Monday, February 26, 2007

SPEED: Inside NEXTEL Cup - Fontana

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

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

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

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

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

NASCAR Now: Midnight at Fontana

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

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

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

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

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

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