Monday, May 18, 2009
Unique Trio Works For "NASCAR Now"
It was certainly a big Monday on ESPN where NASCAR was concerned. The All-Star race had resulted in some fireworks and race winner Tony Stewart was probably still smiling. Two drivers without a smile on their faces late Saturday night were Kyle Busch and Jeremy Mayfield.
Busch put on a show and then faded to seventh after some damage to his car in the final laps. Mayfield put on a show after coming down from an infield hospitality trailer and speaking out about his drug suspension. While Busch walked to his car and drove home after the event, Mayfield was asked to leave the area by NASCAR.
It was ESPN's Marty Smith who climbed up and spoke briefly to Mayfield before the rest of the NASCAR media showed-up. "It might be time to face the music," said Smith to Mayfield. "It might be time to go ahead and talk." In the blink of an eye, Mayfield came down and addressed the reporters.
NASCAR Now played the video of a candid Mayfield speaking clearly about the issue in a very defined timeline scenario. "Everybody that know me knows better," said Mayfield. Those would be words to remember for later in the show. Mayfield ended his comments by saying "that is the whole truth." He was very convincing.
NASCAR VP Robin Pemberton had clearly had enough of this issue as he was shown staring down a nameless reporter who asked about Mayfield. The female reporter asked what Pemberton's response was to Mayfield's statement that he was never "given proof" of what he was suspended for. "I'm not going to discuss Jeremy Mayfield tonight," answered Pemberton.
Smith tagged the piece by saying that licensed NASCAR participants in the testing program want to know what Mayfied ingested. Smith singled-out Jeff Burton's comments that disclosing the substance would lend credibility to NASCAR's new policy. In closing, Smith related his conversation with Dr. Black from the testing program.
Once again, this nationally recognized drug testing expert stated Mayfield was clearly told the substance that violated the policy. Black also stated specifically to Smith that any amount of Claritin-D could not have caused the positive reading.
Smith called the situation, "a he-said she-said for the ages."
Host Allen Bestwick now faced perhaps the toughest task of all. When Smith was done, Bestwick turned to his most experienced NASCAR expert on the panel to follow-up on this touchy issue. He came face-to-face with Ray Evernham.
This season, Evernham has worked on rebuilding his image and restoring his credibility. His comments on this program would go a long way toward continuing that process. He first acknowledged "the bloggers" and the fairness concerns expressed by some if Evernham talked about this situation. The history between Evernham and Mayfield is well known by most.
In choosing to address the issue, Evernham showed again why he is a natural on TV. "At some point in time you have to trust the sanctioning body," he said. His opinion was that NASCAR feels this is not an issue related to Mayfield's prescription or Claritin. Then, he did the right thing in a big way.
"In all the time that Jeremy Mayfield drove for me and the time that we spent together socially I never saw anything that would indicate to me that Mayfield would have this kind of problem," stated Evernham. That extra touch of providing a balanced viewpoint made the concerns about his statements fade away.
Rick Craven provides a strong grounding influence on this program. He reminded the panel and the viewers that the real reason for all of this is safety. Randy LaJoie is the plain-spoken racer that speaks his mind. His opinion was that Mayfield already had a black eye and his comments were only making things worse.
Before the Mayfield segment, the panel had reviewed the All-Star evening and the circumstances leading up to Stewart's win. Later in the show, Darian Grubb was the guest and all of the panel members got to ask questions. This change has been great as the perspectives of all the panelists can come through in the questions.
The program ended with a preview of the Coca-Cola 600 coming up next weekend. Evernham was again on top of the information by explaining how tire strategy will play a key role. Craven and Evernham are a good combination in previewing these events, drawing on personal experience to set the table for fans.
ESPN has certainly hit on a great trio to work with Bestwick. The intellectual Craven, the analytical Evernham and the outspoken LaJoie combine to offer a fast-paced and informative hour. As he has since the beginning of this season, Bestwick has let others take the spotlight. Just like a good referee, he keeps order and introduces the topics to be discussed.
Of all the NASCAR Now programs since 2007, this may have been one of the best.
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