Wednesday, February 28, 2007

NASCAR Now: Attack of the COT's

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

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

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

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

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

NASCAR Now: Tuesday Accident Hysteria

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

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

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

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

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