Monday, August 11, 2008
All season long, fans have been watching Steve Byrnes and the NASCAR Media Group producers try to get a handle on the new This Week In NASCAR TV series.
Despite the best efforts of the entire gang, things took a while to gel. The new program teams Byrnes with Michael Waltrip on a regular basis. The third member of the panel is either Greg Biffle or Chad Knaus. This system has been working-out well for SPEED as Biffle and Knaus split their time in the second chair.
We all know that Michael Waltrip is a lightning rod on TV. Fans either love his personality and excitement or hate the frequent sponsor plugs and tendency to talk-over anyone at anytime. SPEED knows both those reasons cause fans to tune-in when Waltrip is on.
Chad Knaus looked as if he needed either Valium or a hug when he first ventured into "Mikey Land" this season. Despite the best efforts of Byrnes to be the referee, Knaus was simply not ready for the powerful presence of Waltrip on the program. Bear in mind, Waltrip has been in that chair for over ten years on SPEED.
Then, a funny thing happened. Knaus figured it out. All he had to do in order to deal with Waltrip was totally ignore him. The results were hilarious. Knaus began to offer his own detail-oriented answers to questions from Byrnes and Waltrip just stared in disbelief. Eventually, Waltrip began to get it. Knaus was the new Ken Schrader.
Since that time, Waltrip and Knaus have had a blast on TWIN and the viewers have been eating it up. We have been comparing them to "The Odd Couple" TV show with Knaus as the detail-oriented Felix and Waltrip as the free-spirited Oscar. Any way you look at it, this duo has figured it out.
That leaves this week's second panelist Greg Biffle. Last season, when the show had three panelists, Biffle had someplace to hide. This year, he has had no such luck. Everytime he turns around...Waltrip. Everytime he tries to speak...Waltrip. The look on Biffle's face on the program this week was simply one of pain.
Byrnes gets credit for pushing this program to develop and his ability to direct TV traffic in tough circumstances is well-known. On this Monday, Byrnes was put to the test as Waltrip had several agendas to advance in-between the highlights.
NAPA was back and Waltrip told the tale of a one-year deal that mandates performance to renew. Waltrip's driver David Reutimann had spun early at The Glen and had another tough day. He is currently in 27th place in the season point standings and remains winless. Waltrip updated Reutimann's issues.
Michael McDowell was involved in the big crash and Waltrip was very clear in his opinion that David Gilliland caused the entire thing. Waltrip said on national TV that Gilliland tried to hook McDowell and crash him because McDowell has just passed him. As the replays rolled, Byrnes talked with Waltrip while Biffle stayed quietly out of the issue. There is no doubt that Waltip's comments will get the Internet message boards rolling.
A review of the Watkins Glen highlights and a preview of the upcoming weekend at Michigan again worked well in that order. Byrnes gave Biffle a chance to shine as he described racing at MIS. No doubt Biffle is excited to return to a track where his team has a solid record. He seemed to also be excited to finally get a word in edgewise.
This program now has a personality and a generates a lot of fun. When Biffle decides to stand-up for himself on this show as he does on the track, perhaps the final piece of the TWIN puzzle will fall into place.
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NASCAR fans are certainly happy that the Monday one hour edition of NASCAR Now took time to review the events of Watkins Glen.
There were lots of stories left untold after the ESPN telecast left the air and fans had turned-off the TV. Host Allen Bestwick led the panel of Boris Said, Ray Evernham and Randy LaJoie through a very thorough review of the entire event.
Bestwick is detail-oriented and in this program all his skills were needed. The stories of Watkins Glen were all over the map and throughout the field. Luckily, Said and Evernham were directly involved in the event and LaJoie was a good counterpart with his racing comments.
Evernham was fascinating in talking about using software to predict caution flags by downloading the information from past events. Some teams were making pit calls by using this technology and some were strictly flying by the seat of their pants.
The guest on this show was Marcos Ambrose and it was a great interview. Ambrose is certainly a very different type of driver than NASCAR fans are used to seeing, but he has been embraced for his ability and character. Unfortunately, only Bestwick asked the questions. This denied Said and Ambrose the chance to talk on the same TV series where they had a celebrated blow-up.
Great Watkins Glen pictures and sound mixed in one of the best race recap segments of the year. Outstanding editing of this feature has been a strength of the series since it was created. Hopefully, viewers can see this footage again in a season review program in November.
Bestwick kept the show on-track by continuing to tell the detailed story of the teams in the Cup race. He went through the stories that needed to be told, including the teams battling for the Top 35 in owner points. Smart focus by this TV veteran.
The show took time to mention the Nationwide Series championship race and to remind viewers that Brad Keselowski was still in the mix. It has been a while since a Nationwide regular was in the season championship hunt. Evernham led the panel in their support for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s young driver.
Next week in Michigan will once again bring the fuel mileage issue to the forefront. Said hates fuel mileage races and Evernham said pit strategy may ultimately play a role. It sounded very much like the panel was not happy that it may come down to the racing gasoline in the tank at MIS.
Said and Evernham had a lot to say on this program, but LaJoie is now several seasons removed from the sport as a competitor and was not able to contribute a lot where the COT struggles were concerned. His sense of humor kept him in the program and he might be the one person that can get Bestwick laughing on the set.
In the closing comments, Said went out of this way to congratulate Marcos Ambrose and hopefully put any hard feelings behind them. Boris had a tough weekend himself at The Glen and his comment was a classy touch.
NASCAR Now returns next Monday with the popular Ricky Craven on the panel. He will be joined Mike Massaro and Ray Evernham. They will review the MIS action and look ahead with Bestwick leading the discussion at 5PM ET.
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