Weekend Wrap

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With the big boys of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series off for the weekend, it was left to the Busch Series, Champ Car, and the IRL to duke it out for the hearts, minds, eyes, and Nielsen boxes of race fans.

Although the official cable numbers aren’t in, it’s a good bet that the FX coverage of the Busch Series drew the most households, even though FX is unavailable in about 27 million TV homes. The broadcast was a relatively steady offering, with Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds, and Jeff Hammond in the booth.

Darrell Waltrip had the weekend off . . . kind of. The clear highlight of the broadcast was an opening bit that had Jeff Hammond wearing a muskrat-like pelt on his head and doing a highly credible imitation of ole DW. He took viewers on a “DW-hosted” tour of St. Louis and the attempt at comedy was a big hit. Without the added weight of having to support Chris Myers in a comedy routine and having decent writers, Hammond’s DW impersonation was a winner. It continued in the opening shot from the booth, with McReynolds donning the pelt on his head and clearly making fun of DW, with some great lines.

But the best TV of the weekend had everything to do with at-the-track and on-the-track action, and it wasn’t in NASCAR. CBS did a memorable job covering Alex Zanardi’s return to the track, capturing all of the drama and emotion.

Then the closing laps of the Champ Car race from Germany were terrific, and the coverage stepped up to deliver all of the excitement. The camera work was great, and the team in the truck took a different approach to play-by-play, telling Bob Varsha and Tommy Kendall to say as little as possible.

Instead, they carried live audio of the radio conversation from the Newman-Haas team of driver and eventual winner Sebastien Bourdais. Most of the audio was continual direction from the spotter to Bourdais, constantly telling him that Mario Domiguez was “outside.” About the only input from the booth was Tommy Kendall saying that each lap looked like a repeat of the others.

The conventional TV wisdom is that the talent in the booth has to say something, but for some reason, with no disrespect to Varsha and Kendall, the decision from the production truck worked and even heightened the excitement. It’s not something any announcing team would want to get in the habit of, but for a one-time dose of added excitement and drama, it was a good call.

In other open wheel action, the IRL coverage from Indianapolis Motor Speedway was for the most part the typical high quality you come to expect when the ESPN crew is simply told to go out, do its job, and focus on the racing. “RPM 2Day” was solid, with John Kernan and Robin Miller providing all of the day’s news. Miller’s strongest comment centered on saying that NASCAR could learn something from the hit that Billy Boat took when he hit the wall on Saturday.

ESPN’s coverage once again convinced me that the biggest waste of a lot of talent in all of sports television is Bob Jenkins. His relegation to a fairly mindless role as an emcee in the IRL television hierarchy is puzzling at best, and absurd at worst.

Then again, with the Disney networks’ treatment of the IRL, nothing should surprise us. Remarkably, with pole qualifying moving to Sunday, ESPN2 wouldn’t stick around for the next two hours of qualifying, from 4-6 ET.

Why, you ask? Well, ESPN2 had to go to live coverage of the LPGA golf tournament. The choice of golf over the IRL is understandable, with ESPN2 long committed to the golf tournament. But what boggles the mind is when you examine why the ESPN management in Bristol wouldn’t move pole qualifying coverage to ESPN for the two hours. In the process, viewers were robbed of seeing the pole-winning run by Helio Castroneves.

Believe it or not, ESPN management instead chose to stick with a rerun of a 2002 billiards tournament from Uncasville, Connecticut. That’s right, the real “bump day” was when ESPN honchos bumped Indy pole qualifying in favor of a rerun of people playing pool in 2002. Has the clout of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing declined that far? Apparently so.

It’s no secret that Indy Racing League management wants better treatment from Disney, but it doesn’t look like that relationship is getting any better, especially with Howard Katz now out of the picture.

But don’t feel too sorry for IRL management. In a move that goes against all conventional wisdom and the basic principles of economics, word came last week that Indianapolis Motor Speedway is raising the price of Indy 500 tickets $5 - $10 each each next year.

Ironically, numerous media outlets picked up the story last week that the race is far behind on tickets sales compared to prior years and that the popularity of the race is lower than ever. So, unlike any other business trying to win back customers, address declining attendance, and rebuild goodwill, IMS management decided to raise prices. It makes no sense.

THIS WEEK’S NOTES: Both Champ Car races on CBS this weekend turned in overnight numbers of a 1.2 rating and 3 share. All in all, that’s a decent start for CART, at the very least breaking the bad mojo that has hovered over the series TV ratings this season. Maybe it’s something they can build on.

The Saturday rainout from Indy on ABC drew a 1.0 rating and 3 share in the overnight numbers.

NASCAR action from Richmond was the most-watched cable TV program for the week, with 5.3 million people tuning in. The race drew a 4.1 rating for FX, which translates to a 3.1 national rating.

Howard Katz, former ABC Sports president and reportedly the best TV friend that the IRL has ever had, has now hooked up with the Sabol family and has taken over as the COO of NFL Films.

Jamie McMurray, Kenny Wallace, and Kevin Harvick now have FX TV cameras in tow for many of their daily activities. FX is shooting footage for the NASCAR reality show pilot. If all goes well, the series is scheduled to start in July. Unless FX totally messes it up, the show will probably be a big hit. Remember, you heard this here first, Cielo Garcia will be the fan favorite. Let’s hope that Kenny Wallace’s kids turn out better than Jack and Kelly Osbourne.

Thursday’s “Best Damn Sports Show Period” will have co-host John Salley in Charlotte to cover the NASCAR Hoops for Hopes charity basketball game to benefit autism research. Darrell Waltrip and Elliott Sadler will guest on the show.

Justin Timberlake is already reporting for Turner Sports, and he’ll do some NASCAR work in the second half of the season. While purists are unlikely to be big fans of the ‘N Sync heartthrob, Timberlake will probably do a decent job for a celebrity reporter. Most importantly, it’s demos and potential new fans.






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