Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Sports Shines with Battle Coverage

Given what we have these days at Darlington Raceway, it was not all that long ago that the track was something of a dead man walking.

2003 seemed to be it for Darlington as we knew it, as NASCAR moved the Southern 500 to November (it was the penultimate race of the season in 2004). Then, as part of a substantial schedule realignment, the race moved to Mother’s Day Weekend and the track was cut down to one date.

Now, Darlington is pretty safe on the NASCAR schedule with two races once again. Sunday (May 12) saw the NASCAR Cup Series back on Mother’s Day weekend for its first visit of the year. It’s pretty obvious what this race will likely be remembered for, so let’s start there.

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Chris Buescher Confronts Tyler Reddick After Late-Race Contact at Darlington

As you know by now, Sunday’s Goodyear 400 came down to a fight between Chris Buescher and Tyler Reddick for the lead. Before that, it was Reddick and Brad Keselowski who were fighting it out. There was a lot of side-by-side battling for the lead at a place that is (by modern standards) very narrow and difficult to pass at. Despite this, these three ran side-by-side for quite a while.

This battle on FOX Sports 1 was primarily covered via aerial shots. This approach meant that viewers were able to better identify the runs. Reddick’s aggressive move for the lead on lap 284 was easily seen by viewers. They could tell that he went too hard into turn 4. The track using music from Days of Thunder after the race was rather fitting because the shot looked just like when Cole Trickle put Russ Wheeler in the wall at the end of the Daytona 500 in the film. Never seen that before in a Cup race.

I have no complaints about the coverage here. This was good racing and FOX Sports brought its A-game to this battle. It doesn’t often step up to this degree.

Throwback weekend often means a special guest in the broadcast booth. In this case, it was two-time Cup champion Terry Labonte during stage 2. I don’t have any problem with Labonte, but he kind of lived up to his Ice Man moniker. He was there the whole stage and I sort of forgot that he was there at times. He didn’t speak up all that much and the booth went out of their way to involve him.

Now, was that Labonte being uncomfortable in the booth setting or did he feel that he couldn’t really contribute? I’m not sure. I think it’s more that it isn’t his scene.

Post-race coverage was clearly centered on the confrontation between Buescher and Reddick on pit road after the race. Naturally, Buescher wasn’t happy with Reddick’s actions. I don’t blame him.

FOX Sports more or less aired this confrontation live, breaking away from some of Keselowski’s victory celebrations. That included the F-bombs being thrown around, which Mike Joy apologized for. We then got interviews with both protagonists.

Yes, I know they were parked near each other on pit road after the race, but that strikes me as a time when one pit reporter would interview Reddick, while another would get Buescher. In this case, Jamie Little interviewed both of them back-to-back, with a little dash in between.

While I thought Little did a good job with the interviews, I don’t like the short-staffing. This is why you need a third pit reporter. You can get more stories and don’t overtax who you already have. Makes me wonder where Regan Smith went after he interviewed Keselowski.

The short-staffing of pit reporters is even carrying over to the Drivers Only broadcast in Charlotte. During the weekend, FOX Sports revealed its lineup for its broadcast of the NASCAR Xfinity Series BetMGM 300 and it only includes two pit reporters. It’s making itself look bad with this.

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Unfortunately, time was short during post-race coverage. Viewers only got the three interviews mentioned above before FS1 left Darlington for PBA Bowling coverage.

This fan on Twitter was peeved that Josh Berry wasn’t interviewed on-air after the race. I don’t blame him. Finishing third at Darlington after starting 33rd is quite the accomplishment and he deserved the dap.

However, Jeff was misinformed about the time window for Sunday’s race. At least on my on-air guide, Sunday’s broadcast was given a 3.5-hour window with a sign-off at 6:30 pm. ET. Entering the weekend, I thought that the window was rather tight to begin with.

The race ended with five minutes remaining in the slot. The post-race coverage that we did get actually made the broadcast run over by nearly 10 minutes.

Something else that you may have noticed when Labonte visited the booth is that Mike Joy was wearing a button-down shirt with the SPEED logo on it during the race. I admit that I had to go back and check to make sure, but it was plain to see.

Hard to imagine that it’s been more than 10 years since SPEED was repurposed as FOX Sports 1 (and by extension, Fuel was repurposed as FOX Sports 2). Hadn’t seen that logo at a race since IMSA left FOX Sports at the end of 2018 and pit reporters Matt Yocum and Andrew Marriott wore SPEED fire suits on the broadcast at Petit Le Mans that year.

That brings up another TV story that has broken in the past week. FOX Sports has canceled NASCAR RaceHub after nearly 15 years. The show will end on June 11, right after the FOX Sports portion of the Cup schedule ends.

This is a complete shame. The move is definitely not ratings-related. The show pulls better ratings for both the weeknight editions of the show and the weekend editions between practice/qualifying sessions than most of the studio programming on FS1. Shows like Undisputed, the network’s morning debate show with Skip Bayless, have been hovering way below NASCAR RaceHub’s ratings for years.

With the loss of RaceHub, there will be no daily motorsports show left on television. MAVTV has some interview shows and shows focused on specific drivers (Ex: The On the Rise series), but nothing that’s actually time critical. It also don’t have much reach.

Basically, it’s being canceled with nothing to replace it. At least when NASCAR Nation was canceled at SPEED, there was NASCAR Now on ESPN2. Now, you have bupkis. Outside of race weekends, there will be no TV coverage of NASCAR’s national-level series after June for the rest of the year.

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Once 2025 comes along, we’ll have to see what comes out of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s new deal with Amazon. Something might come out of that content-wise, but it probably won’t be a daily show.

This comes at a time when the sport seems to be increasing in popularity overall, but is losing visibility outside of its immediate partners. The solution to that is not to cut coverage. There’s only so many random contest tie-ins with Roy Rogers to win VIP NASCAR packages that you can do.

Ideally, the right move would have been to not cancel the show and fire a bunch of people who will realistically have to leave Charlotte to find decent work. NASCAR might do something in the wake of the cancellation, but you need a level of independence. Something about NASCAR’s production center isn’t going to work for that.

Overall, FOX Sports did well in Darlington, but some of its decisions behind the scenes continue to hurt its telecasts. Viewers can tell when its broadcasts are short-staffed. It’s a bad look for FOX Sports and for the sport as a whole.

That’s all for this week. Next week is All-Star Weekend at North Wilkesboro Speedway. The Cup Series will be there for what amounts to a second throwback weekend. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will be there in support. Also on Saturday (May 18) night, the ARCA Menards Series East will compete at 0.25-mile Flat Rock Speedway. That race will take place on 7:30 p.m. ET with live coverage provided by FloRacing.

The action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway starts today with the opening day of Indianapolis 500 practice. Qualifying is this weekend. Formula 1 will be in Imola this weekend, while SRO America will be at Circuit of the Americas. TV listings can be found here.

We’ll have a look at FOX Sports 1’s coverage of All-Star Weekend in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex, I want to take a look at Friday night’s coverage of the Buckle Up South Carolina 200 from Darlington.

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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sb

Yes, great coverage of the battle up front for the lead…but that is typical. Less informative about what happens with those from 10 on back. A car would suddenly disappear from a top 15 running spot with no explanation. If you are going to cover a race, cover ALL of it. They could at least mention what happens to someone who suddenly drops from sight.

janice

so the weekday racing show on fs1 will go away….what about raceday broadcast that they have? i guess after fox passes off coverage to nbc later this year, then those people will go?

i remember when espn had rpm tonight.

oh well…..guess all that matters is what streaming service things will be on and whether or not people will purchase the service to watch the shows on.

Bill B

It’s getting harder and harder to be a NASCAR fan.
It’s getting easier and easier to just not care anymore.

wildcatsfan2016

I’m not buying “more” streaming to watch NASCAR. They will have to improve the product a LOT for me to do that.

DoninAjax

NA$CAR greed!!!! They will sell their souls again if they could to make more money!

Echo

Fox has never been good at anything they broadcast. Nascar clowns
All greed.

wildcatsfan2016

That’s a shame to hear that RaceHub is being canceled. I watched the old Speed Channel and there were a lot of enjoyable shows about racing, not just NASCAR when that was the point of the network.

as far as watching the races, yeah they cover the front of the field relatively well but as far as the rest of the field, not so much. When they used to do thru the field, if your driver wasn’t one of the popular drivers or up front at least you knew what was happening.

As Bill says, they are making it harder and harder to be a NASCAR fan.

CCColorado

Agree.. product now is hardly worth “ normal “ cable prices, certainly not buying any streaming service. Bill is spot on… harder being a NASCAR fan. Heck, we don’t even get a decent practice anymore, because of the lack of parts and car owners with no money.
Fox has lost its way with the canceling of Racehub. Guess it’s too much of a real show and not the crap they unload on the public the rest of the day. UGH!

Jim

The comments about “the rest of the field” are spot on. Plus the “standings” outside the top are shown for such a short time that it takes a second (or third) time around to really understand where people are.

I disagree with the comments on Terry Labonte’s time in the booth. Particularly, I’d ask why we had to have more of the continually irritating Harvick-Boyer BS, instead of talking to Terry. Joy and particularly Harvick should have been much more active in engaging Terry’s thoughts. They were good. He shouldn’t have been expected to just speak up on his own.

I can’t repeat this too often: so sick of the Harvick-Boyer banter. Get rid of Boyer to save Harvick’s professionalism.

wildcatsfan2016

Good point on Terry’s participation in the booth. As I remember him, he was always relatively quiet. Mike Joy should have engaged with him. I agree with you that the Harvick-Bowyer banter has quickly become irritating rather than entertaining.

Echo

No way Nascar is gaining in popularity, where did you get that. Read the comments on fronstretch, longgg time Nascar fans are ready to hang it up with the product Nascar is pushing. Do you think fox would stop racehub if sponsors were willing to pay big money. Well ok maybe fox would have, they like pre recorded bowling. Bowling before Nascar, yeah Nascar is gaining in popularity. Tell me that again when they are racing electric cars. Every real racing fan will tell you that Nascar is pulling one dumb move after another. I’d swear Brian is still in charge. But the France family is making tons of money and that’s all that matters. They don’t care about the product, just dollar signs.

sdelfin

I also thought that Fox did a lot better with the Darlington Cup race. I wanted to add that while Terry didn’t have a ton to say, what he did say was good, but more importantly I thought his presence there kept Bowyer and Harvick focused on just calling the race.

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