Tuesday, June 26, 2007
ESPN has announced that Brent Musburger will be hosting the NASCAR Countdown Busch Series pre-race show from Loudon, NH. This marks Musburger's return to the Busch Series after an absence which saw him host the Indy 500 telecast, among other duties.
With only weeks to go before ESPN opens its coverage of the NEXTEL Cup Series races, including the "Chase for the Cup," viewers once again will have a new face hosting the pre-race show. Chris Fowler, Erik Kuselias, Allen Bestwick, Mike Massaro, and Suzy Kolber have all taken their turn at bat for the network.
The fact that Musburger is hosting this show gets the attention of NASCAR fans when the rest of the ESPN press release is read. While it says that Dale Jarrett will join Dr. Jerry Punch and Andy Petree in the booth, it also lets another bomb drop.
Allen Bestwick will be a reporter on pit road for this race...once again. After a week that saw Bestwick in Milwaukee for ESPN hosting not only NASCAR Countdown, but actually calling the play-by-play for the Busch Series race...the network sends him back to pit road to tell us "four tires and fuel."
To add insult to injury, alongside Bestwick on pit road in New Hampshire will be Mike Massaro, ESPN's most veteran NASCAR reporter who hosted a great edition of NASCAR Countdown several weeks ago at Kentucky Speedway. Many thought Massaro was auditioning for a position on NASCAR Now, ESPN2's studio show which has been struggling since Daytona in February.
The line-up on ESPN's website lists Allen Bestwick as a co-host for NASCAR Now, but he has never been "invited back" since his first two appearances. Massaro has never been allowed to host this program, and ESPN on Tuesday brought in general assignment reporter Matt Winer to host for the first time. All of which brings us back to NASCAR Countdown.
This is the only pre-race show for the Busch Series. ESPN has slapped this Series around without mercy this season when it comes to the pre-race opportunities for promotion of the drivers, the sponsors, and the series itself.
The Daly Planet has several articles about the times that the entire NASCAR Countdown show talked only about the NEXTEL Cup race the next day. It was clear everyone on the announcing team was auditioning for the ABC Sports opportunities to cover the Cup Series. Meanwhile, there sat the Busch Series field on the line with absolutely no one interested. And ESPN wonders why the ratings are down?
Now, NASCAR's "number two" series is eighteen races into their season and ESPN is changing hosts for NASCAR Countdown like musical chairs. The Daly Planet gave ESPN credit for putting Bestwick and Massaro in the anchor chair, but what results did that get NASCAR fans? The return of Brent Musburger? The promise of Suzy Kolber in the future?
This is NASCAR racing, and the competitors in the Busch Series have been hammering on each other since February. While ESPN's team in the announce booth has been full of positive surprises, the pre-race show has been a mess. These thirty minutes are crucial to the promotion of these teams and sponsors. This is their Hollywood Hotel.
The on-going battle between "NASCAR people" and "ESPN people" has been fascinating to watch this entire year on both NASCAR Countdown and NASCAR Now. It has been tough for ESPN to let "outsiders" host "their" shows, despite the fact that the "insiders" often have little or no knowledge of the sport at all. Its a culture clash of epidemic proportions, and its about to come to a head.
On May 20th of this year, The Daly Planet ran a column entitled "ESPN and NASCAR on a collision course." We talked about the fact that ESPN's race coverage has been solid from the word "go." Away from the track, however, things are much different.
At Daytona, fans were presented with Brent Musburger, Chris Fowler, and Brad Daugherty for the first NASCAR Countdown show. As we wrote at that time, "Fowler couldn't stop grinning, Daugherty couldn't stop talking, and Musburger wore a funny hat." The results were not pretty.
Now, after spinning the wheel of hosts once again, ESPN goes back to an "insider" like Musburger when fans have just had two strong performances from their favorite "outsiders." Either Allen Bestwick or Mike Massaro deserved the chance to host this show because of their hard work this season and knowledge of the sport. Apparently, Bestwick and Massaro lacked the mandatory funny hats. Who knew?
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