Monday, March 10, 2008
"NASCAR Now" Finds The Right Combination
The amazing changes at ESPN continue where NASCAR is concerned. One of the most dynamic has been the new Monday "roundtable" version of NASCAR Now.
This one hour show has moved from a single-anchor scripted program to a vibrant discussion of very diverse racing topics. Allen Bestwick has been the key to leading this charge, and continued on this Monday to direct the conversation between a brand new group of panelists.
ESPN2 viewers found themselves looking at the most balanced group of NASCAR veterans the network has assembled so far this season. Mike Massaro has worked for years to represent ESPN where NASCAR is concerned, and his insightful commentary from a media perspective is straightforward and informative.
Ray Evernham is working hard for ESPN this season to overcome some credibility issues that arose from his personal choices, and continues to use his diverse background as both a crew chief and owner to his advantage. ESPN is going to use Evernham in a variety of roles this season, and he seems to be a natural on-camera.
Finally, it may have caused fans to do a double-take, but there he was. Sitting alongside of Bestwick was Johnny Benson. In NASCAR TV land, there was no bigger story a couple of years back than Benson and Bestwick getting summarily fired from the Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing program they had both anchored for years on SPEED.
The irony of a well-spoken and experienced Benson perched on his chair in the NASCAR Now studio was not lost on veteran fans.
Bestwick led the panel into the story of the weekend, which was tires. Evernham was diplomatic, and simply wanted both Goodyear and NASCAR to solve the existing problem. Benson had driven on the tire at Atlanta, and focused on the fact that simply lasting for one fuel run should be the simple goal for Goodyear. Massaro repeated the sentiments of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in saying Goodyear simply went way too far after early issues during testing.
The NASCAR Media Group continues to provide outstanding features that serve to wrap-up the weekend with all the drama that group has managed to create in their past full-length programs. ESPN would be well-served to consider growing that relationship.
In recapping the weekend, Bestwick led the panel into the topic of Carl Edwards and his struggles for the past ten days. The specific topic of the oil-cooler lid was reviewed fairly, and included video of comments on both sides of the issue.
Bestwick was curious about why the comments were so caustic. The panel was divided on whether this issue was just about racing innovation or actually personal issues among senior team management. Using the picture of Edwards car and the actual oil cooler lid at the end of the race was a great touch. This even-handed approach of exposing both sides of the issue worked very well.
Craftsman Truck Series highlights were next, and once again NASCAR Now followed through with a taped interview of the winner, Kyle Busch. Nationwide Series highlights followed, detailing the hard hit Kyle Busch took including his memorable interview with ESPN's Shannon Spake.
Benson's low-key intelligence and his extensive experience in all three series brought something to the show that had been missing. Whether discussing testing, drivers or track issues, Benson could instantly offer the most up-to-date information for one simple reason. He was there and involved in it.
The key activity of this "Monday after" was a Goodyear tire test at Darlington. NASCAR Now had Lead Reporter Marty Smith on-scene to provide a timely report on the activity and the mood. This is exactly the type of commitment that fans had been searching for since last season.
Smith's report included soundbites from all three of the drivers involved in the test, who specifically addressed both the issues from Atlanta and for Darlington. Once again, however, the ridiculous problem of noise from the cars affected this report. Smith had problems hearing the panel, and several of his comments were drowned-out by cars on the track. This is the third time that ambient noise has played a role in affecting what should have been a very good report.
In previewing Bristol, the Kyle Busch name surfaced again. Bestwick used the panel to remind us of the strange race from last fall at Bristol. All three panelists weighed-in with comments about the "good racing vs. no action" at this small track topic.
As the program wound-down, once thing was very clear. ESPN had hit on a combination of personalities and experience that got a lot of good information across to fans. A reporter, a crew chief/owner and a veteran driver had each been able to talk about the same topics from their own unique perspectives.
Viewers were free to agree or disagree, but Bestwick worked hard to get all the viewpoints on the table, especially for the controversial issues. This format has been a positive change, and the fact that ESPN has worked hard to back-up this one program with other changes in the network's NASCAR coverage is a positive statement for the future of the sport.
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