Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday Night Doubleheader Worth The Wait

Just as the top teams are hitting their stride during the Chase, ESPN's three year-old NASCAR Now program is also looking good down the stretch.

The Monday version used to be called the roundtable until ESPN changed the furniture on the set. Now, host Allen Bestwick looks even more comfortable with his new TV table as he hosts three panelists in a one hour conversation about all things NASCAR.

The three people that seem to really click on the panel are Ricky Craven, Ray Evernham and Randy LaJoie. They were present on Monday as Bestwick led them through a review of Dover, a preview of Kansas and a live guest interview.

In this Monday format, Bestwick shows a highlight and then allows all three panelists to comment. LaJoie is painfully honest and keeps the thoughtful Craven and Evernham on their toes with his humor and racing wit. This show was no exception. When things get complicated on the set, LaJoie has a way of putting racing into perspective.

Craven and Evernham may have traveled very different roads to arrive at ESPN, but they have formed a cohesive team in terms of offering commentary on racing issues. The key is not what they say, but what they don't say. Each works hard to offer comments within their own area of expertise and then quickly defers to the other for more details.

Topics in this program ranged from strategy on the track and tire choices to driver mindsets and team dynamics. Bestwick did a solid job of allowing each member of the panel to deliver complete thoughts and then follow up as needed. Opening up the overall discussion worked well and the racing information really flowed.

The Monday program has a guest and this week it was Chad Knaus. The inside joke was that Knaus had added a denim suit jacket to his t-shirt with a wink to the infamous ESPN dress code. Ray Evernham made sure to point that out. As we have repeated this season, the interview segments on this program are tremendous when all the panelists are allowed to ask questions.

Knaus himself was outstanding with his answers as he reviewed the decisions he made before and during the Dover race that resulted in a win. He was the perfect guest for this panel and the good humor in the conversation presented the interview in a very positive light for NASCAR. No problems, no controversy, just smart racing talk.

One poignant moment in this program came when the panel discussed the roll-over accident of Joey Logano. After diagnosing what happened and explaining the reasons why, Bestwick had both Craven and LaJoie look at footage of their own violent roll-overs and talk from a first-person perspective.

Craven's big accident long before the COT in Talladega was huge. His car soared above the track wall and into the catch fence before returning to the track in pieces. "When this is unfolding, you don't have any idea of when it's over," said Craven. His comment echoed that of Logano after the Dover accident.

LaJoie's amazing crash at Daytona featured his car actually going airborne, impacting the large concrete infield wall and then rebounding through the grass on the frontstretch. As usual, LaJoie put his explanation in the simplest terms. "First time at Daytona. They said just hold it wide open...OK!"

The panel offered a preview of Kansas and closed the show by differing on the race winner. Evernham and Craven stayed with the Hendrick cars while LaJoie said Juan Pablo Montoya was ready to break through. All in all, an enjoyable show from four NASCAR personalities clearly comfortable with each other on TV.

Later on Monday, SPEED offered the first grouping of Jimmy Spencer, Michael Waltrip and Knaus on This Week in NASCAR. From the start, Steve Byrnes set the tone by allowing everyone to speak but it was no easy task. By the second segment of the show Byrnes was definitely herding cats.

Knaus seemed to be the calm in the storm. Ironic that this crew chief who makes his living keeping everyone on the same page would be the only one to consistently offer detailed and accurate information for the entire hour.

Waltrip and Spencer have not yet established an on-air relationship. Spencer is the new element in the TWIN mix. Several times Spencer spoke directly to the TV viewers, asked his own questions of Knaus and made statements that included calling for Steve Addington to be fired as the #18 crew chief. That was only the beginning.

After showing the Nationwide race highlights that included the Denny Hamlin dust-up with Brad Keselowski, Spencer decided to add his opinion. "Keselowksi, I am going to tell you something bud, you are going to get your ass whipped one day by telling people you are sorry after the fact," he said.

This is not exactly the type of comment offered so far this season by either Waltrip, Knaus or fellow panelist Greg Biffle. Kudos to Steve Byrnes for calling Spencer out immediately on his own past incidents that involved spinning cars out from behind. "I won!" said a blushing Spencer. There was silence from Waltrip and Knaus.

Knaus offered a great preview of Kansas with good information from a veteran perspective. Spencer made sure to salute the full grandstands while Waltrip offered a good place for barbecue. The one-liners were flying.

"Chad looks like he is watching a tennis match," said Byrnes. Knaus was the meat in a Waltrip and Spencer sandwich. "There is a lot going on," smiled Knaus. "Spencer's not jaded," remarked Waltrip. "You guys are on drugs," Spencer shot back.

To wrap the show, Byrnes tosses out topics to the panel and for the first time Knaus raised the issue of mid-week racing to avoid college football and the NFL. It was supported by everyone on the show. His point was well-timed after two straight weeks of low TV ratings for Sunday races scheduled directly against the early NFL games.

This interesting show ended the way it started, in semi-chaos. But, that is exactly what has been missing from the previous dry-as-toast shows that lacked a spark. The best news for viewers is that the exact same panel will return next week after the Kansas race. Maybe this single move by SPEED of adding Spencer will pay dividends for a show rumored to be on the chopping block for next season.

Did you watch these programs? We would like your opinion. Just click on the comments button below to add your thoughts. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

Your Turn: Sprint Cup Series From Dover on ABC

Dover was a key race in the Chase with high speeds and lots of action. The NASCAR on ESPN team covered this race which was telecast on ABC.

Allen Bestwick offered an hour of pre-race programming. He worked with Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty in the Infield Pit Studio. They were joined by Tim Brewer from the Tech Garage. The ESPN pit reporters also contributed. Jamie Little, Shannon Spake, Dave Burns and Vince Welch patrolled pit road.

Once the race began, Jerry Punch called the play-by-play on this fast and dangerous track. Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree joined Punch in the booth to lend their color commentary to the race.

Dover is fast-paced and requires focus and attention from the TV announcers. Pit road is dangerous in many ways and has been the scene of many lead changes and incidents over the years.

This race featured one big crash that resulted in a red flag. It made the pit reporters offer interviews from the Infield Medical Center. The race was stopped for more than twenty minutes.

Commercials continue to be full-screen in this sport and over two minutes in length. Placement of those breaks on a fast track like Dover is tough.

The issue on the Chase telecasts is often informing fans of the teams outside of the top 12 and not in the Chase. Information scrolls on a ticker, but the field should be reset after every caution flag pit stop.

The telecast started on time and did not experience any weather delays. There were no problems with the video or audio portions of the race telecast.

This Your Turn post is to allow you to offer your honest opinion of this telecast before we offer one. Now that the race is over, just take a moment to tell us what you liked, did not like and would like to see improved.

To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, so please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time to give us your opinion.

Monday's Talk Better Than Sunday's Racing?

While the second race in the Chase did not live up to expectations, Monday's NASCAR TV talk shows boast a stellar line-up of personalities. It may well be that fans get more bang for their TV buck now that the race is over.

The "3 R's" are back for ESPN as Ricky Craven, Ray Evernham and Randy LaJoie join host Allen Bestwick on the 6PM version of NASCAR Now on ESPN2. Bestwick has put his stamp on this one hour show and these are clearly three of his favorite panelists.

While Evernham has struggled in the field, he excels in the studio and offers a veteran perspective that is unique. As a championship crew chief and a major Sprint Cup Series owner, Evernham can draw on a wide variety of experiences.

Craven is the most polished TV pro on the panel and continues to be the best studio analyst on the NASCAR scene. His observations are very personal and both his good and bad experiences in the sport often come into play in his comments.

LaJoie is the irreverent character that every panel needs to keep its feet firmly planted on the ground. He has become much better on TV this season and worked very well with Mike Massaro in the studio on the Sunday preview and review shows.

Bestwick has a lot of material to draw from, including the Logano wreck and the continuing Hendrick dominance. Ongoing sagas like Pat Tryson and Martin Truex Jr. could also be on the menu. The silly season is in full swing.

This program has established itself as the flagship for the ESPN NASCAR franchise. After dealing with a wide variety of panelists over the last year, Bestwick now has a core group that works well together and moves quickly through a lot of information and highlights. This week has the potential to be outstanding.

Over at SPEED, things took a strange turn with the recent addition of Jimmy Spencer to the TWIN panel for the remainder of the season. Originally inserted on a weekend where Michael Waltrip was absent, this Monday marks the first time that Spencer and Waltrip will be working with Chad Knaus as the third panelist.

Steve Byrnes hosts the program and knows all the panelists quite well. What he does not know is how they will interact for the first time during the program. This show is taped in the afternoon for an 8PM airing, so don't expect any big issues to arise.

What should be fun to watch is the controversial Spencer mixing with the ultimate NASCAR apologist in Waltrip. They will both be speaking with the crew chief who led his team to the race win in convincing style.

Knaus did not get Waltrip at first on this series, but settled into a very funny relationship with him on the air. Waltrip gets to retain all his wacky behaviors while Knaus now simply delivers his analytical crew chief answers totally unfazed.

The addition of Spencer is a positive for the show that was struggling with only two panelists. Two voices can only present a difference of opinion while three can form a group discussion on any issue. These three should be fun to watch for the first time.

TDP will offer a wrap-up column once both shows are done, but please feel free to offer your opinions before and during the shows on this post. This is a family-friendly website, so please keep that in mind when you are clicking on the comment button below to add your opinion.