Monday, April 13, 2009

Four Men With Three Neckties Talk NASCAR TV

Racin' Today's Jim Pedley forgot his necktie and this time ESPN let it slide. Perhaps, it was because of the Sprint Cup Series off-week, but host Allen Bestwick took this new casual atmosphere and led his panel of three NASCAR reporters into an outstanding discussion of racing topics.

Bestwick got the Nationwide Series highlights out of the way right at the start of the show and then set the switch over to "talk." Jeff Gluck from NASCAR Scene, Marty Smith from ESPN and Pedley were up to the task and showed the potential this Monday show has when journalists are included.

Car counts, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the economy were just some of the topics covered early in the program. The panel worked together well and respected each other's comments as the discussion rolled on.

Marty Smith claimed that the current no testing policy is key to the success of veteran Jeff Gordon and his team. Gluck predicted Gordon's current success will not continue throughout the season. Pedley included the fact that Gordon and his team may finally have figured out the bumpstops on the COT and this year is the result.

One great topic brought-up by Bestwick was a discussion about the media guidelines on reporting rumors in NASCAR. Gluck and Smith talked openly about how the pressure of being first has to be mixed with the responsibility of being right. Pedley has just launched a new website and is finding out firsthand the "instant news" dynamic of the Internet.

Bestwick put this in the context of Internet reporters and bloggers talking about Martin Truex possibly replacing Joey Logano. The story turned out to be false, all parties denied it and Joe Gibbs made sure to say no one had asked him about it before reporting it. Bestwick's point had been made, Lee Spencer at had reported this as a rumor from the garage in Texas.

Bestwick led a "change or no change" segment where the topics ranged from qualifying rain-outs to purse structure. Smith promoted the idea that every current track on the Sprint Cup schedule should have one race and a select number should have two. His seasonal total was 29 races.

It was Pedley who offered that his future headline of this season would be a change of the final racing weekend from Homestead to Las Vegas. As fans know, the weather in South Florida is great in November, but Pedley pointed out that there is no buzz in the area and the season often ends with a thud. This is especially true for the TV coverage, which has been awful for the last two seasons at the end of the year.

Joey Logano stopped by via satellite while testing and recapped his Nationwide Series win. This week, the panelists were allowed to ask questions and it made a tremendous difference. Gluck put Logano on the spot about his Cup future and Logano's answer went right to testing. Pedley asked Logano to compare the Nationwide and Cup cars, while Smith asked Logano if the Nashville win helped him quiet the Internet gossip. Logano handled the interview like a pro.

The worst interview topic had to come around sooner or later and the answers were rather surprising. Smith said Kurt Busch, Pedley said Ryan Newman and Gluck said Kevin Harvick. All of the reporters had various reasons, but it was amazing that Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch escaped the official list.

NASCAR Now's Achilles Heel this season is the refusal to promote the Sprint Cup Series races. Once again, Bestwick read the ESPN Nationwide and NHRA Series promos before leading the panel into a preview of the missing Sprint Cup Series race in Phoenix. This is just flat-out embarrassing for ESPN after making a commitment last season to put the sport before the TV network.

Other than this issue, the Monday hour showed the power of including the media in the television side of the sport. Never has a reporter-themed show resulted in so many good comments and so much quality conversation. It is a shame that the lackluster TV ratings were not discussed, but perhaps that is not a topic for this group.

Pedley offered a strong opinion in his closing comments that the spending level of the Sprint Cup Series was essentially causing the sport to implode. Gluck bemoaned the loss of the #8 team and Smith talked about Dale Junior's continuing struggles.

Once again, NASCAR Now "extended the brand" and had the panel appear on ESPNEWS for a brief segment. This continues to be awkward, especially on a day when veteran broadcaster Harry Kalas passed away.

Bestwick once again delivered for NASCAR fans a great show. Unfortunately, the program continues to be aired at 5PM and midnight ET. Now that NASCAR Now has proven its value to the fans, perhaps ESPN and NASCAR can sit down and make it available online for anytime viewing.

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