Sunday, May 11, 2008

Monday Turns Into A NASCAR TV Battleground

Aside from watching the changes in the racing coverage this season, nothing has been more fun than seeing what Monday's NASCAR TV shows will bring.

At this time last season, Erik Kuselias was leading ESPN2's NASCAR Now through an entire Monday show of hype and innuendo. By the end of the racing year, this column summed-up the frustrations of the fans with The Worldwide Leader In Sports.

Now, Mr. Kuselias is alone on Saturday mornings from 7 to 10AM talking stick-and-ball sports on ESPN Radio. In his place, NASCAR TV veteran Allen Bestwick has installed a brand new format on Mondays and brought-in a brand new audience.

Fully recovered from his professional struggles, Bestwick has quickly changed Monday at 5:30PM Eastern from "the place to avoid" to "the place to be" for NASCAR fans. The bad studio set and the hype are long gone, replaced by four chairs and a simple weekly conversation about racing.

If you squint just a little bit, Monday's NASCAR Now looks a lot like another successful NASCAR show that was on TV for a while. Three panelists, one host, sometimes a guest and lots of conversation while watching the highlights. Memories of Bestwick and Inside Winston Cup Racing on SPEED are easy to conjure up for veteran fans.

This Monday is going to be a very interesting show. Bestwick is going to welcome former Darlington winner Ricky Craven, who has not been seen in a car or on TV by most fans in a long time. Joining Craven will be Ray Evernham and Mike Massaro. It is this ever-changing cast of characters that keeps bringing viewers back week-after-week.

Craven should be able to speak to a lot of racing issues. Evernham will be vital in talking about the technical controversy raised by Jeff Gordon and Massaro should be able to describe the feelings in the garage about Kyle Busch because Massaro was there. Yet another new combination of human ingredients on this show that just require Bestwick to stir.

Inheriting the Inside NEXTEL Cup franchise was Steve Byrnes. Regardless of the name change to This Week in NASCAR, viewers know SPEED and the NASCAR Media Group are just trying to freshen-up this 8PM Monday night franchise. Unfortunately, SPEED has left this series all alone on the schedule surrounded by TV programs that have nothing to do with racing.

Since the change, the TWIN production team has bravely been trying to put ten pounds of content into a five pound bag. The result is a program that is just as likely to be playing-back pre-produced features as it is talking to the two person panel.

Innovation only works if it is tried, and SPEED certainly has tried. They have moved the preview of the next race up into the first thirty minutes of the show, and kept the fresh memories of the weekend race for the second half of the hour. They have added feature after feature, including interviews and slickly edited race recaps that only NMG could produce.

Unfortunately, re-inventing the wheel is a very tough task. Fortunately, SPEED and NMG have all the ingredients to make this show outstanding on a weekly basis. The program misses a third panelist and clearly misses the veteran perspective of Kenny Schrader.

This Monday, as SPEED begins a week of All-Star race festivities, the network and NMG are going to make a change. The normally studio-based show will be taped at the Speedway Club at Lowe's Motor Speedway just north of Charlotte, NC.

Steve Byrnes will be hosting an expanded panel that will bring Schrader back to the program. Joining those two will be longtime panelist Michael Waltrip, Darlington headliner Greg Biffle and rather frustrated crew chief Chad Knaus. That is an All-Star line-up if there ever was one.

The format of the program will remain the same, with the panelists both previewing and reviewing the Sprint Cup Series races. Along the way, they will briefly touch on both the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series as well. The review of both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races from Darlington should be interesting to say the least.

On this particular Monday, SPEED has indicated that the panel will also be taking questions from the invitation-only audience. It is somewhat ironic that the original This Week In NASCAR with Eli Gold was famous for exactly that. Including the fans was a top priority of the show and something sorely missing from today's NASCAR TV programming.

The ability of a fan to ask Dale Earnhardt Sr. or Bill Elliott a question on TV had a lot of power. It is one thing for Steve Byrnes to read a pre-selected question at the end of the show. It is quite another to allow fans to interact directly with NASCAR personalities. Hopefully, this element will be a positive one for the show.

TV viewers should be able to see two very different approaches to "talking NASCAR" on Monday. ESPN2's carefully controlled HD studio with four "guys in ties" should be a fascinating contrast to the open collars and khakis of the TWIN gang amid the live audience in the Speedway Club.

There will be columns up for both programs once they have concluded. Please feel free to leave your comments about the season-to-date for both TV series on this post.

To add your opinion, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page and thank you for stopping by The Daly Planet.


Newracefan said...

Too bad TWIN isn't 90 minutes esp with the Q&A. Chad is a very frustrated crew chief and Greg is a frustrated driver this should be a fun show. I am excited to hear from Rickey Craven but I wish NN wouldn't keep changing the lineup is messes with the chemistry and it takes a little while for the new guy to warm up and fit in.

SophiaZ123 said...


I agree about NN. While I do enjoy the show, I wish they had 'regulars' to rotate from each maybe 6 guys that we know and mix those up at least as opposed to anybody and dropping them on the show. I have enjoyed Rusty, Brad, even Ray ok, and some others but last week with just two drivers, did not do it for me nor the week before that.

True, if the exact same three was on, that would be fun as well but I forget my "Most fun" trio, with LAUGHS and entertainment *but I bet one of the folks here can remind me*

Yes, NN hour show is GOOD but could indeed, be better with regular panel or at least the same 5 or 6 guests that have been together BEFORE.

just my two cents.

So far on VL, SPEED is getting on my nerves with their new "bug" for the Nextel ALl star race.

If they start KEEPING IT on screen I may just skip taping the race when gone next week. VERY irritating to have MORE stutf on the screen besides the oversized NASCAR ON SPEED logo on the right.

And we see enough commercials for it!!


Anonymous said...

"Bestwick is going to welcome former Darlington winner Ricky Craven, who has not been seen in a car or on TV by most fans in a long time. Joining Craven will be Ray Evernham and Mike Massaro. It is this ever-changing cast of characters that keeps bringing viewers back week-after-week."

As with last week, I don't think it's a coincidence that all the panelists are from/reside in the upper northeast. (Last week, Bestwick, LaJoie and Massaro.) Evernham is from New Jersey and it's highly likely he was already headed up northeast for the holiday yesterday.

I think what we're seeing is something NASCAR Now is going to run into more frequently than not: Problems booking panelists who live in North Carolina because the show is based in Bristol CT.

I agree with the comments above - changing the panel from week to week isn't helping the show at all. You can never tell what kind of show you're going to get, and because of that, NASCAR Now has no sense of rhythm from week to week. Despite TWIN being backwards, I enjoyed the show last week more than Monday's NASCAR Now.

Evernham *should* be able to talk about Jeff Gordon's issues with the "yaw" since FOX pre-race show showed him standing and talking with Gordon and Steve Letarte on pit road before the race. As DW said, I'd like to hear that conversation! The Kasey Kahne fan in my household was rather upset, feeling Evernham should have been with his own drivers right before the race. (Kids take everything personally, especially when their driver isn't doing well.) She now wants Kasey to abandon Ray's ship and go to Joe Gibbs, LOL.

Anonymous said...

JD, I could have sworn at the end of "This Week in NASCAR" last week there was a graphic saying no audience would be present at the taping today with all the guys. Did Speed Channel change its mind?

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 12:22PM,

SPEED updated the information to me by email and there will be an invitation-only audience and even selected questions.

As you know with this show, sometimes things that are planned do not work out exactly the way they were intended.

With all the things they load into this show, I am surprised they did not make this episode 90 minutes in length. Should be interesting.


Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for the information about "This Week in NASCAR", JD.

If you have a chance, can you please tell us what tonight's program after "TWIN" is going to be about? Your other post says you're going to let us know about all the Speed Channel All-Star programming later in the week which will be very helpful thank you. But this show is on tonight:

Mon, May 12, 9:00 PM
Run Time: 60 min.
Genre: Sports, Sports non-event

NASCAR All-Star '08
Making the Race

Teams and drivers prepare for NASCAR's annual All-Star event.

Anonymous said...

Changing the lineup is the best part to me. I wish TWIN would do that as MW is over exposed and offers no real knowledge. Ricky Craven on the other hand is very smart, knowledgeable, well spoken,and loaded with common sense, etc. Wait till you see him, I'm sure you will be impressed. I would like to see more of him.TWIN CHEMISTRY, where is that? Same old opinions, sponsor plugs,rambling on weird tangents with foolishness, which are so predictable, especially MW. To me NN on Mondays has become must see TV!!

bobb said...

I disagree with Sophia and others. Having guests drop in in ESPN NN keeps things interesting. Isn't that what detractors of Inside Winston/Nextel Cup on Speed hated about it? ie: the same guests week after week?

It was nice to see and hear Ricky Kraven. I wonder if AB is a associate producer but either way he finds NASCAR types in CT and all around New England and NOT just Charlotte area and that is nice.

I think NN is at its best with these drop-in guests.

Daly Planet Editor said...

There is a new post up about the Monday NASCAR Now program with Ricky Craven. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

Somone needs to tell the SPEED guys that not everone has an HD TV and their graphics need to be visible to everyone, even those with old fashioned 4:3 TVs.

I know they are new at this, but it is a no-brainer--even the local TV guys get this concept.

SophiaZ123 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daly Planet Editor said...

There is a new post up about TWIN from Lowe's Motor Speedway on SPEED. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

Ditto on the HD broadcast. I have an HD but my Sat provider has not yet given us the option of Speed HD, still only SD. They didn't convert the signal down to SD. Was it Speed's fault or my provider? Either way it was chopped-up on both sides of the screen and very, very annoying. The show was decent but could have been great if the discussions were expanded on. Instead only one or two people commented on some really good topics. Forget the sizzle - we want more steak!
Jim in Toronto