Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Just Doesn’t Show the Goods in Bristol

On paper, covering an event at Bristol Motor Speedway shouldn’t really be all that difficult. It’s a half-mile oval. You can place cameras all over the place and cover it like the laser beams in the diamond vault in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

Evidently, at least when it comes to FOX Sports, that’s not actually the case.

Food City Dirt Race

If one were to take one major thing away from FOX’s coverage from the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track last weekend, it would likely be that the track surface was the best that it’s been for Bristol’s three NASCAR dirt weekends to this point.

I’m probably not going to argue with that. Drivers had options, both on Saturday and Sunday. It was good to see. Tony Stewart (back in the booth just for this week before returning to his NHRA duties next weekend in Las Vegas) in particular gave Bristol Motor Speedway on-air dap. He’d know what makes a good racing surface since he’s spent significant time over the years creating one at Eldora Speedway.

In a TV context, that’s swell. However, there’s more that needs to be focused on.

Back after Daytona International Speedway, I talked about how FOX has a new head producer for NASCAR Cup Series broadcasts this year in Chuck McDonald.

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: Commercials and Poor Production Hurt Daytona 500 Broadcast

McDonald comes from a football background, a place where it’s pretty rare for notable things to happen outside of the general camera shot unless it involves something in the stands. Of course, McDonald’s point race debut didn’t go all that well as fans went nuts over the commercial breaks.

I already gave my piece about the commercials in the aforementioned Daytona critique. Quite simply, they’re a necessary evil.

What has continued to be an issue is the production just being slow to react to issues on the track. That is bad in all forms of auto racing and it was a serious issue on Sunday.

One example was on lap 96 when Daniel Suarez spun out and Joey Logano got collected. I’m not really sure what happened here, but Logano’s rear suspension broke, putting him out of the race. Suarez was able to continue but finished down the order.

The most blatant example of the slow reaction was when Michael McDowell had his second 360 on lap 99. You heard the booth call the spin and McDowell’s recovery, but viewers saw diddly squat of it. In fact, we didn’t see it at all until the next caution.

Here’s the thing, if the booth wasn’t noticing everything that was going on and wasn’t trying to help the production to the best of their ability, that would be one thing. It could be construed as some kind of overarching funk at all levels.

Here, Mike Joy is trying to save your hindquarters, and it’s like you’re not quick enough on the draw, or you’re not listening at all. C’mon, now. Stuff like this is making FOX’s broadcasts so agitating to watch this season.

At times, it felt like the commentary for the race was on PRN since the booth would often talk about things that we couldn’t see. Perhaps FOX needs to have more meetings to put itself on the same page or McDonald needs to follow the rhythm of his booth a little more closely.

Last week, we looked at NBC’s broadcast of the PPG 375 from Texas Motor Speedway. It can serve as a substantial contrast to what you saw Sunday.

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: NBC and IndyCar Have Fun in Texas

Both the Cup race in Bristol and the NTT IndyCar Series race had good action, but if something went down, you could count on NBC’s broadcast getting to the issue at hand quickly. On FOX, not so much.

Sunday’s race was likely the calmer of the two features in Bristol, but the same issue more or less applies to both races. There was some much discussion of how great the track was and the racing and so on and so forth. The longest run under green Sunday was 28 laps. On Saturday, it was 11 laps. You couldn’t really do much before someone wiped out.

Which also brings up NASCAR’s change in officiating mid-race Sunday. After a series of early incidents, NASCAR made the decision to either wait to throw cautions, or not throw them at all. The decision likely changed the outcome of the race for a number of drivers.

The booth (especially Joy) picked up on this and seemed a little confused about it. When it comes to calls like these, the teams want NASCAR to be consistent. It was anything but. It was literal guesswork when a yellow would come out. Knowing that we wouldn’t necessarily even see what was causing these issues in the first place made it worse.

When the season started, I wanted to give McDonald some time to settle into producing NASCAR broadcasts, knowing how different it is from college football or the NFL. At this point, McDonald should have his sea legs. Unfortunately, he hasn’t picked up the speed that he really needs to be an effective NASCAR producer.

Let’s face it, auto racing is likely the toughest sport to broadcast on television since so much is going on. Nine race weekends isn’t all that much time to get used to it, but it is enough time to pick up on trends. They’re not good so far. McDonald needs to pick up his game.

This is the 15th year that I’ve been critiquing race broadcasts for Frontstretch. I don’t really recall being quite this frustrated with what FOX is offering viewers as far as race broadcasts go.

Weather Guard Truck Race on Dirt

Saturday saw the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race for 150 laps on the dirt in Bristol. It was basically a series of sprints in between incidents, as everyone just couldn’t keep it together.

Unlike Sunday’s race, there were a lot more issues with cut tires on Saturday. Unlike the last two years, Truck teams were racing with dirt radial tires. Usually, radial tires would be less susceptible to cuts as compared to bias-ply tires. I guess that there were a series of instances of bad luck.

Here, you had a different broadcast booth in play (Adam Alexander, Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip) but a number of the same issues. The discussion of the high quality of the racing surface was even more pervasive than during the Cup race. That’s nice and all, but jeepers, it’s not like we really got to see much of it.

This was a race with 66 of the 150 laps run under caution and an average speed under 40 mph. It’s hard for anyone to take you seriously when you talk about the racing product when there’s barely any of it on offer because the drivers can’t mind their Ps and Qs.

In practice, much of the coverage was centered on the front of the field. However, Joey Logano pretty much had that covered. He led all but 12 laps on Saturday. He got to the lead on the second lap and only gave it up afterward when he made his one pit stop at the end of stage one. Once the race restarted, it took only 11 laps for Logano to move past Matt DiBenedetto and retake the lead. Only Ty Majeski could hang with him all night.

My takeaway of the on-track product Saturday was that it was really hard to pass anybody. Once Logano in the lead, no one was getting him. What really allowed drivers to move up the order were the wrecks. That’s how drivers like Jake Garcia got up to sixth and Tanner Gray to eighth.

Meanwhile, the top three finishers (Logano, Majeski and William Byron) were the top three drivers at the end of all three stages. It seems crazy that such a thing could be possible, but it happened.

The commentary for this race made the event seem a lot different from what it really was. It was really a wreckfest that wasn’t all that competitive. In practice, it came off on FOX Sports 1 as an ultra-competitive showcase for Bristol on dirt. It’s like it was trying to convey a specific kayfabe for this event. (In professional wrestling, kayfabe refers to “reality, as it is being presented.”)

That is not the job of a motorsport broadcaster. We’re not supposed to be dealing with fake and/or scripted reality. Their job is to bring you the real action with the pictures to accompany it. Cover what you see and explain it properly. Don’t try to spin what you’re seeing off as something else.

That’s all for this week. With Easter complete, we have a busy weekend of racing. NASCAR has a tripleheader at Martinsville Speedway for all three of its national-level series. IndyCar will be in Long Beach for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship on the undercard. Finally, the FIA World Endurance Championship travels to Portugal for six hours of racing in Portimao. TV listings can be found here.

We will have critiques of at least the NASCAR Cup and NASCAR Xfinity series races at Richmond Raceway in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.

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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DoninAjax

So FOX got a director of football games to take charge of NA$CAR Cup telecasts. I guess someone told him the Daytona 500 was the “Super Bowl” of racing and he figured he could do it. The networks don’t want to hire anyone who has a clue about racing. Would FOX put Tony Stewart in the booth as an analyst for a NFL game?

The Cup event on Sunday starts at 3:00 local time on the East Coast and noon local time. The IndyCar race telecast on Sunday starts at 12:30 local time on the West Coast and 3:30 local time on the East Coast.

Am I wrong or is Sunday’s event 400 laps? I wonder if NA$CAR dropped the price of tickets!

janice

you’re not serious about dropping price of tickets? i remember when they dropped dover to 400 miles and even recently atlanta….nope reduction in price. they want your money.

Tom B

Dover needed to be dropped to 400 miles. That race use to take almost 5 hours to run at 500 miles.
I think NASCAR could fill more seats if they dropped their prices.

janice

oh i know i used to attend dover, both races. i think one year only 3 cars were on the lead lap when it was over.

Bill B

Yep,,, Labonte, Martin and Gordon. I was there that day. I’m guessing it was 2000 because Labonte won the championship that year and won the race that day.

DoninAjax

I was being sarcastic. I bet they raised the prices!

kb

I found it really hard to find out what happened to drivers that were involved in a mix up or a wreck. My God, it is Bristol how hard is camera coverage? Bad all the way around. Also no mention is the Chris Myers segment “Kidden With Chris”, on race day. Featured were two toddlers and the egg coloring, cute as hell. In the mix was Cash Bowyer, the kid was a freaking brat smashing an egg on Chris’s shirt. Chris handled it well. We were watching with a WTF moment. Sorry bad parenting by Clint and Lara. It wasn’t cute or funny to us who were watching. RESPECT YOUR ELDERS is missed these days. CLINT BOWYER OR NOT! IMO.

Last edited 1 year ago by kb
janice

when i saw cash bowyer and his behavior i thought “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. just seeing that child leaves the impression that he’s’ a handful.

i’ve given up with “respect your elders”…..i don’t even want to imagine what this child is like in school. i know brexton busch is homeschooled.

DoninAjax

Like father, like son?

kb

Amen, that really shocked me and pissed me off. If that was my child, oh hell no. And it seems the post incident was used as a funny talking point to Clint on air, he laughed about it. For the sake of being on Tv. If it was my kid, I would have made him apologize to Chris live or taped. His wife and Clint failed and seemed to think it was “cute”/

Christopher

As far as journalists not supposed to be presenting scripted reality:
No one in the Fox booth is a journalist. Fox long ago gave up any pretense of objective commentary, acting more like a NASCAR shill than a broadcaster. This season they caved to the RTA with the ridiculous pixelated digital dash views. A real broadcaster would have told the RTA to get lost, since they have no contract with the RTA. Every truck race is a festival of cringe commentary from Parsons and Waltrip, including in every race how this or that driver is improving (while on their way to a finish somewhere between 15th and 30th). Fox is absolutely out of gas as a NASCAR broadcaster. I find myself muting the broadcast and just watching the chyrons to see what car is where, so bad is the booth.

sb

Making this race sound exciting is like putting lipstick on a pig.

Jill P

The truck race coverage has been terrible for some time now. It’s like an afterthought. They are unbearable to watch. It’s common to have almost half the race under caution and a GWC finish.

jim

Every week Fox is terrible. Mike Joy is out of place and can only speak with cliches.

Tom B

How about Tony’s rope (noose) remark when they showed the Choose Drone? Even Boyer had no response. I wonder what McDonald thought about that?

janice

oh how i long for the days of espn coveage, with bob jenkins, benny parsons and ned jarrett.

i think clint bowyer’s broadcasting expiration date is approaching. would had been interesting to see how the booth would had been with joy, stewart and kurt busch.

i swear that last caution period could had ended a lap or two earlier to give us more than, what 5, green flag laps? i think they were “running the clock out” to get it over with.

Christopher

I certainly hope Bowyer is nearing his expiration date in the booth. He is insufferable. Kurt Busch is excellent and would be a good add to Harvick. Mike Joy needs to retire; would really like to see Alan Bestwick return to NASCAR broadcasting and replace Joy.

Bill B

I hope FOX doesn’t win the next contract. It seems like they aren’t even interested in covering the race anymore. I see no hope only more of the same. At least if we get a different network there is hope.

Jim Roache

JHR55, I Think Phil’s comments are spot on. Fox seems to Motorsports are like a football game. All you have to do is focus your attention 3 things the Quarterback, Running back and the Wide Receiver. Often the best racing is from 3rd place back. Attend an Open Wheel Event in person and your will pay initially attention to the leaders, then you will quickly looks what is going on in the pack, especially if you have a driver you like is racing in the pack you will enjoy the pack racing. My complaint is TV Motorsports coverage is only on the leaders, not where your favorite driver is in the field. Some of the best racing you will ever see is in the pack. I understand the need to show the leaders, but I would like to see the pack and a streamer board that showed the positions of the drivers in the pack of the group they are showing. With today’s technology they should be able to give us “Racing Fans who have followed a driver from the short tracks to NASCAR a little taste of what is going in the whole field, at least 2-3 times per race, I would prefer more, but I do not want to be greedy. Hope this convey’s some of the of us lifelong “RACING FANS”.

jhrwin55@gmail.com

Old School

The sound man is just as annoying as the director. They spend big $ to hire those announcers and he thinks it’s more important to override them with the engine noise. He should also mute the engine sounds when they are replaying the radio chatter.

Kurt Smith

When I think of the broadcast of this event, the glaring thing that sticks out to me was how many wide angle shots we saw of Bristol grandstands that were close to 3/4 empty. This place went 55 straight races without failing to sell a ticket. NASCAR never used to let the networks show clear evidence of their dwindling audience. I wonder if that was on purpose Sunday for whatever reason, because we saw it a lot, and I remember we never used to see those wide angle shots.

NASCAR may claim that the TV money is the most important thing, and that may be true, but it can’t not hurt to be losing so much revenue from ticket sales, gear sales, concessions, all of that. I’m sure I could retire after one event if they handed me that till.

Last edited 1 year ago by Kurt Smith
wildcats2016

I tried watching the truck race. I simply could not get interested. As far as the Cup race, well that was a mess too. As you say, the booth was calling the action, the producer should have been paying attn AND it’s a short track for heaven’s sakes, not like Daytona or Talladega that is huge.

Very disappointing.

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