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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: A Look at FOX Sports’ Changes After 6 Weeks

I hope everyone enjoyed Easter weekend. I know that the NASCAR teams did, none more so than the road crews. With the West Coast Swing that took up three of the first six weeks of the season, many of the truck drivers had spent fewer than 10 days at home since Daytona. Some of the crew members responsible for FOX Sports’ NASCAR broadcasts have juggled similar schedules so far this season, so Easter at home was a nice respite.

NASCAR’s traditional Easter weekend provides a natural break for us to take a look back at what FOX has given viewers for the first six weeks of the season. As you’re well aware of by now, there were a bunch of changes in the offseason and now is the time to see how they’re meshing together.

We’ll start with the one real aspect of FOX’s presentation that has not changed. That is the broadcast booth for Sprint Cup races. Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds continue to hold down the fort for what’s become a near unparalleled period of continuity. Rare is the group that sticks together for 15 years. The booth’s performance so far in 2015 has really been more of what we’ve come to aspect out of FOX. It’s not all good, but not all bad. Watching a FOX Sprint Cup broadcast means watching the contrast between the trio in the booth. It’s hard at times to follow the race since Darrell Waltrip and McReynolds appear to have a language unto themselves at times.

FOX telecasts also have more in the way of technical goodies. They were the first to use the in-car cameras with the gyroscopes on a regular basis and they still get good use out of what they call tread cams (formerly the Digger cam). While that little creature gave me months of material in the past, we’re beyond that now.

The various moves on pit road have actually meshed quite well. While I do admit that it took a while to get used to Jamie Little and Chris Neville (Little more so than Neville) doing races for FOX, they’ve adjusted into their new roles without too much of a problem. I still believe that FOX needs a fourth pit reporter. Steve Byrnes might be the fourth reporter, but he’s not healthy enough to go right now, and a sub is in order.

Finally, we have Andy Petree, hired on a couple of weeks before the season started as FOX’s Grandmaster of the Rules. Honestly, there are weeks in which he doesn’t have a whole lot to do. FOX may have expected a slightly more chaotic season in the pits due to the whole electronic officiating that’s gone into effect for 2015, hence why Petree was brought on. Petree is generally very good when he makes it onto a telecast, but he’s just not around very much. It must be a very different feel for Petree as compared to the past few years of booth work for ESPN. Having said that, Petree’s preparation is excellent.

In the comments section of a couple of the critiques, it was mentioned that Petree’s role for 2015 could ultimately be some kind of on-air tryout for a more substantial position in the future. If he was an inexperienced on-air personality, I could buy that. Not so much with Petree. He’s got eight years of booth analyst experience. In that time, he’s done something like 350 races between Nextel/Sprint Cup and the Xfinity Series. He could be plugged into the booth for one of the National series tomorrow morning and do just fine. Also, if FOX were going for a younger booth, plugging Petree in wouldn’t change much, unless he were replacing Darrell Waltrip. Petree is only seven months younger than McReynolds (both men are 56).

What needs to be improved is that FOX needs to keep their heads in the game. That means not getting sidetracked by silliness and being careful when referencing companies that actively back members of the on-air crew so that they aren’t given preference, that sort of thing.

Also, the Mid-Race Report, as I’ve stated multiple times this season, continues to be a dang travesty. If you’re going to have it at all, please at least keep the FOX Box on-screen so people can at least see what lap it is. I’d prefer that it get dropped altogether because it does nothing for viewers and takes away from being able to simply follow the race. I’m sorry, but I don’t like having what amounts to a 10-minute break in the middle of the festivities. This is not the K&N Pro Series. There is no actual halftime break to be had here. If you’re stepping away from the action for that long, then that’s 10 minutes where viewers have a limited vision of what’s going on out there. It’s weak.

With the Xfinity Series coverage, the focus has really been on who’s going to be in the booth each week with Adam Alexander and Michael Waltrip. I do find the guest analysts to be intriguing each week, but I really wish that FOX would give us a schedule as to who’s going to be joining in and when. For instance, we already know that Jeff Gordon is making his debut in the broadcast booth Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway. That was announced back in Fontana. In addition, we also know that Danica Patrick is going to be in the booth for the Michigan 250 in June. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine as to who’s going to be in the booth and when.

As for the guests of honor, Kevin Harvick has been the best of the bunch so far. He brings a low key demeanor to the booth and clearly wants to inform the viewers. I really didn’t know what to think about Harvick as a TV guy going into the season. He had next to no experience. Daytona was enough for me to see that TV could be a legitimate second career for Harvick. However, at 39, I doubt Harvick’s going anywhere anytime soon.

Brad Keselowski started out a bit rough at Atlanta, but I believe part of the reason why he was rusty was the fact that he was distracted. Remember that he worked the race in the booth while wearing his firesuit because he had to go out and race 200 miles as soon as the Hisense 250 ended. He was much improved at Phoenix.

All we have to go on with Clint Bowyer right now is his performance at Fontana. Admittedly, I found Bowyer to be a little annoying. It seemed like he was channeling Darrell Waltrip at times. Believe me, we don’t need a third Waltrip on FOX. Having said that, it seemed like Bowyer was enjoying himself up there. He’ll get a couple of more cracks at it later on, perhaps as soon as Bristol.

My enjoyment of Xfinity Series races seems to almost depend on who the guest is and how well they can handle Michael Waltrip. Harvick’s not playing Michael’s games. Bowyer is more than willing to. Part of that is Bowyer’s own personality, which is squarely in the quirky category, but he’s not silly like Michael (Note: I’m still trying to figure out how Michael ended up with a bigger on-air role at FOX Sports for 2015 despite being the least liked NASCAR TV personality by a landslide in Bob Pockrass’s unscientific survey last year. Is it solely because he did Dancing with the Stars (and lasted about two months longer than he should have?)

So far, FOX Sports is doing a little better at bringing more attention to those that are full-time in the Xfinity Series than what ESPN had done in the past. They are being helped by the fact that fewer Sprint Cup regulars have been doing double duty recently. Don’t expect that to last with the rule changes cutting power out of the Cup cars.

I’m not really comfortable with how they’ve tried to co-opt Erik Jones as a regular when he’s not eligible for points. It’s like they’re saying “Gee, this group is sort of thin, let’s rope this dude in as well.”

As far as the Camping World Truck Series is concerned, the series seems like an afterthought at times. The ludicrous schedule that gives teams six weeks off after only three races doesn’t help any. Hard to believe that this is better than past years.

FOX is clearly operating with Steve Byrnes in mind here. Before his cancer returned last year, Byrnes was sharing the play-by-play duties for truck races with Alexander after Rick Allen’s departure. Long-term, the play-by-play gig is Byrnes’s to lose, as long as he’s healthy enough to work. Whether we see him working in 2015 is anyone’s guess at the moment. Byrnes’ ongoing health issues has created a merry-go-around in the booth as each race has had a different play-by-play commentator. Only Phil Parsons has been in the booth for all three races. Let’s face it. This situation bites. It’s beyond anyone’s control, but it bites. There’s no continuity here, and there won’t be all season.

The coverage of the racing itself is still quite decent. Even with the field size cut to 32 (not really necessary, but the fact is that most of the races had short fields last year), we still get a lot of action. I think the telecasts have fallen off a bit since Allen left, but that’s just because there’s no continuity. Even last year, it was already an issue. At least now, there’s more eyeballs watching. The ratings are back up to where they were in 2013 prior to the FOX Sports 1 launch.

That’s all for this week. After the thinnest race weekend of the season last weekend, we’re going into one of the bulkiest. The Sprint Cup and Xfinity series are back in action at Texas Motor Speedway. Meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series makes their first trip to Louisiana to race. Let’s hope it goes better than the time a thunderstorm swept through an IMSA street race there in 1991. In addition, Sunday marks the first race in a multi-year deal for the World Endurance Championship with FOX Sports. The entire 6 Hours of Silverstone will be aired live. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, April 7

TimeTelecastNetwork
10 a.m. - 11 a.m.AMSOil Arenacross: AustinFOX Sports 1*#
5 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.K&N Pro Series East Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150NBC Sports Network*/ (from April 4)
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
8 p.m. - 9 p.m.AMSOil Arenacross: AustinFOX Sports 2*#

Wednesday, April 8

TimeTelecastNetwork
12 a.m. - 2 a.m.Pirelli World Challenge: St. PetersburgCBS Sports Network*/# (from March 28-29)
2 a.m. - 3 a.m.V8 Supercars Tyrepower Tasmania SupersprintCBS Sports Network*/# (from March 28-29)
3 a.m. - 5 a.m.Pirelli World Challenge: St. PetersburgCBS Sports Network*/# (from March 28-29)
5 a.m. - 6 a.m.V8 Supercars Tyrepower Tasmania SupersprintCBS Sports Network*/# (from March 28-29)
10 a.m. - 12 p.m.IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Microsoft Visual Studio 150FOX Sports 1*/# (from March 20)
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*#

Thursday, April 9

TimeTelecastNetwork
10 a.m. - 11 a.m.V8 Supercars Tyrepower Tasmania SupersprintCBS Sports Network*/# (from March 28-29)
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*#
10 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.Formula One Grand Prix of China Free Practice No. 1NBC Sports Live Extra$
11 p.m. - 12 a.m.K&N Pro Series East Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150NBC Sports Network*/# (from April 4)

Friday, April 10

TimeTelecastNetwork
2 a.m. - 3:30 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of China Free Practice No. 2NBC Sports Network
10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.NASCAR Masters of the Clock: The Legend of MartinsvilleFOX Sports 1#
11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1
1 p.m. - 2 p.m.NASCAR RaceHub No. 1FOX Sports 1
1 p.m. - 3 p.m.Blancpain Sprint Series: NogaroCBS Sports Network*/# (from April 5-6)
2 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1
3:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceHub No. 2FOX Sports 1
4:30 p.m. - 6 p.m.XFINITY Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1
5:30 p.m. - 6 p.m.INDYCAR 36: James HinchcliffeNBC Sports Network
6 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceHub No. 3FOX Sports 1
6:30 p.m. - 8 p.m.Sprint Cup Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1
8 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.NASCAR RaceDay - XFINITY EditionFOX Sports 1
8:30 p.m. - 11 p.m.XFINITY Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 300FOX Sports 1

Saturday, April 11

TimeTelecastNetwork
12 a.m. - 1 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of China Free Practice No. 3NBC Sports Live Extra$
3 a.m. - 4:30 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of China QualifyingNBC Sports Network
3 a.m. - 4:30 a.m.Sprint Cup Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1*# (from April 10)
4:30 a.m. - 6 a.m.Sprint Cup Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1*# (from April 10)
10 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.XFINITY Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 300FOX Sports 1*# (from April 10)
1 p.m. - 2 p.m.SCORE Off-Road Desert Series Parker 425NBC Sports Network*/
5 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.Verizon IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Louisiana QualifyingNBC Sports Network
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceDayFOX Sports 1
6 p.m. - 8 p.m.Southern Super Series Super Late Models Federated Car Care 100 presented by Crane Cams & Crosley BrandsArcaRacing.com$$
6 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals QualifyingESPN 2*/
7 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.FOX NASCAR SaturdayFOX
7:30 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500FOX
8 p.m. - 10 p.m.ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards Troop Aid 200ArcaRacing.com$$
8 p.m. - 11 p.m.AMA Monster Energy Supercross: HoustonFOX Sports 2
11:30 p.m. - 12 a.m.NASCAR Victory LaneFOX Sports 2

Sunday, April 12

TimeTelecastNetwork
12 a.m. - 1 a.m.motoGP World Championship QualifyingFOX Sports 2* (from April 11)
1:30 a.m. - 2 a.m.F1 CountdownNBC Sports Network
2 a.m. - 4 a.m.Formula One Grand Prix of ChinaNBC Sports Network
3 a.m. - 6 a.m.Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500FOX Sports 1*/# (from April 11)
4 a.m. - 4:30 a.m.F1 ExtraNBC Sports Network
7 a.m. - 1 p.m.FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of SilverstoneFOX Sports 1
1 p.m. - 2 p.m.Moto3: AustinFOX Sports 1
1 p.m. - 3 p.m.Mexico Series Potosina 200NBC Universo
2 p.m. - 3 p.m.Moto2: AustinFOX Sports 1
2 p.m. - 7 p.m.NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals Final EliminationsESPN3$
2:30 p.m. - 3 p.m.IndyCar Pre-RaceNBC Sports Network
3 p.m. - 4 p.m.motoGP World Championship Red Bull Grand Prix of the AmericasFOX Sports 1
3 p.m. - 6 p.m.Verizon IndyCar Series Grand Prix of LouisianaNBC Sports Network
3:30 p.m. - 4 p.m.Mobil 1's The GridCBS Sports Network
4 p.m. - 5 p.m.Blancpain Endurance Series: MonzaCBS Sports Network*/
4 p.m. - 7 p.m.AMA Monster Energy Supercross: HoustonFOX Sports 1*# (from April 11)
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.K&N Pro Series East Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150NBC Sports Network*/# (from April 4)
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.motoGP World Championship QualifyingFOX Sports 2*# (from April 11)
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.Moto3: AustinFOX Sports 2*#
7:30 p.m. - 8 p.m.Mobil 1's The GridCBS Sports Network#
8 p.m. - 9 p.m.Moto2: AustinFOX Sports 2*#
8 p.m. - 11 p.m.NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals Final EliminationsESPN 2*/
9 p.m. - 10 p.m.motoGP World Championship Red Bull Grand Prix of the AmericasFOX Sports 2*#
10 p.m. - 1 a.m.AMA Monster Energy Supercross: HoustonFOX Sports 2*# (from April 11)

Monday, April 13

TimeTelecastNetwork
5 a.m. - 6 a.m.Blancpain Endurance Series: MonzaCBS Sports Network*/# (from April 12)
10 a.m. - 1 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500FOX Sports 1*/# (from April 11)
5:30 p.m. - 6 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*#
8 p.m. - 11 p.m.Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500FOX Sports 1*/# (from April 11)

Key:
* – Tape Delayed
/ – Highlighted Coverage
# – Repeat Coverage
$ – Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your internet and/or programming provider for availability.
$$ – Available via online Pay-per-view

Quick note. Yes, the ARCA race from Nashville Saturday night is available via pay-per-view online at arcaracing.com. For $29.95, you get the 200-lap ARCA Racing Series event, plus the preliminary 100-lap Southern Super Series event serving as a preliminary. Charles Krall and Tim Clagg, who usually do radio broadcasts for ARCA, will call the race while Kristen Beat will serve as a pit reporter.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Verizon IndyCar Series races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex in the Newsletter, my original plan was to just cover the NAPA Auto Parts 150 from Kern County Raceway Park, which premiered last Friday. However, since NBC Sports Network is premiering their coverage of the Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150 from Greenville-Pickens Speedway on Tuesday, I’m thinking of doing a combined critique. Stay tuned.

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 they finally get 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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14 thoughts on “Couch Potato Tuesday: A Look at FOX Sports’ Changes After 6 Weeks”

  1. Not a fan of Harvick’s since day one in Cup. With that said (for disclosure) I am hard pressed to understand “the praise” some media pundits are affording him regarding his commentary on Xfinitiy(howeverthehellyouspellit)races. Am I missing something? I found the other guest hosts with more oomph and enthusiasm. I dunno, maybe his stars are finally aligned this past year or two and business of NASCAR is “rewarding” him. “HAPPY” ( a lie if one was ever told) is going to be 40 very soon and his “handlers” are setting his next $$$$$ path along the lines of the past drivers in the booth. IMO of course…:)

  2. It should be a credit to Fox that they have managed to hold together the same booth crew for 15 years. Should be. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that this trio has run its course. Every driver is “Our Buddy” or given some kind of nickname that no one else uses. I have heard “might could” about 500 times more than I needed to.
    I have commented on the role of Petree, knowing he has a wealth of experience in the booth. To clarify, I wonder if there was some type of implied promise to him of a bigger role for him down the road. Maybe he needed a job but this rules analyst role as you mentioned is spotty at best. I don’t think Fox is in need of a youth movement so much as some different voices for the reasons we’ve documented for years.
    It’s been brought up before when Rusty Wallace covered Nationwide races while he was a team owner in the series. That is my issue with Michael Waltrip playing a prominent role even more so than his personality. I just don’t see how this is not some type of conflict of interest. But then again this is NASCAR where the sanctioning body owns more than half of the tracks so it shouldn’t be surprising.

  3. You must be grading on a curve Phil. A very kind critique of FOX’s product.

    As for ” Rare is the group that sticks together for 15 years. ” Most of us have been waiting for FOX to shake up the broadcast crew for years. Just our luck that we get this “rare” occurrence.

  4. “Fox needs to keep their head in the game”, well that would make a nice change since honestly I think they’ve had their heads up where the sun don’t shine for most of the past 7 years. Their credibility as “national” level announcers has fallen, along with NASCAR’s credibility in its ever changing rules and championship format – as in, they don’t have any. When I listen to an NFL broadcast, I expect to get a professional production and Fox does that. For NASCAR, nope, the fans get the same junk broadcast every week. Bells and whistles won’t make up for a bad job.

    I agree with you about the midrace report. Taking that much time away from the actual race only makes sense from a $ and cents point of view, certainly not in what they are supposed to be showing to the fan unless of course Fox is assuming that people haven’t been watching the race anyway so they have to recap it.

  5. I like reading your articles everyTuesday ! Thank you Phil ! Pretty much agree with what you had to say today !!what a waste having Petri getting to pop out once in a while !! There must be a ” for real ‘ spot for him someplace! Hoping they are keeping a spot for Steve Byrnes when he able to come back !!! ( we really miss you Steve and you are loved by many ) NOW : FOX sports biggest problem !! MIKEY – he may be a wonderful person – I don’t know ,but really ! He is an embaresment to Our Sport when he is running around being an idiot when he suppose to be interviewing drivers before they get in their cars for the race !’ At least I guess that is why he is running around out there !!! Please ,please bury that segment immediately!!!!! It is bad enough having him on the rest of the time! I know I am being Very rude but Please !!!!!

    • steve byrnes is a pit road reporter for fox on race day. on foxsports1 he was the host of racehub. i wish steve all the best. got lots of prayers going for him.

      • Me, too, Janice. Steve is missed a lot and I wish him a full recovery so he can get back to his “normal” life with his family and racing.

    • I agree re : “Mikey” being ridiculous and irrelevent — ESPECIALLY on is lame, childish “grid run” crap
      If ALL the drivers totally ignored him, turned their backs, and said Nothing – (most don’t have a chance to say ANYthing meaningfull Anyway – as he prances by in what looks like a hurried, meth fueled rush to ……???) – – – He would NOT notice -he’s too busy in his “Look-at-ME—-LOOK-at-ME—-LOOK-AT-MEE-MEEE_MEEEEEE- MEEEEEE_ MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE !” mode !!!
      Get him a toy microphone and put him in a rubber room surrounded with mirrors so he can entertain himself instead of annoying US !

    • When drivers are hiding from him during his grid run so they don’t have to talk to him, you know something is wrong.

  6. If not for the invention of the DVR, Fast Forward and the Mute button Fox’s on air buffoonery and one commercial for every lap run would surely contribute to fan flight. Having to watch the entire telecast and then write about it seems to me something one would be sentenced to following conviction for a Class A Misdemeanor rather than a job one would do voluntarily. It is irrelevant who is in the booth for the Xfinity and truck series as both are absolutely non competitive and therefore have the viewership of infomercials. As my Sainted Grandfather so eloquently used to say, “You can’t shine sh-t”.

  7. FOX still has the stick in their behind and won’t air the Xfinity races… the bottom-crawler during the darts tournaments consistently invites mt to ‘call AT&T and tell them I don’t want to miss out’…
    HOW ABOUT STICK TO YOUR CONTRACT AND LET AT&T AIR THE DAMNED RACE!?

    • Brian,
      That is AT&T U-verse’s decision, not FOX Sports 1’s. It’s an ongoing spat and I really wish that they could come to an agreement to stop the stupidity.

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