Monday, September 21, 2009

Spencer Exits Before Helton Interview On "TWIN"

Greg Biffle was the meat in a Michael Waltrip and Jimmy Spencer sandwich. The TWIN panel has expanded to three panelists with the recent addition of Spencer for the remainder of the season.

Host Steve Byrnes made short work of the race highlights because this week the show was adding yet another twist. NASCAR President Mike Helton was in the SPEED studio to answer some questions and address some topics as the sport headed down the stretch.

Spencer and Waltrip felt each other out as they both tried to have the last word during the highlights and on the issues. Greg Biffle had some moments and held his own, but it was very clear that the Alpha Dog competition was in full swing with his fellow panelists.

"We'll get to your drivers later," Spencer told Waltrip in the highlights segment before the David Reutimann vs. Dale Earnhardt Jr. crash. That was certainly something that neither Chad Knaus or Biffle had ever said to Waltrip this season. There just might be a new sheriff in TV town.

Byrnes worked hard to figure out this new television dynamic. Spencer seems to always be on the verge of making strong statements and that is going to conflict with the pro-NASCAR tone often heard from team owner Waltrip.

Things were just about to get interesting when Byrnes suddenly thanked Spencer for stopping by. It seemed awkward as Waltrip joked about Spencer appearing when he was away. Spencer then wondered how Waltrip got himself in a Ferrari while on vacation.

It was apparent when the program returned from commercial just why Byrnes had thanked Spencer. He was no longer on the set. In Spencer's seat was Helton. Instead of involving one of the most colorful and sometimes controversial SPEED personalities in the interview, Helton was left with a multi-car team owner and an active driver who both race in the Sprint Cup Series.

Needless to say, this changed the dynamic of the program immediately. While Byrnes asked a question about the economy, it was Waltrip who turned into a gushing school kid with his endless compliments for the sanctioning body and Helton himself.

Helton remembered Kenny Schrader being on the program after Waltrip asked the classic question about just how much Helton makes. "Not as much as you do," responded Helton with a touch of irony. Waltrip was on a roll. Drug testing, electronic scoring and doublefile restarts were on his list of why NASCAR is great.

Helton's message was to give the Chase a chance. The sales pitch was that this new concept is just now getting mature. For the fans, for the media and for the competitors this is still something that NASCAR is developing and it may well be tweaked slightly as time goes on. It was a well-delivered message from NASCAR's best spokesman.

It was Byrnes and Biffle who got the most out of Helton. Biffle got Helton to admit NASCAR is actively looking at changing the starting times of Sprint Cup Series races for next season. While things were originally driven by the TV networks, it was the promoters and the fans trying to attend the races who suffered.

Helton declined to comment on the fuel injection issue with a moment of silence that turned to laughter. He did, however, remain on the show through the Dover preview and that paid dividends. With some time at the end of the program, Byrnes asked Helton about the testing ban. Helton confirmed it will stay in place.

Biffle raised the issue of doublefile restarts in the Camping World Truck Series. "We would like to get it into the truck series," replied Helton. His explanation was that next year is the possible start date after NASCAR decides what to do with the current pit stop rules for the trucks. Great question by Biffle and answer by Helton.

It's always good to see Helton in this environment. While Byrnes did manage to sneak-in one question from a fan about points, the missing element in this show was Spencer. Biffle and Waltrip simply cannot be expected to address the more difficult issues and they did not. It was safe, easy and friendly for Helton.

Next week another round of fun begins when Chad Knaus is added to a show that will feature Spencer and Waltrip for the full hour. After a Dover race that promises to be a key event in the Chase, those three should make for some interesting TV.

If you watched the Monday program, please leave us a comment. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Your Turn: Sprint Cup Series From New Hampshire On ABC

It was a beautiful day in Loudon, New Hampshire. The NASCAR on ESPN team was presenting the first race in "The Chase for the Championship."

Allen Bestwick came on at 1PM to lead the NASCAR charge against the NFL for the first Sunday head-to-head match-up. He was joined by Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty in the Infield Pit Center. Tim Brewer came along from the Tech Garage.

Jerry Punch was the play-by-play announcer with Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree as the analysts. On pit road were Shannon Spake, Jamie Little, Dave Burns and Vince Welch.

This race was run on a flat track that featured single file racing and passing that was limited the entry to the corners. There were few accidents, mechanical failures or controversial moments.

The pictures and sound were outstanding, the graphics worked well. The production team was confronted by pit stops that were crucial to both the Chasers and the racers. This was a key issue on a limited passing track like this.

The pit reporters had to play a key role in this telecast. The infield added some commentary coming out of commercial break. Petree and Jarrett handled the issues associated with race strategy. Jerry Punch was in charge of supplying the excitement for the TV viewers during the racing action.

During the Chase, commercial breaks are tough to integrate. ABC was faced with several circumstances where coming back early from commercial was a decision that had to be made instantly. The Chase cars get a higher level of attention than the non-Chase teams on the telecast.

This post is an opportunity for you to post your thoughts immediately after watching the live race. Tell us what you liked and perhaps did not like. Your comment can be any length, we just ask that you keep in mind that this is a family-friendly site.

There will be a full column up on this event from my perspective later, but this is a good time to hear what you think right after the race. Thank you for taking a moment to give us your opinion.

Mike Helton To Guest On "TWIN" Monday Night

This season, Monday Nights on SPEED have featured an island of NASCAR amid the hours of lifestyle shows. Those programs involve everything from a family that tows trucks to a guy driving cars that absolutely none of us can ever afford.

This Week in NASCAR is the island and it has been suffering from the blahs. This year the program was reduced to two panelists, no guests and racing highlights that have already been seen many times. Host Steve Byrnes has done his best, but it seems that change is once again coming to this series as SPEED looks to freshen things up.

Last Monday, Jimmy Spencer suddenly appeared from left field under the guise of sitting in for Michael Waltrip who was on vacation. Instead, it was then announced that Spencer will now join the show as a third panelist for the remainder of the season. That puts Waltrip and Spencer with either Greg Biffle or Chad Knaus on the panel every week.

Adding yet another wrinkle, SPEED recently announced that NASCAR President Mike Helton will visit the program by joining the panel on Monday. All of this sets-up what should be a very interesting episode. 8PM will find Byrnes with Waltrip, Biffle, Spencer and Helton. This marks the first time for this combination of panelists in recent memory and the first time this season for a live guest in the studio.

SPEED and the NASCAR Media Group, who produces the program, have also tinkered with the format of the show. Remember, this is the program that clung to previewing the upcoming race and then reviewing the weekend highlights for months. After sorting that out, things began to flow.

This show has tons of potential as the alternative to the formal and scripted NASCAR Now program that ESPN offers on Monday afternoons. Embracing the informality and casual feel of SPEED's NASCAR coverage is the key. Adding Spencer to the show is a step toward putting someone on the panel who will challenge Waltrip's views on various topics.

Watching the interaction between those two will be fascinating. Perhaps, the presence of Helton and Biffle will serve to keep things calm. Either way, Byrnes will have a handful when things get underway.

Before SPEED gets on the air, ESPN2's show at 5PM will feature Ricky Craven, Boris Said and Ray Evernham talking with host Allen Bestwick. It's always interesting to watch the formality of ESPN in suits and ties as the lead-in to the polo shirts, jeans and sneakers of the SPEED gang.

TDP invites your comments on this topic. Just click on the comments button below to add your opinion. 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.