Monday, October 8, 2007
"Inside NEXTEL Cup" Has A Heartbeat After All
The boys were back in town for SPEED as Inside NEXTEL Cup took to the air on Monday night. Host Dave Despain looked across the panel and found his original 2007 line-up of Kenny Schrader, Michael Waltrip, and Greg Biffle.
Last week, after one of the INC panelists finally won a race, he did not appear on the show. Greg Biffle had a family function to attend, and he flew to the west coast. In the same vein, Schrader was involved in a controversial wreck, and was not on the show due to previous obligations. So, this week the panel was back at full strength.
The obvious theme of this show was that all three panelists had raced, and crashed, at Talladega. Both Schrader and Waltrip were victims of tire failure, and Biffle was involved in a crash. Dave Despain was happy to let the guys talk, and this is the magic of this show.
Biffle was clearly going to be in for some good-natured ribbing about his conflicting statements on the final lap at Kansas. Needless to say, this came up very quickly with Waltrip asking "are you still sticking to that story?" Biffle was tongue-tied, but managed to point the finger at NASCAR, who Biffle said inspected the car and found fuel. Waltrip and Schrader were absolutely not buying it.
Once the race highlights began, the panel had a tough time explaining the Talladega happenings because everything was brand new. The first COT event, the first time for drafting in that car, and the first time for creating a new dynamic for staying safe. It seems that a lot of different race philosophies were being used with varied degrees of success. Waltrip's point was that he had to run up front or the fans would think he had another bad car.
Rarely has SPEED ventured out and taken a poke at the ESPN on ABC gang, but in this show the poking was aimed at Rusty Wallace and his brand new "Draft Lock." Completely tongue-in-cheek, Despain said he had not heard that term before. Unfortunately, it appeared that none of the panelists had watched the ABC telecast, and Despain's attempt at humor fell flat.
The DEI/RCR engine woes were up next, but the panel never discussed the issue. Despain alluded to the fact that Rick Hendrick had referenced another RCR multiple engine failure on the Victory Lane show, but the panel never helped viewers to understand what had actually happened. Light oil, bad parts, and high RPM's had all been suggested in the media. Despain needed to pin this down, but he chose to move along to keep things on time.
Ryan Newman running over Dale Earnhardt Junior's jack in the pits as a result of an inattentive crew member got the panel going. After all the tension of the weekend, once again the laughter was loud and the one-liners were flying on the show. Brian Vickers was once again used as a source of humor for his earlier comments on the program.
The panel's review of "the big one" was brief, and that was due in-part to the fact that no one really understood what happened to Bobby Labonte's car to start the wreck. Schrader's tire failure was next, and it was clear that he was upset to drop out of the top thirty-five in points.
Petty's accident triggered a good discussion about safety and the COT. Schrader was up-front about his belief that we had not seen the COT really put to a bad high-speed accident yet. Biffle made the good point that the trunk lid of the COT was actually opened and torn-off by the force of sliding backward.
Michael Waltrip's accident review resulted in a good explanation of the strength of the COT cars, and continued the issue of why so many tires were going flat on a track that is usually cleaned very well after a caution period. No one had an answer, which was one theme of this show about the COT on a superspeedway.
The last lap move of Gordon was celebrated, but the overall boring racing with no passing was avoided like the plague. The review of the final results was interesting, and always yields facts and opinions not heard on other racing TV programs. Its clear that this panel has a lot of information that Despain just does not have the "NASCAR chops" to bring out.
The embarrassing qualifying session at Talladega was disputed by Waltrip. He stuck by his contention that he had "changed nothing" on his car. The panel was split about the qualifying vs. race trim issue, and the impound procedure. Waltrip did back-up his statement by spending a lot of time at the front of the pack, further adding to the new COT legacy.
Finally, Greg Biffle had been trying to keep something under-the-radar, but Despain and Schrader would not allow it. Pushed as to why he would be absent from the show next week, Biffle shyly admitted that he would be getting married. Asked Schrader "were you not going to bring it up?"
Longtime fans of the show were all too happy to watch the final segment collapse into chaos as it so often had before. Schrader was harassing Biffle, Mikey was trying for sponsor plugs, and Despain was trying to wrap things up. Now, this was a lot more like the INC we know and love. Maybe this series has a heartbeat for a 2008 season after all.
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