Thursday, January 31, 2008

Fontana Testing Worth The Wait

Two final shows are going to close-out SPEED's pre-season testing coverage. John Roberts, Jeff Hammond and Bob Dillner were at the Fontana Speedway in California to cover the first day of the COT cars on that track.

Located on pit road, with cars on the track behind them, the trio kicked-off the coverage with morning session highlights. Continuing in highlight format, the coverage finally showed multiple cars on the track, but continued to "capsulize" the on-track action.

Driver "soundbites" worked well to whip-a-round the information about the different approaches and goals for the teams. From Mark Martin to Ryan Newman, the drivers seem to be very comfortable with the SPEED crew and their open and honest comments have been a foundation of this multi-week coverage.

The afternoon session had good highlights, and also raised an interesting question. Will the COT cars draft well in Fontana? Eventually knowing if the COT can provide the frequent passing and the abililty to raise the excitement level will be critical to helping the struggling California Speedway to survive. That area of the country is still a big problem for the oval version of NASCAR racing.

Bob Dillner was once again the garage reporter, and raised several good points in his report. The fast cars from Vegas were not the fast cars in Fontana. That was a surprise, but this was the first time with these back-to-back tests.

Dillner follow-up by reinforcing the interesting struggles of some high-profile teams. The big grip and banking of Vegas did not translate well to Fontana. Hammond talked from his crew chief perspective about why and how this situation occurred.

Roberts continues to be a key utility player for SPEED, and he worked his way smoothly through this next-to-last session. He introduced Hammond's Tech Tip, which showed very clearly some of the challenges facing the crew chiefs in dialing the car in at Fontana. Hammond's gift is his plain-spoken manner backed-up by a good knowledge of the nuts-and-bolts of racing.

The featured driver was Dave Blaney, who struggled last season constantly with the top 35 rule. Blaney was once again realistic about the Toyota issues and the fact that his team is working hard, but not yet come into its own.

The Pacific Time Zone pushed the afternoon session right into the SPEED show, and the drivers were going to be staying for an evening session. Hopefully, highlights of that activity will be included in the Friday coverage.

Lots of teams will be leaving early on Friday to head back to Charlotte, and it should be interesting to see what final conclusions Hammond and Dillner come up with in terms of this COT on these two tracks.

SPEED now has testing down to a formula, and it has worked to relay a good amount of information to the viewers during the off-season. Once the week is over, perhaps the network will sit down with their team and make some notes about next season. This coverage is here to stay, and will probably be expanding in the future.

Daly Planet readers have made some great suggestions about one hour TV formats, coverage back in Mooresville of the shop activity, and increasing the role of the Engine Builders and Crew Chiefs in terms of participating in the program on-camera.

Toward the end of last season, Brian France made it very clear that he wanted more original NASCAR-themed programming from his cable TV "partner" SPEED Channel.

This brand new coverage of testing and the media tour, including studio-based review shows on the off-days has gone a long way toward satisfying that goal.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Manske At ESPN And Ready For "NASCAR Now"

After a very brief and non-emotional sign-off from The SPEED Report, Nicole Mankse has already made her way to ESPN and her brand-new program series, NASCAR Now.

Manske moves from a general motorsports hour on Sunday nights to one of the highest-profile TV positions in the country. Joined by Ryan Burr and Allen Bestwick as substitute hosts, NASCAR Now is trying to make a clean break from the show's first season and "begin again."

The big moves by ESPN several days ago show the concern by the network executives that things were not going in a good direction. More than that, however, they show that ESPN listened to both the NASCAR fans and the NASCAR community.

Rather than step-into the host "shoes" of Erik Kuselias, Manske will be given the benefit of the doubt and allowed to create her own style on the show. She has been working regularly on SPEED, and hung-in there during some rather trying times for The SPEED Report when it first started.

This is exactly what ESPN needed to start this season. A new face in the NASCAR Now studio, a new face as the lead analyst in the announce booth for races, and some veteran NASCAR support for Brad Daugherty in the Infield Studio.

NASCAR Now with Nicole Manske debuts on Monday, February 4th at 6PM Eastern Time on ESPN2.

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Byrnes And Hammond Wrap Vegas Testing

With the SPEED crew working their way to Fontana, the Pre-Season Thunder series moved into the network's Charlotte, NC studios.

Steve Byrnes and Jeff Hammond have worked with each other for years, and they know how to put out a lot of information and have fun at the same time. This Wednesday night show was no exception.

Hammond again addressed the fact that this is going to be a first-time COT experience for teams at several tracks, and Byrnes reminded viewers that the original COT switch was supposed to be 2009. Instead, NASCAR decided to implement the change right now.

Bob Dillner reported on the final day of Vegas testing, and wrapped that test by comparing it with the earlier Daytona dates. As Dillner concluded, there was no comparison. The Vegas test was absolutely critical to the COT learning curve.

The featured driver interview was Denny Hamlin. His comments that the "switch to Toyota" was easy certainly set the tone for an optimistic interview. Hamlin's close to the season was tough, and even he admitted "they peaked too early."

Hammond followed-up with the fact that the key element to the ease of the Toyota change was the COT. No body or car issues, just basically new motors. The Gibbs teams have already shown plenty of power in testing. Hammond suggested that the Gibbs information was "filtering down" to the other Toyota teams.

Byrnes tried to pin Hammond down, and the question was "will all three Gibbs teams will make "The Chase" in 2008?" The answer was yes. It should be interesting to watch this very different Toyota dynamic play out in just a couple of weeks.

Larry McReynolds made his appearance to bring the Tech Tip. His information included the fact that the teams are quietly selecting primary and back-up cars for Las Vegas and Fontana. Regardless of the fans who insist testing is boring, they are not understanding that this COT test is different from all earlier testing.

Hammond and Byrnes made sure to point-out all the cars that had incidents during the test sessions, and talk about how it deeply affected the teams in continuing the high-speed testing. There are just not a lot of COT cars available to the testing crews, and the teams now down a car will have to be very careful at Fontana.

Once again, SPEED chose to use the "highlight package" format for on-track testing action. This allows more information, but less action and footage to be included.

As SPEED bounces back-and-forth between the studio and the tracks in terms of hosting the shows, it also allows viewers to see something else. This network has two of the most professional and versatile announcers in sports TV today with John Roberts and Steve Byrnes. Both of these men host an incredible amount of live national TV throughout the season, and are expected to shoulder the load for SPEED once again in 2008.

Hammond closed with an overview of what teams are doing right now for the Daytona 500. Even as one crew tests out West, another crew continues to be focused on the new dynamic for the COT, the restrictor plate, and the 50th running of the big race.

One has the feeling that there is a lot more NASCAR TV content out there during this week, and we might see SPEED thinking about expanding these shows to one hour for next season. Showing the balance between the activity at the tracks and the activity in the shops might be an fascinating off-season TV idea for the fans.

As testing shifts to Fontana, it will be interesting to see how SPEED closes out their Pre-Season Thunder series. This new and expanded coverage has gotten fans in the "TV mix" a lot earlier than before, and with very good results.

As we know, NASCAR really needs a "kick-start" for the season. This big commitment by SPEED in terms of travel, manpower and facilities might have done the trick.

ESPN returns NASCAR Now with new host Nicole Manske on Monday, but they have not provided a lot of NASCAR pre-season coverage other than some Marty Smith reports from Daytona. SPEED continues with team previews each night at 7PM Eastern Time beginning on Monday.

So, two more days of testing coverage on SPEED, and then the real build-up begins.

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Waltrip And Schrader Stay With SPEED

This time, it's official. SPEED has finally released word about the re-design of the Monday night "franchise" show for the network.

Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing will become This Week In NASCAR. Dave Despain steps aside as host, and Steve Byrnes will take that role.

In a widely anticipated announcement, SPEED has decided to return Michael Waltrip, Kenny Schrader and Greg Biffle as the regular panelists. This season, they will also be joined by veteran crew chief Chad Knaus.

“Although much of what viewers have become comfortable with Monday nights on SPEED will remain, This Week in NASCAR will no longer be all about ‘yesterday,’ “ said SPEED SVP of Programming Steve Craddock. “We want to do more than review Sunday’s race … we want to get NASCAR fans ready for what’s coming next.”

The new show will debut February 18th at 8PM Eastern Time. As expected, the program will shift in emphasis from focusing on the Sprint Cup Series to more of a balanced approach between all three of NASCAR's national touring series.

SPEED also hinted that other crew chiefs would guest on the program. What they did not address was a return of the Hot Seat, a weekly NASCAR guest or any other additional show features that may be new to this program. It is certainly possible that those additions are being worked on right now.

Steve Byrnes has served in a wide variety of roles on SPEED, including taking time to answer questions during the off-season for Daly Planet readers. Byrnes hosts the popular Trackside program and practice and qualifying shows with Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond. He also hosts from the studio The Chase Is On with Carl Edwards.

We expect SPEED to release more details about the show over the next two weeks as the original air date approaches. At least NASCAR fans and SPEED viewers now have one big question answered.

Michael Waltrip and Kenny Schrader will once again bring their very interesting personal dynamic to the fans, now on a new set with a new host and new format.

We will keep you updated as details become available. Please feel free to add your comment about This Week In NASCAR by clicking on the COMMENTS button below. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

SPEED's Vegas Testing Shows: Where's The Beef?

Like lots of fans I turned on the TV Tuesday night very excited to see a whole slew of COT cars on the big fast Las Vegas Motor Speedway. SPEED was on-hand to document the continuing testing and now had good weather and a fast track.

Unfortunately, the coverage of the actual on-track activity was more than a little light. It was non-existent.

While testing may be old hat to Larry McReynolds, Jeff Hammond and the TV gang, the fans tuning-in wanted to see only one thing. That would be cars on the track. What they got was everything else under the sun.

Certainly, this is a first time effort, but one fundamental truth remains. It is as true for the fans that braved the cool weather at Daytona several weeks ago to sit in the stands as it is for the viewers who rushed home to turn on their TV sets Tuesday night.

They did not come to see the announcers on-camera, even more driver interviews, or fancy graphics. What they came for was to see lots of COT cars going around Las Vegas very fast.

SPEED did a good job at Daytona, and then jumped-in and gamely covered the Media Tour. But, those two things were different.

NASCAR fans knew this Las Vegas test would be very important to their favorite drivers and teams. They knew the Las Vegas oval would prove to be tricky for some drivers in these brand new cars. They were ready for action.

After the Tuesday evening show, the only question to the SPEED guys was "where's the beef?"

The video highlights of the Tuesday morning session lasted less than two minutes, and the afternoon session less than one. While there were "cut-a-way" shots and footage used for "B-roll" during driver interviews, there were no full speed laps shown and no groups of cars shown running together.

Fans got the impression that there was limited acivity on the track. Meanwhile, the website reported that during the morning session there were 76 cars running. In the afternoon, there were 74. That does not match what fans saw on TV. It is not even close.

As if to add insult to injury, the SPEED crew then pointed out that Dale Junior had run perhaps the most laps of all. If so, where was he?

One lap at Las Vegas is about thirty seconds. Even a big field of cars or a line of team cars would still be lapping at thirty seconds. So, even one minute would buy almost two full laps of COT cars at SPEED for the fans at home. One minute.

Don't get me wrong, the info from the announcers has been outstanding. The tire story, the wind on Monday, and the high number of teams made for good content.

But, the Vegas test is a huge story and perhaps focusing on full laps with McReynolds providing information on what teams are doing during the run would work better than "SportsCenter style" highlight packages of the sessions.

There was no "at the track" feel to the Tuesday program. It was a NASCAR Live style show with video highlights, some driver interviews, and a feature thrown-in from both McReynolds and Dillner. It had the SPEED Stage vibe without the crowd.

There were lots of comments on earlier posts about this subject, and almost everyone said the same thing. We are happy to have this coverage, we applaud SPEED for "upgrading" the pre-season testing commitment, but...where are the cars?

Some viewers suggested that if time is an element for the coverage, the network should consider one hour testing shows that could mix the action and the features.

SPEED has committed to running a historic Daytona highlight, they have a daily Tech Tip feature, and they also produce a specific driver interview. Along with the promos for the track's ticket sales and the multiple SPEED program promos, thirty minutes goes by pretty fast.

Maybe "fast" was the wrong word to use. It seems a tad ironic that "speed" is the one thing sorely lacking in this otherwise solid testing coverage.

Wednesday will bring another 7PM Eastern Time program from Las Vegas, with the testing coverage moving to Fontana for Thursday and Friday.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply cick on the COMMENTS button below and follow the simple instruction. Thanks again for stopping by.

"Inside NEXTEL Cup" On SPEED Says Goodbye (Updated)

Updated: This story is now updated in a new post. Refresh our web page at The Daly Planet address to see the new story. Schrader and Waltrip will stay with SPEED for 2008. (1/30/08 10AM Eastern Time)

Updated: David Poole is reporting on Sirius Backstage that Steve Byrnes will be the host of the new show that will replace INC in that Monday timeslot on SPEED. No word yet on the format, or possible driver panel. (1/28/08 10PM Eastern Time)

When people think back on their favorite television programs, they see moments in time that have been imprinted permanently on their psyche.

Over a decade ago, when SpeedVision was a small niche cable TV network, then Executive Producer Bob Scanlon put a little show together about NASCAR. The format was simple. Get one driver from each of the three makes of cars, add-in an experienced host who knew the sport, and let them talk about the race weekend.

Airing the show on a Monday night meant that NASCAR fans would have somewhere to go after watching the action from the weekend. It meant that every fan would have a chance to hear "more" about what really went on behind-the-scenes.

The beauty of the show was that the people on-camera, the "talking heads," were actually real NASCAR drivers who raced over the weekend. The risk of the show was that none of the three would be trained TV professionals, and it might look a bit awkward.

MRN Radio's Allen Bestwick was tapped as the host. His die hard work ethic and unflappable manner would certainly allow him to control the "TV rookies" on the set, and keep the viewers informed with accurate information.

Michael Waltrip, Johnny Benson, and Kenny Schrader would comprise the panel and represent a good overview of the sport. They would be able to relate their own experiences in the race, and then expand on the racing in general and touch on other stories of the week.

Since viewers would probably get tired of hearing from these three drivers all the time, it would be a good idea to get a guest each week to actually drive to the studio in Charlotte, and sit down for a brief interview.

This sounded like a good format. It certainly had potential. There was also one little thing that made it just a little less pressure-packed. No one was watching.

SpeedVision's viewers could be counted on two hands, because the network was working very hard to convince cable systems to add the new service. Back then, it was car racing, motorcycle racing, and lot of programs about airplanes and boats. Four diverse areas of interest, one network.

Now, here we are in 2008. Fox-owned SPEED Channel is the fastest growing cable TV network in North America and in over 70 million homes. The entire network moved from Stamford, CT to Charlotte, NC. The planes and boats are gone as major programming, and cars and motorcycles dominate the network.

But, one thing has remained for SpeedVision and SPEED viewers all these years. In several forms, with several hosts and with several different drivers, Inside Winston/NEXTEL Cup Racing has been there every NASCAR Monday. Except, of course, for the time it was cancelled. But, that is another story.

While reading this column, you may begin to think about moments on this show that you simply will never forget. Nothing was high-tech, nothing was glamorous, and nothing was shocking. For over ten years this little Monday night TV program delivered the one thing that is priceless.

That, my friends, is fun for the entire family in front of the TV set.

What was your favorite moment? Schrader asking Mike Helton how much he made....just for the record? Waltrip faking a microphone failure after his Daytona 500 win...and watching the entire studio almost have a stroke? Someone actually allowing three NASCAR drivers to get hold of a video replay controller? Any Michael Waltrip bad hair day? JB laughing so hard he could not talk?

My favorite moment was when the garbage truck picked up the dumpster behind the studio while the show was in-progress...every week.

Now, after a tough season on-the-air with the 2007 version of Inside NEXTEL Cup, the network has stepped-in and called a timeout. Veteran fans remember when INC was the anchor of an exciting and groundbreaking Monday evening of original NASCAR programming on SPEED.

The cooperation between NASCAR Images and SPEED resulted in fantastic shows that exposed both the good and the bad sides of the sport to fans like never before. In a way, it was a block of "NASCAR reality" programming.

In 2007, INC sat alone on Monday nights. Surrounded by lifestyle shows that reflected the new wave of SPEED management, it was only a matter of time before "TV reality" caught-up with the INC franchise.

What we know is that INC needed to change. What was debated in this forum was the "how," the "who" and the "what." Most of us knew the "why."

What we know right now about INC is that SPEED has ended the version of the program that aired in 2007. We also know that because of the NASCAR and SPEED connection, there is little doubt that a brand-new Monday night NASCAR program will emerge.

The needed changes were pretty theory. NASCAR has three national touring divisions, all three need to be covered. Because of all the issues in the sport, it would be good to have a weekly guest. Since SPEED has reporters at every race, why not use them to contribute to a weekly SPEED NASCAR program?

The other issue is not so clear-cut, and gets a whole lot of comments and email flowing. That is the choice of the people on-the-air from the studio. When Allen Bestwick was "released," many folks took out their wrath on new host Dave Despain.

In reality, Despain drained the joy and life out of this program like a sharp pin stuck in a big red balloon. The "change of course" from almost out-of-control with Bestwick to always totally in control with Despain was immediate, strange and just plain wrong.

As we have said many times, Dave Despain is a great broadcaster and a time-honored TV racing veteran. The issue is the program, not the person. Race teams use the word "chemistry," and despite the polite conversations and efforts to give honest answers, this program had sometimes become like watching paint dry.

Just as we have seen a major shift in two high profile network TV properties from the ESPN group, we are now waiting to see what SPEED will offer in the way of a new NASCAR Monday night TV show. Nothing will define this show more than who is selected by the network as the host. We should know that next week.

Name the new show what you will, schedule it when you want, and paint the studio set any color. NASCAR fans want fun content presented to them in a way that makes their knowledge of the sport and their love of the personalities grow.

Just like Mike Helton and Brian France promised to loosen the leash on driver behavior this season, it is time for SPEED to do the same. In this season of change, it should be interesting this coming week when the network announces what they have decided to create to replace this decade-old TV franchise.

As we wait for word of their decision, perhaps we could use this "unofficial end" of INC to ask readers to post their favorite moment, best memory, or most interesting interview from the past ten years of this program. When you think of this interesting cast of characters, what comes to your mind?

To add your comment, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and then follow the easy instructions. There is nothing to join, and we do not want your email address. We just want to know, what was your favorite moment from Inside Winston/NEXTEL Cup Racing?

Monday, January 28, 2008

ESPN Classic Learns A Lesson: More NASCAR

The power of classic NASCAR races on TV was never on display more than Monday afternoon at 2PM Eastern Time.

With Mike Joy and his veteran announcing crew calling the action, fans got to sit back and re-live an incredible moment in NASCAR history.

New fans or old had to experience a very deep emotional connection to the one man so vocal in his frustrations about not winning the Daytona 500. In Victory Lane at that speedway many times before, Dale Earnhardt Sr. had never been able to capture "the big one."

Fans who have been watching this on-going six weeks of historic NASCAR races on ESPN Classic had already witnessed the ultimate moment of frustration for Earnhardt as his tire went down and Derrike Cope sped-by to victory.

Now, there would be no problem and no issue in the way for Earnhardt. Ken Squier put the previous races into perspective while cameras showed a walk down the beach by the great NASCAR champions of the past. Highlights then showed the classic Daytona 500 finishes up to the 1998 race.

The CBS crew included Ned Jarrett. It seems to be appropriate that Ned's son Dale was just named as the lead analyst for the 2008 NASCAR races on ESPN and ABC. In this program, Ned teamed with Buddy Baker in the booth to offer the "old school" type of open and honest commentary sadly lacking in today's telecasts.

Mike Joy split the spotlight with Ken Squier, as Joy was being eased into the play-by-play role that Squier made so famous. In this race, Joy was simply outstanding. He seemed to be inspired by the great racing and good company in the booth. Over-and-over again he demonstrated the key ingredient to his success.

Joy could both direct traffic and call the action with a fluid ease. Like veteran announcers Eli Gold and Barney Hall, Joy can get your attention immediately with a simple change in the inflection of his voice. This was a NASCAR race that fans actually wanted to turn...up.

The CBS trademark style of using the cameras as wide as possible and then zooming-in only when needed continues to be the most remarkable change between the coverage of the past and today's "tech dominated" broadcasts were the cars appear between multiple on-screen graphics.

The program Director skillfully used the "video boxes" to keep interviews and on-camera pit reporters from dominating the screen. It was clear for the entire program that the focus of all the TV activity was the race itself.

As Earnhardt continued to be in contention, Joy slowly began to build the excitement. An interview with Richard Childress heard him say that his heart was with Earnhardt, because we all knew what this one race meant to him.

Inside of twenty laps to go, everyone knew just who the story would be. Jarrett began to raise his voice, in anticipation of what he knew would be coming. That was success or failure once again for Earnhardt.

With ten laps to go, Joy let loose. He began to recap the stakes for the drivers in the front of the pack, with the focus on Earnhardt. CBS made sure to show brief shots of the crowd, which had begun to surge in anticipation of a possible Earnhardt victory.

The CBS in-car cameras showed Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace and Jeremy Mayfield trying their best to catch Earnhardt. With only five laps to go, the CBS cameras kept almost twenty cars in the camera shot, and told the story of the entire field.

As Earnhardt took the caution flag with one lap to go, CBS stood back and let the reality of the moment unfold. Earnhardt had finally won. In the now famous shot, CBS used several cameras to document the crew members from every team standing patiently in line to congratulate Earnhardt as he made his way to Victory Lane.

Veteran NASCAR fans could only take a very deep breath as an excited and humble Dale Earnhardt stepped from his car to thank a lot of people. With so little footage of this late driver seen on TV, it was emotional to see the big smile, the big moustache, and the big heart of this man on display once again. This truly was a moment in time to remember forever.

The power of these telecasts is apparently lost on both ESPN Classic and SPEED, as neither chose to show any classic NASCAR races during the off-season. It was only a sudden switch of the programming schedule several weeks ago that brought these six Daytona 500 programs to the air.

ESPN Classic has twenty-four hours a day to re-air taped programming to tens of millions of viewers nationwide. With their eight year investment in NASCAR that cost billions of dollars, it is a shame that more powerful and classic races do not appear on-air. This one program might be the most dramatic NASCAR race...ever.

There are a couple of weeks left in this six week series that airs on Mondays at 2PM, clearly intended to be recorded for later airing by NASCAR fans.

The feature presentation on Monday night on ESPN Classic in prime time...was an old American Gladiators episode.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. To add your comment, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the simple instructions. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

Las Vegas Testing Windy For SPEED

It certainly is rare these days to break new ground in TV, but SPEED sent their crew to Las Vegas to continue the expanded coverage they are calling Pre-Season Thunder.

During the Daytona testing, several drivers told the network that this Las Vegas test will be critical to many teams. The reality of the COT is finally being revealed to the fans on national TV.

John Roberts and Larry McReynolds anchored this show from the Infield Media Center, and immediately jumped into the morning highlights. McReynolds was all over the information and updates on the first test session.

Driver soundbites told the tale very clearly that Goodyear brought the right tire and the apprehension about the COT was gone. In the afternoon, high winds and increased speed brought about several accidents.

While SPEED had that footage, the amount of on-track footage was a little light in comparison to the announcers time on-camera and the other talking heads. Not even one complete lap of one car was shown amid all the other features and interviews.

Roberts pointed to the high winds that affected the afternoon session, and perhaps that caused the less-than-stellar amount of on-track footage. As SPEED has continued to grow this pre-season franchise, they are faced with deciding if the shows should more resemble the network's qualifying or SPEED Stage type programming.

Bob Dillner provided reporting from the garage, and then took McReynolds place in the infield studio. Dillner expanded on the topics raised by McReynolds, and gave a good overview on the feelings of different drivers to the weather conditions.

It certainly is interesting that SPEED continues their lower third "ticker" during national commercial breaks. This feature adds almost nothing to the program, as it repeats the same information contained in the program that the viewers are currently watching.

McReynolds continues to add great technical features on these programs. This week, McReynolds pointed out the changes that the team were allow on the COT at Las Vegas. These are really the first substantive changes the teams could make since testing began. Great points that were easy for all the fans to understand.

Again, as McReynolds and Roberts were talking in the studio, cars were circulating on the track over their shoulders. Fans want to see cars on the track, and perhaps that could be an increased agenda as these testing shows go forward.

Dillner did an interesting interview with Matt Kenseth, who reinforced the words of McReynolds about the importance of this Vegas test. Kenseth provided good information in his own unique manner. It certainly would be nice to see Kenseth smile on TV just once this year. It did not happen Monday on SPEED.

SPEED did a solid job under tough circumstances to put together a thirty minute show with good content. For those of us who miss the on-track action, it sure would be nice just to see some packs of cars running at full speed while the announcers offered their information.

With good weather expected in Vegas on Tuesday, it will be nice for the network to have the opportunity to show fans the Speedway's fantastic infield fan area. The next two days should be interesting, before the coverage moves to Fontana.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS section below, and follow the instructions. Thanks again for stopping by.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cable TV vs. Local Stations Now An Issue In Racing

The final seventeen NEXTEL Cup races of 2007 saw NASCAR events transition from the Brickyard 400 on ESPN to the final ten "Chase" races being carried by ABC.

This move from a cable television network to a broadcast television network was originally intended to make the "Chase" races available over what is called "free TV."

Right away, interesting things started to happen. Some ABC affiliates ran their local news instead of the pre-race show for the night races. When a Sunday race ran past 6PM, some stations simply left the race in-progress and began their evening news and regularly scheduled programming as if the race never happened.

One of the biggest TV disasters of the season occurred on October 13th. After an exciting race, the entire NEXTEL Cup field sat under a red flag at Lowe's Motor Speedway. As the starter gave the command to crank the engines for the final run to the checkers, the clock struck 11PM Eastern Time. That's when all hell broke loose.

ABC stations across the country decided that the thing to do at that moment...was leave. In many states across the country, ABC viewers were now seeing the smiling faces of their local news anchors. None of them even referenced the race.

In Topeka, Kansas the NASCAR fans were watching KTKA Channel 49. Many of those fans were wearing Clint Bowyer attire, and pulling for the young man from just down the road in Emporia. Even with the scoreboard saying six laps to go, the ABC Station of the Year decided it was time for the KTKA 10PM News. Bowyer was never to be seen again.

During the ABC portion of the NASCAR season, Daly Planet readers reported TV stations in California, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Florida, New York and even Idaho that decided to pre-empt live NASCAR racing for one reason or another. If a race ran a bit long, some stations often just "left" after the checkered flag. No winner interview, no wrap-up, and no final results.

On Saturday afternoon at 1:00PM Eastern Time, the SPEED Channel TV crew was set to telecast the Rolex 24 sports car endurance race from Daytona. Lots of NASCAR stars were mixed-in with both the professional and amateur drivers.

This season, the first ninety minutes of the telecast, including the start of the race, would be "upgraded" to the Fox Broadcast Network. The Rolex 24 had accomplished a move from cable to "free TV" coverage. What a move it would turn out to be.

Unfortunately, the "us vs. them" mentality that exists between the cable and broadcast TV networks flared again. While the Rolex 24 executives and the SPEED Channel production crew had visions of "big time" national TV coverage, the Fox stations had another agenda in mind. It is called local programming.

West of the Mississippi River, it was apparently a little bit too early for sports. Fox local stations in Honolulu, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego and even Denver declined to air the Rolex 24 coverage in favor of local programming.

While this was a big blow, the biggest was yet to come. On the Fox local station in Los Angeles, it was the Mutant Ninja Turtles who were racing around the KTTV screen, and not the Grand-Am cars of the Rolex 24. The race start was not being televised live in the second largest TV market in North America.

Eventually, we will find out who was in charge of securing "clearances" for this program, and reporting back to the organizers and SPEED on these issues. It is amazing to experience the same "disconnect" between SPEED and the Fox stations that we saw last fall with ESPN and the ABC Broadcast group.

If this new dynamic continues for motor sports in North America, it will be interesting to see if the sanctioning bodies eventually decide to trade the control and coverage comforts of cable TV for the supposed broader appeal and distribution of the over-the-air "free" national broadcast networks.

The remaining coverage of the Rolex 24 on SPEED went off without a hitch. After the race, SPEED had slotted thirty minutes to talk to the winners and other participants before recapping the event for viewers and signing off. At least the cable TV network involved in the coverage respected live auto racing.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the instructions. There is nothing to join, and we do not require your email address. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

DirecTV Slashes "Hot Pass" Prices

Normally, when email starts coming to The Daly Planet in clumps, it is clear right away what is going on. Over the past year, we have seen many issues which aroused the ire of the NASCAR fans and sent them directly to their computer keyboards.

This time, however, things are a bit different. Our friends at DirecTV have just finished a major campaign to have existing users of their NASCAR "Hot Pass" service sign-up for the 2008 NASCAR season.

Fans noticed that the service had shrunk from five driver channels to four. They also noticed that the number of races featuring "Hot Pass" has declined from the previous season. What has not changed was the price, which was around the ninety dollar mark for a season-long subscription.

Many fans wrote to say DirecTV renewed them automatically at the pre-set rate for 2008, regardless of their personal preferences and without contacting them by email.

It was back in December of 2006 that the always colorful Aussie David Hill created "Hot Pass" during a rather "inspired" moment at a bar in Charlotte, NC. Hill, who is chairman of the Fox Sports TV Group and President of DirectTV, had been watching NASCAR racing live earlier in the day, and marveled at how the fans in the stands could hear their favorite driver's team radio channel, listen to the PRN radio broadcast of the race, and watch the action all at the same time.

Needless to say, "Hot Pass" is an attempt to duplicate that ability for the fans watching at home. While cable TV is a bit more limited in technology, Hill had all the tools (and channels) already in place at DirecTV to get the project accomplished.

In 2007, "Hot Pass" had critical success with a wide variety of NASCAR announcers including Ray Dunlap, Wendy Venturini, Rick Allen and Michael Waltrip offering commentary on a specific driver's channel. Fans liked the ability to move around, switch the audio streams, and even to keep the race going while the network was in commercial break.

Back in 2006, Hill estimated that he would need about 250 thousand subscribers paying the full annual fee to break even on the service. DirecTV must pay a fee to the TV broadcaster originating the race, and then NASCAR and all the on-site production folks also need to get paid. Any way you cut it, "Hot Pass" is an expensive project.

A quick tour around the Internet will tell you the pros and cons of the package. At first, it is a thrill. Then, since the drivers are chosen in advance, viewers can have the not-so-thrilling experience of motoring around in twenty-fifth place for three hours with one team. Even the Earnhardt Jr. team radio is not a lot of fun during those races.

This week, following the renewal campaign for existing subscribers, DirecTV posted a note on its website and began running a new campaign. Now, even before the 2008 season begins, a full subscription to "Hot Pass" is only $40.

The offer reads "Add NASCAR Hot Pass to your DirecTV base package order and get the entire season for just eight payments of $5. Offer ends April 16th."

The NASCAR fans who called about the lower price then discovered the catch. "Base package order" means that only new DirecTV subscribers are eligible for this offer. Needless to say, this did not go over well with the many NASCAR fans who were already DirecTV subscribers and considering adding "Hot Pass" to their existing service for 2008.

After the network TV struggles of last season, "Hot Pass" enjoyed a solid amount of new subscribers during the year as the racing was in-progress. They responded by "pro-rating" the package depending on when the new user signed-up. Ultimately, they ended the year on a high note with the switch to all HD coming for 2008.

So, new DirecTV customers get "Hot Pass" for $40. Existing DirecTV customers who want to add this service pay the full price, and those of you who renewed from last season also saw the full price on your DirecTV bill.

Competing with "Hot Pass" for alternative ways to view Sprint Cup races is "Raceview" from This Turner Interactive offering has three camera angles, all the race radio channels, and real time scoring lap-by-lap. The season subscription price for this service is $80.

Before the season begins, maybe we could get your thoughts on the "Hot Pass" experience, and what the DirecTV crew could do to make it more enjoyable, affordable, or user-friendly for 2008. To add your comments, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Thanks again for stopping by.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

In-Progress At Daytona: The Rolex 24 (Fox Local TV Station Problems)

Update: With the first portion of the Fox Sports telecast complete, SPEED now resumes the regular cable TV coverage of the Rolex 24.

Many local Fox TV stations chose not to air the early coverage. Some stations indicated it would air on a tape delay, actually while the live SPEED telecast was in-progress. Other stations had the race listed on their program schedule, but chose to show local programming.

The TV markets affected by this lack of coverage included Los Angeles, San Diego,
Honolulu, Seattle, Denver and San Francisco. We will keep working on this story, and bring updates when more information becomes available.

This year lots of NASCAR stars are going to spend the weekend on the road course at Daytona. The Rolex 24 is a sports car race featuring lots of different classes of cars and a whole lot of traffic. 24 hours of racing is a lot of laps at Daytona.

The race kicks off on Saturday at 1PM on Fox Sports, and then transitions over to SPEED for extended coverage both Saturday and Sunday. SPEED and Fox will be using a bevy of announcers for this one, both in the booth and on pit road.

Since the NASCAR presence at this event has increased significantly, I thought it would be a good idea to post a story that could serve to host your comments as you watched parts of this multi-hour telecast.

Please focus your opinions on the TV part of this event, and what you like and do not like about the coverage. SPEED has done an excellent job with this live race in the past, and sometimes the drama of the final hours is worth the wait. Anyone who watched Tony Stewart try to limp his car home a while back will attest to that.

Have a great time with this first live race of the season, we look forward to your thoughts as live action from Daytona returns to TV.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. There is nothing to join, and we do not require your email address. Thanks again for stopping by.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Richard Petty Speaks His Mind On SPEED

As the "new and improved" Pre-Season Thunder programs continue on SPEED, the network found itself right in the middle of the Media Tour without a whole lot going-on.

Then, someone came along to to change all that. His name is Richard Petty.

The Thursday version of this thirty minute series was again hosted by Steve Byrnes, but even Byrnes had to do a whole lot of talking to keep this show interesting.

There were bunches of drivers, a lot of owners, and a whole lot of everyone saying what they were supposed to say. That would be the Media Tour.

Folks like me wondered how the Media Tour would translate into a same-day TV show, when it was basically set-up to supply print, radio and local TV crews with taped material that they could use to prepare stories about the upcoming season for their own companies.

As several readers have mentioned, the Wednesday show was disjointed because everyone was in different locations. The host, the two reporters and the two analysts all seemed to be out-of-sync.

On Thursday, reporter Randy Pemberton was not even seen on-camera, and Wendy Venturini filed several reports that essentially featured more drivers saying what they were supposed to say.

SPEED put the big stories of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his teammates on hold until Friday, although in real life the Media Tour ended Thursday. On this day there was no Jeff Gordon and no Jimmie Johnson to be found. This shifted the focus back to the best story of the program, and that was Petty Racing.

After Kyle Petty put the recent move of Petty Racing into historical context, SPEED then aired some very frank and candid comments from Richard Petty that seemed both interesting and in many ways...sad.

Even Kyle in his opening remarks said that Richard Petty's move from Level Cross to Mooresville, NC was basically to "go down swinging" as a NASCAR team owner. It was to project that Petty Racing was "doing something" to get better.

The King himself began by saying he was trying to "get into the mainstream instead of being on the outskirts" of NASCAR. He admitted he had been "eat-up by the competition."

Squarely in Petty's sites were the "super teams" in the sport. Petty quietly admitted he once led in the sport, then he just wanted to stay with the crowd. Now, in his most candid admission, he flatly stated he was "just holding onto the back" of the sport. With the recent changes at Yates Racing and the departure of Morgan McClure, his words really carried a lot of meaning for veteran fans.

I had hoped that SPEED would venture beyond the basics of the Media Tour, and use some of the familiar journalists for comments on exactly the type of story that Kyle and Richard Petty presented on this program. There were plenty of NASCAR media folks right there on-scene who have a long and storied history with the Pettys. It seemed a shame not to use them.

You have to give credit to SPEED, this is a first-time project that will hopefully continue to grow in future years. Deciding whether or not to include the journalists on the tour as on-camera subjects is absolutely their call. It is just so rare to have them all together without a race in-progress and deadlines to meet.

Steve Byrnes does a nice job directing traffic, an assignment he has done for SPEED now for many years both in the studio and on the road. His testing wrap-up shows with Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond in the studio were more interesting. Thursday, Byrnes basically had only pre-recorded "packages" to introduce, and not a whole lot else to work with.

One guest on the set to react to the Petty situation, and add other tidbits into the drivers and owners comments might be a touch to consider for the future. Making a commitment to get all the teams who participated in the Media Tour on these three days of programming might also be something to re-consider.

SPEED viewers want the inside scoop, not the Public Relations and sponsor messages. That lack of behind-the-scenes reporting left this show a little bit on the light side, even with The King and his very honest interview. Perhaps, Wendy Venturini will bookmark Petty for a follow-up on her Real Deal segment for RaceDay.

Hopefully, SPEED will close out their Media Tour shows on Friday in style. The network takes a break for the Rolex 24 from Daytona, and then the key pre-season tests at Las Vegas and Fontana close out the testing action. As several drivers have said on this series, the Las Vegas test may be the most important of the season for many teams to see how their COT program stacks-up against the competition.

Veteran fans will want to watch or record these testing programs next week that air at 7Pm Eastern Time. This will truly be brand-new first-time TV in the making.

Update: There will be follow-up columns about the pilot episode of The Humpy Show and also the information about the "new and revised" program that will be filling the timeslot formerly occupied by Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing. Stay tuned.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Thank you again for taking the time to stop by.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Krista Voda Returns To The SPEED Studio

Now that the NASCAR Now changes have been formally announced by ESPN, it is no surprise that there is an opening in Charlotte at the SPEED Report.

What may be surprising to TV viewers is that there are actually...two openings.

In addition to Nicole Mankse moving on to ESPN, her former co-host Drew Johnson will also not be returning to The SPEED Report for this season. Instead, the network will use a variety of announcers from their diverse motor sports stable.

Among those will be NASCAR fan favorite Krista Voda. This is certainly a big circle for Voda, who departed SPEED under tough circumstances and is now returning to participate as one of the hosts of their one-hour primetime motor sports show.

Voda will be joined by Bob Varsha, Leigh Diffey and a group of other announcers who will basically rotate through on weeks that fit into their motor sports schedules.

I think this is an exciting and dynamic change for a program series that has been having a bit of a tough go recently. SPEED has the production staff to make this show a franchise in terms of multiple types of racing, and now they will have a wide group of racing-oriented personalities to make it run on-the-air.

Veteran fans have seen several different versions of this show, and still feel remorse for some earlier fan favorite announcers that were released to make room for the Nicole and Drew pairing.

SPEED has certainly had a lot of faces in the anchor chair, including former ESPN veteran Bob Jenkins, South Carolina TV anchor Connie LeGrand, and current AMA Supercross announcer Ralph Sheheen. This program used to be called SPEED News.

The series will remain a one-hour look at all forms of motor sports, with SPEED using the network's field resources to keep viewers updated on the race results. The Sunday night series will also add a full one-hour Daytona preview program on Monday, February 11th at 8PM Eastern Time.

It certainly is proving to be a season of change in "TV land."

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. We do not require your email address, and there is nothing to join. We just want your opinion on these changes at SPEED.

Charlotte Media Tour Makes For Interesting TV

Stepping into the daunting task of translating the print-oriented Charlotte Media Tour into a thirty minute TV program resulted in some very interesting moments for SPEED.

Steve Byrnes handled the host duties from the studio with Wendy Venturini and Randy Pemberton reporting from the field. Larry McReynolds and Bootie Barker appeared to discuss various racing topics raised during the Tour activities.

It was nice of SPEED to have Brian France, Mike Helton, Robin Pemberton and John Darby speaking to several hot topics in the first segment. France again appears to be sticking to his plan of focusing on keeping the veteran fans happy while phasing-in the COT.

Robin Pemberton's qualifying update and Darby's follow-up on the tire testing rules were a great example of hearing it directly from the men who will be dealing with those issues all season long.

It was interesting for fans to see how the reporters get their information, and the manner in which the top NASCAR executives "broke off" to provide one-on-one interviews after their presentations to the entire group.

Perhaps, there will be an opportunity to provide some on-camera shots of the reporters as well as the executives, drivers and owners in the future.

Venturini followed-up with some sound from the Richard Childress shops, and the 2007 Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick. Venturini seems refreshed, and ready for a long season of RaceDay and other duties this year.

SPEED continued on with their field reporters following the tour, and asking a lot of the same questions the drivers had been answering all day. Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Elliott Sadler, Kurt Busch and good old Juan Pablo Montoya were all featured.

When McReynolds joined the show, he gave his opinions about the rules changes for qualifying and pit stops. Barker then appeared from a different location and gave almost exactly the same report, which seemed a big redundant. Barker is a character, and you have to wonder what his TV future might hold when his crew chief days are over.

The program closed with a report from a new wind tunnel, and a recap from Steve Byrnes. Strangely, SPEED did not take a moment to allow any of the veteran journalists on the tour to voice their opinions on the NASCAR changes. It might have been nice to get a couple of different viewpoints, especially on the new qualifying rules.

With the multiple opportunities for journalists and media members to participate in TV, radio and Internet programs during the off-season, some of them are almost as well known these days as the drivers. It would be interesting to see who is on the Media Tour that fans see and hear on a regular basis.

SPEED continues to deliver the type of new programming that NASCAR fans were asking for by the close of last season. This partnership between SPEED and NASCAR, which Brian France said he wanted to grow, has resulted in some interesting coverage of the pre-season.

This series continues tomorrow at 7PM Eastern Time with the final day of the NASCAR Media Tour.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Thanks again for stopping by.

ESPN Changes Take Many By Surprise

There is no joy in making changes on a TV series that is on-going. People who are moved out of roles they once had will always have a feeling of not getting the job done.

This Wednesday article in USA Today by Michael Hiestand allowed ESPN to announce the first group of broad and sweeping changes in the network's TV coverage of NASCAR programs produced for ESPN2, ABC Sports, and ESPN.

Several months ago, emails started trickling in that the ESPN executives were thinking about moving Rusty Wallace out of the high-profile lead analyst position on the NASCAR events.

At that time, ESPN went a long way to deny this was an issue, including quotes from Norby Williamson assuring viewers that ESPN was committed to Rusty for the long run. Williamson is the head of ESPN's on-air production.

Now, Rusty will step aside and become a permanent fixture in the ESPN Infield Studio at races. He will be teamed in that location with Allen Bestwick, who will be replacing Suzy Kolber. Also eliminated from the telecasts will be the "show host" position that was filled on selected key events by Brent Musburger.

This season it will be Dale Jarrett who will move into the spotlight and assume the same role that his father made so famous. Jarrett will team with Jerry Punch and Andy Petree to form the new core of ESPN's NASCAR coverage.

With the movement of Bestwick into the Infield Studio host position, hard working Shannon Spake will join the group full time as a pit reporter. Spake contributed to NASCAR Now, pit reported on the Busch Series, and was basically the "utility reporter" as she seemed to be on ESPN almost every day covering NASCAR.

Both Brad Daugherty and Tim Brewer will be returning, to the Infield Studio and the Tech Center, respectively. Daugherty had some good debates with Wallace this past season, and that duo should be an interesting mix.

With the event coverage team set, ESPN then rolled-out another new piece of the NASCAR puzzle. SPEED's Nicole Manske, who hosted The SPEED Report, had been very vocal about the fact that while SPEED did lots of weekend programming from the SPEED Stage at NASCAR events, there was no daily show on the network.

Now, she steps into the primary host role of NASCAR Now, replacing Erik Kuselias. Manske is an interesting choice, and comes with lots of positive and negative issues that she must deal with in her new position. The official ESPN press release indicates that it will be Ryan Burr and Allen Bestwick who will be Manske's co-hosts for the season. It should be interesting to see which days of the week the network assigns Manske, and when the two co-hosts will fill-in.

It was mentioned that part of the new Rusty Wallace role will be to contribute to other ESPN programs. That makes sense, as former NASCAR Now studio analyst Stacy Compton confirmed in a news story on Tuesday that he is going Truck Series racing full time, and will not return to ESPN this season.

That leaves Manske with Boris Said as the current in-studio analyst. Tim Cowlishaw, DJ Copp and the previous cast of NASCAR Now "Insiders" will also return intact. Maybe, we will shortly be seeing ESPN announce the hire of a new studio analyst for NASCAR Now who can serve to provide the additional content and the key analysis that will really round-out the program.

This broad series of moves by ESPN is going to be welcomed by viewers and immediately impact the credibility of the network in a positive manner. Jarrett will hopefully be the partner that can provide enough support for Jerry Punch to recapture his enthusiasm and vigor for the sport, and keep it high all season long.

This team faces a big challenge, as they will telecast the entire ten month Nationwide Series, including the practices and qualifying. Then, in late July, they will add the final seventeen Sprint Cup races and the entire Chase for the Championship. That is a lot of TV for one team to handle.

So, there we are. Lots of the issues that were raised at The Daly Planet and other NASCAR Internet sites have been directly addressed by the biggest sports TV company in the world. Hopefully, this positive step will result in a "new on-air vibe" for ESPN in their first event at Daytona, and carry-on throughout the season.

For more reading, here is the Jayski link and here is the Yahoo! Sports link.

Please take a moment and tell us what you think of these changes. To add your comment to The Daly Planet, just click on the COMMENTS button below. There is nothing to join, and we do not require your email address. We just want to know your opinion of the new NASCAR line-up at ESPN for 2008.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Wendy Venturini Returns On Wednesday To SPEED

As a part of SPEED's NASCAR Pre-Season Thunder, the network will cover the always interesting Charlotte Media Tour on Wednesday and Thursday with shows at 7PM.

This new wrinkle in the SPEED schedule will be interesting. The Media Tour is essentially a press junket organized by Humpy Wheeler and the gang at Lowe's Motor Speedway back in 1983. Wheeler wanted to generate some publicity about the sport as the new season closed-in.

"The Media Tour allows the journalists to convey excitement and enthusiasm (about the upcoming season) to race fans around the world," said Wheeler.

There are more than 200 journalists this year on the tour, with print, Internet, radio and TV represented. The format is simple, get on a bus and get off where you are told. The tour begins with NASCAR's R&D center in Concord, and then moves on to shops, several museums, and even a new big wind tunnel built in the area.

SPEED will forgo the first two days of the Media Tour to concentrate on Nationwide testing at Daytona, and then pick-up the final two days with shows on Wednesday and Thursday.

Wendy Venturini and TV veteran Randy Pemberton will anchor the SPEED coverage. These two are very good choices by the network, because they both have roots that run deep in racing. They can easily talk to anyone on either the team or media side of the business.

This is a first effort for SPEED, and is a part of that network really stepping-up and taking hold of the pre-season as its own franchise. While websites and print reporters have filed stories, the only other national TV presence is reporter Marty Smith who is filing news pieces for both ESPN News and SportsCenter. The NASCAR Now series on ESPN2 does not start until Monday, February 4th this year.

Hopefully, the two days of shows will fill viewers in on exactly what went on, and cover both the team and media issues that fans are interested in. SPEED viewers have already seen the Sprint Cup drivers on-camera from Daytona testing, so the challenge for Venturini and Pemberton is go to behind-the-scenes and get the stories not already being reported.

Please feel free to post your comments about these two program by clicking on the COMMENTS button below and following the easy instructions. There is nothing to join, and we do not want your email address. We would just like your reaction to the new SPEED programs on the Charlotte Media Tour.

Monday, January 21, 2008

SPEED's "Monday Thunder" Covers The Bases

John Roberts and Ray Dunlap kicked-off the week for SPEED's continuing NASCAR Pre-Season Thunder shows. The duo never mentioned the absence of Phil Parsons, normally the analyst for the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series pre-season shows.

Dunlap provided a lot of information from the analyst chair in the studio, and showed-off his vast knowledge of the personalities involved in the sport. It was nice to have Dunlap to guide viewers through many of the new faces who will be involved in the series for 2008.

Roberts gave Dunlap free reign to present the news, and his work resulted in a very interesting profile of the new Nationwide Series. Several topics were covered, including the focus of the series as new driver development and the potential issue of an age limit increase for the Sprint Cup. These were the drivers most affected.

Then, Dunlap broke out the big issue. He said that it was going to be next to impossible for an independent Nationwide team to compete against the "super teams" of the Sprint Cup owners.

He acknowledged that even with the advent of the COT in the Sprint Cup series, fans were probably in for another year of dominance by those drivers in the second-tier Nationwide tour. Carl Edwards was interviewed, and he once again committed that his "super team" was going for the Nationwide championship.

It was nice of John Roberts to have a video update of NASCAR VP Robin Pemberton announcing the change in the Sprint Cup qualifying. It was bold of Ray Dunlap to immediately say NASCAR "almost" got it right. Dunlap pointed out that the non-top 35 cars need to qualify before the rest of the field in case of rain. That certainly seems like a common sense issue.

Give credit to SPEED for showing the weekend testing highlights of the Nationwide action. This extra bit of effort really helped. Dunlap also presented the regular "tech tip" and updated viewers on the new restrictor plates that will be used on the Nationwide cars during the season.

In The Daly Planet Sunday column previewing this show, we suggested that it was going to be important for SPEED to "take the temperature of the Nationwide Series, and then report honestly on the overall health of the patient."

As John Roberts closed out the show with Dunlap, he asked Ray "what is your opinion of the health of the Nationwide Series?" You really can't get any better response from a TV network than that.

Dunlap acknowledged that there will be less than full fields this season, and suggested that NASCAR scrap their previous practice of "assisting" some teams to get to the racetrack so the field would be full of 43 cars.

Dunlap suggested cutting the fields to 36, but keeping the prize money the same and distributing it to the smaller field. He also reminded viewers that in 2009 this series would go to their own version of the COT. The tough issue this season for owners is that every current Nationwide car will be off the track next year.

This was a well put together show by SPEED. It updated the weekend action, as well as the Monday happenings. It contained video from The Media Tour, a Bob Varsha promo for the Rolex 24 and lots of good driver soundbites, including the series champion Carl Edwards.

Very quietly, SPEED has made something very interesting out of what most of us thought was boring. That would be pre-season testing. By combining the production resources of the network as a whole, these weeks of coverage have become solid programs that are "can't miss" viewing for fans waiting for the season to begin.

There is one more Nationwide testing show on Tuesday, and then SPEED steps into first-time TV coverage of the Charlotte Media Tour. The Tuesday program is at 7PM Eastern Time.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

SPEED Stays With Three For "Tradin' Paint"

SPEED has decided to return the popular Tradin' Paint program intact for 2008. After Kyle Petty replaced Michael Waltrip on this show last spring, The Daly Planet ran a column which can be read by clicking here.

The show took on a new dynamic with Petty, who had a very low tolerance for even the most veteran media members in the NASCAR press corp. Few can forget national AP reporter Jenna Fryer asking host John Roberts, "can I just leave right now?" She had been blindsided by the level of Petty's contempt for what he considered fabricated reporting. A review of that show can be read by clicking here.

Poor Bob Pockrass from did not get any better treatment. Pockrass was in full "NASCAR baiting" mode, and got Petty riled-up on a variety of topics until he finally snapped. Petty wound up yelling that Pockrass was "full of BS" and spends his time "blowing smoke up people's butts."

Pockrass dismissed the chance of Montoya winning this season, and Petty told him the whole point of NASCAR was that any driver could win on any Sunday. Pockrass narrowed his eyes and asked "does that include you?" Fans were wondering what they would see when the show came back from commercial. Read about that one here.

The key to this show is John Roberts. When he simply directs traffic and acts as the referee, the thirty minutes goes by in a snap. But, when Roberts steps-in and becomes the third panelist, things go astray. After this happened several times last season, it had us asking if maybe a second guest would help the balance.

Tradin' Paint then added Jeff Gordon for what may have been the best episode of the regular season. A review of that show is located here. Having a third panelist to make the discussions "less personal" really worked. Unfortunately, it did not work in a thirty minute format.

In the end, logistics prevented SPEED from expanding this outstanding program to one hour in length. That is about forty minutes of real content, with the rest being promos and commercials.

The program schedule for the series dances around a bit, depending on whether the Cup races are day or night, but the show can be found with a little work. Unfortunately, SPEED has decided not to add a Monday airing for 2008. That is disappointing.

There will be a new set for the series, and the first program will be February 8th at 9PM Eastern Time. That will be a part of the new roll-out of SPEED HD and their "100 Hours of NASCAR" promotion.

This should be a good year for Tradin' Paint, a program definitely worthy of making part of your regular viewing all season long.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. There is nothing to join, and we do not want your email address. We just want your opinion on Tradin' Paint for 2008.

Economaki And Jarrett Featured On ESPN Classic

The ESPN Classic presentation of historic Daytona 500 races continued on Monday with Derrike Cope's moment in the sun.

The 1990 race was noted for its dramatic finish, with the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. coming up just a bit short of the win after a flat tire on the final lap. The race itself featured wonderful teams and drivers from the past that fans had not seen for many years.

On this day, Ken Squier was joined in the announce booth by Chris Economaki and Ned Jarrett. This wonderful mix of personalities made for a slightly less dramatic, but much more informative TV program.

Squier proved once again to be the best play-by-play announcer in racing, by calling the action while allowing plenty of time for both Economaki and Jarrett to add to the commentary.

Fans who have not experienced Economaki's unique voice and unwavering curiosity about racing may have been in for a surprise. He peppered Jarrett with questions, provided lots of topics for Squier, and made many observations from his perspective as a veteran racing reporter.

Even back in 1990, Ned Jarrett was already the ultimate gentleman. He spoke when the time was right, and answered all the questions and provided all the expert commentary without any fanfare or hype. Often, his calm voice provided the perfect counterpoint to the excitement of Squier and Economaki.

CBS Sports unveiled its "bumper cam," which gave fans a view from the front of the car seemingly only inches above the ground. Added to the other in-car cameras and the great view from the Goodyear Blimp, the pictures were once again outstanding for their wide angles and views of cars throughout the field.

In this race, there were two pit reporters who still have a strong presence in motor sports today. Mike Joy and Dave Despain both displayed their very different personal styles, which worked well with the diverse personalities of racing back then.

It was interesting to see Despain as a crusading reporter, literally jumping into the middle of on-going situations in the pits and sticking that mic right in the faces of the rather surprised crew members and drivers. His interview of a disappointed Ken Schrader after falling out of this race is a classic.

Joy was his normal smooth self, with the ability to work in-and-out of the pit boxes seemingly without effort, and to gather information with a low-key and friendly approach. Even then, it was clear that Joy was welcomed by the teams.

The final five lap green flag shoot-out of this race was classic, with Squier hammering hard on the excitement button, and Jarrett providing the counterpoints. When Earnhardt finally had his moment, Squire took viewers through it professionally and kept the excitement high.

This program was once again an opportunity for new fans to sample the "old school" NASCAR TV telecasts and the men who provided the commentary. It showed the class and style that pioneers like Squier brought to the national coverage of the sport.

This program series continues next week at 2PM on Monday with the 1998 race that finally fulfills the dreams of Earnhardt Sr. in front of a screaming crowd. If you are going to tape any program in this series, this is the one.

Fans can vote on's NASCAR page for their favorite race in this series, and then watch a marathon of all six on the night before this year's race.

Update: ESPN Classic has just another NASCAR related program:

The 1989 Holly Farms 400 from North Wilkesboro, NC was a race featuring lots of rough short track driving and a wild last lap. Needless to say, once again Dale Earnhardt Sr. was involved. This time with Ricky Rudd and Geoff Bodine. The "DVR/TiVo theater" presentation will be aired at 3AM on Friday, January 25th.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

SPEED Will Glimpse Nationwide Series Reality

Executives at ESPN will be glued to their TV screens at 7PM on Monday evening.

What they will be watching is SPEED's continuing coverage of NASCAR Pre-Season Thunder. This will be the first time that everyone gets a TV reality check on the health of the Nationwide Series for 2008.

The creeping concerns began last season, when the Busch Series often had teams filling out the field that were rather "colorful." When the series traveled to California, Las Vegas and Montreal the rumors of "tow money" to teams that made the trip were rampant. Needless to say, team sponsorship problems for the series made things rough.

One important thing to keep in mind is that the Nationwide schedule is ESPN's only full NASCAR Series. On the Sprint Cup side, they cover the final seventeen races, less than half of the season. The network is not involved in the Craftsman Truck Series telecasts. Where ESPN is concerned, the Nationwide Series in many ways is their franchise NASCAR TV property.

That may sound strange to some, but think about it for a moment. Without a doubt, the Sprint Cup has a higher profile. Unfortunately, ESPN does not become involved in that series until the Brickyard 400 is run in late July. The presence of the network in NASCAR racing from February through almost August is solely the Nationwide Series.

It would seem then that the network would focus their resources on the build-up of the first race at Daytona. Currently, their presence at the Daytona testing is reporter Marty Smith who has been reporting for ESPN News and SportsCenter.

As the teams continue their testing, it is going to be fascinating to see how many of the cars are independent Nationwide teams, how many are "race for fun" teams owned by Sprint Cup drivers, and how many are "driver training" teams run by current Cup owners. The first two days of this Nationwide test had no TV coverage.

The Monday evening program will give us the first "reality check" of the overall health of the series that ESPN will be producing for the entire season. Along with meeting the drivers who will be racing, we will be seeing what sponsors are coming along for the Nationwide ride, and what teams have just enough money for Daytona, and nothing else.

This was the situation that NASCAR has worried about since the decision to insert the COT into the sport fulltime. With the hard splitter, the fixed wing, and the inability to shape the body, one very big thing changed for 2008. Now, absolutely nothing is to be gained for the Cup teams by racing in the Nationwide Series.

No information about shocks and springs and set-ups or anything else will translate between the Nationwide and Sprint Cup cars. One popular school of thought was that the Truck Series would better serve the Cup teams as far as set-up information was concerned. It was going to be interesting to see which Cup teams chose which support series to run in 2008.

Now, we will get our first look at the number of teams, the quality of the teams, and who will be driving. SPEED is going to have an unusual opportunity to break new ground, as this is the first time that the Nationwide Series has raced alongside the COT. Hopefully, this issue will be explored by John Roberts, Phil Parsons and Ray Dunlap in Daytona.

So far, the SPEED team has done an outstanding job of interviewing top crew chiefs and drivers as both the Sprint Cup and Truck Series teams tested. Monday, however, may bring a brand new reality as many of the cars on the track at Daytona might not be seen after that race.

It will be important for SPEED to take the temperature of the Nationwide Series, and then report honestly on the overall health of the patient. After the Monday diagnosis, it may be the TV executives at ESPN that suddenly need a very good doctor.

Reminder: ESPN Classic's continuing series of Daytona 500 highlight shows airs at 2PM Eastern Time on Monday. Set those DVR's and TiVo's to watch Derrike Cope's moment in the sun. The Monday program is two hours in length.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

New York Times Blames Junior For TV Ratings

Over the years, I have written a number of letters to The New York Times. They have all been in reference to the same subject. That would be NASCAR.

The only professional sport that ends its season with a big New York City celebration is also the number one failure for the New York Times Sports Section. That would be NASCAR.

Let's face facts, the New York Times treats NASCAR like Superman treats Kryptonite. They admit it exists, but avoid it at all costs. Despite the fact that the NYT uses credible NASCAR reporters, the profile of NASCAR at the NYT does not fit the popularity of the sport in the nation. It has been this way for decades.

Over the years, my letters have been met with the stony silence of the Manhattan skyline. Once, an email was actually answered, and then published on the NYT website. The sports editor who responded told me in glowing terms of the expanding presence of motor sports at the Times and their assigning of reporters to "cover NASCAR."

One quick check of the website reveals something altogether different. In the Sports Section, there isn't even a category for NASCAR or motor racing. NASCAR is banished to the "other sports" clearance bin.

This weekend, reporter Viv Bernstein writes an "advancer" piece about Dale Earnhardt Junior. It is listed with stories on women's downhill skiing, Don King promoting a boxing match, and harness racing at the Meadowlands. On the same page, there is a guy in a bat suit that thinks he can fly. That one even has video.

Ms. Bernstein's story, which can be read by clicking here(free sign-up), tries to blame Junior's failure to have a good season as a key reason for the declining TV ratings. Basically, she uses the easy way out by saying that "as Junior goes, so goes the sport." Perhaps, other drivers with names like Stewart, Gordon, Busch and Johnson might have something to say about that point.

Everyone knows that if a popular athlete is in the playoffs, things are a bit more exciting. The issue Ms. Bernstein and the entire NYT sport staff has never grasped is the popularity of NASCAR nationwide.

Had Ms. Bernstein chosen to address the ratings issue head-on, she had a golden opportunity to ask the NASCAR TV partners what they would be doing in 2008, and who would be doing it.

Instead of getting a TV ratings opinion from Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage, she could have been asking ESPN President George Bodenheimer or Fox's David Hill if they thought Junior was the problem.

Like many newspapers, the NYT is transitioning to a website format with blogs attached. Needless to say, just like there is no Sports Section category for NASCAR, there are also no staff or reader blogs on NASCAR or racing.

Bernstein's last NASCAR story was November 19th, reporting on the NEXTEL Cup Championship. That says a lot about the commitment of the NYT to continue to cover NASCAR during the off-season. This is similar to the fan complaints about ESPN.

Unlike other professional sports, where the coverage shifts to human interest stories and tries to catch-up with the athletes and teams that struggled during the year, many big media outlets simply surrender to college and pro football the second the winning car crosses the line in Homestead.

TV ratings are a sum of many parts. Aside from the quality of the competition, and the consistency of the TV coverage, there is one other key ingredient.

That is the acknowledgement in the national press that this sport is important, exciting and popular. The current lack of New York City media coverage is exactly what Mr. France was trying to cure when he put the biggest NASCAR banquet right in the middle of Manhattan.

While Junior has to deal with things beyond his control, like racing luck and gas mileage, Ms. Bernstein and her partners at the NYT have no such problems. They can simply commit right now to making NASCAR a full time sports partner for 2008.

The inclusion of NASCAR text and video reports from February through November may lead to an entirely new group of readers seeking out the for the first time. Unlike the current NYT opinion of NASCAR fans, they are actually some of the most tech savvy when it comes to keeping up to date on the sport.

With three national touring series racing coast-to-coast and a multi-billion dollar TV contract on four different networks, NASCAR deserves much better from the New York Times than being plunked between Don King and the guy in a bat suit.

There are now four weeks to the 50th running of the Daytona 500. No timeline has yet been released for the bat suit jump.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the simple instructions. There is nothing to join and we do not want your email address. We just want your opinion on this New York Times story.

Recap of Recent Columns

Just click on the title for a direct link to these recent columns and stories:

"John Kernan Comes Out Swinging" from 1/18/08

"ESPN Silent On NASCAR Changes For 2008" from 1/17/08

"Open For Benny Parsons Comments & Stories" from 1/16/08

"SPEED Wraps Daytona Sprint Cup Testing" from 1/16/08

"The New NASCAR TV Buzzword Is Convergence - Updated" from 1/15/08

"Larry McReynolds Leads The Pack At Daytona" from 1/14/08

"Ken Squier Kept The Excitement High" from 1/14/08

Thanks again for taking the time to stop by and read The Daly Planet.

Friday, January 18, 2008

John Kernan Comes Out Swinging

Normally, we do not cover a lot of the NASCAR radio scene, but this story deserves a little bit of attention. It certainly got ours.

A while back, we wrote about TV and radio veteran John Kernan moving to Chicago for some very positive personal reasons.

After hosting The Driver's Seat on Sirius Satellite radio, the decision was made that Kernan could not continue the show from the Chicago area, and would be let go.

In a Sirius Backstage Forum entry from late November, Kernan said "I did not get scooted out. I did ask about the possibility of continuing to do The Driver's Seat from my new home, but it did not fit PRN's (Performance Racing Network's) plans." He want on to add, "I'm OK with that."

As most fans know, PRN is a radio group controlled by Bruton Smith's Speedway Motor Sports Inc. The other radio production group is MRN, the Motor Racing Network, which was founded by the France family and is a NASCAR/International Speedway Corp. entity. Between those two, they dominate the radio coverage of the sport.

The final player in this scenario is Sirius Satellite Radio, the NYC-based company that has the satellite radio rights to the races, and provides 24 hour NASCAR programming. It should be mentioned right here that I have been a guest on Sirius without compensation over the last season. Just to keep things square, I even paid for the phone call.

About two months after Kernan's fond farewell in the Sirius Forum, he returned. This time, there was definitely no joy in Mudville. It was January, and Kernan was not a happy camper about what he was hearing. Below is the content of his first post, on a thread that he originated.

"Now some of you may think this is sour grapes, but I left The Drivers Seat of my own free will, almost. But, has anyone else noticed that the three daily (Sirius NASCAR) shows are now dominated by MRN, which is owned by ISC, which is controlled by the France family, which by the way controls NASCAR?" asked Kernan.

"I've been listening to all the shows and at the risk of never working in a NASCAR related field again, has anyone else noticed that the slant has changed?" he continued. "I mean, now the top 35 is all good, NASCAR never does anything wrong and they even floated the trial balloon this morning for pay-per-view. As I said in another (forum) thread, I'm glad I got out while the gettin' was good!"

As if things could not get any stranger, Kernan closed with this comment. "One of these days I'll reveal what really happened with my departure, but not right now."

Needless to say, Kernan's words soon attracted some comments from the other Sirius contributors. You may recognize the first one, his name is David Poole.

Here is Poole responding to Kernan's comments about journalists working on the radio and "trained broadcasters" being the victims.

"As the only newspaper reporter currently working as a full-time host on Sirius, I guess that is primarily directed at me. As far as I know, John, you and I have never competed for a job in radio. But, if somebody is looking for a radio broadcaster they should hire you. But, if somebody is looking to put a person on-the-air who has knowledge about the sport to share with people who're listening, then I am willing to put myself up against you on that score any time, any place."

But, Kernan was not done. He challenged Poole and his broadcast partner about their on-air "slant" again, which Kernan believes is now pro-NASCAR. Poole responded, "don't try to stake out any kind of moral or ethical high ground on me, John. I promise you, that's a battle you won't win."

Next to drop-by was Dave Moody, the MRN and Sirius veteran. He was not happy about having his credibility questioned. This is his response to Kernan.

"It's not enough to impugn people's integrity based on how it appears on the surface. You owe it to the good and conscientious people that work on Sirius NASCAR Radio to have your facts straight before making this kind of allegation," said Moody.

"You imply that I and the rest of the Sirius NASCAR Radio hosts are being controlled by NASCAR; a groundless charge that is categorically untrue. You hosted a program on Sirius NASCAR Radio for 12 months; a program that proudly called NASCAR on the carpet whenever you deemed it necessary. In all that time, did anyone from either NASCAR or Sirius attempt to silence you? Were you ever told that you could not talk about a specific topic? Were you ever forbidden from expressing an opinion? If not, you've got a lot of nerve accusing us of being handled any differently."

"It's insulting, John, and we deserve better. I find it curious that you were an enthusiastic supporter of Sirius NASCAR Radio, right up to the point where your own personal deal went south," said Moody. "A look through your previous posts proves that point, beyond all doubt. And yet, you now accuse your former colleagues of being nothing more than corporate mouthpieces for NASCAR and the network. Was this your true opinion all along? If so, you're a bigger sellout than you accuse us of being. And if not, you're the victim of a sour grapes overload."

Wow, who knew such things happened in NASCAR radio land? You can click here to read the whole thread, but the broader picture revealed by Kernan's comments is fascinating. Just like the TV networks who have to "play nice" in the NASCAR TV contract, the radio guys seem to have their own lines drawn in the sand.

PRN is located up at the Lowe's Motor Speedway, while MRN has just relocated from Daytona to Concord, NC. If the name of that town sounds familiar, it should. Just down the street from the new MRN the Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Kernan was clear in his assertions that he is now just another listener, and will come back and post again when he wants to voice his opinion. Moody and Poole were clear in saying that if anyone from NASCAR ever tries to make them say or not say something, they will walk. They were also clear in their views about Kernan.

All this is happening days before the Charlotte Media Tour, hosted by the gang at the Lowe's Motor Speedway. It will include ESPN, PRN and MRN personalities. For the first time, it will also be televised by SPEED.

It should be interesting to see if this issue is covered by SPEED or ESPN, and how all of the personalities and companies involved handle it.

So, we have the former host of a PRN-produced popular national radio show calling out the MRN personalities over their NASCAR credibility on Sirius. And to think we were all wound-up about whether Tim Brewer would be back pointing at lug nuts in the Tech Center.

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