Monday, April 30, 2007

ESPN's "NASCAR Now" Needs Changes

The return to rumor and innuendo was swift. The joy of Jeff Gordon writing his name once again in the NASCAR record book took a backseat. It was time for suggesting "something was going on" with Johnson and Mears. It was time for making Marty Smith answer demeaning questions. It was time to guess "what finger" Tony was pointing. It was time to embarrass Jeff Burton. Yes, once again it was time for the "anti-NASCAR voice" to return to ESPN2 and his position of power.

Erik Kuselias was back on NASCAR Now. This time he had a full hour to belittle a sport he does not understand, and he did a great job.

Kuselias is not a man who will go quietly into the night. His single on-air goal is to build gossip and innuendo where there is none. His focus is quickly moving through the hard news until he can get to the point where his "lawyer style" questions can be forced on others. You must choose for Kuselias. Someone must be "graded." One of two choices must be "selected." You must either "confirm or deny." You must answer "yes or no." You must choose.

There can be no free-flowing conversation in his world, and that is for one reason. It would quickly reveal the fact that he does not know anything about NASCAR. And make no mistake about it, he does not. Those around him pay the price.

The Daly Planet has tried to suggest that the NASCAR Now reporters be allowed to speak freely, and with each other, in the program's news section. Today, that attempt was made with completely disastrous results. Reporters Angelique Chengelis and David Newton attempted to talk spontaneously to each other, and the host. Kuselias looked like a deer-in-the-headlights. Remember, he has absolutely no NASCAR knowledge. He could not speak with them, follow-up, or react. He does not know what they are talking about. And he is hosting ESPN's flagship one hour NASCAR weekend-in-review show. Amazing.

Jeff Gordon might have thought that appearing on NASCAR Now would be a pleasure. This weekend was historic, and Gordon is a great live interview. With all the technology surrounding ESPN, it was incredible that Jeff Gordon was phone. No matter how much it cost, Gordon should have been live on-camera like every other person in this program. This was Gordon's day, and a time that will not come again. A cell phone call just does not make it for a key NASCAR TV partner like ESPN in the first year of their return to the sport. If Gordon was unavailable for a TV interview, Kuselias should has told us why. Now, let's move along to the other Jeff.

The ESPN camera was thrust in Jeff Burton's face after the NEXTEL Cup race at Talladega. He finished 34th after a wreck. He was frustrated. He was tired. He was disappointed. The ESPN reporter actually asked "how would you assess the day?" The look on Burton's face was priceless. This was the epitome of how ridiculous NASCAR Now has become. Burton took a deep breath, and politely answered "we got in a it wasn't very good." If only he had said "fantastic, I intended to finish just this way. Aren't you from NASCAR Now? Here's your sign." Somewhere, Bill Engvall would be smiling.

As a final note in this column, I would again appeal for ESPN to understand that there were three national touring races and several key regional touring series events this weekend. Who made the decision to feature only NEXTEL Cup in a one hour show about...NASCAR? The Craftsman Trucks got a ten second video highlight, and no interview with the winner. The Busch Series, actually run on ABC, got a fifteen second highlight package, no interview with the winner, and no follow-up on the nineteen year old pole sitter. This is sad, but there is more.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour was holding the classic "Spring Sizzler" up at Stafford Speedway in Connecticut, the Whelen South Mods were at Caraway, North Carolina, and the Busch East guys were slugging it out at the historic Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina. Not only were there no highlights, but none of these series has ever been mentioned on NASCAR Now. Never.

As we move into the month of May, things have to change on this program. To see Mike Massaro on the studio set making a brief appearance as a "reporter" was tough to take. Massaro has been the heart-and-soul of ESPN's NASCAR legacy for the past six years. Why not give him a chance to host some episodes of this program, and let some other ESPN personalities like Alan Bestwick get the same chance? Even Shannon Spake might deserve an opportunity to step-up and host a program or two. She has been working harder than anyone else on this series since Daytona.

When things aren't working on a NASCAR team, the owner shakes things up. Drivers, crew chiefs, spotters, and everyone else is fair game to be part of the changes. Since February, NASCAR Now has been sputtering. Now that three months have passed, and only Ryan Burr has been successful in the host role, its time to shake things up. Take stock in the fact that the news reporters, the field reporters, and the studio experts have been well-received. Then take an honest look at the single problem with the show, and make the change. The time is now, the only question is, can ESPN overcome its own ego and straighten things out for the overall good of the sport? After today's show, let's hope the answer is yes.

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