Monday, May 26, 2008
Evernham Walks A Fine Line On "NASCAR Now"
This season Ray Evernham was revealed as a new member of the NASCAR on ESPN gang. It was a surprise to many that ESPN added a current Sprint Cup owner to the broadcast team. Evernham was going to appear on some races as an analyst, but most of his efforts would be aimed at NASCAR Now and other contributions like ESPNEWS.
On Monday, Evernham found himself walking a very fine line on the one hour "roundtable" edition of NASCAR Now. He was being asked to address the issues associated with his Coke 600 winning car as an owner. He was then asked to address the other teams and drivers as an ESPN analyst. That is one tough assignment.
Luckily, Evernham had a duo on-hand that was going to help him stroll down this narrow path. Allen Bestwick has been anchoring this Monday show since the season began. One of Bestwick's favorite guests is former Cup driver Ricky Craven. These two are exactly what Evernham needed to put things in perspective for him.
Unfortunately, the third panelist was the ESPN utility player Tim Cowlishaw. It was Memorial Day, and apparently Cowlishaw had been tapped to be the designated hitter for NASCAR Now during the weekend.
There is no doubt Cowlishaw has a good general sports knowledge and his appearances on Around The Horn show him to be glib. In this setting, between Evernham and Craven, it was very clear that he was a fish out of water.
Bestwick worked hard to include Cowlishaw, but the meat of the show came from Craven and Evernham. This included a very well-rounded review of the Coke 600 that talked about strategy, tires and incidents. Craven's comments kept Evernham from getting off-balance and made him very effective.
There is no doubt that Evernham and Craven have a chemistry with Bestwick. These three only needed a Mike Massaro or Brad Daugherty to round-out the panel. The conversation flowed and the points being made were always on target.
As Bestwick led the panel into a discussion of the upcoming racing career of Joey Logano, NASCAR Now flashed back to the ESPN footage of a young Jeff Gordon from Thursday Night Thunder. The comparison did not work for Craven, but having Evernham on the show was perfect as he addressed Gordon's early days and his early success.
The subject of Humpy Wheeler's sudden "retirement" was a touchy one. Bestwick let Evernham tell a Humpy story that was very personal. Craven also talked about Wheeler's influence over the actual individual drivers and its positive effects.
This NASCAR Now program worked-in video highlights of both the Indy 500 and the Grand-Am race from Lime Rock Park. The show also promoted the NHRA's upcoming event. It is clear that someone behind the scenes has an interest in expanding this franchise. For fans of the old RPM2Night, even a weekly general motorsports program could not come soon enough.
As usual, Bestwick set the same type of casual but fast-paced tone fans used to enjoy on SPEED's Inside NEXTEL Cup. His ability to laugh at himself and keep the racing action in a bigger perspective has turned this show around. There is almost always a big laugh in each Monday program, and this was no exception.
Poor Marty Smith lost a recent liveshot on NASCAR Now because the cars had taken to the track and drown him out. Unfortunately, it was right after Smith had penned a front-page story on Dale Earnhardt Jr. for ESPN the Magazine. All of us, myself included, gave him some grief over that one.
Bestwick played back a hilarious moment from the Coke 600 weekend that featured Smith once again ready to go live on the morning edition of NASCAR Now. Instead of car noise, this time Smith was standing on pit road as the US Military unleashed a practice invasion complete with helicopters and explosions. This was a Humpy Wheeler trademark for the pre-race shows.
The raw video showed Smith hanging-in there with gunfire and explosions so big they threatened to actually muss his hair. In reality, viewers were hearing Smith do a voice-over during that time and never saw the chaos. Once Smith returned to tag the story on-camera, the troops unleashed the howitzers. Let's face facts, liveshots at the track for NASCAR Now have been snake-bit the entire season.
The ultimate irony was that if Smith was present in the ESPN2 studio for NASCAR Now, he would have been a great third panelist with Craven and Evernham. Instead, he may be going for a hearing test.
The choice not to show highlights of the NCTS race was unfortunate, as the last lap was a classic. Hopefully, this situation will not occur again as a rookie and first-time winner made the race exciting. Ironically, it was a driver from ESPN's backyard and a former Northeast regional racer that took home the trophy. Omitting NASCAR's third national touring series was not the right thing to do.
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