The Final Word – Is ESPN trying to kill NASCAR?

Life is just grand. What could go wrong? We had Saturday night racing at Bristol, which should about compensate for those little irks I tolerate the rest of the week. Sure, I might have turned 55 a month ago, I’m as bald as a certain country’s national symbol, I have the inseam of a dwarf, blood sugar like a Slurpee, my brain exploded about 18 months ago, and I refer to Santa as that skinny old bearded fart. I mean, what more could I possibly have to complain about? Then I watched ESPN’s coverage from Bristol.

[media-credit name=”Brad Keppel” align=”alignright” width=”234″][/media-credit]What in hell was that? Okay, I thought Allan Bestwick did a fine job, showed some enthusiasm, but as the moderator he is supposed to be the guy who keeps it all together. He is not supposed to be the most entertaining dude on the show. They might not be the most dynamic duo ever, but usually I can stand Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. Not on Saturday night. Both were as exciting as funeral commentary delivered from my couch, little enthusiasm, unpolished, and adding nothing to what I was already seeing with my own eyes. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, some twit handed a microphone to Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. Funny how the audio can simply disappear from my television faster than the last crumbs of potato salad and cabbage rolls at a Thornton family dinner.

Bristol, on a Saturday night, and I started to ponder surfing the channels for a soccer match. Bristol! It takes some special kind of outfit to manage to screw that up, but ESPN did the impossible. However, we can fix this, at least if one isn’t really trying to kill NASCAR and drive all the fans at home away. First, take Dave Burns off pit row and place him alongside Bestwick. The guy always seems excited to be there, with a sense of urgency that I can feel at home. We need to hear more of that. Next, I would send Jarrett and Petree back down to the pits where they have expertise, then hire Wally Dallenbach to join the crew upstairs. He might not have been the most successful driver, but he can talk, inform, and entertain in a fashion that keeps me watching. Lord, do they ever need more of that. Oh, in order to ensure things don’t get screwed up, I would send Rusty and Brad somewhere, anywhere, as long as I don’t hear them during the course of the broadcast.

Bristol was not a total loss. The final 80 laps of 500 had some entertainment value, enough to almost compensate for the brutal coverage. Brad Keselowski kept ahead of Martin Truex Jr and Jeff Gordon to pretty much guarantee himself a spot in the Chase. Matt Kenseth looked good, but while Tony Stewart had a day from hell (and he wasn’t even watching ESPN) Clint Bowyer was just as bad and did not make up any ground in his hopes for a place in the Chase.

They try again this Sunday in Atlanta, where 23 drivers still maintain some hope in making the cut. The top eight are locked in, including the Busch boys, Jimmie Johnson, Kenseth, Gordon, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, and Ryan Newman. Only the worst kind of luck would keep Keselowski out of it. Dale Earnhardt Jr has a 39 point lead with two to go. Defending Atlanta winner Stewart has a 21 point margin, but up to eleven others can still beat out Denny Hamlin for that final wildcard spot through either points, wins, or a combination of both. I mention this as ESPN didn’t even bother putting up the updated standings during their wrap up. Again, thanks for nothing.

So, while Hamlin will have his hands full on Sunday trying to save his season, it could have been worse. Instead of racing for his life, he could have been stuck with the rest of us watching the broadcast on ESPN.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

Ron Thornton
Ron Thornton
A former radio and television broadcaster, newspaper columnist, Little League baseball coach, Ron Thornton has been following NASCAR on this site since 2004. While his focus may have changed over recent years, he continues to make periodic appearances only when he has something to say. That makes him a rather unique journalist.


  1. Had to laugh at your opening paragraph. I’ve also joined the Half Century club and can relate to some of it.

    Regarding the coverage, there seemed to be a crazy number of commercials but it pretty much always seems that way to me. I keep a laptop on my lap so I can look at the scoring while the commercials run. Helps a bit.

    I’m pleased Allen is back in the booth. He was missed. Still love Andy. To me, he is the most perceptive colour man I’ve experienced. Ned was a close second. I’m surprised how good his son Dale is though I don’t think pairing him with Andy is ideal.

    The shot selection and this insistence on telling “stories” instead of simply showing the racing on the track no matter where it is occurring really hurts the TV viewing experience. I watched many races where I felt I never really “saw” the race.

  2. Not to mention that, including on-air promo time, commercials accounted for over 40% of the broadcast time!

    Spot-on article, Ron. I think the best thing that could happen to ESPN’s coverage is laryngitis…

  3. Could not said it better myself. I cannot stand the commentary from ESPN so much, I hit mute and have my’s scanner on.


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