Saturday, March 3, 2007

NASCAR TV 2007: A Season of Change

From the Daytona preview shows through the first NEXTEL Cup off-week, this has been a NASCAR TV season to remember. Here are some highlights:

  • Fox Sports has picked up where they left off, with a comfortable broadcast team relating easily to viewers and the NASCAR family. Daytona provided an excellent finish, but Fox announcers had differences about the lack of a caution flag on the final lap as most of us did in our water-cooler conversations. Unfortunately, after a strong Daytona race, the Fox Sports crew chose to show only the winning car cross the finish line in Fontana. No other competitor was shown finishing the race. None. A poor choice for the millions of fans after more than three hours of racing action.
  • The "new" Hollywood Hotel debuted in Fontana for Fox, but did not live up to its billing. Seemingly cramped and awkward, the interview box for liveshots was too small, and having a video background as opposed to the track view "live" let the air out of the Fox sails during their pre-show.
  • RaceDay on SPEED came out of the box as the all-star fun family show for the 2007 season. Host John Roberts handles a diverse group of crazies with an absolutely un-flappable calmness that allows those around him to perform at their best. Roberts has made a star of Jimmy Spencer, kept Kenny Wallace in the racing game, and gives reporter Wendy Venturini the freedom to carry the show with her quick wit and strong head for news.
  • Busch Series Racing debuted on ESPN with a very loud thud. The network transplanted Brent Musburger, Chris Fowler, and Brad Daugherty from their college sports duties and tried to sell them to NASCAR fans. It failed miserably. It took a strong performance by Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree in the booth to restore the credibility ESPN lost in the pre-race mess. Jerry Punch was welcomed back by viewers who missed his distinctive style and mannerisms, but he struggles on multi-hour play-by-play duties, and he has a long season ahead of him. Sideline reporting might be looking good, and Alan Bestwick is just a long walk away.
  • NASCAR Now on ESPN is the most controversial show of the season by far. Former sports radio talker Erik Kuselias overpowers everyone on the set as the show host, and has brought little NASCAR experience to the table. RPM2Nite, this is not. Brad Daugherty has also been added to the line-up, with Kuselias calling him "the professor." Alongside analyst Stacy Compton, Daugherty clearly appears to be "the student." Marty Smith brings some semblance of hard news to the show, but other talking heads come and go with little or nothing added to this new series. ESPN's decision to base this program in Bristol, CT instead of the Charlotte area is already causing trouble, and the lack of "news content" is showing.
  • The Craftsman Truck Series returned to SPEED and the outstanding Krista Voda is hosting the pre-race show with a rotating guest as co-host. Her interaction with Mark Martin, while freezing in Daytona, was memorable. She sets the table very well for the fans, and clearly puts her heart and soul into this struggling series. Phil Parsons continues to be the "rock' of credibility for the NCTS, and he is surrounded again by Rick Allen and Michael Waltrip. Allen tries his best, but racing is not in his blood. Luckily, Waltrip respects Parsons and puts in his best performance as an analyst on this series. Its nice to see the mature side of "Mikey."
  • Inside Nextel Cup on SPEED has been hilarious this season. In only a couple of shows, Michael Waltrip has drunk coffee on the air, asked questions out of the blue, had his cell phone ring during a segment, and completely ignored the show host, Dave Despain. Greg Biffle has been added to the show beginning in mid-March, but only a new host will bring this series back to the franchise it used to be with Alan Bestwick. Even TV needs chemistry in a group effort, and this group just does not have it.
  • Victory Lane on SPEED started small, and has become an outstanding show that captures a unique aspect of NASCAR. John Roberts hosts this fast-paced and free-flowing show anchored as close to Victory Lane at each track as possible. Throw in Kenny Wallace, Jimmy Spencer, the winning driver, his team owner, his crew chief, and you have exclusive and often emotional programming. Less of the video race recap, and more diverse interviews would serve this program well for the rest of the season. There is plenty of time later for highlights on SPEED.
  • The SPEED Report is mentioned only with great pain. This show was outstanding with Bob Jenkins, Connie LeGrand, Ralph Shaheen, Bob Varsha, and even Dave Despain at the helm as anchors. Then, SPEED changed management and the result has been a disaster. Gone are the motorsports types, and in are two local station anchors who are not familiar enough with the diverse motorsports landscape to hang-in through an hour of highlights and interviews. With a small amount of positive change, this could be one of the strongest shows on SPEED. The question is, will they step-up and make the changes needed to restore this series to its previous credibility? Let's hope so, racing needs it.

Thank you to Daly Planet readers for your feedback, as we also continue to make changes to this media project for 2007. Soon, there will be additional audio and video features, including podcasts and vblogs available. We look forward to continuing our unbiased evaluation of the performance of the NASCAR television partners throughout the season.