Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Bids Farewell to Cup for 2023 at Sonoma

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.

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Sports Deals with Infrastructure, Brake Rotor Issues

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.

See also
Kevin Harvick Joining FOX Sports Booth in 2024

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.

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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19 Comments
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janice

i still can’t believe there’s no race on father’s day but they can race on easter and mother’s day.

Kevin in SoCal

100% in agreement.

Bill B

I’d like to think that coverage will be better with NBC but, from what I’ve seen, you just trade one set of issues with FOX for another set with NBC.

janice

just a different bunch of clowns. nbc won’t have guest clowns at least.

Kurt Smith

Any network > Fox since 2001.

Last edited 11 months ago by Kurt Smith
Jeff H

I’m going to grip about the upcoming FOX truck series coverage, since NBC will not be taking this over. Why can’t FOX send more than the pit road reporters to the track? The “booth” coverage from a studio is way sub par. NASCAR should mandate they send a full crew to these races.

Bill B

“Why can’t FOX send more than the pit road reporters to the track?”

Come on, you know the answer to that question before you asked….
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

janice

that all started from covid. then they figured it would save money. it’s all about the dollar!

Bill W.

Somebody said that Mikey will go for free as long as they put a mic. in his hand.

Icehips

I wish there was a way to tighten the field up. Some of these races they get strung out … who wants a watch a race where it looks like cars are social distancing they’re so far apart. When they do a through a field and it’s the top 20, that means nothing is going on & we have to talk about something… I don’t think the top 10 changed much except pit stops …this race could’ve used stages just to tighten them up a few times.

Jim

I had so many thoughts about FOX during Sunday’s race. First, I thought Jamie McMurray was so much better than any performance from Boyer. Boyer was embarrassing too many times on Sunday. Second, could there be any bigger waste of even a minute or two for Waltrip’s grid walk? So stupid! Third, I’m getting bored by and honestly distracted by Mike Joy’s trivia. It adds nothing to the race, particularly when there are so many drivers being ignored. Finally, I’ve actually enjoyed many (most?) of the guest drivers so I don’t like the idea that’s disappearing. I also suspect that Harvick is going to actually highlight Boyer’s weaknesses.

WD

Totally agree , Boyer has gone down the DW path , lost at times with nothing solid to contribute , Mike Joy has to contribute the trvia to sustain the air time when Bowyer has nothig to add . As for Mikey , we all have a sell by date and his has passed

Kurt Smith

One thing I won’t miss with Fox is the cartoon picture of the driver obscuring the results of a stage, which we very often never even hear. I also go insane when Fox cuts away from green flag racing for some idiotic “cutaway car” segment.

When TNT covered races they did a great job. Allen Bestwick, in my opinion, is still the best play-by-play guy that covered NASCAR. They also did their “Through The Field” segment where they told you what was going on with the first 20 or so drivers. It gave every driver some coverage and you weren’t constantly seeing the leader or what Corey LaJoie is doing.

Last edited 11 months ago by Kurt Smith
Shayne

Keep doing the same old thing, keep getting the same old results. Same old cliches, same lame jokes, same old excuses.

It’s like a 12 year old is in-charge of the NASCAR creative writer’s guild. There’s a good 2 hours a network could save by doing away with the inane fluff pieces, playing dress-up, and generally wasting most of our time.

gbvette

I’m not sure Fox has “forgotten how to cover a race without stage breaks”, I don’t think they’ve ever been very good at covering races, especially when they’re on a road course. They’ve always spent to much time showing the leader, and still haven’t figured out that a race isn’t over when the winner crosses the finish line. Why they can’t show the rest of the field finishing the race (or at least the top 10), instead of the winner’s pit crew jumping up and down, is beyond me. I like Mike Joy, but I think it’s time for him to join DW in retirement.

It’s hard for me to say this, but the LeMans broadcast was so bad that it (almost) made me wish Fox was covering it. Then when I thought it couldn’t get worse, while talking about the Garage 56 entry after the race, one of the idiots on the broadcast had to add a boogity-boogity-boogity! I think even the old abbreviated ABC Wide World of Sports racing coverage might have been better then what I saw on Motor Trend.

SB

Totally agree about LeMans coverage. I begin to suspect the announcers were hired by Ferrari to cover only the Hyper car entries, emphasis on the prancing horse. Even if the camera accidentally focussed on another class of cars, the booth just kept nattering about Hyper cars. Never been so disappointed in the coverage, and left so in the dark about the entire field.

DoninAjax

At least a Toy didn’t win at Le Mans. I got sick of the Toyota logos that kept getting shown on Sunday.

Mr Yeppers

McMurray is easily the best commentator on Fox

Tish

I still do not like the Saturday night races being switched to Sunday night. I, along with many of my friends, really miss getting together on a Saturday night and not having to worry about being tired at work the next day. And what about the fans that go to the tracks? If a race gets rained out and postponed for Monday a lot of fans really get the short end of the stick not being able to stay an extra day. My father was a huge Nascar fan, and if he were still here today, I’m sure he would be very disappointed.

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