Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ryan Burr Brings "NASCAR Now" Back To Life

After a long hiatus, ESPN News anchor Ryan Burr returned to host the Wednesday edition of NASCAR Now. Burr is a tremendously professional anchor, and he finally brings to the table a slice of credibility that this show has been lacking.

Burr keeps the pace hopping, and he "threw" right away to Marty Smith for the news updates, including the hilarious fact that Jeff Gordon's team is now "driver shopping" for replacements while Jeff and Ingrid have their first baby. With Mark Martin probably stepping in for Gordon, things in the sport get more curious all the time.

The COT announcement for 2008 came next, and unfortunately NASCAR Now should have had an interview with a NASCAR representative. If Robin Pemberton was not available, then Jim Hunter, Mike Helton, or Brian France should have been shown to fans addressing this key issue for the future of the sport. This was a big mistake by NASCAR, as this program is the only daily outlet for TV interviews. Marty Smith came by to update the story, but it was not the same.

Ray Evernham is a frequent guest on ESPN, and he was interviewed by phone. This helped to put into an owner's perspective what the change to the COT in 2008 will mean both logistically and financially. Ray has recovered from his personal struggles, and appears to be getting his operation back on track.

Unfortunately, ESPN continues to offer Brad Daugherty as an expert, and he is not. While he is knowledgeable and a former Busch Series owner, having him follow Ray Evernham is just not a good idea. While Brad was playing ball, Ray was slugging it out on the racetracks of North America to cement his reputation as an outstanding racing mind.

Daugherty's comments were redundant, and his place in this show is confusing. On NASCAR Countdown, Daugherty is offered as "the voice of the fans." Here on NASCAR Now, he is an "Insider" and an "expert." Sooner or later, ESPN will have to explain to Daugherty what exactly they want him to do. Right now, they specialize in making him look foolish while denying him any opportunity to prepare feature reports, interview guests, or pursue his own story ideas.

Daugherty was pressed into service again to speak to the biggest changes in NASCAR history. He was brought into the program where NASCAR announced the COT full time in 2008 and beyond. Does that tip you off to what he should have addressed? Instead of the COT, he discussed the "Chase for the Cup." It was a disaster. Instead of speaking about the evolution of NASCAR vehicles and technology over the years, he spoke in PR terms about "the Chase." After his rambling and confusing answer, he was dismissed by Burr very quietly.

ESPN is showing the Indy 500 on ABC Sports, and forced NASCAR Now to provide promotional time. In having Janet Guthrie as a guest, Ryan Burr did his best to tie-in the women who have raced in NASCAR over the years. But, even with the graphic on the screen that said "Women in NASCAR," Guthrie addressed everything from an open-wheel perspective. Burr did his best promo, and let Guthrie talk about the women in the big race. This was a bit hard to take.

NASCAR Now has categorically ignored the Truck Series, often times the Busch Series, and completely ignored the NASCAR regional touring series. Suffering the same fate as College Gameday, Burr did not promote the Charlotte NEXTEL Cup race anywhere in the show. It is these types of ill-advised decisions that continue to hound this series. ESPN is slowly making this series about ESPN, and not NASCAR. If it continues, there will be trouble.

Luckily, the return of Ryan Burr overshadowed the other issues. Burr is smooth, great on live interviews, and knows the sport. He has a blast hosting this show, and viewers know it. Now, if the production team can define what items need to be addressed as the sport hits the summer, things will be well on their way to changing for the better.

If, however, they continue to promote only the events on ABC/ESPN and ignore the Cup and Truck Series, they will have made a choice that will come back to haunt them. Last time bad energy started, ESPN lost NASCAR completely. Its an easy recipe to follow for success. The sport comes first, the network comes second. Now if only we could get Chris Fowler that message.

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