Saturday, June 30, 2007

Musburger Leads ABC's Red Sox Love Fest

When Brent Musburger was added to the ABC Sports line-up for the Busch Series race in Loudon, no one really paid attention. Musburger had been "the telecast host" on ABC before this season. This time, however, Musburger was personally hosting NASCAR Countdown, the pre-race show.

Over the past several races, when the coverage was on ESPN2, Allen Bestwick and Mike Massaro had been hosting. Now, on broadcast TV, those two apparently were not good enough for the big time. Suzy Kolber, who will host both the Cup and Busch pre-race shows for ESPN/ABC eventually, was nowhere to be seen...once again.

Musburger's famous line, "you're looking live at...Loudon, New Hampshire" led into the rocking opening of the show, which served to recap the last several races and the season. ESPN's pre-produced features and opens continue to be outstanding.

Then, a strange thing happened. The Red Sox love fest began. On Sunday, in the NEXTEL Cup race on TNT, Carl Edwards will be racing a car with a Boston Red Sox logo on the front hood. Back in February of this year, Roush Racing merged with the Red Sox parent organization. But this was the Busch Series, and Edwards drove a car with lawn care products on the hood. Apparently, that did not matter.

ABC showed Jack Roush and Carl Edwards throwing out the first pitch at a Red Sox game. Musburger talked about the pitches and the funny things that happened, including the fact that the Red Sox catcher missed the ball. Edwards then drove a NEXTEL Cup show car onto the outfield warning track at Fenway Park. With the NEXTEL Cup race on TNT, and no Red Sox car in the field on Saturday, what connection this had with the Busch Series was not clear.

Later in the show ABC ran a feature on Roush's "Fenway Day," complete with first pitch footage again. To say the least, for NASCAR fans who could care less about the Red Sox, this entire topic was awkward. It had absolutely nothing to do with the Busch Series race at hand, or the track in New Hampshire. I bet there were many Busch teams in the garage that would have loved this type of free publicity for their sponsor.

Musburger then recapped the Denny Hamlin "non-story" of last week, and actually tried to hype as an "issue" what was really a sponsor obligation. Luckily, Hamlin was interviewed by Allen Bestwick, who straightened things out. A telephone follow-up from Aric Almirola was nice, but certainly not necessary seven days later.

On the set, both Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree put things into perspective in about two minutes. It was about sponsors, obligations, and money. Nothing about personal relationships or drivers was ever an issue. Petree said if not for a car parked on the helipad, there would have been no issue. Now, that's a summary.

Jamie Little has been enjoying her first year as a pit reporter on the ESPN NASCAR package, but she should not have been given the assignment of speaking with Tony Stewart in this show. Tony ate her naive and timid line of questioning for lunch, with a smart-aleck smile on his usual. Make sure you have your ducks in a row before you wander into Tony territory.

Since the start of the season, The Daly Planet has been asking ESPN and ABC to put one or both of the "booth analysts" down on the infield set for the pre-race show. This week, Brad Daugherty was missing from the set, and both Jarrett and Petree were alongside Musburger. This made all the difference in the world, and gave Musburger the kind of credibility and firepower that Daugherty and a weekly on-set guest could never match. Once Suzy Kolber hits Countdown, she is going to need every bit of support she can get.

The big problem with NASCAR Countdown again this week is that ESPN/ABC is just obsessed with NEXTEL Cup. In the field at Loudon was young Stephen Leicht, fan favorite Marcos Ambrose, and veteran Bobby Labonte. There was also Ward Burton, Scott Wimmer and Jason Keller all trying to re-kindle their racing careers.

Perhaps, more attention to the Busch Series drivers would allow fans to re-connect with this series that has often times become nothing more than NEXTEL Cup practice with a checkered flag at the end. Fans deserved much more eighteen races into the Busch season than the ESPN crew fawning over the Red Sox NEXTEL Cup car. But, I guess that all depends on where Musburger's box seats are located.

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