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Couch Potato Tuesday: Daytona Brings Change, Teething, FOX Fan Confusion
FOX Sports 1’s Truck Series broadcast showed that NASCAR had listened to its fans with a complete overhaul of the new FOX Box.

Couch Potato Tuesday: Daytona Brings Change, Teething, FOX Fan Confusion

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast criticism is the primary objective. Last weekend, the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series were all in action on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway.

NextEra Energy Resources 250

On Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series began its 12th season as part of the FOX family of networks.

Because of weather issues, NASCAR moved up the start of the race by a half-hour. In turn, FOX Sports 1 moved up the start of the Setup by that same 30 minutes to 6 PM. Krista Voda was joined by currently out-of-work racer Todd Bodine in the Hotel. Bodine was quite solid in his role; honestly, I would have preferred that Bodine be in the broadcast booth instead of Michael Waltrip. But you take what you can get.

One primary feature was an introduction to rookie Ben Kennedy — nephew of Brian France, grandson of Bill France, Jr. and NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr.‘s great-grandson — who started on pole. Despite his pedigree, mother Lesa has instilled a work ethic into Kennedy; he had to work odd jobs at Daytona International Speedway in the past, including grounds crew work and concessions. It’s notable Lesa was even interviewed for the feature, as she has a tendency to stay very much behind-the-scenes with her NASCAR role. It’ll be interesting to see how the France family handles the success of one of their own, on-track, if Kennedy starts winning at the higher levels. It’s a whole different type of story…

Anyways, Kennedy admitted that he really didn’t want to race at first, but quickly fell in love with driving a race car (then, just a go-kart). All told, we got a decent first look at a new personality in the series who seems to have a good head on his shoulders and did very well in the K&N Pro East division. However, next-to-no mention was made of his continued team ownership there for Kenzie Ruston.

FOX Sports 1’s Truck Series broadcast showed that NASCAR had listened to its fans with a complete overhaul of the new FOX Box.

FOX Sports 1’s Truck Series broadcast showed that NASCAR had listened to its fans with a complete overhaul of the new FOX Box.

FOX Sports 1’s Truck Series broadcast showed that NASCAR had listened to its fans with a complete overhaul of the new FOX Box.

There was also a look at the crop of young guns that are entering the Camping World Truck Series this season (Kennedy, Gray Gaulding, Brandon Jones, Brian Ickler, Tyler Reddick, John Hunter Nemechek) along with one not-so-young chap (Joe Nemechek, who is splitting the season in the No. 8 with his son). This segment was well-produced.

In-race, after the substandard debut of the new FOX Box during the first weekend of Speedweeks, FOX vowed to make changes. The first adjustment came Thursday night, with the introduction of arrows that showed position movement; however, Friday saw a complete overhaul. Instead of the small box in the upper right-hand corner, we now have a box across the upper portion of the screen. As I stated would happen with the first box, the name of the race was dropped from underneath the lap counter, with the FOX Box sponsor still underneath. To the right of that were three lines of information and three columns. As a result, positions 1-9 could be displayed at the same time, with four pages of information getting through the entire field. This redesign ultimately achieved what FOX wanted to do: get the information out there to viewers in a quicker, neater way. However, it still omitted intervals and speeds. That came a little later.

I don’t know why, but FOX Sports 1 declined to cut out of their commercial when the “Big One” occurred on lap 75. It was not a local commercial break, so FOX Sports 1 did not have that excuse in their corner. Say what you want about wrecks, but it was a very important instance in the race that fans missed while seeing ads for Budweiser, Camping World and FOX Sports 1’s coverage of the UFC 170 Preliminary bouts.

Post-race coverage had its typical and atypical moments. Apparently, the post-race coverage was considered to be part of FOX Sports Live; however, that fact didn’t really change the coverage we got. Viewers saw five driver interviews, plus an interview with the winning crew chief (Eric Phillips). There was also a check of the point standings before FOX Sports 1 left to get to the actual FOX Sports Live. I don’t get having post-race coverage as part of the show; it doesn’t make sense to me.

On-air wise, it seemed like everyone was simply trying to get back into their rhythm on Friday night. Krista Voda seemed tentative at times, although she’s not really used to having someone alongside her. The normally unflappable Rick Allen made some mistakes in the booth; perhaps he was nervous for the premiere of NASCAR America on Monday. Given that we have the same group from last year, plus Bodine is not currently looking to be a full-timer on the telecasts, the result was a little depressing. You’d want another race next week with this group, to build continuity but it’s over a month to race No. 2 at Martinsville. So, we’ll just have to see how 2014 shakes out after a strong 2013 for the former SPEED crew.

DRIVE4COPD 300

On Saturday, ESPN returned for its final (for now) season of NASCAR with one of its flagship events, the DRIVE4COPD 300.

ESPN’s first telecast of 2014, in the Nationwide Series featured drivers going four-wide at times despite the “no pushing” rules at Daytona.

ESPN’s first telecast of 2014, in the Nationwide Series featured drivers going four-wide at times despite the “no pushing” rules at Daytona.

ESPN’s first telecast of 2014, in the Nationwide Series featured drivers going four-wide at times despite the “no pushing” rules at Daytona.

ESPN rolled out a special 75-minute edition of NASCAR Countdown to preview the race. However, despite that big window, which led to extended conversation I don’t think the network had any idea how the combination of rule changes would radically change the type of competition that we saw compared to last year. Nicole Briscoe was back from her maternity leave to host the show from the Pit Studio and did a decent job — however, Ray Evernham’s recent departure from ESPN to work full-time for Hendrick Motorsports was not noted, nor was he replaced, which left a bit of a hole. We’ll see if ESPN fills that hole as the season progresses.

The primary feature that aired was a piece called The Final Lap, which was about a fan named Mitch Zenette, who had the dying wish of going to Daytona for Speedweeks last year after being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. narrated the segment, which featured sound bites from Zenette’s friends and family. The whole storyline was quite touching; however, the version that aired on NASCAR Countdown and on SportsCenter is apparently not the only version made. According to Richard Petty Motorsports, “Final Lap 2.0” was made with Richard Petty narrating instead of Earnhardt. Why the decision came about to make two of them, I don’t know.

Another piece had drivers looking back on the terrible last-lap crash that marred last year’s DRIVE4COPD 300. The general tone at the time from the drivers interviewed appeared to be, “Man, that was a heck of a crash, I’m glad I’m OK.” Shortly thereafter, said tone shifted to, “Oh snap!” when they saw what happened to the catchfence and shifted to worry over fans injured in the accident. I thought the feature was OK, if a little self-centered. Something about how that particular crash probably resulted in a number of the rule changes instituted should have been included as well.

Then, we had the anthem. Oh boy. 99 percent of the time, I don’t consider the renditions notable enough for mention here. Even Saturday’s didn’t register at first. Only after I went back and watched it again after the race did I realize just how out there the second half of it was (the first half was ok, but a little out of tune). It’s in line with what the band was planning to do (according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal), and Daytona International Speedway officials knew that they were going to it. Regardless, I can easily understand why people would be angry. Once again, if something involving NASCAR makes Deadspin, it’s almost always bad, unless it involves Parker Kligerman. Then, it might simply be a cross-post from Jalopnik.

ESPN rarely references the renditions on their telecasts and they didn’t here. That is probably the right move. Seems like someone may have told Aloe Blacc to cut out any theatrics before he sang on Sunday.

Shifting to the race, the lack of discussion of the new rule changes led to what appeared to be “surprising” competition in which it was very difficult to pass. The booth really tried to make the action exciting, but really couldn’t do so.

The penalty given to James Buescher for illegal tandem drafting was rather egregious. ESPN did its best to try to show what caused Buescher to get the penalty, and its footage (courtesy of the rear bumper cam on Brad Keselowski) showed that he didn’t push. However, Robin Pemberton claimed that they weren’t showing the right footage. That’s fine and all, but if the infraction didn’t occur when ESPN thought it did, when did it happen? Tell ESPN when it occurred (we know NASCAR has timestamps on all their video) and the network can triangulate. Based on what they had to work with, ESPN sided against NASCAR, which is relatively rare, but perfectly reasonable.

Since the race ended fairly early, there was plenty of time for post-race coverage. ESPN gave viewers eight post-race interviews and a look at the unofficial results. There was also some post-race analysis before leaving the air at the prescribed time of 4 PM.

Overall, ESPN gave viewers an average broadcast. Compared to the status quo with Nationwide plate races over the past couple of years, it was a bit of a downer, and I don’t think ESPN was truly prepared for that. There was a strong focus at the very front of the pack and viewers were treated to Brad Keselowski trying to move up on the outside for laps at a time, as if nothing else was going on. Also, I could never really tell where everyone was, on-track because the network cut down on interval usage in the scroll once again. It is sadly a common rant with ESPN on plate race telecasts.

Daytona 500

Here it is: the Big Show. It isn’t SportsCenter with Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann from back in the 1990s, nor is it the book the aforementioned duo put out. Sunday, we had 500 miles of racing for the better part of $20 million in purse money. How did FOX do with what turned into a 12-hour marathon? Check it out.

First off, I have no clue why the start of the race wasn’t moved up, like Friday night, knowing that the storms were in the cards. Let’s face it; the Daytona 500 is way more important than a Luke Bryan concert.

But it wasn’t, meaning the first FOX pre-race show of the year gave ample time to go over the new aspects for 2014. As a result, there was a piece that sought to explain the new Chase and qualifying formats, much along the lines of short pieces from the crew at Numbers Never Lie that sometimes air on SportsCenter. I guess they were informative if you haven’t been keeping up with the news.

Next, Michael Waltrip sat down with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to talk about a number of issues. This was actually another part of an interview that ran as part of NASCAR RaceDay (the FOX Sports 1-exclusive part contained the section where Earnhardt, Jr. promised to start tweeting if he won the Daytona 500). I would have preferred someone else to do the piece, but I thought it was still informative.

The Daytona 500 broadcast ended up strong, especially considering its 12-hour runtime.

The Daytona 500 broadcast ended up strong, especially considering its 12-hour runtime.

The Daytona 500 broadcast ended up strong, especially considering its 12-hour runtime.

Instead of Erin Andrews, Charissa Thompson (from FOX Sports Live) was in Daytona to interview Tony Stewart about his injuries, why he races in extra-curricular events and his feelings about returning. Thompson’s duties on TV in recent years haven’t really included much interviewing (it’s mostly hosting gigs) and she’s very inexperienced with NASCAR, but she held her own.

For Sunday’s race, FOX added the ability for speeds and intervals to be shown in the FOX Box, done by widening the columns so that two columns instead of three are on-screen at a time. Now, we’re finally getting the proper information. If this change will end up being what we have for the season, I’m fine with it. The whole mess, though just shows that FOX didn’t test the original design enough before fully implementing it.

The rain delay coverage was interesting in its own way, good and bad. Michael Waltrip got to watch himself do the Grid Run from earlier in the afternoon. Andy Lally had a pretty interesting response to it on Twitter. Makes me wonder what kind of preparation that Waltrip does for telecasts, or if he even watches race telecasts he’s on at all. ESPN sends DVDs of race broadcasts to its on-air personalities so that they can critique themselves. I suggest that Waltrip make use of that if FOX makes DVDs available.

Then, we got into the replay of last year’s Daytona 500. Apparently, this decision brought the morons out of the woodwork. Maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve been glued to my TV for the last 10-plus days, but it should have been incredibly obvious that it wasn’t the same race that was being shown. Heck, even the graphical package was different. Jimmie Johnson should not have been sent congratulation texts for winning. Cripes. FOX should have just kept the scroll on the bottom of the screen stating that it was showing last year’s race. Instead, the broadcast turned into a joke. Once again, if fans’ stupidity earns a mention on Deadspin, it’s typically bad.

Additional rain delay programming included lists of top feuds and finishes, along with a series of pieces that ran either in pre-race or on NASCAR RaceDay. FOX seemed to underplay the seriousness of the situation with the storms until they broke away to show last year’s race. At that point, they would have Molly McGrath at the FOX Sports Update desk cut in and talk about the tornado warning that the area around the track was under at that time. Yes, Chris Myers and Michael Waltrip had the radar at their disposal in the Hollywood Hotel, but apparently didn’t get bulletins from the National Weather Service. They simply weren’t getting the facts out there. That’s not going to work.

During the actual racing, FOX did a decent job of bringing viewers the appropriate information; we got to see most of the actual racing for position. The interval usage in the FOX Box mentioned above is still a work in progress, though, as I felt lost in trying to figure out who was off the back of the pack at times, similar to how I felt on Saturday. That shouldn’t happen.

In addition, Mike Joy made a flub when Kyle Larson crashed out of the race. Joy referred to Larson as “rookie Reed Sorenson.” He got half of it right, but ouch. Allen Bestwick says that when you say something on-air, it’s out there and you can’t take it back. This mistake is just one more example of that.

I liked the cut out of commercial break when the big wreck happened in the tri-oval on lap 145. At the time, I was wondering when there would be one, if only to end the multiple strategies and get everyone on the same page. Viewers were able to clearly see what happened. Also, I have no idea what Danica Patrick was thinking there. She should have spun down to the inside.

It’s not surprising that there was a somewhat limited amount of post-race coverage since the race ended after 11 PM. Viewers got four post-race driver interviews, an interview with the winning crew chief (Steve Letarte) and a check of the unofficial results before leaving for the late news. Additional coverage was promised as part of FOX Sports Live, though there wasn’t that much.

Heck, the highlight package for the race was horrible. It was the kind of stuff you would get on SportsCenter in the mid-‘90s (if there were any highlights at all) where they were cutting to the chase, then they’d tell you where Dick Trickle finished. There was an additional interview with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. that was conducted by the broadcast booth. It seemed like there was supposed to be more, but then the show suddenly cut to a repeat of the Supercross race from the Georgia Dome. Weak.

Overall, Sunday was exhausting, simple as that. There were some good things (the revamp of the FOX Box, Michael Waltrip seeing the light about how annoying he can be, etc.) that came out of it, but plenty more that needs to be fixed as the year goes on.

That’s all for this week. Next week, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series both make the trip out to Arizona for 512 miles of action. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, February 25
Time Telecast Network
2:00 AM – 2:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
11:00 – 11:30 AM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network

Wednesday, February 26
Time Telecast Network
2:00 AM – 2:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network

Thursday, February 27
Time Telecast Network
2:00 AM – 2:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00 PM – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network

Friday, February 28
Time Telecast Network
1:30 AM – 2:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
1:00 PM – 2:00 PM Nationwide Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
2:00 – 3:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
4:00 – 5:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00 – 6:30 PM Nationwide Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
6:30 – 8:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1
9:00 – 11:00 PM NASCAR Mexico Series Toyota 120 Mun2

Saturday, March 1
Time Telecast Network
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 FOX Sports 1
12:00 – 1:30 PM Nationwide Series Qualifying FOX Sports 2
1:30 – 2:00 PM NASCAR Live FOX Sports 2
2:00 – 3:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 2
3:30 – 3:45 PM NASCAR Countdown ABC
3:45 – 6:00 PM Nationwide Series Blue Jeans Go Green 200 ABC
7:30 – 10:30 PM AMA Monster Energy Supercross: Indianapolis FOX Sports 1

Sunday, March 2
Time Telecast Network
1:30 PM – 2:30 PM NASCAR RaceDay FOX Sports 1
2:30 – 3:00 PM FOX Pre-Race FOX
3:00 – 6:00 PM Sprint Cup Series The Profit on CNBC 500 FOX
8:00 – 8:30 PM NASCAR Victory Lane FOX Sports 2

Of note: I have no idea what the live mun2 telecast of the Toyota 120 (announced here) will look like. Heck, given mun2’s programming, I couldn’t tell you if the commentary is going to be in Spanish or English (the network has a track record of running both English and Spanish-language shows). Regardless, I plan on giving it the once over at some point.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at The Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex for this week will likely cover the K&N Pro Series East season opener from New Smyrna Beach. I tweeted a little during that race on Saturday, but it’s getting the full write-up.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below, or contact me through the email address provided on the website in my bio. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons below. Finally, if you would like to contact any of the TV partners personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage from last weekend, please click on the following links:

FOX Sports
ESPN

At this point, there is still no public contact email for NBC Sports. When they finally get around to creating a new link, I will post it for you.

As always, if you choose to contact the network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

Contact Phil Allaway

About Phil Allaway

Phil Allaway
Newsletter Editor for Frontstretch since mid-2008, Phil is responsible for the site’s Monday-Friday FREE e-newsletter that keeps fans up-to-date with the latest racing news, along with exclusive features and commentary. Our head news writer, Phil also doubles as our broadcast critic, keeping broadcasts honest for years with his Couch Potato Tuesday column. A writer for the Troy (NY) Record, Phil is also one of the lead reporters at Lebanon Valley Speedway in Pennsylvania every weekend during short track season.