NASCAR Better Late Than Ever

Drivers who are facing a setting sun going into California Speedway’s Turn 3 might not be thrilled about the 4 p.m. start for Sunday’s Nextel Cup Pop Secret 500.

And fans who have traveled hundreds of miles to the Fontana track might not be thrilled about getting back home late at night.

But the late start allows NBC to show the race in prime time in the East. And it is worthy of its time slot.

As things have turned out, NASCAR officials did the right thing when they scheduled this race for prime-time network television.

And for NBC, it’s a two-for-one bargain -- a race within a race. There is the race itself, and then there is the race to see which 10 drivers qualify for the final 10-race chase to the season championship.


Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. already have qualified. There are 10 to 12 other drivers who have a shot at the remaining seven spots.

There is only one Nextel Cup race left after Sunday’s to determine who makes the chase -- the nighttime Chevy Monte Carlo 400 on Sept. 11 at Richmond, Va., a race TNT will televise.

The new format for determining the season champion wasn’t initially greeted with enthusiasm in all circles, but the television networks that carry NASCAR love it.

Speed Channel, which already devotes a lot of time to NASCAR, is expanding its coverage by as much as two hours a day, beginning this weekend.

And the NBC folks couldn’t be happier.

“The beauty of this is we have another story to cover,” producer Sam Flood said. “Of course the race is our first priority.”

Host Bill Weber will set the stage before turning it over to Allen Bestwick, Benny Parsons and Wally Dallenbach in the booth. Then it will be up to Weber, with help from his colleagues, to sort things out after the finish.

“One of the great things about NASCAR is that the race will bring the story to you,” Weber said. “And we should have some outstanding stories to tell on Sunday.”

College Galore

College football gets into full swing this weekend with 10 games on television Saturday and, because there is no NFL football, four games Sunday. ABC was going to show Florida State-Miami on Monday night, but the game was postponed because of Hurricane Frances. ABC will still televise the game when it is played next Friday.

UCLA’s opener against Oklahoma State is one of three ABC regional telecasts at 12:30. Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts will call the UCLA game. ... Chris Roberts begins his 13th season as the radio voice of the Bruins.... Petros Papadakis makes his debut as a commentator when FSN televises Fresno State at Washington on Sunday at 2:30.

Another Bruin Talker

Former UCLA quarterbacks are all over the place in broadcasting. Troy Aikman is on Fox, David Norrie is on ESPN, Tom Ramsey was on FSN and Matt Stevens is the Bruins’ radio commentator.

Now Rick Neuheisel is giving it a try. He will be flying from Seattle to New York each week this season to tape a college football show, “Crystal Ball,” that is televised by CSTV on Wednesday nights.

CSTV wanted him there on the weekends too, but Neuheisel is busy coaching football. For the second year, he is a volunteer assistant at a Seattle high school. He also is helping coach his 12-year-old son Jerry’s Pop Warner team.

Coaching -- at any level -- is still Neuheisel’s top priority.

As for broadcasting, Neuheisel said, “I’ve done one show, and I enjoyed it. But I’m still hoping to get back into coaching.”

Neuheisel, fired as Washington’s coach before the 2003 season, is awaiting a decision by the NCAA to see if he will be able to apply for another major college coaching job.

Pro Football

Fred Gaudelli, the producer of “Monday Night Football,” on the possibility of the series moving to ESPN next season, said, “It’s all pure speculation at this point. It’s all just a bunch of rumors and the rumors are not being facilitated by ESPN or ABC, so we are just pretty much ignoring it. Any time this contract comes up, the rumor is that ABC is going to lose it, and we’re still here 35 years later.”

Said Al Michaels: “I’ve been on the show since ’86 and in ’87 they told us we were going to lose it and they told us we were going to lose it in ’92. We were supposed to lose it in ’97. All I know is, our company has made it really clear that we’re not interested in [moving the series to ESPN].”

“Monday Night Football” again this season begins on a Thursday night. ABC has the season opener next week, Indianapolis at New England, preceded by a one-hour NFL entertainment special at 5 p.m. No, Janet Jackson is not among the performers....

New “Monday Night Football” sideline reporter Michele Tafoya said Lesley Visser, the sideline reporter before Melissa Stark, had been very supportive.

“I heard from Lesley the first day this was announced,” Tafoya said. “I was really touched by that.”

Visser has just returned home from the hospital after recent hip replacement surgery.

Madden: ‘It’s a Miracle’

Pat Summerall, filling in for Mike Patrick at ESPN, will continue in that role through the first month of the regular season while Patrick recovers from heart surgery.

Former partner John Madden is among those happy to see Summerall doing so well, especially considering it was touch and go after he had a liver transplant in April.

“I knew what Pat went through and how close to death he was and then getting a liver and wondering whether it was going to be rejected or it would take,” Madden said. “I’ve talked to him a number of times since then and I was so impressed with how good he looks and how strong he sounds. It was good to see.

“If you knew where he was and where he is right now, it’s close to a miracle.”

Short Waves

Chris Marlowe, who announced Olympic volleyball for NBC, has accepted a job as a Denver Nugget announcer for a new Denver-based cable channel, Altitude Sports. ... Angel owner Arte Moreno will be among James Brown’s guests on the next edition of “Head to Head” on FSN West Sunday at 6 p.m. ... Former Channel 9 sports anchor Derrin Horton, who started a new job at NFL Network this week, said being involved with the NFL is a dream come true. Another plus is that Horton and his wife, Dilva Henry, Channel 9’s health and medicine reporter, recently moved from Pasadena to Marina Del Rey. Horton now has about a 10-minute commute to the NFL Network studio in Culver City.

Radio Notes

Six former Dodgers will make guest appearances on six upcoming Dodger broadcasts on KFWB (980), beginning with Eric Davis on Tuesday, Eric Karros on Wednesday and Tommy Davis on Thursday. Steve Garvey will be in the booth Sept. 27, Ron Cey, who made a recent guest appearance on TBS, will be there Sept. 28 and it will be Al Downing on Sept. 29. ...

There is a good possibility that Clear Channel will soon do some shuffling of its stations. The sports-talk lineup now heard on XTRA (690 and 1150) might move to KLAC (570), with 690 becoming an oldies station and 1150 a carrier of the Air America talk network. A plus would be that sports talk would on the Laker flagship station.

In Closing

The behind-the-scenes telecast of the USC-Virginia Tech game last Saturday on ESPN2 was pretty much a bust. It got an 0.2 rating nationally, drawing only 200,000 viewers, and an 0.2 rating in Los Angeles.