Friday, May 4, 2007

ESPN Steps-Up And Allen Bestwick Steps-In

The first moment that the familiar tones of Allen Bestwick greeted TV viewers of the Busch Series pre-race show at Richmond, you just had a feeling. The first time the ESPN camera revealed Bestwick in a suit and tie looking as professional and polished as usual, you just had a feeling. When Bestwick looked to his left, there sat the one and only Jimmie Johnson smiling like a kid in a candy store. Once again, you just had a feeling. The feeling was that ESPN had finally recognized a problem, and made a move to fix it. And no one can fix a problem like that better than Allen Bestwick...period. The humble man that NASCAR fans love.

Without changing the style that has made him a household name, Bestwick calmly set the informal and free-flowing tone for the "new" Busch Series pre-race show. He worked hard to include Brad Daugherty, and called him the "voice of the fans." That is the first time anyone has tried to explain to viewers what the heck Daugherty was doing on this show. Its about time Daugherty was given a role, and allowed to be included in the conversation.

Right off the top of the show, Kyle Busch appeared to address his recent rash of accidents. Within minutes of opening the show, Bestwick had two drivers discussing recent events, Daugherty asking good questions, and a HANS device on the set for viewers to see. Then, as he transitioned to commercial, Bestwick set-off the pit reporter "whip-around" with three smiling reporters "teasing" the remainder of the show. This is exactly the type of clear-cut NASCAR news and information that fans have been thirsting for since Daytona. It seems those pit reporters were a little happier than usual with Mr. Bestwick at the helm.

Part of the promise ESPN made to NASCAR was to assist the Busch Series in developing a "personality." No one is better at that this season that Aussie Marcos Ambrose. Rapidly becoming a fan favorite, Ambrose is a great interview and really puts a "face" on a series dominated by NEXTEL Cup "buschwackers." Getting Marcos on-camera to talk about his Talladega experience, and his first crack at Richmond, was a nice touch. As Ambrose finished his interview, Mike Wallace and Juan Montoya were clowning around behind him, and rookie pit reporter Jamie Little jumped right in and interviewed both of them. For just a brief moment...the old ESPN was back. It was actually fun again at the track.

Then, unfortunately, things took a wrong turn. At Talladega, the "booth announcers" appeared in the Busch Series pre-race show, but never even mentioned the Busch race. The Daly Planet made a point of reminding ESPN/ABC Sports of that fact. At Richmond, when Bestwick "tossed it up" to Marty Reid, they did it again. Marty spoke with Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree, but not about the Busch race. DJ had just missed qualifying for the NEXTEL Cup event, and their entire on-camera segment focused on that fact. Never was the Busch Series race mentioned. How does this happen? DJ could have appeared on NASCAR Now, SportsCenter, or even ESPN News to deal with the qualifying issue. This time is for the Busch Series, and ESPN made a big mistake by interrupting the great flow of Bestwick's first show by catering to their NEXTEL Cup star.

Luckily, pit reporter Mike Massaro returned to the Busch beat with Kevin Harvick, who is always the story at Richmond. While Massaro interviewed Harvick, team owner Chip Ganassi was harassing Harvick off-camera and adding to the informal and good-spirited feeling of this segment. Returning to the beautiful ESPN set, Bestwick led an open discussion about Harvick, Busch Series ownership, and Harvick's RCR connections. ESPN was finally talking racing, and it was about time.

At long last, ESPN spent the time to prepare a feature report on a driver who is actually racing in the Busch race being telecast. It seems like a simple thing, but it has not been easy. A nice feature on Kyle Busch and his crew chief for both the Busch and Cup Series worked quite well. Then, they actually raced. What a concept.

After three long months of confusion and ego, there has to be some credit given to the ESPN executives bold enough to make a high-profile change like adding Bestwick. In one show, he has relaxed the anger of the fans and restored ESPN's credibility in this sport. If ESPN can focus the "booth announcers" segment on the Busch Series, and eliminate the ridiculous "what to watch for" questions, they have a winner. As the series moves to Darlington, let's hope that even more hard news and driver interviews are added into the show. Fans need to meet the Busch Series drivers and hear Busch Series information for the entire thirty minutes.

On behalf of The Daly Planet, and NASCAR fans everywhere, thank you to ESPN for bringing Allen Bestwick to the helm of NASCAR Countdown. This move will bring more benefits than ESPN can imagine as the series continues for the next seven months.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published.