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ESPN brings HD to in-car cameras
After six years away from the sport, ESPN made its return to live NASCAR racing Saturday at Daytona International Speedway with flag-to-flag coverage of the NASCAR Busch Series season opener. The four-hour telecast on ESPN2, which included the one-hour pre-race NASCAR Busch Series Countdown show, ended with Kevin Harvick edging Dave Blaney for victory in the 300-mile race.
ESPN host Brent Musburger set the stage for the telecast, calling Daytona “a legendary coliseum of roar,” and “a modern-day Circus Maximus,” and lead announcer Jerry Punch reflected on ESPN’s return to flag-to-flag racing coverage as the 43-car field was coming to the green flag. “These fans have been waiting and we have been waiting. Boy, have we been waiting!” Punch said.
Punch worked the booth with NASCAR champion driver Rusty Wallace and two-time NASCAR champion crew chief Andy Petree. Pit reporters were Allen Bestwick, Dave Burns, Jamie Little and Mike Massaro.
Using the most advanced technology in the history of televised motorsports, ESPN introduced “Draft Track,” a special effect that allowed viewers to see the gain or loss in horsepower and downforce as cars raced in the famous Daytona draft. In addition, the telecast was presented entirely in High Definition, including the first-ever use of in-car HD cameras, and Sportvision graphics and pointers were used for the first time in coverage of a NASCAR Busch Series race.
“The HD cameras onboard were flawless,” said Jed Drake, ESPN senior vice president and executive producer, remote production. “And we were able to go to the Draft Track several times. I thought it helped explain to our viewers what was going on in critical situations.”
The first time the Draft Track feature was used, Kyle Busch was leading and the graphic showed his car gaining more than 30 horsepower when Matt Kenseth’s car tucked into a close draft behind him. Viewers also saw his car lose horsepower when Kenseth attempted to pass Busch on the inside. “This is the first time I’ve seen this and it’s about like a real-time wind tunnel,” Petree told viewers.
The in-car camera offered clean HD views on two occasions when cars with cameras onboard hit the wall coming out of turn two. The first was when Sam Hornish slipped into the wall, and viewers saw a repeat when David Reutimann suffered the same fate several laps later. “I’ll tell you what, that’s exactly what you see as a driver,” said Wallace.
Driver Carl Edwards, who ultimately finished third, served as in-race reporter at Daytona, talking to Wallace via radio before the race start and during caution periods. His crew chief, Pierre Kuetell, talked with Petree by radio. Both offered explanations to viewers of track and driving conditions, while Edwards talked about how his car was behaving.
In the opening segment prior to the start of the race, Wallace predicted that a slick race track and new tire compound would come into play very quickly. “The new right-side tire is playing havoc with these guys,” said Wallace. “By about lap 15, these cars are going to become ill-handling.” Petree added that an aerodynamics package mandated for the NASCAR Busch Series cars was also “throwing the drivers curves.” Wallace was one lap off in his prediction as on lap 16 six cars tangled and spun off of turn four as drivers battled their loose race cars.
“The booth clicked,” said Drake. “They were informative and entertaining, and we were quite pleased.
“It was a very solid first effort,” he added. “We thought we covered the race well. There were a lot of storylines in play and we were on them. Now that we’ve been through the first race, we’re off and running.”
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