Monday, July 30, 2007

"NASCAR Now" The Day After Indy

ESPN had waited a long time to return to the "big stage" in NASCAR. They spent millions to invest in both the NASCAR Busch and NEXTEL Cup Series. In addition, they originated a daily NASCAR news and information show called NASCAR Now.

Monday, the one hour version of NASCAR Now took to the airwaves on the day after the first Busch and NEXTEL Cup weekend for ESPN in many years. At the track, ESPN had eleven on-air announcers covering the Brickyard 400, including Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett. For the Busch race, they had veteran Marty Reid and the colorful Randy LaJoie along with three pit reporters. With Shannon Spake doing double-duty in the pits, ESPN had fifteen on-air talent in Indy.

NASCAR Now started off not with Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace, and Andy Petree voicing over the highlights, but with inexperienced studio host Erik Kuselias trying his best to call the action at the Brickyard. Where was the ESPN NASCAR announce team? Why did they not include helping this show as a mandatory post-race activity? Send a "wrap package" to NASCAR Now.

Things went from bad to absolutely the worst when race winner Tony Stewart appeared on-camera. He was not being interviewed by one of the five ESPN pit reporters, and was not in the million dollar ESPN Infield Studio. He was sitting in the Media Center, providing what is called the "pool feed" for all the reporters. ESPN reporters did not even ask the questions. The "sound bites" with the Brickyard 400 winner came from the Media Center. How strange that Stewart had time for SPEED's Victory Lane program, but not ESPN.

SPEED Channel, which did not play any role in the race, had a post-race pit road interview with Kevin Harvick that appeared on both the SPEED Report and Victory Lane Sunday night. On Monday, ESPN used a graphic to type out Harvick's comments on-screen. Despite having five reporters on pit road and exclusive rights to "first interviews," they had no video of their own.

Incredibly, Shannon Spake voiced-over a "wrap package" that contained the same Media Center "pool" feed sound from Jeff Gordon. Spake did her best with limited resources to use interviews from the race itself to round-out her report. Once again, there was no primary post-race sound from the network itself in this piece.

Jamie Little's in-race interview with Jimmie Johnson was included on NASCAR Now because host Erik Kuselias found it amazing that Johnson had singed his eyebrows. Reporter Marty Smith was called-in to actually talk about Johnson's "mental status." Once again after this hype, analyst Stacy Compton on the studio set told Kuselias it was all a sham. Racing luck is fickle said Compton, and Johnson will be just fine. Basically, Compton refuted anything else Kuselias tried to offer on this subject.

Then, NASCAR Now did a brief recap of several drivers using the interviews from the ESPN pit reporters. None of this sound was created for this program, and the piece was disjointed because apparently that is all the "content" the NASCAR Now production team had to work with.

This recap missed two outstanding stories of the race. First, amid all the merger controversy, Mark Martin finished in sixth as a DEI driver. Second, the underfunded rag-tag "State Water Heaters" single car "made the race on time" team of Ward Burton finished fourteenth. Top twenty at the Brickyard for a single car part-time team.

Kuselias paid lip service to ESPN's Saturday night Busch race at ORP, but never even mentioned ESPN's own Marty Reid as the announcer providing the play-by-play for the highlight package. There was no interview of the winner, no "wrap package" from the ESPN announcers, and after a peek at the standings...NASCAR Now moved on. Did I mention it was the first ever Busch win for Toyota?

As The Daly Planet has mentioned on several occasions, ESPN likes to make people "pick things." Their latest time-filler on NASCAR Now is called "racer or chaser." Rather than offer more news or information, Stacy Compton was asked to look into the future and predict who would make "The Chase" and who would not. No feature on this program is more amateur or ridiculous. On the day after the first ESPN NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race since 2000, it was just embarrassing.

Late in the show, NASCAR "Insiders" Marty Smith and Angelique Chengelis showed-up to address some issues. Kuselias tried to suggest that Marty Smith was "one of the few" people who talked to Kevin Harvick after the race. That might have flown, had SPEED not used interview sound in both their Sunday night shows of Harvick right after he exited his car. Nice try, but no sale.

Chengelis updated the Kyle Busch contract story by telling viewers that something should be sorting itself out this week. She has been good at keeping this story up-to-date and accurate. Smith once again was asked to say that Mountain Dew and Pepsi were the key players for Junior next season. This information was made public by Smith last week.

Smith again refuted Kuselias claims that Jimmie Johnson's troubles are due to the absence of Chad Knaus on the pit box. "Absolutely not" was the Smith response, who has to be tired at this time in the season of repeatedly responding to the endless hype and speculation of Kuselias.

For some strange reason, the program then took a turn into a pre-recorded interview hosted by Kuselias with Kurt Busch. It may have been taped some time ago, when Busch was a guest at the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT. Kuselias is a sports radio talk show host who has transitioned to TV without any additional experience. His interview with Busch quickly took on a hard-edge with questions aimed at the personal problems and public issues Kurt has experienced. Busch never smiled the entire time, and eventually looked like a deer in the headlights. There was no explanation of why this appeared on-the-air Monday after the Brickyard.

After a brief Pocono preview and some final thoughts on Indy by Stacy Compton, Kuselias closed the show by saying the words fans have come to dread when watching ESPN.."Here comes Aerosmith." That's right, ESPN has removed the email address at the end of the show for fan suggestions and inserted the NASCAR on ESPN theme song as the close. That has to be some kind of statement by the network.

In this program, viewers never saw Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett or Andy Petree talk about the race they had just called on ESPN. They never saw the winner interviewed in the ESPN Infield Studio by Suzy Kolber and Brad Daugherty. The ESPN telecast host Brent Musburger never appeared to "sum up" ESPN's first race back in NASCAR after many years and thank the viewers.

To NASCAR Now, this week was just another race on the schedule. There was no perspective on the network's return. No interviews of the network executives, race producer, or even drivers about ESPN being there once again. In the disjointed and ego-driven world of ESPN, there was absolutely no cooperation between the people producing the event, and the people producing NASCAR Now.

What a shame that viewers could not hear Rusty and DJ's reactions to the race and hear the winner interviewed by the ESPN announcers. What a shame that the stories featured on the Internet websites about the race never made it to this one hour show. What a shame that Toyota's first Busch Series win did not result in a winner interview. What a shame that ESPN refuses to show Truck Series highlights because they race on SPEED.

For the first show after ESPN's return to NEXTEL Cup, NASCAR Now was just...a shame.

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"NASCAR Now" On ESPN2 Changes Times

ESPN2's daily NASCAR news and information show, NASCAR Now, will be changing on-air times beginning Tuesday. On July 31st, the show moves one half hour earlier to air at 6PM Eastern Time. The one hour Monday version of the show will move to a 5:30PM start time. The weekend edition of this show, which is also one hour long, will continue to be at 10AM on the day of the NEXTEL Cup event.

ESPN just released this information as a schedule change, no reason was give for the switch.

Jimmy Spencer Brings The Thunder On "RaceDay"

It was supposed to be just another edition of SPEED's popular RaceDay program. The fans were standing across the street from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway alongside of the SPEED stage. John Roberts, Jimmy Spencer, and Kenny Wallace were happy and smiling in the Midwestern sunshine.

Roberts led a normal show that featured the storylines of the week, and used reporter Wendy Venturini to try and explain the DEI/Ginn merger like a grade school math teacher. Then, SPEED landed a live interview with Bobby Ginn and things took an interesting turn.

Fans accuse Jimmy Spencer of many things, and often times he is guilty as charged. Spencer can go from supportive cheerleader to sexist bully in about two seconds. As RaceDay has matured as a show, Spencer has matured as a TV announcer. He still has fun, but since the incident with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s sister, he has learned where to draw the line.

Beleaguered owner Bobby Ginn has had a rough time with the NASCAR experience. Hyped by many as a future "super team," Ginn now finds himself basically selling off his assets and fleeing the sport at a high rate of speed. Why he stuck around in Indy to answer questions from the media is anyone's guess. Perhaps, his own PR reps thought that doing damage control in person would be the best approach. Boy, were they ever wrong.

After some questions from John Roberts and Kenny Wallace, Mr. Ginn heard the voice of Jimmy Spencer. Live on national television, Spencer once again "stuck up" for the little guy, and let Ginn have it. Mr. Ginn might think about new PR guys after this.

Spencer laid into Ginn for coming into the sport and tooting his own horn. Spencer reviewed the fact that Ginn had hired crew members and drivers away from other teams with the promise of big money and success. Now, those same employees are out of jobs. "What'cha going to do for those fellas?" asked Spencer point blank.

Ginn stammered through a political answer and tried to put forward the idea that this deal was a merger, and not a buyout. Spencer was having none of it. "Did you buy part of DEI or did they buy you?" Spencer questioned. When Ginn persisted that this was a merger, Spencer asked Ginn if he would "be involved with that organization" next year? Ginn shrugged his shoulders and said "I am not going anywhere." The look on his face told a very different story.

Then, Ginn finally caved-in and said that DEI had a NEXTEL Cup car that was not in the top thirty-five, and he had one that was. He said he had no engine deal, and now his former cars would have DEI power. He said the money he was spending on his unsponsored cars could now be allocated to "other areas." What remains of Ginn at the end of the season is yet to be seen, but on RaceDay the truth finally came out.

Roberts thanked Ginn for coming by, but for NASCAR fans there had finally been an in-person explanation of the reality of the Ginn/DEI merger. This might not have happened had Jimmy Spencer not stepped-up and decided that someone had to get to the bottom of this, and it might as well be him.

SPEED's production team has been using Spencer in very different ways recently, and aside from his humorous "food tasting" on Sunday with Robin Miller, Spencer has finally been gaining some ground in the TV credibility world. With Victory Lane as another successful show of his, perhaps Spencer might take better "TV" control of himself and begin the process of presenting himself in a more professional manner.

As SPEED continues to grow its NASCAR programming, Spencer could play a role as a veteran who has a good perspective on "the old days" and also a solid foot in the day-to-day current activities in the sport. Maybe Inside NEXTEL Cup, the SPEED Report, and NASCAR Live could occasionally use a little Jimmy Spencer to spice up the mix.

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