Sunday, July 8, 2007

SPEED's "Victory Lane" Loves Daytona Excitement

The Daly Planet has taken the time to write several articles about Victory Lane, the SPEED program that started as an after-thought, and has become a fan favorite. It was a simple idea, go to Victory Lane at each race, interview the winning driver, and talk to the others involved in the top stories of the event. Call the one hour show...Victory Lane.

This, however, required the cooperation of each track, the TV network covering the race, and the senior management of NASCAR itself. Friends, that is no easy group to get together. SPEED managed to do it, and the results have been fantastic.

This week, another great story unfolded in Victory Lane with the hard-luck Jamie McMurray winning by a nose. In the first segment of the program, host John Roberts and sidekick Jimmy Spencer talked about the race, the finish, and then allowed other drivers to speak their mind about the event. The best part always comes next.

Out of commercial, race winner Jamie McMurray sat on the SPEED set absolutely exhausted. Viewers could tell that he had left everything he had on the track. Jamie talked openly and honestly about his tough times, the fact he was still in shock, and how Jack Roush has been on his side during his entire tenure in that organization. SPEED's Kenny Wallace, also in the race, joined the team on the set.

McMurray on-camera is exactly what TV needs from NASCAR, and exactly what had been missing. After the "standard" winner interview on live network TV, the stories of the race are often really untold. On Victory Lane, McMurray described how his crew chief reminded him this was the final lap, and how he knew that Carl Edwards was either going to help him or leave him out to dry. This is just what the fans love, especially when the sweaty driver is on the verge of tears and speaking from the heart. This really is the good stuff.

Victory Lane recently started making a habit of bringing on the winning crew chief, and this has really paid off for the network. This "pit box" perspective really adds a new twist on the race, and allows Spencer and Wallace to ask questions as drivers that the normal TV hosts could never even imagine. McMurray's crew chief Larry Carter was a soft-spoken fountain of knowledge about the race, the driver, and the team. Carter's deadpan was a great contrast to the high energy of Wallace.

The program also always does a good quick turn-a-round of race highlights. This allows Spencer to use his experience, and Wallace to use his actual race information, to present the highlights in a very informative way. There is always something that Wallace sneaks in that is interesting, while John Roberts keeps the guys honest and on track. He reminds us of Allen Bestwick "herding drivers" on Inside NEXTEL Cup back in the old days. This segment also includes a full field recap, which really allows for a great overview of the event.

As usual, the big media crowd heads over the the Infield Media Center to continue the driver interviews, but SPEED hangs in Victory Lane. This part of the show has often allowed the stories not featured in the TV network race broadcast to be followed-up and explained. This week, it allowed Spencer to recall his battle to the line at Daytona with Ernie Irvan. He helped the fans to understand how and why the "side draft" once again won the race for the car on the outside.

With ten minutes to go in the show, Roberts turned Wallace and Spencer loose to talk about the NEXTEL Cup season, and the team dynamics that played such a role at Daytona. These guys were upfront in discussing Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, and pointing out that Reed Sorenson was asleep at the wheel in his accident with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Kudos to SPEED for getting, and then airing, a key interview with Carl Edwards, who McMurray credited for helping him win the race. As usual, Edwards was clear-headed and concise in describing his changing lanes to avoid helping Kyle Busch, and instead pushing his team mate to victory. This really was the key to the win.

Once again, SPEED took a small show on a small stage and let the information and personalities of the sport be the star. No flashy graphics, no colored lights, and no hype. All this show presents is the actual aftermath of a NEXTEL Cup race, be it good or bad. John Roberts continues to be a key player in SPEED's success and deserves a pat on the back for his focus and calm demeanor.

If fans are looking for a good solid show to summarize the NEXTEL Cup races, the good news is that this program will continue when Cup races change over to the ESPN/ABC network group. Victory Lane is a must for the DVR, and has replaced Inside NEXTEL Cup on SPEED as the definitive NASCAR "race wrap" show.

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