Saturday, February 24, 2007

ESPN: NASCAR Now - Friday Night

With only a short time on the air, ESPN2's NASCAR Now has shown us flashes of brilliance mixed with confusing arrogance. There is no other way to categorize the decision-making that results in an endless flow of different faces who speak on topics and then vanish into thin air. Media types call it the "SportsCenter syndrome." Every news story has to be followed by a team of "experts" that sit in an studio ready to tell us how much they know...and remind us of how much we don't.

NASCAR Now has hosted NASCAR President Mike Helton on the phone to explain in-person his "Daytona caution" decision, and then in the same week had college basketball's Brad Daugherty make a complete fool of himself while trying to explain sponsor conflicts as a "NASCAR expert."

They have had analyst Stacy Compton brilliantly break-down the final lap of the Daytona 500, and then had journalist Tim Cowlishaw offer bizarre opinions on issues from sponsorship to driver performance. Cowlishaw's general conversations are fine on Around the Horn, but ridiculous on NASCAR Now. Apparently, Mr. Obvious appears on more than just "The Bob and Tom Show."

Finally, Mark Martin races in his first NASCAR event since Daytona, and is spun-out on a late restart in the Fontana NCTS race. Heartbreak again live on national TV in primetime on Friday night. Should it have been the lead story on NASCAR Now? Absolutely. Did the Disney/ABC/ESPN executives allow a SPEED Channel race to lead their show? Absolutely not. The entire truck race coverage consisted of thirty-five seconds of video highlights at the end of the show. There was absolutely no interview of the winner, no reaction from Martin himself, and no conversation with Daytona 500 winner Harvick, who also drove in the race.

ESPN has to make a decision, and they need to make it fast. Are they here as a NASCAR TV partner, or here to be a self-serving ego-driven company? I know memories are short, but the last time NASCAR walked away from ESPN it was for exactly that reason. NASCAR had lost patience with the fact that ESPN thought it was bigger than the sport. The anger of that moment might have faded over the years, but the shaky start of NASCAR Now in reference to news judgement and fairness hints at the same problems the network has with other sports. Someone needs to step-up, and steer this ship in the right direction.

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