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NBC not easing off throttle
In the final season of its six-year run airing NASCAR, the network says its will still give a full effort.
By SHARON GINN
Published February 17, 2006
NBC essentially became a lame (some would say lamer) duck once it chose not to compete for a new NASCAR contract. But too much is at stake, said NBC's NASCAR producer Sam Flood , for the network to shift into neutral for its final season as an on-air partner.
Flood said he feels a responsibility to make sure the seven on-air personalities and the production and technical people are in "the best position," to slip right into new jobs after the season is over. But Flood also will leave NASCAR earlier than everyone else to take over as producer for NBC's new Sunday night football studio show; his midseason replacement has not been named.
Al Michaels and John Madden said that kind of uncertainty made things awkward at times during this final season of Monday Night Football on ABC. But the MNF crew also enjoyed its final season together, and Flood said he expects the same from his NASCAR team.
"We're really happy with the group we have," Flood said. "We thought last year was (a success). ... We're going to continue that."
Ratings for NBC's coverage, like those for Fox's, have consistently increased throughout the six-year contract. But NBC has often gotten a tepid or worse response from many die-hard racing fans, some of whom have complained that the network appeared to lack passion for the sport.
Before last season the network tweaked things a bit, moving Allen Bestwick from play-by-play to reporting duties on pit road, and moving Bill Weber to the booth alongside analysts Wally Dallenbach and Benny Parsons . Those decisions generated some negative Internet buzz, but for this season the assignments will not change.
"Alan did a great job and Bill, Benny and Wally had a great chemistry," Flood said.
It is too early to say where any of them will be next season. TNT, NBC's cable partner for the second half of the Nextel Cup season, is part of the new contract and will continue to air races through 2014. ABC and ESPN also seem to have spots available; the networks' only announced hire for 2007 is recently retired driver Rusty Wallace as lead analyst.
"A lot of people will end up going over to the TNT coverage," Flood predicted. "It's not an ending for this group. It's not like the Monday Night situation." But he added "It's going to be exciting to see where everyone lands."
But first, NBC will broadcast Sunday's Daytona 500 then pick up the second half of the Nextel Cup competition in July, as it has each of the past six seasons.
Flood said pulling out of NASCAR coverage was a financial decision for NBC, which has Olympics broadcast rights through 2012 and recently added Sunday night NFL games.
The network didn't believe the package was as valuable as what NASCAR was asking for it. When the new deal was announced in December, published reports said the agreement was for a total of $4.5-billion, or 61 percent higher than the previous deal signed in 2000.
NEWS AND NOTES: Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s newly formed production company, Hammerhead Entertainment, has a deal with Speed Channel to produce 13 30-minute episodes of Back in the Day . Earnhardt will host the series, which will revisit NASCAR in its infancy. It will be modeled on the vintage race program Car and Track . ... NASCAR driver Elliott Sadler will join Speed's show Trackside for the second half of the season. He'll join the live, pre-event Friday night show on July 7.