Saturday, September 27, 2008

Kansas: The TV Calm Before The Talladega Storm

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The big crowds and wonderful scenery of the Kansas Speedway are going to set the NASCAR on ESPN TV crew up for a "can't miss" afternoon of racing. Sunday afternoon should see a mix that includes a great track, strong racing and pit strategy serve-up what may be the best race of The Chase.

This is great for all concerned for one little reason. Next week, it all ends. Talladega brings the teamwork dynamic back into play with groups of team cars pushing each other like freight trains. It is also a track where one false move could easily lead to disaster for ten or more cars at one time.

Kansas has shown itself to be a track that allows for exactly the type of racing that the TV cameras enjoy. Big sweeping turns lead to three and even four-wide racing that can push the excitement level high at any time. The pictures from this facility are fantastic down the backstretch and even the in-car cameras shine because of the smooth surface.

The ESPN on ABC production gang will offer a one hour version of NASCAR Countdown to begin the day at 1PM Eastern Time. Allen Bestwick will host the program with Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty alongside. The Infield Pit Studio has been a very good investment for ESPN this season in more ways than one.

This innovative unit has seen Bestwick and his crew serve-up some solid programming in both good weather and bad. They have filled hours in rain delays, hosted countless drivers and erased the memory of Suzy Kolber and the network's first season. Regardless of the weather outside, this facility has been on-the-air and working. That is a true testament to the design and the tech crew.

The pictures above are the Infield Pit Studio exterior and interior. Click on the pics to see them full-size. Thanks to ESPN for the images.

Bestwick has a lot of stories to review this week from Montoya's penalty to driver changes and The Chase. As usual, two storylines will be running side-by-side with the race and The Chase both looking for attention and TV time.

The Saturday Nationwide Series race proved to be tough for Jerry Punch who had a hard time with both driver names and following the on-track action. His partners Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree called a large amount of the play-by-play and both have become pretty solid where that TV skill is concerned.

Punch will have his work cut-out for him at 2PM on Sunday, as Kansas has a lot of action and many of the Chasers will be starting far back in the field. This might be the biggest play-by-play challenge for him in quite some time. ESPN has always been mesmerized by the leaders of the race and on Sunday there may be only one or two Chasers among the top five cars. That should be interesting to sort-out.

Tim Brewer seems to have found his stride of late and did quite a good job on-the-fly describing the Montoya penalty and showing viewers exactly what happened. Kansas has been shown to be a track that can stress everything from shocks to batteries, so fans should be seeing Brewer on a regular basis in the telecast.

It's tough times for Shannon Spake on pit road this year. As the full-time rookie of the ESPN group she has found herself on the receiving end of criticism for her lack of racing knowledge and her sometimes off-balance comments. Just like Joey Logano, Spake is basically trying to get some "TV seat time" this season and learn for the future.

As the races wind-down and the tempers crank-up, both Spake and Jamie Little may find themselves confronting more angry drivers and crew chiefs face-to-face. Learning to deal with NASCAR's intensity is something that both of these two reporters are still in the process of understanding. Kansas may be a good warm-up for Talladega where tempers are concerned.

Mike Massaro and Dave Burns continue to fly under-the-radar this season. Both have been given the opportunity to expand their pit reporter roles and made the most of these chances. Massaro is now a regular on the Monday NASCAR Now roundtable and Burns hosted NASCAR Countdown pre-race shows in his firesuit before Nationwide races. They may both wind-up with bigger roles on ESPN's NASCAR coverage next season.

Perhaps the key person on Sunday for ESPN will be the Producer. As the one who decides what direction the overall coverage should take, the "racer vs. Chaser" problem will fall squarely in his lap. What portion of the coverage should focus on the race and what portion should follow the progress of The Chasers? This was ESPN's toughest challenge last season and has proven to be an issue again this year.

Since so many of the Chase contenders are starting in the back of the pack, ESPN will probably choose to watch them come up through the field as the early portions of the race progress. If Sunday is anything like Saturday, there will be packs of cars running in three lanes and lots of passing.

Last week in Dover, full field recaps were a struggle because of the fast laps and the frequent interruptions in the action. ESPN did two full field rundowns on Saturday in the Nationwide race, so perhaps the network will aggressively keep viewers up-to-date on Sunday as well.

One outstanding Saturday element from ESPN was interviewing drivers who were out of the race. From a discouraged Mark Martin outside the Infield Medical Center to a tired Bobby Hillin who was back racing after a long break, the network followed-up. This element has long been missing on the Cup side and perhaps it will return on Sunday.

The chaos of Talladega surely has begun to trickle into the minds of the TV crew as they look out at the serene Kansas landscape. Sunday afternoon will be a great opportunity to put a solid race telecast in the books and head into Talladega with the ESPN momentum high.

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Paul Newman: Jan. 26, 1925 - Sept. 26, 2008

There are a lot of actors and celebrities that come around when the races are in town. Most are there to promote a project, get their picture taken and party.

Paul Newman was well-known to most veteran sports TV professionals who covered racing. He was never at the races to promote a project, did not like to have his picture taken and rarely partied. Newman was a racer. Friday, he passed away at home after a long battle with cancer.

ESPN fans may remember Newman in his red, white and blue sports car racing at historic Lime Rock which was right in his Connecticut backyard. Newman also drove in both the 24 Hours of LeMans and Daytona. Open-wheel fans knew Newman as a long-time owner in the Indy Car world.

Update: Mario Andretti will be on Wind Tunnel at 9PM Sunday with Dave Despain to talk about Newman's racing legacy.

Here are some great story links talking about Newman's legacy:
Paul Newman's Racing Endeavors by Shawn Courchesne of the Hartford Courant.
Actor Ushered Auto Racing Into American Mainstream by Matt Humphrey of the Orlando Sentinel
Racer, Actor Newman dies at 83 from AutoWeek

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Nationwide Series on ESPN2 From Kansas

Allen Bestwick will kick-off the Saturday afternoon coverage of the Nationwide Series with NASCAR Countdown at 3PM Eastern Time. As with most weeks during the college football season, there is a live game that began at Noon preceding this program. Football usually runs longer than three hours, so viewers should be prepared for this program to be on-the-air later than scheduled.

Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty will join Bestwick in the Infield Pit Studio for a preview of the Nationwide event. There are several good stories to follow, including Rusty's son Steven putting teammate David Stremme in his car to help with set-up problems that were still not sorted out as of late Friday night.

When Countdown is over, it will be Dr. Jerry Punch taking to the air at 3:30PM for coverage of the live race. He will be joined by Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree in the booth. Tim Brewer will be in the Tech Center. Down on pit road will be Jamie Little, Shannon Spake, Mike Massaro and Dave Burns.

This track should feature some of the best racing of the season for this series with a lot of different storylines that should play-out. A very diverse group of drivers is entered in the field, so once again the potential exists for the Nationwide "regulars" to do battle with the Sprint Cup "cross-overs."

This post will serve to host your comments about the ESPN2 coverage of the Nationwide Series race from Kansas. To add your TV-related comment, 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.

SPEED Handles Early Saturday Action

SPEED steps-in on Saturday morning to handle the Nationwide Series qualifying from Kansas. The TV gang hangs around to continue with Sprint Cup practice.

Steve Byrnes will be hosting the telecasts, with Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond alongside. Wendy Venturini and Bob Dillner will handle the driver interviews.

SPEED has a very laid-back style that borders on "old school" for this type of telecast. Byrnes is a host that continually puts the focus on the cars, drivers and teams throughout the programs.

There is a very interesting mix of drivers in the Nationwide group in Kansas. Dillner and Venturini have the ability to move easily between the NASCAR series and look for the stories that are breaking in the garage.

This post will serve to host your comments about the Saturday coverage of Nationwide Series qualifying and Sprint Cup practice. To add your TV-related opinion, just click on the COMMENTS button below 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.