Monday, April 28, 2008

DEI Plays Host To Manske And Punch

ESPN continues to demonstrate its commitment to NASCAR this season by dedicating a special one hour Tuesday edition of NASCAR Now to Dale Earnhardt Sr. at 6PM Eastern Time.

Down at DEI in Mooresville, NC there will be a day-long celebration of the life of Dale Sr. that will include the fans. This is the seventh such tribute that the company has hosted.

Jerry Punch will be the emcee for the event, and then will join Nicole Manske on-site at DEI for the show. On the guest list will be the current DEI drivers, including Mark Martin. Also on hand will be ESPN analyst Andy Petree. Martin and Petree should be able to continue to tell Earnhardt stories from their many adventures over the years of racing with Senior.

Max Siegel, the top executive at DEI will also be along. He should be able to give fans a great perspective of what is currently going on at DEI in terms of both the racing and the many other outside ventures. It is well-known that one of Siegel's agendas is to "expand the brand" and grow the company in non-racing activities.

Following the expansion of the Monday NASCAR Now to one hour, this special is a nice touch as ESPN begins to stretch the full power of its NASCAR "legs." There are many on-going NASCAR stories relating to hard news and many personality-driven stories that are currently not being covered by any of the NASCAR TV partners.

While SPEED has chosen to focus on the weekend racing activity at the tracks almost exclusively, ESPN is on the air daily. Unfortunately, the network continues to avoid establishing a NASCAR studio facility "down south." Special programs like this one might wake the network up to the fact that there is an entire industry working everyday within a fifty mile radius of shops like DEI.

An ESPN studio in the Mooresville area would create more quality NASCAR content that the network can imagine. It would serve multiple ESPN networks, and be a big hit with the fans.

One can only hope that more on-site programs like this Tuesday special will begin to originate from the area that almost all NASCAR teams call home.

Update: For those of you asking if Ms. Earnhardt will be appearing on NASCAR Now, that will be up to her on Tuesday. Currently, she is not on the guest list for the program. Thanks.

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Talladega Takes A Backseat On TWIN

The debate rages every time that This Week In NASCAR throws the switch from review to preview. Once again on Monday, the SPEED program continued to pull the ultimate bait-and-switch on NASCAR fans.

Two of the key stories from the Sprint Cup race at Talladega involved Jimmie Johnson and Michael Waltrip. Their run at the end of the race and the colossal failure of either to complete that effort were certainly on the minds of the fans.

TWIN had Waltrip and Chad Knaus as panelists on the show and both were ready to talk for the full hour. Unfortunately, after a brief "teaser" about Talladega, the program once again followed the normal format and switched totally to a preview of the upcoming race from Richmond, VA.

Despite the outstanding video previews and footage of the Richmond action, fans still have to adjust to the panel talking about "the future" before the discussion of the past race has even started. Changing gears is tough to do when the other NASCAR TV shows do not follow this type of format. Perhaps, moving things around for one episode might be a good experiment.

Knaus and Waltrip have begun to have fun with each other on this show, and Waltrip has finally found his on-air groove with host Steve Byrnes. The fun is creeping back into this program in the same type of manner that it developed on the original Inside NEXTEL Cup series.

The NASCAR Media Group is also feeling out this show as they produce the series, and things have begun to take shape. The background now contains moving video, the lighting has improved, and the pace has been slowed down slightly. The program needs more camera shots of all three panelists, and the decision to have the two guests either talk to the host or the camera needs to be sorted-out.

Knaus is beginning to be a good match for Waltrip. While Waltrip brings his unique sense of humor and style to the program, Knaus is always trying to be the serious-minded crew chief. This contrast makes for some fun moments, and usually results in Knaus shaking his head in disbelief.

Once the show switched topics to Talladega, fans could see what should have been discussed right up-front. Waltrip, Knaus and Byrnes had a lot of fun with the highlights and the good vibe of this show was back. This included Waltrip "discovering" the truth about several issues he had during the race.

Knaus has proven to be a great student of the sport, and his analytical perspective is a welcome addition. His veteran comments about the racing action proved to be memorable when he discussed Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson coming together late in the event. He and Waltrip also addressed bump-drafting in a very frank manner.

Each week there is a review of some SPEED moments from the weekend and also an edited feature that contains "scanner chatter." This week that was lots of fun, and Knaus and Waltrip "tagged" the feature by saying some of the Cup drivers were "whiners."

The scanner feature transitioned directly into Dave Despain's weekly editorial. Perhaps, Despain could be best-served by emerging directly from a commercial and then letting the show proceed with business as usual.

A feature on Jeff Burton was informative, but interrupted the focus on last weekend's racing. There was a lot of conversation left on the table about Talladega and this is another big issue for this TV series. How many features are too many?

Surprisingly, both the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series got very poor treatment. Despite the issues in both events, the highlights were minimal and the time allotted was brief. Certainly, the Nationwide discussion should have been much more substantial and wide-ranging.

As This Week In NASCAR continues to mature, the struggle to prioritize content will no doubt be the primary issue. Had this show featured the three weekend races and then transitioned into a Richmond preview, the results for the viewer may have been very different.

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Champion Roundtable On "NASCAR Now" Delivers

As the new success of NASCAR Now's one hour Monday "roundtable" builds, ESPN2 continues to shuffle the panelists each week.

The original format included one former NASCAR driver, one former NASCAR crew chief and one NASCAR journalist. This line-up gave three good perspectives from which host Allen Bestwick could draw.

On this Monday after Talladega, the journalist slot was empty as the network went with an "all NASCAR champion" panel. Joining Bestwick was former driver Dale Jarrett who is now ESPN's lead NASCAR analyst. Jarrett makes any program on which he appears much better, and this edition of NASCAR Now was no exception.

The interesting part of the program was the decision to invite two men who were both former champion crew chiefs and NASCAR team owners. It was ESPN race analyst Andy Petree and brand new ESPN contributor Ray Evernham who made-up the rest of the panel.

This dynamic was interesting to see on-the-air. Bestwick was clearly a little more intense than usual, and the laughter was kept to a minimum because of the subject matter. Talladega had been a dangerous and controversial race weekend in many ways, and it was up to Bestwick to draw honest opinions from the panelists.

One key reason for Jarrett's success on television is his ability to listen. He reinforced that his future in TV will be a long one when he took the role of "senior member" on the panel and usually waited to be the last to comment on the subject at hand.

Bestwick's nervous laughter could not hide the fact that he was dealing with a loaded deck. Any panelist had the ability to answer any question and do it with authority. It was Bestwick's new challenge to divide the time available on each topic equally among the all-star panel.

Discussions about the Roush Fenway tire problems and the emergence of two-car drafting were excellent. Evernham tended to be the technical crew chief in these conversations, and represented himself as much more of a crew chief than an owner.

His owner views came out quickly, however, when the topic of the impound procedures at Talladega was put on the table. Jarrett and Evernham wanted the Talladega process changed, while Petree thought the impound rules were the way to go. One positive element to the entire show was the ability of any panel member to step aside when they were not the best choice to answer a question. It was clear this group had spent some time together earlier in the day and were up-to-speed on the agenda.

There was lots of political correctness in the air when the subject of Kevin Lepage's actions at Talladega was raised. Jarrett took the approach that all drivers make errors sooner or later. Evernham and Petree were polite but firm in their opinions that this entire incident could have been easily avoided. Topics like this really show the need for a journalist who can stir-the-pot a bit and present an "outsider" perspective.

On the Tony Stewart contract situation, Evernham was the authority. He reminded Bestwick that unlike the NFL or the NBA, there are no rules for contact with athletes on other teams. Petree and Jarrett backed-up the point that casual contact with an NASCAR athlete was still easy to get, and most athletes still do not have agents. Even after all these years, things still happen in the motorhome lot.

The look and feel of this show was classy. The production did not get in the way of the content, and the features used were outstanding. ESPN has assembled a Monday powerhouse and is continuing to pour resources and manpower into this direction.

It was nice of Bestwick to salute Ashley Force on her first NHRA Funny Car win, and close the program with a tease of the special one hour Tuesday show that will originate from DEI in Mooresville, NC. Having the three panelists add their personal memories of Dale Sr. was a fitting way to end a very enjoyable NASCAR TV program.

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