ESPN's coverage of the Sprint Cup on ABC is so lackluster, I imagine there are no unscathed walls left in Daly Planet editor John Daly's home. He has punched his fist through all of them. That's right. The normally reasonable NASCAR TV blogger's house is a maze of cottage cheese walls, kicked-in doors and broken dreams. The dog won't go near him on race day. The neighbors moved out after Bristol. The pizza delivery guy leaves his pies on the curb.
Typical Daly in-race Tweet:
"I will hammer-punch a baby bunny rabbit if ESPN does not reset the field correctly."
This guy, who loves TV and loves NASCAR, is this close to going Elvis on his TV. And it's all thanks to your NASCAR coverage, ESPN.
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Yes, I am exaggerating. In my limited interactions with Daly, he seems like the kind of guy who does not punch holes in walls or threaten small woodland creatures. But Daly's Web site and Twitter account have become the sounding boards for fan frustration with ESPN's ho-hum coverage. (And the sounding board for all things TV and NASCAR, as well.) Fans are pissed disappointed wall-punchy tired of coverage that does not reflect the action on the track. As you can see in the not-at-all-made-up graphic above, fans are turning down the volume in droves. They're tuning you out, ESPN. In the information competition between ESPN and Scene Daily writer Jeff Gluck's Twitter account, Gluck is winning. By five car lengths. And he has clean air.
ESPN is failing on many levels. The directing is sub-par. Viewers often miss the best action on the track, both during the race and during commercials. The announcing is lacking. Dr. Jerry Punch should not be the lead announcer. (He's great, just not great at that particular job.) The pit road reporting is all over the place. Every time they throw it to Vince Welch I wonder, "Will this make All Left Turns?" Is this the next phantom feud?
The only proper way to watch a race from home is to mute the TV, turn on MRN or TrackPass or both, follow writers and teams on Twitter and monitor the espn.com in-race chat. By doing all of those things you can, maybe, get a sense of what is happening on the track.
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Here's the thing, ESPN. Normally I don't uncork on other members of the media. There are days when I don't know what I am doing either. But unlike me, NASCAR needs you right now, probably more than ever. Manufacturers are cutting back. Sponsors are fleeing. Jim Beam and Jack Daniels are history. (Are you kidding me? NASCAR fans put Jim Beam and Jack Daniels in their lemonade. We use it as mouthwash.) The new car is saving lives, but it has dulled the action on the track. The Chase, as Daly pointed out last night, alienates a lot of fans. A perfect storm of financial and technical and strategic woe has hit the sport and the one thing that can salvage this season, the single factor that drew most fans to the sport, is the world-class competition that takes place on the track. If the television broadcaster cannot bring that action to America, with clarity and the appropriate amount of excitement, then NASCAR is going backwards.