Behind The ScenesJournalism

Landmark NASCAR week sees ESPN News & Information teams rise to the reporting challenge

Marty Smith (Phil Cavali/ESPN Images)
Marty Smith (Phil Cavali/ESPN Images)

One of the most eventful weeks in NASCAR history, set off by events near the end of the Sept. 8 Sprint Cup race at Richmond and continuing to the opening race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in Chicago, presented ESPN’s news and information platforms with some difficult dilemmas.

“This was a challenging development to cover,” said Marty Smith, lead NASCAR reporter for SportsCenter and NASCAR Now, about the news-filled week. “It fundamentally made little sense.”

Smith had been at Richmond and was in the midst of the post-race coverage of the rising suspicions about the actions of the Michael Waltrip Racing team, along with ESPN’s event production team that had televised the race.

Things got more heated on Monday evening when NASCAR called an 8:15 p.m. ET news conference at its Concord, N.C., Research and Development Center. The notice came about an hour in advance.

Jim Bowdon, coordinating producer of NASCAR Now who also works with SportsCenter’s NASCAR coverage, got the notice from NASCAR as he was driving home from work.

“I quickly called one of our photographers in the Charlotte area,” Bowdon said. “And then I’m in contact with the news desk to let them know that this is happening.

“It’s not that we can just go live immediately, we have to get a [satellite] truck in place, so the news desk got a truck in place,” he said. “Marty Smith went directly there – he’d just gotten home from Richmond, and then I asked [analyst] Ricky Craven to head over.”

NASCAR announced the penalties for the Waltrip team, that Martin Truex Jr. was out of the Chase and Ryan Newman was in.

“[Smith and Craven] were there without a producer, but they covered it and went live on SportsCenter, and put together a piece for that night’s SportsCenter and did a great job,” Bowdon said.

The next day, driver Bowyer, whose spin late in the Richmond race set off the entire chain of events that led to the penalties, came to ESPN for a pre-arranged day of interviews in advance of the Chase. With the controversy boiling, Bowdon thought Bowyer might cancel his scheduled appearances.

“It was quite a challenging day for Clint,” Bowdon said. “The first interview he did on SportsCenter was with Jade McCarthy and Ricky Craven, and Ricky held his feet to the fire, asking some very pointed questions. I was afraid Clint was going to leave after the first interview, but he stayed and dealt with it as best as he could.”

News continued to break through the week, including Friday at Chicagoland Speedway when NASCAR announced the addition of Jeff Gordon to the Chase field and penalties to the Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports teams. Smith and news bureau producer Malinda Adams were at the track and Smith made numerous SportsCenter appearances to update the breaking news.

More news broke on both Saturday and Sunday, the day of the race. Through it all, Smith kept SportsCenter viewers updated and ESPN.com’s on-site reporters Brant James and John Oreovicz covered all aspects of the news for the site’s readers.

“It’s a huge story,” Smith said. “Any time integrity is questioned, it’s a huge story, whether it’s bounties, SpyGate, SignGate or, in this case, SpinGate.”

And then the NASCAR industry endured a rain-plagued race at Chicago, with numerous delays causing the race to not finish until just past midnight ET. After the race, Smith and others were understandably exhausted. Smith summed it up on Twitter:

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