Sunday, April 15, 2007
ESPN's Sunday "NASCAR Now" Sputters Badly
ESPN had some 'splaining to do on Sunday. After making a major commitment to re-energize the Busch Series this season, big problems overtook the network before race time on Saturday. For the second time this year, ESPN allowed a live telecast of a women's tennis semi-final match to cancel the pre-race show, and run into the allotted time for the actual race. Then, live NHRA qualifying pushed the re-air of the race in prime-time back a considerable amount on Saturday night.
NASCAR Now took to the air on Sunday morning with the usually responsive Ryan Burr as the host along with Stacy Compton and Boris Said in the studio. Right from the beginning, it was clear that this was not the normal Ryan Burr, and this was not the normal NASCAR Now.
There was absolutely no mention of the Busch Series race in the opening segment of the telecast. How is this possible? For some strange reason, Brad Daugherty appeared live from Texas to address the age-old issue of missing a race. Said Daugherty, "if you miss the race, you lose momentum." He added, "its a real morale deficit if you do not get to participate on the weekend." What? Excuse me Brad, but where are the Busch Series race highlights and the interviews with the top five drivers and the winner? Michael Waltrip's team went home because of owner points. They did not fail to make the race on time. Brad described the "thousands of people" that companies bring in for races, and how its a shame when the car does not then race. Let me ask a question. Do you think Ward Burton's team brought in thousands of people from "State Water Heaters?" How about Kevin Lepage and his "MyAutoLoan.com" car? What is Daugherty talking about, and why is he doing it on national television?
NASCAR Now went on to run a day-old interview with Mark Martin and Shannon Spake addressing his return to the track. ESPN is having trouble digesting the fact that Mark is running a part-time schedule. They want controversy and problems, and what they are getting is NASCAR. Ryan Burr dramatically asked Stacy Compton, "what does it do to the field to have Mark Martin back?" Stacy looked at Ryan and said, "not a lot." When will ESPN get that NASCAR is not about drama? We don't have Pedro Gomez following Barry Bonds, don't have Dice-K shadowed by Peter Gammons, and we don't have Pacman Jones in handcuffs again. Focus on the racing!
As if things could not get more off-track, NASCAR Now actually ran a feature on the pretend Jeff Gordon vs. Jimmy Johnson "controversial finish." Race fans across America had to be shaking their heads. This two week old "non-story" could only appeal to the stick-and-ball guys at ESPN. Ryan Burr actually asked Stacy Compton if "there is any fall-out from this?" Again, Stacy looked puzzled and said, "no, I don't think so...they are still friends." He almost had to stifle a grin at the level of racing comprehension by ESPN. Boris Said, alongside on the set, did not have the same level of self-control. He was laughing.
Still waiting for the Busch highlights, Shannon Spake appeared to address the "Texas bump." Tongue-in-cheek firmly, she described the Texas repairs as "an implant for the track." Thanks to Dale Junior for coining that phrase. Ryan Burr then asked the studio panel, "doesn't every track have its quirks?" You could have knocked Compton and Said over with a feather. Burr then asked if this was "an over-blown issue?" It didn't take Compton more than a second to politely say, "I think so."
Incredibly, NASCAR Now picked raceday to dig-up the two day old story of Kelly Elledge addressing the DEI situation. This was on raceday with the cars on the grid. It was a last ditch attempt at drama. But, Marty Smith came on and politely told Ryan Burr that Junior is fine with everything, and "does not even talk about it." How much more embarrassment can ESPN take from their own reporters and analysts? Continuing to air dated material on raceday, ESPN then aired a piece about the Wednesday opening of JR Motorsports new shop. What this has to do with NEXTEL Cup racing, Texas, or raceday is beyond me. Imagine, ESPN ran a feature on the opening of a new Busch Series shop before they ran highlights from their own Busch Series race. Absolutely incredible.
Finally, Ryan Burr introduced the video highlights of the exciting Busch Series race from Saturday on ESPN2. The entire highlight package ran fourteen seconds, and showed absolutely nothing. Matt Kenseth crossed the finish line even as Burr described a "great pass" for the lead to win the race...which we did not see. Nothing has surprised me more than NASCAR Now's total disdain for the Busch Series, which was never more clear than in this program. Once again, it was treated as a minor support race, with short highlights, and then dumped for more NEXTEL Cup drama.
Brad Daugherty returned, and picked his three NEXTEL Cup favorites for Texas. Brad is great on-camera, highly-respected, and well-educated. The only question remaining is, why is he on NASCAR Now? He categorized Jeff Burton as "on-track to become one of the legendary great racers of the circuit." No reason why, of course, because Daugherty just speaks in general terms about everything.
The focus of the Sunday version of NASCAR Now on ESPN at this time of the season is to recap the racing activity from the previous day, and preview the racing activity about to happen. This version of NASCAR Now failed miserably. What happened? RaceDay on SPEED did a two hour program that gave fans a tremendous overview of what was happening at the track, what happened since the cars arrived, and what the race holds in terms of the teams and drivers. No drama, no controversy, no problems. Just information.
Earlier this week, when NASCAR Now failed to mention the start of the NASCAR Modified season, I said it was a "swing-and-a-whiff." This entire one hour version or NASCAR Now was three painful strikes in front of a sold-out crowd. Please, Ryan Burr, walk back to the dugout with your head hung down. This was one hour of absolutely painful television.