ESPN is off to the races with NASCAR Now, the new daily series that rose from the ashes of RPM2Night. As the network steps back into the racing world, they have some debts to pay. ESPN SportsCenter, ESPN News, and the company in general purposely avoided NASCAR for years since the network lost to Fox and NBC in a bidding war for programming rights.
It seems as though all is forgotten with the company's large scale commitment to televise all the Busch Series events, the final portion of the Nextel Cup season, and a daily show devoted solely to the sport. ESPN grabbed Rusty Wallace last year as an analyst, and allowed him to experience his rookie season behind the mike with the invisible IndyCar Series, where he gamely hung tough with the like of Dario, Helio, Mario, and Kosuke.
Anchoring NASCAR Now is Erik Kuselias, the former host of ESPN Radio's SportsBash. Kuselias has been struggling this season with one simple equation. Excitement on television does not necessarily originate from increasing the volume level of the host. While very professional, and surprisingly knowledgeable about racing, he is still a sports radio host who "likes to ask the tough question" and "put people on the spot for answers." Needless to say, this elicits eyebrow raises and deep breaths from those around him. He seems like a nice guy, so let's hope a little more television experience settles him down.
The series itself holds great potential for both ESPN and NASCAR. Featuring a diverse cast of characters including basketball great Brad Daugherty and the dynamic Shannon Spake, the show holds the promise of mixing hardcore race information with lifestyle reports and solid opinion. The addition of the controversial Marty Smith from NASCAR.com and Tim Cowlishaw from ESPN's own Around the Horn adds a nice slice of professional journalism to the overall picture.
While the early studio shows worked smoothly, the transition to a live on-site environment at Daytona has proven to be problematic. No doubt ESPN is working hard behind the scenes to solve these problems with transitions and camera work, mostly generated by the large number of talent on-camera in the show. The series lacks dynamic theme music, standard in and out transitions, and a signature daily feature, but it appears these items may be sorted out with more on-air time.
At Daytona, ESPN will face-off for the first time with the SPEED Channel heavy hitters, Raceday and Victory Lane. Jimmy Spencer, Kenny Wallace, and John Roberts exhibit a charm and charisma that the NASCAR Now crew has yet to develop, so it will be interesting to see who wins the weekend.