Monday, November 17, 2008
"This Week In NASCAR" Ends A Successful First Season
NASCAR fans got word that SPEED was re-working the longtime Inside Sprint Cup TV series for 2008 and would make some big changes. While the timeslot and the studio stayed the same, SPEED wanted to freshen-up the Monday franchise.
Out as host was Dave Despain and in was the NASCAR TV veteran Steve Byrnes. In was Michael Waltrip and out was Kenny Schrader. Although very popular, one reason for Schrader's departure was the "expert panel" being cut from three members to two.
Greg Biffle was the sole survivor of the faces that had come and gone from the "second guest" chair since original member Johnny Benson had been fired several years ago. This was not the end of the changes, as SPEED had a surprise to unveil.
Chad Knaus would join the panel and rotate appearances with Biffle. This was the first non-driver on the program and it was going to be interesting to see how a crew chief perspective would fit-in with the rather unique views of Waltrip.
Click here for a TDP column that talked about some of the early struggles this new series faced in early 2008. Byrnes and Waltrip worked hard to establish a relationship on this program and it took a while before it clicked. It was interesting to watch these early shows when Byrnes was still doing his best Despain imitation and trying to keep order.
Only when Byrnes finally relented and let the frequent Waltrip tangents flow did the show find an order. One big reason that worked was Chad Knaus. At first, Knaus had a classic deer-in-the-headlights look at almost everything Waltrip would say.
Then, one day Knaus started to give it right back to "Mikey" and suddenly things clicked. SPEED's version of The Odd Couple was born and the show has never looked back. When both Byrnes and Knaus just totally take whatever Waltrip throws-out in stride, the shows are great.
Credit this season also goes to Greg Biffle. Finally emerging from his TV shell, Biffle has proven to be a focused and intelligent person. He enjoys Byrnes and Waltrip because suddenly Biffle's opinion counts. That was a struggle for Biffle in the earlier version of the program with a different host.
Speaking of the third voice, the only way the final show could have been any better is if Chad Knaus was present. Several times this year TWIN has done special shows with three panelists and the results have been a much more diverse conversation.
As the program heads into next season, the suggestions have been simple. Add a third panelist and eliminate the long edited features. Scanner chatter, race highlights and a Humpy Wheeler monologue are plenty to overlay on some good conversation.
Fans were very appreciative earlier this season when the SPEED executives finally put the review of Sunday's race before the preview of the upcoming event. Several format changes were also made, including extended email questions and a review of all three NASCAR races from each weekend.
Watching the final program on Monday night revealed three tired guys who had worked and traveled hard over the past ten months. The commitment of all four personalities involved in this show should be applauded. The flexibility of The NASCAR Media Group who produce the show should also be commended.
After a rough start, it seems that SPEED has once again put together a cast of characters very capable of entertaining NASCAR fans for an hour on Monday night.
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