Danica in driver's seat of Indy 500 intrigue

ON MEDIA

IndyCar, pucks and Schmuck

May 23, 2008|By RAY FRAGER

Your holiday weekend version of sports media notes to peruse while you consider whether to sell the piano so you can afford a tank of gas for a trip to Ocean City:

Sunday's Indianapolis 500 (noon, WMAR/Channel 2 and WJLA/Channel 7) is the first since the rival factions of open-wheel racing unified and Danica Patrick proved once and for all that she's not Anna Kournikova in a fire suit by winning her first IndyCar Series event. So maybe the Indy 500 is carrying a bit more buzz this year for ABC/ESPN.

(No, Big Brown is not competing - though Rick Dutrow probably thinks his horse could win.)

ESPN executive producer Jed Drake said of the 500 (according to conference-call highlights): "We have a wonderful confluence of reunification, a next generation of drivers and the inevitable and omnipresent story of Danica Patrick. When you take all of those factors, throw them into the history and heritage of this race, and the heritage of the coverage on ABC, I do believe that in a world of hyperbole, this one is not hyperbolic."

Speaking of Patrick, analyst Scott Goodyear said: "I think she deserves all the stuff she gets on the air. I'm sure that knowing drivers as they are, there are some that realize that this is a great thing for the sport. There are probably some that are a little jealous of the attention that she gets. I think they all realize that Danica is good for their sport, which is their business. Anytime that we can increase the awareness of our business, I think it's terrific."

Plus, Helio Castroneves can dance, but I'm guessing he doesn't look great in a bikini.

When someone wants to talk about how low the NBA's profile had sunk in the bad, old days before the arrival of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, he or she invariably will mention how the Finals once were shown on tape delay at nearly midnight. Perhaps someday when the NHL lifts itself into true No. 4 major league status in the United States, we can recall the days when the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals were carried on a channel called Versus.

That's the deal this year, with games 1 and 2 tomorrow and Monday on Versus before the rest of the series switches to NBC on Wednesday.

The NHL was fortunate enough to get a compelling matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, the latter featuring the league's most-promoted star, Sidney Crosby. Mike Emrick, NBC's excellent play-by-play voice, noted the favorable Finals this way during a conference call (according to highlights): "The hockey gods are smiling so wide that we can count their missing teeth."

Speaking of Crosby, Emrick said: "He will probably be the first one in the United States since [Wayne] Gretzky who can appear in any number of settings that are hockey-related or not and be recognized, particularly after this final."

Whenever the subject of replay in baseball comes up - as it has this week with the two blown home run calls at Yankee Stadium - I'm immediately reminded of the Jeffrey Maier Home Run that cost the Orioles in the playoffs in 1996. And one of the most enduring parts of that memory is Jon Miller's call on the play. He immediately recognized fan interference.

Whatever hopes ESPN had that its panel of sports media helping decide on "TitleTown USA" would be called "distinguished" have been dashed by an unfortunate misstep. ESPN has included Sun columnist Peter Schmuck on the panel, which leads me to believe that some kind of swag is involved. And if Fullerton, Calif., receives a vote, you'll know where it came from.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

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