Saturday, February 28, 2009

Las Vegas A Truly Amazing Race For ESPN

After two seasons of Nationwide Series telecasts, the third time was the charm for the NASCAR on ESPN team. Las Vegas was the third race of the 2009 season and may well be remembered as the best NASCAR event televised since the network returned to the sport.

A brief over-run of college basketball moved the first several segments of the NASCAR Countdown show to the ESPN Classic Network. Allen Bestwick teamed with Dale Jarrett and Brad Daugherty to present a program that included lots of Las Vegas references and color. Rusty Wallace had the weekend off.

It was when Jarrett moved up to the announce booth that something unfolded that NASCAR fans have not seen from the telecast team. ESPN finally put all the pieces of the Nationwide Series jigsaw puzzle in place. From the drop of the green flag through the overtime ending, this was the kind of live event coverage that fans originally expected from The Worldwide Leader in Sports.

The TV team stripped all the unwanted extras from the telecast and focused the entire four hour production on the racing. Mike Massaro moved from the studio to pit road and led a team of reporters that finally dropped the hype and focused on interviewing drivers out of the race and keeping things updated for TV viewers.

Dr. Jerry Punch is a new man in 2009 and his focus on simply calling the play-by-play action has resulted in a new on-air dynamic. Even after almost four hours and with a green-white-checker finish looming, Punch was excited and setting the scene for the fans.

Without Punch continually asking questions of his analysts and using the same tired catch-phrases over-and-over again, Jarrett and Petree have come alive. This may have been the best telecast for Andy Petree since he joined the ESPN team. Petree was outstanding in his knowledge and understanding of the events and strategies unfolding in the race.

Jarrett used his best skill in this event and that is listening. Rather then step-in and try to help Punch with the call of the race, Jarrett took the role of his father and added his opinion when it was needed. The timing was perfect as Petree and Punch really took the lead in this telecast.

Ultimately, the biggest contribution was from the producer and the director of the race. Gone from the telecast was the loud music into commercial. Gone were the endless ESPN promos. Gone was the fascination with only reporting the positions of the Sprint Cup Series drivers. This live event was balanced and represented the first real hardcore racing telecast from ESPN in a very long time.

Even after the race running more than thirty minutes over the scheduled timeslot, ESPN2 stayed for a live interview with the winner. This smart move, even for the second-tier Nationwide Series, will leave a lasting impression among the fans.

What was your reaction to the Nationwide Series race telecast on ESPN2? Please feel free to add your comments by clicking on the comments button below.

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Live Blog Of The Las Vegas Nationwide Series Race

ESPN2 will present the Nationwide Series race at 4PM. Allen Bestwick will host the pre-race show with Dale Jarrett and Brad Daugherty. Rusty Wallace has the weekend off as does Vince Welch in the pits. Mike Massaro will sub for Welch.

Dr. Jerry Punch will call the action with Jarrett and Andy Petree alongside. The regular pit road cast of Jamie Little, Shannon Spake and Dave Burns will also work the race.

The track is fast and the Nationwide field is a mix of Cup drivers, Nationwide veterans and lots of drivers will very little experience on ovals like Vegas. Keep an eye on the tail of the field to see if there are some "start and park" teams in this event.

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Rusty Wallace Takes The Weekend Off

The Nationwide Series TV team from ESPN will be using Dale Jarrett for double-duty this weekend. Rusty Wallace has a scheduled weekend off, so Jarrett will be calling the race and also appearing as a panelist on the pre-race show.

It will be Allen Bestwick and Brad Daugherty alongside of Jarrett at 4PM ET as the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show takes to the air. After thirty minutes, Jarrett will scoot upstairs to join Dr. Jerry Punch and Andy Petree for the live race.

Once again this week, the Nationwide Series coverage on ESPN2 follows a live basketball game. Last week, NASCAR Countdown was forced to start on the ESPN Classic Network as basketball ran long. This week, race fans can only hope that either Illinois State or Creighton pulls away in the second half.

SPEED will start the day with Nationwide Series qualifying at Noon ET. At 1:30PM the NASCAR on Fox team will call two sessions of Sprint Cup practice on SPEED leading right up to the Nationwide Series race. Steve Byrnes will anchor the Nationwide qualifying coverage and Mike Joy will lead the Fox team.

SPEED's Hermie Sadler is doing a fine job in his role as analyst on the Nationwide Series practice sessions. Teamed with Jeff Hammond and Steve Byrnes, Sadler continues to expand his presence on SPEED this season. Saturday will find him alongside John Roberts on the SPEED Stage providing commentary during breaks in the on-track action.

Fox has expanded the Digger presence far beyond the races. On Friday night's Trackside show, Darrell Waltrip was nowhere to be found at the start of the program. Eventually, he appeared in a golf cart with the Digger costume character along for the ride. Waltrip explained he and Digger had been over on the QVC shopping network selling Digger merchandise. And the beat goes on.

One final ESPN note. It will be Nicole Manske stepping into the host role for the Monday version of the NASCAR Now roundtable on March 2. Allen Bestwick takes a break as Manske plays host to the now familiar faces of Ray Evernham, Ricky Craven and Randy LaJoie at 5PM for the program.

There are seven and a half hours of live NASCAR TV on Saturday. It should be interesting to see how Nationwide Series qualifying shakes out, how carefully the Sprint Cup teams choose to practice and then what kind of racing the Las Vegas track will offer as the real action finally begins.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

SPEED Handles The Las Vegas Action On Friday

ESPN the Weekend is in full swing down in Orlando, FL at Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park. Click here for more info on the festivities.

That leaves the NASCAR action from Las Vegas all to SPEED on Friday. The network hosts both Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series with the Trackside program rounding-out the evening.

It will be John Roberts kicking things off at 1PM ET with NASCAR Live. He will be joined by Randy Pemberton and Bob Dillner as reporters. This show offers the stories of the day before the cars get on the track for the afternoon.

Next up will be Nationwide Series practice at 1:30pm. Steve Byrnes will call the action with Hermie Sadler and Jeff Hammond alongside. While this series has the races telecast by ESPN, the SPEED team offers a very professional and quite watchable practice telecast.

At 3PM the Sprint Cup Series cars take to the track for practice. This brings the NASCAR on Fox crew to the table as Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds take over. This crew will remain to watch the Nationwide Series final practice at 4:30PM as well.

ESPN2 will sneak-in a NASCAR Now program at 6PM hosted by Nicole Manske. Updates will be provided from Las Vegas and the news will be reviewed.

All hands will be on deck at 6:30PM as the full NASCAR on Fox crew present live Sprint Cup Series qualifying on SPEED. There are going to be some very good stories to follow in this session, which could prove to be the most interesting of the young season.

Names like Max Papis, Todd Bodine, Jeremy Mayfield and Brad Keselowski will be trying to make the field. There are 51 cars set to make a qualifying attempt.

The night will be finished with Trackside at 8:30PM. Jeff Hammond, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds will scurry down to join host Steve Byrnes for the show. Guests include Scott Riggs, Jamie McMurray, and Jeremy Mayfield. Bruton Smith's son Marcus, who replaced Humpy Wheeler at Lowe's Motor Speedway will also appear.

SPEED has been doing an excellent job at both practice and qualifying coverage since the new NASCAR TV contract began in 2007. Having a consistent day where all the action is on one network serves the fans quite well and also allows the ongoing stories to be paid-off regardless of when they are ready to be reported. This Friday should be no different.

Just a quick note: Randy LaJoie was flying solo as the expert on the Thursday edition of NASCAR Now on ESPN2. This is the first time we have seen LaJoie in this role which he handled quite well. It may not only be Ricky Craven who finds his role expanding with this TV series.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

TV Topics: Economy, Kyle Petty And Digger

ESPN continues to tackle the economic issues affecting the sport head-on in the daily NASCAR Now program series. Wednesday, host Nicole Manske was joined by reporter Angelique Chengelis, analyst and Sprint Cup Series owner Brad Daugherty and Eddie Gossage, the president of Texas Motor Speedway.

The starting point for the discussion were the recent remarks by President Obama in reference to the future of the domestic car makers. "Everyone recognizes that years of bad decision making and a global recession have pushed our auto-makers to the brink," said the President. "We should not and will not protect them from their own bad practices."

He called for a re-tooled and re-imagined industry to continue in the very country that invented the automobile. Chengelis put this topic in NASCAR terms. She reminded Manske that the priority was not NASCAR, but simply survival for these companies.

"It would be absolutely devastating," said Chengelis in response to the question of the auto-makers leaving NASCAR.

She reinforced that all three of the companies have to prove to the President they are viable in order to receive financial help. "If they are not viable, I don't know how the sport can be viable," said Chengelis of NASCAR.

Daugherty is a single-car team owner and he used the word "catastrophic" in reference to the potential pull-out of the domestic manufacturers. Gossage addressed the challenge for NASCAR tracks to sell tickets by outlining the reduction in tickets prices, parking fees and change in food policies at his facility. It has been a long time since $20 bought a ticket for a Sprint Cup Series event.

Kudos to NASCAR Now for addressing the economic issues head-on. Manske also had Whelen Modified champ Teddy Christopher in the studio to recap the recent test in Bristol, TN where the Mods will hopefully race later this season. The group shattered the track record in testing and ran both with and without restrictor plates.

Over at SPEED, the network is still trying to explain how the cast of the now defunct Tradin' Paint is suddenly involved in a game show that seems to be made-up as it goes along. NASCAR Smarts is a mess and while TDP has consistently called for more fan involvement with SPEED at the tracks, this ain't it.

Traveling Kyle Petty to the Sprint Cup venues for a thirty-minute game show also does not seem to make a lot of sense from an economic perspective. Petty appears in no other SPEED Stage programs.

Finally, reports that Digger appeared 46 times in the actual California Sprint Cup series race. That number would be 47 for those of you who watched the pre-race show cartoon. This week there is another new episode. Here is a brief overview from Fox:

In the third installment, “Picnic Trick”, Digger’s girlfriend Annie accuses him of watching too much NASCAR and not spending enough time with her. In an effort to make it up to her, Digger comes up with the perfect plan – a romantic picnic on the infield during the race! But when his loving gesture looks to be ruined by a visit from Lumpy Wheels, can Digger and Annie work together to save themselves and their romantic day?

That wraps-up a very diverse journey around the NASCAR TV beat. Please feel free to add your comments on these topics. Just click the comments button below.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Formula One "Skunkworks" In NASCAR Country?

The interesting saga of an American-based Formula One team played out on Tuesday with the formal announcement carried live on SPEED. The network is clearly caught-up in the fact that Peter Windsor, longtime SPEED F-1 analyst, will be a team principal.

Windsor is a bit hazy on the details but insists that by using the available motorsports personnel, facilities and infrastructure of the Concord and Mooresville, NC areas he can put togther a "super saver" of an F-1 team.

The role of SPEED in all of this is just a little bit strange. While the network does not have a financial stake in the project, there has been an incredible amount of time and effort invested to carry this announcement live and distribute media releases about the project.

It almost seems that Windsor and his partner Ken Anderson, pictured above with press conference host Bob Varsha, have hired SPEED as their public relations company. The flip side of the coin of course is that SPEED is the home of Formula One in the US and the network attraction to this open-wheel sport runs very deep.

Windsor made some good points in his TV appearance. Many Formula One parts and pieces are already created in the Mooresville area by the numerous specialty shops for motorsports. Shaker rigs and wind tunnels do not care what kind of car is in them, they just yield data when asked.

In terms of logisitics, Windsor essentially said he was going to use FedEx or UPS for shipping and his F-1 team would always be traveling very light. In the days of the Lockheed-Martin "skunkworks," the best minds worked on new projects with minimum assistance and still came up with some wonderful machines.

Windsor's idea is to keep that concept alive by using the manpower and materials available after the recent NASCAR contraction. There are certainly plenty of engineers and team shops available around the area, but once again Windsor offered no specifics.

There was no driver named and the financial partner or partners were also not disclosed. This leads to some speculation about the reality of this effort to begin racing in 2010. If Windsor had been alongside a high profile investor, it may have made for better TV. Instead, the on-camera personalities appeared to be just generally discussing this concept as if things were still very early in the planning stages.

One thing Windsor did make clear is the impact of both SPEED and TV in general on his team. Following the NASCAR model, Windsor is planning to make his shop fan-friendly with tours and open access areas for easy viewing of team activities. There will also be a TV studio in the facility. The NASCAR model is apparently a strong influence for Windsor who will certainly find himself surrounded by examples of both racing success and failure once he relocates to Charlotte.

If you watched this press conference live on SPEED or would like to add your comments about this American Formula One team concept, please feel free to do so below. Just click the comments button.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Ricky Craven Finding A Home At ESPN

Last season on ESPN2's NASCAR Now, Ricky Craven was used as a part-time analyst. He would appear on select Monday night shows and sometimes lend his expertise to the Sunday programs as well.

In the Monday format, Craven would be paired with two other panelists and the program host, Allen Bestwick. On Sundays, Craven would be alone in the studio with a single host. All of Craven's appearances originated from the Bristol, CT network studios.

This year, it seems that Craven's hard work is being rewarded by the network as he has been featured in both of the Monday "roundtable" editions of NASCAR Now. Last week he was joined by Rusty Wallace and Ray Evernham. This Monday it was Evernham and fan favorite Randy LaJoie.

This group works well together because of their diverse personalities. All of them clearly respect Bestwick, who continues to ask the right questions and address the issues still lingering from the weekend.

It is Craven, however, who has begun to stand out with his comments. Here are some from the Monday show:

On Matt Kenseth's final pit stop: "There's more ways to lose races on pit road than there are to win. You need to be nearly perfect. The 17 team is as close to perfect right now as you can get."

About the final restart: "A great indication of a good, strong race car is restarts. If Jeff Gordon comes out of the pits first, I think we would be talking about Jeff Gordon winning the race. I think the cars were that equal."

On Kenseth's focus on the final laps: "I don't think he wins this race if he had not won the Daytona 500. What the heck? He's got the wind at his back. If he loses or finishes second the world does not come to an end. He just won the Daytona 500."

On the first and second place finishers: "How good a weekend did Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon have? Well, they beat Kyle Busch."

About Kyle Busch: "I have seen him drive cars all across the country. It does not matter what he is in, he is that fast. He finished third (in California) not only because of his driving talent, but because he perfected what he needed (on his car) throughout the course of the race."

On the Las Vegas track: "Speaking of change, it's always difficult. They have reconfigured the track and the progressive banking, I think, is the wave of the future. It gives you options and drivers love options. But like Ray said, the track has to age a little bit to be able to get better racing."

Craven has always been a class act and continues to contribute to the Yahoo! Sports NASCAR section as a columnist. Click here for a link to his latest column that contains many of the same themes as his NASCAR Now comments.

It is always interesting to see ESPN focus on developing a new talent and give them an opportunity to shine. Craven certainly seems to be making the most of this moment in time. Apparently, ESPN also likes the way things are going as it was just announced that Craven, Evernham and LaJoie will return as the "expert panel" next week for the program on Monday, March 2 at 5PM ET.

Have you watched Ricky Craven on ESPN? What is your opinion of his analysis and commentary on the first two races of the 2009 season? We welcome your comments.

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SPEED Still Dialing-In New HD Studios

This Week In NASCAR is one of the programs coming from the new SPEED HD studios in the northern part of the Greater Charlotte area. TV viewers can also watch The SPEED Report and Wind Tunnel on Sundays. While these two programs seem to be working quite well, SPEED is still trying to dial-in TWIN.

Several production issues were addressed since the last program, including the movement of the panelists closer together on the set which was very helpful. It is also clear after the Monday program that the lighting, the make-up and the audio continue to be challenges.

Michael Waltrip and special guest Aric Almirola joined host Steve Byrnes for this program. This trio turned out to be a good mix. Once Almirola got warmed-up, he turned out to be very TV-friendly with a good sense of humor. He also seemed to be able to handle Waltrip's dominant personality with no problems.

Byrnes ran the panel through the format which was very wisely switched last season to present the Sunday race highlights first. Both drivers added good comments and although Waltrip continues to reference his team a tad too often, Almirola and Byrnes balanced him quite well through the race review.

Make-up in a High Definition TV studio is tough to do. From local station anchors to soap operas, the TV make-up profession is going through some significant changes. Click here for an MSNBC article about the challenges that this new technology has brought to the on-camera personalities. Airbrushing vs. standard hand application is an issue that SPEED will no doubt have to decide sooner rather than later.

The new SPEED studio is big and TWIN continues to have audio problems. Mixing a very vocal announcer like Steve Byrnes with a low-key panelist like Almirola is tough to do. Add in the fact that the voices echo slightly when the volume gets high and this is a challenge that SPEED will no doubt address for the next program.

The real problem for regular viewers of TWIN is that Waltrip and Chad Knaus really clicked last season and that makes it tough to watch the other combinations of talent. Biffle has come a long way, but the combination of a crew chief and a driver really works well on this program.

The good news is that Knaus and Waltrip will reunite on Monday, March 2nd at 8PM for the next episode of This Week in NASCAR on SPEED.

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The NASCAR On Fox Crew Grinds It Out

The letdown after Daytona is always interesting. The meager Saturday attendance at the Auto Club Speedway was the first sign that this was going to be a very long weekend of racing. Even with a doubleheader, the fans stayed away.

As usual, it was up to SPEED to set the table for the NASCAR on Fox team. Hours of programming ended with a disjointed RaceDay program that actually overlapped the live Fox pre-race show by thirty minutes.

Kenny Wallace has suddenly decided to lecture the TV viewers at every opportunity. Jimmy Spencer can barely put two words together and John Roberts is having a tough time directing traffic. The saving grace for RaceDay this season has been Wendy Venturini and Hermie Sadler.

These two have combined to form a cohesive crew that can handle a wide variety of assignments in a live TV program format. Venturini continues to grow in her prominence as a reporter who can tackle serious issues on the fly. Sadler continually uses his sense of humor to his advantage and is tremendously improved over last season.

This pair ended the program with live interviews of Cup drivers as they moved through the red carpet set-up to allow them to interact with the fans before driver introductions. Just like the pit walks Venturini used to do, it made for good TV that no other network offers.

The transition to the Hollywood Hotel signaled the difference in audiences and approaches to the sport. Chris Myers, Jeff Hammond and Darrell Waltrip cater to a much broader audience and address only the larger issues in NASCAR. This Sunday, Waltrip spoke with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Sounding more like a concerned father than a reporter, Waltrip drew comments from Junior in regard to his struggles at Daytona. Perhaps, the most telling was Waltrip pretending to be Rick Hendrick and suggesting Junior ease up on his "outside interests" and concentrate solely on racing.

Once Mike Joy and the race crew took over, they were in for a very long night. Rain delayed the race several times and never really allowed the action on the track to materialize. Kudos to the TV team for hanging in there and staying steady as the racing action tried to slowly lull fans across America to sleep.

Fox used Chris Myers in the Hollywood Hotel, Jeff Hammond at the cut-a-way car and even replayed a piece of the Earnhardt interview during some of the delays. The pit reporters offered all the information they could, but there were simply no stories to follow.

One interesting aspect to the broadcast was the decision by Fox to update the Oscar winners as they were announced. Addressing the movie fans who had chosen to watch NASCAR was a smart move. Unfortunately, Fox could not make the action on the track more exciting by simply opening an envelope.

Fox continues to feature the cars at the front of the pack and update the favorites. Those fans whose driver and team did not fall into those categories found themselves continually reading the scoring ticker and never hearing their driver mentioned. More full field rundowns would have been a great addition to this telecast.

Digger is always an issue. The announce team tried for a while to laugh at the animation, but then just let Digger do his thing while they talked about the racing action. The placement of the animation was better, but the distraction of meaningless movement really is now officially annoying.

The best part of this race was Darrell Waltrip. He stayed consistently interested and excited about this event from his appearance on the pre-race show through the final lap. Waltrip has developed an ability to find and then point out the parts of the race that perhaps might be overlooked by cameramen and even the Fox producer.

Time and time again Waltrip pointed out specifics that were then followed-up by the production team and paid off completely. Fox chose not to use as much in-car audio as viewers get from ESPN and even stayed away from the in-car camera hysteria that has sometimes troubled this production team.

All of this allowed Waltrip to team with Joy and McReynolds to offer a balanced and interesting broadcast. Each of the three has a very clearly defined role and it worked very well during this long and difficult telecast.

Did you hang in there and watch the entire race? What did you think of the Fox telecast and what would you like to see added to the coverage? We value your opinion. Just click the comments button below and add your thoughts.

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Monday TV Notes:
5PM ET - NASCAR Now on ESPN2: Allen Bestwick hosts with Ray Evernham, Ricky Craven and Randy LaJoie. Program re-airs at 9PM Pacific Time.
8PM ET - This Week In NASCAR on SPEED: Aric Almirola is the special guest along with Michael Waltrip and host Steve Byrnes for this program. Show re-airs at 9PM Pacific Time.

Stories to read:
Bored With The TV Broadcast? (The NASCAR Insiders)

Quote of the day:
"I shouldn't even have to say it, but I will. A 3:15 p.m. local time start meant that NASCAR absolutely wasted two hours, at least, during which cars could have been racing without rain. At some point we need a final decision on who runs this sport - NASCAR or television." David Poole, Charlotte Observer (click here).

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

In-Progress From Auto Club Speedway: Sprint Cup Series On Fox

The second race of the season for the NASCAR on Fox TV crew comes along from the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California.

Interesting to note is that there is a thirty minute overlap between the SPEED RaceDay show and the pre-race programming from the Hollywood Hotel on Fox. RaceDay airs from 3:30 to 5:30PM, while Fox takes to the air at 5PM for an hour pre-race show.

Chris Myers will start the Fox coverage by hosting Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond from the infield. Waltrip will present an interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr. talking about the accident with Brian Vickers at Daytona.

Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Waltrip will call the action. Dick Berggren, Steve Byrnes, Matt Yocum and Krista Voda will cover pit road and the medical center.

Fox presented the Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday and featured Digger throughout the telecast. Expect Digger to play a major role during this California race, the event closest to the Fox Sports headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. Once again, Digger will be featured in a cartoon episode during the pre-race show.

This is a long and grinding race that is often won on fuel mileage. When there is an incident, it is often spectacular and potentially dangerous. Watch for the manner in which the TV team handles this type of accident.

One developing story is that five cars have moved to the back of the pack including the two that tangled in Daytona, Brian Vickers and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

This post will serve to host your TV-related comments during the race. Just click the comments button to post and refresh your screen often. This is a family-friendly website, no foul language or hateful speech please. Comments may be moderated before they are posted. A full column about the race will be posted shortly after it is over.

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Does Anyone Miss "Tradin' Paint?"

Since the 2007 season one of the favorite topics here at TDP has been the SPEED TV series Tradin' Paint. This show has been the scene of some of the most memorable NASCAR TV moments in recent years.

Ray Dunlap was suspended from SPEED and forced to apologize after candid comments on this series. While guests like Mike Mulhern, Randy Pemberton and Humpy Wheeler took their turn in the "media" chair, it was the pairing of Kyle Petty and's Bob Pockrass that provided real fireworks.

On one episode Pockrass dismissed the chances of Juan Montoya winning a race in 2008. Petty forcefully reminded him that racing luck plays a big role and in theory any driver could win on any Sunday. "Does that include you?" asked Pockrass.

Later in that same program, Pockrass basically disagreed with Petty on every topic from Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series to the future of the COT. Petty just lost it on national TV. He said the NASCAR print media was full of BS and that Pockrass owned his own smoke machine. The sole purpose of this device was for Pockrass to blow smoke up the rear-ends of NASCAR fans on a very regular basis.

Veteran journalists like David Poole, Holly Cain and Liz Clarke have negotiated their way through this program with style. One popular guest, however, has used her rather blunt style to become one of the most talked-about media members on the panel.

Jenna Fryer from the Associated Press pulls no punches when she talks about NASCAR. While that style may come across one way in print, it came across in a very different way on Tradin' Paint. Unfortunately, that did not sit well with Petty.

Veteran host John Roberts often did his best to keep things under control, but Fryer and Petty butted heads on a wide range of racing topics. Click here for a recap of one memorable episode.

"When does Jenna get to talk?" asked Fryer after Petty and Roberts dominated the conversation early in a show. "With the stuff you write, go ahead and talk," answered Petty. Kyle took every opportunity possible to advance the agenda that the NASCAR media often created stories just to satisfy their own needs.

This program was more than just fireworks, it was the only regular opportunity to see the print and Internet journalists who work the NASCAR beat on TV.

While ESPN2's NASCAR Now hosts several reporter versions of the Monday roundtable, Tradin' Paint came right from the track with the men and women of the media who had just left the garage area. The news was fresh and the perspectives were diverse.

This season, without explanation or discussion, SPEED cancelled Tradin' Paint . The unofficial whispers were that the show had "played itself out." Normally, that means that the episodes had lost their luster and were repetitive.

Now, the two NASCAR TV partners who supply almost all the news and interview content feature their own in-house cast of experts, analysts and reporters. ESPN and SPEED appear to be the Hatfields and McCoys. Two TV teams talking about the same subjects from the same tracks but never acknowledging the other exists.

SPEED has replaced Tradin' Paint with a game show called NASCAR Smarts. Click here for a brief review of the first episode. Petty and Rutledge Wood star in the show along with two fans chosen from the audience and Roberts hosting.

So, did you miss Tradin' Paint at Daytona and do you care that this TV series got cancelled? Does the Internet and shows like NASCAR Now and RaceDay make-up for the lack of independent conversation about NASCAR from media folks not employed by a TV network?

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Meet The Original "Digger"

Three TV networks cover the points races in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. Fox starts things off for thirteen events and then yields to TNT for six races. ESPN eventually steps-in and takes the sport all the way through the end of the season.

Each of these networks brings to the sport a different team of announcers and a different production philosophy. ESPN runs a tight ship with buttoned-down on-air talent and lots of sports information during the races. TNT focuses on promoting the network's entertainment programming and offers the Daytona race in July with limited commercial breaks.

The NASCAR on Fox telecasts began as a friendly group of well-informed experts talking about stock car racing in terms that anyone could understand. Fox made it clear that they welcomed new fans to the sport and wanted to embrace what was called "the casual fan." While the announcers are still welcoming, some things have changed.

Fox executive David Hill likes animated characters in his TV sports programs. "Cleatus" is a robot that appears in the Fox NFL games. Click here to see Conan O'Brien express his views on that topic.

The TV network, however, has other ideas about what to do with their robot. Click here to scope-out the action figure available of this animated creation. Perhaps, the reality that these concepts were ultimately created to drive revenue has not zoomed past you at this point.

All of this brings us to "Digger." The picture above is of the original "Digger." No, not the one from Fox. This "Digger" was an original creation over two decades ago crafted by a company you may remember.

The Shirt Tales was a short-lived Hanna-Barbera cartoon about five woodland creatures (Tyg Tiger, Pammy Panda, Digger Mole, Rick Raccoon, and Bogey Orangutan) who lived in Oak Tree Park– and spent their time battling crime when they weren’t teasing Park Ranger Mr. Dinkle. The TV cartoon series ran from 1982 through early 1984. Click here for The Shirt Tales Wiki page.

The late voice-over veteran Bob Ogle (click here) created the personality of the "Digger Mole" character for the series. "Digger Mole" was plastered on T-shirts, coffee mugs and the pack was made into a set of take-home figures. They were also featured on a line of Hallmark cards. The merchandising of these type of cartoon characters is a lucrative business.

The fundamental difference between "Digger Mole" and the NASCAR on Fox version of "Digger" is where and how the character appeared. The Shirt Tales was simply a cartoon that was presented as a complete TV program for kids.

The Fox version of "Digger" is an animation that is inserted over a sport that often does not lend itself to easy laughs and the giggles of small children.

Where and how the "Digger" animation is used has changed the TV viewing enjoyment of many NASCAR fans. After an incident that may have altered the entire complexion of a race, seeing "Digger" do his little act somehow trivializes the moment.

Even worse is hearing the NASCAR on Fox announcers trying to somehow come up with yet another funny line about "Digger." Often, they are forced to interrupt the commentary about the real action on the track to pay attention to this animated character. The bottom line is that "Digger" often detracts from the event and has in many ways become the show.

At Daytona, the Fox commentary team sometimes just ignored "Digger" due to the racing action. That made things even stranger. The animation would play, nothing would be said and the mole would go back in his hole as if nothing happened.

Hopefully, California will bring "Digger" in a limited role during caution flags and the lap prior to a restart. Even used once coming back from commercial break would limit the impact of this animation on the actual event.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with "Digger" is that the true level of annoyance is not revealed until Fox departs the NASCAR scene and TNT steps-in. The wide sweeping shots of veteran Director Mike Wells and the TNT production team show the racing in a very different way from the Fox gang. In an instant, "Digger" becomes a memory until the next season.

In a year where NASCAR and the TV partners need to be hyper-sensitive to the fans, perhaps a wiser use of "Digger" can return the focus to the racing and let the drivers provide the excitement for the TV viewers.

Just for the record, "Digger" appeared 20 times in the rain-shortened Daytona 500, 19 times in the race and once in the pre-race show. Thanks to Cheryl and the gang at

We invite you to share your thoughts about "Digger" appearing in the Sprint Cup Series races on Fox. Just click the comments button below. Your comment will appear after it is moderated. This is a family-friendly website and profanity or hateful speech will simply get your comment deleted.

Here are some links to other Internet posts that contained "Digger" comments:
Digger = Obnoxious (Speedway Media)
Worst Press Conference (Ryan McGee for ESPN the Magazine)
Talking TV (Frontstretch)
Time To Take Out "Digger" (Cup Stuff Blog)
"Digger" Goes For Dollars (USA Today)

Sirius Finds A Knight In Shining Armor

TDP spoke in early 2009 about the impending financial crisis of the Sirius Satellite Radio group. Click here for that column. Unable to raise the hundreds of millions of dollars currently owed, it appeared that Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin was preparing to file for bankruptcy.

This week, one of the most savvy communications executives in the nation rode to the defense of Sirius and appears to have saved the day. John Malone is the Chairman of Liberty Media. Click here for the story as reported by The Washington Post.

NASCAR fans may remember it was Malone's Liberty Media that took over DirecTV from Fox's David Hill and this season cancelled the NASCAR Hot Pass Service. Malone is a shrewd investor who prefers to own, rather than operate, the companies in which he invests. Investing in Sirius, however, was a strategic move.

The other suitor for Sirius was the company that owns DISH Network. Echostar was interested in sliding in at the last minute and picking-up what was left of Sirius just before bankruptcy. It seems Malone has beaten them to the punch.

Click here for an update from that talks generally about the agreement and the ramifications down the road from both a management and financial perspective.

The NASCAR contract with Sirius is quoted at $107.5 million over five years. To many fans, it is a lot more valuable than that. Away from the racetrack, NASCAR's presence on national TV is lackluster. During the months of the off-season, it is non-existent.

As the current financial turmoil began to attack the sport, it was good old Sirius Channel 128's daily NASCAR content that kept fans in touch with what was going-on inside the teams and shops. ESPN and SPEED more than dropped the ball, they both went on vacation.

ESPNEWS and SportsCenter shunned the sport during the height of the stick-and-ball season, while SPEED hid behind endless reality show re-runs and made a lot of excuses. Radio and the Internet ruled the day.

A huge key issue for Sirius is to once again try to negotiate the rights to put NASCAR audio content online. Since Sirius is available to any laptop or PC user with a simple download, getting the Turner Interactive Group to allow Sirius Channel 128 to be available to NASCAR fans directly through the Internet would be a positive for all involved.

Turner operates and controls the online rights to all NASCAR content for many years to come. Turner's agenda, however, is to focus on the website and try to extend the reach of that content. Recently redesigned, the site has more of a "blog feel" and is easy to navigate.

Getting Turner to allow Sirius Channel 128 to be accessed online, even just on a Monday through Friday basis, would be a tremendous step for a sport clearly in crisis. While the PR spin on the upcoming California weekend is a good car count and great racing, veteran fans know this season is going to be a challenge like no other in recent memory.

The Sirius saga continues to be an important one for NASCAR fans who want live information, interviews and the opportunity to interact with personalities in the sport. Mr. Malone may have arrived just in the nick of time.

Please feel free to post your opinion about this topic. This is a family-friendly site, so profanity and hateful speech will result in a comment being deleted. Just click the comments button below.

Thanks again and happy posting.

I Surrender Just Don't Hurt Me!

Just to be very clear to those of you who emailed with angry words about last Sunday. I get it totally and understand your frustration. The events of Daytona have left a bad taste in your mouth and the Fox Television Network is somehow supposed to be in this angry mix.

So, I surrender and will post some columns for your comments about those issues.

I had no clue what it was like to be overwhelmed with email until now. My apologies to those who did not get a response, but I have pages and pages of messages from NASCAR fans who are not feeling especially good about the sport this week.

In terms of the Daytona 500 fiasco, some old school fans want start times to go back to 1PM across the board and blame the NASCAR TV partners for the change. Well, that is kind of true.

Click here and then scroll down for Fox executive David Hill's views on the later start times in an interview with reporter Dustin Long. The TV networks essentially encouraged NASCAR to move times back so Sunday races did not start at 10AM on the West Coast.

Lots of other folks emailed to address the quick ending of the race. Fans wanted the race coverage to resume on Fox or migrate over to SPEED after NASCAR gave the rain a chance to clear.

For those of us who have sat in the Daytona stands watching the July race running well after midnight, the decision to leave shortly after 7PM was curious even after the official NASCAR explanation.

Click here to read CNBC's Darren Rovell (Sport Business columnist) as he asks NASCAR's PR executive Ramsey Poston the questions fans also wanted to ask. Poston explains why the sanctioning body called the race and addresses the issue of a Monday completion of the event.

Unfortunately, Rovell never asked if Fox had a hand in "suggesting" that the timely ending of the event would work well for them. That might clear-up some fan perception that the decision was driven in part by TV.

Remember, over the last several years, Fox has certainly hung-in there where NASCAR and rain were concerned. The network has paid its dues in this sport over the last nineteen seasons. Like it or not, Fox has been a long-term strategic partner of NASCAR with outstanding results.

Finally, click here for USA Today's Michael Hiestand talking about Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. Hiestand credits both of them with spontaneous and outspoken comments about Dale Earnhart Jr. after the incident with Brian Vickers. To have Hiestand notice anything about NASCAR is almost as amazing.

So, there you have three topics that have dominated the email box. Start times, calling the race so quickly and the reactions of Waltrip and McReynolds during the big accident.

I will try to get a column about the Monday TV shows organized sooner or later. If I had a nickel for every email that mentioned the words "bad make-up" where TWIN was concerned, I would never have to work again.

Please feel free to add your comments on these topics to this post.

Click the comments button below and your opinion will appear after it is moderated for content. This is a family-friendly site and foul language or hateful comments will not be tolerated. Please address the topic being discussed and email me directly with any other issues at

Thank you and happy posting.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sunday/Monday TV Updates

TDP will live blog the Sprint Cup Series race from Auto Club Speedway beginning at 5PM Eastern Time and continuing through the post-race TV coverage. Please join us.

NASCAR Performance, Smarts and In A Hurry: (2:00 to 3:30PM - SPEED) Larry McReynolds and Chad Knaus talk racing in California from a crew chief perspective. Kyle Petty and Rutledge Wood play a game show with fans. Adam Alexander shows the video clips from Friday and Saturday.

RaceDay: (3:30PM - SPEED) Live guests include Kurt Busch, Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers. Features include a review of Roush-Fenway Racing’s dominance of Auto Club Speedway and a review of how NASCAR’s new testing policies have impacted teams. Wendy Venturini's Real Deal features a ride-along with Matt Kenseth as he goes on a whirlwind tour of New York City after winning the Daytona 500.

Sprint Cup Series: (5:00PM - Fox) Darrell Waltrip interviews Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the pre-race show which overlaps with RaceDay on SPEED. Chris Myers and Jeff Hammond join Waltrip on the pre-race. Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Waltrip call the race which starts at 6PM.

The SPEED Report: (7PM - SPEED) Studio hosts this week are Bob Varsha and Ralph Sheheen. Bob Dillner is the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series field reporter while Adam Alexander will handle the Camping World Trucks.

For the 2AM Eastern, 11PM Pacific airing, The SPEED Report will have full race Sprint Cup Series highlights, post race reaction and late breaking news from Sunday’s race.

Wind Tunnel: (9PM - SPEED) SPEED Formula 1 reporter, Peter Windsor, will co-host. In addition to preparing for SPEED’s coverage of the 2009 season, Windsor is also preparing to become a F1 team owner in 2010. NASCAR highlights from California.

Victory Lane: (10PM - SPEED) John Roberts, Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace host the winning driver, crew chief and owner. Bob Dillner reports from pit road.

Monday's NASCAR Now: (5PM - ESPN2) Allen Bestwick will host with Ricky Craven, Randy LaJoie and Mike Wallace as his "expert panel."

Monday's TWIN: (8PM - SPEED) Michael Waltrip and special guest Aric Almirola join Steve Byrnes to recap the California Sprint Cup race, the Nationwide event and the Camping World Truck Series race from Saturday afternoon. Scanner chatter will be a feature as well as a preview of the Las Vegas Sprint Cup race including a look back at some of the hardest wrecks at the 1 ½ mile track. The trio will also answer viewer email.

There is no Sunday night edition of NASCAR Now until ESPN begins televising the Sprint Cup Series races in July. However, ESPNEWS will have Mike Wallace and provide a post-race wrap-up with live coverage of the winner's news conference after the race.

That's a preview of the upcoming shows, please feel free to add your TV-related comments. This is a family-friendly website, so foul language or hateful speech will cause your comment to be deleted.

Thanks again and happy posting.

NOTE: The Nationwide Series coverage started on ESPN Classic Network due to the over-run of live college basketball but has now returned to ESPN2.

Here is the scoop from ESPN on tonight's Nationwide Series race:

The Nationwide Series continues this weekend with a 300-mile event at the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Live coverage presented by airs Saturday, Feb. 21, beginning at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD with NASCAR Countdown.

Dr. Jerry Punch will be the lap-by-lap announcer, joined by 1999 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Dale Jarrett and two-time Cup Series champion crew chief Andy Petree. Dave Burns, Jamie Little, Shannon Spake and Vince Welch will report from the pits, while two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion crew chief Tim Brewer will be in the ESPN Craftsman Tech Garage.

Allen Bestwick will host NASCAR Countdown with analysis by 1989 NASCAR Cup Series champion Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty, a winning team owner in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, in the ESPN pit studio.
The crowd was sparse for the afternoon Camping World Truck Series race, so it should be interesting to see the attendance for the Nationwide event.

This post will host your TV-related comments about the Nationwide Series race from California on ESPN2. This is a family-oriented website, foul language or hateful speech will cause your comment to be deleted.

Thanks again and happy posting.

DW Tries To Put Daytona In The Rearview Mirror

Trackside is a show on SPEED that normally hosts some good conversation with drivers and team owners. Two guests appear in each hour show and the panel of Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds talks about a wide variety of topics. Steve Byrnes is the host.

Friday night from California, Darrell Waltrip tried to explain once and for all the decision by NASCAR to end the Daytona 500 shortly after 7PM on a Sunday evening.

Here are his well-chosen words:

Most of us are self-serving. We would prefer to have it this way or we would prefer to have it that way. We want everything kind of the way we want it.

NASCAR, in their defense, and people get on us all the time for taking up for them...but you have got to understand something. They don't just look at what is good for Steve Byrnes, for Larry McReynolds or Jeff Hammond or SPEED Channel or Fox.

They look at what's good for everybody. In these economic times, keeping those teams there another night in hotels to come back the next day and run 38 laps...I know it's the Super Bowl and I know that we would all have liked to see it finish...but it did not make sense to put everybody through that.

And besides that, even if the forecast for Monday was good...what if it wasn't good?

Waltrip also mentioned the fact that he was a guest on the WindTunnel show on SPEED and as he left the studio in Daytona and returned to him motorhome slightly after 10PM, it was still raining.

So, thank you for all the email about whether or not Fox interfered or suggested or pushed for the end of the Daytona 500 so the network could get off the air in time for the primetime entertainment line-up.

What Waltrip is saying and we are agreeing with is that the TV networks did not play a role in the decision to end the race. A bad weather forecast, a long travel week to California and even a common sense decision about team expenses combined to motivate NASCAR to act quickly, declare the race over and move-on to California.

Please feel free to add your comments on this topic. Just click the comments button below. This is a family-friendly site and foul language or hateful speech will result in a comment being deleted.

Thanks again and happy posting.
Note: The Camping World Truck Series race is on Fox at 3PM, not SPEED. There are a select number of Truck Series races that appear on Fox each season as a part of the NASCAR TV contract.

The NASCAR on Fox broadcast team handles the coverage of these races. In the past, this coverage also included Digger coming over for a visit with the CWTS.

Note: Mike Wallace will co-host the Sunday morning edition of NASCAR Now on ESPN2. Wallace will then join ESPNEWS after the race for analysis and finally guest on the Monday roundtable panel of the one hour NASCAR Now program hosted by Allen Bestwick.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Earnhardt Tribute By "NASCAR Now" A Classy Touch

It would be easy for ESPN to skip over the memory of Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s passing. Almost a decade has gone by and life has moved on as it always does. Stories within the sport from the Daytona 500 aftermath to the continuing sponsor struggles are driving the NASCAR news at this time. Luckily, the production team at NASCAR Now made a great decision. They chose to honor the past.

It was Mike Massaro in his new role as co-host of this series that kicked-off a classy tribute to Earnhardt in the Wednesday program. ESPN was no doubt aided by The NASCAR Media Group as vintage footage of Earnhardt flashed across the screen documenting his long and illustrious career.

Massaro then brought in ESPN's Ed Hinton to talk a little bit about his experiences with Dale Earnhardt, the person. Hinton is still getting the hang of TV, but his candid words and straightforward approach to subjects like this are always worth listening to on NASCAR Now.

Veteran fans may remember that Hinton was in the middle of the legal battle to access the images of Earnhardt after his passing. The issue was why and how the driver, a personal friend of Hinton, had been fatally injured. Click here for Hinton's Wiki page, which talks about that topic.

Massaro is making the most of his new position and putting his personal stamp on this program. Along with Nicole Manske and Allen Bestwick, Massaro and NASCAR Now may wind-up having the best season ever for this series.

The only fly in the ointment is one that has been with the program since it began in 2007. NASCAR Now refuses to promote NASCAR races not on the ESPN networks during the promo page inserted in each show.

This week, NASCAR Now has consistently skipped over the Camping World Truck and the Sprint Cup Series races from California to instead promote NHRA Drag racing action. With NASCAR needing every fan possible to either watch or attend the races, perhaps the production team will re-think this item.

On the whole, NASCAR Now has taken up right where it left off last season with a strong line-up that now includes Ricky Craven on a semi-regular basis. Craven will be on the Thursday show along with Lead Reporter Marty Smith to preview the racing in California.

If you have a comment about NASCAR Now, please click the comments button below to leave your opinion. This is a family-friendly site, comments with profanity or hateful speech will be deleted. Thanks again and happy posting.

Here are some additional Internet stories remembering Dale Earnhardt Sr. (just click on the title to open):
A tribute by Jen from The Bleacher Report.
Lee Spencer's original article from the 2001 Daytona 500 for The Sporting News.
Inspirational article by Jim Kidd for the site from last year.
Jenna Fryer's 2001 interview with Ken Schrader about the accident aftermath.
A chilling interview with Brian Williams on the NBC News in 2000.

R-Rated Movie Promotion Shocked Fans

It certainly was a memorable moment for the NASCAR on Fox team. There was a caution period during the Daytona 500 and play-by-play announcer Mike Joy began to read what sounded like a script.

Suddenly, without warning to families, the NASCAR on Fox crew introduced a three-minute preview of the movie “Watchman.” The clip contained brutal violence, adult language and graphic action from an R-rated movie.

While this might have seemed like a good idea to the LA-based Fox TV executives, it was ultimately tasteless and ill-advised during a live NASCAR event. Especially, during the flagship race of the entire Fox TV package, the Daytona 500.

Click here for the Internet Movie Database parent's guide for the "Watchman" movie. This page provides an overview of the content of the movie and the reasons it was given an R-rating.

Click here to see almost exactly the same preview shown during the live NASCAR race. This was not a commercial, but a three minute added sales element inserted into what normally would be NASCAR-related content. Updates from pit road, race recaps and analysis were put on hold.

As we all know, times are tough and added revenue certainly has been a goal for the NASCAR TV partners as the adverstising market continues to shrink. This decision, however, might not have been a good one in retrospect. The time of day, the content of the live TV program and the rating of the movie being promoted just did not mesh.

Email to TDP was thematic in that this type of advertising might have a place later in the evening on TV, but not in the very same program where Fox knows youngsters and families are watching.

The irony of Fox using the animated "Digger" character to sell t-shirts to children and then offering an R-rated movie preview in the very same live NASCAR race was perhaps not lost on many viewers.

What was your opinion of the "Watchman" promotional video shown in the live race?

To add your comment, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly site, profanity and hateful speech will result in comments not being published. Please address the topic being discussed and forward any other questions or comments to anytime.

Thanks again and happy posting.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thank you for the hundreds of emails over the past several weeks. I had no clue that such a diverse group of people read TDP.

After the events of the weekend, the surprising shift in TV credibility and the fascinating Monday review shows I just wanted to let you all know....I am thinking about it.

Thanks again for the good thoughts, I'll keep you posted.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Daly Planet closed on Wednesday, February 4th. Click here for a brief explanation of why. Please use the email address to contact John Daly.

Archives can be read through the links to the right. The media links will take you to other great NASCAR sites. Thank you again for two fun years of talking about NASCAR on TV.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Thank You For Two Seasons Of TV Conversation

The Daly Planet is ending operations on Wednesday, February 4th. This was an online project originally created to watch the new NASCAR TV partners get through their first season back in 2007. There were certainly some memorable moments that year.

We decided to continue for year two and the story was tremendous growth through fan interaction and the cooperation of those same TV partners. Thanks to ESPN, Turner and SPEED for all the help and information.

Assistance also came from the NASCAR PR staff and many media members. Finally, thanks to those individuals who helped with editing and website duties.

Priorities are rapidly changing in the world right now. This includes professional sports from top-to-bottom. NASCAR is deeply affected and talking about the pros and cons of TV broadcasts suddenly has much less meaning.

The NASCAR TV topics that we hotly debated last season now seem to pale in comparison to the reality around us. The time that I used to work on this Internet project now must be allocated for other activities. Such is life.

The Daly Planet published over 1400 original columns in two years and had over 4 million pageviews in 2008 alone. The archives will remain online for reference and the site email will remain active as the contact point after this final post.

Many thanks to the NASCAR fans who voiced their opinions and started some great conversations about topics perhaps not discussed by many other websites. It has been a great experience and one that I will treasure for a very long time.

So, for the final time...thanks for stopping by!

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the COMMENTS button below.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"NASCAR Now" Strikes A Balance

The familiar voice of Allen Bestwick welcomed ESPN2 viewers to the first NASCAR Now program of 2009. It was Ed Hinton, Marty Smith and Boris Said who sat on the Monday panel with Bestwick.

The mandatory review of Jimmie Johnson's championship was followed by a Mike Massaro update on the new Sprint Cup drivers and teams. All of the panelists then agreed that Tony Stewart's new role as an owner would be one of the top stories of the year on the track. The three also agreed that Stewart would make The Chase.

Then, it was on to the economy and the issues that fans needed to hear. NASCAR Now jumped into this topic. Bestwick called the economy the top story for NASCAR and led the panel into a wide-ranging discussion.

Said talked about the struggles of small teams to get sponsorship, including the one he co-owns. Hinton referenced the "start and park" teams that may appear at the tail of the Sprint Cup Series fields this season. "It will be a common man's sport again," said Hinton. "You only need thirty cars to have a good race."

"It has made guys happy to have work," said Smith of the economic crunch. He referenced the frequent "team hopping" of crew members over the last several seasons as the salaries across the board in the sport continued to rise.

In a very interesting twist, ESPN continued the pattern of making people pick things. All three panelists discounted Johnson for another championship because of the odds on four-in-a-row and made the safe choice in Carl Edwards.

In a very smart move, the show invited NASCAR President Mike Helton as a guest. "Everybody's concern is the economy," said Helton to start the interview. He used his decades of experience to put things in a very good perspective for the TV viewers. Helton was frank and open about "keeping his fingers crossed" that the sport gets through this crisis.

Helton's point was NASCAR will work with the current rules and regulations in order to keep the sport healthy. He said being a good listener and also proactive in these difficult times was going to be his priority for the year. The NASCAR business model continues to change.

Finally, Bestwick raised the topic of the Camping World Truck Series. Helton confirmed that there will officially be some rule changes designed to cut costs released shortly. New motor rules may also come into play for both the Camping World and Nationwide Series. This cost saving measure of using "sealed" motors numerous times on the track may well be the most important change for the two smaller national series.

Before he departed, Helton reinforced once again that NASCAR is conscious of the economic struggles of the fans. He was clear that NASCAR, the teams and the tracks are going to have to face a new reality where the fans are concerned.

"The character of the sport is at an all time high," said Helton, talking about the driver line-up. He teased the panel about their earlier discussion that some drivers were just "too nice" to make the Chase and be a champion. The only thing lacking in this entire interview was some questions to Helton from Smith and Hinton.

In a new feature for this season, Dale Jarrett presented his top ten personalities in NASCAR history. The list was interesting, as it included the former CBS Sports executive Neil Pilson. Jarrett paid tribute to Pilson's confidence in NASCAR that led him to authorize the Daytona 500 to be carried from start to finish on network TV at a time when no other races were televised live.

Jimmie Johnson was the next guest and he spoke with Bestwick by phone. After taking a little good-natured ribbing for his finger injury, Johnson said all the right things about the new season. He sounded just as focused as last year and wondered why no one on the panel picked him to repeat.

"I get a mulligan, don't I?" asked Bestwick after a rare on-air flub. Bestwick has worked hard to change this show into a premier NASCAR program for ESPN2. In many ways, it reflects his personality.

In letting the panelists have a closing comment, Smith talked about how Elliott Sadler will handle this season after his professional chaos. Hinton talked about just how wild Daytona will be because there has been no testing and this may be the season that a dark horse sneaks-up and makes NASCAR exciting again. Said echoed his earlier comments that this year has an underlying storyline of opportunity for smaller teams.

Bestwick wrapped things up by reminding everyone that those on his side of the camera know just how fortunate they are because of the bad economy. His point was that NASCAR is going to put on a show and everyone will try their best to get the minds of the fans away from reality for a short while.

The producers of this program series have come a very long way in two short years. This show had absolutely no hype and no forced advertising features. A new graphic showed the resumes of each panelist and Said stepped right up where his team ownership was concerned. This was a good start to a very long season.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. 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.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Craftsman Resurfaces On ESPN's NASCAR Coverage

Veteran reporter Michael Smith of The Sports Business Journal published a Monday story about the Craftsman brand coming back into NASCAR.

Here is an excerpt:

Sears Craftsman has struck a deal to title sponsor ESPN’s “Tech Garage,” providing the tool brand with an on-air presence in the network’s NASCAR broadcasts before, during and after the race. The seven-figure, multiplatform sponsorship will go across ESPN’s Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup broadcasts, “SportsCenter,” print, radio and online.

ESPN will use the “Craftsman Tech Garage” as a segment to explain technological aspects of racing.

To read the entire story, click here.

It is nice to hear that Craftsman is returning to NASCAR, although there was no mention of SPEED being included in the Craftsman media buys for 2009. For many years, Craftsman was closely identified with SPEED through the Truck Series.

ESPN has now confirmed that Craftsman will be replacing DISH Network as the sponsor of Tim Brewer and his at-track location will now be known as the Craftsman Tech Garage. Thanks for ESPN for taking the time to confirm this item.

Update: Click here for the ESPN media release on the details of the Craftsman deal.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. 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 taking the time to stop by.

Ed Hinton And Marty Smith Finally Get Their Chance

There is a new post up about the Monday NASCAR Now program, please click on the TDP logo at the top of the page.

Rarely has there been a NASCAR TV controversy brewing even before the first engines are started at Daytona.

Normally, SPEED puts on a January review show of the preseason testing and adds-in some interviews with various drivers and crew chiefs. All in all, it's usually nicely done but pretty boring.

This year, however, things have changed. The economic chaos has turned all three of NASCAR's national touring series into complete disasters. There is no other word to describe this situation.

Tuning into SPEED for both Preseason Thunder and Trackside did nothing to help fans get a handle on what had happened to their sport.

SPEED opted to hold the party line and present factual interviews with drivers that stayed away from the on-going problems. The SPEED/Fox announcers appearing on-camera kept things upbeat and positive. It was their choice and it was a very bad mistake.

Monday, it will be ESPN's opportunity to venture into this rapidly changing landscape and show TV viewers how the network will handle the two weeks prior to the Daytona 500.

Instead of using veterans Dale Jarrett, Andy Petree or Ray Evernham, the NASCAR Now producers turned to two reporters that fans know very well for this first show.

It will be Marty Smith and Ed Hinton that join host Allen Bestwick for the first Monday roundtable show of the season. Smith has been with ESPN since the new TV contract first started. He paid his on-air dues in 2007 when he spent a full year dealing with the original NASCAR Now host Erik Kuselias.

Hinton joined ESPN last season and immediately provided a breath of fresh air with his unique style. Both Smith and Hinton transition between Internet reporting and TV appearances with little problem. Having them both together as the first NASCAR on ESPN "faces" that viewers will see this season is an interesting selection.

It will be Bestwick's challenge to either follow the style of SPEED and toe the party line or let Smith and Hinton talk openly about what is really going-on. How the sanctioning body, the teams and the tracks are handling this unique and challenging situation should make for good conversation.

Joining this pair will be Boris Said as the third panelist. Again, an interesting selection by ESPN. Last year, when TDP questioned why Said was on this program series, he responded directly and pointed out his NASCAR connections that included extensive testing and behind-the-scenes coaching of other drivers.

This year, with testing banned and the fields slim, it should be interesting to learn if Said will make more Sprint Cup Series starts. He is currently (click here) listed as the driver of the #60 Mark Simo Ford for Daytona Speedweeks.

Bestwick developed this one-hour Monday show for ESPN2 single-handedly and his hard work showed by the end of the season. Various guests came and went with Bestwick easily adjusting to whatever hand he was dealt each week.

This first Monday show should be a big challenge in several ways. People are currently deciding what and how to prioritize their lives for 2009 in this economic mess. As we all know, when things get tough a new reality sets-in and we all view the world very differently. Our priorities are rapidly changing and it is not by choice.

Since SPEED declined to enter into a realistic discussion, ESPN has the opportunity to open the door and start a conversation with the fans that may be critical to getting NASCAR through this economic crunch.

Getting fans to the tracks, getting viewers to the TV sets and keeping the NASCAR exposure level high during 2009 is going to be a huge challenge. Most fans consume NASCAR through the TV and the Internet.

Between NASCAR Now, ESPN-owned and the NASCAR portion of, the entire ESPN company is going to play a role in this effort from the start.

This first NASCAR Now airs originally on Monday at 5PM Eastern Time and re-airs at 1AM, or 10PM Pacific. We look forward to your comments on this program.

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Pimp My Ride" Marathon On SPEED

Stop the email! I surrender. Yes, we know that SPEED could be using this Sunday to show all the episodes of NASCAR 39/10 or other NASCAR programming right before Daytona.

Instead, we welcome Pimp My Ride to SPEED as the network continues to define itself by non-racing lifestyle programming. Enjoy the 27 episode marathon this Sunday up against the Super Bowl and other NFL programming.

Click here for the link to the air schedule for this program series on SPEED. On one hand, the network has the perfect right to show whatever programming it chooses anytime.

On the other hand, some Camping World Truck Series highlights, some NASCAR Confidential programs or even a recap of the NASCAR 39/10 series that was only aired once at noon on weekdays might have been a nice touch.

SPEED begins the many SPEED Stage shows (minus Tradin' Paint) from the Daytona International Speedway on Thursday.

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"NASCAR Wives" Now All Headed For Daytona

When the TLC network announced a new series called NASCAR Wives, eyebrows went up all around the town. Coming to mind right away was the group pictured above.

Bravo Network has The Real Housewives of Orange County as a reality TV hit and that program is now going into its third season.

As the cast of this NASCAR project that TLC is calling a docusoap was announced, it was certain that if nothing else the show was going to make for some good gossip around the garage area.

Now, with Speedweeks approaching, there are actually several juicy storylines unfolding that may make NASCAR Wives a show that gets an audience, even on a mainstream TV network like TLC.

In fact, the producers at The NASCAR Media Group and TLC decided to delay the premier of this series until the Daytona experience could be edited into the show.

That made a lot of sense because just this week it was confirmed that every member of the NASCAR Wives cast is now going to be heading for Daytona.

Everyone knows Kelley Earnhardt and DeLana Harvick. Earnhardt plays a key role in managing the business affairs of her brother Dale and was front-and-center during his transition from DEI to Hendrick Motorsports. Harvick has been active as an owner for several seasons and brings a strong racing heritage to the TV series.

While DeLana and Kevin remain a happily married couple, Earnhardt has just gone through a divorce from a well-known NASCAR personality and is now dating someone else who is involved in racing. This contrast and the real life moments that come with both situations should make for some interesting TV.

The Scott Speed story appears to be coming directly from central casting, with a Euro-influenced highly-regarded driver making his way into the Sprint Cup Series for the first time.

Speed will be joined on the Cup circuit by fiance Amanda Mathis, who is yet another NASCAR Wives cast member. Mathis also has racing in her family, along with a NASCAR public relations background.

Recently, veteran driver Jeremy Mayfield announced that he was headed for Daytona with his own Sprint Cup team and has every intention of campaigning for the full season. That allows another cast member, Jeremy's wife Shana, to be in the racing mix for this season. Shana and Jeremy are no strangers to NASCAR reality TV as SPEED viewers can attest.

That left only one cast member out of the Daytona mix. Angie Skinner is the wife of Camping World Truck Series veteran Mike Skinner. This season, Mike was out of a ride and only a last-minute deal would get him on the track in Daytona.

Enter perhaps the most unique owner in NASCAR, NFL star Randy Moss. His single-truck operation was set to campaign in 2009 with young Tayler Malsam running for rookie of the year. As Dave Moody reported on The Motorsports Soapbox, Moss decided to expand that operation to two trucks just a short while ago, but he needed a driver.

The phone call went out to Mike Skinner who took the job. That puts Angie back on the racing circuit for the season and also brings her over to the Daytona International Speedway. The Skinners are full-time Daytona residents and well known in the community. That will be another wrinkle as the TV series unfolds. Not everyone lives in Mooresville or Concord, NC.

At the present time, TLC is suggesting that this TV series will begin in early March and continue through the season. We are still waiting on the actual number of episodes, but are told each one will be an hour in length. The episode with the Daytona footage will kick things off.

This series will be a new experience for TV viewers as NASCAR moves away from the sports TV networks and migrates over to the land of What Not To Wear.

Perhaps, Stacy London and Clinton Kelly will put on some NASCAR t-shirts and head for Daytona to get in touch with the new members of the TLC family. Now, those two walking through the garage area would be something to see.

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ESPN2's "NASCAR Now" Stepping Into Chaos

Update: Many thanks to ESPN for putting out a media release on Wednesday with additional information on the NASCAR Now series for 2009. This column is now updated at the bottom of the post.

It will be Monday, February 2nd when ESPN2 resumes the almost daily show called NASCAR Now. In 2008, this program series found its legs and became a solid link between the sport and the fans.

NASCAR Now's basic format is to provide a one-hour talk show-style program on Mondays and then four or five daily thirty-minute shows leading up to the race weekend. Before ESPN takes over the Sprint Cup telecasts, there is only a preview version of NASCAR Now on Sunday mornings. During the final 17 Cup races, the network adds a one hour review show on Sunday nights.

This ten month series is a considerable undertaking that began in 2007 with severe growing pains and has now slowly become a show that works well the vast majority of the time. The glaring issue for ESPN2 is that every episode of the program originates from Connecticut.

SPEED has just relocated that network's headquarters to the heart of NASCAR country. Now, the new SPEED HD studios are just a short drive away for the NASCAR personalities. This new access became apparent during the Preseason Thunder series where NASCAR guests were plentiful.

This year, however, all the suggestions that ESPN invest in a Mooresville area studio are being put to rest rather quickly. Tough times are upon the nation and there are new priorities being established almost every day.

It is into this NASCAR environment that Allen Bestwick, Nicole Manske and Mike Massaro must walk. This trio is supported by Lead Reporter Marty Smith and will also make use of the NASCAR on ESPN personalities throughout the year. This is the first season for Massaro as a full-time co-host and the second for Manske.

Bestwick is the captain of this ship and played a role in revamping this series over the last several seasons. At a time when the program was floundering with bad talent choices and poor story selection, Bestwick provided an example of how to put together a straightforward NASCAR news program by simply doing it himself.

Click here for the 2007 TDP column titled "Allen Bestwick Rocks NASCAR Now To Its Core." That certainly was a moment in NASCAR TV to remember.

Now, Bestwick hosts the expanded Monday program simply called the roundtable. Over the past season, guests too numerous to mention have flown to the ESPN2 Connecticut studios and participated in a conversation about the weekend's racing.

ESPN gets credit for stepping-up, admitting some problems and working to fix them. Manske was a big question mark after coming over from SPEED, but she hit the ground running and never looked back. She established herself as a credible, hard-working host and interviewer. She did have some memorable moments in 2008, but the good news was none of them concerned her wardrobe choices or social life.

Massaro was originally a semi-regular guest on the Monday hour shows and something within him just took to the studio right away. This season he and Manske will rotate hosting the shows in the studio and flying out to report from the race tracks. It should be an exciting year for a guy who has seen it all where both ESPN and NASCAR are concerned.

ESPN is famous for big editorial meetings where lots of topics are discussed and on-air stories are selected. Those meetings are not always quiet, but they are usually very interesting. Trying to figure out how to step back into the NASCAR sandbox this season should be a challenge.

The news and issues in this sport never slowed down after the Homestead race last season and are now at a fever pitch as Daytona Speedweek approaches. Fans cruising the Internet for NASCAR news get all kinds of content from a wide variety of websites. Sometimes, it seems almost overwhelming.

The challenge for NASCAR Now is to sort this upcoming season out for the fans by looking at the three national series and speaking the truth. This season more than ever before it will be up to NASCAR Now to provide daily updates on the health of the sport in general.

The growing perception that the Sprint Cup Series superteams are again going to dominate must be discussed openly. The current overall status of both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series for 2009 has never been mentioned by SPEED during two weeks of programming and desperately needs to be put in perspective for fans.

While Bestwick has certainly been a NASCAR favorite for many years, he also has the ability to ask very direct questions of the analysts and reporters on his panel. The task of talking about the health of the sport is going to fall to folks like Dale Jarrett, Ray Evernham, Andy Petree and Rusty Wallace.

Reporters Marty Smith, David Newton and Terry Blount are going to be very busy sorting out the specifics of who is where and what exactly NASCAR is going to be putting on the track for fans in just a couple of weeks.

Update: Allen Bestwick will have Ed Hinton, Marty Smith and Boris Said on the Monday one hour program to kick-off the season at 5PM ET. The series will offer a special report on NASCAR and the economy next week and all shows during that week will be an hour in length. Thanks again to ESPN for the timely release of this information.

Please let us know what you think about the return of NASCAR Now and what you are looking for from this TV series in 2009.

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