Monday, August 10, 2009

Nationwide Series Coverage Ends With A Thud

Let's give credit where credit is due. Marty Reid, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree did a solid job of working together on the Saturday Nationwide Series race from Watkins Glen. That was the good news for ESPN.

On the track, the drivers also did a great job of providing all kinds of drama, excitement and emotion during the race. It was a thrilling affair from the start and that was the good news for NASCAR.

The bad news had begun during the Nationwide Series qualifying show. Marcos Ambrose had put down a spectacular time and was set to clinch the pole. Even with live electronic timing and scoring, ESPN got caught up in the emotion and missed the story of the session. From out of nowhere, Kevin Harvick grabbed the pole without a moment of coverage on his final lap.

This drifting off course is something that fans have become familiar with during ESPN's NASCAR coverage. Harvick got the short end of the deal, although he did get an interview where he talked about his great lap that no TV viewers had seen. The awkward ending of the qualifying show was just a warm-up for the actual race.

Allen Bestwick and Reid combined to serve up some great commentary during the race telecast. These two TV professionals set a relaxed tone that allowed the other personalities to shine. From Rusty Wallace in the infield to Jarrett in the booth, there was a lot of strategy discussion and good conversation.

The TV team avoided the temptation to over-use the in-car cameras early and kept the perspective wide enough for viewers to really watch the race with no problems. Unfortunately, in-race reporter Boris Said had another meltdown and his in-race reports told the tale of someone in the wrong car for all the wrong reasons.

ESPN continues to put their own featured reports in the larger of the two video boxes used on-screen during the race. Tim Brewer, pit reporters and other non-racing content could perhaps be moved aside to let the green flag racing continue to be the center of the program. It's a great effect, just backwards in priorities.

Just like David Stremme vs. Robby Gordon at Pocono, ESPN dropped the ball completely on Joey Logano vs. Gordon on Saturday. It seems that when something like this happens, the inability of the production team to deal with it comes into focus. Showing Logano's flaming car and then forcing the announcers to admit they had no clue what happened should be a warning signal for the rest of the season.

Luckily, the corner of one replay angle had what appeared to be the Gordon move that ended Logano's day. ESPN should have been "back-cutting" those two cars or using the aerial shot to isolate them as the obvious trouble was continuing. Since NASCAR uses the TV footage to assist in determining penalties, perhaps Gordon was the only one happy that ESPN whiffed.

Positive comments from TV viewers during the race included the theme that Reid's information flow did not force fans to turn on the radio or go to the computer to hear about their favorite team. Reid also continued his practice of calling out the "start and park" cars as they left the track, leaving little doubt that he was not going to take the party line and avoid the issue.

As the race moved toward conclusion, the new restart rules changed the Watkins Glen TV experience for the fans in a wonderfully positive way. Just like Sonoma, the road course came alive and action continued lap after lap. It was tight racing and was setting-up to be a great run to the finish line for the entire field.

Unfortunately, ESPN decided that showing the top four cars cross the finish line was enough. It was now time for the post-race TV meltdown and it was a good one.

TV viewers saw the Ambrose in-car camera as the rest of the field was racing to the finish line. Viewers saw the Ambrose pit crew and then more in-car even as Reid was still calling the finish of the remainder of the field.

Finally, NASCAR fans got to watch the very same in-car angle of the Ambrose steering wheel and helmet while Kyle Busch slammed his way by on the cool down lap. In TV terms, ESPN completely missed the moment. Reid did his best to cover for these poor production choices using phrases like "we did not get to see that" and "Kyle goes on past" even as Busch roared away.

"We didn't see if there were any words exchanged," said Reid. "I doubt it was congratulations," added Jarrett. ESPN actually had to replay Busch hitting Ambrose after the race. That's incredible.

Dave Burns drew the Kyle Busch post-race interview straw this week. "Dirty driving or just aggressive from Marcos Ambrose today?" asked Burns as his opening question. This time, Busch took the high road saying he never saw Ambrose and just had to protect himself. Jamie Little then tried hard to push Ambrose in Victory Lane to feel guilty about his winning move. He never wavered.

Unfortunately, it was now the top of the hour and TV viewers would not get to hear from Ron Fellows, Jeff Burton or Robby Gordon. ESPN2 was out of time. The network left for a taped poker show and there were no follow-up interviews on ESPNEWS or SportsCenter that we found.

On a graphics note, ESPN kept the ticker running on the top of the screen scrolling the final results for a short time after the finish. However, the network never showed a full screen graphic of the final results. It was impossible to get an overview of the field without the full screen.

Showing only a championship points graphic during the close is certainly not an appropriate way to close out a multi-hour live NASCAR race, even if the deck is being shuffled at the very important poker show.

This telecast started positively, showed the potential of Reid in the ESPN booth and then ended with poor production decisions and pit reporters focused on controversy once again. It seems with no other options, even NASCAR fans have to play the hand they are dealt. Jerry Punch returns with the same TV team for the Sprint Cup Series coverage on ESPN Sunday afternoon.

TDP welcomes your comments on the ESPN coverage of the Nationwide Series race from Watkins Glen. 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 taking the time to drop by The Daly Planet.

Live Blogging Monday's NASCAR TV

Update: ESPN has added a re-air of the Watkins Glen Sprint Cup Series race at 9PM ET on ESPN Classic. Great move.

The RaceDay gang says they are raring to go at Watkins Glen and waiting for 11AM to come on the air. SPEED will handle the one hour pre-race show and then ESPN will start live coverage of the rain delayed Sprint Cup Series race at noon ET.

John Roberts, Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace are the RaceDay panel. Wendy Venturini and Hermie Sadler are the reporters. This program should feature the weather, the Nationwide Series race and reset the grid for the Cup Series event.

ESPN has Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree calling the race. Down on pit road will be Jamie Little, Dave Burns, Shannon Spake and Vince Welch.

The racing should be outstanding with the new restart rules and hopefully good weather will allow things to go off without a hitch.

This race re-airs on SPEED at noon ET on Wednesday in a three hour timeslot. NASCAR Now is on ESPN2 at 5PM. Will be pushed back if race runs long.

This post will serve to host your comments on the Monday NASCAR TV from SPEED and ESPN. 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. Thank you for taking the time out of your Monday to stop by The Daly Planet.