Given Phoenix Raceway’s position as the host of the NASCAR Cup Series championship race, the March event weekend takes a high degree of importance. In 2023, it is even more so for Cup Series teams since the new rules for short tracks and road courses debuted. That would lead to a different race.
Races at Phoenix are always a bit of a letdown for a lot of race fans. You don’t always get the constant action that fans crave. It is possible that a couple drivers might end up dominating the affair. That’s what you got Sunday in that Kyle Larson led nearly two-thirds of the race by himself.
However, the new rules package did improve the overall racing product in Phoenix. As compared to the championship race last year, there were nearly 500 more passes under green with only four fewer laps under yellow. The thing is, if you don’t show as much racing for position as you can, viewers are going to get bored. If you try to narrow everything down, that’s going to hurt you.
Sunday actually saw some FOX Sports cross-promotion. Phoenix hosted a NASCAR Invitational bowling competition Friday night at the track (it aired on FOX Sports 1 Sunday immediately prior to NASCAR RaceDay), so we went behind the scenes there. It seemed like everyone was having fun there. I’ll admit to having watched the bowling Sunday afternoon. Let’s put it this way. There was quite the difference between the pros and NASCAR drivers.
On the broadcast itself, FOX made a change to their pylon. For the past couple of years, FOX has had these race status bars that show up every now and then. Sunday saw this integrated into the pylon as a way to show how far into the stages and the race itself we were.
It wasn’t exactly something that I was asking for. Most weeks, it will likely be of limited use. Phoenix is an exception to the rule, though. Sunday’s race had irregular stage lengths (60 laps, then 125 and 127). I don’t understand the rhyme or reason of that set up, but it’s what we have. I can’t see such a graphical setup being of any real use at a more typical race, but for quirkier events, it’ll have a place.
Sunday also saw some more issues with the production being able to keep tabs with the commentators. A couple of laps after the aforementioned pylon enhancement was unveiled, BJ McLeod slowed on the track with what turned out to be an issue with the fuel pump.
Danica Patrick was the first to point out McLeod’s issues, then Mike Joy and Clint Bowyer joined in. We never actually saw any of the track crossing or any of that until McLeod got to turn 1 on the apron. That’s not good. At the same time, they were covering Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who smacked the wall in turn 2. They didn’t notice it, but I did. Shortly afterwards, they showed a replay of Stenhouse’s wall contact that we saw live on the roof cam and didn’t realize that it had happened. Quite simply, this was a rough couple of laps.
The wreck for Aric Almirola was similar, but not quite as bad. Viewers are dependent on the production stuff being able to quickly notice the wreck, determine which camera caught the incident and push the button to switch to that camera. It is a series of decisions that have to be made within a couple of seconds. Most of the time, the production is on these things, but they were a little off the pace Sunday. That said, it is a very high-pressure position to be in, far more than anyone in the broadcast booth.
The commercial mess from the Daytona 500 is still resonating on FOX’s Cup broadcasts. You’ve probably noticed Joy making reference to “the last full screen commercial break under green” the last couple of weeks and so on. It appears that he’s taken a lot of the criticism that came out of Daytona International Speedway to heart. On a near daily basis, I see Joy defending himself and the broadcasts on Twitter against a bunch of jamokes that are going after him on that front and other issues. On Monday, Joy wrote this to a Twitter user.
Ouch. I know I wouldn’t want to wake up Monday after a late flight back to North Carolina to find that waiting for me.
The whole situation bites. Joy has been involved with race broadcasts on TV or radio since before my parents even met in 1980. I feel that Joy is getting a lot of criticism these days, and at least some of it is not warranted. He’s not to blame for the production decisions. If anything, he’s trying to help things along to make it better.
I do think that he’s starting to slip a little, and I’m sure that he’s not happy about that. It’s not like he doesn’t prepare for broadcasts. He has an entire office full of notes from over the years that he can go to whenever he wants, plus all the new stuff he gets every week. Trust me, there is a lot of work that goes into these broadcasts that you never see. He likely reads every bit of information he gets.
The crutch of what this Twitter user stated to Joy is that he should retire from broadcasting. Do I think that should be the case right now? No. I don’t think Joy should have to walk away right now if he doesn’t want to.
Joy still has a lot of good left in him in his current play-by-play role. However, FOX Sports’ moves over the past couple of years are definitely looking towards the future. At 73, Joy won’t be around forever. They have to plan accordingly.
That is why you’ve seen FOX Sports elevate Jamie Little into a play-by-play role, first with the ARCA Menards Series in 2021, and now with selected NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races. Vince Welch was likely also in the conversation, but they decided not to renew his deal after last year.
I feel like if 2023 were going to be Joy’s last year in the booth, we probably would know that already. A more natural time to leave would be the end of FOX’s portion of next season. 2024 is the final year of the current TV deal that dates back to 2015. That said, we already know that Kevin Harvick is going to join the broadcast next season full-time. Perhaps that might rejuvenate Joy since he’s had to spend the past year and change with near constant change in the booth.
For what’s it worth, if Joy were to retire, Adam Alexander would likely get the Cup play-by-play job right now. He has previous Cup experience with TNT and seems to be on the upswing at the moment. I don’t see that happening soon.
With Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson dominating the race so much, there were very few chances to see battles for the lead. Byron passed Larson on lap 2. The next one didn’t happen until the final 50 laps. It just so happened during the race’s lone Crank it Up segment.
Unlike commercial breaks, I don’t believe that Crank It Up is specifically scheduled each week. It’s not sponsored, so they can put it wherever they want. During the segment, Harvick ran down and passed Larson for the lead. Bowyer chose to unilaterally end the segment to talk about the lead change. I think it was a good move, but just having the segment there was a bad idea in the first place.
At this point, I think Crank It Up may have outlived its usefulness. In 2001, it was a novel concept since surround sound was a rarity and HDTVs existed but were extremely expensive. Now, it’s par for the course. It definitely shouldn’t detract from the actual racing.
Post-race coverage was about average. Viewers got to see interviews with the top five finishers (Byron, Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick, Larson and Harvick) and the latest edition of Denny Hamlin wanting payback on Ross Chastain.
Overall, I felt that Sunday’s broadcast made the race seem a little more boring than it actually was. Not good. To draw viewers in, you need to make the racing look exciting. If you’re gluing yourself to the very front for much of the day, it’s going to be hard to do that.
Sunday was also Patrick’s last race in the FOX booth for the year. They did not state who was going to be in the booth for upcoming Cup races. I suppose we’ll have to find that out later this week.
Next weekend is very busy in the world of motorsports. NASCAR has a tripleheader at Atlanta Motor Speedway with the Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. In Sebring International Raceway, you have the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, which will be headlined by the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. They’ll be joined by most of IMSA’s support classes, plus the FIA World Endurance Championship. Finally, you have Formula 1 making their third visit to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. TV listings can be found here.
We will have critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex will cover Saturday’s United Rentals 200 and Friday night’s ARCA race from Phoenix, where we encountered stupid moves, Austin Cindric sneaking one in, and a first-time winner.
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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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