Sunday, November 9, 2008

Phoenix A Watershed Moment For ESPN Team

Update: There is a new post up that breaks-out the ABC Network TV switch issue for discussion. Just refresh your browser or click on the TDP logo above.

No one can blame the NASCAR on ESPN gang if they were a little grumpy and tired going into the Sprint Cup Series race in Phoenix. It had been a very long season and there was only one more event in Homestead after the Sunday afternoon racing was over.

Instead of turning-in another bland effort, the entire ESPN team seemed to be energized and organized for the first time during the 2008 Chase for the Championship. It was actually amazing to see the changes in this telecast.

Allen Bestwick had Ray Evernham as the fourth member of his Infield Pit Studio team with Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. Bestwick did a solid job of setting the table for the race, including showing TV viewers the Craftsman Truck and Nationwide Series highlights from Friday and Saturday.

The panel addressed a wide variety of issues from The Chase to the economy. Bestwick referenced the fact that Brian France had a press conference in Phoenix, but no video was shown to viewers.

It was the Producer and Director that changed the direction of this telecast. Suddenly, the ESPN pit reporters were interviewing the non-Chase drivers who were out of the race. During a brief rain delay, there was even a Tony Stewart appearance during an impromptu interview with Shannon Spake. Both of these things have been unheard of over the past eight weeks.

Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree have taken to adding race descriptions to their color analyst roles. Regardless of the reason, Jarrett and Petree have taken to filling-in the gaps left by Dr. Jerry Punch as he continues his low-key approach to his play-by-play role.

It was really the wonderful selection of cameras and the lack of hype that helped to make this one of ESPN's best races of the season. Stories were followed-up as well as can be expected and the crew tried at least twice to give a field rundown.

Even with the ticker at the top of the screen, this was a race where fans of non-Chasers may have been forced over to Foxsports or for some additional details in terms of live scoring. This is a hole in the ESPN coverage that something like RaceBuddy could fix where additional cameras are made available to TV viewers using the Internet. ESPN would be well-served to add an online component for next season.

Credit goes to pit reporter Dave Burns, who was clearly under the weather all day long but hung-in for the entire race. While not exactly pulling what has come to be know as "a DW," Burns was croaking his way through his updates and pit stops. Burns often flies under the radar, but he is a TV veteran who could hold his own in the studio or host role.

Just like earlier in the weekend, the audio from PIR was outstanding. It just worked well to complement the camera angles selected by the Director. There was no over-use of in-car cameras, no gimmicks like Draft Tracker and limited use of Tim Brewer in the Tech Center.

Allen Bestwick and his crew were used several times to provide updates and recaps of the race, but they cannot reset the field before a caution or during the race. Ray Evernham meshed well with the crew and brought a more technically-oriented perspective to the panel.

The stars of the show were definitely Jarrett and Petree. At this crucial time of the season, it helped to have former champions in the booth. Jarrett worked to keep things in perspective from an overall race viewpoint and Petree was outstanding in relaying the crew chief concerns of the Johnson and Edwards teams.

During the final red flag for a late race wreck, Bestwick took control and allowed Ray Evernham to offer his perspectives on the options available to those teams chasing Johnson. This is Evernham's strong point and surely makes him very attractive to ESPN as a possible full-time member of the TV team in 2009.

As the delay ran past 7:20PM Eastern Time, Bestwick informed viewers that ESPN was going to split the viewers into time zones. Eastern and Central time zone viewers had to move from over-the-air TV to cable and tune-into ESPN2.

Meanwhile, the Mountain and Pacific time zone viewers would continue to watch the ABC network feed. This served to effectively allow both groups to watch the race until the end. Only those in the Eastern and Central time zones watching ABC without cable TV access were left out of the equation.

Unfortunately, DirecTV got bit and had to pull their race feed because it was suddenly America's Funniest Home Videos. The driver channels had no problems, but the DirectTV control should have been up-to-date on this issue. It returned shortly before the end of the race.

When racing finally resumed with 23 laps to go, Punch again stepped aside and let Jarrett and Petree call the action. Their excitement is contagious and it really helped to bring this telecast home. ESPN failed to reset The Chase points at this time, which would have helped to set the overall picture.

Ultimately, the telecast staggered home through several more caution flags and ended at 8PM Eastern Time. Hopefully, the issues with later race start times will be something taken into consideration for next season.

What was your experience in watching this race? Only one race remains in the season, so let us know how you liked the ABC and ESPN2 coverage from Phoenix.

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In-Progress From Phoenix: Sprint Cup Series on ABC

After hundreds of posts, thousands of comments and millions of page views, this is the next-to-last Sprint Cup Series in-progress race post of 2008 on The Daly Planet.

In terms of NASCAR TV, this has been a very long haul for the ESPN team. While they have gotten most of the publicity from the Sprint Cup Series coverage, the entire ESPN gang has been working the NASCAR circuit since February in Daytona.

Unlike the Fox or TNT production teams who stop by and then leave, ESPN "double-dips" by using Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree on the Nationwide Series for the entire season. Likewise, the ESPN pit reporting team of Shannon Spake, Jamie Little, Dave Burns and Mike Massaro have been prowling the pits for the past nine months.

It will be 3PM Eastern Time when the new leader of the ESPN team, Allen Bestwick, kicks-off the coverage from the Infield Pit Studio. He will be joined by Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. This week, Ray Evernham will also be a member of the infield TV team.

Bestwick has been a workhorse for ESPN this year handling the Nationwide and Sprint Cup infield duties while also developing the brand new one hour NASCAR Now program on Mondays. His frequent flier miles by the end of this season will hopefully earn him a very nice winter vacation.

This weekend the clash in storylines between the racers and The Chasers continues. Mark Martin and Kyle Petty will not be racing in Homestead. Rumors of Joey Logano losing the #20 ride continue. Economic factors are eating at the sport from all sides. Somehow, the Jimmie Johnson vs. Carl Edwards scenario has lost a little luster. The selection of topics for the pre-race show should be a challenge.

Having four voices in the infield studio on a fast track like Phoenix is tough to do, especially when mixed with four pit reporters, three folks in the announce booth and Tim Brewer in the Tech Center. How things sort-out after the green flag falls will be interesting to watch. Any way you slice it, twelve announcers on a NASCAR race is a lot.

Dr. Jerry Punch is two races away from the end of what has seemed to be a very long season. Having Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree in the booth this season has helped, but it is still tough to watch a veteran reporter and nice guy like Punch struggle in the play-by-play role. It certainly has been a learning year for Jarrett, who has contributed quite a bit of the event coverage this season.

NASCAR Now ran a story Sunday morning on the fact that Spake and Little were on the top ten list of the most beautiful people in NASCAR. The challenge for both these young women is to close-out the season without asking any driver, crew chief or owner "how they feel" about any racing topic. Maybe asking some hardcore racing questions might move them up a notch or two for next year. By the way, Kasey Kahne was number one.

PIR offers the ESPN TV Director a wonderful choice of cameras to transfer the experience of the race to viewers at home. The aerial shots and the jib camera on Rattlesnake Hill will serve to set the tone and provide transition shots for everything from commercial breaks to in-race promos.

There are several low angle cameras on this track, including a robo-cam between turns three and four that moves with the field as they race by. PIR is the perfect track to bring TV viewers down low and get the feel of this short-track style racing at track level.

The audio from PIR on both Friday and Saturday was fantastic. Look for the continuation of an outstanding season from the NASCAR Media Group technical staff where the sounds of racing are concerned. Restarts should be exciting as the cars come up to speed.

Unless an extended caution flag comes out, Bestwick and his infield team will probably be heard and not seen once the race begins. It is tough to insert four announcers on-camera and get their comments on even one topic if the race is continuing in the background under green.

Keep an eye out for non-Chasers who fall out of the race to see if they are interviewed. Look for the pit road reporters being more aggressive and climbing pit boxes to talk to crew chiefs. If a big accident happens, watch for interviews with all drivers as they leave the Infield Medical Center.

No doubt Johnson and Edwards will dominate the telecast, but the stories of the race are there and it is up to ABC to tell them to the viewer. This track needs frequent resets of the field along with information about how drivers moved either forward or backwards in the line-up. With passing at a premium, the race off pit road will be crucial all day long. It should be a fun race to watch and the weather is great.

This post will serve to host your TV-related comments on the Sprint Cup Series race from PIR on ABC. To add your 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. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

NASCAR's Sunday Pre-Race TV Shows

The familiar pattern of pre-race TV programming is about to repeat itself for the next-to-last time this Sunday.

ESPN2's NASCAR Now kicks things off at 10AM with an hour of news and highlights. The stories of the Sprint Cup Series should dominate, but there have been two races this weekend and fans should expect to see the highlights. The much improved Ryan Burr will be hosting with driver Boris Said.

Next on the list is Tradin' Paint on SPEED. Veteran journalist Mike Mulhern stops by for thirty minutes of conversation with host John Roberts and panelist Kyle Petty. Expect a major re-vamp of this show before next season.

Larry McReynolds continues to plug away with NASCAR Performance. This week starting at Noon, McReynolds along with Chad Knaus and Bootie Barker talk tech and answer a ton of viewer emails. This is SPEED's most interactive show and it really puts a spotlight on the lack of viewer input on SPEED's other NASCAR programming.

All season long, hosts Adam Alexander and Randy Pemberton have been working hard on the first season of NASCAR in a Hurry. This show uses all the video from Friday and Saturday to set the table for Sunday. It is a fast-paced review that has been finding its legs and taking shape as a show that can survive for next season. NASCAR in a Hurry comes along at 12:30PM.

Roberts rolls-out the franchise for SPEED as he hosts another two-hour edition of NASCAR RaceDay at 1PM. This show has grown into a monster and Roberts works very hard to keep the program flowing and the panelists under control. Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace continue to be crowd favorites with their own unique style and relationship.

This week, reporter Wendy Venturini interviews Carl Edwards for her Real Deal segment. Jimmie Johnson will also be interviewed live, and veteran owner Richard Childress will stop by to talk about his plans for 2009. This weekend at PIR, SPEED opened a new sports bar in cooperation with the track. Rutledge Wood will be reporting from the SPEED Cantina.

All these programs are designed to lead-up to ABC's NASCAR Countdown show and subsequent race coverage. Those programs will begin at 3PM.

This post will serve to host your comments about the pre-race shows on SPEED and ESPN2. We will also answer any questions you might have about the Sunday NASCAR TV coverage. To add your comment, just click on the COMMENTS button below. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.