Welcome back, race fans. Today begins my eighth year of broadcast criticism here at Frontstretch. For this season, we will have a change or two to how this critique looks. Likely the most notable change that you will see is at the top of the page.
We now have a separate tab for the weekly TV Schedule. It allows me to post the schedule separately from the critique. I will update the schedule each Monday night for your pleasure. We’ve been updating the schedule in that fashion for the last month with decent results.
Saturday night brought FOX’s NASCAR coverage to the forefront for the first time in 2016. As much as the drivers aren’t feeling the Sprint Unlimited these days, I consider it to be an important dress rehearsal for the Daytona 500 for FOX. With FOX’s big move in the offseason, it made Saturday night that much more important than normal.
— Jon Edwards (@JonEdwards24) November 7, 2015
Of course, that big move was the introduction of 44-year old Jeff Gordon into the broadcast booth. While yes, they did an unaired dry run with Gordon in the booth during last fall’s WinStar World Casino 350k Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, Saturday night was Gordon’s first Sprint Cup call. How did it go? Not so bad for Gordon.
On both the broadcast Saturday night and FOX’s Sunday afternoon broadcast of Daytona 500 pole qualifying, Gordon came across as a well-prepared and very knowledgeable analyst. In my eyes, he’s definitely improved from his outings during XFINITY Series broadcasts last year. He’s a change of pace from Darrell Waltrip. Granted, having the time to get some professional training doesn’t hurt, but training can only do so much. This kind of analyst progression is something that if this were IMSA, I doubt we would see from Gordon.
Why do I say that? Because earlier this year, IMSA announced a downsized two-man broadcast booth that will call the races from Charlotte. The Rolex 24 was an exception to that rule, but the current setup will begin with Sebring next month. Being off-site would mean that it would be a lot harder for Gordon to use his knowledge and contacts to benefit the broadcast.
With the current setup, Gordon will be able to get a proper feel of the garage, which is important because he’s essentially replacing Larry McReynolds. More on him a little later.
As in previous years, pre-race coverage for the Sprint Unlimited was a little sparse. If you wanted pre-race coverage, you should have stuck around after the Lucas Oil 200 for NASCAR RaceDay on FOX Sports 1. It’s kind of weak, to be honest.
On FOX itself, there was also minimal pre-race coverage. There was an introduction to Gordon in the booth, and a little talk about Kyle Busch’s return from his injuries to win the Sprint Cup Championship last year. The defending Sprint Cup Champion was the only driver to be interviewed during the brief amount of pre-race coverage prior to the National Anthem.
As for McReynolds, I don’t know that his role is going to work. He’s off on an island. On Saturday night, he did the race analysis before the start of the race and talked a little strategy here and there. And, that’s about it. He’s not even in the broadcast booth, or in the Hollywood Hotel. He spent Saturday night in a separate booth by himself. You know what? I thought was going to be the case going in.
No matter how annoying I find Darrell Waltrip at times, FOX didn’t really need to change their booth. McReynolds, at 57 years old, was the youngest member of the previous trio (Joy is 66, while Waltrip is 69). He wasn’t losing anything. He just got caught up in the situation where Gordon was available and FOX had to snatch him up before someone else could. It’s bush league. I don’t get secret sources sending me scuttlebutt about potential moves, but I don’t think this is going to work out all that well. If what we saw Saturday night is going to be the norm for McReynolds in 2016, this might be his last year with FOX. I think he’s underused, and he knows it.
During the race itself, a couple of things stood out. One was the number of tire failures. Three separate incidents came as a result of tire issues. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. had a right rear tire go down early on, which pitched him into eventual race winner Denny Hamlin. Brian Vickers blew a tire and caused a multi-car crash that eliminated himself, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer from the race. Later on, Kurt Busch blew a tire and smacked the wall. The other wreck further up the track saved Kurt’s butt and allowed him to salvage a seventh-place finish.
For the sake of this discussion, we’ll add in Josh Williams and Tom Hessert’s tire issues during the ARCA race as well. That’s five tire failures in 380 miles of racing. Something isn’t right there. You can blame debris all you want, but that can’t be the reason for all five failures. If so, the officials didn’t do all that great a job of finding the debris on track. Wear normally isn’t a thing at Daytona, especially since the track was repaved.
I’ll fully admit that I’ve been watching way too many episodes of the 1990’s PBS game show Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? on YouTube recently, but there is a parallel between that great educational game show and a NASCAR broadcast. In Round No. 2 on the show, the contestants had to catch the villain of the day in <insert place here>. To do so, they had 15 places to choose from. 12 of them had nothing but footsteps. One had the criminal, one had the loot of the day, and another had a warrant for the criminal’s arrest. You had to find the three objects in proper order (loot, warrant, and then crook) to win the chance to try to catch Carmen herself.
Bet you’re wondering where I’m going with this. Here it is. In order to properly explain these situations on-track is a somewhat similar loot-warrant-crook procedure. Unfortunately, FOX never found the debris that was apparently causing these tire problems. As a result, FOX’s coverage technically couldn’t qualify for a warrant, and therefore could not capture Vic the Slick. They needed to probe deeper to find the definitive cause and earn that warrant equivalent.
We haven’t seen teams staying on-track long enough outside of these races to be able to identify a trend here, but I’m a little nervous. It’s definitely worth looking out for during the Can-Am Duels on Thursday night.
Also, I noticed that there were a few problems with the coverage around lap 12. This was when Stenhouse spun out. However, shortly before that, Brad Keselowski was forced to give up the lead due to his grille being covered by a plastic bag. To think this happened after Daytona International Speedway banned napkins. They already don’t give out straws, which is not necessarily a problem if you’re sticking to bottles, but you get that rare fountain drink, it’s a bit of a thing.
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) January 30, 2016
The incident, plus Keselowski’s issues, made the broadcast into a bit of a mess. It took quite a bit longer than I would have liked for FOX to work everything out. Having a commercial in that vicinity didn’t help, but more or less ignoring Stenhouse’s wreck didn’t help things. The replay did show why FOX didn’t pay much attention to the incident; they didn’t get a good view of it since Stenhouse and Hamlin were 24th and 25th at the time, trailing the pack.
Since the telecast ran overtime by a bit, there was not all that much post-race coverage. Viewers were treated to a brief rundown of the results in the FOX Box and interviews with Hamlin and Joey Logano, who finished first and second before FOX left for the local news.
Having Gordon in the broadcast booth actually has a mellowing effect on the booth. McReynolds was a little hyper at times, although nowhere near Darrell Waltrip’s level. Gordon is closer in tone to Joy. I think that Gordon will bring a more professional feel to the proceedings on FOX. So far, I think he’s looking good. I don’t think we’ll see a repeat of the Stenhouse-Keselowski mess that we saw Saturday night this weekend because the Daytona 500 is the marquee race. There will be a lot more cameras on-site, 70 at least. You’re not as likely to miss something as you would have Saturday night.
Lucas Oil 200
Saturday afternoon saw the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards return to Daytona International Speedway for their 200-mile opener. A strong entry of 46 cars attempted the race with only 40 being allowed to take the green.
Unlike the Sprint Unlimited, there was a bit more pre-race coverage. FOX Sports 1 conducted pre-race interviews with pole sitter Cole Custer and eight-time winner Bobby Gerhart. John Wes Townley, another pre-race favorite, was not interviewed, but was pointed out as someone that would have to be dealt with.
ARCA races can be a bit of a toss-up at times as to who’s going to work the race. In this case, it was Adam Alexander and Phil Parsons in the booth, a duo that have worked together quite a bit over the last few years. That’s fine, but it might not be a bad idea for ARCA races to have an ARCA-exclusive booth for their ten FOX Sports races (nine on FOX Sports 1, one on FOX Sports 2), like what they do for all three of NASCAR’s National Series. Would that mean that you’ll have Charles Krall doing play-by-play on actual TV instead of just internet pay-per-view and Frank Kimmel swearing while being interviewed by Matt Weaver in the pits? I don’t know. Maybe. What I’m asking for is a little something to set it apart since these ten races are ARCA’s marquee events during the year, designed to reach the biggest possible audience.
Now, last time Townley took the win at Daytona three years ago, I believed that he was shafted by what was then SPEED. The race bled over into the timeslot for NASCAR RaceDay and SPEED decided that two hours of pre-race coverage for a race that would not even last that long was more important than providing any live post-race coverage of the ARCA race that just finished. I was ticked off.
This time around, Townley did not get served. He did get his Victory Lane interview live and he deserved it. He stomped ‘em, simple as that. There was also a quick interview with Frank Kimmel and a check of the unofficial results before FOX Sports 1 left to get to NASCAR RaceDay.
Overall, I liked the ARCA race. With 46 cars attempting to qualify, you had a more competitive race than we’ve seen in recent years. Great news going forward for ARCA, which has struggled with car count in recent years. The ARCA Ilmor 396 is doing wonders in keeping costs down, no matter how strange it seems on intermediate tracks.
FOX Sports’ coverage was admittedly front-centric. Since the race was more competitive this year, it hurt the broadcast less than it has in the past. However, if you weren’t in the lead draft, you didn’t exist. That doesn’t necessarily bode well for future ARCA races on intermediate tracks (the first of which will be at Pocono in June).
Finally, what many of you probably noticed about Saturday’s 200-mile ARCA race was the big wreck at the beginning of lap 3. Nothing like a bunch of dudes crashing five miles into a race. Personally, I’d put the blame for that wreck on Derrick Lancaster, who was a bit too aggressive in the opening laps of the race. My understanding is that bump drafting in general is banned in ARCA at Daytona and Talladega, especially in the turns. I have no idea what the heck he thought he was doing. He was basically looking for a black flag. Yes, the replays showed that Lancaster’s aggressive bumping caused Cole Powell to spin into his Mason Mitchell Motorsports teammate Gus Dean, thus causing the Big One. The anti-bumping rules were not broached on the broadcast, nor was Lancaster taken to task for his bumping.
That’s for this week. Next weekend, we have the first full race weekend of the year. The Sprint Cup Series has their crown jewel, the Daytona 500 on Sunday. In addition, the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series will both have their season openers on FOX Sports 1. Should be a good week for TV. The listings are in the TV Schedule tab at the top of your screen.
I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series telecasts for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. We’ll have some additional coverage for you Thursday in the Newsletter as well.
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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.