New World Disorder

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There's a New World order in the racing television landscape. And no where is that new deal being felt more then around the offices of ESPN's nightly racing show "RPM2Night."

As of now, just when things are heating up at the Daytona International Speedway, folks from "RPM2Night" are still being locked out of the speedway and covering the event.

Insiders at ESPN say they're still talking with NASCAR and the speedway about access, but there's yet to be a settlement.

"It's still a moving target" said a source.

The talks, we're told, revolve around a distinction made between "RPM2Night" and ESPN's flagship news series "SportsCenter."

As it appears, "SportsCenter" is OK, but "RPM2Night," is not.

The dispute over access has been going on for months now - since ESPN aired its last Winston Cup race in November - and may not be settled until this weekend or later.

Some felt the dispute would have been settled earlier when ESPN let Bill Weber go to work at NBC. Weber was under contract with ESPN and the sports network could have kept him. But they didn't, and many saw that as an olive branch to bridge the access gap.

It didn't work.

Of course, starting with the Daytona events, Fox takes over the rights for the first half of the season, and NBC and Turner will air the second half.

The folks at ESPN realize they can't set up a studio within the boundaries of the track for "RPM2Night." When dealing with other sports - such as the NCAA basketball tournament - ESPN sets up its programs outside of the arena in a local shopping mall or venue.

TNN's "RaceDay" apparently is having the same problem. They apparently do have credentials for Speedweeks, but are not allowed to cover the NASCAR events during Speedweeks.

In both cases, they're being treated differently than regular news programs, which is ludicrous.

Is ABC's "20/20," a magazine show, and less journalistically sound than "World News Tonight with Peter Jennings," a straight newscast? No way.

The reality is racing - more specifically, racing television - is undergoing a major change. Out are the old ways of doing things, and "RaceDay" and "RPM2Night" are the victims.

On the surface, barring either of those two shows from covering the race seems a bit out of line - and questionable on journalistic grounds. What makes the move so idiotic is that ESPN will be on the grounds on Friday to televise the Truck Series race from Daytona.

In short, ESPN is still part of the NASCAR family, though treated like a crazy uncle best forgotten.

However, at least a part of it makes some sense, sorta.

Fact is, from the other side of the fence, these sorts of disputes shouldn't come as a surprise. Fox and NBC spent and will spend a ton of dough to cover NASCAR and as such, get exclusive broadcast rights to the events.

Along with those rights comes some level of control over what others do - in conjunction with NASCAR.

For instance, when NBC airs the Olympics, no news outlet can air footage from any of the events until the moment NBC airs the event on the small screen. So it is, news footage wasn't seen of some Olympic events for upwards of a half a day after it really occurred.

What NBC does is protect its exclusive rights to the franchise. In reality, that's no different from what's happening here.

Fox is launching its own version of "RPM2Night" called "NASCAR Today" and wants to – rightly so - make that the first destination of NASCAR fans seeking news. And to do so, the network has to force people to make tough decisions, such as blocking access by others.

As a journalist, I find it unacceptable and unfortunate that two shows - shows that have helped push the sport ahead - are now seemingly left on the sidelines. It sets a dangerous precedent, and it makes no sense… especially when other news outlets will be there.

But what we all forget about racing is that its a business. Fox and NBC are in business with NASCAR, a very big business. And as of now, they appear to be doing whatever it takes to protect the franchise.

Once again, we are reminded, no change comes without some pain.

Elsewhere: Give it to Ray Evernham for again bringing something new to the sport.

The now legendary crew chief behind Jeff Gordon's three Winston Cup championships, has secured a primary sponsor for his new pit crew.

That's right, the pit crew has its own sponsor. So when his new Dodge-backed team with drivers Bill Elliott and Casey Atwood turn up at Daytona, Dodge will be on Atwood's cars, but Mountain Dew will be on the pit crew uniforms.

"They're going to be the Dew Crew and be sponsored by Mountain Dew, so I think that'll be something new to in the sport," Evernham says. "That has helped me be able to afford things like extra people to help man and train this thing."

Meanwhile, next week, TV Guide will roll out its annual salute to NASCAR with four collectible covers. Appearing on separate issues - all out Monday - are Atwood and Elliott, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Petty, and Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte.

Petty, along with his son Adam and father Richard, appeared on one of the covers last season.

If you have questions, comments or ideas you’d like to send to Richard Huff for "Racing Around the Dial," you may do so at RichMHuff@cs.com.

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