Monday, October 22, 2007
Standing alone in the ESPN2 High Definition studios, Ryan Burr had a big smile across his face. Finally, Burr was getting an opportunity to host the one hour version of ESPN's racing show NASCAR Now. He would make the most of this opportunity.
As The Daly Planet has mentioned before, Burr has solid credentials behind him in TV journalism, and is currently working as an anchor on the ESPN News Network. Many emails have come our way from former co-workers and associates of Burr that all say the same thing. Great guy and hard worker. Monday on NASCAR Now those traits certainly showed.
Burr works fast, and he launched into the Martinsville NEXTEL Cup highlights without gimmicks or hype. He followed the video with a replay of his interview with Jimmie Johnson from the track on Sunday night. Johnson enjoyed the interview, and Burr asked all the right questions. Then, he tackled the controversy.
NASCAR Now reporters Angelique Chengelis and Marty Smith stopped-by to deal with the frustrations expressed after the race by Carl Edwards. In the past, NASCAR Now would have been over-the-moon with Erik Kuselias and Tim Cowlishaw hyping this incident for the entire hour. Smith and Chengelis put this one incident in perspective and then moved on to other news. What an outstanding change of pace for this show. Kudos for Burr for mentioning SPEED in reference to the footage.
Moving on to the Johnson vs. Gordon relationship, Burr questioned the honesty of the seemingly mild-mannered rivalry. He pushed both of the reporters for answers, and got them in clear terms. This was exactly the way to use these "Insiders."
Veteran reporter Mike Massaro showed up next to present a feature on the Martinsville experience of Jeff Gordon. Massaro and Burr were standing in the Home Depot garage on the ESPN2 set. Interestingly, once again ESPN chose to use the outstanding radio call of MRN's Dave Moody in place of the ABC audio of Jerry Punch in the highlights.
With Burr and Massaro side-by-side, finally two TV professionals were interacting and talking on ESPN where NASCAR was concerned. What a breath of fresh air.
Amazingly, NASCAR Now freely used the call of the SPEED announcers when showing their outstanding video recap feature on the NASCAR weekend at Martinsville. This really added another element to the show, as many things happened and many incidents occurred in the Truck race on SPEED. It was great of ESPN to include the audio along with the video highlights.
Jamie Little's post-race interview with Carl Edwards went a long way to answer the question of what was on his mind when he manhandled the much smaller Matt Kenseth. This sound was part of a big Chase contenders recap that put a lot in perspective for fans who watched the race on ABC. That crew left a lot of information at the track, and once the telecast was over they really did not offer viewers any closure.
Shannon Spake returned for her usual Monday feature, but this time she was off the mark. Spake was once again covering a topic that is making NASCAR fans absolutely crazy. That is the two glamour boys of Hendrick Motorsports, and the eternal question of...when will they fight? Spake added nothing new, had no new footage, and ended with a rambling interview of Chad Knaus who affirmed no hard feelings.
The king of reality for NASCAR Now has been Stacy Compton. This time, he addressed one final time the Hendrick Motorsports reality of Jeff Gordon being Jimmie Johnson's mentor and friend. Stacy has been putting things back into perspective for the ESPN anchors and commentators on this program all season long.
The NASCAR Now reporters returned with multiple news updates. They covered Jeremy Mayfield, Bill Davis Racing, Jacque Villeneuve and the future of Haas CNC Motorsports. Smith and Chengelis work well together, and both are confident enough in their own abilities to share the spotlight with another reporter.
Burr continued the fast pace of this show with highlights of both the Truck Series and the Toyota All-Star Shootout. Both these events were on SPEED, and it was great to see ESPN stepping-up and showing NASCAR highlights without regard to which network televised the event.
After rejecting the regional NASCAR racing action earlier this season, Burr hosted driver Joey Logano and led him through a review of his season and the outlook for his future in the sport. "It was awesome" said Logano of winning the Toyota Shootout as he smiled broadly. Imagine, happy people on NASCAR Now.
Burr again asked the right questions, including the relationship seventeen year old Logano has with the older competitors. At the end of the interview, a smiling Logano said "thanks, man." This interview meant a lot to the NASCAR regional racers, and it ended the Grand National Series on a good note for ESPN.
After a concise preview of the upcoming Atlanta race by Stacy Compton, Burr made several indirect references to his opportunity to host this show, and then told viewers he would be back on Tuesday. While this is a positive turn for the struggling NASCAR Now, there was one thing Burr could not avoid. One thing even he must bow-down and pay homage to as an ESPN employee.
He took a deep breath and said the one word that has struck fear in the hearts of ESPN's NASCAR viewers since February. It was time for...Aerosmith. Well, the transition to the fifty-nine year old in spandex was rough, but the other fifty-six minutes of NASCAR Now on this Monday was worth a little pain.
Update: Burr continued as the host of NASCAR Now on Tuesday, and worked his way through a show packed with information. Once again, he correctly identified SPEED TV as the source of the Edwards vs. Kenseth footage, and used his reporters to follow-up on this story. The show contained a long fantasy racing segment, but also contained news and a Memphis preview.
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The ESPN assignments are out for this weekend, and one of them is very surprising.
While the normal NEXTEL Cup crew will handle the Atlanta race, the Busch Series is off at Memphis Motorsports Park for a stand-alone event. To the delight of fans, former Busch Series Champ Randy LaJoie will provide the color commentary. But, that is not the story that grabbed our attention.
Hosting the ESPN2 coverage and providing the play-by-play will be Marty Reid. Meanwhile, down on pit road one of his reporters will be Allen Bestwick. That is a stunner.
ESPN has stationed Bestwick on the Busch Series beat all season long. His duties have included play-by-play as well as hosting the Busch Series pre-race show for the telecasts where Dr. Jerry Punch handled the call of the race.
Several times this season, Bestwick has single-handedly hosted the pre-race show, provided the play-by-play, and then hosted the post-race activity on the Busch Series stand-alone races. He was ESPN's one man band for the Busch telecasts.
Why and how Marty Reid comes into play is unclear. Reid is the open-wheel and NHRA broadcaster who has only appeared in a vacation relief role on the NASCAR beat this season. Reid is certainly qualified for this challenge, but once again it appears that Bestwick has been left out in the cold when high-profile assignments for ESPN come around.
One other announcer note, Brent Musburger will be back for the Atlanta race on ABC since he has plenty of time to travel from his Saturday college football assignment.
Also, the fifth installment of the Chasing Glory series airs on Wednesday at 5:30PM on ESPN2. This quality series from NASCAR Images has followed the "Chasers" as they go through the ten final races of the season. It is worth putting on the DVR for later viewing.
Finally, if you missed the outstanding Ultimate NASCAR series on ESPN earlier this season, you have the chance to record two episodes. "The Explosion" episode airs this Thursday at 4AM Eastern Time, and "Greatest Drivers" airs on Friday at 5AM Eastern. This is a chance to see Dr. Jerry Punch doing what he does best...reporting and presenting feature material.
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