Monday, September 24, 2007

"Inside NEXTEL Cup" Very Different Without Waltrip

It was just another Monday on SPEED as Inside NEXTEL Cup took to the air. Greg Biffle did "the tease" for the show, as he finished second at Dover. Then, host Dave Despain welcomed Biffle and Kenny Schrader to the program. He did not, however, do the same to Michael Waltrip. He was nowhere to be found.

In a somewhat ironic twist, Waltrip's seat was inhabited by the one and only Brian Vickers. These two have spent many shows sniping at each other like school boys, and Vicker's initial season on this series was a lesson in patience for the viewers. Waltrip had some sponsor obligations on Monday afternoon, so this trio was the INC crew for today. Needless to say, there was quickly a different dynamic in play.

After an exciting Dover NEXTEL Cup event in which all three panelists raced, the show took on a very new tone. Each of the three drivers talked about their own race, and then shared views and cooperated in a very conversational manner about many diverse topics. It certainly was an interesting change of pace.

As Despain moved on to the highlights, it was great to hear the drivers react to the video and share information about what happened during the event. The program took on an easy-going and relaxed feeling with Despain leading the way, and the drivers waiting their turn. There was lots of give and take.

Schrader fit-in quite well with the panel, and really took this opportunity to speak-up and offer a lot of facts and opinions about both the racing and the personalities involved. Some of his comments really showed-off his dry sense of humor which is hard to beat. His remarks about "Fatback" trying to get into his race car were great.

Biffle was pumped-up and proud of both his race and his finishing effort. He provided a lot of information about the Roush/Fenway problems for Matt Kenseth, the COT learning curve, and their approach to The Chase. He has worked hard on his TV mechanics, and turned to the correct camera, phrased his answers in complete sentences, and took his cues from the host. He has come a long way from his early TV days.

Vickers was the surprise of the show. He has done a good job of growing-up as both a person and a driver. Gone was the self-serving sponsor babble, and it was replaced by good solid racing comments. Vickers was clearly at ease with this group, and it resulted in an enjoyable performance. Vickers even answered one of the viewer questions about throttle linkage with good technical information. This program certainly affected my image and opinion of him.

The trio had some fun with the Busch Series highlights, and they wasted no time taking Robby Gordon to task for his actions. The continuing focus on the Busch Series makes sense, and it could even use some additional in-show exposure. The Truck highlights were next, and the panel showed they were up on the racing action, even though the Trucks raced in Las Vegas. The first place battle for the championship between Skinner and Hornaday is fantastic.

The panel ended with some comments about Talladega and the COT. All three drivers had concerns about the COT going restrictor plate racing. Despain let them talk with each other and then transitioned out of the program after each driver had made his point. Things were as smooth and relaxed at the conclusion of this show as they had been at the start. For once, even Despain seemed to enjoy himself.

Michael Waltrip has been a polarizing force on INC for some time now. Email to The Daly Planet expresses views going totally toward the negative or totally toward the positive. Somehow, no middle ground exists in the Mikey world. On this night, he was simply away doing sponsor things, so the focus of the night was how things on the panel changed, and were these changes for the better?

It seemed that a lot of information and opinion was given out by the panel in this hour. Without the inside jokes and the sponsor plugs, the show had a different focus. That focus was racing, and nothing else. It was almost like they were actually...Inside NEXTEL Cup racing. Wow...what a concept.

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Boris Said Turns Heads With His ESPN Commentary

This Monday Boris Said was in the Bristol, CT studios of ESPN2 working as an analyst on NASCAR Now. This show has rarely used Said as effectively as it did on this first day after Dover. It was the day after a defining race in The Chase, and many important NASCAR issues were on the table.

Show host Erik Kuselias was in the studio, and reporter Shannon Spake was on-scene at Roush/Fenway Racing in North Carolina. That left Said alone on the set to be the focus of questions from Kuselias. On this day, Boris definitely rose to the occasion.

This season when Said has been on the show things are always fun. Most of the time, he is either sharing the driver commentary with Stacy Compton or debating with resident columnist Tim Cowlishaw. In both of these settings, Said is forced to speak in small "sound bites" between the other commentators. This week, he was finally set free.

Said has a wonderful and rich history in racing that stretches far beyond the NASCAR world. Sports car fans know Boris for many years of thrills and spills while driving in both the SCCA and the IMSA series. Said has wins under his belt that include both the 24 Hours of Daytona and Nurburgring. He has also won the very tough 12 Hours of Sebring.

In many ways, Said's opportunity on this very high-profile show today matched the opportunity given on Saturday to Brad Daugherty. ESPN extended the chance to join Jerry Punch and Rusty Wallace in the booth for the Busch race, and Daugherty made the most of it. The same can be said for Boris in this one hour NASCAR Now program.

Said is not intimidated by Erik Kuselias, and he takes the questions asked of him and runs with the ball quickly and efficiently. This studio combo works well, because it allows Kuselias to interject his style of commentary and then Boris simply puts the show back on track with his no-nonsense answers.

In this one hour program, Said was asked to address a wide variety of issues involving The Chase, driver conflicts, technical issues, and even race highlights. He smoothly navigated his way through the show with good humor and took no prisoners with his definitive opinions and comments.

Even after news from Marty Smith and a Chase update from Mike Massaro, Said was not done. His preview of Kansas was great. Said put things in a team perspective, and offered the opinion that the Roush/Fenway team had momentum on their side right now, and should win next week.

Finally, Said stated it well when he proclaimed "thank god for The Chase." He continued on to say that this playoff style format is making the sport exciting at a time of the year when sometimes fan enthusiasm was waning. Up against NFL football, and with a title sometimes already decided, NASCAR used to limp to the end of the season. That is certainly not the case after Dover.

Said has been a bright spot on this show, and his candor and good humor really offset the dispositions of other show members. As he continues to develop his broadcast career, maybe ESPN might consider using him in the field to add the same "reality check" to NASCAR at the track that he offers quite well in the studio.

Boris Said and Brad Daugherty on a Busch Series race? Now, that might get race fans tuning-in for a wide variety of reasons.

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