Monday, July 20, 2009
NASCAR's Version Of "Meet The Press"
Over the past several seasons, ESPN has rounded-up three NASCAR reporters several times a year and put them on the Monday version of NASCAR Now.
On a Sprint Cup Series off-week, it makes sense to let some of the media talk about the season to date and review the news. Normally, this is an exercise in who is going to win, why are teams struggling and some snippy comments about NASCAR.
All of this changed when a combination of elements struck the sport like a meteor. The economy plummeted, the US car manufacturers tanked and an active driver tested positive for methamphetamine.
Into these topics and more stepped media members Ryan McGee, Jenna Fryer and Nate Ryan. The program was hosted by ESPN veteran Mike Massaro. Kudos to ESPN for bringing only one employee to the table, as McGee is a full-time senior writer for ESPN the Magazine.
Massaro set the tone early with a fast pace and straight talk. Fryer and Ryan admitted that their early predictions of a tough season for Tony Stewart and his new team were off-base. McGee pointed out that the people and technology surrounding Stewart had been key to the surprising season.
Jeremy Mayfield is a topic that has the NASCAR media just as confused as the fans. A great video review of this year's Mayfield saga set-up the following discussion. Ryan reinforced that the image of NASCAR has been deeply affected by this entire matter. Fryer focused on the main problem of deep confusion in the garage area by the teams themselves. "The confusion in the industry among the competitors is insane," said Fryer.
"It's kind of like politics," said McGee. "When politicians start slinging mud at each other, they say that no one comes away clean. Nobody is going to be a winner in this thing."
One final key point exposed by Fryer was that Mayfield was allowed to return to the track even after his positive drug test because of flaws in NASCAR's own system of testing. The judge's ruling did not determine anything about the test, it was the system that needs to be repaired.
Moving on to the identity issues of the Nationwide Series, the reporters agreed to disagree. McGee reminded everyone that the attraction of the "Nationwide regulars" back in the day was strong for the fans. While Fryer floated the notion of having only one support series, Ryan reminded everyone that TV ratings and full grandstands come with having Cup drivers in the field.
Massaro gets credit for bringing up the struggling Brickyard 400 race at Indy on ESPN. Reviewing the past using video made the comments of the reporters even more biting. "I don't know that NASCAR really needs to be there anymore," said Fryer.
Ryan pointed to the damage done last season by the struggles of Goodyear to field a tire that worked on the new Cup car at Indy. After more than a decade, it seems that this event has lost a lot of luster. The USA Today veteran indicated that reports from Indy suggest about half of a capacity crowd this weekend.
A general discussion of potential Chase teams led to Mark Martin and Kyle Busch being profiled. Busch was not the most popular with the panel and his maturity issues are well known. Martin continues to command the respect of the media and that is no easy task.
The media jury is still out on Kevin Harvick and his future with Richard Childress Racing. Suggestions from the panel included Harvick moving to Stewart-Haas with Shell or perhaps just leveraging himself for a new team in 2011. It is clear that Harvick needs money for his own KHI racing operation, so his decision may well be driven by that need.
The reporter roundtable shows offer the panelists an opportunity to make a closing statement. This has proven to be both a blessing and a curse for those on the program in the past.
Ryan was upfront in reminding viewers that not one word had been said during the entire show about Dale Earnhardt Jr. to that point. Ryan reminded us that Tony Eury Jr. has blamed the media for Junior's problems. Now, without the same level of publicity and scrutiny, Ryan wondered how Junior will do for the rest of the season.
"It's been 72 days since Mayfield was suspended for failing a random drug test," said Fryer. "The fallout has overshadowed almost everything else. What was left of Mayfield's career is ruined and NASCAR's handling of the scandal will forever be questioned." Fryer made her point that there is still no end in sight to this mess.
McGee added a little tribute to legendary West Coast driver Hershel McGriff. He compared the 59 year-old Tom Watson being referred to as ancient during the British Open TV coverage when the 81 year-old McGriff had run a race just last weekend and finished in the top twenty.
This type of TV show is exactly the reason we continue to push for additional NASCAR TV programs that allow for conversation. Fans get to see and listen to those reporters who are normally hidden on the Internet and seen only in a snapshot above each column.
At a time when the NASCAR media has come under scrutiny for its slimming numbers and spotty coverage, the ability to see veteran reporters talking about this sport is refreshing. Putting a name with a face is always a positive when the media is involved.
Mike Massaro deserves credit for keeping things on track and adding in his own veteran views as well. This was a program that is likely to start some discussions and possibly return the focus of this NASCAR season to the action on the track.
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