From the Marbles - NASCAR

ESPN's new reality miniseries "Riding Shotgun: Kyle Busch" is running all this week, and while we may not be learning a lot about Kyle, we sure are learning plenty about his fiancee, Samantha Sarcinella.

This is a strange little show, slapped together with astonishing speed -- it's fairly close to real-time -- and with strong production values. The idea, of course, is to show what it's like being a NASCAR driver in the heat of competition and in the downtime ... and you know what? It's pretty freakin' sweet.

The show begins with Kyle's Friday night Nationwide race in Richmond, where a fuel nozzle stuck in the tank cost him a shot at the race. But Kyle, perhaps aware he was being filmed, didn't tear the head off the crewman who cost him the race; his only reaction was a muted "that's the way it goes" over the radio and some silent contemplation with his dogs in a field outside the Richmond track.

Still, there are two breakout stars of the show, and I'm not talking about Kyle and crew chief Dave Rogers, if you get my drift. Sarcinella is clearly angling for screen time here, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. One camera follows her throughout the Richmond race weekend, from appearances to pit road worrying. It doesn't always portray her in the best light (from Saturday evening, Sam: "Why's it so much darker tonight than last night? It's the same time." Kyle: "Clouds.") but still, it's her moment to shine -- or, in the case of a Sunday outing on a lake, pose in a bikini.

The cringeworthy moments come when Kyle and Samantha are interacting, as it's painfully obvious they're aware cameras are on them. (To be fair, how could they not?) There's some awkward wedding-planning conversation (looking at photos of the couple kissing on a Chicago street, Kyle smiles, "You look like a hooker." Sam replies, "We won't be sending that one to my grandmother.") And the less said about a scene where they make ice cream together, with Kyle leaning over Sam's back, the better.

The best moments come when Kyle forgets the camera is on him, as when he's talking with Joe Gibbs about the last moments of Richmond. Since this race in effect didn't mean anything, Kyle notes to Joe Gibbs that he could have dumped leader Denny Hamlin, who did the same to Kyle at the All-Star race, but didn't. 

And in another fine unscripted moment, Kyle and Tony Stewart are posing for the NASCAR Chase photo when a lame blast of confetti fills the air. "Wow, they must have spent a hundred bucks on this," Kyle remarks. Another weak blast, and Tony replies, "Two hundred."

"Riding Shotgun" is on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday on ESPN2 after NASCAR Now, but I'd strongly recommend you check your local listings, as it's already been pre-empted once. Still, it's well worth checking out. You'll make Sam very happy.

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