Sunday, January 11, 2009
Ray Evernham Needs To Clear The Air
Update: This column now has a story link at the bottom to NASCAR.com
In just a couple of weeks, the NASCAR on ESPN team will again take to the air. Along with broadcasting the Nationwide Series race from Daytona, ESPN will be on-scene with NASCAR Now, SportsCenter and ESPNEWS.
Last season's cast of characters will be returning with Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree having a very low-key off-season. Rusty Wallace continues to run his Nationwide Series team and Brad Daugherty has MWR all ready to handle his single car effort on the Cup side with Marcos Ambrose.
Once again, the one ESPN personality that has been in the news, on the radio and all over the Internet during the off-season has been Ray Evernham. Last week, ESPN announced that Evernham would be returning to his "utility player" role for the network in 2009.
He will be used in the broadcast booth as an analyst, in the infield pit studio as an expert panelist and on multiple ESPN shows to offer both opinion and analysis.
Before that all begins, Ray Evernham needs to speak-up and clear the air.
Evernham recently called-in and spoke with David Poole at Sirius about some issues. Here are some details from Poole's column about that conversation:
Evernham no longer has a major day-to-day role in the team he ran after leaving Hendrick Motorsports as Jeff Gordon's crew chief to help Dodge come back to big-time NASCAR competition. He sold most of his interest into the team to George Gillett and his family and has scaled back more and more over the past couple of years.
Evernham wants to be involved in racing. But as a team owner, he discovered that was a job he wasn't going to be able to do at a level he could feel good about.
Evernham said Tuesday that "it will probably always haunt me" that he didn't win a championship as a team owner, but he's proud of what he helped build at GEM. He's not sure he agrees with everything that's being done there now, but he also said that it's no longer his call.
As for the situation with Sadler and Allmendinger, there wasn't much he could say.
Therein lies the problem. In just a couple of weeks, Evernham will have plenty to say. He will have to speak to ESPN viewers about GEM and other teams as a former crew chief and veteran team owner. He will have to comment on the news and offer opinions about various NASCAR topics. How exactly is that going to work?
Reid Spencer from The Sporting News (click here) suggests that the merger between GEM and Petty Racing along with Elliott Sadler's firing and hiring makes that entire group look like the Keystone Cops. The fact that the newly-merged company does not have an official name just tops it all off.
It has been suggested that Richard Petty Motorsports may be the new name of the team, which will complete the use of Petty as a "branding tool" and nothing more. Key to this agreement is that Evernham may have left as a day-to-day senior executive, but he is retaining an interest in the team, possibly as much as twenty percent.
It was September of last year when the Ray Evernham issue first boiled-over. ESPN had given Evernham a free pass not to talk about GEM, the Robby Gordon lawsuit or the fact that Patrick Carpentier had been released. It was Evernham's first season with the ESPN team.
This was blatantly unfair and stretched from the infield pit studio to the NASCAR Now studios and beyond. TDP called it the ESPN "code of silence."
Over at Yahoo! Sports, Jay Busbee chimed-in (click here) about how tough it is for Evernham to navigate through the very problems that he created. Busbee called the situation "ethically awkward."
The sad part of all of this is that Evernham works on TV. He has the right personality, the knowledge and the demeanor to grow his role on the ESPN coverage.
Unfortunately, by not divesting himself of NASCAR ownership and continuing to play the "I am not involved" card where GEM is concerned, Evernham is doing himself a disservice.
We will leave you with a link (click here) to the TDP column from last September about the issue. Here is an excerpt:
While Evernham might talk about his cars and his teams during the race highlights, there is a code of silence at ESPN where Evernham is concerned that is simply not fair to NASCAR fans. Like all the other owners, Evernham should be fair game and he is not.
Where ESPN is concerned, suits-and-ties and silence cannot hide reality. These NASCAR owners who double as ESPN announcers simply cannot walk down both sides of the street and expect their commentary to be received by the fans as unbiased.
Update: Click here for a story by Raygan Swan about Evernham. It seems Evernham used her to address some of the very same specific issues that TDP suggested.
TDP welcomes your thoughts on this issue. However, any comment with a reference to Evernham's personal life will be deleted. This topic is about Evenham's credibility on TV and the conflict at ESPN with active team owners as on-air announcers and analysts.
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