Tuesday, September 30, 2008

TV Crews Driving Right Into Gas Shortage

The combination of back-to-back storms and the resulting panic of people buying gasoline more often than normal has resulted in a mess in the Southeast.

Click here for a story on the situation in Alabama and click here for a summary of the situation in the Charlotte area. Now, sports fans find themselves headed into what may be a very unique situation. A multi-state gas shortage.

This weekend in Alabama, NASCAR fans will be heading to Talladega by the tens of thousands. Another group, just as loyal and just as large, will be heading to Tuscaloosa where the Crimson Tide will host Kentucky in college football on Saturday.

Add into that mix the ARCA, Craftsman Truck and Sprint Cup Series teams also headed for Talladega. Finally, the NASCAR haulers and the TV Production trucks round-out the fleet. That puts the tractor-trailer count at well over 150 for the weekend.

That is a picture above of the NASCAR Media Group TV compound at a NASCAR race where ESPN is present. Click on the picture to see it full-size. That is Tim Brewer's Tech Center in the front being unloaded. You can also see the ESPN production support tent, three satellite uplink trucks toward the back and of course, the big white catering tent.

Put all these ingredients together and what you have at Talladega beginning on Friday is a not-so-little city. The grandstands hold over 140 thousand and the 212-acre infield is a party town loaded with RV's. That puts the total head count at over 200 thousand for the weekend.

Normally, we would say that is a lot of fun. On this approaching weekend we are simply going to say, that is a lot of gas. There is no magic pill that lets teams, TV crews or NASCAR officials go to the front of the gas lines. Everybody suffers.

Click here for the update put out by NASCAR.com about the situation. On the media side, many crew members and reporters are traveling from the Charlotte area by car to Talladega. This starts them in one of the hardest hit areas and then has them fueling-up near Atlanta, which is perhaps the city most affected by the fuel crisis.

Those media types arriving in Birmingham or Atlanta by air and traveling to Talladega in a rental car are going to be in for a bit of a surprise. Several news organizations are reporting that the fuel shortage will last well beyond the weekend.

There may be a good three-way fight for The Chase in-progress this week, but the challenge for many may simply be be finding the fuel to get to the race track. There might be some good stories to tell by the time next Monday rolls-around.

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"NASCAR Now" Shines On A Busy Tuesday

"Wow, what a way to start the show," said NASCAR Now host Ryan Burr. He had just opened the Tuesday edition with the news that Joey Logano was out of the #96 Hall of Fame car for the rest of the season.

It was NASCAR Now Lead Reporter Marty Smith who reported live by telephone with the update. "It just wasn't working," said Smith of the Logano rent-a-ride. He filled-in the details and said it would be fan favorite Ken Schrader in the #96 car for the rest of the season.

NASCAR on ESPN analyst Andy Petree was next to apear on-camera. He commented on the Logano situation and addressed the positive and negative things that were happening to the young man in the Sprint Cup Series.

Introducing a topic with the host, filling-in the details with the reporter and then letting the analyst talk about the issues has always worked best on NASCAR Now and it did once again on Tuesday.

Next-up was the Paul Menard news. Once Burr explained the Menard move to Yates Racing for 2009, he welcomed Yates GM Max Jones to the program by phone. Jones was very up-front in explaining the details and why he felt Menard would benefit from the Yates and Roush-Fenway partnership next season.

Covering both sides of the story, Burr brought-in ESPN.com reporter David Newton on-camera who explained that DEI knew Menard was going to leave. The follow-up question from Burr addressed how DEI would do for 2009. Newton said DEI might have only two Sprint Cup cars next season.

Not missing a beat, Burr continued with the Scott Speed story and brought-in Speed by phone to talk about his Red Bull connections. Burr tried his best to pin Speed down about his plans for 2009, but Speed would not take the bait. This is one situation where the veteran news anchor Burr works very well.

Up next on-camera popped Mike Skinner, who would pilot the Red Bull car at Talladega replacing AJ Allmendinger. Skinner is a great interview and Burr let him talk about the dynamics of the Red Bull team and Allmendinger's future. Positive words from a veteran like Skinner on national TV go a long way where getting a new ride is concerned.

David Newton returned to say Speed was "dancing around" the fact that he was going to be the full-time Cup Series driver for Red Bull next season. Newton also said positive things about Allmendinger and mentioned the Kyle Petty ride. Burr immediately followed-up to ask about Petty. Newton was not optomistic and basically said "this may be it for him" when talking about Petty having possibly ended his career last week in Kansas.

Tim Brewer was next and recapped the restrictor plate situation for Talladega. His hands-on demonstration served to clearly illustrate the mechanics behind the device. Petree followed Brewer and was all smiles about Talladega because of his personal success at the track. He reminded Burr that the entire Chase could be turned upside-down with one big wreck in this event.

On the way out the door, Burr told viewers that both Steve Letarte and Chad Knaus would be guests on the Wednesday show. That makes sense, because there certainly was not one free moment of time in this one.

This may have been the best weekday NASCAR Now program in the 18 months that this TV series has been on-the-air. It was concise, informative and loaded with all kinds of guests, reporters and ESPN analysts. The hard work of the production staff was clear to see and the results were outstanding.

The show returns on Wednesday at 5PM ET and re-airs at Midnight/9PM Pacific.

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Owner's Roundtable Proves To Be Interesting

Say what you will, ESPN has stuck by the declaration that being an active NASCAR owner is OK for the network's on-air personalities. Sometimes, this can be tough to take when news issues and team politics are being discussed. In other situations, hearing the views of those dealing with the real issues of the sport can be interesting.

Monday, a live Major League Baseball game cancelled the original 5PM airing of the NASCAR Now "roundtable" show. All that remained was a one-time showing at Midnight Eastern Time. That was a shame for the fans, because this was a fascinating show.

Allen Bestwick hosted an "all owners all the time" version of NASCAR Now that featured Ray Evernham, Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. This was another new mix of personalities on the show that features a constantly changing panel.

Bestwick has been the salvation of this program and on this Monday he had his work cut-out for him. From the start of the show, he kept all three owners away from the team issues and steered clear of the NASCAR news. This was clearly a program that was simply going to review Kansas, preview Talladega and talk about The Chase.

The results of Bestwick's efforts were outstanding. All three panelists were talking in conversational tones from the start of the show. Finally, viewers got to see four guys just sitting around and talking NASCAR. The best part was they were all having fun.

The review of the Cup race from Kansas drew lots of great comments and analysis from all three panelists. Running through the Tony Stewart pit problems, the great save by Matt Kenseth and the banzai move by Carl Edwards, Bestwick drew-out the best from his participants and kept the energy level high.

A key guest on the program was Jimmy Makar from JGR. Monday was no doubt a hectic day at Gibbs Racing, yet Makar found time to appear on the program. Bestwick and Makar have known each other for a long time and this relationship resulted in a telling and very intriguing interview.

Starting of with the problems of the #18 car, Makar related that the engine was on the dyno and the issues appeared to be related to fuel pick-up. On the JGR struggles in The Chase, Makar said "it feels like we got hit with a left hook." He went on to expand on the human and mechanical issues that had plagued the last three races.

Bestwick prodded Makar about potential changes in staff, which was a fair question. In response, Makar said the issues were spread over all the teams and it was a matter of getting the momentum back. Where Logano racing in the #96 car was concerned, Makar said Logano was just getting seat time and learning a lot. Makar has a good sense of humor and included that one skill Logano was perfecting was "getting out of the way."

Back in the studio, it seemed ironic that Bestwick's owner's show fell on this Monday. He followed-up on the JGR struggles with three owners who have been seeing their own teams struggle this season. The Wallace solution was to just keep going and remember racing is a tough sport. Evernham's answer was to find the real problems on each team and solve them. He pointed to communication as the Stewart issue.

Daugherty is the rookie owner and he added that "finding the leaks" and then fixing them was key. He stressed fundamentals and trying to remember what got these teams into The Chase in the first place. Sounding very much like the basketball player, Daugherty said it was time to "get back to the basics."

Unfortunately, someone in power at ESPN has become fascinated with team radio conversations. Bestwick was forced to lead a discussion about a frustrated crew chief telling a frustrated driver to "shut-up and drive" while the team worked on a solution to the problems with the car. It was juvenile at best. The panel took it all in stride, made some jokes about their radio comments in the past and pushed-on.

The Nationwide highlights again did not include an interview with the winner, but the panel followed-up with a good discussion. It gave Daugherty and Wallace an opportunity to expand on topics inside the Nationwide Series. Both of them have been working on that series for ESPN2 all season long.

A Talledaga preview was next and it included the "drop to the back of the pack" strategy. Wallace pointed-out that the sponsors might not exactly be happy with key drivers falling to the rear. Bestwick was interesting in his comments that the team cars were going to line-up and wait until the end to race. This was unusual coming from Bestwick, who usually stays away from adding his own opinions.

Here at TDP, we pointed out last week the economic issues that were impacting our society and the world. On this program, Bestwick chose to raise that topic. Wallace called Monday a "horrible day for NASCAR." Evernham called for action from the politicians and Daugherty pointed-out that owners were going to have to look at new ways of doing things in a more cost-efficient manner.

This program made the grade because of Bestwick's ability to control the conversation and set a comfortable tone for all concerned. Maybe Tuesday's NASCAR Now will think about re-airing some of these comments when they take to ESPN2 at 5PM Eastern Time. Luckily, the Tuesday afternoon baseball game is on TBS Sports.

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Biffle And Knaus Handle Monday TV Duties

Michael Waltrip has been a fixture on the Monday night shows on SPEED for over a decade. This season, the Monday series is called This Week In NASCAR and hosted by Steve Byrnes.

On this Monday, Byrnes welcomed Chad Knaus and Greg Biffle as panelists. These two combined to try and fill a void on the program. Michael Waltrip had taken a day off.

TWIN has a very different vibe than the other Monday show called NASCAR Now over on ESPN2. Although they are both one hour review and preview shows, over on ESPN2 host Allen Bestwick has a panel of three that constantly rotates. Each week, Bestwick has to take a different crew and mix these fresh ingredients to make a new show.

Byrnes has only three personalities to handle. Waltrip is a regular, while Knaus and Biffle rotate on the panel. The results have been a slow progression from disjointed to enjoyable where this new series is concerned.

Unfortunately, the powers-that-be have decided to insert a "Chaser profile" into the final twelve shows and the results have been less than stellar. Byrnes led Biffle and Knaus through a brief review of the Kansas Sprint Cup race, but then were forced to step aside for this edited feature that took up two complete segments of the program.

Ironically, the profile was on Biffle. There he was, right there on the studio set, talking about a profile of himself. These profiles have made absolutely no sense in this TV series and take a lot of time out of each show.

Eventually, the gang got to the highlights and the fun began. Knaus and Biffle together don't have the same spark without Waltrip, but the conversation was informative and entertaining. Byrnes has proven to be an effective TV leader since this series began.

Hearing and seeing Knaus as he reacted to the Carl Edwards move on the last lap was fun. Biffle said he admired Edwards, but rarely has seen a car hit the wall and win the race in the NASCAR ranks. Both guys had a good time with that moment.

In previewing Talladega, Knaus offered his normal analytical approach. Biffle said that the race was either exciting or completely boring. That is why having drivers and crew chiefs on a show works so well. Two very different perspectives on the same situation.

The only thing better for this program as the season winds-down would be SPEED taking a cue from the past. Keeping Biffle and Knaus as panelists and adding Waltrip as the "wild card" into the mix each week would result in exactly what viewers would like to see. Over the years, three voices on this panel have always resulted in more fun and more information.

Good old Humpy Wheeler showed-up to update viewers on the Talladega curse. It was a bit morbid to hear Wheeler talk about the deaths at Talladega over the years. The famous story of driver Bobby Isaac hearing a voice from God and quitting mid-race was an interesting way to end the segment. If TWIN could get Wheeler a bit more focused, he could really lend a nice hand to this program with his veteran perspective.

Waltrip will return next week, and it was clear from the low-key nature of this program that his presence adds a spark that this series needs. Love him or hate him, Waltrip knows how to work the TV cameras and his return on the Monday after the Talladega race should be memorable.

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Expect Menard's Move To Dominate Tuesday's "NASCAR Now"

As the dominoes continue to fall, ESPN gets an unexpected hot news story dumped in its lap as Paul Menard is leaving DEI at the end of the season.

As many know, Paul's father is his long-time sponsor and the Menard's sponsorship will be transferring to the new team. That team is Yates Racing.

Once a proud stand-alone company, the new Yates Racing is simply an extension of Roush Fenway in almost every way. Roush provides the engines, the tech support and with Yates now looking to field three cars for 2009, Roush will actually have eight team cars on the track.

Hopefully, NASCAR Now will line-up a good cross-section of on-air personalities to address all the areas of this complex issue. One big question will be the continuation of DEI with only Martin Truex Jr. and one primary sponsor. Long gone are the glory days for that company

Here are some other media links on that story and on some ESPN personalities:
Menard To Leave DEI, Join Yates from NASCAR.com
Click here for a story on Tim Brewer and the Tech Center from the Kansas City Star
Click here for a story on Dale Jarrett from the Topeka Capital-Journal
Click here for a story on the female ESPN pit reporters from the Lawrence Journal

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