Monday, May 3, 2010
ESPN Stirs Some NASCAR Memories
ESPN took a big swing at the network's ongoing NASCAR TV problems during the off-season. There were changes in on-air personnel, program formats and scheduling. Now with only a few months of the 2010 season in the books, those changes are already paying dividends.
Friday night in Richmond signaled the first of five races that will feature Allen Bestwick returning to the play-by-play role. His next race will be Charlotte followed by Road America, Daytona and Montreal.
Some fans may remember that Bestwick began his new TV role as a utility player for ESPN. He handled pit road reporting duties, but also hosted the pre-race show and then called the action for several of the network's stand-alone Nationwide races.
Since that time, Bestwick has become a crucial part of ESPN's overall NASCAR coverage. He righted the ship on Mondays by hosting the one-hour version of NASCAR Now . That show has become the weekly cornerstone for the studio series. He also stepped-in and returned much needed credibility to the Infield Pit Studio.
Moving Bestwick to the booth in Richmond again opened the door for Nicole Briscoe to host the pre-race show and fill the infield studio role. Briscoe's baptism by fire had come in Texas, where she filled three hours of live rain delay programming with interviews and features. It was an impressive debut.
Positive comments filled the TDP Texas live blog as ESPN offered a glimpse into the past. Dr. Jerry Punch sat down with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for an impromptu garage interview. Thoughtful questions from Punch brought out the best in Junior on a wide variety of issues. This was clearly what ESPN had been missing and only Punch could provide.
Friday night in Richmond, Bestwick took control of the TV team and led them through a telecast that had a very familiar feel. It was comfortable. Bestwick in the booth, Punch on pit road and Briscoe in the infield really clicked on the air.
Mike Massaro, Dave Burns and Vince Welch are also going to play new roles this season. Massaro has been solid as a full time NASCAR Now host after relocating his family to Connecticut. He has also been asked to return to pit road for select races and report for NASCAR Now and other ESPN programs when he is on the road. This year, Massaro is a very busy man.
Burns and Welch will also get an opportunity this season to step into the play-by-play role. Anything will be better than the ill-advised "Backseat Drivers" scenario of 2009. Burns will handle the upcoming Nationwide Series race at Gateway. Welch will call Nashville, ORP in Indianapolis, Iowa and the second Gateway race.
Real credit goes to the ESPN management for making these changes. Suddenly, the entire NASCAR on ESPN programming category has a new lease on life. The daily news show is informative and well hosted. The Nationwide races have become fun with Marty Reid and Bestwick calling the action.
The final piece of this puzzle is the big one. This is ESPN's fourth swing at The Chase for the Championship. In total, the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series races will be on ESPN. This time, it needs to be right.
Judging from the early reviews, ESPN's new cast of NASCAR characters have started the season on the right foot. It should be interesting to see if this momentum can continue to build as both ESPN and NASCAR could certainly use a strong run to the finish line this year.
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