Welcome to my 16th season of TV commentary at Frontstretch. This year, we’re going to have more race broadcast critiques, along with some TV interviews. Recently in Daytona, I sat down with NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey and had a 20-minute conversation with him. I also had the opportunity to talk to James Hinchcliffe about his TV work. Look for pieces on those interviews as we get closer to the NTT IndyCar Series season opener next month in St. Petersburg.
This week, we’re talking about the first FOX NASCAR broadcast of 2024. The Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum could have been a complete nightmare. The Pineapple Express storm that is still hitting Los Angeles as this column is being written was correctly forecast to wreak havoc on the original schedule for the event. As a result, NASCAR moved the race up a day.
When this was announced, I thought NASCAR had violated the terms of its TV deal by doing this. Moving the race itself up wouldn’t have done so, but moving on such short notice could have. My previous understanding is that such a move would have required 24 hours’ notice to the new scheduled start time (if prior to the original start time), meaning NASCAR would have needed to make the move on Friday.
I suppose this situation could be described as force majeure as had the move not been made, NASCAR would have been trying to run both races on Thursday, assuming there isn’t damage to the local area. That is, if they didn’t call off the whole weekend permanently.
Regardless of the situation, FOX Sports 1 was ready to go at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Saturday night (Feb. 3) to unveil its newest permanent broadcast booth, with Kevin Harvick joining Mike Joy and Clint Bowyer. I am very happy that FOX has finally dispensed with the guest analysts (for the NASCAR Cup Series, at least) and created a setup where chemistry can actually exist.
In Harvick, FOX gets a recently retired driver who already has dozens of races worth of booth experience from his guest analyst work over the past nine seasons. Unlike Bowyer, Harvick has raced the Next Gen car for the past two years and can bring a lot of insight to the broadcast that wouldn’t have been there.
In addition, Harvick can help keep Bowyer focused on the task at hand. I’ve previously taken a page from South Park’s Mr. Mackey and described Bowyer’s on-air behavior at times as “skylarking.” By that, I mean he tends to say a bunch of random stuff at times that has nothing to do with the race. He also tends to get bored on air, which never looks good.
Saturday saw Harvick bring in a lot of outside knowledge to the broadcast, such as the splitting of braking that resulted in only one front wheel on the car having glowing rotors instead of both. Previously, most of the know how in regards to the Next Gen cars has come from Larry McReynolds, who isn’t even on site most of the time, to the broadcast’s detriment.
The dozens of races as a guest analyst means Harvick knows his way around the broadcast booth to a certain degree now. While those races weren’t Cup races, a lot of the same planning and skill comes into play for NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series broadcasts. As a result, Harvick didn’t come into his new job cold; rather, he arrived with on-the-job experience and knows how to put his thoughts out there.
Bowyer was in a position where things were a little more structured. He could chip in more with constructive information and doesn’t have to freelance as much. That will make him a better analyst. The interplay between Harvick and Bowyer was the best part of the broadcast.
That said, the telecast was far from perfect. Look no further than the end of the race. On the final lap, Bubba Wallace got spun in turn 4. He was still credited with 12th (despite never officially finishing the race, confusingly enough).
You could not tell on the broadcast who got into Wallace. I thought that it was Alex Bowman. Later on, Ryan Pistana found some footage that indicated that it was Kyle Larson who was to be blame. Second incident in just a couple of minutes for him.
Were viewers aware of these incidents? Yes, but only because Joy told viewers about them. We never got any good video of either incident.
This is not a good start to the 2024 season for FOX. You have your play-by-play announcer stating where the trouble is and what is going on, and you’re not providing the pictures. It’s one thing to outright not have the visuals, but I don’t believe that was the case; instead, FOX had them and chose not to show it.
Also, you have replays at your disposal, but FOX chose not to use them here. I just don’t understand why that happened. If I had a lot of hair (I don’t), I would have been pulling it out Saturday night. I shouldn’t be this frustrated before the season officially starts.
In regards to the tempers Saturday night, there were similar issues the rest of the night. FOX caught some of it, like the Michael McDowell–Ricky Stenhouse Jr. bumping under caution, but not all. The argument that Frontstretch caught between Joey Logano and Ty Gibbs happened after the broadcast would have wrapped.
Post-race coverage was relatively brief. There were interviews shown with the top two finishers (Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch). There was also what looked like a setup where Regan Smith was going to interview Ryan Blaney, who came from the rear to finish third. I think I would have liked to see that. However, FOX didn’t air it. Before they broke away, Blaney apparently alleged that Hamlin jumped the final restart.
It seemed like FOX was in a rush to get off the air. The race ultimately aired during the time slot that the heat races were originally going to air in. However, it was trying to get out of Los Angeles quick so it could get to the Xavier-DePaul men’s college basketball game.
Even with the small amount of time allotted for post-race coverage (a couple of minutes or so), FOX could have aired a replay or two (full screen or side-by-side) instead of focusing on Hamlin just sitting there, doing nothing.
Harvick had a great full-time debut. His presence gives Bowyer someone to bounce things off of and keep him on track. He can also help Joy out with his knowledge.
It’s still very early, but Harvick will be just fine in his new role. Admittedly, I’ve been fairly positive on Harvick in the broadcast booth ever since he made his guest analyst debut at Daytona International Speedway in 2015. Whether he truly finds it fulfilling is still a bit of an unknown.
The production still leaves something to be desired. The first half of the Clash and most of the King Taco La Batalla en el Coliseo for the NASCAR Mexico Series that followed the Clash was just fine to watch with decent racing for position. The second half of the Clash just saw a bunch of missed aspects of the race. The finish was by far the most frustrating part of the night.
Next week in Daytona, I sincerely hope that things are different. FOX will have five days of coverage from there and needs to put its best foot forward.
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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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