A conference call with a lot of 'Punch'

BY ROGER DIEZ

Appeal Motorsports Writer

I was fortunate to be invited to a conference call earlier this week with the ESPN announce booth team for this weekend's Brickyard 400 and the remainder of the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup series races. Dale Jarrett, in his first booth appearance at Indy, will join lead announcer Dr. Jerry Punch and former champion crew chief Andy Petree, who are in their second year at the Brickyard.

Producer Rich Feinberg was also on the call and addressed ESPN's technical enhancements to the coverage. Feinberg said that rather than launching innovations like Draft Track and in-car HD cameras, they are refining and enhancing their technical features this season. He also revealed that Tony Stewart would be the in-race reporter for the Brickyard broadcast. Questioned on "Smoke's" documented love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with the media, Feinberg pointed out that Stewart's passion about Indy and his outspoken comments would make for exciting television. I have no argument with that!

Former Brickyard winner Jarrett was next up, and his opinion was that to win at Indy took every resource a race team has: horsepower, handling, downforce, race strategy, flawless pit stops, and luck. Asked about Kyle Busch's season, Jarrett allowed that "Shrub" was having a phenomenal, even dominant, season (which is pretty obvious to even the casual race fan). But Jarrett feels that Busch has the maturity to handle his success now, whereas he wouldn't have had that two seasons ago.

During the question period I had the opportunity to ask Dale to compare his success as a driver and in the booth to his father, Ned's. He said that he tried not to compare himself to his dad as an announcer, just as he hadn't tried to do so as a driver. He pointed out that NASCAR was a very different sport, particularly in terms of media attention, when Ned won his two championships than it was when Dale won his, but that he tried to pattern himself after his father in the booth.

At that point Punch jumped in with praise for both father and son in the booth. Punch had worked with Ned when ESPN broadcast NASCAR exclusively in the 1980s an early 90s.

"The thing that the have in common is that they are both true gentlemen," Punch said. "Besides that, they both have the ability as past drivers to see things on the track that others don't. Ned didn't overanalyze things on the track, and neither does Dale."

Punch, who went to high school with both Dale and Andy Petree, also talked about their chemistry.

"What comes across from us as a team is that we're just three good friends talking about the race," Punch said.

And he saved his best compliment for Dale for last.

"You remind me of your dad," he said. Dale jokingly asked Punch if he had paid him enough for his praise.

For Petree's part, he just said that he learned in his first year just how different the perspective at Indy was from the Pagoda as opposed to pit road. Having been a winning Brickyard crew chief, he also brings a unique perspective to the pit strategy aspect of the race.

- A little farther north of Indianapolis, the Indy Racing League welcomes a new face to the combined series. The "Thrill from West Hill," Paul Tracy, makes his 2008 debut in an Indy car, his first since his heartbreaking loss to Helio Castroneves at Indianapolis in 2002.

A couple of years ago when the IRL and Champ Car were still feuding, Tracy had been quoted as saying of IRL cars, "I wouldn't drive one of those crapwagons." Well, times have changed, and Tracy was in a "crapwagon" for practice at the airport circuit in Edmonton, Alberta, earlier this week, driving the No. 22 Vision Racing entry. Although he brushed a wall and took a few excursions into the grass and over the curbs, Tracy was well up in the top 10 in speed, posting the seventh and eighth fastest times in the first two practice sessions. Not bad for a program that just came together ten days ago. And having Tracy in the race will be sure to sell lots of tickets in Canada.

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