Sunday, March 9, 2008
"NASCAR Now" Makes Amends
It seems that ESPN got the message. It seems they got it loud and clear. The Friday version of NASCAR Now and the Sunday morning version of the same show had absolutely nothing in common. Thank goodness.
ESPN flexed the network's journalistic muscle on Saturday morning and decided to present both sides of the 99 Team penalties story. This finally included the comments from other key drivers in the garage that poked holes in the "intent" excuse offered by the Roush organization.
Reporter Angelique Chengelis returned to right a wrong, and did a good job of doing it in a balanced manner. Although choosing not to mention the Friday issues, Chengelis touched all the bases in her report on the on-going issues where Roush Fenway was concerned. Basically, penalty and intent are two separate issues.
Taking a break from controversy, the NASCAR on ESPN team provided an energetic and fast-paced wrap-up of the Saturday Nationwide race. Simply put, it was fantastic. This is exactly what this Sunday morning program needs to keep the Nationwide Series on the map, and promote the fact that all the races are on the ESPN networks.
To top it off, the program provided an interview with the winner. In 2007, The Daly Planet spent the entire year begging this Sunday show to even include the Busch Series results. As we have said so often this season about NASCAR Now, my how things have changed.
As a great "tag" on this report, Rusty Wallace joined host Nicole Manske from the track to update a lot of stories with his unique style of commentary. Rusty was also pumped-up, and offered a lot of good information and personal observations. This is a great role for Wallace, who likes the spotlight alone.
Kyle Petty was up next, and Manske did her best to use Petty to address a wide variety of topics. Fresh off his Tradin' Paint program, Petty was outspoken in his views on the 99 Team and the issues involved in this mess. Manske moved Petty onto his views about making the top 35 list for the rest of the season. Petty continued his views that the top 35 program is still a good idea.
Capping the interview, Manske pressed Petty for his future plans and got a very surprising and honest answer. Petty said if his son Adam was still alive, he would have already retired. What a statement. He continued on about the Petty Racing move to the Mooresville, NC area and framed what his company can do for the future. Another solid and interesting interview from Manske as she continues to surprise.
Wallace returned to address issues from Hendrick Motorsports to Kyle Busch. Rusty was on his game, and finally presented himself as a total TV professional in a live interview. Whoever has helped get Wallace polished in his new role deserves a lot of credit. Love him or hate him, Wallace is finally speaking his mind without reservation.
Non-fantasy racing TV viewers have to tolerate Christopher Harris and his biting comments that treat drivers as numbers and "horses" in some kind of bizarre race. If that information helps fantasy "players" to some kind of advantage, what can you say? ESPN makes a lot of money off fantasy play, so Harris will be seen all season long.
In closing the show, Angelique Chengelis returned with Jim Aust from Toyota to put their political spin on the Lee White vs. Jack Roush words in the media. Aust's point was that boys will be boys and the media basically does not get it sometimes. Aust put things in perspective, and actually did a good job of calming down the media frenzy that Nate Ryan and USA Today did a superb job of starting.
Finally, Roush himself appeared to put things in his own words. His comments made sense, but rang hollow in the perspective provided by other drivers and TV analysts. Manske did a great job of pressing Roush, and finally stepped-up to the plate and did a solid interview with tough questions. This might have been a nicely defining moment for this show and this host.
As the NASCAR learning curve continues, it is nice to see ESPN decide to go after the full story and use of all the available resources to give fans a full and diverse hour on Sunday morning. This one program has changed completely from its 2007 version, and now packs all the punch needed to claim a place among the "must see" TV list for NASCAR fans before the race.
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