Now that he's taken on a new role with Hendrick Motorsports, Ray Evernham felt it was necessary to step down from his role at ESPN.
“Now not doing the ESPN thing will allow me to be involved in some of the management and some of the things that they’re doing at (Hendrick) Motorsports,’’ Evernham told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (via MRN.com). “The best way to avoid a conflict of interest is to choose one or the other. I’m excited about being able to go and being involved in the management team on the motorsports side.’’
Evernham, Jeff Gordon's former crew chief and a former team owner, will be a consultant for Hendrick and work with the competition department. And please, hold the thoughts of his return to crew chiefing with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2015 to replace Steve Letarte. It's not going to happen.
Anyway, his decision to leave ESPN is noble, and one that would be considered a normal endeavor in other sports. You don't see team employees as regular members of studio shows and game broadcasts too often.
Except in NASCAR. Hopefully Evernham's choice is the beginning of a new normal.
With the second half of the Sprint Cup Series schedule going to NBC Sports in 2015, it's the perfect time to stop the trend of using people with obvious conflicts of interest in NASCAR broadcast roles. So far, NBC has done just that. Jeff Burton's deal with Michael Waltrip Racing is for a season and Letarte's Hendrick departure has been well-discussed.
The situation is a little different with Fox. The network just re-upped and Michael Waltrip has become entrenched in its broadcasts despite his team ownership. Waltrip and ESPN's Brad Daugherty are everything networks want in analysts. They're connected, have a broad knowledge base, and talk well in front of a camera. But by being owners, they happen to have a stronger conflict of interest than Evernham would have.
Imagine for a second if Fox had the broadcast rights to September's Richmond race and during the final caution the broadcast cuts to Chris Myers and Waltrip in the infield studio. Kind of awkward, don't you think? We either would have found out immediately that something was up, or the ensuing days would have been much more uncomfortable for all parties involved.
What was once a crazy hypothetical isn't much of one any longer and a perfect example of why blatant conflicts of interest should be slowly phased out.
Waltrip likely isn't going anywhere, nor should he be removed from his duties. Many NASCAR fans are aware of his dual-role and, right or wrong, may view his takes differently in 2014 and beyond. It's the flipside of the multiple obligations.
But just because something has become the status quo doesn't mean it shouldn't be changed. Evernham is proof of it. He likely could have made it work for both ESPN and Hendrick, but instead chose one or the other.
And one or the other is what NASCAR viewers deserve. There are plenty of deserving candidates for television jobs who aren't directly connected to NASCAR teams. If other network sports broadcasts can do it, NASCAR broadcasts can as well.
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