Monday, September 17, 2007

The Kinder And Gentler Chase Edition Of "Inside NEXTEL Cup"

Something was different right from the start. Dave Despain's nervous laugh was gone. Michael Waltrip was quiet and low-key. Kenny Schrader was having fun. Greg Biffle was talking about his race. The Monday "Chase" edition of Inside NEXTEL Cup was on the air at SPEED, in a much kinder and gentler version.

It may have been a stern lecture by a network executive. It might have been because it was a beautiful day in New Hampshire and almost everybody raced. It also might have had something to do with the fact that around ten shows remained in the season, and perhaps in the future, of this venerable series.

Inside NEXTEL Cup was on the air and there was no sniping. There was no ignoring the host, badgering the guest driver, or ego trips. Three drivers and a moderator sat down and talked racing for one hour. They even had some fun and some laughs along the way.

This leads to one very simple question. What took SPEED so long to sort this out? Over the course of the season, The Daly Planet and many SPEED viewers have voiced their concerns about this series on this site and on the message boards.

Fans wanted this show to get better. Fans wanted this show to sort itself out. What they did not want was for Michael Waltrip to continue his antics. What they did not want was an angry and tired Kenny Schrader who was not even at the racetrack "phoning it in." What they did not want was Brian Vickers trying to play with the big boys like he had knowledge beyond his years.

Other than the one hour NASCAR Now on ESPN2, this is it for NASCAR TV programming on the Monday night after the race. That is what made this show so powerful over time, even when SpeedVision was a tiny cable network just in its infancy. The word spread by Internet message board and word of mouth about a show "you just have to see."

There was a time when the water cooler talk for racing fans was "did you hear what Mikey said last night?" It was always funny, sometimes crazy, and always entertaining semi-chaos that showed off another side of the drivers that the fans loved. That feeling has been gone since Allen Bestwick and Johnny Benson were dismissed by a new SPEED VP who himself is now gone.

The new show, hosted by Dave Despain, struggled to get an identity in the shadow of the old classic program. While fans wanted the old style fun, things had changed. The format of the show was altered and the guest and the fun features eliminated. There were also a lot of changes taking place with the panelists.

This season, the "regulars" Waltrip and Schrader find themselves in very new positions. The strain of this year's disappointments resulted in a stretch where a very angry and arrogant Michael Waltrip showing up with an agenda.

He only liked Goodyear and NASCAR, everything else was awful. Of course, Toyota was above all this and Waltrip was given free reign to interject Toyota references, which he did frequently. Big hair, tired eyes, and an ego set on high defined him at that time.

Schrader suffered the same fate as Benson, but was not dismissed from the show. Benson lost his Cup ride, and even though he was a veteran and driving in the Truck Series, that did not matter. Schrader drove in the New Hampshire Cup race, but was replaced earlier this season for a wide variety of logistical and performance reasons as a fulltime driver. His weeks on the show during that down time were tough.

As the elder statesman of the show, Schrader epitomizes a type and style of driver that we do not see very much in the Cup ranks these days. Long past his heyday, Schrader is funding a wide variety of other racing activities from his continuing Cup rides. He is possibly the most versatile base of knowledge about auto racing currently appearing on any TV show.

What his future plans are in terms of TV or racing are never discussed on this series. Even as Waltrip continues as an analyst on SPEED's Truck Series races, Schrader is conspicuously absent from the SPEED airwaves. We have not seen him welcomed on Trackside, NASCAR Live, or RaceDay. He is a mystery man.

Now, on this "Chase" Monday Schrader was at attention, well rested, and back in good spirits. Waltrip was shaven, his hair was combed, and nothing on his person was wrinkled. Whether forced or voluntary, for this one night the boys were back in town.

Despain and Biffle made the most of this opportunity. Between the four panelists, the show was the smoothest flowing it had been all season. When Despain talked, everyone stopped. That is the role of the host. In return, Despain allowed continued talk on a wide variety of subjects once the "leash law" had been established.

Biffle is more of a veteran than many people give him credit for, and on this show he asked a lot of questions in addition to offering his opinion. While his TV skills might be lacking, the potential for a strong and well-spoken NASCAR TV personality is there. This program may have been his best in a long while. His opinion was respected, and often sparked other discussions.

Even out of his element, Despain kept the program flowing right up until the end. In every show, there has to be an "alpha male." Someone has to be the person to lead the parade, set the tone, and take the heat. Despain seems to have suddenly discovered he can do that without getting angry or flustered. WindTunnel, this is not.

As this string of final shows winds down, let's hope that SPEED announces soon if this will be the final season of this series. If so, it would be nice to see some of the memories of the past during the final shows, and maybe even a special aired in the off-season. If the series continues, let's hope the network makes some changes in both the format and personnel for next season to liven-up this franchise.

Ten years is a long time for one show to be on the air in today's cable network environment. SpeedVision Executive Producer Bob Scanlon's simple idea of one driver from each manufacturer, one host that knows the sport, and a bunch of video highlights sure did stand the test of time.

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 taking the time to stop-by and leave your opinion.


Anonymous said...

I hope this is not the last season of the show. It has had its rough points. I look forward to it on Monday nite, much more than I look forward to NascarNow. --janel

SophiaZ123 said...

I second your post, Jane!


and I love the panel AS IS!! They just need to add the hot seat with Spencer or the driver of the week.

Bring back JB!!!

It's that STUPID CHRIS LONG that wanted INC to be a "serious, detailed review of the race". Remember when the boys had clip boards and those stupid things to point at the videos.

If it were not for ******** Chris Long, INC would have been left the way it was...As it is, most like it as Mikey is rained in more and many of us LOVE Despain and do not see him as the social nascar malcontent others 'see him to be.' Seems some in NASCAR detest him.

jfs-va said...

I started watching the show this year and while it's not perfect, I like it. I always learn some little tidbit or two. Fortunately I'm not bright enough to pick up on Schrader being angry and phoning it in up until the other night.
I also can't tell when Despain is happy, mad, forcing laughter, etc. Anyway, keep it on the air.

Anonymous said...

Any solution that keeps Despain in the mix will prevent me from watching it. He is the fly in the soup and no matter what else you add it will be inedible. His niche is open wheel and he can not hide his disdain for NASCAR. Alan Bestwick and Jimmy Spencer were the most credible ingredients.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to that show every Monday night, not sure about Despain. I would no longer watch it if MW was not there, he adds that much needed humor. I did kinda like the interviews they did of the race winners last year which they no longer do.

w.g.gruner said...

keep the show,dump mikey,a little of him goes a very long way,a very long way! dave is fine,biff is good,when kenny is on his game he's funny and informative. mikey adds little other than hucksterizm for mikey.

Anonymous said...

I've been watching for years, I love the show, it's like hanging out with the guys after the race. I've learned alot different things from a driver's outlook and I hope the show continues for next year and beyond. Michael and Kenny are an added plus!

Anonymous said...

Nice article and spot on!

I watched the show last night and you're right. You could tell right away that 'something' was different. Mikey made it clear during one exchange with Dave that some kind of "meeting of the minds" took place.

Good. It was a show I enjoyed and makes me want to watch it next week.

Anonymous said...

I hope INC does not get the axe. I've been watching this program for years and love the guys. Dave is growing on me as I've seen him lighten up this season, but still miss Alan Bestwick. After all the weekend shows, it's fun on Monday nights to just have some laughs with them all. Greg is starting to relax and enjoy the for Kenny & Mikey, they have been doing this for the past ten years and just have fun with it all.

I totally look forward to Monday nights as I'm a fan of Mikey's & Kenny's and love their inter-action with the years of inside jokes.

Anonymous said...

I love the show as is... I don't think there needs to be a change in personnel... Mikey and Schrader have made the show what it is for 10 years... without them I'd have a free hour on Monday evenings because I'd no longer tune in to SPEED. I sincerely hope that SPEED doesn't decide to end the show... it's the best NASCAR show out there....very entertaining every week..... Bring back the HOT SEAT! leave Vickers out of the mix....

Anonymous said...

I have been watching this show for the past few years and I, like most others, enjoy my Monday nights with the INC gang. This past Monday it was clear from the start there was something different about this show. It was definitely calmer. It flowed and it worked. It was good to see Greg and Kenny be able to discuss the racing without all of the snipes and interruption. Dave seemed more comfortable and I don't think I heard him say "...the voices in my ear..." Dave was in control of this show.

There have been times over this past year where I have felt for Greg. It is obvious that he has the knowlegde and ability to do this show, but frustrating to watch him get run over by Mikey. And yes, Kenny did seem just plain worn out almost like he just didn't want to be there.

I was also glad not to see an angry monologue by Mikey. He did talk about the hat sale and the VJG for a few minutes, but it was appropriate. Mikey is entertaining when he wants to be. This year, he has shown his arrogance and anger more often than not. I enjoy watching Mikey and Kenny cut up and joke around, but it has been uncormfortable to watch at times this year. Monday was a refreshing change.

Kudos to the folks at SPEED for listening and acting. I don't want INC to go anywhere! It is a good show and better than ANYTHING that ESPN is putting out. Hopefully the folks at SPEED will sort it all out and we can keep our little show.

Steve L said...

I haven't been able to enjoy much of the show since Dave came on the show. On Wind Tunnel he openly admits he's not a fan of NASCAR so why in the world is he on INC?

His faky 'radio voice' and his favorite line, "on the other side", to always use going to commercial, just rubs me the wrong way.

I used to like Mikey but his pompous ass disposition from not being able to handle ownership pressures have made him a jerk. On more than one occasion he told fans to "get over it", the fact they did not like the COT. Instead of saying 'give it a try, some time to get used to it', he looked at the camera and said "get over it". At that point I lost all respect for him. And yes he did say it on the INC program.

If Speed decides to keep the show I hope they clean house and start all over again, new host, pannel, guests and set. It's a new era of NASCAR, why not a new era of Inside Sprint Cup.

Anonymous said...

Mikey & Kenny are like an old married couple. That's great, but it means you need a strong third "guest" or he'll get run over. Biffle's pretty good in that role.

Anonymous said...

The show is not as good as it was with Bestwick and that is due to executives meddling. I know and understand NASCAR and I see all sorts of techncical shows. I watch INC for the humor. Without Kenny and Mike there is no humor. The sniping and etc is all on purpose and calculated. You want seriousness, watch Wind Tunnel but leave my show alone or you can kiss me goodbye.

Anonymous said...

watched my recording last night and felt like it was an entirely different program than last week--perhaps, John, *someone* in charge is actually reading your blog!!! If they are, we want more of that...and I agree, the hot seat was kind of fun--I sorta miss having different people on. And of course, I miss Alan Bestwick.

Prospector said...

In reading these comments it seems that if someone likes Michael they like INC.

There are many who cannot comment because we don't watch INC because of Michael.

I watched for several years -- liked Alan -- Dave is ok. But it got to the point that I could not stomach Michael any longer. I havn't seen INC in probably over 2 years.

In fact due to Michael in the booth and Toyota winning everything I don't watch truck races either. At least it is starting to look like one of my objections is being overcome, now if only they would get Michael out of the booth.

Anonymous said...

I haven't watched INC in a couple years mostly because I just overdosed on Mikey. I'd really liked the show, 'though, and hope they don't drop it.

Despain's not the right host for this show. Ideally they'd bring back Bestwick.

Mikey.... I've just never understood what he brings to the table.

Anonymous said...

No Mikey.......No Kenny....No
grani girl

Anonymous said...

I don't want for the show to end. I find it to be one of the most enjoyable, informative NASCAR shows out there. Mikey, Kenny and guests have made me laugh a lot over the years. While I haven't watched it religiously this year (it cuts into my Monday evening workout time with the 7 p.m. CST airing), the few episodes I've seen have been fine.

Dave Despain does a really good job. If anything, I'd like to see different drivers guest on here. The ones who DON'T get all of the media attention-no Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson or Junior. What about Jeff Burton? Or D.J.? Let's see some of these guys on the air since they always get the shaft from the networks during race weekend.

Anonymous said...

I have watched this show for a long time and love it. It has its rough spots but that is what makes the show. My wife even says it is the one show that makes our sport understandable to the layman. I hope it comes back.

Dot said...

I love INC. I upgraded my cable to get SPEED channel especially for this show a few years ago. I used to have to look for it when it was shown on FSN.
I agree with Grani Girl.

GinaV24 said...

I used to NEVER miss this show. It was a highlight of the NASCAR programming on Speed, but Mikey and his constant self-promotion, plus the loss of Allen Bestwick, made me tune in only casually. This year with the level of anger and bitterness got to be too much for me. I agree with the poster who said that Mikey's "get over it" comment was terrible. Saying that sort of things to the fans was a big factor in turning me off. I didn't LIKE Mikey before, but after that, well, I wasn't even interested in tolerating him to see Schrader. I think I e-mailed the show once and asked if Mikey found it hard to breathe with his nose so far up NASCAR's netherparts! So, it sounds like this show was a good one, sorry I didn't see it, but like NASCAR Now, they need to have a run of "good" shows before I'll spend time tuning back in.

Lisa Hogan said...

I have been a regular viewer of INC almost since the beginning. Didn’t have SPEED on my cable when the show started. My favorites have been Schrader, Bestwick, Benson, Waltrip, in that order. When the infamous Chris Long decided to get rid of Bestwick and Benson and bring in the dreaded Mr. Despain, it changed the show and my enjoyment.

I still enjoy Schrader and Waltrip and their byplay. Biffle is fine on the show. He also has a dry wit that fits with Schrader. I actually laugh out loud at the glances and half-smiles exchanged between those two.

I enjoy nothing about Mr. Despain. His mentioning Wind Tunnel and what those viewers care about really makes me come close to throwing objects at my TV. If I cared about Wind Tunnel, I would watch that show. I don’t and I don’t.

SPEED has a wide range of NASCAR programming. I think they have something for every fan. If you want technical, there’s NASCAR Performance. I have never watched INC for a lap-by-lap race review. I’ve always felt that the race was a good excuse to sit down for an hour with old friends and get a little information and a lot of laughs. I don’t really want a calm and smooth show.

I would like Mr. Despain gone. As far as a replacement amongst current SPEED personalities, John Roberts is the only one that I would welcome. Steve or Wendy would be very wrong, in my opinion. I want a host that steers the show, not one whose personality would compete with the current panelists.

I am still confused by the treatment of Schrader in the first review of INC. I’m sure that you now know that Schrader is a NASCAR driver, both in Trucks and Cup. I have never thought that Schrader was bitter or angry on the show. I suppose new viewers might not understand his usual low-key humor. For the new NASCAR fans: Schrader is one of a small list of drivers who have wins in all three series. Before the All-Star race fan vote got weird, Schrader was voted into the race and with no national campaign. Schrader has a lot of fans.

If INC is on next season, I hope it will be the same panelists. A redo of the entire cast will make it “just another talk show” and I will be gone as a viewer.

Lisa Hogan

Daly Planet Editor said...


During the down days of this program, both Michael and Kenny had problems at the same time.

When Mikey shuts down, it is tough because he sets the tone. Kenny had to deal with not racing for the first time in the history of the show.

It was not easy to have two of the three panelists not racing, and in the case of Schrader, he did not even attend most of the race weekends. As you know, he has other racing interests.

During this time, both he and Waltrip were openly hostile to both Despain and the driver guest. You can refer back to my archives for one memorable show that I still get email about.

Whatever happened last week, it resulted in a solid, professional, and informative program.

The reason we think this show might not return is because SPEED has not spent any additional money on production elements.

They used to have an edited feature that Waltrip did, they used to have a guest either live or by satellite, and they used to invest in additional time for viewer questions.

As you may remember from my recent article, I said Kenny may have the biggest base of general racing knowledge on TV. Hopefully, we will get to enjoy that beyond the next nine weeks.

Thanks again for your comments,


Lisa Hogan said...

Thanks for the reply. I have only been reading your columns for a few months. I found you through jayski. I will admit that I have missed a few of INC this season. Why, oh why, does real life get in the way of our entertainment????

I do enjoy reading your thoughts and in almost all of your columns I agree with your opinion 99% of the time.

Thanks again for taking the time to reply.

Anonymous said...

Kenny often is the color man on ARCA broadcasts. He is good.

Mary said...

Remember how Rusty Wallace criticized the show for not being serious enough. That was a running joke with Michael and the guys a year or so ago. Wonder if Chris long is buddies with Rusty?

Anyway, I miss Alan Bestwick as host. Biffle does a good job. I love Kenny and Michael's interplay. Kenny comes up line some great one-liners too.

I truly hope this isn't the end of INC. I Tivo the show every Monday and watch it when I get home from work. It would leave a major hole in my Mondays if it were cancelled.

James said...

It really doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why the program isn't getting the numbers that it used to. Like others have commented before, Chris Long had a brilliant idea(ha ha) to mix up a perfectly good show and change it to what HIS vision of the program would be for the future. Well you know what, myself and many others that e-mailed SPEED saying that they had better leave the show alone and leave Allen where he is or your ratings will suffer, were right. IF IT AINT BROKE DON"T FIX IT!!! Why would you replace AB with someone that doesn't even like NASCAR(duh). And it wasn't just replacing Allen with Dave that sent the program down the river... It was the whole chemistry that was forcibly changed. I remember one of the first changed INC shows(one of the only few i've watched since). They changed the living room style chairs the panel and host would usually sit in, to these tall bar stool type things that you could tell made everyone feel uncomfortable. That and not allowing spontaneous comments and humor signaled an end to what made the show great to begin with. It's funny, but since the original format was changed, you can tell that over time SPEED started to see the writing on the wall and let the panelists loosen up a little bit like the old show as well as making changes to the set for a more comfortable and laid back environment(like the old show). I'm pretty sure no one at SPEED will swallow their pride and bring back Allen and everything else that made the original INC such a great program to watch, but we can all hope.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Daly Planet Editor said...

I enjoyed the suttle comments last Monday that things had changed.

Schrader has been great on the ARCA races, it would be nice to see him alongside Parsons on a Truck race before the season is out.

Lisa...99%? Hey, that gives me incentive to come back for next year!

Anonymous said...

I have never missed an episode since I first found this show.... it was during Michael's Citgo years.... quite a while ago. I love the show, I tivo it when I can't tune in, (Before tivo I stayed up for the second airing) I'm not sure I agree with you that this weeks show was so much different... I rewatched it after reading your column and looked for it and still found the same Michael and Kenny as usual.... I think Dave is finally relaxing somen, he'll never be Alan. Biffle's fitting in, he doesn't seem as nervous as he was at first. The worst thing that ever happened to the show was Chris Long and his long arm of control. Brian Vickers was a huge mistake too..... it took a really dedicated fan to watch during the Vickers era..... I for one think its getting back to its once "entertaining" format... if we get a little information...that's an added Biffle having to give Edwards his spot....If you do have the SPEED exec's ear..... encourage them to keep it alive and NOT to redo the cast....

Chris said...

Not having heard how despain felt towards NASCAR before has not tainted me either way, so I give him a pretty good job.
A.B- I know he is good and worked well on INC, but when he went to do the races he just gets on my nerve.

Schrader/Benson both good, kinda hard without a good/any ride.
I don't care if they went to the race as long as they WATCHED it. (do they get re-imbursed for the jet fuel they have to burn going to each race they will not be in?)

Mikey...Love him..Hate him..Lo.. Heck this year is his year of hell
bad cars,bad fuel,slow engines missing by "this" much everyweek
I hat to say it but if the team was 1sec off in qualifying he would not have been so "off" this year.
being so close week in/out is something that the sponsors don't like either, same thing if they were really off it would let them know what to to, but this leaves it all up in the air which is just killing him.
I thought he would have talked to Darrell about owning a team, to prepare him but it looks like he can't pull himself back a little more so we get his full frustration .

dc said...

Please bring Allen Bestwick back!

Have Johnny B. drive by to show what a winner is doing, nowadays!

Deborah said...

I must be watching a completely different show. Schrader "phoning it in?" Brian Vickers talking like he has intelligence beyond his years? Michael hating everything other than Nascar and Goodyear? The panelists being angry? Hostile towards guests? I've seen very little of this and I haven't missed a show all season. It seems to me that once someone's mind is made up to see things a certain way they do.

I agree with the person who wants to be entertained. I could watch a thousand other shows for a straight-forward race review. Let he drivers be who they are and let them show some personality. And no more changes to the panel - without Michael I won't be watching.

Daly Planet Editor said...


With all due respect, who are you kidding? This show has been the topic of message boards all over the internet this season.

If you look back through my archives and read the comments of the NASCAR fans writing in, it was clear to see that things were a mess. One show was so strange, clips of it were posted on the web.

I certainly respect your right to free speech, but to say that problems and issues have not plagued this program makes one wonder...what program have you been watching?