Phil Allaway · Friday December 18, 2009
Hello, readers. I’m back for entry No. 45 in a limitless series in which I look into the TV telecasts for NASCAR. This will not be a long piece, or even a critique, in general. This is more of a reaction piece.
As many of you already know, ESPN announced on Wednesday that Dr. Jerry Punch will no longer handle play-by-play duties in the booth for Sprint Cup races. Instead, Marty Reid will take over the role starting at the Brickyard 400 in July. In addition, Reid will be in the broadcast booth for what is described as “many of the network’s NASCAR Nationwide Series telecasts.” It is unclear what that number will be, although one would assume he’d handle all but the “split weekend” events — ones where the Nationwide and ESPN Cup Series races are held at separate tracks.
Also of note, Reid will return to the Izod IndyCar Series to provide play-by-play for ABC’s five-race slate for next season (which, as always, includes the Indianapolis 500). That was his full-time gig before moving over to NASCAR once the network lost the majority of the IndyCar schedule after the 2007 season.
As for Punch’s future, he will still be intricately involved with ESPN’s broadcasts. Resuming the role that jumpstarted his racing career in the 1980s, Punch will return to pit road as a reporter, joining the existing crew there. In the press release, this group for next year consists of Jamie Little, Shannon Spake, Dave Burns, Vince Welch, and Mike Massaro – unchanged from 2009.
That means ESPN will have a rotating six person crew, from which four reporters will be scheduled to serve each week. Note, however, that NASCAR Now host Massaro only served as a pit reporter last season for races in which ESPN had a split crew between two separate venues late in the year. Also, Shannon Spake is currently eight months pregnant and is due to give birth to twins in January. Plans have not been announced for what Spake’s going to do in the interim, but one would expect that she’s going to start the year on maternity leave. What happens while she’s out is unclear, although it’s assumed Massaro will be asked to cover additional races in her absence.
There will be no major changes in the Infield Studio for 2010. Allen Bestwick will continue to be in charge, and Brad Daugherty, Rusty Wallace, and Ray Evernham will stay in their current roles for 2010. The only change here is that Evernham will be on air a little more next season than this year.
There was no news mentioned in the release about the Nationwide broadcasts, other than the mention that Reid would provide play-by-play during the season, but not for all of the races. It was not stated who would provide play-by-play in the events in which Reid would not be at the track (Ex: Iowa, Montreal, Gateway, etc.) due to Sprint Cup responsibilities. Also conspicuously absent from the release was Randy LaJoie, who joined Reid in the booth for some of the standalone Nationwide races this year. I liked his time up there. He brought a honest feel to the races, much like Kyle Petty did for TNT, or a toned-down version of Charles Barkley, if Barkley actually covered NASCAR and worked in the broadcast booth. The sport needs that kind of person working the Nationwide events to help the series get its own identity on television; hopefully, he’ll still be added to the crew.
As news spread about the change in the booth, either via Twitter, espn.com, Jayski, or in my case, the official email at 3:00 PM on Wednesday, people had many different reactions. Just using the commenters on Daly Planet as an example, there was indifference, happiness, anger, and trepidation. Why was there anger? A lot of them wanted ESPN to swap Bestwick and Punch, which didn’t happen. This has led some to believe that someone has a personal vendetta against Allen. I highly doubt this is the case; if that were true, chances are he wouldn’t be involved in the broadcasts altogether.
As for my thoughts when I heard the news? I was intrigued. Based on Reid’s performance in the booth for Nationwide races this season, and his past work with the IndyCar Series and the now-Camping World Truck Series, I think he’ll do just fine. Jarrett and Petree have worked with Marty before, and it shouldn’t be too much of a problem for them to adjust. However, the problem of overuse in the booth could creep up again, since he’s the only confirmed play-by-play man for ESPN at this point. Reid is looking at a minimum of 50 races of play-by-play next season. That is quite taxing.
The main difference that comes to mind with this switch, though, is that Reid will be able to commentate on the race and come off like he’s enjoying it. Dr. Punch, for all the enthusiasm that he actually has for the sport (and believe me, he does have that enthusiasm), simply couldn’t convey that positivity very well in the booth — which is quite sad.
In critiquing Dr. Punch in the booth this year, I chose a more pragmatic approach to dealing with the issues he had as opposed to what John Daly did for his site. Granted, he has a few years on me in regards to the broadcasts, but I simply didn’t want to write anyone off as useless in the booth that quick. Maybe it’s simply my background in education from back when I was in college at Seton Hall that makes me think this way, but I think anyone is capable of doing anything when they put their mind to it. That’s also why I wanted to talk to him so much back in August at Watkins Glen.
I believe that Dr. Punch genuinely wanted to be in the booth (remember that when I talked to him, he referred to doing NASCAR play-by-play on ESPN as his dream). Based on what he said in his interview, I can interpret a couple of things. One, he will be fine with returning to pit road. He mentioned that if ESPN asked him to make the move (which they now have), that he would be willing to do it. Two, the forced “toning it down” after the 2007 season did not help Dr. Punch one bit. I think that representatives of ESPN may have been unclear with him as to what they meant by their criticisms, or unclear as to the degree of what was expected. As a result, he interpreted the edict from ESPN in a way that led to what we saw from him in the booth over the past two years.
Unfortunately, race fans will look back at Dr. Punch’s tenure in the broadcast booth as being unsatisfactory, which is a real shame. He had some real potential as the play-by-play guy, but just couldn’t live up it. It’s sad, really, that a man who’s given so much to the sport was never able to.
While it’s not a fix-all, this move makes significant progress towards upping the quality of ESPN’s coverage. Having Reid in the booth may also help fix some of the camera issues that plagued telecasts this year. Most specifically, his presence will help push showing good racing on the track in favor of tight shots of single cars. Reid has a reputation to reference the specific battles on the track and (more or less) keep the cameramen and camerawomen on their toes.
I’m looking forward to Indianapolis in July to see how this change works out for ESPN’s Sprint Cup coverage. By then, Reid will once again have five months of working the Nationwide Series full-time, and should be in a nice rhythm as he starts his first full slate of Cup telecasts.
Before I go, I want to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Festivus, and whatever other special holidays that you may observe this time of year. See you guys in 2010!
If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below, or contact me through the email address provided on the website in my bio. Also, if you would like to follow me via Twitter, you can go to my Twitter page here. If you would like to contact ESPN personally with questions regarding their TV coverage of NASCAR, or this specific announcement, please click on the following link:
As always, if you choose to contact the networks by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.
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