Tuesday, June 9, 2009

ESPN Continues To Serve A New NASCAR Role

What would NASCAR fans do without NASCAR Now? In its third season, this daily ESPN2 show started out as a joke with awful announcers and even worse producers. Tuesday, the 2009 version showed why it has become "must see TV."

Ryan McGee has been fearless since his arrival at ESPN as a NASCAR writer and reporter. His interview with Aaron Fike turned the NASCAR world upside-down and sparked a major change in the sport's drug policy. Now, McGee is once again reporting the kind of news that gives everyone in and out of the sport a reality check.

Meth is a word that most of us know very well. We see it on the news and it normally involves police activity and broken lives. We see it on special shows presented on cable TV as the new drug scourge of this country. Methamphetamine is the illegal drug that NASCAR contends Jeremy Mayfield tested positive for in Richmond.

It was Mike Massaro in his first season as one of the series hosts who drew Wednesday's show as his assignment. Massaro quizzed McGee on how he found the information, what it meant and if it all could just be a simple mistake.

McGee reported the facts and didn't stray into opinion. Even with the drug known, Mayfield's camp contends the false positive was a result of Adderall and ClaritinD being combined by Mayfield on the weekend in question. McGee pointed out that after a first positive, a second more specific test for meth should have been done by Aegis.

Should is a key word, as NASCAR and Aegis are now under a gag order imposed by the court. Until the time for trial comes around, no one will know anything more than that the substance in question is methamphetamine.

Dr. Gary Wadler returned to the show as an expert. Wadler is from the World Anti-Doping Agency and he clearly has the most veteran perspective on the issue. He emphasized that it is still not known whether Mayfield was involved recreationally with this drug days prior to racing or used it on a race day.

Wadler is not a fan of the NASCAR policy and made his views quite clear. At times, he sounded like Mayfield's lawyer. "There is no published list of banned substances," said Wadler. "It's a very unusual (drug) protocol."

"Woefully lacking in all the details," commented Wadler on the NASCAR policy. "The root of all of it is what drugs are banned? If you can't answer that question, you cannot start (the program)."

While Massaro tried to re-focus on Mayfield's alleged use of meth as performance-enhancing, it did not make a lot of sense. Wadler said meth can be detected in the system days after use, so the issue of performance-enhancement vs. recreational use was going to remain up in the air until all the facts were revealed.

What better person to comment on this situation next than Ricky Craven. All season long, Craven has been the heart-and-soul of the Monday NASCAR Now roundtable and a tremendous analyst in the studio. The look on his face was more than serious, it was almost painful.

Craven said he was thinking about all the effort, the support and the help that a person needs to even get to the Sprint Cup level. He talked about the luck, the good decisions and the perfect timing it takes to be one of the 43 in the starting field.

"No where in there is there room for all this (drug) stuff," said Craven. "It never really existed in my mind and here we are dealing with it...and it really bothers me. None of what I just heard makes any sense to me."

Craven's point was that even the thought that the driver beside you at speed on the track may be impaired would change some of the dynamic of NASCAR racing.

Massaro later switched gears and talked with Johnny Benson. The issue was Benson's truck series team shutting down and putting the defending champion on the sidelines. Benson is great on TV and kept things upbeat. Economic reality was the reason, not performance or team problems. Only dollars in the door would return Benson's team this season.

Over the next several days, NASCAR Now should be expanding this new perspective on Mayfield and the overall issue of illegal drugs. There are still a lot of facts remaining to be seen, but McGee and Wadler put a lot of information out to the fans and kept it all in perspective.

Massaro returns on Wednesday at 5PM ET with Carl Edwards as a guest. Nicole Manske takes over the hosting duties on Thursday for the rest of the week. Perhaps, few of us knew that ESPN's NASCAR reporters would be spending time this season dealing with drug issues and investigative reporting.

It's just nice to have a TV platform like NASCAR Now that allows fresh and topical news stories to be delivered directly to the fans.

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