Monday, August 18, 2008

Waltrip Gets The Monkey Off His Back

Apparently, all it took to help Michael Waltrip break into the top twenty in a race was a fuzzy monkey. Starting-off This Week In NASCAR on SPEED, Waltrip shared the story of a fan giving him a stuffed animal for good luck. He put it in the car at MIS and the rest is history.

As host Steve Byrnes would say, "you can't make this stuff up." Waltrip's stuffed animal story set just the right tone for Byrnes and Chad Knaus to jump into the details of the weekend at MIS.

Kudos to TWIN for including Marcos Ambrose and Dave Blaney in the MIS Sprint Cup Series highlights. Byrnes also questioned Waltrip about why Carl Edwards was not penalized for clearly throwing a water bottle onto the backstretch. Another part of the race ignored by the ESPN TV crew at the time.

Knaus was clear and open about the incident involving Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. It has been a tough year for both teams, and Knaus added his behind-the-scenes info about what this incident meant for the Hendrick drivers.

Highlights continued and Waltrip and Knaus were now in high gear. The success of this show is the ability of Knaus to completely ignore the Waltrip hi-jinks and continue on with his technically specific explanations. Knaus filled viewers in on why the cars were purposefully so loose even as Waltrip showed-off his new shoes.

Knaus told viewers that he was watching Trackpass on the final lap when Johnson made contact with the 28 car and spun through the infield. How is that for some good TV information? Johnson's crew chief watching exactly what the fans are watching.

The Nationwide Series got a good mention this week, but the highlights were much too short. Waltrip was forceful in talking about the clean air issue at MIS and the fact that it made all the difference. Knaus backed it up by saying the lines of the drivers through the corners made getting clean air sometimes impossible.

"Magnet-gate" was up next for a topic and it was Waltrip who surprisingly jumped-in and indicted Gibbs Racing for having a pre-meditated plan of action. Waltrip admitted that he had experienced the same thing, but that the size and specific depth of the magnets made it clear things had been planned in advance. Waltrip stopped well short of suggesting senior management was involved, but certainly the Gibbs engine shop or crew chiefs were put on the hot seat.

It was time to look at Bristol, and Knaus called it "an amazing little racetrack." Waltrip got teased a bit about his incredible crash that will live forever on YouTube. Knaus talked about the drivers lifting each lap and the fact that the motors are not particularly stressed on this track.

Wrapping-up the Bristol conversation, Waltrip talked about just how easy it is to miss the correct pit stall in Bristol because of the tiny track and the pit lane rules. Highlights of the spring race worked well to help viewers remember exactly how the newly-paved track has resulted in very different racing.

Byrnes finished the show with some email questions and this segment really showed-off the incredible relationship that Waltrip and Knaus have been enjoying on this show. After Knaus told viewers that the numbers on the roofs of the cars were oriented to the infield because that is where the manual scoring is done, Waltrip calmly told him he was wrong.

Not that Waltrip knew he was wrong, but because he knew it would drive Knaus completely nuts. Even as Waltrip answered the next question, Knaus was still fretting and asked again how he could be wrong? When Knaus blurted out that he personally had never scored, Waltrip had achieved his goal and the chaos began.

Give Steve Byrnes credit for keeping things somewhat under control and guiding this show off the air with its dignity almost intact. Since February, this TV series has done a compete about-face and is now a solid viewing choice for NASCAR fans every week. Waltrip and Knaus truly are NASCAR TV's odd couple.

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Craven Really Clicks On "NASCAR Now"

Ricky Craven has been writing about the sport for some time now, but this year he has been featured on selected episodes of NASCAR Now. The Monday hour features a recap of the weekend's racing and has a trio of panelists who change each week.

Allen Bestwick has single-handedly carved a niche for ESPN2 on Mondays where NASCAR is concerned. This week, Bestwick hosted Ray Evernham, Mike Massaro and Craven. This trio turned-out to be a very good combination.

Evernham has proven to be much more valuable to this program from a crew chief perspective and continues to offer detail-oriented explanations that work well to clear-up issues remaining from the weekend. Massaro has been Bestwick's right-hand man and is a frequent guest on this TV series. His perspective as a reporter working pit road for the races always serves the program well.

It is Craven, however, who makes a mark every time he is on NASCAR Now. His personality works very well on TV and that is an asset that cannot be purchased or learned. Just like Dale Jarrett, Craven lets others speak first and then quietly has the last word.

David Ragan was the guest and he showed a very controlled and more polished personality where racing was concerned. Finishing third was explored by Bestwick who focused on the key pit stop where Ragan himself made the decision to stay out. Ragan did a good job in the interview and kept things postive.

The big news of the week was "magnet-gate" with the Gibbs Racing Nationwide Series car and the NASCAR dyno. The program used footage from all parties concerned to present a very balanced overview of the incident and the reasons behind it. Massaro provided the background information on why the dyno tests were being done at MIS.

Most interesting was Ray Evernham insisting that this incident was not about racing, but just about a team protecting something they had worked hard to gain. "The bottom line is, it wasn't cheating," said Evernham. "It was trying to hide an advantage. I don't think that they (NASCAR) should take points away from them for that."

Craven's response to this issue was that the stigma attached to it is going to affect the Gibbs Racing reputation and that is the biggest shame. "This didn't need to happen," said Craven. His point was all the victories of this season for Gibbs are now perhaps a bit murky where the fans are concerned.

"Since we are all dressed like lawyers, I am going to talk like one," said Massaro. "It may not be cheating...but it is obstruction of justice at the very least." Massaro's point was that NASCAR was simply seeking the truth about horsepower and trying to alter that outcome was going to result in some penalties.

This is the type of intelligent discussion that fans search for on TV and this season the Monday edition of NASCAR Now has delivered all year long. This week's trio of panelists was one of the best in terms of free-flowing coversation, clearly defined roles and respect for the views of others.

Bestwick may be keeping an ironman pace, but he seems to be none the worse for wear with three months left in the NASCAR season. Missing only one show this year because of vacation, he is eventually going to get to look back on a whole lot of faces who graced the ESPN2 studios on his new Monday night franchise.

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Wednesday Truck Race Huge For SPEED

It sometimes seems that no matter how fast and how good the racing in the Craftsman Truck Series really is, it continues to get overshadowed by the on-going drama in the Sprint Cup side of the NASCAR world.

While hyperactive Kyle Busch and extremely fit Carl Edwards battle for supremacy, the current leader of the Truck Series points could easily be mistaken for an accountant. Sunday at MIS, the Sprint Cup race featured names like Brad Coleman, Tony Raines and Patrick Carpentier.

The last Truck Series race featured Mike Skinner, Ron Hornaday and Jack Sprague. This trio and many of the other Truck Series racers are throwbacks to the one day shows and the exciting racing that was NASCAR in the 1980's. The series goes to tracks where the "Cup guys" will never run. They race whenever the schedule tells them to, and this week that means Wednesday night in Bristol, TN.

Over at, the Truck Series rarely makes the front page. The TV listings are never posted and the race results are quickly removed. Programs like NASCAR Now and This Week in NASCAR spent the vast majority of time fawning over the Sprint Cup Series. But, there has been one strong group of individuals who are only focused on the Trucks.

The SPEED TV presentation of the Craftsman Truck Series has been the most consistent TV package in the sport for the last several years. Viewers have come to know the drivers and teams through the efforts of the SPEED team led by Krista Voda and Rick Allen. The key is that this one team is there all-season long.

Lead Analyst Phil Parsons has come to embody the Truck Series with his in-depth knowledge of the teams and personalities involved in the 25 race season. Each year Parsons returns with a consistent on-air style that adds the information viewers need without any over-the-top antics and high volume. That is left to someone else.

Since Michael Waltrip was added to the Truck Series TV package, viewers have been drawn to the telecasts either to enjoy his off-beat brand of humor and enthusiasm or to cringe at his sponsor-driven agenda and NASCAR flag-waving. Love him or hate him, Waltrip always makes things interesting.

Bristol this Wednesday will be different not only for the day of the week, but also for the lack of practice and qualifying coverage on SPEED. The only things being televised will be the pre-race show and the race itself. Perhaps, that may change for next season.

Krista Voda will lead The Set-Up at 7:30PM for thirty minutes. This pre-race show is hosted from the starting grid and Voda has made it a simple and effective program. The information about the series is delivered by pit road reporters Adam Alexander and Ray Dunlap. The overall perspective is added by Parsons and Allen.

Voda is a NASCAR TV veteran who is familiar to TV viewers for her friendly style and laid-back manner on-the-air. She also hosts The SPEED Report on selected Sundays for SPEED and is a pit road reporter for the NASCAR on Fox Sprint Cup telecasts.

One story we are bound to see is Jimmie Johnson stepping into the Craftsman Truck owned by NFL player Randy Moss. Regardless of the reason, having Johnson in the race is going to be a big draw for fans on a Wednesday night. It should be interesting to see how SPEED treats this story and how Johnson does in the 8PM race.

There will be other interesting names like Kenny Schrader, David Stremme and even Mr. Carpentier joining the series regulars as 37 trucks are on the preliminary entry list. The telecast is scheduled to end at 10:30PM, but SPEED has no live programming after this event in case it runs long.

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