Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 50- NASCAR Now Roundtable

by Phil Allaway

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where we look into additional motorsports-related broadcasts. This is the 150th TV critique that I have written for Frontstretch (and the 50th edition of the Critic’s Annex). What will I spend my time discussing this week. NASCAR Now. A show that I watch somewhat regularly, but do not watch every day. Now, I do make a point to check out the Monday editions more than the others (Wednesday is second, due to their Wayback Wednesday segment). Those Monday editions are the Roundtable episodes. I think the idea of the roundtable shows was ripped off of SPEED, which does something similar to wrap-up their F1 races.

The Roundtable shows are special one-hour episodes at NASCAR Now that typically air at 5pm on Mondays (although other priorities can push the show to a later airtime). Allen Bestwick typically hosts the show and serves in a moderator role. Then, there are a group of rotating guest analysts that discuss the stories from the past weekend. The rotating guests include some of ESPN’s writers, at-track analysts, and current and former drivers.

Two weeks ago, the panel was Ricky Craven, Marty Smith and Ed Hinton for the Richmond roundtable. The show started off with each of the three guests giving a short spiel about the event and what they noticed. Hinton talked about how Kyle Busch should lay off the extracurricular activities and focus on the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota, something that has probably been said about 49 times in the last couple of years.

Following the opening shots, Bestwick started a recap of the race (the Crown Royal presents the Matthew & Daniel Hansen 400), complete with Q&A footage with winner Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. The recap was followed up with opening discussions from the entire panel.

After the opening discussions, there were pointed questions from Bestwick that were posed to the group at-large. Topics included Jeff Gordon’s hit on an unprotected concrete wall, Kyle Busch’s talents, the “Feud of the Week,” and more. Basically, a series of jump-in questions, like the Jump-In What? category on the old game show Tic-Tac-Dough.

Interesting thoughts that came out of the segments included Smith wholeheartedly supporting Gordon’s opinion on the SAFER Barrier situation at Richmond, and Hinton’s calling out of Newman for being the most inconsiderate driver in all of NASCAR, perhaps ever. That is probably a stretch on Hinton’s part, knowing how many people have driven in NASCAR over the period of time in which Hinton has covered the sports (hundreds), but he has many years on me covering NASCAR.

The second half of the show, as you may remember, was focused on Brian France’s appearance on the show. ESPN placed France front and center and started off with Bestwick asking France about his thoughts about the season up to that point (nine races in). Following Bestwick’s question, each of the roundtable members threw questions France’s way. To his credit, France did not back away from any of the questions, answering them to the best of his ability. Topics included some of the same topics as before, but the restrictor plate package, Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series, the economy, and even fans blaming France for everything was covered. There was some fan-submitted input via Twitter as well.

Admittedly, France is simply not the best public speaker on the planet. He’d probably get a B- at best in an Oral Communication college course, based on what I’ve seen in person and on TV. As a result, he’s not really the most engaging guy out there. Not much that ESPN could possibly do about that. However, he’s the big cheese.

This past Monday’s Roundtable featured a new group of panelists (ESPN Analysts Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree, along with Ken Schrader). The format was largely the same for the first half of the show. However, instead of having an in-studio guest, race winner Regan Smith appeared on the show via satellite (from what looked like an Oak Express, but was described as simply a Furniture Row store) to discuss Saturday night’s breakthrough.

It should be noted that the show setup used earlier this week is the normal setup. Having France on the show was a special circumstance, and thus, the show had to adjust.

Having said all that, is the show enjoyable to watch? Sure, it is. All the panelists that are on the show are opinionated and Bestwick gives them the ability to let their opinions be known. It could be argued that having people like Wallace and Petree on the show, especially later in the season, could be considered overkill since they’re already prominently featured in ESPN’s NASCAR telecasts from the track each weekend.

Hinton is crotchety as heck on the show, which I guess is somewhat typical for him, but I don’t know for sure (seen him in person before, but never talked to him). As a result, he’s perfect for this setting. In an unrelated note, he might be the only traveling NASCAR writer that smokes. Craven simply showed more of the poise that we’ve seen from him in the broadcast booth recently. His performance begs for a larger on-screen role, but I’m not sure whether there’s room at ESPN for him to do much more than he’s already doing.

Wallace and Petree showed me nothing that I hadn’t already seen in their work on race broadcasts over the past couple of years. However, Schrader really didn’t get all that much time on there. Coming into the show this year, Schrader had plenty of experience on a very similar show (Inside Winston Cup Racing/Inside Winston Cup/Inside Nextel Cup on Speedvision/SPEED) that Bestwick hosted. On there, he was a bit quirky, but he counteracted the somewhat over-the-top Michael Waltrip. Here, Schrader doesn’t have to counteract anyone, not even Wallace, who doesn’t cut people off like Waltrip would. Maybe its still early and Schrader can grow back into the role, but his appearance left me wanting more from him, especially since he was in the race in Darlington Saturday night.

Bestwick, having about a decade’s worth of experience controlling a very similar show on SPEED, is very good on this show. It is said that he does not use a teleprompter on a show like this. He is prepared as always, but more or less stays out of the way.

The show works better when on-air personalities that aren’t constantly on the race broadcasts are part of the panel. Because of that, I would prefer that some of ESPN’s other analysts, their writers (in addition to Hinton, Ryan McGee should get more airtime, as should Terry Blount) and active drivers should do the show more often. Emphasis should be taken away from people like Wallace and Petree, not because they’re unlikable in this setting, but simply because they already do enough on-air work for ESPN.

I hope you enjoyed this look at the weekly Roundtable edition of NASCAR Now. Check back next Thursday for another edition of the Critic’s Annex. We’ll be covering Versus’ new weekly IndyCar show, IndyCar Open Wheel Weekly. Until then, enjoy the action from Dover and VIR.

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