Monday, June 9, 2008

Waltrip Finding His TV Comfort Zone

This season SPEED and the NASCAR Media Group have been working hard to restore the luster to the Monday night franchise now called This Week in NASCAR. The task of leading this charge has fallen to host Steve Byrnes.

On this Monday, Byrnes had Greg Biffle and Michael Waltrip along for the ride. These three have know each other for a very long time and alternate back-and-forth between handling the TV duties and sneaking-in jokes and references that give the program some flavor.

Waltrip is a mainstay on this series, with Biffle and Chad Knaus rotating in the other spot. The result is that now, four months into the new show, Waltrip knows the ropes and is beginning to feel comfortable. That is a big deal.

Like it or not, Michael Waltrip is the franchise and the show is not the same without him. The bonus for both the show and the fans is that when Waltrip is at ease, the fun begins.

Biffle takes the role of the straight man and handles the questions and issues with a thoughtful approach that has become his trademark. He is the set-up man.

Waltrip handles the same issues with a reckless abandon that in this show included claiming his Canadian heritage and harassing Jimmy Spencer about his continuing challenges with certain driver names.

It was this eclectic mix that made Inside NEXTEL Cup work and the same dynamic has begun to develop on TWIN. The show is clearly missing a third panelist, and had a very different feel when SPEED chose to expand the panel for a recent program.

While veteran fans may long for the dry sense of humor of Kenny Schrader, it could be a Chad Knaus that takes his place to round-out the panel to three. That would not really present a challenge to Byrnes, who handles Trackside for SPEED all season long.

Luckily, with the sheer boredom of Pocono it was a lot easier for fans to swallow the extended preview of Michigan for the first half of the show. Add-in the fact that Biffle had a strong record of winning at that track and things just fell in place.

As usual, the pace and humor of the show picked-up when the Pocono highlights rolled. Both Waltrip and Biffle had experienced problems in the race, and did a good job of recapping their issues. They continued to do an outstanding job of recapping the rest of the race and the strategies involved.

Even though these two are not close in their personal lives, Biffle and Waltrip have found a way to work together effectively on-the-air. They have also managed to keep the sense of humor and casual atmosphere established by Byrnes.

Each program contains an outstanding feature from the NASCAR Media Group called Scanner Chatter. It uses the exclusive footage that this company captures to relay sounds and images to the viewers that perhaps they did not get a chance to see on the live telecast. It has proven to be the most effective feature in the program.

As the show winds-down, there is a choice to be made. Either let the panelists talk about an issue for several minutes or show another pre-produced feature. After seeing an outdated segment on "sand cars" this week, perhaps the production team will consider picking some current topics and just letting the panel talk.

There has been a lot of time and effort put into this program as it had been tweaked and changed since February. It continues to pick-up steam and the most obvious change is the comfort level of the panelists with each other and the host.

Now that Chad Knaus has been a semi-regular panelist, Monday's episode seemed to be lacking the crew chief perspective that Knaus has brought to the show. Knaus was a new wrinkle and it is interesting that now the analysis of two drivers seems to leave a little something lacking.

Despite one poor choice of words from Waltrip, the show kept good humor and provided good information. Michigan will not be a Pocono, and Biffle having a strong performance is a good possibility. Next week's episode should be a good measuring stick of just how far this TV series has come in four months.

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Anonymous said...

I remember seeing the sand car feature before, like the week after the Las Vegas race.

I heard the Kenny Schrader taped a piece at The Prelude, that supposedly ran on The SPEED Report. As much as people complain about re-running features, that would have been more appropriate and topical to what went on this week. Of course, I am biased, since I would have liked to have seen this feature, but missed The SPEED Report. I thought that the feature was supposed to air on TWIN, so I didn't tape the Sunday night shows.

Anonymous said...

Yes Schrader had a piece that aired during TSR and he opened the "wrap up" that they do at the end :). I've seen Schrader play reporter a few times and he always does a great job :)

SophiaZ123 said...

I found the sand car tape odd.
I agree, if they want to junk up the show with canned video make it RELEVANT like Schraders piece on SR (Thanks Gymmie for letting me know he has done this before...I was hoping it was a new gig and a place to SEE KS every week but I take what I can get)

We went out to a new ice cream place (Creamy whip) and I just caught about the last 20 minutes or so. I enjoyed Biffle but wondered if he said HOW he coped on such a hot day with no air cooled helmet or did that get fixed? I thought I taped this show but for a few minutes in the middle of the tape the local weather station came on (!? Cats messing with my remote? LOL)

I had to google the words MW said. YIKES! In the old days, INC woulda probably filtered out that comment with a blank audio pause like they used to if they said a name they should not have)

The show was ok but I did check the first 3 minutes but they again RUSHED to the next race. And just because Pocono is too long is no reason to expect me to be ready for Michigan. TWIN has missed way too many action packed races with their "Flipped" show... Flip being an appropriate word that jockey's and bulimics practice.

Didn't seem worth taping and I might catch the repeat so I can catch the halfway thru mark but if nothing was mentioned about Biffle get heat exhaustion, I will probably skip it. Not sure what made the tv go to weather channel but there was some digital cable glitch...still, rather that then what happened to many DIRECT TV folks at end of NW race...from folks here to Dale Jr watching BK or not watching BK;s win..

Oh, MW acted like the safety guy by JPM did NOT have a fire extinquisher...I was pretty sure more than one guy had one.

Dannyboy said...

As I type this it is after 11 pm on the west coast and ESPN2 has had an ARENA FOOTBALL game on since before 9pm.

This allowed me to watch all of TWIN, which I enjoyed more than usual despite its deficiencies when compared to the old IWC/INC show.

JD: Mikey and The Biff have always gotten along in my recollection. On the old show they often kidded each other about their run-ins with various antagonists, often with Schrader providing sage wisdom with a chuckle attached.

Nobody mentioned when all were remarking about Kasey Kahne's and the Evernham organization's newfound speed that Michael quipped, "Maybe they have some trick new swaybars?" to the chuckles of Byrnes and Biffle.

I still think the scanner segment is hampered by overproduction. Please turn down the music! I've played loud rock & roll for over 30 years and still I find it distracting when I'm trying to understand a distorted scanner audio.

Is anybody listening to this stuff over a regular TV set, or do they just listen on $500 headphones?

jfs-va said...

I wonder if they will continue to do the long preview of the next race when the same tracks come around a second time. Particularly Pocono, where its a short time between the two races.

Anonymous said...

I am finding my "comfort zone" with this show, accepting the odd format and enjoying the laid back style of the host and MW and whomever joins him. MW is a class act, he just dropped out of the top 35 in owner points with the #55 and he kept the disappointment of that situation to himself. With this tight economy not impressed with the boys and their toys in the sand.

Deborah said...

Maybe JD has some sort of inside information about them not liking each other but I've always been under the impression that Greg and Michael were fine with each other outside the show. Sometimes it seems like fans and others take comments or reactions on this show very seriously and read into them, but this is just a TV show like any other where the panel members are playing roles to a degree and some things may be exaggerated for effect.

Has Michael found his comfort zone on this show, or has the show found it's comfort zone with him and the other panel members? Maybe it's just my imagination but it seems to me that the format has been tweaked a little to where the panel members have a little more freedom to discuss things and they're more comfortable with that as a result. In general, imo, Michael has always been very comfortable in front of a TV camera which is why we see him on so many shows (and commercials).

This was an okay episode - the best part for me was when the panelists got to talking about this past race. I didn't pay too much attention to what they said about the upcoming race at Michigan. I also caught the trick swaybar comment and thought that was pretty funny as was Michael's shtick about being 1/8 Canadian.

Jo from SC said...

I'm not sure what kind of prescriptions MW is on, but his statements about Pocono being an exciting race, seeing lots of passing, and that the race was not too long all suggest to me that either his carbon monoxide filter wasn't working on Sunday and he was still hallucinating on Monday, or that he was severely overmedicated. While his mispronunciations (and the implied insults to Patrick Carpentier) were very distasteful to me, I am still more disturbed that no one calls him on his blatant brown-nosing in support of NASCAR's corporate view that "everything is fine with the COT and racing." Clearly it's not! And Sophia, wish we had that new ice cream place around here--the heat is brutal!

Lou,Kingston,NY said...

After reading the comments this morning, I decided to watch the last half hour of the reair this morning. I did enjoy Greg, He came through very knowledgable and was good to listen to.

Daly Planet Editor said...


What I said was:

"Even though these two are not close in their personal lives, Biffle and Waltrip have found a way to work together effectively on-the-air."

Never suggested there was a problem or they did not like each other. They just travel in different circles of friends. Both have been around a long time and know the game very well.


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

I agree, the show is not the same without that cat Mikey--it is, in fact, much better without him.

Tracy said...

I thought the whole thing was just . . . sad. No spark like the old days. Byrnes acting like an indulgent pater familias. Biffle trying to give good info, getting waylaid. Waltrip trying to keep up his on-screen persona with huge cracks showing. Watched it twice to try to put my finger on what felt 'off,' and aside from the lack of good info (who won how much money, where the points stand after Pocono, and in-depth discussion of the duties of the rescue personnel in light of Montoya's flame-out), there just wasn't enough time given to the past race. The re-use of the desert buggies was inexcusable, especially since Biffle said he owned one. If you want to talk about sand buggies, show Biffle with his. But what that had to do with THIS WEEK in Nascar is beyond me.
Sad, sad, sad.

Daly Planet Editor said...


If you want to know what that term means, you can drop me a line privately at ok?


Daly Planet Editor said...


Latin on TDP! I think that gets you extra credit with the management.


SophiaZ123 said...

odd that nobody asked Biffle about the heat since it was mentioned by a handful of drivers on tv and I read about it in a few columns. If INDEED Biff's cool air did not work, that was a long, hot race for him. He must have drunk a lot of fluids to have survived.

I still think they show bad canned video in this show in the last half.

Still not enough talk about what happened in the Sunday race...nobody mentioned the COT car being so they EVER address COT issues on the show or are they not allowed to. Course I realize that's where MW always toes the line...but I get the feeling the drivers are still 'discouraged' to vent on the car.

Then I read Darby saying there will be no changes due to all the money R&D did for the car, etc. Most folks know research and reality in how things do in everyday life are often different.

This show and N Now have yet to address one of the biggest problems this season. The COT. Shame.

Anonymous said...

This show just does not cut it anymore. First Fox-i-fied and now, I guess, NASCAR Images has destroyed the franchise.

Whats so weird, at least to me, is how the top level executives at NASCAR allow this to go on and on with changes. I recall that the head tv guy from California left last year, so maybe they have not filled that void yet and they need to!!!!

Is anyone in Daytona Beach watching, listening or reading fan blogs??

Bray Kroter

JHD said...

I only watched TWIN this week, because I heard Casey Mears would be on it. I didn't realize it was the same Sand Car piece ESPN showed on Nascar Now after the Vegas race 3 months ago. The only thing missing was the "I am. Casey Mears." tag that ESPN does with most of their driver pieces.

While I liked seeing it again, I don't understand what it was doing here on this show, and on this network for that matter. I could see ESPN rerunning it since they recycle their pieces. But I don't have a clue why SPEED chose to present it like it was a brand new and recent piece. Any response from SPEED about this, JD?

And all this means I guess is that the Schrader Eldora piece (which I would have love to have seen - sorry I missed it) will be shown on TWIN about September, right?

Daly Planet Editor said...


It is simply a format issue that SPEED execs continue to ask the NASCAR Media Group producers to follow.

After all the solid shows from the SPEED Stage that the same two groups produce, it has always seemed curious that this show began to struggle when the DD era started.

The best part is that with three panelists on the set and one tweak of the format, they would have a pretty darn good show.


Anonymous said...

After watching every tue. night for
11 years except the year that Speed took the show off, we don't
watch any longer.Dont understand the flip flop show,cant stand Mikey
his ownership of a cup team has went to his head.
Tks.JD Ron Il.

GinaV24 said...

Waltrip may be comfortable, but I'm still not. I don't watch the show live any more, it's not worth it to me to waste the hour when I can save it to the DVR and FF through the commercials and stuff I've seen before. I just can't deal with Mikey's "everything is wonderful in NASCAR" shtick any more. It's gotten old and it makes me feel like he will say anything no matter how inane as long as NASCAR pats him on the head. That's not "funny", it's stupid. I'd have liked to have seen Schrader's piece, but I missed TSR this week.

Jerry said...

I used to look forward to Monday nights. Now I TIVO past the first 30 minutes to get to what happened. Not interested in what might happen and am not interested in the various videos and interviews they trot out to fill time. Shows the weekend of the race are the ideal place to talk about what is about to happen this week.

I think Speed is looking for an excuse to cancel this traditional Monday night time slot for something else. Chasing viewers away is a sure fire method to assure failure.

Newracefan said...

It doesn't appear that many who posted liked the show. Granted it wasn't as funny as last week but I still enjoyed it. I am not sure if any of the video from the sand cars was new but either way it definitely didn't belong, otherwise it was an OK show. I've given up on the backwards aspect, I would be fine with it if it was only the first 15 minutes and not the first 30+ (give the guys more time to have fun and lose the video filler too)I was glad to see Michael was able to make the sway bar crack for a laugh especially since he is now out of the top 35 and there are going to be 46 cars at the next race.

Tracy said...

Wow, my four years of Latin haven't gone to waste, LOL. Extra credit, yes!

Anonymous said...

Anytime Sophia :)

Yes I had to yell out a MICHAEL CURTIS! When I heard that term!

Vicky D said...

I could not understand the re-airing of the sand buggy segment either. If they don't have enough info and stories to fill an hour - devote more than 30 seconds for a recap of the truck and Nationwide races!

darbar said...

Knauss was here in Milwaukee doing testing at the Milwaukee Mile with Jimmie Johnson. From what I heard in interviews from the track, it sounds like Knauss will be off from the show a lot because the 48 car will be doing a lot of testing in the next few weeks.

Anonymous said...

I love This Week in Nascar and wish you would get over the format already. You sound like a broken record. Oh, boo hoo, the producers have made a decision you don't like and now you're going to beat the horse to death every show until the end of the chase? Some of us LIKE the preview first, and I'm guessing that even those who don't aren't having to "swallow" the preview-then-review format.

If you want to criticize TWIN, why not criticize them for wasting an entire segment every show so they can show "highlights" of the SPEED coverage -- which is rarely little more than a quick-cut montage of Kenny Spencer jumping on tables, making sound effects and acting like a horse's rear. It's the MOST pointless segment on the show, but you never mention that. Instead you have some chip on your shoulder about the preview.

Get. Over. It.

Anonymous said...

Er, I mean Kenny Wallace, not "Kenny Spencer". Kenny Wallace and Jimmy Spencer have morphed into a two-headed court jester that I cannot stand.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 12:13PM,

I think from your comments that you are taking care of the chip quite well.

No doubt I disagree with the format, but this is a forum where you can talk about what you like and do not like.

It seems you have missed that point entirely.