Monday, November 5, 2007

Three Drivers In Search Of A Host On SPEED

You can tell it is "that time of the year." Among the NASCAR guys, only a handful are not worn down, tired out, and ready for a vacation.

Certainly, among the tired masses are Michael Waltrip and Greg Biffle. Waltrip's year has been well-documented in the media, and Biffle has been burdened with hard luck on the track. This season for Kenny Schrader has been up-and-down between having a ride and losing one.

The one place these three meet is at the NASCAR Images studios on Monday afternoons. For better or worse, they recount their experiences while taping the one hour Inside NEXTEL Cup program that is shown on SPEED Monday nights.

This season, The Daly Planet has written several times about the struggles with this one program series, and the possible solutions that could help. Despite the suggestions, nothing has changed on this year's watered-down version of this ten year old show. It certainly has seen better days.

NASCAR drivers are an interesting group, in that they respond well to a certain type of TV host and do not respond well to others. Viewers can see how drivers easily relate to SPEED's John Roberts and struggle with ESPN's Erik Kuselias. As with anything that needs to be controlled, its usually the open and flexible style of cooperative host that gets the drivers to open-up and start having fun.

Dave Despain was placed into the host role of Inside NEXTEL Cup by a SPEED TV executive. Since that time, it has not gone well. Despain is a good broadcast professional, but he is a fish out of water on INC. On this particular Monday, this was made clear by the entire panel.

There was no energy, there was not focus, and there was no point to the show. Despain's inability to have fun, be pleasant and pump-up the "three amigos" was so bad that it actually became a running joke in the show itself. Despain interrupted, he re-directed, and he spoke over-top of the stars of the show time and time again.

One had the feeling that there were three NASCAR drivers on the set just waiting to be set free to have fun. Waltrip and Schrader once again took to talking whenever they wanted and Biffle had his eyes on them, and not the host, most of the show.

The drivers tried to have some fun with Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus in black cowboy hats pictured behind the set, but Despain just could not grasp the concept. His inability to let the boys "goof around" sunk this episode, and the boys let him know that it stunk. Waltrip was particularly up-front in his evaluation.

All alone on Monday nights, SPEED viewers might be seeing the last of INC in a couple of weeks. If this is so, one might hope that the network would put together a reel of highlights from the last decade of hosts, guests, and hi-jinks. If SPEED does not care about this rich programming history, they should remember that the fans certainly do.

Once again, there was no guest on the show. Dave read the highlights like an elementary school teacher. He was not interested, and it showed. Fans had seen the highlights before, and by the end of the show even Ken Schrader was embarrassed.

How can a decade old show produced by NASCAR's own in-house production group become such a complete mess? The bottom line is that either NASCAR Images, SPEED, or both simply do not care. What SPEED put on the air tonight and represented as a national television show about NASCAR was disgraceful.

Only two races until a champion is crowned in all three of NASCAR's national touring series, and the four regular panelists of this program decide to take a walk? This program should have sizzled with all the great content from the weekend at TMS.

Readers of The Daly Planet had hoped that we would see some new faces audition as host of this program by sitting-in for a show this season. It never happened. After a terrible start to the year, Michael Waltrip finally seemed to have gotten his act together. Biffle has come a long way and is much more comfortable speaking his mind this year. Schrader kept his chin-up, and his sense of humor.

All this show needed was a new bus driver. The host position is the easiest to change. Its even easier to change for one or two episodes. The result of the lack of action by SPEED and NASCAR Images was the disaster they actually chose to put on-the-air this Monday. After ten years of loyal viewing, this is one episode that I will work very hard to forget.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop-by and leave your opinion.

SPEED's Chad Knaus Takes His Act To ESPN

Regular viewers of the NASCAR programming on SPEED have been familiar with Chad Knaus for sometime now. In addition to appearing on SPEED's RaceDay show, Knaus is also a longtime co-host of NASCAR Performance with Larry McReynolds and Bootie Barker.

Knaus has also appeared on Trackside and NASCAR Live, which basically rounds-out his commitment to SPEED and his high level of comfort with the on-air staff of that network. Now, he has taken his act to ESPN and ABC.

With Hendrick Motorsports team mates Gordon and Johnson the only battle on the horizon, ESPN has seemingly fallen in love with the camera-friendly Knaus. This was certainly apparent in the Sunday coverage of the NEXTEL Cup race at Texas.

Toward the close of the event, the ESPN on ABC crew actually cut-away from Greg Biffle's burning car to witness Knaus sitting on his pit box...deep in thought. The Daly Planet referred to the coverage as the "Chad Knaus Telethon."

On Monday afternoon, the one hour edition of NASCAR Now took to the air from the HD studios of ESPN in Bristol, CT. Analyst Boris Said was on-hand with series host Erik Kuselias to handle the commentary.

With only two Monday versions of NASCAR Now remaining, the program decided to follow-up on the Sunday race by speaking with Knaus. He is the crew chief of the championship team, he is on the verge of clinching another title, and he is one of the best known faces in the sport. Knaus appeared on NASCAR Now ... via his cell phone.

That's right, the Worldwide Leader In Sports once again had demonstrated their lack of understanding about NASCAR. Whether from Hendrick Motorsports, or even his home, Knaus should have been on a satellite feed live and in living color. There are two weeks left in the "playoffs" of this very high-profile sport. Then, it is over.

If there was ever a time, and ever a show, where ESPN should have pulled-out all the stops with follow-up coverage, this was it. Instead, viewers find Boris Said talking about races he has not run and a series where he does not regularly compete.

Incredibly, it was the NASCAR-challenged Kuselias who interviewed Knaus without a word from studio analyst Said, much less an informed question. Now a TV veteran, Knaus handled Kuselias with ease, which was hard given the interesting quality of the questions.

"Chad, what were your thoughts on this its winding down the stretch...and making sure you either left with the points lead vs. trying to balance winning this thing?" asked Kuselias as the opening question. Knaus did not flinch.

In winding-up the interview, Kuselias teased Knaus about "breaking out his ten gallon hat" in Victory Lane at TMS. It appeared Kuselias did not know that it came from TMS President Eddie Gossage...for winning the race.

While this show once again tried to make amends by showing brief Busch and Truck Series highlights, no amount of promotion could mend those fences for this season.

Knaus should have been asked about those two series, and his outlook on the COT for next season. He should have been asked a lot of things, but he was not. Once again, in the biggest fundamental flaw of this show, the studio host does the interviews while the studio analyst sits silently on the set.

Aside from a brief news segment, ESPN continued to hammer the Johnson vs. Gordon theme. Never did they reference the drivers whose conditions were not updated after accidents in the race. Never did they update the stories of the "non-Chasers," or the injured pit crew member.

When a bottle bounced off Kyle Busch's car under caution, and when Greg Biffle struggled to get out of his burning car it certainly got the attention of the fans. It did not get the attention of NASCAR Now.

Credible guests like Knaus addressing more issues than just one and staying for several segments of this show is going to be key to NASCAR Now moving forward in 2008. The continued use of a host and not an analyst to talk racing has resulted in memorable moments with Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick this season that should have embarrassed ESPN.

The squint of Dale Earnhardt Jr and the grin of Tony Stewart should have been a sign that the questions being asked of them on national television were ridiculous. Even Chad Knaus finally snapped back when Kuselias asked him which track he "favors" over the next two races. "Both" he said. What other answer is there?

NASCAR Now will not have a show on Monday after the Homestead race so ESPN2 viewers can watch a basketball game from Hawaii. That means next week is the final Monday one hour episode for 2007. When this series ends, we will put together a recap of this first season of the only daily national TV show about NASCAR, and then ask for your comments.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop-by and leave your opinion.