Sunday, June 21, 2009

TNT Conquers Sonoma At Last

All it took for TNT to finally walk away from Sonoma with a good telecast was a little help from NASCAR. The change in the restart rules had the field nervous from the start of the race and that got TNT the one thing they love...drama.

Marc Fein may be relatively new to NASCAR, but his performance as the pre-race host for TNT this season has been stellar. In the first of the two pre-race shows, Fein hosted a live discussion with Kyle Busch that may have been his best interview in a long while.

Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds are Fein's panelists and this trio has proven to be a hit. In addition to quality features like the Pride of NASCAR, TNT allows for real conversation about NASCAR topics and lets Petty and McReynolds shine.

One key for TNT has been their use of the pit reporters in the pre-race. Away from the live event, Lindsay Czarniak and Matt Yocum both offered quality features that let fans see them working without the headset and the firesuit. Despite her limited NASCAR schedule, Czarniak has hit the ground running this year and never looked back.

Bill Weber and Wally Dallenbach have hit on a good combination for their thirty minute Countdown to Green program this season. Weber keeps the pace quick and Dallenbach offers his often unique views on various NASCAR topics. Dallenbach is another on-air personality who is only seen for six events, but seems to have really come alive due to the presence of Kyle Petty in the booth.

On this Sunday, the big topic was the new restart rules. It allowed TNT to start the event with more anticipation than usual and then let the drivers do the rest. Weber set a loose and relaxed tone early which has been an issue for him at this track in the past. He did a great job staying focused, even when the action required a lot of patience.

The road course layout challenged the TNT production team with a classic question. How to deal with local yellows while keeping viewers updated on the green flag racing on the track. The producer often decided to stay with the racing and replay the incident in question. Several times, a full course yellow flew and then the various replays followed.

Kudos to TNT for listening to the fans and showing the debris on the track when the caution did wave. Petty went out of his way to explain what happened without having to defend NASCAR. Things are very different on a road course and the explanations really helped.

Once the new restarts began during the race, it was clear that the entire complexion of the event would be changed. After years of teams trying to battle by lapped cars on this tough-to-pass track, a new style of racing emerged that was perfect for TV.

The use of in-car cameras right after the restarts was very different for this crew that normally favors wideshots. Although it did allow viewers to see the elevation changes, several moments of racing may have been better served by seeing the entire field.

Petty and Dallenbach continue to offer the kind of enthusiastic and yet irreverant approach to racing that really clicks with fans. At times, those two sounded like buddies at a sports bar yelling "whoa" when something happened on the track. A little less "whoa" and a little more of letting Weber call the action might have helped. Nothing wrong with enthusiasm, it just sometimes needs an explanation for TV viewers not at the track.

With the unique pits at this road course and the green flag pit stop strategies, the pit reporters were put in some brand new situations and made the best of it. This foursome has been quietly solid for TNT since the package began. Despite being from varied TV backgrounds, they have meshed to provide a solid foundation of news and interviews.

TNT finished the telecast with a nice wideshot and a drop-down graphic that allowed viewers to watch their driver race to the line and instantly see where he wound-up on the day. Unlike last week, the network provided a good amount of post-race interviews and paid-off the stories viewers had watched develop over the past several hours.

All of this is just what NASCAR needed. A good race with solid TV coverage on a nice day with a popular winner. Throw-in that it was run in California in front of a good crowd and that Richard Petty wound-up in Victory Lane and it all made for a very nice day of racing on TV.

One special TV mention goes to Hermie Sadler, who filled-in for Kenny Wallace on both NASCAR RaceDay and Victory Lane on SPEED. Sadler has come a long way and proved on these telecasts he is an informed analyst with good people skills. It should be interesting to see where he winds-up on TV next season.

For those fans who emailed, the Sunday morning version of NASCAR Now on ESPN2 was moved from 10 to 11AM so the network could show one hour of SportsCenter. Apparently, the information was made available on Saturday.If you were one of those people wondering why muddy golf highlights were on your DVR, that was the reason.

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Live Blogging The TNT Coverage From Sonoma

Perhaps the biggest challenge on the TNT schedule is the road course in Sonoma, CA. This race has resulted in some memorable moments for the TV network. This Sunday, the challenge comes around again.

So far, TNT has been nothing short of a breath of fresh air between the rather tired formula of Fox and the formality of ESPN. Marc Fein is reporting that it is rather windy down on the outdoor TNT infield stage for the one hour pre-race show.

Fein will be joined at 3:30PM ET by Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds for NASCAR on TNT Live. This week, the Pride of NASCAR feature is on Dan Gurney. TNT has also put together a Father's Day feature on David Ragan and his dad. The on-set guest will be the one and only Kyle Busch.

At 4:30PM the TV coverage shifts upstairs to the TNT booth with Bill Weber and Wally Dallenbach for the Countdown to Green show. Weber has been doing a good job of running Dallenbach through the stories of the race at a fast pace. This show also features the new Wally's World, where Dallenbach is superimposed over footage of the track to explain the layout to viewers.

Petty then joins that duo to call the race. Down on pit road will be Marty Snider, Matt Yocum, Ralph Sheheen and Lindsay Czarniak. This group will have their work cut out for them with the reverse side pit stops on this road course. As viewers may remember, the pit stop strategy is also very different from ovals.

TNT should have a very different race on its hands with the new restart rules. Turn 2 should be an action corner and the dynamic of the race as a whole may be changed radically. Look for Director Mike Wells to keep the cameras wide and hunt for the racing on this road course wherever it happens.

RaceBuddy will also play a good role with four additional camera angles available to broadband computer users free of charge. There will also be a designated pit reporter just for the online coverage and all the other RaceBuddy features.

Petty and Fein have also been using Twitter during the race to communicate directly with the fans. Fein spent Saturday asking users for questions for various drivers who are being considered as pre-race guests. Petty offers exclusive pictures, comments and answers questions during the race. TDP is TheDalyPlanet on Twitter.

This post will serve to host your comments about the TNT coverage from Sonoma. To add your TV-related opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

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