Monday, September 10, 2007

SPEED's "Inside NEXTEL Cup" Mess

Smiles were few and far between Monday night as SPEED continued to air the long-running series Inside NEXTEL Cup. Hosted by Dave Despain, this one hour program has become a tired caricature of what it once was in its heyday.

The grizzled veterans of this show are Kenny Schrader and Michael Waltrip. Originally part of a fun and comfortable team, these two are now completely on their own wavelength. Schrader is no longer racing regularly in NEXTEL Cup, and Waltrip continues to put a brave face on an absolutely disastrous year.

Joining the panel this week was semi-regular Greg Biffle. A good idea early on, Biffle has found himself caught-up in a show where Waltrip is really the de facto host and Schrader has become an angry and cynical man. In this program, many of the sniping comments were directed at Biffle, the only person to actually drive in the Richmond NEXTEL Cup race.

As The Daly Planet has mentioned before, Dave Despain looks like a deer in the headlights. Waltrip is completely dismissive of Despain, and makes sure to stick-it to Despain about his SPEED program WindTunnel several times a show. Despain's nervous and forced laughter has become a staple of every program.

Waltrip himself is fascinating. In a way, this show created the Michael Waltrip image that he has used as the basis for much of his success. It was not his driving, but his personality as shown on Inside NEXTEL Cup that attracted sponsors. For several years, this program was a cult hit, and Waltrip was the leader of that cult.

To see him now nitpicking at the host, sniping at the guest panelist, and generally talking over-top of anyone at anytime is a shame. His attraction on this program is long gone, and it would have been wise of SPEED to move him off the regular panel and welcome a new guest.

As usual in this show, two conversations were in progress. Despain continued to battle his way through the highlights, Schrader and Waltrip made inside jokes, and Biffle's head was on a swivel trying to talk with both groups. Waltrip often changes the topic completely, and Despain is just forced to stop until Michael ends his latest petulant rant.

Greg Biffle is a breath of fresh air, and he continues to add all he can in terms of actual race experience. Sometimes, it seems as though he does not like Waltrip's put-downs of his comments, and in this program that happened several times. As usual, with his normal deep sigh, Despain says "let's get back to the highlights." Biffle is left the odd man out.

This series continues to languish alone on Monday nights surrounded by nothing NASCAR-related. On this night, PINKS, Payback, and the American Muscle Car sandwiched the show. There was no re-air of Victory Lane, Tradin' Paint, NASCAR Performance, or Survival of the Fastest. Inside NEXTEL Cup has been left to die a slow death that is probably only ten weeks away.

Veteran fans of the original SpeedVision Network remember this quirky show when host Allen Bestwick was the ringmaster, and Johnny Benson, Michael Waltrip, and Kenny Schrader were the circus. The early years of this series may someday be remembered as classic NASCAR TV. Whenever fans talk about those days, they always start the conversation with "remember when..." and then their favorite moments spill out.

Now, the magic is over. The fun is gone. The smiles are forced, and the end is near. Someone at SPEED decided that this show was not worth saving, and the resources and manpower were better spent on the NASCAR shows originating from the tracks. There are so many simple things that could have helped this low-rated program this season.

If SPEED does decide to re-establish this Monday Night NASCAR programming block, they could certainly keep a refurbished Inside NEXTEL Cup as the anchor. With Randy Pemberton, Wendy Venturini, and Steve Byrnes in their stable, the network could certainly establish a credible new host. As for drivers, there are plenty of veterans who could provide a new fresh mix of faces.

Whatever the network decides, it has been a memorable run for this series, created by SpeedVision's original Executive Producer Bob Scanlon. His simple idea of having one driver from each manufacturer mixed with an experienced TV host and some highlights has lasted a decade. Thanks for the memories guys.

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Monday's "NASCAR Now" On ESPN2: Your Comments Please

Monday at 5:30PM ESPN2 aired a one hour edition of NASCAR Now that focused strictly on The Chase...and Dale Earnhardt Junior.

Now that the original airing of the program is over, The Daly Planet would like to know what those of you who viewed it thought about the content and host.

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