Thursday, July 31, 2008

TV Networks Ready For Some Racing

The two remaining NASCAR TV partners are on-the-air again this weekend from Pocono and Montreal.

The good news is that SPEED has picked-up the Sprint Cup practice sessions that were not originally going to be aired. The bad news is that SPEED will not televise the Saturday ARCA race from Pocono in which Chrissie Wallace will be driving.

Friday's TV coverage kicks-off with SPEED at Noon Eastern Time. This will be the recently-added coverage of the Sprint Cup Series practice at Pocono. Steve Byrnes will host the telecast with Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond alongside. Wendy Venturini and Bob Dillner will report from the garage area.

After practice, SPEED continues with a thirty minute version of NASCAR Live at 1:30PM. Byrnes will host and Venturini and Dillner will continue to report on the stories after practice. It makes a lot of sense to let these reporters follow-up on the issues they detailed during the practice session.

Things switch gears at 2PM as NASCAR TV moves over to ESPN2 for Nationwide Series final practice from Montreal. It will be Marty Reid on-scene with Randy LaJoie alongside. Reporting from the garage will be Vince Welch and Jack Arute.

Now that everyone in Pocono has finished lunch, the Sprint Cup Series qualifies on ESPN2 at 3:30PM. This will be the "A team" of Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. The reporting crew consists of Jamie Little, Shannon Spake, Dave Burns and Mike Massaro.

At 6PM, things get interesting. SPEED will present a special last-minute version of the popular NASCAR Confidential program. This show will look at the Indy situation from the viewpoints of the teams and officials right in the middle of the experience. This show was added to the SPEED line-up out-of-the-blue and should be interesting to watch in terms of content and agenda. This program will also re-air at 11PM Saturday night on SPEED.

Over on ESPN2, it will be the thirty minute version of NASCAR Now at 6PM. This show will be hosted by either Ryan Burr or Nicole Manske and will review the day's activities and preview the remainder of the weekend. Please note there is no West Coast re-air of this program.

At 7PM, Byrnes returns on SPEED with Trackside. He is joined by Hammond, McReynolds and Elliott Sadler. This is a one hour talk show that has two guests who remain throughout the show and interact with the entire panel on a wide variety of subjects. Kevin Harvick and Scott Speed are the guests.

This ends the NASCAR portion of the night, but for those wanting to see the Montreal road course, the Rolex Sports Car Series race from Montreal is on SPEED at 8PM.

Having the early Sprint Cup practice televised is going to make a big difference for the fans and for ESPN as the stories from this session begin to tell the tale of the race itself. Kudos to NASCAR for making this available and to SPEED for covering the action.

This post will serve to host your comments about the Friday NASCAR TV on these two networks. There will be a fresh column up shortly after 7PM reviewing NASCAR Confidential and asking for your comments.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Click On The Title To Read The Latest
Anonymous Sources Rule Wednesday
Will "NASCAR Confidential" Answer The Lingering Questions?
Jarrett Speaks His Mind On The "Total Disaster"
Sprint Cup Practice Sessions Finally Get On TV

TV News:
Here is the link everyone has been sending me. Krissie Newman sounds off on David Newton without ever saying his name.

Chad Knaus will be back with Michael Waltrip and Steve Byrnes on Monday's TWIN. All 4 ESPN pit reporters on NASCAR Now.

44 Sprint Cup Series cars entered for Pocono, TV contract requires 43.

Marty Reid, Rusty Wallace and Randy LaJoie call the Montreal ESPN2 Nationwide Series race. Mike Massaro hosts NASCAR Countdown from pit road. Massaro and Wallace then fly to Pocono for Sunday.

No TV coverage for Saturday's 1PM ET ARCA event at Pocono. SPEED showing multiple episodes of Hot Rod TV. Chrissie Wallace driving in race.

SPEED's Tom Jensen on Tradin' Paint with Kyle Petty, who is not driving at Pocono. Kevin Harvick guests on Trackside. Kiefer Sutherland on RaceDay and is also Grand Marshal.

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Will "NASCAR Confidential" Answer The Lingering Questions?

There are almost no NASCAR-related TV series on-the-air aside from the programs produced from the Sprint Cup Series tracks. Fans searching the 500 cable TV channels on weekdays find a daily news show on ESPN2 and one Monday talk show on SPEED.

Chomping at the bit to provide more long-form NASCAR TV programming is the official TV and media arm of the sport, called The NASCAR Media Group. This season, they have been walking a very thin line with SPEED by providing that network only one limited long-form programming series. It is called NASCAR Confidential.

This behind-the-scenes look at the sport deserves to be on SPEED after every Cup race. But, instead of 38 episodes SPEED ordered only 6. Now, after the unprecedented problems at Indy, it will fall to a special newly-added episode of NASCAR Confidential to show fans the reality of that difficult Sunday. Somehow, there is a large dose of irony in that fact.

NASCAR Confidential continues to deliver a viewpoint never before offered to race fans on a regular basis,” said SPEED SVP of Programming Steve Craddock. “The scale of what happened last weekend is unique and required quick-thinking and pressure-filled decision making from everyone involved. This program will show race fans just how complicated the process was and how everyone rose to the occasion to pull off a complete race under incredibly adverse conditions.”

In other words, this type of programming series has value, but only once and a while. NASCAR Confidential is one of those point-of-view programs that uses a background announcer and features the real people in the real circumstances as NASCAR events unfold. This season, the characters featured on the series have been just as diverse as the sport itself.

The first airing of this special program, titled NASCAR Confidential: What We Learned At Indy, will be on Friday at 6PM ET. It will be re-aired on Saturday at 11PM. The key to this show is that The NASCAR Media Group has all the original footage from all the angles during the entire weekend. In addition, they have exclusive footage that has never been seen before documenting the growing problems as the Indy weekend went forward.

This is a great response by NASCAR and SPEED to the growing unrest among the fans and shows the power that NASCAR TV has when it is used effectively. Nothing can substitute for showing the fans first-hand what went on at the track, be it a positive or a negative experience. Fans are willing to forgive, but only when they believe the truth is being presented.

This announcement comes on the heels of SPEED adding live coverage of the Sprint Cup Series practice sessions for the rest of the season. The network already has the TV franchise when it comes to the weekend SPEED Stage programming that fans have been watching for years. In addition, the Monday night This Week in NASCAR series is finally back-on-track and creating a buzz.

Nothing would be better than watching SPEED continue to open the doors to some quality NASCAR programming and help get this sport back-on-track in this difficult time. Our review of this program will be available on Friday, shortly after the program concludes.

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Anonymous Sources Rule Wednesday

The barren wasteland of Wednesdays continues to haunt the NASCAR Now gang in 2008. The last race is long since done, the previews don't make sense until Thursday and the industry news is slow. What to do?

ESPN2 has tried to answer this question over-and-over again on this NASCAR show. One solution is apparently to just make things up. When NASCAR Now needs that, they summon David Newton. Even after Newton's recent public relations disaster with Martin Truex Jr. and DEI, there he was front-and-center once again. Here is the Truex reaction to Newton's original report.

On this Wednesday, Newton stated exactly the same thing about Ryan Newman that he had said about Truex. Newton's assertion was that Ryan Newman had signed with Stewart-Haas Racing. He knew this from an anonymous source. He also knew that there were lots of details that needed to be worked out, so there probably would not be an announcement about this topic for a long while. How convenient.

While on-camera, Newton spoke quickly and nervously about this topic. He sometimes spoke so fast it was hard to understand what he was saying. Host Ryan Burr was quick to interject that a Stewart-Haas spokesperson had denied Newton's report by saying talks were on-going with several drivers. Burr actually said "that is their reaction to your news today."

Newton was next quizzed about Kyle Petty's future since the announcement that he would sit-out Pocono and Michigan. Newton said he "talked to somebody in the garage" who told him Kyle was contemplating what to do next season. Newton said Petty was considering becoming a full time (TV) analyst next season. That would mean Petty would unseat either Phil Parsons, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace or Jimmy Spencer. Is that really what Newton wanted to suggest?

Burr was not letting Newton off-the-hook and the experienced news anchor had a lot more questions. Next up was the Truex fiasco and Burr asked Newton point-blank if "anything had changed" since Newton's original story and Truex's angry denial. The answer was once again that the reason Newton's story had not been confirmed was that "there are details to be worked out."

During this entire segment, it seemed that Burr was questioning Newton's credibility. In fact, when Brad Daugherty was brought-in to the program, Burr's first question to Daugherty asked about "Newton's report" of a signed Newman contract. Unfortunately, new Sprint Cup Series owner Daugherty ran away from the issue at a very high rate of speed.

"I think its an outstanding opportunity." said Daugherty side-stepping the question. Daugherty referred to the potential combination of Stewart and Newman as the "dynamic duo." It was Daugherty's assertion that things between these two would go fine, unless the cars did not run well. Sometimes, Daugherty just misses the mark in this solo role as a commentator.

Burr was still not done with Newton's credibility. NASCAR Now next played-back a videotape of Newman shot Wednesday while he visited the Buffalo Bills training camp. On it, Newman is asked about Stewart. "He has his stuff to do and I have my stuff to do and there are other options out there," was his response.

"That doesn't necessarily seem like a guy that is 100% committed," said Burr of Newman. Burr asked Daugherty about this issue and again Daugherty ran for the hills. His response was about Roger Penske's ownership history and the fact that if Newman made the move to Stewart-Haas, he would be starting from scratch. As most fans know, Haas is one of the most well-equipped smaller teams and Newman would be getting, among other things, a wind tunnel.

This show had almost a creepy dynamic to it as Newton made his way through his NASCAR stories. That feeling grew as the host openly challenged one of's own NASCAR writers about the validity of his "sources" and the information that resulted. When is the last time we have seen that?

Last season, ESPN's reporters provoked strong reactions in the garage with their tabloid style of journalism. All three of those reporters, David Amber, Bob Holtzman and Wendy Nix were quietly removed from the NASCAR beat this year.

NASCAR Now has enjoyed a re-birth since February and has been one of the best surprises on the NASCAR TV scene. Now, things seem to be taking a turn for the worse. Long before ESPN returned, NASCAR had an extensive network of experienced journalists working full-time on the sport's top circuit.

Today, between 24 hour radio channels and thousands of websites, NASCAR is one of the most well-covered professional sports in America. To simply believe that Newton can develop and then report stories before other Charlotte-based media members is ridiculous.

The reality is simply that he is being allowed to report them on-the-air without the verification that experienced journalists would require.

Judging from the internal tension on Wednesday's NASCAR Now, perhaps this practice will cease before drivers and teams decide that talking to any ESPN reporter for the rest of the season might be a bad idea.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Jarrett Speaks His Mind On The "Total Disaster"

ESPN hired Dale Jarrett on a full-time basis this season to benefit from his experience in the sport. Two days after calling his first race at Indy, Jarrett made it very clear that he certainly had a lot to say on Tuesday's NASCAR Now.

"Total disaster," said Jarrett about the Indy race. Host Ryan Burr only had to mention the topic and Jarrett was off and running. The theme of his comments was that NASCAR fans deserve better racing that the COT was delivering on the track.

"We have to make some changes with this car," continued Jarrett. He is the first ESPN analyst to speak-out directly about changing the COT as soon as possible for the good of the sport. Jarrett aimed directly at the fact that regardless of the safety features, the COT had lowered the competition level on the track below what was acceptable.

"I'm not saying we have to get rid of it," said Jarrett about the new car. The benefit of having someone with Jarrett's stature in the sport is that he deals with top executives on these issues. Jarrett said he had personally called Mike Helton earlier on Tuesday to offer his own suggestions on what could be changed. Helton listened and then explained NASCAR's position. This is exactly the kind of direct communication and credibility that is going to vault Jarrett to the top of the NASCAR TV ranks.

Burr pinned him down on what specific things Jarrett wanted to change. Raising the splitter and letting the teams work more with the front end was his idea. In answering, Jarrett also confirmed that NASCAR is looking at a wider wheel for future events that would put down a bigger contact patch and lessen the sidewall problems.

Journalist Terry Blount came along next and he addressed the same issues. Blount tried to expand on Jarrett's comments by reminding fans that problems existed at other tracks this season with different surfaces than Indy. He also pointed out that for the first time NASCAR's Robin Pemberton said he may now be open to changing the body style of the car in the future.

Burr dropped a nice bombshell by announcing that Jimmie Johnson will be driving a Craftsman Truck at Bristol, TN later this season. It will be the Moss Motorsports entry that Johnson will pilot and Jarrett returned to suggest that perhaps Chevrolet "helped" Randy Moss make this arrangement.

Fan favorite DJ Copp was interviewed next by satellite and his comments were worthwhile. As an active crew member, Copp was interesting in explaining the how and why of the very long day for the teams. His point was that pitting every ten laps made the turn-a-round a lot shorter for the crews and that the tire dust was tough to take. Perhaps, some video of his day may have been helpful.

David Reutimann was interviewed from the MWR shops and he was candid in his comments about the COT as well. A bit more diplomatic than Jarrett, Reutimann felt this first year was going to continue to be tough for the COT down the stretch. There was really no reason given why Reutimann was on the show other than the fact he was going to race in ESPN2's upcoming Nationwide Series race in Montreal.

Tim Brewer rounded out the show with a preview of what would happen in Montreal if it rained. NASCAR has windshield wipers, rain tires and brake lights ready to go in order to keep the action going on the track. After what happened in Indy, watching big stock cars on treaded tires with cloudy windshields in the pouring rain on a road course would make this season even more memorable. If only it were for the right reasons.

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Sprint Cup Practice Sessions Finally Get On TV

Every new large TV package goes through some growing pains and that has certainly been the case with the new NASCAR TV contract that began in 2007. Among the issues that NASCAR wrestled with was televising Sprint Cup practice sessions during the seventeen race ESPN/ABC portion of the schedule.

Last weekend we saw SPEED step-in and carry a Cup practice session from The Brickyard at the very last minute. Steve Byrnes, Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds actually voiced-over the live track activity from the SPEED Stage outside of the speedway.

Today, SPEED has announced that they are stepping-in on a fulltime basis and carrying eight additional practice sessions to help fill-in the holes in the TV schedule. Here are the dates and times:

Pocono (Aug. 1, Noon ET)
Watkins Glen (Aug. 9, Noon ET)
Dover (Sept. 19, 11 a.m. ET)
Kansas (Sept. 27, 12:30 p.m. ET)
Martinsville (Oct. 18, 11:30 a.m. ET)
Atlanta (Oct. 24, 3 p.m. ET)
Atlanta (Oct. 25, 10:30 a.m. ET)
Homestead (Nov. 15, 1:30 p.m. ET)

During the Fox and TNT portions of the Sprint Cup schedule, it was SPEED that made the commitment to treating every practice and qualifying session with the same level of coverage that SPEED brings to the Craftsman Truck Series. The qualifying sessions on SPEED were simply outstanding and told the real stories of the upcoming race.

Kudos to NASCAR and SPEED for coming together to get this live content televised. Perhaps, the added value that this coverage will bring is exactly what the sport needs as it continues to recover from the Indy problems.

As fans who watched ESPN2 last season remember, that network is dominated by other stick-and-ball sports after August and NASCAR really took a backseat. Earlier this season, SPEED actually allowed ESPN to televise an entire race on the SPEED network due to a schedule conflict. That was amazing.

We will have more information on these new programs once they are added to the existing SPEED schedule and we will also update the announcers. For now, the good news is that cars at speed on the track will be televised as NASCAR's top series runs down the stretch to Homestead.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks again for taking the time to drop by.

Monday, July 28, 2008

"This Week In NASCAR" Turns The Corner

NASCAR fans have had a unique opportunity this season to watch a TV show start from scratch and begin to grow. This Week in NASCAR on SPEED took the place of the Inside Sprint Cup program franchise in February.

Steve Byrnes was named as host and the "expert panel" shrunk from three to just two. Michael Waltrip was a staple on this new show, with Greg Biffle and Chad Knaus rotating through the other chair as their schedules allowed. While Kenny Schrader left the program, he did return for one episode this season.

The challenge for the NASCAR Media Group producers was to keep the franchise alive but make some positive changes for the new program. One big change was the format. The new TWIN had a short chat with the panelists about their racing weekend and then moved-on quickly to the next production element.

The SPEED executives had decided to preview the upcoming race before Byrnes and company got the opportunity to review the action that was still fresh in the minds of the fans. It was an understandable idea, but one that did not really fly with the TV viewers.

Once Waltrip got comfortable with Byrnes, he cranked his excitement level back-up to the Mikey of old and things became fun again. Waltrip crafted a hilarious relationship with Knaus that we have been referring to as "the odd couple." The analytical Knaus is often confronted with the unorthodox Waltrip discussing things like his socks and favorite TV commercials.

Biffle has brought a driver credibility to the program of someone who still has the race-to-race intensity of a contender. His TV skills are getting better and he now finally feels free to offer his own opinions. He has mastered the art of completely avoiding Waltrip in a "Schrader like" way that also makes things fun.

Over the last six months, Daly Planet readers have added their comments in support of changing the program format. Once Byrnes got things organized and the show developed a personality, it was clear that the on-air announcers needed one little bit of help from the network. This week, they got it.

Monday night was the first show where the fresh memories and stories from the Sunday race were allowed to continue for the first half of the show. SPEED had allowed the review to pass the preview and the results were more than worthwhile. Now, Byrnes can concentrate on building-up the personalities and the features contained in the newly-formatted show.

Waltrip and Biffle ran through the Brickyard 400 issues and highlights with enthusiasm and candor. Waltrip echoed the comments of the other drivers that NASCAR managed the unfortunate situation the best way possible. As usual, Waltrip quickly went just a bit overboard in his enthusiasm.

The new format continued as Byrnes fired-off a group of email questions from viewers about the Indy race to the panelists in the middle of the show. This was a great addition, as it caught both Waltrip and Biffle off-guard and asked them to deal with the real feelings of the fans. This element will have real potential when viewers are allowed to upload a video question on the website for the show.

One strong element continues to be the pre-produced features from The NASCAR Media Group. Elements like Scanner Chatter, highlight reviews and upcoming race previews are always outstanding. It is a shame that these features cannot appear on the same website so viewers can replay them. Perhaps, that will happen in the future.

As expected, the Pocono preview was much more effective since the panelists were now relaxed and in a very good mood. After thirty minutes of talking about the last race, the transition to the upcoming event seemed to be very natural.

This week, the format changes continued as TWIN showed the Craftsman Truck and Nationwide Series highlights. This was a feature that never should have been eliminated and was welcomed back with enthusiasm by the panelists.

TWIN is going to benefit from increasing the viewer interactivity with the panelists. ESPN2's NASCAR Now has cemented the format of three panelists who simply take questions from the host and perhaps talk to a guest.

It will be up to SPEED and the NMG producers to take advantage of this personality-driven show and increase the ability of NASCAR fans to participate with the panelists on TWIN. There is a whole lot of potential in this program series.

In the end, we applaud SPEED for allowing the producers to change the format and open-the-gate to more fun and flowing conversation. As usual with the NASCAR TV partners, they have proven to be ultimately responsive to the views of the fans.

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Bestwick Hosts Owner's Roundtable

This year has seen some interesting shows on the one hour Monday edition of NASCAR Now.

Themes have included all three Wallace brothers, three NASCAR reporters and next week will feature all four of ESPN's NASCAR pit reporters. On this Monday, ESPN2 came by a show theme accidentally. Mike Massaro missed his plane.

Instead of Allen Bestwick hosting Massaro, Brad Daugherty and Ray Evernham, it was suddenly an "all Sprint Cup Series owners" edition of the program. Massaro's presence was sorely missed as he is a valuable piece of this Monday show and was right in the middle of the pit road action at The Brickyard.

Bestwick opened with a muted tone considering the circumstances of the race and ran through the mandatory highlights and soundbites from the winner and his owner. The fun really began when Bestwick was talking about the tire situation and the resulting mess on the racetrack. "Why did this happen?" he asked both panelists.

The strength of Evernham where television is concerned is that he comes across as easy to understand and likable. His explanation of the weight issues with the COT and the problems in the corners made sense. Suddenly, things did not seem to be as complicated as other TV shows made them out to be.

It was Daugherty who was surprisingly outspoken about this issue on Sunday from the track for ESPN. As Bestwick turned to him for an explanation about why NASCAR did not have an open test session at The Brickyard, it was clear Daugherty was still upset. "I think it was a critical mistake," said Daugherty.

His point was that by not allowing the teams to test and solve the resulting problems, it put NASCAR and Goodyear in the very position they both experienced on Sunday. Evernham backed-up Daugherty and pointed to this issue as the key to the situation.

It was smart of Bestwick to push both men about the "why." Evernham and Daugherty were upfront in admitting they knew "what" happened but they had no clue about "why." Evernham called for new tire dimensions for next season or the same problem was going to re-surface. A "bigger box to work in" was the request.

Bestwick put both panelists on the spot by asking them about NASCAR's performance. Daugherty called Indy a "crown jewel" and said the race was "falling apart. His point was that NASCAR made the only choices possible.

Evernham has always had a dry sense of humor and his quote was that "there are some things NASCAR does well and some things NASCAR does...not so well." Suggesting that NASCAR kept things safe and did the best they could, but perhaps needs to take their lumps over the situation in general.

The race highlights were simply horrible and Bestwick quickly shifted the focus back to making The Chase. It was this topic that made Evernham put on his owner's hat and he responded well. He spoke about his teams and the many things that being in The Chase can bring. Most of those things were financial.

It was clear that having Massaro's pit road perspective and veteran opinions would have helped this program. Evernham can provide the owner's perspective and Daugherty can talk like a fan, but the show missed a reporter's first-hand experiences during the race itself. Now that Bestwick has been promoted to being the infield host for the Cup races, he cannot provide that kind of information.

We had hoped that NASCAR Now would have a Monday guest that could contribute to the tire issues in a meaningful way, but that was not to be. It was driver AJ Allmendinger who stopped by via satellite and did his best to address the Indy troubles. Bestwick also rather pointedly asked Allmendinger about the time this year when he was "benched." Viewers could see Allmendinger wince at the question on-camera.

The politically correct answers came out, so Bestwick moved-on to ask about Team Red Bull's improved performance. Allmendinger confirmed that Red Bull is now building their own cars and is trying to take control of the overall COT package. Still outside the Top 35, Allmendinger seems realistic about grinding it out for the remainder of 2008.

All three of the panelists looked rather "toasty" on-the-air and Bestwick even related that the airlines had lost his luggage on the way to Bristol. This endless trek of personnel back to Connecticut each and every Monday is still strange to many. ESPN is neck-deep in NASCAR and will be for many more years.

With almost all of the NASCAR personalities based in the Greater Charlotte area, it may be time for ESPN to look at all the content it generates about the sport during the week and consider putting a facility together in the Concord or Mooresville area.

Bestwick delivered an optimistic preview of Pocono and then showed brief Craftsman Truck and Nationwide Series highlights to close the program. Kudos to all three panelists for dealing with a long race and a late night flight to simply make this show appearance. Evernham is making his way onto the ESPN team and Daugherty is finally speaking his mind and taking control of his TV image.

Next Monday the panel will consist of Massaro, Shannon Spake, Jamie Little and Dave Burns. NASCAR Now will move from owners to reporters as the amazing popularity of this Monday program continues to grow.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

ESPN's Disaster Management Drill

Every TV crew brings a wide variety of skills to the track when they assemble to telecast a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Many times over the last two years we have heard that the amount of equipment and manpower used for a race like the Brickyard 400 is bigger than for the Super Bowl.

Sunday afternoon at the Brickyard, the NASCAR on ESPN crew was asked to look deep into their TV bag of tricks. They were searching for the network's Disaster Management Plan.

The Goodyear tires were only going to last about ten laps before failing and everyone on the TV crew knew this going into the race. Even with additional tires shipped into the track, the situation was simply not going to change. Tony George's track had a surface that was just not "taking rubber" no matter what was done.

Allen Bestwick led ESPN into the network's second season of Sprint Cup coverage and fans were very glad Bestwick was on-board. His years of experience were crucial in trying to navigate through the nightmare of only ten lap runs being the norm on one of the biggest stages in motorsports.

Bestwick led Rusty Wallace, Brad Daugherty and Ray Evernham through a one hour pre-race show that explained the problems. Evernham showed his value and his technical knowledge once again as he skillfully talked viewers through this problem situation. Wallace and Daugherty were not in Evernham's league and it showed.

The tire story wound its way through the entire pre-race, but ESPN carried-on valiantly by interviewing the big names and keeping up appearances. The pit reporters worked well, but Jamie Little and Shannon Spake were having a tough time understanding the seriousness of the tire situation. They eventually got on-board as the race progressed.

Dr. Jerry Punch was not seen during the lead-in hour and when he took over the live telecast of the race the only thing he had on his hands was a mess. The saving grace in all of this was Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree showing that they are going to be effective on this coverage for ESPN. These two are often carrying-on conversations that Punch seems to be interrupting when he gets back to trying to call the race.

As the first several cautions and the first blown tires began to paint a picture for viewers it was clear that both the teams and the TV network were going to be moving to survival mode. Instead of the grandeur and majesty of Indy, NASCAR was going to be lucky to survive without an open fan revolt. Many of these same folks were no doubt present for the Formula-1 debacle earlier at the same track.

In terms of the overall broadcast crew, it was Bestwick, Jarrett and Petree who kept their wits about them and spoke to TV viewers in realistic terms about the things NASCAR was doing as the race progressed. Multiple competition cautions, closing the pits early and getting a new set of Pocono tires ready if needed were easily understood by even the most casual fan.

Earlier on RaceDay over on SPEED, reporter Hermie Sadler showed the surface of the track and the way it had been ground into unique grooves. ESPN would have been smart to frequently show fans this surface to make the point about the tires.

The pictures and sound from ESPN were outstanding. The network dropped the music videos, the SportsCenter updates and the celebrity interviews. Green flag racing was not interrupted as if it was a sideshow and the network made a commitment to wider camera angles which showed a lot more cars than last season.

The "triple split" on the caution flag pit-stops came into play as never before. With the frequent NASCAR cautions, this patented ESPN coverage of the pit-stops and the race off pit road was outstanding. It was always instantly clear who had gained, who had lost and what the restart order would be.

This type of racing allowed ESPN to slip-in commercial breaks without any real problems. If there is one thing that caution flags every ten laps will help it is commercial integration. Thankfully, ESPN did not insert live X Games promos this year and limited the hype to the creepy Darkmane and his "really cool" costume.

As the race progressed, ESPN did not use the comparison of this tire problem to the issues experienced with the Formula-1 race a while back at Indy. It was strange that this situation was treated as unique when most of the Formula-1 cars actually pulled off the track and boycotted the race.

It was very clear as the telecast progressed that ESPN was managing the on-air disaster, but lacking the comments of two very important people. The first was NASCAR President Mike Helton, who did the right thing and subsequently walked right into the ESPN announce booth.

Helton was candid in his comments, told viewers exactly what the sanctioning body was going to do and the frustrations he felt in this situation. It was a reminder of the many positive things Helton has brought to the table over his years in this sport.

One voice, however, was missing. The high-profile Tony George from IMS was never heard from and that was a shame. Regardless of the problem, a track operator like Humpy Wheeler or Eddie Gossage would have been ready to go on-the-air and talk about the issues involved. George should have been front-and-center. Instead, he was invisible.

One big breath of fresh air from the NASCAR on ESPN gang was the final run to the checkered flag. The Director worked very hard to keep a perspective on a large number of cars even though it was a two-car race. As the winner crossed the finish line, ESPN swung wide so fans could watch the field race hard off Turn 4 and sprint to the finish. The big graphics were tough, but the information was accurate and worked well.

Fans of drivers like Marcos Ambrose and others who never ran in the top ten were frustrated that there were almost no full-field rundowns, but the tire situation and the frequent caution flags really had some production elements out-of-sort.

While this broadcast was clearly not a good test of ESPN's new NASCAR commitment, it was a solid start under tough circumstances for a crew with several new additions. This may be the one time that the TV crew is actually looking forward to heading for the hills. Pocono is next on the Sprint Cup agenda.

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"Victory Lane" Spins A New NASCAR Reality

After the Sprint Cup Series races, Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace sit in Victory Lane waiting for the winner to get out of his car. While the confetti flies and the TV network does an interview, Wallace and Spencer talk about the race. The resulting one hour show is appropriately named Victory Lane.

Spencer is an unabashed cheerleader for NASCAR and Wallace is always one to put a happy face on any situation. Wallace really does see the brightside of things. This duo is managed quite well by veteran SPEED TV host John Roberts.

After the Brickyard 400, the TV team was once again on-hand as Jimmie Johnson did his final burnouts and prepared for his interviews. One thing, however, was different. Apparently, Spencer and Wallace had decided to "spin" the grim reality of this event into something completely different. That would be a great race.

At the top of the show, Roberts called the race "long, strange and at times unfortunate." Spencer rightly pointed-out that winner Jimmie Johnson had been the fastest car all weekend long. Wallace added that it was only the second time the polesitter had won at The Brickyard. As the panel waited for Johnson, Spencer and Wallace gave their impressions of the race.

It was Wallace who said that The Brickyard 400 was going to be a "watercooler race." With the camera in his face, Wallace offered to "straighten race fans out." He began to insist that this event was fundamentally "a show" and that it was actually a great race. Spencer offered that some of the fans are going to be upset, but that he had seen a lot of great racing.

Spencer continued with the quote that "a lot of variables went into this race" and the fact that the cream had risen to the top. Wallace added that the race had the feel of a Saturday shoot-out at a local track.

In terms of NASCAR, Spencer said they "went out of their way to put a show on for the fans." Roberts was the voice of reason as he so often is on this show and made sure to point out that NASCAR's big fear was bad crashes and driver injury.

There was no doubt that Spencer and Wallace were just trying to be supportive of a sport that means so much to them. Unfortunately, these two are perhaps not the best in terms of trying to balance the reality of this situation with the public relations damage to NASCAR. A balanced discussion was not on the menu.

"This is Indy Car land, they are not going to do nothing for stock car racing." said Wallace. He and Spencer were talking about adding a sealer to the track to help the tires in the future. The issue was apparently now the Indy cars and the grinding of the track to help their performance.

As Roberts gamely led the panel through the highlights, Spencer and Wallace tried very hard to sell the fact that this was a great race despite the limitations. "Left side tires were not an issue," said Spencer as he tried to suggest that pit strategy played a role in this event. Roberts pointed-out that the top cars all took two tires on the final stop, but that did not seem to matter to Spencer.

Bob Dillner handled the interviews with the top finishers and showed his new found maturity in difficult times. Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards offered conciliatory interviews hoping the fans would understand the tire problems and offered their own apologies. The drivers actually were the only ones who took the middle ground on the race issues and came-off as sophisticated and professional.

Winner Jimmie Johnson came along and answered a lot of questions about almost everything...except tires. Asked about his career expectations, testing schedules and the fact that everyone had the same circumstances, Johnson proved to be a true professional. He said the sport would "take its lumps" and move on.

Bob Dillner interviewed Jeff Gordon at the end of the show and Gordon's statements that the race was "strange and unfortunate" echoed Roberts. Gordon was clear in his view that there was no reason to blame anyone, but that the problems need to be addressed immediately by all of the parties concerned.

This is the kind of effective commentary that works to address multiple issues. None of the drivers offered the hype and rhetoric of Spencer and Wallace. While this duo is effective on RaceDay with their unique brand of humor and commentary, this situation was very different.

It is important for national TV commentators like Spencer and Wallace to realistically address issues that may not be favorable to NASCAR. The ability to discuss negative issues in an honest and open manner with the TV viewers is critical. On this Sunday, there was a very good reason why.

Directly following Victory Lane on SPEED was the new one hour Sunday version of ESPN2's NASCAR Now. Within two minutes of being on-the-air, Allen Bestwick was leading an intelligent discussion with Jimmie Johnson about exactly the same issues Spencer and Wallace had been unable to articulate. Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty added to the conversation with good questions and everyone on the panel was extremely professional.

No longer is Victory Lane the final NASCAR wrap-up show on Sunday nights. This new reality is going to be something that the folks at SPEED are going to need to remember. Even after such a great race.

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NASCAR's Monday TV Shows Should Be Interesting

Note: There are new posts up for both NASCAR Now and This Week In NASCAR.

Normally, we talk about the head-to-head match-up of the two big Monday NASCAR TV programs on this post. This week, we are just going to talk about the content issues.

Monday's NASCAR Now is on-the-air at 5PM Eastern Time. Host Allen Bestwick has Ray Evernham, Brad Daugherty and Mike Massaro as his panelists. This is an interesting mix because all four of the men in the studio were on-hand at Indy. ESPN2 will deliver the first Monday review with four veterans who participated in the telecast.

It was Brad Daugherty who was outspoken live on ESPN and saying that this race was a poor effort and embarrassing to NASCAR. He was clearly not pleased and did not toe the NASCAR line as did several other announcers like Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace on Victory Lane.

Massaro was in the pits and reporting on the situation as it progressed. He was also the reporter who spoke with the key Goodyear spokesman on Saturday to update the potential problems on Sunday afternoon. His views and opinions should be outstanding.

Perhaps, the best person to address this situation is Evernham. His comments during the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show were the best explanation of how the tire situation happened and what it meant. His technical knowledge is going to be a good addition to this program.

Bestwick had a birds-eye view of everything from the Infield Pit Center all day long on Sunday. He led the network through NASCAR Now, SportsCenter, NASCAR Countdown, the live telecast and the post-race interviews. What more could he do? Fly to Connecticut and lead another hour-long show on Monday is the answer.

NASCAR Now's "roundtable" version is the best story of the season where racing TV is concerned. This Monday program should be one to watch, as it will be interesting to see who the program hosts as guests. Robin Pemberton from NASCAR perhaps?

Over on SPEED, Steve Byrnes will have his hands full for two reasons. First, Michael Waltrip will be on-set and he had a big crash at Indy. Byrnes is going to have to tackle Waltrip and get his head back in the game or this show could be a mess.

Joining Waltrip and Byrnes will be Greg Biffle who got a lot of time on-camera during the ESPN race telecast. The perspective of a driver who ran the entire race and was in contention should be a great asset to the show. Biffle has come a long way on TV and his opinions and commentary have been welcomed by the fans.

This Week in NASCAR will be on SPEED at 8PM. Both of these TV shows will re-air at Midnight Eastern Time as usual. It should be fascinating to see how ESPN2 and SPEED handle this very strange race on these review shows.

Note: If there was ever a week where SPEED should put the review before the preview, this is it. Skipping to Pocono without finishing the Indy discussion is going to put a serious dent in the credibility of TWIN.

There will be columns up for your comments shortly after both programs.

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In-Progress At Indy: Sprint Cup Race On ESPN

After six months of rehearsing with the Nationwide Series, Sunday at 1PM brings the debut of ESPN's transition to the Sprint Cup.

Allen Bestwick will lead the panel of Rusty Wallace, Brad Daugherty and Ray Evernham from the Infield Pit Center through a one-hour version of NASCAR Countdown. This pre-race show is going to be talking about the critical Goodyear tire issue which will dominate this telecast.

This pressing issue is sure to change the scripted nature of what ESPN had planned for this hour and continues to change as showtime approaches. The pit reporters are going to be put to the test in this show.

It will be Dave Burns, Jamie Little, Shannon Spake and Mike Massaro who will be charged with keeping the viewers up to date from pit road, the garage area and the Infield Medical Center. Spake was a fill-in last season and is still coming up to speed with live TV, the other three are veterans from last season's coverage.

Upstairs will be Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. Punch will be handling the play-by-play duties for this second season with the very bright spotlight shining on this high-profile position. He struggled last year on these longer races and often appeared to be very tired only halfway through the event.

The big new fish in the ESPN pond is Dale Jarrett. He has been the savior of ESPN this season with his calm demeanor and his strong knowledge of the sport. Coupled with Andy Petree, this duo has all the bases covered for ESPN and should be the strongest part of the Indy coverage.

ESPN has been challenged to abandon the "scripted" approach to these races that drove fans crazy last year, and the Indy tire problems may be just what the doctor ordered. The network is going to be forced to deal with the reality of this problem rather than stick with the stories it chose to highlight in the pre-race show.

Look for solid triple splits on the caution flag pit stops with ESPN trying to do everything possible to cover the most important part of this event, the race off pit road. It is entirely possible that the order leaving the pits will be the order finishing the race with all the COT issues.

Bestwick is very different from former infield host Suzy Kolber, so TV viewers should not be subjected to celebrity interviews and ESPN promos during green flag racing. The network also has to choose when to insert SportsCenter updates and other non-racing content.

The HD cameras at Indy are always outstanding, and this season the ESPN crew produced a memorable Indy 500 IRL telecast. Hopefully, the outstanding pictures and sound will continue with the ESPN TV crew on this broadcast. Look for moving boom and jig cameras in the telecast, especially on pit road.

The final laps of this race call for the big decision on the part of the Producer. Show the drama of the winner alone crossing the finish-line or keep the bigger perspective and show the lead-lap cars all racing to the stripe. It should be interesting to see what ESPN decides this season. In 2007, they chose to show only the winning car and no others cross the line.

This post will serve to host your TV-related comments about the Brickyard 400 telecast on ESPN. To add your comments, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for joining us for our second Brickyard race.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Showtime For The NASCAR On ESPN Gang

ESPN has a big day planned across three of its networks. Sunday at 10AM ET host Ryan Burr will kick things off on ESPN2 with a one hour edition of NASCAR Now.

Most of the content will come from the ESPN on-air staff at The Brickyard. There are currently over fifteen ESPN announcers and reporters on the scene and no doubt the top story will be tires. This program has been consistently good in 2008 and the pressure is on as the ESPN portion of the Sprint Cup schedule begins Sunday afternoon.

Reach-up and change the remote to SPEED at 11AM for two hours of RaceDay. Live from the SPEED Stage host John Roberts will be joined by Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace. Two key live guests on the show will be Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. Reporter Wendy Venturini's Real Deal segment will be with Sam Hornish who is an Indy Car veteran trying to make the transition to NASCAR.

A special feature on RaceDay will be Ken Squier offering an essay on the racing history of Indy. This will tie-in with a review of Tony Stewart's racing in several series at the track and a feature on how heartache in the big races at Indy always seems to come along at the worst possible time.

As Daly Planet readers may remember, this season RaceDay was shifted back an hour so it did not overlap with ESPN's NASCAR Countdown. This first week the Allen Bestwick led program begins at 1PM and runs for a full hour.

Bestwick has to move his chair over because ESPN has four panelists on the show from Indy. Brad Daugherty and Rusty Wallace will be joined by Ray Evernham for the pre-race show, and Daugherty and Wallace will remain as a part of the announce team during the race with Bestwick. This crew will also host the post-race programming.

At 2PM the dress rehearsal is over and ESPN takes to the air for the first Sprint Cup Series race in the network's seventeen race TV package. Dr. Jerry Punch will call the play-by-play with first year Lead Analyst Dale Jarrett and second season veteran Andy Petree. These three will handle all the ESPN and ABC Sprint Cup telecasts down the stretch.

Since Allen Bestwick has taken over Suzy Kolber's role in the Infield, it will be Shannon Spake joining the pit reporting team this season. Returning veterans Jamie Little, Dave Burns and Mike Massaro round-out the crew that will call the action on pit road. Last year, this group was roundly criticized for not following-up with drivers after accidents or when a car pulled directly into the garage. This season, they have been outstanding on the Nationwide Series races with those issues. Let's hope the focus does not shift on Sunday.

ESPN said that it is not unveiling any new gizmo's or TV tricks this season, just trying to refine the issues that bothered fans last year. Look for Jarrett to play a major role in this telecast bigger than just an analyst and for him to seek-out opinions from Wallace and Daugherty during the live race. Jarrett is a team-builder and that is exactly what this coverage lacked in 2007.

As Daly Planet readers are aware, this race last year was three hours of racing that led to ESPN only showing the winning car cross the finish line. Not one other car was shown at all. Fans got to see the winner waving, slowing down and then slowing down some more. Meanwhile, the real stories of the race were being played-out on the track. Hopefully, ESPN has learned the hard lesson that Fox did not earlier this year. Who wins may not always be the biggest story of the race in a season that is six months old.

ESPN has a great graphics package on the Nationwide Series, they have dumped the music videos and the hype completely. The network seems poised to make a big decision whether to cover the Sprint Cup racing action wherever it takes place or to just follow the leaders and the big names like last season.

After the race, ESPNEWS will kick into high gear and go live with the post-race press conference. I am told unofficially that this time there will actually be a reporter assigned for ESPNEWS and live interviews will be done. We shall see. Since the race is scheduled from 2 to 6PM, we may also see the 6PM SportsCenter focus on Indy.

SPEED is up next as they begin the Sunday night review programming. The SPEED Report will be at 7PM, Victory Lane at 8PM and Wind Tunnel at 9PM. This three hour block should have some good coverage of Indy from several different perspectives. Having John Roberts, Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace sitting in Victory Lane while ESPN is still on-the-air interviewing the winner is always interesting to watch. No word on the hosts of SPEED Report or guests on Wind Tunnel.

ESPN2 returns the one hour Sunday night wrap-up edition of NASCAR Now at 10PM hosted by Ryan Burr. This should be a good opportunity to see highlights of all three series that raced at Indy along with a final word on the tire issues and any late-breaking news. This show will be on every Sunday through the final race at Homestead.

So, from 10AM through 11PM Eastern Time NASCAR fans can overdose on all kinds of NASCAR shows. This post will host your comments about the "TV support shows" on Sunday. There will be an new post for in-progress comments up at Noon ET for the race itself, so please join us.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.

Sprint Cup Qualifying A Tough Start For ESPN

NASCAR fans have been watching practice and qualifying sessions for the Sprint Cup Series since the kick-off of the season in February. These sessions have been presented on SPEED and hosted by the likes of Mike Joy, Steve Byrnes and Bill Weber.

SPEED treats qualifying like gold. Each car is shown taking the full qualifying attempt and each story is told from the warm-up lap through the checkered flag. One TV twist that SPEED has worked to perfect is the "time shifting" of qualifying.

The cars are all continually recorded and the program itself continues to be recorded even as the TV network is in commercial break. Coming back from commercial, the network changes from being live to being "time shifted" as the program is picked-up right where it left off. This allows each team to have their moment in the national TV spotlight and all the stories to unfold as they actually happened.

Saturday morning, it was the time of the year when qualifying shifts over to ESPN. It was clear from the start that ESPN was going to be using a very different philosophy for qualifying than fans had seen this season. Unfortunately, many fans remember this same approach from last year. The on-track action quickly became a sideshow as ESPN once again decided that the network's agenda would come first.

It was Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree calling the qualifying session. Just like last year, ESPN has made the very strange decision to put the on-air announcers in the Infield Pit Center for this live action. Essentially, this forces Jarrett and Petree to watch TV and comment on the picture instead of watching the track and commenting on the car from a better perspective. The results were not good.

Mike Massaro, Jamie Little and Shannon Spake were the ESPN reporters from the garage area. It did not take long to have them begin talking about stories and news items that had nothing to do with qualifying. The reality was about to set-in that ESPN was back and the NASCAR TV world was going to be different.

There had only been three cars on the track, but that was enough for the network. ESPN2 was off to commercial break and several minutes later fans of Dave Blaney only saw him coasting back toward the garage with his time posted on a graphic. There would be no replays of cars that were missed during the commercials.

David Ragan may have been actually on the track, but it was Kurt Busch being interviewed and the tone of this coverage was clear. ESPN was in-charge and what was happening on the track was just going to be observed, not the focus of the program. Off to commercial again for two minutes of X Games, World Series of Poker and Brickyard 400 promos.

As Reed Sorenson slowed down and his crew looked at the clock, the ESPN cameras caught an orange glow coming fast around the corner. Fans knew instantly that it was "Tony time" at Indy. Stewart continued to build his speed and headed for the green flag. With all the pressure around him, it was going to be fascinating to see how Stewart and his team responded at Indy. Would this be a pole run or would he simply be going through the motions?

It was suddenly very clear that Dr. Punch had begun reading something. What he was reading was "intro copy" to a pre-recorded feature on Stewart winning the Brickyard 400 in 2005. As the orange glow hit full-speed and history was about to be made, ESPN played-back a 37 second feature as Stewart took the green flag.

Petree and Jarrett picked-up the end of Stewart's run and never mentioned the fact this was his final time in the Home Depot car with Greg Zipadelli and Joe Gibbs Racing. Moments after flashing across the start-finish line, the network was gone off to other interviews. ESPN refuses to tell the stories behind the qualifying attempts.

ESPN was now gushing about Dale Earnhardt Jr. going through tech and Tim Brewer was talking about fitting the NASCAR inspection templates. The network missed the entire run of Martin Truex Jr. and his DEI team. Another key story of the week, another struggling Cup team and another bad TV production decision to ignore this entire qualifying effort.

The cars that were lucky enough to get featured in the live telecast got generic graphics and one video box in the upper corner that contained a crew chief or owner. The moment the car posted a time ESPN was off to other interview, feature or promo. It was a disjointed TV mess for fans who had been watching this same activity covered in a very different way over the last six months.

Maybe things were a little off-balance for the NASCAR on ESPN gang as they had not done a Cup qualifying session in 2008. It was unfortunate that they chose not to recover during this session, but to continue over-laying an entirely different stream of programming that contained features, interviews and promos while live qualifying was in-progress.

One very interesting aspect of this year's ESPN coverage was drivers being escorted to the Infield Pit Center to appear as guests. They were actually interviewed on-camera by Punch, Jarrett and Petree while other cars were on the track. There could be no bigger insult to the teams trying to qualify then having sweaty drivers in the shiny ESPN mobile studio talking about their own sponsors while cars roared by in the background.

This seemingly arrogant behavior was never more clear than during AJ Allmendinger's time on the track. ESPN's coverage of the go-or-go-home cars was lackluster and Allmendinger's entire run was completely covered by a video recap of the earlier cars in the session. It was another strange TV production decision during an important moment on the track for a big team. Perhaps, some folks at the multi-million dollar Red Bull Racing team were not very happy with ESPN.

The challenge of TV qualifying is sometimes harder to deal with than the race itself. Imagine going to commercial and missing the run of the polesitter? That is exactly what will eventually happen using this format. The random cars that were shown made no sense. The on-going stories could not be updated and the network acted like only the Top 35 cars had value.

ESPN faces the challenge of seven Cup races and then the big move over to ABC for The Chase for the Cup. All of these races will have critical qualifying sessions for many teams that are barely hanging-on and others that want the pole for a variety of reasons. Coverage of this "race" should be just as important as the event itself.

This was a tough start on the Cup side to what has been a very solid year of Nationwide and studio coverage for the ESPN family of networks. From ESPNEWS to NASCAR Now, the change in priorities and the attention to detail where NASCAR is concerned has been nothing short of fantastic.

Hopefully, the positive changes that ESPN has made to the other NASCAR programs can migrate over to qualifying and the teams on the track can once again have their stories told and become the center of attention as NASCAR heads down the stretch.

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In-Progress At ORP: Nationwide Series On ESPN

It should be a fun night of racing as Marty Reid and Randy LaJoie will be the TV team calling the action on ESPN. These two have a lot of fun on-the-air and they will begin the party with NASCAR Countdown at 7:30PM.

Joining Reid and LaJoie will be veterans Jack Arute, Vince Welch and Dave Burns. These three have been having a good time on this assignment, and it is nice to see Jack Arute back in the world he knows so well.

The race coverage starts at 8PM, and should feature some good side-by-side racing. The NCTS on SPEED put on a good show Friday night before a power failure knocked the network off the air slightly after the race was over. Hopefully, ORP has solved that problem and it will not happen again when the lights go on.

LaJoie is a plain-spoken New Englander and he is oftentimes hilarious. In the same vein as Boris Said, LaJoie has been around and is now continuing to build his own business of supplying safe seats and other gear for race drivers nationwide. While he has not been seen much on NASCAR Now this season, LaJoie is a favorite on the Nationwide races and will be used again on other stand-alone ESPN events.

This is not the same crew that will be handling the Cup Series for ESPN on Sunday, so we will have to take this telecast as a very different kind of presentation. The mood should be loose and the only thing that will get serious very fast is the clash on the track between the Cup guys "crossing over" and the Nationwide "regulars" trying to earn a living. Keep an eye out for the uncle Mike vs. nephew Steven moment as both members of the Wallace clan are back on this short "payback" track tonight.

This post will serve to host your comments about the Nationwide Series coverage from ORP on ESPN. To add your TV-related comments, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to drop by The Daly Planet.

Which Is Creepier? X Games's Darkmane or "Wrecked" Promo Hype?

Apparently, Darkmane has just about worn out the patience of the American public. The spokesman for the upcoming X Games on ESPN is annoying and his scattered content does not make a lot of sense to fans of many other sports on NASCAR.

Darkmane is the centerpiece of a promo and marketing campaign that ESPN created and allocated lots of money to bring to fruition. Here is one story from The Big Lead about the issue. Here is another one with a little inside scoop. The Daly Planet email has been primarily anti-Darkman and it seems doubtful that these promos are helping the X Games among the NASCAR set.

Of course, Darkmane has his own page and a full assortment of free stuff.

Meanwhile, the email "delete" button has been busy with complaints about Wrecked. This is a reality series on SPEED that the network is very high on this year. Wrecked promos feature people towing cars and trucks. No matter what hype the owner or drivers try to add, the bottom line is people are towing stuff.

Saturday on SPEED, primetime is dominated by four episodes of Wrecked going up against the Nationwide race on ESPN. That is a statement about the direction that SPEED is going when it comes to live racing or post-produced reality shows.

What is your opinion of these endless promos? Did the promos help to encourage you to watch these shows and will you be watching the X Games? I have a feeling Darkmane may be showing up on the Nationwide race tonight just a time or two.

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NASCAR TV Officially Shifts To ESPN on Saturday (Tires A Big Problem)

Saturday is the official day that the billion dollar NASCAR TV package shifts over to the ESPN family of networks. This signals the start of the run to the championship for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series. That is the ESPN Infield Pit Center pictured above ready to go to work. To see the picture full size, just click on it.

It is going to be Sprint Cup qualifying at 10AM Eastern Time on ESPN2 to kick-off the day. Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree will call the action as a lot of cars try to sneak into the field for the big Sunday race. With the "Top 35" in points locked-in there should be some good drama among the cars who must make the field on time. As a side note, there is no Go or Go Home show on SPEED this week due to the unique scheduling of the Indy race. This qualifying session is scheduled for two and a half hours.

After this session at The Brickyard, it will be over to O'Reilly Raceway Park at 12:30PM for the final practice of the Nationwide Series. The "fun bunch" will be waiting for TV viewers as Marty Reid and Randy LaJoie will be calling the action at this stand-alone race. They will be joined on pit road by Dave Burns, Jack Arute and Vince Welch.

At the same time ESPN2 is showing the Nationwide practice, SPEED will come on-the-air from The Brickyard with a thirty minute version of NASCAR Live at 12:30PM from the SPEED Stage. Steve Byrnes will host with Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds alongside. They will be joined by Bob Dillner and John Roberts who will be reporting from the garage area.

The TV choices continue for fans as SPEED offers NASCAR Performance at 1PM. This is an outstanding show with Larry McReynolds, Chad Knaus and Doug Richert. They review a lot of topics from the crew chief's perspective and try to appeal to both the hardcore and the casual fan. This TV series has gained momentum this season and it has deserved the attention.

The fun continues over on SPEED with Tradin' Paint at 1:30PM. The veteran NASCAR reporter for the Associated Press Jenna Fryer was just on the one hour version of NASCAR Now from the ESPN2 studios on Monday and she will be the featured guest on this edition of Tradin' Paint. It should be interesting to see what Fryer says about the news stories of the week and also if host John Roberts or regular panelist Kyle Petty asks about her ESPN experience.

SPEED is done with NASCAR after that show for the day and there is a good reason why. The live action returns to The Brickyard and ESPN2 as Punch and company cover both sessions of Sprint Cup practice live at 2PM. The double session runs for two and a half hours and will no doubt use the services of the pit reporters and the crew in the Infield Pit Center. ESPN has not been involved in Sprint Cup practice at all this season, so this session should be interesting.

Then, TV coverage skips across town again as ORP hosts Nationwide Series qualifying at 4:30PM on ESPN2. Reid and company will handle this ninety minute program and then take a dinner break before returning for the Nationwide Series race coverage.

There is no NASCAR Now show on Saturday because the NASCAR Countdown program begins at 7:30PM from ORP on ESPN. With no Infield Pit Center, Reid and LaJoie will host the program from the announce booth using the pit reporters.

Live race coverage will start at 8PM on ESPN and this announce team has the potential to have a really good show. Reid and LaJoie both enjoy having fun on-the-air and this time they have three veteran pit reporters along to help that effort. The short track racing, the Cup veterans rushing over from The Brickyard and the Nationwide "regulars" trying to break through should make for a good TV combination of ingredients. Coverage is scheduled until 10PM and there is no late edition of NASCAR Now.

This post will serve to host your comments about the day's TV activity. There will be a new post up for the Nationwide race and we keep a running blog of the TV coverage, so make sure and join us here on Saturday.

To add your comments, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. We do not want your email, there is nothing to join and no commercials to watch. We just want your opinion on the NASCAR TV coverage of Saturday's activities.

Rusty's Comments On Newman Will Not Go Away

It certainly was a shame that Rusty Wallace took the opportunity to speak about Ryan Newman and Roger Penske on this Indy weekend. Certainly, the ESPN executives were hoping to go through the Saturday and Sunday races with Dale Jarrett being the big name and the race coverage being the focus. Sadly, it is not.

The long-simmering feud between Wallace and Newman re-surfaced, even through Rusty is well over a year removed from his active driving days. Last season, Wallace had a very tough time handling the pressure of the ESPN broadcast booth for one reason. He simply could not control what he sometimes said. That is key on TV.

In 2008, Wallace was retained by the ESPN team but given a new role as Infield Pit Center commentator. This released Wallace from the tough pressure of the high-profile play-by-play role but allowed him to step into the booth when Dale Jarrett was on vacation. With Allen Bestwick guiding his on-air activities, Wallace has flourished this season on multiple ESPN programs and this change was noticed by TV viewers.

This week, Wallace stepped-out on a limb again at the worst possible time. Stories like this one in the IndyStar and this one at the Sporting News told the tale. Out of the blue, Wallace declared to the working media that Ryan Newman had been fired by Penske at the end of the season.

"I'll clear the leaving thing up first," Wallace said Friday at an ESPN press conference at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "That didn't happen. He didn't leave. Roger Penske called Ryan Newman up to his office and said, 'I don't need your services next year.'

"Ryan Newman didn't come to him and say, 'I'm leaving.' OK? You all need to write about that. That's exactly how it went down. Obviously, there was some bad blood there when it happened. I love Roger Penske, so I'm going to clear the story up for him."

To have this happen at an ESPN press conference that was supposed to focus on the upcoming coverage of the Sprint Cup Series by the ESPN family of networks did not go over well. As has happened many times throughout Wallace's career, his timing could not be worse and dragging Roger Penske into the conversation was a big mistake.

Saturday on ESPN viewers are going to see the trio of Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree featured. Bestwick, Wallace and Brad Daugherty worked on Thursday and Friday filing reports for SportsCenter and NASCAR Now.

It will be Sunday when the network grits its teeth and turns the camera on the Infield Pit Center for the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show. In a move that now seems terribly ironic, it will be NASCAR owners Wallace, Daugherty and Ray Evernham who will be joining Bestwick on the panel. It should be very interesting to see if Bestwick raises the Wallace vs. Newman incident.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

The Forgotten Man: Allen Bestwick

Friday begins the ESPN and ABC coverage of NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series for 2008. This year, the NASCAR on ESPN team comes into this seventeen race stretch with a completely different mindset than 2007.

Gone is the overblown hype, the stick-and-ball announcers and the SportsCenter updates in the middle of green flag racing. Gone is Draft Track every five laps and the music videos that served to deliver unique messages like "shut-up and drive." ESPN is finally ready to race.

This past Tuesday, ESPN conducted a media conference call with several people who are going to be important to the success of this season's coverage. Rich Feinberg, the VP of Motorsports, was the TV executive who took the questions. His enthusiasm and excitement about this season was unmistakable.

Along with Feinberg were Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree on the phone. Each of these three personalities took turns answering questions from reporters while Feinberg provided a background perspective on ESPN's overall NASCAR efforts. The conference call told the story of what ESPN hoped to deliver to the fans from Indy through the end of the season.

There was, however, one thing missing in all of this. Fans who have watched ESPN's coverage of this sport since February know it all too well. The person who has been the "ironman" of NASCAR on ESPN was not on the conference call. His name was not mentioned in the conversation. No NASCAR reporter even asked a question about him.

This would be a very good time and a very good place to mention it. His name is Allen Bestwick. Never in my experience has one individual been such a powerful force in just six months on TV in a new role. Bestwick has almost single-handedly restored credibility to ESPN's coverage of NASCAR.

It was not the arrival of Dale Jarrett on a full-time basis. It was not the second season of Jerry Punch or Andy Petree. It was not the addition of Ray Evernham. The pit reporters are the same and only Nicole Manske is new in the studio. What changed is that Bestwick got another chance on network TV and is making the most of it.

This season Bestwick took the crumbled franchise of ESPN's disastrous 2007 NASCAR coverage and set-out to change it the old fashioned way. That would be to work harder than anyone else toward that goal and silently challenge others to match him.

Bestwick took the unwatchable Monday hour of NASCAR Now and fashioned a gem of a TV program. He has led an ever-changing panel of NASCAR personalities through topics ranging from race highlights to tapered spacers with dignity and good humor.

This effort opened the door for the solid success of Manske and Ryan Burr on a program series that was the laughingstock of NASCAR TV last year. Today, NASCAR Now is the first place fans turn for news and information about the sport on TV.

At every Nationwide race, it is Bestwick who sets-the-table for the "upstairs" featured announcers. The Infield Pit Center used to be filled with memories of Brent Musburger and Suzy Kolber. Those have long since been banished and replaced with interviews of great guests, interesting debates among panelists and the conversion of Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty into viable TV commentators.

Back in February, Bestwick led the ESPN TV team through a three hour rain delay by doing what he does best...working. Under the California gray skies, Bestwick made the commitment on-the-air that ESPN was staying live at the track. In essence, he challenged the TV crew to deliver. They did just that. Guests came-and-went, conversations addressed diverse racing topics and all of the on-air talent rallied for this cause. In my opinion, it was the turning point of the season and started the real momentum building.

This weekend, Bestwick will move to fill Suzy Kolber's chair. Last season, this was a chair to which he could only aspire. There is seemingly no part of this year's NASCAR on ESPN coverage that Bestwick has not touched. Thursday and Friday, he anchored from the Infield Pit Studio for an hour-long live NASCAR Now alongside Wallace and Daugherty.

In the minds of TV viewers, Bestwick is the face of NASCAR at Indy for ESPN. Punch, Jarrett and Petree were nowhere in sight. The big day will be Sunday, when Bestwick finally steps-into the high-profile role of infield host for the Sprint Cup Series.

Many NASCAR fans first found Bestwick over a decade ago rolling-his-eyes at Michael Waltrip and trying to keep order on Inside Winston Cup Racing on SpeedVision. They watched him work on TBS, TNT and NBC in the play-by-play role crafting lasting memories with Benny Parsons. After a leg injury in a hockey game, Bestwick was suddenly moved back down to pit road for the final two seasons of the old NASCAR TV contract.

The first season on ESPN found him in exactly the same position, even as the network struggled to find credible hosts for the studio and infield programs. In a way, things have come full circle for Bestwick as he now leads a re-energized TV crew into one of the most high-profile sports on the ESPN family of networks.

Should ESPN's 2008 Sprint Cup effort be a huge hit, look for the mainstream media to once again speak with Punch, Jarrett and Petree about "their season." My guess is that Allen Bestwick will be long gone from the spotlight and looking back at what may well become his most memorable year in television.

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In-Progress At ORP: Craftsman Trucks On SPEED

Krista Voda leads the NCTS gang from SPEED into the always exciting short-track action from O'Reill Raceway Park. Located on the other side of the Indy area, this historic bullring has been the scene of some tough and hard racing. Exactly the kind that the NCTS likes a lot.

Voda handles the pre-race show at 7:30PM with Ray Dunlap and Adam Alexander as her reporters. Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip are up next at 8PM to call the racing action.

This post will serve to host your comments about the TV coverage of the NCTS on SPEED from ORP. To add your opinion, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Friday's NASCAR TV Mess

Here we go with the channel surfing and the DVR programming for the NASCAR at Indy weekend. This is the recently changed Friday line-up. You may choose to take notes.

SPEED starts at 1PM ET with NASCAR Live. It will be Steve Byrnes, Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds at the SPEED Stage for this one hour live news and information show. Randy Pemberton and Hermie Sadler will report from the garage. The fun part is next.

At 2PM, it will be SPEED carrying the early session of Sprint Cup practice. I know that this was not reflected in the schedule, but trust is there. More info on this will appear next week in a column. Byrnes, Hammond and McReynolds will actually voice-over the practice from the SPEED Stage. Bob Dillner and Wendy Venturini will be handling the interviews as reporters.

Somehow, the early Sprint Cup practice at Indy found a live national TV home.

The ESPN gang will be up next with the second half of Cup practice and it will be shown on ESPN2 at 3:30PM. The entire crew will be on-hand led by Allen Bestwick in the infield and Jerry Punch in the announce booth. This coverage will last one hour.

At 4:30PM it will be SPEED picking-up with post-practice interviews as they originate a thirty minute version of NASCAR Live. Byrnes will host with Dillner reporting and he will be joined in the garage by John Roberts.

At 5PM it is time for the Craftsman Trucks to qualify over at O'Reilly Raceway Park on the other side of Indy. Rick Allen and Phil Parsons will call the action with Ray Dunlap and Adam Alexander patrolling the garage and pit road.

It is decision time for fans as NASCAR Now is next at 6PM on ESPN2. Ryan Burr hosts from Bristol, CT with Allen Bestwick, Marty Smith and Nicole Manske reporting from The Brickyard. This is a special one hour live edition that should feature a lot of information and interviews.

Halfway through NASCAR Now, Trackside begins over on SPEED at 6:30PM. Byrnes, McReynolds, Hammond and Elliott Sadler make-up the Indy panel. Mark Martin and Travis Kvapil will be the two guests at the SPEED Stage.

Lots of fans are waiting for the final episode of Shifting Gears at 7PM on ESPN. This is Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s original production from his Hammerhead Entertainment company and is the last of five episodes. The show is one hour in length and should be well worth watching or recording.

Things get racy at 7:30PM with The Set-Up on SPEED. Krista Voda hosts this thirty minute pre-race show for the NCTS. Allen and Parsons return to call the live racing action from ORP at 7:30PM.

For those of you who missed it the first time around, the NASCAR Confidential show that looks at the inner-workings of NASCAR officials and even Race Control will re-air at 10:30PM or immediately after the NCTS race concludes on SPEED. It is well worth watching.

Weekend Notes:
Saturday at 1:30PM - McReynolds and NASCAR Performance on SPEED
Saturday at 2PM - She's back! Jenna Fryer of the AP on Tradin' Paint on SPEED
Sunday at 11AM - Tony Stewart will be a live guest on RaceDay on SPEED

We will try to keep this post updated with any changes due to weather or scheduling on Friday. This is always a hectic TV weekend with all three series in the same town at two tracks. If you see an error or something changes, please feel free to drop me an email at the address on the main page to keep us updated.

This post will serve to let you voice your opinions about the TV scheduling on this Indy Friday. Fans without the ability to record one show while watching another are going to be making tough choices between good programs. It should be very interesting to watch all of this unfold live.

To add your comment, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

ESPN2 Returns The Sunday Night NASCAR Hour

Many times this season we have talked about the crowded landscape of preview and review shows that come along on a Sprint Cup Series Sunday.

ESPN recently announced that with the first race of its Cup schedule from The Brickyard, the network would once again be adding a full hour of NASCAR Now to ESPN2 on Sunday nights. These new shows will continue through the end of the season.

It will be Ryan Burr or Nicole Manske hosting the new Sunday night shows that will debut on July 27th at 10PM. Although the network offered a program like this last season, fans do not have to think hard to remember just how much has changed since 2007 where NASCAR Now is concerned.

Last month, we documented how the RaceDay program on SPEED had been pushed earlier in the day as to not interfere with the ninety minutes of Sprint Cup pre-race programming on TNT. Now, as ESPN takes that series, RaceDay will once again be scheduled ahead of the NASCAR Countdown show.

This really shuffles the deck in a hard way for SPEED. ESPN2 will have the first preview show with the morning edition of NASCAR Now at 10AM Eastern Time. Then, without RaceDay overlapping, NASCAR Countdown with Allen Bestwick will air with no competition. Finally, after Victory Lane has ended on SPEED with Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace, ESPN2 will off its own wrap-up show with NASCAR Now at 10PM.

Since ESPN is producing the races, the network has all of its resources available to contribute to the Sunday night show. Look for the continual presence of the lead announce team of Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree to provide wrap-up reports. On the ground, ESPN will have the four pit reporters and the regular NASCAR Now news team to provide additional interviews and chase down stories.

Ultimately, starting on July 27th there will be nine-and-a-half hours of TV programming containing NASCAR preview or review content on-the-air every Sprint Cup race day. We are excluding ESPNEWS and SportsCenter because they have no specific shows about NASCAR. The total is just from ESPN, SPEED, ABC and ESPN2.

It sure is tough to think about the Craftsman Truck Series that has no TV support programming of any kind. Other than the pre-race show, that series is just surviving on racing alone. The Nationwide Series is even in worse shape. Dominated by Cup drivers, ESPN2 does not even have a thirty minute weekly show to profile the competitors and follow the stories. Only the pre-race show tells the tale.

In a world where seemingly only the rich get richer, it would be a good time to clean out hard-drive on the DVR and empty the TiVo. With a four-hour live race thrown-in, there will be almost fourteen hours of NASCAR TV programming on every Sprint Cup Sunday for the rest of the season.

It just might be time to buy that new recliner.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page.

JD On The Podcast

Surf on over to and listen to me talk TV with Buck and Bass. The podcast is free and all you need to do is click on the Listen Now link on the right side of the page for the 7/23 episode.

The podcast is in the Top 100 Podcasts list on iTunes. This is my second season of helping "the boys" and I appreciate the opportunity to talk TV for all their fans. For those of you not familiar with podcasts, this daily NASCAR show can be automatically uploaded to your iPod for free. Check the site for details.

Comments on my conversation with Buck can be made below on any topic discussed. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.