Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Struggles with Production Pacing in Bristol

Last weekend was a bit of a marathon, racing-wise. It was nearly 10 hours from the beginning of FOX’s Bristol coverage to the end of it on Sunday. Cripes. Of course, that means that we have plenty of material to look at this week.

Before we start, NBC Sports made a couple of announcements recently. First, they announced last week that Ralph Sheheen and Ray Evernham will commentate on the network’s Whelen Modified Tour and Whelen Southern Modified Tour coverage, which premiered last weekend with the Icebreaker from Thompson Speedway. It should be a good pairing, along with some good racing. I’ll be sure to write about the modifieds later this year. By the looks of the schedule, I’ll get plenty of chances to do so.

In addition, NBC Sports announced on Monday that they will air a one-hour special covering the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at South Boston Speedway (scheduled for this Thursday night) sometime in the month of May. The charity event brings a number of NASCAR stars to their roots to take on the best late model drivers in the Southeast. The race has not been televised for the past couple of years, but SPEED did air it once when it was run as part of a doubleheader with the K&N Pro Series East at Richmond International Raceway.

However, the premiere might be a little earlier than that. As part of the work for the critique each week, I also spend the time to put up the TV schedules as well. It takes well over an hour this time of year to do it. While putting the tables together, I noticed that the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown has been tentatively scheduled for Monday at 3:30 p.m. The slot clashes with the aforementioned article. It is also listed at 3:30 p.m. Monday on the TV Guide app. We have contacted NBC Sports for clarification and will update the article when we get a response.

Food City 500 In Support of Steve Byrnes And Stand Up To Cancer

As you’ve likely already known for the past couple of weeks, Sunday’s 511-lap race at Bristol Motor Speedway became what amounted to the Steve Byrnes Invitational. While that’s not a bad thing, it’s just simply the truth. I’m not surprised that Bristol Motor Speedway would be the track to step up and dedicate a race to Byrnes. In 2010, they dedicated the spring race (again, with Food City’s cooperation) to Jeff Byrd, the track’s General Manager who was waging his own battle against cancer at the time. We had Byrnes’s son, Bryson, introducing the broadcast, while all the teams stood for Steve prior to the race. That was nice. Then, there was the mid-race montage which was quite touching but  I just don’t know how Byrnes would feel about such a montage airing during a battle for the lead between Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards.

Unfortunately for FOX, Byrnes’s absence showed again on Sunday. The highlight on Sunday (and replayed during the rain delay) was a one-on-one interview with Kyle Busch that Michael Waltrip conducted. Yes, you read that right. If the present day were “normal circumstances” for FOX, Michael Waltrip would not have done that interview. It probably would have been Byrnes’ gig. For what’s it worth, Michael played it straight and delivered a decent performance, but it just seemed wrong having Michael conduct the interview. Via the interview, we learned what Busch was thinking at the point of impact and just how his leg was broken (a firewall breach, also known as serious business).

Watching the piece on Sunday, the first thought that went through my mind was, “this is why FOX tried to trade for Marty Smith.” If anything, straying away from doing just NASCAR with ESPN has substantially raised Smith’s profile in the past year. ESPN recognized what they had in Smith and rebuffed the offer.

FOX needs someone that commands respect and can be held up as a paragon of professionalism on their broadcast. Byrnes is that guy, but life is getting in the way right now, to put it mildly. Chris Myers did a decent job when he interviewed Kurt Busch when he made his comeback earlier this year after his legal issues, and going forward, he could be that guy, but who knows. The whole “we kid because we care” thing does speak volumes at times.

The red flag coverage was rather expansive. FOX interviewed three-quarters of the field during the long red flag before they ceased coverage at 4:30 p.m. That meant that drivers such as Matt DiBenedetto, Alex Bowman, Michael McDowell and Landon Cassill got air time that they ordinarily wouldn’t have gotten.

When the cars weren’t sitting around on pit road while it rained, there was a lot of on-track action and FOX had some trouble keeping up with it all. When producing a Bristol telecast, one must have a quick finger in order to everything that can (and does) happen. Generally, the booth was on note. The production trucks weren’t so much. Both Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip would point something out on track and it might be three or four seconds before the telecast would cut to it. Got to be quicker than that at Bristol. Might be able to get away with it at Texas or Fontana, not Bristol.

The best example I can give of FOX being slow on the trigger was when Jimmie Johnson got in the back of Jeb Burton and caused the wreck that put David Ragan and Harvick behind the wall. There was a good three to four seconds that passed after Joy referenced the incident before FOX got a camera on it. By that point, Johnson was gone, Burton was coming off the wall and Ragan was in the middle of the track, ready to get nailed by Harvick. They had a chance to catch everything live and blew it.

The whole scenario surrounding Erik Jones replacing Denny Hamlin after the four-hour red flag was very unusual, to say the least. FOX reported on-air that they had no idea what was up. However, Michael Waltrip apparently had the scoop for quite a while, and wasn’t allowed to give his scoop until after Vince Welch got confirmation from Joe Gibbs. I know it’s Michael Waltrip, but if he’s got the info, give him the floor. Maybe the neck spasm situation is something that he knew about before FOX went off the air at 4:30. I don’t know. What we do know is that Michael talked to a source, who told him about Hamlin’s spasms and that Hamlin went to get treatment. I’m assuming that it was at the Infield Care Center, but he didn’t specify. I guess Michael couldn’t get a second source to back up that information.

Once again, the intentional skipping of lug nuts played a big role on Sunday. It’s burning people, yet they’re still willing to risk wrecking for one extra position. I just don’t think it’s worth it. Yes, it’s probably the reason why we’ve seen sub-11-second pit stops this season, but it’s also the reason why we’ve had a spate of unscheduled pit stops and random vibrations lately. Eventually, FOX will need to show what happens when you intentionally skip applying lugnuts. I’m sure they probably have some computer graphics in the pipeline as I’m typing this.

With the race running beyond 10 p.m., having any post-race coverage is a plus. FOX provided viewers with a typical amount of post-race coverage, including interviews and post-race analysis before moving to an abbreviated edition of FOX Sports Live and Garbage Time with Katie Nolan.

FOX’s coverage of the actual racing was not half bad. Bristol is fast and furious, much like a classic coyote and road runner chase. It takes a quick tongue, much like in hockey, in order to call such a race well. The booth was generally pretty good in that regard. The production values left a little to be desired, though.

Drive to Stop Diabetes 300

Saturday saw the Xfinity Series return to Bristol Motor Speedway for 300 laps of rock ‘em sock ‘em action. Of course, there was one man who didn’t need to rock or sock anyone. Joey Logano just had everyone covered. Hard to imagine that it hasn’t even been that long since someone went flag-to-flag in an Xfinity Series race (Kyle Busch pulled the feat off last September at Richmond).

NASCAR RaceDay – Xfinity Edition didn’t even really preview the race. Instead, it served as a quasi-preview of Sunday’s coverage. There was a preview of the aforementioned Michael Waltrip-Kyle Busch interview and interviews with Logano and Jones, neither of whom are actually regulars in the series. As you may have noticed, I’m still not really comfortable with FOX co-opting Jones as an Xfinity Series regular. I’d argue that NASCAR is at least partially to blame with the screwiness that is the early portion of the Camping World Truck Series schedule (six-week break, really?).

For Bristol, Jeff Gordon was back in the booth for the second week in a row. It’s the seventh race of the year and the first time that FOX Sports has had the same booth trio two weeks in a row. Therefore, we can see how the booth works together with immediate feedback. Gordon still needs a little work. He was a little louder this time out, which helps. Hard to believe, but one of my gripes about Gordon’s performance at Texas was that he was too quiet. I didn’t have that issue with him on Saturday.

An incident like when Austin Dillon and Chris Buescher got together just shows how green Gordon is in the booth. The Nos. 33 and 60 had pretty significant contact that bent the rear fender on the Rheem Chevrolet, cutting the right-rear tire. Gordon seemed to write it off as casual contact that shouldn’t hurt either car. Two laps later, Dillon had to bring the No. 33 to pit road for a tire change, forcing Gordon to eat his words. Perhaps the angle in which the cameras shoot races at Bristol played a role here since the viewing angle is rather steep from the top of the suites.

Post-race coverage stunk. Simple as that. The race ran long by something like 18 minutes and cut into pre-game coverage for baseball. As a result, viewers only got a Victory Lane interview with Logano and an incredibly hasty good-bye. It was hackneyed at best. It had to be one of the worst post-race efforts that I can remember from FOX Sports for any race in years.

Overall, the race was way too focused on just a couple of drivers. Logano was one of them, as was Jones. Other than those two, Harvick, Buescher and Chase Elliott got a decent amount of coverage. Ty Dillon at one point was running fourth and had been up front all day. Yet, he had “quietly” done it. How is that so? They spent 170 laps ignoring him up to that point, despite the fact that he was in the top five. Invisible in the top five. Yowza.

Teams that were on the lead lap and having good runs were basically ignored when they had problems. Jeremy Clements spun at one point to draw a yellow and I couldn’t tell you what happened there despite watching the race. There was no replay. Ross Chastain was in position for a top-15 finish until he blew up. It was never mentioned on the broadcast, but you could just barely see his smoking No. 4 coming to the pits with about 26 to go out of 13th. The race is more than just a couple of dudes.

As for Gordon, he’s still finding himself in the booth. I think he’s progressing nicely at this point, but I’d want to see him in more than just three or four races before putting him out there full-time in 2016. Maybe he could do some of the K&N Pro Series races on NBC Sports Network as an analyst for extra practice. It’s not like he’s actually an employee of FOX Sports or anything like that.

That’s all for this week. Next week, the Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series are back in action at Richmond International Raceway. Saturday’s coverage on FOX is a doubleheader as FOX NASCAR Saturday follows up live coverage of the AMA Monster Energy Series from MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series makes their annual trek to Alabama along with Pirelli World Challenge. Here are your listings:

Tuesday, April 21

10 a.m. - 12 p.m.XFINITY Series Drive To Stop Diabetes 300FOX Sports 1*# (from April 18)
5 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

Wednesday, April 22

1 a.m. - 3 a.m.Verizon IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long BeachNBC Sports Network*/# (from April 19)
1 p.m. - 2 p.m.AMSOil Arenacross: SpokaneFOX Sports 2#
4:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.NASCAR America: Scan All 43NBC Sports Network
5 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

Thursday, April 23

2:30 a.m. - 3 a.m.NASCAR's The List: Dale Earnhardt, Sr. MomentsNBC Sports Network#
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

Friday, April 24

12:30 a.m. - 1:30 a.m.K&N Pro Series East PittLite 125NBC Sports Network*/ (from April 18)
1:30 a.m. - 2 a.m.NASCAR's The List: Greatest FinishesNBC Sports Network#
10 a.m. - 11 a.m.FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of SilverstoneFOX Sports 1*/# (from April 12)
11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1
12:30 p.m. - 1 p.m.NASCAR RaceHub No. 1FOX Sports 1
1 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1
2:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceHub No. 2FOX Sports 1
3:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.XFINITY Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1
5 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceHub No. 3FOX Sports 1
5:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.Sprint Cup Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1
7 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceDay - XFINITY EditionFOX Sports 1
7:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.XFINITY Series ToyotaCare 250FOX Sports 1

Saturday, April 25

3 a.m. - 4:30 a.m.Sprint Cup Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1*# (from April 24)
4:30 a.m. - 6 a.m.Sprint Cup Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1*# (from April 24)
10 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.XFINITY Series ToyotaCare 250FOX Sports 1*# (from April 24)
11 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.Mobil 1's The GridCBS Sports Network
11:10 a.m. -12:35 p.m.Pirelli World Challenge: Barber Park, GT/GT Cup Race No. 1World-Challengetv.com/Torque.tv^
1 p.m - 2 p.m.Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series: Lake ElsinoreCBS*/ (from March 20-21)
1:30 p.m. - 2:40 p.m.Pirelli World Challenge: Barber Park, GTS Race No. 2World-Challengetv.com/Torque.tv^
3 p.m. - 6 p.m.AMA Monster Energy Supercross: East RutherfordFOX
5 p.m. - 6 p.m.NASCAR RaceDayFOX Sports 2
5 p.m. - 7 p.m.NHRA O'Reilly Auto Parts SpringNationalsESPN 2*/ (from April 24-25)
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.FOX NASCAR SaturdayFOX
7 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400FOX
11 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.NASCAR Victory LaneFOX Sports 1

Sunday, April 26

9:30 a.m. - 10 a.m.Mobil 1's The GridCBS Sports Network#
10:45 a.m. - 12:05 p.m.Pirelli World Challenge: Barber Park, GT/GT Cup Race No. 2World-Challengetv.com/Torque.tv^
12 p.m. - 1 p.m.British Touring Car Championship: Donington ParkCBS Sports Network*/
12 p.m. - 1 p.m.AMSOil Arenacross: TacomaFOX Sports 1*
12 p.m. - 5 p.m.NHRA O'Reilly Auto Parts SpringNationals Final EliminationsESPN3$
2 p.m. - 5 p.m.NHRA O'Reilly Auto Parts SpringNationals Final EliminationsESPN 2>
3 p.m. - 6 p.m.Verizon IndyCar Series Honda Grand Prix of AlabamaNBC Sports Network
3:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.Pirelli World Challenge: Long Beach, GT/GT CupCBS Sports Network*/ (from April 18-19)
6 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.IndyCar Chronicles: James HinchcliffeNBC Sports Network#
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series: Lake Elsinore, Pro 2 and Pro Lite, Round 1CBS Sports Network* (from March 20)
8:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.AMSOil Arenacross: TacomaFOX Sports 2*#
10 p.m. - 1 a.m.AMA Monster Energy Supercross: East RutherfordFOX Sports 2*# (from April 25)

Monday, April 27

12:30 a.m. - 2 a.m.Pirelli World Challenge: Long Beach GT/GT CupCBS Sports Network*/# (from April 18-19)
2 a.m. - 3 a.m.Indy Lights Legacy Indy Lights 100NBC Sports Network* (from April 26)
10 a.m. - 1 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400FOX Sports 1*/# (from April 25)
1 p.m. - 4 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400FOX Sports 2*/# (from April 25)
3:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.NASCAR's The List: 2 episodes (No reference made to which ones)NBC Sports Network*/ (from April 23)
4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
* – Tape Delayed
/ – Highlighted Coverage
# – Repeat Coverage
> – Joined in Progress
^ – Available via free online streaming
$ – Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your programming and/or internet service provider for availability in your area.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Verizon IndyCar series races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch. In the Critic’s Annex this week, I’ll be covering the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach from Sunday. My original plan was to cover it here, but I realized that I didn’t have anything to cover in the Newsletter this week. As a result, I will cover Long Beach there. For next week’s Annex, the topic will ultimately depend on what NBC Sports Network does. It will be the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown telecast that I mentioned above, but only if it airs on Monday. If not, then it will likely be the PittLite 125 for the K&N Pro Series East, which ran Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway after the Xfinity Series race.

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 FOX Sports personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage, please click on the following link:

FOX Sports

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.

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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Not sounding insensitive but Steve B. seems to be a humble and quiet man. Every inch of praise, I do not begrudge. It was so incessant it at one point lost it’s specialness and meaning. Typical of today’s social media world and media.


Agree kb. It went from a nice, warm feeling to over-the-top cringe territory. Love Steve Byrnes. Always enjoy his interviews, energy and warmth. You really do feel like he cares about the people and loves what he does. I hate that he’s now fighting for his life and it may not be going so well. Just seemed the broadcast took it from being supportive into an awkwardness that wasn’t constructive.


I just wonder what NASCAR is trying to do with the Truck Series. IMHO it was the best racing around, but they have a race, then skip a week or two, or in this case, six weeks. It is so hard to keep track of when the races are.


I compare this coverage a little to the fall race at Martinsville where we have to re-live the Hendrick plane crash, a tragic event yes but something that the broadcasting network seems to work an angle into anything involving a Hendrick car.

Tim S.

I recall being surprised that they did not commemorate the first race back at Martinsville since the tenth anniversary of the plane crash.


Agree about Steve Byrnes. I have never met him either but have interacted with him via social media. I feel terrible for him and for his family.

As far as Fox and their coverage, well, I missed the xfinity race – it was a nice day and I had other plans so I wasn’t staying inside to watch a race. If the Cup race hadn’t been so delayed by rain, I would have missed most of that as well. I really dislike Fox’s coverage for the most part, I usually don’t have the sound up and if not for following via raceview (which I have to pay for) and twitter, I wouldn’t be able to follow the race just using the TV.


RIP Steve, you are going to be missed

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