Monday, July 18, 2011
He might be the nicest guy in North America. He might be the best driver in NASCAR. He might have the perfect marriage, a great physique and represent the ultimate dream for a Sprint Cup Series sponsor. That doesn't mean he deserves to be on TV.
The place we would normally see a Sprint Cup Series driver like Carl Edwards is among the personalities being interviewed before and after the races. Should a problem occur during the event, some words from him outside the infield care center or in the garage explaining the situation would make sense. That is not what is happening.
Somehow this season, Edwards is morphing into a NASCAR TV analyst who drives. When he is in the race, he is often the in-race TV reporter. If he happens to drop out, he immediately moves into an on-air position regardless of the network covering the race. No other driver has extended his personal brand with the NASCAR TV partners like Edwards.
Last year ESPN tapped him to appear in the post-race coverage of every Chase for the Championship race. He was not appearing as a driver, but as an analyst. Moments after the professional sports event in which he participated was over, Edwards was on national TV offering opinions from his perspective on the other teams and drivers.
There is no TV network more enamored of Edwards than ESPN. Monday, he will be an in-studio guest analyst on the NASCAR Now panel. Normally comprised of three panelists, ESPN will just add a chair and let Edwards sit among the experts hired to talk about him and the other athletes.
It was a head-scratcher when ESPN let Nationwide Series owner Rusty Wallace call Nationwide Series races. It was puzzling when ESPN let Brad Daugherty continue in his analyst role after becoming a Sprint Cup Series owner. Both of those examples pale in comparison to Edwards continued presence on ESPN.
Dale Jarrett, Andy Petree, Rusty Wallace, Brad Daugherty, Ricky Craven, Johnny Benson, Kenny Schrader, Terry Blount, Marty Smith, David Newton, Ryan McGee, Ed Hinton and Dr. Jerry Punch all contribute to ESPN's NASCAR TV content. That is what they do for a living.
Just as there are a limited number of seats for drivers in the Sprint Cup Series, there are a limited number of opportunities on the TV side of the NASCAR fence. ESPN filled those TV seats long before the season started. That is why someone must be pushed aside to make room for Edwards on the Monday NASCAR Now program.
Whenever Edwards shows up in the TV booth or studio, he is taking advantage of a fundamental conflict of interest. He is welcomed as a current NASCAR driver of whom the ESPN personalities would normally ask questions. Instead, Edwards has perfected the transition to an analyst offering comments of his own.
That immediately changes the on-air dynamic because none of the ESPN personalities have been involved in the racing. Suddenly, there is someone on the set who can top any opinion they have to offer because only he has been there and done that. It puts the ESPN analysts in a very awkward position.
At age 31, it certainly does not appear that Edwards will be retiring from driving soon and seeking a TV career. While other NASCAR stars like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are TV friendly, there has never been an ongoing dynamic quite like the current Edwards situation.
When SPEED asked Elliott Sadler to join the network's RaceHub show for a Monday segment, it was because Sadler had left the Sprint Cup Series. In his current TV roles, Edwards continually puts himself in the position of offering commentary on athletes, owners and team members with whom he actively competes.
This season there have been several other drivers who have visited the NASCAR Now studios and appeared on camera. While those appearances were strictly for publicity, the Monday Edwards appearance feels much more like an audition.
It should be interesting to see what ESPN TV role might be assumed by Edwards as the network takes over the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series telecasts for the rest of the season beginning with the Brickyard 400 in two weeks.
How do you feel about this issue? Many fans enjoyed Edwards on the air from the ESPN infield pit studio on Saturday after his car fell out of the Nationwide Series race. Others felt that his ability to step into that type of national TV exposure was unfair to his competitors.
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