Friday, February 29, 2008

SPEED And ESPN2 Combine For Saturday NASCAR Coverage

The strange and sometimes fascinating "NASCAR marriage" between ESPN2 and SPEED continues to keep a firm hold on NASCAR fans this Saturday.

It is another weekend where SPEED enjoys hosting the practice and qualifying coverage of the NEXTEL Cup Series because the actual race is on big brother Fox Sports. The bonus for viewers is that SPEED also steps-into the Nationwide Series and televises practice and qualifying. ESPN2 just shows-up for the race.

Saturday kicks-off on SPEED at Noon Eastern Time with Nationwide Series qualifying. Viewers saw Hermie Sadler have a change to step-into the analyst role alongside of host Steve Byrnes and veteran Jeff Hammond on Friday's practice coverage. Perhaps, we will see Sadler again for qualifying. He has come a long way, and is still working hard on his TV mechanics as he increases his on-air exposure.

Next-up at 1:30PM will be the two practice sessions for the Sprint Cup Series. This coverage should be hosted by the NASCAR on Fox gang and feature Mike, Larry and DW. The two sessions run back-to-back and lead directly up to 4PM and the beginning of the ESPN2 coverage of the Nationwide Series race.

The NASCAR Countdown program scheduled for 4PM on ESPN2 is directly following a live college basketball game, so viewers should be on their toes if the basketball broadcast runs long for any of a variety of reasons. Countdown is scheduled for thirty minutes, and is hosted by Allen Bestwick from the ESPN Infield Pit Center. The ESPN media release this week said Bestwick will be joined by Dale Jarret and Brad Daugherty. There was no mention of Rusty Wallace or Ray Evernham.

At 4:30, ESPN2 will start their coverage of the Nationwide Series race, which is scheduled to run for three hours until 7:30PM. Jarrett will move up to the booth to join Jerry Punch and Andy Petree for the event. On pit road will be Jamie Little, Shannon Spake, Mike Massaro and Dave Burns.

Switching back to SPEED, Larry McReynolds hosts his favorite program entitled NASCAR Performance at 7:30PM. This is followed at 8PM by the always interesting Tradin' Paint featuring John Roberts and Kyle Petty. Unofficially, we are hearing that Jenna Fryer from the AP is the media guest.

That is a good long day of NASCAR coverage from SPEED and ESPN2 combined. This season there has been a nice relationship growing between these two parties. They promo each other's races, use audio of the race calls and work hard to respect each other on the air. This change may have been the most positive aspect of the 2008 year in NASCAR TV to this point.

While you might think this time frame only involves two races, it does not. SPEED has been on the air with NASCAR programs constantly since testing began in January. ESPN2 has been working hard with a re-vamped NASCAR Now and a heightened NASCAR presence on ESPNEWS and SportsCenter to push the sport back onto the ESPN front burner.

With good weather and a lot of fans, Saturday from Las Vegas should get NASCAR back on the right track after a mess in Southern California. Please feel free to post your comments about these programs. There will be a specific post up for the Nationwide Series race about one hour before air time.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

In-Progress At Las Vegas: Huge NASCAR Friday on SPEED

The party gets started from Las Vegas Friday afternoon at 1PM Eastern Time and continues on SPEED all the way through until 9:30PM that night.

A thirty minute version of NASCAR Live at 1PM kicks-off a long day with host John Roberts from the SPEED Stage. This show will set-up the events of the day, and recap the news from the Cup and Nationwide Series.

At 1:30PM, SPEED will televise Nationwide Series practice for ninety minutes. It should be interesting to see how many cars are on-hand, and what transpires on this fast track with this very diverse group of drivers. Steve Byrnes will host the coverage with Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond. Several SPEED reporters will be on-hand throughout the day in the garage areas.

The network continues at 3PM with Sprint Cup practice for a ninety minute session. The NASCAR on Fox team is on hand, so it may well be Mike Joy leading this program. If not, look for Steve Byrnes to continue hosting.

At 4:30PM, the final Nationwide Series practice gets underway while the Cup Series lines up in qualifying order. This practice should run until about 6PM.

Next up is the quirky Go or Go Home show, which runs for thirty minutes and should end around 6:30PM, depending on the track situation. The idea of this show is to set-up for fans which teams not in the "Top 35" must make the field on time.

The big boys come out to qualify at 6:30PM Eastern, with each car taking two laps at SPEED. The Sprint Cup qualifying show on SPEED is scheduled for two hours.

That will lead directly into Trackside at 8:30PM, hosted by Steve Byrnes. This program is always raucous, and promises to be something special in Las Vegas.

That is a nice big Friday of NASCAR programming on SPEED. Over on ESPN2, do not forget NASCAR Now which will come along at 6PM.

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Nicole Manske Steps Into The ESPN2 Studio

The hits from ESPN and their daily racing show just keep on coming. Former host of The SPEED Report Nicole Manske stepped into the ESPN2 studio to host the Thursday version of NASCAR Now.

Manske has been working very hard on the road in a wide variety of roles. Her transition from glamour girl of SPEED to the co-host of the only daily NASCAR program on TV has been fun to watch.

As most regular NASCAR fans know, ESPN likes to spread their talent across the many networks and programs that have anything to do with NASCAR. From Marty Smith to Brad Daugherty, the "regulars" of NASCAR Now pop-up on everything from SportsCenter to ESPNEWS.

Manske has been handed a lot of assignments in her first two weeks on the road, and has proven to be equal to the challenge. Her SPEED duties did not call on her to do anything more than read a teleprompter and occasionally interview from the studio.

In her short time at ESPN, she has hosted the live one hour weekend edition of NASCAR Now from ESPN's Pit Center at the track. That program was very impressive. She has also been the field reporter for the weekday version of NASCAR Now in support of studio host Ryan Burr. Those two seem to get along quite well on-the-air.

Thursday, Manske hosted the studio show with reporter Angelique Chengelis along for news, and driver Boris Said along for analysis. Even though it was pre-recorded, the program flowed quite well and covered a lot of ground.

Following the example of Allen Bestwick, Manske seems to not take herself too seriously and handles on-air problems with a good sense of humor. It seemed that the NASCAR drivers picked-up on that vibe during her Daytona interviews. That casual tone continued on the Thursday program.

Chengelis and Said were both on-hand for the new segment at the top of the show that covers daily news and follows-up on stories from the previous day. This change in format has been outstanding, and keeps viewers interested before the first commercial break hits. That means they will come back.

Just like this blog, there are some non-NASCAR stories that have a way of sneaking into the NASCAR media outlets. Certainly, the item that Gerry Forsythe had folded his open-wheel racing team was shocking. While Manske limited her questions to the future of driver Paul Tracy, this type of item and the changes in the open-wheel world may soon force SPEED or ESPN2 to consider creating additional motorsports news programming.

Todd Bodine live from Las Vegas was up next, and Manske did a solid interview that included the right mix of racing and family topics. Bodine is well-known for several things from nicknames to memorable racing moments in several series. This weekly exposure of a Craftsman Truck Series driver is a great carry-over from last season. The fact that now the interviews are well-informed and fun is wonderful.

Manske worked Boris Said pretty hard in this show, and Boris did the type of job he is capable of doing when focused. He followed a Tim Brewer Tech Tip with good comments, and then spent the next several segments of the show as the feature analyst. The bottom line is, it worked. No outrageous statements, and no NASCAR politics were on the menu this time.

Said related to DJ Copp's pit road report with some good facts, and then closed-out the show with some final comments about his exploits racing bobsleds again Bodine. The mix of Chengelis, Said and Manske made for an easy-to-watch program that stayed away from the hype and only stepped slightly into the "Kyle Busch might lead all three after Vegas" build-up.

Manske has also worked hard to build and maintain an on-air image very different from the one she used at SPEED. Business suits and conservative attire are going to keep NASCAR fans focused on the issues at hand. Manske already knows all too well that images shown on TV can live on the Internet for a very long time.

As the co-host of this national daily TV series, Manske seems to have gotten good advice from those around her and has headed into this project with a new maturity and strong work ethic. As Ryan Burr begins his turn hitting the road for NASCAR Now, viewers will see Manske host more programs from the studio.

When Allen Bestwick is added into the weekend and Monday mix, the new chemistry on NASCAR Now is hard to miss. If this program continues down the path it has taken so far this season, it should finally make the type of impact on fans and viewers that both NASCAR and ESPN intended it to make from the beginning.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Max Siegel At ESPN And On "NASCAR Now"

Wednesday has been a day that the NASCAR Now TV series on ESPN2 has been trying to tame. A little light on news, a little light on viewers and currently seeking an identity, the network may have hit on a nice solution in the form of an in-studio interview.

Max Siegel, the President of Global Operations at DEI, was in the ESPN2 studio and sat down with Ryan Burr. The setting and the interview had more of a general entertainment feel to it, as Burr opened the door to issues outside of NASCAR.

The fact that Burr was comfortable in this setting was clear. Gone was the nervous energy he gives off when he is put in the position of talking to a driver or crew chief about racing issues. This was a solid person-to-person conversation that perhaps should have been spread over two program segments.

Earlier in the show, Brad Daugherty had stopped by via satellite. Alone with Burr, Daugherty just does not fill a role that makes sense. Instead of responding to the on-going conversation as he does on NASCAR Countdown, Daugherty when alone speaks in general terms about selected NASCAR issues and then is gone.

With his recent feature on Petty Racing, and his strong work on the Monday NASCAR Now roundtable, Daugherty needs to be put in roles that make sense. Perhaps, responding to the Siegel interview later in the show would have been better for him.

While Burr covered a lot of ground in the time he had with Siegel, it would have been nice to continue that conversation simply because of the high-profile issues that Siegel addressed. This interesting man has a very different take on NASCAR, and a very diverse background. It made for great conversation.

Burr asked Siegel about the fact that motocross star James "Bubba" Stewart had been his recent guest at a NASCAR race. Siegel confirmed and then expanded on the fact that Stewart is nearing the end of his two-wheel career. Siegel hinted strongly that DEI would like to help him start a four-wheel project as the next chapter.

Hearing a powerful black NASCAR executive talk about a black racing champion and the DEI desire to lure him over to NASCAR was certainly a fascinating TV experience. Burr did a great job of following-up on these points, and it seemed that Siegel very much liked the interview.

It was a nice touch at the end with Burr and Siegel shaking hands on-camera after a full segment of information on everything from relations with Junior to the most difficult challenge Siegel has faced at DEI.

Perhaps, NASCAR Now might consider making this type of one-on-one interview a regular feature. As a switch from the normal news-driven interviews that revolve around one topic, this "bigger picture" interview would be great for a wide variety of personalities from Roger Penske to Mike Helton. Taking a moment to talk about things other than racing can lead to some very interesting conversations. This one was outstanding.

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Kyle Petty And "Tradin' Paint" Starting To Warm-Up

Loyal viewers of the SPEED program Tradin' Paint were tuning-in hoping to see a "re-match" of one of the most popular shows from this past season.

Kyle Petty was squaring-off with the one and only Bob Pockrass, the veteran NASCAR writer from the website. Last season, Petty absolutely blew his stack at some of the comments and views of Pockrass. That memorable moment was captured in this column from 2007.

Host John Roberts has worked hard to make this little thirty minute show an engaging and balanced program. This season, Roberts has been placed in the middle of the three-person panel. How this has affected the conversation is not yet quite clear.

While the enjoyable and charming Liz Clarke from the Washington Post was the first guest at Daytona, she had a nice clean slate to begin the season. There was no such luck for Pockrass. After some early agreement on items in the news, things got interesting.

Robby Gordon sparked the discussion that wound-up with Petty trying to say that teams caught with violations before getting on the track should not be penalized points, just fined. Pockrass responded that the inspectors would be working all day long because everyone would basically try to cheat. That did not sit well with Petty.

This TV series is interesting because this is a side of Petty that is not on display when he is driving, or on the TNT broadcasts as an analyst in the booth. With the incredible personal saga of Petty, and his deep family roots in NASCAR, it is quite remarkable that he would take the time to duke-it-out with a different journalist every race week.

Sometimes, the chemistry is great between Petty and the media guest, especially if that guest happens to be from the television side of the NASCAR world. This show, however, works best when the opinions are very different and both sides get a chance to state their case and let the viewers decide.

Petty said he is ready for a Toyota to win in Las Vegas. Pockrass said he thought the COT worked "great" at Daytona. Both men agreed that the Nationwide Series is in sponsor trouble. Those were just some of the interesting items this week.

With just a little work, this show would be able to re-air during the week for viewers who continually miss it during the weekend. Monday night before or after the new This Week In NASCAR would be interesting. Aired before the show, it might give the TWIN guys something to talk about as well.

As this series progresses, we will try to give the media guests in advance, so viewers can know who will be on the show. There are many colorful characters on both the print and TV sides of the NASCAR media world. That should guarantee that there will be no shortage of memorable guests this season on Tradin' Paint.

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Open Wheel Merger Press Conference on SPEED And ESPNEWS

Certainly, that is an interesting group assembled in Homestead to unveil the merger between Champ Car and Indy Racing League.

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This is a very interesting time, because this united series is the only competition to NASCAR in terms of oval racing in North America. One never knows what announcements might come out of this moment in time.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

When "Breaking News" Means Breaking The Rules (2nd Update 12PM Eastern)

There is an interesting dynamic at work in ESPN2's daily NASCAR Now TV series. After a difficult 2007 season, things have changed.

This year, NASCAR Now has been nothing short of fantastic. Well, that would be fantastic right up to 6PM Eastern Time on Tuesday night. Then, things changed again. This time, it was not for the better.

Sports fans know the names Chris Mortensen and Kirk Herbstreit. Both of these veteran ESPN on-air reporters have suffered big dents in their credibility for one reason. That would be a little phrase that is currently all the rage at the ESPN network headquarters. They call it "breaking news."

Both of these men went on-the-air with exclusive national "breaking news" stories. They were both totally wrong. They had not suggested something would happen, and they did not discuss the possible scenarios. They put rumor and innuendo inside the "news umbrella" and got burned.

Last season, the pressure to create "breaking news" on NASCAR Now put several of the show's "Insiders" in some bad situations. Fans may remember the columns by David Poole and other veteran NASCAR media members ridiculing ESPN for trying to pretend that somehow "breaking news" had suddenly just happened right before showtime at 6PM.

Tuesday night, veteran reporter Terry Blount took a very deep breath and tried to float as "breaking news" one of the most ridiculous items ever. Certainly, Blount's facts were easy to remember. Nothing was incorrect or misleading. Perhaps, the one fact that may be the most important to remember is that absolutely nothing in his entire report was news.

For those of you that missed it, here it is in a nutshell. Over the weekend, Michael Waltrip suggested to Auto Club Speedway President Gillian Zucker that restrictor plate racing and higher banking might sell more tickets. That is Zucker, pictured above with some less than happy fans. Zucker then tells ESPN reporters Terry Blount and Angelique Chengelis, on the day after Zucker's weekend disaster, that she "might" consider it.

Bear in mind, Zucker has not spoken to her superiors at ISC about this issue. She has not spoken to NASCAR about this issue. She did not appear on NASCAR Now live or even in a pre-recorded interview on Tuesday to address this issue.

What Blount tried to peddle as news was nothing more than a marketing ploy by a desperate executive who is facing an increasingly hostile NASCAR fan base and a failing track.

Unfortunately, the NASCAR Now Tuesday crew chose to break-out all the bells and whistles with the big "breaking news" graphic proudly displayed in front of Blount, and then poor Andy Petree being brought-in for what should have been casual conversation about an on-going racetrack issue.

Blount added a nice touch by posting his story about this topic after 5PM Tuesday on, so he could point at the website as the location of his "breaking news." As the topper, host Ryan Burr asked NASCAR fans to vote on the idea of somehow changing the track into something that would require a restrictor plate. Of course, in order to do that you must go to first.

The credibility that Allen Bestwick, Nicole Manske and the entire cast of NASCAR on ESPN announcers have worked hard to build-up could easily be brought down by this type of ridiculous hype. The memories of Doug Banks and Erik Kuselias are not that far gone for many NASCAR fans. What ESPN tried to "sell" last season as NASCAR TV was often nothing more than sensationalism and innuendo.

It was the reporters, like Blount, who kept this show from sinking slowly in the West, no pun intended. To see this type of bad decision-making on a day when there was so much real NASCAR news to relay was tough to take.

The knife that twists slowly in the back of the fans is that Blount tried to sell the fact that Zucker wanted to know "what the fans thought" before she would move on the idea. Anyone with even a hint of NASCAR media experience knows the issues associated with this speedway have almost all been fan-related.

Reporter Paul Oberjuerge of the San Bernadino Sun says "the track's disingenuous marketing probably is far more effective at alienating traditional NASCAR fans than in attracting racing newbies hoping to spot Uma Thurman and George Clooney in the stands." In his opinion, the time and effort spent on trying to convince fans that the track is near Hollywood and that celebrities abound is the cause that has sunk this ship.

"Television images of sailboats, beaches and the Hollywood Walk of Fame may fool TV viewers on the other side of the country," continued Oberjeurge. "But those are people who can't begin to grasp the cultural, economic and lifestyle chasm that separates the (San Bernadino) area...from Hollywood and West L.A."

"Eventually, Zucker & Co. will realize the Hollywood campaign is a dry hole," writes Oberjeurge. "And perhaps they will take this track back toward people who made NASCAR such a success. Wage-earning, blue-collar, middle-class and not members of the Screen Actors Guild. You know, like the people who fill the stands at Phoenix twice a year."

Contrasting the reality of this article and the many like it written over the past few days with Blount's "breaking news" really shows how easy it is for NASCAR Now to get off-track. If the aim was to capture casual viewers with the flashy "breaking news" graphics and then get them to sign-up for and vote, they probably succeeded.

If the aim was to continue to grow this TV series toward additional credibility with the NASCAR fans, the entire story never should have made it to air. Assigning a reporter to speak with Zucker, lining up a reaction from her superior Lesa Kennedy at ISC and then speaking with Waltrip about his idea should have been done first.

Nothing about this story required immediate action. The conversation in question took place days ago. The only thing "breaking" on ESPN2 was the credibility of a TV series that started off the year on a very good note.

Update 1: Here are the two columns readers have been asking about, one is from Jeff Hammond and the other from Larry McReynolds. Click on this link to go there directly.

Update 2: Click here for the link to Bob Margolis blog on Yahoo! Sports.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

NASCAR's TV Partners Shine In The Rain

The afterglow of Daytona was still in the minds of many fans as all three of NASCAR's national touring series headed to Fontana, California.

It did not take long for Mother Nature to remind us how fragile this sport is when it comes to raindrops. While there was one situation for NASCAR to deal with on the track, there was a logistical and scheduling nightmare in-progress for three of NASCAR's biggest TV partners.

SPEED, ESPN2 and Fox Sports responded in a manner that will be remembered for a long time. Fox managed to squeeze in the Craftsman Truck Series race on Saturday, but almost every other program and event scheduled from the track was affected by rain.

TV viewers now have interesting memories of Darrell Waltrip and Matt Kenseth freezing on the SPEED Stage as Steve Byrnes hosted a Trackside show in the drizzle. John Roberts led his RaceDay gang through two hours of "reality programming" that still got a lot of information across to the fans despite the weather. SPEED did not miss a beat, even while soggy.

As ESPN's Allen Bestwick took to the air on Saturday evening for the Nationwide Series race, it was clear that the weather situation was dicey at best. But, what happened next was amazing.

Bestwick and the NASCAR on ESPN crew took a deep breath and filled three hours of live national TV in primetime while doing only one thing. That was talking about NASCAR.

In retrospect, the ESPN crew may look back on this night as a rallying point. Last year, it seemed that nothing could go right for this bunch. Burdened by bad announcers, awkward production and terrible racing luck, the season was not exactly what had been expected.

Now, with the right people in place and clearly focused on the sport, ESPN has erased in two weekends the bad memories of an entire season. On Saturday, from 7PM all the way until the scheduled off time of 10PM, fans were glued to the TV.

The new NASCAR on ESPN crew did not need SportsCenter updates, they did not need music videos and they did not need TV anchors back in the Connecticut studio. All they did was rally the troops, put on their helmets, and deliver three hours of solid NASCAR TV coverage that reminded us of the hardcore "old school" ESPN of the 1980's. Everyone worked hard, and the effort resulted in great TV.

Fox strolled-in for the Sunday Sprint Cup coverage knowing full well that things were going to be delayed. I doubt they had any idea just how long. Viewers first saw Chris Myers and Jeff Hammond from the Hollywood Hotel at 3:30PM Eastern Time. Over nine hours later, the somewhat disheveled duo was finally delivering the news that the race was postponed, with far less than half the laps run.

Fox has a slightly different broadcast dynamic than ESPN, so Mike Joy led the TV coverage from the booth. Chris Myers provides more of a comic relief role combined with traditional TV hosting duties like promos and transitions. It is effective, just different.

Waltrip, Hammond and Larry McReynolds proved once again why fans have enjoyed their personal and professional interaction for all these years. Combined with the best pit reporters on TV, the Fox team matched the intensity of the ESPN coverage and hung-in for hours with the focus clearly on NASCAR. They may have outlasted most of their East Coast viewers.

Monday saw two tired network teams deliver two crisp race broadcasts without incident and with a justified sense of relief. Despite the absence of the Hollywood Hotel and ESPN's Pit Center, the fact that racing was actually underway made everything else pale in comparison. If only the racing had been worth the wait.

A nice topper on this situation was the effort made by SPEED and ESPN to bring fans full wrap-up shows on Monday night. Allen Bestwick and Marty Smith flew all the way back to Connecticut to anchor a one hour NASCAR Now program with Boris Said along in the studio.

True to their pre-season word, the show included the ESPN broadcast team and also on-scene reporter Angelique Chengelis. It was a full and informative hour, even after all the chaos of the weekend. What a strong three day performance by ESPN.

Over at SPEED, the always interesting duo of Kenny Wallace and Jimmy Spencer taped their "quick turn-a-round" show called Victory Lane with host John Roberts. It was a feat for the network to get Carl Edwards and Wallace on-camera, as NASCAR wanted to start the Nationwide Series race as soon as possible. Both of them were driving in it.

SPEED used this show on Monday to fill the void left by This Week In NASCAR, a studio program which had almost all its on-air talent still in California. The switch was smart, and worked just fine. As for what Spencer and Wallace said about the track, the staff and the decision to start the race...that is a subject for another website to debate.

From a TV perspective, all three networks hit a homerun. Everyone worked hard and that came through on-the-air to the fans. The fact that ESPN and Fox showed both a commitment to NASCAR and a new level of cooperation between each other was outstanding. This was a NASCAR TV weekend to be remembered.

Now, the priority for both the TV crews and the NASCAR fans is very clear. Get some rest before Las Vegas coverage begins on Friday. It is going to be a long season.

Please feel free to share your favorite moment or TV program from the Fontana coverage. It should be interesting to see what fans remember most.

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Two NASCAR Specials Tonight For Fans

After the mayhem of the Fontana weekend, there will be two special wrap-up shows tonight. The decision to produce these programs was outstanding by both TV networks.

First up will be Victory Lane on SPEED at 8PM Eastern Time for one hour. This program is a blast, and often has many unexpected moments and great guests. John Roberts hosts a panel consisting of Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace. Since Wallace may be in the Nationwide race, we will see how the panel sets-up.

This series interviews the race winner from just a couple of feet away from Victory Circle, and gets emotional reactions from a wide variety of drivers. The goal of the show is to present the video highlights while also chasing interviews with the winning crew chief and owner. The resulting hour of unplanned chaos is usually a lot of fun.

Victory Lane will replace This Week In NASCAR, which could not be produced because most of the "expert panel" was racing in California.

Later, at 9PM Eastern Time, the NASCAR Now crew takes over ESPN2 for a full hour to present their normal Monday wrap-up show. Allen Bestwick, Marty Smith and Boris Said will comprise the roundtable panel for this week, with other ESPN reporters and analysts adding their input from the Fontana track.

Last week, in its debut episode, this show was outstanding and free-wheeling. Those words were not used a lot during the 2007 version of this series. Bestwick has worked hard to keep the momentum rolling, and he and Smith flew from California to Connecticut earlier today for this program.

Both of these NASCAR TV partners have shown a new energy and commitment to this sport, and the viewers have noticed. To have ESPN and SPEED cooperating and putting the promotion of the sport before the promotion of their own network agendas is fantastic.

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In-Progress At Fontana: Monday Nationwide Series Race on ESPN2

Allen Bestwick and the NASCAR on ESPN gang filled three hours of on-air time Saturday afternoon and then were on stand-by all day Sunday. Now, ESPN2 will finally get their Nationwide Series race in on Monday.

Bestwick will host from the Infield Studio, with Brad Daugherty alongside. Rusty Wallace and Ray Evernham are also regular analysts from that location. In the announce booth, Jerry Punch will handle the play-by-play with Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree as analysts.

Down on pit road will be Shannon Spake, Jamie Little, Mike Massaro and Dave Burns. There should be some very interesting stories in this race, as many Cup drivers are doing double duty in the Nationwide Series.

This race will be on-the-air on ESPN2 at 4PM. That time may have to be a bit flexible as the Cup race will end, and then NASCAR will set-up the Nationwide Series race as soon as possible. This swap should take some time, as the Cup crews will have to pack-up and leave pit road, and the Nationwide crews will come in and set-up.

This page will serve to host your comments about the Nationwide Series race on ESPN2 from Fontana, CA. To add your opinion, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

In-Progress At Fontana: Monday Sprint Cup Race On Fox

After the TV marathon of Sunday, the NASCAR on Fox crew gets right back in the saddle and tries again to finish-off the Sprint Cup race from the California Speedway.

Chris Myers will host the 1PM coverage from the Hollywood Hotel with Jeff Hammond alongside. Mike Joy will handle the play-by-play with Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip in the announce booth as the analysts. Down on pit road will be Krista Voda, Matt Yocum, Steve Byrnes and Dick Berggren.

This race needs to reach the halfway point to be official, but we anticipate the entire race being run because there is no rain in the forecast. The issues to watch will be the follow-up on the big stories of the cars involved in accidents because of the poor track conditions on Sunday, including Dale Earnhardt Jr.

There will be no pre-race show, and the cars should be on the track when Fox comes on the air at 1PM. This track has been known for danger, and big accidents after one small mistake. Hopefully, the Cup drivers will contain their enthusiasm with the goal of getting to the end of the race in a timely fashion.

2 Updates: Special edition of Victory Lane tonight at 8PM on SPEED replacing This Week In NASCAR, and one hour version of NASCAR Now tonight at 9PM on ESPN2. Great decisions by two of NASCAR's biggest TV partners.

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There will be a new post for the Nationwide Series race on ESPN2 shortly after this event.

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NASCAR's Long Day's Journey Into Night (3rd Update)

The nightmare that has been the California Speedway continued into early Monday morning as repeated attempts to dry the track failed. Ultimately, NASCAR was forced to re-schedule both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races.

Monday, February 25th, the Sprint Cup race from Fontana will begin on the Fox Television Network in HD at 1PM Eastern Time. Radio coverage continues on both MRN and Sirius Satellite Radio.

Following the Cup race, ESPN2 will present live coverage of the Nationwide Race. This should take place at approximately 4PM Eastern Time. With some extended caution periods in the Cup race, this start time may well be pushed back toward 5PM.

The NASCAR on Fox team began their on-air day at 3:30PM Eastern Time on Sunday, and Chris Myers and Jeff Hammond were still giving updates for the Fox viewers at 1AM Monday morning.

Coupled with ESPN2's three hour rain fill during the original Nationwide timeslot on Saturday, there has been incredible effort shown by both of these TV networks.

2nd Update: Special edition of Victory Lane on SPEED at 8PM Eastern Time Monday night. Due to the scheduling issues, This Week In NASCAR (TWIN) will not be seen on SPEED, it will be replaced on Monday and Tuesday by this edition of Victory Lane. That is a good solution by SPEED, the show will return after the Las Vegas weekend in its regularly scheduled Monday timeslot.

There will be a new post up for your comments before the Sprint Cup race at 1PM Eastern, and another for the Nationwide Series event that will follow.

The weather for LA is partly cloudy with the current temps (5AM Pacific) in the 40's. There is no chance of rain, and temps will climb into the upper 60's by race time. The front that caused the rain is gone and both races should run as scheduled.

3rd Update: ESPN has just advised that they will air a one hour version of NASCAR Now from the track with a roundtable discussion at 9PM Eastern Time. What a great decision by ESPN as a part of their new commitment to NASCAR.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to stop by during this memorable rain-filled weekend and leave your opinion. We got the best information from the folks at the track, including many media members and broadcasters. Thanks again for taking the time to contribute to this on-going Internet conversation about NASCAR TV.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

In-Progress At Fontana: Sprint Cup Race On Fox

Well, the weekend is officially a nightmare for both NASCAR and the TV networks. RaceDay on SPEED showed us that the rain is continuing to fall, even as Fox is about to take the air for the scheduled live coverage of the Cup race.

It should be interesting to see how long Fox decides to remain on-scene live, and if they choose to use last week's Daytona 500 as filler programming.

Chris Myers hosts the coverage from the Hollywood Hotel, with Jeff Hammond alongside. In the booth, Mike Joy will handle the play-by-play with analysts Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. Down on pit road Fox has some reporters playing injured today. Krista Voda and Matt Yocum have both been under the weather, they will be joined by Steve Byrnes and Dick Berggren on the telecast.

After the long fill from ESPN yesterday, and the two hour RaceDay program today, it will be tough for Fox to find a whole lot to talk about. Even after the track was dry earlier this week, some "weepers" caused water to leak from cracks in the track for several hours. The high-speed nature of this track will not allow cars to operate at speed unless the track is completely dry.

It should be fun to watch this veteran TV crew from Fox deal with the issues associated with the weather and scheduling. Hopefully, things will work out for both Fox and ESPN2. That network will show the Nationwide Series race when the Sprint Cup event has concluded.

This story will serve to host your comments about the Sprint Cup coverage from Fontana on Fox. To add your opinion, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the simple instructions. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page.

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

In-Progress At Fontana: "NASCAR RaceDay" On SPEED

There are certainly a lot of issues to be explained once the veteran RaceDay team takes the air at 1:30PM Eastern Time. They will certainly give us the first glimpse of the overall track conditions.

NASCAR Now came up short earlier in the day, despite the fact that Nicole Manske was on-site. Fans should have been made aware of what happened overnight, after the ESPN telecast went off the air.

RaceDay will again feature John Roberts as host, with Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace alongside. Wendy Venturini will be reporting from the garage, and Hermie Sadler will be along with track description and race condition updates. Rutledge Wood is still defining his role on this series, and continues to be placed in a wide variety of situations by the Producer.

The SPEED Stage location was tough for Steve Byrnes and John Roberts on Saturday, and many posters have been telling The Daly Planet that the rain has continued all night long. We will get our first glimpse at what the day has in store when RaceDay hits the air at 1:30PM Eastern Time for a full two hours.

This page will serve to host your comments about RaceDay. To add your opinion, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

"NASCAR Now" Sunday Morning Will Tell The Tale

This morning at 10AM Eastern Time ESPN2 will carry the one hour Sunday preview version of NASCAR Now. This will be the first glimpse for TV viewers of conditions at the track, and a hint of what will happen with the racing.

With the late night east coast TV work by the NASCAR on ESPN crew, it should be interesting to see what on-air personalities are on NASCAR Now today.

Ryan Burr continues to be the co-host from the ESPN Studios, with Nicole Manske traveling to the current races. Allen Bestwick, Brady Daugherty, Ray Evernham and Rusty Wallace are also featured on this program.

The show has plenty of reporters to choose from, and we know Marty Smith and Angelique Chengelis are both on-scene in California. There should be lots of interesting news coming out of the track with all these potential schedule changes continuing because of weather.

NASCAR Now has one hour to fill with only one race having taken place instead of two. It should be interesting to see how much Sprint Cup preview viewers get and how the network will approach setting-up the Nationwide race which does not have a firm on-air time and has not yet been officially assigned an ESPN network.

Update: ESPN has confirmed that ESPN2 will show the Nationwide Series race, tentatively scheduled for 9PM Eastern Time. This throws a wrench into the NHRA coverage that will be in-progress of the final rounds. Rain may play a role in both telecasts, stay tuned.

This page will serve to host your comments about the AM edition of NASCAR Now. To add your opinion, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

ESPN Talks NASCAR For Three Wet Hours

If there was ever any doubt that Allen Bestwick was the right man to put in the ESPN Infield Pit Studio, it was erased on Saturday night.

Hosting NASCAR Countdown at 7PM, Bestwick began a three hour journey that showcased the resources and deep racing knowledge that ESPN has finally been able to coordinate for their NASCAR coverage this season.

Hands down, this was a moment for the NASCAR on ESPN team that may serve as a rallying point for the rest of the 2008 season.

Between the Infield Pit Center announcers, the pit reporters and the race announcers in the booth, the network stayed on the air for three hours without a wheel turned on the track.

Now, during the year when ESPN runs into a difficult circumstance with their race coverage, they have something to reference that can serve to inspire the whole team. Simply by remembering that night when they all pulled together to fill three hours in the rain of Southern California, things are not going to seem all that bad when a "TV moment" happens.

Bestwick was simply masterful in organizing the troops, and credit needs to be given to the pit reporters, including newcomer Shannon Spake, who worked in the rain to get interviews and covered a tremendous variety of topics. Sometimes about news, sometimes about personal issues, and sometimes simply about goofy rain delay fun, ESPN got it right.

The amazing thing was that there were no SportsCenter cut-ins, there were no ESPNEWS updates, and there was not a Hollywood celebrity in sight.

This was "old school NASCAR on ESPN." We are at the track in the rain and we are going to stay until it's over. Dare I say, it was even fun to watch.

The cooperation of the NASCAR drivers was outstanding. Fans may have switched favorites after some of the extended interviews and frank conversations exchanged during this coverage. Once again, Rusty Wallace proved himself to be perfectly suited to the Infield Pit Center analyst role alongside of Bestwick.

These two have known each other for years, and Wallace knows that Bestwick will keep him from getting out of hand or too excited. Even Brad Daugherty was key in explaining his former role as a member of NASCAR's committee that serves to hear appeals of penalties for the national series.

Upstairs, Jerry Punch was very comfortable using his reporting skills to draw candid conversation from Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. It was especially nice to see Petree open himself up and show more of his true personality. Tim Brewer pitched in from the Tech Center, and only the bad weather kept him indoors.

In the end, the rain cancelled everything, but from one perspective that did not matter. Everyone on the NASCAR on ESPN TV crew now knows two things they did not last season.

One, they have a new leader in Allen Bestwick. Two, now they can handle anything.

Once everyone dries out it will be interesting to see how Fox and ESPN deal with the pending Sunday TV network scramble.

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.

Truck Series On Fox Just Not The Same

The NASCAR on Fox gang produced the Craftsman Truck Series race live on Saturday afternoon from the California Speedway that aired on the Fox Network.

This was a hybrid announcing team consisting of Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Darrell Waltrip. During the regular season Truck Series coverage on SPEED, DW's little brother Michael serves an the analyst. Down on pit road, Adam Alexander carried over from the SPEED package, but Ray Dunlap did not.

Matt Yocum stepped-in to fill that role, and Krista Voda also reported from the pits since there was no pre-race show on this telecast. Normally, Truck Series fans have become used to a well-produced thirty minute show called The Set-Up before each race. Voda has worked hard to make it a success, and often has memorable guests as co-hosts.

With all the good stories coming out of the Truck Series after Daytona, it was a shame that SPEED could not have carried a pre-race show, and then switched fans over to Fox for the race.

Instead, it was Chris Myers and his Hollywood Hotel "act" that welcomed fans to Fox's Truck Series coverage. Voda and company have set a very professional tone over the last several seasons for these races, and that made Myers seem out of place. Luckily, Jeff Hammond kept things on an even keel with his strong knowledge and support of the Trucks.

Voda was playing sick, as several of the TV crew were ill with flu-like symptoms. All three pit reporters worked well and really provided the content that set the tone during the abbreviated pre-race coverage. It was definitely a big moment for Adam Alexander appearing on the Fox Broadcast Network.

Outside the Hollywood Hotel, Jeff Hammond did the first side-by-side comparison of the new COT and an existing Craftsman Truck. As Myers stood awkwardly alongside, Hammond ran down how the Truck Series had influenced and then changed the future of the Cup Series as we know it. That was a good little feature.

When Rick Allen and company took to the air, things were looking up. Parsons and Waltrip had a blast during this event, and "old DW" was especially on his game. Coming off his strong performance on the Daytona 500, he seems to be a lot more involved with the details and specifics of NASCAR than in the past.

When it is not raining, California Speedway makes great pictures, and the Truck race was no exception. Unfortunately, Fox had a driver name spelled incorrectly for the entire race on their graphic ticker, but sometimes the new computer software does not allow for changes when the program is in progress. I think we can assume this would not have happened with the SPEED Channel Truck Series regulars.

The announcers did their best to keep things interesting, even as it became clear that there were two completely different levels of performance on the track. It was nice to see Kyle Busch and Todd Bodine compete, but it was a shame that the trucks could not get themselves involved in an exciting finish.

As the Trucks crossed the line for the final time, viewers again saw the winner and then the NASCAR flagman shot from an infield camera position. Then, they saw a series of shots that focused on the reaction of the winning crew while the rest of the field began finishing.

Ultimately, the Producer and Director allowed TV viewers to glimpse some trucks as they crossed the finish line without any explanation or coordination with the announcers. Then, Fox suddenly focused on two trucks racing to the finish in the back of the top ten and viewers watched them cross the line. It was a mess. This is the Achilles Heel of the NASCAR on Fox crew.

Race fans do not change their loyalty to a driver during the race. If "your driver" has battled back to try and get a top ten position on the last lap, you deserve to see it at home. It could be the turning point of his season. It could be the end of a day of struggling with all kinds of problems. It could be huge.

To summarily dismiss the fundamentals of racing to "make drama" is a huge mistake that manifested itself last season in lower ratings. Why would fans return to a TV broadcast when their driver will not be shown racing to the finish line? If fans cannot see him, they might as well just turn on the race on the radio and go about their business.

The lure of NASCAR on TV is not to see the winner of the race. It is to see all of the drivers equally regardless of their position on the track and at the finish. If NASCAR cannot get this point across to Fox, things are not going to go well.

This moment really threw a wrench into what was a good and fun broadcast with an excited and interesting on-air team. Stripped of the pre-race show and with the Finish Line problems, this telecast came up a bit short of the normal quality we see on SPEED.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. To add your opinion, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Thanks again for stopping by.

In-Progress At Fontana: "NASCAR Countdown" And Nationwide Series Race on ESPN2

Live college basketball precedes the NASCAR Countdown show for the Nationwide Series race on ESPN2 Saturday night.

Countdown is scheduled for 7PM, but just ahead of it is Drake vs. Butler in live college hoops. Overtime would cause the Countdown show to collapse and the race start to remain on time. ESPN2 needs to get to the big Bassmaster Classic coverage at 10PM, or immediately after the race.

Allen Bestwick hosts the NASCAR Countdown shows this season. His in-studio crew consists of Rusty Wallace, Ray Evernham and Brad Daugherty. Tim Brewer is in the Tech Center as usual. Upstairs in the announce booth is Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. On pit road is Mike Massaro, Jamie Little, Shannon Spake and Dave Burns.

This was an exciting and also dangerous race last season with lots of high-speed action. It was tough to integrate the production elements like Draft Track and in-car cameras into the telecast and still give the viewers an understanding of what was happening in the race. This race should be challenging for the ESPN2 gang.

This post will serve to host your comments about the Nationwide Series race from the California Speedway. To add your opinion, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page. Thanks again for stopping by.

In-Progress At Fontana: Craftsman Truck Race on Fox Sports

This is the first of two NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races that will air on the Fox Broadcast Network this season. The other is the Martinsville, VA event.

Production for this race will be done by the NASCAR on Fox team that normally handles the Sprint Cup races. On this event, Rick Allen and Phil Parsons will be joined by the NASCAR on Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip. On pit road will continue to be Adam Alexander, but Ray Dunlap will be replaced, probably by Krista Voda since there is no thirty minute pre-race show. The Hollywood Hotel is on-site, and Chris Myers and Jeff Hammond will be along for the race.

The live program comes on-air at 3PM Eastern Time, and the track schedule indicates that the opening invocation is scheduled for 3:01PM. That would tend to limit the pre-race TV activities. Hopefully, good weather will allow this race to happen.

It should be interesting to watch for the subtle differences between the SPEED team normally assigned to produce the Trucks, and the NASCAR on Fox team that will produce this race. With Michael Waltrip being replaced by his brother Darrell, it gives Rick Allen and Phil Parsons a chance to get themselves on the big broadcast TV network with a high-profile star. This is a great opportunity for both men.

SPEED has been great in providing viewers a nice wideshot of the finish to allow all of the lead lap Trucks to cross the line. The same cannot be said for the NASCAR on Fox crew, who continue to fall victim to the false drama of who won the race being the big story. Every fan has a favorite, and that does not change depending on who is leading. NASCAR fans want to see their driver finish the race. That is the point of watching it on TV. We shall see how that plays-out Saturday afternoon.

The page will host your comments about the Craftsman Truck Series race on Fox. You can add your opinion before, during or after the event. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page. To add your comment, just click the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy directions.

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In-Progress At Fontana: "NASCAR Live," Nationwide Qualifying and Cup Practice

After the rainy disaster of Friday, SPEED opens the Saturday TV coverage from the California Speedway with a thirty minute edition of NASCAR Live at Noon Eastern Time.

This is followed directly by Nationwide Series qualifying on SPEED, and not ESPN2. Steve Byrnes, Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond will be along for that action as ESPN is tied-up with college basketball action right up until the Nationwide race itself.

SPEED takes a break for the Truck Series race which will be seen on Fox Sports, and then comes back on at 5PM Eastern Time to cover Sprint Cup practice.

This page will serve to host your comments about these shows on SPEED. There will be new posts up shortly for the Craftsman Truck Series race on Fox and tonight's Nationwide Series race on ESPN2.

To add a comment, just click on the COMMENTS button below and then follow the easy instructions. Thanks again for stopping by The Daly Planet.

Friday, February 22, 2008

"Trackside" All The Action SPEED Can Muster

Few people thought that one memory of the weekend at the California Speedway would be Darrell Waltrip asking if anyone had some gloves because he was freezing. Yes, that is DW and his Super Nova a while back in warmer times.

DW was alongside of host Steve Byrnes and the usual suspects Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond on the SPEED Stage in Fontana. Because of the bad weather, SPEED had decided to push Trackside up to 8:30PM and call it a day. It was a good idea.

Matt Kenseth stopped by in the middle of the rainy mess and bailed out the Trackside crew with some good conversation. One of the key elements of this TV series is that drivers get talking with the panel and forget about the TV cameras. Kenseth was great, and even stepped-in to help the experts with the rain-out procedures for setting the field for Sunday.

Next to come to the set was Bobby Labonte, and he was even better than Kenseth. Labonte addressed a wide variety of topics from the COT to his own personal choices in career path. Seeing him in this casual setting looking good on TV and speaking his mind really suggests a future guest appearance on This Week In NASCAR.

Labonte was the perfect person to address the Petty Racing relocation to the Mooresville, NC area. He spoke in very plain terms about how hard it is for teams like Petty to keep-up with the super-teams. Labonte continued to echo the comments of Kenseth about the continuing discoveries with the COT and the most interesting aspects of this new car.

As the rain began to fade, McReynolds asked Labonte about the potential problems with the Nationwide Series. His answer was interesting. What Labonte quietly said was that the Cup Series owners were adversely affecting this series. Without offending anyone, Labonte made his point about the fact that in the past, the Cup racers fielded their own cars. Now, the big owners bring-in their hired drivers to try and dominate the series. Point well made.

Byrnes keeps this show casual and fun. The panel has worked together for so long the jokes fly and the guests are all in on it. The best part of the California show was that after an all-day rain delay that did not allow any cars on the track, some good old NASCAR fans still braved the weather to stand at the SPEED Stage.

Kudos to SPEED for hanging in there and the entire TV crew for keeping the equipment operating in tough conditions. Hopefully, Saturday will find a nice day in the area of the country where they all say it never rains.

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

"NASCAR Now" Plays The Rain Game

The weather threw a wrench into the plans of both SPEED and ESPN2 on Friday. With no cars on the track as of 6PM Eastern Time, both networks worked hard to deal with the reality of rain in Southern California.

Nicole Manske was on-site in California for NASCAR Now with Ryan Burr hosting back in the ESPN2 studios. After a brief wrap-up of the weather problems and some driver comments, Manske unveiled yet another wrinkle in this interesting TV season.

Allen Bestwick was suddenly on-hand in the ESPN Tech Center, and he had some friends along for the ride. Tim Brewer, Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty were all on the Tech Center set, and had a rather free-wheeling conversation about the topics associated with the rain out.

Bestwick promoted the ESPN coverage of the Nationwide Series, and then threw back to Burr who rolled the Busch Series California highlights from last season. This is exactly the type of flexible and responsive coverage from the track that NASCAR Now fans appreciate.

With the California situation documented, the show switched gears to focus on the penalty given to Robby Gordon and his team. Right or wrong, the sound from Gordon was great. Reporter Angelique Chengelis appeared from the track with the suggestion that the current NASCAR penalty might ultimately force Gordon out of the sport. Chengelis covers several sports, but her NASCAR information has always been solid.

In discussing the rain scenarios, Chengelis recapped the issues associated with the continuing weather and relayed the official NASCAR line that many of us know so well. Basically, they have lights at the speedway and intend to use them.

Chengelis continued with a Kurt Busch update and put a very good spin on the situation in the Penske camp with Sam Hornish and the points being transferred. Regardless of how much public relations effort has gone into the Kurt Busch "push" for the Daytona 500 win, it certainly has resulted in some quality TV time for Penske Racing.

Manske talked with Dario Franchitti and Kenny Wallace about their rides in the Nationwide Series. It was nice that NASCAR Now took the time to point specifically at this series, and is finally beginning to calm down their Cup hysteria of 2007. Setting the table for this race by simply telling viewers that Franchitti and Wallace will be racing is exactly the type of basic promotion the series really needs.

It was nice of Rusty Wallace to come on-camera alone and update the COT issues with the speedway. He also updated the rain situation, and continues to appear to have been "set free" to be himself once again with his new TV role. Rusty is fun and outspoken and does not take himself too seriously. He and Burr had a great exchange on a wide variety of topics and it really showed the Wallace value to ESPN.

This is the first time this season that the new and re-vamped NASCAR Now had to scramble with an on-going weather issue. Burr and Manske handled things quite well, and once again we saw seven different ESPN announcers and reporters on the air in this thirty minute show. That is impressive and requires a lot of resources.

Manske seems to be comfortable at the track, and Rusty Wallace seems to be emerging on this program as an outstanding analyst. It should be interesting to see ESPN, SPEED and Fox Sports deal with the on-going weather situation over the weekend. If they can handle it as well as the NASCAR Now gang, things should be just fine for the viewers.

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

Thursday, February 21, 2008


NASCAR fans can have a blast on Friday with SPEED starting at 12:30PM Eastern Time.

SPEED kicks it off with Nationwide Series practice at 12:30PM, then moves directly into Sprint Cup practice at 3PM. All of this action is from the California Speedway in Fontana.

At 4:30PM, it is time for Craftsman Truck Series qualifying. The race itself is at 3PM Eastern Time Saturday on Fox.

The Go or Go Home show is at 6PM, and will contain a preview of the new NASCAR qualifying for the cars outside of the top 35 in owner points. This is the first race where this new system will be used.

Sprint Cup qualifying is next at 6:30PM and will be followed directly by Nationwide Series practice once again. Don't forget that the Saturday Nationwide race is at 7Pm Eastern on ESPN2.

Trackside will come along for the full hour at 10PM, and close-out the day. That is a lot of NASCAR TV.

This page will serve to host your comments about all the Friday programs on SPEED.

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Was That "Larry The Cable Guy" On NASCAR Now?

That loud noise you may have heard shortly after 6PM Eastern Time on Thursday was hard to miss. It's a little bit loud when the earth stops turning for just a moment.

In the ESPN studios over the years viewers have seen everyone from Rush Limbaugh to Barry Melrose and his world famous mullet. Big names like Dick Vitale, Peter Gammons and Steve Young are no big deal to see walking the ESPN hallways.

Back in my day, LSU coach Dale Brown brought his basketball team to see the place after they played a NCAA tournament game. One of his players was a hilarious big guy named Shaquille. All of these names have one thing in common, they were in the building because of sports.

Thursday's NASCAR Now on ESPN was going to be different. Viewers knew that right away because there was someone other than Ryan Burr was in the Connecticut studio. For some reason that has yet to cross my mind, "Larry the cable guy" stopped by the program to promote his movie and talk a little NASCAR.

After a fun little on-camera tease, the planet Earth screeched to a halt as "Larry" leaned into the ESPN cameras and told the faithful to simply "Git-R-Done." This was a moment in NASCAR Now history that will certainly be remembered. Why? I am not so sure.

I imagined one group of people immediately calling everyone in the house to the TV because "Larry the cable guy" was on NASCAR Now. They probably got out the cell phone and called some friends to let them in on it.

A quite different group was sitting there with a dumbfounded look on their faces and repeating over-and-over again the same question. "Who the heck is that and where are his sleeves?"

All traces of good old Larry were quickly gone as Burr launched into a straight-laced and informative show. Lead Reporter Marty Smith was up first to update NASCAR news and lead into the story of young driver Brad Coleman.

Smith's lead-in really worked well for a liveshot with Coleman from the track with cars roaring by in the background. This young man is one of the best examples of what the NASCAR regional series can produce. Now racing in the Nationwide Series, Coleman is a well-spoken and intelligent driver with a good outlook on the sport and a bright future.

As I mentioned yesterday, one spot where NASCAR Now still comes up short is using the studio anchor to interview NASCAR guests. Why not allow someone in the sport fulltime like Marty Smith to handle the interview? Burr reads a good scripted question and is a solid show host, but putting the host in the analyst or "Insider" role is just tough.

Smith was available and could solve one very simple problem. Burr cannot follow-up on a guest's answer when there is a need to deviate from the script. Sometimes, it is very clear that a big follow-up question is just sitting there, and because Burr is still learning the sport it does not get asked. This is not a tough problem to solve.

DJ Copp has been fun since NASCAR Now brought him on the air last season. This pit crew member is simply an unassuming man who gets across a lot of quality information in plain and simple form. His update on the pit crews and the COT including the new NASCAR rules was right on target. What a good find for this show. It would be nice to see him create a feature for NASCAR Countdown relating to the Nationwide Series sometime.

Boris Said appeared again to update the new qualifying rule for the "Go or Go Homers" outside of the top 35. This was a timely reminder that this process is going to begin at California and was a smart move. Said is wonderful with his frank comments, and his talk about Toyota set a good tone. Burr is still learning, and his attempts to follow-up and "pin down" Said for his exact words did not work well.

Suddenly, "Larry" was back and his Viagra joke sent the show to commercial break on a very different note. Everyone knew one thing for sure, this next segment was going to be interesting.

Watching "Larry the cable guy" in the perfectly clean and high-tech HD studio of ESPN2 talking about the one and only Dick Trickle...great.

Watching Ryan Burr pretending he knew who Dick Trickle was....better.

Watching Burr squirm while "Larry" talked about everything from kissing Jenny McCarthy to digestive issues caused by sausage overload...priceless.

What Burr and Boris Said talked about in the final segment did not matter. It was a nice confirmation of NASCAR's "birthday" and success, but no one is going to remember. There was only one thing that viewers will be talking about.

I ended the show not quite so sure why "Larry" had stopped by, but it left a picture in my mind. Burr was on one side of the studio in his buttoned-up suit in "perfect" ESPN mode. His guest was on the other side in a baseball hat, a sleeveless University of Nebraska T-shirt and blue jeans.

Up to this point in the TV series, the most exciting wardrobe malfunction had been Brad Daugherty not bringing a suit to the big Monday "roundtable" show. Heaven help us, Brad is wearing khaki! Allen Bestwick made the most of it.

You have to give NASCAR Now credit, they are trying all kinds of things to re-define these mid-week shows. It certainly would be nice, however, if they could break the "dead serious" ESPN mode and have some fun.

Once Burr started interviewing "Larry" about NASCAR, it was clear that some well-timed follow-up questions could have resulted in some more interesting NASCAR answers. Ask him about the Daytona 500, ask him about Tony Stewart, ask him about Toyota. He seemed to be very well informed on the sport and it showed.

NASCAR fans did not care about Brad's wardrobe malfunction, and they do not care that "Larry" is wearing a baseball hat indoors. What they want is more information and content, and less talking heads from all over the nation.

Marty Smith, Boris Said and "Larry" together would have made for one of the all-time best segments in NASCAR Now history. Simply by letting Burr toss-out a topic and then stand back, it could have been hilarious.

Instead, suits and nervous laughter prevailed as the script ruled the show once again. I have the feeling that NASCAR Now is just about ready to break-out of its shell during the week, and continuing to try new things is the right call.

"Larry" might be a fun guest to follow-up with, as he seemed to be a longtime fan and certainly someone that many of us enjoy watching. This season, NASCAR Now is simply full of surprises. I'll be back on Friday.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

TV Reality Sinks-In With Daytona Just A Memory

Three of NASCAR's four network TV partners had quite a weekend. Fox Sports, SPEED and ESPN produced many hours of all types of television coverage. Now, the reality of a ten month season is staring them all in the face. It begins with four races in the next four weeks.

The Wednesday version of NASCAR Now sits all alone like an island in the middle of the week. Daytona has been reviewed countless times, and the action in California does not start for several days. So, what to do?

Well, if it was Daytona that can only mean one thing, penalties. On a day that NASCAR Now has sometimes struggled to fill, it was NASCAR itself that provided the content for the top story with reporter David Newton. His rundown of all the penalties was factual, but was not really breaking news. Time for the old fact check.

Jeff Burton stopped by via liveshot, but violated the ESPN "no sunglasses" rule. Not seeing Burton's eyes during this entire interview was tough, and the rule has been there for many years for a reason. Burton finally explained what the issue was with his final Daytona restart and ultimately his disappointing finish.

Burr did not ask about the footage showing Burton confronting Clint Bowyer after the 500, and instead used Burton's knowledge to preview the California weekend. ESPN also allowed Burton to promo the re-paving at Darlington, and sent him on his way without a whole lot accomplished.

Brad Daugherty was not in the ESPN2 studio, and appeared next via liveshot to speak as a commentator about a wide variety of NASCAR topics. The role of Daugherty in this on-air scenario is not clear, and he just seems to speak generally about NASCAR like a fan. Maybe, that is the whole idea.

ESPN has needed to increase exposure for the Nationwide Series, and Tim Brewer filed a "tech feature" from Rusty Wallace's shops. It was nice to see Harold Holly on the show, and the veteran crew chief backed-up Brewer's information.

Jamie Little stopped by next and for some reason was in Las Vegas. Bryan Clauson, the Nationwide driver who ESPN chose not to interview after the Daytona race, was again promoted as the future of the series. Perhaps, if he continues to do well he will rate a post-race chat with Little in-person.

The demise of Jacques Villeneuve as an active Sprint Cup driver was fundamentally strange. His videotaped explanation of that situation on the show was even stranger. Perhaps, this was something that could have used David Newton's expertise to explain. This veteran open-wheel racer was clearly moved out of his seat, without a good reason really being given by anyone.

For a Wednesday slim with news, the program worked its way through thirty minutes at a fast clip. Over the past season, this day has seen regional NASCAR racers as guests, extended debates between in-studio analysts, and endless hype by the host to try and stir-up any kind of controversy no matter how silly.

As the season rolls-on, hopefully ESPN will begin to use Wednesdays to bring fans the stories that are off the beaten path. There are plenty of regional racers that deserve an interview, an "old school" historic series is starting up and lots of good Nationwide Series stories like Bryan Clauson that deserve more than lip service.

The old RPM2Night had "open-wheel Wednesday" to fill the gap between big series races on the weekend. If NASCAR Now encourged regional series to begin to provide race video, no matter how raw, they just might stumble into a new Wednesday feature that would endear them to a whole new group of fans.

This TV series has shown amazing change in the past several weeks, and continues to be free from the problems of last season. Burr can certainly host, but he needs his reporters and analysts to be involved in the topics being covered throughout the show. On the whole, things in NASCAR Now land are looking good.

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 Classic Offers "VCR Theater"

Get your sophisticated video recording devices all charged up. The folks at ESPN Classic are slipping some NASCAR product into their line-up that normally features the original American Gladiators and endless World Series of Poker episodes.

The 1999 California 500 from Fontana airs on Thursday, February 21st at 2PM Eastern Time. Next-up is the 1994 Food City 500 from the wonderful Bristol Motor Speedway. That show is airing Friday, the 22nd at 3AM Eastern Time.

We can only encourage this network to come over to NASCAR, and continue to insert more weekday programming that fans can watch and record. Thanks ESPN Classic.

Recap of Recent Columns

Here are some direct links to recent columns for easy access. All of them are still open for your comments. Thanks.

"Ryan And Ryan Put On A Good Show" from 2/19/08

"Meet The Original Gopher Cam" from 2/19/08

"Allen Bestwick Emerges From The Shadows" from 2/18/08

"SPEED Drafts A New Quarterback" from 2/18/08

"Sunday Night Post-Race TV Coverage" from 2/18/08

"NASCAR Wall-To-Wall At Daytona" from 2/17/08

Thanks once again for taking the time to stop-by The Daly Planet.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ryan And Ryan Put On A Good Show

After all of the media events since Sunday evening, no one would have blamed Ryan Newman if he walked through his appearance on NASCAR Now looking like a tired NASCAR driver.

Instead, a happy and excited Newman greeted viewers alone at the top of the show. The normally laid-back Newman looked absolutely comfortable with the Tuesday host of NASCAR Now, Ryan Burr.

On the set, Burr and Newman walked viewers through the final two laps of the Daytona 500 with some exceptional and very frank comments from the champ. Newman explained exactly, and in his own way, how decision-making and teamwork led him to victory.

Burr has been working hard to turn himself into a racing host from an ESPNEWS anchor. This interaction with Newman on the set for the entire thirty minutes was fun. The old NASCAR Now was clearly gone. No hype, no sensationalism and no embarrassing questions were on the agenda.

Showing Newman the post-race "soundbites" from other drivers was a good touch, as was bringing in Ryan's father in a surprise telephone interview. The interaction between these two and the free-flowing conversation was great.

Reporter Terry Blount updated the news on Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his possible penalties from the Nationwide Series. He also updated the always interesting open-wheel merger and transitioned to discussing the former open-wheel stars now learning the NASCAR circuit.

Burr's preview of California next weekend with Newman brought-out the engineer in the driver, and reminded us all that he is a college educated professional driving a Sprint Cup Series car. We need to hear more from him in the future.

Burr closed-out a clean and informative show that never stepped over-the-line with Newman, and clearly allowed him to enjoy himself. The program ended with a very nice roll-out from the NASCAR Media Group that recapped the race and put the final spotlight right where it belonged. One last moment for this easy-going driver.

What a smart way to end another outstanding NASCAR Now. My, how times have changed.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by and leave your opinion of Tuesday's NASCAR Now on ESPN2.

Meet The Original "Gopher Cam"

Veteran motorsports fans may have had a question occur to them as they watched the NASCAR on Fox telecast of the Daytona 500.

The "Gopher Cam" angle that Fox used during the coverage had some fans asking themselves..where did we see this before?

Though not exactly the same, and over fifteen years in the past, the first "on the track" camera angles were seen on ESPN in a much-beloved series called Thursday Night Thunder.

The producer was Terry Lingner, who now runs a well-known and respected TV production company in Indianapolis, IN. The Lingner Group reminded us that they introduced their "Tread Cam" all the way back in 1991.

This technology was installed at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Indy and was subsequently used for NASCAR Craftsman Truck and Nationwide (Busch back then) events as well.

James Fishman was the Engineer at an Indy-based company called On Board Video who was instumental in developing the "Tread Cam."

When it first came out, it actually won a national Sports Emmy Award for Innovative Technical Achievement for Fishman and ESPN. That is the real deal, pictured above.

As recently as 2006, Lingner and Fishman teamed-up again to permanently install some "Tread Cams" at the new Iowa Speedway. Race fans may remember seeing them on the Indy Car Series broadcasts from that track.

The Daly Planet got a lot of mail about this new technology, and questions about how it worked. Readers also asked where they had seen this camera angle before. I hope this information helps put things into perspective, even after more than fifteen years.

Maybe we could ask Dave Despain if people still proudly tell him that they were "Thunderheads."

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.

In-Progress At ESPN: "NASCAR Now" Featuring Ryan Newman

There has been lots of email about Ryan Newman's appearance on Tuesday's NASCAR Now hosted by Ryan Burr. The program will air at 6PM Eastern Time for thirty minutes and then re-air at Midnight.

Newman has been on the whirlwind media tour that comes with the Daytona 500 victory. NASCAR Now has been on a roll with perhaps the two best shows in that series history coming on Sunday and Monday night.

Now, the show transistions from Allen Bestwick back to the hosting tandem of Ryan Burr and Nicole Manske. This past weekend in Daytona, Manske held her own and even hosted a full one hour version of NASCAR Now Sunday morning.

Ryan Burr has worked hard since coming over from ESPNEWS to learn the NASCAR world. Now, he has an opportunity to get Newman two days after all the excitement of the win. The vast majority of the media appearances are over, and Newman should have a very interesting perspective on the last forty-eight hours.

There will be a full column up later Tuesday night about the program, but you will have an opportunity to add your comments before, during and after the program.

Since our friends at ESPN read this blog, you may have a question that you would like Ryan Burr to ask that addresses something not yet covered. There is certainly no harm in putting that forward. Newman has been asked just about everything under the sun by now, so maybe your suggestion would work for the NASCAR Now gang.

This new approach to this TV series by ESPN has certainly turned things around so far this season. Now, as the glow of Daytona begins to wear-off and the reality of ten months of travel and racing sink in, the challenge is to maintain this momentum.

We invite you to offer your opinion as this show goes forward. To add your comment or question, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Thanks again for stopping by to talk about Tuesday's NASCAR Now on ESPN2.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Allen Bestwick Emerges From The Shadows

One person was not featured at the ESPN press conference in the Media Center at Daytona last Wednesday.

The network showed-off new stars Dale Jarrett and Ray Evernham. They brought along Jerry Punch, Andy Petree and Rusty Wallace. Once again, Allen Bestwick was the odd man out.

That is a shame, because NASCAR fans who have watched ESPN over the past four days know one thing from the TV coverage. Bestwick is now the man in charge of NASCAR on ESPN.

After a 2007 season that saw him host NASCAR Now, report from the pits, host the Infield Studio activity and call the play-by-play on selected races, Bestwick has finally been rewarded.

This season, he will host the one hour NASCAR Now on Mondays that includes the ESPN roundtable of NASCAR announcers. He will be the permanent host of the Infield Pit Studio for all of the Nationwide and Sprint Cup race weekends. His face will be seen on ESPNEWS, SportsCenter and As viewers found out over the weekend, Allen Bestwick is suddenly everywhere.

Sunday night found Bestwick and company hosting a one hour NASCAR Now special on ESPN. That same cast of characters then flew to Connecticut for the first big NASCAR Now studio show with the season underway. After long year of Monday disasters, ESPN has stepped-up and changed almost everything about this daily TV series.

Bestwick set the new studio tone by introducing Rusty Wallace, Mike Massaro and Brad Daugherty as his roundtable participants. The free-flowing and non-scripted conversation was a total change from the past.

The program featured the Daytona 500 winning crew chief, although the pre-recorded nature of the interview did not allow any of the other studio panelists to ask questions. Bestwick walked through some very personal and difficult issues with dignity, and came away with high marks.

Then, the program took on a very familiar tone for Bestwick. As the man who hosted Inside Winston/NEXTEL Cup on SPEED for many years, Bestwick now had an "esteemed panel of experts" once again. In a style well-known to NASCAR fans, Bestwick made the most of it.

On the panel were a veteran driver, a former team owner and a veteran reporter. Along with Bestwick, ESPN had put together a very interesting dynamic. The conversation flowed well, everyone had the opportunity to make their point, and Bestwick set the tone with his normal good humor.

Rusty Wallace was fascinating to watch as he came alive. In this format, he could be outspoken and spontaneous without the fear of embarrassment. The spotlight was off, and Rusty could be himself. It should be interesting to watch him embrace his new role.

A nervous ESPN Director called for way too many buttons to be pushed. The only thing interrupting the panel discussions was the frantic cutting of the cameras. The wideshot of all four roundtable members worked just fine, and helped viewers to see the interaction and body language of all four men. As time passes by, and everything settles down, we should see a lower-key approach to this production element.

Lead Reporter Marty Smith filed a wrap-up from Daytona detailing the Monday ceremony at Daytona USA. His interviews included Ryan Newman and Roger Penske. Smith's story was strictly business, and when the details were over he was done.

The show rolled through the Nationwide and Truck series highlights with brief roundtable discussions following both. This commitment to embrace all three of NASCAR's national touring series is wonderful. For a veteran sports TV company like ESPN, it was also about time.

In previewing the California racing weekend, Bestwick set-up the panel with a factual introduction and then opened the floor for discussion. Each of the participants brought their own perspective, and that resulted in a great overview that this program never could have offered last season. Once again, it was like Rusty Wallace had found his TV groove. He was happy, enthusiastic and informative.

Bestwick ended the show with news and notes, including a quick recap of the 500. The final thoughts of the panel included a good perspective of how the Penske camp flew under-the-radar last weekend and what the COT will mean for the rest of the season.

This time, the music roll-out to close the hour was not a screaming rock video. It contained great sound from team radios, the TV and radio announcers and included a hilarious moment from Kyle Busch. It was great to hear ESPN include the NASCAR on Fox announcers as the 500 field crossed the finish line.

If this is the prototype of the new NASCAR Now, my only advice to ESPN is...don't change a thing.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and leave your opinion of Monday's NASCAR Now on ESPN2.