Thursday, April 12, 2007

ESPN's NASCAR Now: Superman Returns!

The welcoming voice of host Ryan Burr greeted NASCAR Now fans on Thursday, and viewers nationwide breathed a collective sigh of relief. After a tough week of struggle, NASCAR Now continued its bi-polar existence on ESPN2. Either its absolutely great, or absolutely terrible. Tonight, it was great.

Right off the top of the show, Burr brought in Jeremy McGrath live to talk about his surprising announcement. Jeremy has signed with Dale Earnhardt Junior's company "JR Motorsports." The best part was, Jeremy had fun and it was a great interview! Welcome back Ryan Burr. People were smiling, no harsh questions, and lots of info. This is what we need from NASCAR Now. I can hardly wait for the show to follow Jeremy in his new career path. What an opportunity to tie several ESPN-related sports together. Between Ricky Carmichael and Jeremy McGrath, NASCAR has just created a tremendous synergy with an entirely new fan base.

Burr then brought out top reporter Angelique Chengelis. She filled in the gaps in the Jeremy McGrath story, and then expanded the issue into the motocross world. What great info on the motocross connections to several NASCAR Cup teams. Unfortunately, Tim Cowlishaw showed up to pour water on Jeremy's parade by dissing his age. Tim is just a fish out-of-water in "NASCAR land," and his comments are misleading and ill-informed.

Boris Said came on and immediately put Cowlishaw in his place, which by the way is on Around The Horn. Said really had a great perspective on winners from one series coming over to another, and understood why and how McGrath can be successful on the four wheel side of the racing world. Boris is awesome with Ryan Burr, and he helped viewers to understand why Junior would dip into the motocross world for a new driver.

Angelique Chengelis really shed some new light on the fuel pump problems that confused both teams and fans. By identifying that the issue is only with the COT, she put fears of problems this weekend in Texas to rest. She also addressed potential problems with Dover, sanctioning fees, and financial issues for other tracks in the future. She walked a fine line with the perceived problems that Ford is having, and even got Jack Rousch to admit he was part of that problem. When is the last time we heard that one? We need to hear more from Angelique on a regular basis.

Once again, NASCAR Now stepped-up to the plate and brought in Rick Crawford from the Craftsman Truck Series. Crawford is a great interview, and he really embodies what the NCTS is all about. Burr brought out key issues and got Crawford talking plainly about the future of this team and the series itself. Rick even got into the Ford vs. Toyota controversy, and did a great job of putting things in perspective. Finally, Burr asked Crawford about his young son who is racing locally, and what his future might be. This is the type of conversation that fans love. Including the Truck Series as an equal partner to Cup and Busch is key to the credibility of NASCAR Now. The racing is great, the drivers are talented, and the story lines just keep coming.

DJ Copp stopped by to talk about pit-road matters in Texas, and it was clear that he enjoys the upbeat and friendly conversation with Burr. Time was short, but it was great that NASCAR Now was throwing everything but the kitchen sink into this show after the big troubles earlier this week. The best part is, it worked.

One word about the "Vault Cola Pick-Em" feature that runs in this show...ridiculous. Come on guys, it makes no sense. Racing is lots of skill and lots of luck. This is not like handicapping a horse race or comparing football teams. It wastes precious time that could be spent on other issues, and one key item certainly should have been mentioned in this show.

This weekend, the NASCAR Whelen Modified season gets underway at Thompson Speedway in Connecticut. With great drivers like Mike Stefanik and Teddy Christopher, this is some of the best racing in the country. NASCAR Now should have run a full feature on this series, its connections to current NEXTEL Cup drivers, and the history of the tour. This was a "swing-and-a-whiff" that hopefully will be corrected tomorrow. The Modifieds are beginning a full season of racing that ends in October. Hopefully, NASCAR Now will decide to show highlights of each feature race, and help new fans to understand that NASCAR has a lot more than just three series.

On this show there was Jeremy McGrath, Rick Crawford, and Boris Said. Angelique Chengelis reported in two segments, and Tim Cowlishaw offered his brand of commentary on several topics. Lots of ground was covered, and things moved along at a brisk pace. What a pleasure to welcome Ryan Burr back to NASCAR Now. This is the type of national caliber motorsports show we have come to expect from ESPN. Tonight, they delivered.