Saturday, November 3, 2007

In-Progress On ESPN/ABC: NASCAR Now And The Texas NEXTEL Cup Race

Sunday, the combined forces of ESPN and ABC kick-off a long day of NASCAR.

First up is the one hour edition of NASCAR Now at 10AM Eastern Time on ESPN2. This program is normally hosted by either Erik Kuselias or Ryan Burr. It is live in the ESPN HD studio in Bristol, CT. Stacy Compton, Boris Said, and sometimes Tim Cowlishaw are used in the studio for analysis.

At 3PM, ABC begins its sports day with NASCAR Countdown, which this week will be thirty minutes in length. Suzy Kolber will be hosting the program from the Infield Studio along with Brad Daugherty who the network says is "the voice of the fans." ESPN NASCAR analyst Rusty Wallace usually appears during the first fifteen minutes of this show. Brent Musburger will be on-hand once again to act as the "show host" for the entire ABC programming block.

The network transitions to event coverage at 3:30PM. Dr. Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace, and Andy Petree offer the race commentary. Allen Bestwick, Mike Massaro, Jamie Little, and Dave Burns are the reporters on pit road.

This is ESPN's first season back in NASCAR, and this track is notorious for big accidents and hot tempers. It will be interesting to note the dynamic between the pit reporters and the drivers as the race progresses.

Note: The Daly Planet has received several emails indicating that Suzy Kolber will not be in Texas on Sunday, but ESPN still lists her as the host. We shall wait and see.

This page will host your comments about NASCAR Now, NASCAR Countdown, and ABC's coverage of the NEXTEL Cup race. You may add your comment before, during, or after these programs. Please keep your focus on the TV issues associated with these programs, and read the rules on the right side of the main page before adding your post.

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In-Progress At Texas: NASCAR RaceDay And Victory Lane

Sunday at Texas features a two hour NASCAR RaceDay show that is back in its normal timeslot of two hours before the race coverage. Beginning at 1:30PM Eastern Time, this means once again that the second hour of RaceDay will be competing head-to-head with ABC's NASCAR Countdown pre-race show.

John Roberts, Jimmy Spencer, and Kenny Wallace make up the RaceDay panel, with Wendy Venturini reporting from the garage and pit areas. Hermie Sadler provides the track description and pilots SPEED-1, the network's camera car. Ricki Rachtman continues to participate in the season-long contest for picking race winners.

Following the race itself, SPEED will present the one hour Victory Lane show at 8PM. Hosted again by John Roberts, this program is on a slight delay to allow for a race running long. Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace also provide commentary. This program interviews the race winner, his crew chief, his owner, and offers Bob Dillner interviewing other drivers and crew chiefs after the event.

This page will host your comments about these two programs on SPEED. To add your opinion, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the instructions. Please keep your comments in reference to these two shows, and read the rules for posting on the right hand side of the main page before doing so.

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The Moment Of Truth For ESPN Is At Hand

The end of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season always has an interesting dynamic. Only three races remain in a very long season of transition for both NASCAR itself and the TV networks who cover it.

The final race at Homestead is cloaked in championship hype, and the Phoenix race leading up to it is an easy venue to cover. The key racetrack in this closing sequence for the TV networks is the The Texas Motor Speedway. High banks, big speeds, and hot tempers make this event a pressure-packed affair from the pre-race show through the post-race interviews. This season, the ESPN on ABC production team is on the Texas hotseat for the first time.

Memories of goofy Chris Myers in the Hollywood Hotel have long since faded. Strong TV production skills once again this season allowed the NASCAR on Fox gang to set-up their commentary team of Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds, and Darrell Waltrip to dominate the sport. With Jeff Hammond and a group of veteran pit reporters, Fox put in a strong performance and then handed the NEXTEL Cup Series off to TNT for a six race summertime package. That's when the wheels fell off.

TNT's spinning infield stage, their personal on-air rivalries, and their "holier than thou" attitude just didn't wash. NASCAR fans did not mesh with Wally Dallenbach or Bill Weber, and only the strong work of Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds kept this TV package afloat. Can anyone forget TNT leaving a race fifteen minutes early to show a vampire movie?

What fans had in the back of their minds was the fact that ESPN's return to NASCAR was right on the horizon. After the highs of Fox Sports and the lows of TNT, this big time player in "sports TV land" was going to bring the sport to a whole new level. After almost a decade, an old friend was coming back to NASCAR.

Everyone was familiar with the incredible job ESPN had done on big events like Sunday Night Football and The X Games. The network seemed to love a challenge, and they promoted the fact they were jumping into NASCAR neck-deep. As the network's NEXTEL Cup debut approached, there was a feeling of optimism and anticipation.

The headline on The Daly Planet read "ESPN Changes The NASCAR Dynamic" after the Brickyard 400 from Indy. ESPN's first race back had shown a network that had changed completely from focusing on hardcore event coverage to one that promoted itself and its own personalities before almost everything else.

Suddenly, the races were chocked-full of "show hosts," Tech Centers, Draft Trackers, and music videos. At that time, The Daly Planet wrote, "the actual sporting activity becomes almost secondary to the many announcers, technical TV "tricks" and multiple TV studio sets." ESPN had definitely arrived back in NASCAR, and the sport would never be the same.

Today, there have been fourteen races already produced in the ESPN/ABC portion of the NEXTEL Cup TV package. Things have certainly not gone the way that ESPN believed they would. From the last minute addition of Suzy Kolber as the high-profile infield host to the TV struggles of Rusty Wallace, the chemistry of the "on-air talent" has never gelled.

Kyle Petty calls this NASCAR season "both pediatric and geriatric." As the older and established stars begin their transition out of the sport, younger and younger faces begin to appear in the professional ranks. Petty's words also hold true for ESPN.

A network whose young producers have been firmly entrenched in stick-and-ball sports has suddenly been thrust into a strange new environment. The hip-hop and rock music pound away on ESPN's NASCAR coverage...only to transition to the fifty-something duo of Dr. Jerry Punch and Rusty Wallace on-camera.

At Pocono, Rihanna's "Shut-up and Drive" was ESPN's music video theme of the race. The sweaty teen bodies dancing, the hot and fast "imports" racing, and the sexually charged lyrics made for a bit of a tough transition to Tim Brewer in the Tech Center who gave us an update on springs. The sounds and the faces of ESPN's NASCAR coverage do not match.

The struggles of ESPN to deal with the most fundamental aspects of NASCAR this season have been detailed across the Internet on chat boards and forums. It was apparent that fans could not understand how they could enjoy other sports on ESPN, but continue to be angered by the network's seeming lack of knowledge and attention in presenting NASCAR this season.

Like the tired mountain climber who looks up only to see another peak, ESPN will wake up Sunday morning with the realization that their biggest challenge of the season is upon them. Burdened by declining TV ratings and fan frustration, the network will try to use one of the fastest and most exciting races of the year to get things back on-track. Unfortunately, there is one little complication.

The NASCAR Countdown show takes to the ABC airwaves at 3PM Eastern Time, with event coverage beginning at 3:30PM. This would suggest that the green flag for the Texas race would be waved at about 3:45PM. That would be about fifteen minutes before the biggest NFL game of the season.

On this Sunday, the ESPN production team will be facing both the challenge of getting their own ship in order while simultaneously competing head-to-head with NASCAR's biggest enemy...the NFL. Brady and Manning vs. Gordon and Johnson.

From the first moments of Brent Musburger opening the show through the race commentary and the post-race interviews, this Texas event may be one the most highly scrutinized live sports telecasts in ESPN history.

Make no mistake, ESPN has brought this on themselves with missed restarts, lack of racing information, endless talking heads, and themed hype that sometimes is almost beyond belief. The network's credibility with NASCAR fans is at an all-time low.

The ESPN on ABC gang needs a hardcore racing telecast of the highest order with the focus on the action on the track. If they make it the Gordon and Johnson show, it will be over. If they continually update the NFL score and show highlights to NASCAR fans, it will be over. Finally, if they chop-off the post-race and leave fans without any interviews other than the winning driver, it will absolutely be over for this year.

With "The Chase" generating little excitement, ESPN must focus aggressively on the action throughout the field, and let the Texas Motor Speedway do what it does best. Create great racing. A poor telecast will allow NASCAR fans to shake their heads, walk away to the NFL, and talk about next season.

For every single member of the ESPN on ABC TV crew, the pressure is on, the time is now, and the challenge is Texas.

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.

In-Progress At Texas: Busch Series On ESPN2

Saturday afternoon ESPN2 will once again live a bit dangerously and present the Busch Series race from the Texas Motor Speedway.

NASCAR Countdown, the thirty minute pre-race show will begin at 3PM Eastern Time. This program will be hosted by Allen Bestwick, who will have Dale Jarrett alongside as an analyst for both the pre-race and the event. Brad Daugherty, "the voice of the fans," will also be with Bestwick and Jarrett for the duration.

Race coverage will begin at 3:30PM Eastern Time, and Dr. Jerry Punch will handle the play-by-play alongside of analysts Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree. With Bestwick hosting from the infield, Shannon Spake will join the pit reporting crew of Jamie Little, Dave Burns, and Mike Massaro. Tim Brewer will be in the Tech Center.

Brent Musburger is doing college football, and will return for the Cup event on Sunday.

Once again, the Busch Series is following a live Iowa Hawkeye college football game three hours after it begins. As we know, most college football games run three and one half hours without any extended play. ESPN Classic Network is playing back re-runs of The Contender boxing series, so look for NASCAR Countdown to start on ESPN Classic if the football game runs long.

Fans may want to program into their DVR or TiVo ESPN Classic from 3PM to 5PM Eastern Time just to make sure and get the pre-race show and the event start. ESPN and ESPNU are in live college football games at that time.

Following the race at 6PM is one hour of NEXTEL Cup Happy Hour, and then one hour of NHRA Finals qualifying. There should be no problem with the race running long unless it goes until 8PM. As we know from the Craftsman Truck Series night race on Friday the track has excellent lighting for TV. The 8PM Eastern Time mark is the "hard off" for this event, as ESPN2 has primetime college football. That should be interesting.

Saturday Program Note: SPEED's Tradin' Paint is at 7PM and the media guest is Richard Durrett of the Dallas Morning News. Set those DVR's.

This page will host your comments about ESPN2's coverage of the Busch Series race at Texas. This network has covered all the events since February, and should be at full stride when it comes to live TV coverage of this series. You may leave your comment before, during, or after the coverage.

All we ask is that you restrict your comments to the TV issues associated with the coverage, and that you read the rules for posting on the right side of the main page. To add your opinion, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the instructions.

Thanks again for taking the time to stop-by The Daly Planet and let us continue the only Internet conversation exclusively about the coverage of this sport by the NASCAR TV partners. Have a great Saturday.