NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Runaways Force FOX’s Hand in Phoenix

Phoenix International Raceway was the scene of a couple of races that really weren’t all that competitive. Knowing that, FOX Sports was in the position of having to make races that were so-so look decent. We’ll see how well they did below.

Before we start, there are a couple of news items to cover. First, ARCA and the CBS Sports Network announced last week that the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards will return to the digital cable sports network for at least three events later this year. The races that will be covered are the Toledo ARCA 200 in May, the Winchester ARCA 200 in June and the Allen Crowe 100 at the Springfield Mile in August. The release did not mention who will be producing the broadcasts or who will commentate, but I would not be surprised if Rick Benjamin’s Carolinas Broadcast Group is back for another go-round. I will critique at least one of those races later this year in the Critic’s Annex.

In addition, ESPN announced on Monday that it has signed Jon Beekhuis to serve as a pit reporter on ESPN’s suite of Verizon IndyCar Series races starting at St. Petersburg. Beekhuis will effectively replace Vince Welch in the pits. Now, I know there are IndyCar fans who read this column. Know that Beekhuis will work for ESPN in addition to his work for NBC Sports Network. I really don’t see a negative to ESPN’s move here. The broadcast booth is still unchanged for 2015. Allen Bestwick will be back with Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever alongside.

CampingWorld.com 500k

Despite the general defeatist vibe brought on by Kevin Harvick at Phoenix International Raceway last weekend, there was a bit of a buzz in the air. Kurt Busch was back, and looking kinda grizzly as well.

I’d figured that Busch would have taken a similar attitude towards the media with his return to racing that Tony Stewart did last year when he returned after the events of last August in Canandaigua. In short, that was Operation Shutdown. I think Stewart did three or four on-air interviews over the final couple of months of the 2014 season. Busch proved me wrong. He decided to talk about the situation with Chris Myers. Given the seriousness of the situation, the usual shenanigans that mark a typical edition of FOX NASCAR Sunday (and believe me, there were plenty of ridiculous shenanigans) were stripped away for the moment. It was just Busch and Myers with no music.

I found the interview to be quite interesting to watch. Busch still feels that he was wrongfully accused and took a relatively terse tone. He went out of his way to not reference Patricia Driscoll. To say that he was cold towards any mention of her would be an understatement. We got a very one-sided look at the issue from Busch’s perspective that I’m fairly sure was scripted to a certain degree. Remember, this is a man known to read statements during press conferences to answer questions that he doesn’t like. I’ve seen it in person back in 2011 (interestingly enough, that instance also referenced Driscoll). To his credit, Myers tried to give Driscoll equal time in the segment, but Busch wasn’t having any of that. Stewart-Haas Racing put out a statement after Busch was reinstated saying that it’s moving on, and Busch was the living embodiment of that.

Ultimately, any interview is only as good as the interview subject on that day. Busch was not the most forthcoming subject, but I’m surprised that he actually talked at all. I also didn’t like the placement of the interview in the third segment, halfway through FOX NASCAR Sunday. I’m sure Ned Yost is a good dude, but let’s face it. Busch is a bigger story right now than the manager of the Kansas City Royals talking about hanging out with Dale Earnhardt, no matter how much Earnhardt’s death still pains Yost. The pieces should have been flip-flopped at least.

At the front of the field, Sunday’s Cup race was tied (with three other races) for the second-least competitive race ever at Phoenix. Only the 1990 event that Earnhardt dominated had fewer lead changes. When such a setup occurs, whoever is broadcasting the race has to take steps in order to provide viewers with good action to watch. FOX started taking those steps quite early in the race.

While we didn’t see all that much action at the front of the field, the action further back was quite fast and furious. In the interest of showing good action, FOX did show a good amount of that racing in addition to updating viewers on the leaders. It was good to see.

What is generally not good to see is the ongoing disaster that is the mid-race report. NASCAR races (or really any race, for that matter) are not conducive to halftime reports unless there is an actual halftime break (K&N Pro Series, Whelen Modified Tour and Whelen Southern Modified Tour, etc.). My preference would be to keep it constrained to cautions only. On Sunday, you had a situation in which next to no updates on the race were given for something like 17 laps. Harvick snatched the lead away from Brad Keselowski during the report, and it didn’t even warrant a mention. Yes, we saw the pass, but the commentators all but ignored it. I’ve ranted about the segment before on here and my position has not changed. It’s brutal and takes away from the broadcast. It’s nothing more than a restating of storylines that takes fans away from the race. You know, the reason everyone’s watching FOX on a Sunday afternoon in March. FOX would do well to drop it.

One of the major storylines going into the race was the general briefness of the event. That wasn’t so on Sunday. The race lasted nearly three hours, which cut into the post-race coverage. While FOX did bring viewers a number of interviews, it failed to show the point standings before leaving the air. Granted, anyone that’s reading this column knows that Harvick expanded his lead, but the other drivers have fans as well. Also, after reading Twitter on break at work today, I wonder if FOX had any footage of the on-track squabbles between Danica Patrick and Alex Bowman on Sunday. I don’t recall seeing any on the broadcast, but Bowman claimed on Twitter that Patrick threatened to kick him square in the pants after the race (she didn’t actually say that, but with what she said, the result would have been the same).

Overall, FOX’s broadcast was good in spots and not so good in others. The mid-race report was one bad spot. I was pretty sure that someone was spitting water early in the race, but I couldn’t figure out who it was (it showed up on a roof cam).

Axalta Faster. Tougher. Brighter 200

Saturday brought the Xfinity Series to network television for the first time this season.

One of the main themes of NASCAR RaceDay was the idea of the Xfinity Series regulars becoming much stronger in 2015. Chase Elliott proclaimed in a segment that Xfinity Series regulars could win 15 of the 33 races this year. Based on what we saw at Phoenix, I don’t know about that. 10 seems more likely than 15. Also, it appears that FOX Sports is considering Erik Jones to be an NXS regular for the sake of the conversation. Jones isn’t eligible for Xfinity Series points because he’s a Camping World Truck Series regular. His presence in the races usurps potential points for actual regulars. He’s just not a Sprint Cup driver… yet. Does FOX think that the NXS regular ranks are so thin that it feels the need to co-opt a Truck regular?

For Phoenix, Brad Keselowski returned for his second try at booth analysis, this time without the added stress of preparing for a race immediately afterward. Much like in the car, Harvick has set the standard for guest analyst work. Without that added stress, Keselowski was better than he was in Atlanta. Like Harvick, Keselowski is a calming influence in the booth in contrast to Michael Waltrip, who is quite simply Michael Waltrip at all times.

Probably the most interesting anecdote out of Keselowski came really early in the race when he discussed how he knew that Elliott was going to be a factor in the series. It was the second race of last season when the then-18-year-old high school senior raced him heads-up at Phoenix. Performances like that make a clear impression on the best in the sport. We didn’t get anything quite like that on Saturday, but the booth did draw attention to decent runs from drivers such as Ryan Sieg and Brennan Poole.

Speaking of Poole, I don’t really understand why the HScott Motorsports with Chip Ganassi team tried to run Poole 104 laps to the finish on fuel. That wasn’t going to work. The race wasn’t going to become one of those start-and-stop events. The team should have pitted Poole when Elliott spun out and allowed him a chance to finish in the top 10 instead of four laps down in 26th.

The incident between Elliott and Ty Dillon could end up having some repercussions going forward. FOX’s coverage of said incident was somewhat even-keeled. While only Dillon was interviewed after the race, viewers got Elliott’s point of view from the radio chatter. The incident, for all intents and purposes, was a racing deal. Yet, both drivers separately tried to make it more than it really was. FOX played up the incident a little bit, but not too much.

Compared to the Sprint Cup race, the coverage was much more centralized at the front of the field. While yes, the booth did give drivers dap for good runs, much of the race was focused on Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Harvick and Austin Dillon. It simply wasn’t all that much of the potential showcase for NXS regulars that could have been.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series teams conclude the western swing with the lone trip of the season to Auto Club Speedway. Meanwhile, IMSA comes back to life with their second major endurance race of the season, the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, March 17

TimeTelecastNetwork
9 a.m. - 11 a.m.XFINITY Series Axalta Faster. Tougher. Brighter. 200FOX Sports 1*/# (from March 14)
5 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.SCORE Bud Light San Felipe 250CBS Sports Network*/ (from January 25)
8 p.m. - 9 p.m.SCCA Trans-Am Series Foametix 100CBS Sports Network* (from March 1)
10 p.m. - 11 p.m.V8 Supercars Clipsal 500CBS Sports Network*/# (from February 28-March 1)
11 p.m. - 12 a.m.SCORE Bud Light San Felipe 250CBS Sports Network*/# (from January 25)

Wednesday, March 18

TimeTelecastNetwork
3 a.m. - 4 a.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1*# (from March 17)
4:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.NASCAR's The List: Dale Earnhardt, Sr. MomentsNBC Sports Network#
5 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.Endurocross: Daytona BeachCBS Sports Network*
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
8 p.m. - 9 p.m. Pirelli World Challenge: COTA, TC/TCA/TCB ClassesCBS Sports Network*/ (from March 7-8)
10 p.m. - 12 a.m.Pirelli World Challenge: COTA, GT/GT Cup/GTS ClassesCBS Sports Network*/# (from March 7-8)

Thursday, March 19

TimeTelecastNetwork
3:50 p.m. - 4:50 p.m.IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup: Sebring, Race No. 1FansChoice.tv^
5 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
6:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR America's Celebrate the StatesNBC Sports Network#
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.AMSOil Arenacross: Kansas CityFOX Sports 2*#
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
8 p.m. - 9 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#

Friday, March 20

TimeTelecastNetwork
7:45 a.m. - 8:30 a.m.IMSA Mazda MX-5 Cup: Sebring, Race No. 1FansChoice.tv^
10 a.m. - 1 p.m.AMA Monster Energy Supercross: IndianapolisFOX Sports 1*# (from March 14)
11:10 a.m. - 12 p.m.IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup: Sebring, Race No. 2FansChoice.tv^
1:05 p.m. - 3:50 p.m.IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge: SebringFansChoice.tv/IMSA.com^
3 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1
4:20 p.m. - 6 p.m.TUDOR United SportsCar Championship QualifyingFansChoice.tv/IMSA.com^
4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.XFINITY Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1
5:30 p.m. - 6 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.XFINITY Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1
7:30 p.m. - 9 p.m.Sprint Cup Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1

Saturday, March 21

TimeTelecastNetwork
3 a.m. - 4:30 a.m.Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1*# (from March 20)
4:30 a.m. - 6 a.m.Sprint Cup Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1*# (from March 20)
9 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.Sprint Cup Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1*# (from March 20)
10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, Part No. 1FOX Sports 1
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2FOX Sports 2
12 p.m. - 1 p.m.Pirelli World Challenge: COTA, TC/TCA/TCB classesCBS Sports Network*/# (from March 7-8)
12:30 p.m. - 2 p.m.XFINITY Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1
12:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, Part No. 2FOX Sports 2
1 p.m. - 3 p.m.Pirelli World Challenge: COTA, GT/GT Cup/GTS classesCBS Sports Network*/# (from March 7-8)
2 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceHub No. 1FOX Sports 1
2:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1
3:30 p.m. - 4 p.m.NASCAR RaceDay: XFINITY EditionFOX Sports 1
4 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.XFINITY Series Drive4Clots.com 300FOX Sports 1
6:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceHub No. 2FOX Sports 1
7 p.m. - 10 p.m.AMA Monster Energy Supercross: DetroitFOX Sports 1
7 p.m. - 10 p.m.TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, Part No. 3FansChoice.tv/IMSA.com^
10 p.m. - 11 p.m.TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, The FinishFOX Sports 2

Sunday, March 22

TimeTelecastNetwork
3 a.m. - 5:30 a.m.XFINITY Series Drive4Clots.com 300FOX Sports 1*# (from March 21)
5:30 a.m. - 6 a.m.The 10: NASCAR's Most Bizarre MomentsFOX Sports 1#
8 a.m. - 10 a.m.TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Mobil 1 12 Hours of SebringFOX Sports 1*/# (from March 21)
11 a.m. - 12 p.m.SCCA Trans-Am Series Foametix 100CBS Sports Network*# (from March 1)
12 p.m. - 1 p.m.SCORE Bud Light San Felipe 250CBS Sports Network*/# (from January 25)
1 p.m. - 2 p.m.AMSOil Arenacross: SouthhavenFOX Sports 1*
2 p.m. - 3 p.m.NASCAR RaceDayFOX Sports 1
3 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.FOX NASCAR SundayFOX
3 p.m. - 4 p.m.AMSOil Arenacross: SouthhavenFOX Sports 2*#
3:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400FOX
10 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.NASCAR Victory LaneFOX Sports 1*
10:30 p.m. - 11 p.m.1979 Daytona 500: Pop-up StyleFOX Sports 1#

Monday, March 23

TimeTelecastNetwork
12 a.m. - 3 a.m.AMA Monster Energy Supercross: DetroitFOX Sports 2*# (from March 21)
3 a.m. - 6 a.m.Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400FOX Sports 1*/# (from March 22)
10 a.m. - 1 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400FOX Sports 1*/# (from March 22)
2 p.m. - 5 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400FOX Sports 1*/# (from March 22)
4 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.NASCAR's The List: Greatest FinishesNBC Sports Network#
4:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.NASCAR's The List: Rookie SeasonsNBC Sports Network#
5 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
9 p.m. - 10 p.m.AMSOil Arenacross: SouthhavenFOX Sports 2*#

Key:
* – Tape Delayed
/ – Highlighted Coverage
# – Repeat Coverage
^ – Available via free online streaming

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Xfinity series races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex, we’re heading over to NBC Universo to take a look at its coverage of Friday night’s Toyota 120 from Phoenix.

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 want to like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons below. Finally, if you would like to contact FOX Sports personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage, please click on the following link:

FOX Sports

At this point, there is still no public contact email for NBC Sports. When it finally gets around to creating a new link, I will post it for you.

As always, if you choose to contact the 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.

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11 Comments
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dr show

Great review! I love writers who don’t drink the NASCAR koolaid.Some o of the Fox prerace is terrible. Specifically the MW Clown show! I think I learned more about the race from your review than what I got from 3plus hours of Fox coverage. Keep up the good work!

rg72

More egregious than the mid-race report was the curious full replay of a restart (“The Move of the Race”) from a few minutes before with under ten laps to go. I think it was sponsored by someone (of course) but darned if I remember.
They just about missed another one of the few passes for the lead during the worn-out Crank It Up, which used to be early or mid-race and now seems to have crept into the final third of the race.

GinaV24

rg72, I saw that, too during the race, and wondered what the heck they were doing. I missed all the interview stuff since I don’t bother with the pre-race shows or raceday. I find most of it annoying and not relevant to the racing, so I just skip it.

I thought the race was pretty boring overall.

JohnQ

I’ve pretty much accepted that the quality of NASCAR racing will continue to decline. And, I’m tired of listening to me complain about it. I watch a lap here and there but really, I’m pretty much done with it. That said, even if the racing was, well racing, the overbearing buffoonery of the Waltrips and Toyota Mac Good YearSunoco is reason enough not to watch it. NASCAR could not care less about what the fans want. Neither could Fox. I find myself not caring right back at them.

Fed Up

RG72, I believe it was the 5 Hour Energy move of the race. I remember thinking Fox must have to fulfill a sponsor obligation. The coverage then went to Bowyer’s in car camera, which showed absolutely no racing. Such is the entertainment industry. No wonder the race only got a 3.8 rating

steve

What have I gotten real tired of, let me could the ways:

1: Their insistence on the mid-race update, especially as was this week, where their talking about stuff that happened an hour ago ran over one of the few passes for the lead.

2: Mike Joy mentioning the dogfight between 8-9-10 (if I remember right) with a lap or so left, only to have the camera focus on Harvick with his huge lead going to the finish line. Split screen anyone?

3: Their mentioning of a battle between two drivers, and the camera cutting to that, but pretty much after the pass was completed. Given the technology, little lights ought to go off when cars racing for position come together, allowing them to show us the action as it develops.

4: Their citing ridiculous reasons for arguing that a particular car is a threat to the leaders. Newman is a threat at Phoenix because he finished second in the overall standings last year? Gordon is a threat to Harvick because of what Gordon did at this track two repavings and three car models ago? Seriously? Can’t they simply look through the field to see which cars are running the fastest lap times and point that out?

5: their insistence on talking as if there’s great cooperation between drivers driving Chevys, Fords, whatever. heck, the drivers don’t really cooperate with their own teammates, there’s even less to suggest that Johnson is going to cut Larsen a break because they both drive Chevys.

6: Their inability to talk specifically about what drivers are doing to their cars to improve the handling. We can see for ourselves which drivers are running better or worse than they did earlier in the race. Heck, with the scroll, we probably have picked up on it faster than the announcers. Tell us why that is happening. The pit reporters are watching the pit stops, tell us if they did X or Y. in other words, tell us something that we can’t tell for ourselves.

That’s enough venting for now.

7 –

6 –

Alex

Great to hear that Jon will be working the Indycar races for both NBCSN and ESPN as he has been the best pit reporter in the business for 20+ years. Sad to see it’ll STILL be Goodyear and Cheever in the booth though….so painful.

Bill W.

RG72 and GinaV24 this not new , every week they show the #15 in-car camera so all you see is the 5 Hour stickers plastered inside the car. Since Waltrip owns the car this is not a accident.
It seems like every week Fox figures some how to screw-up the coverage. First its the walk of shame by Mikey. Then Jaws and Mac Mac try to out talk each other and not say anything. When Joy tries to talk about the race, the two clowns in the booth talk over him.

Ron Schwalbe

When are they going to drug test “Look-at-Me…LOOK-at-ME….LOOK-AT-ME_ME_MEEEE” Mikey ??
When he goes off babbling on his infantile “Grid run” waste of time- NOT interviewing ANYBODY – just glowing in the knoweldge that he is the ONLY one on camera –making stupid mumbling sounds are he annoys everyone on pit road,– he acts as if he just snorted a TON of cocaine and washed it down with 20 of those idiotic “energy drinks” !!
DAYum . . . he’s a disgusting embarassement to NASCAR, Fox – and the human race in general.
DEFINITLY something wrong with his head – — Somebody give him a mirror and a play microphone and lock him in a rubber room !!!!

Steve

My favorite was in Las Vegas when they showed him being an idiot out on the town, he called a minion (Despicable Me) character mascot Sponge Bob. I stopped watching pre-race shows a long long time ago and every time I happen to check it out, I’m reminded why I stopped. I can’t even get through the last 20 laps of a race without getting frustrated with the coverage. “Move of the Race” with less than 10 laps to go? Really?

david

Ah what fools commenting here. Did everybody miss that comment by Childress concerning mayonaise that should have made national headlines that Mikey instigated? How about Tony Stuarts stroll to driver introductions proudly swinging what looked like a big baby bump below a big scowl with more grace than Marylin Monroe’s backside? Ah what narrow minded fools most seem to be here.

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