Sunday, July 31, 2011

TV Police: Sprint Cup Series From Indy On ESPN

Jake and the Fatman had a nice five year run on CBS starting in 1987. After seeing William Conrad guest star on Matlock, the producers of Jake cast him as the lead. The fatman never traveled without his pet bulldog, Max.

The show started in Los Angeles but moved to Hawaii when Magnum PI stopped production. It moved back in the final season. Fatman McCabe was a former cop turned prosecutor who did not take any crap. He was a seasoned veteran who had some tough luck in life but had persevered. He's perfect for the investigation of ESPN's Brickyard coverage.

This week, ESPN turned the page and made a ton of changes to its NASCAR coverage. Foremost was putting TV veteran Allen Bestwick in the lead announcer position.

Bestwick had Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree alongside in the broadcast booth. Nicole Briscoe hosted from the infield with Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. Tim Brewer was in the Tech Garage.

ESPN offered several slickly produced features in the pre-race show. Briscoe noted that Wallace was affected by one of them and was actually brought to tears. The program focused a lot on the history of the speedway and not really on this race as the continuation of a season that started in February.

Bestwick made big changes right away. He is a radio veteran and his strong point is continually passing along information to keep the viewers at home up to date. Recaps are done regardless of what is showing up on the screen for video.

Hope Solo was a visitor to the infield studio after her pace car duties. She was not a person who has done a lot of TV and her appearance during green flag racing was awkward. She tried to steer the conversation toward soccer and it didn't make a lot of sense.

Ned Jarrett stopped by the broadcast booth mid-race. David Ragan was driving a Jarrett tribute car in the race. Jarrett was on his game and actually stopped his own interview when a car made an unscheduled pit stop. Nice to see some of ESPN's NASCAR roots being celebrated on the air.

ESPN knew this race was going to be a series of long runs with passing happening on pit road and restarts. This year, Bestwick moved right past that and focused on calling the race and letting the reality of the event come through without a network agenda.

A new graphics package and some new looks in the coverage were nice touches. A four video box split on caution flag pitstops was nice. The "Bat-cam" on pit road did not play into the coverage, but was nice when used on green flag stops and some restarts.

ESPN dropped the lower third score ticker called "The bottom line" for this race but the network says it will return for the NFL season. Not having another ticker on the screen during a live event where a scoring ticker runs almost all the time was nice.

ESPN made nice pictures, but the difference was that these pictures were big. ESPN stayed wide and helped fans with larger perspective shots that showed big groups of cars in the shot. Combined with Bestwick's ability to pass along information, it made a huge difference.

Commercial breaks under green are tough, especially on a big track like Indy. The commercials were just a bit tougher to take since ESPN decided not to use the RaceBuddy application from Turner Sports to offer even a basic online alternative. It should be noted that ESPN will used side-by-side commercial formats for the final half of each of the ten Chase races.

As everyone knew, the race consisted of passing on pit road and restarts. Incidents just came from pushing and shoving for position. The race came down to fuel mileage as it often does in the Indy 500. NASCAR's fuel wars are a big story.

This was a nice change for ESPN with professional coverage of a NASCAR race with just one glitch. ESPN showed only the winner cross the finish line. No other car was shown. Big mistake for fans of the other drivers still racing as Mendard finished.

This post will serve to host your comments on the ESPN production of the Sprint Cup Series race from Indy. To add your TV race wrap-up, just click on the comments button below. Thanks for stopping by.

Live Blogging Sprint Cup Series From Indy (ESPN - 12PM ET)

ESPN has pulled out all the stops for the Brickyard 400. Allen Bestwick is in as lap-by-lap announcer. There is a new graphics package. Nicole Briscoe is hosting the infield studio. Dual-stream technology will allow two in-car camera views from the same car. The "Bat-cam" that runs 80mph on a wire above pit road is back.

The big question is will all that make a difference if the production of the race is once again horrible?

Since 2007 ESPN has struggled with this event. It's really not clear why. The network produces all different kinds of live sporting events around the world. What is the challenge at Indy?

Briscoe will kick-off the coverage at noon ET with Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty alongside. Wallace is coming off a disjointed Nationwide Series telecast on Saturday night that saw him pick his brother Kenny to win the race and then watch as his son Steven destroyed both of the RWR cars in a violent wreck of his own making.

Daugherty has become increasing isolated on these telecasts, especially once the actual racing begins. At one time, Bestwick called Daugherty "The voice of the fans." It may well be that next season Daugherty is a fan on a full time basis.

Tim Brewer will once again be in the Tech Garage. It should be interesting to see how ESPN gets him into the telecast if long green flag runs are the order of the day.

Putting Bestwick in the booth was a hint to the reality of the continued struggles of Marty Reid in that position. There was never a mention by ESPN that any change was coming, it just did. Over the past five seasons, Bestwick has been the best thing that ESPN has going for it on the NASCAR trail.

The pressure on Bestwick is to balance the reality of this "no passing" style of aero-driven racing with the spectacle of the Brickyard. He has been in these situations before and makes no bones about being a pro-active supporter of the sport.

The two items that Bestwick repeats over and over again are simple to understand. NASCAR cars racing at speed on any track are not boring. Secondly, every race is not over until the checkered flag. When some media folks offer boring racing as a problem, Bestwick disagrees. His checkered flag scenario has proven itself time and time again.

This is a big shift for ESPN. Bestwick is not "their man." The loyal soldiers Jerry Punch and Marty Reid were used long before ESPN took a glimpse at Bestwick. The only reason this move happened is because ESPN realized the coverage was at risk with Reid at the helm.

The big story overshadowing this race is the status of Carl Edwards. Lee Spencer of FOX Sports reported Edwards is going to the #20 for JGR with a huge signing bonus and contract. Now, media outlets are reporting that Ford Motor Company is trying to out-bid JGR and keep Edwards at Roush. It's no secret the Roush sponsorship picture is not a pretty one for next season.

The vast majority of passing will be done on pit road. Jamie Little, Punch, Dave Burns and Vince Welch will be the reporters. Bestwick is a stickler for information, so look for him to ask a lot of questions and want details from the four TV veterans patrolling that area.

Saturday night, it only took ESPN about ten laps to return to the problems of last season in terms of directing the coverage. Rather than open the cameras and show all the racing on the track, ESPN zoomed-in tight and showed two-car battles all night long.

Late in the race, the network went to commercial with Justin Allgaier's car on fire and still circling around the track. By the time the coverage returned, Allgaier was gone and the entire complexion of the race had changed. ESPN missed everything.

The top challenge for the network today is to keep the larger perspective in frame for the fans, especially if passing is at a premium. Just like ESPN does for the Indy 500, use the wideshots and aerial views to continue to keep fans interested.

This post will serve to host your comments on the ESPN coverage of the Brickyard 400. To add your TV-related opinion, just click on the comments button below.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Live Blogging Nationwide Series From Indy (ESPN - 7PM ET)

This is the first race for Marty Reid since being told he will not be returning for the ESPN Sprint Cup Series telecasts this season. Tonight, Reid is with Rusty Wallace and Ricky Craven as the Nationwide Series races for the last time at a track most of us know as Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Shannon Spake, Rick DeBruhl and Jim Noble are going to be the pit reporters. This is a short track with the normal amount of struggles for grip and track position. The Camping World trucks put on a good show Friday night and managed to race side-by-side without much of a problem.

ESPN's goal tonight is simply to follow the best action on the track without once again getting caught-up in the glow of the Sprint Cup Series drivers competing. There is a healthy race for the NNS driver's championship and the field is diverse enough to put on a good show for TV.

The comments are always interesting when Wallace is put on the spot when his son Steven, a driver in the NNS in a car Rusty owns, gets himself in a tight spot. This type of short track is called a "payback track" because spinning another car out often results in no damage and just a loss of position. It remains to be seen if the younger Wallace is going to be on the receiving end of such actions.

This post will serve to host your comments on the Nationwide Series telecast from the ESPN gang. To add your TV-related opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Live Blogging Camping World Trucks From Indy (SPEED - 7PM ET)

Here we go again! The Camping World Truck Series has put on the best show for TV all season long. No lovebug racing, no fuel mileage races and no whining!

Krista Voda starts the action off with the pre-race show. Ray Dunlap and Hermie Sadler are the reporters. Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip are the trio in the booth for the race.

The trucks on this short-track should be lots of fun. A good field is going to feature some regulars running up front for the series title with some ringers.

There are few bells and whistles on this track. The action is right in your face and the challenge for the director is to strike the correct balance between the high cameras for perspective on the field and the low cameras to relay the speed.

This may be the final truck series race at this track due to a variety of factors. What we do know is that this racing doubleheader weekend of Nationwide Series and trucks will not exist next years. That is certainly a shame.

This post will serve to host your comments on the SPEED coverage of the Camping World Trucks from Indy. To add your TV-related comments, just click on the comments button below. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

Tracking The Pastrana Injury Saga

Thursday night at the X Games, Travis Pastrana fell while attempting a trick called a "720 rodeo" on a motorcycle. The worst part was as he fell, the bike fell on his right leg hard.

Pastrana got up, took one small step and then went immediately to his knees. It was his right lower leg that was injured. Originally, the on-site ESPN doctor suspected a fracture of both the tibia and fibula bones.

At 11:30PM Eastern, both ESPN and several other news sources were quoted as saying Pastrana has a right foot and ankle fracture. The ESPN Motorsports Twitter account said he would likely not race this weekend and he is definitely done for the remainder of the X Games.

As Friday unfolds, we will use this post to continue to track the Pastrana injury and the effect it has on the ESPN plans for a sophisticated effort at making Pastrana a centerpiece of the Nationwide Series coverage on Saturday.

Veteran reporter Jim Utter of the Charlotte Observer indicated that he did not see the Pastrana-Waltrip Racing entry being driven by someone other than Travis due to sponsorship issues. He suggested it would be withdrawn.

Reporte Dustin Long from Landmark Newspapers says he asked co-owner Michael Waltrip what would happen if Pastrana was injured and Waltrip said he was packing his driving suit as a back-up. Now that could be interesting. We will certainly see as the weekend unfolds.

If you have information on this topic, just click the comments button below to add it. We are keeping our frame of reference on this topic limited to the media and TV aspects of this injury and how it is going to affect the race coverage. Thanks!

ESPN And SPEED: The Unholy Alliance

With the Sprint Cup Series TV pie cut into three pieces, fans see the races on FOX and TNT until ESPN debuts at the Brickyard 400 on July 30. Along the way, TV also has to produce and cater to the hardcore fan who wants to watch coverage of the practice sessions and qualifying.

Most of that "support" coverage is on SPEED. The network, which has no Sprint Cup Series points races, acts as a TV platform for extended coverage of the series. In addition to the practice and qualifying, SPEED also provides shows like Trackside and RaceDay that bring added attention.

Along the way, TV viewers become used to seeing on-air talent move easily back and forth between SPEED, FOX and TNT. There is a big pool of announcers and reporters needed to handle all the on and off-track programming.

There is no better example of this than Lindsay Czarniak, who is pictured above. Working the summer races for TNT, she also reported for SPEED on practice and qualifying sessions. Ironically, Czarniak has now departed both of those roles and headed to ESPN to work full time as a SportsCenter anchor.

Every year since 2007, that spirit of cooperation between NASCAR TV networks ends on this weekend. When ESPN comes to the Sprint Cup Series, an unholy TV alliance begins that lasts for the remainder of the season.

The concept is pretty easy to understand. No ESPN announcer or reporter will ever work on any SPEED coverage. As you might expect, none of the SPEED talent will appear on any of the ESPN practice and qualifying sessions.

ESPN cherishes what is called exclusivity. The upside of this is that the announcers are only seen on ESPN and can easily be identified with just that brand. The downside is that often ESPN folks have plenty of time to kill when SPEED is providing most of the support programming.

By the time the ESPN Sprint Cup Series package rolls around, fans who watch the support programming are much more familiar with names like Wendy Venturini, Matt Yocum and Bob Dillner than the ESPN pit reporters. The SPEED team has been a constant companion for the first five months of the season.

Although ESPN has also been following the NASCAR trail since February, the efforts of that network have been restricted to the Nationwide Series. Despite the fact that ESPN is enamored of the Cup drivers in those Nationwide events, none of the ESPN pit reporters have worked the Sprint Cup Series trail.

It's certainly an interesting on-air dynamic that for the rest of the season there will be two completely different groups of announcers working side-by-side at the track, nose-to-tail in the TV compound and often back-to-back on the air on the exact same NASCAR series.

There is little doubt that this disjointed effort where practice, qualifying and support shows are concerned will be addressed in the upcoming NASCAR TV contract negotiations. It's been suggested that SPEED handle all these telecasts for the sake of continuity.

In the meantime, get used to channel-hopping between ESPN and SPEED as it's that time of the year again. This weekend SPEED focuses on Friday, ESPN on Saturday and both networks are working hard on Sunday. It's going to be another interesting run down the stretch.

We invite your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

TrackPass Coming To Nationwide Series

Sometimes, things just happen right out of the blue in NASCAR TV/media land. While on a conference call listening to ESPN preview their Sprint Cup Series coverage Tuesday afternoon, some information arrived from Turner Sports.

This season, fans of the Nationwide Series have been able to listen to free team scanners on select races provided by Nationwide through the website. Turner is now expanding its services for the series with the introduction of the TrackPass RaceView feature.

Shown in the picture above, this offering has been a paid service for Sprint Cup Series fans for several years. Now, is offering a Nationwide Series version for free during three events this season.

Saturday night at Indy, August 13 at Watkins Glen and September 9 in Richmond there will be lots of free online bells and whistles. RaceView offers virtual video on every entry in the field, including six camera angles on each car.

There is also in-car audio, position tracker, live telemetry and real-time race statistics for the entire event. RaceView has always offered a ton of information and this Nationwide Series version is no exception.

"Research has shown that RaceView complements the television viewing experience," said NASCAR's Director of Digital Media John Martin. "We’re excited to support ESPN’s broadcast of the NASCAR Nationwide Series. We continually look for ways to provide fans with the content they want to see, where they want to see it."

Also good news for online NASCAR veterans is that this Nationwide Series version is designed to operate on all current editions of Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer running Adobe Flash Player.

Hopefully, a positive response to this may allow for it to expand next season. Perhaps, we may even see a RaceBuddy-style live video application like fans enjoy currently for the Camping World trucks. It's been a big boost for that series.

We all know that the Nationwide Series is in the middle of an identity change with new rules for the driver championship and Sprint Cup Series cross-over drivers. Carl Edwards has already announced he is going to scale back his Nationwide Series efforts for 2012.

Supporting this series with additional online components will just help with the exposure and interactivity for fans who desire more interaction with live sports. ESPN's television production will be unaffected as that network continues to telecast the remaining races.

If you have any questions or comments about this topic, just click the comments button below to add them. We appreciate the interaction with Turner Sports and can probably answer questions about RaceView in a timely fashion. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Last Chance For Romance

Donna Summer thumped out the classic disco tune "Last Dance" in 1978. It was simple and to the point. As the final song was played in the club, it was her last chance. In order to find romance she had to do just one thing. She had to dance that last dance.

Next weekend, ESPN returns to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the fifth time to begin the network's Sprint Cup Series coverage. In many ways, it is ESPN's last chance at romance with the NASCAR fan base.

The network's coverage of the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series races last season was an unprecedented disaster. TV viewers fled in record numbers and left NASCAR mired in simmering frustration.

In 2010, TV ratings for the first four Chase races were down almost 30%. ESPN executives were summoned to Charlotte for an October meeting. They pointed to the NFL, they pointed to earlier race start times and they made a lot of excuses.

What ESPN did not do was look in the mirror.

Since 2007, ESPN has struggled to figure out how to present a Sprint Cup Series telecast that engaged the fans. While the network's online and studio news coverage of the sport has been sorted out, the live event production has become a running joke.

In a company known across the board for pioneering the coverage of many sports, this situation is almost unheard of. Despite the commitment of technology and manpower, the issues for ESPN have remained unsolved.

There are some things ESPN cannot change. The commercial load will remain the same, the network will never influence the racing and Mother Nature will ultimately decide if the weather will cooperate.

The problem is that ESPN refuses to solve the issues within its control.

There are eleven on-air voices in every ESPN Sprint Cup Series telecast. This format has never worked. The two analysts based in the infield have just as many opinions they want to share on the air as the two analysts in the TV booth.

The host in the infield is often more informative and energetic with his updates than the play-by-play announcer upstairs calling the race. Toss in a former crew chief in the Tech Garage and four pit road reporters who also want a share of the TV spotlight and you have a pretty fundamental problem.

"Overproducing" is a term that is being used a lot where ESPN is concerned these days. Instead of simply focusing on the sporting event in progress, the network seems to be concerned with other agendas.

For NASCAR coverage, these have included forcing new technology into the telecasts and creating storylines during the race that echo the pre-race comments of the ESPN analysts. Often, it appears as if the producer is following a script written in advance.

ESPN has seven races before the Chase begins to show NASCAR fans what the network has to offer. Nothing is more important than these seven telecasts. Without TV viewers being drawn in by good coverage during this stretch, it's almost impossible to get them to return once NFL football has started.

Once the NASCAR playoffs begin, the teams outside of the Chase simply disappear on ESPN. Fans invested deeply in specific drivers, teams and manufacturers for perhaps years are suddenly out in the cold. If fans of twelve drivers stay and fans of the rest of the drivers change the channel, the TV math is not hard to figure out.

Turner Sports developed the online RaceBuddy for NASCAR fans. On the surface, it just provides a few video sources that allow fans a more interactive experience. In reality, it provides fans a place to go and view the one-third of the racing action that will be covered by TV commercials.

ESPN has again decided not to include RaceBuddy in this season's Sprint Cup Series coverage. This transition is especially tough because all six TNT races made extensive use of this platform. From the moment ESPN hits the air, the familiar pattern of several minutes of coverage followed by several minutes of commercials will begin again.

The commitment by ESPN to use the side-by-side commercial format for the second-half of the final ten races this season doesn't fly. If there is no RaceBuddy and ratings last year were abysmal, it might be time to embrace this new approach to commercial integration for the entire seventeen race package.

The big on-air change that ESPN has announced will be positive. TV veteran Allen Bestwick will be moving from the infield studio into the TV booth to call the Sprint Cup Series races. Since 2007, Bestwick has been quietly working hard for ESPN in a variety of capacities.

After early chaos with the NASCAR Now series, Bestwick suddenly appeared one day to host just one episode of the show. Click here for a 2007 TDP column on that day. His appearance started the ball rolling in the right direction after four months of struggle. He still hosts most Monday shows produced in a format he helped design.

Following a run as a pit reporter in season one, Bestwick was moved into the Infield Pit Studio to bring some organization to the host position ESPN was unable to fill. Brent Musburger, Chris Fowler and Suzy Kolber were just some of the faces who hosted NASCAR pre-race shows in the early days of this contract.

Next weekend, with Bestwick now steering the ship and Nicole Briscoe handling the infield studio, ESPN is putting a new face on the coverage. Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree work well with Bestwick, while Briscoe has shown the ability to keep a short leash on Rusty Wallace and his cheerleading partner Brad Daugherty.

In the end, it will all come down to the willingness of the production team to make changes. Embrace the entire field, respect the sport and show the best racing on the track. Tone down the Chase points updates, the pit reporter hype and Tim Brewer talking fundamentals of the sport.

Fans have faithfully shown up on weekends since late February for NASCAR races on TV. July might be the start of the ESPN season, but viewers have already invested five months of time watching races on two different networks. Respect that commitment in the coverage by the third.

Well, this is it. The last chance for ESPN to romance the NASCAR fans. For the past five seasons, we have rarely seen any signs of life from this disjointed coverage. The music is about to begin and ultimately ESPN has to do just one simple thing. They have to dance this last dance or risk going home empty-handed once again.

The Brickyard 400 is on ESPN Sunday, July 31 at 1PM Eastern time.

We welcome your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below.

Bestwick To Call ESPN Sprint Cup Races

Wednesday morning ESPN made it official. Allen Bestwick will call the network's Sprint Cup Series races. It was a big mid-season shake-up that the network had never done before.

Here is the official press release with the details from ESPN:

Allen Bestwick and Nicole Briscoe, two veterans of ESPN’s NASCAR coverage team, will have expanded roles as ESPN’s telecasts of the final 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races of the season begin next week.

Bestwick, who has filled a variety of positions since ESPN returned to live NASCAR event coverage in 2007, will move into the booth as the lap-by-lap announcer for all ESPN NASCAR Sprint Cup telecasts, including races, practices and qualifying. He will be joined by analysts Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree when ESPN starts its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series coverage with the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, July 31.

Briscoe, who has been a host and reporter for ESPN2’s daily NASCAR news and information program NASCAR Now since joining ESPN in 2008, and a fill-in host for the pre-race NASCAR Countdown show since 2010, will become the regular NASCAR Countdown host for all NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series telecasts on ESPN. Briscoe will work with analysts Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty in the ESPN Pit Studio at racetracks. Bestwick has been in the NASCAR Countdown host role since midway through the 2007 season.

Marty Reid, who has been primary lap-by-lap announcer for ESPN’s coverage of the NASCAR Nationwide Series since 2009, and for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since 2010, will continue to call NASCAR Nationwide Series race telecasts on ESPN as well as practice and qualifying telecasts. In addition, Reid also will continue as lap-by-lap announcer for ESPN’s coverage of five races in the IZOD IndyCar Series, including the Indianapolis 500, with the next event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Aug. 14.

“We are blessed with a talented and versatile group of NASCAR commentators,” said Norby Williamson, ESPN executive vice president, production. “We believe this arrangement best plays to our individual and collective strengths.”

Since joining ESPN in 2007, Bestwick has worked as a pit reporter and host and has called some races in the lap-by-lap announcer position. In addition to his new duties in the booth, he will continue as the main host and moderator for the Monday roundtable discussion edition of NASCAR Now. The program features a panel of three racing experts who discuss and debate the latest NASCAR news in a one-hour format.

Bestwick has extensive experience in both radio and television, having started his NASCAR career in 1986 as a turn announcer for MRN Radio. He worked for MRN for nearly 15 years and was the lap-by-lap announcer from 1988-2000, as well as host of the network’s daily news program. He made his television debut in 1995 on the original NASCAR Today program on ESPN and joined SPEED in 1996 as the host of a weekly NASCAR show, a post he held for 10 years. He started pit reporting for TBS and TNT in 1997 and was part of NBC and TNT’s NASCAR coverage from 2001-2006, both as a pit reporter and lap-by-lap announcer.

Before joining ESPN, Briscoe worked for two years as co-host of a motorsports news program on SPEED. Previously, she was a sports reporter at a TV station in Indianapolis, where she was first exposed to auto racing through covering the Indianapolis 500. She later worked as a pit reporter for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network on the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 as well as IZOD IndyCar Series race broadcasts before joining SPEED in 2006. She started her TV career as a general assignment reporter in Rockford, Ill., and also worked in TV in Fort Wayne, Ind., before moving to Indianapolis in 2004. With her new duties, she will continue as a NASCAR Now host on a limited basis.

Well, there you have it. In the blink of an eye, everything changed for ESPN's NASCAR team. Suggestions have been that ESPN got information regarding this decision from fans who filled out NASCAR Fan Council surveys. Others simply believe it was easy to see that Reid was struggling on the big stage in his first NASCAR season.

Any way you slice it, this might become a turning point for ESPN's entire NASCAR package. Just as a new crew chief may spark an entire NASCAR team, putting Bestwick in the booth may finally motivate the entire ESPN team to produce a TV product that veteran fans can respect.

Memories of Bestwick resonate with fans just like memories of veteran drivers. Bestwick's radio past and his move to TV were well documented. His struggles with NBC and move to ESPN were on a very public stage. He has worked his way up through the TV ranks and this is his reward.

Let us know what you think of this move and how you think it might impact ESPN's overall coverage down the stretch?

The Boys Are Back In Town

Apparently, nine billion dollars is a pretty strong motivator. After all the blustering, legal wrangling and angry comments it appears that the NFL owners and players are ready to settle the current lockout.

ESPN's Adam Shefter is reporting that lawyers are putting the final touches on an agreement that will be offered to the players for ratification on Thursday. If that goes well, the NFL will be back in business on Friday and ready for the regular season on time.

While NASCAR Chairman Brian France said earlier that the NFL situation is not on his radar, it certainly is for ESPN. Nine of the final ten Chase races are on Sunday afternoons directly up against the regional NFL games carried by local TV stations across the country.

No sport guts the NASCAR fan base like NFL football. Just like NASCAR, it appeals to both men and women. The NFL also has what NASCAR can't deliver and that is a home team. Football has been the biggest TV frustration in building an audience during the Chase.

One of the reasons for "Boys have at it" was the TV struggles of the sport down the stretch. Despite the made-for-TV playoff format and subsequent tweaks, the Chase has not resonated as a successful TV product up against NFL games.

A key reason in this equation is ESPN. The NFL dominates ESPN like no other sport. While the network's Sprint Cup Series races do get a post-race show, NASCAR takes a clear backseat to the total "NFL surround" experience offered by ESPN's various media platforms.

Now in season five, it's been a struggle to figure out how to present the Chase races on TV. It's been well-documented that the major conflict is how to balance the action in the race with the drama of the Chase. There are two very distinct stories unfolding on the same track at the same time.

The result on TV is often confusion. Drivers not in contention for the Chase but in the top five of the race can fall off the TV screen, even while leading. When a top Chase contender has trouble the cameras follow, regardless of how poorly he was running in the race. It's a tough assignment.

Meanwhile, the NFL has no such problems. The games unfold play-by-play with TV commercials integrated without ever missing a down. Halftime gives the networks an opportunity to insert a studio presence and promote the second half through analysis and highlights.

Now that the NFL is returning, the clear challenge for ESPN is to brand the network's Sprint Cup Series coverage in a unique way that will keep the NASCAR fan base from straying to the regional football games. While we don't know what that might be, we certainly know from the last four years what it should not be.

The jokes about ESPN inserting Chase standings continually into four hour races are endless. There has to be a better balance. The screams of protest from fans of non-Chase drivers never mentioned in the entire telecast also need to be heard. Fans don't change favorite drivers seven months into a season.

Wouldn't it be interesting if ESPN produced the Chase races focusing on the race? Wouldn't it be interesting if the best racing on the track, regardless of position, was put on the screen? Figure out how to update the Chase without affecting the race coverage and as they say in the sport, business will pick up.

Simply put, focusing the TV coverage only on the Chasers alienates the fans of more than two-thirds of the entire starting field. When those fans get frustrated, we know where they go. It's a familiar location right down the dial. It's a familiar sport and a familiar team.

It's time to sit up straight and face the fact that unless something changes, the TV results of the Chase will be the same. Especially now that we know the boys are back in town.

We welcome your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Live Blogging Nationwide Series From Nashville (ESPN - 7PM)

The Nationwide Series returns to the regulars vs. the cross-overs this weekend as the Sprint Cup Series is off. Brad Keselowski topped the cross-overs to put his car on the pole in qualifying. Carl Edwards is also in the race.

ESPN has the small crew contingent in place for this stand-alone race. No Infield Studio and perhaps Mr. Brewer's expert analysis might be pre-recorded. Marty Reid, Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree are the trio in the booth. Dr. Jerry Punch, Dave Burns and Vince Welch are on pit road.

Nashville is not expecting a very big crowd. ESPN should have single groove racetrack that changes from the heat of the day to finish under the lights. The racing is always tactical and sometimes comes down to calls on pit road to determine the winner.

No doubt the regulars will be ready to go. Reed Sorenson and Justin Allgaier lead a pretty strong group contending for the season driver points championship. That battle should be a strong part of the telecast.

Often, ESPN is torn between paying attention to the big Cup stars and keeping fans of the series up to date on all the teams. It should be interesting to watch and see what approach is taken during the pre-race and the actual event.

This post will serve to host your comments on the ESPN coverage of the Nationwide Series race from the Nashville Speedway. To add your TV-related comments, just click on the comments button below. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Live Blogging Camping World Trucks From Nashville (SPEED - 7:30PM)

It's time once again for the series providing the best NASCAR racing this season. The Camping World trucks are in Nashville and it's hot!

Krista Voda opens the telecast with the pre-race show. It should be interesting to see what the temperature on pit road is this week. Ray Dunlap and Hermie Sadler will be the pit reporters.

Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Micheal Waltrip will call the race from the booth. Once again, the key component to this team is Waltrip. When he takes the team role and works as an analyst with his TV partners, these telecasts shine.

If Waltrip tries to step-up and take the lead announcer role, the telecast will have the kind of struggles we have seen with him in the past. While he certainly has the ability to dominate and talk over the top of Allen and Parsons, Waltrip has been working very well in this team setting recently.

Nashville is a tough track and the quality of the racing depends on how wide the groove becomes as daytime changes to night. The trucks have been putting on a solid show despite a limited field and this week should be no exception.

This post will serve to host your comments on the SPEED coverage of the Camping World trucks from Nashville. To add your TV-related comment, just click on the comments button below. Thanks for taking the time to start by.

Shane Hmiel Special Aims To Set Record Straight

Update: Leaving this post up for comments from viewers who saw the Hmiel piece on RaceHub. Live blogging Camping World Trucks from Nashville, TV Friday night.

As an off-week approaches for the Sprint Cup Series, SPEED finds itself with a little extra time available for special programs. Wednesday the network hosted a roundtable panel that looked back on the first half of the season.

Thursday night at 7PM ET, a special edition of RaceHub takes a look at the amazing journey of Shane Hmiel.

Veteran fans may remember the brash young man for his hard driving on the track. NASCAR asked Hmiel to leave the sport for his hard living away from it. Ultimately, Hmiel survived a horrific accident that resulted in changes to almost every part of his life. It was a life that many believe was spared for a reason.

"I started working on this in January,” said show host Steve Byrnes. "I wanted to go into the interview as open-minded as possible. I didn’t have a point of view. I just wanted to listen and Shane opened up about everything."

"What I walked away with was this," Byrnes continued. "Here is this guy in the prime of his life, who had turned his life around and now (after the accident) has every reason to be bitter. But his message is so positive, it inspired everyone in the room."

Byrnes has known Shane's father, NASCAR veteran and current EGR executive Steve, since 1985. In this TV special, both of Shane's parents as well as his brother Tyler and also family friends talk for the first time on national television about the ordeal.

We not not normally link videos, but this is a bit different. Click here for a view of Hmiel's accident in Terre Haute, Indiana. On a random day at a random track, Hmiel's car hooked a rut in the dirt and headed toward the fence in the worst possible way for the driver. There were no other cars on the track. Hmiel almost died alone.

Somehow, Hmiel defied the odds and survived. The story that has unfolded since that day in October of 2010 is about to be told on Thursday night in the words of those involved.

RaceHub is slowly becoming a powerful TV tool for SPEED. Developed originally as a Monday through Thursday half-hour, the network expanded the show to an hour and things began to click.

The rest of the puzzle fell into place when SPEED convinced Byrnes to come off the road and take a position as the host of the series. Few broadcasters are as versatile in TV and as knowledgeable about the sport as Byrnes.

Those who have screened the program have told me it is a very powerful hour with a storyline that represents the ultimate reality for those involved. It's an outstanding effort by Byrnes, SPEED and the RaceHub staff to put this project together.

We will use this post to host your comments before, during and after this TV special. To add your opinion on this topic, just click on the comments button below. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Potential Player In NASCAR TV Negotiations

The current NASCAR TV contract expires at the end of the 2014 season. The featured networks since that agreement began in 2007 are FOX, ESPN, TNT and SPEED.

The Daly Planet has learned that a new potential player may emerge and seek to participate in the sport's TV package. 2014 might seem distant, but NASCAR intends to get the new contract completed by 2013. That allows for a season of planning, budgeting and logistics.

What this means is that 2012 will be a year of negotiating. The current TV package has been both a blessing and a curse. The blessing came in the form of 4.5 billion dollars from the NASCAR TV partners. Back in 2005, when the deal was done, NASCAR was the toast of the town.

The curse came in the form of TV influence affecting everything from race start times to critical issues within the sport. At times, viewers have been seemingly driven away by the race coverage of the very networks who rely on TV ratings to pay the NASCAR bills.

What NASCAR has and TV networks really want is content. The sport runs actively for ten months of the year. The two month break comes conveniently during the winter holiday season. NASCAR has no collective bargaining, no unions and no player reps. A TV network is buying a product totally controlled by the sanctioning body.

Currently, the Sprint Cup Series TV is sliced into three pieces that do not match. FOX is an over-the-air broadcast network. Trying to distribute long-form national sports programming through local TV stations is not a future model for professional sports.

TNT is a cable TV entertainment network. The six summer races produced by the network serve as a platform for promotion of the network's entertainment series. Neither FOX or TNT carry any additional NASCAR programming other than the pre-race show and races. That is also not a model for the future.

ESPN originally aired most of its races on ABC, but ran into the same issues with logistics and local stations. Now, 14 of the network's 17 races are on cable TV. While ESPN may promote itself as NASCAR friendly, the tensions have been rising between NASCAR and the network for the last several years.

ESPN also handles the Nationwide Series while SPEED produces the Camping World Truck Series telecasts. There are little twists in the current deal. SPEED gets Daytona's twin races and the All-Star race. In return, SPEED pays to have the NASCAR Media Group produce non-racing shows from the tracks like RaceDay.

The potential player on the horizon is a household brand. In a world where some TV networks seem more like conduits of endlessly themed programming, this player is different. It brings a nicely balanced global media perspective that may open a door beyond the US. One desire of NASCAR continues to be better worldwide distribution.

There are only a handful of media companies who can play at the high-roller table of TV rights negotiations. When the dollar conversation moves from millions to billions it quickly separates the men from the boys. This potential player has a long history of success in exactly that type of game.

Maybe the hardest part of entering into an extensive new programming agreement is having the TV infrastructure in place behind the scenes to go to work and get the job done. This player can produce and distribute an almost limitless amount of live and edited content.

While NASCAR has a history with many broadcast and cable TV networks, there is no history with the new potential player. Rarely in the media marketplace does an opportunity come along to begin a fresh relationship with a clean slate and get the same results. This situation has that dynamic.

The final clue in this riddle is simple. You already enjoy many hours of programming created by this company. Bringing an established media brand to a new TV contract is going to be key for NASCAR. The sanctioning body must know that the integrity of the new partner is solid.

As things move forward, it should be interesting to see when the new potenial player emerges and announces it has arrived. In the meantime, have fun guessing who might show-up and change the entire landscape of NASCAR TV as we currently know it.

We welcome your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Carl Edwards TV Overload

He might be the nicest guy in North America. He might be the best driver in NASCAR. He might have the perfect marriage, a great physique and represent the ultimate dream for a Sprint Cup Series sponsor. That doesn't mean he deserves to be on TV.

The place we would normally see a Sprint Cup Series driver like Carl Edwards is among the personalities being interviewed before and after the races. Should a problem occur during the event, some words from him outside the infield care center or in the garage explaining the situation would make sense. That is not what is happening.

Somehow this season, Edwards is morphing into a NASCAR TV analyst who drives. When he is in the race, he is often the in-race TV reporter. If he happens to drop out, he immediately moves into an on-air position regardless of the network covering the race. No other driver has extended his personal brand with the NASCAR TV partners like Edwards.

Last year ESPN tapped him to appear in the post-race coverage of every Chase for the Championship race. He was not appearing as a driver, but as an analyst. Moments after the professional sports event in which he participated was over, Edwards was on national TV offering opinions from his perspective on the other teams and drivers.

There is no TV network more enamored of Edwards than ESPN. Monday, he will be an in-studio guest analyst on the NASCAR Now panel. Normally comprised of three panelists, ESPN will just add a chair and let Edwards sit among the experts hired to talk about him and the other athletes.

It was a head-scratcher when ESPN let Nationwide Series owner Rusty Wallace call Nationwide Series races. It was puzzling when ESPN let Brad Daugherty continue in his analyst role after becoming a Sprint Cup Series owner. Both of those examples pale in comparison to Edwards continued presence on ESPN.

Dale Jarrett, Andy Petree, Rusty Wallace, Brad Daugherty, Ricky Craven, Johnny Benson, Kenny Schrader, Terry Blount, Marty Smith, David Newton, Ryan McGee, Ed Hinton and Dr. Jerry Punch all contribute to ESPN's NASCAR TV content. That is what they do for a living.

Just as there are a limited number of seats for drivers in the Sprint Cup Series, there are a limited number of opportunities on the TV side of the NASCAR fence. ESPN filled those TV seats long before the season started. That is why someone must be pushed aside to make room for Edwards on the Monday NASCAR Now program.

Whenever Edwards shows up in the TV booth or studio, he is taking advantage of a fundamental conflict of interest. He is welcomed as a current NASCAR driver of whom the ESPN personalities would normally ask questions. Instead, Edwards has perfected the transition to an analyst offering comments of his own.

That immediately changes the on-air dynamic because none of the ESPN personalities have been involved in the racing. Suddenly, there is someone on the set who can top any opinion they have to offer because only he has been there and done that. It puts the ESPN analysts in a very awkward position.

At age 31, it certainly does not appear that Edwards will be retiring from driving soon and seeking a TV career. While other NASCAR stars like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are TV friendly, there has never been an ongoing dynamic quite like the current Edwards situation.

When SPEED asked Elliott Sadler to join the network's RaceHub show for a Monday segment, it was because Sadler had left the Sprint Cup Series. In his current TV roles, Edwards continually puts himself in the position of offering commentary on athletes, owners and team members with whom he actively competes.

This season there have been several other drivers who have visited the NASCAR Now studios and appeared on camera. While those appearances were strictly for publicity, the Monday Edwards appearance feels much more like an audition.

It should be interesting to see what ESPN TV role might be assumed by Edwards as the network takes over the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series telecasts for the rest of the season beginning with the Brickyard 400 in two weeks.

How do you feel about this issue? Many fans enjoyed Edwards on the air from the ESPN infield pit studio on Saturday after his car fell out of the Nationwide Series race. Others felt that his ability to step into that type of national TV exposure was unfair to his competitors.

We welcome your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

TV Police: Sprint Cup Series From New Hampshire On TNT

Spenser was a real New Englander. A former Boston cop turned private eye, he lived a unique lifestyle that centered around the search for truth. Hawk was his sidekick who had his back when times got tough. They were real men, made no excuses and got to the bottom of things by doing what they had to do.

It was TNT's final race for 2011. This is year five of the "Summer six pack" on the network. Since the start of the coverage, some fans have loved the TNT style and some fans have hated the coverage from top to bottom.

Lindsay Czarniak hosted the pre-race show with Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds. The program featured a solid interview with Kurt Busch on the TNT set and a well-produced feature on former driver/owner Cotton Owens.

Adam Alexander called the race with Wally Dallenbach Jr. and Petty in the TV booth. On pit road was Matt Yocum, Chris Neville, Marty Snider and Ralph Sheheen. These veterans have done a good job, although NASCAR rookie Neville has been earning his stripes dealing with angry drivers.

Larry McReynolds was moved to the cutaway car several times for updates during the race. Unfortunately, almost every single time something significant happened on the track. In the end, McReynolds wound-up looking foolish not only for the fundamental issue he was discussing, but for the coverage missing the action on the track.

Alexander has a casual style that resembles a reporter more than a true play-by-play announcer. But, his information is solid and he has no problem directing traffic. It just seems that he does not blend well with Petty and Dallenbach in the booth. It just feels awkward on the air.

Petty is a known commodity due to his regular TV work with SPEED, but Dallenbach is always a wild card as he is not connected to the sport except for these six races. Some enjoy his irreverent style, while others suggest his knowledge as an analyst is outdated.

TNT has brought the normal NASCAR TV struggles with commercial breaks and NHMS was no exception. Viewers have come to understand that this heavy level of commercial integration is now part and parcel of the sport.

The positive aspect was that the TNT races brought RaceBuddy with them. This online app will not be in use for the ESPN races and that is going to be a tough transition for fans. RaceBuddy gives TV viewers a workable alternative to continue watching the live racing during a commercial break.

The flat track of New Hampshire resulted in some early incidents before the race settled down into another fuel mileage contest. A late penalty on Dale Earnhardt Jr. upset many fans and TNT did not really follow-up on the specific pit violation.

The finish was without excitement and totally dominated by fuel. It was a tough way to close out the final NASCAR on TNT race for a network that lives on drama.

This post will serve to host your TV race wrap-up comments for the TNT coverage of the Sprint Cup Series from New Hampshire Motor Speedway. To add your TV-related comment, just click on the comment button below.

Live Blogging Sprint Cup Series From New Hampshire (TNT - 12PM ET)

It's time for the final Sprint Cup Series race on TNT. It's been a summer of good technical innovation combined with the same old gripes about commercials.

Lindsay Czarniak is off to ESPN after hosting this race. She starts the telecast with the pre-race show. Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds are on the infield rig. Kurt Busch is the guest. Cotton Owens is the Pride of NASCAR feature.

Adam Alexander is in the booth with Wally Dallenbach Jr. and Petty. Marty Snider, Matt Yocum, Ralph Sheheen and Chris Neville are the pit reporters.

The story of NHMS is frustration. It's a flat track that features the pot slowly boiling until the tempers explode over the lack of passing and tire grip. Once the cautions come, they come frequently. The key issue is how long the field will stay patient and run under green.

This is the final weekend of RaceBuddy. The free online app at has four in-car cameras, two battle cams and also features pit road and the backstretch cams. It's just a nice addition to the TV coverage. ESPN will not have RaceBuddy for the remainder of the races.

Adam Alexander is still in the learning curve for a play-by-play announcer. His style is low key in the booth and while he certainly does work for the TNT producer, he is not someone who pumps excitement into races.

TNT has been a mixed blessing. The network has changed the post-race procedures as a response to fan feedback. TNT has made good pictures, had no technical problems and delivered a solid package for what they had to work with. It's just a short summer visit that always leaves fans wondering what could be.

This post will serve to host your comments on the Sprint Cup Series on TNT. To add your TV-related opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Live Blogging Camping World Trucks From Iowa (SPEED - 7:30PM)

While the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are in New Hampshire, the Camping World trucks are sharing a Saturday bill with the ARCA Series at Iowa Speedway.

Krista Voda will kick off the coverage with the pre-race show at 7:30PM. This field is very slim, with no Cup drivers and only a handful of top teams. It should be interesting to see what stories are selected for the pre-race telecast.

Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip will call the race. Hermie Sadler and Ray Dunlap will report from pit road. This is a veteran TV team that should know exactly how to make the best of what they get from the field.

The key for SPEED is not to try and gloss over the reality of the race. These teams get an opportunity to race on Saturday night on national TV in primetime. If a group of them decide to start and park, then SPEED needs to document it. Should some teams normally in the back have a good race, then that needs to be relayed as well.

After a hectic week, series champ Todd Bodine did make it to Iowa driving for a newly-merged and semi-confusing team that features Randy Moss Motorsports and Germain Racing. Todd might be a man with something to prove.

You just never know with the trucks, it could be an outstanding show under the lights or a single-file race of attrition. Let's hope the top guys mix it up even with the thin field and make it good for TV.

This post will serve to host your comments on the SPEED coverage of the Camping World Truck Series race from Iowa Speedway. To add your TV-related opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thanks for stopping by.

Live Blogging Nationwide Series From New Hampshire (ESPN - 2:30PM)

The weather is beautiful at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. SPEED has handled all the TV activity this weekend as ESPN has been busy with other non-motorsports programming.

The network steps away from golf and into NASCAR with coverage of the Nationwide Series beginning at 2:30PM ET. Allen Bestwick hosts the pre-race show with Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. It's a shame ESPN did not let Bestwick call this race, since Bestwick is a New Englander and would be a great presence for the network in New Hampshire.

Instead, it will be Marty Reid working with Wallace and Ricky Craven in the booth. Dale Jarrett is off this weekend and Andy Petree brought a Modified car to the track and was going to race until he crashed in practice.

Dr. Jerry Punch, Vince Welch and Dave Burns will handle pit road. New Hampshire Motor Speedway can feature long green flag runs if the field gets stretched out or lots of cautions if things bottle up and the spinning begins on this flat track.

This is a layout where the TV director has to hustle. Flat-track racing means lots of camera cutting and quick incidents. Forcing in-car cameras into this broadcast can mean the loss of perspective for viewers and the potential to miss key incidents.

There are lots of Sprint Cup Series cross-over drivers today led by Brad Keselowski, who is on the pole. That means some drivers will flat-out be racing for the win, while the "regulars" will have to keep the season championship in mind.

This is the final dress rehearsal for ESPN. After this weekend, the network hosts both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series coverage until the end of the season. Marty Reid wanted the pressure and he has it. He will handle the top two NASCAR touring series telecast for the rest of the season.

This post will serve to host your comments about the ESPN coverage of the Nationwide Series race from the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. To add your TV-related opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday TV Comments From New Hampshire

We are opening up the blog for general NASCAR TV/media comments on Friday because there are a lot of things going on all day long.

NASCAR President Mike Helton will meet with the media on a video conference at 9AM ET from New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Expect many of the questions and quite a few of his answers to include the word "Kentucky." I am told this live video should be streamed on the website.

The traffic disaster has overshadowed the race and continues to fester with no offer of refunds to fans with tickets who never made it to the track. SMI is offering a ticket exchange to other SMI races this season or the Kentucky Speedway Cup race in 2012.

Who knows what other questions may be asked or announcements also made at that time. We will update this post with those topics.

SPEED goes on the air at 11:30AM ET Friday and stays on the air all day long. Adam Alexander is going to anchor from the booth and John Roberts from the infield. Expect to see a ton of familiar faces throughout the day, including Darrell Waltrip on his last weekend out at the racetrack for a while.

The complete Friday TV line-up, including announcers, is listed on the left side of this page.

To add your comment about the Friday coverage or other news topics, just click on the comments button below. We will be answering questions and updating news on this post. Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

NASCAR Gets A Friend At ESPN

It's perhaps one of the worst-kept secrets at ESPN. The vast majority of the SportsCenter anchors hate NASCAR. They cannot stand the sport invading the time reserved for endless baseball highlights and news about important topics like another Brett Favre comeback or what Danica was wearing at the ESPY's.

When it comes to NASCAR again this year, SportsCenter has swung and missed. As they say in ESPN lingo, it was "a whiff." Click here to review a story originally posted in June about an incident that had fans fuming. This time, it was SportsCenter anchor John Anderson. His on-air antics after the Chicagoland Nationwide Series race were nothing short of spiteful.

Wednesday night on NBC4 in Washington, DC there was emotion on the set. Click here to see the send-off by the anchor team for sports reporter Lindsay Czarniak. Goodbyes in TV are usually awkward, but this one was clearly from the heart.

Czarniak was first seen by many NASCAR fans as the high-energy pit reporter who showed up for the summer during the six TNT races. Hardcore fans who watched practice and qualifying coverage know that during the TNT stretch Czarniak stepped right in and worked the garage and pits for SPEED like a veteran NASCAR reporter.

This season on TNT Czarniak has been hosting the pre-race show, remaining in the host position during the race and then handling both the TV and online post-race shows. It's been an impressive performance for someone who does not work the NASCAR trail full time.

Czarniak recently announced that she was heading for a new career at ESPN in Bristol, CT starting in August. After some quick speculation that she might be involved in NASCAR coverage, ESPN released the information that she was headed for SportsCenter as an anchor.

The photo above of Czarniak and Carl Edwards is from a feature she was shooting for TNT. In her summers in the sport, Czarniak has experienced NASCAR from a wonderful perspective. She has met and interacted with the top drivers and personalities. She has been on pit road during races.

Ironically, it was Carl Edwards who showed-up live on a TNT telecast after falling out of a recent race. Czarniak was completely comfortable with Edwards just hanging around and offering commentary. Comfortable on the air is a phrase that is often used to describe Czarniak's style.

When August rolls around and ESPN is handling coverage of both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series, Czarniak should just be getting her feet wet on the air in Bristol. That certainly is interesting timing.

Don't underestimate the impact of a high-profile ESPN anchor who not only likes NASCAR, but has experienced it first-hand for years. Now, the sport has a former veteran pit road reporter and telecast host in the anchor chair at SportsCenter.

It wouldn't surprise me to see Czarniak moved into the version of SportsCenter that the network uses as a flexible Sprint Cup Series extended post-race show. It also wouldn't surprise me to see some on-air attitudes toward the sport change rather rapidly.

It's going to be a lot harder to make fun of NASCAR when the SportsCenter boys figure out that the person sitting beside them at the anchor desk has been there and done that.

We will update the information on where Czarniak is assigned once she joins ESPN next month. Good luck to her as she makes this career transition.

We welcome your thoughts on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

SPEED's Iowa Truck Series Challenge

It's a little over sixteen hours and a tad over one thousand miles to reach Iowa Speedway from the Mooresville, NC area. This weekend, while the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are in New Hampshire, the Camping World Truck Series heads to Iowa.

We mentioned just last week that the truck series is now a ragtag bunch with only a handful of top teams and drivers. On Tuesday defending series champion Todd Bodine, pictured above, confirmed that his team will be unable to go to Iowa due to the lack of sponsorship.

Rookie Johanna Long has also withdrawn from the race to leave a current field of 31 trucks. It's a guessing game as to just how many of those entries are there to actually race. There are no Sprint Cup Series cross-over drivers this weekend, so the field will be headlined by several "regulars."

The loss of Bodine is rough. The Onion's bald head, bright smile and lollipop-sucking personality makes for a fun TV interview. His driving makes for some fun TV viewing. In the same way that personalities like Johnny Benson, Ted Musgrave and Rick Crawford have faded from the series, the loss of Bodine this weekend really hurts what many call "the show."

There have to be some "career men" mixed-in with the current minor leaguers like Austin Dillon and Cole Whitt who will certainly be moving up the ladder soon and leaving the trucks far behind. This weekend, only Ron Hornaday really fits that bill.

The other drivers are mostly in transition with some trying to return to the big leagues while others are just happy to be racing and getting a paycheck in these very tough times.

SPEED has the race live at 8PM ET on Saturday night. Krista Voda hosts the pre-race show at 7:30PM. Rick Allen and Phil Parsons will call the race with Hermie Sadler and Ray Dunlap on pit road. This week in Iowa, even the TV staff is smaller in number.

The great thing about the trucks on SPEED has been the simplicity. This weekend, it may be that new names take advantage of this stand-alone race and emerge with good performances. Having that opportunity on national TV in primetime on a Saturday night is not a bad thing.

The trucks will be racing 200 laps around the .875 track in Iowa. As many of us who watched the trucks develop over the years can attest, this size track is exactly what allows the series to shine.

The TV challenge for SPEED is to tell the story as it happens without NASCAR spin. If ten trucks start-and-park, then show it and say it. If no trucks park and everyone is racing the distance, point it out for the viewers.

When one door closes in racing another eventually opens. Even with Bodine gone and no Sprint Cup series drivers in the field, Iowa could be a race full of surprises and fresh opportunities for new faces.

We welcome your opinion on this topic. To add your comment, just click on the comments button below.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kentucky Speedway turns to NASCAR TV

By the time Monday rolled around, it was very clear that the Kentucky Speedway traffic story had gone viral. Even the mainstream media had clamped onto the story that thousands of Americans had been trapped in traffic for many hours and were angry at everyone from the Kentucky State Police to the speedway owner.

The subsequent response from the facility and its parent company, Speedway Motorsports Inc., fell flat. Hazy statements expressing regret and passing blame were exactly what SMI did not need. This situation was heightened when NASCAR Chairman France put out a strongly worded statement saying bluntly that this cannot happen again.

Both ESPN's NASCAR Now and SPEED's NASCAR RaceDay had pre-race shows on Saturday. The ESPN show was long gone by the time SPEED came on at 4:30PM ET with RaceDay. By then, the traffic problems were all the talk of Twitter, Facebook and the wonderful world of social media.

Produced by the NASCAR Media Group for SPEED, RaceDay shook off any temptation to chase the traffic story and instead followed the company line of simply promoting the inaugural race.

The boasts of panelist Darrell Waltrip, whose own Kentucky roots were profiled in a TV special earlier that day, now seem incredibly ironic. As Waltrip and RaceDay partner Kenny Wallace carried on, thousands of NASCAR fans were hopelessly trapped in a logistical nightmare that defied explanation.

TNT followed the RaceDay lead and never actually reported on the developing story. Despite being on the air for more than four hours, TNT chose to focus on what was going on inside the track rather than outside. Tweets from TNT on-air personalities did made it clear, however, that they were aware of the disaster that was unfolding.

It is often left to the two Monday NASCAR TV shows to sort-out the details of the weekend. Monday's NASCAR Now was up first as host Allen Bestwick presented an hour of highlights and conversation. Despite several mentions during the show, it was 48 minutes into the program before the traffic story surfaced.

Bestwick spoke by phone with Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger after showing some soundbites of angry fans and recapping the statement from Brian France.

"All I can tell you is that our traffic plans failed miserably," said Simendinger. "Hearing the stories that you just played makes me sick. I don't know what to say other than the fact that we totally blew it. I really feel badly for what we put our fans through."

Simendinger updated the offer from SMI for Kentucky Speedway fans affected on Saturday to redeem their Sprint Cup Series tickets for another race at the speedway or any of the SMI-owned tracks.

"Today for us is about connecting with those fans that we injured," Simendinger continued. "There is no excuse for it and we are totally to blame."

The advantage RaceHub has over NASCAR Now is that the SPEED studios are literally a short drive down the road from the Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was SMI President Marcus Smith, son of Chairman Bruton Smith, who stopped by to speak with show host Steve Byrnes.

"It's really tough to say what happened or what could have been different," said Smith. "In hindsight, we can see where we need to make adjustments. We have been hard at work on this since Saturday and we are going to make a big difference next year."

Smith then echoed the earlier comments of Simendinger about the SMI ticker redemption policy. Smith's comments were more specifically directed to the fans who never got into the race track as that was the topic being discussed.

"We really pride ourselves on being the best in racing with fan amenities and customer service," said Smith. "So, for something like this to happen is very unusual. We are sad that it happened and really want to try and make it right."

It would have been nice if Smith looked right into the camera and apologized, but the fact that he appeared with Byrnes was a positive move. It clearly was not as personal to Smith as it was to Simendinger, but the appearance and the refund information was made clear.

The item left on the table by both TV shows is what becomes of the fans who never made the race and cannot or do not want to attend another event. The word "refund" has never been mentioned and seems that it will not. It should be interesting to see how that topic sorts itself out over the next couple of weeks.

The rumor going around ESPN is that in September NASCAR Now on weekdays will be moved from 5PM Eastern back to 3PM in order to make room for ESPN's homegrown hit Sports Nation.

Often, as with this Monday's show, the big one-hour 5PM "roundtable" does not re-air. NASCAR fans have one shot to see it at the scheduled time or record it for viewing when they get home. This shift to an even earlier time in the heart of the NASCAR season is not a good thing for anyone except ESPN.

It seems the SMI group turned to TV on Monday as an integral part of cleaning up the public relations mess of the weekend. Once again, it's nice to have two NASCAR TV partners producing programs that can get the job done.

We welcome your comments on these topics. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Enhanced Audio" Has TV Viewers Buzzing

Since the "Wide Open" coverage from Daytona was done, TNT came back with another special feature for Saturday night's first Sprint Cup Series race from Kentucky Speedway. It was called "enhanced audio."

Here are some quotes about this special feature:

TNT Countdown to Green host Lindsay Czarniak explained the audio-enhanced coverage: "We are using special affect sound by bringing you something we call 'Inside Trax Enhanced Audio.' We’ve added 40 microphones all along the track walls, through the turns and down in pit road to get you closer to the action on the race track.”

This from a TNT news release:

The network’s exclusive prime time coverage of the race will be a special audio-enhanced telecast with 40 additional special effects microphones placed in multiple positions around the track, including pit road, the front and backstretches and the turns, to boost the listening experience for NASCAR viewers.

On average, TNT uses approximately 50 microphones for their race coverage on a track this size. The network also will utilize increased audio from in-car communication between the drivers and race crews and will continue to mic-up select crew chiefs and their teams through Inside Trax which will provide fans with inside access to the sounds and strategy of racing.

Once the race got underway, another element of the "enhanced audio" not mentioned by TNT was made apparent very quickly. That element was silence.

During restarts, pit stops and other select times that the special effect was used, the announcers stopped talking. This is nothing new, as other Sprint Cup Series TV networks have segments called things like "Crank It Up" to feature the sounds of the track.

What was different with TNT was that these segments were frequent and often seemed to cost viewers valuable information. Pit stops seemed to be especially tough for some fans to digest when all that was heard was the sound of air guns, engines and tires.

The pit reporters were given an opportunity to update the field once the stops were done or just after the race returned to green, but it certainly was a very different viewing experience. It quickly showed the importance of getting information in a timely fashion.

The pauses from the announcers led to an awkward feel from the trio in the booth. It certainly wasn't the type of flowing conversation-style commentary we have come to expect from Adam Alexander, Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach Jr.

NASCAR fans also had's RaceBuddy available to them during the race. This online video and audio component features 4 in-car cameras, 2 battle-cams and views of the backstretch, pit road and corners. Several of the cameras have only the sound of the cars as the audio provided to users.

In TV, the actual sound of the sports event is called "natural sound." Nat sound is the short version used by folks in the business. The process of mixing the nat sound with the announcer audio and other playback sources is the job skill that keeps good remote audio mixers working nationwide.

Whether it is the sound of sneakers under the backboard in college basketball, the pop of a fastball into the catcher's mitt in baseball or the grunts and hits in an NFL game, today's sports TV fan has come to expect the entire audio experience.

TV viewers in our live race chat asked if this was just a gimmick for the last two TNT races. Others were upset that the "enhanced audio" portions seemed to be tied to the director showing in-car cameras almost exclusively. One late arriving fan wondered if he had stumbled into an IMAX movie.

As the race went on, the trill of "enhanced audio" seemed to be gone for many. There was a rush to find the local PRN station for a full audio feed from the track's radio partner. Folks on Twitter started trading online apps to get PRN stations.

All of it seemed to come down to one simple thing. NASCAR fans like to be informed. Not informed only about the race leaders, but about their favorite driver regardless of position. The search for information other than the ticker at the top of the screen was perhaps made a bit more difficult by the announcers and their periods of silence.

There is no information yet as to whether the "enhanced audio" feature will return for New Hampshire. That is the final race in this season's TNT package. ESPN then takes over starting in Indy at the Brickyard and handles the final seventeen races.

We welcome your comments on TNT and the "enhanced audio" experiment at Kentucky Speedway. To add your opinion on this topic, just click on the comments button below.