Saturday, November 8, 2008

Fans Need Brian France On TV This Sunday

There comes a time in every sport where world events suddenly change the dynamic of a single season. This is now the case for NASCAR as the sanctioning body enters the final eight days of the 2008 season.

On Friday night, TV viewers on SPEED were shocked at the complete lack of fans in the stands for another great Craftsman Truck Series race. Saturday afternoon on ESPN2, Phoenix International Raceway offered a full day of practice and qualifying that ended with a late afternoon Nationwide Series race. Again, the empty grandstands told the tale.

The public image that NASCAR has put forward this week is of a sport in compete confusion. Rumors of huge layoffs and fulltime professional teams folding left and right are everywhere on the Internet. Fans have heard from team owners, drivers and every single TV commentator under the sun on this pending economic disaster.

The one person that TV viewers have not seen is NASCAR CEO Brian France.

While NASCAR's public relations guru Jim Hunter can offer comforting words and company president Mike Helton can explain racing decisions, neither of them is the face fans want to see.

For three generations, NASCAR has been a family-run business that has always had a clear and decisive leader. That role has now been passed to Brian France. The last time most fans saw him on mainstream TV was commenting on the Mauricia Grant lawsuit. France never wore a tie, looked disheveled and was clearly annoyed about the legal issues the sport was facing.

Now, with the tentacles of the current economic crisis about to grip NASCAR and shake it very hard, fans need to know what the leader thinks. Fans need to know what the sanctioning body is doing right now to ward off disaster in 2009.

Basic and very fundamental issues are coming to the forefront. Even as the Camping World sponsorship is set to be unveiled on SPEED, major Truck Series owners are leaving the sport after this season. From Jack Roush to Bill Davis, things are being said in the media that fundamentally do not match what is being said by NASCAR.

At a time when the Nationwide Series is struggling once again for an identity, JR Motorsports announced cutbacks and layoffs because the series itself is no longer viable to sponsors. This comes at a time when NASCAR is saying it has decided to push back the roll-out of the Nationwide COT until 2010. Once again, there are two fundamentally opposite statements in the media.

On the Sprint Cup side, the good folks over at are typing 24 hours a day trying to keep up with the potential team mergers and buyouts. As a small group of owners with sponsors in-hand continue to circumvent NASCAR rules by creating "satellite teams," others who have been in the sport for decades seem ready to fold their tents and walk away.

TV shows like RaceDay, NASCAR Now and NASCAR Countdown are the ways that fans get their up-to-date information on the hot issues in the news. Trusted names like Allen Bestwick, Wendy Venturini and Dr. Jerry Punch have been with the fans since February and have worked hard to gain the trust of the NASCAR TV viewers.

This Sunday, more than ever before, fans will be watching to see how NASCAR reacts to the on-going news that a significant portion of the very teams who support the top three series are in trouble. While announcers like Bestwick and Venturini can hold the attention of the fans, they both need one thing to get the job done. That would be someone to interview.

The only person who should be speaking to this subject is Brian France.

Denial is a wonderful thing, but not when the media is directly questioning the very health of the sport that provides the income and lifestyle for the France family. It is time for a strong statement of the situation within the sport and some solid answers to the issues that will confront both teams and fans in 2009.

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In-Progress From Phoenix: Nationwide Series on ESPN2

It does not seem all that long ago that we were talking about the new ESPN team for the Nationwide Series race in Daytona. Now, eight months removed from February, we are putting together the next-to-last post for the 2008 season.

Allen Bestwick leads the way with NASCAR Countdown at 4PM. He will be joined by Brad Daugherty and Rusty Wallace in the Infield Pit Center. This trio will offer a thirty minute preview of the Phoenix Nationwide Series race.

Next-up will be Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree with the call of the race. Down on pit road will be Shannon Spake, Jamie Little, Dave Burns and Mike Massaro. Tim Brewer will be in the Tech Center.

Phoenix is a fast and tight track with lots of action. Punch will be leading a TV telecast on the day after an exciting Truck Series race seen on SPEED. ESPN's Nationwide effort has been hit or miss, with a mix of fun racing coverage and disjointed and off-balance telecasts.

This race should offer the network an opportunity to get back on track in more ways than one. There is a nice full field with a lot fewer start-and-parkers. Punch and his crew will have just finished coverage of Happy Hour for the Sprint Cup when the Nationwide Series race rolls around. Hopefully, that will be a nice warm-up.

Look for the low angle cameras coming off the corner and the use of the in-car cameras on the backstretch when cars are in traffic. This track provides great aerial shots and also the NASCAR Media Group has a nice jib camera on Rattlesnake Hill at one end of the speedway.

Tough to get triple-splits on the pit stops at this smaller track and the run off pit road here sometimes gets tight and should be crucial for the win. The pit reporters will be busy, as tires and handling are a big story at PIR.

This post will serve to host your comments about the Nationwide Series race on ESPN2 from Phoenix. 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 The Daly Planet.

In-Progress From Phoenix: Saturday Practice And Qualifying

Things get underway at Noon Eastern Time on Saturday from PIR with SPEED hosting Nationwide Series qualifying. Steve Byrnes, Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds will be along to call the action. Down on the grid will be Wendy Venturini and Bob Dillner.

This same TV crew will hang around once qualifying is over to watch the early practice of the Sprint Cup Series cars. This is one of those sessions that was added late in the season after a lot of fans (TDP readers) made a lot of noise about ESPN not covering early practice. This sessions runs from 1:30 to 2:30PM.

John Roberts is up next with SPEED's NASCAR Live. This little show, originally designed to fill time from the tracks, has taken on a life of its own. Roberts was paired this season with two very unlikely TV reporters, Hermie Sadler and Randy Pemberton.

Instead of giving fans more of the same talking heads, both Sadler and Pemberton have embraced this show and made it fun to watch. Sadler has fun teasing the drivers about college football or their bad golf game while he gets the standard information about how things are going for the race.

Pemberton has been stellar on DirecTV's Hot Pass and his name has been bounced around for all kinds of roles in 2009. In the garage, he is a focused reporter who asks the tough questions with such sincerity that no one gets offended. He has pushed his way back into NASCAR with a lot of hard work this season.

The final pre-pre-race show will be ESPN2's coverage of Happy Hour for the Sprint Cup teams. Starting at 3PM, it will be Dr. Jerry Punch hosting the telecast. Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree will be along as the analysts. Shannon Spake, Jamie Little, Dave Burns and Mike Massaro will be handling the driver interviews from the garage.

There will be a new post up for NASCAR Countdown and the Nationwide Series race on ESPN2 later this afternoon. Countdown starts at 4PM and the race coverage begins thirty minutes later. Please feel free to add your TV-related opinions on the daytime Saturday coverage to this post.

To add your 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. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.