NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Are FOX’s Poor NASCAR Ratings Fixable With Better Coverage?

Welcome back.  Sunday had a great finish, eh?  Not too often that someone executes the bump n’ run on their own teammate.  I’ll fully admit that I was surprised that Carl Edwards was willing to do it.

Also, there was a bit of an uproar surrounding Samantha Busch cussing at the finish after the aforementioned bump n’ run.  That led Samantha to post a tweet apologizing for her conduct.

Personally, not only do I believe that Samantha didn’t need to apologize for jack, I have no idea why the deuce this is a thing.  It’s not like Samantha crashed Kyle Busch’s post-race interview with Jamie Little and dropped the S-bomb on Edwards there.  If that were the case, NASCAR would be fining her butt on Wednesday.  What we have here is a group of race fans lip-reading a slow motion reaction replay and getting ticked.  Not worth getting your feathers ruffled about.  Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Tony Stewart came to Samantha’s defense on Twitter later on Sunday night.  Earnhardt Jr. even referenced his own fine for cussing at Talladega back in 2004 (Viewer discretion advised, of course).

My gripe there wouldn’t even be the fact that Samantha was upset that her husband got beat the way he did.  That’s natural.  I’d be surprised if she weren’t a bit ticked the way that went down.  Significant other cutaways during the race annoy me in general because they take away from the action.  Let’s face it.  I don’t have anything against her, but I dang well don’t tune in to a Sprint Cup race to see Samantha Busch.  Having said that, this is more of an issue with ESPN broadcasts at the Indianapolis 500 than anything else.  Anyway, that’s done and buried.  It’ll be the last you hear of it today.

Toyota Owners 400

On Sunday, the big story of the day was the return of Stewart to the drivers’ seat.  Quite frankly, he needs this.  Based on his performance from last season, getting to 30th in points might be a little harder than you’d think.  Prior to the race, it was stated that Stewart would have to average a 22nd-place finish to get to 30th in points by Richmond in September (given his 19th on Sunday, so far so good).  However, Stewart’s average finish last year was a miserable 24.8.  He can’t run like last year and expect to make the Chase, regardless of whether he wins or not.

Here, Stewart talked with Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon and Chris Myers prior to the race about a number of topics.  Stewart’s comments on lug nuts were prominently covered even before the interview.  He refused to back down and stated that he would not change his approach to anything.  He did state that he was going to pay the fine himself and donate the money from the other drivers to charities focused on Autism Awareness.  Since this interview, NASCAR has announced that they’re taking Stewart’s advice (but not crediting him for it).  The one thing I’m wondering about here is whether Stewart had already privately talked to NASCAR about the lug nut issue before going public with his anger.  That really hasn’t been touched upon here.  It’s one thing for someone (Stewart, Mike Arning or whoever) to state that Stewart talked to NASCAR privately about it, it’s a whole ‘nother thing to go into detail about what was said.

Also in pre-race was a piece where Matt DiBenedetto talked about his career-day at Bristol and the reaction to it.  It’s a rare look in Sprint Cup at someone on the other side of the fence, where winning is not really possible.  The opinion on DiBenedetto seems to be that he’s a new face for fans to pull for.  He’s had to go through some heck just to get where he is at the moment.  Even with his prior stint as a development driver with Joe Gibbs Racing, that kind of background should be able to draw in both younger fans and some of the older fans as well.  He didn’t get anything handed to him.  He had to work hard to get to where he is.

After reading the comments last week, I noticed some of you saying that Jeff Gordon has some kind of bias toward his immediate replacement, Chase Elliott that is nearly on par with Darrell Waltrip’s bias towards seemingly everything Toyota, but mostly Kyle Busch.  I decided to keep a closer eye on Gordon’s commentary.  I did note some playing up of Elliott, but admittedly, Elliott did make a number of good moves Sunday.  Examples include the run on the outside on a restart that Stewart referred to on the radio as “sexy,” and charging into the top 10 after spending nearly 40 percent of the race a lap down.  It’s not anything on the same level as how Darrell Waltrip treats Kyle Busch (see the bump ‘n run, with Waltrip’s statement of “Oh no, that’s a teammate!”).

The long green-flag runs didn’t necessarily lead to a lack of racing for position.  The different lines opened up all kinds of action.  Honestly, Sunday might have been the most competitive Cup race at Richmond in many years.  Most of the last few years have seen follow the leader around the bottom events.  I still believe that FOX needs to spread out their focus during the races.  While yes, they did bring some drivers attention that deserved it, like David Ragan when he drove up to 15th past halfway, it was still a little too narrowcast for my tastes.

(Photo: Matthew T. Thacker/NKP)
Television broadcasts are still missing something when it comes to giving everyone some attention. (Photo: Matthew T. Thacker/NKP)

Debris was also another issue on Sunday as the parts and pieces brought out at least four yellows.  FOX didn’t do the best job in showing viewers where this debris was on track.  As longtime readers of this column know, that’s a pet peeve.  This is auto racing.  There’s always going to be conspiracy theorists around that believe NASCAR’s grooving races in a certain fashion.  It is my belief that TV can ward against that mentality.

At least one of the yellows Sunday was a “mystery caution,” or “phantom debris caution.  I couldn’t tell you what the deuce brought the first one out.  The second one had to do with debris off of Reed Sorenson’s No. 55, but the debris apparently sat there for eight laps before the yellow was brought out.  The other two had visible debris.  One was what looked like a hose (I think), while the other appeared to be due to tire debris off of Ragan’s car.  I think FOX can do a better job in this aspect of the broadcast.

Post-race coverage was about average.  Viewers got a few interviews that summed up the major stories of the race, along with checks of the unofficial results and points.

Overall, we got a pretty interesting race on Sunday.  A much more competitive race than in recent years.  In all honesty, Richmond races have bored me for quite a few years and have been part of the reason why road racing has had such a resurgence of popularity in NASCAR over the past few years (I was an early adopter there).  Provided FOX can show as much of the tight action for position as they can, NASCAR seems to have something here.

ToyotaCare 250

Saturday brought round No. 2 of the XFINITY Dash 4 Cash to Richmond.  That means another week of the flawed race format.  I sufficiently covered my personal thoughts on the format last week, so I’ll direct you there.  It was maybe two percent more exciting than Bristol.  However, Richmond was another race.  How did it go?

During NASCAR RaceDay, the primary feature of the show was a piece where former Richmond winner Kenny Wallace (a fact that he has to have mentioned on-air a dozen times already this year) took the role of a teacher and gave Matt Tifft some advice about racing at Richmond (the UNC-Charlotte sophomore hadn’t raced there prior to Saturday).  For as silly as Wallace seems to be most of the time (on TV, Twitter, etc.), he did give Tifft some sound advice.  It seems that Tifft took it to heart.  Up until he got caught up in the lap 134 crash in turn 2, he was running in the top 5.

Much like Sunday’s race, the XFINITY A-main on Saturday was mostly run under green.  The first yellow didn’t fly until there were 14 laps to go.  As a result, viewers were dependent on FOX Sports 1’s green-flag coverage.  We did get a good amount of information on how the leaders were doing, handling-wise.  Naturally, there was a fair amount of coverage given to the four drivers competing for the XFINITY Dash 4 Cash (Erik Jones, Brennan Poole, Justin Allgaier and Ty Dillon) as well.  Not that much racing for position, to be honest.

In the booth on Saturday with Adam Alexander and Michael Waltrip was Joey Logano, in for his second go-around of the season.  I felt that Logano has some good insights for viewers.  He has some knowledge about the Team Penske No. 22 that he was able to share, but I don’t believe that he brought that much to the broadcast.

With the way the race got spread out, there just wasn’t much racing for position.  Instead, we got constant shots of Earnhardt Jr., Ty Dillon, Erik Jones, Tifft and a couple of others.  In situations like these, FOX Sports 1 needs to search a bit, pick up some additional stories, cover battles that occur off the beaten path.  Anything to make the race more exciting.  If you don’t, that’s what leads to moves like introducing the Caution Clock in the Camping World Truck Series.  You know, pointless moves designed to unnaturally shake up the race.

Post-race coverage was a little more detailed than normal due to the race ending ahead of schedule.  While we did get a couple of more interviews than normal out of that, there really wasn’t much in the way of a difference.

Overall, this was not the most exciting race to watch. Once Earnhardt Jr. got the lead, it was mostly just single cars and not a lot of action.  There was action in this race, but it appeared that FOX Sports 1 didn’t go hunting for it very much.  Long green flag runs are where you butter your bread.  You have to find the action and bring it to the viewers.  They could have done better.

That’s all for this week.  Speaking of Talladega, that’s what we’ve got coming up next weekend.  Sprint Cup, XFINITY and the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards will be in action for 1000 miles of pack racing.  Meanwhile, IMSA has a doubleheader Sunday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sunday and Formula One returns to Sochi.  The TV listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab above.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, XFINITY and ARCA races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  The Critic’s Annex will cover INDYCAR from Barber Park, also known as the minefield of debris.

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 and I’m happy with the increased number of comments so far this year. 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.

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kb

My gripe is that Samantha took up so much TV time (certainly not her fault). Although I am sure once she found out she was thrilled, she was denied her catwalk and loving embrace in V-lane with all the NASCAR papparatzzi shooting up close every spittle passing between her and hubby., so her exposure this week minus V-Lane is equal. I find it hard to believe she did not know the camera was on her, for goodness sake it wasn’t a super duper lens peering at her from a mile away.

Bill B

I know what brought out the first caution, a long green flag run which had all but 17 or 18 drivers a lap down and soon to be under 15. We can’t have that happen, too many fans of drivers a lap down may change the channel because their driver is sucking. That’s when the long arm of NASCAR plays it’s only card, a debris caution. Once that first debris caution came out, the cautions breed cautions effect took over.

rg72

Cautions breed cautions which breed free passes and wave-arounds, which breeds Mike Joy’s observation with about 20 to go that there are 32 cars are on the lead lap, said in a tone that it was such a testament to how great these drivers are.
There is a bit good news this week. Assuming he qualifies, Michael Waltrip will be in a car this week.

Chris Crowell

Dead on. No need for that first caution and the race was really good at that point but of course Nascar stepped in.

Matt

Phil. Maybe you can explain something I noted Saturday. All of a sudden Joey Logano and Adam Alexander appeared to be taller than Michael Waltrip. Waltrip is a pretty big guy…well he’s a big lot of things…so that seemed odd. Were Joey and Adam standing on risers or was Waltrip kneeling down. I thought he only did that when Brian France was around.

The Mad Man

Getting rid of the Waltrip Posse and bringing in some real professionals would go a long ways towards improving the TV coverage. Then actually show some racing instead of lap after lap of the inside of a driver in his car or just DW’s favorites.

Steve

The most pointless exercise in all of racing is the wife shot in the closing laps. But are people really that PC that they are going to get upset that a woman at a race track says the S word after husband lost the race? Are we really looking that hard for something to complain about? This country has turned into a bunch of whiny crybabies. No wonder we are no longer feared by other countries. Sorry to go off on a tangent, but the whole PC crap just drives me nuts. If it bothers you that much, don’t watch. The rest of us who want to watch don’t want to hear your whining.

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