The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: FOX Needs To Cover More Than Just The Cars Up Front by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday March 31, 2009

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Martinsville is an old school type of track, a place where the ideals of aerodynamics really don’t apply all that much (although having smooth sheet metal does give some benefits on short tracks). And, most importantly, it’s a place where far more rudimentary methods than normal are considered acceptable for passing. Sunday’s race saw Jimmie Johnson use a very brash maneuver to root Denny Hamlin out of the way to win — and face no retribution for it at all.

As for the Truck Series event, originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon, it was completely rained out and rescheduled for Monday afternoon at noon. While this unfortunate move does spare fans of the Truck Series from slightly uninformed commentary from the typical FOX crew of Waltrip, McReynolds, and Joy, Phil Parsons joining Chris Myers and Jeff Hammond in the “Hollywood Hotel,”, and Digger appearances, it does mean that I cannot review the truck race in this critique. Reality has intervened in this case. Like many of my readers, I have a job to go to on Mondays. In addition, I do not have TiVo or a DVR at my disposal, and the last time I tried to tape a race (Fontana in February), the resulting tape had such horrible sound that I could not hear anything that was spoken in the Victory Lane interview. However, there will be a replay of the event on SPEED and the whole race will be uploaded to YouTube within the next week or so. I will render my verdict on the Truck race broadcast before the next event April 25th at Kansas.

Luckily, Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 went off without a hitch on the weather front, and there were some interesting tidbits that I took from the broadcast.

First of all, I mentioned last week that I thought I had missed something, since I didn’t remember seeing or hearing a Digger cartoon during the pre-race show. Well, it wasn’t just me not paying attention. It appears that FOX has nixed the pre-race cartoon. Yes, some people might be a little bit disappointed to hear this… but it’s for the best. Race fans deserve a professional broadcast, and CGI gophers talking about random stuff that isn’t exactly related to anything going on in the series is not really professional. Earlier this season, I said that I believed that the gopher and the accompanying cartoons were hurting FOX’s, and, by extension, NASCAR’s credibility. As much as I’d like to claim at least partial credit for this action by FOX, I know that I’m not responsible. If I were alone in my outright criticism of FOX’s actions with Digger, then I might be willing to take more credit. As it stands, there was substantial public outcry online against FOX’s cartoons, and I’m not the only person that has written about Digger this season.

Personally, I have two theories as to why FOX aired the Digger cartoons during pre-race for only the first four weeks. One is an extension of what I said last week about the first four weeks being used to test out new features. But the other idea I had was that FOX used the first four weeks as “activation” for the Digger character and brand name. Luckily, for those of you who liked the cute little CGI cartoons, you can still view them for free on YouTube. Simply search for the user “DiggeronFOX” there and you’ll find them.

Now, even though the cartoons and shots of the guy in a Digger suit have been excised from the broadcast, it does not mean that FOX broadcasts are Digger free zones. He still shows up in animated form when FOX comes back from commercial breaks, in still shots when FOX cuts to the Digger Cam, and in commercials advertising the Digger merchandise. On Sunday, this equated to 37 appearances: 24 in still form, 11 animated ones, and two commercials. Personally, I’m fine with the animated stuff coming back from commercials, but the still shots are pointless now that the Digger brand has been activated.

As for the actual race coverage, I believe that FOX could have done a better job covering battles further back in the field instead of always concentrating around the top three or four cars. I was reading our own Bryan Davis Keith’s article earlier today on his thoughts from Martinsville, where he mentions the rough and tumble advances up through the field by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Ryan Newman. I didn’t see much of Newman at all during the race broadcast, and then was pleasantly surprised to find that he had finished sixth. Most of the coverage given to teams further down the field was when they ran into tire problems, and there were plenty of those issues in some of the more ill-handling cars — like Robby Gordon’s No. 7 and Aric Almirola’s No. 8.

Also, there was very little mentioning of cars that went behind the wall or fell back due to crash damage or mechanical issues. I’ve referenced Joe Nemechek’s issues below, but FOX made no reference to Todd Bodine, Robby Gordon, or Dave Blaney pulling off the track. FOX also made no mention of Brian Vickers’ issues in the last 30 laps of the race. Vickers’ No. 83 suffered an oil leak that dropped him from a top 20 run to a 33rd place finish, just like that. Meanwhile, Scott Speed spent 70 laps in the garage after his wreck with Kyle Busch. It was a full 27 minutes after Speed rejoined the race that Mike Joy even referenced Speed’s presence back on the track, despite the fact that referencing this would take ten seconds at most. Somewhere in that 27 minute interval, this exchange was intercepted over the scanner. I’m not sure who the two people talking in this snippet are, but I assume that they’re involved in the production of the race broadcast.

Person 1: “No. 82 back on track, don’t know if we care or not.”
Person 2, in a sarcastic tone: “Sure, he’s 71 laps down.”

It may not look like much, but this shows a condescending tone towards teams not running up front regularly. It’s kind of bush league when you think about it.

There was also a little too much mentioning of Martinsville Speedway’s $2 hot dogs during the coverage this past weekend. Yes, we know that they’re two bucks and that they’ve been that way for awhile. Anyone know how long they’ve cost that much? Can’t be much more than 15 years or so. But FOX and SPEED made it sound like they’ve cost that much since way back when channels like SETN did the races at Martinsville for syndication purposes. I also noticed that a cheeseburger at that same concession stand went for five bucks, which is kinda steep. That had better be a pretty dang good burger for that price!

The post-race on Sunday was a little more typical of an average FOX telecast, as opposed to Bristol’s post-race, which had to fill 40+ minutes. FOX came back from their post-checkered flag commercial break, showed footage of Jimmie Johnson’s post-race burnout, then interviewed Johnson in Victory Lane. This was followed up by interviews with Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and team owner Rick Hendrick. A full field rundown followed, with the teams that failed to finish listed as “Out” instead of listing the number of laps they were down at the finish like the past couple of races. I see this as an improvement.

The only technical gripe that I noticed was with the top 10 rundown at the end of the race. The Top 10 graphic across the top of the screen from the first four races of the year returned at Martinsville, but there was a slight issue with it. FOX accidentally displayed the No. 87 of Joe Nemechek as a top 10 finisher. In reality, the No. 87 finished 41st. The FOX solution to this was to slowly adjust the rundown so that the No. 87 slowly disappeared off the end. Most people would have missed this, but I caught it right away.

After the race, during SPEED’s NASCAR Victory Lane, Kenny Wallace seemingly outright called out the No. 64, No. 66, and No. 87 teams for Start-and-Parking. While I cannot give any evidence that Todd Bodine and Dave Blaney did not S&P, I can give some information about Joe Nemechek’s plight. Mind you that none of this was mentioned during the broadcast on Sunday. Nemechek was officially classified 41st, out with brake issues after 90 laps. Our own Bryan Davis Keith was in the infield at Martinsville during Sunday’s race and texted this to Doug Turnbull, who was working on Sunday’s Frontstretch.com LIVE BLOG from pit road:

Joe Nemechek may have been accused for Start-and-Parking by Kenny Wallace on SPEED, but our own Bryan Davis Keith reported during The Frontstretch LIVE BLOG that was not the case.

“There is something wrong with the left rear [hub] and there is fluid everywhere. He had a hub issue at AMS a few weeks ago.” A couple of minutes later, this was relayed by Bryan to our Doug Turnbull: “No. 87 team is done. They don’t have the parts to fix [the] car.”

Now, as far as I’m concerned, there is a significant difference between outright starting and parking and being forced to park because they simply didn’t have the necessary parts on hand to repair an apparently chronic issue with the car. Unfortunately, especially with lower dollar teams, that happens from time to time.

I’m not attacking our colleague Kenny Wallace outright, simply stating that he may have jumped to conclusions here. In the future, Wallace would do well to fact check these kinds of things before making declarative statements on television. Makes me wonder what Jimmy and Kenny do during the races, since they have no TV commitments. Do they wander around pit road and check up on things? Do they go to their motor homes and watch the FOX coverage until it’s time to wander back towards Victory Lane so that they can tape NASCAR Victory Lane with John Roberts? I’d be interested to know what they do.

That is all for this week. Next week is Texas for the Samsung 500 for the Cup Series and the O’Reilly 300 for the Nationwide Series. As stated previously, the Truck Series is off for the next few weeks before Kansas. I will provide a critique of each race, along with my own thoughts and musings. As previously mentioned, the Truck Series race run Monday afternoon will be critiqued in full later on this month. Thank you for reading my critique and I look forward to reading your comments.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below, or contact me through the e-mail address provided on the website in my bio.

If you would like to contact FOX, ESPN, or the Speed Channel personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage of NASCAR, please use the following e-mail addresses below.

FOX
SPEED
ESPN

As always, if you choose to contact the networks by e-mail, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to e-mails that ask questions in a courteous manner than e-mails full of rants and vitriol. Thank you, and have a great week.

Contact Phil Allaway

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Michael
03/31/2009 06:50 AM
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Is there any better illustration of how terrible the tv broadcasts have become than realizing that one of the leading spokesmen is Kenny Wallace ? How far down has the sport sunk that we’re actually paying attention to anything he says ? Or for that matter almost any of the talking heads on FOX . With the exception of Dale Jarrett , Andy Petree , and sometimes Jerry Punch , there is not one single analyst worth listening to . And the constant migration of fans to the radio broadcasts rather than suffering through 4 or 5 hours of FOX tells a very sad story of how bad these people are at their jobs . Joy , Waltrip , McReynolds and Hammond are around only because no one in tv has ever bothered to look for real talent in the booth . And they keep their jobs on-air because the public has no idea that there are race analysts who aren’t hacks . Watch one Formula 1 race and you’ll realize very quickly how pathetic the NASCAR broadcasts really are .
Week after week the fans and the pundits call for more coverage of drivers other than the directors favorites . Yet every week we get the same old pictures . That tells me that either the networks ( all of them , not just FOX ) pay no attention to any critics , or they do pay attention but couldn’t care less .
The NASCAR broadcasts on FOX are strictly about the men in the booth , with some racing thrown in from time to time .

Johnboy60
03/31/2009 07:37 AM
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I am, unfortunately, sure that None of the networks care. They all think that they know what is best for us. And Fox is the worst of them all. DW and Digger have led the list of complaints to Fox but they are still there!!

Oldsmo-Bill
03/31/2009 08:29 AM
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I heartily agree with your sentiments. It really, REALLY bugs me when the leaderboard switches from 43 cars to only the top 10 near the end of the race! Did all the others wreck out? It’s hard enough to follow any driver (other than the FoxFavorites) throughout the race: since they are never shown on screen or by commentary, we have to keep checking the leaderboard on top of the screen. Then when they switch to that God-forsaken top-10-only, I could put my foot throught he TV! I also agree with you and the comments so far on Kenny Wallace and Jimmy Spencer: It’s unfortunate, but these guys feel that they always have to be saying SOMETHING,…ANYTHING, or else the world will fall apart. Hence the overabundance of personal opinions versus real facts. I’m sure these guys know a lot of facts, but please, PLEASE: when you run out of facts, don’t keep running the mouth!

Bobb
03/31/2009 09:14 AM
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I’ve surrendered my hopes that a TV network can or will cover racing well. It’s been this way for decades.
I don’t take anything said as truth (not that they would intentionally lead us astray) and wait until more of the facts unfold or are presented.

Open the scoring loop from NASCAR.com while you watch the race.
Between it and the video (try to look in the background of shots for “the rest of the story”, if the camera angles allow) to see who might be running 11th, or some other position of TV-anonimity.

For a TV network to cover 43 cars for 500 laps and “tell the story” is impossible. We never get all of it, and shouldn’t expect to.

yankeegranny
03/31/2009 11:00 AM
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I had to listen to the NASCAR channel on Sirius to find out what happened to Brian Vickers. Fox really is horrible this year.Soooo glad I have Race view and Direct TV, so I can see what my drivers of choice are doing. The only downer is I have to listen to the booth baffoons in order to listen to JR on the direct tv.

indianaracefan
03/31/2009 11:40 AM
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Why all the hate for FOX? Have you ever watched races on ESPN and TNT? They all have problems with their race coverage. Look at the Nationwide races on ESPN. How many times do they actually mention Nationwide series teams? (besides Rusty’s and Brad’s) As for the comments on Nemechek, why would any team show up at the race track without parts to fix brakes! They had the same issue the week before but didn’t have the parts at the track to fix the problem? Isn’t it a bit ironic his “issues” come after Nascar announes they will get thougher on starting and parking in Sprint Cup races? A little more racing and Nemechek would be right there with Gilliland vying for a spot in the top 35. I’m with Kenny on this one. If a team can’t go behind the wall and fix brake issues, then they parked!

HankZ
03/31/2009 12:46 PM
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Oh how I hate FOX!!!

Ryan
03/31/2009 02:30 PM
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I hope everyone heard the words of wisdom by the talking heads at FOX this weekend . If you didn’t hear these gems , you’ll think i’m making this up .
The driver of the number 16 truck gave an interview to a pit reporter on Friday regarding his ski championship . No sooner than the interview was over , Mike Joy said the young man didn’t know what he was talking about when comparing the two sports . This was due to the many ski championships and race car championships Joy has won . No one knows more about anything than the blowhard Joy .
Next was this beauty by the equally know it all Darrel Waltrip . he actually said “ if a car isn’t handling well its hard to pass someone “ . Thanks , who would have ever guessed that .

Carl D.
03/31/2009 03:43 PM
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Fox is exceptionally good at one thing… making me miss Ned Jarrett and Benny Parsons every raceday.

midasmicah
03/31/2009 05:29 PM
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I wish that the many varied complaints we fans have regarding the TV coverage of nas$car were taken seriously. Towards the end of the race Fox started showing the top ten on the ticker. Not to mention the fact that they only seemed to want to show the top five cars the whole race. This is getting old. I almost turned my back on nas$car last year, but I came back. After the first few races, I’m wondering why. Boring races, a terrible car, a few elite teams rule the roost. What a concept. I NEVER thought Bristol would field a boring race. But somehow nas$car succeeded in doing just that. And then they wonder why there are lots of empty seats at their venues. Wake up nas$car. It’s later then you think.

Nadine Keilholz
04/01/2009 03:37 AM
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Thank you for your comments about Fox Sport’s poor coverage of the Sprint Cup races. The only thing I can say good about it is that ABC, which will take over later in the season, is even worse.

I have been a fan of Joe Nemechek for many years, and I spend hours every Monday searching the racing sites and blogs and the internet search engines trying to find out what happened to him during the week. I shouldn’t have to do that — Fox should mention every driver who leaves the field, and also tell us when he comes back — or when it’s decided that he can’t return and why. It would take only a few seconds for each mention, and it would also help them by providing them with something interesting to say so they wouldn’t have to strain their brains to think of bits of asinine trivia to fill the empty air time.

docbob
04/02/2009 03:18 PM
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I have a thought on why Digger is missing in the pre-race show. Since I have other commitments when the race is on I DVR them and watch them during the week. The first four weeks it seems like the pre-race show was an hour. Now I have clocked it and it is a 1/2 hour. With the two most recent races having an earlier start time, it is possible that they went with 1/2 hour show and cut digger till they can get back to the hour version. Just a thought.