Friday, April 13, 2007

ESPN: The Big Dogs Come Out On "NASCAR Now"

ESPN was loaded for bear on Friday as NASCAR Now hit the air with Ryan Burr handling the hosting duties. This was possibly the best edition of this series so far this season.

Reporter Marty Smith stepped-up to talk about the Earnhardt Jr. contract situation with new details not available elsewhere. Smith can report the hard facts, talk with clarity about the softer behind-the-scenes issues, and finally offer his informed opinion about NASCAR topics. He truly is ESPN's "Insider."

With practice and qualifying at Texas rained-out, Shannon Spake filled-in with a strong report and exclusive sound from the three NEXTEL Cup drivers in the Hendrick stable. This is exactly the type of information fans love. Getting the scoop from the "horse's mouth" is the best way to help the credibility of this TV series. All three drivers spoke honestly about the reasons for their success. Spake has proven to be a consistently good reporter with a laid-back style of presenting information that works well with the NASCAR set.

Busch Series driver Marcos Ambrose was interviewed on the phone, and he proved to be every bit the great interview that one might think. Ambrose is Australian, and he speaks directly to topics and answers questions without any of the normal political NASCAR "spin." Ryan Burr brought out the issues that the fans wanted to know, and Ambrose must be asked back in-person later in the season. He may be the top story of the Busch Series this year.

Tim Cowlishaw then appeared and spoke to the racing issues that called for opinions. Burr gave Cowlishaw a wide berth, and allowed him to speak in very general terms. Cowlishaw offered Kyle Busch up as the Texas NEXTEL Cup winner, and could offer absolutely nothing to back it up. Because, of course, that would call for facts.

Busch Series points leader Carl Edwards appeared on-camera and offered a nice preview of the Texas event. This is exactly the type of driver interaction that programs like RaceDay and Victory Lane on SPEED Channel have figured out. Fans want drivers talking about the race. As if to continue a good thought, Shannon Spake appeared with a happy and relaxed Mark Martin at the Texas track. Martin clearly enjoys talking to Spake, and he answered the questions about his layoff and part-time schedule with grace and class.

Unfortunately, ESPN has decided not to include NASCAR's Whelen Modified Tour on NASCAR Now. As a business partner of NASCAR, that decision seems strange for the network. The series kicks off this weekend with the "Icebreaker," a very historic NASCAR Modified race in Connecticut, the home state of ESPN. Perhaps, some NASCAR Now staffers who have never been to an actual NASCAR race might head over to Thompson Speedway and have some fun.

NASCAR Now was a pleasure to watch today, and had all of the up-to-date information that fans want from this show. Let's hope that the network lets host Ryan Burr continue to get his feet wet with this series, and return on Monday. That will be one of the key days for racing information so far this year. We shall see.