Saturday, October 10, 2009

ESPN Stumbles Into Sunday

Jeff Gordon is very smooth on TV. He is a popular talk-show guest and has even hosted national TV shows like Regis and Kelly. On this Saturday afternoon, however, Gordon was clearly uncomfortable.

He was seated in the Infield Pit Studio of ESPN and all six of the on-air announcers were taking turns asking him questions during the Nationwide Series race. Gordon had stopped by to promote the documentary film called Together: The Hendrick Motorsports Story. A one-hour preview of the full-length DVD airs Sunday on ABC before the Sprint Cup Series telecast.

Gordon was not uncomfortable talking about the film, his season or even his painful back. What made him squirm was the fact that one of the best Nationwide Series races of the season was unfolding out on the track and clearly no one from the NASCAR on ESPN crew gave a damn.

As the TV team peppered him with ridiculous questions, Gordon would often interrupt them to get excited about the action on the track. He repeatedly pushed the focus away from himself and back onto the high-speed racing. This veteran of both NASCAR and the media knew something was very wrong.

Dale Jarrett cheerily asked Gordon about his aching back as the three and four-wide action continued out the infield window at almost 200 mph. Allen Bestwick promoted the ABC airing of the documentary as Gordon nervously glanced at the TV monitor. He was the only one watching the race.

Ultimately, Gordon actually apologized to the ESPN2 viewers for interrupting the race telecast to promote the TV special. He was a gentleman the entire time, even when put on the spot to criticize fellow competitors. In the end, he departed while ESPN thanked him profusely and then went to another commercial break. In the meantime, the race was raging.

What ESPN should do is apologize to NASCAR fans for the entire Saturday telecast. Instead of another Busch vs. Edwards stinker, the dynamics of this event played out to make it one of the best races of the season in all three national series. That apparently was not in the ESPN script.

From the drop of the green flag the producer and director hopped randomly around to cars that seemed to be running closely together. Quickly, the silent ticker at the top of the screen was the only thing allowing viewers to understand who was where. Unfortunately, it could not tell them why.

Steven Wallace and another car got a penalty on a restart. It was never followed up until he magically appeared in the final laps having spent the entire race coming back through the field. Driver Michael Annett was never even mentioned until ESPN discovered he was running in the top ten toward the finish.

The TV chaos in this race was over the top. Marty Reid desperately tried to reset the top five or six cars before restarts. He was never allowed enough time to do more with all the ESPN and ABC promos. Allen Bestwick tried to put things in order when he did an infield recap, but it was almost always too late.

This telecast relied on replays to tell the story to the viewers because the production team missed almost everything on the track from the opening lap through the finish. The final lap was a NASCAR TV disaster that should live for a long time on YouTube. Smoking cars with bent sheet metal, super-tight camera shots and totally confused announcers made for a fitting end to a three hour NASCAR TV disaster.

After the cool down lap, ESPN chose to follow Steven Wallace down pit road because he was supposed to be angry and possibly going to fight. Instead, he got out and walked off slowly. Away from the ESPN cameras and without a second of coverage, winner Joey Logano's father ran to the Biffle car and apparently made his feelings known about an in-race altercation.

Fans were later advised that Mr. Logano had his full-time NASCAR "hard card" immediately pulled by NASCAR. Despite the fact four pit reporters were present, none of this was relayed to fans. Mr. Logano now gets to stand in line and apply for a paper credential for the remaining races.

ESPN's wonderful NASCAR Now series will set the stage for the Sunday coverage from Fontana with a 10AM preview show. Mike Massaro and Boris Said will no doubt recap these issues and more. Marty Smith and Angelique Chengelis will report from the track.

Then the very same producer and director will present the Sprint Cup Series race beginning at 2:30PM with the pre-race show. Race coverage starts at 3:15PM with Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. Tim Brewer will be in the Tech Garage. Shannon Spake, Jamie Little, Vince Welch and Dave Burns will be on pit road.

All these guys can do is shake off the bad Saturday telecast and try to learn for Sunday. Wideshots are mandatory on this track when the pack is running two and three wide for laps at a time. The stories of both the race and the Chase will make this challenge even more difficult.

This is big time sports television and the third season of NASCAR coverage on the ESPN family of networks. Fans have seen both Fox and TNT make changes to their coverage while ESPN continues to flounder. Making a commitment to the fans for solid coverage on Sunday would do a lot toward fixing the ongoing production problems. Green flag is scheduled for 3:31PM ET.

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. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

Live Blogging Happy Hour And Nationwide Series Race on ESPN2

This Saturday is very different from most because SPEED has stepped out of the NASCAR TV scene with a Grand Am race and the Barrett-Jackson auto auction from Las Vegas, NV.

That leaves the Nationwide qualifying without TV, puts the Cup Series Happy Hour on at 3PM and the the Nationwide race coverage begins at 4PM ET.

The first TV transition on ESPN2 will be at 3PM. There is once again a live football game at noon ET. NASCAR has not had good luck with the football games as most have run well over three hours. It will be Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree featured on the Happy Hour coverage.

Allen Bestwick is next at 4PM with the NASCAR Countdown show for the Nationwide Series. He is joined by Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. This is a thirty minute show that should review the untelevised qualifying and review the championship standings.

The emerging story of Saturday is that Kyle Busch continues to have flu-like symptoms. This may result in him starting, but not finishing, the Nationwide Series race. Denny Hamlin is said to be standing by in relief.

It will be Marty Reid teaming with Jarrett and Petree for the live Nationwide Series race coverage at 4:30PM. Tim Brewer will be in the Tech Garage. Down on pit road will be Shannon Spake, Jamie Little, Vince Welch and Dave Burns.

This is a big and fast track where the Nationwide Series will be quickly divided into the "haves" and the "have nots." Look for the start-and-park cars to get off the track early to avoid being run over.

The big teams should be lapping quickly and the size of this track does not induce many caution flags. Hopefully, there will be more than a handful of cars who can hang with the leaders.

As far as ESPN, this track allows for lots of in-car camera shots with the long laps and big back straight. Low angle cams show the speed while high shots scrub it off for the viewers at home.

There is a tempation to allow the high cameras to follow cars around for the entire lap. As we have spoken about all season, TV viewers are looking for cars to race toward them and not away from them. Staying ahead of the pack at Fontana yields much better TV coverage.

This post will serve to host your comments as we watch Happy Hour and then the Nationwide Series race from Fontana on ESPN2. 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.

Saturday Off To A Foggy Start In California

Opening a live blog early because fog has pushed back the Nationwide Series qualifying from Fontana, CA. At this time, NASCAR is going to try for 12:30PM but that depends on the weather.

Update: Nationwide quals are now underway in Fontana despite spotty fog. That is a pic above from 12:45PM with cars qualifying in the foggy conditions.

Click here for a direct link to live Nationwide Series qualifying coverage. Thanks to for the info.

Update #2: Cup practice is now being delayed because of the fog and Nationwide quals.

This is only the first of several issues today for NASCAR. A college football game starting at noon ET is before the Happy Hour coverage scheduled for 3PM. As most games run over three hours, the first TV transition is going to be at that time.

We are going to update the weather delay on this post. It is also open for your comments. Thanks.