Monday, May 26, 2008

Evernham Walks A Fine Line On "NASCAR Now"

This season Ray Evernham was revealed as a new member of the NASCAR on ESPN gang. It was a surprise to many that ESPN added a current Sprint Cup owner to the broadcast team. Evernham was going to appear on some races as an analyst, but most of his efforts would be aimed at NASCAR Now and other contributions like ESPNEWS.

On Monday, Evernham found himself walking a very fine line on the one hour "roundtable" edition of NASCAR Now. He was being asked to address the issues associated with his Coke 600 winning car as an owner. He was then asked to address the other teams and drivers as an ESPN analyst. That is one tough assignment.

Luckily, Evernham had a duo on-hand that was going to help him stroll down this narrow path. Allen Bestwick has been anchoring this Monday show since the season began. One of Bestwick's favorite guests is former Cup driver Ricky Craven. These two are exactly what Evernham needed to put things in perspective for him.

Unfortunately, the third panelist was the ESPN utility player Tim Cowlishaw. It was Memorial Day, and apparently Cowlishaw had been tapped to be the designated hitter for NASCAR Now during the weekend.

There is no doubt Cowlishaw has a good general sports knowledge and his appearances on Around The Horn show him to be glib. In this setting, between Evernham and Craven, it was very clear that he was a fish out of water.

Bestwick worked hard to include Cowlishaw, but the meat of the show came from Craven and Evernham. This included a very well-rounded review of the Coke 600 that talked about strategy, tires and incidents. Craven's comments kept Evernham from getting off-balance and made him very effective.

There is no doubt that Evernham and Craven have a chemistry with Bestwick. These three only needed a Mike Massaro or Brad Daugherty to round-out the panel. The conversation flowed and the points being made were always on target.

As Bestwick led the panel into a discussion of the upcoming racing career of Joey Logano, NASCAR Now flashed back to the ESPN footage of a young Jeff Gordon from Thursday Night Thunder. The comparison did not work for Craven, but having Evernham on the show was perfect as he addressed Gordon's early days and his early success.

The subject of Humpy Wheeler's sudden "retirement" was a touchy one. Bestwick let Evernham tell a Humpy story that was very personal. Craven also talked about Wheeler's influence over the actual individual drivers and its positive effects.

This NASCAR Now program worked-in video highlights of both the Indy 500 and the Grand-Am race from Lime Rock Park. The show also promoted the NHRA's upcoming event. It is clear that someone behind the scenes has an interest in expanding this franchise. For fans of the old RPM2Night, even a weekly general motorsports program could not come soon enough.

As usual, Bestwick set the same type of casual but fast-paced tone fans used to enjoy on SPEED's Inside NEXTEL Cup. His ability to laugh at himself and keep the racing action in a bigger perspective has turned this show around. There is almost always a big laugh in each Monday program, and this was no exception.

Poor Marty Smith lost a recent liveshot on NASCAR Now because the cars had taken to the track and drown him out. Unfortunately, it was right after Smith had penned a front-page story on Dale Earnhardt Jr. for ESPN the Magazine. All of us, myself included, gave him some grief over that one.

Bestwick played back a hilarious moment from the Coke 600 weekend that featured Smith once again ready to go live on the morning edition of NASCAR Now. Instead of car noise, this time Smith was standing on pit road as the US Military unleashed a practice invasion complete with helicopters and explosions. This was a Humpy Wheeler trademark for the pre-race shows.

The raw video showed Smith hanging-in there with gunfire and explosions so big they threatened to actually muss his hair. In reality, viewers were hearing Smith do a voice-over during that time and never saw the chaos. Once Smith returned to tag the story on-camera, the troops unleashed the howitzers. Let's face facts, liveshots at the track for NASCAR Now have been snake-bit the entire season.

The ultimate irony was that if Smith was present in the ESPN2 studio for NASCAR Now, he would have been a great third panelist with Craven and Evernham. Instead, he may be going for a hearing test.

The choice not to show highlights of the NCTS race was unfortunate, as the last lap was a classic. Hopefully, this situation will not occur again as a rookie and first-time winner made the race exciting. Ironically, it was a driver from ESPN's backyard and a former Northeast regional racer that took home the trophy. Omitting NASCAR's third national touring series was not the right thing to do.

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Story Links: Just click on the title to read the article.
Coke 600: Your TV Comments Are Welcome
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Here Are Some Program Notes: (2nd Update)

Allen Bestwick will be joined by Ricky Craven, Ray Evernham and Tim Cowlishaw for Monday's one hour NASCAR Now at 5:30PM Eastern Time.

SPEED will have This Week In NASCAR at 8PM Monday evening with Steve Byrnes as the host. We do know Michael Waltrip will be one panelist, but did not get the other guest confirmed. The show is at 8PM.

Update #2: The second guest on TWIN is David Reutimann

For those asking about Dale Jarrett on the ESPN telecasts, he is on vacation and will return to ESPN in late June for the New Hampshire race. Then, he will be the Lead Analyst for the final seventeen Sprint Cup races on ESPN and ABC.

Next week, French Open tennis will be on ESPN daily. NASCAR Now will move to 6:30PM Tuesday through Friday. Since tennis is known to run a bit long, viewers might set some extra time on the DVR or the VCR to record these shows. NASCAR Now does have a re-air at Midnight Eastern during the week as well.

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Have a safe and happy Memorial Day while remembering what this holiday really means.

Coke 600: Your TV Comments Are Welcome

We had a good live forum Sunday while the Coke 600 was in-progress, but some folks want to talk about the NASCAR on Fox telecast now that it is over. There is only one more Fox NASCAR race, and that is in Dover, DE next week.

If you would like to offer a TV-related comment on the Coke 600, or sum-up your feelings about how the NASCAR on Fox gang have done so far this season, you can do it right here.

Fox has presented all the points-paying Sprint Cup races since Daytona, and will now give way to Bill Weber and the TNT group. They will be on-the-air for six races before the big debut of Dale Jarrett and the ESPN crew. They will take the coverage of the final seventeen races down the stretch.

We have talked about the issue of only showing the winner finish the race, the antics of Chris Myers early in the season and the creation of Digger, the t-shirt selling track camera. While those may be irritations, it is important to remember that Mike Joy leads a veteran crew of on-air announcers who have worked very hard for a long time now to bring this sport back from a rather dark period.

Personalities like "old DW," Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond have become household names because they work on NASCAR TV programs on SPEED every race weekend. These guys are not here to show-up for one race and then head home. That is the difference between the Fox gang and the other TV networks. Viewers recognize their commitment.

What have you felt this season as you watched the NASCAR on Fox Sprint Cup races?

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