Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 110- NASCAR Now

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where we take an additional look at motorsports-related programming. Last week, I was supposed to bring you a look at NASCAR Now. However, circumstances beyond my control prevented that from happening.

Unfortunately, the sad truth is that ESPN has made it very difficult to watch the show. Already this season, the weekday editions of NASCAR Now have already aired in six different timeslots (anywhere from 12:00am to 2:30am). Also, those slots aren’t exactly set in stone since ESPN 2 has live sporting events. A live event running long means that the whole nightly schedule can get pushed back significantly, rendering something like a DVR useless. Yes, you can set it to record up to two hours past the end of the timeslot, but sometimes it gets to a point where a more important show is scheduled. At that point, it is in pre-emption city.

Sadly, NASCAR fans have not had the chance for a repeat showing of NASCAR Now on the ESPN family of networks since the fall of 2011, when the show was moved from 5:00pm to 3:00pm. I didn’t like the 3:00pm slot (I believe in that slot, it aired live) since stuff could break after the show ended, but I could take a late lunch at work and still see part of it. Having the show on in the overnight slot means that it is DVR Theater for most viewers in the Eastern and Central time zones. Honestly, I have no clue how the show gets decent guests with no real certainty of anyone watching.

In addition, when the show airs, it can be watched live via WatchESPN in addition to just watching on ESPN 2. However, ESPN has made the asinine decision of not posting the shows online for DVR viewing. Apparently, that function is only reserved for programming on ESPN3. What is the benefit of shafting a chunk of your potential audience like that?

Heck, at this point, I would welcome the show moving to ESPN Classic. They could put it on at 9:00pm before the AWA Wrestling (Yes, they air that, but not around that time of night). The only problem with that move would be that ESPN Classic’s audience has fallen off a cliff since 2009, resulting in the channel being fairly exclusive (i.e.: In a much higher (expensive) tier than the rest of ESPN’s channels).

Now, I will admit that ESPN will post some interviews from the show on YouTube from time to time. The one that Shannon Spake did with Kyle Larson earlier this week is one example. However, these are far and few between.

I’d argue that the show would also benefit from having a regular host. Back when ESPN 2 aired rpm2night (lower-case letters are intentional here) in the 1990’s, ESPN 2 had John Kernan serve as the exclusive host of the show. That gives the show continuity. Humans, if nothing else, are creatures of routine. NASCAR Now has never had a regular host. ESPN has felt the need to have a rotating group of hosts. This season, Spake, Nicole Briscoe and Mike Massaro have hosted on a revolving basis. Lindsay Czarniak subbed for Briscoe last week while she was suffering from a bout of laryngitis.

It’s hard to say who I would pick to host the show on a regular basis. Czarniak would be a great choice since she’s the most knowledgeable on-air personality in Bristol about NASCAR that isn’t a regular on the race telecasts. Problem is, she was hired to do mainly SportsCenter (from what I understand, she’s done very well with that, despite the show having it’s own issues). Massaro is solid, and also lives the closest to Bristol of the revolving trio. He also has a great on-air rapport with Ricky Craven, who often shows up to serve as the show’s expert analyst, much like Benny Parsons did on rpm2night.

Despite the terrible timeslots, NASCAR Now can still get decent guests. On the show that aired late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning at 2:03am, Kasey Kahne and the aforementioned Larson were guests. Spake talked to Larson about his run in Bristol, played some file footage of various drivers and personalities talking about Larson’s abilities and asked him about his confidence in the wake of all the good press he gets.

In Kahne’s interview, the topics of discussion naturally revolved around his victory on Sunday and his improved form as compared to the start of last season. In addition, there was discussion of the upcoming weekend in Fontana, specifically about how the race will be the hardest ever there with the new Gen6 car. I thought that was interesting since no one has really given Fontana much of a thought on television this week. It’s just been a series of Bristol rehashes.

Of course, ESPN couldn’t stay away from the whole Hamlin-Logano brouhaha. Here, they took samples from a number of their correspondents’ articles from Tuesday (Marty Smith, Ed Hinton, Ryan McGee, Terry Blount, etc.) in order to gauge whether retaliation will come and where. In all honestly, that is overkill. By the time early Wednesday morning came around and this aired, I don’t think I really cared much anymore.

NASCAR Now is a show that could be a lot better than it currently is, which is an invisible show that is good in parts, but flawed in others. As stated above, they need to pick a host and keep that host there. If that means Massaro is in Bristol six days a week hosting shows, that’s fine. The dude is dedicated to NASCAR for ESPN. He basically dressed up as a tub of ice cream just to keep interviews on the network after NASCAR banished them from the tracks in 2001 (Ok, he didn’t really do that, but he did the journalistic equivalent). Massaro could end up being the friendly face that NASCAR fans look forward to seeing on a daily basis. ESPN needs to find a decent timeslot for the show. Overnight slots just don’t work. Your audience is a bunch of machines and insomniacs. The sponsors for these drivers that appear on the show can’t be pleased with that. I can’t do much about the live telecasts causing schedule reverberations. It happens. I’m looking at ESPN’s schedules and unfortunately for NASCAR Now, it’s pretty full. I feel like ESPN is burying the show in an attempt to cancel it either at the end of this year, or sometime in 2014. An ESPN Classic (and the better timeslot that would result) move could give the show a potentially larger audience, despite the lower number of possible households.

As for the overall content, I generally like the interviews for the most part. The show being in Bristol does hurt them since barely any drivers ever appearance live on the show. It’s always either on the phone, or via satellite. That’s a big advantage that NASCAR RaceHub has on them, and one that rpm2night had as well. I like having analysts like Craven on the show, but I’m not so sure about Brad Daugherty, who seems to chime in about 2-4 times a week. He’s just not as informative to me.

Finally, there is a fair amount of viewer participation via Twitter. On Tuesday’s show, fan input on Logano’s potential revenge was used in the episode. That’s not a terrible move since Social media is very, very important these day. However, the show itself does not have their own Twitter page. Instead, the show piggybacks off of ESPN’s NASCAR Twitter page (it once had it’s own Twitter feed, though). Perhaps they should separate the feeds.

I hope you liked this write-up on NASCAR Now. Next week, I’ll be covering the new NBC Sports Network special, Ryan Hunter-Reay: An American Champion. The show premieres tonight at 7:00pm EDT and word has it that it’s pretty good. I hope so. Until then, enjoy this weekend’s action from Fontana, St. Petersburg and Kuala Lumpur.

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