Tuesday, February 21, 2012

ESPN Sets NASCAR Starting Line-Ups

This is season number six of NASCAR on ESPN. Along the way, there have been ups and downs as there always are in any major event series on national TV. This year, the core of the line-up is returning but there are some changes.

Heading into Daytona, it will be Allen Bestwick stepping into the Lead Announcer role in the TV booth replacing Marty Reid. Last year, Bestwick was inserted into this role just before ESPN's Chase coverage began.

Reid was relegated to the Nationwide Series races for the remainder of the season, but is not returning for Daytona. Reid's name is listed as an occasional host for the NASCAR Now program, but expect to see him back on ESPN's IndyCar races and working select Nationwide Series telecasts in the booth.

Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree are the workhorses for ESPN's NASCAR coverage. Petree has been there for the duration with Jarrett now firmly entrenched in a role the network first gave to Rusty Wallace. The current pairing is working just fine.

Wallace continues his role as an infield analyst alongside Brad Daugherty on the NASCAR Countdown program hosted by Nicole Briscoe. This season Daugherty continues as a Sprint Cup Series owner, but Wallace had to put his Nationwide efforts on hold. That was especially difficult for him as it left several family members, including son Steven, unemployed.

Briscoe has proven effective in the role of getting comments on specific topics from the infield analysts without clogging up the live telecasts as ESPN tended to do in the past. She has also proven to be a trooper during rain delays and even weathered the emotional storm after friend and IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon lost his life in a racing accident.

Dr. Jerry Punch told Scenedaily.com that he has settled his differences with Kurt Busch after an incident last year that ultimately cost Busch his ride. Punch returns to anchor the same pit road crew of Jamie Little, Vince Welch and Dave Burns. Expect to see Mike Massaro and Shannon Spake in these roles as well as the season progresses.

Briscoe and Massaro will once again team up to host NASCAR Now from ESPN2's Bristol, CT headquarters. We mentioned Reid may also appear, as will in-house ESPN announcers Lindsay Czarniak, Mike Yam and Michelle Bonner.

Marty Smith returns as Lead Reporter with Spake also working for the show on the road. Contributors include Ryan McGee, Terry Blount, David Newton, Ed Hinton and former pit crew member D.J. Copp.

To add a little zest to the weekend preview version of NASCAR Now, ESPN hired AJ Allmendinger as a field reporter. His Daily Dinger feature will air on the weekend show and contain offbeat interviews with anyone and everyone he finds interesting.

ESPN announced this week the network extended the contract of analyst Ricky Craven. He will continue to work the weekend NASCAR Now shows from the studio as well as other programs during the week on other ESPN Networks. Craven also gets out of the office as he will work in the TV booth for five Nationwide Series races.

The two names expected to be included in the starting line-ups were Carl Edwards and Ray Evernham. Jack Roush flatly said last season that the reason Edwards will stop racing in the Nationwide Series in 2012 is to move into the booth with ESPN and become a "sportscaster."

Edwards most recent comments on the topic came to reporter Becca Gladden in an interview while Edwards was working on the air for the Golf Channel in Scottsdale, AZ. Edwards clearly enjoys TV work, but told Gladden his focus is driving in the Sprint Cup Series this season.

Evernham is a mystery. He says that he is finalizing some TV plans that will be announced soon, but is not named in ESPN's official news release. We do know that Evernham will not be back on SpeedCenter over on SPEED, where he has been replaced by Ricky Rudd.

Word on the street was that Evernham was rejoining ESPN in an analyst role that would keep him in the mix but not take up too much of his time. Since the one-hour Monday NASCAR Now show is gone, Evernham would be a natural for joining the mix either in the TV booth or infield as the season went along. We will keep you posted.

Finally, we have to celebrate the fact that Tim Brewer is ready for another season of being locked in the Tech Garage for the duration of the races with parts and pieces ready to go in case something happens on the track. Brewer puts a lot of time and effort into his work and has become something of a cult classic on ESPN's coverage.

There are three years remaining in the current NASCAR TV contract with negotiations expected to begin for a new agreement this season. Whether or not ESPN returns depends on a lot of factors, but NASCAR Chairman Brian France has said he would like ESPN to continue in the sport.

We welcome your comments on ESPN's starting line-ups for this season's NASCAR coverage. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

SPEED Sets 2012 Starting Line-Up

Things are in transition behind the scenes, but the folks at SPEED have unveiled their official starting line-ups for the 2012 NASCAR season. As expected, there are some changes in both on-air personnel and schedules.

The Monday through Thursday NASCAR Race Hub show has been back on the air for a couple of weeks. Steve Byrnes returns as host and Danielle Trotta as reporter. Larry McReynolds and former pit crew coach Matt Clark are being featured pre-season. Look for them to be joined by everyone from Jeff Hammond to Jimmy Spencer once things get rolling on track. This one-hour show still airs at 6PM ET with Byrnes live in studio, but the real travesty is no West Coast re-air. 7AM ET the next morning is the only repeat.

Speaking of McReynolds, he joins the NASCAR Race Day cast for the season. John Roberts returns as host with Kyle Petty and Kenny Wallace on the expert panel with McReynolds. Wendy Venturini, Rutledge Wood and Clark will be the reporters this season.

This show remains two-hours and ends when the Sprint Cup Series network TV pre-race show hits the air. The early exception is the week of the Daytona 500, where it will expand to three hours before FOX takes over. There will also be Race Day shows before the Bud Shootout and the Duels.

Both McReynolds and Hammond will be front and center on the NASCAR Performance series this season. SPEED added Trotta in a host role, in order to let McReynolds, Hammond and series regular Chad Knaus concentrate on the issues. Bootie Barker is the odd man out, he leaves after several seasons. The first show is Saturday, February 25 at 6:30PM ET.

SPEED's biggest NASCAR TV mess last season might have been Trackside. Formerly a hardcore race fan show it evolved into a mix of entertainment, interviews and embarrassment. This year Krista Voda will step into the host role to try and restore some order. Kyle Petty and Rutledge Wood will continue as panelists and controversial Marianela Pereyra will return as the show's reporter.

Ultimately, the SPEED executives just have to decide what they want this series to be and work toward that goal. Trying to mix serious interviews of NASCAR personalities with the clown act of Petty and Wood made no sense. Throwing the woefully unprepared Pereyra into the mix just deepened the mystery. What is this program all about? We will see shortly, as Trackside starts Saturday, February 25 at 4:30PM ET.

On the live event side, SPEED brings the same line-up back to cover the Duels. Voda and Hammond in the Hollywood Hotel with the NASCAR on FOX trio of Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and McReynolds in the booth. Byrnes, Dick Berggren and Matt Yocum will cover pit road.

For those asking, Michael Waltrip will be returning to his Camping World Truck Series role on SPEED as an analyst. He will be joined by Rick Allen and Phil Parsons in the booth with Ray Dunlap and Hermie Sadler on pit road. Voda will host the pre-race show. Sadler announced late last season he had been replaced on Race Day, but will be handling other on-air duties for SPEED like practice and qualifying shows.

Kenny Wallace is trying to make the Daytona 500 this season and it certainly sounds more and more like he is on the verge of wrapping his NASCAR driving career pretty soon. The NASCAR Media Group will follow Wallace and create a documentary of his efforts that will air on Wednesday, February 22 at 9PM ET.

Other SPEED favorites are also coming back. Adam Alexander anchors SpeedCenter, Dave Despain hosts Wind Tunnel and John Roberts is joined by Kyle Petty and Kenny Wallace for NASCAR Victory Lane. That show will now appear immediately after every Sprint Cup Series race, including the Saturday night events.

The full NASCAR TV schedule for all the TV networks involved in the sport will always be posted on the left side of this page and updated constantly with information on guests, on-air talent and topics.

We welcome your comments on SPEED's starting line-ups for 2012. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

"Roundtable" Latest NASCAR TV Victim

It had become a tradition on Mondays for many fans to tune into Allen Bestwick and his expert panel as NASCAR Now took a full hour and reviewed the happenings of the race weekends. That tradition has now come to an end.

Bestwick had originally coined the term roundtable as the continually changing ESPN2 set had the panelists literally spread out around a huge table. It was always fun to see what had changed early in the series and just who was seated around the host.

This week in a brief and lifeless media release ESPN confirmed that another slice has been chopped off the NASCAR Now pie. The Monday show now joins the Tuesday through Friday programs as 30 minutes long. The roundtable is no more.

TV series have interesting lives and NASCAR Now is no exception. Originally hosted by a lawyer and an urban DJ, neither of whom had ever attended a race, the program stumbled out of the gate and then lost all sense of direction.

Erik Kuselias and Doug Banks combined to produce some of the worst NASCAR TV in history. Here is a little trip down memory lane.

"NASCAR Now: ESPN2's Dismal Failure" from March of 2007.

"ESPN2's NASCAR Now Gets Lost In Translation" from early May of 2007.

After three months of chaos, a moment in time finally happened for both the show and the entire production team. One man changed the course of the entire series.

"Allen Bestwick Rocks NASCAR Now To Its Core" from late May of 2007.

This from a reader comment on that post: " When I heard AB’s voice I started jumping around the room like a kid on Christmas morning!"

Eventually, Kuselias and Banks left the program. The network brought in Ryan Burr from ESPNEWS and then made the move toward a larger group of experienced on-camera personalities with a background in the sport. At the heart of this group was Bestwick.

Veteran fans can remember Bestwick's painful firing from the Monday night TV franchise on SPEED originally called Inside Winston Cup Racing. After a change in management at the network, Bestwick and Johnny Benson were fired for not being "exciting enough" for NASCAR TV.

Bestwick, Benson, Kenny Schrader and Michael Waltrip had gone from a poorly-produced cable TV show on an obscure network to a smash hit as SpeedVision transitioned to SPEED and NASCAR content moved front and center.

"Can Allen Bestwick Save NASCAR Now?" was a TDP post from February of 2008. ESPN had given Bestwick an expanded one-hour show on Mondays and the opportunity to have a panel of experts with him to talk racing. That format certainly sounded familiar.

For the past four years, Bestwick and his Monday roundtable production team have produced some of the best NASCAR TV ever seen. Hundreds of personalities have been featured as guests. Theme shows involved racing brothers, former teammates and regular off-week panels of NASCAR journalists. It was a diverse mix of content.

Viewers got to see Ray Evernham, Randy LaJoie and Ricky Craven make an impressive trio of panelists. Names like Ed Hinton, Ryan McGee and Marty Smith made a Monday impact. Fans were able to put faces with the familiar names of working NASCAR journalists like Jenna Fryer, Nate Ryan and Jim Utter.

Bestwick's ultimate revenge happened last season when two new names were added to the list of Monday panelists. It made quite a sight when Bestwick appeared on NASCAR Now once again alongside Benson and Schrader. With Ricky Craven or Ray Evernham playing the Michael Waltrip role, a bit of the old magic seemed to return with that combination.

The writing on the wall for NASCAR Now appeared when ESPN created the Sports Nation show. Bumped from its 5PM ET timeslot, NASCAR Now was pushed all the way back to 3PM in the afternoon as ESPN2 continued to expand the daily sports talk franchise.

During that shift, the West Coast re-air of the show was also scrapped. Once again this season it will sometimes appear after midnight at different times, but is often just cancelled. NASCAR Now went from a featured TV product to the ESPN scrap heap in a relatively short time.

The only remaining hour in the line-up is the weekend preview show that airs at 9AM on either Saturday or Sunday depending on the day of the race. Ricky Craven will continue to appear on that program with hosts Mike Massaro and Nicole Briscoe. ESPN will also use in-house announcers like Lindsay Czarniak and Michelle Bonner to host as needed.

There are three years remaining in ESPN's existing NASCAR contract to show all the Nationwide and the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series races. While things can always change, it once again appears that NASCAR Now will be DVR Theater for those who care as the new season gets underway on Monday, February 13.

It would not be fair to just let the big Monday show leave quietly. A good TV hour of reviewing three races, having a featured interview and then a robust discussion of the current NASCAR news will be missed. Thanks to Bestwick and all the production staff who worked hard on this program for the past four years.

We welcome your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.