Saturday, September 20, 2008

Dover Biggest TV Challenge Of 2008 Chase

The unique layout of Dover where visibility and TV coverage is concerned should make Sunday's race the most challenging of the ten Chase races for the ESPN on ABC gang.

Veteran NASCAR fans know all too well the struggles of the TV networks to keep viewers informed during this fast-paced event. Simply remembering the single big accident of the last Sprint Cup Series race at Dover will serve to tell the tale. Cars continued to pile-into an accident seemingly forever and the resulting mess challenged the network to keep-up with the action.

ESPN is a TV crew that works to manage an almost scripted performance. The focus and emphasis of the NASCAR telecasts have been long since decided before the pre-race show hits the air. The on-going struggle for ESPN is to manage the clash between what the network wants to cover and what is actually happening in the race.

Even the dependable Allen Bestwick must follow the scripted performance where the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show is concerned. Although still light years ahead of the Hollywood Hotel, Bestwick has dutifully been spouting "The Chase" in every sentence and leaving the actual stories of the racing behind.

On this weekend, NASCAR has already run both the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series races. There is a big change in the controlled substance policy for the sport. Another discrimination lawsuit has been filed and one of the top team engineers in Formula-1 racing has left the sport to join Michael Waltrip Racing. All of those stories should have a place in Bestwick's pre-race show. It should be interesting to see how many of them make the script.

Dr. Jerry Punch had a tough time in Saturday's Nationwide Series race trying to pay attention to both the TV monitor in the announce booth and also look out at the track. It was often Dale Jarrett or Andy Petree who first saw trouble and reported where it was to both the audience at home and the TV crew in the truck.

That was during a race that had 200 laps. Sunday, Punch faces 400 laps with both the story of the race and the story of The Chase running side-by-side all afternoon. The grind of The Monster Mile calls for a level of determination and intensity that Punch has not yet displayed this season. Jarrett and Petree have become critical partners in keeping the ESPN viewers informed of even the most basic information.

Saturday's race also saw a new commitment by ESPN to interviewing the drivers involved in accidents as they exited the Infield Medical Center. Pit reporter Shannon Spake did a solid job of simply being on-scene and letting the drivers talk. Hopefully, this continues on Sunday with the Cup Series drivers. ESPN has been recently eliminating this practice unless a Chase driver was involved.

Spake, Jamie Little, Dave Burns and Mike Massaro face the challenge of calling the action from one of the worst pit roads in NASCAR. A simple mistake by a team or a driver on pit road in Dover can be catastrophic where a chance to win is concerned. That was never more evident than in Saturday's Nationwide race where two of the top contenders collided exiting the pits.

ESPN had a fantastic telecast earlier this season from Bristol, TN. The production team recognized that the action was so frantic on the track that changes needed to be made to what the viewers saw. Tim Brewer and the Tech Center was essentially out unless he could appear during a caution or quickly coming back from break. Bestwick and his infield team could be heard, but did not need to be seen once the green flag waved.

These changes resulted in the emphasis being put back where it belonged, on the racing. This week, 43 teams are going to enter an endurance contest where pit strategy and sheer luck may have a strong role in determining the winner. The same approach is needed.

The TV crew will be ducking a bridge over the track on every lap. Cars will constantly be racing on the front and back stretches simultaneously. Accidents happen so quickly that the car is often already at the bottom of the big Dover banking before the Director can call for the right camera.

Upcoming tracks like Kansas and Talladega are going to seem like heaven to this TV crew after a Dover weekend. With all the wrecks and laps under caution, this race has been referred to as "the 24 hours of Dover." Everyone on the ESPN crew is going to know they have put in a full day's work when this one is over.

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Congratulations: NASCAR Adds Random Testing

In a Saturday morning press conference, NASCAR announced that in 2009 the substance abuse policy is changing. Team owners must test all licensed crew members before the season, including drivers. Those results will be reviewed by NASCAR before any team member may participate in activity at a NASCAR track. All NASCAR at-track employees will be tested by NASCAR prior to the season as well.

When the season begins, NASCAR will be randomly testing by computer generated lists a sample of all at-track personnel. This includes NASCAR employees, drivers and all team members. Aegis, an outside testing company, will administer the tests and they will be by number only. No names will be associated until a positive test result is returned and NASCAR itself matches the sample number up with a name.

NASCAR's medical officer will contact anyone with a positive test to determine the extent of the issue and if a suspension will result. One true positive test calls for immediate suspension with a NASCAR supervised program to monitor recovery.

This is a tremendously positive step for a sport that has been resistant to change and has never grasped the real issues associated with drug abuse of all types among the hundreds of people who are involved in at-track activity.

Here are some links to this story:
NASCAR To Begin Random Testing in 2009
Drug Testing For NASCAR

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Evernham Issue Getting Tougher

Monday on NASCAR Now, host Allen Bestwick led his "expert panel" through a lot of topics.

ESPN pit reporter and TV veteran Mike Massaro supplied the journalistic perspective on the issues. Current Truck Series driver Todd Bodine joined the conversation and talked about the brawl after the New Hampshire NCTS race. Bodine has driven in all three NASCAR series over his years in the sport.

While Massaro is an ESPN employee, his role on this program is clear. He was on-scene and has solid first-person information about the race weekends. Different faces rotate through the Bodine position, but it is normally a driver who can talk about handling, performance and offer a good preview of the upcoming event.

In the third chair for ESPN sat a problem that the network will have to deal with sooner or later. Ray Evernham is brilliant in many ways. His conversations and technical knowledge offer this show a unique perspective. A former champion crew chief, Evernham has a smooth delivery on-the-air and is a natural at television. Unfortunately, the Evernham story does not stop there.

It was February when the NASCAR on ESPN team walked into the Infield Media Center in Daytona to talk to the press and introduce the on-air line-up for 2008. To the surprise of many reporters, in walked Ray Evernham. It was even more surprising when he sat down alongside Dale Jarrett, Andy Petree and Dr. Jerry Punch.

ESPN's Vice President of Motorsports, Rich Feinberg, introduced Evernham as a commentator who would be filling a variety of roles. True to his word, Feinberg has used Evernham in the booth as a color analyst, in the Infield Pit Studio for the NASCAR Countdown show and on various ESPN programs from First Take to SportsCenter.

On-the-air, Evernham is easy-going and well-spoken. He has the ability to poke fun at himself and seems to be able to adapt to a wide variety of assignments. He has slipped under-the-radar at ESPN this season while offering a confirmation that he may have a future in TV if he chooses. There is, however, something else going on.

Many things have changed since February and one of them is now very tough to take. When Evernham is on ESPN, the questions and issues that he deals with involve everything about NASCAR except one topic. That topic is Gillett-Evernham Motorsports (GEM).

While Evernham might talk about his cars and his teams during the race highlights, there is a code of silence at ESPN where Evernham is concerned that is simply not fair to NASCAR fans. Like all the other owners, Evernham should be fair game and he is not.

Over the last couple of weeks there has been a nasty GEM lawsuit involving Robby Gordon, rumors of GEM buying another race team and also GEM moving to Toyota for 2009. This week, Patrick Carpentier has been told by GEM that he is out at the end of the season. Tuesday, Mike Delahanty, the Sr. Motorsports Manager at Dodge actually jumped-into a NASCAR media conference call to try and quell rumors of problems with Dodge and GEM.

Sitting next to Evernham on Monday's NASCAR Now was Bestwick. Perhaps one of the most respected media personalities in NASCAR, Bestwick broached none of these topics. At the other end of the panel was Massaro. After putting in years of interviewing drivers and owners at airports and access roads, Massaro was now in an air-conditioned studio with Evernham only feet away. Massaro said nothing.

Evernham's personal life with Erin Crocker is not part of this discussion. Evernham is now divorced, he and Crocker are still together and they are both adults. The issue ESPN has to deal with is how to handle a Sprint Cup Series owner who is actively in the national news when he is also appearing for ESPN in an on-air role.

During the off-season, Feinberg will be looking at quite a scenario with his NASCAR on ESPN announcers. Brad Daugherty just bought a Sprint Cup Series team, Rusty Wallace continues to mentor his son as a Nationwide Series owner and Evernham may be expanding to four cars with GEM.

Where ESPN is concerned, suits-and-ties and silence cannot hide reality. These NASCAR owners who double as ESPN announcers simply cannot walk down both sides of the street and expect their commentary to be received by the fans as unbiased.

Feinberg has referred to this issue as "sort of a separation of church and state." He spoke on the topic earlier this season.

"When you put on those headphones or sit in that pit studio and wire up that mic, you need to leave behind your intuitive response as an owner and let come out your intuitive response as a journalist and a broadcaster," said Feinberg. "And if there is a fuzzy area, then the recommendation is stand back.”

Where Evernham and ESPN are concerned, that "fuzzy area" is growing at a rapid pace.

After this weekend of NASCAR racing in Dover and Las Vegas, Evernham returns to Monday's NASCAR Now with Boris Said and Mike Massaro. Allen Bestwick will once again be hosting the one-hour show that airs at 5PM Eastern Time.

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Here are some Internet links to this topic:
Evernham Wandering Into Ever-Muddier Waters
GEM Sues Robby Gordon
Dodge Insists GEM Has Long-Term Contract
ESPN's Daytona Press Conference in February
Mid-Season Column On This Topic
ESPN Adds Another Sprint Cup Owner (Daugherty)

Trucks In Vegas Need A Very Good Show

Suddenly, the Craftsman Truck Series is the target of all kinds of rumors. The sponsor is gone, Dodge factory support is gone and the field at Vegas (33) is the shortest field in over a decade.

One thing has been a constant during all the turmoil over the past several years. The NCTS has the best TV coverage in NASCAR. Rick Allen and Phil Parsons are easy to understand and Ray Dunlap and Adam Alexander on pit road treat everyone equally.

SPEED produces this coverage and there are no gimmicks, no hype and no fancy sets. No Tech Center, Infield Studio or Hollywood Hotel is on-site. When it comes to the Trucks, SPEED kicks it "old school" and the results have been solid.

This week in Vegas, Krista Voda will once again host The Set-Up pre-race show from the head of the starting grid. Beginning at 9PM, Voda will offer a recap of the wild action last week in Loudon both during and after the race. Driver Colin Braun and his parents will be the subject of one feature, and Voda will take the Truck Series' most popular driver Johnny Benson to an indoor skydiving center. That might be worth the price of admission alone.

Parsons and Allen are up next at 9:30PM with the call of the race. This short field needs to have a good race to get some national attention on a Saturday night in prime-time. The NCTS is at a crossroads, and some work needs to be done to get the series back into the NASCAR limelight.

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Mike Joy Steps Into The Batter's Box

It has been many months since we mentioned veteran NASCAR TV announcer Mike Joy here at The Daly Planet. That is Joy's 1979 MRN photo above showing him to be in pretty good company that season on-the-air.

This Saturday afternoon, TV viewers will once again hear Joy calling live sports on Fox for three hours. This time, he will be trading splitters, pit stops and lap times for runs, hits and errors.

Joy will be joining Fox Baseball analyst Joe Magrane to call the play-by-play on the Saturday afternoon match-up between the Minnesota Twins and the red-hot Rays from Tampa Bay. The Fox broadcast begins with the pre-game show at 3:30PM.

This is a regional game that can be seen in lots of areas. Boston, Fort Myers, Hartford, Jacksonville, Miami, Minneapolis, Orlando, Providence, Raleigh, Seattle, Tampa, and West Palm Beach are some of the key TV markets where the game will be seen.

Joy has drawn a great game, with the AL East leading Rays hosting the 2nd place in the AL Central Twins. His partner is a 10 year Major League veteran and a face that fans have seen on ESPN, the regional sports networks and Fox. Magrane regularly works on the Rays' TV games, so he will be well-prepared for this national exposure.

Growing up in Connecticut, Joy was a huge baseball fan and divided his early loyalty between the NY Yankees and the Chicago Cubs. While the love of the Yankees was easy to understand, it was attending games at Wrigley Field as a child with his grandfather who lived in Chicago that sparked the interest in the Cubbies.

Joy had the opportunity to call some college baseball games, but will be stepping into the big leagues for the first time on Saturday afternoon. This is a weekend with a MLB and NFL conflict for Fox and Joy got the call from Fox's Ed Goren to step-up and lend a hand. Fans may remember that Goren has also been instrumental in Fox's NASCAR coverage.

Update: Tampa beat Minnesota on Friday night, so Joy will be calling what may be the most historic single game in Tampa baseball history. With a win, the Rays would clinch a spot in the post-season for the first time since the franchise began.

So, good luck to Mike as he steps into the stick-and-ball world for one moment. The Tampa team is at home and the smaller style indoor stadium usually means lots of action. We will ask Mike to let us know about his experience and pass it along later this weekend. Thank you to all the fans who emailed about this topic.

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Nationwide Series Race on ESPN2 From Dover

The Monster Mile was acting up during the Friday and Saturday on-track activity with both NASCAR series. The Nationwide Series is going to be facing a green track, but Kyle Busch seems to have the field covered by quite a bit.

It will be Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree who bring fans live coverage on ESPN2 of the Nationwide race at 3:30PM. Down in the ESPN Tech Center will be Tim Brewer and Bestwick, Wallace and Daugherty will be in the infield studio.

Pit reporters will be Jamie Little, Shannon Spake, Mike Massaro and Dave Burns. Dover is a notoriously dangerous pit road and the Nationwide race has drivers of various skill levels. It should make for some pit action to remember.

Look for the cars at the back of the pack and see how many decide to retire before the first fuel stop. The Nationwide Series is continuing to grow a "start and park" crew at the end of the field. The lap ticker should tell the tale.

Dover is fast and the action is often intense. This should be a test for Punch and company in the booth to keep the energy high for the duration of the broadcast. It is a very good rehearsal for the Cup race on Sunday.

This post will serve to host your comments about the Nationwide Series race on ESPN2 from Dover. To add your TV-related comments, 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 for taking the time to stop by.

NASCAR Countdown vs. Iowa Hawkeyes

Once again the top college football match-up for NASCAR fans is the Iowa Hawkeyes going head-to-head with Allen Bestwick and NASCAR Countdown on ESPN2. That is ESPN's College Gameday crew in Iowa above. NASCAR fans may recognize former NASCAR Countdown host Chris Fowler on the left.

The Nationwide Series pre-race show has been punted across ESPN networks, yanked off the air completely while in-progress and this week could possibly never see the light of day.

Bestwick, Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty are scheduled to be on-the-air at 3PM Eastern Time for a thirty minute program leading directly into the Nationwide Series race from Dover at 3:30PM.

Standing in the way are the powerful Iowa Hawkeyes who will be starting a college football game against Pitt at Noon. Even with the new play clock inserted into games this season, the average game length has continued to be close to three and a half hours. While this bodes well for fans seeing the race itself, it does not hold out much hope for NASCAR Countdown on this Saturday.

The second reason for this situation is that the ESPN Classic Network, long used as a "safety valve" for NASCAR is unavailable. As NASCAR fans might have guessed, that network is already being called into service to show a live college football game that will be in-progress at 3PM.

So, Bestwick and company may be all dressed-up with no place to go on this Saturday. One can only watch the progress of the football game to try and judge just how things will go for the NASCAR on ESPN gang when 3PM rolls around.

This post will serve to host your comments about the NASCAR Countdown show. There will be a new post up for the Nationwide Series race at 3PM. To add your TV-related comments, 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 for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Nationwide Qualifying on SPEED

This week SPEED gets another chance to step-into the on-track mix with coverage of Nationwide Series qualifying at 11AM on Saturday.

It will be Steve Byrnes, Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond calling the action with Wendy Venturini and Randy Pemberton reporting from pit road. Bob Dillner has the weekend off.

This is a good opportunity for McReynolds to use his knowledge and pass along his perspective on the various teams currently in the Nationwide Series. This is a group in transition and the COT that is making its way into the series has a lot of owners rattled.

The TV team will also probably touch on the very curious story about two Nationwide race engines being stolen after a break-in at the Roush-Fenway Racing engine shop. That story is going to have some twists and turns going forward.

This post will serve to host your comments about the coverage of Nationwide Series qualifying on SPEED from Dover. To add your TV-related 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 for stopping by.