Thursday, October 18, 2007

ESPN's "NASCAR Now" Shows Its Potential

There have been flashes of what ESPN2's daily show NASCAR Now could be several times this season. In between the struggles with the on-air talent, the format, and several high-profile drivers, the program has provided a platform for ESPN to promote its NASCAR involvement.

In this first season, there was no doubt that many things involving the production of a seven day a week TV series were going to need to be addressed. ESPN addressed one concern when they brought-in ESPN News veteran Ryan Burr to be one of the hosts.

Burr has a fast-paced "news sense" about him on the air, and this thirty minute program picks-up steam when he is leading the charge. Thursday night, NASCAR fans got a glimpse of what this program could eventually mean to the sport every day. Burr put on the most outstanding thirty minutes of NASCAR programming ESPN has seen this season. I am only going to say this one time. It was fantastic.

One of the struggles of NASCAR Now has been how to deal with SPEED Channel, the TV network that produces the Craftsman Truck Series, and other special NASCAR events. Originally, the Truck Series was ignored until Craftsman came on-board with a sponsorship that guaranteed highlights of every Truck race. Unfortunately, most of the races in the series were not promoted in advance on the show.

This situation seems to have been addressed on Thursday's show, which featured Burr giving a lot of time to the Craftsman Truck Series race on Saturday at Martinsville. Along with promoting the high-profile Cup drivers who will be entered, Burr also interviewed Justin Labonte. Terry's son has been a journeyman in racing, and was making a comeback of sorts at Martinsville.

Labonte was a good interview, and Burr referenced Justin's lack of high-profile rides recently in NASCAR. This exposure was very positive for Labonte, and Burr kept his questions rapid-fire and on-target. He covered the issues about the Cup stars, the Truck Series regulars, and finally what the future held for this young man. It was a good interview that promoted the race and showed another family connection in the sport. This positive moment, however, was about to be topped.

Without missing a beat, Burr dove into NASCAR's Toyota Showdown championship race this weekend at Irwindale Speedway head first. ESPN and The Daly Planet have been clashing all season long about NASCAR Now ignoring the NASCAR Touring Series, but now Burr directed the attention of this high-profile show in exactly that direction. Could this show get any better? You bet it could.

Turning to the TV monitor wall in the NASCAR Now studio, Burr welcomed in NASCAR regional drivers Sean Case and last year's Showdown winner Matt Kobyluck. That's right, in advance of the Toyota Showdown which will be live on SPEED, two of the key players were on NASCAR Now via satellite.

Clearly not TV veterans, these two drivers were well taken care of by Burr. Both were asked good solid questions, and Burr even got Case to speak about Joey Lagano and their Busch East Series season. To wrap things up, Burr promoted the event once again.

This interview was a tremendous step for ESPN in patching things up with the racers and fans involved in the NASCAR Grand National Division who have been ignored all season long. Perhaps, next year will see a wider scope of coverage that includes regional results and highlights.

With the narrow Martinsville pit road looming, Burr welcomed the surprise of the season on this show in the presence of DJ Copp. This soft-spoken DEI crew member has put out great information about the pit crew dynamics at the various tracks, and has proven to be a solid TV personality. His Martinsville information continued to be first rate, Burr's questions were focused, and the results were top-notch.

The past racing shows on ESPN often contained a "kicker" story meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek. NASCAR Now has not only struggled to keep a sense of humor, but it has struggled to maintain a viable contact and on-camera presence with the main ESPN NASCAR announce team of Dr. Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace, and Andy Petree. Finally, someone on the production team got it right. The results were lots of fun.

NASCAR Now used Punch and company to pretend and call an ESPN NASCAR race at Talladega. Only this race was the one to the airport by all the NASCAR drivers. The ESPN team at Talladega used their facilities, their announcers, and their graphics to put together a hilarious feature. The "race" to the airplanes showed fans some seldom shown footage of the reality of NASCAR life.

It also did one more thing for the ESPN2 viewers. It finally lightened the heavy mood and tension that has been a constant companion of this series since February. When was the last time fans were watching NASCAR Now and calling their friends to say "are you seeing this?" My one word answer would be...never.

Burr had reporter Angelique Chengelis with all the top news stories. Justin Labonte then promoted the Truck race, which was on SPEED. Two NASCAR Grand National drivers then promoted the Toyota Showdown which was also on SPEED. Boris Said predicted Martinsville and DJ Copp reviewed the pit situation. Finally, Punch and company showed us the driver race "out" of Talladega.

There was not much more that could be packed into this thirty minute show, and if ESPN executives want an example of just what this TV series could be they need look no further than this one episode. NASCAR Now could easily become "must" viewing for fans who would gladly put this series on the DVR or VCR every day.

After an episode like this, and a host like that, ESPN can finally have something very solid to smile about in this first tough year back in NASCAR.

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 didn't care for the Burr question to Labonte, "Where have you been since 2004?" It seemed crass to me. Thankfully, Justin handled it very professionally. Aside from that, I enjoyed the rest of the show, the insights from DJ Cobb are great, and I especially enjoyed the race to the airport. I kept wondering if Rusty was going to yell at Mike for taking that wrong turn.

Daly Planet Editor said...

I agree, and hope that with some additional experience he can turn his "news sense" into "NASCAR sense" which may carry a bit more respect and a little less edge. He is a great fit for this show, however.

slithybill said...

Thanks for the great recap. Guess which episode of NASCAR Now won't be repeated? That's right, tonight's episode. "The most outstanding thirty minutes of NASCAR programming ESPN has seen this season," according to your review.

At midnight Eastern time, when NASCAR Now is normally re-aired, ESPN2 will be in the middle of the NY Red Bulls - LA Galaxy MLS Soccer game, which will be followed by two repeat episodes of poker. Guess I'll have to wait and hope next Wednesday or Thursday's show is as good as tonight's.

But at least ESPN Classic is showing the 1991 Hanes 500 from Martinsville at 3:00am ET. Gonna DVR that and relive how good ESPN used to cover NASCAR! I think Dr. Jerry Punch was a pit reporter back then...

Matt said...

If ESPN insists on having this show in Bristol,CT, then Ryan Burr MUST be the permanent, everyday host of NASCAR Now.

Anonymous said...


Tripp said...

Unfortunately, I didn't get to see this show, but it's a very encouraging development indeed. ESPN is apparently listening and learning. In a week that featured a killer "NASCAR Now" and a Cup race devoid of draft tracker, things are looking up.

While waiting for my Sox game, I watched an episode of "Race Wizard" that TiVo thought I might like, and I did. It had something for nearly any race fan from neophyte to die-hard delivered breezily by Ray Evernham.

The fact that this "NASCAR Now" was as good as the reports indicate should not be surprising. The fact that earlier offerings were so regularly dismal is. Fans expected better before the season began and to their credit, ESPN, seeing that their audience was not well served, has been tweaking their products and making them better. More tweaks could emerge between now and season end, and with luck they'll take all they've learned this year and launch an improved package of programming when NASCAR gets busy once again next February.

Anonymous said...

I think Ryan Burr is doing a good job, and he's better than a sharp stick in the eye. Oh! did I mention the stick as being Erik Kuselias? Ok fine, I had to say it and and I feel better now. Erik is pushy, and talks over people -- and has some strange attraction to Ashley Judd. Then again I thought Doug Banks was doing a good job, so what could I possibly know? I also think my neighbor Terry Blount does well, and isnt afraid to laugh. What do you want from me here? Its a love-hate deal for me and NASCAR Now. Its hard for me to watch phoney journalism after being around the sport since 1968 -- and the NASCAR channels are full of it and themselves. So, if "Erik Thesilliest" can have a thing for Ashley Judd -- I can proclaim mine for Wendy Venturini. (much nicer gal, and has a big city degree in psychology). "prolly" considers NASCAR a case study.

Joseph Foster

photojosh said...

What's funny is that I really liked Erik Kuselias on radio and was bummed when he left to take the nascar job. But I said to myself, "Well, at least he's doing something that I'll want to watch". But I just couldn't ever get into the show. I think Kuselias is just more of a radio guy, Nascar Now just doesn't have any draw for me.

I was sorry that I missed the normal running of the show today. And as was stated, the rerun is screwed up by soccer. So I guess I'll just have to wait and for an opinion next time.

Now that Dan Patrick is gone, maybe Kuselias will move back to radio and free my afternoons from crappy local AM sports guys.

Anonymous said...

Yes it was a very nice show :)! Ryan definitely made the show enjoyable. I was laughing at that "exodus" it was too funny!

@tripp Yes I have Race Wizard on SP and enjoy it :)

jfs-va said...

The race to the airport was indeed fun to watch. I think Dr. Punch got more excited over that than the real race.

The only part I still don't like no matter who hosts is the goofy driver pick em thing. Who will finish better, the tortoise or the hair?

By the way, how about the night before where Tony Stewart was featured at Texas driving Tim and Marty around the track. Mending fences maybe?

Anonymous said...

Sadly, the show's been so bad that I suspect most of the potential audience long since stop watching--so when there's a rare good edition of NN, they don't see it.

Anonymous said...

I still can't decided if I liked that at the end of Terry Labonte's interview, Burr said "Thank you Terry Labonte." On one side, it seemed a little awkward to say his whole name instead of just his first name. On the other hand, except for the Labonte part, he is not well known, especially to the new or casual fan. So saying his full name was helpful.

Anonymous said...

judging from the remarks here, the Nascar Now show was FINALLY FUN, and it was. That's what most of us have always gotten out of INSIDE NEXTEL CUP.....FUN !!!!!
Grani Girl

Vince said...

I gave up watching NascarNotNow. I used to DVR it and found I still wasn't watching it later, so I just quit all together. It sounds like this was a good show, but ESPN has done this bait and switch routine before. Re, AB does one great show and we all think it's a glimpse of things to come and then we get Erik the Klueless again. So for me one good show does not make a trend. If I hear they've turned the corner and are consistently good for a week or more, then maybe I'll try watching again.

JHD said...

It wasn't just the "Where have you been" question to Justin that grated. Ryan asked repeatedly about how Justin felt running against a "star-studded" field of Cup drivers in the Truck race.

Last time I checked, Labonte was also running against a "star-studded" field of TRUCK drivers too. I don't even follow the Truck series, but I know who Mike Skinner and Ron Hornaday are. Way to emphasize that if you're not a Cup driver, you aren't anything.

Oh, and JD, one teeny nitpick: Sean Case's name is actually Sean Caisse.

Anonymous said...

I think NASCAR NOW is on a mini roll. I happened to watch the show on Wednesday because Tony Stewart was on and was surprised how good that show was. I then watched Thursdays and again was surprised that Thursday show was better than Wednesdays. The key is not only in the host but in the fact that they weren't trying to create news or controversy, they were just reporting.
The comments by Marty on Wednesday and the "race to the airport" Thursday were by far the most fun that show has been all season.

Anonymous said...

@anonymous 11:30--Yup that's what I miss about IWC, the FUN! I found it by reading one of DWs columns and someone asking if the show was coming back. I had seen Speed (Speedvision at the time) and Totally NASCAR on the line up but never tuned in. So once I heard about IWC I finally did and since TN was a lead in at the time checked it out. But one of the ones that I wish I had saved was actually what got me watching Busch was the famous Bristol incident with Happy and Da Biff. I was rolling! They did a "best of" at the end and they replayed that. But I was so rolling! From the gate the guys were like "yea yea we had this race but lets get to the fight!" and when they came back from commercial they'd be like "is it time for the fight?" And then when it was finally time they just had the best time! Another fun one was after another Bristol race, Mikey was late and attempted to sneak in. It made me come up with an idea for an April Fool's joke the next year but they changed the set so it wouldn't work.

Anonymous said...

So Burr tossed a jab a LaBonte, so what? Its all true. What is this court now? Heaven forbid someone say something to somebody in this politically correct world. I ask you, was it wrong in regard to statistical matter? Why does everyone think everyone else is supposed to wear rose colored glasses while looking at your pitiful life? Thats the trouble with this sport. Nobody can say anything and better yet, nobody can project the truth. Where has the kid been? Its a fair question. How does he feel about his chances against drivers who actually participate in the sport? Another fair question. This isnt your local school whereas everyone is a winner, and nobody keeps score because it isnt fair to the idiot kids.

Anonymous said...

Why does everyone think everyone else is supposed to wear rose colored glasses while looking at your pitiful life?

It's called being polite. Or being respectful.

Years ago, before someone invented the phrase "politically correct," we were taught polite behavior by our parents. then someone gave it a new name and it became acceptable to insult people, and if you wouldn't do it, you were deired as being "politically correct."

Yeah, that's a real advance in society.