Monday, June 9, 2008

Bestwick Continues To Lead ESPN's Charge (2nd Update)

2nd Update: The 12:30AM Eastern/9:30PM Pacific airing of this program was cancelled due to Arena Football. The show was apparently aired much later after the live event. If anyone has the actual time it aired, please drop us an email.

That means only the 5:30PM EDT version of the show aired as scheduled, and that is a shame. The Monday version of this show is now a big production and a high-profile program for the network. All that time and effort for only one late afternoon scheduled airing does not make a lot of sense.

While you are free to voice your concerns on The Daly Planet, it may be worthwhile to offer ESPN some feedback directly.

Here is the link to the ESPN contact page for viewers to comment about programming issues including pre-emptions. The full column about the program is below.

It was Monday's one hour version of NASCAR Now and it was typical Allen Bestwick. Only two minutes into the program and the highlights of Pocono were already rolling. The message to race fans was clear, we have what you want right here.

Bestwick was joined on the panel by Ricky Craven, Mike Massaro and Boris Said. This group of veterans was comfortable with each other, and it showed. ESPN stepped outside the box and granted Mr. Said an exemption from the necktie rule.

Highlights of all three series were handled smoothly by the panel with the exception of the Montoya fire. Boris Said is a sports car veteran, and the corner workers on road courses are usually responsive to any problem. Said was still struggling with the issue of the safety workers seen on-camera being held off of pit road by Race Control. Bestwick worked very hard to get the other view across.

Massaro has quietly been a key to these programs working well with any mix of panelists. This TV veteran is very much cut-out of the same cloth as Bestwick. Hard working and clean-cut, Massaro has shown this year an entirely new side of both his personality and his NASCAR experience. The results have been impressive.

Craven has quickly become a fan favorite with his good obervations and his fun personality. Some fans don't really know Craven's entire racing past, but there is no doubting his words as he offers the same type of veteran perspective as a Larry McReynolds or a Dale Jarrett. Craven sees the bigger picture all the time.

The format of the program has settled down into a race highlight review, two guests and two pre-produced features. Using content provided by the NASCAR Media Group and also editied by the NASCAR Now production team, the features integrated into the show are always worth the wait. This week was no exception and using a feature to lead into the interview of Kenny Francis was perfect.

Frances seemed a bit tense, because he knew Kasey Kahne's problem pit-stop was going to be an issue. Like a good TV pro, Bestwick got that issue out of the way early. Unfortunately, Bestwick was once again the only person asking the questions. Fortunately, that would change for the final interview.

It was a relaxed and happy Brian Vickers who showed both the TV viewers and the NASCAR Now executives just how good bringing all the panelists along for the ride can be. While Bestwick started the interview, each panelist asked a good question and often got an even better answer from Vickers.

This type of approach offered the perspectives of four different NASCAR veterans. Craven asked about attitude, Said asked what had changed since last season and Massaro really hit a homerun. He asked Vickers about leaving Hendrick Motorsports and his transition to this new team.

The first words out of Vickers mouth were "that is a very good question." This comes from involving all the personalities that the network had gone out of the way to fly into Connecticut and put on this show. Any interview with only one person asking the questions simply misses the mark. Vicker's liveshot was absolute proof.

Bestwick allowed the panelists a closing comment and then added one of his own. Like so many of us, he had first been exposed to big time stock car racing by Jim McKay and ABC's Wide World of Sports. As the footage rolled, Bestwick did a good job of offering a tribute.

It seemed fitting that the only daily national TV show soley devoted to NASCAR would offer words of thanks to a man who battled to get small glimpses of this southern sport on the ABC program. Far from the drama and pagentry of the Indy 500, it was glimpses of Rockingham and Darlington that got the attention of so many current fans across the country.

As another solid Monday edition of NASCAR Now goes in the books, ESPN has to be happy with the progress of this TV series as the network's coverage of the Sprint Cup Series approaches.

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Waltrip Finding His TV Comfort Zone

This season SPEED and the NASCAR Media Group have been working hard to restore the luster to the Monday night franchise now called This Week in NASCAR. The task of leading this charge has fallen to host Steve Byrnes.

On this Monday, Byrnes had Greg Biffle and Michael Waltrip along for the ride. These three have know each other for a very long time and alternate back-and-forth between handling the TV duties and sneaking-in jokes and references that give the program some flavor.

Waltrip is a mainstay on this series, with Biffle and Chad Knaus rotating in the other spot. The result is that now, four months into the new show, Waltrip knows the ropes and is beginning to feel comfortable. That is a big deal.

Like it or not, Michael Waltrip is the franchise and the show is not the same without him. The bonus for both the show and the fans is that when Waltrip is at ease, the fun begins.

Biffle takes the role of the straight man and handles the questions and issues with a thoughtful approach that has become his trademark. He is the set-up man.

Waltrip handles the same issues with a reckless abandon that in this show included claiming his Canadian heritage and harassing Jimmy Spencer about his continuing challenges with certain driver names.

It was this eclectic mix that made Inside NEXTEL Cup work and the same dynamic has begun to develop on TWIN. The show is clearly missing a third panelist, and had a very different feel when SPEED chose to expand the panel for a recent program.

While veteran fans may long for the dry sense of humor of Kenny Schrader, it could be a Chad Knaus that takes his place to round-out the panel to three. That would not really present a challenge to Byrnes, who handles Trackside for SPEED all season long.

Luckily, with the sheer boredom of Pocono it was a lot easier for fans to swallow the extended preview of Michigan for the first half of the show. Add-in the fact that Biffle had a strong record of winning at that track and things just fell in place.

As usual, the pace and humor of the show picked-up when the Pocono highlights rolled. Both Waltrip and Biffle had experienced problems in the race, and did a good job of recapping their issues. They continued to do an outstanding job of recapping the rest of the race and the strategies involved.

Even though these two are not close in their personal lives, Biffle and Waltrip have found a way to work together effectively on-the-air. They have also managed to keep the sense of humor and casual atmosphere established by Byrnes.

Each program contains an outstanding feature from the NASCAR Media Group called Scanner Chatter. It uses the exclusive footage that this company captures to relay sounds and images to the viewers that perhaps they did not get a chance to see on the live telecast. It has proven to be the most effective feature in the program.

As the show winds-down, there is a choice to be made. Either let the panelists talk about an issue for several minutes or show another pre-produced feature. After seeing an outdated segment on "sand cars" this week, perhaps the production team will consider picking some current topics and just letting the panel talk.

There has been a lot of time and effort put into this program as it had been tweaked and changed since February. It continues to pick-up steam and the most obvious change is the comfort level of the panelists with each other and the host.

Now that Chad Knaus has been a semi-regular panelist, Monday's episode seemed to be lacking the crew chief perspective that Knaus has brought to the show. Knaus was a new wrinkle and it is interesting that now the analysis of two drivers seems to leave a little something lacking.

Despite one poor choice of words from Waltrip, the show kept good humor and provided good information. Michigan will not be a Pocono, and Biffle having a strong performance is a good possibility. Next week's episode should be a good measuring stick of just how far this TV series has come in four months.

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