Monday, May 12, 2008
Craven Lights-Up "NASCAR Now" Studios
There have been other Cup-level drivers on NASCAR Now this season, but the program found a winner in Ricky Craven. The New England native has not been seen on TV for some time now and the Bristol, CT studios of ESPN was a good place to select for a return.
This Monday show has always relied on the chemistry of the rotating panelists to either be very good or just kind of average. The challenge on this day was for host Allen Bestwick to combine the personality of Craven with that of Cup owner Ray Evernham and ESPN veteran Mike Massaro.
It was clear from the start that Craven was up-to-date on his NASCAR news and personalities. Evernham blended well with Craven, and gave him plenty of room to talk about driver-related issues. Massaro was once again focused on contributing the reality of what happened at the track on the weekend and the most recent news.
A review of both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races proved to be revealing in terms of the opinions of the panel about Kyle Busch. Craven clearly loves his style and attitude. Evernham continues to be amazed that Busch has only one speed and one way of driving. Massaro enjoys the fact that this "misfit" has upstaged the regularly featured top drivers.
Bestwick did a whole lot of talking in this show, and his questions have grown to sometimes be paragraphs in themselves. A while back, he would simply throw-out a topic for discussion and then let the conversation flow. Now, he wants specific answers from the three panelists to an issue that he has selected.
This may well be the response of a veteran TV host to the constantly-changing cast of characters that Bestwick hosts each Monday. The rotating cast used to feature ESPN announcers, but now viewers have seen several current and former Cup Series drivers on the program. Some have worked out very well, others have proven to be less than TV-friendly.
Once again, the features edited by both the NASCAR Media Group and the NASCAR Now staff contributed quite well to the program. This mix of several pre-produced features inserted into the show in a timely fashion makes for just enough of a change of pace to keep the hour interesting.
Craven appeared on-the-air to be a veteran TV professional. He acknowledged the opinions of his fellow panelists on a regular basis and called them by name when following-up on their comments. For NASCAR Now viewers who have been dealing with the disjointed comments of ESPN analyst Boris Said, Craven would be a welcome addition on this TV series during the week.
The Monday "roundtable" has started to insert a weekly guest, and this week David Ragan was interviewed by satellite. The former struggling driver has finally found his rhythm, and spoke about both Darlington and his current Top 12 status. Once again, only Bestwick was allowed to interview the guest. This practice is tough-to-take when a panelist like Ricky Craven is seated on the studio set.
Bestwick took the time to remind viewers that Evernham had picked Ragan as a driver to keep an eye on as the season progressed. Both Massaro and Craven added to that opinion with their veteran perspectives. Craven's comments were especially pointed about the personal and professional transformation of Ragan.
The panel capped the program with a candid talk about the upcoming All-Star weekend in Charlotte. Craven laughingly said the race is a "recipe for disaster." Evernham admitted to testing illegal equipment during the race and actually having one car later banned by NASCAR. Massaro, as the reporter, was only interested in following-up on Evernham's on-track "testing."
This was a classy touch for NASCAR Now to promote the All-Star weekend which is essentially exclusive to SPEED. If one thing has been noticeable this season, it is the on-air cooperation of the NASCAR TV partners in putting the sport before the network and promoting the racing regardless of where it airs.
Craven proved to be one of the most TV-friendly panelists on NASCAR Now this season. One wonders what an episode of this show would be like with Craven, Andy Petree and Mike Massaro. Hopefully, the NASCAR Now executives will return Craven to this program, and possibly consider some additional exposure for him on other editions of this show.
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