Thursday, June 5, 2008

Four Months Later "NASCAR Now" Is A Gem

This column will officially put away the memories of the 2007 season of NASCAR Now on ESPN2. The fired host, the poor story selection and the endless hype are now in the past.

These days, Erik Kuselias is doing an ESPN Radio show on Saturday mornings at 7AM. Tim Cowlishaw has been shuffled to NASCAR's back burner. Stacy Compton left the show to drive in the Truck Series. Tony Stewart's favorite ESPN reporter David Amber is back to working the stick-and-ball beat.

Back in February, NASCAR Now welcomed Allen Bestwick and Nicole Manske to the show. They joined remaining host Ryan Burr to form a new trio of on-air talent. Each of these announcers has contributed to the development of this series in their own way.

It was this column that talked about Manske and her challenge to turn herself from a "SPEED cutie" into a respected ESPN studio host. This time, there was no co-host to blame and no contrived format to fit into. Manske was either going to sink or swim on her own and she was going to do it talking only about NASCAR.

Four months later, there is absolutely no doubt that she has succeeded. Manske now slides between her studio host and on-scene reporter roles with complete ease. Her relationship with the NASCAR drivers and personalities is fun to watch. She can push their hot buttons and make them talk about issues with her strong ability to ask good questions that was never seen on The SPEED Report.

Thursday night, Manske hosted Kyle Busch on a satellite liveshot interview before his big attempt at three races in one weekend from three different locations. Busch is a great example a driver who just seems to like being on NASCAR Now.

Manske asked all the right questions, pushed him a bit on some issues and then made sure to let him have the last word. Once again, Busch left smiling and happy. At the same time, the TV viewers got a live update on the story of the weekend from the person actually involved in it.

Manske's at-track interviews show more of a dry sense of humor and a toughness that the drivers, team owners and audience seems to like from her. Beginning at Daytona in February, Manske rarely stumbled and is now in full stride in her first season on national TV regularly. What a statement about the willingness of ESPN's NASCAR executive Rich Feinberg to make a big change and also about the natural ability of Manske that was finally allowed to emerge.

Partnered with Manske as a co-host is Ryan Burr. Last season, Burr was the savior for many from the chaos and ignorance of Kuselias. Burr is a former ESPNEWS anchor and brought a crisp and clear focus on NASCAR issues, despite admittedly not being a longtime fan. He acknowledged his learning curve, and asked for help when he needed it.

ESPN responded by bringing him back on a full-time basis for this season and the results have been solid. His straightforward news delivery is a good counterpoint to the conversational tone of Manske. Burr looks professional, sounds professional and is actually loosening-up and getting more informal this season.

All of that is due to the biggest single influence on NASCAR Now and ESPN's auto racing coverage since the series began some sixteen months ago. His name would be Allen Bestwick.

In much the same way that Manske was freed from the controlling format of The SPEED Report, Bestwick was plucked from the grind of pit road and moved into an entirely different position. Now, he would be the face of NASCAR on ESPN and ABC.

Mondays on NASCAR Now have become a showplace for the ability of Bestwick to handle different panelists on a weekly basis and still get from them the type of conversation that brings fans back again. Next Monday, Bestwick will host Ricky Craven, Mike Massaro and Boris Said.

Each week, Bestwick takes the overly formal setting and the bad chairs and the phony show car on the studio set and rises above it all. In order to do that, he introduced a concept to ESPN that had been lost for many years. That would be fun. Self-effacing fun that involves actual laughter and makes viewers feel good about what they are watching. To longtime viewers of SPEED, that concept might have a familiar ring to it.

There are no teleprompters, no big special effects and no fantasy racing updates. There are no experts in other studios or anchors falling all over themselves to use cool phrases. There are just three panelists and Bestwick sitting alone in the studio talking NASCAR. What a concept.

The production staff has followed the new direction and made every allowance to accept NASCAR as a sport and an extended lifestyle. Thursday's show led with highlights of Tony Stewart winning his charity race from Eldora Speedway. The network even had a reporter on-scene for interviews. This season, NASCAR Now "gets it."

A strong move for the series would be to follow in the award-winning footsteps of RPM2Night and begin to show regional racing highlights. The NASCAR Camping World and Modified Series are on fire with talent and every race is recorded. With ESPN in the sport for eight years and probably well beyond, it is time to look at the bigger picture and show fans the sport as a whole.

Dr. Jerry Punch and the NASCAR on ESPN team are six races away from beginning their high-profile Sprint Cup telecasts that will cover the final seventeen events. Now, for the first time they will have the solid support of a studio-based daily program keeping viewers informed and involved all the way through Homestead in November.

So, four months into the 2008 season we are going to officially stop talking about NASCAR Now incidents from 2007. ESPN admitted the problem, made some changes and the pay-off has been fantastic. Still, the 2007 gang did provide some memorable moments. Perhaps, a final reminder of how the changes started would be a nice way to close-out the topic.

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TexasRaceLady said...

JD, you are soooo right about this year and "NASCAR Now". It has become a "must watch" for me.

I'm going to chalk up last year as a very bad dream, and move on.

Matt said...

NASCAR Now has made a 100% improvement over last year. The addition of AB and Manske have really made it so much more enjoyable to watch.

Richard in N.C. said...

JD- I have been amazed and fascinated with how very much ESPN has improved its NASCAR coverage from 2007 to 2008. With N-Now they really have made a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

I only have 2 minor criticisms-
(1) I wish ESPN would repeat N-Now more than once - which would seem to me to be a productive use of ESPN Classic, and
(2)I think having a crew chief on Monday usually adds to the show since a crew chief can speak better to issues of equipment and strategy.

Thank you.

SophiaZ123 said...

Thanks for the write up JD. Now if ESPN would STOP the time slot roulette for this show...I thought it was on late tonight and I missed it (Don't even say DVR..TW upgraded to "Navigator" from Passport and DVR's are not recording, skipping shows and NAVIGATOR digital guide does NOT allow 'manual recording' but I digress..will wait a year for bugs to work out)

I totally enjoy Nicole on this show and I was a harsh critic from her old days on SPEED.

And I gotta say...I am a little bummed Boris Said is going to be featured...would rather have Brad...BS lost a lot of respect with his tirade on Ambrose some months back. BS showed some BS.


Thanks for the write up.

Adam T. Martin said...

NASCAR Now with Allen Bestwick, Ryan Burr, and Nicole Manske has become a must see for me!

They have the best on air attitudes and make the show enjoyable.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kenn Fong said...


To show you how far “NASCAR Now” has come, I forgot the name of the blinky guy who knew nothing about NASCAR but had a good voice.

I have my DVR set to record both editions of NN each day (in case there's a sporting event which bumps into either one).

Let's have some mock ritual to bury last year.

Alameda, California

Dannyboy said...


SophiaZ stole my thunder: Last week ESPN2 showed Arena Football on the West Coast and bumped the show! I realize they have obligations for live events but that is going to hurt NN in some cases.

On the other hand NN is now becoming so good that this 10+ year veteran watcher of Speedvision/SPEED's IWC/INC/TWIN is sometimes flipping to NN when it's on at the same time, especially during the first half-hour. (I don't have a DVR or Tivo yet, but I might tape it.)

Daly Planet Editor said...

Let me talk again about the West Coast airing of this show. Due to the live event schedule, there is almost no way to put the show in a steady timeslot.

ESPN asked that if viewers feel the show is ever dropped for any reason to send them the date and time and they will investigate.

If any Daly Planet reader feels the West Coast airing of this show is ever bumped, please drop me a line with the date and the scheduled time.

This is one big advantage to a DVR or a TiVo, you can just set the title of the show and the machine will find it and record it whenever it airs.

Thanks again for helping us, and ESPN, to make sure West Coast NASCAR fans get a primetime airing of NASCAR Now.


Anonymous said...

Nascar Now is definitely better this year,but I don't share Daly's fascination with Manske. I just don't consider her knowledgrable about Nascar. She was a disaster on The Speed Report. She did a bunch of interviews at Speed Weeks in February. When asking questions of a guest sitting across from her, it appeared that she was looking off to the side as if she was reading from Que cards.She's getting better but will never be a Wendy Venturini. Just an opinion.

w17scott said...

Mr Editor -
Well said ...and thanks for the reminisces of past successes (ie - RPM2Night) ...keep up the good work and keeping us on our toes.

Tracy said...

Agree that NN is the best thing to hit this year. Right on the money. I Tivo NN so it's recorded any time it shows up, and believe me, that's the only program that works that way on the DVR. (Well, except for Wire in the Blood. I digress.) I hate to say it, but Monday's NN still beats TWIN, and I adored INC before last year's really weird programs.

Only one (very minor) criticism. Wish Manske kept to the simple slacks suits. That odd greenish jacket and wrinkled straight skirt she wore this week looked uncomfortable. Then again, I think Bestwick's tied-up panel looks as if they'd rather rip them off their necks, too. Simple and relaxed = fewer barriers between the talent on the screen and the regular Nascar viewers. Golly, I sound like I know what I'm talking about. . . scary thought.

Anonymous said...

NN.......Monday nites only
Allen BESTwick makes it the best program airing at present, tho I wish TWIN could get him back in their camop.
Grami Girl

Anonymous said...

NN.......Monday nites only
Allen BESTwick makes it the best program airing at present, tho I wish TWIN could get him back in their camp.
Grami Girl

Anonymous said...

The best NASCAR show on TV period!
Best host too. Fox / Speed execs ought to be fired for letting him get away.
Steve Byrnes may be a nice guy, but he's no Bestwick

Lisa Hogan said...

I agree that Nascar Now is a completely different show this season. I enjoy the Monday night version. Thanks for the warning that Mr. Said will make an appearance next week. Mr. Said’s face appears on my TV and I reach for the remote. :)

I think that Ms. Manske has reinvented herself from the SPEED character. Unless Ms. Manske is writing her own scripts now, I don’t think she should get all the credit for the content. I just think she is a better reader than Mr. Burr. :)

Anonymous said...

Good, good article John, you got it 'ALL' right. NASCAR Now is now worth watching. They have come a long way.

MW55 Fan/Linda from FL

GinaV24 said...

Yep, I totally agree, JD. This show went from unwatchable and to be avoided to being a great show to follow the sport with. As a viewer, I usually DVR the program since I don't get home from work in time to see it on the east coast, but I definitely tune in to watch it now.

Thanks JD for giving us a place for the fans to tell their story and thanks to ESPN for actually listening and making changes. Darn, it's amazing!

Richard in N.C. said...

I am a Boris Said fan, and have been since before he started trying to get into Cup as a regular. I do believe he got a bad rap from his appearance on N-Now after the race in Mexico. Ambrose did apologize for the wreck happening - but he never apologized for causing the wreck. Boris' point was that it was clear, after looking at the tape, that Ambrose wrecked him on purpose, which I believe is shown by the tape. Going into a right hand turn, Ambrose turns left and runs Boris off the road and out of the race.

Newracefan said...

Definately must see TV, my big problem now will the DVR have enough room when I go away to fit all things Nascar, last year I didn't bother to record the show.