Sunday, February 1, 2009
ESPN2's "NASCAR Now" Stepping Into Chaos
Update: Many thanks to ESPN for putting out a media release on Wednesday with additional information on the NASCAR Now series for 2009. This column is now updated at the bottom of the post.
It will be Monday, February 2nd when ESPN2 resumes the almost daily show called NASCAR Now. In 2008, this program series found its legs and became a solid link between the sport and the fans.
NASCAR Now's basic format is to provide a one-hour talk show-style program on Mondays and then four or five daily thirty-minute shows leading up to the race weekend. Before ESPN takes over the Sprint Cup telecasts, there is only a preview version of NASCAR Now on Sunday mornings. During the final 17 Cup races, the network adds a one hour review show on Sunday nights.
This ten month series is a considerable undertaking that began in 2007 with severe growing pains and has now slowly become a show that works well the vast majority of the time. The glaring issue for ESPN2 is that every episode of the program originates from Connecticut.
SPEED has just relocated that network's headquarters to the heart of NASCAR country. Now, the new SPEED HD studios are just a short drive away for the NASCAR personalities. This new access became apparent during the Preseason Thunder series where NASCAR guests were plentiful.
This year, however, all the suggestions that ESPN invest in a Mooresville area studio are being put to rest rather quickly. Tough times are upon the nation and there are new priorities being established almost every day.
It is into this NASCAR environment that Allen Bestwick, Nicole Manske and Mike Massaro must walk. This trio is supported by Lead Reporter Marty Smith and will also make use of the NASCAR on ESPN personalities throughout the year. This is the first season for Massaro as a full-time co-host and the second for Manske.
Bestwick is the captain of this ship and played a role in revamping this series over the last several seasons. At a time when the program was floundering with bad talent choices and poor story selection, Bestwick provided an example of how to put together a straightforward NASCAR news program by simply doing it himself.
Click here for the 2007 TDP column titled "Allen Bestwick Rocks NASCAR Now To Its Core." That certainly was a moment in NASCAR TV to remember.
Now, Bestwick hosts the expanded Monday program simply called the roundtable. Over the past season, guests too numerous to mention have flown to the ESPN2 Connecticut studios and participated in a conversation about the weekend's racing.
ESPN gets credit for stepping-up, admitting some problems and working to fix them. Manske was a big question mark after coming over from SPEED, but she hit the ground running and never looked back. She established herself as a credible, hard-working host and interviewer. She did have some memorable moments in 2008, but the good news was none of them concerned her wardrobe choices or social life.
Massaro was originally a semi-regular guest on the Monday hour shows and something within him just took to the studio right away. This season he and Manske will rotate hosting the shows in the studio and flying out to report from the race tracks. It should be an exciting year for a guy who has seen it all where both ESPN and NASCAR are concerned.
ESPN is famous for big editorial meetings where lots of topics are discussed and on-air stories are selected. Those meetings are not always quiet, but they are usually very interesting. Trying to figure out how to step back into the NASCAR sandbox this season should be a challenge.
The news and issues in this sport never slowed down after the Homestead race last season and are now at a fever pitch as Daytona Speedweek approaches. Fans cruising the Internet for NASCAR news get all kinds of content from a wide variety of websites. Sometimes, it seems almost overwhelming.
The challenge for NASCAR Now is to sort this upcoming season out for the fans by looking at the three national series and speaking the truth. This season more than ever before it will be up to NASCAR Now to provide daily updates on the health of the sport in general.
The growing perception that the Sprint Cup Series superteams are again going to dominate must be discussed openly. The current overall status of both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series for 2009 has never been mentioned by SPEED during two weeks of programming and desperately needs to be put in perspective for fans.
While Bestwick has certainly been a NASCAR favorite for many years, he also has the ability to ask very direct questions of the analysts and reporters on his panel. The task of talking about the health of the sport is going to fall to folks like Dale Jarrett, Ray Evernham, Andy Petree and Rusty Wallace.
Reporters Marty Smith, David Newton and Terry Blount are going to be very busy sorting out the specifics of who is where and what exactly NASCAR is going to be putting on the track for fans in just a couple of weeks.
Update: Allen Bestwick will have Ed Hinton, Marty Smith and Boris Said on the Monday one hour program to kick-off the season at 5PM ET. The series will offer a special report on NASCAR and the economy next week and all shows during that week will be an hour in length. Thanks again to ESPN for the timely release of this information.
Please let us know what you think about the return of NASCAR Now and what you are looking for from this TV series in 2009.
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