Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Things have taken a new twist in the crazy world of ESPN2's NASCAR Now. This series has been a roller-coaster ride since Daytona. First, the audience discovered that ESPN had hired two announcers that knew nothing about NASCAR. In fact, they had never been to a race. As if that were not wild enough, ESPN began to feature stories that they could "hype," instead of the everyday news and notes. "Kasey Kahne says David Stremme is fat" was an all-time classic.
On the Tuesday edition of the show, host Erik Kuselias threw every embarrassing question and scenario directly toward Kurt Busch that anyone could imagine. Kurt was actually on the show because he is involved with the Gillette Young Guns promotion of a TV series on ABC. Now a TV veteran, Busch smiled and deflected every question about his brother, Dale Junior, his season, and even his future with Penske Racing.
Kuselias is shameless, because his background is talk radio. He clearly does not realize when he is crossing the line, because he does not know the sport. His former co-host, Doug Banks, never even knew there was a line, and he is now departed. This leaves the bulk of the shows to Kuselias, and his confrontational style. Its not working and ESPN knows it.
As if to throw some credibility his way, NASCAR Now has shifted from "hype" to "scoop." Over the past couple of weeks, the show is now supposedly "first" with a lot of breaking news and rumors. The show has a good group of hired reporters, but most of them look mortified when ESPN now "hypes" that they have "breaking news." This is not a sport that tends to break anything but rear clips, because pretty much everybody is in everybody else's business.
Wednesday, poor Marty Smith was put on the spot again. The graphic on the screen read "breaking news," but it was certainly not the case. After the NEXTEL merger with SPRINT, there had been much discussion about when to change the NEXTEL Cup Series over to the SPRINT Cup. It seems that they decided to do that for 2008.
"When do you think we will have some kind of confirmation from somebody on this?" asked Kuselias. Marty Smith had only quoted his double top secret inside sources on this story, and nothing more. SPRINT had denied it, NASCAR had denied it, and most everyone else in North America...did not care. Marty's final line was "I believe it will happen." That line never worked for me in Journalism class, but if it works for ESPN, more power to them. No sources, no confirmation, no timetable, but let's report it.
Brad Daugherty was next, and things took an interesting turn. Responding to Humpy Wheeler's comments about mixed race F-1 driver Lewis Hamilton, Daugherty spoke about his efforts on NASCAR's Diversity Council. His point was to create go-kart programs for urban kids to encourage them to take up racing as a way to insert black and minority drivers into NASCAR. What he never mentioned, of course, was why he did not do that during his reign, and why the Diversity Council basically fell apart.
After several commercials in the program for Carino's Italian Grill, their driver Brad Coleman showed up to be interviewed by phone. Imagine that. Coleman is an up-and-coming star, but Kuselias just read scripted questions to him. That turned what could have been a sparkling interview into just another typical NASCAR Now wasted opportunity.
The Daly Planet has written enough about this show. It continues to be a disappointment for fans and the sport. You simply cannot cover an entire sport that lives in one area of North Carolina from Bristol, CT with a couple of reporters. ESPN needs to have a studio in the Mooresville area, and let drivers drop-by rather than talk on their cell phones.
This sport is different from any other in North America. Basically one big group of people jumps on a plane, goes to a town, and puts on a "show." Then, everybody flies back home again. Because they all share so many suppliers of parts for the cars and many other support services, everything is in one area. This is not hard to understand. Its also not hard to find.
As ESPN found out last time they did this type of show, it is basically impossible to maintain any kind of connection or credibility with Mooresville, North Carolina from Bristol, CT. That show was called RPM2Nite. The studio was in the greater Charlotte area, and everyone knew it. That show put the ESPN stamp on NASCAR and gave ESPN the day-to-day credibility they are now sorely lacking.
The best thing ESPN could do is get Winston Kelley on the phone, and reserve space in the new NASCAR Hall of Fame business tower. At least fans would know that this eight year commitment to NASCAR is something ESPN is beginning to take seriously. Right now, for viewers of NASCAR Now, it appears to be something that ESPN "has to do." The problem is, they are not even doing it well.
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