Friday, February 22, 2008

"Trackside" All The Action SPEED Can Muster

Few people thought that one memory of the weekend at the California Speedway would be Darrell Waltrip asking if anyone had some gloves because he was freezing. Yes, that is DW and his Super Nova a while back in warmer times.

DW was alongside of host Steve Byrnes and the usual suspects Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond on the SPEED Stage in Fontana. Because of the bad weather, SPEED had decided to push Trackside up to 8:30PM and call it a day. It was a good idea.

Matt Kenseth stopped by in the middle of the rainy mess and bailed out the Trackside crew with some good conversation. One of the key elements of this TV series is that drivers get talking with the panel and forget about the TV cameras. Kenseth was great, and even stepped-in to help the experts with the rain-out procedures for setting the field for Sunday.

Next to come to the set was Bobby Labonte, and he was even better than Kenseth. Labonte addressed a wide variety of topics from the COT to his own personal choices in career path. Seeing him in this casual setting looking good on TV and speaking his mind really suggests a future guest appearance on This Week In NASCAR.

Labonte was the perfect person to address the Petty Racing relocation to the Mooresville, NC area. He spoke in very plain terms about how hard it is for teams like Petty to keep-up with the super-teams. Labonte continued to echo the comments of Kenseth about the continuing discoveries with the COT and the most interesting aspects of this new car.

As the rain began to fade, McReynolds asked Labonte about the potential problems with the Nationwide Series. His answer was interesting. What Labonte quietly said was that the Cup Series owners were adversely affecting this series. Without offending anyone, Labonte made his point about the fact that in the past, the Cup racers fielded their own cars. Now, the big owners bring-in their hired drivers to try and dominate the series. Point well made.

Byrnes keeps this show casual and fun. The panel has worked together for so long the jokes fly and the guests are all in on it. The best part of the California show was that after an all-day rain delay that did not allow any cars on the track, some good old NASCAR fans still braved the weather to stand at the SPEED Stage.

Kudos to SPEED for hanging in there and the entire TV crew for keeping the equipment operating in tough conditions. Hopefully, Saturday will find a nice day in the area of the country where they all say it never rains.

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"NASCAR Now" Plays The Rain Game

The weather threw a wrench into the plans of both SPEED and ESPN2 on Friday. With no cars on the track as of 6PM Eastern Time, both networks worked hard to deal with the reality of rain in Southern California.

Nicole Manske was on-site in California for NASCAR Now with Ryan Burr hosting back in the ESPN2 studios. After a brief wrap-up of the weather problems and some driver comments, Manske unveiled yet another wrinkle in this interesting TV season.

Allen Bestwick was suddenly on-hand in the ESPN Tech Center, and he had some friends along for the ride. Tim Brewer, Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty were all on the Tech Center set, and had a rather free-wheeling conversation about the topics associated with the rain out.

Bestwick promoted the ESPN coverage of the Nationwide Series, and then threw back to Burr who rolled the Busch Series California highlights from last season. This is exactly the type of flexible and responsive coverage from the track that NASCAR Now fans appreciate.

With the California situation documented, the show switched gears to focus on the penalty given to Robby Gordon and his team. Right or wrong, the sound from Gordon was great. Reporter Angelique Chengelis appeared from the track with the suggestion that the current NASCAR penalty might ultimately force Gordon out of the sport. Chengelis covers several sports, but her NASCAR information has always been solid.

In discussing the rain scenarios, Chengelis recapped the issues associated with the continuing weather and relayed the official NASCAR line that many of us know so well. Basically, they have lights at the speedway and intend to use them.

Chengelis continued with a Kurt Busch update and put a very good spin on the situation in the Penske camp with Sam Hornish and the points being transferred. Regardless of how much public relations effort has gone into the Kurt Busch "push" for the Daytona 500 win, it certainly has resulted in some quality TV time for Penske Racing.

Manske talked with Dario Franchitti and Kenny Wallace about their rides in the Nationwide Series. It was nice that NASCAR Now took the time to point specifically at this series, and is finally beginning to calm down their Cup hysteria of 2007. Setting the table for this race by simply telling viewers that Franchitti and Wallace will be racing is exactly the type of basic promotion the series really needs.

It was nice of Rusty Wallace to come on-camera alone and update the COT issues with the speedway. He also updated the rain situation, and continues to appear to have been "set free" to be himself once again with his new TV role. Rusty is fun and outspoken and does not take himself too seriously. He and Burr had a great exchange on a wide variety of topics and it really showed the Wallace value to ESPN.

This is the first time this season that the new and re-vamped NASCAR Now had to scramble with an on-going weather issue. Burr and Manske handled things quite well, and once again we saw seven different ESPN announcers and reporters on the air in this thirty minute show. That is impressive and requires a lot of resources.

Manske seems to be comfortable at the track, and Rusty Wallace seems to be emerging on this program as an outstanding analyst. It should be interesting to see ESPN, SPEED and Fox Sports deal with the on-going weather situation over the weekend. If they can handle it as well as the NASCAR Now gang, things should be just fine for the viewers.

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