Sunday, September 4, 2011

Updated: ESPN Gets An Early Christmas Present

Updated: Click here for an outstanding motorsports story from's Bruce Martin. He got a pretty good glimpse behind the scenes of Danica Patrick's first IndyCar race after making the announcement she is moving to NASCAR full time in 2012.

Like it or not, what we are watching is a very big media wave heading toward the Nationwide Series beach. In 2012, ESPN cannot dump Nationwide Series practice and qualifying coverage. The network risks missing Danica getting the pole or having a practice incident that affects her season. The Danica-factor is going to change NASCAR TV.

Since the Danica announcement, ESPN may well be regretting the decision to move the NASCAR Now series to 3PM on weekdays starting in September. Taking over the 5PM timeslot is the teen-driven chaos of Sports Nation. It should be interesting to see what happens with NASCAR Now for 2012.

Danica is not going to get on her scooter and drive away from the Nationwide Series world like she does in IndyCar. Suddenly, she is going to be in second-tier garages running Saturday shows that are often dominated by Sprint Cup Series drivers.

As Martin examines so well in his article, Patrick's theory of NASCAR and the Nationwide Series reality that many of us know so well is quite different. The remainder of the original TDP post documents what Patrick is going to mean to ESPN in their frustrating attempts to salvage something watchable from the Nationwide Series races in the final three seasons of the current TV contract.

ESPN's own Marty Smith took to Wednesday's NASCAR Now to announce that the network had finally taken delivery of the biggest NASCAR Christmas present in recent memory.

This package cost no money to buy, is exactly what ESPN ordered and will generate millions of dollars for the network once it is unwrapped.

Smith confirmed that Danica Patrick is coming to the Nationwide Series full time in 2012 driving for Tony Eury Jr. and JR Motorsports. In addition, Patrick will run a handful of Sprint Cup Series races for Stewart-Haas Racing. Smith said the ultimate goal for Patrick is to get full time into the Sprint Cup Series by 2013.

Make no mistake, love her or hate her, this is exactly what the Nationwide Series and ESPN needed. It comes just in the nick of time as the TV ratings show exactly what trying to promote Reed Sorenson vs. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as the championship contenders will get. The answer is not a lot of eyeballs.

The TV dynamic of the Nationwide Series is that ESPN puts time and effort into it right up until late July. Once the network starts coverage of the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series races the Nationwide agenda slides to the back burner.

In just a couple of weeks, the Saturday afternoon Nationwide Series races will once again be sandwiched between two featured college football games on ESPN2. The entire broadcast day of that network is themed around college football, except for an annoying little NASCAR race that suddenly is not very important.

Once again this weekend, ESPN is alone in Montreal as the Nationwide Series takes to the wonderful Circuit Gille Villeneuve. After six months of fans following the series on TV, neither the practice sessions or qualifying will be aired on any of the ESPN networks or online.

As TV viewers may remember, when Danica raced earlier this season NASCAR somehow got national television coverage of practice and qualifying arranged rather quickly. Let's hope someone at ESPN is sitting down with SPEED right now to make that happen for 2012.

Another interesting element in this unfolding TV dynamic for next season is the fact that Carl Edwards is said to be joining ESPN for the Nationwide Series coverage as either an analyst in the TV booth or the infield studio. First, that means Edwards will not be racing and secondly it means he will be the one analyzing Patrick on a regular basis.

The official announcement about Patrick's plans will supposedly come during the Nationwide Series' visit to Phoenix in November. That city being the home of Patrick's longtime sponsor that is expected to migrate with her to NASCAR in the form of Go Daddy.

Smith's ESPN report was quickly swallowed up in an avalanche of other media organizations passing along the same information. In just a couple of short hours, Patrick had pushed herself to the front pages of most major sports websites. Her move was detailed on SportsCenter and the grind of ESPN making sure to get that information out to its viewers had begun.

Just a couple of months ago, the Nationwide Series landscape looked pretty bleak. Short fields, start and park teams and the domination of Sprint Cup Series drivers crossing-over to trounce the regulars made for a tough TV package to promote.

Now with Patrick running for the championship, several other young guns supposedly moving up into the series and TV exposure potentially expanding, things are changing. Like it or not, the Nationwide Series now has a face that fans will be seeing a lot of in 2012 despite her race results.

When ESPN got the series in 2007, company President George Bodenheimer said the Nationwide Series was a diamond in the rough that ESPN intended to polish. Now, after five years of rubbing, ESPN might finally get that stone to sparkle.

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

Roush Says Edwards Headed To ESPN

Update: In the post-race comments after the MIS Sprint Cup Series race, Rusty Wallace said "Our Carl Edwards" when speaking as an ESPN analyst. This further reinforces the comments below that Jack Roush offered after the Iowa Nationwide Series race that Edwards is headed for ESPN full-time next year to work on the Nationwide Series telecasts.

We don't normally get to see the post-race press conferences for the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. only provides that service for the Sprint Cup Series races.

Luckily, Iowa Speedway put together a feed so that the post-race from the Saturday night Nationwide Series race would be available to fans via the Internet.

It was an exciting finish, so many fans wanted to hear more from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Carl Edwards than ESPN had provided in a brief post-race show.

Alongside of race winner Stenhouse was owner Jack Roush. The few media members there wanted to know more about the building tension between young hot shoe Stenhouse and the veteran Edwards. Roush said this year he would handle it, but then came to the topic of 2012.

"I think he's (Carl) made his decision," said Roush. "I think he is going to become a sportscaster for ESPN for the Nationwide Series races. I'm not sure if he is going to just do the companion races or all the races."

The small amount of reporters at the Iowa Speedway did not even follow that comment up with a question. Roush was simply trying to tell the media why Stenhouse would not have the same type of problems with Edwards in the future.

In answering that question, Roush may have accidentally revealed part of ESPN's plans to have new and fresh faces in the TV booth when the Nationwide Series welcomes Danica Patrick and Travis Pastrana in 2012.

Click here for the video link of the post-race comments. Roush talks about Edwards ten minutes into this clip. After the commercial, you can skip ahead using the slider control on the bottom of the page.

Edwards has been all over ESPN this season and many of us wondered why. Saturday, he was present on the air in the Infield Pit Studio as his fellow Sprint Cup Series drivers qualified on TV. While Edwards is glib and likable on television, his presence while also an active driver is awkward.

In the rapidly changing world of media, we have seen ESPN gravitate toward embracing more active athletes this season and actually putting them on TV to comment on their own sport. NASCAR Now has been regularly bringing in drivers, including Paul Menard after the Brickyard, to the one-hour Monday show.

Edwards in many ways is just like all the other top Sprint Cup Series drivers. He has both a strong fan base and a pretty significant group of folks who are not on his bandwagon. Along with Junior, Jimmie, Kyle and Jeff there are always strong opinions when Edwards is the topic.

The most interesting part of the Roush comments is the fact that ESPN does not currently have different on-air talent for the Nationwide Series races. Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree work the TV booth while Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty handle the infield pit studio.

The Sprint Cup Series race coverage does not begin until late July for ESPN and the same team of announcers handles the companion events. It is only the few standalone Nationwide Series races after July that have different on-air talent.

Jarrett is the face of NASCAR on ESPN. Wallace just had his contract extended to 2014 by the network. Those are the only two former drivers on the TV team. Daugherty is an owner and Petree a former owner and crew chief. There is no slot for Edwards without a major revamping of the entire team.

If Daugherty were to leave, that would put Edwards side-by-side with Wallace in the infield. They would be exchanging observations on a series in which Edwards routinely roughed-up Steven Wallace and left him in the dust. The elder Wallace is not the biggest Edwards fan.

Roush was clear that Edwards would be working in the field, not the studio and that he would not be a reporter, but a sportscaster. To most of us, that means in the TV booth. We will be asking ESPN for reaction to the Roush comments and will update this post Sunday.

In the meantime, we welcome your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Live Blogging Sprint Cup Series From Atlanta (ESPN - 6:30PM ET)

This post is going up early so we can all keep track of the weather and the heavy rain from Tropical Storm Lee that is closing in on the Greater Atlanta area.

NASCAR has already moved the actual start time of the race up to 7:30PM, which is all they can do to help the situation. The track has lights and there are plenty of jet dryers on hand to help with the drying effort if the rain comes.

Nicole Briscoe kicks off the telecast at 6:30PM on ESPN. Two hours of the RaceDay show on SPEED will precede that, so fans will know long before ESPN take to the air how the weather situation is playing out.

Briscoe has Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty alongside. Tough season for this duo, who have been struggling to stay relevant with their comments. A key issue has been Carl Edwards' emergence as a future ESPN analyst.

Wallace can speak from past experience and Daugherty's perspective is either as an owner or a fan. Unfortunately, Edwards speaks as a current driver who either just experienced a mechanical failure or is dropping by before he actually races. Talk about having a TV trump card.

Allen Bestwick is upstairs with Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree to call the race. Having Bestwick in the booth has been a big help with the information and excitement levels of the ESPN Cup telecasts. Jarrett and Petree have also begun to find their voices in terms of racing issues. It's about time.

The cast on pit road is diverse. Jamie Little is aggressive and sometimes over the top, but she chases down the stories she is assigned. Dr. Jerry Punch brings his repuation and experience to his senior role. Dave Burns and Vince Welch continue to fly under the radar, we get information but not much else.

Meanwhile, poor old Tim Brewer is still in the Tech Garage being told by the producer to explain the same old fundamental points over and over again. You have to wonder what Brewer could be if he was turned loose to offer his own point of view on topics he selected.

The challenge for ESPN may well be rain. After the driver interviews are done, it should be time to see some of the features put together for NASCAR Countdown and NASCAR Now over the past few weeks or so. ESPN does not consider having any kind of roundtable discussion, but rather sticks to basics that involve only ESPN media personalities. It's all about the brand.

Racing under the lights in Atlanta is all about speed and tires. The truck and Nationwide Series races featured long green flag runs and drivers working hard to pass. The Cup field should put on a great show.

TV has the challenge of looking around for the best racing, rather than focusing on the leaders when no passing is going on. This has been an issue for a very long time with ESPN and was again in the Nationwide Series coverage. Staying aggressive is the key for the production team.

Update: The live college football game on ESPN looks to be running long, so expect NASCAR to start late. No hurry today as it looks pretty wet in the ATL.

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