Monday, April 2, 2007

NASCAR Now: A Great Show...Who Knew?

Erik Kuselias returned as the host of NASCAR Now, and did a valiant job of stepping aside and letting the pros talk about the Martinsville weekend. This time, ESPN stepped-up to the plate with fresh sound from Shannon Spake with Jeff Gordon's crew chief, Marty Smith live from Charlotte, and two experts in the studio. All of this was just in the first segment. Hey, NASCAR Now...where ya been? We've been waiting!

This type of start is exactly what ESPN needs to push their credibility up the least to the second rung. Boris Said and Tim Brewer bring to the set a nice mix of personalities, and its certainly nice to hear expert perspectives from people who have been there. It is still tough to deal with the harsh "sports radio" personality of Kuselias. He often "demands" one word answers or offers "true-or-false" questions that are crafted to incite fake controversy. When he takes the time to learn television, he will realize that pictures tell the story on this side of the fence, not volume or anger.

Strangely, Kuselias decided to engage NASCAR VP. Robin Pemberton in a solo conversation about the COT issues, when there on the set beside him sat the knowledge and skill to handle this interview in the form of Tim Brewer. Kuselias wasted this opportunity, and then turned back to Brewer and let him continue the COT discussion. Tim is great, and has the credibility to speak to the issues that Kuselias does not. When NASCAR Now can incorporate free conversation on the set in the same manner that it exists during the ESPN racing coverage, things will really flow. Right now, the show is simply trapped in a scripted cage.

With reporter Angelique Chengelis stopping by, this version of NASCAR Now featured five reporters and analysts operating in support of the host. This is exactly the kind of firepower that ESPN needs to bring to the plate each and every day until November. The sport of NASCAR racing is huge, and its about time that ESPN spread its wings, found its voice, and took control of the "NASCAR news" scene. With the effort today, the network has taken a step in the right direction.

Fox Sports Shows Only Two Finish At Martinsville

It began shortly after the race was over. The "email train" pulled into The Daly Planet loaded with an angry swirling group of NASCAR fans, many wearing red, some in orange, and lots from Fenton, Missouri. Once again, the NASCAR on Fox gang had decided to show only the top one or two cars finish a NEXTEL Cup race. Let me say that one more time. Fox Sports decided to show only the top two cars finishing at Martinsville. When the same thing happened at Bristol, I said the mistake was big...but this week...its hard to even comprehend. What has happened to our friends at Fox?

Fans of many teams expressed to The Daly Planet the frustration of watching a NEXTEL Cup race and knowing that their driver was battling for a top ten finish with only two laps to go. Then, as is now the case with Fox Sports, the production team shows only the top one or two cars cross the finish line. Fans who watched NASCAR on Fox for over three hours did not see their driver, top ten or not, finish the race. As was mentioned in a previous post, the race to the checkers is critical for positions throughout the entire field.

Viewers saw a "quad-split" in the final laps, that is the four "boxes" that each contain a different live picture. Fox Sports was trying to convince us that the crew chiefs of the teammates battling for the win were somehow about to do something "mystical" in the last lap. Neither one did anything, Jeff got alongside the car he co-owns, and lost the race by a fender. Great finish.

The problem was...then the entire field came racing to the line. The race is not over when the winner takes the checkered is this suddenly a concept that is lost on a TV crew that has been producing these races for years? What happened? Did we miss a memo? The questions and comments in The Daly Planet email were a bit more to the point about the competency level of the NASCAR on Fox production team.

At Bristol, Fox missed Dale Jr. finish in the top ten, and Kyle Petty finish in the top twenty...both good stories. This week, Junior finished fifth, and the rest of the top ten was a "who's who" of the top drivers. Ricky Rudd, Juan Montoya, and Kenny Schrader all grabbed top twenty finishes. But, no one saw any of it.

What a shame that something as simple as showing the cars finishing the race is the issue that trips up a good solid broadcast from the Fox Team. For the sake of the sport, let's hope that Fox takes this "off-week" to calm down and agree on a plan to allow fans of all the drivers to see their man race to the checkered flag as a reward for several hours of loyal viewing. Both ESPN and SPEED do not have these problems in the Busch and Craftsman Truck Series. It certainly makes us wonder...what were these guys thinking?