Monday, March 19, 2007

SPEED: Inside NEXTEL Cup - Atlanta

Two cars is what the Cup race in Atlanta came down to. Two is also the number of other NASCAR races that weekend. Finally, Monday night on SPEED there were two conversations going on. At the same time. On the same show.

The new driver panel featuring Greg Biffle in addition to regulars Kenny Schrader and Michael Waltrip are clearly feeling their oats. Biffle fit in almost immediately, and his tough racer mentality and solid knowledge of cars and mechanical issues has forged a strong alliance on the set. These three drivers are clearly ready for the rest of the season together, and they are going to make it fun again.

Left out of the alliance, as was Brian Vickers last year, is series host Dave Despain. Time-and-time again Despain interjected into on-going conversations between the drivers, only to be completely ignored. The NASCAR inside jokes and references were flying just like the show during its heyday on SpeedVision. All the host needed to do was step aside and let it roll. It didn't happen.

Fans had already seen the highlights countless times on SPEED Channel alone, and there was absolutely no urgency to "keep things on track" as Despain continues to say. That is the fundamental aspect of this show that makes it great. Getting three smart and funny NASCAR drivers together almost guarantees that things will never stay "on track." The things viewers love come not from watching day-old highlights, but from the comments about Michael's hair, Kenny lack of a thumb, or Greg Biffle getting bashed by the Pizza Car.

This show did not stay on the air as a fan favorite for ten years because of Dave Despain, or for that matter because of original host Alan Bestwick. It stayed because Bestwick knew when to shut-up and Despain simply does not. His interjections work perfectly on WindTunnel when the person talking is Bob in Idaho who had a few beverages and believes Jimmy Johnson is Satan. But Despain is over-matched by three millionaires who flew in on their private planes and are stopping by to "play on TV" before heading for their multi-million dollar homes for some rest. This episode was fun because the ghost of TV chaos poked his head in to test the waters. It was fun because no one paid attention to the host, as usual. It was fun because the video highlights always lead to discussions that have absolutely nothing to do with....the video highlights! That's what this show is, and that is what it can be again with the cooperation of the SPEED Channel production team and NASCAR Images. Good times for the network and this program can be on the horizon if someone in charge can just say..."let them play."