Saturday, May 26, 2007
An Old Ghost Haunts Allen Bestwick
The familiar tones of Allen Bestwick welcomed Busch Series fans to the ESPN2 pre-race show on Saturday night. The fans had come to Lowes Motor Speedway for one of the highest profile Busch Series events of the year. Some of the NEXTEL Cup drivers remained at the track to watch the Busch race. Unfortunately, one of them decided to appear on ESPN2's NASCAR Countdown.
The cameras revealed the new ESPN infield mobile studio and the cast of characters for the pre-race show. In a good move, Andy Petree was present to add the credibility that the infield show has been lacking from an analyst. Also on the set was Brad Daugherty, who once again did not interview, report, or originate any type of content in this program. He should be hanging onto the "Voice of the Fans" title bestowed on him by Bestwick with all his might. He has long since confused race fans with his perspectives and commentaries.
As the host, Bestwick sat on the set knowing that after only one show he had been replaced by ESPN. Announced even as he hosted another classy show, Bestwick had been moved aside for another anchor who ESPN felt was more "familiar" with this role. Her name is Suzy Kolber, and she is currently the sideline reporter for ESPN's Monday Night Football.
She has never appeared on any NASCAR telecast. Kolber will not only host the Busch Series pre-race show, she will also assume the second highest profile seat on the upcoming NEXTEL Cup broadcasts. She will host the NEXTEL Cup pre-race show and continue to be the infield studio host throughout the races. In essence, she was "given" the Busch and NEXTEL pre-race shows before ever having attended a race.
Finally, the last man on the set was revealed by the ESPN cameras. With the three other panelists wearing suits and ties, Michael Waltrip appeared to have just crawled out from under one of his Toyotas. He was wearing an ill-fitting polo shirt and a sponsor's baseball hat...indoors. Prior to air, Waltrip should have been attended to just like the other ESPN announcers. No hat, an agreed-upon shirt, and combed hair should have been demanded prior to allowing him on this program.
For Bestwick, this had to be "deja vu all over again." Many credit Bestwick's calm and professional "straight man" demeanor with allowing Michael Waltrip to perfect his TV personality over the years on Inside Winston/NEXTEL Cup Racing. This unique series raised the profile of Waltrip far beyond his driving abilities, and allowed him to craft a very nice niche in a sport that had formerly treated him as a second class citizen.
When Bestwick was summarily removed by SPEED Channel as the host without warning, Waltrip chose to continue on the show, rather then stepping aside in protest. For many, this cemented the fact that Waltrip had changed. Even today, the program limps along with Waltrip and Schrader trying to reproduce their "act" every week with disastrous results.
Saturday on NASCAR Countdown, it was impossible to take Waltrip at face value as he answered questions both as a driver and owner. As a driver, he had failed to make numerous races, and had just crashed in qualifying and missed the Charlotte NEXTEL Cup event. It was not the slow time of his Toyota that kept him from the race, both he and Reutimann simply wrecked as drivers.
As an owner, Waltrip also had David Reutimann in the Busch race that he and the panel were previewing. Waltrip was treated with kid gloves by Bestwick, who respected the struggles of MWR and Toyota a lot more than many of the fans. In another cruel twist of fate, Reutimann's Busch car began spewing steam on the parade lap, and imploded only laps into the race.
As usual, the pit road reporting was solid, the driver interviews were interesting, and the features helped to put the race into perspective. What the pre-race show needed was more integration with the booth announcers, and less conversation with Mikey. The time has come for Mr. Waltrip to step out of the media glare and only return when he has his own professional and personal houses in order. It seems, sometimes, that Waltrip is his own worst enemy. A fact that Allen Bestwick knows only too well.
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