Wednesday, April 11, 2007
ESPN Continues To Struggle With NASCAR Credibility
There is a new tone being set by ESPN2 and its daily show, NASCAR Now. As opposed to older ESPN shows like SpeedWeek and RPM2Nite, this new Bristol, CT based group has decided to treat NASCAR as a source of controversy and problems. Despite the fact that the sport is over fifty years old, NASCAR Now acts as though it is "discovering" issues that are always dramatically portrayed as "critical." The problem is, NASCAR Now has labored to build any type of credibility with the fans. That struggle continues.
Today, host Doug Banks blew through the Michael Waltrip accident story without displaying any human feelings or even seeming to care about this man and his struggles. Waltrip could have been a bum on the corner who was hit by a car. This is exactly the problem. Those of us who follow the sport know the history of Michael, his connection with Dale Earnhardt Sr., and his giant leap of faith into the world of team ownership with Toyota. We know his wife, his daughter, and his world. Almost everyone has been entertained by Michael on his SPEED Channel show Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing. Whether he makes you laugh or makes you nuts, we know who Michael is and care about him as a person...because we are NASCAR fans. ESPN has consistently struggled to attach "human emotion" to this sport.
Somehow, Clint Bowyer was roped into calling into NASCAR Now for an interview about another thing ESPN is obsessed with...accidents. Bowyer again had to talk Doug Banks through the Daytona accident that took place in February. Just like people who see a NASCAR race for the first time, NASCAR Now has not yet arrived at an understanding that incidents are just a part of the sport. The Bristol, CT producers love the "violence," which we know from both the Bowyer and Reutimann accidents. These are not hockey or baseball fights, and the continued use of accident footage just because ESPN has it is amateurish.
Angelique Chengelis is always on her game, and finally someone talked plainly about the Ford issues with Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin. If Chengelis had been allowed to do the interview of Clint Bowyer, fans would have been able to get good strong questions and information, instead of Bank's scripted fluff. Perhaps, if NASCAR Now made it available, the fans could send in questions for the drivers. Anything that can help with the hideous content of these interviews.
Brad Daugherty is still an interesting person to have on a NASCAR show. Everyone on NASCAR Now has a defined role...except him. He is not called an analyst, not called an Insider, and not called a reporter. He has never been allowed to prepare a feature report, never been allowed to interview NASCAR personalities, and is brought on the show to comment on things without fans understanding his perspective or credibility. I understand he was a Busch Series owner, a diversity executive, and serves on the appeals panel. But, how does that translate to this show? Why is he talking about the "bump" at Texas or Carl Edwards being "the man?"
With Major League Baseball's key match-up of Dice-K against Ichiro following this show, the emphasis of the entire ESPN day was on what ESPN does best, stick-and-ball sports. While NASCAR has held its own during spring training, the opening of the baseball season clearly puts this sport on the back-burner at ESPN in Connecticut.
Last week's host Ryan Burr absolutely got rave reviews for his knowledge of NASCAR, his ability to interview guests, and his relationship with the NASCAR Now reporters. Fans are wondering why ESPN cannot simply put this talented man on this show right now? With baseball underway, there is even more of a need to establish some credibility for this series before it fades even further into the shadows. NASCAR Now needs Ryan Burr, and they need him now.