Monday, March 10, 2008
"This Week In NASCAR" Misses Kenny Schrader
A lot of good ingredients are in place for SPEED and the new This Week In NASCAR program. After several weeks, viewers finally got the pairing of Michael Waltrip and Chad Knaus on the "expert panel" along with host Steve Byrnes.
This new program is driven by edited features, and consists primarily of the panelists reacting to the video that has just been shown. The format is different from the open discussions of the original Inside Winston Cup Racing, and also different from the script-driven controlled environment of the recent Inside NEXTEL Cup. The bottom line is, most of this hour is new.
Steve Byrnes is an enthusiastic and fast-paced host, who has a pro-active animated style that Waltrip is still getting accustomed to dealing with. As the show went along, Waltrip began to step-in quickly and his answers began to provide the type of interesting content that made him a fan favorite on TV.
Waltrip is once again happily driving in the Sprint Cup races this season, and his upbeat mood is a welcome change. The "moody Michael" was gone, and his personality that provided so many memorable moments on INC was again on display.
Knaus was still getting his bearings on this program. His NASCAR technical knowledge is outstanding, and it was nice to see his sense of humor on display. Hopefully, Knaus will become a regular member of this panel and provide the crew chief perspective that the program had been lacking.
With only two panel members, the show is much less effective than having a "three man crew" to grab a topic and offer comments. The dynamic of three just works better to promote fun and allow for the style of informal conversation viewers enjoy.
The Goodyear tire issue was a hot topic, and Michael Waltrip made his views clear. Following the Tony Stewart soundbite that most fans have heard, Waltrip made it clear that Goodyear was dealing with a new problem and that their long-term commitment to the sport is what should be remembered. His statement that Goodyear tires would remain on his Toyota truck was an interesting answer to Stewart.
Knaus seemed to often be trying to deal with the animated Byrnes and the unpredictable Waltrip through his most effective weapon. That would be silence. Byrnes did a good job of eventually pointing questions directly at Knaus and then letting Waltrip chime-in as "the closer."
The NASCAR Media Group that produces this program for SPEED has integrated a lot of video elements into the series that are not seen elsewhere. The profile of the Harvicks and their involvement in the Truck Series was a nice touch. This is not the kind of content that was seen in the old INC shows, and and the debate about this new wrinkle will rage-on for a while.
The lure of this TV series used to be that conversations not heard anywhere else could be heard on SPEED Monday night. The idea that those who participated would be along to relax and kid and offer behind-the-scenes information was a good one. Now, the dynamic has changed. The panel is driven by the video segments and not afforded the opportunity to take some time to chat on a a topic informally.
Since all three of the personalities on this Monday show are NASCAR veterans, they easily negotiated their way through the issues. Unfortunately, the lack of a third voice hindered the conversation when a political or team agenda was clearly on display. This tension was usually relieved in the past by one person. That person was Kenny Schrader.
Whether it was crew chief suspensions, a struggling Jimmie Johnson or the biting comments of Toyota's Lee White, Schrader would have been the one to put things in perspective and relieve the tension on the set. Even when one of the panelists was involved in a questionable accident, it was Schrader who kept things on an even keel with his keen sense of humor and extensive racing knowledge.
That element is missing in this show. Nothing is wrong, it is just missing. There is no "veteran voice" to give a broader perspective and provide a "bigger picture" view. Waltrip and Knaus were fine in dealing with racing topics. Byrnes was solid in his hosting skills. But, this TV cake needed one more key ingredient.
Next week, after Bristol, would certainly be a good time to have a full stage of three panelists and the host. In my mind, one of those panelists needs to be Kenny Schrader.
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