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.

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

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.

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 for stopping by.