Saturday, May 5, 2007

With Bestwick In Place, ESPN Needs to Fix "NASCAR Now"

One day after Allen Bestwick stepped into the host role for ESPN's NASCAR Countdown, things returned to "normal" at the network. Studio host Erik Kuselias presented the one hour NEXTEL Cup pre-race edition of NASCAR Now. Along for the ride this Saturday morning in the studio were Stacy Compton and Tim Cowlishaw. It was a bumpy ride.

Kuselias faced an audience that was still pumped-up over Bestwick's return to their living rooms. ESPN had shown that their original NASCAR TV "talent experiment" was coming to an end. Things needed to return to a level of credibility and trust that would allow the ESPN NEXTEL Cup telecasts to succeed, because the clock is ticking.

Unfortunately, Kuselias continues to be unable to demonstrate the kind of "politeness" that NASCAR fans have come to expect from professional TV hosts. His treatment of the drivers who did not make the race was crude, and his comments about them saying "honey, I'm home" or watching from their transporters were amateurish and embarrassing. When he deviates from the script, his antagonistic sports radio side shines through clearly.

The NASCAR Now credibility problem was exposed in this show when a tired ESPN veteran Mike Massaro came on to answer the "four on the floor" group of questions from Kuselias. These are scripted in advance, and Kuselias just reads them. Today, Massaro forgot one driver name when answering a question, and asked Kuselias to fill-in the blank for him. The easy answer was Jimmie Johnson. Kuselias did not have a clue, and could not handle this actual request for NASCAR information. He knows nothing about this sport. A flustered Kuselias could offer absolutely no help. He was put on the spot, and revealed to be a fraud.

On March 7th, The Daly Planet ran a column entitled "Those Who Know." At issue was the difference between those who clearly know NASCAR, like Alan Bestwick, Randy Pemberton, or Mike Massaro, and those on the other side. This year, the other side features those who "ESPN says" know NASCAR. This group has featured Erik Kuselias, Doug Banks, Brent Musburger, Chris Fowler, and Tim Cowlishaw. Its a fascinating culture clash occurring inside ESPN.

This problem happens when Kuselias asks if Indy 500 winner Juan Montoya knows "how to win on an oval?" It happens when Kuselias asks Brad Daugherty "which driver is in need of a strong finish in Las Vegas?" It happens when Kuselias questions Mark Martin's personal decision to mentor his son instead of competing at Bristol. It happens when host Doug Banks says its shocking that Kyle Busch's HANS Device "broke." It happens when someone named David Amber shows up on NASCAR Now asking laughable questions of NASCAR drivers. I guess he is an ESPN reporter. People just seem to come and go like the wind, and that is part of the problem.

Marty Smith did not have a presence in this program until the end. Smith summed-up in his own way many of the previous stories that were painfully presented by Kuselias. Smith shifted into high gear, and was off to the races. He put-out more information in his one segment than the entire rest of the program. Its very clear to NASCAR Now viewers that Marty Smith and a new host are keys to this program.

While the other reporters bring solid credentials to the table, Smith is the front-line person who can get and hold the attention of the fan with his information. He is clearly plugged-in to the scene, and whether you like him or not, he tells it like it is. In the re-vamping of this series, Smith needs to assume a stronger role.

With Bestwick hosting the pre-race show, names like Randy Pemberton, Mike Massaro, and ESPN's own Ryan Burr have been mentioned as possible new hosts for NASCAR Now. Put any of those three alongside Stacy Compton, throw in Angelique Chengelis, David Newton, and Terry Blount with the news, and its a strong line-up. When hard-working reporter Shannon Spake is added to the mix, a new host would really have a NASCAR Now line-up that would serve the network well throughout the season.

Let's hope that ESPN strikes while the iron is hot and follows-up on the tremendously positive reviews that Bestwick received on NASCAR Countdown. There has never been a better time for a change that can produce positive results immediately for NASCAR Now and ESPN.

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


Richard said...

I did catch the ESPN Saturday AM so-called show and it WAS the disaster Erik K. and ESPN2 are becoming infamous for. Hopefully the contrast with Alan Bestwick and fan pressure will prod ESPN to give NASCAR the quality of broadcasts they give baseball and NFL. Still NASCAR NOW with uninformed hosts is a leg-up on the NASCAR vaccuum on SPEED.

Anonymous said...

Judging from the disastrous coverage of the Busch race on Friday night, expecting ESPN to do anything to improve their nightly show is fruitless. How many time during the 'race coverage',as ESPN was giving fans a 'storyline' during green flag laps, did they come back to live racing to mention off handedly that there had been a change for the lead. Overall, ESPN has been extremely disappointing.

Anonymous said...

saturday morning was the first time I watched nascar now since the very first episode. It has not gotten better. I am amazed at how NASCAR is a sport that really has to be treated differently then other sports. YOU HAVE TO HAVE PEOPLE THAT KNOW OR LIVE THE SPORT. this host erik is awful and really comes off as smug and you don't believe anything he says. he is a straight up fraud. The other thing is, just because you can do radio doesn't mean you can do TV. His delivery is bad, his pacing is bad and his generic NASCAR copy is bad. ESPN has to make a change. I understand this is a new ESPN, but you would have thought they learned something from the first 20 years they covered the sport. NASCAR is unlike any other sport...I mean, erik could probably do a sportscenter or host NFL live and you wouldn't mind him and you would never question him...but not in NASCAR. you have to live and breath this sport and you have to realize that you are an extension of the garage. NOBODY LIKES A SMART ASS. I will not watch that show ever again. here's a little helpful hint from me the fan to ESPN brass
(I hope you are reading)...maybe try alan on the desk of nascar helped saturday night.

Jeff said...

I was excited about ESPN's return to NA&CAR at one time, then I saw some of it, Musberger Daughtery and the other stick and ball guys need to go, now!

Anonymous said...

Just emailed ESPN and gave them high fives for Alan Bestwick and asked them to fix NASCAR NOW. Specifically to can Erik K and Doug B.

Anonymous said...

It felt like "home" when I tuned into the Prerace and saw Bestwick at the desk! I immediately emailed ESPN to thank them. Great move!