Thursday, April 19, 2007

ESPN Mulls NASCAR Changes

Since February, the TV story of the NASCAR season has been the return of ESPN to the sport. Along the way, The Daly Planet has spoken about both the positive and negative aspects of this new venture. We have also received and published selected comments from readers who feel strongly about these issues.

As reported by Anthony Andro of the Fort Worth Star Telegram, ESPN is continuing to look at changes in their NASCAR line-up. The quotes in the article, which is listed on, come from ESPN's Julie Sobieski. As the Network's Senior Director of Programming, Sobieski is clearly the point person for NASCAR issues. She said "we just had a big meeting this week with all our different groups. You'll be hearing about talent additions that haven't been announced yet. We make changes and take advantage of the opportunities."

This is certainly a positive thought for the portions of the ESPN NASCAR package that have struggled. In every new effort, there is a group dynamic that has to be given time to form, and then changed if it does not succeed. We see exactly the same thing in the racing dynamic of a NASCAR team. Regardless of the best qualities of the individuals involved, if a team just does not gel, change is the only solution. One thing is for sure, the ultimate goal is to help the team itself succeed.

ESPN has rolled-out an excellent group of production folks for the Busch Series races. The telecasts have been right on target, with strong performances from the large cast of announcers. This past week, Dale Jarrett debuted to positive reviews as the color announcer on the Texas race. Andy Petree has been strong all season, and has proven to be the "sleeper" of the bunch. His information is first rate. Both Dr. Jerry Punch and Marty Reid have worked hard to carve-out their niche as the lead play-by-play announcer. ESPN continues to use both, and Reid goes over to the open-wheel world shortly as Indy approaches.

There are, however, some issues that have been difficult for the network to even acknowledge, much less address. At the track, Brent Musburger is a fish out-of-water. He knows it. We know it. ESPN knows it. There is absolutely no disrespect in these comments, because Musburger does not need to prove himself in the TV world. I was present when he first walked into ESPN, and the feeling was electric. This role, however, puts a fantastic stick-and-ball guy in the position of hosting several hours of nothing but NASCAR. It just does not fit.

On the other hand, Tim Brewer is so under-used it is a crying shame. With the credentials that he brings to the broadcast, clogging up the infield set with other ESPN announcers is just wrong. Given the chance to assume the "Jeff Hammond" role, Brewer could finally show the depth of his knowledge and experience. When guests like Ray Evernham and Richard Petty come to the ESPN set, Brewer is at his best. When ESPN finally realizes what they have, perhaps he will not be banished to the parking lot pointing at a sway bar. It is, however, hilarious when he calls Musburger "Brett."

ESPN needs to define the role of Brad Daugherty. They know it, he knows it, and we know it. There are experts, analysts, and reporters on both the pre-race show and NASCAR Now. Then there is Brad. He is not allowed to do feature reports. He is not allowed to do interviews. He seems to be boxed-in by the very people who are trying to promote him. Give him a chance to be involved in the TV aspects of the ESPN coverage and let him prove what he can do. He always tells us who he "just talked to" or "just visited with" or where he "just stopped by." Can someone at ESPN give him a Producer and a cameraman so he can actually "show us?"

Finally, let's talk about the NASCAR Now situation that has drawn the most email and viewer comments from NASCAR fans around the nation. Its time to stand-up and say that this is a mess. For a network with so many outstanding and award-winning studio shows, this has to be the number one priority for change. It is unrealistic to think that "anyone" with TV experience can host this show. This has been painfully proven by Doug Banks and Erik Kuselias, both of whom seem to have been put in very bad positions by ESPN. Talk about being fed to the lions.

Many NASCAR fans have visions of John Kernan, Alan Bestwick, or even Bob Jenkins dancing through their heads. What they are all saying is, we need NASCAR credibility from the host of NASCAR Now, not a script reader. Just as Jayski built-up his reputation through hard work and endless hours, fans are looking for someone with a racing resume to fill this role. And the time to change this position is before ESPN ventures into NEXTEL Cup coverage. That clock is ticking.

It has been fun on NASCAR Now to watch Marty Smith, Terry Blount, Angelique Chengelis, and Shannon Spake deliver the mail day-after-day. Without their credible and timely news reporting, this show would be history. Spake has worked very hard to become a calm and efficient on-scene reporter with a good style and great camera presence. Hopefully, as NASCAR Now re-vamps itself, the reporters will be given more time in each show to relay what the fans want...real information. As one emailer said, "less fluff and more stuff."

The odd man out to me is Mike Massaro. During the "dark years" at ESPN, we saw Mike reporting from helipads, parking lots, and access roads. This one guy single-handedly kept ESPN and NASCAR together. His tenacity and dedication should have been rewarded with the host position on NASCAR Now. There is no one currently on-staff at ESPN that has more credibility with the NASCAR fans than Massaro. To see him as a pit reporter on the Busch Series is tough. After watching one episode of NASCAR Now, one might suggest it is tragic.

We shall see over the next several weeks what changes come from the network, and how those changes affect both the studio and field production levels of the entire ESPN/ABC family. Hopefully, positive change is just around the corner.

Since you have taken the time to read my views on these issues, please feel free to add your opinion to The Daly Planet by using the COMMENTS link below. If you would not like to be published, email can be sent to anytime in confidence. Thanks again for taking the time to read The Daly Planet.