Monday, March 12, 2007

SPEED: Inside NEXTEL Cup - Las Vegas

The word has gone out to Michael Waltrip to clean-up his act. Here he was on the set clean and shaved, hair actually combed, no coffee cup in sight. Perhaps, the addition of Greg Biffle as a semi-permanent panel member helped Michael to understand that he might just not be irreplaceable. And make no mistake about it, this show has been pivotal to his entire NEXTEL Cup career.

Dave Despain is just back from Daytona Bike Week, and his trouble shifting to the world of NASCAR continues. He is about as interested in this sport as the man in the moon. His drool manner and low level of enthusiasm is just not right in this setting. The ghost of Alan Bestwick haunts this set.

Luckily, Biffle has proven to be just the medicine the panel needs to regain their form of several years ago, and make Brian Vickers just a bad memory. Greg has a solid mechanical understanding of racing like Kenny Schrader, and the are both solid foils for the hi-jinks of Waltrip. One has the feeling after watching the three drivers enjoy themselves for the first time this year, that this series is just one new host away from regaining its stride. Wendy Venturini anyone?

NASCAR Now: A Solid Performance

Mondays on NASCAR Now are always the best shows. Not for style, or substance, but for the continuing struggle of this daily show to define itself. This Monday was no exception.

In the top of the show, the production team finally figured out that host Erik Kuselias needs as much help as possible from everyone ESPN can throw at him. We saw Stacy Compton, Tim Brewer, and Marty Smith deliver exactly the kind of smart and concise information that this show has needed since February.

Its unfortunate that Kuselias does not reference Mark Martin's son Matt when he speaks about Mark's commitment to a part-time schedule. Kuselias was straightened out by the analysts, who pointed out Mark's need to guide the blossoming career of his young son, and the fact that his son means more to him than possibly "making the chase." Perhaps, Kuselias will finally let this go.

At long last, ESPN is using post-race sound bites from a Cup event, even though it was on Fox Sports. The race wrap and Hendrick Racing feature was solid, and Stacy Compton and Tim Brewer were key in filling in the gaps that Kuselias can not. As a host, Kuselias is fine. When he recognizes his shortcomings and uses his experts, he is better. This may have been his best show of the year.

In terms of Stacy Compton reviewing the "happenings" of the race, Kuselias needs to allow Compton to do the entire feature alone. Kuselias keeps interrupting, and that is not his job as the host. As soon as he transitioned back to Marty Smith for news, he allowed Marty to speak uninterrupted.

The "Weekend Drive" feature made no sense, as it did not allow viewers to differentiate between the Busch and Cup races. It was similar to the highlights montage in SportsCenter that also makes no sense, but is sponsored. This time could have been used for other purposes, and ended the show on an awkward note. Save the music videos for the IndyCar Series, this is NASCAR.