Like what we’ve seen from FOX NASCAR coverage, Auto Club Speedway has undergone a paradigm shift of opinions over the past 20 years. At first, there was some excitement about being back in Southern California after being away for nine years. The place was packed and the racing was OK. The track even got a second date beginning in 2004.
But the fact that second race ended up on Labor Day weekend created problems from day one. It didn’t help the temperature could be over 100 degrees that time of year (and was for the race at least once).
Now, as the track has aged, it has found a second wind with good racing over the past few years. As a result, people actually look forward to the Fontana trip again.
Auto Club 400
Sunday brought the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series back to Auto Club Speedway for 400 miles of racing. FOX had good action to cover at times, but a spread-out field at others.
Once again, FOX needs to do a better job at actually previewing the race during its network pre-race show. Yes, I know that a chunk of the audience watches NASCAR RaceDay on FOX Sports 1 prior to FOX NASCAR Sunday. I do too. For what it’s worth, NASCAR RaceDay had quite a few driver interviews.
The segments FOX does on its broadcast network, by comparison just take up too much time. While there was an interesting piece where Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott were confronted with questions from a nine-year-old girl, stuff like that has been few and far between. I don’t really want to see Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip all that much on the pre-race show, let alone the quite-uncoordinated Michael Waltrip (if you saw NASCAR RaceDay on Sunday, you’d know what I mean). The drivers themselves should be playing a bigger role prior to the race. After all, they are the reason you’re turning in to watch these events.
FOX did a good job explaining what happened at the start in Fontana to stack everyone up (and in the process, mess up Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman’s cars). The booth seemed to be worried that the damage to the rear bumper of the No. 2 could cut his left rear tire and actually thought it went down to cause Keselowski’s spin at first. That was not the case. At least Keselowski was able to get a good finish out of it….
The race itself had a series of long runs early on. In those situations, you have to do your best to cover the actual battles as they come along and not restrict yourself to the very front of the field. But FOX didn’t do the best job of that Sunday. As a result, we had a lot of action featuring single cars running around or near the front. That’s OK, but you can’t just show one portion of the field.
I’m almost willing to believe these stage points are actually playing into that tendency a little. With points on tap now during races for chaps running inside the top 10, the new rules are going to narrow FOX’s focus. That is not necessarily a good thing.
FOX still needs to be more inclusive in its race coverage since TV is the primary way in which fans and potential sponsors see this sport. Being too exclusive in your coverage can actively hurt the sport and dissuade potential investors from jumping onboard.
Having said that, I didn’t really come out of the race feeling like I was in the dark on anything, and I can’t necessarily say that about the XFINITY race from Saturday. If someone had contact with the wall, viewers were either notified of that fact, or a replay was cued up. I could get information about the ills of Kurt Busch on Sunday (his car’s handling was in the garbage can) even though the No. 41 ran outside the top 20.
On the other hand, the racing around the restarts was excellent. Everyone seemed to love the side-by-side, three and four-wide action and FOX covered it well.
Post-race coverage was about average. Viewers got a decent number of post-race interviews and a check of the unofficial results. The coverage ended after some post-race analysis.
Overall, Sunday’s race was exciting only in fits and spurts. Martin Truex Jr. probably should have won this event. However, his crew let him down at the worst possible time. FOX did a great job in showing just how Truex was able to be dominant in the middle portion of the race (excellent pit stops, plus clean air). I still want to see more on-track action for position, though. Next weekend at Martinsville should provide that opportunity.
Service King 300
During NASCAR RaceDay – XFINITY Edition, the main feature of the show was a sit-down interview that Chris Neville conducted with Matt Tifft. Buttressed by footage of the two surfing in Huntington Beach, the discussion was actually quite interesting. Given that Tifft is driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, there’s a lot of pressure on him to perform. Tifft talks about that pressure of following in the footsteps of Daniel Suarez and Kyle Busch. I want to say that Saturday was the first time that he’s talked about such a topic on television. So far this year, Tifft’s had a rather miserable time of it on track and this interview was a nice way to bring attention to his season.
During the race, the aforementioned Keselowski joined Adam Alexander and Michael Waltrip to take in racing action. Keselowski has a fair amount of experience in the booth now, so I wasn’t the least bit worried entering the race. I thought that Keselowski offered up some decent analysis. I didn’t think that it was all that special, but it did help the broadcast. It definitely did not take anything away.
I did have some gripes with how some of the incidents were covered. FOX Sports sadly was not all that great in catching the wrecks clearly so that viewers could see what happened. In regards to the crash that took Cole Custer out of the race, we did not see the contact clearly and none of the booth commentators could figure out who it was that got into Custer. It was only once FOX Sports 1 aired an interview with Custer that we found out it was Ryan Sieg that got into him. Custer had every right to be upset after being turned head-on into the wall at 190.
In regards to Brandon Jones’ wreck that set up the last caution, I have no clue what happened. Keselowski thought that someone might have turned across the nose of the No. 33. However, we got no replays at all. I just don’t know what to tell you guys. There was no mention as to whether FOX Sports had footage of this incident or not. The footage of Jones driving his Truck Month Chevrolet with a bashed-in fender is all we got.
Brendan Gaughan, meanwhile had made multiple unscheduled pit stops to repair damage. It sounded like it was a separate deal from what happened to Jones, but there was no closure on that either. Jones and Gaughan ended up finishing 32nd and 33rd, respectively.
I don’t know if it was lack of footage here or time constraints, but the coverage outside of the Larson-Logano battle down the stretch really left something to be desired. I felt uninformed. With the amount of technology available these days, that really shouldn’t be the case.
As you can imagine, post-race coverage was brief. FOX Sports 1 had Monster Energy AMA Supercross coverage from Detroit coming on immediately after post-race coverage ended. The slot for the post-race show began with 26 laps still to run in the race. By the time it ended, there was only time for a Victory Lane interview with Larson that you could tell was sped up from what it would have been. Vince Welch actually had to tell Larson to sum up his day in 30 seconds.
Overall, Saturday’s race broadcast had some good action. The coverage of the battles late in the race in particular was very good. However, the coverage of incidents really did leave a sour taste in my mouth.
Next weekend, the Cup Series returns to Martinsville Speedway for 500 laps of rough-and-tumble action. They will be joined by the Camping World Truck Series. Meanwhile, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series returns to action in Las Vegas and Formula E travels to Mexico City. TV listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab above.
I will provide critiques of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck Series races from Martinsville in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter will cover the K&N Pro Series West race from Kern County Raceway near Bakersfield. This race took place on Thursday night and is scheduled to air tonight on NBCSN after NASCAR America.
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