The 16th running of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard was heralded as a must-see event by the folks at ESPN in the buildup to the portion of the season where the network, along with ABC, broadcasts all NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide events. The 17-race stretch not only includes the Brickyard but the night race at Bristol and the entire 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.
ESPN was set up by a great Camping World Truck and Nationwide series races at O'Reilly Raceway Park, which is across town from IMS. The racing at the 5/8 mile was spectacular to say the least. We saw two-wide (and often times three-wide racing) at the bullring in the closing stages of both races. Ron Hornaday made history by becoming the first driver to win four truck races in a row and Carl Edwards charged from the back and held off Kyle Busch for the win. ESPN was set. They had the momentum going from the Nationwide broadcast, which was very well put together.
But when the green flag fell on Sunday, ESPN failed to deliver and the Allstate 400 also failed to deliver. To summarize it: the tire debacle from a year ago would have been more entertaining than the 400 miles of mediocrity I saw on Sunday.
Let me clear up a few things: I was pulling for Juan Montoya to win. But the manner in which he dominated the race made it boring. He had a five-second lead at one point. Even for the most hardcore NASCAR fans (which I count myself as) it was hard to watch. If not for the final 25-lap duel between Mark Martin and eventual winner Jimmie Johnson, the race would have been a total flop.
Goodyear brought a great tire. But this car isn't meant to be raced on this track. Stockcars in general aren't meant to be race on this track. Do I think NASCAR needs to leave the Brickyard? Yeah I do. We've got tracks all over the country that produce better racing. Let's try going there instead of continuing to go back to Indianapolis for a boring race. The same could be said for the Auto Club Speedway as well.
ESPN didn't have much to play with on Sunday, but what they did have they totally flopped. I was thrilled when Jerry Punch was named the Play-by-Play guy for NASCAR on ESPN in 2007. I felt better knowing that he was up in the booth simply because of his history in the sport. He was one of the best in the business on ESPN races in the 90's and he was in the booth for Earnhardt's final win at Talladega in 2000.
But seven years past between Punch's last stint with NASCAR and his current role. He's the wrong person up there. He's bringing down the broadcasts, and I'm concerned about how the final 16 races will go. NASCAR right now needs a punch in the stomach (no pun intended there.) They need someone who can put excitement in the racing. They need a production team who comes from a racing background and understands what to look for during the race broadcasts. ESPN doesn't have that right now. What they have is a bunch of "stick and ball" guys running things in the production truck, and a pit reporter who was put in the booth to be the voice of the franchise.
ESPN does have superior pit reporters, a good balance in the infield pit studio, and two great analysts in the booth who help out Punch. But ESPN failed to deliver on Sunday, just like the race did itself.
I'm actually looking forward to the race at Pocono now. What does that say?