Saturday, June 30, 2007

Musburger Leads ABC's Red Sox Love Fest

When Brent Musburger was added to the ABC Sports line-up for the Busch Series race in Loudon, no one really paid attention. Musburger had been "the telecast host" on ABC before this season. This time, however, Musburger was personally hosting NASCAR Countdown, the pre-race show.

Over the past several races, when the coverage was on ESPN2, Allen Bestwick and Mike Massaro had been hosting. Now, on broadcast TV, those two apparently were not good enough for the big time. Suzy Kolber, who will host both the Cup and Busch pre-race shows for ESPN/ABC eventually, was nowhere to be seen...once again.

Musburger's famous line, "you're looking live at...Loudon, New Hampshire" led into the rocking opening of the show, which served to recap the last several races and the season. ESPN's pre-produced features and opens continue to be outstanding.

Then, a strange thing happened. The Red Sox love fest began. On Sunday, in the NEXTEL Cup race on TNT, Carl Edwards will be racing a car with a Boston Red Sox logo on the front hood. Back in February of this year, Roush Racing merged with the Red Sox parent organization. But this was the Busch Series, and Edwards drove a car with lawn care products on the hood. Apparently, that did not matter.

ABC showed Jack Roush and Carl Edwards throwing out the first pitch at a Red Sox game. Musburger talked about the pitches and the funny things that happened, including the fact that the Red Sox catcher missed the ball. Edwards then drove a NEXTEL Cup show car onto the outfield warning track at Fenway Park. With the NEXTEL Cup race on TNT, and no Red Sox car in the field on Saturday, what connection this had with the Busch Series was not clear.

Later in the show ABC ran a feature on Roush's "Fenway Day," complete with first pitch footage again. To say the least, for NASCAR fans who could care less about the Red Sox, this entire topic was awkward. It had absolutely nothing to do with the Busch Series race at hand, or the track in New Hampshire. I bet there were many Busch teams in the garage that would have loved this type of free publicity for their sponsor.

Musburger then recapped the Denny Hamlin "non-story" of last week, and actually tried to hype as an "issue" what was really a sponsor obligation. Luckily, Hamlin was interviewed by Allen Bestwick, who straightened things out. A telephone follow-up from Aric Almirola was nice, but certainly not necessary seven days later.

On the set, both Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree put things into perspective in about two minutes. It was about sponsors, obligations, and money. Nothing about personal relationships or drivers was ever an issue. Petree said if not for a car parked on the helipad, there would have been no issue. Now, that's a summary.

Jamie Little has been enjoying her first year as a pit reporter on the ESPN NASCAR package, but she should not have been given the assignment of speaking with Tony Stewart in this show. Tony ate her naive and timid line of questioning for lunch, with a smart-aleck smile on his usual. Make sure you have your ducks in a row before you wander into Tony territory.

Since the start of the season, The Daly Planet has been asking ESPN and ABC to put one or both of the "booth analysts" down on the infield set for the pre-race show. This week, Brad Daugherty was missing from the set, and both Jarrett and Petree were alongside Musburger. This made all the difference in the world, and gave Musburger the kind of credibility and firepower that Daugherty and a weekly on-set guest could never match. Once Suzy Kolber hits Countdown, she is going to need every bit of support she can get.

The big problem with NASCAR Countdown again this week is that ESPN/ABC is just obsessed with NEXTEL Cup. In the field at Loudon was young Stephen Leicht, fan favorite Marcos Ambrose, and veteran Bobby Labonte. There was also Ward Burton, Scott Wimmer and Jason Keller all trying to re-kindle their racing careers.

Perhaps, more attention to the Busch Series drivers would allow fans to re-connect with this series that has often times become nothing more than NEXTEL Cup practice with a checkered flag at the end. Fans deserved much more eighteen races into the Busch season than the ESPN crew fawning over the Red Sox NEXTEL Cup car. But, I guess that all depends on where Musburger's box seats are located.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for stopping by.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Tony's "Prelude" Coming To SPEED Channel

A while back, Tony Stewart and his sidekick Matt Yocum pulled off a pretty amazing night of live TV. You may remember The Daly Planet column entitled "Tony Stewart and HBO are about to make history." Now, slightly over a month since it originally aired live on Pay-Per-View, Tony has pulled-off another TV deal destined to change the racing landscape.

First, let's recap things. Tony owns the Eldora Speedway in Ohio. Its a dirt bullring one half mile in length, and its fast. Tony decided to get some NASCAR buddies to race a charity event on a Wednesday between Cup races. The proceeds would go to the Victory Junction gang camp, and Tony's own charitable foundation.

What started out with Kenny Wallace, Kenny Schrader, and a couple of "guys" has grown into a mid-week media event. This year, Tony got a cast of characters together that you just had to see to believe. Therein lies the problem. The only way to see the original telecast was to psych one's self up to pay the twenty five dollars for one telecast...and hope it was worth it.

The goal was to really make a lot of money for charity, and NASCAR fans (like me) love that kind of thing. To that end, Tony invited a bunch of A-list NASCAR drivers and several NHRA drivers to come out and play. Surprisingly, everyone that was asked said yes to this event. Those in the know understood as the event date drew close that things were going to get interesting in TV land.

There were no million dollar RV's in the infield. There were no covered garages with high-profile crew chiefs. There were no "PR guys" in khaki pants whisking drivers away in golf carts. There was just a bunch of NASCAR guys who could not wipe the grins off their faces waiting to go out and "hot lap" on dirt.

NASCAR on Fox's Producer Pam Miller and Director Artie Kempner lent their services for free to produce the live PPV telecast. Upstairs, in the booth, was Mike Joy, Kyle Petty and Darrell Waltrip. Downstairs, pit road was patrolled by veteran Dick Berggren with Matt Yocum acting as the show's host. The all-star line-ups were not only on the track.

All of a sudden, everything just kind of came together for one night. The weather was great, the track was fast, the cars were sharp looking, and and the strangest things began to happen. People began to see that these carefully "packaged" drivers away from NASCAR were really people who just loved to race. They were, as Wendy Venturini would say, the "real deal."

I am not going to ruin the show for the fans who did not see it the first time, but let me tell was fun. Now, SPEED Channel President Hunter Nickell has swung a deal to re-broadcast the entire event on SPEED. Great idea for the fans. This will serve to put a program out there that does not present these drivers as whiny little millionaires. That sentiment is very popular with some "other" TV networks who try to portray anyone in the sport in a negative light.

The first airing of "The Prelude to the Dream" is on Sunday July 8th at noon Eastern Time. Set your DVR or VCR to record this event, and you will find yourself playing it back again with your friends. For NASCAR fans who have never seen dirt racing, it may come as a shock that this sport exists nationwide and is simply a blast.

As any adult knows, TV likes to imitate itself. Whether it is about law and order or forensics, one hot TV show breeds another. TV most likes to do that when it can make money simply by expanding, or even copying, an existing idea. Right now, Tony and his media company are not releasing the PPV numbers that this telecast drew. I hope that information is released after the show airs on SPEED.

With the success of this project, I am sure we will see more mid-week and off-season events begin to crop-up around racing. Especially with IROC gone, there is a need to show different types of drivers competing for fun with each other. Well, as much fun as these guys can have till the first wheel turns and the race begins. Then, it always gets very interesting. At Eldora, it certainly was.

Big thanks to SPEED Channel, Tony Stewart, and everyone involved in making this re-air happen. Hopefully, SPEED will carefully screen the show and maybe even add-in some production elements to allow new fans to understand the dirt world. This event was lots of fun on TV, but I have already told myself that next year...I'm going.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Will TNT's Problems "Hinder" NASCAR?

There are only three races left in TNT's summer "mini-season" of NASCAR coverage. This small package of races bridges the gap between Fox Sports and ESPN/ABC. Once ESPN kicks back in for The Brickyard 400, that company stays with the NEXTEL Cup schedule all the way to the championship. The final eleven races will be on ABC Sports, but produced by the same ESPN bunch.

TNT's contribution to this NASCAR season has been a memorable one. Off-balance since the start, this group of admittedly "cross-bred" TV production folks is a smorgasbord of personnel who normally work for other networks and production companies. TNT might know drama, but with NASCAR its been an uphill climb this season. The TNT team of television "freelancers" had its roughest day last Sunday in Sonoma.

One of the things that people may remember most about TNT this season is the fact that the network is shameless in promoting its own entertainment products. This often comes with little regard to the subject matter of the promo, or the time of day it is shown.

The Daly Planet got a bunch of email from NASCAR parents shocked at the subject matter of a TNT promo that included actress Holly Hunter. Apparently, it was a wonderful promo for kids to see on a Sunday just home from church and watching racing. But, what do you expect for a network with six races to promote itself and absolutely nothing to lose? When they are gone from NASCAR, they are gone.

This weekend, at New Hampshire, TNT is once again going to test the patience of NASCAR fans in a very big way. The fans at the track and on TV get to hear the rock band "Hinder" perform live. This is the group that recorded the version of Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild" that fans have heard on the TNT coverage. Let me re-phrase that. The version that fans have heard over-and-over-and-over again on the TNT broadcasts. Did I mention over-and-over again?

"A performance by 'Hinder' is the perfect instrument to get race fans revved-up to watch the dramatic action of NASCAR racing," says Jenny Storms from Turner Sports Marketing. This week on the one hour NASCAR Live on TNT fans will actually get "Hinder" in concert. Since Turner Interactive runs, that site will replay the performances and have other "Hinder" things.

A hard rock band playing in front of a NASCAR grandstand in New Hampshire on a Sunday afternoon. Can't you just feel the vibe coming from that crowd?

Despite the hype and the attitude, TNT has some serious explaining to do to the fans during their pre-race shows. They left the air Sunday without final results, never had a clue as to what was going on in the last twenty laps, and put Kyle Petty in a bad spot by airing an obscenity during a replay. Add to that the fact that Larry McReynolds, struggling with his voice, was placed in an open air set adjacent to the track during the race. To say the least, things were not good.

This week, Bill Weber's article on the NASCAR on TNT website is entitled "Picturesque New England Could Turn Ugly For Some." Truer words were never said by Mr. Weber, who has struggled to maintain a friendly on-air persona during the entire TNT coverage. Message boards and chat forums around the Internet are full of fans screaming for his head. They are annoyed by his style, his attitude, and his lack of play-by-play experience. Mike Joy he is not.

When the TNT crew comes on-air in Loudon, fans will quickly see if the adversity of Sonoma has caused them to gel, or continue to splinter into even more uncomfortable on-air relationships. With the positive press that DirecTV's Hot Pass has been getting, the pressure to deliver a thorough and professional race will be greater than ever. Thankfully, the flat track of Loudon will make it tough to pass, and keep the potential chaos to a minimum.

The odd man out of TNT's coverage is Wally Dallenbach. His Wally's World ride-a-long feature has been obliterated into a TNT promo. All the good information and track descriptions he used to give viewers while terrifying a celebrity are gone. With Kyle Petty on board, his status as the veteran driver in the booth is gone. After Sonoma, and his inability to relate anything relevant or accurate in the closing laps, his credibility is gone. What's left?

Hopefully, the TNT crew will take the adversity of Sonoma as a challenge to nail both the pre-race shows and race broadcast at Loudon on Sunday. Maybe the inside jokes and the put-downs will be put on hold until the ride to the airport in the rental car. Maybe the "happy" Bill Weber will be able to remain that way for four hours. Maybe Kyle will have his best race as an analyst just when he needs it most.

The bottom line is that fans just want on TV what they have been getting on the radio for decades. Good exciting NASCAR racing presented to if they matter. We shall see if that message sinks in.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. All email is held in confidence. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Spencer And Montoya Prove Opposites Attract

Jimmy Spencer could hardly contain himself. His grin spread from ear-to-ear in the fading Sonoma sunshine on SPEED's Victory Lane set. "What a great road racer he is..." said Spencer of his newest object of affection. This is clearly one of the strangest alliances in the history of NASCAR...Jimmy Spencer and Juan Pablo Montoya.

When I first saw Jimmy Spencer, he was in a fight at the old Riverside Speedway in Agawam, Massachusetts. It was after a race, and all hell was breaking loose. Needless to say, Spencer was right in the middle of it. His legendary tag as "Mr. Excitement" grew from his rough-and-tumble racing style in the Modified ranks throughout New England. He won more races then he made friends.

A second generation racer, Spencer is from the blue-collar town of Berwick, PA. Maybe best known for its Wise Potato Chips, this town of several thousand is about thirty minutes away from Wilkes-Barre. Spencer had a mixed career in NASCAR, and his two Winston Cup wins came while driving for Junior Johnson. He may be best remembered by fans for his off-track thumping of Kurt Busch, which ultimately led to his retirement.

Spencer is a constant on the Victory Lane program. Alongside host John Roberts, Spencer and sidekick Kenny Wallace tape a one hour show "as it happens" from the Victory Lane area at the NEXTEL Cup tracks. It has proven to be a hit with SPEED viewers, and this weekend it would be a saving grace for the TNT television network.

As everyone knows, TNT had a myriad of troubles and wound-up getting egg on their face because they lost control of the live television broadcast. No racing was shown late, Kyle Petty was put in a bad spot, Bill Weber got mad again, and they never even showed the finishing order of the race before they left the air.

It was up to Jimmy Spencer and the Victory Lane crew to sort this TNT mess out. Spencer fired the first volley at TNT by saying right away he watched the race on DirecTV's Hot Pass, and enjoyed it. Spencer listened to the radio chatter, and commended crew chief Donnie Wingo for leaving Montoya alone to drive.

Then, Spencer compared Montoya to Tiger Woods and Joe Montana in the same breath. In terms of great athletes, Spencer said Montoya is "one of those guys." The Victory Lane crew was clearly pumped about the upcoming opportunity to speak with Montoya.

Little did they know that most of North America had absolutely no clue to the circumstances surrounding this victory. TNT's Bill Weber had said over-and-over again Montoya would run out of gas, and Harvick was the only car that could make it.

Spencer and Wallace did a good job, in their own special way, of explaining the fuel mileage situations, and what cars ran out. Wallace alluded to a Formula-1 race, and the fuel games that are common in that series. Spencer actually "tipped his hat" to NASCAR for not throwing a "questionable debris" caution, and letting the race play out to the end. All great points from the panel.

"There is nobody that could have won that race today in that car except Juan Pablo" said Spencer. Old time NASCAR fans may have had to be helped up off the floor after that little bombshell. "Mr. Excitement" was publicly singing the praises of a rookie driver from Bogota. Not Bogota, New Jersey mind you, but the infamous Bogota, Colombia. My-oh-my how both NASCAR and Jimmy Spencer have changed.

Montoya looked like a million bucks when he was seated on the SPEED Channel set. Spencer loved talking with him racer-to-racer, and the responses to Spencer's questions were fascinating. Montoya said he wanted to race hard, pass people, and be aggressive. That's why he picked NASCAR. At Sonoma, he played the fuel card by shifting early and coasting through part of the course.

Spencer plied from Montoya that only a consistent race could have turned out with a win, because his car was poor on new tires. Montoya's entire interview was classy and clean, he looked fresher than both Wallace and Spencer, and they had only been watching the race.

Victory Lane did a good job of showing race highlights, the final race rundown, and explaining the circumstances that led to the finishing positions. This week, this program was crucial to viewers left hanging by the TNT troubles. Kudos to the SPEED crew for taking their time to pass along all the information they had about the race.

Chip Ganassi joined Victory Lane as the winning owner, and this interview provided some of the newest entries into the "Jimmy Spencer on TV" Hall of Fame. Spencer told Ganassi that he likes "a guy that's got spunk" like Montoya. Spencer then went on to deliver the classic line of the telecast. In summing up his feelings for Montoya, Spencer simply said..."he's got feist."

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. All email is held in confidence. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Musburger Bumps Bestwick From "NASCAR Countdown"

ESPN has announced that Brent Musburger will be hosting the NASCAR Countdown Busch Series pre-race show from Loudon, NH. This marks Musburger's return to the Busch Series after an absence which saw him host the Indy 500 telecast, among other duties.

With only weeks to go before ESPN opens its coverage of the NEXTEL Cup Series races, including the "Chase for the Cup," viewers once again will have a new face hosting the pre-race show. Chris Fowler, Erik Kuselias, Allen Bestwick, Mike Massaro, and Suzy Kolber have all taken their turn at bat for the network.

The fact that Musburger is hosting this show gets the attention of NASCAR fans when the rest of the ESPN press release is read. While it says that Dale Jarrett will join Dr. Jerry Punch and Andy Petree in the booth, it also lets another bomb drop.

Allen Bestwick will be a reporter on pit road for this race...once again. After a week that saw Bestwick in Milwaukee for ESPN hosting not only NASCAR Countdown, but actually calling the play-by-play for the Busch Series race...the network sends him back to pit road to tell us "four tires and fuel."

To add insult to injury, alongside Bestwick on pit road in New Hampshire will be Mike Massaro, ESPN's most veteran NASCAR reporter who hosted a great edition of NASCAR Countdown several weeks ago at Kentucky Speedway. Many thought Massaro was auditioning for a position on NASCAR Now, ESPN2's studio show which has been struggling since Daytona in February.

The line-up on ESPN's website lists Allen Bestwick as a co-host for NASCAR Now, but he has never been "invited back" since his first two appearances. Massaro has never been allowed to host this program, and ESPN on Tuesday brought in general assignment reporter Matt Winer to host for the first time. All of which brings us back to NASCAR Countdown.

This is the only pre-race show for the Busch Series. ESPN has slapped this Series around without mercy this season when it comes to the pre-race opportunities for promotion of the drivers, the sponsors, and the series itself.

The Daly Planet has several articles about the times that the entire NASCAR Countdown show talked only about the NEXTEL Cup race the next day. It was clear everyone on the announcing team was auditioning for the ABC Sports opportunities to cover the Cup Series. Meanwhile, there sat the Busch Series field on the line with absolutely no one interested. And ESPN wonders why the ratings are down?

Now, NASCAR's "number two" series is eighteen races into their season and ESPN is changing hosts for NASCAR Countdown like musical chairs. The Daly Planet gave ESPN credit for putting Bestwick and Massaro in the anchor chair, but what results did that get NASCAR fans? The return of Brent Musburger? The promise of Suzy Kolber in the future?

This is NASCAR racing, and the competitors in the Busch Series have been hammering on each other since February. While ESPN's team in the announce booth has been full of positive surprises, the pre-race show has been a mess. These thirty minutes are crucial to the promotion of these teams and sponsors. This is their Hollywood Hotel.

The on-going battle between "NASCAR people" and "ESPN people" has been fascinating to watch this entire year on both NASCAR Countdown and NASCAR Now. It has been tough for ESPN to let "outsiders" host "their" shows, despite the fact that the "insiders" often have little or no knowledge of the sport at all. Its a culture clash of epidemic proportions, and its about to come to a head.

On May 20th of this year, The Daly Planet ran a column entitled "ESPN and NASCAR on a collision course." We talked about the fact that ESPN's race coverage has been solid from the word "go." Away from the track, however, things are much different.

At Daytona, fans were presented with Brent Musburger, Chris Fowler, and Brad Daugherty for the first NASCAR Countdown show. As we wrote at that time, "Fowler couldn't stop grinning, Daugherty couldn't stop talking, and Musburger wore a funny hat." The results were not pretty.

Now, after spinning the wheel of hosts once again, ESPN goes back to an "insider" like Musburger when fans have just had two strong performances from their favorite "outsiders." Either Allen Bestwick or Mike Massaro deserved the chance to host this show because of their hard work this season and knowledge of the sport. Apparently, Bestwick and Massaro lacked the mandatory funny hats. Who knew?

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. All email is held in confidence. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

Monday, June 25, 2007

TNT's Sonoma Coverage Has NASCAR Fans Still Steaming

The Daly Planet was overwhelmed with email and comments about the TNT broadcast of the NEXTEL Cup race from Sonoma, CA. Long after the race broadcast had gone off the air, fans were still steaming about a wide variety of issues. On NASCAR forums, chat boards, and blogs across the Internet, fans were letting it fly.

Here are some samples of the comments from NASCAR fans who watched the TNT telecast that were left on The Daly Planet:

"This just appears to be a three hour promo for TNT's primetime shows. They showed nothing but the top three cars for the last forty laps. No "through the field," no updates on the "road ringers," NOTHING! And they didn't have the courtesy to show us the results at the end of the race. HORRIBLE!"

"What looked promising a couple of weeks ago has gone horribly wrong. Bill Weber is not a play-by-play guy. I think he could do some great features, but he should not be calling a race."

"Biffle and Bowyer finish in the top five but its almost like they were never in the race. I barely recall hearing their names. I too was amazed that they did not show the finishing order when the race ended. As a new fan of NASCAR this year...I wanted to better understand who was gambling on fuel...especially in the top ten. I kept wondering how Harvick, Biffle, and Bowyer finished so high when they weren't even talked about for most of the race."

"After a huge pre-race hype about the twenty-four and forty-eight cars starting at the back of the field, did fans get to watch them drive forward? No."

"It still pains me that we only get to see two or three cars finish the race. We watch for five or six hours just to see who came in first and second? This is horrible."

"I would like to thank TNT for letting me watch a race in between their commercials."

"At least they could have checked in with Kyle one last time to find out how his race went. I'm assuming he ran out of gas because he finished thirty-ninth. I wonder how many other cars ran out of gas on the last laps. Thanks to TNT, we never found out."

"TNT bungled the close of their broadcast big time. They showed only the first two cars finish and went to commercial. They didn't fill us in on who ran out of gas and who made it. They didn't even tell us the fate of Kyle Petty, who was part of their broadcast. Their biggest blunder, however, was their failure to show the finishing order before they went off the air."

"TNT needs to figure out sometimes you have to find the race within the race and cover it. To be honest, I think the TNT crew was confused, and Larry Mac was too sick to straighten them out."

"For a network that claims "we know drama," they sure struggled to find a storyline during their race coverage."

"NASCAR wonders why the TV ratings are dropping and does not think its a big deal. Its obvious to me they are not watching the same thing we are watching. I doubt if they are watching at all."

The Daly Planet thanks the hundreds of fans who emailed and left comments with reference to the TNT coverage. Please feel free to leave additional comments on this post.

The story of the problems with the TV coverage appeared on very few media outlets other than The Daly Planet. Thank you for supporting our honest and open discussion about what you see on TV where NASCAR is involved. We will continue to post new columns each and every day until the end of the NASCAR racing season.

"NASCAR Now's" Breaking News Is Hilarious

As The Daly Planet mentioned some time ago, ESPN2 has tried desperately to switch the focus of NASCAR Now from "hype" to hard news. They have pushed their reporters over-and-over again to come up with "breaking news," exclusive interviews, and being first to uncover a story. Today, they pushed the envelope beyond hilarious.

Hyped as "breaking news" at the top of the one hour Monday show was the "story" that Hendrick Motorsports was not going to buy the "number eight" from DEI. That's right. That was the "breaking news" that lead the show. Dale Junior leaving DEI without his famous "number eight." No matter how much money Rick Hendrick and Dale Junior have, they simply cannot buy it. Wow, that does sounds like a big story.

Let's step back a moment. This story was breaking national news on the daily NASCAR show on ESPN. This is the Emmy Award winning global media company that is home to SportsCenter, ESPN News Network, and a host of programs that viewers nationwide have learned to trust for accuracy and integrity. ESPN is the "Worldwide Leader in Sports."

Host Erik Kuselias tried hard to "sell" the fact that ESPN2 and NASCAR Now were once again on top of a new NASCAR story. He had two expert analysts on the set with him to tackle this issue. But, there was only one small problem. It was the same problem ESPN ran into when NASCAR Now tried to be the "hype machine" of NASCAR. That problem is reality.

That reality is that NASCAR "owns" and assigns the numbers for the cars and trucks in their national racing series. They have for over fifty years. While certain teams have kept the same numbers for many years, they have never owned them. Never. The ability of one team to "sell" a number to another team has never existed. Never.

Once again, for some reason, Around The Horn's Tim Cowlishaw was on the NASCAR Now set. Cowlishaw is ESPN's "designated talker," and lived up to his Daly Planet reader tag as "Mr. Obvious." Glazing over the reality that there was absolutely no story here, Cowlishaw ranted that NASCAR needed to "step-in" and let Junior take the "number eight" with him for the fans. "NASCAR does many illogical things" said Cowlishaw. Not sending "the eight" with Junior would be just another bad NASCAR decision.

You have to wonder if NASCAR Now just discovered RaceDay on SPEED, and the obnoxious Ricky Rachtman's completely fake "Free the Eight" campaign. This issue, however, is not like voting Kenny Wallace into the All-Star race because he is a fun guy on SPEED.

The graphic on the screen in front of Stacy Compton said "Breaking News." NASCAR Now's "voice of reason" once again tried to put things in order, even as the ESPN on-air hype around him was still in progress. Compton simply said "they (DEI) don't own the number." Well, thanks for that Stacy.

Perhaps, if Compton had helped ESPN to understand this fifty plus year-old concept before the show, NASCAR fans across America would not be rolling their eyes once again at this nonsense. Those would be the fans not still howling with laughter.

How much longer is this new "twist" in NASCAR Now going to continue? Kuselias brought in by liveshot his reporters Marty Smith and Angelique Chengelis. Strangely, he did not ask them about the exciting "number eight" breaking news that lead the show. Perhaps, that is because they both would have fallen off their chairs. No reporter even commented on the "lead story" of the show.

Earlier this season, ESPN tried to hype minor incidents between drivers, be it on the track or off. They found that did not work, because those things happen all the time...imagine that. Remember the "Kasey Kahne says David Stremme is fat" controversy? That will go down in ESPN's NASCAR TV history.

Once again, rather than offer a full plate of NASCAR for fans to digest, the program had to be "about" ESPN itself. They are trying desperately to get their credibility back in this sport. Now, there must be breaking news, they must be first to report, and they must have new "Insider" details.

Who are they kidding? ESPN ignored the entire NASCAR scene for six years while they pouted about losing the NASCAR TV contract. They cancelled RPM2Nite even though NASCAR itself was going strong. They said to America "if we can't show it, then you can't have it." Just like Jimmy Spencer, NASCAR fans never forget.

Now ESPN gets the rights to show NASCAR races, and suddenly there "needs" to be a daily show about NASCAR. What a strange coincidence. This is the struggle that NASCAR Now faces. One of credibility and loyalty to the sport. This new "breaking news" approach is not going to cut it with fans who relied on and the other racing sites to help them through the years that ESPN spit on NASCAR every chance they could.

With ESPN stepping-up and covering NASCAR's NEXTEL Cup Series in several weeks, the daily NASCAR Now program will be put under more scrutiny and pressure than ever before. New fans, media members, and Internet posters will be watching their news choices, their interviews, and even their choice of words.

I really don't believe that the NASCAR Now crew even understands what is coming. They are about to be thrust into seventeen weeks of non-stop national attention in a "playoff" and then "World Series" atmosphere that will make the Yankees vs. The Red Sox seem like a walk in the park.

Rabid fans will be hanging on their every word, and looking for a daily update on ALL the on-going stories in Mooresville, NC. Not just the one shop where Shannon Spake has been sent. Not just some chatter on the set from a Truck Series driver.

If the network continues to "create" news and promote only itself, they will have driven a wedge between themselves and the fans that is going to be tough to remove. Since February, NASCAR fans have given the biggest and most powerful sports network in the world the opportunity to deliver accurate and honest news and features on the NASCAR scene.

Now, it is late June...and this is what we get. The "breaking news" that Theresa won't sell Junior his number when he leaves DEI. Of course, there are those pesky details. She does not own it...he can't buy it...and ESPN made it all up. What will they think of tomorrow?

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. All email is held in confidence. Thanks again for stopping by.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

"NASCAR On TNT" Still Tough To Swallow

Things were happening on RaceDay over on SPEED. The fans were surrounding the SPEED stage and into everything that was going on. It looked like the party at Sonoma was in full swing. Then, TNT took to the air...and the party was over.

In the NASCAR on TNT Live! program, host Marc Fein spent his third week trying to stare down Bill Weber, who firmly believes he should be hosting this show. Fein sat on the spinning stage with Weber and Wally Dallenbach. This week, with Kyle Petty racing, Larry McReynolds joined the panel.

Once again, even though Weber hosts the next pre-race show...there he was on the set. TNT had two hosts, and the discomfort was again obvious. Fein is a smooth professional announcer who is not NASCAR-savvy. Weber just stares at him, oblivious to the camera. Dallenbach and Larry Mac fulfill designated roles, but Weber does not.

Fein was forced to include Weber in the panel discussions, as if Weber had put on his "expert" hat and was letting Fein hold his "anchor" hat. This could not have been more uncomfortable. Anytime Weber answered a question from Fein, he stared directly at him while hunched over the counter and leaning forward. There was such a weird dynamic in place, it rivaled NASCAR Countdown on ESPN2.

The absence of Kyle Petty was felt deeply. Even though Kyle appeared pre-race, the dynamic of Weber alone with Dallenbach was not working. Moving Larry McReynolds to the booth would have been a positive step for this broadcast. He often interrupted from the infield with information that Weber and Dallenbach should have been providing. TNT needs a crew chief in the booth.

Marty Snider has been having a tough time this season being back on TV. Last week, he continually interrupted Dale Junior and Rick Hendrick during an interview he was conducting. This week, he used a trip to Sonoma's wine country to make fun of both drivers and the TNT announcers. This TNT "inside joke" business is ridiculous. When Snider sat down with Junior Johnson this week, Junior barely got a full sentence out. Dale Carnegie is calling Snider's name, with an emphasis on...listening.

Weber returned to the anchor position for the Countdown to Green, and used so many puns in his opening, it made even the most veteran fans cringe. Enough already, we know you can write and use big words. How about some information? Thankfully, Kyle Petty checked in live from the track and summed up the news of the day.

The TNT set is barren, and even more so when Weber is alone or with Dallenbach. Weber introduced a profile of Juan Pablo Montoya, which featured profanity that was beeped out, but clearly could be understood. This should have been removed by TNT, and was left in on purpose. An amateur move. A classy guy like Matt Yocum, who was voicing over the feature, should not have to be associated with that type of content.

To be fair, TNT was saddled with a consistently boring race on a race track that NASCAR should not visit. These big COT cars were horrible on the road course, and even worse on TV. With only Weber and Dallenbach in the booth, Larry Mac feeling under the weather, and no support from Marc Fein except his deep voice, this broadcast was in trouble from the word "go."

Other networks would search for a story, maybe feature the "foot cam," or focus on using the in-car cameras extensively because of the shifting and endless driver concentration. TNT did not, and this lead to a lot of "dead air" where no one was talking. Often times, Weber would yell out the name of the pit road reporter when a car came into the pits. That was incredibly annoying, and the pit reporters thought so.

As if things could not get worse, the race turned into nothing more than a gas war. No one was "really" racing, no one was pushing the limit, and no one was doing anything but putting NASCAR fans to sleep nationwide. The TNT crew got its only spark of life from Kyle Petty, and its only knowledge from Larry McReynolds. The rest of the bunch had long since lapsed into in-fighting and disorder.

By the end of the race, the on-air crew had stopped communicating. The pit road reporters has just had it. Kyle Petty was nowhere to be found. Larry Mac's voice was gone, and we were left with Dallenbach and Weber. Time-and-time again, Weber said that Montoya could not make it on gas. But, he never explained why Montoya was racing so hard for the lead if he was about to run out of gas. It made no sense.

Montoya, of course, did not run out of fuel. Weber was wrong, the pit reporter was wrong, what they had told viewers as "fact" was wrong. Somehow, strangely, it did not make a difference. TNT never showed the top ten cars finish. They went to commercial while first time winner Montoya made his victory lap. They never told us who ran out of gas, and wrapped-up a confusing race with a confusing close.

There are only three more races in the TNT package. With Kyle Petty returning next week for the New Hampshire race, things have to get better. When Larry Mac has his full voice, and Kyle Petty adds the spark in the booth, the coverage is very different. Perhaps TNT might consider adding McReynolds in the booth, and moving Dallenbach to the infield stage with Marc Fein. This would put one driver and one crew chief in the booth, and one driver available in the infield as needed.

This TNT effort so far has proven to be a clash of egos, and really has moved the fans to DirecTV, Pay-Per-View, and online broadcasts. Hopefully, Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds can help this network get back on track next week. With all due respect, Sonoma was a poor effort in all areas, and TNT knows it.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. All email is confidential. Thanks again for stopping by.

Stacy Compton: The Sacrificial Lamb Of "NASCAR Now"

Week after week since Daytona in February, Stacy Compton has bit his tongue. As the studio analyst for ESPN's NASCAR Now, he has been perched on the ESPN High Definition Studio set surrounded by an incredible cast of characters. This Sunday morning, he was alongside host Erik Kuselias and Around The Horn's Tim Cowlishaw.

During the season, Compton has been practicing his skill in the art of patience, while all the time carving for himself a nice little TV career. His plain-spoken opinions may at times be simplistic, but they are honest. He is a NASCAR veteran, just not a high-profile one. He continues to actively race in the Craftsman Truck Series, where he is in the top twenty in points.

There is no doubt that Stacy is NASCAR, and he represents for ESPN a proven viewpoint that reflects experience and character. That is exactly what NASCAR Now needs on the set, because each week, the stick-and-ball boys in Bristol need a sacrificial lamb. That lamb is Stacy Compton.

Former series host Doug Banks used to look at Compton and read a scripted question. Banks would bob his head and nod while Compton spoke. What Stacy knew, and eventually we all found out, was that Banks has absolutely no NASCAR knowledge. The entire time that Banks and Compton appeared together, Compton had to bite his tongue. There was a secret...the host had no clue.

On this Sunday, seated next to Compton was Tim Cowlishaw. This Dallas-based reporter has become an incredible "content machine" for ESPN. The network loves to turn him loose to fill time in almost any circumstance on almost any show.

Why he is on NASCAR Now has never been explained. The program has a ton of good solid reporters, several analysts, and a couple of hosts. Cowlishaw just seems to stop by and talk about things like he is in a bar and the TV is on ESPN2. Daly Planet readers like to refer to him as "Mr. Obvious."

This disheveled man speaks to Compton as if he is casting judgement on him, exactly the same way that Kuselias does. Somehow, Cowlishaw and Kuselias think they "know." They listen to what Stacy says, and then talk about it as if he is not there. Its one of the strangest things on sports TV right now. Compton just nods as they yell and gesture, and bites his tongue.

A while back, Compton was alongside driver Boris Said watching Kuselias interview the twenty-four car crew chief Steve Letarte. Jeff Gordon had just won Darlington with a COT car spewing water like a geyser. Rather than let Compton do the interview, the egos of ESPN continue to force the host to ask the scripted questions, rather than let experts talk racing with those actually doing it.

Kuselias first question to Letarte was "so, how close to blowing-up were you?" In the background, you could hear the muffled laughter of Said, and see Compton just slowly shaking his head as if to say....who are these guys?

This week, Kuselias led a discussion about the best sponsorship for Dale Junior. Compton made all the right points about what Bud had done for Junior, and vice-versa. Cowlishaw pushed all that aside, because he only understood the obvious, and he chose Sony. Compton reminded them Junior still had a personal services contract with Bud, so even if the hood of the eight changed, he still worked for Budweiser.

The glaze in the eyes of Cowlishaw and Kuselias again summed-up for viewers the problem with NASCAR Now. These guys had no clue. Kuselias dismissed Compton's logical analysis, and that arrogant smirk viewers know so well came on his face. Kuselias said the best sponsor for Junior would be Yoo-hoo. That's right. On national TV, Kuselias said Yoo-hoo chocolate drink would be good for Junior.

Without saying anything else, Kuselias implied that even the rich rednecks like Junior enjoy a good cold chocolate drink. That's what those guys drink down there in like...North Carolina right? Once again, Stacy Compton took a deep breath. Once again, he forced a smile. And once again, he bit his tongue and thought...what the heck have I got myself into?

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. All email is held in confidence. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The "Allen Bestwick Show" Takes To ESPN2

This week on ESPN2's continuing presentation of NASCAR's Busch Series, the network was traveling light. The Milwaukee Mile did not bring out the network heavyweights, and the excuses ranged from being on vacation to just taking this weekend off.

Dr. Jerry Punch, Marty Reid, Brad Daugherty, Suzy Kolber and Tim Brewer were nowhere to be found. This left ESPN with no play-by-play announcer, no infield NASCAR Countdown host, no infield analyst, and no crew chief at the cut-a-way car. Amid all these MIA announcers, the network needed someone to step-up and run the show.

They did not call on an ESPN "name." They did not call on Erik Kuselias, the host of NASCAR Now. They did not "borrow" Mike Joy or another network play-by-play host. Instead, they turned to the one man who has been the "designated hitter" for ESPN's NASCAR coverage all season long. Quite simply, Allen Bestwick has been the story of the year in NASCAR TV.

In an early Daly Planet column, it was mentioned that fans had a hard time seeing Bestwick as a pit reporter for the Busch Series at Daytona. The memories of Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing and both TNT and NBC's NASCAR coverage were still fresh in their minds.

Bestwick lives and breathes racing, and has over twenty years of his life invested in NASCAR. Now, he was roaming the Busch pits far from the spotlight, and surrounded by an ever-changing cast of characters.

Those of us with a couple of years under our belts remember Bestwick as an organized and thoughtful reporter for MRN, NASCAR's radio arm. Those two characteristics have been hallmarks of Bestwick's career. They have also been his biggest downfall.

This season, Bestwick has gone from pit road to hosting the NASCAR Countdown show after Dale Earnhardt Junior's big "leaving DEI" announcement. He also flew to Bristol, CT, and hosted an edition of NASCAR Now. He is currently listed as a co-host of that show. Now, at Milwaukee, Bestwick steps into the play-by-play role for a primetime race while also hosting the pre-race show alone. The most asked question by fans on The Daly Planet is "why does ESPN not understand what Allen Bestwick brings to NASCAR racing on TV?"

ESPN is owned by Disney, and that corporation has slowly filtered itself through the many thousands of ESPN and ABC employees worldwide. ESPN executives no longer "search" for young announcers, they "cast" them. After working for ESPN on one assignment, announcers can be "re-cast" on another sport or program series. While this may work at Disney World, the results for ESPN have been catastrophic.

No where can this philosophy be seen more clearly than NASCAR. Jerry Punch, longtime ESPN loyal employee, was "re-cast" as a play-by-play announcer. ABC Radio announcer Doug Banks was "re-cast" as a NASCAR Now co-host, as was ESPN Sports Radio announcer Erik Kuselias. Brad Daugherty, the former college and NBA standout, was "re-cast" as an expert NASCAR analyst. Finally, after a long search, NFL Monday Night Football sideline reporter Suzy Kolber was "re-cast" as the NASCAR Countdown infield host.

All these people are "cast members," I kid you not. In the Disney corporate culture, it does not matter what you know, you simply read the script and "create TV." That lesson was painfully made clear to fans earlier this season with NASCAR Now, which featured two hosts who knew nothing about NASCAR. They simply read the script, and "created" a thirty minute show. It was almost scary.

Now, the wheels have fallen-off this entire approach to NASCAR, and ESPN is changing everything but the kitchen sink while taking it in the teeth from critics. ESPN executives have publicly promised change while NASCAR Now and NASCAR Countdown were ridiculed by fans on message boards and chat forums nationwide.

With ESPN's NEXTEL Cup coverage only a month away, the Milwaukee Busch race was a fascinating lesson in "old time TV." There was no infield million dollar set. That meant NASCAR Countdown was hosted by Bestwick from the roof of the track's tower.

Instead of Suzy Kolber, Brad Daugherty, and a "guest to be named later," fans got Rusty Wallace, Andy Petree, and all the pit reporters working hard to tell the stories of the day. What they also got the entire night was "The Allen Bestwick Show."

From the start, it was clear Bestwick would set a casual pace and let everyone talk. There were no "inside jokes," no snide digs, and no control issues. Bestwick did what he does best. He came organized, stepped aside, and let the other announcers shine. Wallace, Petree, and the entire pit road gang had a blast.

The windy pre-race show from on top of the tower was wonderful. It let Wallace and Petree finally set the table for a race they were going to call. It let pit announcers talk directly to each other, and do the kind of reporting that they were hired to do. Jamie Little and Shannon Spake worked hard all night long and went a long way toward removing their NASCAR rookie stripes at the end of the season.

Petree and Wallace embraced their freedom to talk, and let it flow. Though many fans still have trouble with Rusty's style, he is who he is. Petree does a very good job of keeping Rusty calm, balancing out the points he makes, and reinforcing the things he agrees with. Talk about the ultimate crew chief.

Added to the plot was the Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, and Scott Wimmer stories as the race unfolded. Ultimately, it made for a fun race on a nice night with a lot of action for the fans. It was the kind of race ESPN "used to do." Three booth announcers, a couple of pit reporters, and lots of good commentary.

As if to pay tribute to the old days, the ESPN Director took a wideshot and let the electronic graphics display as the top twenty cars screamed across the finish line. What a refreshing change from the NEXTEL Cup coverage of only one or two cars finishing. The technical parts of this event were solid, and the only production issue was not enough full field re-caps. That was a bit tough with the good racing.

Sometimes in TV, the best coverage is the simplest. In a couple of weeks, ESPN will unfold their massive coverage of the Brickyard 400. Again, "you are looking live at somewhere" will ring from Brent Musburger as "telecast host." Suzy Kolber will be hosting the high-profile NASCAR Countdown from the infield. She will be asking a lot of questions, as she has been to two NASCAR races...ever. Brad Daugherty used to be a part-owner of a Busch team. So, he will be the infield expert analyst for NEXTEL Cup. Jerry Punch will be in the booth, where talking for three hours has proven not to be his favorite activity. The word is, Allen Bestwick "might be" a pit road reporter.

When that happens, remember that Allen, Rusty, Andy, and three pit reporters brought you a preview show and race from Milwaukee with no infield host, no infield analyst, no infield crew chief, and no hype. They did not need a "telecast host," cut-a-way car, or a million dollar infield set that spins. All they needed was nice solid NASCAR racing on a classic track with good drivers and a professional ESPN production team. That's why ESPN got into this business, and on Saturday night at Milwaukee, it finally showed.

As the Milwaukee telecast closed, Bestwick said "what a night." Petree said "what a story, I'm glad I was here." Finally, Rusty Wallace said "one of the greatest races I have seen in a long time." Fans who like good racing and good TV should be able to agree with all three comments. What a fun night of racing on ESPN2, something that has never been said on The Daly Planet this year. Thanks Allen.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. All email is confidential, and thanks again for stopping by.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Kuselias Goes To Radio And "NASCAR Now" Goes To Heaven

Friday began for a lot of sports fans like myself by checking out Mike and Mike on ESPN Radio. This program is also broadcast on ESPN2, which I was watching. With co-host Mike Greenberg on vacation, the Friday show turned to a sports radio veteran to step-in. His name is Erik Kuselias, and he is the full time host for NASCAR Now on ESPN2.

That same morning in California, the inspection process for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup cars took place in Sonoma. Shortly thereafter, news began buzzing through the pits that over in "template land," all hell was breaking loose. There were two cars parked without inspection stickers that allowed them to race, and they had the numbers twenty-four and forty-eight.

Mike Golic is well-spoken, but he is no match for Mike Greenberg. Meanwhile, Greenberg is great on facts while Golic is great on common sense and "reality." Their differences make them a good radio show, and the fact that they like and respect each other as friends really closes the deal for listeners.

Erik Kuselias was already wearing thin on Mike Golic one hour into their program together. Kuselias had turned everything Golic said into a debate, and would not let anything just "slide by" as conversation. In talking about football teams, Pacman Jones, and player behavior, Kuselias was on a roll. Anyone who watches or listens to the show regularly could tell that things were coming to a head. Golic was steamed.

With Kuselias on the radio and TV with Mike and Mike, ESPN News Anchor Ryan Burr stepped-in for his second NASCAR Now show of the week. Little did he know one of the "new" top stories of the year was brewing on the West Coast. Burr had delivered a great Thursday show, but the last segment was ruined as the program aired, and ESPN was unable to fix it for the East Coast. For Burr, Friday was going to be memorable.

Erik Kuselias was pointing at Mike Golic. Kuselias was yelling about all kinds of things like personal responsibility, NFL players as adults, and being accountable. Golic was trying to be realistic in that the "new breed" of players in the league needed some sort of "assistance" to stay out of trouble.

The problem was, Kuselias kept telling Golic he was "wrong." In a radio talk show anyone can have an opinion. When that opinion is being expressed by a former NFL player who the show is named after, a substitute host might consider a little understanding. Not Kuselias. No friendship here and no respect.

NASCAR had made a decision. They were going to park the points leader and his wingman for practice and qualifying. Both of them had presented illegal COT cars and could start from the rear of the field...if the changes they made Friday after inspection allowed them to pass. If not, no racing. The bombshell had exploded.

There was steam coming out of Mike Golic's ears when he turned to Erik Kuselias and said "you're a lawyer." Golic continued that as a lawyer, Kuselias could "spin things anyway he needed to for a client." Golic said it didn't make any difference what reality was, or what people actually needed, that Erik Kuselias could say anything at anytime as long as he had the need. Kuselias looked at Golic with an arrogant smile and said "I'm not above that."

I reached up and changed the channel. I was as done with Kuselias on Mike and Mike as I was on NASCAR Now. Sports TV does not need to be mean and argumentative to get points across to viewers. If that is the format the people like on some sports radios shows, that's fine. As many readers have told me, that is Kuselias strong point, battling callers and stirring the pot on radio.

Ryan Burr and his crew took to the air with NASCAR Now and slammed a thirty minute NASCAR show on the air that viewers could watch each and every day. Burr hit the big story, then went directly to Marty Smith in California for a live update. Smith laid down the details not only about the inspection issue, but potential penalties that could come down next week.

Bob Holtzman was the ESPN "pool" reporter this week, and he updated the Hendrick story with good driver comments from Sonoma. Richard Childress had great words about the urgency to keep things under control with the COT, or go right back to the incredible expense and exotic parts that currently rule the Cup circuit.

Holtzman continued with an interview of Terry Labonte who was returning to NASCAR under rather questionable circumstances. In the only glitch of the show, Holtzman showed that "pool" reporters like David Amber or Wendi Nix often miss the NASCAR stories because of their lack of racing knowledge. Labonte's return was causing hard feelings up and down pit road. He is back to use his champion's provisional if he does not make the race on time, and guarantee Michael Waltrip's car into the event.

Burr lead Tim Cowlishaw through the mandatory sales feature of "driver pick'ems," and also ran a video advancer on Sonoma edited by the NASCAR Now production staff. There were no technical problems with this show, and it seems that ESPN's on-air issues are long gone.

With Allen Bestwick in Milwaukee doing double-duty hosting NASCAR Countdown and the ESPN Busch Series race, fans like to settle for the next best thing in Ryan Burr. His on-air presentation is excellent, and his knowledge of the sport is solid. Why he has not migrated to this program full-time is anybody's guess.

It is now about a month before ESPN leaves the friendly confines of the Busch Series, and steps-up onto the main stage of NEXTEL Cup. They will be the face of NASCAR for the entire "Chase for the Cup," and NASCAR Now will be their news outlet. This is the time to make the changes needed to allow both the live racing and the daily news show to shine like the network envisioned when they began planning.

ESPN has already released Doug Banks and brought-in Ryan Burr. Last week, they allowed Mike Massaro to step-up and host NASCAR Countdown. This week, Allen Bestwick hosts Countdown and calls the action in the Busch race. We know change can occur, and hope ESPN uses this four week period before "The Brickyard" to continue these positive efforts. When the national spotlight begins to shine in July, everyone on the air had better know their NASCAR...everyone.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from viewers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. All email is confidential, and thanks again for stopping by.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"NASCAR Now" Glitches On ESPN

Thanks to everyone who wrote in about the last segment of the 6:30 PM Eastern Time showing of NASCAR Now. ESPN2 had technical problems, which seem to have originated from their Master Control Switching area.

The last segment of the program never aired. There were several attempts to re-air portions of the segment, but they all failed. Earlier in the show, host Ryan Burr indicated that this portion of the show contained the infamous "Vault Cola Driver Pick-Ems."

In this show, Around The Horn's Tim Cowlishaw was doing the picking, and we never saw it. No word from ESPN if viewers called upset, or very happy. When ESPN lets me know what happened I will pass it along. Thanks.

Ray Dunlap Gets Back To "Tradin' Paint"

Last year, things got pretty rocky for veteran NASCAR pit reporter Ray Dunlap. As a guest on SPEED's Tradin' Paint, Dunlap found himself trying to make a point about the absence of minorities in NASCAR. Unfortunately, he referenced some issues that clearly should have been out-of-bounds.

Everybody stood-up and did the political thing that is so "in" these days. Ray got suspended for a week, and his name was all over the media and the Internet. SPEED said they were sorry, and Ray said he was sorry. NASCAR said they were "incredibly disappointed." As if they watch Tradin' Paint. Rumor is they were "notified" by a reporter calling for a reaction. Maybe they saw it on

Well, now Ray has been working hard once again this season for SPEED, and he was the guest this past weekend on Tradin' Paint. This time, Kyle Petty is alongside as the "driver," but John Roberts is still the host. This was an important appearance for Dunlap, because it was the first show since Junior's big announcement. There was plenty on the table to talk about, and lots of people were watching.

You have to hand it to Dunlap, he waded right into the deep end by saying that the Hendrick advantage right now in the COT will be gone next season. Basically, Dunlap is saying that Junior might be buying today what he won't be enjoying next year...success. Dunlap has a great point as we have seen the other big teams catching Hendrick already this season in COT performance.

Next came the Kyle Busch discussion. Petty and Dunlap tried their best to put a brave face on the fact that Kyle had gotten the boot at Hendrick. Petty sounded like a supportive dad, and his words were well-taken by the live audience. Dunlap suggested Busch would not return to Rousch, but would pick the team that puts him in as the number one driver. Petty politely said...Busch was not mature enough for that role.

Dunlap was then strong in his comments about Denny Hamlin. Dunlap said he has seen Hamlin's crew "just flat screw up." Dunlap referenced his DirecTV Hot Pass experience, and that he had seen first hand a lot of crews this season make very strange pit calls. I think viewers at home would agree with that, but Jeff Gordon's "strange" strategy move kind of worked out.

John Roberts allowed Ray, as a veteran of the Craftsman Truck Series, to speak freely about this series as a whole, and the season to this point. He raised a fascinating point that had not been discussed before in the media. With the COT full time in 2008, there really is no "test" data that teams can get from the Busch cars. The rumor is that Cup teams will be coming back to the Trucks to "test" the elements that are similar to both, like the splitter.

"Someone needs to make a plan," said Dunlap about the fact that both the Busch and Truck Series are so heavily impacted by Cup owners. Kyle's point was if the "Buschwackers" move series, they will just become "Tailgaters" and flood the Truck Series, pushing out the "Truck only" teams. This was a very interesting discussion, and exactly the type that Tradin' Paint was meant to elicit.

In the next segment, the issue of race came up again. Dunlap was solid in his praise of the gifts that mixed race F-1 driver Lewis Hamilton possesses. He added that a big issue for NASCAR right now is that the sport has yet to have a female driver succeed. Dunlap's point, which was similar to the one from last year, is that driving ability and not skin color or gender will be key to the success of anyone in NASCAR. This time, he stayed on course and was completely well-spoken.

Finally, the best part of going back and looking at this program several days later was made very clear. John Roberts asked Dunlap what the headline would be in the papers after Michigan. Without hesitation, Dunlap said "Hendrick Motorsports finally got toppled." A quick check of Edwards, Truex, Stewart, Mears, and Junior as the top five reveal that Ray has a pretty good grasp of things other than the Truck Series.

It was nice to see a hard-working guy like Ray Dunlap back in full stride with Tradin' Paint, and his continuing coverage of the Truck Series for SPEED. Veteran fans will remember that Ray worked his way up the ladder, and unlike some others who prowl pit road, understands the sport very deeply.

This season, Tradin' Paint has proven to be a good platform for key people in the sport to be seen, including Dunlap, Randy Pemberton, Reporter Jenna Fryer of the AP, and even Humpy Wheeler. Let's hope the producers continue to expand their ideas of who can appear, and include new viewpoints. For those who have not seen it, Tradin' Paint is a good little show to program into your DVR.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"NASCAR Now" Still Misses The Mark

Things have taken a new twist in the crazy world of ESPN2's NASCAR Now. This series has been a roller-coaster ride since Daytona. First, the audience discovered that ESPN had hired two announcers that knew nothing about NASCAR. In fact, they had never been to a race. As if that were not wild enough, ESPN began to feature stories that they could "hype," instead of the everyday news and notes. "Kasey Kahne says David Stremme is fat" was an all-time classic.

On the Tuesday edition of the show, host Erik Kuselias threw every embarrassing question and scenario directly toward Kurt Busch that anyone could imagine. Kurt was actually on the show because he is involved with the Gillette Young Guns promotion of a TV series on ABC. Now a TV veteran, Busch smiled and deflected every question about his brother, Dale Junior, his season, and even his future with Penske Racing.

Kuselias is shameless, because his background is talk radio. He clearly does not realize when he is crossing the line, because he does not know the sport. His former co-host, Doug Banks, never even knew there was a line, and he is now departed. This leaves the bulk of the shows to Kuselias, and his confrontational style. Its not working and ESPN knows it.

As if to throw some credibility his way, NASCAR Now has shifted from "hype" to "scoop." Over the past couple of weeks, the show is now supposedly "first" with a lot of breaking news and rumors. The show has a good group of hired reporters, but most of them look mortified when ESPN now "hypes" that they have "breaking news." This is not a sport that tends to break anything but rear clips, because pretty much everybody is in everybody else's business.

Wednesday, poor Marty Smith was put on the spot again. The graphic on the screen read "breaking news," but it was certainly not the case. After the NEXTEL merger with SPRINT, there had been much discussion about when to change the NEXTEL Cup Series over to the SPRINT Cup. It seems that they decided to do that for 2008.

"When do you think we will have some kind of confirmation from somebody on this?" asked Kuselias. Marty Smith had only quoted his double top secret inside sources on this story, and nothing more. SPRINT had denied it, NASCAR had denied it, and most everyone else in North America...did not care. Marty's final line was "I believe it will happen." That line never worked for me in Journalism class, but if it works for ESPN, more power to them. No sources, no confirmation, no timetable, but let's report it.

Brad Daugherty was next, and things took an interesting turn. Responding to Humpy Wheeler's comments about mixed race F-1 driver Lewis Hamilton, Daugherty spoke about his efforts on NASCAR's Diversity Council. His point was to create go-kart programs for urban kids to encourage them to take up racing as a way to insert black and minority drivers into NASCAR. What he never mentioned, of course, was why he did not do that during his reign, and why the Diversity Council basically fell apart.

After several commercials in the program for Carino's Italian Grill, their driver Brad Coleman showed up to be interviewed by phone. Imagine that. Coleman is an up-and-coming star, but Kuselias just read scripted questions to him. That turned what could have been a sparkling interview into just another typical NASCAR Now wasted opportunity.

The Daly Planet has written enough about this show. It continues to be a disappointment for fans and the sport. You simply cannot cover an entire sport that lives in one area of North Carolina from Bristol, CT with a couple of reporters. ESPN needs to have a studio in the Mooresville area, and let drivers drop-by rather than talk on their cell phones.

This sport is different from any other in North America. Basically one big group of people jumps on a plane, goes to a town, and puts on a "show." Then, everybody flies back home again. Because they all share so many suppliers of parts for the cars and many other support services, everything is in one area. This is not hard to understand. Its also not hard to find.

As ESPN found out last time they did this type of show, it is basically impossible to maintain any kind of connection or credibility with Mooresville, North Carolina from Bristol, CT. That show was called RPM2Nite. The studio was in the greater Charlotte area, and everyone knew it. That show put the ESPN stamp on NASCAR and gave ESPN the day-to-day credibility they are now sorely lacking.

The best thing ESPN could do is get Winston Kelley on the phone, and reserve space in the new NASCAR Hall of Fame business tower. At least fans would know that this eight year commitment to NASCAR is something ESPN is beginning to take seriously. Right now, for viewers of NASCAR Now, it appears to be something that ESPN "has to do." The problem is, they are not even doing it well.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. All email will be held in confidence. Thanks again for stopping by.

Comments On Sirius Speedway Interview

Many fans had asked for a forum to add comments after John Daly finished another interview segment with Dave "The Godfather" Moody on Sirius Speedway. Please feel free to post your comments about the topics covered, and add your opinion about the on-going issues in this season's NASCAR TV coverage.

Thanks again to Dave and Producer Ryan Horn for allowing NASCAR TV topics to be discussed on a national basis. You can read Dave's own blog at which is updated regularly.

To make a comment, simply click on the COMMENTS button below, there is no requirement to provide email or other private information. Just obey the rules of the site, which are posted to the right.

If you wish not to be published, email directly. All email is confidential. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Will "The Chase" Result In ESPN3?

The last time ESPN carried NASCAR, things were very different. ESPN was a completely different company, rooted in hardcore sports presented on the "mothership channel" of ESPN. NASCAR had managed to climb its way up the ladder and become one of those sports. But it was a long hard climb.

Back then, NASCAR was different too. There was no "Chase for the Cup," no "elimination races" before The Chase, and no "Car of Tomorrow." There was just racing. The fans loved it, but trouble was brewing on the horizon in "TV land."

ESPN and NASCAR got very mad at each other, and they split-up. Each was convinced they were right about money, and what was best for the sport. Needless to say, the parting was not a pleasant one.

NASCAR threw ESPN out of its tracks, and prevented ESPN from showing highlights or using footage. ESPN promptly cancelled RPM2Nite and banned NASCAR from SportsCenter. Nothing about this was good for the fans.

Now, more than five years later, ESPN and NASCAR have found once again that they are better together than apart. Apparently, several hundred million dollars changing hands did not hurt things either. So, here we go...again.

In "TV land," we find ourselves right now on the verge of several powerful forces about to converge. It starts with The Brickyard 400, and runs right through the end of the NASCAR season. This year, ESPN will broadcast both the NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series races from July through November. ESPN has the practice, the qualifying, and the happy hour coverage as well. They will be the TV face of NASCAR for the "stretch run."

On a daily basis, ESPN has NASCAR Now, the only NASCAR news show on TV during the week. On Sundays and Mondays, this show is one hour long. The rest of the week's shows are thirty minutes, unless there is breaking news.

Today's column is a result of what happened on Monday of this week. Better yet, what did not happen. This past week, Dale Junior landed at Hendrick Motorsports. That might be the biggest story of the year. The MIS race was the first event after the shake-up. The best part was, Kyle Busch, the "other party" in the Junior deal, was driving in both the Truck and NEXTEL Cup MIS races. This was going to be good.

Over in Kentucky, The Busch Series was holding a stand-alone race that was completely sold-out. Kentucky Speedway wants a NEXTEL Cup race very badly. The Busch guys put on an awesome show in front of a packed house that resulted in a first time winner. Finally, the Busch Series had a chance to shine in their own spotlight.

Back at MIS, Kyle Busch put on his Truck Series firesuit and promptly went out and finished second. He finished second because Truck Series regular Travis Kvapil passed him on the last lap. Kyle did not panic. He did not crash. He kept his head on straight and finished second. After a night of sleep, he put his NEXTEL Cup firesuit on and went out and finished sixth. That was right behind Dale Earnhardt Junior. This was better than good.

On Monday, ESPN prepares a one hour NASCAR Now show. The network expanded to an hour back on April 12th for one reason. The ESPN Press Release said "the expanded format will provide more time for recaps and analysis of the weekend's NASCAR races." That certainly makes sense. ESPN has the manpower and the news gathering capability to put together a good hour of NASCAR. That only leaves one problem. Sometimes, they have no TV network on which to air it.

NASCAR Now viewers on ESPN2 have been introduced to women's WTA tennis, The Arena Football League, and just this last Monday...The College Baseball World Series. Instead of one hour of NASCAR, viewers saw or recorded lots of hard-working college guys playing their hearts out at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska. NASCAR fans have seen Maria Sharapova serve it up, and the Orlando Predators go deep. What they did not see on these days, was NASCAR.

ESPN has just two channels to carry its live events. Sometimes, they use ABC Sports, as they will for "The Chase" races. But, ABC will not carry practice, qualifying, happy hour, and trackside shows. ESPN and ESPN2 already have a full schedule of high-profile "non-NASCAR" sporting events that have been on these networks for many years now. Those would be the years that ESPN was without NASCAR.

Imagine, ESPN lost its one hour NASCAR Now show on Monday. It had Junior, Michigan, Kyle, Kentucky, Carl, news, rumors, and expert analysis. Gone. It was not "switched" to the ESPN News Network, or the ESPN Classic Channel. It was simply...gone.

Things change, however, on July 29th at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. From that day on, ESPN is the sole media company in charge of both the NEXTEL and Busch Series races. They are the only provider of "The Chase for the Cup." Take just a moment and think about that. Erase the memory of SPEED, NASCAR Live, Trackside, and the endless hours at the track. Things are about to change.

ESPN is going to try to insert into its two cable networks and ABC Sports seventeen NEXTEL and fourteen Busch Series races. On top of that, a daily thirty minute NASCAR news show that expands to one hour on Sunday and Monday. Before each race, there will be NASCAR Countdown, a thirty minute preview show. Wait, not done yet. Add in the practice and qualifying for the fourteen Busch Series races. Then, add in the practice, qualifying, and happy hour for the seventeen NEXTEL Cup events. Can you see where I am going with this?

Even before ESPN has broadcast one NEXTEL Cup event, NASCAR Now had been delayed or pre-empted by other live sports on the network. ESPN is about to add hundreds of hours of unstructured NASCAR programming that is always delayed or running long or postponed due to rain. Hundreds of hours. Just exactly how is that going to work?

As "The Chase" begins, many other professional and college sporting events are also closing-in on championships. Coverage of NEXTEL Cup qualifying takes on new meaning in "The Chase." So does practice, qualifying, and happy hour. That content is destined for two cable networks already hosting some of the highest profile sporting events in the world. Does NASCAR just take a backseat?

When NASCAR Now did not appear on Monday, ESPN made a decision that The College Baseball World Series was more important. We have already seen that WTA Tennis was more important, The French Open was more important, and Arena Football was more important. And this is just a NASCAR news show. When the issue is practice, qualifying, or happy hour...will other sports continue to be more important?

Fans have been spoiled by SPEED, and the other networks including ESPN2 that have carried the ancillary parts of race week, and given them plenty of time. We are used to getting our NASCAR when we want it, and staying with it until the on-track activity is over.

ESPN should have switched the one hour NASCAR Now on Monday to another ESPN network. They should have used a crawl to tell viewers where to turn. The DVR and VCR gang would not be helped, but at least ESPN News or ESPN Classic could have run this program for the viewers who have digital cable. The content of NASCAR Now should not have been blocked from distribution by the internal scheduling problems of ESPN.

It should be interesting when NEXTEL Cup practice, qualifying, and racing are added to the existing mix of both the Busch Series and NASCAR Now. The ESPN Programming Department "War Room" should be a busy place until November. Good luck, we'll be watching.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. All email is confidential. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Slow Quiet Death Of "Inside NEXTEL Cup" on SPEED

A while back the classic Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd penned a song called "That Smell." It is about a man who must change his ways or die. The most gripping part of the song is the lyric "the angel of darkness is upon you...can't you smell that smell? The smell of death surrounds you."

On Monday night when I saw the dark and cold SPEED TV studio filled with four unhappy and uncomfortable grown men, that song began to play in my head over-and-over again. There was only one reason. I simply cannot wait for Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing to finally die.

Earlier this season, The Daly Planet called for someone to rush in and try to revive this program by switching the host, changing the format, or even changing the dreadful music. Change the shirts, paint the set, get new chairs...anything to help this mess. Unfortunately, the time for effective treatment of this "patient" has passed. We must now plan for the future, remember the good times, and understand one thing very clearly.

This classic NASCAR TV program is dead as a doornail. All the participants are just going through the paces, or "phoning it in" as they say in TV land. The network that brings fans such quality NASCAR programming as RaceDay, Tradin' Paint, Trackside, and Survival of the Fastest has allowed Inside NEXTEL Cup to deteriorate to its lowest level. It is now on life-support and sinking fast.

Dave Despain has been upset since the first day he tried to fill Allen Bestwick's shoes, and failed miserably. Still the host, Despain has absolutely separated himself from the panelists, and follows his own plan throughout the show. His anger is very clear anytime someone "deviates" from his script. His baby is WindTunnel, and he makes it very clear that this "NASCAR stuff" is beneath him. Its just in his contract.

This Monday, SPEED turned the knife on viewers by returning Brian Vickers to the program, and placing him directly next to the man he hates with a passion. Michael Waltrip was rocking the Converse All-Stars and big hair and had every bit of his ego pumped to the max. Vickers spent the first forty-five minutes of this show staring directly at Despain as if when he looked at Waltrip he would explode. Considering the hard time Waltrip and Schrader gave Vickers when he was a regular panelist last year, Vickers might have good reason to go boom.

Greg Biffle is a good guy, a great driver, and has super technical knowledge. Unfortunately, without Kenny Schrader on the set to act as the "den mother" for Biffle and Waltrip, there is no show. When Despain made a crack about Rick Hendrick, Waltrip said very clearly "I don't care what you do on Sunday night, but don't do that here." In other words, you might be responsible for that WindTunnel crap, but this is my show. Let me tell you folks, the love was just flowing. Schrader would have been howling.

A while back, SPEED decided to cancel the weekly guest interview on this series. Called "The Hot Seat," it was sometimes the best feature of the show. In fact, the guest was often asked to stay for the remainder of the program right on the set and act as a fourth panelist. From Mike Helton to Jeff Gordon, everyone in NASCAR has been on "The Hot Seat" and loved it. Every year Schrader used to ask Mike Helton how much money he made...just for information purposes.

At the same time the guest was dropped, SPEED decided to take the remote control away from the panel that allowed them to stop and start the video highlights. Fans remember this machine in the hands of Michael Waltrip making Allen Bestwick so crazy you had to laugh. Bestwick would be having a coronary while Waltrip would be saying "let's see what this button does." One never knew if the panel would take a look at a big wreck, a good pass, or Carl Edwards "hot mom."

The show used to also sneak in a low-budget feature where Michael Waltrip interviewed somebody "of interest" during the week. These features ranged from track security guards to an Iowa pumpkin farmer. As usual with Waltrip, you just never knew. His take on the world was always just a little bit "off camber."

Originally cast aside as being boring and not a "Cup driver," the absence of Johnny Benson has been felt since the moment he left. The chemistry of this show needed a personality like Benson to counteract Waltrip and Schrader. Johnny was often the voice of reason while the other two continued to howl with laughter or question Michael's personal grooming issues. Benson was the blue-collar working man who showed up, had fun, gave it his all, and went home. While we all wanted to meet Schrader and Waltrip in a bar, most of us identified with Benson all too well.

Now, this season's cast has staggered to June on Monday nights where they are the only NASCAR program in sight. Surrounded by car auctions and celebrity "paybacks," three guys try to talk NASCAR to absolutely no one. Gone is NBS 24/7, gone is Beyond The Wheel, and gone is any hint that SPEED values Mondays as a NASCAR night. No doubt, when this show goes away in November, Mondays will become another night of Pinks, Unique Whips, and Paybacks.

Inside NEXTEL Cup is the only original remaining show that was created when the SpeedVision Network started, and is still on the air today. Once expanded to ninety minutes, and once cancelled, this series has somehow managed to stay afloat. Don't forget, the first episode of the show called Inside Winston Cup Racing aired after the Daytona 1996.

All TV series eventually come to an end, and often with a whimper and not a bang. This show is quietly edging its way toward conclusion on a lonely night with no audience and bored panelists. There is no fun, no laughter, and nothing spontaneous will ever happen while Despain is in charge. There are no guests, nothing to fool around with, and even the viewer mail is "sanitized." What a shame.

Those of us lucky enough to be fans of this series for the last ten years will remember the fun, the sincerity, and the camaraderie of the original crew. We will also remember the harsh changes, the bruised egos, and the ruined chemistry. All this done by one executive who is no longer even employed by SPEED. Inside NEXTEL Cup will finish its run this season, and I have a feeling it will slip quietly into the night never to return. Maybe, that is the best thing that could happen.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. All email is confidential. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

ESPN Puts Bestwick In The Booth at Milwaukee

Today's press release from ESPN contained an interesting note for veteran NASCAR fans. Alongside of Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree in the announce booth at the Milwaukee Mile will be...Allen Bestwick calling the play-by-play action.

This is certainly a great opportunity for Bestwick to continue to impress the ESPN folks as he did when he stepped-up and hosted several live editions of NASCAR Countdown, the Busch Series pre-race show. Bestwick brings a distinctive style that allows the other analysts to be the stars, while he simply directs traffic and controls the flow of the telecast.

No topic has generated more email at The Daly Planet that Allen Bestwick. When he was fired from Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing on SPEED after many years as the host, fans really felt a personal sense of loss and outrage. It did not matter if his style made you crazy, or you absolutely loved it. Bestwick always shows up, is always prepared, and is always a "giver" when he is on-the-air.

Good luck to Allen in Milwaukee, and when ESPN releases the name of the person hosting NASCAR Countdown this weekend, The Daly Planet will bring it to you.

UPDATE: ESPN has announced Allen will also host the pre-race program called NASCAR Countdown, so it will be double-duty for AB at Milwaukee.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. All email contact is kept confidential. Thanks again for stopping by.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

TNT Dumps NASCAR For "Van Helsing" Movie

Make no mistake about it, Turner Network Television is an entertainment network. Basically just a bunch of file servers located in Turner's Atlanta facility, the network is a twenty-four hour computer-driven playback machine occasionally interrupted by a sports program. NASCAR fans certainly have that feeling after Sunday in Michigan.

TNT originates no regular NASCAR programming. They don't have any other NASCAR shows, and don't carry any other racing series. The NASCAR information on the TNT website takes up...two pages. NASCAR is not even in the TNT website forum under "sports on TNT."

Sunday at Michigan, there was a whole lot going on in the NEXTEL Cup race, and a whole lot going on in the sport. But, for TNT...that did not matter. What was going on for them was a vampire movie called "Van Helsing."

Carl Edwards talked a bit from Victory Lane after his back flip, and dedicated the win to his father. Finally, one of his crew members could shave the beard he had been growing until Carl won in the big series. It was a good story, and Carl made for just the type of winner that NASCAR needed to get itself back on track with the fans and the media after this week of chaos.

Luckily, Carl's interview still left well over fifteen minutes in the allotted time on TNT for NASCAR. This would give the pit reporters plenty of time to cover all the stories after the race, get all the good interviews with the happy and sad, and let TNT show off their new infield set and crew. Finally, fans were going to get some good post-race TV.

But first, the pit reporters got Martin Truex Jr. and then Dale Earnhardt Jr. for some quick comments. Then, Bill Weber closed out the race from the announce booth with a recap of the season standings and some good-natured kidding of Kyle Petty, who will race next week in Sonoma. Then, he "threw" down to the infield for the post-race show. Well, at least that's what NASCAR fans thought.

Infield host Marc Fein and analyst Larry McReynolds were atop the new multi-million dollar TNT infield set. The weather was great, the race was over, and the interviews were just waiting to be had. The best part was, it was Father's Day and seeing the drivers with their families was going to be fun.

Remember, this is the network that has one hour and thirty minutes of pre-race programming before every event. This is the network with two separate shows, TNT Live and Countdown to Green before the race. These two shows completely set the table for following-up on the stories presented pre-race with the same drivers and teams now that the race was over. Things could not be coming together better.

Fein and McReynolds chatted briefly about the race, with Larry Mac doing his usual thorough job of summing-up the event. Since Edwards, Junior, and Truex had been interviewed, this left the pit reporters forty drivers to choose from. As with almost every NASCAR event there were some great stories, but in this race, one stood out like a sore thumb.

There he was, standing on pit road with a smile on his face. After a strong sixth place finish, Kyle Busch was showing any potential employer that he still had what it took to run fast. But, more important than that, after a week of hearing how many cars he had crashed, how he was too hot-headed, and how he "never fit in" at Hendrick, he had just finished four hundred miles at Michigan without a scratch.

Shaking Kyle's hand was Casey Mears, who finished fourth and showed that his recent win was not a fluke, and that his season is on the rise. The big sigh of relief you heard was Jamie McMurray, who finished eighth. After a tough early season, a strong showing for both Crown Royal and Ford was exactly what he needed.

A little further down pit road was a tall guy with big hair and a tired look on his face. Michael Waltrip had finished a NEXTEL Cup race in tenth place in one of his own Toyotas. It seemed that the weight of the world was slowly lifting off his shoulders. He smiled brighter when David Reutimann stopped by to say he finished fifteenth. Both of these guys together was going to be one wild interview.

Back on the TNT "Thunderdome" rotating set, Marc Fein said something that sent a chill down the spine of TV viewers. He asked Larry McReynolds for his "final thoughts." Millions of NASCAR fans nationwide checked their watches. It was 5:15PM Eastern Time. There were fifteen minutes before TNT fired up their hard drive and went back to playing movies. At least, that what viewers thought.

Fein began to say goodbye, the music began to play, and the last words he said from Michigan were "thanks for watching NASCAR on TNT." Most NASCAR fans could not believe their ears when the Steppenwolf "Born To Be Wild" theme was then sung by the young man in serious need of some hair care products and a Lands End gift certificate. It was over, with fifteen minutes on the clock. TNT Sports has left the building.

There, on pit road and walking slowly toward the garage was NASCAR. The entire sport was there for the taking. Every driver, crew chief, owner, and front tire changer had just finished four hundred miles of what they love. Every wife, child, father, and human interest story was standing around shaking hands and beginning to organize the trip home. As they say in today's world, this was a "content rich" environment.

Basically, TNT did the mandatory interview with the winner, interviewed both DEI drivers, and then sprinted for the airplane. There was not a moment after the race where anyone except Larry McReynolds was "fired up" about what just went on during the race. If this had been an event that ran long on time, fans might understand. After a long rain delay like Pocono, leaving quickly is understood.

But, for a network like TNT who has only six NEXTEL Cup races in their entire schedule for the year, this was strange. When you add-in the fact that fifteen minutes remained in the scheduled time slot for this event, it becomes even stranger.

Finally, TNT had thumped all of us over the head with their NASCAR connection. They had Kyle Petty this season, and even talked him out of his own race car. They got Larry McReynolds to man the new infield set and "crew chief" the race. Finally, with much fanfare in the media, they rolled out their new "spin, lift, and turn" infield set on which they spent more than a million dollars.

How does all this fit with the network "running away" because they had fifteen minutes to fill? I wanted to hear from Michael Waltrip. I wanted to hear from Kyle Busch. I wanted to hear from Casey Mears, Jamie McMurray, and the others. How did Bill Elliot finish eleventh? What happened to Jimmie Johnson? There were far more stories to tell than fifteen minutes would have allowed. But as a lifelong fan who loves the sport, I sure would have appreciated it if TNT had tried.

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