Saturday, June 23, 2007

The "Allen Bestwick Show" Takes To ESPN2

This week on ESPN2's continuing presentation of NASCAR's Busch Series, the network was traveling light. The Milwaukee Mile did not bring out the network heavyweights, and the excuses ranged from being on vacation to just taking this weekend off.

Dr. Jerry Punch, Marty Reid, Brad Daugherty, Suzy Kolber and Tim Brewer were nowhere to be found. This left ESPN with no play-by-play announcer, no infield NASCAR Countdown host, no infield analyst, and no crew chief at the cut-a-way car. Amid all these MIA announcers, the network needed someone to step-up and run the show.

They did not call on an ESPN "name." They did not call on Erik Kuselias, the host of NASCAR Now. They did not "borrow" Mike Joy or another network play-by-play host. Instead, they turned to the one man who has been the "designated hitter" for ESPN's NASCAR coverage all season long. Quite simply, Allen Bestwick has been the story of the year in NASCAR TV.

In an early Daly Planet column, it was mentioned that fans had a hard time seeing Bestwick as a pit reporter for the Busch Series at Daytona. The memories of Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing and both TNT and NBC's NASCAR coverage were still fresh in their minds.

Bestwick lives and breathes racing, and has over twenty years of his life invested in NASCAR. Now, he was roaming the Busch pits far from the spotlight, and surrounded by an ever-changing cast of characters.

Those of us with a couple of years under our belts remember Bestwick as an organized and thoughtful reporter for MRN, NASCAR's radio arm. Those two characteristics have been hallmarks of Bestwick's career. They have also been his biggest downfall.

This season, Bestwick has gone from pit road to hosting the NASCAR Countdown show after Dale Earnhardt Junior's big "leaving DEI" announcement. He also flew to Bristol, CT, and hosted an edition of NASCAR Now. He is currently listed as a co-host of that show. Now, at Milwaukee, Bestwick steps into the play-by-play role for a primetime race while also hosting the pre-race show alone. The most asked question by fans on The Daly Planet is "why does ESPN not understand what Allen Bestwick brings to NASCAR racing on TV?"

ESPN is owned by Disney, and that corporation has slowly filtered itself through the many thousands of ESPN and ABC employees worldwide. ESPN executives no longer "search" for young announcers, they "cast" them. After working for ESPN on one assignment, announcers can be "re-cast" on another sport or program series. While this may work at Disney World, the results for ESPN have been catastrophic.

No where can this philosophy be seen more clearly than NASCAR. Jerry Punch, longtime ESPN loyal employee, was "re-cast" as a play-by-play announcer. ABC Radio announcer Doug Banks was "re-cast" as a NASCAR Now co-host, as was ESPN Sports Radio announcer Erik Kuselias. Brad Daugherty, the former college and NBA standout, was "re-cast" as an expert NASCAR analyst. Finally, after a long search, NFL Monday Night Football sideline reporter Suzy Kolber was "re-cast" as the NASCAR Countdown infield host.

All these people are "cast members," I kid you not. In the Disney corporate culture, it does not matter what you know, you simply read the script and "create TV." That lesson was painfully made clear to fans earlier this season with NASCAR Now, which featured two hosts who knew nothing about NASCAR. They simply read the script, and "created" a thirty minute show. It was almost scary.

Now, the wheels have fallen-off this entire approach to NASCAR, and ESPN is changing everything but the kitchen sink while taking it in the teeth from critics. ESPN executives have publicly promised change while NASCAR Now and NASCAR Countdown were ridiculed by fans on message boards and chat forums nationwide.

With ESPN's NEXTEL Cup coverage only a month away, the Milwaukee Busch race was a fascinating lesson in "old time TV." There was no infield million dollar set. That meant NASCAR Countdown was hosted by Bestwick from the roof of the track's tower.

Instead of Suzy Kolber, Brad Daugherty, and a "guest to be named later," fans got Rusty Wallace, Andy Petree, and all the pit reporters working hard to tell the stories of the day. What they also got the entire night was "The Allen Bestwick Show."

From the start, it was clear Bestwick would set a casual pace and let everyone talk. There were no "inside jokes," no snide digs, and no control issues. Bestwick did what he does best. He came organized, stepped aside, and let the other announcers shine. Wallace, Petree, and the entire pit road gang had a blast.

The windy pre-race show from on top of the tower was wonderful. It let Wallace and Petree finally set the table for a race they were going to call. It let pit announcers talk directly to each other, and do the kind of reporting that they were hired to do. Jamie Little and Shannon Spake worked hard all night long and went a long way toward removing their NASCAR rookie stripes at the end of the season.

Petree and Wallace embraced their freedom to talk, and let it flow. Though many fans still have trouble with Rusty's style, he is who he is. Petree does a very good job of keeping Rusty calm, balancing out the points he makes, and reinforcing the things he agrees with. Talk about the ultimate crew chief.

Added to the plot was the Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, and Scott Wimmer stories as the race unfolded. Ultimately, it made for a fun race on a nice night with a lot of action for the fans. It was the kind of race ESPN "used to do." Three booth announcers, a couple of pit reporters, and lots of good commentary.

As if to pay tribute to the old days, the ESPN Director took a wideshot and let the electronic graphics display as the top twenty cars screamed across the finish line. What a refreshing change from the NEXTEL Cup coverage of only one or two cars finishing. The technical parts of this event were solid, and the only production issue was not enough full field re-caps. That was a bit tough with the good racing.

Sometimes in TV, the best coverage is the simplest. In a couple of weeks, ESPN will unfold their massive coverage of the Brickyard 400. Again, "you are looking live at somewhere" will ring from Brent Musburger as "telecast host." Suzy Kolber will be hosting the high-profile NASCAR Countdown from the infield. She will be asking a lot of questions, as she has been to two NASCAR races...ever. Brad Daugherty used to be a part-owner of a Busch team. So, he will be the infield expert analyst for NEXTEL Cup. Jerry Punch will be in the booth, where talking for three hours has proven not to be his favorite activity. The word is, Allen Bestwick "might be" a pit road reporter.

When that happens, remember that Allen, Rusty, Andy, and three pit reporters brought you a preview show and race from Milwaukee with no infield host, no infield analyst, no infield crew chief, and no hype. They did not need a "telecast host," cut-a-way car, or a million dollar infield set that spins. All they needed was nice solid NASCAR racing on a classic track with good drivers and a professional ESPN production team. That's why ESPN got into this business, and on Saturday night at Milwaukee, it finally showed.

As the Milwaukee telecast closed, Bestwick said "what a night." Petree said "what a story, I'm glad I was here." Finally, Rusty Wallace said "one of the greatest races I have seen in a long time." Fans who like good racing and good TV should be able to agree with all three comments. What a fun night of racing on ESPN2, something that has never been said on The Daly Planet this year. Thanks Allen.

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


Anonymous said...

I, personally, would like to see Marty Reid and Allen Bestwick alternate roles in the booth for ESPN, ESPN 2, and ABC while totally eliminating Dr. Jerry Punch from the equation.

I like the consistency Marty Reid brings to the screen. Alan Bestwick also maintains consistency in the booth. Without these men, ESPN would be worse than TNT.

Anonymous said...

allen bestwick as always did a fantastic job. he shines every time he is given the spotlight on espn. why is espn so stupid and/or stubborn to not see this??

espn would consider it sacrilege to let a non football person be an "expert" on nfl live or monday night football. then why on earth would they allow people with ZERO nascar knowledge and a clear disdain for the sport continue to host and be paraded as "experts"?

i guess espn thinks of nascar fans as ignorant enough that if they scream loud and long that we'll start to buy their characters. no way. your eyes and look at the immense talent you already have for nascar. allen, rusty, andy, and tim brewer make a fantastic crew. the pit crew is also great and getting better each week.

Anonymous said...


PERIOD! They scaled back on the nonsense and I was happy. I hope SOMEBODY was paying attention from ESPN. I am sure the ratings were not helped, John because nobody was expecting AB in the show like this...we were all expecting the ESPN Stooges du jour like they were sent from an ACME Emcee casting company.

THANK YOU for pointing out how ALLEN makes it about the million dollar HOLLYWOOD HOTEL or stupid spinning booth.

I felt in someways, like ESPN went back in time.

IF only they would WATCH THE DRECK they had been spitting out at us and COMPARE it to tonight.

THANK YOU JOHN for pointing it out. And the camera work was IMPROVED!

Rusty...well...what can I say...he is 'rusty' yet in the booth. Ha

But if they put that chick Suzy on the show...sorry, Except for a few races I WILL LISTEN TO MRN!!!

Sophia Z

Anonymous said...

Marty's voice grates my ears, kinda like Bill Webber's

Allen is smooth and knows what hes talking about, he doesnt studder over his words or scream at the slightest thing (im looking at you Phil Parsons)

Bestwicks joke about Rusty's hair brought back memories of one race where had trackpass for free for the weekend and as Allen was reading the promo BP chimed in with something about free being his kinda style..or something..

heres my dream lineup send Marty back to IRL..give Brad Daughtery a basketball and tell him theres a game in the infield
put Jerry and Brewer in the infield Hollywood hotel like thing and in the booth would be Allen Andy and a driver to be named because Rusty's babbling causes me to change the channel and his kid can never do wrong

but JD has an excellent point. a couple good friends sat down and called a race and had fun doing it from cracks on Rustys hair and Allen not being the sharpest tool in the shed and touching hot tires to Jamies manicure being better than Allen's (which seriously made me laugh out loud)

vroom said...

AB is a favorite of mine, for reason....he's articulate and knowledgeable.

Charlie said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the telecast. Bestwick seems to bring out the best in his partners and Rusty Wallace was a prime example. There was just enough Rusty - and the right Rusty. The good race and the side stories made for one of the best broadcasts I've seen this year. ABC scares me but this was encouraging.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE Allen Bestwick!!!! Every day we see some one on the TV "reporting" racing and we have no idea who the heck they are. We know they aren't long time followers of the sport...
But man I miss Allen on the radio...he was on eof the insult to the guys still there...we love them too!

bevo said...

Marty Reid does a great job but damn I miss him on the NHRA coverage.

Anonymous said...

Rusty was a heck of a driver but I just cant get warmed up to his broadcast style. Just because you used to be a driver does not equate into a transition to a broadcaster. This became painfully evident when ESPN's broadcast team of Punch / Jarrett / Petree was rolled out. Dale paid attention to Ned's lead and was awesome, further highlighting Rusty's shortcomings. And finally, ALLEN BESTWICK needs to be on EVERY broadcast. He's knowledgeable, pleasant and not annoying, unlke Bill Webber and Mike Joy. Plus he has better hair than Webber.

Anonymous said...

i wished all NASCAR, broadcast were like this, Plain & Simple, it was real refreshing, honestly. I have always liked Allen, Rusty is Rusty,great show last night.

Anonymous said...

Great TV without all the "stars". Allen is simply the best in the business. He even makes Rusty look half way decent.

Allen, DJ and Andy would be the ideal team for ESPN. Let the good Doc work in the pits where he does a fine job.

Don said...

What a great Busch race. Allen Bestwick gives a comfort that none of the others do. If ESPN continues down the road they were headed I would not be surprised to see O. J. Simpson in the booth by the end of the season.

Jo said...

I agree that Bestwick brought a level of professionalism to the broadcast that ESPN needs--put Jerry back on pit road where the teams will trust him and tell him everything (do you think HE would have failed to get a reason on why Almirola was replaced?). The only criticism I have of Bestwick last night is that when Rusty's son (as usual) caused a wreck and was penalized for it, AB just mentioned it in passing--he didn't push Rusty to address it (even though Rusty spent plenty of time telling us how wonderful his son was earlier). Fair's fair--Ned Jarrett had to criticize Dale, after all. But I agree--this was an excellent indication of what NASCAR coverage on ESPN could be, and I hope it continues!

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with your take on Allen Bestwick... One word describes him, professional... However, here's the question of the day for ESPN, when was your best NASCAR Busch coverage? During the month of May when Rusty was off with the open-wheel gang... PLEASE, give us a break. Saying "Rusty is just Rusty" doesn't work... Why are we forced to listen to him babble on and on and on about his kid... Last night he was over 2 laps down and still got the airtime he would if he was leading the race. About the only time Rusty did actually stop talking about him was AFTER NASCAR penalized him a lap for rough driving... Why weren't you taking about him then Rusty...

ESPN, please give us a pro in the booth. DJ & Kyle have been fantastic this year... I never thought I'd hear another "expert" in the booth who makes me want to turn off the coverage but I have, it's Rusty Wallace.

Walter said...

What a breath of fresh air on the Saturday broadcast ...gee, we now have to wait until the Brickyard to see the same old c*** ...also, Marty Reid handles the duties well when given the opportunity as he does with NHRA

Anonymous said...

Well, I hate I missed this one.

You wrote "he Milwaukee Busch race was a fascinating lesson in "old time TV."

I assume you meant old time NASCAR TV on ESPN-the way it used to be done and the way it should be done. If you doubt it, try to catch an 80's reply on ESPN Classic. Great stuff.

It was the race and Bob Jenkins doing the call. Gosh, those were the days.

I see in Wikipedia Bob still is active in racing. Is there a chance he could ever be back doing races at ESPN?


James said...

They were DEAD WRONG to replace Allen with Dave Despain on Inside Nextel Cup. They were DEAD WRONG to take Allen out of the booth and replace him with BILL WEBER??? And if ESPN or any other network fails to let Allen Bestwick live up to his true potential and instead replace him with "cast members" the ratings will continue to fall.

Kevin in Indy said...

Last night's race was great all around. It was fanatstic to have someone with actual NASCAR knowledge hosting the pre-race activities instead of some old basketball announcer in a straw hat who will be making his return next month at The Brickyard. I hope that the ESPN brass is really interested in making their broadcasts a level above the other NASCAR TV partners and are listening to the abundance of negative feedback regarding their programming so far. As I posted in a comment a week or two back, I have not and will not watch NASCAR Now until they remove the arrogrant, smarmy, know-it-all (unless it has to do with NASCAR) Erik Kuselias. My 5 year old son, honest to God, knows more about NASCAR (teams, drivers, sponsors, manufacturers) than the MENSA-man Erik. John, as a person who has worked in TV, is it unheard of for one network to employ the assets of another when their is mutual benefit involved? In this case, ESPN using (for a fee, of course) Speed's Charlotte studio to produce their nightly NASCAR Now program. Keep up the great work, John!

Vince said...

Great show last night thanks to Allen Bestwick. How's the saying go? Less is more. No stupid Hollywood Hotel, no airhead ESPN personalities (aka talking heads), no hype. Just a good race with a professional crew all around. AB was great! Andy did his usual good job as well. Best retired crew chief on TV. Rusty, what can I say. He's the weak link in the broadcast crew. Best driver analyst by far this season has been Kyle Petty. Rusty listen to Kyle and take notes.

Having worked with Disney as a consultant for a few years I can vouch for your comments about them. I'm glad to see you hold them accountable for the sometimes miscast cast members that have been in the booth thus far this year.

I hope someone from Disney, ABC/ESPN was watching the broadcast last night and paying attention. AB made all the difference in the world in that broadcast. Give us proven NASCAR knowledgeable pro's both in the booth and on pit road and we'll watch. Let Fox do the stupid gimmicks like the "Hollywood Hotel".

SophiaZ123 said...

Well, it's anonymous. :-)

I mean UNANIMOUS!! most all think LAST NIGHTS RACE with AB was great. Not perfect but great.

Dittos to those that said AB brings out the best in others.

BEST OF ALL I think somebody said AB MAKES THE SHOW COMFORTABLE. Yes, yes, YES!!

If ESPN dose not hear us, their ratings deserve to drop. It blows ..

Frankly I had baking commitments in the kitchen last night and wished I had not so I couldve just listened and watched more closely though my tv was always on in the kitchen so I did not miss much.


If ESPN does not see that, it is a CRIME.

Is it not enough we have to sit thru BILL WEBER!?!??

Anonymous said...

I actually watched the show when I found out Allen was hosting it. With him doing the show it was awesome. ESPN needs to take off the blinders and see Allen is the best for them and their ratings.

Anonymous said...

I think I figured out that ESPN thinks we tune in for the "cast" but we don't. It is about the event and the competitors. Erik Kuselias, Suzy Kolber, and Brad Daugherty just do not work and must go. With Rusty I think it’s the voice.

Allen and Andy should be the base of the booth team and Dr. Jerry needs to be in the pits. I’m not sure how you can beat that.

Anonymous said...

I actually taped the Busch race and I watched right before the cup race on Sunday. What a huge difference. ESPN... PLEASE LEARN THAT NASCAR FANS LIKE THE NICE, CIMPLE BROADCAST YOU PRESENTED FROM MILWAUKEE.


Anonymous said...

Nobody in our family can figure out why they removed Alan Bestwick and replaced him with Bill Weber in the booth and Dave Despain on the show. It was unbelievable! Either he did something horribly wrong behind the scenes, or the other two are in someone's "pocket". Otherwise, the networks would not have made such a stupid move. We quit watching Inside Nextel Cup, and just can't stand Bill Weber. What are these people thinking? Alan Bestwick has it all over these other guys !!! Bring him back to the top of the heap, and we will watch whatever shows he is on.

Anonymous said...

I went to my first race when I was two weeks old. My dad was driver. So, I know I understand more than many newer race fans. But, I have introduced new fans to the sport. The ones who have only been watching a couple of years are already catching these "announcers" in silly commentary. PLEASE ESPN, put Alan Bestwick in charge, where he belongs. We can't take much more drivel.