Sunday, April 19, 2009

Phoenix Nationwide Series TV Coverage Tough To Watch

It was lap 119 of 200 scheduled for the Nationwide Series in Phoenix when ESPN's Dale Jarrett finally remarked that the race had the potential to let "some other guys" possibly win. That would be anyone in the field other than Kyle Busch or Carl Edwards.

ESPN's fascination with the Cup drivers who participate in the Nationwide Series races has never been more clearly on display than Friday night in Phoenix. Other than two brief recaps of drivers running in the top twenty, the TV coverage was squarely aimed at Edwards and Busch. The ESPN scripted style of race coverage had returned.

How and why this dynamic is unfolding this season is a mystery. In the field are great stories from veterans trying to work their way back to the Cup level to young drivers leaving everything on the track while trying to keep their NASCAR dreams alive. The decision not to tell these stories is ruining the series on TV.

Announcer Jerry Punch was giddy when Busch got a lap back to remain in contention. He was heartbroken when Edwards was forced to pull off the track with engine problems. The ESPN coverage continually showed Edwards in the garage with the hood up and the car silent.

Once again the dreaded "points now" graphic was used endlessly as if fans did not know the calendar said April. Jarrett summed up the issue at the end of the race after Punch again tried to build the fake drama as the series heads to Talladega. Jarrett remarked that Edwards can make up the points deficit in just one race.

Two cars pulled off the track before lap twenty and headed straight to the garage. Once again, ESPN did not follow-up the growing "start and park" controversy by determining what mechanical issues "forced" these cars out of the race.

Edwards and Busch are certainly the fastest drivers in many Nationwide races, but the story of the season revolves around the other teams in the field and the sponsors who continue to support the series. Has there ever been a year where this issue has been more crucial?

There was often good racing on the track, but the TV scenario was limited to Busch, Edwards or the current leader of the race. This really makes it tough to watch when a scripted TV theme dominates the telecast regardless of what is actually happening on the track.

By the end of the race it was clear that the ESPN script was not going to play-out and Punch would have to settle for trying to hype Greg Biffle and Jason Leffler battling it out during a green/white/checker finish. Biffle's win at least allowed ESPN to exit the air by interviewing a Sprint Cup Series owner.

Several times during the telecast the network flashed the TV motorsports calendar for racing fans. The glaring absence of the Saturday night Phoenix Sprint Cup Series race on Fox showed the animosity between the two TV networks and the willingness of ESPN to put NASCAR on the back burner anytime it pleases. It was almost painful to hear Allen Bestwick read the promos without the Cup race being mentioned.

As usual, the pictures and sound were outstanding and that is the shame of this telecast. Used correctly and without the bias toward Busch and Edwards, these TV tools could have brought the mix of drivers, good racing and constantly changing storylines right into homes of NASCAR fans across the country and around the world.

SPEED handled the live Nationwide Series practice and qualifying by introducing the teams and setting-up the stories of the day. Hermie Sadler and Jeff Hammond conveyed the issues confronting the teams in Phoenix and built-up the excitement of the race. Kudos to SPEED for treating all the Nationwide teams as equal.

ESPN had the goods for an outstanding telecast delivered to them on a silver platter. Instead, the network followed the script and wound-up with egg on its face once again. Talladega looms as a test of continuing this scripted approach or simply covering the events on the track as they unfold.

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

Click here for a link from our friends at Frontstretch. Brian Davis Keith has a good commentary on the TV coverage of the Nationwide Series.

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