Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Doubles on Fight Coverage & Benefits

Intermediate tracks in the NASCAR Cup Series have been real problem children in recent years. The on-track product really hasn’t been all that great in recent years.  Sunday was the exception to that rule.

Up until the checkered flag, Sunday’s AdventHealth 400 would have been best remembered for the on-track product.  It was a breath of fresh air.

Then shenanigans went down once again as Noah Gragson was angry with Ross Chastain after the race. After Gragson grabbed Chastain, Chastain retaliated.

See also
5 Points to Ponder: Let Them Fight?

FOX Sports was sitting pretty when it happened. Prior to the race, it spent a decent amount of time on NASCAR RaceDay rehashing Chastain’s previous runs-in and how it could affect him going forward. His track record has already caused issues this year as Sunday’s (May 7) winner Denny Hamlin copped a 25-point penalty after Phoenix for admitting on Actions Detrimental that he tried to intentionally wreck him, thus committing, well, actions detrimental.

The whole issue between Chastain and Gragson on lap 202 was really benign; this whole stupid confrontation shouldn’t have happened. I know that I wouldn’t have embarrassed myself and my whole family in front of thousands of people at the track and millions on TV like they did.  It’s just that Chastain is so hated among his peers that this was inevitable. For all I know, it’ll happen Sunday in Darlington Raceway as well, just with someone else.

I’ve seen a number of pieces on the internet recently that claim that Chastain is the next Dale Earnhardt. He’s not. He might, however, be the next Ernie Irvan, someone who is really good behind the wheel and, at his best, could beat anyone. Also, Irvan was someone that ticked off his peers to such a degree that he ended up having to give an apology speech at the driver’s meeting prior to the 1991 DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway after he wiped out Hut Stricklin (and half a dozen others) while racing for the lead at Pocono Raceway.

I could foresee something along these lines coming for Chastain in the near future. 

On the broadcast, this fight occurred while Kyle Larson was being interviewed.  It seems like Josh Sims’ monitor was close enough that Larson was able to see the fight live and completely lost his train of thought. Almost all of the confrontation was aired live while Clint Bowyer had serious trouble keeping his mouth shut during the interview.

In regard to the fight, no, FOX Sports didn’t predict it happening, but it set it up enough during the day that the idea of this going down wasn’t far-fetched. 

Kurt Busch was in the broadcast booth Sunday as a guest analyst. In Busch, you have someone who has worked on a number of NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series broadcasts over the past couple of years. He was quite comfortable with what he was going to discuss and integrated himself into the broadcast more easily than any other guest analyst.

Since Busch is a former teammate of Bowyer’s at Stewart-Haas Racing, the two of them have a preexisting rapport. They work well together and that brings out the best in Bowyer. Just last week, we talked about bringing Bowyer into a more substantial role on the broadcast is beneficial. Rusty Wallace was able to do that in Dover.

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: Rusty Wallace Makes Good Contributions in Dover

What we’ve seen over the past couple of years is that there’s no substitute for overall experience and/or chemistry in the broadcast booth. If you don’t have at least one of those, it’s going to make for a long day.

If you don’t have it, you’re going to have a situation where there’s no emotion coming from the booth. That situation could make even the most exciting race look boring and that’s bad for the sport.

The overall racing product Sunday was fast and furious, almost from the very start of the race. Larson ended up being the odd man out after getting spun out while racing Chastain for the lead by Tyler Reddick.

The only period of time during the race where anyone got away was during the long run between the Larson spin and the end of stage one. That was when Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. ran away from the pack.

During the rest of the race, you had quite a bit of on-track racing. There was a good amount of split-screen coverage of battles, more than enough for viewers to know that there was a lot to offer.

There was one bad production choice, though. At one point, a three-wide battle for position was shown between Chastain, Reddick and Ty Gibbs, but you wouldn’t have known it unless Mike Joy mentioned it. The battle was being shown from the bumper cam on Chastain’s Chevrolet.

The stats back it up. There were 67.6% more green-flag passes than last year’s race, despite 10 fewer laps under green. There were also 37 lead changes, 11 more than any previous race at Kansas.  

During the broadcast, it was noted that Sunday’s race was the most competitive intermediate race ever. Something like that is rather difficult to quantify, especially since loop data hasn’t been around for that long. There are a number of older intermediate races that had more lead changes. For example, there are at least six 400-mile races at Michigan International Speedway that had more than 37 lead changes, including one with 65 back in 1981.

That said, there were a couple of things that were interesting. For instance, Sunday saw a return of the wheel issues that plagued a good chunk of last season. Gibbs and Chase Briscoe had issues getting their wheels attached. Austin Cindric had a wheel break.

I’m unsure about what happened with the Cindric crash, and the booth seemed to be as well. He ended up hitting the wall hard exiting the tri-oval. In that situation, it was difficult to figure out if the tire blew to put him in the wall, or if the wheel broke.

The whole sawing through the wheel is something that I’ve only seen in IMSA once for sure since the Grand-Am/ALMS merger. That happened to Kenny Habul in Detroit back in 2017. 

I have no idea what would cause it, but it is something that FOX Sports should look into. Larry McReynolds would do well to tear into that.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief since the broadcast ran long and the USFL game between the Birmingham Stallions and Pittsburgh Maulers that was supposed to start at 6:30 p.m. ET got pushed to FOX Sports 2. Viewers only got a couple of interviews and the aforementioned fight before leaving for Canton, Ohio.

Given everything that went on Sunday in Kansas, I would have liked more time. Then again, I knew going in that only three-and-a-half hours were allotted for the race broadcast.  Even with fewer than 11 cautions, it was going to be tight. There were plenty of stories that should have gotten more attention post-race that got none. Examples include William Byron coming back from two laps down to finish third and Bubba Wallace continuing his good form on intermediate tracks with a fourth-place finish.

Still, Sunday’s Kansas broadcast was quite enjoyable to watch. It seemed like the drivers were more aggressive than normal, which resulted in more passing. All of the work that’s gone into the Next Gen car recently hasn’t been designed to improve the intermediate product, so as teams are getting used to the car, things are going better.

FOX Sports needs to show the complete picture, though. Bumper cams can only show so much. Because of that, they should be used sparingly.

This weekend at Darlington Raceway should be interesting with four guest analysts. Like many of you, I’m looking forward to Carl Edwards being in the booth during stage two. 

See also
Carl Edwards in FOX Booth at Darlington for Cup Race

Back when ESPN was still airing NASCAR races, Edwards worked on a number of broadcasts for the NASCAR Xfinity Series and seemed to really like it. Also, since he retired, Sunday might be the third Cup that he’s attended.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is shaping up to be ultra-busy. NASCAR has a tripleheader for the national series at Darlington with throwback vibes. Meanwhile, the NTT IndyCar Series will be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the GMR Grand Prix, while IMSA will be at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. TV listings can be found here.

Next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch will cover the Cup and Xfinity series races in Darlington. The Critic’s Annex will cover Saturday night’s Heart of America 200 from Kansas.

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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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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janice

if kyle petty is tied to nbc, how come he’s doing fox booth? possibly that he’s not a booth person? if they can cross over i’m surprised that fox hasn’t tried to get the anointed one, dale jr.

DoninAjax

Maybe? FOX wanted Jr. in the booth for the extra viewers. I wonder what they paid for the privilege?

janice

of course they did. as i call the JR factor.

Rg72

This isn’t entirely unusual. I believe Matt Yocum worked the pits for both Fox and NBC in the early 2000s. Also seem to remember Larry McReynolds on the TNT broadcasts 10-15 years ago.

DoninAjax

FOX seems to want to cover anything except what is happening on the track. Gotta give the Toyota Camry TuRD pace car more screen time than some drivers.

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