The Toyota/Save Mart 350k Sunday (June 11) marked the 16th and final points race of FOX Sports’ portion of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season. As compared to World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, the race was much calmer with no real technical glitches.
However, it seems FOX has forgotten how to cover a race without stage breaks. Which is something it hasn’t had to do in a meaningful way in a while. Yes, the format was officially introduced at Circuit of the Americas back in March, but it seemed like there was an actual caution around all the stage breaks that weekend. Not so much at Sonoma Raceway.
Sunday’s race was a boon for those who love strategy, the kind of race that a Formula 1 fan would appreciate. The problem is, FOX doesn’t really know how to cover such an event.
When you get a race like this, it tends to be way more boring to watch on TV than it is in person. Especially when it seems like there isn’t much movement. For instance, Austin Cindric is an experienced road racer, yet he spent nearly the entire race between 23rd and 32nd. That said, FOX can’t just rest on its laurels. You have to find the action and bring that action to viewers.
If you do that, you won’t have instances where you have Clint Bowyer all but begging for cautions on live TV. He’ll have his desires for action quenched, even if it isn’t at the very front of the pack.
Speaking of Bowyer, he was rather discombobulated when Denny Hamlin crashed on lap 91, tripping all over himself. That was a mess.
It took quite a while for FOX to get the right angles together to fully show what happened to Hamlin here. But it eventually figured out that he effectively wrecked himself.
It seemed like FOX thought going into the race that it was going to look a little like last year’s race with the primary choice between two or three pit stops when Cup had the stage breaks. Instead, it was a choice between three or four as the pit windows shrank. That and Sonoma is probably overdue for a repave since road courses are used much more than ovals.
FOX had some coverage based on when people would pit, and the two cautions that we actually got Sunday did play into the strategy quite a bit. However, when you have a lot of pit strategy playing into a race, it tends to come at the expense of racing for position.
The vast majority of the coverage Sunday was centered on those up front. You never really heard much from anyone else.
As compared to past Sonoma races, this one was fairly clean, especially early on. When you did have trouble, you saw a quick cut to someone spun out, but you often didn’t get any context as to what happened to cause it. That agitates me more than the average race fan.
An example of this occurred on lap 98 when Aric Almirola got spun out in turn 7 a couple of laps after the final restart. Viewers only saw a brief glimpse of Almirola facing the wrong direction with no one around him. No attempt was made to show what happened. What did happen? Apparently this, according to @Texachev1 on Twitter, who just so happened to be in the turn 7 terrace seating.
A lap later, Josh Bilicki spun out in the same place. The same treatment was given to this incident with no replays. What happened? Basically the same thing.
Ty Dillon finished 23rd on Sunday, which, given the No. 77 team’s performance in 2023, isn’t too terrible. But he point-blank ran over competitors on consecutive laps in the same place. That’s ridiculous and clearly not going to go over very well with his fellow racers. Viewers should have seen this.
Post-race coverage was fairly extensive on FOX since the race ended pretty early by Sonoma standards (it’s the third fastest Cup race by the average speed on the short course, behind 2012 and 2018). That said, it was rather thin on interviews. I suppose everyone was in a hurry to start their vacations. With 30 minutes to work with, FOX should have had more than five interviews.
The rest of the time was spent in the studio in Charlotte, analyzing the race and talking about the rest of the 2023 season, which will air on NBC and USA Network.
Pre-race coverage had a couple of hallmarks for the final race of the year for FOX. You had the Byrnesie Award being presented to Peter Larsson of BSI, who is retiring after over 40 years behind the scenes of motorsports. He came to the United States from Australia as part of a deal that CBS put together to bring Seven Network’s Racecam technology to NASCAR in 1981.
The 1981 Daytona 500 featured the first panning in-car camera shots in an American race broadcast. From there, the technology has expanded substantially to give viewers bumper cams, roof cams, gyro cams and now the driver’s eye that FOX loves oh so much. At the time, it was a great innovation. Over time, it has become overused.
Chris Myers talked with Steve Phelps for a state of the sport address. Here, topics included the use of SMT data in officiating, Easter racing for NASCAR at Bristol Motor Speedway (or not) and the Garage 56 effort at Le Mans. Quite a few topics for a short piece, but not a lot of answers. As a result, I’m somewhat unclear about what’s going on with a number of the topics. The only thing I can say for sure is that NASCAR seems to want to continue to race on Easter but doesn’t know (or Phelps didn’t want to talk about) whether it will be at Bristol or on dirt.
The biggest feature of the show was an interview that Josh Sims conducted with Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace of 23XI Racing and crew chiefs Billy Scott and Bootie Barker. Here we learned a little bit about how Reddick and Wallace work together, how Wallace has improved behind the wheel this year and what the overall potential of 23XI could be.
The takeaway here is that Wallace has worked a little on his own mentality over the past six months or so. He’s clearly still hard on himself, but it isn’t necessarily steam rolling his races anymore. He will need to work on the DNFs, though. He’s got five through 16 races despite being 15th in points.
As for Reddick, he’s keeping up his stats from last year with Richard Childress Racing. While the start of the year wasn’t the best, Reddick really hasn’t lost anything despite the move.
What does the future hold for FOX NASCAR? For 2024, we already know that Kevin Harvick will be joining the broadcast booth for Cup races full time.
As a result, there will no longer be a revolving door of guest analysts on Sundays. That is a relief. The past couple of years have made the importance of a solid group on the broadcast clear. You never know what you’re going to have from week to week. As far as the NASCAR Xfinity or NASCAR Craftsman Truck series broadcasts, I doubt they’ll go away there, even though they probably should.
2023 has been marked by that revolving door and questionable production choices, courtesy of new producer Chuck McDonald. With a half season of NASCAR coverage under his belt, hopefully he has learned what works and what doesn’t. I am expecting improvement next year.
2024 is the final year of the current TV deal for NASCAR. Afterward, there are likely to be substantial changes. What does Mike Joy do? Joy is 73 now and has been working on race broadcasts since the late 1970s. I wouldn’t be surprised if Joy emulated Pat Sajak’s big announcement from Monday and announced sometime in the near future that 2024 will be his last year.
Then again, if he’s still happy doing play-by-play for Cup races, maybe he keeps going beyond 2024. However, things might look a lot different if he does.
That’s all for this week. This upcoming weekend is the one and only off weekend of the year for the Cup Series. The Xfinity and Truck series will also be idle.
But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any action to be had. The NTT IndyCar Series will be at the newly repaved Road America with the Road to Indy series as support. Formula 1 will visit Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal for the Grand Prix of Canada. The ARCA Menards Series travels to Berlin Raceway and SRO America will be at VIRginia International Raceway. Even with no NASCAR racing, it will still be one of the busiest race weekends of the season in terms of the total amount of racing available. TV listings can be found here.
For next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday, we’ll take a look at NBC’s coverage of the Sonsio Grand Prix of Road America for the NTT IndyCar Series. 55 laps of racing at Road America is always interesting, but the recent work on the circuit will throw a curveball. The Critic’s Annex will cover Saturday’s DoorDash 250k.
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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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