Saturday, March 8, 2008
"NASCAR Now" Wrestles With Roush Fenway Racing And Reality
Since the 99 Sprint Cup team penalties came down from NASCAR, things on-the-air have begun to take on a very polarized dynamic when it come to the NASCAR TV partners.
There are lots of good phrases that can be used to try and explain exactly how the NASCAR TV networks have presented the "cheating" issue to the public. Walking on thin ice. Skirting the truth. Being politically correct. Using the words of others to avoid creating their own. The bottom line is, this is a big TV mess.
Angelique Chengelis on Friday's NASCAR Now casually said that Roush Racing's notorious company President Geoff Smith is "on vacation in Vail (Colorado)" and wanted to "take his time" in deciding whether or not to appeal.
She went on to act as a RFR spokesperson, which is very unlike the role of news reporter she usually assumes on this program. Chengelis quoted Smith as saying the team is not a bunch of cheaters and this is an incident that "just happened" during the race. Chengelis showed her naive side in representing the words of Smith, who has a long and colorful history in the sport.
ESPN put Chengelis on-the-air in the first segment at the top of the show. She never reported on the other side of the cheating issue. She never dealt with the fact that Edwards pulled away from a Hendrick COT car with Earnhardt Junior behind the wheel and won the race. NASCAR says he cheated, ESPN is saying he did not.
Chenglis said that Smith wanted fans "to know that this was not an overt action." Smith singled-out Michael Waltrip's team at Daytona in early 2007 as a situation where a team "overtly" tried to increase the performance of a car. Chengelis continued her PR work for Roush on ESPN2 by saying "this was an accident, pure and simple." This was not presented as opinion, it was presented as fact.
Still not hearing any opposing views or other opinions, Chengelis continued on into even deeper water. "This was not something that someone came up with a plan, this was not something that they believe would have actually helped their team because they do not know how it happened (or) when it happened," continued Chengelis quoting Mr. Smith. NASCAR fans have heard those words before in this sport many times.
Host Nicole Manske then turned to NASCAR Now commentator Brad Daugherty. Manske specifically said Daugherty was being brought in for "another opinion." The only problem was that Daugherty, a former member of the very NASCAR panel that reviews penalties, refused to deal with the Edwards issue in any way. As he so often is when alone and unsupported by Allen Bestwick, Daugherty was useless.
Finally, Manske brought in Boris Said to deal with the Edwards issue. Even as the cameras panned to the oil tank lid on the "Home Depot garage" car in the studio, Manske asked Said point blank about the advantage of not having the cap on the oil tank. Instead of maintaining his role as a television analyst, Said took-off on an anti-NASCAR rant that once again undermined his ability to walk the line between active driver and national TV analyst.
"That (lid) had no effect on him winning or losing the race...for sure," Said commented. "On a track like that (Las Vegas), it makes no difference at all. I'm really surprised by the penalty. The penalties are so severe right now, it seems crazy."
What Chengelis, Daugherty or Said failed to present was an even-handed approach to a NASCAR news story that represented both sides of the issue. This fundamental failure to handle NASCAR news in an unbiased manner is a problem.
NASCAR Now co-host Ryan Burr is one to push announcers on-camera during interviews with hard questions, even when it makes them uncomfortable. Manske failed to do this even once during any of her interviews. This needs to change fast.
Simply asking Chengelis if, as a veteran NASCAR reporter, she believed any part of what Smith told her would have put the entire report in perspective. Smith is one of the most effective NASCAR PR men in the business, right behind NASCAR VP Jim Hunter who most recently created "the punch heard 'round the world" during a boring Daytona weekend.
Daugherty was never asked his opinion of the "reality vs. spin" topic when he was on-camera, and Said once again used his time on-the-air to lash out at NASCAR. This sports car racer has been out-of-sync with NASCAR for some time now.
This is a moment where the simple commentary of Stacy Compton is missed. Compton quietly spent a lot of time in 2007 putting things that were hyped, spun, or just clearly mis-represented by NASCAR Now back into perspective. On this day, and in this show, a little Stacy would have gone a long way.
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