Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Goes for 2 in Pocono, Gets Exhausted

Oh man! If I had the ability to prevent rain delays, this season would be so much less exhausting. After Sunday’s Pocono 350, I noted that covering Sunday’s tripleheader was more tiring than covering Petit Le Mans on-site. Having covered that event for the last four years, I can tell you that (for me), it involves getting to the track on race day before sunrise and leaving after midnight. It’s arduous. However, I’m active all day if I’m at the track and felt fairly fresh after last year’s race. I had enough energy the next day to get up early and drive 130 miles to Talladega to cover last fall’s 1000Bulbs.com 500.

Pocono Organics 325 in Partnership with Rodale Institute

Given the rain that postponed Saturday’s Pocono Organics 150 in Benefit of Farm Aid, the pre-race show had to be stretched … again. Getting to be a habit these days. My point from last week still stands; FOX needs to do a better job informing viewers about the weather at the track prior to these races. When NBC Sports starts up their NASCAR schedule next week, I put them in the same boat.

Much like at Talladega, Saturday’s broadcast started out with poignant thoughts from Mike Joy.  \Yes, we know that the noose found in Bubba Wallace’s garage at Talladega was not intentionally planted there in an attempt to intimidate him (thankfully). That hasn’t stopped a group of people from going after Wallace on social media, accusing him of trying to be Jussie Smollett, the former Empire star who made up a hate crime last year in an attempt to further his career.

All it did was get him fired from Empire and made into a pariah. (Note: I never saw Empire. I mainly remember Smollett from his roles in The Mighty Ducks and the short-lived 1994 ABC sitcom On Our Own, in which he appeared with five of his siblings.)  If you’re wondering, the charges against Smollett for filing a false police report were dropped after he agreed to forfeit a $10,000 bond and do 16 hours of community service.

The facts that NASCAR provided from the start make it pretty clear that Wallace’s situation was not the same. Sure, the parties involved may have overreacted, but they didn’t do it for fame. No one wants this kind of fame. Joy emphatically stated the Wallace situation was not like Smollett’s in that he had no hand in reporting the noose, or any real involvement (remember, he can’t go into the garage right now). While Wallace wants NASCAR to be a more welcoming place for all, I don’t think he wants to have to solider the whole thing on his own.

With rain falling earlier in the day at Pocono, the start was delayed by an hour. FOX filled that time by airing a Radioactive history of Talladega. I guess they only have so much radio chatter archived as it only covered a few races from recent years. It makes me wonder just how much radio chatter NASCAR has in its archives. Maybe it’s hanging out in the same building as the re-creation of Bill France’s office at the ISC Archives (or whatever it’s called now) in Daytona Beach.

As compared to Sunday’s race, the Saturday event was relatively tame. Not a whole lot happened over 325 miles. The most exciting action you got here was in the final few laps when Denny Hamlin ran down Kevin Harvick. A fierce battle broke out for the win, but Hamlin couldn’t get past Harvick.

Post-race coverage was fairly brief. Viewers heard from Harvick, Hamlin and Aric Almirola, who is in a very good place right now.

Pocono 350

Rain and lightning were once again issues on Sunday. First, a lightning delay came 30-35 minutes before the race technically started.  Six laps in, the red flag came out for more rain. Ultimately, they just barely finished the race before it became too dark to continue.  Brutal.

One of the stranger aspects of the broadcast to come out of Sunday (not just during the Cup race) was the use of GPS RaceView-esque technology. This was first seen during the Xfinity race Sunday when it just randomly showed up during a Crank It Up segment.

I thought this usage was gratuitous and a way to sneak in an extra speed shot camera into the broadcast that wasn’t actually there in real life.  Perhaps FOX did have a sound-capturing device there, which allowed them to put proper sound in there.

That pales in comparison to using RaceView-type technology to show viewers what happened to Kyle Busch to end his day. The notion was made on the broadcast that FOX’s cameras only caught the aftermath of the crash. Normally, I would be fine with this explanation if no camera truly caught the wreck. I have advocated in the past that the RaceView technology could be used as a backup.

Of course, we now know that it wasn’t the case. 55 laps after Busch’s crash, FOX Sports 1 aired the actual footage of the crash that NASCAR had posted to Twitter.

Mike Joy indicated that this was from a NASCAR ENG (Electronic News Gathering) camera that was shooting footage to be used for later broadcast. Translation: This footage is among the stuff you usually see in those Radioactive features on NASCAR RaceHub. The footage even looked like it had already been put through a filter. If you’re ever lucky enough to be in the infield during a race weekend, you’ll see plenty of people with hi-visibility yellow vests on with camera equipment. Those people are usually involved with the TV broadcast, either via NASCAR itself or the broadcaster (FOX Sports or NBC Sports). There are other people with cameras shooting video as well who are usually working for NASCAR Media Production.

If they’re not, then they’re probably doing stuff for local newscasts. Most sanctioning bodies allow a small amount of video to be shot for use in local sportscasts in-market. It’s not very much. No more than three minutes, and that’s on the high end.

The fact that this footage popped up on NASCAR’s Twitter before the race even ended infuriated a number of fans. I believe that a lot of fans thought that FOX was either incompetent or a pack of liars. Honestly, I was more bummed than anything but pleased that it was possible to definitively figure out what happened. Admittedly, the actual pictures confirmed the GPS. Contact from Blaney caused it. Busch was not happy afterward, and it seems like he was angry with Garrett Smithley. As you may remember, he blasted Smithley for being in the way and questioned his credentials after last September’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after he ran in the back of Smithley late in the race.

My gripe is probably different than yours. Remember when NASCAR debuted the current pit officiating system in 2015, consisting of a bunch of cameras? NASCAR stated when it was introduced that those shots would be made available to the broadcasters, and they’ve been used extensively to show penalties over the past 5-plus seasons. These ENG cameras are apparently not available for use on broadcasts. With the current situation, there’s only so many people allowed at the track, despite Pocono Raceway being cavernous (as in it takes roughly 20-25 minutes on foot to get from the inside of turn 1 to the Media Center, which is just on the other side of the start-finish line, behind a pit grandstand).

Given the lower amount of personnel at the track right now, NASCAR should try to find a way to make this footage available to FOX Sports and NBC Sports going forward during the race. Everything helps these days. Once staffing at the track gets back to normal (whenever that is), it might not be as necessary.

Of the two races, Sunday’s seemed to be the more enjoyable of the two to watch. There were more lead changes, but less green-flag passes on-track. I think that was mainly due to more green-flag pit stops on Saturday, though.

Having said that, if you could stay close to your rivals, there was some decent action. There was a fair amount of that early on in both races. However, both races also ended with long runs, 48 laps Saturday and 51 Sunday). That spread the whole field out. You ended up with some action on-track towards the end of the race, but not much.

With the race ending after sunset nearly two hours late, there was not much in the way of post-race coverage. Viewers got interviews with the top two finishers (Hamlin and Harvick), and that was about it from Pocono.

So the Pocono weekend is over. Thoughts on the five-race schedule as a whole? This wasn’t as bad as I thought it could be, but it was pretty nightmarish. One of the races (the truck race) got postponed, both Cup races dealt with rain, but everything got in without having to go to Monday. Still exhausted, though. Had this been a regular weekend with no pandemic and I had made the trek down there, I would have gotten home at nearly 4 a.m. after a 22-hour day.

Long-term, I still don’t think this is going to work well for Pocono Raceway. They never properly differentiated the race weekends, giving NASCAR the fuel to try to combine them. At one point, they were less than a month apart. Doesn’t help that seemingly everyone hates the place for darn near every reason under the sun.

The current rule package might hurt Pocono more than any other track on the circuit. While there’s definitely strategy in play here, fans often want more than that. A package that makes passing more difficult than it has to be isn’t going to help much. Then again, I cannot recall a time where it was easy to pass at Pocono in NASCAR. INDYCAR races there have been competitive, but bad things have happened in those events.

Normally, there’s a clean break in regards to NASCAR TV, a clear handover to the other group. That’s not the case this year as NBC Sports starts their portion of the 2020 schedule this weekend in Indianapolis. However, there are still two more Xfinity races and one Cup point race in addition to the All-Star festivities in Bristol before they finish up for the year. As a result, I won’t give a year-end review for another couple of weeks.

That’s all for this weekend. For Independence Day weekend, there is a very busy slate of programming out there for your pleasure. The NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series will be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In addition, the NTT IndyCar Series will be there as well for a tripleheader weekend. Also, since the Xfinity Series has never raced on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, they will have two practice sessions on Friday.

Formula 1 will begin their season with the first of two races at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. The TV schedule is out, and everything will air live on either ESPN or ESPN2. IMSA’s season also restarts in Daytona with the WeatherTech 240 at Daytona. It’s a busy weekend for those who love racing. Saturday is a tripleheader of action for NBC Sports with INDYCAR first, then the Xfinity Series with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship finishing things up. The TV listings can be found in the TV tab above.

We will provide critiques of the Cup, Xfinity and INDYCAR events from Indianapolis for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex on Thursday in the Frontstretch Newsletter, we’ll cover some wrecking. Seriously. 18 cautions due to on-track incidents in 377.5 miles of racing is rather sad. With that in mind, we’re going to look into the Pocono Organics 150 in Benefit of Farm Aid and the Pocono Green 225 Recycled by J.P. Mascaro & Sons.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below. Even though I can’t always respond, I do read your comments. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.

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As always, if you choose to contact a 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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Tom B

Did you notice in Saturday’s Cup race Jeff Gordon had a 2007 senior mental flashback? Calling Joey Logano’s car, when making a pit stop, the Pennzoil number 29 of Kevin Harvick.

Gordon seems to have prepared sound bites of different racing situations that he uses during his broadcast whether they happen or not. Larry Reynolds seems like the only one who actually knows what is going on during the race.
The two man booth though, works out much better than the three comedian wannabees in the Xfinity broadcasts. These guys seem like they have to show each other up. Always stepping on each other with all three talking at the same time. It is very annoying.

Bill H

@Tom B
I agree with you entirely. Part of the problem is that three people is just too many people. It gets worse, of course, when two of them are idiots with inflated egos. But any sport suffers when they try three. I’ve watched football games where they had three because a “guest” stepped into the booth. It was horrible.

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