This weekend is the official start of the 2024 NASCAR season. For FOX Sports, it will be its 24th year of NASCAR coverage and the 21st time that it has been at Daytona International Speedway to air live coverage of the Daytona 500. As you know, there is a major addition to the booth this year.
The Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, as ridiculous as the weekend turned out to be due to the incoming heavy rains, marked the full-time broadcast booth debut for Kevin Harvick. Last week, I wrote about how he did a decent job and brought a new dimension to the broadcast booth.
This week, we’re going to look back a bit at how we’ve gotten to this point with Harvick in the booth. As noted in last week’s column, Harvick’s first race in the booth was as a guest analyst during the 2015 Alert Today Florida 300 at Daytona. As you may remember, that race was infamous for the crash on lap 112 where Kyle Busch went hard into the unprotected concrete wall and broke his leg.
As far as debut races go, superspeedway races can be all over the place. They can be really easy or really hard. Harvick did quite well in his debut.
Also of note, the race was FOX Sports’ first time intentionally covering the series since 2006. 2015 was the first year of NASCAR’s current TV deal, which brought the NASCAR Xfinity Series back in with the NASCAR Cup Series deal. The previous TV contract from 2007-2014 had the Xfinity Series covered nearly exclusively on ESPN2 with select events on either ESPN or ABC. There were a couple of exceptions to that rule over the years, but nearly all of the races for eight years, including the standalone events, were on ESPN2.
I’m generally unsure if the guest analyst plan was the original plan for Xfinity broadcasts that year. At the time everything was coming together, Steve Byrnes was still in the middle of his cancer battle and the hope likely was that he would have been involved in some way. However, Byrnes took what ended up being a permanent leave of absence in October 2014. That led to a scramble, not just for Xfinity Series broadcasts, but most definitely for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, where Byrnes had already been named as the play-by-play commentator following Rick Allen’s departure from FOX Sports back in the summer.
With everything seemingly in flux and Byrnes out indefinitely, it seemed like FOX Sports wanted to make a splash at the time. Harvick debuted alongside Adam Alexander and Michael Waltrip. Alexander will be back this weekend for his 10th year calling play-by-play for Xfinity races. Waltrip is still with FOX Sports and will be a booth analyst for Friday night’s Fresh From Florida 250 for the Truck Series.
At the time, Harvick was viewed as one of the three most notable guest analysts for 2015 alongside Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon. Since then, Gordon joined the booth full-time in 2016 in place of Larry McReynolds but ultimately left after a couple of years to take a management role with Hendrick Motorsports. Keselowski will be in the booth Saturday afternoon.
Harvick got off to a good start in the broadcast booth at Daytona, then had another good broadcast at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. When I wrote about the Boyd Gaming 300 broadcast at the time, I noted the fact that Harvick was already doing the work necessary to potentially do the job full-time in the future. Remember that he was the defending Cup champion at the time.
As little as six weeks into 2015, I thought that Harvick could do TV as a career if he wanted to. Of course, he still had nearly nine full seasons left in his Cup career at that point. Honestly, nothing has changed since then.
At the time, something that I actively looked at was how well the guest analysts could work with Waltrip, prevent him from doing stupid things and provide good input into the broadcasts. Harvick didn’t have a lot of patience for that level of shenanigans back then and worked well with him. Clint Bowyer, Harvick’s current booth compatriot, was more akin to goofing off with Waltrip, leading to the potential of broadcasts going off the rails.
For the sake of this topic, Waltrip will not be in the broadcast booth for Cup races in 2024. He still has a major role on Truck Series broadcasts and will likely have some booth time for Xfinity races, but not this weekend.
As noted on the broadcast from Los Angeles, Harvick and Bowyer have worked together extensively over the years. They were teammates at Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing. Collectively, that constitutes 11 of Bowyer’s 14 full seasons in Cup. He knows how to handle the dude and will likely try to make the most out of him. I can imagine Harvick having extensive one-on-one conversations with Bowyer based on the idea of setting a certain tone.
Having said that, I don’t think that Harvick’s going to tell Bowyer to not have fun. After all, Bowyer is a fun-loving guy. That said, I think he’ll be able to keep Bowyer’s head in the game a little better. That, in and of itself, will improve the FOX broadcasts in 2024.
Since 2015, Harvick has generally worked a smattering of races in the Xfinity Series and Truck Series for FOX Sports in the guest analyst role, generally impressing at every turn. He would have the play-by-play role when FOX Sports did the Drivers Only broadcasts at Charlotte as well. Until he announced his retirement from Cup, it seemed like something fun to do for him, although he was indeed taking it seriously.
Last year, things were a bit more real since it was obvious on-the-job training for Harvick. Some potential analysts lost out on work because of it. Andy Lally pretty much stated to Frontstretch last summer that the races Harvick worked in the booth as part of his 2024 preparations meant that Lally didn’t get another chance in the booth last year.
Now, things are real for Harvick in the booth. The exhibitions are done. Starting Sunday, he’s in for real.
That’s all for this week. Later this week, the action will begin in Daytona. Qualifying for the Daytona 500 is Wednesday night, followed by the Bluegreen Vacations Duels on Thursday night. Friday has the Trucks, Saturday has the ARCA Menards Series and Xfinity Series, while Sunday is the big one, the Daytona 500.
In addition, there is racing all over Florida this week. Volusia Speedway Park has the Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals. The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series was there last week, but the Super DIRTcar Series and World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series will move in. The World Series of Asphalt is at New Smyrna Speedway as well, while tonight is the second and final High Limit race at East Bay Raceway Park. TV listings can be found here.
In next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch, we’ll have a critique of the Daytona 500 broadcast and the United Rentals 300. We’ll also cover the Truck season opener, but where that will be is unclear at the moment.
In the Frontstretch Newsletter, we’ll have a look at the broadcast of the Bluegreen Vacations Duels on Friday. In addition, we’ll have the last throwback critique before that. I took some notes on the 1982 AirCal 500k from Riverside International Raceway. That column will answer the question “What do you do when you race with barely anyone in it?”
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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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