NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: Solid Daytona 500 Start for FOX… But Old Issues Remain

Greetings, fans and welcome to this week’s critique, entry No. 49 in a limitless series where I look into the NASCAR broadcasts that we all watch. This past week brought the main events of Speedweeks for the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series at Daytona International Speedway. In addition, the Sprint Cup Series also had their qualifying races, the Gatorade Duels, to set the grid for Sunday’s Daytona 500.

From what I could tell, SPEED’s coverage of the Gatorade Duels was similar to what we saw from last year. First, there was no Chris Myers, who didn’t show up on any of the broadcasts until Sunday (more on Myers later). Instead, Krista Voda shared the “Hollywood Hotel” with Jeff Hammond. This is generally considered to be a good pairing and they play off each other fairly well. Steve Byrnes, Dick Berggren and Matt Yocum were on pit road and provided the performances that we’re used to.

In the booth were Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. There was no “Boogity” at the beginning of the race. I’m starting to wonder who actually owns the rights to that infamous phrase (and yes, it is copyrighted). I’m starting to think that FOX owns the copyright, even though it’s most easily identified with Waltrip.

Speaking of Waltrips, Michael Waltrip joined Voda and Hammond in the Hollywood Hotel for the second Gatorade Duel after crashing out of Duel No. 1. Waltrip was admittedly nervous, since his crash threatened to keep him out of the Daytona 500. To their credit, FOX did not constantly cut to Michael during the race. However, they did keep a camera on him at all times to gauge his emotions. This was shown in a montage after the race ended. I’d argue that there may have been some favoritism shown towards Michael since he was the first interview after the second Duel ended, before anyone that was actually in the second Duel was interviewed.

One gripe that was mentioned during our Live Blog of the Gatorade Duels was the fact that SPEED did not show a split screen of the race for the victory and the race for the transfer spot at the end of the Duels. I can understand the gripe here. The poster described the race for the win to be “meaningless.” However, in both duels, the battle for the transfer spot and the leaders were in the same pack. Also of note, you probably saw early on in the Daytona 500 on Sunday (before the pothole started wreaking havoc) that track position was very important due to the slickness of the track. Getting that good starting spot definitely helps. Of course, no one actually thought that the race would go into darkness again despite starting at 1:20 p.m.

The quad pits appeared during the rounds of pit stops under caution. I’m not a fan of this graphic because it leaves the fans guessing as to who’s in front of who. Luckily, this was changed for Sunday (see below).

Friday was a complete and total washout. ESPN’s coverage of what was supposed to be Nationwide qualifying consisted of analysis in the Infield Studio and interviews conducted in the motorhome lot by Marty Smith. Meanwhile, on SPEED, live coverage of the NextEra Energy Resources 250 was quite short before the official word of the postponement came down from NASCAR. Three interviews were conducted, along with a recap of offseason news and a flow chart of driver/crew chief/team changes. After the race was called, SPEED showed coverage of last year’s race to fill time.

Saturday brought the season-opening races for the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series. Now, you might remember last week’s critique, where I got on SPEED’s case for over-hyping Danica Patrick‘s stock car debut. I claimed at the time that SPEED’s focus towards Danica hurt the rest of the broadcast. It was quite blatant at times. When it was officially announced last Monday that Danica would run the Drive4COPD 300 in the No. 7, I feared that Danica’s decision would hurt the overall broadcast. Was this the case?

I do think it did hurt the pre-race a little. The first segment of NASCAR Countdown was almost completely dedicated to Danica. However, other drivers did get interviewed, and there were other features, including a nice sit-down interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr. that was conducted by Marty Smith. However, there was no real mention of the lengths that Jack Roush went to get Paul Menard into the field on Saturday (bought out five separate teams, spending six figures in the process), or of the fact that Danica wasn’t the only woman in the race. Chrissy Wallace was briefly on camera during pre-race, but she wasn’t interviewed. She was dumped into the wall by the aforementioned Menard before the first lap ended.

Once the race started, Danica did get some airtime, but not a whole lot while she was still out on the track. Patrick’s inexperience with the aerodynamics saw her lose the draft and get lapped. When this happened, ESPN would periodically update Danica’s status with a drop down box below the scroll. I’m fine with this, and I believe that this method will be used to keep track of point contenders later this season.

Saturday also marked Dr. Jerry Punch’s return to pit road in a race situation. Of note, Punch still spoke like he was in the booth. Maybe that’s just his “TV voice” these days, but being on pit road often requires a different voice. For what it’s worth, I thought Dr. Punch did fine in his return to the pits. Also of note, Dr. Punch is more or less replacing Shannon Spake on pit road for now. Spake announced via her Twitter feed on Friday that she will be returning to the track at the end of next month.

This creates a quandary for ESPN. What happens? Will they go with five pit reporters every week, or will they create a “four weeks on, one week off” schedule? That’s anyone’s guess at this point.

The general opinion of the race telecast is that once you got away from the Danica factor, it wasn’t half bad to watch. The enthusiasm was quite high, and the action was pretty good. It appears that questioning methods by the pit reporters have improved over the winter, which was a gripe that many fans had last season. Having Marty Reid in the booth is a big change over Dr. Punch from last year, but Reid’s been in the booth long enough that I’m just about used to him being up there now.

I do still have some thoughts. For one, I have no idea why ESPN still feels the need to pipe in fake crowd noise at the beginning of races. Two, I’m not 100% sure if this was just me, or if other viewers had this problem, but it seemed like there were some microphone issues. The voices sounded pixilated, while the screen was perfectly fine. Weird.

Also, I believe that ESPN was incorrect in stating that there were no S&Ps at Daytona. But, what Brad Teague did in the No. 04 Chevrolet was effectively a start-and-park (Frontstretch reporters in the pits at Daytona confirmed only a small tool box was in the team’s pit). However, since Teague spun out right after Chrissy Wallace’s wreck, NASCAR determined that Teague crashed out, despite the car not having a scratch on it. Have to be a little more cognizant of those types of things.

Post-race coverage was quite short. ESPN interviewed race winner Tony Stewart, his crew chief Butch Hylton and four other drivers before quickly leaving the air. However, it’s not like they were rushing in order to get to another sporting event. They were rushing to get to SportsCenter at Daytona, which was effectively a one-hour show hyping the Daytona 500. I don’t understand the rush, to be honest. A preview show doesn’t need to be rushed onto the air, since it can effectively air anytime before the race starts.

Later that night, SPEED televised the rescheduled NextEra Energy Resources 250. In addition to a repeat of the offseason flow chart that was on Friday’s telecast, pre-race included a short look into a day in Austin Dillon‘s life as a freshman at High Point University, and a look into the formation of Kyle Busch Motorsports out of the ashes of Xpress Motorsports. I generally enjoyed these features.

Allen, Parsons and Michael Waltrip did a good job of calling the action during the race. However, Michael may have been borderline with all the talk about Brett Butler and his performance. In his defense, he did choose Butler as his SPEED Spotlight driver. However, Butler is the son of Ken Butler, CEO of Aaron’s, and at one point was a development driver with Waltrip’s race team. Broadcasters have to watch out for that stuff.

The commentators did take the drivers to task for their over exuberance to engage in bump drafting out on the track that caused multiple wrecks. The booth pounded home the fact that the bumpers on the trucks don’t line up, which leads to tuck under situations that lift the rear tires of the truck in front off the ground.

Post-race coverage was typical for the truck races. There were five interviews for the top-five finishers and a look at the unofficial results. That is about all we hope for, especially when the race spent so much time under caution.

Finally, the Daytona 500 came on Sunday. SPEED came on air live with NASCAR RaceDay at 9 a.m. ET, and from that point on, there was continuous live coverage from Daytona for the next 11 hours. That’s a long day for the TV guys to be on air, not including the hours of work before going on air.

FOX started their one hour pre-race show with effectively a segment on news and notes. This was a nice change, as you may remember from last year that I would get on the TV partners for shoving the news well into pre-race. There was also a feature on all the new rule changes that NASCAR has instituted for this season (new spoiler, restrictor plate, new policing rules, etc.) with the help of various drivers. It’s unclear when this was shot, but it may have been before Speedweeks. There was also a pre-race concert (really a three song set) by Tim McGraw. I could care less about having a concert before the Daytona 500, but…it’s the Daytona 500. It’s to be expected by now. I can’t really grade the concert because I’m not a country music fan and don’t really listen to McGraw. That’s another website.

The Digger cartoon has thankfully been excised from the pre-race show. If you saw my critiques last season, you know where I stand on that gopher. However, just because Digger is gone from the pre-race doesn’t mean that he still won’t be around. He still shows up in the race broadcast and is still more prominent in this smaller role than Cleatus, the robot. As a result, the Digger Count will continue this year. I counted 16 Digger appearances on Sunday, all of the animated variety.

In Digger’s place in pre-race, FOX is running a weather report, similar to what they do during FOX NFL Sunday in the fall. I think this is a good idea, as it means that FOX is going to be upfront about potential weather this season. We’ll have to wait until rain threatens a race later this year to see how dedicated FOX is to this.

Of course, it’s always good to have racing back on TV, not just so I can critique it, but because I enjoy watching it. I don’t have a miserable life and want to go off on people just to feel better about myself. Having said that, I did have some issues with the broadcast. Apparently, Darrell Waltrip didn’t notice the bunches of fans that did leave the race during the red flags for pothole repair, because he was claiming that “no one left.” Now, maybe the vantage point he had from the broadcast booth was the best, but we know that people did depart from the track during the delays. Our writers at the track actually talked to some people who were packing up and exiting early. Some were angry with NASCAR for screwing up, others simply weren’t prepared for cold weather (remember, this is Florida we’re talking about here), while others likely needed to get home so they could go to work on Monday.

In our Live Blog, there were also complaints about the amount of commercials. Unfortunately, I cannot do anything about the ads because they help FOX pay for their portion of the schedule. However, the segments between commercial breaks seemed to last longer during the red flags than outside of them. I have no actual proof of this, but they did seem that way. Of course, having said this, I’m sure Ramsey Poston’s going to put his crack staff at work to prove me wrong.

During red flag situations, networks have to do their best to fill the time. FOX spent significant time interviewing drivers and crew chiefs during the two red flags. I counted 38 driver interviews total, although a few of those were repeats. During the first red flag, Brian France stopped by the booth to advise viewers on the situation. After France left, Waltrip took a tone of being very happy with the decisions that NASCAR was making with the repairs. This angered some viewers. Some, like Paul Tracy, via his Twitter feed, responded with quotes that I cannot repeat here at Frontstretch since we’re a family-friendly website.

Another thing that FOX did during the first red flag was to go through Hammond’s outdoor classroom. For some reason, Chris Myers decided to take on the appearance of being a complete moron about the inner workings of race cars and parts, etc. Chris, I know you’re not the technical mind here, that’s why Jeff Hammond is present, but c’mon now. This is your 10th year with FOX. This clueless shtick has got to stop. It’s annoying and makes you look unprofessional.

Other viewers became angry with Mike Joy’s explanation of the weather being the primary factor in causing the pothole. I’ll admit right here that it was a major contributing factor to the pothole. The weather in Daytona was colder than normal for basically all of Speedweeks. In addition, there were a couple of days of drenching rains. However, you cannot dismiss the age of the track surface (32 years) from the discussion. I’m a Northeast guy, and so is Mike for that matter, so the shear thought of blacktop lasting 32 years, or even half that without crumbling is foreign to me. The winters are too harsh here.

There were a couple of new features that I should mention. The quad pits that I mentioned in a negative tone from the Gatorade Duels have been given an overhaul. Now, there is the traditional triple pits setup on the left side of the screen. On the right side of the screen is a fourth box taking up the upper right one-sixth of the screen. Below that is the traditional view at the end of the pit lane. I believe that this will work a lot better than the old quad pits design in the long run. Also, on the last lap, the scroll changes to a new graphic that shows the top 5 in real time, then scrolls through the entire field as they come across the line. Time will tell as to how this is perceived.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief, but knowing that the telecast was nearly three hours over time because of the red flags, it’s understandable. There were interviews with race winner Jamie McMurray in victory lane (where he cried), Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer. In addition to the interviews, there was a full rundown of the unofficial results and post-race analysis in the booth before FOX left the air.

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That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR convoy moves on to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The doubleheader from last season is out, due to a total lack of interest. As a result, the Camping World Truck Series is off for the next two weeks, while the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series teams each make the long haul out to San Bernardino County.

Coverage starts on Friday with Nationwide Series practice on SPEED at 2 p.m. ET. Sprint Cup practice follows at 3 p.m. ET (noon PT), then a second Nationwide practice (Happy Hour) from 4:30-6 p.m. ET. Sprint Cup qualifying is scheduled to air on SPEED at 6:30 p.m. ET.

On Saturday, coverage starts with qualifying for the Nationwide Series at 12:30 p.m. ET (9:30 a.m. PT) on SPEED. That is followed up by two Sprint Cup practice sessions from 2:30-3:30 p.m. and 3:30-5 p.m.

Saturday race coverage starts at 5 p.m. ET with NASCAR Countdown, a half-hour edition, on ESPN2. Official race coverage of the Stater Brothers 300 starts at 5:30 p.m. with the green flag scheduled to fall around 5:46 p.m. ET.

On Sunday, coverage on FOX is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. ET (11 a.m. PT) with a one hour pre-race show. Race coverage of the Auto Club 500 starts at 3 p.m. ET with the green flag scheduled to fall around 3:16 p.m. ET. I will critique both of the races and give my thoughts on whatever may happen in the world of NASCAR TV.

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 email address provided on the website in my bio. Also, if you would like to follow me via Twitter, you can go to my Twitter page here. And if you would like to contact FOX, ESPN or the SPEED Channel personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage of NASCAR, please click on the following links:

FOX
SPEED
ESPN

As always, if you choose to contact the networks 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.

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