Irvan comeback sits in front row among many Daytona story lines


There were a few notable high-profile comebacks in 1995, including the celebrated returns of Michael Jordan and Monica Seles, but perhaps no one had further to come back from than NASCAR driver Ernie Irvan.

Irvan's car smashed into a wall during a practice run at the Michigan International Speedway in August 1994, and his head and lungs were impacted so severely that there was talk he might not survive. That Irvan not only survived but also will be on the front row for Sunday's Daytona 500 (Channel 13, noon) is nothing short of astounding.

"The man was near death, and to come back here and be on the outside pole at the 500 is absolutely amazing. There were a lot of debates over whether he'd be able to drive on the street, much less in races," said Ned Jarrett, one of the team of CBS racing analysts who will work the Super Bowl of stock car racing.

Of course, Irvan's isn't the only story line that will be followed Sunday. Will Sterling Marlin win an unprecedented third straight 500? Will seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt capture his first Daytona in 18 starts? Can Jeff Gordon, last year's Cup winner and the youngest racer in the field, grab his first Daytona championship?

Those questions are all up for grabs Sunday, and CBS will deploy a fleet of personnel and a mountain of equipment to answer them.

For instance, a record 60 cameras will be positioned all over the 2.5-mile track and inside nine cars, including those belonging to Earnhardt, Marlin, Gordon, Bill Elliott and Jarrett's son, Dale.

In addition, the network will bring back "Flying Cam," a 4-foot-long, 30-pound, remote-controlled miniature helicopter that debuted at last year's race.

CBS technicians only received permission to use the camera a few days before the race, and were limited in how it could be used. However, with fewer restrictions and more lead time this year, network officials feel the camera will be a big help, particularly in areas where hand-held and fixed cameras won't ,, go.

Jarrett will be joined in analysis by 1980 Daytona champ Buddy Baker, with veteran CBS announcer Ken Squier providing the race call. Mike Joy, David Hobbs and Dick Berggren will work the pits.

More time on the greens

NBC and the PGA have announced a contract extension that will keep the Ryder Cup and the PGA Seniors championship on the Peacock Network into the next century. The Ryder Cup, which pits American and European teams in match play, and the PGA Seniors will now stay with NBC through 2005.

Conference calls

In the past, we've criticized ESPN for slipping in and out of news conferences of significant events, but the network, and its younger sibling, ESPN2, deserve kudos for staying with the Tommy Morrison press briefing in total.

Morrison, the heavyweight fighter who disclosed this week that he is HIV-positive, faced the cameras courageously in an 18-minute session, and ESPN looked classy in letting the moment play itself out without intrusion.

Speaking of news conferences, where were Channels 13 and 45 yesterday morning when Art Modell was introducing Ted Marchibroda as the new coach of the Baltimore NFL franchise?

Their failure to bring live coverage of a pretty significant moment in the city's new football history looked weak next to Channels 2 and 11, which broke into programming for the mid-morning Memorial Stadium conference.

Split decision

In advance of an expected flood of protest calls tomorrow when local viewers get sent around halftime from the Georgetown-Memphis game to the Army-Navy battle, Channel 13 officials are saying, "Don't blame us. The network made us do it."

A little background: In an attempt to juice up sagging regular-season ratings, CBS has stolen a page from its NCAA tournament handbook and is giving viewers at least one full game on Saturdays and Sundays, and pieces of one or two other games.

Normally, viewers see the second halves of games, but because Baltimore is considered a home market for Navy, the network -- in a basketball throw-in to the agreement it reached with the service academy to carry Army-Navy football games -- will have Channel 13 take just the first half of the Georgetown game before moving viewers to the entire Navy contest.

Channel 13 programmers battled CBS officials as best they could for permission to take all of the Georgetown-Memphis game, but to no avail.

So, at some early point in the Georgetown telecast, Channel 13 sports director John Buren will appear in a taped segment to explain to viewers what will happen and, most importantly, tell them it's not Channel 13's fault.

Also, CBS Sports vice president Len DeLuca said the network will be sure to give additional "tastes" or look-ins of the second half of the Georgetown game, and pledged that this kind of scheduling snafu won't happen again.

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