Sunday, July 5, 2009

Craven And Knaus Headline Monday Night

Update: Please feel free to post your comments on the Monday night TV shows on this post. Both the ESPN and SPEED shows addressed the same topics...they even used the same highlight piece!

After the fireworks of Saturday night, it will be up to the two Monday NASCAR TV shows to deal with the aftermath.

While the stars of Saturday were Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch, it will be ESPN's Ricky Craven and SPEED's Chad Knaus that will be the focus of Monday night's NASCAR TV.

Craven is up first at 5PM ET with NASCAR Now on ESPN2. The program will repeat at midnight. Allen Bestwick will be hosting and the other two panelists will be Randy LaJoie and reporter David Newton.

This should be an outstanding mix of personalities. Craven continues to be the top studio analyst of this season and ESPN is using him constantly. He worked with Nicole Manske on Saturday morning to kick-off the Coke Zero 400 preview shows and picked Kyle Busch to win. His style fits in completely with the ESPN culture.

Newton on the program should also be a huge bonus. He has been at the front of the Jeremy Mayfield saga since it started. He was the only ESPN reporter on NASCAR Now the day Mayfield won his temporary injunction. Hopefully, Newton will come with the information about Mayfield's team possibly heading for Chicago.

Randy LaJoie keeps the mood just light enough with his jokes and personality. He serves the same purpose as Kenny Schrader used to on SPEED. His view of things from a "common man" perspective is usually interesting and often humorous.

Bestwick has been tinkering with his control issues on this program for the past several weeks. Sometimes asking "agree or disagree" questions of his panelists is just not working. TV viewers need three complete opinions on an issue. It should be interesting to see if Bestwick introduces a topic and then steps back this week.

The Monday "roundtable" show should be focusing on a core group as the seventeen ESPN/ABC races approach. Craven has put himself first on the list, but the other two seats are up in the air. Ray Evernham is hot and cold, but seems to be the ESPN pick to fill the crew chief chair.

It may well be the combination of Marty Smith, Ryan McGee and Newton that fill the journalist chair down the stretch. While Mike Massaro has moved to a weekday hosting assignment, he is certainly missed on the Monday show.

Over on SPEED at 8PM, Chad Knaus is the new kid in town. In his first season on This Week in NASCAR, Knaus has gone from being intimidated to being amused by regular panelist Michael Waltrip's antics. That is a good thing. Another good thing is that TWIN also repeats at 9PM Pacific for West Coast viewers.

What Knaus brings to the panel is the perspective that had been lacking for many years and that is a crew chief's view. During his appearances, Knaus has been wonderful in relaying hardcore racing information to viewers between Waltrip singing, interrupting and promoting his causes. Knaus has grown into a very important part of this TV series.

Byrnes and company will be able to use their advantage of talking with two personalities that were actually involved in the racing. While ESPN depends on observations, SPEED can focus on the first-hand accounts of the two panelists.

Tuesday, Waltrip will be making an announcement about the future of MWR. SPEED has actually decided to carry it live at noon although that is not reflected on the website or at the MWR site. Should Waltip step aside from racing, it will be interesting to see if he returns to this program series for 2010.

Fans may have been talking about the new restart rules, Jeremy Mayfield and the Daytona finish but there are also other things on the TV agenda. ESPN televised a Nationwide Series race on Friday night and there were several good storylines to discuss.

Both programs have done a good job this season of including the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series in the highlights. This year more than ever before, that decision means a lot to the teams and sponsors.

TDP welcomes your comments on the two Monday shows. 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. Thanks for stopping by.

TNT Sets The New NASCAR TV Standard

It took a little while for fans to get the hang of TNT's Wide Open coverage. The network inserted a white-framed video box in the lower right corner of the screen and played the commercials in the box. Meanwhile, on the rest of the screen the Sprint Cup Series race from Daytona continued without interruption.

This was very popular when TNT did it last season and this year it was even better. Host Marc Fein is pictured above on the infield set with guest Richard Petty. Fein set a relaxed tone with panelists Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds on the pre-race show. The conversations on this program are mixed with a variety of features.

To have TNT take the time to profile veteran owner Junie Donlavey by sending his former driver Wally Dallenbach to handle the interview shows that the TNT guys just get it. Lindsay Czarniak's JP Montoya feature perhaps needed some more organization, but Dallenbach made up for it with his look at Mark Martin and his fitness routine.

This irreverent look at the sport is just what it needs right now. TNT has managed to take the spotlight off the manufacturer troubles and the economic woes. Petty's ability to make fun of himself and keep things loose has been a big key to this success.

Most NASCAR fans know that Ralph Sheheen was called-up from pit road to step into the high-profile play-by-play position for TNT. At Daytona, in only his second time in this role, Sheheen was outstanding. A sports TV veteran with a diverse past, Sheheen directed traffic and let the other members of the TNT team shine.

Petty and Dallenbach have formed a very comfortable pairing that features a mix of humor, experience and opinion. Neither of these former drivers tries to compare their experiences with the veterans currently still racing. In fact, they often joke about their shortcomings on the track and have conversations about real issues just like NASCAR fans.

Petty is still the star of the show and seems to be comfortable in this role. It will be a shame to have him leave NASCAR after just one more event. His candid comments in Daytona were mixed with his continual use of technology while the TV coverage was in progress.

At one point in the telecast, we asked Petty via Twitter why more drivers in the big accident were not interviewed on TV. Not only did he answer the question on the air in about two minutes, he responded with a return message in the next commercial break. Petty even took the picture used on this post during the pre-race show and sent it out to the fans. Now, that is multi-tasking.

NASCAR gave TNT a bonus with the first restarts at Daytona under the new rules for the Sprint Cup Series. It really paid off as the action on the track kept things interesting and the intensity high. For the first time in a long time, this race seemed to fly by in a hurry.

Director Mike Wells chose pictures that told the story all night long and framed the camera coverage so that the commercials never interfered with any of the action on the track. The flexibility of the entire TV team to integrate these frequent breaks was simply outstanding. The bottom line was that it worked.

TNT's pit stop effect of three video boxes at the top of the screen was framed for High Definition TV sets. Standard sets lost a bit of the picture at the top of the screen, but the overall effect was the same. Viewers got to see three leaders and the race off pit road.

One dent in the night was the late caution that appeared to be more competition oriented than actually caused by debris. Nothing was shown to viewers and this is a TV crew that has been pretty reliable on the reasons for caution flags. I guess you can't show what you don't have, but the topic was not pursued.

The final lap was a disaster that was quickly turned into a TV recovery. Everyone watched Kyle Busch's car while those fortunate enough to get through the accident crossed the finish line. Sheheen called it like he saw it and then led the network through a series of replays from every angle possible.

Dallenbach and Petty took the lead and TNT replayed the entire lap from start to finish. This was the only way TV viewers at home would have any perspective on the finish line mayhem. Once it was clear what had happened, it was the words of the drivers themselves that put things in perspective.

This time, TNT stayed for a while as the pit reporters chased down the key interviews. Adam Alexander was the new guy on the TNT crew and handled his pit road assignments flawlessly. It was Tony Stewart set the tone by saying he did not want to win in that fashion, a statement echoed by others. Unfortunately, Kyle Busch again took the easy way out and declined to comment. This continues to be a very bad public relations error.

This TNT production really showed what NASCAR TV could be if the three networks involved got together and pooled resources and ideas. This single telecast put the Hollywood Hotel, Digger and Fox's endless "Junior hype" in a new perspective. In a short time, ESPN will take over the Cup coverage with no online video, full-screen commercials and one pre-race driver question as the only connection with the fans.

Saturday night in Daytona was memorable for many reasons. One of them may be for a type of NASCAR TV broadcast that we will not see again until next July. That would be a shame.

TDP welcomes your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by, enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend.

NASCAR Coverage On ESPN At A Crossroads

The ingredients were in place, the weather was great and the driver line-up was solid. It was time for the much anticipated Nationwide Series race from Daytona.

NASCAR had given ESPN a bonus by installing the new double-file restart rule and there was little doubt that it was going to change the dynamic of the event.

Rusty Wallace is over in the UK at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. So, Allen Bestwick was joined by Dale Jarrett and Brad Daugherty in the infield pit studio. Daugherty's excitement for this race was infectious.

Bestwick recapped the rain-delayed qualifying and set-up the race in his usual professional style. Then, he passed the telecast to Dr. Jerry Punch. It was clear from that moment that something was very wrong.

Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree have teamed-up this season to become one of the most enjoyable and informative pairs of NASCAR analysts on TV. The respect these two have for each other is evident. Jarrett presents the driver's point of view and Petree is right on target with his crew chief perspective.

Unfortunately, these two have become very good at something else. Friday night in Daytona they were once again put in the position of supplying any shred of excitement that the ESPN TV viewers would experience during the Nationwide Series coverage.

NASCAR fans have watched this sport since February. They know the car numbers, the driver's names and their hometowns. They can see what lap it is and who is leading from the on-screen graphics. They know what racetrack it is and that this is the Nationwide Series. Essentially, this is the extent of the information provided by Punch during the entire race.

In earlier years, Punch was a vibrant and excitable pit reporter who took the NASCAR world by storm with his personality and honest on-air presence. Years later, he began the transition back to NASCAR from college sports with a tremendous job of hosting a defining TV series. Ultimate NASCAR was a wonderful way for ESPN to step back into the sport.

Now, ESPN is in the third year of hosting the Nationwide Series coverage and about to begin another seventeen race stretch of Sprint Cup telecasts. Punch has served as the anchor and face of this coverage since the new TV package started in 2007.

The Nationwide Series cars were bouncing all over the track and rarely single-file from the start of the event. Punch never raised his voice above a monotone except leading to commercial break or reading an ESPN promo. Crashes and incidents occurred on the track and there was the now familiar response from Punch. Silence.

Petree urged a driver to exit a flaming car and Jarrett called out the action on the track as the only constant from Punch was deep sighs and repetitive factual information. Toward the end of the race, Jarrett and Petree just took over the broadcast. Punch had finally sunk to his lowest point in this entire NASCAR TV saga. He was invisible.

There is no bigger mystery in the NASCAR TV package than the complete failure of Punch in this high-profile role. We have written about it, talked about it on radio shows and fielded thousands of emails and website comments on this topic.

Over the last three years, ESPN has bravely changed all the announcers on the daily NASCAR Now show. In the field, they moved Bestwick to host of the infield studio and then asked Wallace to join him there. ESPN added Jarrett full-time and then signed Ray Evernham as a utility player. This season, the network has smartly kept Ricky Craven as a regular in the studio. This is not a company that is afraid to make changes when they are needed.

There is little doubt that eventually Punch may be considered for a nomination to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In the 1980's he helped to shape the public's knowledge of this sport on TV. NASCAR was very different then. Being a pit road TV reporter meant hot, dirty and dangerous times for Punch. Sometimes, his medical skills were called into play. Wallace will be the first to say Punch cleared his airway after a practice crash had rendered him unconscious. Literally, Punch saved his life.

Now, someone needs to throw a lifeline to Punch and give him a hand. If the problem is physical, mental or emotional it should not make a difference. Something is fundamentally wrong and it needs attention. This is not the same man we have all known for decades in our homes through ESPN.

The ESPN Producer can figure out why they missed interviewing so many drivers involved in accidents. He can stop the in-car camera views after double-file restarts. Maybe, he can even ban Jamie Little and Shannon Spake from using the words "how do you feel about that" ever again on television. But, something else also needs his attention.

It's time to sort-out what is wrong with the good doctor and let us all breathe a sigh of relief when the problem is solved. Whatever it is and however it is dealt with can be private and totally confidential. It just has to happen.

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

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