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NASCAR This Morning
by Cheryl Lauer
March 1, 2005

It's been a while since I reviewed this show and it's one that I enjoy whenever I tune in to it. NASCAR This Morning has found a new home on the SPEED Channel in 2005, and host, John Roberts, is now joined by drivers, Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace. Another significant change is that the entire crew is now live at the track. In the past Roberts and the rest of the panel worked from the Charlotte studio, with a few live remotes thrown in from the reporters at the track. I found the change to be very enjoyable for the viewer, but am sure it must present many new challenges for the production crew. This short review will focus on the February 26, 2005 episode prior to the California race.

I've always found that Roberts and crew provide one of the better pre-race shows each Sunday. They generally don't lean towards hype or self-promotion and have good discussions on relevant issues. I'm not generally a fan of Jimmy Spencer, but he was very professional and provided some really good insight during this week's show. The group had a good discussion concerning several of the new rules in 2005, with Spencer making some excellent points concerning the rear gear rule and how it affects the transmissions run by teams as well.

Along with a discussion of the new "impound" rules, Bob Dilner had a very good feature showing the four inspection stations at the track. He also explained the limited changes the crews could make to the cars on race day. Kenny Wallace pointed out that the teams now had to make sure their back-up cars were truly race ready because of the limited practice they have during the weekend. This was an excellent pont.

Throughout the show, reporters Dilner and Krista Voda had live interviews with several drivers, including Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Jeremy Mayfield, Bobby Hamilton, Jr. and Scott Riggs. Later, they also talked to Terry Labonte, Joe Nemechek and Kevin Lepage. I always enjoy this type of more relaxed interviews way before the race starts as opposed to the rushed interviews in the actual pre-race shows on Fox and NBC. At those times, the drivers seem to just offer canned responses. I also like that this show talks to a lot of drivers that we don't normally get to see very often.

One of the challenges of doing a live remote occurred when the team was reviewing highlights of the truck race from Friday night. There were some problems with the highlight video, which Roberts explained.

I generally like Kenny Wallace, but at one point during the Busch review, he started switched from analysis to rolling off sponsor plugs and quickly reminded me of Michael Waltrip's constant shilling for his sponsors. It might be endearing to their sponsors, but I find it very annoying as a viewer.

During a ride around the California track via some in-car footage, called Hot Lap, Spencer did an excellent job illustrating where the preferred racing line was located. Wallace pointed out that the problem spot at this track was coming off of turn four where you gained so much speed coming onto the straightaway in order to pass going into turn one.

Roberts talked about how crew chief, Michael McSwain, would be attempting to crew Ricky Rudd's car from home this weekend (while recovering from surgery). This feature struck me as being more of a promotion for NOL's Track Pass rather than informational. However, Wallace pointed out that McSwain would be using the telemetry somewhat as F-1 teams do during the race. He questioned if this was walking a fine line concerning NASCAR's rules against the use of telemetry during races. Good point, but I couldn't help but think that Track Pass doesn't provide really accurate telemetry anyway.

There was also a good feature where the reporters asked several teams how they felt about travel to the west coast so early in the season, and then going to Las Vegas in two weeks. It was good to hear how the truck drivers and teams really feel about the increase in travel this year. Wallace pointed out that the drivers themselves are making millions, so they probably don't care that much. Spencer said that they realized they could be back in lessor series making $2000 a race instead. The taped interviews ended with one team transporter driver who said it still beat a real job. These were all good points. The feature ended with Voda showing us what the Bill Davis truck and hauler looked like inside.

Next there was a good discussion about all the tracks being added to the NASCAR schedule lately. During this segment, Spencer did contradict himself once when talking about how much access fans had to drivers in NASCAR and how the fans don't realize how hard the teams work.

The only real weakness with NASCAR This Morning, in my opinion, is the show's length. There's just not enough content to fill a 90-minute timeslot. Yet the SPEED Channel seems determined to give us longer and longer shows this season. During the last half hour of this show, the crew seemed to spend a lot of time on promotions for other SPEED shows like NASCAR Nation and Victory Lane.

Overall, though, I still like the tone of this show. It's more relaxed and comes across as so much more genuine than some of the other shows on SPEED or Fox. Roberts has done a great job over the last few years, despite a changing "supporting cast" and always seems comfortable and real. This show always seems to provide good discussions of relevant issues. Keep up the good work, guys!

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