ESPN’s booth for NASCAR coverage – analysts Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree and lap-by-lap announcer Allen Bestwick – participated in a media availability today at Daytona International Speedway along with Rich Feinberg, ESPN vice president, motorsports. ESPN will televise Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race from Daytona starting at noon ET. A transcript of the conference follows:
RICH FEINBERG: Good afternoon, everybody. As always, happy to be back here in Daytona with our team, Allen and Andy and Dale Jarrett. As many of you may have heard, we recently announced that Ray Evernham will be rejoining our talent team, and we’re delighted and excited to have Ray back with our group.
We come here to Daytona, just a mere 94 days since our last telecast, which was at Homestead, and we could not be more happy with how the season ended for us and for the sport. As I’m sure many of you were as we were, very excited about what happened at Homestead.
Last year was a successful year for us. Just a couple of quick thoughts about that. Our Chase telecasts were up 14% in the ratings. That was nice to see that growth. And Homestead was up 19%, and was the most viewed race ever on ESPN, so that was certainly a high watermark for us, and we were delighted to finish that way.
As we finished last year and start this year, technology always remains a focus of our telecast, in addition to entertaining and storytelling, and documenting race coverage, I’m happy to announce our NASCAR NonStop initiative that we launched last year in the Chase will return this year to all our Chase telecasts.
For those who are not familiar, during the second half of all our Chase races, we do commercials in a two box format, allowing our viewers to see continuing coverage. Our goal is to service them the best that we can. That worked out quite well for us. We got a lot of good feedback on the research side and audience analysis side on how positive our NASCAR nonstop initiative was.
In addition, we used other technology that we deployed last year that’s returning this year, including our dual path technology that allows viewers to see multiple in car camera angles. Our 5.1 surround sound for those of you with home theaters, I encourage you to crank it up so we can rock your house. And our race effect system that allows us to do more graphics and pointer technology over more cameras than we’ve ever done in the past, including our aerial systems and helicopters which uses new technology visual recognition to identify the cars and help show the viewers what’s going on the racetrack.
I could not be prouder of the work our team did last year. We’re really excited to get going this year. And with that, I’ll turn it over to the real experts in the room, our talent.
Q – Allen, what is your general philosophy of the anchor position and what you bring to the table?
ALLEN BESTWICK: First of all, I’m thrilled to be back at Daytona again. It’s really an honor to be here and call these races. This is a magical place for me. I lived here for about a decade, and to come back here every year in this particular job is just a real thrill.
We are all about, Rich was talking about, 94 days since Homestead. And we’ve had conversations among ourselves how if Tony Stewart’s team came to every race this year and put the exact same set up in the car they raced last year, by some point in this season they’re going to be getting lapped.
Our team in those 94 days has done a phenomenal amount of work looking for how we can push the technology and how we can better serve the fans. What our goal is, and my goal is and my job is to make sure that we’re doing the best possible job of documenting the race that we can and putting on the best possible telecast for the fans that we can.
That’s what it’s all about is serving the fans of this sport and the television viewers that watch, and make sure that we’re doing the job for them as best we possibly can.
For me, that means being as prepared as I can, having fun, because that is what it’s all supposed to be about, and making sure that journalistically we tie up all the stories in a proper way that makes sense, is understandable, and entertaining at the same time.
I’m very proud of the work we did last year, but also mindful that like those race teams, we have to constantly dig for the next greatest way to raise the bar, and we will do that.
Q – For Andy, there’s been a lot of talk about the changes that NASCAR has made to the cars in the Sprint Cup Series to break up the tandem drafting. But the Nationwide Series cars haven’t tested here and there hasn’t been a whole lot of talk about what NASCAR may have done. So Andy, what has been done for the Nationwide Series?
ANDY PETREE: NASCAR did a lot of testing with the Sprint Cup package down here and found an aero package that really worked. What we saw in the Bud Shootout the other night was incredible. They’ve done the same things aero wise as far as the inlets for the radiators. They’ve moved them up, made them specified size. They’ve reduced the pressure on the cooling system to 25 pounds which is going to make these drivers have to separate to get air to the front end of the car so they can cool.
The other thing that they’ve done is they’ve lowered the rear bumper which restricts air flow to the front of the car. All of these things are going to try to enhance the same kind of racing that we saw in the Bud Shootout. More pack style, less of the two car tandem.
In the Nationwide Series, I expect to see that two car tandem be a little more effective, and the biggest reason is because of the rear spoiler. The rear spoiler on these cars is bigger, and they make a lot bigger hole in the air.
I really believe there is more payoff for that two car tandem in the Nationwide Series. We’ll see some of the pack racing, but also the two car tandem as something that’s going to be used as a tool to make the cars go faster. They can’t unlearn it. They’ve already learned how to do it. I think there is more payoff because of the aero difference in the Nationwide cars and the Cup cars.
Q – Dale, what are your thoughts as a former winner of the Daytona 500 on the return of the pack racing?
DALE JARRETT: It was fun to watch. I have to say Saturday night was one of the most entertaining races that I’ve watched. The drivers are just spectacular. Hopefully they’ve learned a little something about the pack racing again, because it seemed like obviously they’re going to try to survive 500 miles on Sunday, 150 miles tomorrow. And then 500 on Sunday to give themselves a chance to be in victory lane at the end of 500 miles is going to require not running into each other quite as much.
But it just shows that things have come a long way. I applaud NASCAR and the teams for the hard work and effort that they’ve put forth and giving the fans back what they really want to see.
For so many years that’s what they were accustomed to seeing when they went to Daytona 500 or Talladega to see that pack racing. I think it still may show what we saw as the shootout unfolded that hooking up with someone in a two car tandem is going to probably be the way to win it, but I don’t think that will be the case as far as throughout the majority of the race. But it should be a very entertaining weekend on Saturday and Sunday.
Q. – Dale, you’ve won the 500 three times, but in the last ten years there have been ten different guys who have won. Talk about that and why that might be?
DALE JARRETT: I think it has to do with the level of competition, and how difficult it is. I think sometimes we get lost in a way that we forget how difficult this is, and especially the biggest race of the year.
Everybody’s had the most time to prepare, all the drivers are excited. They’re in the best shape they’re going to be in all year, and you can’t make any mistakes and win this race. Because of the level of competition and changes to the cars, to the rules, it’s tightened everything up. So it makes it difficult to put that back to back or even, as you said, we haven’t had a repeat winner in a while.
So I think in years past, it was a little more easy whenever you had something, especially me going through with Robert Yates, and of course, I won my first one with Joe Gibbs. But I think that you could expect some of the same cast of characters to be there, and certainly there are a number of guys that we expect to see up front. But I think that continues on right on with an 11th time this year.
Again, the difficulty of it, and you’ve got a guy out there that is the defending champion of the series that hasn’t won this Daytona 500 yet, and I think it may be his time.
It’s just so incredibly tough to go put 500 miles together and make it happen, again, with the competition level.
Q. – Everybody knows what Tiger Woods meant to golf coverage back in the day. Is there a Danica factor, and if so how do you measure it? Does that help the overall economic health of the sport, do you think?
RICH FEINBERG: I think the answer has to be yes. It was two years ago we were sitting here and talking about Danica. One of the questions that I was asked was are you concerned about focusing too much on her. Yet somebody pointed out that 90% of the questions that came from you all in this room are about her. So our coverage is in balance with what we believe the audience interest is.
She is somebody that clearly has brought new fans to the sport. She represents appeal to a younger demographic which is an important area for us to grow our viewership base, and she’s a darn good race car driver.
So we’ve had the privilege to cover her for many, many years, both in IndyCar and in NASCAR. I couldn’t be more happy that she’s with us and the sport. Hopefully the fans feel the same way for the entire year.
DALE JARRETT: I think she’s a polarizing figure, and she’s embraced the idea that she is the face of the Nationwide Series and somewhat the Sprint Cup Series now. A lot of eyes are on her.
I’ll be quite honest, I was very skeptical whenever she came over, could she handle these cars, get in, and mix it up? I’m a fan. I think she can do it. Is she going to go out and set the world on fire? That’s going to be difficult to do because she’s up against the best in the world.
She’s good for the sport, and I think we do a very nice job of balancing that and giving her enough and giving the fans enough but not going over the top either. But you have to take advantage. She’s going to be good for the sport, and it’s going to be very healthy for us.
Q. – As always, there are always shifts on teams, with Kasey Kahne moving and Kurt Busch moving and Clint Bowyer moving. Can you talk about just who you think is going to make the biggest impact on a team? Can you specifically talk about Clint and his move from Childress to Waltrip?
ANDY PETREE: I think the biggest impact was Kurt Busch going over to James Finch. I think that was a good move for that team. I know James Finch personally and he is very excited about it. With Kurt with so much to prove and James having pretty good equipment, I think you’ll see some things that will surprise you over there.
Clint Bowyer, on the other hand left a great team to go drive for Michael Waltrip’s team. Got a great crew chief over there. I really respect Brian Pattie. They’re going to have a good season, and Clint’s a good race car driver. He’s probably not fulfilled his potential yet in the Sprint Cup Series. I think he’s championship material, and I expect him to make the Chase if they have a pretty decent start to the season. I think they’ll get a lot better as it gets rolling. But I think the start’s going to be critical for them though.
DALE JARRETT: I agree with what Andy said. I think it would be great if Kurt Busch and James Finch can make a good pair and good showing there on a weekly basis. We know there are going to be certain places just like here this Sunday that they can have a possible huge impact on what happens in this race.
Can they carry that on to Phoenix and Vegas? I think it will take some time to build that, but a good mix there. And hopefully Kurt can showcase the talents we know that he has on the racetrack there. I think it could be a little bit of a struggle for him for what he’s been used to. But as Andy said, a very talented race driver, and we expect to see things run.
Kasey Kahne can possibly have an impact on who wins the championship, because he might be somebody that is battling for it when we start talking about the last five races of the season.
I fully believe we’ll see Kasey Kahne in the Chase and have an opportunity with he and Kenny Francis with Hendrick Motorsports to prove what they can do and good they can be.
Q. – Rich, along the same lines as Danica and what she does for the sport, Travis Pastrana. Last year you guys were so pumped for him and his debut, and that took a turn there. Are you surprised it’s been a little bit challenging for him to get more races this year? How much are you guys looking forward to that when he comes over?
RICH FEINBERG: Fell is a good term to describe what happened last year. He fell out of the sky. Look, we were disappointed. We thought it was a tremendous opportunity not only for our company and the fans that we serve, but for the sport that we’re partners with.
He’s an amazing personality. I actually know Travis. I worked on the X Games since their inception, and he’s charismatic, he’s fun to talk to, and he doesn’t set a lot of barriers for himself. He’s a guy that goes out and gives it his all no matter what he’s done, whether it’s back flipping at the X Games or running his race car.
Yeah, it was an unfortunate situation, but I think that those who were involved, and I talked to Ty Norris about this, recognized the risks associated with what we call the Pastrana thon that weekend. We can’t wait to have him back on the track.
I mentioned earlier that one of our focuses is appealing our product to a younger audience base. If you look at things like Danica Patrick and Travis Pastrana and Ricky Stenhouse, and Austin Dillon, those all represent potentially the future of the sport. For us to have the ability to tell the stories to document the journey through the season with our Nationwide coverage on ESPN2 and ESPN, puts us in a really good place.
I think it can be as big of a deal, but it won’t be simultaneous. My understanding is the first race is going to be Richmond. It’s not going to be simultaneous with the X Games and our ability to cross brand those audiences, but he will be a major part of our Storytelling, no doubt about it?
Q. – Andy, a lot of us who aren’t tech guys look at what Johnson’s team did, and try to compare it to what Michael Waltrip’s team did with windshields, just as far as manipulating aero and stuff. Is that an accurate analogy? Would you expect kind of a similar penalty or similar advantage to the game by that?
ANDY PETREE: But anyway, I expect what you’re trying to do is work between the templates. You’ve got a ton of them now, so there are very few places to work. I expect to see the same kind of penalty, to answer your question. It’s the same kind of thing working in different areas of the car.
I personally think they’re taking a lot of the fun out of it. I’d rather be able to work on the cars more and put more creativity in them. They’ve kind of gone away from that. They smack you pretty hard if they get outside of that. I can’t remember the penalty for the windshield thing, but I expect maybe the same kind of thing for Chad on that.
Q. – Rich, can you talk about NASCAR on television as it relates to other sports how you think we compare in things that have come from this sport to coverage of other sports and maybe outline what we’ve contributed, you all have contributed, to the coverage of the way other sports are broadcast?
RICH FEINBERG: We just had our day-long meeting yesterday, and there was a research presentation. One of the things they pointed out is that of all the sports that we televise on ESPN, ABC, and ESPN2 and all our platforms, NASCAR is within the Top 5, putting aside some one-off special events. That’s a good place to be.
There are an awful lot of sports on our air and across our platforms, and to be at that level makes a statement about its value to our company and about the fan base.
On the technology side, these are big, complicated shows that we do here. We use on average 65 plus cameras. Everything we do is in high definition. It is a Super Bowl sized production that we do 35 weeks straight with a couple of off weeks in the spring.
We see all the time cross pollination between usage of technology on our air, and that’s because I work closely and side by side with my colleagues and my boss who oversee Monday Night Football, Major League Baseball, Soccer. So to the extent that we’re together when we’re not on the road, we’re constantly talking about how to take technology from one area of the company and cross pollinate it to the others.
In fact, when we got started with the X Games back in 1995, a lot of the systems that we brought into that project came from the world of Motorsports. So it’s somewhat of a laboratory in Bristol where we’re constantly trying to push the envelope and how we can serve our viewers better and in a more interesting and compelling way?
Q. – Andy and D.J., what you were saying there about how NASCAR has restricted the ingenuity of the crew chiefs. Do you think that it ever maybe unavoidably gets personal for NASCAR that they view it as some sort of an a front that here’s a guy who has broken the rules before, and is trying to slip something by us? Is that sort of unavoidable when they get into really restricting the cars?
ANDY PETREE: I know what you’re saying. I used to take it personal sometimes. I don’t think so. I think they’ve just got a strict set of rules, and they mean it. They say they don’t want you doing these things and they lay it out pretty clearly. When you do, which is your job I mean, you’re always walking that tight rope as a crew chief to what you can push. Your job is to push it. Now they keep pushing that line so close that it makes it tough.
But they don’t take it personally, no. I can tell you firsthand they don’t. The only time they take it personal is when you make it personal. So I don’t think so.
About NASCAR on ESPN:
ESPN produces comprehensive, multi-platform coverage featuring telecasts of the final 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup races, including the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Additionally, ESPN is the television home of the NASCAR Nationwide Series. ESPN’s NASCAR coverage extends to ESPN.com, SportsCenter, ESPN the Magazine, WatchESPN, ESPN Classic, ESPNEWS, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Radio and ESPN International, among other ESPN platforms. ESPN aired 262 NASCAR Cup Races over a 20-year period starting in 1981 and returned to NASCAR coverage in 2007. The network’s award-winning, live flag-to-flag coverage on ESPN has been honored with 19 Sports Emmy Awards, as well as many industry honors. It is widely credited for helping to popularize the sport nationwide.