Sunday, July 27, 2008
"Victory Lane" Spins A New NASCAR Reality
After the Sprint Cup Series races, Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace sit in Victory Lane waiting for the winner to get out of his car. While the confetti flies and the TV network does an interview, Wallace and Spencer talk about the race. The resulting one hour show is appropriately named Victory Lane.
Spencer is an unabashed cheerleader for NASCAR and Wallace is always one to put a happy face on any situation. Wallace really does see the brightside of things. This duo is managed quite well by veteran SPEED TV host John Roberts.
After the Brickyard 400, the TV team was once again on-hand as Jimmie Johnson did his final burnouts and prepared for his interviews. One thing, however, was different. Apparently, Spencer and Wallace had decided to "spin" the grim reality of this event into something completely different. That would be a great race.
At the top of the show, Roberts called the race "long, strange and at times unfortunate." Spencer rightly pointed-out that winner Jimmie Johnson had been the fastest car all weekend long. Wallace added that it was only the second time the polesitter had won at The Brickyard. As the panel waited for Johnson, Spencer and Wallace gave their impressions of the race.
It was Wallace who said that The Brickyard 400 was going to be a "watercooler race." With the camera in his face, Wallace offered to "straighten race fans out." He began to insist that this event was fundamentally "a show" and that it was actually a great race. Spencer offered that some of the fans are going to be upset, but that he had seen a lot of great racing.
Spencer continued with the quote that "a lot of variables went into this race" and the fact that the cream had risen to the top. Wallace added that the race had the feel of a Saturday shoot-out at a local track.
In terms of NASCAR, Spencer said they "went out of their way to put a show on for the fans." Roberts was the voice of reason as he so often is on this show and made sure to point out that NASCAR's big fear was bad crashes and driver injury.
There was no doubt that Spencer and Wallace were just trying to be supportive of a sport that means so much to them. Unfortunately, these two are perhaps not the best in terms of trying to balance the reality of this situation with the public relations damage to NASCAR. A balanced discussion was not on the menu.
"This is Indy Car land, they are not going to do nothing for stock car racing." said Wallace. He and Spencer were talking about adding a sealer to the track to help the tires in the future. The issue was apparently now the Indy cars and the grinding of the track to help their performance.
As Roberts gamely led the panel through the highlights, Spencer and Wallace tried very hard to sell the fact that this was a great race despite the limitations. "Left side tires were not an issue," said Spencer as he tried to suggest that pit strategy played a role in this event. Roberts pointed-out that the top cars all took two tires on the final stop, but that did not seem to matter to Spencer.
Bob Dillner handled the interviews with the top finishers and showed his new found maturity in difficult times. Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards offered conciliatory interviews hoping the fans would understand the tire problems and offered their own apologies. The drivers actually were the only ones who took the middle ground on the race issues and came-off as sophisticated and professional.
Winner Jimmie Johnson came along and answered a lot of questions about almost everything...except tires. Asked about his career expectations, testing schedules and the fact that everyone had the same circumstances, Johnson proved to be a true professional. He said the sport would "take its lumps" and move on.
Bob Dillner interviewed Jeff Gordon at the end of the show and Gordon's statements that the race was "strange and unfortunate" echoed Roberts. Gordon was clear in his view that there was no reason to blame anyone, but that the problems need to be addressed immediately by all of the parties concerned.
This is the kind of effective commentary that works to address multiple issues. None of the drivers offered the hype and rhetoric of Spencer and Wallace. While this duo is effective on RaceDay with their unique brand of humor and commentary, this situation was very different.
It is important for national TV commentators like Spencer and Wallace to realistically address issues that may not be favorable to NASCAR. The ability to discuss negative issues in an honest and open manner with the TV viewers is critical. On this Sunday, there was a very good reason why.
Directly following Victory Lane on SPEED was the new one hour Sunday version of ESPN2's NASCAR Now. Within two minutes of being on-the-air, Allen Bestwick was leading an intelligent discussion with Jimmie Johnson about exactly the same issues Spencer and Wallace had been unable to articulate. Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty added to the conversation with good questions and everyone on the panel was extremely professional.
No longer is Victory Lane the final NASCAR wrap-up show on Sunday nights. This new reality is going to be something that the folks at SPEED are going to need to remember. Even after such a great race.
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