Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Makes Questionable Production Moves at Gateway

As far as NASCAR venues go, World Wide Technology Raceway is fairly unique, and not just because of the 1.25-mile egg-shaped oval. You have a different vibe at the track.

It’s not every day that T-Pain and Ludacris perform at NASCAR races.

For FOX Sports, its portion of the NASCAR season is starting to wind down. There is just one more Cup weekend remaining for it. That doesn’t mean that it can’t try new things.

Sunday saw FOX Sports post Regan Smith and Jamie Little on the pit boxes of Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott’s teams for their first pit stops. That gave them a different view from which to call their stops. Under normal circumstances, they’re calling the stops from ground level in their stall (or a neighboring one), or via the video on a flat screen.

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Monday Morning Pit Box: Team Penske's Near-Perfect Pit Strategy at Gateway

Afterward, they interviewed both crew chiefs (Chris Gabehart for Hamlin and Alan Gustafson for Elliott), discussed what went on during the stop, the changes made (if any) and more. It was a little more insidery than normal.

The race will likely be best remembered for two things. One is the duel between Ryan Blaney and Christopher Bell that was cut short due to Bell’s engine deciding to turn traitor.

This was an excellent fight for the lead in the closing laps that FOX Sports covered well. Despite relatively new pavement, the track is conducive to side-by-side racing. That bodes well for the future.

Now, do I think this was the best race for the lead all season? I don’t know about that, but it was still pretty good. I can understand why the booth was so bummed out to hear that Bell’s engine was acting up. That news came straight from Bell’s radio as neither of the pit reporters reported on it. As of this writing, we’re still not sure what happened to the engine.

The other thing is how the race finished. Seemingly no one knew that Blaney was going to run out of fuel. Not even Blaney.

There was no real discussion of fuel mileage in the final portion of the race other than when they referred to drivers who chose to run long like Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Michael McDowell. The difference here is that everyone knew those drivers couldn’t go the distance.

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The Underdog House: Carson Hocevar Powers Up for Top 10 in 'The Lou'

There were some things that I didn’t particularly like. One example occurred during the final round of stops when Ty Gibbs nearly wiped out his front tire changer. Mike Joy and Clint Bowyer noticed it immediately and reacted on air. We didn’t see it until they showed a replay a couple of laps later.

On lap 25, something similar happened when Josh Berry apparently hit the wall exiting turn 4. You got a somewhat similar reaction from the broadcast booth, but it was outright never paid off. Viewers never even got so much of a replay. That’s rather ridiculous knowing that FOX Sports has access to the NASCAR Drive in-car cameras if it misses something. It just chose not to pay it off.

That’s not going to work. FOX Sports knows that Joy is a critical resource to its NASCAR race coverage. If he’s raising his voice and pointing something out, jeepers, find a way to get that on the broadcast as quickly as you can. The replay shows that it had the footage the whole time. The production just didn’t switch to it.

Later on in the race, Rajah Caruth spent some time in the broadcast booth. On paper, that came off as somewhat random. Very quickly, it became a way for FOX Sports to promote the fact that Bowyer will return to racing as a driver at Nashville Superspeedway on June 28.

Caruth will be Bowyer’s teammate.

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Clint Bowyer Driving Nashville Truck Race for Spire

Honestly, this seemed unnecessary. Given the varying strategies that were at play and the fact that it was only a few laps away from the final round of pit stops, maybe this was better done early in the race.

Also of note, this is for a race that will air on FOX Sports 2. It won’t be moved there like Saturday’s Toyota 200 was due to rain and the United Football League’s Michigan Panthers-Birmingham Stallions game.

Outside of the whole promotion of Bowyer’s return to driving, Caruth didn’t really do much in the booth to add to the discussion. That’s partially due to the fact that he’s never driven in Cup. I believe he’ll get there eventually (remember, he’s only run something like 155 or so races in his entire career to this point), but he just didn’t have much to add to the discussion.

The racing coverage as a whole seemed to be pretty good in and around the restarts but really calmed down outside of there. Such coverage would make viewers believe that the overall product was boring. Not so.

This year’s race had only five cautions, while the previous two years had 10 and 11. Last year’s race had 35 more laps under caution, partially due to the delays due to lightning and power issues. Despite only 35 extra laps under green, NASCAR’s Loop Data shows there were more than double the number of green-flag passes as compared to last year, an average of eight more per lap.

Where am I going with this? It seems like FOX Sports didn’t do that great of a job showing off the action Sunday in Illinois. It caught the important stuff, but the smaller stuff didn’t register. It seems to have time to do things like this, though:

I get it. You want to show fans in the stands having fun. It’s getting weird. This was on for a split second during the Bell-Blaney battle late in the race. Why?

Also, there’s the ongoing thing with putting kids on the broadcast, not just during Cup races, but NASCAR Xfinity Series and Craftsman Truck Series races as well. Johnathon Caddell, better known as SteelHorseLive, posted this on social media in reaction to the previous tweet.

Yes, that’s Herbert from Family Guy there. If you’ve seen the show, you probably have an idea of what his deal apparently is.

You don’t want to be compared to him.

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The Underdog House: Carson Hocevar Powers Up for Top 10 in 'The Lou'

This year’s race took 40 minutes less than last year’s race did. As a result, FOX Sports had a fair amount of extra time for post-race coverage.

It interviewed Blaney and the whole top five. It also screwed up its unofficial results graphic.

Jeepers. You had one thing to get right and you failed. C’mon now. This is the 15th race of the season. Don’t be a nincompoop. Get those things right.

Overall, there were some good moments in Sunday’s broadcast. However, there were other moments that are just additional examples of how FOX’s NASCAR broadcasts have seen better days. The attention to detail is lacking in the production department. Unsatisfactory decisions were made and the viewers were disadvantaged.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series will be at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California. They’ll be joined by ARCA Menards Series West. Meanwhile, INDYCAR will make their yearly jaunt to Road America and Formula 1 will be in Montreal. TV listings can be found here.

We will have critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races from Sonoma in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. In the Critic’s Annex, we’ll look at how NBC Sports handled the mess that occurred in Detroit Sunday afternoon.

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

2021 Phil Allaway Headshot Phil Allaway

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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12 Comments
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DoninAjax

There were replays of Berry hitting the wall after his tire blew.

Bob

Rajah wasn’t in the booth because he will be Bowyers teammate…and if he had known and could have turned it down I feel he would have. This was Fox saying ” Look how diverse we are, we have a black person in the booth “. Rajah is better than that.

Old School

Why have announcers when they are drowned out by Fox continuing to over do the sound of the engines? Am I the only one who has a problem with hearing them?

Last edited 14 days ago by Old School
CCColorado

Fox’s audio is really cruddy, agree with the drown out comment.
I think the producer / director have made plans for Cancun, too many times we see one thing and hear something different. Which is too bad, the boys in the booth are actually giving us decent info. Bashing on Boyer is easy pickings, but I, for one, think the 3 together make a good team. Harvick is excellent on bringing in the current Next Gen car feedback, Joy is so smooth and holds it down, and yes Clint is a bit wound up, I want a bit of that … I don’t want to be super serious all the time.
Apologies for the long post!

Old School

FOX races are directed by Artie Kempner who has been around forever and that’s the reason the production is always the same and lacks quality.

Ron Brown

I’m just waiting for Joy or Harvick to say how beautiful that blue sky is today. Only to have Boyer to say, well not really, it’s green. He has to contradict literally everything the other 2 say. Especially when it comes to the Next Gen car. Like he’s been driving it since before it even was the official race car. All Fox did was replace Waltrip with Waltrip light. To this day I’m still in disbelief that Harvick hasn’t punched him out. Most times unfortunately I watch a Cup race with the volume way down, and I hate that. I could listen to Mike Joy all day calling a race. Kevin is also easy to listen to, and has gotten much smoother as the season wore on. I don’t want to pick on Boyer, but he simply makes it necessary, because he’s so annoying. He really needs to stop trying to make calling the race about how smart he thinks he is. Unfortunately I just don’t see that ever happening.

RCFX1

There was another point where the cameras were on two cars riding side by side when the commentators were talking about some action happening. I think it comes down to the director of the production. They have all of that info available to them but they aren’t using it well. Then there’s Bowyer. He just doesn’t need to be in the booth. Kevin is a great addition!

Jeremy

Fox is horrible. Their focus is on everything BUT the racing.

Toward the end of the Indy 500, they pulled the “show the nervous wife” shot one time. Thank God someone in the production booth slapped the snot out of whoever aired it and they didn’t do it again. Granted, I think the Indy 500 started that fad with the infamous Ashley Judd coverage a decade or so back.

Jeremy

Of course, the Indy 500 wasn’t FOX, but still. At least NBC corrected their error.

Steve

The “in case you missed it” segment with 15 laps to go really ticks me off too. How can you get excited about the finish when you are being shown a video montage of what has already happened over the final laps.

And not showing all the other cars finishing. I bet there were quite the battles at the line that no one saw, just so we could see what the winning pit crew does (which is virtually the same every week). One would think the crew celebrating could be shown as a replay heading to commercial, but I guess not.

gbvette62

Generally the racing coverage on the national networks has always been “lacking in detail” and they’ve often make “unsatisfactory decisions” leaving the viewers “disadvantaged”. This is mainly because many involved in the broadcasts still don’t consider racing a sport. They still use too few cameras to adequately cover a race, and the ones they do have are usually all focused on the same half dozen cars. If they had more cameras, and focused them on more of the field, maybe we could get more replays and see more of the racing action? Of course, they’d have to care about racing and take it seriously, before they would ever make the effort to properly cover auto racing.

It appeared the “booth” for Portland Xfinity race was actually in a studio someplace, I assume Charlotte? The booth crews often have enough trouble covering a race when they’re actually at a track, without trying to do it from 3000 miles away. Again, if the networks took racing seriously, we’d never have a race where the broadcast booth was in a studio someplace else.

John

Most standalone races are done from the NASCAR Productions facility in Concord. You’d be surprised how much influence NASCAR/NASCAR Productions has on the broadcasts. Also, better start getting used to remote booths from Charlotte. Rumor has it that the CW will have booth and production from Concord all year long.

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