Saturday, May 3, 2008

Baseball And NASCAR Clash Once Again

Once the two hour RaceDay program on SPEED ended, NASCAR fans turned the dial to Fox for the pre-race show from the Hollywood Hotel. Instead, what many of them found was Major League Baseball once again.

For me, it was the Mets vs. the Diamondbacks in the eighth inning with no outs. Fox had several baseball games it had presented to various areas of the country. Depending on the game that the local Fox station was broadcasting, you either got the NASCAR pre-race show or joined it in-progress.

In some areas of the nation, the live baseball game covered a significant portion of the pre-race show. Then, the transition between baseball and NASCAR was rough.

Here in the South Florida area, along with most fans who watched the Mets game, viewers saw many minutes of commercial breaks and then joined NASCAR host Chris Myers in mid-sentence. Eventually, Myers welcomed viewers from the Mets game and promptly threw to another commercial break. There was no recap of the earlier highlights or top stories that some fans had missed.

Luckily, a crisp and focused race telecast helped to ease the pain of once again having the potential for a long over-run because of baseball. Mike Joy and company showed-off the multiple Sports Emmys that NASCAR on Fox had recently won and then worked hard to prove they deserved the honor.

The TV crew cannot change the dynamic of the race, and it was clear from the start that Denny Hamlin was going to "stink up the show." The upside was a great looking race with outstanding natural sound from both the track and the individual in-car cameras. Tough to do on a short track.

Fans instantly noticed that Fox had responded to the multiple problems with the live race "ticker" by changing it completely. Now connected directly to the GPS information from the track, the moving graphics actually update live by switching positions as the cars do the same on the track.

At first the movement is distracting, but then the value becomes clear. The immediacy of the information, especially at a short track like Richmond, is fantastic. As the race progressed it was clear that Fox has made a very positive change in the coverage. Perhaps, they may share this with TNT for their summer tour.

The booth announcers and the pit reporters dug deep to make the middle portions of the telecast interesting despite the lack of action on the track. Their efforts were rewarded with a memorable finish. Once again, NASCAR had almost lucked into a good story for both the live TV coverage and the other NASCAR media with Busch vs. Earnhardt Jr.

The incident was well-covered during the broadcast, but disjointed immediately after the race. The Daly Planet's complaints about the singular Fox focus on the race winner were certainly evident once again. This time, the Director tried to show the field crossing the line, but missed the second place cars that included Kyle Busch.

There just has to be a better way to finish these races on TV. Since the announcers have always been on-top of the finishing action and the sound is sensational, the only issue once again is the video. This was a good effort, but things cannot just be "planned" in this sport. What is actually happening in the race needs to dictate the final lap coverage.

Fans like Clint Bowyer, but the focus of the finish and the post-race should have been Kyle Busch and Dale Junior. For Fox, striking the balance between the "planned" focus on the winner and the reality of the action has always been their Achilles Heel. The battle to the line for second had to be replayed for TV viewers.

Even running late, Fox hung-in and worked the pit reporters on the stories that needed to be told. Krista Voda showed her experience when she knew how to deal with a clearly disappointed and upset Junior after the race. NASCAR fans have vivid memories of ESPN's Mike Massaro pushing Junior to the brink of tears after he fell out of Chase contention last season. Voda did it just right.

Overall, this was the type of telecast that NASCAR fans enjoy. Despite the baseball issues and the glitch at the finish, the improvements in the ticker and the overall quality of the coverage made the evening a solid one for the sport. It should be interesting to see if Fox can continue to ride a nice wave of higher ratings into Darlington after this strong performance in Richmond.

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In-Progress At Richmond: Sprint Cup Series On Fox

Update: Here we go again! The Major League Baseball game on Fox is now overlapping the pre-race show. The green flag is at 7:45PM Eastern Time. The East Coast and West Coast (portions) are seeing the Mets vs. Diamondbacks game. Other areas in the Central time zone are seeing the NASCAR pre-race. This is called regional broadcasting and Fox is finishing the Mets game on the stations that started it.

The Sprint Cup Series is under the lights at the Richmond International Raceway for what should be an interesting night of TV coverage.

Chris Myers will start the evening off for Fox from the Hollywood Hotel with a forty-five minute pre-race show at 7PM Eastern Time. Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond will be alongside.

Mike Joy will anchor the race coverage, with Waltrip and Larry McReynolds in the booth. Down on pit road will be Dick Berggren, Matt Yocum, Steve Byrnes and Krista Voda.

The dynamics of this short "bull ring" are very different than Talladega, and proved to be trouble for the ESPN crew on Friday night. It was tough to keep-up with all the action on the track, and several replays of accidents were not available.

This is a "tension" race. The first couple runs are about feeling out the track, the car and the tire wear. Then, the jockeying for position begins and the end result is often hot tempers and bent cars. It should be interesting to watch the NASCAR on Fox crew make this transition after the Talladega race of team tactics and drafting.

Fox has calmed down on the "Digger" cam and instead emphasized the in-car cameras at Talladega throughout the event. It should be interesting to see what TV approach they take in Richmond, where laps of under 22 seconds should make it tough to use the "TV toys" available unless the race is under caution.

Update: I have been reminded that a live baseball game on Fox started at 3:30PM. With the pre-race show starting at 7PM, this allows the normal amount of time for the game. Should things go into extra innings or rain delay the game, Fox will once again find itself shifting baseball to FX or collapsing the NASCAR pre-race show.

This post will serve to host your TV-related comments about the Sprint Cup race on Fox from Richmond. To add your comment, just click on the COMMENTS button below. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for stopping by and joining in on this Internet conversation about the NASCAR TV partners.

In-Progress On Saturday: Pre-Race Programming

It will be a one hour Saturday morning version of NASCAR Now that kicks-off the day for NASCAR fans at 10AM Eastern Time. The show will be anchored from the ESPN studios and will feature live reports from Richmond. It will be ESPNEWS on-the-air after the race with coverage of the Infield Media Center interviews and highlights.

SPEED begins the NASCAR day at 3:30PM Eastern with Tradin' Paint. This week it will be Washington Post reporter and veteran NASCAR writer Liz Clarke joining Kyle Petty and host John Roberts. It should be interesting to see what they have to say about the big Friday night TV network simulcast of the Nationwide Series race. Clarke's recent NASCAR book, One Helluva Ride, is a great read for fans.

NASCAR Performance follows at 4PM and this show has been building a big audience. Larry McReynolds hosts the show and has Chad Knaus and Bootie Barker along on his crew chief panel. This fast-paced thirty minute show is worth watching or recording, both for its outstanding information and also its very good sense of humor.

NASCAR in a Hurry is up next at 4:30PM, and either Randy Pemberton or Adam Alexander will be recapping the best video from the past twenty-four hours. This show is a cross between Entertainment Tonight and SportsCenter. Lots of video with a host that simply introduces the next feature. It is an easy way for fans to get caught-up on what has gone on in practice, qualifying and the Nationwide Series race.

At 5PM, it is time for "the franchise" to hit the air. RaceDay will be two hours of chaos as usual and that is exactly what fans of the show enjoy. John Roberts will be hosting alongside Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace.

This week's show will have Robby Gordon as a live guest. Gordon has some interesting stories to tell about his recent rally adventures as well as a NASCAR team update. Wendy Venturini's Real Deal segment this week will feature Casey Mears.

There will also be a recap of the staged photo opportunity recently at Darlington involving Carl Edwards and NASCAR legend David Pearson. It was this column in the The Daly Planet that informed readers of the hilarious and outspoken interview Pearson gave to Nicole Manske at NASCAR Now that day. It should be interesting to see how SPEED chooses to present the same information.

A very positive feature on RaceDay will be a report on the NASCAR ties to the upcoming ARCA race at Rockingham. This track has been restored to working order and has been the scene of many test sessions, but Sunday the ARCA guys will be putting fifty cars (last season's Cup cars) on the track for what should be a great show. Kudos to Andy Hillenburg and the entire dedicated Rockingham staff.

Two notes for viewers. ESPN pit reporter Jamie Little and Mike Skinner are featured in the post-produced Toyota Celebrity race from Long Beach, CA on SPEED at 3PM. Also, SPEED will continue to keep Victory Lane on Sunday after the SPEED Report. Viewers looking for post-race content will have to turn to ESPNEWS.

This post will serve to host your comments about this "block" of pre-race programming on Saturday. There will be a new post up for the Sprint Cup race at 6PM, one hour prior to airtime.

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. Thank you for taking time to stop by and share your opinion.