Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Rusty Wallace Spices Up Tuesday on "NASCAR Now"

Rusty Wallace may feel like a kid again. Since ESPN moved Wallace out of the network's Lead Analyst position for NASCAR, it seems like the weight of the world has been lifted from his shoulders. The results have been fascinating.

The person now seen on programs like NASCAR Countdown, SportsCenter and on ESPNEWS is the same outspoken and opinionated Wallace that fans remember from his driving days. Love him or hate him, you knew where Rusty stood on an issue.

Tuesdays have been a big problem for NASCAR Now. While this week there was testing in-progress, the news from the previous weekend is now a bit old and the teams are several days away from turning a wheel in practice for the next race.

Luckily, ESPN may have found a solution to the Tuesday boredom. Enter Rusty Wallace with no one else on his stage. Talking one-on-one with host Ryan Burr, Wallace let his opinions fly on a wide variety of topics. From a "strictly TV" perspective, it was great.

After Jamie Little's report on testing from Phoenix and updating some news items, Burr introduced Wallace to react to the potential penalties on the Carl Edwards team. But first, Burr asked Wallace to help viewers understand how his team had the same type of penalty recently dismissed.

Wallace stated that his appeal was won because only the corner of the oil tank lid was warped. Then, Wallace continued to tell Burr that "he heard" the entire lid of the tank in Edwards car was "completely off." Calling it an "oversight," Wallace was clear in his opinion that this was not intentional. But, he was not done yet.

The Rusty of old came out when he said "I can assure you of one thing. That team did not mean to cheat. I hope they get a very small penalty." He wrapped-up his comments on the Edwards situation by saying simply, "I know this was a mistake."

Little appeared again from Phoenix and after her update on testing, Wallace was back. His frank talk about the agenda for testing and the specifics of Phoenix was solid. When Wallace is pumped-up he stays that way, and his energy on this program was great.

Moving to the safety issues about the inner track walls, Wallace played the diplomat. Saying that both NASCAR and the tracks share the responsibility of safety, Wallace brought up a specific example. Jeff Fuller's accident in Kentucky was used by Wallace as an example of a track reacting quickly to an incident. The backstretch walls were completely reconfigured to avoid the possibility of another such accident.

To make it clear, Wallace held-up a drawing showing the manner in which some tracks have off-set their backstretch walls to avoid such a problem. In poking fun at himself, Wallace started by saying "I am not so good at explaining things, so I drew you guys a picture."

After a timely interview with Mike Skinner and some news, Burr brought Wallace back again. This time the first subject was the controversial penalty against the Robby Gordon team. As he did throughout the show, Wallace did not mince words.

"I hope Robby Gordon gets off the hook to tell you the truth, he didn't do anything wrong. I think that every fan in America is pulling for Robby Gordon. He does not need to get the death penalty for a misdemeanor in my mind," said Wallace. "We need guys like that in our sport."

While Ryan Burr did a solid job hosting, and Jamie Little filed up-to-date reports from Phoenix, this show is going to be remembered for one thing. The fact that Rusty Wallace has found his footing at ESPN and is once again delivering the kind of direct and opinionated commentary that ESPN has wanted from him.

Maybe ESPN could pencil Rusty in on every Tuesday and let him address the topics remaining from the weekend and in the news. On this day, and for this thirty minutes, he was everything that the network always wanted him to be.

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SPEED Adds Two New Entries To The NASCAR TV Field

Only several weeks into the NASCAR season, SPEED has launched two new NASCAR-themed programs. One will debut this weekend in Atlanta.

NASCAR In A Hurry will slide into the thirty minute slot before RaceDay. The theory of this thirty minute program is to highlight the events of the past 48 hours. In launching this show, SPEED's VP of Programming Steve Craddock summed it up this way.

"In today’s fast-paced world, it’s difficult to find time to watch all the NASCAR programming and a bit unrealistic to think anyone can," Craddock said. "There are a lot of exciting and pivotal moments at the track each weekend and NASCAR in a Hurry will give the viewers the best of SPEED and NASCAR over the past 48 hours. SPEED will essentially DVR the greatest moments of the weekend and bring viewers up to speed on what they’ve missed since the garages opened earlier in the week."

Hosting this show will be Truck Series pit reporter Adam Alexander, although SPEED will rotate a number of on-air talent as hosts during the season. It should be interesting to see how this program works to be different from RaceDay as it begins a season-long run.

SPEED's second new TV series is only a six episode project premiering on March 23rd. NASCAR Confidential will be a one hour high-end post-produced program that looks at NASCAR from the perspective of several different people during the exact same time-frame. It does sound interesting.

The first episode is focused on the Daytona 500 of this year. Cameras follow still photographer T. Taylor Warren, team owner and NASCAR wife DeLana Harvick, driver Ryan Newman and Jay Howard who organizes the pre-race festivities. What a mix that of personalities that represents.

At the end of last season, we heard Brian France say that he wanted SPEED to develop more NASCAR TV properties as a part of being a "TV partner" with NASCAR. The network certainly has follow-up on that mandate. For fans of the high-end weekly shows that used to be on SPEED Monday nights, the creation of NASCAR Confidential is a positive move. It remains to be seen if fans need another thirty minutes of NASCAR highlight content before the two hour RaceDay.

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