Welcome to my 15th year writing about race broadcasts here at Frontstretch. It seems so crazy just thinking about it. For a lot of you, the fact that the offseason is now over is also crazy.
Last weekend saw the NASCAR Cup Series travel to Los Angeles for the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum. As you know, this year’s race was a bit of a wreckfest, with 16 cautions interrupting the 150-lap main event.
Over the past few years, the type of broadcast that you get from NASCAR’s TV partners has continued to diverge. While NBC Sports tends to provide a rather professional telecast, filled with people that are serious about in-depth analysis, FOX tends to go the more jocular route.
I’m not going to sit here and claim that sports broadcasts are too important to have fun, because that’s just silly. However, FOX’s tendency to not take things all that seriously at times seems to hurt them more often than it helps.
The “It’s A Match” piece, part of their pre-race coverage, was an example of the tone we saw for much of Sunday. The idea was to put some of the new teammates together to see how well they know each other. Apparently, it’s still quite early in their relationships, so they don’t know each other all that well.
The whole thing was rather botched. FOX described the piece as a Match Game knockoff. It wasn’t. This game show fanatic knew that it was a spoof of The Newlywed Game within two seconds. I know, it’s a small mistake, but the details are important. It shows whether you’re doing your homework.
Exhibition races are always going to produce some weird quirks, especially if proceedings get delayed. Sunday’s second Last Chance Qualifier also saw Gwen Stefani randomly show up in the broadcast booth with 16 laps to go. While I have nothing against Stefani (I admit to owning a couple of No Doubt albums and her first solo outing, Love. Angel. Music. Baby.), her appearance was out of place. It completely distracted the booth from the actual on-track competition.
It struck me as something that should have happened after the LCQs. Then again, after the LCQ, we were treated to the story of how Stefani and Clint Bowyer met.
What does Bowyer singing have to do with anything NASCAR? The whole story came off as silly and off the rails.
Aside from Stefani, there were some other drivers that came up to the booth during the races they weren’t in. Kyle Busch stopped by, along with Joey Logano. Of course, their TV presence proved interesting because Logano ended up wrecking Busch in the race later on.
Aside from that, having the drivers in the booth actually did help the broadcast in that they were able to provide additional insight to just what it was actually like to race on such a tight circuit. Since neither Bowyer nor Tony Stewart has competed at the L.A. Coliseum in the past, it made the telecast more well-rounded.
FOX Sports also took time during NASCAR RaceDay Sunday to announce an addition that was rumored for months. Kevin Harvick will be joining FOX Sports full-time in the broadcast booth in 2024, adding a second consistent analyst to pair with Bowyer.
In Harvick, FOX Sports will get a driver that has proven to be quite solid in the booth in NASCAR Xfinity and Craftsman Truck series race broadcasts. When Harvick’s in a good mood, he can be very informative, and brings a wealth of knowledge of the Next Gen car with him. I’m looking forward to seeing the 2014 Cup champion up there full-time.
The move effectively makes the entire FOX portion of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule into something of a lame duck year. I’m not a fan of the revolving crew of analysts as it kills chemistry. Of note, Harvick will be doing selected Xfinity and Truck broadcasts on FOX Sports 1 later this year to help him prepare for his full-time gig.
That said, Stewart working Sunday’s race meant FOX had someone that was relatively decent in the booth and has a little bit of experience now with television.
Switching gears, last year FOX Sports seemed to have this thing about showing as many kids as possible on broadcasts. The rationale was likely along the lines of, “Hey, let’s show some families having fun at the races.” FOX Sports went overboard with it, especially at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Sunday saw a return of these tactics, although not to the degree we saw last year. Yes, there’s some merit to it, but once you get past a certain point, it becomes creepy. They passed the creepy mark during the heat races.
Something that I thankfully didn’t have to worry about this year was a complete lack of booth audio. Last year’s broadcast was a complete nightmare to watch due to technical issues.
In regard to the actual racing coverage, there were some problems. The Coliseum is the tightest track on the calendar. For some reason, the production thought that meant they should use the tightest shots, a tactic which doesn’t really work.
Viewers were treated mostly to a series of ultra-tight and low views, camera shots that made it rather difficult to make out the big picture. They had an aerial view available to them but used it maybe once or twice.
In addition, there was a near complete lack of side-by-side replay usage Sunday. I cannot explain why that was the case. Due to that decision, viewers missed incidents live due to being in full-screen replays. Given the quick nature of events in the Coliseum, such a move is inexcusable.
There were also incidents that were outright missed. Once again, L.A. is a quarter-mile track. How do you miss wrecks at an oval that small? Given the quick nature of the event Sunday (Feb. 5), I wasn’t necessarily getting lost, but I felt more in tune watching the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour on YouTube, which was held on a much bigger track.
Sunday was the first race broadcast for the new producer for Cup broadcasts, Chuck McDonald. McDonald is replacing Barry Landis, who has held the producer’s seat since 2007. He comes to FOX NASCAR from the network’s college football coverage. Do I blame the decisions made Sunday solely on McDonald? No, since a lot of the issues present during the Clash broadcast were also an issue without McDonald last year.
Post-race coverage was relatively brief since the broadcast ran long by more than a half-hour. Viewers got interviews with the top-three finishers (Martin Truex Jr., Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch) after the race. FOX did produce an amazing in-car transition shot to Bubba Wallace, collecting his thoughts in the No. 23 Toyota as Dillon both apologized and explained why the two made contact. The incident, which came while they were racing for second, caused the final caution and cost Wallace any shot at the win.
One of the big post-race aspects of the Clash was the introduction of a podium ceremony. But since the race ran so long, FOX left the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum smack in the middle of it.
Even if FOX had stayed for the full podium ceremony, the whole thing looked underwhelming. If NASCAR chooses to do that next year, it’s going to need some revamping, especially since the Cup Series isn’t considered international. This division has only one full-time driver from outside of the United States on the grid.
For an opening act, FOX showed a lot of rust Sunday. They have to get back in the groove, making use of wider camera shots so people can see things. There also needs to be better analysis and consistency coming from the broadcast booth itself.
From now, there are eight days until FOX Sports will be on-air from Daytona International Speedway. In that time, they will have multiple production meetings where they will discuss what to do for Speedweeks. I hope those stress professionalism, dotting i’s and crossing t’s as they get set to kick off their 2023 season in earnest.
That’s all for this week. Next week is the final break before Speedweeks gets underway in Daytona. Racing-wise, you’ll still have some action to watch. The Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park began last night and will run through the night before the Daytona 500. Monster Energy AMA Supercross will be at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, while the Asian Le Mans Series has a doubleheader weekend at Dubai Autodrome. TV listings can be found in the Television menu here.
For next week, we’ll have a full FOX season preview for your pleasure here at Frontstretch. That piece will cover the changes made to the broadcasts for this year personnel-wise and give you an idea of what to expect in Daytona.
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.
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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Excellent critique — as usual. Way too much of the Fox team “antics,” particularly the Stefani appearance, distracted from the race. There was an unsuccessful “move” for the lead during the Stefani chat that was completely ignored. Boyer is consistently weak. It was so noticeable when Logano, Busch, and Harvick appeared.
They sure did forget there was still a race going on, even though it was pretty much determined who would get in at that point. It wasn’t until several minutes after it was over to find out who all got eliminated and who got the provisional.
Welcome back! I always look forward to your perspective.
As far as Fox, what do you expect: Homer Simpson does NASCAR. Mike Joy has no credibility. I did enjoy Boyer and Tony Stewart’s banter and perspective. It also was nice to have Jimmie Johnson in the booth. Joy’s credibility with goes to his induction of Darrell Waltrip in the Hall of Fame when he said Waltrip was one of NASCAR’S most popular drivers. He must have been on some type of Acid Trip when Waltrip was driving, because he was not popular. He only “warmed” to the crowd when he had trouble qualifying, not the Rusty Wallace spin. I was around then and have an outstanding memory. (I hate to admit he was an outstanding driver, just not liked).
They have to do the tight shots to avoid showing a car that didn’t pony up and pay for advertisement.
Poor Kevin Harvick will need to take deep breaths next year, but I am really looking forward to him.
Hopefully, Daytona will improve. I still DVR and listen to the race via radio. MRN is the best.
Is it me or is Clint Bowyer going a little off the deep end with his analysis. I use to like him on the telecast but watching the clash he just irritated me a little. He is a fun guy but they need to focus him a bit more.
Thanks Phil. I have given up watching the pre-race shows because they are so infantile and goofy. It’s nice to see a recap of what I “missed”.
Damn, I wish Bowyer wouldn’t fall into the “buffoon” role so easily (that’s what Waltrip is there for). All in all, a little too much “yuck, yuck, yucking” by all in the booth. Hopefully they will be a little more disciplined come The 500, but I’m not counting on it.
Clint’s act wore thin with me a LOOOOOOONG time ago!! I wish someone had the guts to say to him, “You don’t have to be Clint Bowyer EVERYday of the week!!”
So sorry you had to watch a made up race for TV. NASCAR will never learn will they. Street courses, fake exhibition races, and the like with their all time FU the chase. NASCAR has fallen and it can’t get back up on its own. How sad….