Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Shannon Spake Jumps In The Deep End Of The Pool

It was supposed to be a slow week for NASCAR news. It is the All-Star weekend. One non-points race on SPEED, the pit crew championship and a week at home for the crews.

Instead, ESPN2's daily NASCAR Now program finds itself front-and-center in the continuing saga of the first driver to be suspended under the new NASCAR drug testing policy. Jeremy Mayfield's defiance vs. NASCAR's insistence continued on Tuesday.

Instead of regular weekday hosts Nicole Manske or Mike Massaro, it is ESPN pit reporter Shannon Spake who is handling the anchor duties all this week. This substitute role on a suddenly news-heavy week is certainly a challenge.

Tuesday, Spake reminded viewers of her experience in hosting and jumped right into the Mayfield sage at the start of the show. She first called upon ESPN.com reporter David Newton who addressed several issues concerning both Mayfield and the media.

Newton reinforced that Mayfield is continuing his insistence that Claritin-D 24 combined with a prescription medication caused the positive reading. He also reported that NASCAR's Dr. Black had restated his position that the testing did not reveal any combination of these ingredients and Mayfield violated the drug policy with a "drug of concern."

On another issue hotly debated in the media, Newton stated his case. "NASCAR does not give the drivers a list of banned substances," said Newton. "There has been a story out there that the crew members had a list, but that is not true either."

Newton was referring perhaps to the following Twitter message sent by AP reporter Jenna Fryer shortly after the Monday NASCAR Now program:

"Contrary to popular opinion, NASCAR indeed DOES have a list of banned substances it provided all teams in December."

So, Newton countered Fryer with a statement of his own that sounded very official. His point was that NASCAR refuses to be "put in a box" with an official drug list because they want every substance to be questioned. The reasoning behind this, as explained by Newton, was the very nature of the dangerous high-speed activity on the track.

Spake brought ESPN's NASCAR analyst Andy Petree into the conversation next. After saying he was originally shocked by the Mayfield news, Petree confirmed that he was one of the people advocating this tougher drug policy for the sport. Petree also repeated that NASCAR has already outlined a path for Mayfield's return to the sport and the decision is up to Mayfield.

Spake went on to host an interview with Ryan Newman, allowing the driver to recap the first half of the season and discuss his goals for the rest of the year. Bill Elliott was then interviewed by phone as he prepared for a speed record attempt in a Ford Mustang at Talladega.

The ESPN Stock Car Challenge winner of the first-half of the season was next on the phone. For those into fantasy racing, Spake also gave a good-natured ribbing to Petree who was topped by his booth-mate Dale Jarrett in ESPN's fantasy racing celebrity challenge.

All-in-all, Spake handled a program packed with hard news, NASCAR interviews and ESPN feature material quite well. She allowed those being interviewed to state their case and kept the pace of the program moving right along. Nice job in a tough circumstance.

Spake continues to host the 5PM shows through Thursday and then returns for the Saturday morning preview show at 10AM ET. She will be joined on the set by Randy LaJoie while Marty Smith and Nicole Manske will report from Lowe's Motor Speedway.

TDP welcomes comments from readers. To add your opinion on the topics above, just click the comments button. There is nothing to join and we do not want your email address. We just want your opinion on this NASCAR TV issue.

This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Darlington TV Ratings Down Double Digits

This TV ratings item from Jayski:

NASCAR on Fox delivered a 3.6/7 Saturday night for Primetime racing from Darlington Raceway. Saturday's 3.6/7 is down -16% compared to last year's 4.3/8 for the same race. That -16% skid nearly matches FOX's overall -15% decline for the NASCAR season (4.6/10 vs. 5.4/11). All eleven of FOX's Sprint Cup points races have been down double digits compared to last year in the metered markets. It's too early to call a definitive winner in the Saturday night Primetime battle. FOX's race averaged a 3.5/7 from 8-11pm, which ranked third among major broadcasters behind ABC's 3.9/8 and CBS's 3.8/7.

This has been a rough season for the NASCAR on Fox gang. Theories as to why the ratings are down range from the COT to the economy. Darlington was one of the best race broadcasts of the season for the Fox team, so it is a shame that this spring has seen a deep slide in ratings.

Feel free to add your opinion on this topic. Keep it TV-related please and remember this is a family-friendly website. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

Monday's NASCAR TV A Study In Opposites

By the time Monday rolled around, most NASCAR fans had seen the Southern 500 highlights many times. Still, both NASCAR Now on ESPN2 and This Week In NASCAR on SPEED had to rehash the Saturday night race.

Luckily, host Allen Bestwick had a solid trio of panelists in Ed Hinton, Ricky Craven and Mike Wallace. After the highlights, Bestwick welcomed Mark Martin to the program via a liveshot from his race shop in Florida. In a great move, Bestwick allowed all the panelists to interview Martin and once again it made all the difference.

Mike Wallace has a long history with Martin and referenced their old racing days in the Midwest. Craven asked Martin about his new found enthusiasm for racing. Hinton politely asked how Martin shed the black cloud that has been above his head for years. It was clear that Martin loved this interview and never stopped smiling.

Bestwick led the panel into the Jeremy Mayfield drug suspension topic with the disclaimer that Mayfield had declined to be included in the show. The details of the suspension were reviewed and then things got interesting.

Each panelist had a point to make and they certainly did. Wallace told Bestwick that the teams do not have a list of banned substances that would cause a positive test. Hinton called for NASCAR to be both more specific and transparent. His point was that a blanket suspension without a specific drug listed caused untold problems.

Hinton's assertion was that a prescription mistakenly used for something like an injury or illness should not be lumped-in with the suggestion of illegal drug use of substances like cocaine or heroin. That point was hammered home.

Craven has been a wonderful surprise this season and he continued to emerge as one of the top NASCAR TV analysts. His theme was that Mayfield is an adult and is responsible for informing NASCAR of any medications he may have been taking before a race. Once again, Craven used his own point of reference to hold Mayfield accountable for his own actions without suggesting an addiction problem may be present.

This was an outstanding discussion of a sensitive topic and served to let several different viewpoints air. Shortly after the show, NASCAR AP reporter Jenna Fryer sent this note on Twitter:

"Contrary to popular opinion, NASCAR indeed DOES have a list of banned substances it provided all teams in December."

Even after the good start by the NASCAR Now team, Fryer's message almost guarantees that the Mayfield topic will continue unabated in the media. TDP will keep you informed as to what happens with this issue.

Steve Byrnes hosted This Week In NASCAR on SPEED later on Monday. This show was taped before a live audience and the results were rather interesting. Even panelist Michael Waltrip commented that the studio audience seemed to be only mildly interested in the show. He tried to get them fired-up, without results.

The panel also included Greg Biffle and Chad Knaus. Their perspectives added to the program because both teams were involved in compelling stories on Saturday night. Of course, the program kicked-off with Waltrip's big car fire and lots of "Ricky Bobby" jokes.

As usual, the show contained the outstanding features edited by The NASCAR Media Group. Byrnes kept everyone in line and having a live studio audience present certainly affected the dynamic on the set. This was the second show to our memory where all three panelists were present and it worked out far better than the last.

SPEED and NMG cooperate on this program where content is concerned. It was clear from the start that the Mayfield issue was not going to be addressed and it was not. Producers maintain that this is a highlights program and not a news show. The topic was clearly known to all present on the panel, but the production team chose to avoid it.

Two Monday NASCAR TV shows and two very different approaches to the same topic. Did you watch both shows? What do you feel are the pros and cons of dealing with this issue? Let us know what you liked and did not like about each program.

TDP welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the comments button below to add your opinion on this topic. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.