Wednesday, May 20, 2009
NASCAR TV Needs Darrell Waltrip After Fox Is Done
This NASCAR season has been unlike any other in history. The economy is reeling, the US automakers are struggling and the COT still can't run 20 laps at Indy on one set of Goodyear Eagles.
For good measure, throw-in the first drug policy suspension of an active driver, Carl Edwards' high-profile Talladega crash and the fact that the dean of the NASCAR media corps recently passed away.
One quick check of the NASCAR calendar reveals there are six months of racing left to go. The 2009 season is only halfway over.
As NASCAR fans know, the Sprint Cup Series TV pie is divided into three big pieces. Fox, TNT and ESPN each paid the piper and now have one custom-made slice that fits perfectly into their TV plans.
This works well for NASCAR in terms of dollars, but presents a growing problem. Once the Fox portion is done, Kyle Petty takes over from Darrell Waltrip for the summer as the lead TV analyst. As the Chase for the Championship approaches, Petty then gives way to Dale Jarrett who takes TV viewers through the end of the season.
Petty has certainly been a breath of fresh air and Jarrett is just as poised and polished on TV as his father was during his time. These two also share something else. They are both relatively new as NASCAR TV analysts.
For the past several seasons, once the Fox portion of the Sprint Cup Series schedule is over, Darrell Waltrip drops from the TV radar. Elliott Sadler steps-in for Waltrip on Trackside and the SPEED team handles practice and qualifying until ESPN takes over.
While Waltrip still offers a column on the Fox Sports website, it is certainly not the same once he is gone from the TV scene. The reason is very clear. NASCAR does not have a senior spokesman on TV who can offer a perspective with Waltrip's level of experience.
Jarrett, Petty, Evernham and Petree are just a step behind Waltrip in terms of years in the sport. They are able to speak to current issues quite well, but lack that extra bit of perspective that Waltrip brings to the table.
At the age of 62, Waltrip's TV presence and ability to speak directly to NASCAR issues that get both the fans and the media talking has never been greater. He evokes emotion and passion from fans who either agree or disagree with his opinions. That is why it would be such a shame if he is allowed to fall-off the TV radar once again this season.
Wind Tunnel comes alive when Waltrip interacts with Dave Despain on NASCAR topics. ESPN2's NASCAR Now has featured Waltrip several times with great results. Perhaps, Waltrip on a Monday roundtable show with Ed Hinton and Marty Smith might provide some memorable moments.
Everyone, including us, has an opinion about Waltrip in the booth during the races. That is not the point of this column. Once the racing on Fox is done, NASCAR has less of a national TV presence without Waltrip's viewpoints and perspective being available to viewers.
Hopefully, in this season of turmoil, SPEED and ESPN might consider some additional use of Waltrip when topics have to be addressed that require someone with a little bit of a longer view of the sport and the "s'purnce" to back it up.
There are two more races on the NASCAR on Fox TV schedule. Waltrip steps away from the TV side of the business this season on May 31st.
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