Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Thursday: Vince Welch Out at FOX Sports — What Does It Mean?

Normally, the offseason is a pretty quiet time of the year TV-wise. Not much happens as everyone relaxes with the holidays before prepping for another long season.

Not so much this year.

Because in regards to FOX’s NASCAR coverage in 2023, you’re going to see at least one big change: the disappearance of Vince Welch.

Yes, Welch appears to be out at FOX Sports after eight years. He originally came to FOX Sports after spending a little over 12 years with ESPN, first with its NTT IndyCar Series coverage, then moving to NASCAR coverage starting in 2007 when it returned to the network.

In addition to covering NASCAR for FOX Sports, Welch also served as a play-by-play commentator for college basketball.

In some industries, personalities can pick back up where they left off with relative ease. But Welch doesn’t have that many options that would allow him to stay in motorsports. That said, being able to call multiple sports will mean that this move will not likely be the end of his career. He might end up with a lower-profile job for a while, perhaps calling college basketball games that show up on channels like SportsNet New York like Allen Bestwick does from time to time.

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For now, Welch can spend some time with Bestwick, like he did earlier this week.

Naturally, Welch’s departure from FOX Sports brings change for all three of NASCAR’s national series broadcasts. For example, Welch was a regular pit reporter on NASCAR Cup Series broadcasts. The likely result of this move is that Josh Sims will be called up to work on Cup broadcasts for the first time.

If there is anyone in NASCAR broadcasting that was helped by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is Sims. Before, he was doing sports for WJZY (FOX 46) in Charlotte and was really not that known in the sport. Then, WJZY teamed with WGHP FOX 8 (FOX’s Greensboro, N.C., affiliate) to do a couple of locally produced TV shows at Darlington Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Both stations are owned by Nexstar Media Group, the country’s second-largest owner of local TV stations (only Sinclair Broadcast Group is bigger). These shows were syndicated to other Nexstar-owned stations around the country, allowing the network brass to see what Sims could do. Within a year, he’d been hired by FOX Sports.

Since then, he’s worked on NASCAR RaceHub and began working as a pit reporter, first with truck broadcasts before getting a chance at the NASCAR Xfinity Series last year. With all the departures in recent years, FOX Sports doesn’t really have much of a bench when it comes to on-air personalities. As a result, Sims will likely get the call to join FOX’s Cup broadcasts this year.

Having Sims in the pits would be good for the broadcasts. He has shown himself to be a hard worker and very professional. For someone who has only a little more than a year in the pits under his belt, he has adjusted well to the new environment. He’d do just fine in a likely promotion for him.

In the Xfinity Series, not having Welch around will likely mean more work for Sims, Jamie Little and Regan Smith on Saturdays. The big changes will be in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

Welch had served as the play-by-play commentator for Truck races on FOX Sports 1 since 2016, with few exceptions. He ultimately won the role after a messy 2015 season during which Welch was one of no less than five play-by-play commentators who the series had on FS1.

That situation came about due to Steve Byrnes, who was replacing Rick Allen in the booth, being diagnosed with cancer and being unable to work. Mike Joy, Brian Till, Ralph Sheheen and Adam Alexander chipped in early in the year, resulting in a disjointed feel to the broadcasts. At Pocono Raceway in July, Welch got his first chance to call a race, the Pocono Mountains 150. That seemed to go well. With a couple of more races under his belt, FOX gave him the full-time gig for 2016.

With Welch out of the picture, there is a good chance that Little will be given the play-by-play role for the upcoming season. Knoxville Raceway last year was Little’s first Truck race in the booth. While I thought that Little’s Truck booth debut went horribly, that wasn’t really her fault.

With FOX Sports likely not hiring anyone to replace Welch, there is a very good chance that she’ll be given the opportunity to be on play-by-play for the full season. I would have liked her to have another year on ARCA Menards Series broadcasts first, especially since FOX Sports is airing all 20 races this year, before giving Little the spot. She just needs more booth reps before moving up.

Sims was the only full-time pit reporter for Truck races in 2022, replacing Alan Cavanna in that role. My guess is that you’ll see more of Jamie Howe on the broadcasts in 2023, but that they may not have a specific pit reporter doing as many Truck races as he did.

Moving away from Welch’s move, on Nov. 22, 2022, SportsBusinessDaily’s Adam Stern tweeted that FOX Sports is likely to retain a rotating third booth spot in 2023.

In 2022, that spot was shared by 12 (or 13, depending on how you look at it) different people. There were only a couple of times all year in which the same guest analyst was in the broadcast booth with Mike Joy and Clint Bowyer in consecutive weeks. While Joy and Bowyer more than likely know everyone that was in the booth with them fairly well, the constant change is not a good thing.

Yes, being able to work with a multitude of other people is an important talent. However, it is very hard to get any kind of real chemistry going when there’s a new threat on the analyst front each week. It’s as if you’re repeating the same things every week. Joy is effective in helping a novice analyst along that may not have much in the way of TV experience while Clint Bowyer is … Clint Bowyer.

I cannot say how helpful Bowyer is or is not to guest analysts, because I’m really not sure. I feel like once the cameras are off, he’s a perfectly sensible person and can be a help to driver getting their feet wet in the booth. Plus, since he’s still relatively new in the booth, he can relay his own experiences from when he first started.

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The issue with FOX’s lack of a permanent replacement for Jeff Gordon means it can never truly have the kind of familiarity that announcing teams have in nearly every other sport. Basically, FOX is intentionally making things hard on itself and for what?

Stern’s tweet makes it sound like FOX is gunning for Kevin Harvick once he retires. That wouldn’t be a terrible move, and 2023 is a contract year for Harvick. The thing is, does he want to retire? I don’t know. If he does retire after this upcoming season, would he want the job? I’m not sure and he definitely wouldn’t tell me if I asked him. What we do know is that if he wants to be there, he’ll do a good job.

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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.

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14 Comments
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Eunice

At some point, the ‘Rick Allen’s and Mike Joy’s” of the world will be appreciated. As a race fan, I’m not looking for slapstick in the booth. But I expect to see ratings soar this year as the announce team becomes more diverse.

Tom B

There is definitely a turn for more diversity by the networks. The NASCAR side shows are already led by women. I’m also a race fan, not looking for slapstick.

Dave

Really enjoy your columns! It’s clear that you take the time to watch the broadcasts, and bring us good information. Your opinions are well stated and don’t always follow the NASCAR line that many in the media follow. As a fan of the sport, I appreciate what you’re doing!

Christopher

Little in the booth for the Truck series. Kurt Busch in either the Truck series booth or as the third person in the Cup series booth.

WJW Motorsports

Jamie is good and has earned her place. That said – some have the knack for play by play and others just don’t. She clearly falls into the latter group.

Ron

I agree. She’s a very good pit reporter, but I think she’s out of her element as an announcer.

Matt Hunter

The lineup I expect:

Cup – Mike J/Clint*/Guest

Xfinity – AA/’Mikey’/Jamie Mac

Trucks – Jamie L/Phil/Kurt

* – this spot should be occupied by Larry McReynolds, while Bowyer would be best used as a field reporter, similar to Rutledge Wood and how he’s used by NBC.

RickB

I just wish Michael Waltrip would go away.
I’m a huge Jamie Little fan but I don’t think she did well enough in the ARCA booth to deserve a promotion. Let’s bring back Krista Voda (Kelley). She’s wasting her talent at MAVTV.

Tom B

Anytime you are offered the role of a ‘stooge, clown, goof ball’ is a demotion. Clint would be perfect.

Bill B

FOX already has a buffoon, Michael Waltrip. He fills the Rutledge role. Now, if you want to send MW packing and replace him with Bowyer, you are on to something.

Tom B

I think MW has changed a lot, for the good, the last two years after reading all of the negative views of the Waltrip brothers

Mike Kalasnik

Not a fan of Josh Sims. I don’t think he is ready for the role he has. There are much more experienced folks out there who should have that spot.

eddo

Vince being gone is only a good thing for NASCAR. He has a knack for reporting inaccurately, and it only got marginally better as he gained experience within the sport. Good luck to him, but NASCAR wasn’t his jam

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