Monday, October 6, 2008
Craven's Weekend TV Trifecta
The gang at ESPN has been very quiet about Ricky Craven. This weekend, Craven stopped by the Bristol, CT campus to participate in a weekend trifecta of NASCAR programs. If there was ever a doubt that Craven deserved a spot in the ESPN line-up, that was erased by Monday at 6PM.
It was Nicole Manske hosting the early and late editions of NASCAR Now on Sunday. Talladega was looming and Manske needed someone in the studio that could talk about all the aspects of this unique race. Craven answered the call and provided a impressive preview that finally gave the Sunday morning show the personality it had been searching for all season.
Manske works well with Craven, who respects her space and her role on the show. He patiently led her through all the race issues from the COT to the fear of The Chasers going into this high-risk event. Craven is a natural on-camera and his professional demeanor and racing background is the perfect combination for this program.
After the mayhem and controversy of the race, the duo returned with the one hour wrap-up show. Integrating interviews, reports and conversations from the track, Craven and Manske combined to put on a great show. This Sunday night hour has become one of NASCAR Now's best programs and it is a shame that ESPN only produces this show for the ESPN portion of the Sprint Cup schedule.
Monday afternoon brings host Allen Bestwick and his one hour "roundtable" version of the program. Craven was joined by Ray Evernham and Randy LaJoie on the panel. This put Bestwick in the position he likes best, having three very different personalities from which to draw comments and opinions.
The program began with a very frank discussion about the finish of the race. Each panelist carefully explained that since Regan Smith was not far-up enough to claim he was pushed below the yellow line, the correct winner of the race was Stewart.
As former drivers, both Craven and LaJoie took Smith and Paul Menard to task for not trying to pass Stewart with a multi-car group on the final lap. This was especially true when the car behind Smith was his DEI teammate.
Bestwick kept the topics flowing from tires to strange pit stop strategies. While Evernham continued to be the technical expert, LaJoie once again had fun with his very direct comments and humorous points-of-view. Craven's contributions were different.
In an era of loud and forceful sports TV announcers, Craven is a very good listener. His responses to others all weekend long often began with that person's name and directly referenced their comments first. Then, Craven would add his point of view or expand on the thoughts of others.
This is the same type of "inclusive" approach to television that viewers first saw with Ned and now see with his son Dale Jarrett. Both are good listeners who respond to the comments of others without openly disagreeing or disregarding those views. It makes all the difference in the world to learn that approach.
As ESPN starts to look at next season, they may well be thinking about bringing a versatile NASCAR announcer on board to help NASCAR Now fill in some weekday blank spots. Guests like Boris Said, Brad Daugherty and some of the ESPN pit reporters have been contributing to the show, but there has not been the consistency of having someone in-house who can work across all the ESPN networks.
Craven would be a natural to appear on ESPNEWS after the races, as well as SportsCenter. ESPN has been trying to raise the NASCAR profile on shows like First Take and Mike and Mike In The Morning. What a nice fit to have a New Englander who knows NASCAR talking with Mr. Greenberg.
This Monday, Bestwick worked well with Craven who has appeared on the Monday version of NASCAR Now as a guest for two seasons. Coupled with Mike Massaro and former NASCAR crew chief Andy Petree, this might be the most potent combination for ESPN down the stretch.
The network is still finalizing the line-up for next weekend, so maybe the name Ricky Craven will once again be associated with another good weekend of NASCAR Now programs on ESPN2.
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