Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: After Martinsville, FOX Needs to Cover More Than Just the Cars up Front

Martinsville is an old-school type of track, a place where the ideals of aerodynamics really don’t apply all that much (although having smooth sheetmetal does give some benefits on short tracks). And, most importantly, it’s a place where far more rudimentary methods than normal are considered acceptable for passing. Sunday’s race saw Jimmie Johnson use a very brash maneuver to root Denny Hamlin out of the way to win – and face no retribution for it at all.

See also
Jimmie Johnson Claims Yet Another Victory at Martinsville for Hendrick Motorsports

As for the Truck Series event, originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon, it was completely rained out and rescheduled for Monday afternoon at noon. While this unfortunate move does spare fans of the Truck Series from slightly uninformed commentary from the typical FOX crew of Waltrip, McReynolds and Joy, Phil Parsons joining Chris Myers and Jeff Hammond in the “Hollywood Hotel,” and Digger appearances, it does mean that I cannot review the truck race in this critique.

Reality has intervened in this case. Like many of my readers, I have a job to go to on Mondays. In addition, I do not have TiVo or a DVR at my disposal, and the last time I tried to tape a race (Fontana in February), the resulting tape had such horrible sound that I could not hear anything that was spoken in the victory lane interview. However, there will be a replay of the event on SPEED and the whole race will be uploaded to YouTube within the next week or so. I will render my verdict on the Truck race broadcast before the next event April 25 at Kansas.

Luckily, Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 went off without a hitch on the weather front, and there were some interesting tidbits that I took from the broadcast.

First of all, I mentioned last week that I thought I had missed something, since I didn’t remember seeing or hearing a Digger cartoon during the pre-race show. Well, it wasn’t just me not paying attention. It appears that FOX has nixed the pre-race cartoon. Yes, some people might be a little bit disappointed to hear this, but it’s for the best. Race fans deserve a professional broadcast, and CGI gophers talking about random stuff that isn’t exactly related to anything going on in the series is not really professional.

Earlier this season, I said that I believed that the gopher and the accompanying cartoons were hurting FOX’s, and by extension, NASCAR’s credibility. As much as I’d like to claim at least partial credit for this action by FOX, I know that I’m not responsible. If I were alone in my outright criticism of FOX’s actions with Digger, then I might be willing to take more credit. As it stands, there was substantial public outcry online against FOX’s cartoons, and I’m not the only person that has written about Digger this season.

Personally, I have two theories as to why FOX aired the Digger cartoons during pre-race for only the first four weeks. One is an extension of what I said last week about the first four weeks being used to test out new features. But the other idea I had was that FOX used the first four weeks as “activation” for the Digger character and brand name. Luckily, for those of you who liked the cute little CGI cartoons, you can still view them for free on YouTube. Simply search for the user “DiggeronFOX” there and you’ll find them.

Now, even though the cartoons and shots of the guy in a Digger suit have been excised from the broadcast, it does not mean that FOX broadcasts are Digger free zones. He still shows up in animated form when FOX comes back from commercial breaks, in still shots when FOX cuts to the Digger Cam, and in commercials advertising the Digger merchandise. On Sunday, this equated to 37 appearances: 24 in still form, 11 animated ones and two commercials. Personally, I’m fine with the animated stuff coming back from commercials, but the still shots are pointless now that the Digger brand has been activated.

As for the actual race coverage, I believe that FOX could have done a better job covering battles further back in the field instead of always concentrating around the top-three or four cars. I was reading our own Bryan Davis Keith’s article earlier today on his thoughts from Martinsville, where he mentions the rough and tumble advances up through the field by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman. I didn’t see much of Newman at all during the race broadcast, and then was pleasantly surprised to find that he had finished sixth.

Most of the coverage given to teams further down the field was when they ran into tire problems, and there were plenty of those issues in some of the more ill-handling cars – like Robby Gordon’s No. 7 and Aric Almirola’s No. 8.

Also, there was very little mentioning of cars that went behind the wall or fell back due to crash damage or mechanical issues. I’ve referenced Joe Nemechek’s issues below, but FOX made no reference to Todd Bodine, Robby Gordon or Dave Blaney pulling off the track. FOX also made no mention of Brian Vickers‘s issues in the last 30 laps of the race. Vickers’s No. 83 suffered an oil leak that dropped him from a top 20 run to a 33rd-place finish, just like that.

Meanwhile, Scott Speed spent 70 laps in the garage after his wreck with Kyle Busch. It was a full 27 minutes after Speed rejoined the race that Mike Joy even referenced Speed’s presence back on the track, despite the fact that referencing this would take 10 seconds at most. Somewhere in that 27-minute interval, this exchange was intercepted over the scanner. I’m not sure who the two people talking in this snippet are, but I assume that they’re involved in the production of the race broadcast.

Person 1: “No. 82 back on track, don’t know if we care or not.”
Person 2, in a sarcastic tone: “Sure, he’s 71 laps down.”

It may not look like much, but this shows a condescending tone towards teams not running up front regularly. It’s kind of bush league when you think about it.

There was also a little too much mentioning of Martinsville Speedway’s $2 hot dogs during the coverage this past weekend. Yes, we know that they’re $2 and that they’ve been that way for a while. Anyone know how long they’ve cost that much? Can’t be much more than 15 years or so. But FOX and SPEED made it sound like they’ve cost that much since way back when channels like SETN did the races at Martinsville for syndication purposes. I also noticed that a cheeseburger at that same concession stand went for $5, which is kinda steep. That had better be a pretty dang good burger for that price!

The post-race on Sunday was a little more typical of an average FOX telecast, as opposed to Bristol’s post-race, which had to fill 40-plus minutes. FOX came back from their post-checkered flag commercial break, showed footage of Johnson’s post-race burnout, then interviewed Johnson in victory lane. This was followed up by interviews with Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and team owner Rick Hendrick. A full field rundown followed, with the teams that failed to finish listed as “Out” instead of listing the number of laps they were down at the finish like the past couple of races. I see this as an improvement.

The only technical gripe that I noticed was with the top-10 rundown at the end of the race. The top-10 graphic across the top of the screen from the first four races of the year returned at Martinsville, but there was a slight issue with it. FOX accidentally displayed the No. 87 of Nemechek as a top-10 finisher. In reality, the No. 87 finished 41st. The FOX solution to this was to slowly adjust the rundown so that the No. 87 slowly disappeared off the end. Most people would have missed this, but I caught it right away.

After the race, during SPEED’s NASCAR Victory Lane, Kenny Wallace seemingly called out the No. 64, No. 66 and No. 87 teams for start-and-parking. While I cannot give any evidence that Bodine and Blaney did not S&P, I can give some information about Nemechek’s plight. Mind you that none of this was mentioned during the broadcast on Sunday. Nemechek was officially classified 41st, out with brake issues after 90 laps. Our own Bryan Davis Keith was in the infield at Martinsville during Sunday’s race and texted this to Doug Turnbull, who was working on Frontstretch‘s LIVE BLOG from pit road:

“There is something wrong with the left-rear [hub] and there is fluid everywhere. He had a hub issue at AMS a few weeks ago.” A couple of minutes later, this was relayed by Bryan to our Doug Turnbull: “No. 87 team is done. They don’t have the parts to fix [the] car.”

Now, as far as I’m concerned, there is a significant difference between outright starting and parking and being forced to park because they simply didn’t have the necessary parts on hand to repair an apparently chronic issue with the car. Unfortunately, especially with lower-dollar teams, that happens from time to time.

I’m not attacking our colleague Kenny Wallace outright, simply stating that he may have jumped to conclusions here. In the future, Wallace would do well to fact check these kinds of things before making declarative statements on television. Makes me wonder what Jimmy and Kenny do during the races, since they have no TV commitments. Do they wander around pit road and check up on things? Do they go to their motor homes and watch the FOX coverage until it’s time to wander back towards victory lane so that they can tape NASCAR Victory Lane with John Roberts? I’d be interested to know what they do.

That is all for this week. Next week is Texas for the Samsung 500 for the Cup Series and the O’Reilly 300 for the Nationwide Series. As stated previously, the Truck Series is off for the next few weeks before Kansas. I will provide a critique of each race, along with my own thoughts and musings. As previously mentioned, the Truck Series race run Monday afternoon will be critiqued in full later on this month. Thank you for reading my critique and I look forward to reading your comments.

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.

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

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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