Thursday, May 28, 2009
TV viewers were checking the remote to see if it was really NASCAR Now they were watching. Sitting there on-camera was SPEED TV's Robin Miller.
Since Miller always seems to add a little extra zing to everything he does in the media, he made sure to dress-up for this ESPN interview. Rounding-out the mussed hair and the five o'clock shadow was a frumpy black t-shirt that read "got speed?"
Nicole Manske was the host of NASCAR Now and the reason for Miller's appearance was a Wednesday morning story (click here) on the SPEEDtv.com website.
Miller had broken the news that the Hulman family wanted Tony George out as the CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This was big news across the motorsports world, as George had taken that facility down a path that included many millions of dollars invested in things like a road course in the infield and a new golf course.
The hidden issue, of course, was George using lots of family money to unify the two competing open-wheel series. Members of the board that pushed for his ouster apparently included George's own sisters. It was a family affair.
Manske and Miller know each other from her days in Indy as a local TV station reporter and from her time at SPEED. Miller was a former contributor to ESPN.com and had no problem talking about this issue in a very candid manner.
Before Manske welcomed Miller, she ran video from a local Indy TV station that showed a very nervous George insisting that everything was fine and he was still the CEO of the speedway. It was a telling interview where George tried to lay the blame for the current situation on the bad economy.
"This place (IMS) wakes-up every morning and eats money," said George. "Certainly, the Indy Racing League in the past has required a lot of capital to keep it going and a lot of money was spent trying to unify (the IRL and Champ Car)."
When Miller appeared, he estimated that George has spent over 400 million dollars in his efforts at both IMS and on the IRL. Responding to the fact that George and IMS had both approached the media with their own spin on this issue, Miller called it simply damage control.
The suggestion was that Miller was correct in his facts and that George would simply continue to move further and further away from any management role at the speedway. According to Miller, it was his story that had simply forced both George and IMS to make a public statement on the issue.
Either way you slice it, the bottom line was that real financial issues had finally collided with the manner in which George had run his designated slices of the family business empire. Miller had no animosity and did not embellish his statements, this was a good TV interview between two reporters about facts.
Manske made sure to review the IMS statement before pushing on to strictly NASCAR topics. The George issue is relevant to NASCAR fans for several reasons. The COT is still unable to run more than 15 laps at IMS without wearing out the racing tires from Goodyear. That puts this season's July event in peril.
Indy is the first NASCAR race of the 17 race ESPN/ABC TV package that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the sport in a contract that has many years to run.
The Brickyard 400 tire fiasco of 2008 came on the heels of the Formula-1 series having the same type of tire problems and staging the now-famous race where most of the teams pulled-off the grid before the start.
Last year, ESPN sliced the TV contract of George's newly unified open-wheel series to pieces and only agreed to carry a handful of races. Unless George agreed to the new contract, ESPN would walk away. George rolled-over and saved the Indy 500 on ABC while most of the races and all of the support programming moved to the Versus TV network for far less money. It has not been a kind world recently to Tony George.
Manske moved on to a telling interview with Scott Riggs. Admitting he did not want to start-and-park for Tommy Baldwin, Riggs was basically searching for a job. When Andy Petree appeared next, he reinforced for Manske that field fillers were just a sign of the economic times.
Petree also previewed Dover and then talked about the struggles of the Hendrick #88 team. His interesting comment was that Dale Earnhardt Jr. needed someone like Chad Knaus or Ray Evernham to step-in and run the show. Admitting that Knaus was unlikely to leave Jimmie Johnson, Petree left the Evernham name on the table.
The only sour note in the program was once again NASCAR Now choosing not to promote the start time or TV network of either the Camping World Truck Series or the Sprint Cup Series races from Dover. Instead, the NBA playoffs, NHRA Drag Racing and the IRL race at Milwaukee made the cut.
ESPN has told us repeatedly that the reason for this decision is simple. Fox refuses to promote the ESPN Nationwide Series races during the Fox Sprint Cup Series coverage. Perhaps, for the sake of the fans and the sport, this ego-driven nonsense will end after this weekend. It is the final race for Fox this season.
Manske returns again on Thursday with another edition of NASCAR Now at 6:30PM ET. The late start times this week are due to coverage of the French Open Tennis Championships. The complete TV schedule for this weekend is on the right side of the TDP mainpage as usual.
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Once again there is big breaking news in NASCAR and SPEED has nothing on the air until Friday from Dover. NASCAR Now and Nicole Manske get another huge story the day after the Tony George mess was exposed by Robin Miller...from SPEED.
So, what everyone expected has finally happened. Tony Eury Jr. is moving to the Research and Development area inside Hendrick Motorsports and Lance McGrew is taking over the #88 team on an interim basis.
Hendrick has made it clear that all the resources of that organization will be used to help the performance of Dale Earnhardt Junior's team. In corporate speak, that means Junior better step-up to the plate and right now.
It should be interesting to see who winds-up reporting on this story for NASCAR Now and who comes on the show to speak as the expert analyst. The topper for ESPN would be to get Rick Hendrick live to be interviewed directly by Manske. She has turned out to be a natural in the studio setting and her hard-hitting interviews with some of the top personalities in the sport have been well worth watching.
NASCAR Now is at 6:30PM ET and re-airs at 11:30PM Pacific Time. Please feel free to add your comments on this topic below. Just click on the comments button. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.