Monday, September 22, 2008
Big Monday For NASCAR's TV Partners
The celebration by all concerned over an exciting Sprint Cup Series race from Dover is not going to end when the track is empty. Both ESPN2 and SPEED are giddy with the anticipation of putting together a Monday review show with this outstanding COT event as the centerpiece.
Although they use exactly the same content and race footage, NASCAR Now and This Week in NASCAR could not be more different. It is this difference that sets them apart and lets all kinds of NASCAR fans enjoy the Monday TV highlights.
Allen Bestwick and his three NASCAR Now panelists sit in suits-and-ties on a custom-designed High Definition set in the ESPN Studios. Perched on high stools like little islands, the only interaction between the four announcers is conversation.
Steve Byrnes and his two TWIN panelists sit in easy chairs on a Low Definition set in a studio where the dumpster guy and the UPS man can be heard through the rear door. This season the panelists have spiffy matching shirts, but where weekly panelist Michael Waltrip is concerned, socks are still optional.
The diversity between these two shows is a mirror of the diversity of the sport. At many tracks white wine mixes with cold beer and hamburgers sizzle side-by-side with Wolfgang Puck pizzas. When it comes to NASCAR fans, sometimes the action on the track is not the only show in town.
Bestwick resurrected a franchise that was in deep trouble and the results have been nothing short of fantastic. Erik Kuselias single-handedly made Monday evenings on ESPN2 a wasteland for NASCAR fans and the network let him finish out the entire 2007 season.
Now, Monday at 5PM and again at Midnight for West Coast viewers has become ESPN's NASCAR version of "must see TV." If there was a TV rating for a program being recorded for later viewing, this would be a good one to sample.
ESPN hits Bestwick with one of the most unique challenges in sports broadcasting every single week. Take a constantly changing panel and present a consistently interesting show. If the same combination of faces appear twice, it is never in a row and is usually for a logistical reason like travel schedules.
This Monday, Bestwick has Boris Said, Ray Evernham and Mike Massaro on-hand to discuss Dover. This fundamental combination of a driver, a crew chief and a journalist has worked best for this program all season long. Monday should be no exception.
While Bestwick enjoys the tight control and squeaky-clean atmosphere of NASCAR Now, Steve Byrnes loves the casual and chaotic atmosphere of TWIN. Originating from the NASCAR Media Group studios beside the highway in South Charlotte, Byrnes is effectively sitting in the exact same position Bestwick occupied for so many years while hosting Inside Winston/NEXTEL Cup Racing.
This week Byrnes will have Chad Knaus teamed-up with Waltrip on a show that many folks believe needs one more panelist to be as good as possible. Three voices make for a conversation while two make for a difference of opinion.
Knaus has been the surprise of the season for TWIN. A regular on the NASCAR Performance show with Larry McReynolds, Knaus has come into his own this season on TV. Having a veteran host like Steve Byrnes on-hand has helped Knaus to establish his own identity alongside that of Waltrip. Over the years, Waltrip has frustrated many panelists and several hosts with his style. This trio seems to fit together quite nicely.
Both TV programs look back, look ahead and offer opinions on the various topics of the week. NASCAR is better off for having this kind of choice for TV viewers and race fans. After the fun at Dover and the good feelings about Greg Biffle, both Monday shows should be primed to hit the air.
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