We are now in what could be called the third trimester of the racing broadcast season. FOX carried us through basically the first half of the season. TNT took over for a few races. Now ESPN is going to carry us to the finish of the 2009 season. Sure, the Chase races themselves will be broadcast on ABC, but ESPN will be doing all the leg work on those broadcasts.
To be honest with you, I find strengths in all 3 of the broadcast teams. FOX has remained largely unchanged since their start in 2001. They've enhanced their coverage by adding gimmicks over the years, some of which are good, and some of which are not. Digger, oh, boy, don't get me started on Digger. Digger was cute for about 10 seconds, but now that little varmint is on my top 10 list of things I want to shoot. He's about as annoying to me as Barney the purple dinosaur was a few years ago. But then, I'm not a kid. FOX probably was putting younger audiences in mind when they brought Digger up to bat. In other words, FOX is probably being proactive with Digger, cultivating tender, young fans to watch their race broadcasts. I would think that the racing itself would be enough to draw kids to the TV on Sundays, but FOX apparently feels the need to go the extra mile.
Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds do an adequate job of providing color comments for the broadcasts. Both have matured in their second careers as broadcasters, and both bring a lot of humor to the show. People either like Ole DW or they don't. I watched him as a driver basically all of his career in that endeavor, and I have a lot of respect for Waltrip. Early on, DW was hated much as Earnhardt was during most of his career. Darrell was the 1970's version of Kyle Busch. Darrell had tons of attitude, but he also had the ability to win races. He could talk the smack, but he could back it up on the track.
As much as I appreciate FOX's efforts to bring racing to my TV, I was somewhat relieved when they handed off the broadcast duties to TNT. Ole DW and Digger are too much for me to take for an entire race season.
TNT became a much improved team this year when Ralph Sheheen was put on play by play duties, due to an apparent meltdown by veteran Bill Weber midway through TNT's tenure as the broadcasters du jour. Personally, I've never had much use for Bill Weber. It's nothing personal, but he just grates on my nerves. Ralph Sheheen's obvious enthusiasm for anything racing was apparent from the beginning, and I was actually entertained by his work on the broadcasts. If the management at TNT as half a brain, they should make sure Ralph doesn't get away from them.
To me, what set TNT's broadcasts apart from the rest is the veteran driver and racing pundit, Kyle Petty. As much as I appreciated Kyle's driving ability, I appreciate him much more when he has a microphone in front of him. Kyle has a no nonsense style about him that is priceless in the world of racing color commentary. Kyle will tell you what happened. You can trust Kyle. That's the way I feel, anyway.
Wally Dallenbach has been doing these broadcasts on TNT from the very beginning, and to tell you the truth, I didn't like him much in the beginning, back in the old NBC days. Wally has impressed me in recent years though. Wally and Kyle Petty seem to work well together, and to me, provide the best color commentary in the racing world. I have missed TNT, and personally wish they had more races to broadcast.
Larry McReynolds also joined the TNT broadcasts, jumping ship from FOX, I suppose, but he does great work on the TNT broadcasts. To be honest, I appreciate Larry Mac more on the TNT shows, even though he has a lesser role there. Larry was a great crew chief back in the day, and he provides a ton of technical knowledge to any broadcast team. Larry is a great foil to DW's wit at FOX, but he truly shines in his role as a crew chief on TNT's broadcasts.
ESPN is currently at the reigns when it comes to putting NASCAR on TV. Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree do great work bringing the race to us, color wise. Unfortunately, they are also doing most of the play by play work as well.
Don't get me wrong. I love Dr. Jerry Punch. He's been in the sport a very long time, and he's more than deserved his shot at being in the booth. Brutal honesty requires me to say that Jerry should probably be back on pit road though, because, in all honesty, he's at his best in that role. During the latest Nationwide series race, Dr. Punch was not in the booth, and was replaced by the venerable Marty Reid, and I thought, personally, that Marty did a great job calling the race. Marty also seemed to be a natural fit with Dale and Andy.
ESPN does try to keep the fans informed on what's going on back in the field, but they seem to be silent about cars that drop out after a few laps. Yes, I'm talking about start and park cars, mostly, but as a fan, I'd like to know who they are and why they claimed they couldn't continue to race. Many camera shots so far this season have shown cars going down pit road on restarts with no explanation from the booth. They don't have to tell us what's going on with the car that quit the race when a restart is on, but at least tell us later, when they have a chance to.
Dale Jarrett is a jewel in the broadcast booth. Like Kyle Petty, Dale tells it like it is. Dale, like his dad Ned, seems to have taken to broadcasting like a kitten to milk. Andy Petree is no slouch either. Andy has been both a crew chief and a team owner, and he has the ability to tell it like it is as well.
OK, enough of the talk. Here's my grades, and I'm a tough grader.
TNT - A-
FOX - B
ESPN - C
ESPN, and of course ABC, is still a work in progress. I'll grade them all again in November, God willing.