Sunday, February 21, 2010
Darrell Waltrip Off To A Rough Start
Over the past three seasons, this blog has been filled with conversations about the on-air personalities at ESPN, SPEED and TNT. In almost every case, the measuring stick used for comparison was the NASCAR on FOX team.
The reasons were easy to understand. This is the tenth season for Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. These three personalities were at the heart of the sport when times were good. Now they are facing a very new NASCAR reality.
By last Sunday, Joy, Waltrip and McReynolds had already done a whole lot of TV long before the Daytona 500 rolled around. The Gatorade Duels on Thursday were surrounded by coverage of Daytona 500 practice and qualifying. One week earlier the Bud Shoot Out had come calling. Waltrip and McReynolds also had additional shows on SPEED in which they were featured.
Throw in some personal appearances for FOX and it made for a very long weekend. The last thing the trio needed was an off-balance event marred by a pavement problem and fouled by hours of red flag conditions. Unfortunately, that is exactly what they got. The results were not good.
In the last couple of years, Waltrip has changed. Perhaps getting a bit older or simply more wistful for the old days, he now wears his heart firmly on his sleeve. A wide array of emotions and viewpoints on all kinds of subjects tend to come and go. Waltrip used to be a colorful character. Now he is often very busy telling others how to do things his way.
The problem with that approach is that many NASCAR fans now watching the sport were not around for Waltrip's time behind the wheel. To them, Waltrip is a TV commentator with a good sense of humor and a folksy manner. Having him explain things during a TV replay makes sense. Having him tell Sprint Cup Series teams and drivers how to do things does not.
Over the years, Waltrip had never been shy about letting NASCAR know exactly what he thinks is wrong. Fans have seen Waltrip on TV shows from Wind Tunnel to NASCAR Now telling it like it is and debating racing topics with a host of personalities.
When Waltrip spoke out strongly on a topic, it was considered news. This season, when he speaks out on a topic he is simply agreeing with NASCAR. That is a shame. Waltrip now spouts NASCAR happy talk like so many others. He is now in the club. Agree with the party line or you are branded as someone who hates the sport.
Two years ago, Waltrip met Digger. Despite the fact that racing fans could not stand the animated rodent, Waltrip loved him. During the NASCAR on Fox races, Waltrip could not get enough of telling fans just how great and funny Digger really was. It didn't take fans long to figure out why.
Digger merchandise was available through Waltrip's own website. The amount of time dedicated to Digger over the last few seasons by Waltrip was simply embarrassing. On a past episode of Trackside on SPEED, Waltrip was late for the program. When he did arrive, it was in a golf cart accompanied by a lifesize Digger character. Turns out, Waltrip had been on a TV shopping channel hawking Digger merchandise.
Despite the fact that FOX has now toned down the Digger presence, the damage to Waltrip has been done. As we said about Waltrip in (click here) our review of the Daytona 500 coverage, you cannot work both sides of the street.
That credibility crack has been enlarged by something that has influenced the sport in a very dynamic way over the last year or so. We call it social media but the reality is that Twitter has allowed unfiltered information to flow around the NASCAR world for the very first time. At Daytona, Twitter was not very kind to Waltrip.
Earlier in the week, two drivers had tweeted about Waltrip during the practice and qualifying sessions. It was not kind talk. As the red flag repairs on the Daytona track continued, Waltrip worked hard to praise the fans for not leaving the racetrack.
Simultaneously, various media outlets were tweeting pictures of fans leaving and even conducting interviews with fans who had decided to pack it in. They were reporting the reality. Waltrip was fashioning his own.
Thankfully, the final dash for the checkered flag was able to put a little zing back in what had been a very long day for those TV viewers who remained. Joy had summoned some energy for the finish but once again it was Waltrip who talked over top of his partner and left many fans with a bad taste in their mouths.
When David Reutimann bumped Dale Earnhardt Jr. toward the front in the endless game of bumper cars that is plate racing at Daytona, the world changed for Waltrip. As Earnhardt was pushed between two cars, Waltrip lost it. At a time when Joy should have been calling the race and indicating when Waltrip could step in, there was going to be no stopping the NASCAR on Fox analyst.
Luckily, Joy got just enough time to call out Jamie McMurray's name as he crossed the line. It was clear, however, that once again Waltrip had allowed an emotional outburst to get in the way of the telecast. Where Waltrip used to wait for his moment and make it count, he now simply cannot step back and let Joy have the spotlight.
If this is the scenario for the NASCAR on Fox package, then so be it. The network has every right to toe the NASCAR line, to allow Waltrip free reign and to simply say take it or leave it to the fans. Ultimately, the TV ratings and success of the sport will tell the tale as the 2010 NASCAR on FOX season rolls on.
We welcome your comment on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, hateful speech or profanity is not allowed. Please keep that in mind when posting.
There will be a live blog of the Sprint Cup Series race open at 1PM ET on Sunday. Join us here at TDP for comments on the TV coverage from Auto Club Speedway and thanks for dropping by.