Monday, May 18, 2009

"This Week In NASCAR" Sticks To Basics

The evolution of this season's new Monday night show on SPEED continued this week. Steve Byrnes hosted an hour of This Week In NASCAR that stuck to the basics for several different reasons.

Michael Waltrip and Chad Knaus made up the expert panel. These two have settled into a comfortable relationship on the air. Knaus offers his analytical style of commentary and Waltrip does his best to offer opinions in support of the sport.

This week's review of the All-Star race gave both panelists an opportunity to provide a lot of what they do best. Knaus broke down the strategy and details that contributed to Stewart's ultimate win. Knaus always references his #48 car and team, but has done a good job of keeping things in perspective for the viewers.

Waltrip sang songs, emotionally talked about the history of NASCAR and generally had a good time. He has been doing exactly this same thing on Monday nights for a very long time. This season, even his over-the-top commercial plugs have become more humorous than annoying.

TWIN producers have allowed the panel to discuss off-track topics in the past, but have avoided the Jeremy Mayfield suspension completely. This program focused strictly on the review and preview elements mixed with the frequent sales features.

Right or wrong, this is the approach they have taken. It certainly suggests that Mayfield's name and part-time status played a role in this decision. Had the driver suspended been named Johnson or Waltrip, there is little doubt it would be a topic up for active discussion.

It seems that Walrip and Knaus are also content not to offer their opinions of the Mayfield issue on TV. This show stayed within the comfortable walls it has established over this season and offered a program full of good racing information mixed with some fun. Whether that is enough to please the NASCAR fans or not can only be determined by the viewers.

TDP welcomes your comments on this program. Just click on the comments button below and add your opinion. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.

Unique Trio Works For "NASCAR Now"

It was certainly a big Monday on ESPN where NASCAR was concerned. The All-Star race had resulted in some fireworks and race winner Tony Stewart was probably still smiling. Two drivers without a smile on their faces late Saturday night were Kyle Busch and Jeremy Mayfield.

Busch put on a show and then faded to seventh after some damage to his car in the final laps. Mayfield put on a show after coming down from an infield hospitality trailer and speaking out about his drug suspension. While Busch walked to his car and drove home after the event, Mayfield was asked to leave the area by NASCAR.

It was ESPN's Marty Smith who climbed up and spoke briefly to Mayfield before the rest of the NASCAR media showed-up. "It might be time to face the music," said Smith to Mayfield. "It might be time to go ahead and talk." In the blink of an eye, Mayfield came down and addressed the reporters.

NASCAR Now played the video of a candid Mayfield speaking clearly about the issue in a very defined timeline scenario. "Everybody that know me knows better," said Mayfield. Those would be words to remember for later in the show. Mayfield ended his comments by saying "that is the whole truth." He was very convincing.

NASCAR VP Robin Pemberton had clearly had enough of this issue as he was shown staring down a nameless reporter who asked about Mayfield. The female reporter asked what Pemberton's response was to Mayfield's statement that he was never "given proof" of what he was suspended for. "I'm not going to discuss Jeremy Mayfield tonight," answered Pemberton.

Smith tagged the piece by saying that licensed NASCAR participants in the testing program want to know what Mayfied ingested. Smith singled-out Jeff Burton's comments that disclosing the substance would lend credibility to NASCAR's new policy. In closing, Smith related his conversation with Dr. Black from the testing program.

Once again, this nationally recognized drug testing expert stated Mayfield was clearly told the substance that violated the policy. Black also stated specifically to Smith that any amount of Claritin-D could not have caused the positive reading.

Smith called the situation, "a he-said she-said for the ages."

Host Allen Bestwick now faced perhaps the toughest task of all. When Smith was done, Bestwick turned to his most experienced NASCAR expert on the panel to follow-up on this touchy issue. He came face-to-face with Ray Evernham.

This season, Evernham has worked on rebuilding his image and restoring his credibility. His comments on this program would go a long way toward continuing that process. He first acknowledged "the bloggers" and the fairness concerns expressed by some if Evernham talked about this situation. The history between Evernham and Mayfield is well known by most.

In choosing to address the issue, Evernham showed again why he is a natural on TV. "At some point in time you have to trust the sanctioning body," he said. His opinion was that NASCAR feels this is not an issue related to Mayfield's prescription or Claritin. Then, he did the right thing in a big way.

"In all the time that Jeremy Mayfield drove for me and the time that we spent together socially I never saw anything that would indicate to me that Mayfield would have this kind of problem," stated Evernham. That extra touch of providing a balanced viewpoint made the concerns about his statements fade away.

Rick Craven provides a strong grounding influence on this program. He reminded the panel and the viewers that the real reason for all of this is safety. Randy LaJoie is the plain-spoken racer that speaks his mind. His opinion was that Mayfield already had a black eye and his comments were only making things worse.

Before the Mayfield segment, the panel had reviewed the All-Star evening and the circumstances leading up to Stewart's win. Later in the show, Darian Grubb was the guest and all of the panel members got to ask questions. This change has been great as the perspectives of all the panelists can come through in the questions.

The program ended with a preview of the Coca-Cola 600 coming up next weekend. Evernham was again on top of the information by explaining how tire strategy will play a key role. Craven and Evernham are a good combination in previewing these events, drawing on personal experience to set the table for fans.

ESPN has certainly hit on a great trio to work with Bestwick. The intellectual Craven, the analytical Evernham and the outspoken LaJoie combine to offer a fast-paced and informative hour. As he has since the beginning of this season, Bestwick has let others take the spotlight. Just like a good referee, he keeps order and introduces the topics to be discussed.

Of all the NASCAR Now programs since 2007, this may have been one of the best.

TDP welcomes your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

Bigger Not Always Better For All-Star TV Coverage

It is all around us and has been a part of our society for a long time. Bigger is better. Larger burgers, bigger pizzas and the super big-gulp. The biggest pick-up truck with the most towing power pulling a nice big boat.

Over in sports TV land, bigger has been a theme for a long time as well. The Super Bowl TV coverage runs all day long. SportsCenter is repeated on ESPN every morning and afternoon for hours. The 24 hour world of cable TV sports is available on several channels.

Three years ago, the TV coverage of the All-Star race was expanded by SPEED. This year, the pre-race show came on-air at 4PM. The wrap-up show was scheduled to end at midnight. That's a lot of TV around a non-points race with a limited field.

RaceDay tried to fill three hours, but it was a bit rough at times. John Roberts, Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace did their act on the SPEED Stage, but that trio ran out of content after about an hour and then looked and sounded like three guys completely out of gas. Humidity and hype took a toll on this group.

Wendy Venturini and Hermie Sadler once again teamed-up to provide the real content of this program. From Venturini's "Real Deal" with a flip-flop clad eventual winner Tony Stewart to Sadler giving the Coke-sipping drivers a hard time, this duo has been very important to SPEED all season long.

Rutledge Wood is still figuring out who to be and how to present himself on national TV. A solid job of interviewing the notoriously difficult Kevin Costner mixed with an aimless wander through the infield concert crowd to reinforce this issue. SPEED has bounced this on-air personality around more than almost any other. Someone this popular with the drivers and teams should be presented as more than a just a clown.

The burnout contest was a mess. Judges who had no clue, rules that made no sense and drivers who tried to be as polite as possible in their remarks about this thirty minute TV filler. Even with a charity attached, it did not make for compelling TV.

Once again, no NACAR fans appeared on SPEED. The very people keeping the sport in business appear to be nothing more than background scenery to the network. Try as they might to say fans have a meaning, there is virtually no fan input on these SPEED TV shows.

RaceDay brought along a lot of fluff and every single piece was needed to make the three-hour show work. By the end, it was almost a relief to get to yet another thirty minutes of pre-race programming. This time, the big guns came out.

It was Krista Voda and a smiling Jeff Hammond who joined viewers inside the Hollywood Hotel to set-up the evening. Voda really has a knack for hosting these types of programs and it showed. Hammond was without Darrell Waltrip and he certainly took the opportunity to shine. No goofy jokes and no personal references, just good racing commentary from someone who has been there.

The NASCAR on Fox crew handled the race. Mike Joy has been down this road before and once again kept things in order. The pit reporters were muted because of the format, but the interviews and updates were on target. What was not on target was Waltrip's perspective on Kyle Busch.

Larry McReynolds offers great technical updates and treats every team equally. As the feature race progressed, Waltrip's singular enthusiasm for Busch was simply out of place. It came at the expense of the other teams and drivers in the race.

It certainly is his right to offer his view of things as he sees it, but that viewpoint now seems to involve a fascination with the young driver. TDP spoke about this last year as the Fox portion of the season wound-down. Waltrip's screaming during the All-Star race just reinforced this view.

As usual, SPEED made great pictures and sound. HD video works well under the LMS lights and the network offered four additional cameras to fans at the website. All-Star Buddy worked well and was a reminder of just how much fun the full RaceBuddy service will be during the TNT portion of the season.

It certainly was lucky that NASCAR brought back the final ten lap sprint or this season's All-Star night would have been remembered as rather bland. Nothing beats a feel-good story in NASCAR and Stewart delivered down the stretch.

Perhaps, the last couple of laps of exciting racing will be what many fans remember, but for those who watched eight hours of NASCAR TV on Saturday, there was a whole lot of fluff mixed-in with a smattering of actual racing.

TDP welcomes your comments on this topic. Just click on the comments button below to add your opinion. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

Monday Choices Face ESPN And SPEED

Two storylines ran through the NASCAR media on Saturday night. The All-Star festivities were in full swing when Jeremy Mayfield was spotted at the Lowe's Motor Speedway watching the action from a hospitality trailer.

As the action unfolded on the track resulting in the first win for Tony Stewart with his new team, Jeremy Mayfield was talking to the media and recording himself doing it.

By the time the infield media center closed late Saturday night, there had been almost as many stories and Internet posts dedicated to Mayfield as there were to Stewart. You can see from the comments on the TDP Mayfield column that fans feel strongly about this issue.

Now, two production teams at two different TV networks are preparing their one-hour Monday versions of a NASCAR preview/review show. ESPN is prepping NASCAR Now for 5PM and the NASCAR Media Group is getting This Week in NASCAR ready for 8PM on SPEED.

ESPN has been jumping right into the Mayfield issue from the beginning with Marty Smith and David Newton taking the lead. On this Monday, it will be Ricky Craven, Randy LaJoie and Ray Evernham in the studio with host Allen Bestwick.

It was hoped that Mayfield would have come out with an official statement that would have put this issue to rest before the weekend. Unfortunately, not only did that not happen but he spoke to several members of the NASCAR media who then filed updated stories on his comments. It only made the situation worse for Mayfield and NASCAR.

TWIN avoided this issue entirely last week, but there is no doubt that Chad Knaus and Michael Waltrip have viewpoints on how the new NASCAR drug policy is playing out. Both are licensed by NASCAR and participate in exactly the same random testing program that snagged Mayfield and several others this season.

The decision to address this issue has to be made a little tougher given that TWIN is actually produced by NASCAR's own in-house TV company. Mayfield's continuing assertions that he is in the dark about what substance caused the problems has been directly refuted by NASCAR from the start.

Looking at this issue strictly from an official NASCAR standpoint, Mayfield is perhaps not even worthy of more media exposure. He agreed to participate in the new program, returned a positive test on two samples and then was simply suspended.

It should be very interesting once again to watch the two Monday NASCAR shows and then compare the way these two very different TV teams approach this issue. TDP will offer a new column for your comments after both shows air. In the meantime, please feel free to offer your opinion on whether Mayfield deserves air time on Monday.

To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking the time to drop by The Daly Planet.