Wednesday, February 28, 2007

NASCAR Now: Attack of the COT's

"I saw the Reutimann crash, it looked pretty safe to me...that car." These words came out of NASCAR Now host Erik Kuselias' mouth on Wednesday, as the program tackled the issue of the "Car of Tomorrow." This type of baiting tells the background of Kuselias in sports radio, where everything has to be a debate and talk is cheap.

Shannon Spake filed a nice report on COT testing at Bristol, only to be followed by poor Brad Daugherty, who Kuselias is now referring to as "The Professor." Also on the panel was a pit crew member from Dale Jr.'s team and a sports journalist. This is the threesome that ESPN selected to comment on the first test of the biggest thing to hit NASCAR since the HANS device.

The network employs Stacy Compton, Rusty Wallace, Tim Brewer, Alan Bestwick, Marty Smith, and Andy Petree. But, the best they could do for the COT debut was a basketball player, a front tire changer, and a journalist. Who is making the decisions up in Bristol and did he go to an ACC school?

The entire half hour had no technical breakdown of the COT, never showed inside the car, and didn't detail why the changes needed to happen. ESPN does not know NASCAR, and it is showing on NASCAR Now. While this boggles the mind, it is clear that no matter what happens, there is a huge learning curve that the Bristol-based production team has to go through.

Thankfully, Brian Vickers stopped by from Bristol, TN to speak clearly about the driver and team issues with the COT, and fill-in the blanks that ESPN did not. Kuselias is best when he is chasing a news story, and not when he is leading a discussion about a topic he does not truly understand. He may be loud, but he needs to tread lightly where NASCAR fans are concerned, because it is clear that his enthusiasm far outweighs his current racing knowledge.

NASCAR Now: Tuesday Accident Hysteria

Nothing could be more indicative of the difference in experience between the rookies at ESPN and the veterans of NASCAR than Tuesday's NASCAR Now. David Reutimann's Fontana accident was replayed ten times in the first segment of the show with host Ed Kuselias absolutely beside himself that ESPN had some wonderful "NASCAR violence."

Then, of course, ESPN made the mistake of having Reutimann on the show, along with his cousin/spotter. Their calm demeanor and veteran perspective on this incident completely rained on the "excitement parade" that ESPN and NASCAR Now had carefully arranged. The hysteria of Kuselias was changed to the reality of racing by guest Boris Said, who explained NASCAR's safety items to the audience, and also possibly to Kuselias.

ESPN really needed their best weapon Stacy Compton on the set, and possibly in the pre-show production meeting. One has the feeling that Compton would have helped the Connecticut staff put a "racing incident" in perspective. Perhaps, he would have pointed out that replaying this one crash ten times in the first segment of the show was a little bit "amateurish."

Earnhardt Jr. pit crew member DJ Copp was tapped to cement the Anheuser-Busch relationship with ESPN with some on-camera time. He also basically disagreed with almost every over-hyped line that Kuselias gave him, as the host tried to declare that Matt Kenseth won because of "big trouble" in the pits for other crews. Copp quietly poured water on Kuselias, and pointed out the small issues with the Johnson crew and then gave a very rational preview of the changes for Vegas in the fuel cell because of tire wear. Nice job by Mr. Copp.

NASCAR Now is beginning to feel the effects of being in the Bristol, CT "outpost" in the dead of winter, even as the NASCAR family begins its season many miles away. The show continues to be more of a SportsCenter/Gameday mix than the re-birth of RPM2Nite. There is so much information and news that can be found on racing, team, and media websites that never makes this show, it still forces racing fans to return to the web for more information. Unfortunately, the website is woefully inadequate in its efforts to support the millions of dollars the network paid for the Busch Series rights. Even has become an ESPN clone, devoid of the normal gossip and inside info that brought Jay to the forefront. So far, ESPN has proven to be a stick-and-ball company struggling to deal with the reality of NASCAR within the Bristol, CT headquarters.

Monday, February 26, 2007

SPEED: Inside NEXTEL Cup - Fontana

Michael Waltrip continues to be the story of Inside NEXTEL Cup on SPEED. Seemingly unfazed that a television program is going on around him, Waltrip stares off-set, drinks beverages on-camera, and generally says whatever he wants, whenever he wants, for the better part of an hour. In this week's episode, his phone even rang in mid-segment.

Also this week, Waltrip made a determined effort to carry on a running conversation with Kenny Schrader and guest Reed Sorenson that rarely included series host Dave Despain. His pleas of "let's get back to the highlights" and "could we get back on track?" were largely ignored.

The show glossed over Waltrip's failure to qualify for Fontana, and then stood-by and allowed Waltrip to promo DirecTV's Hot Pass. For some reason, the lead team owner and top driver for Toyota stayed at Fontana to announce Dale Jr's race in the Budweiser Chevrolet. It might have helped if Despain had asked why Waltrip did this, and how Toyota might have felt. Unfortunately, Despain is so intimidated by Waltrip this will never happen.

Give Despain his due, he has been placed in this show by SPEED management, and after the cancellation of Wind Tunnel's weekday edition, this provides him one additional show to host each week. Unfortunately, he is a fish out of water.

Despain announced that Greg Biffle will soon be a show regular, and it begs the question of what other changes this show will undergo in two weeks? Certainly, things cannot go on much longer the way they are. While Alan Bestwick always used to claim there was chaos going on, he knew just how to talk to "NASCAR guys," and how to reign them in when they needed it. And, as veteran viewers know, they usually need it...a lot. This series was one of the cornerstones for SpeedVision, and then a hit show for SPEED Channel for years. Now, its struggling for its fundamental survival.

NASCAR Now: Midnight at Fontana

Stacy Compton continues to be the voice of reason for ESPN's Connecticut-based studio show. Seated alongside a former radio host, and teamed with a non-racing columnist, Compton offers calm and rational explanations amid the ESPN hype.

Erik Kuselias continues to be energetic, but this is not radio. His volume rises with each passing minute, as though he is about to take a live call from Vinnie in the Bronx about the Mets. Someone needs to help him with the fact it is only February. The next time he looks up it will be November, and that's ten long months of daily NASCAR shows. Drivers are not the only ones that need to pace themselves. He has a lot of potential, but not every news item is a crisis.

The mysterious Angelique Chengelis appeared again, without any explanation of who she is, where she works, or how she got to be an "Insider." I assume she is a journalist, but even on Around the Horn they explain where the reporters work. Her thirty seconds on Mark Martin not changing his plans for 2007 after two races was good, but wouldn't it be news if he did change his plans? As Stacy Compton said, "Mark usually does what he says."

Finally, Tim Cowlishaw now has that "deer in the headlights" look as the season is progressing. Tim is a great conversationalist, but he is constantly asked to comment on news stories as if he can somehow add another dimension to reality. His plea for Mark Martin to change his plans and race the full NEXTEL Cup schedule this year were ridiculous.

Thank goodness for Rusty Wallace and Mike Massaro. These two professionals lend some needed credibility to the "racing news" that the program is based upon. Massaro reporting from the track, and Rusty interviewed live on-camera, are two key elements that a new series like NASCAR Now needs often.

The staff of NASCAR Now might just take a moment and review some of the RPM2Nite tapes with the classy John Kernan hosting a fast-paced news-oriented show with little hype and lots of information.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Fox Sports: NEXTEL Cup - Fontana

In the past, this publication has taken issue with the Fox philosophy of following the leader, and leaving the racing and the incidents to the fine art of the replay. At Fontana, the "NASCAR on Fox" production team used the two mile track to allow a larger amount of racing to be covered, and stories to emerge.

Despite the highly-touted debut of the new Hollywood Hotel, there were no guests on the set, which was curious at a location like Fontana, where celebrities usually abound. Considering years past, things were very different this time.

Mike, Larry, and DW continue to have an easy manner about them, and seem to be invigorated by the great finish at Daytona. Mike Joy and Krista Voda still struggle to mesh, but as the new member of the team, these small issues are to be expected. Voda is a better host than reporter, and her presence in the Hollywood Hotel might be a very interesting twist later in the season.

Unfortunately, an old issue arose for the Fox team that had fans nationwide standing and shaking their fists at the screen. After a long pre-race, an even longer race, and then a final red flag, one thing should have been written in cement. All drivers are to be shown crossing the finish line with the live scoring on the screen. Fox chose to leave the track the moment the winner crossed the line, showing absolutely no one else finish. What an amazingly poor production choice. And this after several years of solid TV experience for the Fox crew.

This issue was raised in the first year of Fox's coverage, and was soon put to bed with a wideshot and scoring monitor inserted at the end of events. Certainly, Daytona was different with the accident at the end, but this was a big mistake. Just imagine, only one car was shown ending the race after hours of TV viewing by die hard loyal fans. This needs to be fixed, and fixed fast.
Finally, the decision to show an unconscious David Reutimann in his wrecked race car might be discussed more than the Daytona late caution. It quieted the veteran announcers immediately, and certainly stunned viewers. If it was a production mistake, there should have been an apology. If not, then Fox is going to have some explaining to do. This is not DirecTV, pay-per-view, or cable television. Fox is an FCC regulated broadcast network, this was a live telecast of a family sport, and NASCAR officially sanctioned this telecast. If Reutimann had not awakened and had been seriously injured, what would Fox have to say for itself? I certainly hope SPEED addresses this issue on Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing Monday night.

SPEED: RaceDay - Fontana

It certainly is a comfort to have only positive things to say about the RaceDay show from Fontana. On the second racing weekend of the season, this show has used its Daytona momentum to continue to re-define great NASCAR television.

There was no better example of this than Wendy Venturini's interview with Robin Pemberton. Venturini carries the pedigree that allows her to venture into territory where other reporters would not be allowed. Pemberton answered the hard questions about Daytona's "caution-gate" with sincerity and ease. This was a solid response by SPEED to NASCAR President Mike Helton being interviewed on NASCAR Now the Monday after Daytona.

John Roberts continues to out-shine Brent Musburger while leading a band of absolutely diverse personalities through a multi-hour live program. Where else but SPEED can the questionable hair of Jimmy Spencer sit alongside the "sleeved out" tattooed arms of Riki Rachtman while they give each other grief about fantasy race picks? Even when faced with interviewing the actors in the new Fox show Drive, Roberts makes what could be an awkward time comfortable for the non-racing Hollywood types. What can't this guy do?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

ESPN: Busch Series Countdown - Fontana

"You're looking live..." was Brent Musburger's signature line during his days at CBS Sports several decades ago. The fact that ESPN has chosen this man, and that line, to begin their brand new NASCAR Busch Series coverage remains puzzling. Musburger's confusion with NASCAR's junior series reminds one of Keith Jackson struggling for player names in his later football days.

Musburger is a New Yorker with absolutely no NASCAR credentials who has been placed in the forefront of the ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 coverage. Why? Veteran voices like Bob Jenkins, Eli Gold, Ralph Shaheen or Alan Bestwick would fit in nicely with ESPN and lend an air of credibility that Musburger will never enjoy. In the well-rehearsed Fontana opening, Musburger struggled again with racing terminology and a fundamental understanding of this complex and demanding sport. With all due respect, this is not football or baseball. This is a cult, and good announcers know that fans are "in the know" about their driver and team.

Musberger handed off to Brad Daugherty who again had trouble getting through his news story about Toyota, only to be saved by veteran Tim Brewer, who summed up in thirty seconds what it had been taking Daugherty several minutes to say. Musburger actually introduced Daugherty by saying he was once a Busch Series owner whose car actually won one race. Ouch.

Luckily, the ESPN ground troops are there to save the day again. The always reliable Alan Bestwick, quirky Dave Burns, and solid newcomer Jamie Little provide excellent interviews and good news reporting from all around the track. The feature on Kevin Harvick was an excellent touch, and the type of opportunity that ESPN needs to give Daugherty to increase his credibility with the viewers and teams.

Even when dealing directly with Rusty Wallace, Musburger has trouble speaking the racing language. Wallace always handles these moments well, and has proven to be exactly what ESPN wanted in their franchise player. Once the booth announcers are on, the difference between the pros and the pretenders is quite clear. Hopefully, ESPN will take a lesson from Fox and put Wallace on the pre-race set to lend additional credibility to Tim Brewer's comments. Jeff Hammond and Darrell Waltrip allow each topic to be approached from a driver and crew chief perspective, which really allows for two schools of thought on one subject to be brought out. This is one key element missing with ESPN.

In week two, ESPN continues to deal with problems on the infield set, and needs to remember that both Fox and NBC had great success with their pre-race shows by defining a purpose. The War Wagon and The Hollywood Hotel both became solid elements for those networks. It seems that for ESPN, shaking off the "Gameday" mentality and defining a purpose may take a bit longer.

ESPN: NASCAR Now - Friday Night

With only a short time on the air, ESPN2's NASCAR Now has shown us flashes of brilliance mixed with confusing arrogance. There is no other way to categorize the decision-making that results in an endless flow of different faces who speak on topics and then vanish into thin air. Media types call it the "SportsCenter syndrome." Every news story has to be followed by a team of "experts" that sit in an studio ready to tell us how much they know...and remind us of how much we don't.

NASCAR Now has hosted NASCAR President Mike Helton on the phone to explain in-person his "Daytona caution" decision, and then in the same week had college basketball's Brad Daugherty make a complete fool of himself while trying to explain sponsor conflicts as a "NASCAR expert."

They have had analyst Stacy Compton brilliantly break-down the final lap of the Daytona 500, and then had journalist Tim Cowlishaw offer bizarre opinions on issues from sponsorship to driver performance. Cowlishaw's general conversations are fine on Around the Horn, but ridiculous on NASCAR Now. Apparently, Mr. Obvious appears on more than just "The Bob and Tom Show."

Finally, Mark Martin races in his first NASCAR event since Daytona, and is spun-out on a late restart in the Fontana NCTS race. Heartbreak again live on national TV in primetime on Friday night. Should it have been the lead story on NASCAR Now? Absolutely. Did the Disney/ABC/ESPN executives allow a SPEED Channel race to lead their show? Absolutely not. The entire truck race coverage consisted of thirty-five seconds of video highlights at the end of the show. There was absolutely no interview of the winner, no reaction from Martin himself, and no conversation with Daytona 500 winner Harvick, who also drove in the race.

ESPN has to make a decision, and they need to make it fast. Are they here as a NASCAR TV partner, or here to be a self-serving ego-driven company? I know memories are short, but the last time NASCAR walked away from ESPN it was for exactly that reason. NASCAR had lost patience with the fact that ESPN thought it was bigger than the sport. The anger of that moment might have faded over the years, but the shaky start of NASCAR Now in reference to news judgement and fairness hints at the same problems the network has with other sports. Someone needs to step-up, and steer this ship in the right direction.

Friday, February 23, 2007

SPEED: NCTS Set-Up Show at Fontana

SPEED's decision to formalize a thirty minute pre-race show for each NCTS event is beginning to pay dividends. Finally, the drivers and teams of this struggling series will be provided some critical TV support programming. This type of "preview show" was instrumental in attracting the new legion of fans to the NEXTEL Cup Series, and may wind-up being exactly what the NCTS needs...desperately.

Krista Voda has returned to SPEED, and positioned herself as the energetic cheerleader of this series. She is key to the success or failure of this program, and needs the remainder of the reporting and announcing team to step-up to her level of professionalism and emotion. Her ability to partner with Mark Martin for Daytona's NCTS pre-race show was memorable in light of the passing of Bobby Hamilton Sr. The chemistry between the two was obvious.

The challenge for SPEED is to begin to add more features like the outstanding and emotional profile of Jack Sprague. Voda is a veteran feature reporter, and is especially adept at bringing out the emotion in her pre-produced pieces. Perhaps, pit reporters Ray Dunlap and Adam Alexander will branch out and begin to add this kind of humanistic feature reporting to their resumes.

Veteran media types know just how crucial this year of television coverage is for the continued success of this series. With only 34 trucks racing at Fontana, and at least four teams of questionable character, NASCAR needs to pull-out all the stops in cross-promoting the NCTS on the NASCAR TV partners. The first call from NASCAR needs to be directly to the NASCAR Now producers in Bristol, CT.

If ESPN continues to choose to ignore this series, they can lower its value in future NASCAR TV negotiations with the network, or end it outright and allow the spotlight to shine on ESPN's exclusive Busch Series coverage. The ball is in NASCAR's court to troubleshoot this problem of ESPN ignoring one of NASCAR's three national divisions. And make no mistake, they are ignoring it.

SPEED, on the other hand, needs to get its own troops in order. The NCTS is the only national NASCAR series racing on SPEED, and that needs to reflect itself in SPEED's other programs. The management at SPEED needs to inject NCTS features and highlights in Raceday, Inside NEXTEL Cup, The SPEED Report, and WindTunnel. As SPEED and NASCAR Images continue to re-define their relationship, let's hope the good racing and colorful personalities of the NCTS do not fall by the wayside.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

NASCAR Now: Shell Oil vs. NASCAR

Recovering from a difficult showing at Daytona, Erik Kuselias and the NASCAR Now crew broke out their hard news right up-front on Thursday. Marty Smith has been returned to his status as "NASCAR Insider," and spoke plainly about the visibility of the Shell Oil company promoting their gasoline brand with Kevin Harvick, and why Sunoco was upset. Smith was well-informed, and explained both sides of the issue. He left as a weekend teaser the fact that RCR is "expected" to change Harvick's logos back to a Shell Oil non-gasoline brand at the next event.

Then, just like a lingering Daytona hangover that will not go away, the screen revealed Brad Daugherty and Tim Cowlishaw. Welcome back to Around the Horn, or maybe College Gameday. While both of these men are classy and well-spoken, they have absolutely no first-hand knowledge about the sport of NASCAR. Especially when following Marty Smith. Daugherty spoke incorrectly about race team and NASCAR sponsorships conflicting, and he never even referenced Alltel, Cingular, or NEXTEL. What he said was just fundamentally wrong. These exact type of issues have been around for years, and NASCAR makes it perfectly clear what limits teams can go to in terms of products and logos.
For some reason, Mr. Cowlishaw appeared as if he had just awoken from a nap, and forgot to look in the mirror before his TV appearance. His comments reflected someone who was perhaps still a bit groggy. This is not a talk show, and Cowlishaw's role is ill-defined. He is forced to "comment" on topics under discussion, but in the NASCAR world he has no credibility. We have seen NASCAR and all its TV support programming grow over the last ten years. What we have not seen, at any time in that mix, was Mr. Cowlishaw.

The racing chat rooms and forum boards are all asking the same question, why does ESPN need a non-racing journalist and a famous basketball player on their NASCAR coverage? Cowlishaw is great on Around the Horn, and Daugherty is an authority on the college hoop game. Perhaps, ESPN might consider adding more content for newer fans, or more field-produced features that tell personal stories of the sport.
The last time ESPN tried a Bristol, Connecticut based show about NASCAR, they quickly found that no matter how hard they tried, NASCAR did not live in New England. Its lives in Mooresville, Concord, and the greater Lake Norman, North Carolina area. Moving RPM2Nite to Charlotte changed everything. Maybe NASCAR Now is beginning the slow trip through the same cycle. Only time will tell.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

NASCAR Now: Mike Helton Speaks

Wow! What a difference a day makes. NASCAR Now host Erik Kuselias returned to his studio hosting role and led a fast-paced thirty minute program on Monday that can be defined by only one word...excellent. This is the reason ESPN returned to NASCAR news after SPEED Channel passed time-and-time again on an opportunity to establish its own daily news program. Here are some highlights:

  • NASCAR President Mike Helton appeared via telephone and spoke plainly and in very clear terms about the caution flag controversy at the finish. Like it or not, Helton put to bed any additional speculation about NASCAR's "motives" by appearing live on ESPN2.

  • Marty Smith returned to his best role as "news man," and broke the scoop that Mark Martin will likely run the Pepsi 400 this season. Smith has a credibility when he is reporting and speaks with a sincerity that a new program like NASCAR Now needs.

  • Mike Massaro brings his strong field reporting skills to the show in a manner that is always factual and fast-paced. His report comparing Harvick to Earnhardt Sr. featured exclusive sound from Richard Childress, and left no doubt that Massaro is the top NASCAR field reporter at ESPN.

  • The surprise of the show is Stacy Compton. ESPN should have left Chris Fowler, Brad Daugherty, and Brent Musburger at home when they went to Daytona, and just featured Stacy Compton with Kuselias. His moment-by-moment break down of the final lap of the Daytona 500 was the best explanation of what happened, why it happened, and what NASCAR was thinking. Even Mike Helton complimented Compton on his analysis of the situation. What more can ESPN ask from a rookie announcer?

  • Taking the time to put the 2007 Daytona 500 in historical perspective was a great idea, and shows the maturity of the ESPN studio production team. With the network returning to NASCAR after six years, its important to establish that they understand the history of the sport, and more important, that they respect it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Daytona: The Review


  • Fantastic Craftsman Truck race with outstanding technical pictures and sound, beating Fox Sports at its own game. The Truck race was the highlight of the week because of the continual action throughout the event. Phil Parsons is at the top of his game, and continues to show the class of the Parsons family. Krista Voda is simply wonderful, welcome back.
  • Raceday is too long, too loud, and too over-the-top...and that is why we love it! No one can make you nuts like Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace, who represent either everything that is wrong with this country, or everything that is good about it. This is the franchise for SPEED, and John Roberts is the best TV traffic cop in the business since Brent Musberger on the NFL Today. Does that make Wendy Venturini the new Phyllis George?
  • Victory Lane continues to be a quiet little jewel of a show that many people miss. The immediate winner interview, the emotion of the car owner, crew chief, family members, and the actual on-scene location cannot be beat. More interviews should be done, and the program should be as casual as possible, but it certainly has the potential to be what NASCAR needs, a live TV window into the post-race activity.
  • Inside NEXTEL Cup needs some fixing. Either everyone is going to play nice, or this is going to be a repeat of the 2006 stand-off between Michael Waltrip and Dave Despain. Time to sort out what the network wants, and make the changes needed for this show to continue its long run.


  • NASCAR Now was interesting with Erik Kuselias, and a disaster with Chris Fowler. Why did the network think that the College Gameday host would be a better fit for Daytona? Credit to Rusty Wallace, Shannon Spake, Marty Smith, and Alan Bestwick for hanging-in regardless of the level of knowledge on the set. And often, there just wasn't much.
  • The Daytona Busch Race was a nice solid performance by Jerry Punch to shake the rust off a long break from NASCAR. Rusty Wallace was solid, informative, and a good counterpoint to Andy Petree. ESPN delivered a strong technical performance, and clearly set the table for their future NEXTEL Cup debut. This is a network that wants more of NASCAR.

Fox Sports

  • The Daytona 500 on Fox was a mixture of strong performances and strange happenings. Mike Joy is clearly the best at his craft, and Larry McReynolds remains as intense as ever. The surprise was Darrell Waltrip. Though he should be banned from discussing any aspect of Toyota or Michael Waltrip Racing before the event, things changed when the racing began. Darrell Waltrip has grown up. His focus was strong, his comments interesting, and his composure never wavered. This was his strongest color commentary performance since he joined the network. The downside of the race was the TV directing focusing endlessly on the leaders, this has to stop. Also, the reluctance to use the in-car audio because a Fox sister company, DirecTV, was selling the "Hot Pass." The lack of driver, spotter, and crew chief chatter left a hole in the telecast that should have been filled.

Monday, February 19, 2007

SPEED: Inside Nextel Cup

SPEED brought the studio debut of Inside Nextel Cup to the air Monday night without explaining what had changed since 2006. While host Dave Despain jokingly mentioned the fact that the set had new chairs, he failed to mention why Brian Vickers was no longer on the show, or why Greg Biffle was alongside the nine year regulars Kenny Schrader and Michael Waltrip.

This show has changed everything but Schrader and Waltrip over the better part of the last decade, and the 2007 version appears to be struggling. From the moment the first video of the studio appeared, Waltrip's body language betrayed his disgust with Despain continuing as the host. Michael has made no bones about his displeasure with the demise of Alan Bestwick in mid-season after a change in SPEED Channel management. Original panelist Johnny Benson was also dismissed during that shake-up.

Without Vickers, Despain seems to be the odd man out as he tries to lead a highlight discussion over the course of an entire hour. The three drivers barely even acknowledge his presence on the show, which begs the question of why he is still the host? The series was much better when the drivers were allowed to speak freely without interruption, a concept which Alan Bestwick understood and Mr. Despain cannot conquer. Clearly, the drivers must allow Despain to read his highlights and ask his questions, but the content of the show comes from the interaction between the drivers...period.

From the delightful Wendy Venturini to the noticeably absent Ralph Shaheen, SPEED has many other Charlotte area personalities who could step into a less formal and more cooperative role as the host for this weekly series. With the elimination of Vickers, a change at the host position is the one tweak this series needs to step-up to the level of the fun Raceday and the informative Victory Lane. SPEED needs to pay attention to this franchise, as all the other NASCAR-related programming that used to fill Monday night on the network is gone, a victim of NASCAR Images and SPEED's inability to cooperate for the overall good of the sport.

This is a pivotal year for NASCAR on SPEED, and the senior management needs to sit down and troubleshoot the problems with this former all-star performer.

ESPN: NASCAR Now - Midnight at Daytona

Leave it to Jeff Burton, speaking to reporters at the Media Center, to be the sole voice to discuss the single most pressing issue after the Daytona 500. Why did NASCAR violate their own rules by not putting out the caution flag when cars began spinning on the frontstretch at Daytona?

Regardless of the drivers involved, regardless of the track, and regardless of the race, NASCAR owes it to the integrity of the sport to remain true to their own rulebook. The sanctioning body likes to describe itself as a rival to sports like the NFL. Does any sports fan believe that the NFL would not call a penalty because the final pass of the game was in the air? Would they watch the clock run out but let the final field goal be kicked? This is exactly the type of quandary that NASCAR finds itself in all too often. They chose entertainment over safety, and then put pressure on the media to deflect the topic. And ESPN buckled like a snowman on a hot summer day.

During its last appearance at Daytona, ESPN used Kenny Mayne as the infield studio host, a person who had absolutely no understanding or experience with NASCAR. Now, six years later, the network brings Chris Fowler to Daytona with exactly the same level of NASCAR knowledge. Why? Fowler was a grinning and head-shaking host who occasionally acknowledged his basketball partner Brad Daugherty, who once again interacted with, and interviewed, no one.

ESPN Analyst Rusty Wallace said "there was nothing to gain by throwing the caution" about NASCAR's decision to delay the yellow flag. Luckily, he said that to race winner Kevin Harvick who was seated on ESPN's NASCAR Now set. Perhaps, Mark Martin, Ryan Permberton, Bobby Ginn, and the remainder of the 01 team might have disagreed with Wallace had they been present.

Tim Cowlishaw has worked hard to build-up his TV credibility with his Around the Horn appearances, but during his NASCAR Now post-race segment he avoided any journalistic issues, as if he had been told to tow the company line. Cowlishaw, like Daugherty, has no defined role on this program and never raised one hard news issue during the entire Daytona SpeedWeek.

ESPN has tried to put ten pounds of TV announcers in a five pound bag. Mysterious figures like Angelique Chengelis and Jeremy Shapp appeared from no where, only to report briefly and never be seen again. Who is Ms. Chengelis and why is she a "NASCAR Insider?" Why is former "Insider" Marty Smith now a pit reporter type? What did he do to lose his "Insider" membership status?

Hopefully, ESPN will tone down their on-track presence to a manageable number of experienced anchors and reporters. This sport does not need the TV hype of College Gameday and the high-profile of ESPN anchors. The network needs to concentrate on the reality of the daily grind that ten months of hard work and travel demand from hundreds of NASCAR teams and crew members.

At Daytona, SPEED Channel rolled out their successful Raceday and Victory Lane programs with overwhelming fan response. ESPN is playing catch-up to an established and appreciated SPEED and Fox combination that played a significant role in the current success of NASCAR. No matter how insulated things are in Bristol, Connecticut, ESPN needs to re-tool their NASCAR Now effort prior to the next race in California.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Fox Sports: Daytona 500

Every season Fox Sports sets the racing chat boards and forums on fire with their chosen NASCAR philosophy of following the leader...literally. This season's Daytona 500 proved to be another example of how this practice leads to missing the racing action and all the excitement that goes with it. Time and time again, the cameras zoomed-in on the single file leaders, even as the pack battled three wide behind them. Welcome back to NASCAR on Fox.

The broadcast network breaks out all the technical toys, including the new High Definition in-car cameras and 3-D animated replays for Daytona, treating the race with the respect it deserves. Unfortunately, even with the quality announcers, a sold-out speedway, and a beautiful day, things began for 2007 as they had ended in 2006.

The group with whom I watched the race continually yelled "No" at the screen when the director instructed the camera to zoom-in once again on the first and second place cars. Fox continues to be baffled by the fact that leading a NASCAR race means very little until the end, and that is especially true of the Daytona 500. Frustration boiled over during the final twenty laps, when the Fox Director melted down into a confusing series of camera angles and in-car shots that proved to be disorienting for both the viewers and the announcers.

The final lap of the race was a well-deserved climax for Fox as the cameras missed the action, the announcers talked over each other, and for a period of several minutes it was impossible for fans at home to have any understanding of what had just happened. The meltdown was complete. Random shots of crashed cars, drivers walking away, other cars on the back stretch, and even one seemingly parked against the pit wall served to confirm how out-of-control this telecast had become. For one last time, Fox Sports had to roll-back replay after replay to explain to the viewers what they had missed. Only, in this case, "they" refers to the NASCAR on Fox production team...the replay kings.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

SPEED: Craftsman Trucks at Daytona

The Chevy Silverado HD 250 was the debut race for SPEED's 2007 coverage of the Craftsman Truck Series. After several years of experience, the network continues to provide outstanding pictures and sound that rivals the broadcast networks coverage of the NEXTEL Cup Series. From a truly technical standpoint, this event was a home run in terms of production and engineering.

Partnering with the production crew were booth announcers Rick Allen, Phil Parsons, and Michael Waltrip. They were supported on pit road by veteran Ray Dunlap and newcomer Adam Alexander. As with the 2006 season, Allen continues to struggle with his fit in racing, his terminology, and his style. His laid back commentary is more suited for baseball than racing, and his attempts to describe exciting on-track action and racing incidents leave him struggling to deal with fast-moving events.

Its clear that Phil Parsons should be given the opportunity to call a race in the play-by-play position with Michael Waltrip in the booth for color commentary. Phil balances Michael's commentary very well, and it is clear that Waltrip respects the former driver. Along with a strong pre-race show anchored by Krista Voda, Parsons and Waltrip could offer a stronger line-up to the racing fans than SPEED currently offers with Rick Allen. This is the only national NASCAR Series that SPEED produces, and it is time for Parsons to be rewarded for his hard work and dedication over the years.

This commentary would not be complete without a tip of the hat to both Krista Voda and Mark Martin for anchoring a pre-race show, in freezing temperatures, with class and dignity. Martin was surprisingly well-spoken on many topics, from current racing rookies to the untimely passing of both Bobby Hamilton Sr. and Benny Parsons. Krista Voda is continuing to prove over-and-over again that she is the only correct person to resurrect the network disaster that is the weekend SPEED Report. The network desperately needs her to restore credibility to their only national news program.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

SPEED: NASCAR RaceDay at Daytona

Before the Duels at Daytona, SPEED used a special edition of RaceDay to preview the two races. The comfort of John Roberts in directing traffic and controlling the cast of characters surrounding him continues to get better and better. Last season, this series really came to the forefront in midseason, and ended in Homestead on a very high note for the network. Now, as SPEED begins its biggest challenge of dealing with ESPN at every race, NASCAR RaceDay becomes their biggest weapon.

Certainly, the key to this program, aside from the announcers on set, is the talented Wendy Venturini. A program like RaceDay allows her to use the knowledge built up from her racing roots to relate to drivers and other racing personalities perhaps better than any other TV reporter at the present time. The odd man out is Bob Dilner, who has never fully recovered from his problems at Daytona last season. He seems strangely disconnected from the sport, and speaks in absolute terms about many topics that are perhaps not as urgent as he tries to make them.

As the Daytona 500 approaches, SPEED will unveil the Sunday edition of NASCAR RaceDay in all its glory. Let's hope that these early editions will remind the network that the show is doing just fine, and does not need the kind of major changes that have sunk so many other NASCAR-related SPEED series over the last five years. Does anyone remember Ms. Tweeden and NASCAR Nation? Enough said.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

ESPN: NASCAR Now with Chris Fowler

ESPN made the mistake of bringing in Chris Fowler to Daytona in the middle of the biggest breaking news story in some time. Regular host Erik Kuselias was nowhere in sight, and Fowler was clearly not a favorite of analyst Rusty Wallace. Barely hiding his disgust for Fowler's lack of racing knowledge, Rusty took it upon himself to correct and disagree with Fowler several times in the first segment of the program alone. Poor Boris Said, also on the set, was put in the position of peacemaker.

ESPN was clearly struggling with the on-going multiple suspension and fines stories, but Shannon Spake worked hard to relay as much information as possible when updating viewers on the Team Evernham problems. Kudos to Rusty Wallace for taking a critical view of NASCAR's penalties against Evernham. The death penalty for a speeding ticket, he remarked.
Fowler seemed amused by all this, chuckling openly about the "good old boys" and how they cheat. I felt at any moment he might update us on Ole Miss or the Crimson Tide, but he clearly had no clue about NASCAR. He also never explained his presence, or the absence of the regular host.
For some strange reason, ESPN's new field reporter Marty Smith was attired in a suit jacket and tie, even as he was summarily booted out of the #55 garage. Marty seems strangely confused about this live TV thing, and is going to face an interesting transition from internet reporter to high profile national TV personality. He is a smart and hard-working guy, so let's hope that the ESPN veterans help get him up to speed with the techniques he needs to perfect.
Somehow, Brad Daughtery, Bill Cowlishaw, and Chris Fowler in jackets and ties just do not represent NASCAR to me. ESPN needs to understand that NASCAR did just fine without them, and that the network needs to regain its credibility with viewers. NASCAR Now needs more hard news coverage, and less posing and preening from its Bristol, CT based announcers.

SPEED: Wednesday Practice, NASCAR Live, and the Waltrip announcement

Wednesday at Daytona Speedweek presents a complex challenge for a television network. NEXTEL Cup practice consists of two sessions, there is Truck practice in the late afternoon, then the Busch Series qualifies to round out the day. This year, added to the mix was the Michael Waltrip disaster, which was still a work-in-progress throughout the day. Luckily, this is the type of occasion that the combined resources of the SPEED and Fox Sports announcing teams can rise to with great success.

On the air live from 11:30 AM through 6 PM Eastern Time, SPEED showed the type of potential many believed was long overdue. With the entire stable of announcers on hand, the network stood-up at last and claimed its widely promoted former title as "The NASCAR Network."

Using the Craftsman Truck Series, Raceday, Fox Sports, Victory Lane, and Trackside announcers the network was smooth and top notch. Even Darrell Waltrip was circumspect in his comments on the pending actions by NASCAR against his brother Michael. The key to this blanket coverage was the efficient use of the mobile reporters covering all areas of the track. This included a gutsy Krista Voda standing in the Waltrip Racing garage even as the team's senior management was escorted from the track by NASCAR.

As the time of the MWR announcement drew close, credit goes to SPEED for approaching the issue as news, and not a media spectacle. There was even a tinge of sadness that once again the sport itself would have to endure a cheating scandal prior to the biggest race of the season. John Roberts deserves kudos for anchoring a flexible and spontaneous SPEED coverage throughout the day. Hermie Sadler is a pleasant surprise as an analyst, with his candid manner and up-to-date knowledge playing a strong role in the SPEED coverage.
At 4:30 PM, SPEED's coverage hit a major speed bump when the Craftsman Truck announcing team of Rick Allen and Phil Parsons took to the air. Allen has struggled in his transition to motorsports, and continues to be pleasantly professional, but unable to raise the excitement level of live racing. Phil Parsons has been solid since his original exposure on this series, and quietly controls the information flow between himself and the pit reporters. Parsons was over-shadowed by Michael Waltrip on last season's telecasts, and with Michael absent for this broadcast, Parsons was able to step-up and deliver the kind of quality information that has defined his TV career.
As the time crept past 5 PM, Allen did not update viewers about the Waltrip situation, despite SPEED earlier promising a press conference at 4:30 PM. Allen focused on the Trucks, and was unable to step back and take charge of the overall SPEED coverage. Luckily, the Truck portion of the coverage ended before the Michael Waltrip press conference.
As the Michael Waltrip press conference was covered live, SPEED did the right thing in allowing Jim Hunter and Robin Pemberton to announce the penalties and take questions. In a strange twist, SPEED decided not only to leave the press conference in progress, but then forced the Raceday crew to close out the show in order to join a Monster Truck repeat telecast. It will be interesting to determine if the ESPN live NASCAR Now show somehow forced SPEED off the air. I am unable to determine what rights issues might be at hand, but SPEED left the air and ESPN began its live program at virtually the same time. I think viewers deserved the right to see the entire press conference live, whatever network originated the coverage. Let's hope SPEED did not leave the biggest story of the racing season to show Monster Trucks because of advertising or financial issues. We will follow-up on this item in future posts.

Monday, February 12, 2007

SPEED: Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing

One of the most talked-about series on SPEED returned for its ninth year as Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing debuted from Daytona. Created by Bob Scanlon, the original Executive Producer at SpeedVision, this show was an extension of the old Inside Winston Cup show produced at Sunbelt Video in Charlotte, NC. That show featured Ned Jarrett and was hosted by a young Bill Weber, who cut his teeth anchoring and producing the series.

At SpeedVision, the original grouping of Alan Bestwick, Johnny Benson, Michael Waltrip, and Kenny Schrader was an instant hit for the small niche network. With Alan as ringmaster, the rowdy trio of drivers found that they could have fun on the air and enjoy themselves in the context of "just talking racing." The reality of both cable television and NASCAR racing affected the show drastically when SpeedVision was bought by Fox Cable Networks, and Scanlon chose to exit.

The new administration felt that changes needed to be made, and Bestwick and Benson were summarily dismissed. Inserted as host was the bombastic Dave Despain, along with young driver Brian Vickers. Since that time, the show has never regained its stride or momentum, with Despain overpowering the panel and directing a highlight review show that is, at best, awkward. By the conclusion of the 2006 season, Schrader and Waltrip were openly mocking Despain and summarily dismissing the forced comments of Vickers.

Now, as the 2007 season gets underway, Vickers is no where to be found, but Despain continues as host. Unfortunately, Despain still does not understand the NASCAR enthusiasm and humor. The inside jokes of Waltrip and Schrader go whizzing by his head like a Tony Stewart inside pass. The Daytona show featured Mark Martin and David Gilliland, both of whom "got it" and were well-spoken guests. The odd man out is Despain, who addresses the NASCAR "people" as inferior, and simply does not get it. Somewhere, Alan Bestwick is smiling.

This series has the most potential of any show on SPEED, and will only blossom if a change is made at the host position. Despain is wonderful on Wind Tunnel, and even better when expressing his passion for motorcycles. Unfortunately, he is over-matched when dealing with heavy hitters like Waltrip, Martin, and Schrader. Several times in this show, Waltrip took control and asked questions of the guests, expressed opinions that were not on the script, and actually dared to make jokes and have fun.

Simply allowing a new host to "unbundle" the enthusiasm and fun that exists within this bunch would be wonderful. But, in its current form, the tension that built up last year and forced the show to bomb in the ratings seems destined to return. What a shame for SPEED, NASCAR, and the fans.


ESPN is off to the races with NASCAR Now, the new daily series that rose from the ashes of RPM2Night. As the network steps back into the racing world, they have some debts to pay. ESPN SportsCenter, ESPN News, and the company in general purposely avoided NASCAR for years since the network lost to Fox and NBC in a bidding war for programming rights.

It seems as though all is forgotten with the company's large scale commitment to televise all the Busch Series events, the final portion of the Nextel Cup season, and a daily show devoted solely to the sport. ESPN grabbed Rusty Wallace last year as an analyst, and allowed him to experience his rookie season behind the mike with the invisible IndyCar Series, where he gamely hung tough with the like of Dario, Helio, Mario, and Kosuke.

Anchoring NASCAR Now is Erik Kuselias, the former host of ESPN Radio's SportsBash. Kuselias has been struggling this season with one simple equation. Excitement on television does not necessarily originate from increasing the volume level of the host. While very professional, and surprisingly knowledgeable about racing, he is still a sports radio host who "likes to ask the tough question" and "put people on the spot for answers." Needless to say, this elicits eyebrow raises and deep breaths from those around him. He seems like a nice guy, so let's hope a little more television experience settles him down.

The series itself holds great potential for both ESPN and NASCAR. Featuring a diverse cast of characters including basketball great Brad Daugherty and the dynamic Shannon Spake, the show holds the promise of mixing hardcore race information with lifestyle reports and solid opinion. The addition of the controversial Marty Smith from and Tim Cowlishaw from ESPN's own Around the Horn adds a nice slice of professional journalism to the overall picture.

While the early studio shows worked smoothly, the transition to a live on-site environment at Daytona has proven to be problematic. No doubt ESPN is working hard behind the scenes to solve these problems with transitions and camera work, mostly generated by the large number of talent on-camera in the show. The series lacks dynamic theme music, standard in and out transitions, and a signature daily feature, but it appears these items may be sorted out with more on-air time.
At Daytona, ESPN will face-off for the first time with the SPEED Channel heavy hitters, Raceday and Victory Lane. Jimmy Spencer, Kenny Wallace, and John Roberts exhibit a charm and charisma that the NASCAR Now crew has yet to develop, so it will be interesting to see who wins the weekend.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


SPEED Channel's 2007 weekly news program is called The SPEED Report. Somehow, the network's weekly look at the world of motorsports has morphed into a cross between Entertainment Tonight and MTV's Headbangers Ball.

Supported by hard-rock music blasted under highlight video, the show staggers off-pace through an hour of strange and diverse contrasts. Studio hosts Drew Johnson and Nicole Manske are no match for the intense level of news and racing information that needs to be relayed to the viewers. Both are clearly not racing fans, with little knowledge of the diverse racing series here in the US and around the world. These two former local station reporters displaced motorsports veterans like Bob Jenkins, Ralph Sheheen, and Bob Varsha much to the dismay of many SPEED viewers.

The saving grace for the program is the various reports packaged by the on-scene talent at SPEED events. They bring viewers the latest from F-1, SCCA, ARCA, and other series that telecast races on SPEED. Unfortunately, the longer The SPEED Report goes on, the deeper the contrast between the experience of the field reporters, and the lack of knowledge of the studio hosts. Its seems, at times, like the adults are out working on the racing events while the teenagers are home minding the store.

The contrast in knowledge is even more apparent when the studio hosts attempt to voice-over race video highlights. They can read the script, but clearly do not have the background or experience to be operating at a national network level. Often, they return to their local station roots by joking around and actually eliminating the details from the highlights they show, as if they were speaking to casual fans of the 11 PM News. According to SPEED's own message board, many viewers are tired of the antics, and are demanding change.

With the season just beginning, it will be interesting to see what The SPEED Report looks like in a couple of months. With ESPN now running a daily NASCAR show, and supporting it with ESPN News and SportsCenter coverage of other motorsports, SPEED is going to have to step-up to the plate and defend its claim as the home of NASCAR.

SPEED: NASCAR Live from Daytona

SPEED Channel rolls out the NASCAR Live program with multiple Daytona shows hosted by the wonderful John Roberts. Following Daytona 500 qualifying, Roberts and a fresh-voiced Jimmy Spencer showed the positive side of NASCAR with solid information and opinions about Speedweeks.

Coupled with reporters Ray Dunlap, Krista Voda, and Bob Dilner, Roberts is clearly the top studio host in the SPEED stable. Jimmy Spencer turns into a completely different person when his sidekick Kenny Wallace is not around, and Spencer offers heartfelt emotion and solid information that is sorely lacking on the Raceday series. Roberts and Spencer have a chemistry that is easy to enjoy.

Without the hype that surrounds many Fox and SPEED telecasts, the large stable of analysts, reporters, and anchors are finally allowed to shine. One simple program like NASCAR Live featured ten veteran announcers and provided more information for NASCAR fans than all the earlier telecasts combined. This is SPEED at its best, focused on information and racing.

Hollywood Hotel: Time For Change

When Fox Sports rolled out the Hollywood Hotel, it seemed that expanding the pit road presence to include a mobile studio was a good idea. The announcing team was new, the Fox presence in NASCAR was new, and most of the broadcast network audience was new as well.

Now, as Fox swings into the 2007 season, things have changed. SPEED Channel has its own at-track location for its myriad of pre and post-race shows. ESPN has come aboard, taking the entire Busch Series exclusively, and establishing a huge presence at every event. Internet bloggers and websites update video and information almost instantly from the track all weekend long.

The original need for the Hollywood Hotel is gone. A more effective pre-race show could be hosted by Jeff Hammond alone, and feature the four NASCAR on Fox pit reporters, and the broadcast team of Larry Mac and DW. Hammond has become a polished television professional, who is clearly under-used during his caution flag appearances and his hectic Cut-A-Way car updates.

With Hammond in the Hollywood Hotel, guests could be hosted without the corny and awkward antics of Chris Myers. There are a number of interesting people at every NASCAR racing weekend, and Hammond's down-home style and laid back manner would put anyone at ease. It certainly would be a welcome sight to greet a new guest and hear new opinions from the Hollywood Hotel, rather than face a grinning Chris Myers who consistently brings the racing intelligence level of the telecast down significantly.

With the Daytona 500 looming, it will be interesting to see if the lessons learned from the Bud Shootout result in any significant on-air changes at the Hollywood Hotel.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Fox Sports: Bud Shootout - Part 2

Halftime of the Bud Shootout only served to reinforce the belief that Jeff Hammond is ready to step-up to the Hollywood Hotel host position. Chris Myers, once useful in keeping order, has become outdated. Hammond is now a polished television professional, and deserves the opportunity to be featured as a host, which would allow a more focused infield presence.

Dick Berggren continues to be a racing character as well-defined as the great Chris Economaki. His countless racing knowledge seems to be somehow mis-matched in the world of thirty second pit reports and young drivers speaking the corporate language of today's sponsorship. One defined pre-produced feature from "Doctor Dick" would be a welcome addition to the regular season racing coverage.

With fifty laps to go at 9:15 PM Eastern Time on a Saturday night, the NASCAR on Fox crew had a great opportunity to re-set the scene for new viewers in primetime, but again chose to take the easy way out. There were no highlights of the first race, no recap of what this event was, or how the participants got here. This should have taken place, and is pretty fundamental TV 101.

This season, we are going to eventually have some sort of agreement on who speaks when something happens on the track. Right now, its a group effort. Both DW and Larry Mac have decided to voice their excitement when something is in progress, relegating Mike Joy to becoming the patient father who waits until his excited children pipe-down to restore order.

Fox continues to shine on their coordination of pit road reporters and their seamless integration of the members of the broadcast crew. They also continue to send quality audio from not only the track, but the individual in-car cameras and pit road area. Mixed with the quality digital video, this bodes quite well for the technical aspects of the shortened Fox Sports NASCAR season.

For some reason, Ryan Newman continues to be the invisible man where Fox is concerned. If this inability to even mention Newman in passing comes from his Alltel sponsorship, it would certainly cut into the some-what marginal credibility of Fox when it comes to sales and sponsorships affecting the program content. Newman's exit from the Shootout was noted only in passing with a brief glimpse of his car coasting into the garage. What a shame.

This program may be noted for the first mystery caution of the season. Thrown immediately after a national commercial break, Fox casually mentioned never-seen debris as the reason for the caution. Apparently, it was an easy way for NASCAR to give the teams an opportunity to get tires, whether they chose to or not.

As we move toward the season, let's hope that Fox decides to focus on the racing as a whole, instead of continuing their obsession with who is leading the race, regardless of how many laps are remaining. Before the last thirty laps, the stories are in the pack, and not at the front.

With five laps to go, the dye was cast in the event, and the curse of Daytona reared its head. Passing for the lead, without friends, was not going to happen this season once again. This race served as a good tune-up for the Fox gang, but really helped to re-focus race viewers on the fundamental issues that the TV crew needs to address before the season begins. The most pressing issue is, with three announcers in the booth, two in the Hollywood Hotel, and four on pit road, are we in for another season of endless self-absorbed chatter...or quality storytelling from nine professional sports broadcasters? Only time will tell.

Fox Sports: Bud Shootout - Part One

Mike Joy continues to be the best traffic cop on television. Surrounded by the tired lines and endless chatter of "Larry Mac and old DW," Joy not only quietly controls the booth, but re-sets the race for the viewers on almost a lap-by-lap basis.

Fox Sports continues to make good pictures for HDTV, but even on this first effort, it seems like they are overwhelmed by their own toys. Race fans want to watch the event with some feeling of continuity, which is tough to do when as many as ten different camera angles are used on only one lap. In-car cameras need to have graphics identifying who viewers are seeing, as often it also takes the announcers a moment to get their bearings.

This season Krista Voda is a wonderful addition to the Fox NASCAR coverage. She is a versatile and credible announcer who navigates the tension and personalities of the Nextel Cup Series with ease and grace. Her addition will pay dividends far beyond her pit reporter duties on raceday.

Fox Sports has decided to exclude the new or casual fan of NASCAR in this year's coverage. The format of the Bud Shootout was never explained, highlights of the participating drivers were never shown, and it was simply assumed that viewers knew who drivers were, including the likes of David Gilliand and Boris Said. Perhaps, addressing the issue of new fans might be a positive step for Fox before the actual Daytona 500 broadcast. This is a wonderful opportunity to do just that in primetime on a Saturday night.

Fox Sports Bud Shootout Pre-Race

Any NASCAR season that begins with the confused tones of Chris Myers can't bode well for Fox Sports. Myers continues to look and feel like maybe his medication needs to be adjusted slightly. He is just fundamentally not at ease in the NASCAR environment, and it shows time-and-time again.

For NASCAR fans returning to network television coverage of the sport for the first time since 2006, it seemed strange for Fox to rush through the NASCAR news in order to get to a country singer. With two country music channels on my cable system fulltime, perhaps viewers would have been better served with a pre-produced recap of the 2006 action, including how the Bud Shootout drivers got themselves into the event. Dierks Bentley can wait.

In a flashback of 2006, the Fox announcers began the process of slowly pounding their personal sponsors and interests into the viewers brains, which was the chief complaint heard nationwide last season. Its very clear that any other network would have excluded Darrell Waltrip from speaking in factual terms about Toyota, a company he endorses and is compensated very well to represent. This is a conflict of interest that should not be tolerated, but Fox seems to be unrepentent in their continual merging of truth and opinion.

The pre-race show provided a wobbling start to the 2007 season, it will be interesting if the ultimate professional Mike Joy can pull the race telecast up to an acceptable level. The only positive note is that this progam was a full thirty minutes without any on-camera presence from Toyota's Michael Waltrip.