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.

TDP welcomes your comments about this TV program. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

SPEED Tolerates Fifteen Minutes Of Darrell Waltrip

All the pieces were in place for some TV fun and fireworks. SPEED's Wind Tunnel on a Sunday night when both the Sprint Cup Series and the IRL were parked was a golden opportunity for some good discussion of motorsports topics.

Host Dave Despain was joined by SPEED's Robin Miller, who among other things is a great catalyst for conversation with his good questions and strong opinions.

NASCAR on Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip was a guest who has been quite popular in his Wind Tunnel appearances. Since SPEED lacks any other type of TV program where this type of conversation about NASCAR is allowed, Waltrip was the perfect guest to match wits with Despain and Miller.

Prior to the show, SPEED ran one hour of TV programming that featured policemen who drive big trucks to catch car thieves. Jacked was a series that already ran once on another national cable TV network. After Wind Tunnel, SPEED aired an hour of PINKS All Out. Finding a drag racer who does not know exactly what his car runs is impossible. It is the mission of PINKS to hide this fact at all cost.

Apparently, no thought was given to expanding the one hour of Wind Tunnel on this night. While Despain continues to take calls online after 10PM, SPEED returns to the lifestyle programming for which it is now infamous.

This idea of expanding the show had merit the moment that Dave Despain told Darrell Waltrip his two segments were done and the program had to move along. "Is the show over?" asked Waltrip after his fifteen minutes. "You mean the show's over?"

Those words may have been repeated by NASCAR fans who had tuned-in for a NASCAR TV fix on this Sunday from someone who was trying very hard to deliver just that. In a flash, Waltrip was shuffled off the show. In many ways, it was a statement of the situation SPEED finds itself in every single day.

Looking fresh and sounding up-to-date on NASCAR topics, Waltrip was candid in his brief remarks on several subjects. Where Jeremy Mayfield is concerned, Waltrip repeated the words said several times on this blog. "You have to follow the money," remarked Waltrip. "His career is ruined, so what would you say he would probably want? He would probably want a settlement. Maybe they will pay him to go away."

After a question from Robin Miller, Waltrip repeated an answer he gave during the Fox portion of the season. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has too many distractions and needs to limit his outside activities. "I believe his confidence is not there...he needs to just focus on driving that race car and you might see a difference."

"The COT is an old guy car," said Waltrip. He was talking about the success of Mark Martin this season. "It drives like a car from back in the 80's. This thing (COT) takes experience, it takes patience, you have to wait on this car. The young guys just don't like to wait on it."

"Look at Joey Logano," continued Waltrip. "He can go over in the Nationwide Series and run away with it. He gets in the Cup car and he is lost."

Perhaps the most surprising comments of the evening came from Waltrip on the subject of Kyle Busch. This season, like the last one, Waltrip was the champion of this driver during the Fox portion of the Sprint Cup Series. Apparently, those feelings have now changed and Waltrip did not mince words.

"He's a man in the car," said Waltrip of Busch. "But he is a brat outside the car. Somebody has to to get their arms around this kid. Even when he drove the #5 car and he made the Chase he fell flat on his face. You've got to have composure, you've got to be able to control your emotions."

After briefly addressing the potential Indy 500 participation of some current NASCAR drivers, Waltrip was done for the night. Miller and Despain are certainly open-wheel oriented guys, but Waltrip cut through the IRL clutter and was the star of the show.

More and more each passing day, the only location for long-form conversation about NASCAR is Sirius Satellite Radio. TV has dropped the ball completely. The marching orders of SPEED on the weekend are clearly competition-oriented. ESPN's NASCAR Now allows Ricky Craven brief comments on selected topics, but there is no real conversation in that tightly controlled environment.

The basic problem is that Sirius serves around 18 million subscribers while SPEED is available in 78 million homes. So, fifteen minutes of Darrell Waltrip may be the only candid conversation about NASCAR topics on SPEED for a very long time. At least it was interesting.

TDP welcomes your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

To see the picture of a slightly younger Darrell Waltrip full-size, just click on it.

ESPN Convenes NASCAR Media Drug Summit

It is an off-week for the Sprint Cup Series. There is no RaceDay show, no Victory Lane program and This Week in NASCAR has been replaced by a special on Roush Performance Engineering.

All of this leaves an opening for ESPN to once again host a reporters roundtable show on the Monday version of NASCAR Now. This program has worked well in the past by featuring print, Internet and radio journalists who are not normally seen on TV.

Now that the Jeremy Mayfield story has exploded once again across the national landscape, the timing for this Monday's NASCAR reporter roundtable could not be better. Just wait until you hear the starting line-up.

Stepping-in for Allen Bestwick as host will be Mike Massaro. Veteran fans will proudly step-up and relate stories of seeing Massaro literally chasing driver's personal vehicles down the NASCAR access roads after races for ESPN interviews.

When NASCAR and ESPN parted ways the last time, there were ruffled feathers and bruised egos all the way around. NASCAR used the very same rules that ESPN had mercilessly imposed on other broadcast entities to deny ESPN access to the tracks.

Caught in the middle was Massaro. He was truly the last man standing who was able to continue to provide interviews and updates from the races. Helipads, airport runways and even traffic lights served as his interview locations.

Monday, Massaro will lead perhaps the most powerful media ship in the NASCAR TV navy from the High Definition studios of ESPN2 in Bristol, CT. NASCAR is back on ESPN and Massaro has been justly rewarded.

Joining Massaro will be Ryan McGee, a senior writer from the staff. McGee spent a lot of time at the NASCAR Media Group in Charlotte, NC helping to create much of the TV content viewers enjoyed during SPEED's NASCAR heyday. He also helped out on a little project that won an Emmy Award. The movie was simply called "Dale."

McGee was the person who thought it might be a nice idea to find former NASCAR truck series driver Aaron Fike and get the truth about his drug use in relation to driving and racing under the influence of heroin.

The single story that resulted from McGee's efforts changed the sport forever. Suddenly, NASCAR VP Jim Hunter's words on drug testing for "reasonable suspicion" seemed empty. Click here for McGee's original story. The drivers suddenly wanted tougher standards, regular testing and a professional organization involved. They got all three.

Monday, McGee returns to NASCAR Now as a panelist with the sport in the middle of a mind-bending drug testing issue that seems to have no end. Who better to speak to the issue than the man who sparked the changes?

Nate Ryan is USA Today's NASCAR reporter. He is familiar to many fans as someone who is on various media outlets being interviewed frequently. If you don't know him, click here for a great story that may grab your attention about how reporters work their way up to a "national beat."

Ryan is also on Twitter, a service that has become tremendously popular with NASCAR fans. It allows him to communicate directly, in almost real time, with whoever would like to read his messages. It has proven to be a service that Ryan has mastered in terms of getting NASCAR information and links to fans. His direct approach and honest tone should be a welcome perspective to the NASCAR Now program.

The final member of this Monday line-up is a TDP favorite from the old Tradin' Paint show on SPEED. Associated Press reporter Jenna Fryer had some knock-down drag-out brawls with Kyle Petty that were amazing. She proved that she will listen, but will not be moved off her views just because someone says she is wrong.

Click here for one of Fryer's recent stories where she reviewed the issues on the table with Mayfield and then wrote in plain language the results. Fryer is an old-school reporter and the AP in front of her name makes that very clear. Agree or disagree, Fryer's weekly column makes sure readers know how she feels about an issue.

This line-up is going to make for a Monday to remember at 5PM ET on ESPN2. The program will re-air at 9PM PT and segments will certainly be seen on the website. But, what role can TDP readers play in this program?

Since we are lucky enough to have your comments reviewed by many NASCAR media folks, how about addressing some issues right now in advance of the Monday TV show.

How do you think the NASCAR media has done on reporting this story to date? What have they not told you about where this issue is concerned? What has been done well?

If you were Mike Massaro, what one question would you ask of these panelists that could help shed some light on issues that are still confusing?

The previous TDP post on Mayfield (click here) drew over 200 tremendous comments and showed the intelligence of the NASCAR fan base. This is another good opportunity to put some topics and questions out that this group can address on Monday.

To add your opinion or comment, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-oriented website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks once again for taking time out of your day to keep this NASCAR conversation going.