Monday, April 28, 2008
Champion Roundtable On "NASCAR Now" Delivers
As the new success of NASCAR Now's one hour Monday "roundtable" builds, ESPN2 continues to shuffle the panelists each week.
The original format included one former NASCAR driver, one former NASCAR crew chief and one NASCAR journalist. This line-up gave three good perspectives from which host Allen Bestwick could draw.
On this Monday after Talladega, the journalist slot was empty as the network went with an "all NASCAR champion" panel. Joining Bestwick was former driver Dale Jarrett who is now ESPN's lead NASCAR analyst. Jarrett makes any program on which he appears much better, and this edition of NASCAR Now was no exception.
The interesting part of the program was the decision to invite two men who were both former champion crew chiefs and NASCAR team owners. It was ESPN race analyst Andy Petree and brand new ESPN contributor Ray Evernham who made-up the rest of the panel.
This dynamic was interesting to see on-the-air. Bestwick was clearly a little more intense than usual, and the laughter was kept to a minimum because of the subject matter. Talladega had been a dangerous and controversial race weekend in many ways, and it was up to Bestwick to draw honest opinions from the panelists.
One key reason for Jarrett's success on television is his ability to listen. He reinforced that his future in TV will be a long one when he took the role of "senior member" on the panel and usually waited to be the last to comment on the subject at hand.
Bestwick's nervous laughter could not hide the fact that he was dealing with a loaded deck. Any panelist had the ability to answer any question and do it with authority. It was Bestwick's new challenge to divide the time available on each topic equally among the all-star panel.
Discussions about the Roush Fenway tire problems and the emergence of two-car drafting were excellent. Evernham tended to be the technical crew chief in these conversations, and represented himself as much more of a crew chief than an owner.
His owner views came out quickly, however, when the topic of the impound procedures at Talladega was put on the table. Jarrett and Evernham wanted the Talladega process changed, while Petree thought the impound rules were the way to go. One positive element to the entire show was the ability of any panel member to step aside when they were not the best choice to answer a question. It was clear this group had spent some time together earlier in the day and were up-to-speed on the agenda.
There was lots of political correctness in the air when the subject of Kevin Lepage's actions at Talladega was raised. Jarrett took the approach that all drivers make errors sooner or later. Evernham and Petree were polite but firm in their opinions that this entire incident could have been easily avoided. Topics like this really show the need for a journalist who can stir-the-pot a bit and present an "outsider" perspective.
On the Tony Stewart contract situation, Evernham was the authority. He reminded Bestwick that unlike the NFL or the NBA, there are no rules for contact with athletes on other teams. Petree and Jarrett backed-up the point that casual contact with an NASCAR athlete was still easy to get, and most athletes still do not have agents. Even after all these years, things still happen in the motorhome lot.
The look and feel of this show was classy. The production did not get in the way of the content, and the features used were outstanding. ESPN has assembled a Monday powerhouse and is continuing to pour resources and manpower into this direction.
It was nice of Bestwick to salute Ashley Force on her first NHRA Funny Car win, and close the program with a tease of the special one hour Tuesday show that will originate from DEI in Mooresville, NC. Having the three panelists add their personal memories of Dale Sr. was a fitting way to end a very enjoyable NASCAR TV program.
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