Saturday, June 14, 2008
All Eyes On Allen Bestwick Tonight From Kentucky
This certainly has been a fascinating NASCAR season for ESPN. After changing the on-air line-up of both the network's studio and at-track announcers, ESPN has been on a huge roll since February.
As most fans know, ESPN covers the entire Nationwide Series. ESPN is, as some folks say, the "TV network of record" for that series. Originally struggling for some good racing and fresh-faces, the Nationwide Series had begun to take-on a personality this year.
Joey Logano has arrived and Brad Keselowski faced-off with a Cup driver. Hard-working guys like Mike Wallace and Marcos Ambrose began appearing on NASCAR Now and putting the series back into the public eye.
Saturday night from Kentucky, all eyes will be on the series for a very different reason. The allegations made in a recent discrimination lawsuit do not talk about the Sprint Cup Series. They do not point to the Craftsman Trucks. What the very powerful words do is simply take direct aim at the very NASCAR officials running the Nationwide Series and call them racist and sexist.
Suddenly, into the middle of this storm steps Allen Bestwick. He will be hosting the thirty minute NASCAR Countdown show on Saturday night at 8PM Eastern. Bestwick is the new face of ESPN's NASCAR coverage and has been the most high-profile announcer all season long.
The story of Saturday night will be the lawsuit. Seated alongside of Bestwick will be Brad Daugherty and Rusty Wallace. While Wallace is a team owner in the Nationwide Series, it will be the words of Daugherty in prime-time on ESPN2 that will be heard with great clarity.
Daugherty created the NASCAR Diversity Council with Brian France to help promote greater opportunities for people of color and women in the sport. Now, several years later, a professional college-educated black female has slapped the very sport Daugherty encouraged her to participate in with a huge and very personal lawsuit.
While Daugherty had only several minutes on Friday's NASCAR Now to comment, he will have thirty minutes of pre-race and then the entire race on Saturday night. As most of the American public knows, how sanctioning bodies and TV networks handle this kind of awkward and sensitive issue is going to be very important.
NASCAR has a business to run in a very tough economic climate and ESPN has a series to cover that has been dismal in the ratings for years. Cup drivers beating-up on Nationwide regulars has been the story of this entire division. Now, just when things were starting to change, an off-track issue threatens to dominate the coverage.
SPEED chose to avoid this issue like the plague so far this weekend and shows like NASCAR Live, Trackside and Tradin' Paint did not even acknowledge that the lawsuit had been filed or that the NASCAR media was full of stories about the issue.
It might be Allen Bestwick's best moment of the season, or it might be another well-coached public relations exercise. ESPN can decide to come down on the side of NASCAR as a television rights-holder, or step-up as a sports TV network that professes to be the leader in worldwide coverage.
NASCAR Countdown will begin at 8PM live nationwide on ESPN2.
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