Friday, May 4, 2007

ESPN Steps-Up And Allen Bestwick Steps-In

The first moment that the familiar tones of Allen Bestwick greeted TV viewers of the Busch Series pre-race show at Richmond, you just had a feeling. The first time the ESPN camera revealed Bestwick in a suit and tie looking as professional and polished as usual, you just had a feeling. When Bestwick looked to his left, there sat the one and only Jimmie Johnson smiling like a kid in a candy store. Once again, you just had a feeling. The feeling was that ESPN had finally recognized a problem, and made a move to fix it. And no one can fix a problem like that better than Allen Bestwick...period. The humble man that NASCAR fans love.

Without changing the style that has made him a household name, Bestwick calmly set the informal and free-flowing tone for the "new" Busch Series pre-race show. He worked hard to include Brad Daugherty, and called him the "voice of the fans." That is the first time anyone has tried to explain to viewers what the heck Daugherty was doing on this show. Its about time Daugherty was given a role, and allowed to be included in the conversation.

Right off the top of the show, Kyle Busch appeared to address his recent rash of accidents. Within minutes of opening the show, Bestwick had two drivers discussing recent events, Daugherty asking good questions, and a HANS device on the set for viewers to see. Then, as he transitioned to commercial, Bestwick set-off the pit reporter "whip-around" with three smiling reporters "teasing" the remainder of the show. This is exactly the type of clear-cut NASCAR news and information that fans have been thirsting for since Daytona. It seems those pit reporters were a little happier than usual with Mr. Bestwick at the helm.

Part of the promise ESPN made to NASCAR was to assist the Busch Series in developing a "personality." No one is better at that this season that Aussie Marcos Ambrose. Rapidly becoming a fan favorite, Ambrose is a great interview and really puts a "face" on a series dominated by NEXTEL Cup "buschwackers." Getting Marcos on-camera to talk about his Talladega experience, and his first crack at Richmond, was a nice touch. As Ambrose finished his interview, Mike Wallace and Juan Montoya were clowning around behind him, and rookie pit reporter Jamie Little jumped right in and interviewed both of them. For just a brief moment...the old ESPN was back. It was actually fun again at the track.

Then, unfortunately, things took a wrong turn. At Talladega, the "booth announcers" appeared in the Busch Series pre-race show, but never even mentioned the Busch race. The Daly Planet made a point of reminding ESPN/ABC Sports of that fact. At Richmond, when Bestwick "tossed it up" to Marty Reid, they did it again. Marty spoke with Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree, but not about the Busch race. DJ had just missed qualifying for the NEXTEL Cup event, and their entire on-camera segment focused on that fact. Never was the Busch Series race mentioned. How does this happen? DJ could have appeared on NASCAR Now, SportsCenter, or even ESPN News to deal with the qualifying issue. This time is for the Busch Series, and ESPN made a big mistake by interrupting the great flow of Bestwick's first show by catering to their NEXTEL Cup star.

Luckily, pit reporter Mike Massaro returned to the Busch beat with Kevin Harvick, who is always the story at Richmond. While Massaro interviewed Harvick, team owner Chip Ganassi was harassing Harvick off-camera and adding to the informal and good-spirited feeling of this segment. Returning to the beautiful ESPN set, Bestwick led an open discussion about Harvick, Busch Series ownership, and Harvick's RCR connections. ESPN was finally talking racing, and it was about time.

At long last, ESPN spent the time to prepare a feature report on a driver who is actually racing in the Busch race being telecast. It seems like a simple thing, but it has not been easy. A nice feature on Kyle Busch and his crew chief for both the Busch and Cup Series worked quite well. Then, they actually raced. What a concept.

After three long months of confusion and ego, there has to be some credit given to the ESPN executives bold enough to make a high-profile change like adding Bestwick. In one show, he has relaxed the anger of the fans and restored ESPN's credibility in this sport. If ESPN can focus the "booth announcers" segment on the Busch Series, and eliminate the ridiculous "what to watch for" questions, they have a winner. As the series moves to Darlington, let's hope that even more hard news and driver interviews are added into the show. Fans need to meet the Busch Series drivers and hear Busch Series information for the entire thirty minutes.

On behalf of The Daly Planet, and NASCAR fans everywhere, thank you to ESPN for bringing Allen Bestwick to the helm of NASCAR Countdown. This move will bring more benefits than ESPN can imagine as the series continues for the next seven months.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published.


SonicAD said...

I sent an email comment earlier, but I have to mention it again here... I was terribly pleased earlier today when I heard Allen would be hosting the pre-race show, and he didn't disappoint. He knows what he's talking about, has a good sense of humor, and his voice just SOUNDS like racing (similar to how I think Vancouver Canucks and CBC hockey p-b-p man Jim Hughson just SOUNDS like hockey). His mellifluous tones just seem to ratchet up the excitement. I was terribly disappointed at the way he got shunted onto pit road (after breaking a leg, no less), and then kicked off INC, so to see him back in a suit and getting to talk about racing is fantastic. The only thing they could do better is to put him in the booth and put Jerry back on pit road.

TalkGeorge said...

AB adds a needed element, now I'd like to see Marty Smith more prominently displayed!

Anonymous said...

It was truly a pleasure to watch the broadcast with AB at the wheel. I was impressed with how much more integrated the flow was between the booth and the studio during the race. Bestwick also did a nice job of framing Daugherty's "patch" within the show, giving him the context and the space to contribute good content.

Also, after two races with DJ in the booth, I'm convinced he has the talent to contribute insight much like his father did back in the day. I like and respect Rusty, but his constant professing about his likes and dislikes brings down the mood. DJ integrates well with the team, contributing both energy and knowledge which enhances the flow. The addition of AB and DJ make the broadcast more interesting and enjoyable.

Snafam said...

I missed the pre-race, as I live on the West Coast, and arrived home from work just barely in time to see the green flag fly.

After the race, I was startled to hear Alan's voice, and was over-joyed to hear him again.

I hope to see even more of Alan!

Anonymous said...

Who is Marty Reid? I have been a stock car fan since the mid-fifties and have never noticed the man. If he had not had DJ and his pit reporters to constantly go to, it seems to me he would be totally lost. If not for following my RCR Guys, I almost turned the television OFF. We need Allen Bestwick back in the booth. Look what happened to the Inside Nextel Cup program on Speed when they took Allen off and Put Dave on. Haven't watched it in over a year.

WickedJ said...

The only thing they could do better is to put him in the booth and put Jerry back on pit road.

ive been saying this since Daytona

the booth should be AB DJ and Andy

while ESPN's version of the Hollywood Hotel should be Brewer, Rusty and/or Marty Smith so you keep the flow of someone whos actually raced or worked on these cars and someone to ask the questions

put Doc Punch on pitroad and fire Brad

Anonymous said...

Now if we can get Allen on the evening show instead of the ones they have now who don't know squat about racing. I am sick of the "What was going through you mind at the time of the accident", and other stupid questions like that. ESPN needs to use the NASCAR experience that Allen and Dr. Jerry Punch have and not subs from football, hockey, and whatever those other guys do.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I am a first-time commenter (if that's the right word) onto your site, and I thank you for being the voice of the online fan when it comes to TV coverage. I believe you have been spot-on with most of your criticisms about ESPN's coverage, but I think it should be noted that ESPN is just starting to get back into the fold and should improve as the season goes on.

As for the pre-race show, it was by far one of the most enjoyable I have watched in years. Allen and Brad had great chemistry together, something that Countdown had been missing all year. I was glad that ESPN finally let Brad tell us something that indicated that he actually did know something about NASCAR, and came off very well as a result. As a matter of fact, I would not mind seeing Allen and Brad call a race or two later on this year.

Mike said...

I've been an AB fan since I first heard him calling cup races on NBC back in '01. As a TV producer's my opinion that the only thing better than having AB on ESPN's pre race show is getting him back in the main booth calling races again. NBC made a huge mistake when they replaced him with Bill Weber. So, ESPN is going in the right direction. Now let's see if they have the brass to go the extra step and get Mr. Bestwick where he REALLY belongs.