Sunday, June 1, 2008

Benson on ESPN2, Knaus on SPEED

The dynamics of the two Monday NASCAR TV shows have been fun to watch this season. Both NASCAR Now on ESPN2 and This Week In NASCAR on SPEED have been totally changed since 2007.

Now, as these two shows begin to mature, they have taken-on even more interesting aspects. One of those is favorite panelists. Monday, viewers will have an opportunity to see two good examples of that.

Allen Bestwick has a long history with Johnny Benson. It was many years on both SpeedVision and SPEED Channel that those two shared an hour on Mondays when Bestwick hosted Inside Winston/NEXTEL Cup Racing. Bestwick's relationship with Benson was different than the one he had with the either Michael Waltrip or Kenny Schrader.

Now, Benson's TV career has been born-again on Monday nights. He has been a semi-regular on NASCAR Now sitting in the "driver" seat. This week, he will be joined in the "media" seat by Mike Massaro and in the "commentator" seat by Brad Daugherty.

This is another solid mix of three panelists that should spark good discussion and allow Bestwick to cover a broad range of topics. There is no doubt that Bestwick has integrated many elements he used in his former show on SPEED into this ESPN2 offering. What has been interesting is just how successful this program has become.

Meanwhile, SPEED and The NASCAR Media Group have combined to try and re-build the Monday night TV franchise that is now called This Week In NASCAR. Steve Byrnes has been gamely pushing this program forward with the same type of determination and enthusiasm that he uses at the track. He has not wavered in his host duties, and is certainly rolling with the punches as major changes continue on this TV series.

The show has been reduced to two panelists and one host. This has often turned what could have been a discussion into a disagreement between two people. Unfortunately, there is no third voice to chime-in this season. That has led to some sticky situations because of the personal involvement of the panelists in the race highlights.

The new favorite panelist on TWIN has become Chad Knaus. This program has never had a crew chief as a panelist and Knaus is fascinating. He works well with Larry McReynolds on NASCAR Performance because that show only "talks tech."

Knaus is being stretched on TWIN because he is often asked not only to respond to issues about other teams, but also has to deal with the hi-jinks of fellow panelist Michael Waltrip. The results have often been rather hilarious.

Waltrip also returns this Monday, and there should be a whole lot to talk about with Pocono ahead of the gang and Dover behind. One glaring issue that sits with Knaus on every show is the struggles of his team this season. There are often signs of frustration when Knaus talks about the COT and the new challenges that he has yet to handle in 2008.

Byrnes continues to tolerate the backwards format of this show, which puts the preview of the next race before the review of the past race. In fact, many readers tell The Daly Planet that they simply record the program and then play it back in the order that makes sense to everyone but the SPEED executives.

Now, with a bunch of shows under their belts and their new shirts nicely tailored, Byrnes and company might be ready to finally hit on the combination that will make for a smooth and fun hour. With all the carnage and stories of Dover, it might be a good week to put things in a new order and see how it works.

Meanwhile, Bestwick and friends will no doubt continue the huge roll they are on since unveiling this new Monday version of NASCAR Now to rave reviews. Certainly, Bestwick will not forget to remind Daugherty of the "chocolate chip cookie incident" during the rain delay at Dover.

NASCAR Now is up first on ESPN2 at 6:30PM and then SPEED follows with TWIN at 8PM. All those times are Eastern. NASCAR Now is an hour later than normal because of the continuing coverage of the French Open tennis tournament. There will be columns up on each program on Monday, so please come back and leave your comments. Thanks.

In-Progress At Dover: Final Sprint Cup Race On Fox

Sunday afternoon will signal the end of another season of NASCAR on Fox. TNT will step-in for the next six races and then the ESPN/ABC bunch will finish out the season.

It will be Chris Myers and Jeff Hammond in the Hollywood Hotel leading-off the live coverage at 1:30PM Eastern Time for Fox. They will be joined on the pre-race show by Darrell Waltrip.

As the race coverage begins, Waltrip will move upstairs and become part of the veteran broadcast team of Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds. Down on pit road will be Krista Voda, Steve Byrnes, Matt Yocum and Dick Berggren.

The challenge of making the COT car work at Dover will no doubt be one storyline throughout the event. Tires, fuel and strategy should also play a role. Once again Kyle Busch had a spectacular Nationwide Series race underway on Saturday, only to be involved in a late race accident and walk away angry...again.

Waltrip is having quite a time with Busch this season and has even been forced to defend his continual comments about the young driver on-the-air. Waltrip makes no apologies, and says he is going to continue to look at Busch as everything that is right about the Sprint Cup Series this season.

In this final race, it should be interesting to see how the Director uses the Digger cam and also how he "cuts around" the bridge over the track. The goal at Dover is to have the TV viewers see an entire lap and never realize there is a big bridge right over-top of the track itself.

Finally, this is another track where danger is present both on the racing surface and pit road. Several incidents in the Nationwide Series race showed just how quickly things happen at Dover.

Fox is also going to have to continually look for two-wide racing on the track because accidents at Dover tend to happen during side-by-side racing. Restarts with lapped cars are almost always an issue.

This post will serve to host your comments about the NASCAR on Fox final race from Dover. To add your opinion, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Thanks for taking the time to join us at The Daly Planet.

"RaceDay" Changes Its Tune For TNT

"Enjoy it while you can" was the advice given to me as The Daly Planet followed-up on the big change coming for one of NASCAR's most popular TV shows.

Next week, as TNT comes on-the-air with their coverage of the sport, the network will once again present a ninety minute pre-race show divided into two separate programs. Marc Fein and Bill Weber will host.

Last season, SPEED's popular RaceDay program went head-to-head with TNT as both programs originated live from the track. This season, things will be different.

RaceDay will back-up and end its two hour live telecast when TNT begins the pre-race programming. So, RaceDay will be first and then ninety minutes of TNT will lead-into the live race. That means for the next six races there will be three and a half hours of live pre-race programming.

Just so everyone is on the same page, SPEED is owned by the Fox Cable Network Group and TNT is owned by Turner Broadcasting under the Time Warner corporate umbrella.

This week at Dover, RaceDay starts at 11:30AM and ends at 1:30PM when Chris Myers and the NASCAR on Fox gang take to the air in the Hollywood Hotel. Earlier this season, we actually saw RaceDay overlap with the Fox pre-race show even though both networks are ultimately owned by Fox.

This Sunday, John Roberts will host Elliott Sadler, Brian Vickers and Martin Truex Jr. as guests on the show. Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace will be alongside of Roberts as usual. They will review Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s season-to-date, recap Jody Ridley's amazing Dover win back in 1981 and Rutledge Wood is back to be, believe it or not, a stunt double.

Wendy Venturini will interview Mark McArdle, who is in charge of the Competition side of Gillett Evernham Motorsports. Where RaceDay is concerned, it may be Venturini who feels the effect of the schedule change when it takes place in another week.

Late in the RaceDay programs, Venturini has become known for her ability to seamlessly mix-in with the Cup teams and drivers as they assemble for driver introductions. She has also done a live "pit walk" from the starting grid as the show winds-down and the teams are in final preparations for the race.

All of these elements might disappear when RaceDay is moved ninety minutes earlier on the clock. The drivers will be doing very different things and the scene in the garage area and on pit road will also be very different.

One interesting aspect of this move is the absence of a June programming schedule on the SPEED website. The months jump from May to July, seemingly omitting the time period when TNT is on the air with regular weekly races before the big Daytona July race. Update: Since the original column, June is now on the website schedule page.

Last season, SPEED aggressively moved RaceDay right into the path of both TNT and ESPN/ABC as the Sprint Cup season left the cozy confines of the Fox Network. Now, it seems that for the next six weeks it will be TNT enjoying the exclusive ability to be live on-the-air as driver introductions and the final prep is underway for the races.

The Daly Planet will continue to follow this story and report on how and why these changes came about between two very different TV networks.

We welcome comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.