Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: NASCAR On FOX’s Final 2014 Broadcast And Evaluation

This past weekend of racing brought the end of life as we know it for the Sprint Cup Series. Or maybe, just the season as we know it. Either way, FOX broadcast its final race of 2014 for the Sprint Cup Series, meaning a brief new regime is imminent for TNT’s Sprint Cup coverage.

But before we get there, it’s of course worth looking into how FOX fared in its final race of 2014, along with ESPN’s and Fox Sports 1’s coverage of the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, respectively. It was a jam-packed weekend of racing in Dover, Delaware so let’s not waste any more time.

Lucas Oil 200

Friday night saw the Camping World Truck Series return to action at Dover International Speedway. Early wrecks rendered the race a bit of a conclusion one could have derived fairly easily if one’s followed the series this season. (See: look at the guy who’s won the last few races.)

During the Setup, the centerpiece of the show was a behind-the-scenes look at Red Horse Racing. We see Tom DeLoach talk about how miserable he felt during the SFP 250 at Kansas Speedway after all three of his trucks got wrecked within 10 laps. In addition, there was team meeting footage, along with testing, practice and race coverage from Charlotte.

It was an interesting look at Red Horse Racing, but I would have liked to see what led to the decision to shut down the No. 7 team. Was it purely sponsor-related, or was there more in play? That was not mentioned in the piece at all. I had never even thought that was a possibility until Brian Ickler brought it up after he crashed out at Charlotte.

Kyle Busch’s dominance continued at Dover — what else is new?

Yes, during the race, Kyle Busch dominated — what else is new? It seems to happen every time he shows up, and the field on Friday evening was even less capable of keeping up with him than normal. As a result, we saw some racing further back in the order. It’s pretty rare to see this coverage during Sprint Cup and Nationwide races, so soak up what you got on Friday.

Oh, and there was some weird stuff going on during the race. John Wes Townley’s team had an air gun break, which almost never happens anymore. As for Jeb Burton, I have never before seen what happened to his wheels — it’s like they warped on him. Perhaps those wheels were the latest and greatest from whatever company ThorSport Racing buys its wheels from.

I only mention the weird stuff that occurred because FOX Sports 1 showed viewers the wheels from both Townley and Burton’s trucks that suffered these problems. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a good look at Matt Crafton’s truck after his crash. Michael Waltrip did claim that it looked like Burton’s after his practice wreck, but there wasn’t any way to tell whether wheel warping played a role. At the time, I was concerned that warping might be a problem on Sunday, but that was unfounded.

Since the race ended up running long, there was only a minimum of post-race coverage. Only Kyle Busch and his crew chief were interviewed, along with a check of the points before FOX Sports 1 moved on to NASCAR RaceHub.

Overall, despite Kyle Busch seemingly having turbo boost in his truck, FOX Sports 1 provided an enjoyable broadcast. Even with next-to-no action up front, it was still exciting to watch, making something out of nearly nothing.

Buckle Up 200 presented by Click It Or Ticket

On Saturday afternoon, the Nationwide Series returned to Dover for 200 more miles of action, ending with a very familiar face in Victory Lane.

For NASCAR Countdown, ESPN chose to go with a graduation theme, since many students right now are just now getting out of school for the summer. The theme, however, was overblown. While yes, it’s interesting to see a picture of Elliott Sadler when he was just finishing high school in Emporia, Virginia the whole thing seemed to be another way to amp up Chase Elliott. That’s not really necessary now; we know he’s good.

When the race began, we saw a somewhat disjointed telecast at times. For example, after the first commercial of the race, Dave Burns mentioned how the last few laps had been an adventure for Kyle Larson. It seemed like Burns threw it to a replay that didn’t happen. As a result, if you weren’t paying undivided attention, you could get confused. My guess is that someone in the truck pointed out Todd Bodine’s issues that brought the yellow about a minute later, and that threw everyone for a loop. There was eventually a replay of Larson’s problems, but it came a couple of minutes afterward.

With Kyle Busch again running away from everyone and hiding, it is imperative that ESPN give viewers a bigger idea of what’s going on out there. While ESPN did do one “Up to Speed” segment just past halfway, I found that coverage to be somewhat lacking. When the field spreads out, ESPN seems to just stick to its main storylines. Those storylines should be far more flexible than ESPN makes them out to be. Heck, FOX Sports 1 spent a decent amount of time covering a battle between lapped trucks on Friday. I shudder to think of what a network telecast with six cars on the lead lap would look like.

Since the race ended so quickly, viewers were treated to a fairly substantial amount of post-race coverage. Here, ESPN gave viewers eight post-race interviews with a number of different drivers. While it’s good to see additional drivers get interview time, it does seem like the network is making up for lost time. Admittedly, the previous scenario was far more noticeable at Charlotte (Ryan Reed was interviewed after the race and he maybe got one mention all day during the 300-miler), but it’s still notable.

FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks

Sunday’s season finale for NASCAR on FOX brought viewers another dominating performance from Jimmie Johnson, as well as an instance of throwing one’s sibling under the bus.

FOX’s pre-race coverage was unusually to the point with breaking news. I don’t recall any pre-race show actually breaking two major news pieces like FOX did on Sunday. Sure, NBC blew up Countdown to Green in order to cover news of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. admitting that he got concussed at Kansas back in 2002. That was a big story at the time because Earnhardt, Jr. hid it from everyone.

The first story was when Darrell Waltrip sat down with Johnson for another one of his “shooting the breeze” interviews (although it was not explicitly stated as such). Here, the two champions talked about the responsibility of champions to be outspoken, kicking butt in Charlotte and being a father. I found Johnson’s thoughts on being outspoken and then the politics of being outspoken quite interesting.

Offhand, Johnson mentioned that he had hernia surgery in the offseason. To him, it was basically nothing. Waltrip gasped. The surgery, which occurred a couple of days after the banquet last year, was never reported on by anyone and Johnson seemed truly shocked after the race that no one had reported on it previously.

The second bit of news came out during the Gas ‘N’ Go segment, usually a relatively solid, if unassuming segment of the pre-race show. The first question that Chris Myers asked was simply if either Darrell or Michael Waltrip thought any major free agents were going to switch teams. The elder Waltrip simply reached over, put his right hand on his brother’s shoulder, then said Greg Biffle will go to some two-car team that at one time had a third car. Meanwhile, the younger Waltrip stared off into space with a blank on his face, then denied it. Myers just stayed out of the way.

Oh boy, I would have loved to be in the Hollywood Hotel after that one — or at the bare minimum, I would have liked to see the look on Michael Waltrip’s face while FOX was showing Danica Patrick and Carl Edwards on their ride around the track in the pick ‘em up truck. I can almost guarantee there would have been quite the scowl.

It’s undoubtedly true that Darrell Waltrip knows his stuff; he’s got plenty of friends in the garage. Putting your own brother out to dry on live television in order to ferret out your knowledge is really tough, though.

During the race itself, there were a couple of strange moments — like on lap 17, when Waltrip was comparing lap times of Kyle Busch (who was leading at the time) and Cole Whitt, who was 28th. He claimed that there was almost two seconds’ difference in lap times between the two. Maybe if you looked at the difference between Kyle Busch and Whitt’s best lap times, I guess? However, Waltrip used Kyle’s most recent lap with Whitt’s best lap time. The difference between the two was four-tenths of a second.

I couldn’t tell you what Whitt turned in on lap 17, but I doubt he was turning in laps in the mid-25s 17 laps into the race. Yes, being in traffic can slow you down, but not that much. If Whitt were running that pace, he could be described much like Clint Bowyer described the SKYACTIV-D-powered Mazda6’s at last years’ Rolex 24: “_them’s chicanes!_”

Another notable moment was when Alex Bowman hit the wall for the second time on lap 88. The incident happened right as FOX was about to go to commercial. Mike Joy mentioned that Bowman had hit the wall. Normally, the telecast would cut away from what they were doing to show the afflicted car. Not the case here. Instead, FOX showed Brian Vickers out of his car, talking to his crew members in the garage. We never saw a look at Bowman’s car until well after the commercial break and never saw a replay of what happened to Bowman that time.

In addition, the segment after Bowman’s wall contact saw Josh Wise make an unscheduled pit stop with damage to the right rear that would indicate wall contact. I have no idea what happened to cause that, as FOX did not give viewers a replay or anything to explain. It was also brushed aside since FOX was interviewing Vickers at the time.

Dover’s Cup race yielded its share of tight pack racing, which sometimes led to accidents. However, not all of them were shown.

FOX did a decent job covering the Kyle Busch-Clint Bowyer incident. Having said that, it probably should have (at some point) played some of the NASCAR audio. Apparently, it was some of the most frantic officials’ chatter in quite a while. Instead came the audio from Dave Rogers, which was not quite as frantic, although pretty clear in trying to get Busch to stop the stupidity.

The concrete incident was a little hard to figure out at first for everyone, including the broadcast booth. It seemed that everyone, including Waltrip, thought that someone had thrown something onto the track. That’s an idea that would have made a lot more sense in 2003 than today; back then, not only were more people at Dover races, but NASCAR was also in the middle of a spate of debris incidents in which fans were chucking stuff out onto the track. Joy was the one who pointed out that it was the track itself that was to blame.

I will give FOX props for continuing to give viewers updates on the patch once the race went back to green. What I took issue with was the idea that Waltrip believed that NASCAR couldn’t have track issues like Sunday’s. Just since he’s been in the booth, we’ve had problems like this one in four different races at four different tracks (Martinsville, 2004; Charlotte, 2005; Daytona, 2010; Pocono, 2011 [technically didn’t affect the racing, but cones were around a pothole for the entire weekend]). Prior to his TV career, he drove for 28 years in what is now Sprint Cup. I’m pretty sure that during that time period, there were plenty of times where the surface itself became the story. Heck, Bristol and Dover pre-concrete by themselves probably created more problems than all the other tracks combined. There’s a reason those tracks converted to concrete in the 1990s, and it had almost nothing to do with racing.

Post-race coverage was about average. FOX brought viewers five interviews and a check of the point standings prior to leaving the air. Like in pre-race, there were also predictions for the rest of the season and goodbyes as well.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of FOX’s portion of the Sprint Cup schedule. It’s been a rather rocky year, with a brand new graphics package debuting to unsatisfactory reviews in Daytona. However, FOX has stuck with the design and tried to improve it. It’s still a bit of a work in progress, but better than what we had for the ARCA race in Daytona.

The race coverage is generally similar to what FOX has given viewers for the last couple of years. It still needs to put in a fourth pit reporter and firm up Jeff Hammond’s role in the process. While some of his information parlayed through the roving reporter role can be interesting, it takes away from the rest of the telecast. If Michael Waltrip were to stay on (my view is that he’s biased because of his team ownership, and thus should not be on the telecast) Hammond would be best suited at this point as the fourth pit reporter.

The broadcast booth is similar to what it’s been for the last decade. Joy is solid in the play-by-play role, while McReynolds brings the technical knowledge. He seems to have cut down on the butchering of the English language recently. Either that, or it’s become so pervasive that I don’t even notice anymore. Darrell is Darrell. He seems to be bringing the knowledge a little more these days. Unfortunately, his knowledge is not necessarily on par with reality at times, and that can throw a telecast off-kilter. He’s definitely a love him or hate him character in the booth.

That’s all for this week. Next week, we have a split schedule. The Sprint Cup Series will make its first trip of the year to Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania for the Pocono 400. They will be joined by the ARCA Racing Series. Meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series will be in Texas, joined by the Camping World Trucks. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, June 3
Time Telecast Network
2:30 AM – 3:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
3:00 – 6:00 AM Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks FOX Sports 1*/# (from June 1)
5:00 PM – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00 – 6:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:30 – 7:30 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*#
10:00 – 11:00 PM Isle of Man TT: June 3 Velocity*

Wednesday, June 4
Time Telecast Network
2:30 AM – 3:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
10:00 – 11:00 AM motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of Italy FOX Sports 1*/# (from June 1)
11:00 AM – 1:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 200 FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 30)
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00 – 6:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:30 – 7:30 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2*#
7:00 – 9:00 PM World of Outlaws STP Sprint Cars Texas Outlaw Shootout, Night No. 1 CBS Sports Network*/ (from April 18)
7:30 – 8:00 PM 100,000 Cameras FOX Sports 2#
10:00 – 11:00 PM Isle of Man TT: June 4 Velocity*

Thursday, June 5
Time Telecast Network
2:30 AM – 3:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
1:00 PM – 2:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1# (from June 4)
2:00 – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks FOX Sports 1*/# (from June 1)
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00 – 6:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:30 – 7:30 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2#
9:00 – 9:30 PM How It’s Made Science Channel
10:00 – 11:00 PM Isle of Man TT: June 5 Velocity*

Friday, June 6
Time Telecast Network
2:30 AM – 3:00 AM NASCAR Now ESPN2
10:00 – 11:00 AM The 600: History of NASCAR’s Toughest Race FOX Sports 1
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM K&N Pro Series Casey’s General Store 150 FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 17)
12:00 – 1:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1
2:00 – 3:30 PM Formula One Grand Prix of Canada Free Practice No. 2 NBC Sports Network
4:30 – 6:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1
6:00 – 7:30 PM Verizon IndyCar Series Qualifying NBC Sports Network*
7:00 – 7:30 PM 100,000 Cameras FOX Sports 1
7:30 – 8:30 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
8:30 – 9:00 PM NCWTS Setup FOX Sports 1
9:00 – 11:30 PM Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino 400k FOX Sports 1
10:00 – 11:00 PM Isle of Man TT: June 6 Velocity*

Saturday, June 7
Time Telecast Network
12:30 AM – 2:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Canada Free Practice No. 2 NBC Sports Network*# (from June 6)
3:00 – 4:30 AM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 FOX Sports 1*# (from June 6)
4:30 – 6:00 AM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 1*# (from June 6)
9:00 – 10:00 AM Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 FOX Sports 1
10:00 – 10:30 AM Empty Cup: Quest For The 1992 NASCAR Championship FOX Sports 1
10:30 – 11:30 AM K&N Pro Series East NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 FOX Sports 1*/ (from May 31)
11:30 AM – 12:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1
12:30 – 1:00 PM NASCAR Live FOX Sports 1
1:00 – 2:30 PM Formula One Grand Prix of Canada Qualifying NBC Sports Network
1:00 – 3:00 PM ARCA Racing Series Pocono ARCA 200 FOX Sports 1
5:00 – 7:00 PM Pro Motocross Championship Series: Thunder Valley NBC Sports Network
7:00 – 9:00 PM ARCA Racing Series Pocono ARCA 200 FOX Sports 2*#
8:00 – 11:00 PM Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 NBC Sports Network
9:00 – 10:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying FOX Sports 2*#
10:30 – 11:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 2*#
11:30 PM – 12:30 AM K&N Pro Series East NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 FOX Sports 2*# (from May 31)

Sunday, June 8
Time Telecast Network
12:30 AM – 1:00 AM 100,000 Cameras FOX Sports 2
12:30 – 2:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Canada Qualifying NBC Sports Network
3:00 – 5:00 AM Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino 400k FOX Sports 1*/# (from June 6)
5:00 – 6:00 AM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour FOX Sports 1*# (from June 7)
6:00 – 8:00 AM Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino 400k FOX Sports 2*/# (from June 6)
10:00 – 11:00 AM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay FOX Sports 1
12:00 – 1:00 PM Countdown to Green served by Sonic TNT
1:00 – 3:00 PM Blancpain Sprint Series: Nogaro CBS Sports Network* (from April 21)
1:00 – 4:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Pocono 400 TNT
1:30 – 2:00 PM F1 Countdown NBC Sports Network
2:00 – 4:00 PM Formula One Grand Prix of Canada NBC
3:00 – 5:00 PM Blancpain Sprint Series: Brands Hatch CBS Sports Network* (from May 18)
4:00 – 4:30 PM F1 Extra NBC
4:30 – 5:00 PM Kurt Busch: 36 NBC
5:00 – 6:00 PM Blancpain Endurance Series: Monza CBS Sports Network*/ (from April 13)
6:00 – 7:00 PM Blancpain Endurance Series: Silverstone CBS Sports Network*/ (from May 25)
7:00 – 7:30 PM NASCAR Victory Lane FOX Sports 1

Monday, June 9
Time Telecast Network
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM ARCA Racing Series Pocono ARCA 200 FOX Sports 1*# (from June 7)
12:00 – 1:00 PM K&N Pro Series East NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 FOX Sports 1*/# (from May 31)
5:00 – 5:30 PM NASCAR America NBC Sports Network
5:00 – 6:00 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 1
6:30 – 7:30 PM NASCAR RaceHub FOX Sports 2#
7:30 – 8:00 PM Empty Cup: Quest For The 1992 NASCAR Championship FOX Sports 2#
8:00 – 9:00 PM The 600: History of NASCAR’s Toughest Race FOX Sports 2#

*- Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage #- Repeat Coverage

Note that part of How It’s Made this week on the Science Channel will be about how the Gen-6 Sprint Cup chassis is built. However, it is only part of the show. Other things that will be covered include thermal coffee pots, Hurley sticks and Tube power amplifiers.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Camping World Truck and ARCA Racing series events in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex, in our Newsletter I will cover this past weekend’s Chevrolet Duals at Detroit. The June 12 edition of the Annex will cover Kurt Busch: 36. It’s quite the coup for NBC to air it right after its Formula 1 coverage from Montreal on Sunday.

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 ones full of rants and vitriol.

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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