Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday Night TV Shows Take The High Road

The remaining NASCAR TV partners offered the one-hour review programs on Monday dealing with the Bristol races. Three NASCAR series raced on the small oval, but the fireworks were reserved for the Sprint Cup Series on Saturday night.

ESPN2 was up first with the one hour of NASCAR Now. Allen Bestwick is the host and refers to this show as "the roundtable." Joining Bestwick was Boris Said, Johnny Benson and Mike Massaro.

The presentation of this program is classy from the start. The three panelists are in suits and ties and the set is squeaky clean. Bestwick is polished and covers any type of NASCAR topic with the knowledge of a total professional.

Said and Benson addressed the reality of Bristol with Benson having finished fourth in the NCTS race on Wednesday and continuing to lead the point standings. It was the clash at the end of the race that generated the most discussion, with Massaro offering the best question.

He asked if the new two-groove Bristol track meant that the old-style racing where moving another car out of the way was still allowed? His point was well-taken, but the consensus was that Bristol will remain Bristol and rubbing will always be a part of NASCAR.

Bestwick led the panel through a review of the three races and touched on the key points of the events. ESPN uses driver "soundbites" most effectively and again had the interviews that viewers wanted to see.

This included Shannon Spake's post-race interview with an upset Dale Earnhardt Jr. who seems to be a target for ESPN as The Chase closes in. Junior made a big mistake at the start of the race and never got his lap back. He wound-up in the top twenty.

Spake asked "You guys started the season so strong and the last couple of races you seem to have fallen-off a little bit, what do you think has changed?"

Junior answered "I appreciate you pointing that out, makes it a lot easier...there are a lot of guys who finished better than me who you need to probably go and interview right now."

Massaro defended Spake's question as being fair, but Said mentioned that the only mistake Junior made all night was on that first lap. Spake had suggested it was an issue with the set-ups or possibly the tracks. The look from Junior was priceless.

Bestwick hosted Joe Gibbs and Joey Logano who were in good spirits after the big announcement. Few are more professional in these situations than Bestwick and he handled the entire interview with flying colors. Bestwick's best question was about NASCAR approving Logano to race on the superspeedways in 2009.

In the middle of the Sprint Cup segments, coming back from commercial, NASCAR Now ran the normal edited feature using all the sights and sounds from the race weekend. Despite not dealing with it in the program, the NASCAR Now production team decided once again to use the Clint Bowyer audio clip where Bowyer speaks about Michael Waltrip as a driver and questions why NAPA returned to the team.

This move goes against almost everything that Bestwick has tried to bring to ESPN since being promoted from his pit reporter status to lead this Monday show. Bestwick deals with issues head-on, but when it was not discussed in the studio segment it was assumed cooler heads had prevailed and it was over. Apparently, that was not the case.

That leads to SPEED and This Week in NASCAR, which stars Mr. Waltrip on almost a weekly basis. Steve Byrnes hosts this series and chose to deal with the issue in the first ten seconds of the show. Byrnes hosts a relaxed and casual program with the panelists in shirts and slacks. Greg Biffle was alongside Waltrip on this Monday.

After some early teasing, Byrnes walked the panel through a good explanation of Bristol and Biffle's near-misses were the theme. Both made good points about the changed racetrack and the new issues that have arisen from the two-groove racing.

Byrnes took a minute to address the ESPN issue. Waltrip's point was that Bowyer's recorded comment under red did not make the race any better for the viewers. "It was not relevant content," added Biffle. Waltrip took the high road and said he was just a little bit disappointed.

Surprisingly, Byrnes continued the discussion and brought his NASCAR on Fox experience into the topic. He related that during commercial, the scanner audio will be played for the announcers by the Producer and then a decision will be made to use it on-the-air or not. "That's taken out of context, let's not use that," related Byrnes as the answer that is sometimes heard.

Ironically, Waltrip has been a commentator on the Craftsman Truck Series races on SPEED and he related that this is done by the SPEED Producer as well so that Waltrip and Phil Parsons can make a decision on the comment. Waltrip hoped someone at ESPN had taken a moment to maybe decide not to run the clip over-and-over again.

TWIN continued with Nationwide and Truck Series highlights, but then surprised viewers with an outstanding feature. Using footage from the NASCAR Media Group vault, vintage pictures of a youthful Mike Joy led an outstanding look back at the two former NASCAR tracks in California. Riverside and Ontario were venues that eventually gave way due to real estate prices and troubles with attendance.

Waltrip and Biffle provided a good overview of the issues associated with running at California. As usual, that led to Waltrip plugging his sponsors for California and letting Biffle talk briefly about his plans for next season. Byrnes followed-up with the Joey Logano news and both panelists agreed Logano would be fine in the Cup Series with a veteran like Greg Zipadelli leading the way.

Once again, NASCAR fans got to sample two very different TV shows dealing with the same issues on the same day. Both programs are extensions of the race production by SPEED and ESPN, with the casual style and the suit-and-tie crews working right next to each other at the tracks. In a way, both get the NASCAR message across and leave the viewing choices to the fans.

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Updated: ESPN Gunning For Michael Waltrip? (Audio Added)

Update: Click here for the link to the podcast of 96.9 The Kat to hear Michael Waltrip respond to the ESPN issue and the Bowyer comment.

All was fine when ESPN left the air after the Sprint Cup Series race from Bristol. The network had worked hard to spread the coverage around and wound-up with a balanced telecast that worked well. Then, the post-race programming began.

At one point during the telecast, Casey Mears had been cleared by his spotter to move-up and unfortunately was not. The resulting accident left several cars out of the race and others damaged. ESPN played the spotter's audio, then had an interview with Mears where he explained the problem and also apologized to the teams involved.

Unfortunately, one poor production decision during the race has come back to cause the entire ESPN family of networks a black eye. Clint Bowyer's car was caught-up in the accident, and he unleashed his frustration on Michael Waltrip by saying he was the worst driver in NASCAR over his team radio.

Bowyer had no way of knowing what Mears had done. His comment came from anger and the situation as he perceived it at that moment. ESPN records all the team radios, and they chose to play-back Bowyer's comment although it was clearly ill-informed. That one decision has taken-on a life of its own.

If embarrassing Michael Waltrip was the goal, they certainly accomplished that. Bowyer's comment was replayed on NASCAR Now, ESPNEWS, SportsCenter and posted on the website in the race highlights. The announcers had lots of fun with it and no one took even one second to consider the fact that it was totally incorrect.

Across the night and into the next day, the slam of Waltrip was being replayed over-and-over again on the ESPN family of TV networks and websites with the announcers laughing and the Bowyer audio turned-up nice and loud.

Let's turn to the question of why? Michael Waltrip announces the Craftsman Truck Series races for SPEED. He is also a popular commercial spokesman for NAPA and other companies. He might be best-known for his TV role as a panelist on This Week in NASCAR, SPEED's Monday night hour review show. Waltrip has been a regular on SPEED for over a decade.

All these ESPN Networks, websites and producers made the decision to leave Bowyer saying "Michael Waltrip is the worst driver in NASCAR" in the highlights they used on the shows. Even on Sunday afternoon, this clip was still in rotation on ESPNEWS.

This is not about fans either liking or disliking Waltrip. It is not about the struggles of his team, or his performance in the Bristol Cup race. It is simply about ESPN making fun of Waltrip with an ill-informed comment and thinking that no one will raise a fuss. Well, here we are.

After a great four hour effort on Sunday night, how could no member of the NASCAR on ESPN team make a quick phone call to Bristol, CT and have this awkward comment removed from the highlight package? There was plenty of other great footage and a couple of fantastic closing laps.

If ESPN wants to be a player in NASCAR they have to be responsible for what happens after the event as well as what happens during it. It will be interesting to see what both Bowyer and Waltrip say about this issue by Monday night.

One can only ponder if ESPN would do this to Tom Brady or David Ortiz if they made an emotional statement that was immediately proven to be incorrect? Making fun of athletes on ESPN seems to be often reserved for NASCAR drivers.

What is your take on all this? Harmless fun or mean-spirited TV network?

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Comcast Gives Greenlight To SPEED-HD

The roll-out of SPEED's new HD channel has been a slow process. Monday, that process got a very big boost with the announcement that Comcast has agreed to add the new channel to the Comcast cable homes in the US in 2009.

As most motorsports fans with an HDTV already know, the HD technology makes a very big difference in live racing telecasts. SPEED has already switched-over to include the post-produced programming series currently airing on the network to the HD feed.

SPEED will continue to make two channels available to US cable viewers during this transition period so those without HD will not be affected.

During 2009, the SPEED-HD channel will be added to over nine million HD homes in the US and the goal of the network is to continue to strike carriage deals with other big cable company MSO's (multi-system operators).

Updated: Logano Gets National TV Coverage From SPEED

NASCAR continues the youth movement on Monday afternoon at 2PM Eastern Time. SPEED will interrupt scheduled programming to carry the Joe Gibbs Racing press conference from the JGR shops live. All of this for an 18 year-old from Connecticut.

Update: ESPNEWS has confirmed that it will also carry live coverage of the press conference at 2PM.

JGR is expected to announce the promotion of Joey Logano from the ARCA Series directly into the Sprint Cup ride formerly occupied by series champion Tony Stewart. Logano is a marketing dream with driving ability and public relations training second to none.

Earlier this season, once he hit the magic age of 18, Logano was promoted from ARCA and put to the test by JGR in the NASCAR world. Apparently, he passed with flying colors.

SPEED will carry the entire media event beginning at 2PM ET. This continues the network's commitment to NASCAR. Despite an earlier disaster with the Stewart-Haas announcement, SPEED has been on-top of the breaking NASCAR news all season-long with a new dedication to this type of coverage.

We will update any additional information about the SPEED TV announcers assigned to the coverage and if ESPNEWS or any additional networks will also participate.

This post will serve to host your comments about the 2PM press conference from JGR. To add your TV-related comment, 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 The Daly Planet.

"Starting And Parking" In The Nationwide Series

Please click here for a direct link to a great article on the "start and park" teams currently haunting the Nationwide Series. Many TDP readers asked me to address this issue after the ESPN coverage deliberately avoided mentioning that ten cars left the race when the rain came in Montreal. That is driver Morgan Shepherd roller-skating above as he always has for exercise.

The NASCAR Insiders talk plainly about the reality of "starting and parking" and why it has taken hold on the Nationwide Series tour this year. Please leave them comments on that issue and feel free to address the TV issues on this post.

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 again for taking the time to stop by.