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.

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 the TV coverage from Fontana.

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.

This post will host your comments about both programs tonight on SPEED and ESPN2. To add your comments, just click on the COMMENTS button and follow the easy instructions. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

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.

This page will serve to host your comments about the NASCAR on Fox coverage. This is a TV-related blog, so please limit your comments to issues associated with the TV broadcast, or comments from other posters. To add your opinion, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the instructions.

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

The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page, and thanks once again for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

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.