Friday, September 23, 2011

Ray Evernham Returning To NASCAR TV

Ray Evernham has been a lot of things in his NASCAR career. Most recently, he was a NASCAR analyst for ESPN. Working in a variety of settings, Evernham brought his rather unique perspective to TV viewers.

ESPN used Evernham in the network studios as a panelist on the big Monday roundtable show. He also traveled to the tracks and worked from the infield pit studio. On one memorable occasion, he flew to Mexico with Dr. Jerry Punch and Rusty Wallace to call a Nationwide Series race.

His original move to ESPN in 2008 was complicated. He came with a lot of baggage. The domestic and professional issues that dogged him late in the team owner portion of his career threatened to surface again.

While ESPN Motorsports executives continually said all was fine, it was not. Evernham was getting a free pass on ESPN when it came to Gillett Evernham Motorsports (GEM) and a range of issues. They included his continued financial interest in the team and the ongoing Richard Petty Motorsports merger affecting drivers like Elliott Sadler and AJ Allmendinger.

Here is an excerpt from a September of 2008 TDP column about Evernham's first season with ESPN:

While Evernham might talk about his cars and his teams during the race highlights, there is a code of silence at ESPN where Evernham is concerned that is simply not fair to NASCAR fans. Like all the other owners, Evernham should be fair game and he is not.

Where ESPN is concerned, suits-and-ties and silence cannot hide reality. These NASCAR owners who double as ESPN announcers simply cannot walk down both sides of the street and expect their commentary to be received by the fans as unbiased.

"Ray Evernham Needs To Clear The Air" was a TDP column from January of 2009. We suggested that Evernham clear-up the remaining issues and address the outstanding questions before his second TV season began. Click here to read the entire post.

A short time later, Evernham did exactly that with then "lifestyle" writer Raygan Swan. Click here to read "Retired Evernham Looks Forward To What Lies Ahead."

Swan gave Evernham a controlled and friendly media outlet where he could put information out in a very public forum. has high traffic and is a site that fans can easily access and reference. The bottom line is, it worked.

In 2009 Evernham cemented his reputation as someone who could speak to a wide variety of NASCAR issues with authority on television. His opinions were mixed with the type of analytical crew chief perspective that few possess. His TV star was rising.

After three seasons with ESPN, Evernham surprised everyone by stepping away from NASCAR TV before the 2011 season. Instead, he signed on to consult with NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick on some of Hendrick's non-racing interests. At the time, some speculated that Evernham was actually being brought in to help struggling Dale Earnhardt Jr.

True to his word, Evernham kept away from the racing and instead enjoyed a low-key season that featured few national media interactions. That is about to change. Admittedly a man who gets bored easily, Evernham is returning to NASCAR TV.

TDP has learned that Evernham will shortly move into a role as the NASCAR analyst for the new SPEED Center program on SPEED network. As part of the network's recent changes, SPEED Center was created to provide a constant studio presence from Friday through Sunday during the live racing from around the country.

The SPEED Center concept features inserts from the studio into all types of SPEED programming and covers various types of racing. Adam Alexander has been the primary host, stepping aside for a rotating group of existing SPEED announcers during his time working for the NASCAR on TNT races.

Evernham would be put in a similar role to ESPN's Ricky Craven, who works in the NASCAR Now studios previewing and then reviewing the NASCAR racing action from the weekend. SPEED is a bit different, already producing a large amount of live programming from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tracks all season long.

This is going to be a good opportunity for Evernham to take a short drive over to the Charlotte, NC based SPEED studios and get back to work. His perspective is thoughtful and his opinions are more than just the standard positive reinforcement of the sport theme so popular on NASCAR TV these days.

Patti Wheeler is the driving force behind SPEED Center and the executive that got the ball rolling where Evernham is concerned. Wheeler is heading both the programming and production departments at the network, which essentially means she can create, schedule and produce the kinds of programs that meet the new SPEED agenda.

With the Chase already underway, it should be interesting to see if Evernham starts in his new role right away. There is a SPEED Center show scheduled for 11PM Friday night that will be previewing the Camping World Truck and Sprint Cup Series races from New Hampshire.

SPEED should be making an official announcement sometime on Friday. We will update this post about the specifics, but it is going to be nice to have Evernham back on TV talking about the sport once again. This time, he's traveling light.

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