Sunday, March 2, 2008

The TV Weekend NASCAR Really Needed

There may have been a lot more things coming together for NASCAR this weekend than just the COT and the weather. While a big crowd at the track enjoyed some great racing and the Las Vegas sunshine, NASCAR fans watching on TV also got a treat.

For the first time in a long time, the NASCAR TV programs offered by Fox, ESPN2 and SPEED all hit a home run. Anyone who struggled through some of the offerings of last season had to be smiling at both the quality and the quantity of the NASCAR TV over the last few days.

The SPEED and Fox announcers combined forces to handle the Las Vegas practice and qualifying sessions, with Steve Byrnes and Mike Joy hosting the shows. The casual atmosphere and the day-long commitment to the on-track action is exactly what fans needed. This group has shown the true spirit of cooperation this season.

Capping the evening on Friday was another edition of Trackside. This program has become a mini-version of RaceDay, with the big crowds and the top drivers. Having Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards stop-by was exactly the right touch going into the weekend and it paid off in an outstanding interview with Busch.

Still in his driver's suit, Busch was on his game and sent a message to the 2008 NASCAR fan base that this was going to be an exciting year and he was going to be the one to make it that way. Love him or hate him, this supposed "cast-off" seemed to be enjoying his new role in the spotlight.

SPEED then returned to handle the on-track duties right up until the Nationwide race. With another seamless transition, the re-vamped ESPN2 crew took up the challenge of fixing the mess they created last season with the Busch Series.

Dale Jarrett has been a beacon of light for Jerry Punch in the announce booth. Punch is still working to define himself as a play-by-play announcer, and DJ sometimes prods him back into that role when he strays. Both of these men kept the information flowing and the issues with the track and tires center stage in this event.

Andy Petree gave his strongest performance to date as an analyst, and seems to be enjoying this change in the booth. Rusty Wallace and Ray Evernham were not involved in this weekend's telecast. ESPN will continue to rotate the on-air announcers throughout the long season.

As Sunday rolled around, NASCAR fans had a good look at two very different network styles that both get across good information. The more formal style of ESPN was on display as Nicole Manske and Boris Said hosted NASCAR Now from the ESPN2 studios. Manske has been nothing short of totally professional since she set foot in ESPN, and her hard work at Daytona really set a tone for this series.

ESPN said in the pre-season that they were going to work to integrate all the NASCAR announcers into one big team, and they have kept their word. Manske had most of the members of the ESPN2 broadcast team on the show, along with Marty Smith and the news.

A short time later, SPEED unleashed another live version of RaceDay. Once again serving the role of the "Super Wal-Mart of NASCAR," this two hour show contains news, features, interviews and sometimes mind-numbing treatment of the English language.

From the college-educated and professionally trained Wendy Venturini to the pride of the Berwick High School Bulldogs Jimmy Spencer, RaceDay truly has something for everyone. John Roberts is a very busy traffic cop as he maintains control while simultaneously trying to encourage Spencer and Kenny Wallace to occasionally use punctuation.

The interesting thing is, both RaceDay and NASCAR Now cover the exact same stories and work in exactly the same manner. The only thing separating them is their on-air styles. ESPN reflects the overall on-air look of a big media company with lots of rules and regulations about being on-the-air. SPEED reflects the dress and tone of the NASCAR garage area.

When RaceDay steps aside, the highest profile TV team in NASCAR steps-in. Mike Joy used Las Vegas to remind us once again of why he is simply the best in the business. Keeping track of the race, the TV components that must be integrated and also directing traffic between eight other on-air announcers is no easy task for three hours. The NASCAR on Fox leader was great in Vegas.

Despite an extended pre-race show, fans needed a good race with good weather and good TV coverage to get things back on-track for the season. Fox made great pictures and put out great sound to thrill the HD crowds around the country. The fact that the race contained all kinds of drama and action really capped the day in the right way. Even adding a replay of the finish worked to emphasize the fact that the Fox crew was aware of the issues of the past.

Even as Joy was signing-off, Victory Lane on SPEED and live post-race coverage on ESPNEWS was beginning. Fans had their choice of live interviews in the Media Center or Spencer and Wallace talking about the race from the infield.

This has been a weekend where individually all three of NASCAR's TV partners were outstanding. Fans had a tremendous amount of live on and off-track coverage of the sport since Friday. As we have said before, the combination of good TV and good racing can bring this sport right back to the forefront.

After the performance of this weekend, and with the fast and exciting Atlanta track looming, NASCAR fans can finally be optimistic that the TV woes of 2007 are on their way to becoming just a memory.

Monday night brings the one hour NASCAR Now at 5:30PM on ESPN2 and the brand new This Week in NASCAR on SPEED at 8PM.

Please feel free to add your TV-related comment about this past weekend's NASCAR coverage. 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 again for dropping by.

In-Progress At Las Vegas: Sprint Cup Race On Fox

The NASCAR on Fox gang continues their coverage of the Sprint Cup Series from Las Vegas, NV on Sunday at 3:30PM.

Chris Myers, Jeff Hammond and Darrell Waltrip kick-off the coverage from the Hollywood Hotel. The green flag is not scheduled until almost 4:30PM, so there should be a significant amount of pre-race activity.

Mike Joy anchors the Fox coverage, with Waltrip and Larry McReynolds alongside in the announce booth. On pit road Matt Yocum, Steve Byrnes, Dick Berggren and Krista Voda will be the reporters. This is a very solid broadcast crew.

Look for Fox to detail the on-going situation with the high winds, and the resulting issues with the COT and problems with grip. During the pit stops, look for Fox to decide to use a video effect that shows four cars or three. With the four car effect, there is no opportunity to see the pit road and the race off.

ESPN worked hard to eliminate their over-use of the bumper cams, and this will be the challenge for Fox on this big track. It is easy to use technology for the sake of using it. It is much harder to stay within the on-going story of the race and keep focused on relaying that "reality" to the fans.

One of the hottest topics on the Internet is the introduction of the Gopher Cam. These multiple track-level cameras are interesting to use on the first couple of laps after a caution, or when the field is bunched-up and running in one big pack.

Cutting the Gopher Cam into the action as the cars are involved in racing has proven to be a tough challenge. The quick perspective change does not really allow for TV viewers to see anything but one car zooming by. While the camera is stationary like a typical "speed shot," the low angle does not offer the same ability to "see the field." As for the Gopher Cam naming contest, you can offer your own comment.

Fox has been conflicted at the finish of the past Cup races. Simply seeing the winner cross the start-finish line and then zooming the same camera into the flagman is ridiculous. Fans of all the drivers want to see their car racing to the line. The fundamental truth is that the race is not over when the winner crosses the line.

It should be an interesting telecast without the hype of Daytona or the weather issues of California. We would like your comments on the NASCAR on Fox presentation of the Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas.

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. Thank you once again for stopping by The Daly Planet. Enjoy the race.

In-Progress At Las Vegas: "NASCAR RaceDay" On SPEED

SPEED continues one of the network's most popular shows when NASCAR RaceDay hits the air at 1:30PM Eastern Time from Las Vegas, NV.

John Roberts rules over a very diverse group of on-air "talent" who provide all kinds of interesting content to this TV series.

Kenny Wallace continues to be his normally excitable self, and he certainly now has an interesting perspective on the sport with his struggles to maintain a presence in the Cup Series. Say what you will, his energy is infectious.

Jimmy Spencer is asking some good questions this season, but continues to get himself off-track when he speaks before he thinks. After the issue last season with Kelly Earnhardt Elledge, it might be a positive thing for Spencer to continue his commentary as a former driver but use caution when the topic is an off-track issue.

Hermie Sadler has been working hard to get more time on-camera, and was rewarded with a spot in the booth for SPEED's practice and qualifying coverage. Sadler started with just a short segment and track description for RaceDay, but has come on strong and now is a valuable contributor both on the SPEED Stage and as a reporter in the garage area.

Wendy Venturini continues to be the heart-and-soul of this series. Quietly, and with a good sense of humor, Venturini navigates seamlessly through a quagmire of PR and Marketing Reps, NASCAR Officials and fans. Her ability to go directly to a driver or NASCAR personality and get the facts of the issue from the horse's mouth is amazing.

SPEED continues to use the confusing Rutledge Wood in a variety of roles, including on RaceDay. Originally, he provided the comic relief and appeared on the features that took drivers and others away from racing. Now, he has begun to be used as a reporter addressing serious topics and providing information that viewers are supposed to trust. There is one big problem, he has not earned that right. It will be interesting to see what his role becomes as the season progresses.

This is the time of the year that SPEED needs to focus on making RaceDay consistently interesting for the fans. Once the TNT portion of the Sprint Cup coverage begins, SPEED will be moving RaceDay into a head-to-head battle with the TNT pre-race shows.

That battle will escalate when the new and improved NASCAR Countdown with Allen Bestwick comes along in late July. With all of the positive changes that ESPN has made, the last seventeen Cup racing weekends will be fascinating. NASCAR fans will be forced to choose once again, and this time it will not be Suzy Kolber heading-up the ESPN effort.

This post will serve to host your comments on the RaceDay program from Las Vegas. To add your TV-related comment, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by and leave your opinion at The Daly Planet.

In-Progress: Sunday's "NASCAR Now" On ESPN2

The one hour Sunday edition of NASCAR Now is coming up on ESPN2 at 10AM Eastern Time.

This week the program has seen Nicole Manske hosting from the ESPN2 studios, with Ryan Burr getting a well-deserved break. Allen Bestwick is the third co-host of this series, and he is currently trackside in Las Vegas.

It should be interesting to see how ESPN lays-out this big one hour program. Over the past two weeks, the weekend shows have been hosted from a variety of locations, including the ESPN studios, the ESPN Infield Pit Center, and from Victory Lane at the track.

This season, ESPN has opened the door to appear on this show to all of the NASCAR on ESPN announcers. Viewers have seen a tremendous change in the interaction of the guys involved in the race broadcasts showing-up on this daily news show.

This post will serve to host your comments about the one hour Sunday edition of NASCAR Now. This is ESPN's program that reviews the Friday and Saturday action, and then serves as the preview show for the Sprint Cup race.

To add your TV-related comments, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.