Monday, July 27, 2009
Monday's Spin Doctors Dominate NASCAR TV
There were only two experienced members of the NASCAR media on the Monday TV shows. Allen Bestwick was the host of NASCAR Now and Steve Byrnes was the host of This Week in NASCAR.
ESPN2's show featured Ray Evernham, Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. That makes two current Sprint Cup Series owners and one current Nationwide Series owner offering comments. Evernham retains his partial ownership role. SPEED's program had Greg Biffle and Michael Waltrip as panelists. One current Sprint Cup Series driver and one current owner/driver.
NASCAR Now put Daugherty in the seat normally occupied by an ESPN reporter on the panel. There is no doubting Daugherty's enthusiasm and dedication where the sport is concerned. The problem is that alongside of Wallace and Evernham he does not have a role.
Bestwick tried to advance Daugherty as "the voice of the fan" last season, but ESPN put a stop to that. When he is in the infield, Daugherty's on-air enthusiasm really works well. Unfortunately, surrounded on a review show by experts, he is left to simply restate the obvious. This program really missed a journalist on the panel.
It's no secret that Wallace and Evernham disagree on almost everything. Each of these men has a super-ego and it is a challenge for them to play well with others. Bestwick did a good job of getting them talking and offering opinions on what many felt was a disappointment of a race from Indy.
Evernham offered what may have been the best explanation of how NASCAR determines speeding penalties on pit road, but once again ESPN had no video to go with it. Just like the race broadcast on Sunday failed to explain the mechanism behind the penalty, NASCAR Now had no video on Monday. Machinery, print outs or even pictures of the embedded wires on the pit road segments would have helped.
"It's definitely a valid penalty," said Wallace. "It's all electronic, it's on a computer. NASCAR doesn't have anything to do with this decision." Wallace went on to say that simply by missing the original manual setting of the pit road speed limit prior to the race, Montoya may have well put himself in the situation of exceeding the 5 mph limit that NASCAR allows for an over-run.
Former crew chief Evernham was pointing the finger at Montoya and his crew chief. With a five second lead on the track, clearly the best car and the race winding down, Evernham questioned why anyone would take a risk of speeding on pit road.
Strangely, TWIN's Chad Knaus was a telephone guest on NASCAR Now. Knaus was interviewed by Bestwick and he first raised the point of limited passing. Unfortunately, that issue was lost among the continued political answers by Knaus about Hendrick Motorsports. Bestwick never asked Knaus if Johnson could have won without Montoya's mistake.
The subject of Kyle Busch got the panel fired-up briefly. Daugherty continues to be eternally optimistic and predicted a "mini-run" from Busch to get him in the Chase. Wallace was clear in his view that Busch was not going to make it. Evernham picked Busch to win the championship, so he was all in.
Give credit to Bestwick for bringing up the COT. Evernham still wants the crew chiefs to have some more adjustments available to them. Wallace wants mandatory weight distribution to stop the crews from building light and moving all the lead weights in the frame rail to the left side. Finally, some real racing talk on this episode.
The best races of the weekend were the trucks and the Nationwide Series. NASCAR Now offered quick highlights, but no driver soundbites. In closing, Wallace offered that the ORP race was "a defining moment" for his son in his racing career. The only time Steven was shown in the highlights was when he rear-ended the leader under caution.
After last week's reporter roundtable, this show was a snap back to the reality of deeply-connected NASCAR personalities walking gingerly through pre-selected topics in a well-scripted hour.
Michael Waltrip set his chaos meter on high and simply dominated This Week In NASCAR from the first moment the program hit the air. Greg Biffle should have just stayed home and called it in. Waltrip's extended rant on the Montoya speeding penalty at the top of the show just started the monologue that this program has become.
Steve Byrnes gets credit for consistently trying to bring Biffle into the conversation by aiming questions directly to him. During these fleeting moments, Waltrip just simmers and then eventually explodes.
Biffle tried to explain how drivers set the pit road speed limit from the pace car prior to the race. "Forget the pace car," said Waltrip. "That's almost irrelevant." Waltrip went on to again disregard Biffle's answer while making sure to plug the fact he would be on Twitter after the show to offer even more of his opinions.
In watching the show, it becomes clear when Waltrip is in this mood that Biffle will never have the last word on any topic. Waltrip will not allow it. Byrnes is a TV veteran and enjoys a good conversation, but Waltrip was the star of this show long before Byrnes came along as host. It's very clear who is driving this bus.
The shame of this is that Biffle is an experienced racer who has good opinions and observations. He has learned to stay calm when Waltrip is like this and just let him talk. Biffle managed to get one good opinion out about Goodyear's tire improvement and that was about it.
Walltrip completely ducked Byrnes asking about the overheating problem on the #55 car and moved into a team promo for MWR featuring David Reutimann. After offering lengthy explanations on topics concerning other teams and cars, Waltrip owed viewers the same on his day in Indy.
One strength of this program from the start has been the pre-produced features from the NASCAR Media Group. This week, in addition to the regular race reviews there were features on a young Bobby Labonte and a rare glimpse into the brief career of the late Tim Richmond. Both were outstanding and reminded us again that the lack of NASCAR Media Group programming like this on SPEED is glaring.
In a way, Waltrip is beginning to experience some of the problems of his older brother on TV. Michael offers some great opinions and has some great perspectives on the sport just like Darrell. Unfortunately, those comments now often come wrapped in endless self-promotion and petulant behavior that is tough to watch.
Both Monday shows walked the NASCAR line and avoided the reality that without the Montoya penalty, only one late race restart might have added a hint of excitement to a track that may well be losing its luster for some NASCAR fans.
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