Tuesday, March 31, 2009

NASCAR About To Lose The ESPN "Overflow" Channel

Once and a while The Sports Business Journal turns an eye to TV and this week it reported on some news from ESPN. It may well impact NASCAR in a couple of months.

Here are some excerpts from a story by SBJ's John Ourand:

Executives in Bristol, CT are set to allow cable and satellite distributors to swap the ESPN Classic sports channel for its college network, ESPNU, which they hope presents a newer, hipper alternative to Classic’s staid and often dated programming

ESPN Classic is in more than 63 million homes, typically on analog and digital basic tiers. By contrast, ESPNU is in about 25 million homes, mainly on digital basic tiers

A deal clearly would mostly help ESPNU, which is battling another collegiate sports channel, CBS College Sports Network, for carriage deals on the nation’s cable and satellite systems. The channel, which launched in the spring of 2005, has been at the center of ESPN’s most recent media deals.

ESPNU will pick up a significant part of ESPN’s SEC schedule and is expected to run shoulder programming that supports ESPN’s BCS package.

Click here to read Ourand's full article.

In a nutshell, ESPN is looking to encourage cable operators to carry the ESPNU Network. For those cable systems who already have ESPN Classic, there is now an easy solution to this problem. Just replace Classic with the ESPNU college channel and call it a day. All of this can now be done with ESPN's official blessing.

This move is crucial to ESPN, a company who has been on a buying spree where college television rights are concerned. Billions of dollars have been spent and just like the NASCAR situation, there are simply not enough ESPN TV networks to carry the product.

Back in early 2007, we suggested that ESPN use the Classic Network to carry NASCAR when there was a live event conflict. We were laughed off the Internet. Click here for a review of that story.

Now, two years later, ESPN Classic has become a crucial link to NASCAR TV during the college football season. This is especially true for the Nationwide Series, the only NASCAR racing series that ESPN carries from start to finish.

In this newly proposed scenario, ESPN Classic could effectively be reduced in size from over 60 million to as few as 25 million homes nationwide. Adding "the U" and dumping Classic is a no brainer to the cable systems at this point in time. The college product is hot and ESPN Classic's main fare is dated program re-airs.

Here in March, this might be a topic easily forgotten. But come September when the Nationwide Series has been racing for seven months and suddenly a college football game blocks the action on ESPN2, there may be 40 million less NASCAR fans that have any kind of solution to that problem.

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Camping World Truck Series Can't Catch A TV Break

After losing Saturday to rain, the Camping World Truck Series took to the track Monday in front of a small crowd on a chilly day in Martinsville, VA. The good news is that the live SPEED telecast of the race was solid and the trucks put on a great show. The bad news is that almost no one saw it.

A silver lining did exist, however, because both NASCAR Now on ESPN2 and This Week in NASCAR on SPEED would be on the air later Monday to review the action.

As luck would have it, Kyle Busch was once again in the mix and the finish of the truck race would be memorable. After the race, the SPEED cameras captured Busch running down pit road, jumping the railing and leaving the premises without talking to anyone.

What a great tie-in to his struggles in the Sunday Sprint Cup Series race as those highlights would be the centerpiece of the two NASCAR TV shows on Monday. Since there was no Nationwide Series race, the Sprint Cup Series and the Camping World Trucks were the only game in town. This would be great TV exposure for the truck teams.

Mike Massaro was in for Allen Bestwick and it was clear from the start that a lot of the Monday NASCAR Now program was going to be focused on the Sprint Cup Series. Ray Evernham, Ricky Craven and Mike Wallace offered good comments about the drivers, the action and the results.

Since there was no live guest scheduled, there would also be plenty of time to talk about the only other race of the weekend, the trucks. Including this series in the NASCAR Now program used to be a battle. Apparently, that battle is not over.

Massaro introduced an embarrassing highlight package that included him naming the wrong driver, not knowing Todd Bodine's truck and finally getting lost in his commentary during the final pass for the lead.

The package ended with Kyle Busch slamming down his HANS Device and helmet. In this one hour show, the trucks got 55 seconds of coverage. Instead of turning to the "expert panel" for follow-up, Massaro led directly to commercial. His words were ironic.

"And we'll talk a little bit more about Jimmie Johnson...coming up," said Massaro. It was time for the ESPN.com poll results on whether Johnson can win another championship. The blue states and the red states were battling it out. One thing was for sure, the trucks were done on NASCAR Now in more ways than one.

Later on Monday, Steve Byrnes led a rowdy Greg Biffle and Michael Waltrip through the same Sprint Cup Series highlights and explanations on This Week in NASCAR. This crew has a very different style and the first-hand accounts of the Sunday race were outstanding from both panelists.

The good story here is that Waltrip called the truck race for SPEED, so he had the inside scoop. Byrnes introduced the highlights and SPEED gave their only major NASCAR series 75 seconds of highlights. That's right, less than 90 seconds of highlights from a Monday race which most fans had not seen.

Not only did this highlight package not tell the story of the race, it contained no post-race interviews from SPEED's own live Monday telecast. SPEED approached this race as if it had taken place on Saturday and fans had already seen the highlights several times. With the race actually airing at noon on Monday, nothing could be further from the truth.

It seems like the Camping World Truck Series cannot catch a break where NASCAR TV is concerned. The series has no weekly TV show, no regularly scheduled features on either TWIN or NASCAR Now and only a thirty minute pre-race show for exposure. On this Monday, even that was cancelled.

One key goal of the NASCAR TV partners this season was to help the Nationwide and Truck Series survive these tough economic times. While this message resonated earlier in the season, Martinsville proved to be a complete failure where both SPEED and ESPN were concerned in terms of the truck series.

While the Nationwide Series continues to be populated by Sprint Cup regulars, the Camping World Truck Series teams are holding on by their fingernails right now and several are about to fall by the wayside.

What will it take for these two TV programs to wake-up to the fact that the NASCAR TV partners have to be actively involved in helping all three national series in the sport survive this crisis?

TDP welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the comments button below and follow the easy instructions. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

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A Little Less "Digger" And A Lot More Racing

There was not a lot to talk about for the NASCAR on Fox gang from the Hollywood Hotel in Martinsville. Practice and qualifying for the Sprint Cup Series had been rained out.

The conversation quickly turned from the serious to the ridiculous. Hot dogs, birthdays and inside jokes are subjects that turned the pre-race show into a combination of the useful and the useless. Jeff Hammond appears to be tired of Chris Myers and his inability to take racing seriously. For many teams, Martinsville was a critical race.

Just like NASCAR Now on ESPN2 and RaceDay on SPEED, Rick Hendrick made an appearance on the Fox pre-race show. His story about Martinsville fits right in with the roots of NASCAR. Darrell Waltrip handled the recorded interview.

"The biggest mistake you can make in life is pulling the trigger when you don't have a plan," said Hendrick. He was talking about the changes that might be needed to help Dale Earnhardt Jr. improve this season. Waltrip raises this point on a regular basis and Jeff Hammond has already called for Tony Eury Jr. to be replaced. Hendrick himself seems to have other ideas.

Chris Myers and his recent birthday was a theme that was drummed into the NASCAR fans who watched Fox's rainout coverage of the Camping World Truck Series on Saturday. By the time Sunday rolled around, it just wasn't funny anymore. Dick Berggren is a nice guy, but isn't it time to put the whole "kid because I care" thing away for good?

Mike Joy had a tough task ahead of him. Martinsville and the COT make for a different style of racing then we used to see with the old car. Early tire problems were not followed up in the pits and only the booth announcers told us that the bead was melting because of the brake heat. Goodyear was off the hook.

Three "start and park" cars ended the day early without follow-up. NASCAR had said these cars needed to show why they came off the track and it had better be a mechanical issue. Past issues for the "valet parking" set have included...no pit crew.

The Sprint Cup teams delivered a good set of stories that included two MWR drivers running in the top ten, but everyone knew the day would belong to Hendrick. It did not matter where his cars finished, because Hendrick is a favorite of the Fox booth. Once again, the racing actually followed the suggested TV script in dramatic fashion.

It was nice to hear an instrumental version of the National Anthem and even better to see a good crowd on-hand to hear it. The TV crew never had to explain empty seats or even deal with the fan issue. The pictures told the story.

Mostly absent from this telecast was the animation of Digger. While the Digger logo was stuck in the picture in each segment, both of the annoying animations were essentially gone. That is a picture from Fox Sports of the Martinsville Digger-cam above.

This simple change deeply affected the telecast. No more forced jokes or comments from Joy, he just kept calling the race with the Digger logo on the screen. No more homemade commercials from Waltrip advertising his website under green flag racing.

It may be that Fox has finally struck a good balance where this merchandising gimmick is concerned. As many emailers reminded us, there was also no Digger cartoon before the race.

Once underway, the positive aspects of the telecast began to emerge. Good camera work on the small track, good use of the in-car cameras and effective coverage of the entire field was the early order of the day. Unfortunately, that would change.

Two video angles of the Kenseth pit road violation were outstanding and the explanation from Larry McReynolds was even better. Also solid was the triple-split on the caution flag pit stops that allowed for a view of the entire pit road.

As we have said so many times before, the technical crew delivered another flawless race with every piece of equipment working well and the pictures and sound in HD delivering the intensity of this sport on a short-track.

Tougher to figure out were the AT&T Racebreaks. Presented as an update on the race, the video highlights showed spins and some lead changes. The problem was that this was not a rundown of who was where and how they got there. Once the racebreak was over, the silent ticker at the top of the screen was the only thing telling the whole story of the race.

Fans once again had to migrate to the radio broadcast to get a rundown of the field and the progress of the teams outside of the top ten. Just like Fox used to struggle with covering the final lap, this season rundowns of the field are just nonexistent.

With many top teams a lap down or more, the Fox production team kept the focus on the leaders and brought the telecast home with another good wideshot of the finish line. Luckily, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson provided some action in the final laps.

Post-race interviews told the story of the race and it appeared that all concerned were ready to get to Texas and get back up to speed. Two short track races are done and while Martinsville may reflect the past, it certainly did not deliver the kind of energy that NASCAR has created with the larger tracks that dominate the season.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Live Blogging The Camping World Truck Series Race From Martinsville On SPEED

The best show of the weekend is often the Camping World Trucks at Martinsville. The beating and banging short track style is exactly why the trucks were originally created. This series was designed to serve the tracks with too few seats to attract a Sprint Cup Series date.

2009 finds them instead racing in places like Daytona that demand aero and drafting. How times have changed. This Monday at noon ET the trucks return to their roots with the rain delayed Martinsville event on SPEED. Thanks to Max Papis for the image of the trucks lined up for the race today.

The shift from Fox over to SPEED has changed the TV announcer assignments. Out are the NASCAR on Fox guys and in are Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip. This week Ray Dunlap is on vacation, so Krista Voda will step in because there is no pre-race show this week. Joining Voda on pit road will be the versatile Adam Alexander.

This might have been a good weekend to give Wendy Venturini an opportunity on pit road, since Venturini and Hermie Sadler have been working very hard on RaceDay this season with solid results. There should be an expanded role for her down the road among all the NASCAR programs and races on SPEED.

Digger is gone and the SPEED TV crew should return the focus of the event to racing. There has been a solid television production package from the CWTS for several seasons now, with good racing and outstanding coverage.

This will be a "hurry up" race that will start shortly after SPEED takes the air. The field is full of all kinds of experienced and very inexperienced racers, so the action should be interesting as the leaders start to lap the backmarkers rather quickly.

The unknown factor in the race will be the new CWTS rules that limit the pit stops to either tires or fuel. Depending on how many cautions wave, this could cause the entire field to pit twice to get both. That is going to raise the risk of problems happening, especially with trucks on new tires trying to exit the pits after getting fuel only.

The new pit rules also bring into play new strategies like staying out on the same set of tires for a much longer time than anyone has tried before. There is no ability to stretch the gas mileage, so this strategy should be interesting to watch.

This post will host your comments about the CWTS race on SPEED. To add your TV-related comment, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, so please keep that in mind while posting.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Michael Waltrip Set For Monday TV Dash

Look for a blur somewhere on the highways between Martinsville, VA and Charlotte, NC on Monday afternoon. Michael Waltrip will be trying to do a TV "double dip" that may prove to be very interesting to watch.

The Camping World Truck Series race was moved to Monday by rain. This shifted the coverage from Fox to SPEED and also changed the announce team. Rick Allen and Phil Parsons will be joined by Waltrip to call the race. Once the checkered flag falls, Waltrip will be heading for the parking lot at a high rate of speed.

As most fans know, Waltrip is the only remaining member of the Monday TV franchise on SPEED now called This Week in NASCAR. It has been more than a decade since then Speedvision Executive Producer Bob Scanlon first launched Inside Winston/NEXTEL/Sprint Cup Racing.

The CWTS race begins at noon ET and should wrap-up about 2 hours later. Waltrip will then drive the one hundred or so miles between the Martinsville track and the SPEED TV studios near the Lowe's Motor Speedway in the Concord, NC area. Add some HD make-up, a fresh shirt and Waltrip will join Steve Byrnes and Greg Biffle for an hour of This Week in NASCAR.

Monday nights on SPEED are hard to avoid. Byrnes has worked hard to make this program fun and has succeeded. After some early struggles in 2008, this year TWIN has become a show that offers inside information and honest emotion. While Biffle and Waltrip are fun to watch, the new all-star on the program is Chad Knaus.

Waltrip, Knaus and Byrnes have summoned the old spirit of Allen Bestwick, Kenny Schrader and Johnny Benson. The SPEED programming execs have also allowed The NASCAR Media Group that produces the show to re-organize the program and capitalize on the momentum of the weekend. It has made all the difference.

So, this week's show should have some fun stories to tell from the Waltrip and Biffle experiences at Martinsville to the post-truck race dash through traffic. The program airs at 8PM Monday night on both SPEED and SPEED-HD.

TDP 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. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Live Blogging The Martinsville Sprint Cup Race on Fox

After a rainy and messy weekend, the sky has cleared and the Sprint Cup race from Martinsville will be run as scheduled.

Chris Myers and Jeff Hammond will start the day in the Hollywood Hotel at 1:30PM. Darrell Waltrip will join them for the pre-race show and then scoot up to the announce booth to join Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds for the 2:15PM race.

This day is being featured as the 25th anniversary of Hendrick Motorsports. Rick Hendrick has already appeared on the other NASCAR TV programs, so look for him on the Fox pre-race show. It should be interesting to see who asks the questions.

Down on pit road it will be Steve Byrnes, Matt Yocum, Krista Voda and Dick Berggren reporting. These four will be on the spot today because of the potential issues on the narrow and dangerous Martinsville pit road.

The track is green and no rubber down may contribute to single file racing and lots of arguments over space early on. It is easy to get a lap down and the fight in the back of the pack with the leader approaching is going to be a story for most of the event.

Martinsville has a great track level camera angle, where we will no doubt be seeing Digger appear. Using this effect under caution is great, but inserting the Digger animation during green flag racing can cause viewers to miss almost an entire lap. A lot can happen very quickly at Martinsville.

Fox switched to a triple-split on the caution flag pit stops. This use of three video boxes instead of four allows the TV viewer to see the pit road live while also watching the stops of the top three contenders. What a great move.

In the middle of this event, the grind becomes apparent and the TV crew has to search for stories to keep the viewers interested. The challenge for Fox this season has been to tell the stories of the cars outside of the top twenty. Just because a team finds themselves racing from the back of the pack should not mean they become invisible.

Everyone races the last lap like a heat race and the brand new Fox approach of showing a camera wideshot with live graphics as the field races to the finish line has been a welcome improvement this season. Hopefully, that will continue.

This post will host your comments about the coverage of the Sprint Cup Series from Martinsville on Fox. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

No TV Winners In Martinsville Rain

Across the board in NASCAR TV land the rain really killed the momentum of the season. Sparse crowds at the SPEED Stage for big shows like Trackside and NASCAR Performance really showed just how bad the weather was in the area.

Luckily, Trackside guests Marcos Ambrose and Timothy Peters kept things lively. Ambrose reveals little slices of his personality in each interview and his fascination with American history showed yet another piece. The fact that he blends so well with the Trackside crew also helped.

Timothy Peters is a personality that NASCAR should certainly expose to the public more often. A great sense of humor and a diverse background made him a pleasant surprise where NASCAR TV is concerned.

It must be interesting for Kyle Petty to travel to the Sprint Cup Series venues these days. Since he is not involved in the radio coverage and does not work on the TV side until the TNT telecasts, he only pops-up on the media radar while participating in the off-base game show on SPEED called NASCAR Smarts. That is a lot of travel to face-off with Rutledge Wood for thirty minutes every weekend.

Fox filled the original Saturday Camping World Truck Series timeslot with live coverage that never really talked honestly about the rain. Even with the drops visible on the ground, the conversation was themed around the race getting underway shortly. That was never the case.

This weekend it was Chris Myers and the Fox Hollywood Hotel instead of Krista Voda and the SPEED gang. This left Myers running the show in the rain delay with Voda relegated to the role of a pit reporter. Myers has limited knowledge of the CWTS and it was a smart move to bring Phil Parsons onto the pre-race show.

This let viewers see the two "camps" as Parsons continually addressed serious issues and offered information while Myers and Jeff Hammond continued their goofy act about birthdays, the Martinsville hot dogs and kidding because they care. Two very different styles of presenting NASCAR on TV.

The CWTS event will be shown live on SPEED Monday at noon ET. The SPEED announce team of Rick Allen, Parsons and Michael Waltrip will call the action. Krista Voda and Adam Alexander will handle pit road, Ray Dunlap is on vacation.

Sunday, the regular TV line-up is in place as ESPN2 starts the day with NASCAR Now at 10AM. Mike Wallace will join Mike Massaro in the ESPN studios with Nicole Manske and Marty Smith reporting from Martinsville. SPEED follows with RaceDay at 11:30AM. Guests include Rick Hendrick and country star Trace Adkins.

The NASCAR on Fox crew takes to the air at 1:30PM with Myers and Hammond once again from the Hollywood Hotel. The weather should be windy, but the chance of rain is low. Mike Joy will call the race that takes the green flag at 2:16PM. Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds will join Joy in the booth while Steve Byrnes, Matt Yocum, Voda and Dick Berggren will handle the pit reporting.

There are plenty of storylines and plenty of potential spoilers in this race. The COT at Martinsville is an interesting sight. Big, boxy and sporting a rear wing it certainly does not have the look of a race car designed to duke it out on a flat short-track. To say it was not created for television is an understatement.

On the bright side, the Fox coverage from Bristol was orderly, inspired and focused. All of that will once again be required to deal with this race. Teams can easily get a lap down quickly. The pit road is a challenge to cover for both the reporters and the TV director. Finally, the slow speeds and lack of side-by-side racing action on a green track will require a lot of patience and good on-air conversation.

After the race, Bob Dillner will be reporting live for The SPEED Report at 7PM. John Roberts, Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace offer winner interviews on Victory Lane at 8PM on SPEED. That network ends the night with fan favorite Kenny Schrader co-hosting Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain at 9PM.

TDP will be live blogging the Martinsville event, please feel free to join us. We welcome comments from readers on the topics discussed above. Just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

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Truck Series Race Moved To SPEED

Update: Truck series race on Monday at noon ET on SPEED with the CWTS TV crew. Thanks to Max Papis for the pic of the napping pit crew member for rent.

The weather forecast does not look good for the Martinsville area Saturday afternoon during the scheduled Camping World Truck Series race on Fox.

Thunderstorms are predicted and even The Weather Channel is not giving things much of a chance of clearing for the time needed to complete the event. This stirs things up a bit for the TV crews, because NASCAR will most probably move the CWTS race to Monday.

Since the Fox broadcast network does not have a Monday morning or afternoon sports "window" for a CWTS event, the race would probably move over to SPEED. As most of you know, SPEED is owned by The Fox Cable Networks company.

The twist in all of this is that SPEED's CWTS announce team of Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip are already on-site in Martinsville. They were on the air Friday to call the practice session for the trucks before the rain came but this weekend they are not scheduled to call the actual race.

Because the race is on Fox, it is Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds that are set to join Mike Joy to call the action. Should the race shift to SPEED on Monday, a good case can be made to bring Allen, Parsons and Waltrip back to add the commentary.

This would also be the case for the pit reporters. Currently, three of the Fox team are handling the Truck Series race. Ray Dunlap and Adam Alexander are the SPEED pit reporters. Finally, the Monday shift would eliminate the Hollywood Hotel and Chris Myers. Whether or not Krista Voda hosts a pre-race show for the Monday rain date is yet to be determined.

TDP will keep readers up to date on these changes as they happen on Saturday. Come back and check for updates if and when the rain keeps falling. Please feel free to add your comments about the Saturday TV on this post.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Double Dose Of "Digger" On Tap For Martinsville

This is the weekend where the NASCAR on Fox crew produces the Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday for the Fox TV Network. While the theory is that broadcast TV network exposure brings more viewers to the series, veteran fans know what else it brings.

That's right, it will be a double dose of Digger and friends this weekend as the animated character will appear in both the Truck and Sprint Cup races. Last year, the Truck race was ruined by the Fox Director and his unending use of the track level camera and the goofy animation.

Click here to read "Digger Dominates Craftsman Truck Race on Fox." This was the TDP column from last season's Martinsville race. Make sure to scroll through the comments, there were some outstanding debates over all kinds of TV issues.

Many of those had to do with the fact that key moments of the live racing were missed while inserting a cartoon gopher to sell T-shirts. Here is a quick quote to help readers remember:

The big "Digger" moment came with only 13 laps to go when Rick Allen yelled "problems as Jack Sprague gets turned around coming out of 2!" Once again, Fox viewers had been watching big truck tires drive past "Digger" and missed another key moment of the race. The Director had been using his favorite toy and not covering the action on the track with less than 15 laps to go.

Martinsville is not the most exciting venue to cover a live NASCAR race and last season the focus of the event quickly turned to having fun with Digger while the trucks roared by in the background. Perhaps, doing only a couple of truck races during the season makes them not exactly a priority to the TV team.

The good news is that last week the movie promos for "12 Rounds" took the place of many Digger moments. The animation was toned down considerably and the "speed shots" of fixed cameras sometimes had only the stationary Digger logo inserted.

Perhaps, the best part was that the NASCAR on Fox team stopped trying to make funny jokes every time Digger appeared on the screen and concentrated on the race. Bristol turned out to be one of the best NASCAR on Fox broadcasts in recent memory.

Aside from the focused commentary and solid directing, the production team topped-off the race by again switching to a nice wideshot that allowed the viewers at home to see almost all the teams race to the flag.

This has been a tremendous change in coverage that used to show only the leader and exclude the remainder of the field. Abandoning the efforts to build drama and instead delivering to the fans a great picture of their favorites racing to the finish line has been a wonderful decision.

As Steve Byrnes has said many times, SPEED is "all in" on Friday from Martinsville. The full TV schedule is posted on the right side of the TDP main page, but SPEED starts at 11AM and runs straight through to 5PM ET with Martinsville activity.

After a short break, Byrnes and company return with Trackside at 7PM. Marcos Ambrose, Aric Almirola and Timothy Peters will be the guests.

ESPN2 will offer NASCAR Now with Mike Massaro at 5PM on Friday. Massaro will be joined by Mike Wallace on Sunday morning at 10 AM for the race preview version of NASCAR Now.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Helio Castroneves Leads ESPN's NASCAR Show

Never has the quandary that ESPN often finds itself in where motorsports are concerned been more evident than Wednesday afternoon. ESPN is now into the third season of the daily NASCAR Now series without as much as a once a week program focused on other motorsports.

The good old days of John Kernan and his daily dose of RPM2Night are long gone. ESPN is still deep into the NHRA and only recently stepped aside from the IRL scene. Formula 1 is making news, the 12 Hours of Sebring was just last week and the AMA season is in full swing.

Unfortunately, none of those stories ever show up on SportsCenter or ESPNEWS. Perhaps, when the drivers in those series learn to tackle, bunt or perfect a fade away jumper they too might break into the great and mighty stick-and-ball highlights machine.

This left ESPN the Magazine reporter Ryan McGee at loose ends. McGee has been in Florida covering the criminal trial of IRL fan favorite Helio Castroneves for tax evasion. With the trial winding down and the facts on the table, McGee was ready to tell the TV viewers all about it. There was just one fundamental problem.

In order to do that, he would have to call Dave Despain over at the SPEED network. Wind Tunnel is the only general motorsports interview show still standing. Fans may remember that Wind Tunnel, just like NASCAR Now, started as a daily show and was axed to once a week a while back.

Leave it up to ESPN to solve the problem the old-fashioned way. They would just lead the Wednesday version of NASCAR Now with McGee and the Castroneves story. The key to making all this work would be for McGee and host Mike Massaro to just say the word "NASCAR" a whole lot. That is exactly what they did.

Castroneves may have danced with the stars and driven a mean IRL machine, but he has absolutely no direct connection to NASCAR. He was alleged to have kept money paid to him off-shore to avoid taxes. It was cut and dried.

Names like Roger Penske and Sam Hornish Jr. were used a lot. One of Castroneves co-conspirators is a lawyer with some NASCAR clients. Penske and Hornish were not alleged to have done anything wrong. The lawyer, however, could be in big trouble.

McGee's normal challenge is to compose a good article for ESPN's magazine and website, which he normally does quite well. On this Wednesday, however, his biggest challenge was to explain why an IRL driver's tax problems were the lead story on NASCAR Now. The explanation was not very convincing.

TDP welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

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Sprint Excludes Fans From Special All-Star Coverage

There has always been a loud knocking on the NASCAR door when it comes to providing more behind-the-scenes coverage of the sport. Since SPEED basically eliminated the remaining weekly TV shows that used this type of footage, there has been almost no exposure for the fans of what happens during a race weekend "on the inside."

This content has proven to be quite popular when used in programs like the now cancelled series NASCAR Confidential, Beyond the Wheel and 7 Days. With little opportunity to break SPEED out of the "lifestyle" mode and with ESPN jammed full of stick-and-ball content, Sprint is using in-house technology to offer some exclusive NASCAR behind-the-scenes content.

In the new world media order, the Internet and cell phones can now compete with TV networks in many ways. This May, SPEED will once again televise the All-Star race from Lowe's Motor Speedway. This year, Sprint has decided to offer live coverage of the sometimes rowdy driver's meeting before the race.

This sounds like a lot of fun, but there are some issues. There will be no video as those rights are already owned by another party. There will also be no online streaming as, you guessed it, those rights were long since sold to a third party.

The only thing Sprint can do is make the audio available to cell phone users, which is still an interesting proposition. The ability to simply dial into the driver's meeting is brand new and perhaps something that can be done for future events.

Unfortunately, Sprint has taken a rather short-sighted approach to this project. This special offering will only be made available to current Sprint users who have signed-up for NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile. This is Sprint's service that offers NASCAR content like race broadcasts, in-car audio and news.

Rather than offer it to anyone with a cell phone to show-off what Sprint Cup Mobile can do, only those already paying for the service can get the driver's meeting. This is a great example of simply servicing an existing audience rather than exposing a new one to what is a great product.

"The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race has long been considered a signature event for the sport and we have partnered with SPEED to ensure fans can watch the race regardless of their location," said Sprint executive Steve Gaffney. "The latest advancements with NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile are an excellent demonstration of how the Now Network can instantly put the world of NASCAR at our subscriber's fingertips."

The only problem with Mr. Gaffney's comments is that he is only putting the technology at the fingertips of those who already have it. For the rest of the cell phone users nationwide, the opportunity to hear this special event will not exist.

At a time when NASCAR desperately needs as much exposure as possible, perhaps Sprint will use the company's technology to make this interesting NASCAR offering available to any cell phone user and then let them decide if Sprint Cup Mobile is a product worthy of further investigation.

TDP welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the comments button below and follow the easy instructions. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Powerful Image Of Jeffrey Earnhardt On TV

The spectacle of NASCAR racing is a mix of images and sound. Some of the images are majestic and some are powerful because of their simplicity. Tuesday, the folks at NASCAR Now delivered an image that jumped off the TV screen.

Kerry Earnhardt drove in several NASCAR series with mixed success. Ultimately a journeyman driver, Kerry was sometimes called the forgotten Earnhardt with the success of his half-brother Dale Jr. in the Sprint Cup Series.

Now 39 years old, Kerry is the oldest child of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and his first wife. The couple divorced when Kerry was only one. Kerry had very little contact with Dale Sr. until he was in his mid-teens. Now semi-retired, Kerry was on NASCAR Now speaking with host Mike Massaro about a new project he has been working on for a while now.

The project that Kerry was discussing was standing just to his right. The first images of Kerry's son Jeffrey were startling.

Not yet 20, this young man is about to embark on a limited Nationwide Series schedule this season after working up from the sportsman ranks and through the Camping World East Series. To say he is the spitting image of a young Dale Earnhardt Sr. is perhaps an understatement.

"It's a little bit eerie to see him and listen to him talk," said ESPN.com's Terry Blount. He pointed out that Jeffrey is fortunate to have his father Kerry to guide his career. Kerry has seen both the good and bad sides of racing and can provide the kind of firm foundation that neither Dale Sr. or Junior were able to experience.

"We raced together in that Camping World deal," said Jeffrey about Austin Dillon. "We never had any problems and he is a pretty good kid." Dillon is the grandson of Richard Childress and will be going head-to-head with Jeffrey for the Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year title in 2010. Dillon will be driving the black #3 car for Childress. The irony was not lost on Earnhardt.

With a dry smile on his face, Jeffrey added "I hopefully look forward to beating him." It was a smile that brought back memories.

The tone of voice, the mannerisms and the facial features made this interview perhaps a preview of the new face of NASCAR. At a time when the sport needs some additional momentum, especially to help with the crowds at the tracks, having another Earnhardt will only be a plus.

"Is it in the genes?" asked Blount. "We will find out." Jeffrey will debut in Dover at the Monster Mile and run a total of seven Nationwide races in 2009. This will keep his rookie status intact and allow him to run the full 2010 schedule for the rookie title.

Every once and a while something happens on TV that perhaps should be remembered as a reference for months or maybe even years down the road. It would be in the best interest of NASCAR Now to hold onto that interview for some time to come. It might be in the best interest of NASCAR fans just to remember the name Jeffrey Earnhardt.

TDP encourages 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. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Monday Night Match-Up Goes To SPEED

After the tons of TV coverage during each Sprint Cup Series racing weekend, Monday brings only two programs that focus on NASCAR. ESPN2 offers NASCAR Now at 5PM and SPEED has This Week in NASCAR at 8PM.

Both TV series try to distill the information from the racing action and the NASCAR news that each believes fans want to see. This results in two shows, each one-hour in length, that basically report the same stories and show the same highlights. The big difference comes in the approach.

Allen Bestwick was first-up with another suit-and-tie edition of NASCAR Now. Bestwick took this Monday show and turned it around for ESPN after a terrible 2007. Now, the show seems to have hit a plateau of sorts with the TV basics sorted-out. The new challenge is striking a balance on the three-man panel and keeping things fresh.

It was Dale Jarrett, Andy Petree and Ray Evernham working with Bestwick this week and things were a little off-center. Jarrett and Petree work with each other on the ESPN race coverage but rarely appear on the Monday show. Evernham has been a Monday staple this season and once again having two former crew chiefs on the program did not pay dividends.

Ricky Craven has been Bestwick's regular Monday studio partner this season and those two work well with Evernham. That group has tried Randy LaJoie as the third panelist, but they really came alive when Mike Massaro was added to the mix. Having a driver, a crew chief and a journalist's point of view represented on the show really made it click.

Bestwick led the panel through the highlights and hosted a light-hearted look at Evernham and Petree dueling in the celebrity race from Saturday. The comments from all the panelists were solid and informed, but the program plodded along.

Having Ray Evernham get up to host a look at suspension and other car parts that will be changed for Martinsville was a "show killer." There was a new cutaway car in the ESPN2 studio, but with six days until the race this was a bad call. As usual, Bestwick kept it professional and wrapped it up nicely.

This week, NASCAR Now "extended the brand" by taping a segment for the ESPNEWS Network and then airing it in the thirty minute news-wheel after the program ended. While it was a good thought, the ESPNEWS anchors could not have looked more annoyed that basketball was being interrupted for a NASCAR conversation.

When SPEED launched This Week in NASCAR, many fans hoped the show would keep the format of one host and three panelists. That did not happen. As we have often mentioned, two panelists make for a difference of opinion while three make for a discussion.

This week, Chad Knaus returned with Michael Waltrip and fans were instantly reminded why this duo should be featured on the series regularly. During the 2008 season, host Steve Byrnes built an on-air relationship with both men that has paid-off for the TV viewers. This trio is the ticket.

SPEED has retained what ESPN has lost and that is simply fun. Byrnes has a wicked sense of humor and a long history in the sport. From his dead-on Sterling Marlin impressions to his frequent quotes from the late Lindsey Nelson, Byrnes brings his own personality to the show and that is the very thing ESPN squashes on a regular basis.

What SPEED has discovered once again is that a driver and a crew chief work together on the air better than two drivers. Greg Biffle has come a long way, but Waltrip and Knaus offer a ton of information to the viewers. In this show, Knaus actually texted Kyle Busch about a logo on his race winning car and then gave viewers the reply.

The edited features in this program produced by The NASCAR Media Group continue to show exactly why SPEED should allow this company to produce a weekly series based around footage from the sport.

The TWIN race review and the "sounds of the race" feature both offer footage and audio not heard during the live broadcasts of the weekend. As Waltrip remarked, he could listen to that all day.

The fly in the ointment for SPEED continues to be the audio struggles in the new HD studios. Again this week, microphone levels on the announcers dropped dramatically and then rose again in mid-sentence. The configuration of the set forces the talent to constantly turn their heads when addressing each other and that has to be a nightmare for the audio person.

Since they wear Lavalier-style mics clipped to their shirts, the large echo in the studio also plays a role in the very strange "dead zones" on the show where audio is concerned. Give SPEED the nod, they corrected the set issues, the make-up problems and even figured out the correct attire for the participants. Surely, the audio struggles will be next.

If you watched these programs, please feel free to offer your opinion. Just click the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, so please keep that in mind when posting.

Thanks for taking the time to read The Daly Planet.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bristol Tries To Generate TV Excitement

Does anyone not know that "12 Rounds" stars John Cena and starts in theaters soon? This Sunday, the NASCAR on Fox gang traded in Digger for an endless movie promo that was a nice reminder of the upcoming TNT promotion of "The Closer."

After airing the violent "Watchman" movie promo earlier this season, the "12 Rounds" promos were thankfully limited to a video insert on the screen during live racing. Fox is often guilty of crossing the line between enough and too much. NASCAR fans who watched on TV can come to their own conclusions on this topic.

It does seem to be an interesting mix between the over-the-top promotions of an animated gopher aimed at children and two movie promos for films each featuring graphic violence in the very same live telecast.

Chris Myers led Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond through the pre-race show that featured a good look at the news and issues of the week. DW and Hammond seem to be hitting on all eight cylinders this season, despite Myers again lapsing into his clown act that should have ended years ago. And we kid because we care.

Once underway, the day and the crowd combined to finally let the announcers focus on the action and not the grandstands. Several times Mike Joy mentioned that it was almost a sellout, but the stands looked full and those images transmitted around the country sent just the right message in the nick of time.

The Fox crew was making great pictures and sound once again. It led them into one of the cleanest broadcasts in recent memory. Perhaps, because of the weird pit structure at Bristol, the TV team used a triple-split on the caution flag pit stops and it worked like a charm despite an early hiccup.

Viewers saw the video of the movie promo many times, but it was silent and did not interrupt the broadcast like Digger. The animated gopher was used sparingly, but the logo was often inserted into the "speed shots" as the cars roared by. It was certainly nice not to hear the announcers try to make cute Digger comments during this broadcast.

Once it became clear that two lanes of traffic would be the norm, the Producer and Director did a good job balancing the leaders against the stories in the pack. Despite getting caught in commercial for several cautions, the crew replayed everything that needed to be seen and had a solid day.

Fox has jumped on the Twitter bandwagon and during the event when Dale Earnhardt Jr. got lapped, it was Jeff Hammond who sent the following note:

Hammond: Time to find out if Tony Jr. can make a difference for Junior now. If they don't figure this out, they may need to make a change.

Needless to say, when Junior got lapped for the second time the implications were clear. After nicely addressing this point in the pre-race show using Waltrip with fatherly words, this time it was Hammond pointing the finger and suggesting a change.

Hammond and Myers offered a recap at the halfway point, which is something Fox must do more often. Stories unable to be followed-up by the pit reporters or the announcers in the booth should be handled by the Hollywood Hotel staff.

Waltrip and Larry McReynolds told the tale quite well as the stories unfolded. In the last ten laps once the Logano caution flew, Waltrip set the possible scenarios with McReynolds reviewing the restart rules. A late race video promo for Martinsville robbed a little momentum from the telecast, but that's what TV networks tend to do.

The closing laps were solid and brought back some of the excitement that Bristol has been famous for delivering. Thanks once again to Fox for offering the full field coming across the finish line on-camera. That really is a nice touch, especially on a short-track.

There was a lot of time left for the Fox team to fill, so everyone except the parking attendants were interviewed. This included Marcos Ambrose, who finished in the top ten despite an ailing engine. The stories of the race were all reviewed, but none of them offered anything new with the possible exception of the Junior saga.

It was Junior himself with reporter Steve Byrnes who called the media reports on Tony Eury Jr. "not reality" and reaffirmed his confidence in Eury as his crew chief. This should be an interesting topic for the Monday NASCAR TV shows.

Ultimately, the entire NASCAR on Fox team worked together to close-out the telecast. This post-race content really showed the knowledge of Hammond, McReynolds and Waltrip that SPEED viewers see regularly on Friday and Saturday coverage. It was a nice way to end the day.

TDP welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking time from your day to stop by The Daly Planet.

Live Blogging The Sprint Cup Series Race From Bristol On Fox Sports

The table has been set for both the competitors and the TV network. Two good days of covering practice, qualifying and the Nationwide Series race have done a great job of building up the anticipation for the Cup Series.

Thanks again to ESPN for allocating the resources to cover the all-star charity race on Saturday. It would have been nice to see the celebrity races, but the coverage of the main event was a good start. Perhaps, this will become an annual event.

Chris Myers will greet TV viewers at 1:30PM ET from the Hollywood Hotel today. He will guide Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond through a thirty minute pre-race that should include some interesting topics. Mark Martin, the Busch brothers and the Top 35 rule should be on the menu.

Calling the race as usual will be Mike Joy with Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. On pit road will be Steve Byrnes, who is nursing a toe injury. He will be joined by Dick Berggren, Krista Voda and Matt Yocum. More on the injury to Byrnes on Monday's This Week in NASCAR on SPEED at 8PM. Thanks for the update!

Bristol is a challenge to the TV director like almost no other track. Laps around 15 seconds, pits on both the front and back stretches and accidents that happen in the blink of an eye make it a non-stop frenzy in the TV truck.

One of the big issues for Fox this season has been the inability to tell the tale of those teams outside of the top fifteen or so on the track. This is especially true for the front runners who fall to the back for a variety of reasons and are never heard from again.

The "old school" TV philosophy on this track was to let the rooftop cameras simply pan back through the field until they found cars racing for position. The standings shuffle so much at this track that following the leader until the final twenty laps is basically meaningless.

Digger should appear under caution conditions. Seeing him and running the animation during green flag racing would probably cost TV viewers a lap. Pit stops under caution should be a challenge for Fox in terms of what cars to highlight and how to follow the backstretch cars all the way around pit road.

Under green, the track is so loud that it has been tough for the pit reporters to even be heard. Hopefully, this week the cars that fall out of the race will be documented and the drivers interviewed despite their positions in the race.

The pieces are in place for a very good TV race and that is just what the sport needs at this time. We will be commenting on the race while it is progress, so please click the comments button below to join us.

TDP is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking the time from your day to stop by The Daly Planet.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bristol Sellout Will Help NASCAR TV Ratings

The images of this season have been tough to take. Perhaps, the frontstretch grandstands in Atlanta were the toughest to see on the TV screen.

In a tough economic climate, a sport almost totally based on marketing and sponsorship dollars coming from many of the companies in crisis is trying to hang-on for dear life.

Sunday may be an opportunity to put that aside for just a couple of hours. The Bristol Motor Speedway is trying everything possible to put a full house in the stands for the Sprint Cup Series race.

Happy faces in the stands is exactly what the NASCAR on Fox gang needs to get things back on track where the TV coverage is concerned. This season has become about Digger and DW in much the same way that last season became all about Kyle Busch during the Fox Sports portion of the Cup coverage.

Fox will have three hours of pre-race programming from other networks leading up to the race telecast. ESPN2 will have Nicole Manske hosting NASCAR Now at 10AM ET. Reporters Mike Massaro and Marty Smith will be live from the track.

SPEED will follow with the two-hour RaceDay program at 11:30AM. Jimmy Spencer drove in the charity race and Kenny Wallace raced in the Nationwide Series event, so both of the SPEED commentators have been on the track this weekend. Host John Roberts will use Hermie Sadler and Wendy Venturini as reporters on this show.

Once things move over to Fox, it should be interesting to see what DW has to say about the charity race and the bigger question is will Fox show highlights? Chris Myers will be at the helm of the Hollywood Hotel with Waltrip and Jeff Hammond alongside.

By the time the broadcast moves up to the announce booth and over to veteran Mike Joy, the weather should be nice and the crowd should be big. Just what the series needs as Waltrip and Larry McReynolds begin to call the action with the green flag at 2:16PM ET.

All of the ingredients are there for a memorable broadcast. Great weather, big crowd, full field and a veteran TV crew. This might be the race to get the momentum of this season going in the right direction.

TDP will be live blogging the TV aspects of the race beginning at 1PM ET. Join us and talk TV while the race is in-progress. We also welcome your comments on this post, just click the comments button below.

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Nationwide Series On ABC And Charity Race On ESPN2

The Nationwide Series gets some additional exposure on Saturday afternoon at 2PM on ABC Sports. Bristol racing is a great product to put on the larger broadcast network.

Allen Bestwick will kick-off the coverage with NASCAR Countdown for thirty minutes. He will be joined in the Infield Pit Center by Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty.

Once the on-track action gets underway, Dr. Jerry Punch will call the action with Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree alongside. Jamie Little has the weekend off, so it will be Dave Burns, Shannon Spake, Vince Welch and Mike Massaro patrolling pit road.

Tim Brewer will be along in the Tech Center and coverage of the race will re-air on ESPN Classic at 8AM Sunday morning.

On this particular Saturday, the NASCAR on ESPN gang will shift over to ESPN2 at 6PM for coverage of the first charity race from Bristol. This should be a fun event with heats, celebrities and also some NASCAR legends.

This post will serve to host your comments about the Nationwide Series event and the charity race. TDP is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Updated - Fox Sports Pulled Darrell Waltrip From The Charity Race?

Things seemed a little tense on the Trackside set as Darrell Waltrip said he had something to clear-up right at the top of the show.

Waltrip wanted to address the growing issue about why he was not participating in the ESPN-televised charity race early on Saturday evening in Bristol, TN. Waltrip is the all-time winner at Bristol with 12 victories and a big fan favorite.

"I called my boss (at Fox Sports) and I want you to hear the message he left me," said Waltrip. He then played the song "I think you're crazy" back on his cell phone, much to the amusement of the panel.

"That put me out of business," declared Waltrip.

"I think we were all out of business with that phone call right there," said Larry McReynolds pointing at Waltrip and Jeff Hammond.

"We had a plan," said Waltrip. "But we have a man who is bigger than the plan."

About that time, Jeff Hammond jumped in and changed the subject. But, Waltrip had done what he needed to do in terms of getting the message out that he had been derailed from participating in this ESPN-televised race by his employers at Fox Sports.

TDP and many fans had been wondering why Waltrip had pulled-out last week after seeming to be very excited about this event and even being promoted as the in-race reporter.

Waltrip has appeared on ESPN many times for NASCAR conversations. He and Ed Hinton had a great appearance last season on NASCAR Now and Waltrip is often in demand as a spokesman for the sport, not just the TV network that carries some of the races.

If Fox executives David Hill or Ed Goren pulled Waltrip from this special one night event, they did so by choosing the interests of Fox over NASCAR and the fans. The Fox broadcast network only carries thirteen Sprint Cup points races and is then gone for the year.

At a time in the history of both the sport and the country when everyone is being asked to rise above petty differences and cooperate for the greater good, this smacks of selfish behavior and a very poor choice in priorities.

Waltrip, Hammond and McReynolds all seemed very discouraged that Fox had forced them to step away from this one night fun event at the very track where the NASCAR on Fox team will call the Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday. What a shame for all involved.

Updated - Thanks to Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip for reviewing this situation on the air Saturday afternoon. They explained it was Fox Sports Chairman David Hill who made the call that Waltrip should not participate. Joy also explained the decision had nothing to do with the ESPN coverage of the event. Classy touch by the Fox gang to update this info for the fans once and for all.

TDP welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

The NASCAR Fan Council Is Mad At Us

Boy, you know you are in big trouble when a ton of email arrives and it all contains the exact same topic. A while back, we ran a column about NASCAR's marketing survey company asking questions about our friend Digger. Click here to read it.

Little did we know just how much we hurt the feelings of that fine organization. Apparently, the TDP column and comments have spawned an email that contains a brand new marketing survey tactic. That would be a direct threat.

Here is the email sent to NASCAR Fan Council members:

Welcome! As a reminder, being a member of the NASCAR Fan Council means you are part of a special group of NASCAR fans having the opportunity to communicate with NASCAR.

As a member, your continued use of this website & your participation in the surveys constitutes your acceptance of the “terms of use” provided below. The “terms of use” include not copying, reproducing, republishing, uploading, posting, downloading, or distributing any material, topics, or information from the NASCAR Fan Council in any way. Any violation of this policy may revoke your membership as determined solely by NASCAR.

If you do not agree to these “terms of use”, you will not be able to participate any further in the NASCAR Fan Council. Please review the terms of use in the box below as a reminder before continuing with this survey.

In other words, please continue to participate for free...but don't tell anyone about it. Gee, I wonder how that is working out?

It seems a tad ironic that the Internet is the technology platform by which the NASCAR Fan Council can gather data and attract new members, but somehow that same technology is supposed to be completely avoided when discussing NASCAR survey topics with friends.

Think these guys have heard of Facebook, Twitter and Rowdy? Between the millions of blogs and thousands of websites like this one dedicated to all things NASCAR, I think the veiled threat that somehow users will be banished from the Council if they leak the top secret info is going to come up a little bit short.

So, a word of advice to the fine folks at Vision Critical Communications Inc. of Vancouver, British Columbia. When you act as the NASCAR Fan Council, there are some fundamental things to remember.

NASCAR fans do not and will not just shut-up. We like to talk, argue and then talk some more. If you want to ask questions about this sport or anything else, just assume that information will show-up online shortly after you post it.

I would be happy to tell you all the people that sent me a copy of your latest email, but that would violate the TDP privacy policy.

To comment on this post, just click the comments button below. TDP is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

Disco Shirts And Marty Smith's Beard Make Friday TV Fun

Wow! The fashion consultants at SPEED are at it again. After the 2008 winter white coats and the summertime puffy shirts with the 20-inch sleeves, it was disco time at the Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday and the glare was blinding.

Nothing says Tennessee and NASCAR like shiny metallic light blue long-sleeved shirts on middle-aged men in High Definition.

Even the rough and tumble Jeff Hammond could not pull this one off. Although Hammond added a white t-shirt, he looked ridiculous. What is going on at SPEED and who is in charge of making professionals like Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds look absolutely horrible on national TV?

Perhaps no one came up on the shorter end of the stick than veteran reporter Bob Dillner. At right around six foot six inches tall, Dillner patrolled the garage area in his shiny blue disco shirt with the cuffs tightly buttoned and the collar spread wide. If only Donna Summer had been blaring over the track speakers in the background the scenario would have been complete.

The new shirts actually defeated their own purpose. The sheen from the material squashed the red SPEED logo and made it unreadable, especially outside the announce booth and under the Friday sunshine. After watching this new production element in both SD and HD, one thing is clear. This was a bad idea from the world go.

Moving over to ESPN, emailers were asking if Brian Vickers had gotten a second job reporting for NASCAR Now. Nope. That was simply Marty Smith rocking a new red beard after some time off and having the guts to take it on-camera.

Once again this season, rather than letting Smith and Mike Massaro report from the tracks in NASCAR on ESPN polo shirts, both men were in full suit and tie for the Friday NASCAR Now program. How about giving these guys a break before the summer?

Maybe Smith is going to hold onto that beard in a silent protest over the network's dress code. After all, facial hair may be the only thing he can get away with in ESPN's strange world of formal attire.

Saturday features no NASCAR Now, a big sports car race on SPEED and the afternoon Nationwide Series tilt over on ABC. The new wrinkle is a charity legends race live on ESPN2 at 6PM featuring some big names and lots of fun.

For those who missed the disco shirts, rumor is they will be back at noon and 1PM ET Saturday as SPEED presents Nationwide Series qualifying and then Sprint Cup happy hour. Bring your sunglasses.

TDP welcomes comments from readers. Just click the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

Eight Hours Of NASCAR TV On Friday

There is only one Bristol. That sentence has been said by many race fans and TV commentators over the years. At this tiny and hypersensitive track, the practice sessions are sometimes filled with more drama than the race. The qualifying, especially for those trying to make the field on time, can be nail-biting.

Friday, SPEED and ESPN combine for eight hours of NASCAR TV beginning at noon ET. The NASCAR on Fox gang gets the day underway with live coverage of Sprint Cup practice. Mike Joy will then be joined in the booth by Jeff Hammond and Hermie Sadler for the Nationwide Series practice at 1:30PM.

It will be Steve Byrnes hosting NASCAR Live at 3PM as the track gets ready for the Sprint Cup Series qualifying. This show catches viewers up on the news and notes from the day. No doubt Tommy Baldwin's recent merger announcement might be a story for this program.

Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds join Joy at 3:30PM as the big boys get set to qualify live on SPEED. According to Jayski, there are 45 cars trying to make the field including nine that are not in the Top 35 and must qualify on speed. It will be Krista Voda and Dick Berggren handling the interviews from pit road.

After the drama of Cup qualifying, the always interesting Nationwide teams take to the track for "happy hour." This is the last time to make adjustments before Saturday qualifying and this 5PM session has proven to be both interesting and dangerous in the past. Joy will remain to call the action with Sadler and Hammond.

ESPN2 slips in the with now consistently solid NASCAR Now program at 6PM hosted by Nicole Manske. Mike Massaro will be reporting from the track along with Marty Smith. No doubt they will be hyping the live ESPN2 coverage of the Saturday legends charity race at 6PM. Ned and Dale Jarrett will be teaming up for the commentary.

It is still a shame that this program refuses to offer a promo with the correct time and TV channel for the Sprint Cup Series races. This is a glaring error and the only missing element in the newly revamped TV series. Someone on the NASCAR Now production staff simply needs to grow-up and it needs to happen soon.

There are a lot of potential topics to cover in the fast-paced Trackside show at 7PM on SPEED. From Darrell Waltrip's absence in the charity race to Mark Martin's awful season, this hour should fly by for viewers. Both Martin and Carl Edwards will appear on the show. No clue if Digger is along for the ride.

Steve Byrnes is the host and he tries his best to control Jeff Hammond, Larry McReynolds, Waltrip and the annoying Rutledge Wood. There are some big news topics this week and no doubt more stories will be breaking during the day on Friday. Trackside has done a good job of keeping viewers up to date as an end of the day wrap-up show.

This post will serve to host your comments about the Friday TV coverage on both SPEED and ESPN2. To add your TV-related opinion, just click on the comments button.

TDP is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind while posting. Thank you for taking the time to read The Daly Planet.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Darrell Waltrip The Missing Piece Of Bristol Charity Race Pie

There were a lot of smiles on the Tuesday edition of NASCAR Now on ESPN2. Ray Evernham was standing alongside Rusty Wallace and both of them could not stop talking about the Saturday night charity race in Bristol, TN.

Minutes later in the show, it was Andy Petree standing in the same spot with Brad Daugherty. They were howling with laughter while explaining how Petree helped get the seven-foot tall Daugherty squeezed into a late model stock car to participate in the race.

Host Nicole Manske mentioned Junior Johnson, David Pearson and Cale Yarborough as other drivers participating in the event. The field also includes SPEED's Jimmy Spencer, the "Ironman" Jack Ingram and Harry Gant.

Originally, the charity race also included the very high-profile NASCAR on Fox announcer Darrell Waltrip. While the gang from ESPN will make things fun and the old-timers will make things interesting, it was Waltrip who would have been the star of the show. Waltrip has 12 victories at Bristol.

Last week, Waltrip suddenly announced that he was not going to be able to participate. "It seems crazy, but I am busier now than I was when I was a driver," Waltrip said. "I have some commitments to Fox Sports that have come up since we began talking with the folks at Bristol about this race."

"I was looking forward to getting out there with some of those guys again and some of them for the first time. After years with Junior Johnson as my boss, I was excited about rubbing fenders with him. But, sometimes things are unavoidable."

So, Waltrip's stated reason for not attending is that an obligation had arisen for him since discussions first began about the Bristol charity race. As mentioned above, those obligations are for the very TV network that paid tens of millions of dollars to televise the Sunday Bristol race.

For those wondering if Waltrip is not arriving at the track until Sunday, he is scheduled to be active on both Friday and Saturday from Bristol on a wide variety of TV shows from Cup qualifying to Trackside. All those programs are on SPEED and the complete weekend TV schedule is on the right side of the TDP homepage.

For those of you who emailed wondering if DW was selling Digger merchandise on QVC, For Race Fans Only is on Friday night from Bristol. After Waltrip's recent giddy appearance on Trackside with a life-size Digger in tow, that question now always has to be addressed.

It certainly is a shame that the powers at Fox could not see their way clear to let Waltrip back on the track for thirty minutes at a time when the sport really needs a shot in the arm. This is the toughest season in recent memory and it certainly would have generated some good TV and some great publicity to have DW in the field.

ESPN2 will provide live coverage Saturday at 6PM ET, with the race starting at 6:20PM. As mentioned in a previous TDP story, Ned Jarrett is stepping out of retirement to work in the announce booth with his son Dale on this telecast. Add Dr. Jerry Punch, Allen Bestwick and the ESPN pit reporters to the mix and it should be fun to watch.

TDP welcomes comments from readers. Just click the comments button below to add your opinion. This is a family friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

To see the picture of Waltrip full-size, just click on it. Thanks for stopping by.

Camping World Races Get 3PM Timeslot On SPEED

NASCAR's official announcement of the 2009 TV package for the Camping World regional series can be read by clicking here.

The good news is that 22 races will get tape-delayed coverage on national TV. The bad news is that 3PM on Thursdays is going to be the timeslot for all of them.

SPEED will once again be the network carrying the coverage. The TV package will actually be produced by The NASCAR Media Group.

SPEED and NASCAR are essentially submitting this to viewers as a "DVR Theater" presentation. 3PM on the East Coast and 12PM on the West Coast are traditionally times when most folks are at work. The message is clear, record it or miss it.

There has to be a better media platform for these regional series than SPEED at 3PM on Thursdays. Recently, SPEED announced it was going to carry tape-delayed AMA motorcycle racing on Saturday nights in primetime in two or three hour time blocks.

Whether the NASCAR product is offered online, syndicated to regional sports networks or moved to a better timeslot with a cash infusion from NASCAR, something should be done. The teams and tracks are looking for media exposure at a crucial time in the sport.

The 7PM timeslot Thursdays on SPEED is dedicated to what the network calls "lifestyle programming." In April, SPEED will feature re-runs of the former MTV Pimp My Ride series

The repercussions of another season of substantially meaningless TV for the Camping World regional series could be much more serious than last season. Just how many fans remember to set the DVR or VCR for 3PM on Thursdays is yet to be seen.

One thing is for sure. No casual TV viewer at 7 or 8PM will be surfing through the channels and bump into NASCAR racing from these rich and diverse series. That is just a flat-out shame.

TDP welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the comments button below to offer your opinion. This is a family friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

Thanks for taking the time to read The Daly Planet.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Jarretts To Offer A New Twist On TV Commentary

The surprise on the ESPN schedule for Bristol, TN turned out to be a one hour Saturday night special. The track is hosting an "old-timers" race for charity and ESPN is teaming Ned and Dale Jarrett up to call the action.

This pairing is perfect, as some of Ned's peers like Junior Johnson and David Pearson will be racing with Dale's contemporaries like Rusty Wallace and Jimmy Spencer. Click here to view the complete line-up from ESPN.

The race coverage starts at 6PM on ESPN2, with Allen Bestwick, Jerry Punch and most of the ESPN gang also joining in the action. This is just the kind of shot in the arm NASCAR needs right now.

Having some fun and introducing some new fans to those drivers who kept us entertained for years is a great idea. Topping it off is the track and the fact that the entire race is for charity.

The guys will be driving late model stocks and the rumors are already flying of doctored parts and special pieces. Click here to read a hilarious piece by ESPN's Ed Hinton about the trash talking that is already going-on between the competitors.

Hopefully, things go well and all involved stay safe and have a blast. Your comments are welcome on this topic, just click the comments button below. TDP is a family friendly website, please keep this in mind when posting.

Thanks again for taking the time to read The Daly Planet.

Are You Watching More NASCAR Video Online?

Lots of the NASCAR TV shows now promote a new feature. Once the program is over on traditional cable TV, it continues with new and exclusive content online.

Sometimes streamed live and sometimes recorded in advance, this trend is slowly moving NASCAR toward broadband Internet use for content that was once seen only on TV.

Sites like Hulu.com and YouTube have revolutionized the way of thinking about TV programming. Many of us already routinely put shows like NASCAR Now and This Week in NASCAR on the DVR or TiVo. We have become familiar with the technology that allows us to view NASCAR content when we want to do so. It's called time shifting.

There have been many articles and stories in the news about this trend that began shortly after broadband access became easily available in the home. The trend has now picked up steam due to the economic conditions that our country is facing.

Click here for an article from last October published online by the Wall Street Journal. The subject is the movement going-on where consumers cancel their cable TV service and simply access the very same video content online. Other than the time of day, which many of us were shifting anyway, there does not seem to be much of a problem.

Dave Despain asks viewers to migrate over to the SPEEDtv.com website to continue more of Wind Tunnel when the show goes off the air on SPEED. This new content is being streamed live online. While he may not understand the technology, Despain's show is a perfect example of this trend.

Steve Byrnes tells TV viewers of This Week in NASCAR to head over to NASCAR.com for additional exclusive content not available on SPEED. Sometimes, the online bonus segment is more fun than the show itself.

Over in the ESPN world, NASCAR content is deeply woven into Internet video. ESPN-owned Jayski.com and the ESPN website both offer a combination of NASCAR Now and SportsCenter content for viewing. ESPN also uses ESPNEWS and other sources to contribute to a content pool that makes NASCAR fans check frequently for updates.

All of this conversation is interesting when it comes to the programming that surrounds the races themselves. The real fun, however, comes when NASCAR's three top series come into view. Currently, none of the racing is available online in live streaming form...officially.

TNT debuted RaceBuddy last season that provided additional camera angles and audio feeds online for that network's six race package. The results were fantastic. Unfortunately, no such online addition exists for the Fox or ABC portions of the season.

NASCAR drives a ton of revenue by selling the TV rights to the Sprint Cup Series. While the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series are also televised live, they both pale in comparison to the money being paid for the Sprint Cup races.

Once a race is over, highlights are posted on YouTube almost immediately by all kinds of amateur editors. Video also appears on all the NASCAR websites, including those of the various TV networks. Once the checkered flag falls, the value of the live race is gone. Content of that event is viral within minutes.

So, that leaves the actual live race as the property fans must "consume" on TV. This year, DirecTV has done away with Hot Pass as we knew it. That was the only other source of actual live racing video available. While some websites have tracking and other information, the only way to see the race is on the official NASCAR TV networks.

The question is, does this approach do more harm than good? Should the video from all four networks covering the sport be streamed live for every single race? We ask in reference to the growing number of consumers who simply will not watch a multi-hour race sitting in front of a TV set.

Making live NASCAR race video available to laptops, PC's and other devices has to be a priority in this new online world order. While those of us old enough to remember a world before cable TV may have one perspective, younger folks raised in a world of iPods and Video-On-Demand look at a four hour race available only on TV and take a pass.

The total number of adults watching TV is shrinking drastically and the NASCAR TV ratings have reflected what the networks already know. Like it or not, technology is allowing much of the original TV content to be made available online for free.

Would you watch a NASCAR race online? Have you made this transition already with other television content? Would the flexibility to view races on laptops and PC's make a change in your viewing habits?

Perhaps the most asked question for the past three years here at TDP is the following. Do you already multi-task during the races with your computer online? Adding the video of the race for many of you might just be another box on your screen. What are your ideas on these types of issues?

Thanks for helping in this discussion. Your opinion always counts and we appreciate you taking the time to offer it. Just click on the comments button below to do just that. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

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"General Hospital" Sneak Peek With Jeff Burton

Perhaps, it is not exactly like the high-profile appearance by Carl Edwards on Fox's "24" or even Jeff Gordon hosting "Regis and Kelly". But, this Wednesday Jeff Burton gets his opportunity to have a little TV fun outside of the NASCAR world.

Click here for a sneak peek from ESPN the Magazine of Burton's afternoon appearance on the legendary "General Hospital" TV soap opera. It sounds like a lot of fun.

Burton continues to be the unofficial mayor of NASCAR and with good reason. A family man with a supportive wife and a good perspective on life, Burton is a throwback to drivers who enjoyed the sport while trying hard to raise a family and have some fun.

While he has an occasional TV interview, Burton seems content right now to be just a driver and a dad. This season fans have seen the emergence of Hermie Sadler, Ricky Craven and Ray Evernham on high-profile TV assignments. Perhaps, this is in the future for Burton.

Thanks to ESPN for the story link, please feel free to offer your comments on the Burton appearance on GH by clicking the comments button below. This is a family friendly website, please keep that in mind while posting.

Thanks again for taking the time to read The Daly Planet.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

NASCAR Journalists On TV: What A Concept

The off-week brings some unique television programming. Monday afternoon served-up a NASCAR journalist version of the popular NASCAR Now roundtable.

Allen Bestwick again stepped aside as host and Nicole Manske led the panelists in a discussion of a wide variety of topics. Manske has quickly moved her way through the studio host and trackside reporter roles on this TV series and now finds herself hosting the flagship show with high-profile guests.

Nate Ryan from USA Today, ESPN's own Angelique Chengelis and Michael Vega of the Boston Globe know each other quite well from the infield media centers on the circuit and began a good conversation about the sport from the start of the show.

During these off-weeks, the NASCAR Now producers try to keep the journalists in a tight little box when it comes to topics, but it never works. Once again Manske tried to direct traffic, but once conversation begins among journalists it is often inclined to continue for a while.

Unfortunately, just like SportsCenter and the endless array of ESPN studio-based programming, the music blared every time video footage (called B-roll) was added to the show. The high energy highlights-style music and often even the addition of this footage was simply distracting to the good conversation going on between the panelists.

Amid the normal reviews and comments, Chengelis stood-out with her strong comments that often sparked discussion. She called for NASCAR and Goodyear to get together and form an independent tire testing team that can get around the testing ban and focus on solving the problems the tire company is still struggling with this season.

She said some engine problems may be related to teams that have to perform or join those that have fallen by the wayside without sponsors. Ryan advanced the notion that the lack of testing was the key to this year's unexpected engine problems for teams normally known to run well.

Vega was the unknown element and he proved to be a bit unfocused in his comments. Perhaps more used to writing than appearing on TV, Vega spoke in phrases and wandered in his responses between topics. In the TV world, twenty second responses directly to the question being asked is a lesson that is taught over-and-over again.

There is an "old-timers" charity race this weekend in Bristol, TN. Although Darrell Waltrip stepped aside for a Fox Sports function, Harry Gant is racing and joined Manske as a guest by satellite. She handled the entire interview in much the same way that Bestwick excludes the panelists and handles the Monday guests.

Racers are racers, and Gant was clear on the fact that technology had advanced so quickly that he really did not know a lot about the sport at the present moment. Gant agreed that he would be interested in joining a senior tour if one became available. Manske was not at her best in this short interview.

Vega made a great point that NASCAR is still struggling to figure out how to deal with the retired drivers. He backed-up the notion that seeing the legends in cars at select venues would sell tickets for the current series. Chengelis compared the retired NASCAR drivers to the failure of senior tennis. Unable to perform at the level fans are used to seeing and simply not a good idea she stated.

"He will not admit that this was tougher than he thought," said Chengelis about Scott Speed and his Sprint Cup Series struggles. Vega said Speed was talented, but was confronting the reality of the NASCAR grind. During the run of the next three races, there is no doubt the Top 35 story will be repeated many times.

The economy reared its ugly head once again. Chengelis lives in Detroit, MI and was clear in her comments that fans are simply not attending sporting events due to finance issues. Ryan was upset that corporate sponsors were backing out and he pointed to the withdrawal of DuPont's hospitality and Budweiser leaving Kenny Bernstein on the NHRA tour at the end of the season.

Bruton Smith's recent bluster that the final race in Homestead should be moved due to the lack of infrastructure and area interest was discussed. It was Vega who correctly pointed-out that Smith's real agenda was to get both the finale and the Sprint Cup banquet moved to Las Vegas and his track.

With the NASCAR Hall of Fame finishing construction in Charlotte, the only possible move of the end of season function is to the Charlotte Convention Center. That would put the drivers and teams near home without any airfares or hotel bills involved.

Manske closed-out the show with several topics. The panel was split on Kyle or Kurt Busch having the better year. All agreed Casey Mears was overdue and this was a make or break season for him. A little Final Four review ended the festivities and Ryan admitted that he does not watch college hoops.

Every reporter roundtable has been a breath of fresh air and this was no exception. Why Chengelis was on the panel is a good question, as fans see her almost every racing weekend on TV. Ryan and Vega were smart and showed their very different perspectives on the NASCAR topics covered by the show.

Manske is also in a learning curve on this program and sometimes appeared over-matched on the specifics of the sport. As she continues her transition into a full-time ESPN on-air talent, give Manske credit for stepping away from the teleprompter and filling the Bestwick role on this program.

Next week Bestwick returns with Dale Jarrett, Ray Evernham and Andy Petree as his panelists at 5PM Monday on ESPN2.

TDP welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

Thanks again for reading The Daly Planet.