Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Rusty Wallace Spices Up Tuesday on "NASCAR Now"
Rusty Wallace may feel like a kid again. Since ESPN moved Wallace out of the network's Lead Analyst position for NASCAR, it seems like the weight of the world has been lifted from his shoulders. The results have been fascinating.
The person now seen on programs like NASCAR Countdown, SportsCenter and on ESPNEWS is the same outspoken and opinionated Wallace that fans remember from his driving days. Love him or hate him, you knew where Rusty stood on an issue.
Tuesdays have been a big problem for NASCAR Now. While this week there was testing in-progress, the news from the previous weekend is now a bit old and the teams are several days away from turning a wheel in practice for the next race.
Luckily, ESPN may have found a solution to the Tuesday boredom. Enter Rusty Wallace with no one else on his stage. Talking one-on-one with host Ryan Burr, Wallace let his opinions fly on a wide variety of topics. From a "strictly TV" perspective, it was great.
After Jamie Little's report on testing from Phoenix and updating some news items, Burr introduced Wallace to react to the potential penalties on the Carl Edwards team. But first, Burr asked Wallace to help viewers understand how his team had the same type of penalty recently dismissed.
Wallace stated that his appeal was won because only the corner of the oil tank lid was warped. Then, Wallace continued to tell Burr that "he heard" the entire lid of the tank in Edwards car was "completely off." Calling it an "oversight," Wallace was clear in his opinion that this was not intentional. But, he was not done yet.
The Rusty of old came out when he said "I can assure you of one thing. That team did not mean to cheat. I hope they get a very small penalty." He wrapped-up his comments on the Edwards situation by saying simply, "I know this was a mistake."
Little appeared again from Phoenix and after her update on testing, Wallace was back. His frank talk about the agenda for testing and the specifics of Phoenix was solid. When Wallace is pumped-up he stays that way, and his energy on this program was great.
Moving to the safety issues about the inner track walls, Wallace played the diplomat. Saying that both NASCAR and the tracks share the responsibility of safety, Wallace brought up a specific example. Jeff Fuller's accident in Kentucky was used by Wallace as an example of a track reacting quickly to an incident. The backstretch walls were completely reconfigured to avoid the possibility of another such accident.
To make it clear, Wallace held-up a drawing showing the manner in which some tracks have off-set their backstretch walls to avoid such a problem. In poking fun at himself, Wallace started by saying "I am not so good at explaining things, so I drew you guys a picture."
After a timely interview with Mike Skinner and some news, Burr brought Wallace back again. This time the first subject was the controversial penalty against the Robby Gordon team. As he did throughout the show, Wallace did not mince words.
"I hope Robby Gordon gets off the hook to tell you the truth, he didn't do anything wrong. I think that every fan in America is pulling for Robby Gordon. He does not need to get the death penalty for a misdemeanor in my mind," said Wallace. "We need guys like that in our sport."
While Ryan Burr did a solid job hosting, and Jamie Little filed up-to-date reports from Phoenix, this show is going to be remembered for one thing. The fact that Rusty Wallace has found his footing at ESPN and is once again delivering the kind of direct and opinionated commentary that ESPN has wanted from him.
Maybe ESPN could pencil Rusty in on every Tuesday and let him address the topics remaining from the weekend and in the news. On this day, and for this thirty minutes, he was everything that the network always wanted him to be.
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