Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Craftsman Truck Teams Steamed At SPEED

It certainly is a good thing that the Craftsman Truck Series teams have the weekend off. Maybe, it will give them a chance to cool down. This past weekend, the NCTS ran on Saturday at Talladega.

The field featured a wide variety of drivers. Some like Johnny Benson, Ron Hornaday Jr. and Mike Skinner are well-known veterans of the series. Other drivers like Kyle Busch and Mike Wallace are cross-overs who were just racing to chase the win. The field even featured Joey Logano in his first NCTS ride.

The trucks put on a good show and the SPEED TV crew worked hard to keep the excitement level high. Rick Allen called the action and has proven to be very effective in keeping the focus on the racing. Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip added the color analysis. Parsons is the TV personality most identified with this series.

Down on pit road was the always entertaining Ray Dunlap and his regular partner Adam Alexander. For this race, SPEED added the extra pit reporter and let pre-race host Krista Voda join the telecast. This combo worked well to tell the stories and the NCTS crew chiefs are perhaps the most cooperative in the sport.

SPEED has been happily reporting that TV ratings for this series have been climbing. It was no surprise then that this week brought the biggest announcement yet. SPEED's ratings broke the one million home mark during the Talladega race and the overall rating was up almost twenty percent.

With only five races to go, Talladega was really the key event down the stretch for the NCTS as they continue a good old dog-fight over the season championship. On the last lap scramble, Todd Bodine managed to edge-out Hornaday and Busch for the win. That left Hornaday on top right now, but less than forty points behind is the series most popular driver in Benson.

All of this was the good news. Then came Monday evening. SPEED is an official NASCAR TV partner and that network has exclusive coverage of the NCTS. This is the only NASCAR series where SPEED carries all the races and is responsible for the coverage. The TV crew is first-rate, the broadcasts are excellent and the racing is competitive.

Unfortunately, like almost everything else on the NASCAR TV landscape this season, the NCTS must bow-down to the Sprint Cup Series and The Chase for the Championship. No NCTS drivers went to NYC for the recent media tour. None are on the weekly NASCAR video conferences. None make the front page of the sport's websites.

SPEED provides no TV support programming whatsoever for this series. There is no weekly show, no monthly show and no interview show. Where SPEED is concerned, the NCTS drivers and teams live on the track and that is it. When is the last time a NCTS driver was on RaceDay, Trackside or NASCAR Live? Only The SPEED Report steps-up and treats this series with respect.

Monday brings the only program during the weekdays on SPEED that contains original NASCAR content. Think about that for a moment. This Week In NASCAR changed its title this season to open-up and venture beyond the Sprint Cup Series. The show has a new host, a new panelist and a new program format.

What it does not yet have is self-control. The NASCAR Media Group production team fell victim to "Chase Syndrome" and the results left a lot to be desired. Monday's show featured a nice debate about the Talladega finish. It featured a long two segment edited report on Dale Earnhardt Jr. because he was in the Chase. It featured coverage of the Sprint Cup testing at Lowe's Motor Speedway. The show even found time for Humpy Wheeler to talk about his beloved track and his innovations over the years.

What the only weekday NASCAR show on SPEED did not find time for was the Craftsman Trucks Series race from Talladega. That was the race live on SPEED that got the twenty percent ratings spike and broke the million home mark for viewers.

It was the race where the field was four and five-wide coming to the finish line. One side of the group was trying not to go below the yellow line while the other side was slapping off the SAFER barrier. No one lifted off the accelerator and Bodine won by a nose.

This season the trucks have had brawls after races, breath-taking runs to the finish line and the kind of throwback racing that NASCAR fans used to enjoy in other series. The TV crew complements the action and SPEED carries every single race live.

It certainly does make one wonder who is driving the bus at This Week In NASCAR when all of this can be ignored for a total focus on the Sprint Cup Series. There are over ten hours of TV programming on ESPN and SPEED each week focused on the Cup Series. That figure does not include the racing.

The NCTS gets back into action at Martinsville, VA in a little over a week. The TV coverage will once again be provided by SPEED. The race is Saturday afternoon. Maybe, this time Monday will bring some cooler heads, a balanced TV program and highlights of SPEED's only NASCAR franchise beating and banging on this classic short track.

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