returned to the "screaming hype-fest" viewers have come to know so well. Another one hour special of NASCAR Now on ESPN follows on Thursday. One day out from the Indy on-track activity, it will be very interesting to see who the network chooses to lead the band. Thursday and Friday are the most important NASCAR Now shows of the season to date. We certainly will be watching.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

SPEED Channel Signs Randy Pemberton To TV Deal

This season has marked the comeback of one of The Daly Planet's favorite NASCAR TV personalities. Randy Pemberton has battled back from some bad breaks in life to return to a featured role this year with DirecTV's Hot Pass package. In addition, he has made some very spirited appearances with Kyle Petty and John Roberts on SPEED Channel's excellent Tradin' Paint program.

Today, SPEED has announced that they have made an investment in Pemberton by signing him for the remainder of the NASCAR season. The network will feature him on shows like NASCAR Live! and the new series Go or Go Home. SPEED will also allow Pemberton to step into some hosting roles in NASCAR practice and qualifying sessions.

This is a very positive step by SPEED, a network that already boasts Wendy Venturini, Krista Voda, Steve Byrnes, and John Roberts as "multi-functional" on-air talent who can provide the network a wide variety of support both in the studio and at the track.

Good luck to Randy in his new role, and kudos to SPEED for stepping-up and making an investment in someone working very hard to return to a full and normal life.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Time For ESPN To Make The Donuts

There has rarely been a week like this for ESPN. The normal stick-and-ball sports that dominate ESPN on a daily basis are about to be "one-upped" by what many in Bristol, CT believe is not a sport at all.

After more than five years, the top level of NASCAR racing returns to ESPN. While the network may believe it is more important than many things, there is absolutely no doubt that ESPN is dwarfed by NASCAR racing.

This sport has flourished in its time away from the network, and this success will be the "measuring stick" by which NASCAR fans will judge ESPN's efforts for the next four months.

Simply put, its time for ESPN to make the donuts. Six months of hard work, practice and rehearsals behind-the-scenes have set the stage for one key day in the history of this network. Make no mistake, Sunday is huge for the entire ESPN/ABC/Disney corporation.

While ESPN is confident in College Gameday, confident in Monday Night Football, and very confident in SportsCenter, the entire network is about to be put under a level of scrutiny that many at the company have never experienced before.

NASCAR racing was ill-served by NBC Sports. This group of arrogant New Yorkers made it clear from the start that NASCAR was a "fill-in" for their loss of the NFL, and they would be exiting from NASCAR "as soon as possible." That was told to me in-person back at their first race in Homestead. These were not racing guys.

NBC paid the same level of service to NASCAR that TNT recently did in their disastrous and self-serving "summer replacement" tour. That my friends, was lip service. NBC fled back to Manhattan as soon as possible and the sport is better-off without them. TNT's website has eliminated all mention of NASCAR, and on the Turner-owned site, the TNT page sits...frozen in time.

Now, ESPN steps-in with a full six months of solid Busch Series action under their belts. They move from the relative obscurity of Saturdays to the white hot spotlight of NEXTEL Cup at a key time in the history of the sport.

Fans have high hopes for the continued good chemistry of Dr. Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace, and Andy Petree. The pit reporters have been just fine, with Allen Bestwick and Mike Massaro being the heavy-hitters in experience. ESPN's team calling the on-track action has a great opportunity to be very good this season. Like him or not, Rusty is always excited and gets across a vibe of energy that sometimes requires Petree to get things back on an even keel.

What fans dread most is ESPN doing to NASCAR what they have done to The Indy 500. These days, there is so much extraneous "TV junk" built around the race that it seems the on-track activity is actually a relief for the viewer.

From bad "TV hosts" to rock bands playing to awkward tear-jerking driver profiles, the network loses so much credibility that you somehow expect the play-by-play announcer to begin with an apology to race fans.

ESPN has already told us that for some unknown reason, Brent Musburger will be "the telecast host" at The Brickyard 400. They have already told us that NASCAR newcomer Suzy Kolber and the struggling Brad Daugherty will handle both the complete pre-race show and the in-race "Infield Studio" segments. Back in the Bristol, CT studio, they are continuing to use the "mis-cast" Erik Kuselias as ESPN's "daily national face of NASCAR."

This week, Kuselias has already done the Monday and Tuesday NASCAR Now shows. Aside from the credible news items from the non-Bristol based reporters, both shows were horrible. This gentleman is just lost.

Imagine asking Bobby Labonte how he would race his brother Terry at The Brickyard 400 if it came down to the "last couple of laps" for the win. As Kuselias would say, "are you kidding me?" These brothers are both multi-millionaires with twenty plus years each of NASCAR history under their belts. Just once this season, maybe some normally polite NASCAR driver will just answer back, "you're kind of a jerk, did you know that?"

Kuselias was once a lawyer from Hamden, CT who wanted to get into sports radio. Now he finds himself being handed the keys to the most high-profile NASCAR program on American television. While he has "skated" for six months amid the confusion and chaos of this program, he will skate no more after Monday, July 30th.

By that day, the network will have covered the Busch Race from ORP, and The Brickyard 400. NASCAR Now will instantly become the center of attention as the sole source of information about ESPN's own races. Fans will expect much more from this program than the single reporter "stringer" style coverage of NEXTEL Cup that the show has offered this far.

If "ESPN General Assignment" reporters David Amber or Wendy Nix appear simply to "wrap-up" the Brickyard 400 for Monday's NASCAR Now, heads should roll in Bristol. For the next four months, the faces on NASCAR Now should be ESPN's own "faces" at the track.

NASCAR Now has completely fumbled ESPN's coverage of the Busch Series this season, simply because they were mesmerized by NEXTEL Cup. As noted in earlier Daly Planet columns, they actually refused to run Busch highlights on Mondays because the race was "back on Saturday." Veteran race fans had to be helped-up from the floor after seeing this naive approach to racing.

So, this week ESPN will air sixty-six hours of NASCAR, comprised mostly of the excellent Ultimate NASCAR series. Then, the Busch race at ORP will serve as the warm-up for the big day. The main course will be served with Sunday morning's NASCAR Now, then the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show and finally The Brickyard 400.

From Fox Sports to TNT, the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup TV package has seen its highs and lows this season. Now, ESPN takes the helm to steer this ship all the way into port in November. As we build toward the weekend, there will no doubt be more information to discuss, and more opinions to read.

Please feel free to add your opinion of ESPN's coverage to The Daly Planet anytime. There will be a new column available for your comments every day through November. It should be interesting.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Rules for comments are posted on the right-hand side of the homepage. Thanks again for stopping by.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Andy Petree Shines In Gateway Busch Practice

Dr. Jerry Punch is a broadcast veteran with lots of experience in a wide variety of studio and on-location roles. This season he is the voice of NASCAR on ESPN and ABC Sports. Alongside Punch is veteran driver Rusty Wallace, who worked hard on ESPN's IndyCar Series to fine-tune his TV skills as an analyst.

How ironic is it then that the biggest star so far for the ESPN "booth announcer" trio is the rookie Andy Petree? Without a doubt, Petree has been the surprise of the season when it comes to providing information to the fans with a great attitude and outstanding technical knowledge. ESPN executives must be smiling.

Petree just naturally comes across as credible and easy-going. This is made all the more impressive when he begins to explain the things going on trackside. It always seems that he has been down in the pits and visited each driver and crew member in the entire series.

Earlier this season, after calling an wonderful Busch Series race for ESPN2, The Daly Planet wondered if anyone else felt that Andy gave off the same positive glow about the sport that endeared fans to the late Benny Parsons. Both of these men love to talk personally about the "who" and the "why" behind what is going on. This comes at a time when other networks just "pass through" the sport talking about "who is leading right now."

Petree has worked with both Wallace and Dale Jarrett in the booth, and proved to be a good partner with both. He also has a good and respectful relationship with Jerry Punch, who is clearly taking on the assignment of his TV career. Punch leans on Petree to provide the details that only he knows from his "hands-on" research. BP used to call it "walking around the pits."

At Gateway, the team also relied on Jamie Little and Dave Burns on pit road. Both of these reporters worked hard, and contributed a ton of information to the show. Little has been trying to rebound from some struggles earlier this year, and it shows. She was aggressive and outspoken in her questions to drivers, and covered a lot of ground.

The crew had fun because there were many young future stars of NASCAR on the track, as this is a stand-alone Busch Series race on a classic NASCAR vacation weekend. Wallace and Petree both seemed to be positive cheerleaders for the youth movement in the sport. Punch was able to say "this young man" a whole lot in this practice.

The ESPN graphic package has finally been tweaked to the point where it works. The size, clarity, and speed of the graphic elements added to this show rather than detracting and moving the viewers eyes around the screen in a bad way. With all the new faces in this race, it was a great effort by the entire production team to insert "headshots" of the drivers as much as possible.

The team also dealt well with the subject of Rusty's son being a driver in the Busch Series. Punch and Petree take the lead where Steven Wallace is concerned, and let Rusty pipe in at the end with his "veteran" advice. If the younger Wallace ever gets the hang of this sport, watching him roll into Victory Lane with Rusty in the booth will be a lot of fun.

One week before this team makes its NEXTEL Cup debut at The Brickyard 400, it seems that there is smooth sailing in the broadcast booth and on pit road for ESPN as it heads for the big time. Even in a minor Busch Series practice, Andy Petree went the extra mile to give fans the inside stories and the reasons behind the things happening on the track. All in all, it was a great sign of things to come from this trio.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for stopping by.

ESPN Turns The Tide In The Nick Of Time

Not too much attention is focused this weekend on the lone NASCAR "national series" event near St. Louis. At Gateway International Raceway, a lot of Busch Series "regulars" are trying to get some quality national TV exposure on ESPN2.

Friday, the network scheduled back-to-back their daily NASCAR show and the normally boring Busch Series practice session. Surprisingly, this turned-out to be a great decision and a good solid ninety minutes of NASCAR TV.

Once again, Ryan Burr hosted a NASCAR Now show that focused on the Busch Series event, and then broadened-out into the racing stories of the day. ESPN Studio Analyst Stacy Compton could not wipe the smile off his face as he had the opportunity to work with Burr.

Compton was finally allowed to spread his wings, and share his views without interruption. Burr led Compton through a discussion about the upcoming seventeen week NASCAR grind and the fact that the crew members and shop guys have it a lot harder than the drivers. Compton always shoots straight, and he likes to rib the NEXTEL Cup drivers who "lounge around in their motor homes." Did I mention he could not stop smiling?

DJ Copp was next to benefit from Burr's actual NASCAR knowledge. Copp is a DEI employee and pit crew member. Copp got to explain Dale Junior's power steering problems, and did a great job telling fans the information they did not get on the final TNT telecast. This season, Copp has always "just been himself" and has done a great job with his knowledge of the pit crew side of the business.

Then, NASCAR Now profiled a group of people involved in the sport who viewers would not normally see. This time, it was Mike Wallace and his two kids who both race locally in North Carolina. Mike's daughter Chrissy is a hot ticket who has been strong in her driving efforts and could possibly be in the Craftsman Truck Series next season. This tough and headstrong young lady was great in her interviews, and the show followed it up with a live telephone interview with her dad. Mike is a great guy, and he was both a good parent and a good promoter in his interview.

ESPN is continuing to prove that they suddenly "get it" by going out live to Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace, and Andy Petree at Gateway. They were able to follow up the Wallace family story, preview the upcoming practice, and even pick the favorites for the weekend race. This is exactly what the network needs to show viewers that all the ESPN "pieces" can come together for one serve the NASCAR fans.

Burr rounded-out the show with a live telephone interview of driver Brent Sherman. Then, Stacy Compton gave a fast-paced "insider" view of Gateway and the race itself. Compton and Burr had fun, picked a winner, and then signed-off by thanking each other by name...imagine that. Polite comes to NASCAR Now.

Who would have imagined that this one week could have been such a turning point for this program series? If ESPN can keep the momentum going with this show, they will have put themselves in a very good position to preview the start of their NEXTEL Cup coverage using NASCAR Now as a daily information source. And, after all, wasn't that the original idea?

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for stopping by.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Glimmer Of "RPM2Nite" Appears On ESPN

Normally, Thursdays are a bit slow on the "NASCAR news" beat. This week, things are even slower with the NEXTEL Cup Series taking the weekend off. This "Thursday vacuum" has always led ESPN2's daily racing show, NASCAR Now, to struggle in figuring out what to talk about, and even who should do the talking. Viewers have seen a "veritable plethora" of talking heads visiting this show to talk about everything under the sun.

Yesterday, The Daly Planet documented the fact that ESPN News anchor Ryan Burr had hosted an outstanding fast-paced episode of NASCAR Now on Wednesday. What fans and viewers could not know was that on Thursday, Burr was about to host the best produced and most polished episode of this series since it began in February.

The sad case of Aaron Fike led this telecast, and Burr used Detroit News veteran Motorsports Reporter Angelique Chengelis for all the details. Chengelis and Burr work well, and these two professionals laid-out the problems and challenges that Fike will be dealing with over the coming months. Chengelis has been solid as a "hard news" source and always speaks in clear terms about these types of difficult issues. This segment of NASCAR Now had all the credibility of Baseball Tonight or Outside The Lines and is exactly what fans have been looking for from the network.

With the Busch Series race at Gateway on ESPN2, Burr did a preview of the event and the led to an interview with IndyCar's Sam Hornish Junior. Burr let Hornish describe his own feelings about NASCAR, and then critique his own performance in his part-time Busch Series role. Hornish gave the impression that NASCAR certainly is on his list for 2008. He hedged his bets by saying things next year would be mostly fifty-fifty between NASCAR and IndyCar. This interview is a great cross-over for ESPN and ABC, who now carry both the top two NASCAR Series, and the entire IndyCar schedule.

Continuing to touch base on the Aaron Fike story, Burr brought in NASCAR veteran Jack Sprague, who is a full-time driver in the Craftsman Truck Series this season. Burr took the time to ask Sprague about his own interest in the sport, and what he has left to accomplish. His answer was honest and heartfelt. Moving to the story of Aaron Fike, Sprague wasted no time in ridiculing the "young kids" of today by comparing his own meager beginnings with the apparent disrespect that some of the young drivers have for their fellow competitors and the sport.

"You had the golden spoon in your hand...and you dropped it" said Sprague of Fike and his alleged drug use. Sprague continued to emphasize the hard road that most drivers of his era took to "get up" to the biggest series in the sport. Burr got Sprague to endorse random drug testing in the Truck Series, and also the permanent ban of anyone for even violating the drug policy one time. Strong stuff.

For once, Tim Cowlishaw of Around The Horn fame was concise and on-target with his weekly "driver pick'em" segment. He had good information to make his picks, and explained his reasons without hype or hysteria. Even Cowlishaw seemed to be picking up on the new vibe of this show. He was actually entertaining.

Since February, ESPN2 has struggled to deal with the "bi-polar" personality of this one series. Sometimes oriented to news, sometimes loaded with hype, and sometimes just absolutely terrible, NASCAR Now seems to have gotten on-track with "hard news" leading into an interview, then a solid feature, and finally a closing segment referencing the upcoming event and the miscellaneous news and notes.

ESPN's other top shows thrive by being consistent. Although the stories themselves change every day, the "body" of the show and the personalities presenting it do not. NASCAR Now should be considered in the same breath as NFL Live and Pardon the Interruption. It should have the same credibility in viewers minds as thirty minutes of the ESPN News Network.

Thursday, NASCAR Now finally accomplished every goal set out for it by the network. No hype, no innuendo, and no ineptitude. This program sparkled from start-to-finish and will hopefully serve as the model for the thirty minute mid-week shows for the rest of the season. If this happens, ESPN may have finally put their mark on the NASCAR brand in the same way they have affected Major League Baseball and other professional sports.

On behalf of NASCAR fans nationwide, I would ask ESPN...could we have more of that please?

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Ryan Burr Returns To "NASCAR Now"

On Wednesday of this week, ESPN News host Ryan Burr returned to NASCAR Now, the program many viewers wish he would host full time. The Daly Planet has recently refrained from columns about this program's "other host" because there is no point in continuing to dignify his ineptitude with publicity.

Burr immediately returned to the show a "news feel" and fast pace that allowed the program to jump right away into the headline stories with reporter Marty Smith. Burr and Smith click like brothers, and are always in sync. Smith covered the stories, said goodbye to Burr, and was gone with his duty done.

The subject of the big headlines, Regan Smith, was then interviewed on the phone by Burr. This type of follow-up with someone asking informed questions is exactly what this show needs, and usually has with Burr at the helm. All the bases were touched with Smith including Ginn Racing, the driver moved aside for Smith, and his view of the future.

Continuing to follow the same news thread, Burr brought the always interesting Terry Blount in to continue to explain the dominoes falling since the Ginn Racing moves. Blount had all the latest info, and was outstanding in explaining the ramifications of the problems at Ginn. Brad Daugherty then talked in very general terms about credibility and NASCAR "team business" dynamics.

As always with Burr, his fast pace left viewers glued to the screen. Landon Cassill was welcomed in as a young eighteen year-old driver trying to make the Busch Series race at Gateway. Hendrick Motorsports is bringing this youngster along, and he already appears very professional and well-spoken on television. Burr allowed him to speak, never put him on the spot, and concluded the interview by wishing Cassill good luck.

Burr then attacked the obvious "NASCAR at Indy" story about Jack Roush never winning at The Brickyard. Terry Blount returned to remind viewers that Roush really is focusing on this Indy race as a goal for all his teams. With a new partner in the Fenway Red Sox gang, it might be a very good time for someone like Kenseth to deliver.

The unraveling Michael Waltrip saga continued, and Terry Blount finally raised the point many were making on Internet sites all year long. With Terry Labonte being brought-in to allow MWR to make The Brickyard race, Blount suggested that Michael step aside permanently and move into the management role.

In wrapping-up the show, Burr passed along the news and notes that made a difference on this Wednesday, and was gone. As The Daly Planet has said so many times this season, Burr's hosting of NASCAR Now allows this show to run just as it was intended to be. Absolutely chocked-full of NASCAR information and racing at full speed.

Never once was innuendo or hype included. Never once was anyone put on the spot, or challenged to make a choice forced by the host. No one was outraged, angry, or over-the-top when talking about racing issues of any kind. This crew put on their "NASCAR news" hats and let it fly for a solid thirty minutes.

When will Ryan Burr be allowed to host the one hour versions of this show and the high-profile Thursday and Friday editions? His ability to relate to drivers, reporters, and other guests on this program is tremendous in contrast to the "other host." With absolutely no one on the set, Burr flew through thirty minutes seemingly without taking a breath, and included more "real information" than some of the one hour programs with the "other guy."

There is only one week until the big Indy shows of NASCAR Now begin on Thursday the 26th. This time, ESPN will be handling the NEXTEL Cup Series and all eyes will be on NASCAR Now as the program to watch.

Next week, there better not be "pool reporters" filing stories on NEXTEL Cup races. The faces of the broadcast team for ESPN need to appear on NASCAR Now with a "race wrap" every Monday for the rest of the season. These same faces need to provide a preview for the Friday and Saturday editions. The pit reporters need to plan and tape pieces for NASCAR Now to air during the following week, including following-up on stories not able to be shown after the live race.

While NASCAR Now has not had to deal with the fall-out from the Fox Sports and TNT coverage, they need to be acutely aware that they must follow-up every story from the ESPN telecasts for the rest of the season. The different ESPN "camps" need to communicate with each other. Right now, the coordination between ESPN News, SportsCenter, NASCAR Now, and the Remote Production group that actually produces the races is a mess.

Using a veteran talent like Ryan Burr, Allen Bestwick, or Mike Massaro will cut through the hype and wasted content time plaguing NASCAR Now. For ESPN, crunch time is here, and this program series needs to look at the Wednesday show as a model of how this program can serve the network, the sport, and the fans. After almost six months of NASCAR Now, how hard can this be to understand?

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.