Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Skimps in Phoenix, Jamie Little Still Needs Improvement

In recent years, the March race at Phoenix Raceway has become very important due to the track’s standing as the host for championship weekend. This past weekend, the new rules package was the big story entering the race.

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That said, it wasn’t explained quite as much as I would have liked before the race. The hope was that it would improve racing on shorter tracks. In practice, the cars were a little faster than last year, but there wasn’t all that much tire falloff.

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I noted that there was an 8% increase in the number of passes made over this race last year. Baby steps. The problem is, it wasn’t all that noticeable.

What likely stood out to me was that it seemed that FOX skimped on pit reporters for Phoenix. It only had Jamie Little and Regan Smith down there. Likely the most noticeable difference is that it didn’t have anyone doing infield care center duty other than Bob Pockrass. This situation was brought home when Joey Logano (and Corey LaJoie) crashed out of the race after Logano was hit by John Hunter Nemechek. Luckily, Frontstretch was there when Logano emerged.

In its defense, FOX did play footage from this availability. It came on lap 280, likely 15-20 minutes after the availability happened. That just doesn’t seem right.

Yes, I’ve admittedly been confused as to what in the heck Pockrass’ official role is with FOX Sports. He doesn’t get to write much these days since FOX Sports rarely has its talent write at all. Seems like it’s just paying him to ask questions on his cell phone and review news for one minute a week (“The Business with Bob”) and that’s about it.

Granted, I envy the fact that Pockrass is the kind of person who garners a substantial amount of respect from the general public just for being knowledgeable. It says something that there were a couple of random people in the pits at World Wide Technology Raceway last year bowing in his presence.

In my experience covering NASCAR races for Frontstretch, Pockrass is always at the infield care center to get the scoop when the heck goes down. If you’re not going to properly staff the pit reporter corps to the level so that one of them can go get the interview, provide Pockrass with a cameraperson and a monitor and have him do the interviews for TV. It’s not like he wouldn’t be there anyway.

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There were some gripes in our general Slack chat Sunday about FOX going to commercial just as battles for the lead kicked off. Unfortunately, that bites, but it’s not anything that FOX can do anything about. Those breaks are scheduled ahead of time. Now, cautions can change things up, but otherwise, those breaks are scheduled. If something substantial happens, FOX has the freedom to shift a little, but not much.

What FOX can do something about is making sure that its booth commentators are on point. It was almost like Clint Bowyer was watching the race on DVR or something as he was noticeably late commentating on incidents Sunday (March 10). The best example I can give here was way back in 2009 when Jimmie Johnson crashed on lap 3 in the Dickies 500 at Texas.

Back then, Frontstretch used the now-defunct CoverItLive to do the equivalent of live-tweeting races and I was part of that crew. However, I rewound my DVR earlier that afternoon for something during NASCAR Countdown and didn’t realize that I hadn’t pressed the live button. As a result, I was about 30 seconds behind the broadcast at the time and things got a little weird.

That is exactly how I felt listening to Bowyer at times Sunday. It was like he was another show at times. He has to shape up to be of much use to the broadcast. That said, technical issues in the booth could have been partially to blame for that, but that is something that viewers cannot see.

The actual racing for positions was relatively frantic in and around the restarts but calmed down after a few laps. FOX did show some decent action, but not enough to convince fans that the new package was helping the product. If you were there, it was likely another story. Our own Bryan Nolen was in Phoenix Sunday and stated that he liked what he saw.

Post-race coverage was a little brief since the cautions at the start of the final stage made the broadcast run long. Viewers got post-race interviews with four of the top-five finishers, the exception being third-place finisher Ty Gibbs for reasons that I honestly couldn’t tell you. There was also some post-race analysis from the booth before FOX left Phoenix to get to Next Level Chef.

Overall, there were some strange aspects of this broadcast Sunday. Cutting corners does show on broadcasts and I wish FOX wouldn’t go down that road.

The racing product Sunday was probably better than you’d think by watching the broadcast, but seemingly next to no one was happy. I’m not sure how it could spin that.

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series broadcast had an unplanned change in the days leading up to the race weekend when Adam Alexander opted out due to a death in his family. That’s a tough situation for Alexander and I hope that everything will be OK for him.

As a result of Alexander’s absence, Little ended up with a doubleheader weekend on play-by-play between both the Xfinity and ARCA Menards Series races.

I believe Saturday’s race was her Xfinity race debut in the broadcast booth after a couple of years of calling ARCA races and assorted NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events. It’s a good time to take a look at how she’s fairing.

In the vast majority of the races she’s called, she’s worked with Phil Parsons. He wasn’t there this weekend, taking the time to spend at home. On Saturday, she shared the booth with Logano and Daniel Suarez, a couple of men who genuinely appear to like each other. In all seriousness, I thought Little worked well with Logano and Suarez.

Likely the most memorable moment of Saturday’s race was the big ‘ol wreck on lap 144 triggered by contact between Nemechek, Chandler Smith and Riley Herbst. To be honest, I’m surprised that this was the only big wreck of the weekend.

FOX had the perfect shot for this incident from the blimp and chose to change to the tight shot. As a result, you couldn’t see the full picture live. That bites.

Little’s call of this wreck was not the best, but she clearly enunciated what started this whole mess. That being the contact between Nemechek and Smith.

The cut tire that put Justin Allgaier out also pointed out another issue for Little. She’s not quick on the call. As a result, she appeared to be a little more dependent on her analysts. Both Logano and Suarez noticed what was up and got on the draw before Little.

See also
Xfinity Breakdown: Random Caution Sets Up Big One at Phoenix, Chandler Smith Wins

Much like Sunday, the race ended up running long due to the red flag after the aforementioned big wreck. Viewers only got interviews with Smith and Allgaier (from the infield care center) before leaving Phoenix to get to NHRA coverage from Gainesville.

Overall, there was good racing on Saturday and FOX Sports 1 did a decent job covering that action. Little still has some work to do in the booth. I want her to do well in the booth.

I’m not going to write her off as a failure, but she still needs to improve. Not announcing Allgaier as the race winner when she closed the broadcast when she already knew that he crashed out on lap 196 is just one example of how to improve. More holistically, she needs to be quicker to the mic and a bit more confident in her abilities.

I feel that as a play-by-play commentator, you are supposed to be the leader in the booth and set the tone. I just don’t believe that Little’s there yet.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series travels to Bristol Motor Speedway for 500 laps on the concrete. It’ll be joined by the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Meanwhile, IMSA is back in Florida for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. TV listings can be found here.

Next week, we’ll take a look at the coverage of the Food City 500 and the Weather Guard Truck Race at Bristol here in Couch Potato Tuesday on Frontstretch. In the Critic’s Annex, we’ll talk about the rain/lightning-shortened ARCA race from Friday night.

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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As always, if you choose to contact a network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

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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gbvette

Let’s be honest here, Little is terrible. She’s had a couple years to learn her craft covering ARCA races and hasn’t improved at all. She seems completely lost in the booth and always a step behind what’s going on on track. She sees a car slowing for a scheduled pit stop and gets all excited but them having an issue. She regularly misinterprets what’s happening on track. She’s fine for pit road where she can just ask a canned question like what’s wrong, what happened or when do you plan to pit, but she’s way out of her league when she has to interpret what’s happening on track.

While there’s plenty to complain about Fox’s broadcasts, in comparison to the MRN broadcasts on SiriusXM, they’re perfect. I was travelling Sunday and only got to watch the last 45 minutes of the race, instead I listened to most of the race on SiriusXM. I found the coverage by MRN/SiriusXM to be really lacking, especially compared to the job they did 15 or so years ago. In a couple hours they only ever did a top 10 run down a few times and never mentioned anyone outside the top ten, except for occasionally naming who was the last car on the lead lap or the lucky dog. I remember years ago you could listen to an MRN broadcast and it was like you were there. Now it seems the broadcast is more about the booth talking to each other and occasionally giving an update on the race or top 10.

wildcatsfan2016

that’s interesting to know about MRN broadcasts. Like you I listened to their race coverage for many years – at the track or if I was driving & so couldn’t watch on TV. I dropped my Sirius subscription some years ago. I used it so I could listen to qualifying etc. when it was running in the afternoons on my way home from work. Then in the Brian France Era, so many of the NASCAR related shows became very belligerent toward the fans who were NOT happy about the changes BZF was making to the sport and tracks. That got very old IMO. I suppose they felt they had to toe the NASCAR line but being rude & obnoxious to the fans who called in to express their opinions was a huge turn off for me. Then they stopped covering qualifying and I decided that it was not worth spending the $ to be annoyed at them. LOL go figure, right?

I haven’t listened to them since we stopped going to the races & since I dropped my subscription but I’m sorry to hear they no longer do a good job of covering the race. I had a scanner (actually 2) so that I could listen to my fav driver, the race broadcast and my brother could listen to whatever he wanted.

CCColorado

Let’s be honest… she’s not terrible. Rick Allen is, and all those stooges doing F1. Is she perfect… no. But you wouldn’t be good either if you had to work with Mickey .
And her ARCA work has got better, and it’s not like that series has offered us the best racing.
I wished I could get MRN, but not where I live, and internet is slow as well. But the scenery’s great!

WD

Assuming that Clint Bowyer is OK with being the punching bag he and Micheal Waltrip need to go They add little to the broadcast Kurt Busch would be a better choice for the booth since he is familiar with the new car As for Jamie Little she does a great job as a pit reporter

WJW Motorsports

Well, at least she hasn’t been made Chief Quality Officer at Boeing. If you want to see a sharp production watch Indy – Diff/TBell/Hinch are excellent in the booth and the race/production typically is too.

Jeremy

Isn’t Bob Pockrass the one Tony Stewart often butted heads with? I think Kurt Busch had some kind words for him at one time as well.

wildcatsfan2016

groan oh no!

Shayne

Note to NASCAR: LA might be a huge market, but they don’t like NASCAR.

Kevin in SoCal

You noticed she said Allgaier won the race too, huh? I like her in the booth, but I agree she doesn’t seem natural at it.

wildcatsfan2016

ha yes I heard that and thought huh? that’s not what I saw.

DoninAjax

Maybe she wanted to say Allgaier should have won the event. And it wasn’t a “race.” It was “entertainment” to get commercial revenue.

wildcatsfan2016

that could be it but I would have thought she would have corrected herself on it rather than letting it stand at the end of the broadcast.

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