Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Manske Is Back And Taking No Prisoners

ESPN's Nicole Manske was in the studio on Wednesday as the host of NASCAR Now. Fresh off a reporting assignment in Charlotte, Manske took the opportunity to remind viewers just how far she has come from the script-reading blonde on the 2007 version of The SPEED Report.

Since her arrival, Manske has worked hard to gain credibility as a broadcaster and ESPN has given her the opportunity to do just that. Her interview skills both in the field and the studio have become top notch. Wednesday gave her the chance to handle three NASCAR interviews and work ESPN commentator Brad Daugherty for everything he was worth.

Scott Speed is quickly becoming a lightning rod of controversy. After unseating AJ Allmendinger and being tapped for the #84 Red Bull Toyota ride, Speed had one final ARCA race remaining last weekend in Toledo. Click here to see the results.

After short-tempered former sprint car driver Ricky Stenhouse spun Speed out, his team returned him to the track and he took out Stenhouse with a banzai move that got him parked. Speed was already on probation in ARCA, but he clearly did not care.

Manske showed the incidents and read a statement from Stenhouse basically calling Speed an idiot. Stenhouse is a Roush Fenway Racing development driver who Speed will probably being seeing on track again in the future. She then welcomed Speed to the program live by satellite.

Manske let Speed give his side of the story to start. He explained Stenhouse needed him not to finish in order for Stenhouse to win the championship. Speed's line was Stenhouse spun him on purpose, Speed's team fixed the car just to go get Stenhouse back and that is what they did.

"So, let's make this clear," said Manske. "Did you intentionally wreck him?"

"He (Stenhouse) was wrecked and he did not win the championship and that is OK with me," answered Speed.

"ARCA had you on probation for a number of incidents earlier in the year," said Manske. "You have this perception out there now that you are a hothead. How do you feel that this perception will affect your transition into the Sprint Cup Series?"

Speed looked like someone had just punched him in the stomach. "Who says I'm a hothead?" he answered. "I'm like the calmest guy out there. I think it's kind of an ARCA thing."

Manske followed-up by letting Speed talk about the fact that he had no incidents in the Craftsman Truck Series races this season. She led Speed into talking about how drivers like Jimmy Johnson and Kyle Busch have reached-out to help him as he steps into the Sprint Cup Series. She ended by letting Speed make the careful statement that his goal this Sunday was to stay out of the way and get some experience.

In the blink of an eye, she put Brad Daugherty on the spot over Speed's actions and the possible carry-over into this weekend. Daugherty's point was that retaliation happens in auto racing. Daugherty also felt that the ARCA incident would not have any bearing on Speed's Martinsville Cup weekend.

After that fast start, Manske welcomed in the familiar face of Felix Sabates. The minority owner in Chip Ganassi's NASCAR operation had done a lot of talking over the last weekend and (click here) stories all over the media had followed.

"You've publicly taken shots at Jack Roush's satellite team with Yates Racing," said Manske. "Why do you feel that way?"

This was the main point of the Sabates weekend interview and it is a good one. Simply by allowing teams from Tony Stewart to Doug Yates to operate completely outfitted and supplied by powerful owners like Hendrick and Roush Fenway, Sabates felt it would put other smaller teams out of business and fundamentally change the sport.

"You can fool some of the people some of the time," said Sabates. "But, you cannot fool all the people all the time. I'm afraid that two or three years from now you are going to have a circus with very few ponies."

Manske reminded Sabates that his team was also talking about merging. "How are you any different from Roush Fenway and Yates?" she asked.

"We have to do what we have to do to protect ourselves," said Sabates. "This business of NASCAR is monkey-see monkey-do. If somebody comes with the right opportunity, we would have to take it."

Immediately after finishing with Sabates, Manske brought Brad Daugherty into the topic with some interesting first words. She asked Daugherty to answer her questions from an ownership perspective. She had a good reason why. Daugherty's own Sprint Cup team had just recently become a satellite team of another multi-car owner.

"What are you doing to make sure your (JTG/Daugherty Racing) team succeeds?" she asked.

"We had to take the step to merge with Michael Waltrip Racing to create a technical alliance," answered Daugherty. "Felix is absolutely right, when you look at the mega-teams their tentacles reach out and they are actually eight car super-teams."

Daugherty pointed to the fact that the top four owners in Sprint Cup each have three cars in The Chase and the smaller teams have none. The bottom line according to Daugherty was that the small teams are being "out-resourced."

Manske drew Daugherty out on his opinion that the economy and attrition would shorten the Cup field to 36 cars in 2009. He further felt that the most effective way to control the rising costs in the sport would be to shorten the season.

He suggested 20 regular season races and an 8 race Chase for the Championship. This was a Sprint Cup owner and an ESPN commentator on NASCAR Now calling the season "way too long."

Manske was about to turn a doubleheader into a tripleheader when she welcomed Johnny Benson to the show live to talk Craftsman Trucks. Benson got a "Manske welcome" right off the bat.

"After leading the points for seven straight weeks, how disappointing is it to fall back to second?" asked Manske.

"Not very," said the veteran Benson. After ten years alongside of Michael Waltrip on Monday nights, Benson does not rattle very easily on TV.

Manske worked Benson through a good interview focusing on the tight race for the championship in the Truck Series. It was great of NASCAR Now to highlight this group with the big weekend at Martinsville on the horizon.

Manske even got Benson to admit if he had to do it over again, he might not have passed teammate Mike Skinner last season as the championship got tight.

She closed out the show with Daugherty, who finally earned his money on this program. He had addressed the ARCA incident, Scott Speed coming to Cup, the Sabates comments, his own team's merger and now had to preview the Martinsville Cup race and pick a winner.

Daugherty stayed safe in picking Jimmie Johnson to win and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to continue to struggle. He detailed the physical side of Martinsville and the fact that the flat track is going to be a new challenge after Charlotte.

The background behind Daugherty for his liveshot appeared to be his North Carolina home. Once Manske was done with him, Daugherty may well have needed a nap. This was an outstanding example of the NASCAR Now production staff choosing great stories to cover on a normally slow Wednesday and putting the resources of ESPN to work.

Four liveshots from four different locations gave Manske everything she needed to work with and she certainly made the most of it. To think about where this TV series was at this time last year and look at what it is today makes NASCAR Now the top NASCAR TV story of the season.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.