Friday, August 31, 2007

Steve Byrnes Quarterbacks SPEED's Fontana Coverage

SPEED Channel knew it had walked into a pressure cooker on Friday in Fontana, CA. The network had committed to almost eleven hours of NASCAR programming, including the practice sessions and qualifying of both the Busch and NEXTEL Cup Series.

Any doubt about the reality of the pressure cooker was erased when the crew encountered temperatures hovering around one hundred degrees for the better part of the day. Welcome to Southern California.

The day-long TV activity on Friday was once again quarterbacked by SPEED's Steve Byrnes. Combined with Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds, this trio worked their way back and forth between the Busch and NEXTEL Cup Series practices seamlessly.

Bob Dillner and Wendy Venturini braved the scorching garage area to continue SPEED's excellent relationship with the NASCAR drivers and personalities. These two worked hard to keep up with a wide variety of stories, including California's Jimmie Johnson appearing in the Busch race.

SPEED's cameramen in the garage needed to get the cameras off their shoulders and show viewers what the mechanics and team members were doing up-close and personal. NHRA style pictures, these were not.

John Roberts was manning the SPEED Stage early, and did a great job of directing network traffic between the on-track and off-track live shows. Roberts had Hermie Sadler and Randy Pemberton helping him in the garage, and rookie reporter Sadler turned in a good performance. There will be more about Sadler later. Pemberton is always enthusiastic, and his follow-up with the Goodyear Tire guys about the heat was smart and concise.

In NEXTEL Cup practice, Larry McReynolds just went off on the California garage area facilities. "These garage areas are the worst...on the circuit. Its the most aggravating place we go to. They put two cars in a stall where one should be." said McReynolds. That certainly was out-of-the-blue and Jeff Hammond agreed that things looked nice, but absolutely did not work nice behind the scenes.

As the day progressed, SPEED began to bring-in new announcers and offer some brief relief from the heat. Rutledge Wood stepped-in as a reporter, but his strength is not garage area interviews, and he leaves a lot of good information on the table. It was time for hardcore information, not continued goofing around.

The versatile Byrnes came down from the announce booth and moved to the SPEED Stage to anchor the late afternoon coverage that included the relatively new Go or Go Home show. This quick overview of who has to make the race on speed was good, and served as a primer for the qualifying that was up next. Bob Dillner did a lot of work in the garage speaking with the drivers in question.

By the time NEXTEL Cup qualifying came around, SPEED had decided to let some of their announcers spread their wings. The network put John Roberts in the booth, along with Jimmy Spencer and Hermie Sadler. This trio would take viewers through the live Cup qualifying which was the key to SPEED's entire day.

You couldn't wipe the smiles off the faces of Spencer and Sadler when they appeared on-camera at the beginning of the program. While Hermie Sadler has proven to be a quick study and continues to widen his array of TV skills, the same cannot be said for Spencer. The theory may have been there, but the reality was not.

Spencer struggled with his "TV mechanics." He constantly interrupted both Roberts and Sadler, because that is a role he knows from RaceDay. In the same way that Rusty Wallace began the season with his "I'll tell you what" catch phrase, Spencer coined "You know, Johnny..." in this broadcast.

This sloppy TV approach was a shame, because Spencer had good information and a lot of observations that only a veteran driver would have. As the drama of both the pole and making the race began to play out, Spencer's excitement level got hotter than Jeff Gordon's engine at Darlington.

This made things a bit tougher, as Spencer would just talk whenever he wanted, forcing the other members of the crew to pause over and over again. The concept of sharing was not in effect, especially when the drama was high. It might have made viewers aware that some elements of being good on TV come with practice, and not necessarily from being an experienced former driver.

Luckily, all three of these men work together on RaceDay, so Sadler and Roberts know how to deal with the raw energy and enthusiasm of Spencer. Roberts managed to keep things organized, and Sadler carefully added his analysis when he had a moment. Perhaps, with more play-by-play experience, Roberts would have kept the lid on Spencer just a little tighter.

SPEED wrapped-up their NASCAR block with the popular show Trackside. It was fitting that Steve Byrnes closed out this TV coverage alongside Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond. After a long day, these three managed to keep the energy high and served-up a strong live hour.

Unfortunately, like everything else on Friday, there was only a sparse crowd on-hand for a memorable live interview of Ricky Rudd, who looks like he has finally come to peace with his retirement from racing. Time has mellowed this intense man, and he seemed to enjoy every minute of the conversation and stories that followed.

Elliott Sadler eventually joined the panel after cleaning-up after qualifying, and Sadler continued to show fans and viewers why SPEED has invested a lot of time and effort into developing his on-air personality. He has a natural television presence.

Ward Burton also stopped-by and the panel treated him with great respect, despite his issues this season and his struggles to get back in the sport full time. This is the type of small thing that endears SPEED's NASCAR crew to the viewers. They get it.

So, on a huge day in Fontana for SPEED, the network put together a strong performance under difficult circumstances and gave NASCAR fans sensory overload. They worked to integrate their on-air talent in a variety of roles, and ultimately ended-up with the normal good and bad elements we see in live sports TV.

Very quietly, Steve Byrnes has emerged as SPEED's most high-profile NASCAR TV host. Without Fox Sports Mike Joy on-hand, Byrnes can bounce back and forth between the announce booth and the SPEED Stage filling both roles.

As the picture above confirms, this former high school football quarterback already had some experience with leading a team to a championship. Well, it was a Maryland state championship, but we all started somewhere. Now, about that hair...

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

Thursday, August 30, 2007

One Man's "NASCAR On ESPN" YouTube Protest

Over the course of this season, we have mentioned several times when it comes to NASCAR video. One of these stories talked about "bumpstop3," the YouTube name used by Joseph Foster. This former racing writer has been working hard to create his own video universe on Internet pages hosted by YouTube.

His pages contain almost two hundred videos, many of them created by his own editing skills. He uses footage from all the NASCAR TV partners, and weaves it with his own graphics, voice, and music. To say it is well done is an understatement.

He recently added a long video of nine minutes and forty seconds. It was not about the latest NASCAR news, it was not an interview, and it was not meant to be funny. It was his protest against the coverage of the Bristol Busch Series race on ESPN this past Friday night. Did I mention it was almost ten minutes long?

Mr. Foster is expressing in his own way some of the same sentiments echoed here and on the various NASCAR radio shows. The unique thing is, he has been able to use ESPN's own footage and sound to bring his points of view across in a very frank manner. I think his video entitled "ESPN Bristol Busch Coverage" is worth taking a moment or two to watch.

Certainly, we all understand that TV networks have the right to do and show what they choose. They paid for the programming, paid for the production, and ultimately paid to transmit the final network signal to your home. His point, however, is that consumers and fans are the ultimate end users, and they pay a hefty price as well.

In order to make his case, he chose a problem-plagued event that was the topic of an earlier column on this site. Going into Bristol, The Daly Planet predicted a tough time for the new NASCAR TV partner, and that is indeed what happened.

ESPN could not buy a break on things like missing accidents, catching restarts, timing of commercials, and even trying to use the pit reporters and their Tech Center. Of course, to add insult to injury, their entire feed went down due to "human error" with about four laps left to go.

I direct your attention to this video not so much to knock ESPN, but to point out the fact that no one on any cable TV or broadcast network said a peep about this issue. Basically, SPEED has no platform for this discussion anymore. ESPN certainly avoids these things at all costs.

It was hilarious that the one hour Saturday morning version of NASCAR Now never even mentioned the fact that the entire network NASCAR feed was lost, never showed the lost portion, and never apologized for the error. If ESPN says it did not exist, then apparently even on the morning never happened.

Meanwhile, on Internet sites and radio shows, the howl over the TV networks choices of everything from announcers to program content is louder than it has ever been before. Even on and, the conversations are always in-progress about the TV side of the sport. We all know NASCAR TV is a frequent topic on Sirius Satellite radio's designated NASCAR channel.

Where then, can one find this type of discussion on TV? Tradin' Paint on SPEED has rarely ventured into TV coverage of the sport, and the Pit Bulls show on SPEED is long gone. Dave Despain never talks TV on Inside NEXTEL Cup, and his WindTunnel show is a blur of topics usually relating directly to racing itself.

It seems from recent articles on and significant on-air changes in some TV race coverage elements that both ESPN and SPEED are listening to the fans...somewhat. This tug of war between what fans want to see and what TV networks want to show has been going on for a long time.

What Mr. Foster has done with one well-produced video on is to use the TV network's own content to prove a point. In the Internet era, this one video can been seen worldwide on a variety of devices. It can be watched anytime, is free to view, and can be emailed to a friend. That is a powerful communication tool.

As NASCAR fans peruse the Articles/Stories page on, they will not notice a lot of stories about the multi-million dollar NASCAR TV package. When they watch SPEED, they will notice that NASCAR's TV race coverage is rarely mentioned. Finally, when they tune into any NASCAR or News program on ESPN, they will never find a discussion of the "pros and cons" of this season's coverage.

These days, its up to guys like "bumpstop3" to voice the issues associated with NASCAR's TV coverage. Right or wrong, raising these issues brings a better awareness of what can possibly be done to better serve the fans who choose to hang-in there with the main TV network coverage.

Today's NASCAR offers a wide variety of viewing options, and the ESPN/ABC programs are not the "stars of the show" like races on network TV have been in the past. The challenge for the networks is to first get and then hold the short attention span of NASCAR viewers like myself who have access to various radio, Internet, and satellite TV options for the race.

As the network TV package for the NEXTEL Cup Series changes to ABC Sports, it will be the first time this group has competed directly with such elements as DirecTV's Hot Pass and even the viewing and listening options.

After this weekend in Fontana, there is no doubt that "bumpstop3" will have a new set of videos ready to go. I'm going to stop-by on Monday and see if his video statement fits-in with the opinions and comments here on The Daly Planet. After all, I'm not going to get that kind of perspective anywhere else.

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.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"NASCAR in Primetime" Blows An Engine

Melissa Rivers on-camera can bring a NASCAR show to a screaming halt faster than the best Raybestos brakes. Chef Mario Batali can take the focus off a backmarker like Johnny Sauter quicker than instant pudding. Kelly Clarkson's perky face removes any intensity from a Jeff Burton super-speedway crash.

Mixed-in with a very interesting bunch of "fans" who curiously appear to be saying exactly the right words, this strange blend of NASCAR and entertainment is this week's NASCAR in Primetime on ABC.

Far from the curiosity of the original episode, and light years away from the promise of last week's show, ABC unleashed an hour that was deep in the type of phony entertainment drama that makes NASCAR fans cringe. What could cause ABC to get sucked into this hype? One word: Talladega.

The track is absolutely a blast. Its a great party, and almost any NASCAR fan knows its also Earnhardt country. The race is great on TV, and even better in person. But, its just a good sporting event, and not the type of life and death "super-drama" that ABC made it out to be.

This is the first program in this limited five episode series that was absolutely off-track. It smacked of entertainment executives making the editing decisions, rather than the solid ABC News and documentary crew that shot the original footage.

When a program goes through the editing process, the production team has a big decision to make. The question is whether they are going to truly represent reality, or use the resources and TV technology available to create their own. In this show, ABC clearly decided to create their own. What a bad mistake for this promising series that ABC continues to say is "documentary" in nature.

ABC used footage for shock value that was years old. This "B-roll," the footage used to cover commentary, was often so out of date and irrelevant it was laughable. All semblance of a documentary feel was gone with Jimmie Johnson "suddenly" crashing into the wall at Watkins Glen in his Busch Series driver's suit. That was seven years ago. The editing decisions in this program doomed it from the start.

Episode two of this series was wonderful, and certainly brought a lot of fans back for this week's show. Unfortunately, it was completely different. Gone was the slice-of-life feel, and in its place was the hyped drama of "is he hurt or dead in the car after the accident?" That was complete with swelling dramatic music...and then a commercial break.

As you may know, I am sometimes a guest on Dave Moody's Sirius Satellite Radio show called Sirius Speedway. I say that because a lot of the on-track commentary in this program was lifted from Dave's radio work at Talladega during the NEXTEL Cup race. Often, the pictures seemed to be edited to his words. Unfortunately, his words were chopped-up, stretched-out, and turned into a melodrama worthy of the "ABC Soap Block." It was tough to take.

NASCAR has been racing live on TV for a long time. The sport came of age on ESPN in the 1980's. Today, almost every lap of even the practice and qualifying sessions is broadcast live to an audience that just can't get enough of NASCAR. Americans have been exposed to the thrill of racing at Talladega twice a year for decades.

Unfortunately, this episode of NASCAR in Primetime chose to ignore all that. They were there to create drama, and it was going to be of the highest order. It did not matter that the drama ultimately consisted of Juan Montoya rubbing the wall, Jeff Burton getting caught-up in a wreck, and Johnny Sauter getting turned on the last lap.

Jeff's wife Kim Burton is great, and her words about risk were true, but they did not match the drama on the track. It had to be created. Poor Johnny Sauter's girlfriend was shown as if she was reacting to both the team radio and the action on the track. It did not help the ABC cause that she had earplugs and no headset on, or that she could not see the backstretch from her viewpoint. The drama needed to be created, and it was.

Ultimately, I was looking for more slice-of-life documentary and less "who might be hurt" on the track hype. Maybe, because last week's episode was so good, this was just a bigger letdown than normal. The fans on the bus were fun, but we have seen that story before many times. Montoya's wife seems nice, and seems to understand his ego just like she did in the last episode.

Veteran NASCAR fans have to get a kick out of not what ABC edited-in, but what the network edited-out. If there was ever a show that could have made a statement about the beer can throwing at the finish and on the cool down lap, it could have been this one. With all those cameras on-hand, that would have been tough to miss. Unless, of course, that didn't fit in the "reality" script.

Two more episodes of this series air on Wednesday nights at 9PM Eastern until this summer special is done.

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.

Thanks To Dave Moody And Sirius Speedway

A big thank you to Dave Moody and his staff at Sirius Speedway for allowing us to talk TV with them once again this week. Lots of topics were covered, and readers should feel free to address any of them in the comments section of this post.

Dave also has his blog online at and it is a must read for NASCAR fans. Dave hosts Sirius Speedway five days a week from 3PM to 7PM Eastern Daylight Time and the Sirius Channel number is 128.

Thanks again for taking the time out of your day to stop-by and listen in.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

SPEED Channel Is Going Out With A Bang

The email has already begun to roll in about the end of SPEED Channel's brief run covering the practice and qualifying for the Busch and NEXTEL Cup Series. Over the past couple of weeks, the network has worked hard to remind us of how much their approach to NASCAR differs from that of ESPN.

Once again, we have seen the self-effacing trio of Steve Byrnes, Larry McReynolds, and Jeff Hammond offer up their unique brand of racing and fun. There is just no doubt about it, these guys are a great combination on-the-air.

ESPN passed this opportunity over to SPEED because of some programming conflicts, and the Charlotte, NC based network has made the most of it. Already surrounding the races with tons of live programs, SPEED really seemed to be at home again when they picked-up the same practice and qualifying sessions they used to produce before ESPN came on the scene. Update: Just to make sure everyone is one the same page, these TV contracts were done well in advance and SPEED is doing this coverage directly with NASCAR, not as a "sub-contractor" or ESPN. Thanks.

This weekend at California is SPEED's swan song with this overall coverage. The network really threw everything but the kitchen sink at these selected weekends in order to make an impression in the minds of the viewers who now had ESPN's coverage to use as a comparison.

SPEED offered the laid-back Wendy Venturini patrolling the garage area alongside the absolutely not laid-back Bob Dillner. It made for an interesting contrast in styles, and interviews. It certainly must have been fun behind the scenes sorting out who gets to interview who among the NASCAR gang.

Venturini has been on a roll this season, and simply strolls-up to anyone and everyone and starts talking. Her comfort level makes the viewer fell as if they are also part of the scene, and that is tough to do. If there was every a person more at home in the NASCAR garage, it may only have been the late Benny Parsons, who loved to walk and talk like Wendy. Big smile, boundless energy, and always a good word.

Dillner is hilarious because even when he tries to be serious, he cannot shake the fact he is about three feet taller than most drivers, and that just looks funny on TV. If he is not talking to Dale Jarrett or Michael Waltrip, eye-to-eye conversations are out. With Jamie McMurray, its always memorable.

SPEED's team differs from ESPN's in many ways, but only because they have a very different network philosophy. SPEED has incorporated fun as a required element of practice and qualifying, ESPN has not. Both networks show the graphics, clock the times, and use the same information supplied by NASCAR. But, its not the same.

Jerry Punch and his broadcast team are serious guys. Its just the nature of ESPN to produce more formal-style television in the field. We see it in their baseball and football coverage. During the actual NASCAR races, being serious and formal certainly has an important place in these high-profile events.

Practice and qualifying, however, do not mix well with a big multi-hour dose of serious and formal TV. Even somehow trying to pretend that things are serious when guys are doing tire and fuel mileage runs is ridiculous. Busch Series early practice at California this Friday would be like watching paint dry without some fun injected into the telecast. Three laps and back to the garage.

That is the lesson that ESPN has hopefully learned during their time away. Tight and nervous in the booth, only Allen Bestwick and Marty Reid in substitute roles have managed to coax some fun from the announcers. The vast majority of the time, even with forced smiles, things are just presented as being very serious.

As a final statement, SPEED is going all-out (no pun intended) this Friday with nine hours of coverage from Fontana. Beginning with Trackside Live at noon, the network will roll through Busch and Cup practice, then go back live to the SPEED Stage. If time permits, they might sneak the latest episode of Survival of the Fastest in around 4:30, but I bet they stay live all the way. Things in NASCAR land have a way of changing on-the-fly.

Then, their Go or Go Home show sets the stage for Cup qualifying. Finally, one of SPEED's most popular shows hits the air when Trackside wraps-up the day. Even then, the network itself is not done, because the ARCA race from Gateway is next live, and then the Fontana Busch Series qualifying will be shown on tape delay.

All in all, that puts more than twelve continuous hours of stock car programming on SPEED this Friday. The network's last peep from Fontana is the Cup Series final practice on Saturday at 8PM Eastern after the Craftsman Truck race. That, my friends, is a lot of racing on one network in two days.

For a relatively small-sized cable network on a limited budget, SPEED has put forth an excellent effort on this stretch of practice and qualifying shows. The pictures from the NASCAR Images TV compound are fine, but it is the personalities and the light-hearted atmosphere that wins viewers over.

As ESPN returns to the practice and qualifying telecasts, both ESPN and ESPN2 will be in the heart of live college football and other major sports. Once again, the network will not show the early NEXTEL Cup practice, which rubs fans the wrong way. In addition, the Busch Series coverage shrinks substantially.

Any true TV sports fan knows that Mike and Mike in the Morning and then First Take air on Fridays from 6AM through 2PM on ESPN2. Over on ESPN, its SportsCenter from 6AM through noon. That would spell the end of Friday Cup and Busch practice on-the-air this season.

SPEED's marathon on Friday should be fun to watch, as live TV has a way of never going exactly the way it was planned. After that, the network steps back into its role of offering "support" shows and leaving the on-track activity to ESPN and ABC Sports. This time when Larry Mac and Jeff Hammond take a seat on the SPEED Stage, it will be for the rest of the season.

UPDATE: Since so many emailers have been asking the same question, here is the remaining SPEED schedule of practice and qualifying. Yes, they will do Cup practice and qualifying from Talledega. That is the only remaining Cup race. On the Busch side, SPEED will cover practice and qualifying at Dover, Kansas, Atlanta, Texas and Phoenix.

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.

Monday, August 27, 2007

ESPN Deals With "The Chase" For The First Time

NASCAR fans understand the problems with The Chase. When discussing this concept with casual racing fans, its easy to watch their eyes glaze over and the same questions pop-up. Every hardcore NASCAR fan has had the following conversation.

OK, so the top twelve guys get in and the rest stop racing? Can the other guys still win the race? What are The Chase guys chasing? Why do the other guys keep racing if they can't win The Chase? Is Dale Earnhardt Junior in The Chase? Ugh.

After carefully avoiding NASCAR like the plague, ESPN is now front-and-center when it comes to explaining The Chase to the American public. The results of their efforts so far this season have been both encouraging and frustrating.

Part of ESPN's agreement with NASCAR was their commitment to a daily NASCAR program. This show would have the news, the interviews, and the highlights of the sport in much the same way that the old RPM2Night updated the motorsports scene.

This one show, however, is only a small slice of ESPN's potential on-air exposure of NASCAR. The media company also has the ESPN News Network, a daily SportsCenter show, several general sports discussion programs, and even some long-form talk shows on ESPN2.

Certainly, the opportunity for exposure is tremendous, and that is exactly what NASCAR is counting on. Please note the counting on.

ESPN's team that handles the racing is a little busy to explain The Chase. They can use their sophisticated computers and the color coding and everything else, but they have a race to call. The vast majority of the chase information must come from ESPN programming other than the races themselves.

So, when is the last time you saw NASCAR treated with respect on Pardon The Interruption? How about the "no NASCAR or hockey" chants on Around The Horn? First Take did a nice piece after the rain-delayed Michigan race was over, seen any NASCAR since then?

ESPN News and SportsCenter are forced to run NASCAR stories when the network has races on-the-air. But, its a tough sell during the week when there are no highlights to show. Unless the story has Dale Junior or Tony Stewart in it, chances are it can wait until Friday.

NASCAR Countdown is the pre-race show ESPN does before the NEXTEL Cup races. In this hour, Monday Night Football sideline reporter Suzy Kolber and former NBA star Brad Daugherty are left to explain The Chase, and its format.

So far, their focus has been on Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his possible exclusion from post-season play. Never has either one of them done a stand-alone piece on what The Chase is, why it came about, or what ABC Sports viewers will see once it is underway.

NASCAR Now is the network's daily show, whose struggles have been well-documented on The Daly Planet as well as other Internet racing sites and publications. This is the first year for this new concept and the series has already lost an original co-host, been blasted by Tony Stewart for its tabloid-style hype, and continues to employ as the full time host a non-racing fan who is basically an ESPN Radio anchor on-loan to NASCAR.

When Erik Kuselias is working on the radio, he leads deep discussions about Major League Baseball, the upcoming NFL football season, and recently even a team-by-team pre-season breakdown of the league. His knowledge of stick-and-ball sports is outstanding. His knowledge of NASCAR can be put in a thimble.

Now, ESPN finds itself a couple of weeks from The Chase with no perspective from which to draw. Their coverage is new, NASCAR Now is new, and NASCAR on SportsCenter is new. First Take is new, PTI just won't do it, and Around The Horn can only criticize it.

How the company as a whole approaches The Chase and presents it to ESPN and ABC viewers will have a profound effect on the TV ratings for the last ten races of the year. It is this block of racing that suffered poor ratings because of the NFL regular season.

It is this block of races that was performing so poorly that NASCAR decided to alter its longtime points format and do something to breathe life into this final stretch run.

Now, the NASCAR torch is passed to ESPN in an ironic twist. It was this network, and programs like NFL Gameday and NFL Primetime that tore the focus of Sundays away from NASCAR and wrestled it back to the NFL.

In a way, this year its Chris Berman and Tom Jackson on NFL Countdown vs. Suzy Kolber and Brad Daugherty on NASCAR Countdown. Does it get more ironic?

The outstanding and award-winning NFL pre-game show on ESPN now previews the direct competition to ESPN's own NASCAR races on ABC. It certainly is going to be fascinating to watch this dynamic play-out on-the-air.

Don't you wonder how Chris Berman will handle reading a live NASCAR promo in NFL Countdown? Who says television can't hurt your brain?

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.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Jimmy Spencer Grows-Up On "Victory Lane"

Since it began, the one hour Victory Lane program on SPEED has been a hit with fans. SPEED has made a living with its NASCAR shows by filling the support programming role. Basically, that means "everything but the races."

Over the course of a weekend like Bristol, its not uncommon for SPEED to televise all the practice sessions and qualifying for the Busch and Cup Series. Aside from the on-track activity, they provide Trackside, NASCAR Live, RaceDay, Tradin' Paint, Go or Go Home, and NASCAR Performance. All of these are either shown live or taped for broadcast later the same day.

The final program originating from the track each week is Victory Lane. After a long day, the veteran crew of John Roberts, Jimmy Spencer, Kenny Wallace and Bob Dillner take to the air for an hour of interviews with the race winner and many others involved in the stories of the day.

While the show has been tremendously popular with viewers because of the exclusive interviews, it has also been a coming-of-age for Jimmy Spencer in several ways.

Like so many others in racing, Spencer's exit from his driving career was not graceful. NASCAR might guarantee a certain level of income, but it absolutely does not guarantee any kind of personal fulfillment. Even DW limping around with his chrome car was not exactly the retirement season one might plan.

When Spencer began his TV career, he was just as rough on-the-air as he was behind the wheel. Still, there was something there that made viewers think perhaps he had more to offer than high volume and a questionable hairstyle. He knew racing, he cared about racing, and he was never afraid to speak-up.

It is this heart-on-his-sleeve blue collar working man appeal that has kept Spencer's fans loyal to him long after his driving days were over. With many of his contemporaries retired, and several deceased, Spencer reminds us of the days before the millionaire drivers took their personal helicopter to their yacht in the harbor.

Chances are, Spencer would be under the grandstand "talking" personally with someone about an on-track issue. That is the appeal for Victory Lane fans. He has been there and done that. He might not have won a championship, but his long personal history in racing, and his colorful NASCAR career make him a memorable character.

SPEED has to be commended for allowing Spencer to become a better broadcaster by partnering him with John Roberts and Kenny Wallace. Teaming Spencer with one professional TV host and one completely wacky but beloved driver has been terrific. When Spencer gets too loud, Kenny tells him. When Spencer gets off-track, Roberts reels him in. But, make no mistake about it. In Victory Lane, Jimmy Spencer is clearly the star.

Spencer starts the show usually alone with Roberts, as often times Kenny Wallace drives in the race. In these moments, Spencer talks very clearly about what happened on the track, how the winner got it done, and then his general thoughts about the entire race. It finally gives Spencer a solo pulpit from which to preach, and preach he does. The amazing thing is, its very interesting almost every time.

This Saturday night at Bristol was a great example. Spencer had Carl Edwards, the COT, Goodyear, a new track surface, Dale Junior, and a ton of other things to deal with immediately after the race. There is no script for this show, you either know it or you don't. And when you don't, the national TV audience knows it too.

When Edwards arrived, Spencer waded right in with Carl on the tires, and Edwards immediately agreed on his points. The younger set of drivers have a clear respect for Spencer, who most of them know best for his broadcast career. They just like to talk to him. When Jack Roush stopped-by, Jimmy framed the five COT races in The Chase as the key point for Roush/Fenway Racing, and Jack re-enforced these observations.

As Bob Dillner interviewed the other contenders, Spencer gave both facts and opinions on a wide variety of subjects. This is the time in the show when you have to know your stuff. Anything can be a subject for debate, and often times there may be strong feelings involved after a race. Who can relate better than Spencer?

It took me a while to warm-up to this program, and this man. Anyone who speaks out is always going to occasionally trip-up, but earlier this season Spencer did a good job interviewing Kurt Busch and giving him the proper respect. His interview with Montoya at Sonoma was a classic, I think he got Juan more excited about the win that the race seemed to do. When he has Tony Stewart to talk to, things always get out-of-hand. Its clear drivers like this show, and the man in the middle.

Things are different this season as ESPN now produces all the NEXTEL Cup races through the end of the year. Victory Lane is going to be critical to fans getting more information than the ABC broadcast network will air in its short post-race show. SPEED is once again positioned to be the source for "everything but the races" as the NASCAR season hits the home stretch.

Let's hope Jimmy Spencer continues to improve and keep his commentary on the sport at a high level. Like any good driver, just focusing on the task at hand has helped Spencer become a respected source of information and conversation on Victory Lane.

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

"NASCAR Now" In The Midnight Mode

Another unique situation occurred for ESPN with NASCAR Now airing a midnight version of its thirty minute show after the night race at Bristol. Hyped as a potential crash-fest, the network instead found itself dealing with a clean and almost boring race with a runaway winner.

Right away, host Erik Kuselias talked his way though the video highlights with Stacy Compton and Boris Said alongside. Kuselias is always put in a tough spot when he has little lead time for highlights. There is no script that he can rehearse, so his lack of racing knowledge is put on display.

This was the case at midnight, where Stacy and Boris often stepped-in to help him with concepts like passing, running the high line, and the fact that drivers don't "plan" where to finish at Bristol...things just happen.

Instead of showing the actual racing action, NASCAR Now is caught-up in showing accidents and incidents as the stories of the race. Its kind of like SportsCenter only showing homeruns in baseball highlights.

Usually, this is only a small part of the whole story of what happened. Viewers need a recap of how the race shook-out, not who spun or blew-up. Key pitstops, great saves, and moments of patience can be just as critical as "he hits the wall."

Leave it to Tony Stewart to swing the hammer at the press and then for ESPN to replay it. "It was awesome" Tony said of the new pavement. "It was the most fun I have ever had racing at Bristol since I have been here" he continued. The reporters crowded around pushing him for controversy. They were egging him on with "how was it different?" questions. The gang wanted anger, they wanted outrage, they wanted "bad boy" Tony to explode. What a fun way to live your life as a driver, huh?

"Did you watch the race?" said Tony. "What did you think was different?" When the reporters said "um...not a lot of crashes?" you understood a lot better what these drivers have to deal with day-in and day-out from the media. Tony said "you might want to watch some more races." NASCAR translation: how is it possible that you are here in Bristol with a mic in your hand, press pass on your shirt, and you have absolutely no clue to this sport?

Once back on the ESPN set, Erik Kuselias immediately defended his colleagues. "We have Manny being Manny (Red Sox baseball reference) and I guess this is Tony being Tony." What Kuselias is saying is that Tony was out-of-line and giving the press a hard time again. Can you believe that is all he got out of Tony's comments?

Then, to swing his own hammer at Stewart, Kuselias said "let's talk about the guy who actually won the race, Carl Edwards." Wow. So, Stewart is just some backmarker who dared to spout-off at the high and mighty Media? That's going to play well on his radio show. Can you believe after all the problems with ESPN reporters and Tony this season that ESPN would choose to step back into this arena?

Stacy Compton and Boris Said both pointed to Roush/Fenway for getting their COT act together and the efforts of their engineering staff. This was, they both said, the key to Carl Edwards winning effort. Unfortunately, this type of racing inside information goes right in one Erik Kuselias ear and then out the other.

Recapping the race includes interviewing and featuring Dale Earnhardt Jr. every time. Junior kidded ESPN for their rain delay luck, and then paid a great compliment to the whole DEI team. With ESPN obsessed with The Chase and not the race, Brad Daugherty appeared live from the track to address more "Junior making The Chase" issues. Daugherty just needs a crystal ball on his set, because ESPN continually asks him to address issues involving "guessing and predicting."

Tim Cowlishaw again appeared to review information already discussed and try to create some controversy. He tried to stir the Stewart vs. Roush, Bowyer vs. Hendrick, and the Kenseth vs. Carl Edwards pots, but had absolutely no luck. The silence on the set from both Stacy Compton and Boris Said spoke volumes.

You have to wonder what these two veterans think about designated "mouthpieces" like Cowlishaw and Daugherty repeatedly talking about the obvious. Now seven months into ESPN's NASCAR efforts, the frustration level has got to be high.

Fittingly, NASCAR Now once again dug-out Aerosmith to show-off the fact that ESPN has some of the best sports editors in the business. Each week they work very hard to breathe life into this tired and absolutely ridiculous piece of video which closes the show.

The challenge of sprucing-up the lip-syncing of a fifty-nine year old man from Yonkers and his band mates into something that NASCAR fans can tolerate is no small job. But somehow, armed with a couple of fender-benders and a back flip, they made it work once again.

If NBC/TNT can win a national Emmy Award for Best Live Sports Series with their 2007 NASCAR efforts, than certainly the ESPN editors will sweep the 2008 Best Editing Award for thirty eight weeks of performing life support on "Back in the Saddle Again."

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.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

ESPN Rebounds With Bristol NEXTEL Cup Telecast

Often in sports, teams stumble upon circumstances that just naturally help their efforts. Sometimes, things start out rather grim and then begin to work themselves out, seemingly without any effort. We refer to those moments as "blessings in disguise."

This weekend, ESPN gave away the practice and qualifying at Bristol Motor Speedway to the SPEED Channel. ESPN had schedule problems, so SPEED covered both the NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series on-track activities. Since SPEED already was showing the Craftsman Truck Series race on Wednesday night, ESPN was basically on the outside looking in most of the time.

Friday night, the network stepped back into the deep end of the pool with a high energy Busch race under the lights. It was a disaster from start to finish. No matter what ESPN tried to do, it simply did not work.

When they showed the leaders, a wreck happened in the pack. When they showed the hard racing, someone passed the leader. When they showed the pit stops under caution, the missed the restart coming out of commercial. They simply could not buy a break, and they certainly needed one.

Saturday night, as the NASCAR Countdown show continued its mediocre stagger toward the race, it seemed that a lot of the Friday ESPN mistakes were repeating themselves. A technical problem appeared on-the-air again, and then another horrible Suzy Kolber live-on-the-grid interview of a top driver. Does anyone ever listen to her questions? The pit reporters must cringe to see her coming their way.

Then, with the turn of the first wheel, the Bristol track delivered a big and unexpected gift to ESPN. Talk about a blessing in disguise. The most aggressive drivers in the top racing series in America lined-up like fifteen year-olds in Driver's Education class and began their Safe Driving lesson.

The long green flag runs at the beginning of this race were just what the doctor ordered for all of the ESPN announcers and production team. It gave everyone a chance to shake-off the problems of Friday night and get back in the groove of delivering a good effort.

Just like a baseball player in a slump, the NASCAR on ESPN gang went back to basics and concentrated on the fundamentals. Staying ahead of the leaders, listening to the announcers, and watching the action on the track really paid-off for this bunch tonight. A two groove track and lots of green flag racing let them do just that.

At Bristol, ESPN learned the hard way that almost anything "extra" that needed to be shown under green flag racing conditions required special treatment. The ESPN video split screen effect of two side-by-side video boxes is outstanding. It is sized correctly, and has a background that does not distract from the live action.

ESPN used the effect for pit reporters, live interviews, and most effectively to showcase more than one on-track battle simultaneously. It worked all the way up until the end of the race. In trying to show viewers that there was action all over the track, the production crew showed so many battles it was just confusing. There was no perspective on the leader inside the last fifteen laps, just lots of "battles in boxes."

In the end, however, the network really showed that they listen to the fans when they again went to a nice big wideshot and showed the top twenty cars battle to the line with the electronic scoring inserted. What a great way to end a race, so fans can not only see where their driver finished, chances are they actually saw him do it. Great move by the Producer and Director to coordinate that in advance.

As we mentioned in an earlier Daly Planet article, someone has been working very hard with Rusty Wallace on his TV performance. It took him a while to acknowledge his rough edges were just not going to make his TV career a smooth one. Also, the absolutely professional performance of Dale Jarrett in relief of Rusty on ESPN telecasts might have hastened that realization.

Wallace is thinking before he speaks the vast majority of the time. Gone are most of the emotional outbursts that consisted of catch phrases and run-on sentences. Saturday night, Rusty handled TV duties by calling the other on-air announcers by name, flowing smoothly between thoughts, and often times handling the "tosses" down to the pit reporters. He is very much improved, and just in time for The Chase.

Our friend Dr. Jerry Punch is having a tough time. He seems to be tired, and at crucial times when the action is hot he simply does not speak and then talks quietly in a monotone. His delivery is still as a reporter, and this was tough at Bristol.

When a former radio guy like Allen Bestwick or even a veteran TV personality like Marty Reid stepped-in for Punch, the difference in the energy of the telecast was amazing. Bestwick may not be "Mr. Personality" on-the-air, but he is clearly a consummate professional who can keep the energy high in a very "Dave Moody" kind of way. Reid was just happy to be there and his enthusiasm is contagious.

Needless to say, long green flag runs at Bristol need some big energy. Searching for something to say while the field tools around nose-to-tail with no one on pit road is a tough row to hoe. Andy Petree again stepped-in and was solid in his information. One of his best abilities is to admit when he has said something wrong before a replay or after a pit report. Fans love a good guess, and they also love someone not too high and mighty to admit they missed something.

Perhaps, the intense media hype of shows like NASCAR Now is interfering with ESPN's ability to speak to drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked like he was just about ready to deck Mike Massaro when he had to again speak about his step-mom in the pre-race. Jamie Little had several drivers who were almost flinching from her high volume in-your-face style of reporting. Friday night, Dave Burns had two drivers who almost totally ignored him, goofed on him on national TV, and then looked like they wanted to push him out of their pre-race pick-up truck ride.

NASCAR is now seven months into the hype machine of ESPN News, NASCAR Now, NASCAR Countdown,, and even SportsCenter. It looks like this approach has been weighing very heavily on the drivers who are targets of the hype. Tony Stewart already got into it very publicly about ESPN and their "knife in the back" style of reporting on NASCAR.

As the season heads into its most intense time, ESPN may be well-served to make a little peace with the NASCAR drivers instead of reporting on every little family squabble and off-color comment. The lack of happy cooperation with the pit reporters was clear for all to see on this telecast. This is the time of the season when people are tired, tempers are tight, and careers are on the line.

ESPN again finds itself surrounded by SPEED next weekend. SPEED shows the Craftsman Trucks on Saturday late afternoon at Gateway, and they again show the practice and qualifying for both the Busch and NEXTEL Cup Series in California. ESPN has the late Saturday night Busch Series race, and the 7PM Eastern NEXTEL Cup race on Sunday.

California is the last NEXTEL Cup race on ESPN, as the coverage shifts to ABC Sports for the rest of the season. This can only mean one thing for most viewers...two weeks to Brent Musburger.

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.

Bristol NEXTEL Cup In-Progress Comments Here we go. ESPN is doing a one hour pre-race show and then the Bristol night race live.

Please leave your comments on the telecast as things are in-progress. We will keep this post active until things die down in the post-race hours.

The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page. If your posting is deleted, simply re-post with some minor changes. People with blue names have signed-up with Google, but anyone can post as anonymous and choose to sign your own name or not.

Our idea is to get a good cross-section of comments for both fans and TV industry professionals to read and discuss.

To post comments, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the directions. The verification procedure simply keeps automated spam and other mechanical devices from posting on this site. Thanks again!

Saturday's "NASCAR Now" Avoids The Obvious

The comments on the website say it loud and clear. Adding-in the posts on The Daly Planet,, and some other NASCAR-related websites hammers the point home. NASCAR fans are tired of bad TV.

Friday night, ESPN lost their Busch Series live feed from Bristol, TN with four laps to go at the end of an exciting race. The production team on the ground did they best they could when things returned to recap the action, and still try to get in the post-race interviews. Viewers, however, never really had a handle on what had transpired when the technical problems intervened.

Saturday morning, ESPN's one hour version of NASCAR Now took to the air. Finally, we would be hearing from the ESPN Producer, or perhaps an ESPN spokesman. They would probably apologize for the problem, offer the official explanation, and then NASCAR Now would fill-in the blanks for NASCAR fans of what happened over those last several fantastic laps.

It never happened. It was never addressed. Viewers got the latest "Junior says don't yell at Theresa" news right off the top of the show, but not a thing about what actually happened on Friday night. This is the new reality that ESPN says you must accept. A reality that they craft in production meetings, with public relations people, and with the overwhelming mandate that ESPN cannot be wrong...ever.

The Busch Series highlights did not even appear in the first segment of this show. When they finally did, they did not feature a replay of the last four or five laps. The entire NASCAR Now highlight coverage of the big Busch Series night race at Bristol consisted of fifty seconds of highlights. Less than one minute of time devoted to ESPN's premiere NASCAR event of Friday night.

With the Busch Series race flushed, and the Truck Series race avoided at all costs, ESPN set-out for another hour of self-promotion and rhetoric. That calls for only one person...the wonderfully naive Brad Daugherty. Once again, Daugherty stood front-and-center and talked about the obvious. Between the inane bellowing of host Erik Kuselias, and the endless NASCAR 101 answers of Daugherty, this show is driving NASCAR fans away in droves.

To make sure the nail is in the coffin, NASCAR Now broke out the deadly Tim Cowlishaw. When Daugherty and Cowlishaw both show-up, the program basically becomes Around The NASCAR Horn. This was no exception. Two guys who have never turned a lap or a wrench just sitting around talking. Kuselias gets pumped-up and loves to ask "dangerous" questions of Cowlishaw. He ran a couple of insignificant "Junior hype" questions past Tim, and then promised he would return to pick his winner.

Neil Everett voiced a "package" on Ricky Rudd's career, and it led to a field recap and then the newest wonderful weekly feature. NASCAR Now has decided that each week they must pick the race winner. Since everything at ESPN is based on statistics, ESPN has a feature called The Eliminator. Kuselias loves to explain that it is only past records that dictate the winners in NASCAR, and The Eliminator just picks which "driving robot" will win this week. Talk about denigrating a sport that thrives on personalities.

Boris Said and Stacy Compton continued to be present on the HD Set in Bristol, CT and both of them usually spend the entire hour disagreeing with Cowlishaw and Kuselias. Boris and Stacy must secretly have some wonderful conversations after these shows. When they look around and see Kuselias, Daugherty, Cowlishaw, and Holtzman they absolutely know that this is not Kansas anymore.

One big problem is NASCAR Now actually sends a "pool" reporter like Bob Holtzman to the NEXTEL Cup race each week. Why a reporter who does not cover NASCAR all the time serves to cover ESPN's feature race for this show has never been explained. Imagine, with both the ESPN booth announcers and the pit reporters present on-scene, NASCAR Now continues to use part-time NASCAR reporters like Wendy Nix, David Amber, and Holtzman.

So, another hour of NEXTEL Cup hype is over. The Busch Series gets less than one minute of highlights, no interview with the winner, and no sound from Kyle Busch about his pit road incident. No mention of the ESPN on-air failure, no explanation, and no "make-good" by showing the last five laps which would have taken all of about three minutes. No mention of the Truck race showing off the second groove, even though Truck racing footage was used as the example.

Many NASCAR TV fans will move on to Trackside, which shows-up on the SPEED Channel right after NASCAR Now today. The clash of TV styles could not be more intense. Just as we see two realities on NASCAR Now, we also see two very different realities in the remaining NASCAR TV partners as the sport heads down the stretch.

The "perfect" look of the ESPN on-air announcers makes them all look like they just walked out of "make-up." The informality of SPEED makes some of their guys look like they just "woke-up." This final drive to Homestead should be very interesting.

Tonight's NEXTEL Cup race may be the most challenging assignment of many TV careers. The new track surface allows two wide racing, and that is going to be very new to ESPN. Will they follow the leader, or go to the racing action? NASCAR Now will offer a wrap-up show at midnight. That should be worth recording for any fan, as this race may hold some things a lot of fans have not seen before.

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.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Long Night At Bristol For ESPN

The NASCAR Countdown pre-race show is designed to set the table for ESPN viewers. The version of the show that precedes the Busch Series race is thirty minutes in length. After a lot of different faces this season, it seems that ESPN has finally decided to allow the popular Allen Bestwick to host this program.

Friday night in Bristol, Bestwick tried his best to keep things organized and flowing, but it was a tough task. Tim Brewer double-clutched right away in the Tech Center in a preview of a what was in store for viewers. It would be only the beginning of a very long night in sports TV land for the network.

The Countdown show works best when either Andy Petree or Rusty Wallace appear in-person on the Infield Studio set. The "voice of the fans" Brad Daugherty simply does not have enough driver or crew chief experience to understand and explain the nuances of tracks like Bristol. In this show, Wallace appeared on the set, touched all the bases, and then ran-off to the broadcast booth.

Someone has been working very hard with Rusty on his TV skills. Gone is the "aww shucks, I'll tell you what" version of Wallace. It has been replaced with a well-spoken adult who calls others by their name and is now on his best manners all night long. He thinks before he talks, and it has made a big difference. Even under adverse circumstances, like ESPN was about to experience, Rusty now stays composed and hangs-in like his part-time co-analyst Dale Jarrett.

Jack Ingram is a great guy, and was a tough driver in the old days of what is now the Busch Series. ESPN tried to help viewers with the link between Ingram and Kevin Harvick, but it was a tough sell. The NASCAR fans of today have no use for the Red Farmers, Tommy Houstons, and Sammy Ards of the past. Harvick and Bestwick did their best to make this segment fly, but it clearly did not lift-off the ground.

Next-up, poor Dave Burns got stuck in a pick-up truck on thirty-six degrees of banking with two drivers who clearly did not care to do anything with him except plug their sponsors and fool around. Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards wanted to do anything but deal with Burns. Perky Jamie Little was a little luckier with new dad Jason Leffler and actually got a couple of good questions answered.

Brad Daugherty is just tough to talk about. He knows his NASCAR racing, he knows the TV environment, and he knows business. What is not made clear to the fans is why we need to know what he knows. His role is new, and ESPN does not let him interview anyone on the set, he does not do any kind of feature reports, and he basically agrees with everything Bestwick says about anything. I think he is a great guy, and certainly a super fan, but I just don't...get it.

Bestwick handed the program off to Jerry Punch, and away they went. It was amazing that during the on-camera open, neither Wallace or Petree mentioned the fact that it was the Craftsman Truck race on Wednesday night that confirmed a solid second racing groove on this re-surfaced track. Both analysts talked about cars racing all over the track, but they never mentioned how they would know this fact. Talk about avoiding the Truck Series and SPEED Channel at all costs.

ESPN's "start your engines" video and audio special effect is a good addition to the telecast. This montage is fun to watch. It is much better than the Full Throttle mess that still needs to be somehow limited to only the top ten cars. The in-car reporter Dale Jarrett did his best Juan Montoya imitation by blowing-off the pre-race ESPN chat. Punch and company showed some class by hanging-in and returning to him before the start.

When the green fell, ESPN knew they were going to be in for a challenge. The small lap times, the action all around the track, and the fast pace of position changes always make things tough at Bristol, where I have done many races. As a TV crew, you try to get some momentum going just like a good NASCAR team. Sometimes, things just fall your way, and just goes down like it did Friday night.

The live TV coverage missing accidents at Bristol is absolutely going to happen. Unfortunately, for ESPN it happened a whole lot during the significant commercial load in this Busch Series race. The partner to missing accidents is then missing the race re-starts coming back from break. It almost seems like things can just get out of rhythm and stay that way.

Let's face facts, ESPN missed a lot of on-track action. Sometimes, they were in commercial when an incident happened, sometimes they were in commercial when a lead change happened, sometimes they were in commercial and missed a re-start. Do you sense a theme here?

Allen Bestwick was often times the voice viewers heard when coming back from break. Still located in the Infield Studio, Bestwick hosted multiple recaps, talked directly to pit reporters, and tried with all his might to draw Brad Daugherty into the mix.

While this was well-intentioned, it often drew attention to the fact that Dr. Jerry Punch is primarily a reporter, and is "moonlighting" in the NASCAR booth as ESPN's play-by-play announcer. Somehow, if these roles were reversed, it might give Punch a break and let Bestwick carry the heavy load for the Busch Series races as he did earlier this season.

Andy Petree continues to cruise though all the chaos without a problem. He has been the surprise of the TV crew this season, and continues to be a clear and authoritative voice for ESPN on the NASCAR scene. If only he could lend his credibility to the network's daily racing show called NASCAR Now. Apparently, Petree is a bit busy during the week.

It was such a pleasure to see two-wide racing return to Bristol after all the years of "the chrome horn" being the only way to pass. Actually seeing the occasional three-wide alignment on the straightways was amazing. ESPN tried to mix the low angle, in-car, and up high camera shots to keep the feeling of speed and intensity for the viewers. Regardless of the crash captures, the network stayed intense and focused on keeping ahead of the racing action lap-after-lap.

As we noted in an earlier Daly Planet column, ESPN needs to aggressively keep changing the Tech Center until they get it right. It needs a Steadicam instead of a shoulder-mounted camera, because almost all of Brewer's toys are on ground level. During green flag racing, it needs to only be put in a side-by-side split screen box. That would avoid a moment like tonight, where Brent Sherman's accident was missed for a full screen report...on a broken wheel.

What a difference it made when ESPN left the Draft-Tracker at home this week. Once or twice in a broadcast to help viewers understand drafting, this effect is absolutely fun and interesting to watch. Unfortunately, last week at Michigan ESPN beat this poor special effect to death. The lack of Rusty being forced to say "aero push" fifteen or twenty times a show was a refreshing break.

When the red flag came out for the Marcos Ambrose accident, Bestwick and Daugherty took over in the Infield Studio. This would have been the perfect time to allow Tim Brewer to update any topic relating to the race from the Tech Center. Instead, the broadcast talked to ESPN's own Dale Jarrett, who was absolutely not a factor of any kind in the race.

Having come a long way in a short period of time, pit reporter Jamie Little has got to get the hustle award for this telecast. Little jumps-in and frequently contributes great information to the broadcast booth from a pit road perspective. She is still working on her volume control, but once again put her best foot forward as a new member of the NASCAR TV team.

ESPN was on top of the Kyle Busch pit violation, and both Petree and Wallace were outspoken in their criticism of NASCAR's officiating. The network had all the replays, spoke with his crew chief, and then remembered to follow-up with Busch even after the race was over.

We need to make two more points in this telecast. The first one is easy. It is ridiculous for a national TV network to go to commercial with twenty laps to go at Bristol...period. With the high number of cautions, and even a red flag period, there was absolutely only one reason to head to break...make even more money.

If the in-action commercial rotation was not finished with twenty laps to go, the NASCAR production team needs to have a meeting. If they pull this stunt on Saturday during the closing laps of a key NEXTEL Cup race, the roar from the fans will be clearly heard in the halls of both NASCAR's Daytona and Charlotte offices.

Finally, while TV relies on people, it also relies on equipment. We talk a lot at The Daly Planet about the decisions actual people make that affect our TV viewing, and love of this sport. Equipment is different. Digital TV with High Definition and all the bells and whistles has been fantastic this season for ESPN.

It was simply a shame that with three laps to go, ESPN lost their satellite pathway for transmission of the program. While I am sure we will get an official press release about this soon, it certainly cannot be blamed on the production crew, the engineering staff, or even Erik Kuselias. Yes, even the K-man is off the hook for this one.

The network recovered the best it could, replayed the lost portion several times, and then continued with a good array of post-race interviews. Maybe this signals the one technical problem the network will have this season, and now it is out of the way. Just too bad it happened at such an exciting race.

It was a rough Friday night in Tennessee for ESPN, and now they face perhaps the toughest test in NASCAR...the NEXTEL Cup night race at Bristol. The crowd will be wild, the action will be crazy, and everyone on the TV crew had better show-up with their game faces on. Let's hope momentum swings, and finds favor with the NASCAR on ESPN crew Saturday night. After Friday, its has to get better...right?

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.

Bristol Busch Race: In-Progress Comments

Tonight ESPN will present NASCAR Countdown and the Busch Series Race from the Bristol Motor Speedway. This is the place for comments about these two programs from a TV perspective.

Allen Bestwick will host NASCAR Countdown from the Infield Studio along with Brad Daugherty.

Dr. Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace, and Andy Petree will call the race from the booth. Pit reporters will be Dave Burns, Jamie Little, and Mike Massaro.

Yes, the Tech Center will be open for both NASCAR Countdown and the race with Tim Brewer.

Please feel free to leave TV-related comments about the announcers, the camera coverage, or any of the positives and negatives of this big night for ESPN.

The Daly Planet will also host a live in-progress comment board Saturday night for the NEXTEL Cup race.

To leave a comment, simply click on the COMMENTS button below. Thanks again for taking the time to stop-by and participate with all of us at The Daly Planet.

Anyone Watch "Mike and Mike" On Friday?

Just wondering if anyone had an opportunity to watch the "Mike and Mike In The Morning Show" on ESPN2 or listen to it on ESPN radio Friday morning?

With NASCAR Now taking a day off for the Bristol night Busch Race, host Erik Kuselias filled-in for Mike Greenberg. It certainly was interesting to see Kuselias try to operate on-the-air with Mr. Golic, one of the founders of the program.

At one point, Golic had him so flustered Kuselias actually said to him "when I am in charge of flying this plane, its going to be a smooth ride!" This after Golic interrupted Kuselias on purpose several times just to ruffle his feathers.

Between the phone calls and the emails, I know lots of you saw or listened to this program. I would be interested to know how you feel about someone who never discussed, mentioned, or even referenced the huge NASCAR racing weekend for ESPN.

Having never met or spoken with this man, I would be interested in your thoughts. Please try your best to tie them into NASCAR on ESPN and the daily NASCAR Now program. Thanks again.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Montoya Stars In "NASCAR In Primetime" Episode Two

I settled-in with my DVR to watch the second episode of ABC's NASCAR in Primetime series with a little trepidation. The first installment was an interesting event, and pulled fans over to ABC simply because of the word NASCAR. Now, the challenge for the network was to hold them.

Despite what the summertime TV ratings might say, the second episode of this series was simply riveting. The words and emotions of the drivers and the many others interviewed worked so well together, I went back and watched the entire thing again.

Now, I understand much better what the ABC News production team was trying to do with these selected individuals. The sagas of Johnny Sauter, Mark Martin, and Juan Pablo Montoya were in reality several months old. But, with outstanding video and audio editing, the show stepped out of the "news" mode and stood on its own as a slice-of-life documentary.

Sauter's words were particularly emotional, and really allowed both his strengths and flaws to be exposed to the viewers. Through the additional comments of his girlfriend, crew chief, and even his grandmother, this complicated man was simply shown for who he is without judgement or reproach. That was the power of the Sauter piece, having the true nature of this driver revealed by his family, co-workers, and ultimately...him.

Mark Martin finally cleared-up for a lot of fans his true feelings about all the people in the media that hammered him to get back in the car for the entire season. Basically, he said they did not know him and were naive. After thirty years in racing, it meant nothing for Mark to be tops in points very early in a very long season. Throughout this piece his family and his new found enthusiasm for his part-time racing career were wonderfully balanced. Looking thin and small out of uniform, the Mark Martin on this episode was an introspective and thankful man.

Finally, the best part of the entire show was none other than the "Latino Intimidator." Juan Pablo Montoya has been picking up more Internet nicknames than Barack Obama. There has rarely been this polarizing a force in NASCAR, and the fact that he does not even have a strong fanbase at the track seems to mean absolutely nothing to him.

Montoya simultaneously draws and repels NASCAR fans. His talent, his charisma, and the sheer curiosity of finding out who this man really is brings the fans to anything in the media with his name on it. But, just as quickly, his lack of respect for his peers, his seemingly arrogant manner, and the lingering smell of an "open-wheel whiner" causes fans to take a step back.

He can be a wonderful family man in his motorhome one minute, and then a self-absorbed primadona who can never be wrong the next. Whether he is the next Dale Earnhardt Sr. or just another open-wheel hotshot who came and went is going to be fascinating. The words he speaks in this episode were not heard anywhere else. ABC had a point in saying that lots of this content was exclusive.

Montoya is flat-out in your face during his time on this show. His mood swings between happy father, loving husband, and aggressive driver were captured with great skill. He was not painted into a character, but allowed to draw his own profile. That is the element that many of the regular NASCAR TV shows do not take the time to do with him. They just paint him as whatever they need to fill their three minutes.

ABC can certainly be blamed for trying their best to keep the redneck image of this sport alive. Their "fans" are right-out of central casting, and seem to represent a lot of what this sport was, rather than is now. The closing sequence was way off-base and jolted the viewer back from the emotional feelings of the three drivers.

Overall, even cynical NASCAR fans have to give ABC a nod on this episode. It was upfront, honest, and presented another slice of three lives that would not be on TV if not for this series. The Survival of the Fastest series on SPEED is great, but built on a different format. This documentary style long form programming approach was a good compromise for both the hardcore fan and the casual viewer.

NASCAR in Primetime lost out for live viewing to the Craftsman Trucks at Bristol on Wednesday night, with good reason. But, as a program to put on the DVR, and watch in a relaxed moment, this episode really stepped-up both the emotion and the action on the track and off. I am going to watch the rest of this series, and I hope ABC can continue their excellent level of TV production.

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.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Truck Series Bristol In-Progress Comments

SPEED presents both the Set-Up pre-race show and the Craftsman Truck Series race tonight from Bristol Motor Speedway. This thread will host the comments during the broadcast, and offer an opportunity for post-race reactions.

Once again, the rules for posting are on the right side of the main page and basically ask that you focus your comments on the TV side of the sport, and not the drivers or teams. Thanks again for choosing to voice your opinion at The Daly Planet.

Wednesday's "NASCAR Now" Slams Craftsman Truck Series

Delayed twenty-five minutes by Little League play, NASCAR Now took to the air on Wednesday with a lot of things to talk about. Host Ryan Burr has always set a fast pace on the show he hosts, and this was no exception.

Burr led directly into the Tuesday race highlights from the program's opening animation and never looked back. He really brings a lot to the table as he voices-over the highlights, and adds a lot of excitement to the show.

Kurt Busch and his Crew Chief Pat Tryson appeared in a live interview right after the highlights, what a concept! Burr quizzed them both about the season, this past weekend, and the upcoming Bristol race. Busch certainly has come a long way, and Tryson seems to be just the person to manage his racing activities.

Burr kept talking to them both, and I had the feeling that it was a couple of guys who knew racing just talking. You can get the vibe from the drivers and crew chiefs as to whether they believe the person asking them the questions is clued-in, or clue-less. You could tell these two knew Burr was clued-in.

NASCAR Now did their own version of "through the field" with footage and sound from the key drivers in the NEXTEL Cup Michigan race. This recap format was outstanding, and Burr's information was first-rate.

Burr brought-in Brad Daugherty, who really has continued to improve in his strong and opinionated comments. His remarks on Dale Earnhardt Junior and his lack of momentum were clear cut, and his statement about Junior being overshadowed by Kurt Busch's team at Bristol pulled no punches. As we mentioned earlier, both Burr and Allen Bestwick really bring out the best in Daugherty.

Reporter Terry Blount loves to talk with Burr. Wednesday, he had center stage to talk about the new Chase format, the problems it brings, and why Hendrick Motorsports COT domination has faded. Blount was outspoken in saying both Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson are his clear favorites for the championship.

Blount and Marty Smith returned for some news, including the logistical hassle of getting to Bristol for the Cup teams. These two updated the Scott Riggs, Toyota, and AT&T stories. Finally, the new rumor of the week is Dario Franchitti moving from open-wheel land to NASCAR at some point. Blount put the possibility of this move in perspective, including the team Dario was talking with about the change.

Unfortunately, NASCAR Now shot itself in the foot once again in the final segment of the program. Every NASCAR fan knows that this Wednesday night the Craftsman Truck Series is going to be live on SPEED. To ESPN, this does not matter. Rather than preview the Truck race later that night, the show chose to offer a pre-produced generic preview of the NEXTEL Cup race some three days away.

The struggle for this program is whether NASCAR Now is about NASCAR, or only NASCAR on ESPN. If there was a defining moment in that process, it might have been tonight. Some top names are in the Truck race, and this race will show fans how the new surface of the racetrack holds-up. Any way you slice it, tonight is big for NASCAR in many ways.

Pretending that any NASCAR race not on ESPN does not exist is unforgivable. NASCAR has a deep and vested interest in the Truck Series, and for ESPN to purposefully shun them in a program airing less than one hour before the race is simply wrong.

This type of bad decision affects the credibility of Burr, of NASCAR Now, and ultimately of ESPN. A great show ruined by one bad decision. Maybe they should just change the title to NASCAR on ESPN Now.

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.

NASCAR "RaceDay" Follow-Up: Melanie

Back on June 1st, The Daly Planet wrote a column about Melanie, the new SPEED Channel promo girl. SPEED's new campaign featured this young woman challenging viewers with a single question, "can you handle it?"

Well, its been about three months and apparently lots of SPEED viewers are just about done handling it. On the message boards, and on Internet racing forums, the endless repetitions of her promos are taking their toll on the American psyche.

The original reason The Daly Planet addressed this issue was NASCAR RaceDay on SPEED. This show is often on-the-air around noon on Sunday, and back on June 1st it featured Melanie twirling her panties on her finger and asking "can you handle it?"

We felt that there might perhaps be a better time to "handle it" than during the biggest and most popular family-oriented show on SPEED. Did we mention noon on Sunday?

Now, almost any racing fan watching SPEED has seen Melanie literally thousands of times. SPEED forum users suggest that she is now like both the bikini model and the tasteless drunken mom on Texas Hardtails. Over and over again, no matter what show is being watched, there they are.

SPEED's Senior VP of Marketing, Lila Everett, said "this is the first campaign where we come out and say that we're confident in where we are and who we are as a network and this is going to be our message. It says girls, cars, party."

This "girls, cars, party" message leaves out one group that is pretty important to SPEED. That would be the female NASCAR fans. They already are girls, already have cars, and certainly can party. Demographics say NASCAR is almost fifty percent female in its fanbase, and that is a staggering number for a professional sport. The audience at RaceDay, and the other SPEED Stage shows confirm that dynamic every racing weekend.

SPEED's aggressive promotional campaign with Melanie is going to expand to movie theaters, fast-food restaurants, and even online gaming sites. It is aimed at the 18 to 35 year-old male and is called a SPEED Channel "branding campaign."

In an era where NASCAR on SPEED shares time with Pinks, Unique Whips, Payback, and NOPI Tunervision, this approach might be expected, and even understood. But, for some reason SPEED has a long history of beating a promo theme to death on-the-air simply by failing to limit the timeslots and the amount of times these spots are used.

As for Melanie herself, she is a working actress looking for more exposure. She said "the SPEED campaign will be a great way to get my face out there without having to do reality television."

It seems ironic that the entire campaign is designed to promote the "reality shows" on SPEED that they label as "lifestyle programming." Sometimes on SPEED, it seems as if adult females in American society do not even have a lifestyle. So, just remember...girls, cars, party.

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

Wednesday NASCAR Topics

Wednesday night Krista Voda, Ray Dunlap and the SPEED gang telecast the Craftsman Truck Series live in Bristol, TN. The pre-race show is 7:30PM, with the race starting at 8PM. This should be a blast.

Also Wednesday, ABC continues its NASCAR in Primetime series at 9PM with a continuing look behind-the-scenes from races filmed earlier this season and presented in documentary style. Although this episode goes head-to-head with the Trucks in Bristol, it should be a good show to DVR and review later.

ESPN's First Take show followed the NEXTEL Cup race, and featured a mini-version of NASCAR Now. A dapper Boris Said was giddy to be alongside of Ryan Burr. These two were great, and flew through the race highlights including lots of interviews from the track. Burr is wonderful in the studio, and brought out the best in Boris who occassionally needs a little direction.

Finally, Erik Kuselias was on ESPN Radio Tuesday in the old Dan Patrick timeslot. Hmmm...

The Daly Planet welcomes your comments on these topics. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email editor@thedalyplanet if you wish not to be published. Thanks to all who comment and email for keeping us up on NASCAR TV news and information.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Streamlined Michigan Works For ESPN

After five days in Michigan at the same track, everyone was ready to go home. In fact, lots of network TV folks had already gone home. SPEED Channel had finally run out of topics for RaceDay, and sent their crew back to Charlotte. ESPN had chosen to close the Infield Studio, and send-off Suzy Kolber and Brad Daugherty.

Those hearty souls left included Rusty Wallace, Andy Petree, and Dr. Jerry Punch. Always smooth on-camera this season, the threesome showed immediately the foggy conditions in which NASCAR chose to start the race under caution. It was clear that NASCAR was going to get this race in despite the matter what.

We have to give a call to NASCAR President Mike Helton for stepping directly into the TV broadcast booth and explaining in-person exactly what was going on with the Red Flag stoppage, and NASCAR's plans for the day. Helton has come a long way with his public relations skills, and is clearly comfortable with ESPN's broadcast crew.

I am a big fan of ESPN's crisp and clean graphics package, but not a fan of the bottom of the screen "sports ticker" on ESPN2. When the NASCAR graphics package is designed to direct the viewer's eye to the top of the screen for information, it is tough to be dragged back down to the bottom over-and-over again for information not related to the race. In other sports, the graphics package is based on "lower thirds" that keep the graphics at the bottom. Its just hard to watch two "tickers" running at both the top and bottom of the screen.

However viewers feel about Rusty Wallace, you have to give him credit for working hard on his TV skills. "I'll tell you what" were four words rarely heard on the telecast, and one gets the feeling that Rusty is kind of "forced" to be the King of the Draft Track. He must have aero-push nightmares by this time of the season.

Without the clutter of the Infield Studio, the Producer and Director of the race telecast were able to make great use of the "Crew Cam" throughout the entire event. This device is great live, and often even better when replayed with what is called "natural sound." Just the sounds coming from that camera's microphone, and nothing else. Viewers got several great pitstops, and the carb change during the race is exactly what NASCAR fans want more of from ESPN.

It really shows what can be done when Suzy Kolber and friends are not inserted coming back from commercials. If the role of the Infield Studio for ESPN is the pre-race NASCAR Countdown show, it makes sense. If they can voice the race highlights and recaps during the event that viewers would normally see, that's fine as well. It is when the on-camera presence of Kolber and Daugherty is inserted for the sole reason of seeing them on TV that makes fans get crazy. "Crew Cam" really made that point.

Before we go any further, lets get to the big issue. ESPN Draft Track is making fans nuts. It might have been a good idea to show the fundamentals of drafting, dirty air, and even getting air taken off the spoiler, but now its becoming a little too much. Rusty has given it his best try, but even he cannot explain some of the things replayed as "caused by the air."

Drivers "get runs" on each other, they pass each other, they draft on the straight-a-ways, we get it. Using specific examples of cars passing each other over-and-over again kind of makes the viewer feel that they are missing something. That something is what is going on in the race. Regardless of whether Draft Track is used under caution or not, there are other things that can be relayed to the viewer besides the redundant drafting lesson.

Surprisingly, I missed Tim Brewer and his Tech Center. There were several times, including the carb change, where I wished Tim would point and talk about what was going on. At high speed tracks like Michigan, I would have liked to know what gear choices were available, and also what his perspective was on tire strategy.

Sometimes, it seems that Rusty and Andy are watching their TV monitors, and not the action on the track. This is a tough choice for announcers, especially at a big track like Michigan. It puts them at a disadvantage when something happens, because they are always a beat behind, like the TV coverage.

This forces them to do their analysis on the replays, and not immediately after the action happens. Several times, both of them were forced to look at replays to actually figure out what had happened. This pointed to the fact they had been watching the booth monitors.

The pit reporters hustled as always, and these five very different personalities have been a good solid part of the ESPN coverage. It was a bit tough to understand why some of the drivers like Mark Martin and Joe Nemechek were not interviewed, even if they were heading for the helicopter after being put out of the race. Perhaps, if ESPN had said they were unavailable, it would have helped.

Somehow, ESPN has to agree on a tactic or a production element to update the drivers running outside the top fifteen. The scoring ticker at the top of the screen is great for position, but there are just a lot of stories that never get told in the back of the pack.

In NEXTEL Cup, there is always at least three hours to tell them. Big names like Bill Elliott, Ricky Rudd, Elliot Sadler, and others were never mentioned. Even a backmarker like Tony Raines has Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman as owners, and deserves an update during the race.

ESPN's triple split-screens on pit stops, and their double-box split screens have been working great, and did in this event. Especially, when they mix a driver's in-car camera with a shot of his car racing hard, the combination is very effective.

The final couple of pitstops in this race did not go well for the TV guys. Focusing on things like bent car parts and sliding through the pitbox, the crew kind of missed getting across the strategy perspective of tires and tactics. Even when Jeff Gordon stayed out, ESPN immediately went to commercial and returned with an extended Draft Track featuring multiple replays of different cars.

Still not clearly explaining who did what, the race re-started with twenty laps to go and the action was hot and heavy. Then, out of the blue, with only fourteen laps to go in a multi-hour race, the network went to a nearly three minute commercial break and missed the Jeff Gordon spin.

With an early extended caution period, then a red flag, and finally a full race distance, ESPN should not have had to go to commercial inside fifteen laps to go.

Punch did his best to try and pump-up the finish, but no one had anything for Kurt Busch. Missing the Gordon spin and that heavy racing action was rough. Then, things got a little disjointed until ESPN decided to use the split-screen that contained the leader on one side, and good pack racing on the other. It worked on the final laps.

The network paid it off by keeping a wideshot and allowing the top twenty cars to cross the line live with electronic scoring. This really helped, but sure could have been better by letting viewers see more of the big front stretch as drivers battled to the stripe. But, from what viewers had to deal with earlier this season, it was a godsend.

Next week at Bristol, its mandatory. Fox showed only the winner cross the stripe in the spring at Bristol, and set the fans on fire by cutting out Jeff, Junior, Kevin, Clint, and The Biff battling in the top ten. Let us pray that does not happen again.

ESPN stuck around, interviewed the right people, and showed that producing events in the field is still their strength. After five days in Michigan, several false starts, and a difficult race to make exciting, the entire ESPN crew can head to Bristol, TN knowing they hung-in, got the job done, and now face one of the most challenging race tracks for TV coverage in the world.

The fishbowl awaits.

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.