Tuesday, March 10, 2009
This is a weird week for NASCAR on the ESPN family of networks. As many college sports fans already know, it is Championship Week. This week is packed with college sports and that has pushed NASCAR Now to the late shift.
The 5PM original airings of this program are gone this week. The program will instead air in the early morning hours on the East Coast Wednesday and Thursday. The Thursday and Friday daytime versions of this daily show are cancelled altogether.
As luck would have it, the off-week is a perfect reason for ESPN to let this show take some time off, despite the fact that many of the other ESPN daily shows continue with few schedule changes.
Shannon Spake will step into the host role for the Tuesday and Wednesday shows. Spake was impressive in a host role on several other programs and perhaps is better in the studio than on pit road. Fans may remember her from SPEED in a variety of roles.
ESPN will once again convene a reporter's roundtable on Monday. Allen Bestwick gets his second week off this season as it will be Nicole Manske hosting the program. Nate Ryan from USA Today, Michael Vega of the Boston Globe and ESPN's own Angelique Chengelis are the media guests.
This concept has worked well in the past and with Tradin' Paint on SPEED cancelled it should give NASCAR fans their only glimpse into some of the media who do not regularly appear on TV in Ryan and Vega. The absence of diverse NASCAR media members somewhere on TV is a hole that needs to be filled for 2010.
NASCAR Now has been having a stellar season with Bestwick, Manske and Mike Massaro co-hosting. Marty Smith and Chengelis have been appearing regularly with the hard news on the weekends. David Newton and Terry Blount still write for ESPN.com, but have a lesser role on the program. Tim Cowlishaw has been quietly eliminated from the series.
Once the season cranks back up with Bristol, we will all probably begin to see the economic reality affect the sport in new ways. Several truck series teams are struggling to return to action after the break and the valiant efforts of several self-funded Sprint Cup teams also appear to be on the verge of ending.
This year, unlike those in recent memory, the challenge for ESPN will be to balance the sports news and information with the reality of the world around us. So far this year, the efforts of the entire production team at NASCAR Now have been nothing short of impressive.
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