Sunday, February 10, 2008

Can Allen Bestwick Save "NASCAR Now?"

The sound you hear in the distance and the cloud of dust you see on the horizon is the TV cavalry riding to the rescue.

After a first year of chaos, and an unsteady first week of this season, Allen Bestwick is riding to the rescue of NASCAR Now.

The white hot spotlight of NASCAR TV was focused on ESPN2 last year as away from the track that network offered the only daily motorsports program on television. Instead of the general racing show that was RPM2Night, ESPN2 chose to deal with an even smaller slice of the auto racing pie and focused on NASCAR alone.

NASCAR Now last season promised fans the ultimate in coverage. There would be no NHRA, no IRL and no other news to turn the spotlight away from NASCAR. This show would cover the three NASCAR national touring series in-depth. It would provide the foundation for ESPN's coverage of the entire Busch Series and the final seventeen NEXTEL Cup races.

Unfortunately, things did not work out that way. NASCAR Now had a problem, and despite the pleas of the fans and the fundamental reality of the sport, nothing changed. The focus of NASCAR Now was on ESPN, and not NASCAR.

This TV series basically denied that the Craftsman Truck Series existed. NASCAR Now never had any reporter on-scene for features or interviews, and rarely used "soundbites" from the race winners. Normally, any video highlights consisted of the last lap and possibly a good crash or two. Even with a mid-week Craftsman sponsorship that forced a driver interview, the Truck Series was almost invisible.

Even more curious was NASCAR Now's brutal treatment of the Busch Series. Time and time again The Daly Planet asked why Saturday Busch Series video highlights were not even seen in the Sunday or Monday versions of this program. The anger culminated in April with this column, which called NASCAR Now "the new worst show in the history of TV."

Despite the fact that the Busch Series was the only NASCAR property on ESPN exclusively, it was the NEXTEL Cup that served as the NASCAR Now obsession in 2007. These TV rookies were hooked on the glamour of the Cup Series, and missed the big picture reality of the sport.

Over-and-over-again, polite Cup Series drivers and owners appeared on NASCAR Now both on-camera and by telephone for interviews. The questions they were asked by host Erik Kuselias were entry level fan questions at best. Often, you could actually see the subject being interviewed take just a moment to gather themselves before answering. The reason was clear. They were thinking to themselves, did he really just ask me that?

Now, the ultimate TV irony is about to unfold on Monday night at 6PM Eastern Time.

Allen Bestwick was fired from Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing on SPEED. Change was needed, the show was stale, and Bestwick was the problem concluded the new Production VP at SPEED. That show had been on-the-air for a decade, and was a time-honored tradition for fans. Monday nights would never be the same.

Moving to ESPN in the first year of the new NASCAR TV contract, Bestwick did everything except drive the TV trucks to the next race. A veteran of play-by-play, Bestwick watched Jerry Punch struggle in the booth. Allowed to call selected Busch Series races, Bestwick got rave reviews.

As a nationally know studio host, Bestwick watched Chris Fowler, Brent Musburger, Erik Kuselias and finally Suzy Kolber fill the lead anchor chair in the Infield Studio for ESPN and ABC. Bestwick was finally allowed to sit in that chair, but only for the Busch Series shows. He was the child at the small table looking over at the adults and wondering how to make the jump.

Now, the TV tide has turned for Bestwick. He has been placed front-and-center in the new ESPN/ABC TV package. He will host the pre-race shows from the Infield Studio all season long. Brent Musburger is gone, so Bestwick will be the only host for the broadcasts. He will have Rusty Wallace alongside for commentary, and Brad Daugherty in the mix to stir the pot.

The biggest piece of the Bestwick puzzle is his return into the homes of NASCAR fans on Monday nights. Even with NASCAR Now airing at 6PM, the TV technology in most homes will make sure to record this program every week. This re-vamped hour is going to be the key to the entire series gaining ground with the fans.

In 2007, the NASCAR Now Monday hour was a mess. No Truck or Busch highlights, no members of the NASCAR on ESPN team appeared, and analysis was left to a well-meaning Truck Series driver and commentary to a Dallas Morning News columnist with little NASCAR experience. Instead of allowing the analyst to conduct the live interviews, the show host read scripted questions to some of the top names in the sport.

Beginning Monday, ESPN has eliminated almost all those problems with one little change. Bestwick will host an hour that will feature all three series, live interviews, regular contributions from the ESPN NASCAR team and all of the NASCAR Now "Insiders" who held the show together last season.

The big addition will be a roundtable discussion each Monday. This new feature will use ESPN NASCAR announcers to both review and preview the racing, as well as deal with any top stories that may need some veteran perspective.

Bestwick will be backed by newcomer Nicole Manske and ESPN veteran Ryan Burr on Mondays. This duo will host the other weekday shows, but also travel to the races and file reports for Mondays' NASCAR Now. That is a key change, having a team member on-scene instead of an ESPN "pool reporter."

The first program should be interesting, but the unfolding TV dynamic over the course of the season should be fascinating. NASCAR Now has the potential to be as big a franchise for ESPN as Baseball Tonight or NFL Live.

Bestwick also gives this show the potential to leave the studio and hit the road anytime. Sunday night after the Daytona 500, ESPN will do just that with a special one hour edition of NASCAR Now from the speedway. The network executives may take one look at College Gameday and ponder the possibilities of NASCAR Now leaving the studio more often.

ESPN has made a lot of positive changes where NASCAR is concerned, and Monday night veteran fans will begin a whole new era in NASCAR TV history.

Bestwick's migration from the little-known TV host of Inside Winston Cup on SpeedVision to a key player in trying to restore the proud NASCAR heritage of ESPN is complete. Monday nights are about to get very interesting.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.


Newracefan said...

I am not sure even AB can save Nascar Now. After the first few shows (this year I stopped going out of my way to watch although I will give AB and even Nicole a shot to impress me. Hopefully AB has some content control and Nicole follows AB's lead. I will be hopeful but am not opitimistic

SophiaZ123 said...

I will watch, IF I REMEMBER, monday night but ONLY because AB is hosting.

other than that, I ain't getting my hopes up.

elena said...

I'm not sure Allen can "save" NN, but I hope he does a good job.

Some of the problems the first week have been of the technical nature and are very annoying. The cutting off of an interview, the music so loud you cannot hear the driver's comments, the tape delay, etc.

I'm not familiar with Nicole, but was not impressed with her for the very few minutes on media day. She mispronounced a couple of driver's names ala Rusty.

Anonymous said...

I have been watching Nascar for 40 years. Nascar Now is new and like anything new it takes time. I also watch college basketball and that was where I was first turned on to Ryan Burr. He is a true professional, give him time, I think he will be a guy 10 years from now we will all be very glad he is a part of our sport.

haus20 said...

For right now, Nascar Now is not must see Nascar TV. ANY Nascar show on Speed will get the nod over Nascar Now.

SophiaZ123 said...


thanks for the reminder of the noise on NNOW.

One thing that drove me NUTS last year was when they were interviewing a driver, over top of the talking would come this weird staccato "space ship landing noise" and a bunch of graphics on the side of the tv screen. The first time I heard it, I thought it was a mistake or a technical glitch!%$#?


And don't get me STARTED on the loud music played over talk shows/interviews.

That's like a virus and all channels/tv shows do this..what ever happened to natural peace and quiet.


Sophia showing her age

p.s. Speaking of Nicole, SPEED REPORT was FAB tonight with Bob Varsha and krista Voda. Professional and respectable and Krista didn't give any of those smoky "come here big boy" looks to the camera that drove me nuts with Barbie.

I shall watch NASCAR NOW with remote in hand. :)

Anonymous said...

If AB is giving the reins a bit with this show and able to control the content somewhat, I believe he could make it into something. But I don't have my hopes up that any of that will happen. The show as of now is too focused on hype and style than real content.

Anonymous said...

"Bestwick will host an hour that will feature all three series, live interviews, regular contributions from the ESPN NASCAR team and all of the NASCAR Now "Insiders" who held the show together last season."

Gee, maybe David Newton will show up tomorrow to expound on his story on the home page, about Ashley Judd breaking the pit road dress code Sunday by showing up in a dress. Or, quoting Newton, "a low-cut black dress adorned with multicolored tulips."

What's sad is the NASCAR officials Ramsey Poston and Jim Hunter thought it was great, never mind all the other women - even the owner's wives- have had to follow the no dresses and closed toes shoe rules for years. If Ashley gets to break the rules, I hope the other wives get to as well. NASCAR is so desperate for publicity they'll do anything.

Says the article: "There is a double standard, and she's the double standard," spokesman Ramsey Poston said.

I swear, some people complain about Marty Smith, but at the heart of it, Marty is a lot more nuts and bolts racing than David "Hollywood" Newton.

Anonymous said...

I'm almost positive Newton was the guy who counted the months between Jeff Gordon's marriage and his baby's due date and put it in his news article. I don't know why you're surprised he's on Ashly Judd watch. He's not my favorite on NASCAR Now either.

I'll watch NASCAR Now through Sunday's after Daytona 500 show and decide if it gets a season pass.

Anonymous said...

AB will be better on this show, but the bottom line is the espn'ers in bristol have no clue about racing. the studio upper ups have never cared about NASCAR and never will!
this newton guy should stay off TV and just keep writing your cheesy articles!

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to AB tonight on NN. Mr. Bestwick earned this and I hope it gives us what we all have been wanting, that breath of fresh air racing fans deserve.

Kingston, NY

Ron P. said...

I'm hoping that Allen will do good, But remember this is ESPN were talking about so who knows what will happen. I'm sure that the Connecticut Posse will hog tie Allen's wrists, so I'm not expecting much.
We'll see what tomorrow morning brings.


Anonymous said...

AB is the best race talent in the biz. and he should be doing play by play for fox instead of Mike "NO" Joy.
But Fox let him get hired away, and espn producers can't figure out he's the best they've got. sorry dr punch

GinaV24 said...

I know that Allen will do his best and put on as good a show as ESPN will allow. He's really great at this and I'll tune in on Monday's even if I miss the rest of the week for lack of interest.

loafer said...

If AB can't do it no one can. He did a super job on This Week in Nextel Cup and was sorely missed. Our cable service does not carry ESPN so we unfortunatly will not see the show in Canada. We have 3 sports channels but they only give Nascar a glance now and then. It seems as though they feel we are not interested. I have written to each of them about their sorry lack of coverage but they don't even answer my letters.

jersey_dan said...

i agree with most of the posters here; the return of AB won't be enough to bring me back as a regular viewer. if the problem was just the host, then yes, i could see AB saving it. however, the problems with NN are deeper than just the host, and without addressing them, even the best, most knowledgeable host won't succeed. that said, i will watch tonight to see how it goes.

joe mama said...

Sounds promising. I'll give it a go and I'll try to keep an open mind.
It's nice to know that sometimes, someone actually listens to the criticism and makes an effort to fix it.

Wonder if Brian is taking notes?

Anonymous said...

Allen Bestwick, far and away, the "class act" of NASCAR broadcasting. Inside Winston Cup was "must see" viewing for years until "someone" decided to roll the monotone-plagued Dave Despain into the set, duplicating the somewhat insightful Wind Tunnel show and all but killing off Inside Winston Cup. After taking a top notch host off of the show, the "executive wisdom" continued by placing the (who-is-he) Mr Vickers on the panel who perpetuated the downfall of the show by NEVER having any insight. But since he had virtually no experience, who (outside of executive wisdom) would have expected such?

Allen Bestwick will make NASCAR NOW a top notch show hosted by a top notch host. But...Allen,...beware, once the show is off and rolling....beware of more "executive wisdom."

Photojosh said...

like AB enough that I'll give Nascar Now a few weeks of regular attention. I'd rather see AB in the booth, but I'll be happy to watch him on NN. I think there's a good change he can turn it around.

flee said...

loafer said his cable network does not carry ESPN so he won't be getting it in Canada. In fact ESPN is not broadcast here so nobody in Canada gets it. I will be interested to read this blog tomorrow to see how Allen did -- he has always been a favourite of mine.

ri88girl said...

I was demoralized when AB didn't appear on NN last week and turned it right off. However, I will try again. Good thing tv is like racing and you still love your driver regardless of his team. Hope ESPN is paying attention.

Anonymous said...

I expected some speed bumps during the first weeks of NN's new season. There is still the inflexible script issue that needs tweaking. However, AB's congenial on-air personality may be able to overcome the producer's tight structure. If anybody can, its AB.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

@anon 2.10 9:03--but he's been hosting this show for a YEAR! Surely he learned SOMETHING! So we should suffer through incompetence for 9 more years so then by then he may finally learn what many NEW fans already know? I don't know how long you've read this blog since you don't sign with a name, but the theme of many of JDs columns and our posts here, is that us fans have a certain expectation and "waiting" 10 years for someone to be an "expert" on what they should ALREADY know ain't going to cut it. From the gate, anyone who "failed" to meet our expectation was thrown under the bus time and time again.

We suffered for many years with Jeanne Z. on Fox and literally created a second countdown to when baseball season would start so she would go away. When we heard that Krista was coming to be apart of the Fox broadcast team I swear you could hear the collective cheers of fans across the country!

She allegedly read Mark's book "NASCAR for Dummies" to get educated on NASCAR but it didn't help her. She was notorious for asking the "What the heck?" questions. And many drivers would kindly answer and at the same time answer in a "that was the stupidest question evah" way.

@anon 02.10 11:13--totally agree!

Anonymous said...

Good gravy! I forgot to include my comments!

I LOVE Allen so definitely look forward to seeing how they let Allen take over the reins! Can't wait!

Dot said...

I too love AB and have the DVR set up. I wasn't too impressed with NN last week.

Not on subject but, I read where our good budy Suzy Kolber is out of football. Let's hope she's not coming back to NASCAR.

Anonymous said...

good, solid show today. AB did well, the interviews were good and Nicole's report was nice.

Truck Series Fan! said...

I had to watch the recorded show and thought AB did a great job and after a couple of weeks, I think it'll turn into his show and maybe he'll show off some of his personality more. I think the producers should tell RW not to say "driving their brains out". MW's interview was super and it was fun seeing him so happy and upbeat. Nicole looked a little different and she was rather quiet too. Looking forward to TWIN tonight too.

Geez said...

Can Allen Bestwick save NASCAR Now?
He certainly saved today's show. I had to make sure I was on ESPN2.
Very well done.

Mary said...

As is so typical with ESPN even though they said it would be on and the guide showed it as being on I appear to have taped Sportscenter - oh well

Daly Planet Editor said...

There is a new column up about the Monday NASCAR Now show. To see it, just refresh your browser.


Anonymous said...

"Can Allen Bestwick save "NASCAR Now?"

It seems that, yes, he can.

Good show today.

Anonymous said...

Mary said...
As is so typical with ESPN even though they said it would be on and the guide showed it as being on I appear to have taped Sportscenter - oh well

February 11, 2008 7:11 PM

Sportscenter was on. ON ESPN. NASCAR Now was also on. ON ESPN 2

It seems you may have recorded ESPN and not ESPN 2. This was no fault of ESPN. It is a simple mistake that anyone can make.

elena said...
This comment has been removed by the author.