Monday, October 6, 2008
Greg Biffle had every single reason in the world to be cranky. Coming from the back to the front at Talladega with a powerful teammate pushing him through the field, Biffle wound-up watching the race finish instead of participating in it.
Host Steve Byrnes introduced Biffle and his fellow panelist Michael Waltrip. It was Monday night at 8PM and time for This Week in NASCAR on SPEED. Last week on the program Biffle sat with Chad Knaus and engaged in a serious and technical discussion of racing the COT. Tonight, Mikey was back and things would be different.
Byrnes waded into the brief segment at the top of the show where both drivers discuss their Sundays. Waltrip and Biffle were both caught-up in the same wreck, so the focus was on that incident.
"It's hard to really criticize somebody for trying to help you," said Biffle. "He (Edwards) did make a mistake and I don't know what else we can say about it." Biffle took the high road in explaining how easy it is to get turned in a corner while bump-drafting.
It was at this point that Byrnes raised the issue of the finish. Waltrip held the NASCAR line that Regan Smith went below the yellow line and the pass was not allowed. It was then when Byrnes turned to Biffle and a whole lot of emotion came out.
"I feel like Regan got robbed," said Biffle. He explained that Smith had gone to the high side first and gotten blocked by Tony Stewart. When Smith swerved to the low side and got a fender under Stewart, Biffle felt that Stewart had clearly forced Smith below the line. Biffle had strong words for NASCAR's ultimate decision.
"What he (Smith) needed to do was wreck Tony in front of the entire field," said Biffle. "Stay there and turn him (Stewart) sideways. Make him go flipping through the grass on his roof. That is the message they (NASCAR) are sending."
Byrnes let Biffle continue even as Waltrip tried to chime-in to no avail. Biffle was on a roll and the best was yet to come. "If I'm in that situation, I'm going to wreck him," he continued. "If NASCAR's not going to do what they say they are going to do by penalizing a guy for forcing (a driver) below the yellow line." Strong words from a Chaser and a Sprint Cup veteran.
Waltrip tried to be the peacemaker, but again agreed with NASCAR. Biffle asked Waltrip what he felt about someone being forced below the line on the final lap. Waltrip called for things to be more subjective on the last lap but agreed that Smith could have caused a big crash.
"I felt that NASCAR made that rule so we wouldn't have that wreck," said Biffle. His point was that Smith avoided the wreck by running under the line and believing that NASCAR would penalize Stewart for forcing him down there. This was the final strong statement from Biffle on the issue.
Just ten minutes of this show and TV viewers could already see how much this series has grown since it began from scratch in February. Byrnes let Biffle talk, Waltrip chimed-in with his opinions and no one minced words on what had become a tough topic in the sport.
TDP readers battled long and hard to get this show's format switched, and were rewarded in the middle of the season. Unfortunately, The Chase has changed all that. Just as Biffle and Waltrip were all warmed-up and ready for the highlights, fans had to meet one of The Chase drivers up-close-and-personal.
It was apparently a new driver who no one had ever heard of before. I think his name was Dale Earnhardt Jr. This feature was again two segments long and caused the panelists to sit on their hands while the momentum was sucked out of the show. Last week, the Chase feature was on Greg Biffle. He was actually sitting on the set and being introduced to himself.
The NASCAR Media Group has absolutely no TV shows on-the-air about The Chase. Nothing on ESPN, SPEED, TNT, or Fox. The failure of NASCAR's own TV company to get additional programming like The Chase is On, NASCAR Confidential or a Chase highlights show placed on the NASCAR TV partners speaks volumes about the priorities of those networks.
Byrnes jumped-in and tried to bring the show back to life with the Talladega highlights. Tires were an issue, but Waltrip was quick to defend Goodyear and basically said those drivers probably ran over something. Waltrip had his owner's hat on and was in full Goodyear defense.
The discussion about the DEI teammates not pulling out and passing Stewart brought up an interesting point. It was the opinion of the veteran panelists that the DEI guys could not figure out how to slow down to let a gap develop and then "make a run" at Stewart. Going slower might have ultimately meant winning the race.
In discussing the recent test session at Charlotte, Waltrip passed along the info that his team learned some things at Charlotte they have used at other tracks. In Waltrip's opinion, it was really a COT Chase test. Biffle agreed as did many others who had called for more COT in-season tests.
Humpy Wheeler's opinion piece was a monologue on the evolution of the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Wheeler talked about some of the things that he and Bruton Smith brought to the Speedway and motorsports in general. Lighting the track for night racing was very important when it happened. Wheeler's point was that the real attraction of LMS was never knowing what was going to happen or who was going to win. Somethings never change.
This episode of TWIN contained some good discussions during the review portions, another misplaced Chaser feature and a good preview of the night race at Charlotte. Along the way Greg Biffle finally put his foot down and let his emotions show on an issue he felt strongly about. It is a shame that TWIN will not add a third panelist during the Chase, because the only way this show could have been better is if Chad Knaus was on the panel and in the conversations.
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The gang at ESPN has been very quiet about Ricky Craven. This weekend, Craven stopped by the Bristol, CT campus to participate in a weekend trifecta of NASCAR programs. If there was ever a doubt that Craven deserved a spot in the ESPN line-up, that was erased by Monday at 6PM.
It was Nicole Manske hosting the early and late editions of NASCAR Now on Sunday. Talladega was looming and Manske needed someone in the studio that could talk about all the aspects of this unique race. Craven answered the call and provided a impressive preview that finally gave the Sunday morning show the personality it had been searching for all season.
Manske works well with Craven, who respects her space and her role on the show. He patiently led her through all the race issues from the COT to the fear of The Chasers going into this high-risk event. Craven is a natural on-camera and his professional demeanor and racing background is the perfect combination for this program.
After the mayhem and controversy of the race, the duo returned with the one hour wrap-up show. Integrating interviews, reports and conversations from the track, Craven and Manske combined to put on a great show. This Sunday night hour has become one of NASCAR Now's best programs and it is a shame that ESPN only produces this show for the ESPN portion of the Sprint Cup schedule.
Monday afternoon brings host Allen Bestwick and his one hour "roundtable" version of the program. Craven was joined by Ray Evernham and Randy LaJoie on the panel. This put Bestwick in the position he likes best, having three very different personalities from which to draw comments and opinions.
The program began with a very frank discussion about the finish of the race. Each panelist carefully explained that since Regan Smith was not far-up enough to claim he was pushed below the yellow line, the correct winner of the race was Stewart.
As former drivers, both Craven and LaJoie took Smith and Paul Menard to task for not trying to pass Stewart with a multi-car group on the final lap. This was especially true when the car behind Smith was his DEI teammate.
Bestwick kept the topics flowing from tires to strange pit stop strategies. While Evernham continued to be the technical expert, LaJoie once again had fun with his very direct comments and humorous points-of-view. Craven's contributions were different.
In an era of loud and forceful sports TV announcers, Craven is a very good listener. His responses to others all weekend long often began with that person's name and directly referenced their comments first. Then, Craven would add his point of view or expand on the thoughts of others.
This is the same type of "inclusive" approach to television that viewers first saw with Ned and now see with his son Dale Jarrett. Both are good listeners who respond to the comments of others without openly disagreeing or disregarding those views. It makes all the difference in the world to learn that approach.
As ESPN starts to look at next season, they may well be thinking about bringing a versatile NASCAR announcer on board to help NASCAR Now fill in some weekday blank spots. Guests like Boris Said, Brad Daugherty and some of the ESPN pit reporters have been contributing to the show, but there has not been the consistency of having someone in-house who can work across all the ESPN networks.
Craven would be a natural to appear on ESPNEWS after the races, as well as SportsCenter. ESPN has been trying to raise the NASCAR profile on shows like First Take and Mike and Mike In The Morning. What a nice fit to have a New Englander who knows NASCAR talking with Mr. Greenberg.
This Monday, Bestwick worked well with Craven who has appeared on the Monday version of NASCAR Now as a guest for two seasons. Coupled with Mike Massaro and former NASCAR crew chief Andy Petree, this might be the most potent combination for ESPN down the stretch.
The network is still finalizing the line-up for next weekend, so maybe the name Ricky Craven will once again be associated with another good weekend of NASCAR Now programs on ESPN2.
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