Sunday, October 7, 2007

Sunday's "NASCAR Now" Different Without Bill Lester

UPDATE: For those of you asking, chose not to link this story. That is Jay's right as the editor of that website. You can make your own judgements about the fact that ESPN owns the website.

"You want wild, we got wild." said NASCAR Now host Erik Kuselias about the track at Talladega, AL. "This is the place with its own infield jail."

So began the Sunday morning one hour edition of NASCAR Now, the most talked-about racing TV program of 2007.

Kuselias had on the set with him current Truck Series driver Stacy Compton and Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw. This trio has been playing out the same strange scenario for several months now. Sunday morning's show was no different.

Kuselias makes outrageous statements, often in the form of a question. The pattern is to hype a certain topic using help from Cowlishaw, and then give Compton a small amount of time to speak to the racing reality.

The biggest story of this week for those outside the ESPN bubble was the continuing problem between ESPN and Tony Stewart. In this program, the "voice of the fans" Brad Daugherty was put in the position of actually reporting on the fact that he had talked to Tony.

That's right, instead of a Tony interview, Daugherty was put on-camera talking "for Tony" about "what Tony was thinking" and "how Tony was feeling." He actually had to say those words several times in his piece.

Once again, Daugherty was ESPN's fall guy. If Daugherty had talked to Stewart, could he have maybe brought a camera along? A sound man? Then ESPN could have taped the interview, and NASCAR Now viewers could be watching Tony Stewart instead of Daugherty talk about the issues. The network had three days to get Tony Stewart do to an interview for this show...and failed.

It is obvious that Stewart and ESPN are on different wavelengths. It is high time that the ESPN executives sit-down with this high-profile driver and settle these issues. They cannot wait any longer to clear the air. If this issue blows-up again it could over-shadow The Chase itself and that would not be fair.

One big mistake that NASCAR Now has created simply to fill time in this one hour show is a feature called The Eliminator. Supposedly, it uses data from past races to pick a winner analytically and without the "human factor" involved. Basically, to race fans, its hilarious.

Imagine having the focus of this program shift from talking about the upcoming event to everyone on the show being forced to pick a winner against an artificially created TV feature? The minutes of this show burned-up with this could be better used to go and stay at the track for better race preview coverage. This is where ESPN is light years behind SPEED.

Kuselias said the Eliminator was "like an Oz...and its scientific" when Cowlishaw complained about this ridiculous feature. Compton was more succinct in his response to the Eliminator's "pick" of Kasey Kahne. He said "absolutely not." As the season roars down the stretch, the best thing NASCAR Now could do is "eliminate" this concept and focus this one hour on track side activity and a recap of all the NASCAR action from Friday and Saturday.

ESPN has used rookie reporter Shannon Spake in many roles this season, but NASCAR Now has really featured her in key interviews. Why Brad Daugherty has not been able to share this work load is unclear, but Spake interviewed Greg Biffle on this day and missed the boat in pinning him down about running out of gas at Kansas. Only a few hours later, Biffle would appear on tape during RaceDay, and admit to Wendy Venturini that he had run out of gas and the fuel light was on.

Spake also interviewed Jacque Villeneuve on his weekend racing in both the Truck and the Cup Series. She appeared right after the Craftsman Truck race highlights, but her interview never mentioned the Truck Series race, in which Villeneuve crashed.

This was the entire point, that Villeneuve had crashed in the Truck Series after swerving to avoid Trucks that were simply heading to pit road. None of the appropriate questions were asked of this open-wheel veteran. This is typical of the problems with NASCAR Now, sometimes the pieces don't fit together.

Last week, after a season of struggle, both Compton and Cowlishaw did not appear on the Sunday show. The new face on-the-air for ESPN was NASCAR veteran Bill Lester. An ESPN spokesperson told The Daly Planet that Lester's presence on NASCAR Now over the weekend was simply a one time experiment. I read that as an on-air audition.

The network has to make some changes to this daily series for next season. While the NASCAR Insiders of Marty Smith, Angelique Chengelis, and Terry Blount have been solid all season, the same cannot be said for the other spokes in this TV wheel.

Compton is knowledgeable, but his TV presence leaves a lot to be desired. Bill Lester is the type of NASCAR veteran who can bring the same level of experience and push the diversity agenda simultaneously. Compton has done a lot to establish a basic level of credibility, but in 2008 this needs to move up to the next level.

Lester handled everything Erik Kuselias threw at him during the weekend "experiment." His answers and opinions blended the personal and the professional in a way that Compton simply cannot. In addition, Lester appeared to match the controversial Kuselias in intellect and vocabulary stride-for-stride throughout his time on-the-air. That was certainly a new twist.

Just as the NASCAR owners use this time of the year to step-back and make their plans for 2008, so do the TV networks. NASCAR Now needs some re-tooling, and ESPN2 has stuck with their core crew through a lot of adversity this first year. Perhaps, now they have an idea of who will be the key players on the only daily NASCAR show on national television for next year.

ESPN has been shaken by the effect of SPEED's RaceDay on ABC's pre-race show called NASCAR Countdown. Moving RaceDay to a position of competing head-to-head with the actual ABC pre-race show was a bold move by SPEED. Now, the driving force behind ESPN re-tooling NASCAR Now might be SPEED's possible creation of a daily NASCAR news program of its own.

Having just made a multi-million dollar commitment to High Definition for 2008, SPEED may well be planning to step-up to the plate and take another swing at a daily NASCAR program. With SPEED just passing the seventy million home mark, they are closing in on ESPN2 at a rapid rate.

It will be interesting to see if ESPN "auditions" anyone else on NASCAR Now before the season is over. Viewer suggestions have ranged from Bob Jenkins as the host to Dale Jarrett as the Monday night "review" analyst. With only a handful of weeks left, it should be interesting to see who else "shows up" on NASCAR Now.

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...

JD, Could you provide more information on a possible daily NASCAR program on SPEED? I heard that SPEED had no interest in one, although it would be highly appreciated.

bevo said...

Great points John.
The ironic think about the Stewart situation is he is on all of the billboards around here advertising NASCAR on ABC. No other drivers, just Smoke.

Matt said...

Speaking of Stewart, anyone notice that once again, ESPN had Bestwick interview him in pre-race? You being to get the feeling that is a request from Tony?

JHD said...

I have to disagree with you about Stacy Compton, John. He's one of the few parts of the show I will actually watch and not FF through.

The problem with Stacy seems to be Erik's unwillingness to hear a counter point of view. Stacy's main role seems to be to inject a bit of reality and to unhype anything Erik or Tim C have to say. Stacy frequently disagrees with Erik's opinions simply because Erik has no clue what he's talking about regarding NASCAR.

This sets up Stacy as the "evil" one. Erik doesn't like to be told he's wrong, so of course Erik is going to shut him up any way he can.

Watch Stacy when he's on with Ryan Burr and the dynamic is completely different. Ryan is willing to hear Stacy's opinions and treats him with dignity and respect. This is more than Erik is willing to do and I think this accounts for why Stacy with Tim and Erik is so disastrous.

Anonymous said...

"Once again, Daugherty was ESPN's fall guy. If Daugherty had talked to Stewart, could he have maybe brought a camera along? A sound man? Then ESPN could have taped the interview, and NASCAR Now viewers could be watching Tony Stewart instead of Daugherty talk about the issues. The network had three days to get Tony Stewart do to an interview for this show...and failed. "

I didn't see the show (I'll give it a try again next season, but for now I'm over NASCAR Now - and I recorded it every day when it debuted back in February). But I saw photos of Brad Daughterty and Tony Stewart from the weekend on a racing site. The two of them on pit road were laughing and looked like they were having a great time together. I think Brad had his arm around Tony in one. So Tony obviously has no problems with Brad.

So you're right, in this case, ESPN maybe should have had filmed a sitdown interview with the two of them (maybe Tony didn't have time to do a sitdown interview?). I say sitdown because Brad TOWERS over these guys. I mean, he is literally two feet taller than Stewart and Jeff Burton (there was another nice picture of those two, with Burton looking up at Daughterty like he's the Jolly Green Giant).

It's easy (for me) to forget that Brad is 7'6'' because on ESPN basketball shows and in old photos there are other guys almost as tall as him. And on NASCAR shows, they must have his seat lowered so he looks the same height as everyone else in studio.

Can you find out if Brad's height is causing issues with ESPN putting him on air from pit road for interviews? Some of the drivers are very sensitive about their height. I swear one time I saw Jamie McMurray being interviewed by Jamie Little and he must have been standing on a box, because she is much taller than him and they were eye to eye in that one interview.

Rick said...

Brad is 7'0", not 7'6", and the drivers don't seem to have a problem with Dillner, who is 6'5".

Steve from MD said...

Another Erik rant:

Erik is such an idiot. Can someone please explain to me his point about "dega" having to have it's own infield jail? Would that be the first track you would be thinking of needing an infield jail? I do not think so. Bristol has the town jail on it's property, and would most likely be the track I would think could use it's own infield jail.
Erik must have been so dissapointed that there were no major wrecks. That is probably the extent of his knowledge of "dega". Who preps this guy anyway? ANd does he show any passion about NASCAR? Has he even tried to learn since be put in the anchor chair?
They actually run commericals on ESPN radio featuring him endorsing automobile products! This from a guy who admitted a couple of weeks ago he has never driven a stick.
Erik continues to bore us with his lack of preparation, lack of knowledge and hype concering NASCAR. I think ESPN just does not care about NASCAR NOW. I miss the Stephen E. Smith show! At least he knows his subject.

Erik, the man will not just go away.

Tripp said...

If "NASCAR Now" wants a new anchor, how about John Kernan? Both he and Jenkins have more of a "face made for radio" than the pretty boys who currently dominate the format.

If this show wants to capture the knowledgeable NASCAR fans, it needs a host that knows more than the fans do. Chris Berman hardly blips the "pretty boy" meter, but people watch him because he knows his stuff after 20+ years with ESPN. NASCAR fans deserve the same level of knowledge.

Now... who could Speed be looking at to host their daily NASCAR show? Hmmmmm.

Anonymous said...

Found the links to pics of Brad/drivers so you can see the height difference. Even if Daugherty is 7.0 instead of 7'6' (forgive my error) that's still seven inches taller than Dilner and MUCH taller than many drivers.

Regarding Stacy Compton, I liked him just fine when I watched the show. But his opinions do sometimes rankle other drivers...well they rankle Tony Stewart anyway. Tony has gone out of his way on a few of his radio shows to single out Stacy, saying if he knew what he was talking about he would have lasted longer in the Cup Series.

The good news about that is at least Tony watches NASCAR Now.

Anonymous said...

Tripp said...
Now... who could Speed be looking at to host their daily NASCAR show? Hmmmmm.
October 7, 2007 10:33 PM

My first thought would have been someone who is already part of NASCAR on SPEED, but I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

I would love to watch Speed, and you can say all you want about them "catching" ESPN2, but they're not even close. The 70 million homes they're in is an inflated number. The majority of those homes can only get speed as an add on cable channel and that is just ridiculous. I want to watch Speed's pre-race show, but to me, it's not worth shelling out the money each month. I'd have to pay $15 per month just to get Speed, which then comes along with a Fox Soccer channel, some channel called Gol, a bunch of Fox college regional channels, and the NFL Network. Ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

One more thing for my $15 per month...the GOLF CHANNEL! Snore.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
I would love to watch Speed, and you can say all you want about them "catching" ESPN2, but they're not even close. The 70 million homes they're in is an inflated number.
October 7, 2007 10:48 PM

JD, Can you explain exactly the "70 million homes" number is obtained?

Eric said...

Here is my opinion on some NASCAR Now faces:

Marty Smith: while good, he cannot help but add little lines into his speech about how he spent "all day" or "most of the day" with this person or that person within NASCAR be it a driver or ownwer. Especially when it comes to Jr. Give it up Marty, we don't care at all about who you know or how long you spent with them...big flipping deal, stop pimping yourself. Just report what you know and then be quiet.

Angelique Chengelis: Solid performer and does not have to pimp herself on TV like Marty Smith does. If SPEED starts a daily show next year, they should pay her more than ESPN is and hire her.

Erik Kuselias: why hasn't ESPN not fired him yet and had security escort him off the property is beyond me.

Love to see the ratings for SPEED's RaceDay vs. ABC's NASCAR Countdown. I know I only switch for the actual race.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Hey all,

SPEED is owned by the Fox Cable Network group. It is a digital cable network that is mostly offered as a part of a digital cable package. Depending on your MSO (cable company) it may appear to be clustered with other channels.

The seventy million number is the direct number of cable homes in which the network is now available. That is from Erik Arneson, the VP of PR at SPEED.

As the network grows, it is going to change greatly. I anticipate a very new and different looking network in 2008.

AndyPandy said...

So Shannon gets to talk to Biffle and doesn't try to get to the bottom of last week's controversy but leave it to Wendy to get the Biff to admit he ran out of gas! She really cracked me up on RaceDay today when Spencer picked Kurt Busch to win and she immediately replied, "I thought you hated him!" The whole SPEED crew makes you feel like you're hanging out with friends while they're still supplying all of the information needed to cover the race.

I hope no other network realizes what a good job she does and tries to hire her away from SPEED. She's in the right place and all they would do is try to drag her down to their level.

Anonymous said...

Daly Planet Editor said...
The seventy million number is the direct number of cable homes in which the network is now available. That is from Erik Arneson, the VP of PR at SPEED.

As the network grows, it is going to change greatly. I anticipate a very new and different looking network in 2008.

October 8, 2007 12:04 AM

When you say "in which the network is now available," does that mean homes that have actually purchased the package that SPEED is in, or is it homes that have the opportunity purchase it?

Also, can you give more details about the changes that you expect SPEED to undergo.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Good Questions Tonight...

Good News: I think Ms. Venturini is locked up for several years with SPEED, but I will ask her about her plans for next year and report back. She reads this site regularly and gives me good feedback on your comments.

Cable Numbers: The size of the cable universe is based on the number of homes that have SPEED or ESPN2 available. ESPN2 is currently at 88 million, but failed to launch in its first two attempts.

ESPN is currently re-branding this channel by dropping ESPN2 and just referring to both ESPN and ESPN2 as "on ESPN."

SPEED is 73 million, and expect that number to rise in January when the new cable agreements kick in. SPEED is currently the fastest growing cable network in North America. Not bad.

Anonymous said...

I must be in the minority as I like the Eliminator. Its a different way to pick a winner based on contrived stats to get the winner they want instead of who has the best chance to win. (JJ Yeley at California??)
Also, I didnt hear Biffle say he ran out of gas. I heard him say the fuel pressure gauge wiggled and the car coughed, then it kept running when he moved down onto the apron. However, he shut it off and coasted the rest of the way in order to keep enough gas to do a burnout. That's what I heard him say.
Kevin in SoCal

SophiaZ123 said...

Thank you John for keeping me abreast of the tv show I consider MUST NOT SEE VIEWING.

I did watch a couple weeks ago when Jr announced his new sponsors and wanted to see his new car designs (Whew, boy...those are going to take getting used to!)

And I watched one of the monday shows a week or so ago but forget why. Otherwise, I just try not to watch this show.

On Sundays it never enters my dark-rooted blonde head to even watch this ESPN rubbish.

I prefer the fun SPEED shows but STILL, for practical purposes, wish they would cut RACEDAY back to AN HOUR. THEY REPEAT a lot of video from shows during the week or other stuff I find to be minutiae.

I would NOT watch ESPN PRE RACE show unless a meteor was scheduled to hit the race track and they were going to do a story about that. MEOW HISS.

But on NASCAR NOW, I can't stand waiting for Erik to snap into bombastic -cross- examination-interrogation mode to hype or ask tabloid questions to guests. About a sport he knows nothing about!

Thanks for telling us what we miss and bless your heart for being so dedicated to all this media stuff.

Love this site.

Anonymous said...

Eric wrote:
Angelique Chengelis: Solid performer and does not have to pimp herself on TV like Marty Smith does. If SPEED starts a daily show next year, they should pay her more than ESPN is and hire her.

I agree that Angelique does a great job. She seems to have a lot of sources but doesn't seem to need to talk about those sources in the self-promotional manner that Marty Smith does.

LuckyForward said...

I have the greatest respect for Jayski and have enjoyed his site for years. I regretted to see him sell the site to ESPN (although I am genuinely pleased at whatever he gained financially.) Still, I was awaiting the moment when his website could no longer be the excellent clearinghouse for NASCAR information that it had been because ESPN would not allow something to be placed on the site.

The time has come . . .

Lisa Hogan said...

I gave up on Nascar Now. I grew tired of being insulted. Erik stopped the yelling; but, other than that, he doesn’t seem to have made any effort to even understand the bad scripts that he is given to read. I stayed around for Marty Smith. I think Marty mentions spending time with drivers or owners to distinguish himself from the majority of the on-air staff. You know, the ones who watch something on TV then pontificate on the subject as if they were actually involved.

My time is valuable to me. Why should I waste it watching people who don’t know as much about NASCAR as I do?

Anonymous said...

I'm happy to pay for the DISH tier that includes SPEED. I'd hate to think my only racing coverage was coming from ESPN/ABC.

Lisa Hogan said...

Oh dear, ESPN thinks not linking your column on Jayski will lessen criticism. This seems to spotlight how out-of-touch they are with NASCAR fans. Nascar Now has been royally flamed on the racing forums since its debut. In fact, now it is very seldom posted about on the forums I frequent. Any NASCAR TV show that is not discussed on these forums is dead.

Anonymous said...

At least Stacy Compton had the guts to say things that aren't in the Nascar mold. He had the guts to give an honest opinion as to the Villeneuve issue and how he didh't belong in the Talladega race as a first time driver in a Cup car. I haven't heard anyone who had the guts to go against a Nascar decision.

Daly Planet Editor said...


I totally enjoyed Stacy Compton this season, as my archived columns will confirm. In terms of next year, ESPN is re-tooling the show and I believe they are looking for someone who will not be driving regularly.

Bill Lester is at that point where he may be out of actively driving, and his TV presence was outstanding. Stacy is regarded as a country bumpkin by "the host," and his comments are regulary brushed aside. The same is not going to be true for the college educated and former businessman Lester. That mix could be very interesting.

blinz said...

I really enjoy Stacy Compton's input on the show. He has information from a driver's perspective that Eric and Tim lack. Especially Eric, he needs to take a course on NASCAR. Stacy is pleasent has a good delivery where Eric compensates for his lack of knowledge by yelling and degrading his co-hosts. I have been a NASCAR fan since the late 60's and all I have to say about Bill Lester is, Bill Lester who?

Anonymous said...

I saw NASCAR Now a couple of weeks ago and heard Erik say chassis as "chassiss" not "chassey". I'm a freakin girl who knows nothing about cars and even I know that one. I was stunned.

darbar said...

The only thing that could "kill" Stacy Compton's career on ESPN is if Tony Stewart has any pull. It seems obvious that Stewart has a big problem with ESPN, and on his Tuesday night show on Sirius, Tony has referred to Compton as a fool and idiot, because he disagrees with some of Compton's commentary. I would hope that ESPN doesn't capitulate to anything of Stewart's, just to get in his good graces. Stewart seems to have no problem in being interviewed by people from Speed, but he sure becomes surly with anyone from ESPN.

As for Bill Lester, what a wonderful, articulate and insightful person he is. I could listen to him all day, and his knowledge is beyond anything ESPN has to offer to date. I would hope that someone of intelligence, whether it be Speed or ESPN, signs him up to a nice contract. He would be a great addition to Trackside Live or, with a little seasoning, could handle being the main commentator for the races, leaving Jerry Punch to go back to pit reporting or the IRL.