Saturday, August 2, 2008

NASCAR Pins Hopes On Pocono

Nothing will do more to quiet the roar from the fans and the media about the tire problems at Indy than a great Pocono race on Sunday.

ESPN has all the heavy-hitters ready to go and will open the day with a one hour edition of NASCAR Now at 10AM ET on ESPN2. Either Nicole Manske or Ryan Burr will anchor, with Allen Bestwick present on the Infield Studio Set in Pocono.

Last week, this program was very effective in setting the table for racing and outstanding in content. As ESPN VP of Motorsports Rich Feinberg related earlier this season, the network will be using all of the on-air announcers assigned to these events to support programs like NASCAR Now this year. The change has been very good.

NASCAR RaceDay is up next on SPEED at 11AM. John Roberts hosts the two hour show, with Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace alongside. This week the show will have a whole lot of guests for a whole lot of reasons.

NASCAR President Mike Helton will be along, as will Bob Owen from Sunoco and Tom Foley from the American Red Cross. This race is focused on a charity blood drive and Foley will speak to that issue. In terms of NASCAR folks, Kasey Kahne, AJ Allmendinger and Jimmy Elledge will be on the show.

Wendy Venturini will be having fun this weekend as she will have her regular Real Deal segment and will also be talking with the one and only Kiefer Sutherland. He will be on-hand as the Grand Marshal of the race and also to plug his latest movie. It should be interesting to see how much he knows about NASCAR.

Next-up is NASCAR Countdown on ESPN at 1PM. Allen Bestwick will lead this show alongside Brad Daugherty and Rusty Wallace. This is their first opportunity to address the Indy issues of last week and also to update the happenings in Montreal. Wallace was present for that race and worked in the booth with Randy LaJoie.

Race coverage of the Sprint Cup Series from Pocono will start at 2PM on ESPN. Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree will handle the action from the broadcast booth. Down on pit road will be Dave Burns, Shannon Spake, Mike Massaro and Jamie Little. Massaro is just back from Montreal, where he hosted the pre-race show and also reported from the very wet pits. As usual, Tim Brewer will be in the Tech Center.

ESPN is making sure that Bestwick and company will remain a part of these telecasts, so viewers should look for him to host the race recaps and take control of the live program coming out of commercial breaks to facilitate some discussions. The on-air dynamic between Punch and Bestwick is always interesting to watch, especially when Punch returns to calling the race. After the event, ESPNEWS will be live with the post-race interviews from the Media Center as they have all season long.

Victory Lane on SPEED airs at 8PM. Last week, Spencer and Kenny Wallace were quite emphatic in their views about the Indy events. It led to this column and the corresponding comments from NASCAR fans. It should be very interesting to see how the show plays-out this week.

The second edition of the new one hour Sunday night version of NASCAR Now is on at 10PM. This program is a very good wrap-up show for all the activity of the weekend and ESPN uses the resources at the track to add to the content of this studio-based program. Nicole Manske or Ryan Burr will host.

Speaking of of NASCAR Now, viewers should keep an eye out for the Monday roundtable show at 5PM. This week, another theme show will put all four of the ESPN pit reporters on the set along with Bestwick as the host. It should finally be a good snapshot of the real personalities of these four and a test of how they interact away from pit road.

Monday on This Week in NASCAR at 8PM on SPEED the "odd couple" is back. Chad Knaus joins Michael Waltrip and host Steve Byrnes to recap Pocono. Knaus has really found his stride on this show with the encouragement of Byrnes and when Knaus and Waltrip get going on a topic the results can be unintentionally hilarious.

This post will host your comments about the early NASCAR TV programs and there will be a new post up for the Sprint Cup race at Noon ET. To add your opinion, just click on the COMMENTS button. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Racing In the Rain Was Less Than Stellar

Less than ten laps of the Nationwide race on the road course in Montreal had been run on ESPN2 when the rain came. It was the first time NASCAR had run a points race in the wet conditions.

Teams broke-out the rain tires, the windshield wipers and the brake lights. The idea was to only allow three minutes for the change-over to wet conditions, but things did not go as planned. It was more than ten minutes before cars were circulating again and the number of cars emerging from pit road was significantly less than the 43 that started the race.

This issue was totally avoided by Marty Reid and the ESPN2 commentary team. Only twenty-five laps into the race there were ten cars parked in the garage. Surprisingly, there had been no accidents and no yellow flags other than the rain delay. The mysterious cause for this high rate of attrition was never addressed.

It was veteran reporter Jack Arute that rolled-up his sleeves and took TV viewers right into the middle of the first-ever change-over to wet tires. Arute is unafraid to get the story even as it unfolds and he filled the fans in on the specifics and issues involved in this "thrash" on pit road.

Marty Reid decided that this race was going to be historic, a term viewers heard more than fifteen times in his commentary. Randy LaJoie continued to keep his irreverent sense-of-humor throughout the entire telecast, despite the wet blanket being thrown on the entire race by the presence of Rusty Wallace.

Last season, Allen Bestwick and LaJoie had combined to call a great race in Montreal that featured lots of hot tempers, spinning cars and amazing calls by NASCAR. Putting LaJoie on this series is perfect, because the Nationwide crowd is a hybrid of Sprint Cup cross-overs, series regulars and often road course specialists just running for the win. LaJoie keeps things in perspective and does it all with a good sense of humor.

Basically, it was tough to have two former drivers in the booth talking over-top of each other for the entire race. While LaJoie was relegated to the crew chief role for the in-race reporter feature, Wallace was clearly the delegated leader and spoke over anyone when he felt strongly about an issue. Wallace was shuffling back and forth between the Cup and Nationwide Series for ESPN and was not really up-to-speed on the rain issues.

At the halfway point, 32 of the 43 cars were running. There was no full-field recap done by ESPN at this point, because the network would have to explain the small number of cars on the track despite no mechanical failures or accidents. The ESPN graphic crawl was changed as frequently as possible to avoid revealing the reality of this "start and park" festival.

The normally dependable Marty Reid was off-balance from the beginning of the rain through the end of the race. This was possibly helped by the poor TV directing which often featured tight camera shots of two cars running together, but rarely used a speed shot or a panorama to show fans any kind of overall perspective.

One of the biggest problems Reid and company had in this race was the lack of communication with NASCAR. Often, there was awkward silence as pace car lights remained on even though Reid had just said the green flag was coming out. Needless to say, it did not and NASCAR just continued to run under caution in the rain.

Because ESPN was refusing to recap the cars still running, lots of stories were lost as the network concentrated on the top four or five cars. Points leader Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and others never had their strategies updated despite the occasional attempts to do just that from Arute on pit road.

On lap 40 of the 74, Wallace related that he had been hearing complaints from teams about the drivers not being able to see. This was not related earlier and never updated as to the reason why. Teams used Rain-X, a single windshield wiper and even squeegees inside the car to help with both rain and fog.

During the last series of pit stops, the Producer was far behind as the cars entered pit road. Often, TV viewers saw a car already parked and then getting ready to leave and without a reporter ready to describe the action. Teams were apparently having vision problems both inside and outside of the cars but ESPN just could not update this issue.

Basically, ESPN had to wait until the entire field cycled through the pits to get any kind of realistic picture of what was happening on the race track. Even with the computer scoring, the actual story of the race was simply not being told. The rain picked-up with thirty laps to go and there was no doubt the remainder of the race was going to be slow and very wet.

The big rain hit at 6:35PM Eastern Time with twenty-five minutes left in the show until the X Games were supposed to begin. If the race had run the full length at these slow rain speeds, it would have been about thirty minutes long. Instead, NASCAR was merciful and put out the full course caution. The reason was standing water on the race track.

The official end of any hope for this telecast was when Canadian favorite Jaques Villeneuve and youngster Joey Logano both wrecked their cars under caution in separate incidents that ESPN could not show. After seeing the severely damaged cars, ESPN both times went to commercial to search for the replay and came up empty.

At 6:45PM, NASCAR stopped the cars and the misery was almost finally over. The way that viewers found-out that the red flag was out was during a pit road interview with a crew chief. Once again, the TV crew was one step behind the reality of what was happening on the track.

It was Carl Edwards in another pit road interview who told ESPN2 that the race was over, called officially at 6:55PM. Marty Reid, by now perhaps more than a bit frustrated, told viewers that NASCAR had still not informed the TV crew that things had been called. A very chaotic end to a very chaotic telecast.

Despite the fact that nice guy and Canadian Ron Fellows was officially the winner, it was once again not a Nationwide Series regular who was victorious. Reid closed-out the show and the skateboarding and vert competitions began. ESPN2 was back to normal.

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In-Progress At Montreal: Nationwide Series Race (Now Raining But Trying To Race)

The NASCAR Countdown show begins the always interesting ESPN2 coverage of the road course race from Montreal at 2:30PM ET.

This week, it will be ESPN veteran Mike Massaro that gets the opportunity to host the one hour pre-race show. Regular host Allen Bestwick is in Pocono with his sidekick Brad Daugherty for the Sprint Cup Series coverage.

Massaro will host the show without the Infield Pit Studio, so his location should be interesting. In the past, we have seen Dave Burns handle this role from the middle of the crowd and from the starting grid. Massaro has been working very hard this season for ESPN and this is a well-deserved opportunity.

It will be Marty Reid handling the play-by-play duties with Randy LaJoie and Rusty Wallace alongside at 3:30PM. This should be an interesting mix, because LaJoie likes to push Rusty's buttons and that is not very hard to do. Wallace is an owner in this series with his son Steven driving the car. Stay-tuned to watch that relationship develop as the race progresses.

Down on pit road will be veterans Jack Arute and Vince Welch. Once Massaro finishes the pre-race show, he will join Arute and Welch to round-out the reporting corp.

The key elements in this broadcast will be Marty Reid keeping track of the driver names and positions in this very unique race. Sprint Cup drivers, Nationwide Series regulars and road-course ringers from the sports car world make this field very diverse.

The other element is the tone that Wallace and LaJoie set early in the telecast. LaJoie is a former Busch Series champion and his driver's perspective overlaps with Wallace when there are replays to describe and situations to discuss. It should be interesting to see if Wallace puts on his owner hat and speaks in this broadcast from that viewpoint.

Rain is a possibility, and these cars are ready to race in the rain. Windshield wipers, rain tires and even big red brake lights are ready to be put on the field so the race can take place. The only way the race will be delayed is if standing water on the track make race conditions dangerous.

This post will serve to host your comments about NASCAR Countdown and the Nationwide Series race. To add your TV-related opinion, just click on the COMMENTS button and follow the easy directions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.