Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Replaces Scroll With Quagmire

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where race telecast critiques are the primary objective. I’m back for my sixth season of critiquing and hope to have good things to say about all of the various TV partners this year.

Before we start, there is some news to report. FOX Sports is currently operating with a couple of their personalities on the disabled list. Pit reporter Matt Yocum had back surgery shortly after the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway and is currently resting in Charlotte. Meanwhile, Darrell Waltrip had issues with his gall bladder just before he was due to fly to Daytona Beach, requiring surgery to remove the gall bladder last week, and is currently resting.

Darrell Waltrip is currently out of the FOX broadcast booth due to a gall bladder issue.
Darrell Waltrip is currently out of the FOX broadcast booth due to a gall bladder issue.
Darrell Waltrip is currently out of the FOX broadcast booth due to a gall bladder issue.

FOX believes that both Waltrip and Yocum will be in Daytona by the Budweiser Duels on Thursday. Regardless, we at Frontstretch wish Waltrip and Yocum speedy recoveries.

FOX Sports also announced that the currently unemployed Todd Bodine will serve as an analyst on FOX Sports 1’s broadcast of the NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway. He will join Krista Voda on pit road during NCWTS Setup. That’s a good move; Bodine worked in the booth for a race or two last season and was actually pretty enjoyable.

Also, ARCA announced on Saturday that it has reached a deal with a new TV partner for the 2014 season. In addition to the ten races that will air on either FOX Sports 1 or 2, a minimum of three additional races will air live on the CBS Sports Network — including the Elko ARCA 250 at Elko Speedway on June 21, the Winchester ARCA 200 at Winchester Speedway on July 6 and the Madison ARCA 200 at Madison International Speedway on Aug. 24. No word on who will call those races, but any additional exposure for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards on television is a good thing.

Lucas Oil 200 presented by MavTV American Real

On Saturday afternoon (Feb. 15), the ARCA Racing Series made its annual visit to Daytona International Speedway for its season opener. How did FOX Sports 1 do with its coverage? Let’s take a look.

Unlike previous ARCA telecasts, there were no special guest analysts in the booth, meaning no, say, Justin Allgaier to participate a little too heavily in the commentary. It was just Rick Allen and Phil Parsons in the broadcast booth for 200 miles of action — a decent move.

What was not a good move was FOX Sports 1 not starting the telecast until 4:15 p.m. EST. As a result, we couldn’t see the pre-race interviews that FOX Sports conducted with Chase Elliott and Frank Kimmel live. Instead, we got tape delayed interviews. No idea why they didn’t just start the telecast at 4 p.m.

The ARCA race also saw the race debut of FOX Sports’ new on-air graphics. Honestly, I’m surprised that FOX, knowing that they had the Super Bowl this year, waited until Speedweeks to break these out. Heck, just last year, CBS Sports introduced their current on-air graphics during Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. I guess it shows just how committed they are to NASCAR, which makes me really happy. Overall, the look is much cleaner than the previous package. Words are a little easier to read, and it is consistent with what is popular in graphic design (simpler is better).

As part of the new graphic package, the scroll has taken a hike. Instead of the scroll, which has gone through at least five generations since 2001, we now have a box in the upper right hand corner of the screen that shows field rundowns. It can also isolate the top three or five drivers and show the rest of the field in pages of varying size.

At first, I was actually in favor of the new graphic; I’d never really touched upon it here in the column, but I’ve thought that the scroll has simply been taking up too much space, and has gotten too cluttered in recent years. Going back to a more vertically oriented information box would be beneficial. Also, I am in favor of the reintroduction of regular numbers instead of mini-graphics of the actual car number from the roof of the car since that would promote a cleaner look.

However, the way that FOX Sports has decided to execute the new box leaves a lot to be desired.

First off, there is no need for the race name to be in the box with the lap counter; it’s an extra line of text that doesn’t need to be there. Perhaps that problem will take care of itself after Speedweeks, but it should go now. Also, with the box showing as many as 12 different drivers, it takes up way too much room and blocks things that should not be blocked. My advice to FOX Sports is to limit it to no more than five drivers at a time, and do not isolate the top three. Having the box in the upper right hand corner will take some getting used to, but I’m not opposed.

In addition, there were no intervals at all during the ARCA race, or during the Sprint Unlimited later in the evening. While that isn’t necessarily a deal breaker at Daytona (it doesn’t help, though), it will be a killer in Phoenix.

There are a couple of approaches that they could take here. For starters, make the box wider to show the intervals. Luckily, the box is quite narrow, so it could be done without hurting the telecast too much. Another option is to drop the driver names in order to show the intervals instead. If that option were taken, it would look a little similar to when ESPN would use their “At the Line” setup to show intervals (and lap speeds) back in the ’90s. It would be an interesting way to go for FOX Sports. Regardless, FOX has to do something.

The actual coverage of the race itself was heavily focused on the front pack; if you lost the pack, you were dead to FOX Sports 1. Having no intervals meant that no one knew where a driver were if he/she lost the draft. ARCA’s timing and scoring page on its website was a big help on Saturday, but it didn’t even have all the driver names on there for reasons unknown. FOX Sports seemed to have a couple of major stories they wanted to cover (Elliott, Kwasniewski, Gerhart, etc.) and not a lot else got coverage. Having said that, Parsons made some good observations about Maryeve Dufault’s lines in the corners. Let’s just be honest: Dufault’s lucky she didn’t cause another wreck with her failure to hold her line.

There was some good footage of the altercation that popped up after the big wreck. If you’re wondering, Elliott’s pit was right next to an opening in the pit wall, with security guards in blue shirts stationed there to check credentials of everyone in the pits. That’s why the fracas was broken up so quickly. The corresponding interviews were fairly comprehensive; I think Buster Graham’s comment on Elliott losing his brakes may get a fair amount of replays.

Since the race ran shorter than normal (the big wreck cleared out some of the riff raff), there was more than the typical amount of post-race coverage. FOX Sports 1 aired at least six driver interviews, along with a short chat with winning car owner Howard Bixman and the unofficial results prior to going on to NASCAR RaceDay. Not half bad. And no one “got served.”

Sprint Unlimited

Saturday night brought 18 cars out for 75 laps of action. As you know, the field thinned out quite a bit due to wrecks. As such, how did FOX Sports 1 cover this event — wrecks and all?

With Darrell Waltrip and Matt Yocum out of commission due to medical issues, a shake-up in the on-air lineup was necessary. Michael Waltrip went up to the broadcast booth to replace his older brother, while he was replaced in the Hollywood Hotel by Clint Bowyer, who had nothing better to do than kill some time with Chris Myers since he wasn’t in the race. Bowyer comes across like he’d be a pretty cool guy to sit with and just talk about random stuff. On the telecast, he was somewhat informative, and seemed to have a great time being semi-informative.

Jeff Hammond, FOX’s “roving reporter,” served as the third pit reporter, replacing Yocum — a role that he carries just fine, but I just wish FOX would realize that the roving reporter role is stupid and takes away from races. If he can’t be back in the Hollywood Hotel with Myers, then he should be the fourth pit reporter. Yes, FOX really misses having Dick Berggren in the pits — however, honoring Berggren’s work by not replacing him in the pits means that they continue to hurt themselves.

Denny Hamlin won the Sprint Unlimited, which saw FOX Sports 1 cover a wreck-filled event.
Denny Hamlin won the Sprint Unlimited, which saw FOX Sports 1 cover a wreck-filled event.
Denny Hamlin won the Sprint Unlimited, which saw FOX Sports 1 cover a wreck-filled event.

NASCAR RaceDay (operating without a presenting sponsor) served as the de facto pre-race show for the Unlimited. Don’t get too used to the portable stage, which appears to be in a different place in the midway this year at Daytona. The stage is likely to be mothballed after Daytona, resulting in John Roberts hosting the show from Charlotte. Regulars like Larry McReynolds, Wendy Venturini and others will still be on-site at the track.

The show started off with the hyping of the various aspects of the race that fans could vote on, which didn’t surprise me at all — after all, Saturday’s race was for the fans. Afterward, there was a brief look back at the history of the Sprint Unlimited.

There were two main features that aired on RaceDay. The first of them showed a number of drivers (Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and more) talking about the advantages of running in the Sprint Unlimited. The reasons are pretty much what you would expect (shake off the rust, get used to the new rules, etc.).

The other piece was centered on Tony Stewart’s return to the driver’s seat after his injuries last August. If there’s one thing that I can take away from Stewart’s ordeal, it’s that it has humanized him. In the past, Stewart has had a surly reputation and seemed to not really care about much beyond his own success, but now, he seems to realize that he has limitations.

Not having Darrell Waltrip in the broadcast booth contributed to a much different feel on the telecast. Definitely no “boogitys,” which was welcome, but now we had his brother in the booth. At times, he’s informative, while other times see him driving viewers crazy. For the most part, Waltrip kept himself in check.

The issue of inclusiveness is luckily not a very big issue when it comes to the Sprint Unlimited with its short field — for the most part, everyone stayed in the main pack. I’ll still be looking out for inclusiveness with the Budweiser Duel and Daytona 500 telecasts. Having said that, I think that FOX should have made note of Terry Labonte’s retirement earlier than Lap 15 (he pulled in on the second lap to start-and-park).

Much like in the ARCA race, FOX did a great job in bringing viewers a fairly complete number of interviews that allowed viewers to get multiple sides of the story when it came to the “big one.” That’s always good to see and I hope that FOX can keep this up when the races actually count.

Due to the wrecks (and the red flag that was thrown after the “big one”), the telecast ended up running long; as such, with UFC live from Jaragua do Sul waiting in the wings, post-race coverage was minimal. FOX showed Hamlin’s victory donuts, his victory lane interview, then immediately went to the UFC coverage. That’s unfortunately what happens when you go 15 minutes over your timeslot on a very busy night for FOX Sports 1. It’s a shame, but knowing that FOX Sports 1 was going to a live telecast at 1:32 a.m. local time (Jaragua do Sul is three hours ahead of Daytona), time was of the essence.

Overall, I thought that FOX did a decent job covering the Sprint Unlimited. Having said that, everything said above about the scroll replacement stands. It is something that FOX needs to fix — and quick.

That’s all for today’s column. This week is one of the busiest weeks of the racing season; all kinds of action can be had in the Daytona area. I’m not even counting all the action at Volusia Speedway Park, but that’s only because none of it is televised. Here’s your listings:

Tuesday, February 18
Time Telecast Network
2:30 AM – 3:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN 2
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
7:00 – 8:30 PM Whelen Modified Tour UNOH Battle at the Beach FOX Sports 2
8:30 – 10:00 PM K&N Pro Series East UNOH Battle at the Beach FOX Sports 2

Wednesday, February 19
Time Telecast Network
3:00 AM – 3:30 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
1:30 PM – 2:30 PM NASCAR Live FOX Sports 1
2:30 – 4:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
4:00 – 5:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 Practice No. 3 FOX Sports 1
6:30 – 8:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 Practice No. 4 FOX Sports 1

Thursday, February 20
Time Telecast Network
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM NASCAR Live FOX Sports 1
12:00 PM – 1:30 PM Nationwide Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
1:30 – 3:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Practice No. 2 FOX Sports 1
3:00 – 4:30 PM Nationwide Series Practice No. 2 FOX Sports 1
4:30 – 6:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
6:00 – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay FOX Sports 1
7:00 – 10:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Budweiser Duels FOX Sports 1

Friday, February 21
Time Telecast Network
1:30 AM – 2:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
11:00 – 11:30 AM NASCAR Live No. 1 FOX Sports 1
11:30 AM – 1:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 Practice No. 5 FOX Sports 1
1:00 – 2:30 PM Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
2:30 – 4:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 Practice No. 6 FOX Sports 1
4:00 – 5:30 PM Camping World Truck Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1
5:30 – 6:30 PM NASCAR Live No. 2 FOX Sports 1
6:00 – ~8:00 PM NHRA CarQuest Auto Parts Nationals Qualifying ESPN3.com$
6:30 – 7:30 PM NCWTS Setup FOX Sports 1
7:30 – 10:00 PM Camping World Truck Series NextEra Energy Resources 250 FOX Sports 1

Saturday, February 22
Time Telecast Network
2:30 AM – 3:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
9:00 – 10:00 AM K&N Pro Series East New Smyrna 150 presented by JEGS FOX Sports 1*/
10:00 – 11:30 AM Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
12:00 PM – 1:15 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN
1:15 – 4:00 PM Nationwide Series Drive4COPD 300 ESPN
7:30 – 10:30 PM AMA Monster Energy Supercross: Atlanta FOX Sports 2
8:00 – 10:00 PM Daytona 500 Bash at the Beach FOX

Sunday, February 23
Time Telecast Network
2:00 AM – 3:30 AM NHRA CarQuest Auto Parts Nationals Final Qualifying ESPN 2*/
10:00 – 11:00 AM SportsCenter at Daytona ESPN
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay FOX Sports 1
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM FOX Pre-Race FOX
1:00 – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 FOX
1:00 – 6:00 PM NHRA CarQuest Auto Parts Nationals Eliminations ESPN3.com$
~5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR Victory Lane FOX Sports 1
8:00 – 11:00 PM NHRA CarQuest Auto Parts Nationals Eliminations ESPN 2*/

Monday, February 24
Time Telecast Network
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network@ *- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted coverage
$- Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your internet service provider and/or programming provider for availability.
@- Series Premiere

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series season openers for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For this week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex in the Newsletter, we’ll have a look at “Return of the 3,” a new special that premiered Friday night on FOX Sports 1. It’s pretty obvious what it’s about.

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

At this point, there is still no public contact e-mail 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.

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Contact Phil Allaway

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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