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Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Struggles to Find All-Star Feel

Last weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck Series descended onto Charlotte Motor Speedway for the annual All-Star festivities.  New gimmicks were in play and they did next to nothing to change the action.  More on that a little later.

Before we get into the races themselves, I have to talk about FOX Sports’ big announcement on Friday.  Specifically, the Drivers Only broadcast that will take place at Pocono next month.  For those of you who didn’t catch the announcement, Kevin Harvick will serve as the play-by-play announcer with Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano as his wingmen.  Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be pit reporters, while Denny Hamlin and Danica Patrick will be in the Hollywood Hotel.

This is either going to be very good, or very bad.  We’ll start with the obvious. FOX Sports clearly thinks that Harvick is the best of the bunch, hence why he’s getting the play-by-play gig.  Based on what we’ve seen over the past couple of years, I’m inclined to agree with them.

Do I think that Bowyer and Logano are the two best guest analysts other than Harvick?  I’m not sure, but I don’t believe so.  I personally liked what I saw out of Jamie McMurray earlier this season.  Harvick has been teamed up with a jokester and a man with an infectious laugh.  Logano is supposed to be the more analytical of the two, but I’m not sure if he’s all that good at that.  We’ll have to see how it works.

Once you get out of the booth, you enter the land of the unknown. None of the three drivers tapped for pit reporting work have any real experience on race broadcasts.  I feel like they’ll adjust, but how is this going to work for the crucial information gathering?  Are Blaney, Jones and Stenhouse going to be spending their free time at Pocono culling information from XFINITY Series crew chiefs as part of their duties? Will FOX Sports’ regular pit reporters do that work for them and just feed them the notes?  I don’t know, but that has the makings of a real mess.

Finally, you have Hamlin and Patrick.  Patrick’s done two races as a guest analyst previously.  The first went terribly.  The second was better, but mediocre at best.  Hamlin has no experience.  Patrick’s complaints about being in the booth have involved having to vie with Michael Waltrip and Adam Alexander to get in a word edgewise.  Being in the Hollywood Hotel diminishes her role outside of NASCAR RaceDay – XFINITY Edition.

Despite that fact, I still see Patrick as a potential liability.  She’s never struck me as really being enthusiastic about anything on TV.  Yes, she has causes that she supports (See Patrick’s recent OneCare sponsorship and the stuffed animal sales for charity).  I just worry that she’ll be boring as heck.

Hamlin is a near complete unknown.  He’s got next to no TV experience.  It could be arguable that FOX Sports may be hoping for some kind of disagreement between the two of them.  It’s happened before.

In all honesty, FOX Sports really doesn’t have much to lose here.  Why not try this?  I don’t think that it will be groundbreaking.  What I think will happen is that you’ll have an even more personality-driven broadcast than normal.  Viewers might miss out on a number of tidbits they take for granted on regular broadcasts.

My real worry is losing important aspects of the race in the ether.  This can happen on regular broadcasts…like the one on Saturday night.  I just think that would be more likely to happen with inexperienced chaps front and center.

I will most definitely cover the broadcast for this column and dedicate quite a bit of time to it.  I’m hoping for the best here, but I also have to be realistic.

Monster Energy All-Star Race

My main takeaway from Saturday night is probably fairly similar to a number of people who voiced their opinions on Twitter during the race. There was some action, but not that much.  A chunk of the action that did happen was either not caught on camera, or wasn’t focused on.

An example of that would be the last-lap move that Kyle Larson put on Jimmie Johnson for second.  FOX’s cameras were focused on Kyle Busch since he was about to win the race.  The booth itself was focused on a number of additional aspects of the race, but the production was slow to follow up.  The end of the race was just one of a number of examples.  Another example occurred way back on lap 6 when the booth noticed some serious three-wide racing between Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski.  Viewers only saw that via a replay.  We’re talking about a race with 20 guys in it as opposed to 40.  It cannot be that to catch things.

The broadcast was a little rough to watch at times because of those instances.  NASCAR’s rules for the race didn’t help any.  Keselowski was sentenced to an unsatisfactory finish because there was a rarely-noted rule in effect where you could not take the option tire off, then put it back on.  That was a head-scratcher.  Who came up with that rule and why?

The whole notion of Bowyer’s team pressing their luck with right-side primes and left-side options (never allowed in any series that normally runs two tire compounds in races these days, but allowed here as long as all four options went on originally at the same time) was interesting.  No one seemingly had thought about that previous to the race weekend.  An interview with crew chief Mike Bugarewicz indicated that he’d been thinking about that since the entry blanks went out for the race.  Honestly, that is the first time that I can remember hearing someone in Cup reference an entry blank since 2000.  Back then, postmarks still were part of the formula to determine who raced if qualifying was rained out.

Post-race coverage was decent, but given how quickly the race ended, a bit underwhelming.  I feel like FOX Sports 1 could have gotten more content into the 20 or so minutes that they had.  As it stands, we did get six interviews and a little analysis.

I found the coverage of the Open to be better.  A bit more racing for position and just more exciting in general.  I thought Darrell Waltrip was going to micturate his pants when Erik Jones made his ill-fated trip to the grass.  That was clearly the most exciting moment of the night.  Jones’ explanation for the move was a little strange, but the whole situation is just one more argument against splitters and the no ride height rule.

As for the All-Star Race itself, it was not all that exciting.  I’ll leave a discussion of the rules that the race ran under for another time.  It is quite simply, a rant by itself.

My primary advice here is that even with all the monitors in the production truck, you can’t see the track with your own eyes from there.  Trust your commentators.  As much as some people might not agree with this statement, they know what they’re seeing.  I’ve always believed that they are a guide to help the production staff show the right stuff.  FOX Sports didn’t do a good job of that on Saturday night.

North Carolina Education Lottery 200

On Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series returned to action for their second consecutive Friday night race.  Like in Kansas, Kyle Busch won, but he administered a whupping on this occasion.

During the Setup, FOX Sports presented a feature about Austin Cindric, the rookie racer that we’ve talked with a couple of times here at Frontstretch.  Here, Cindric talks about how his career in racing was more or less pre-ordained as a result of his upbringing.  I suppose that makes sense to an extent.  When your father is what amounts to the Robert Wagner to Roger Penske’s Mike Myers, that makes sense.

The race broadcast itself really didn’t stand out.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  There weren’t any glaring issues that I noticed.  As compared to the All-Star coverage from Saturday night, I found it to be more inclusive.  The actual racing was more exciting to watch as well, as long as you weren’t fixated on the front of the field.

Speaking of the racing, I have no idea what in the world Humpy Wheeler had brought in when they repaved Charlotte Motor Speedway for the 2006 season, but that stuff holds together very well.  The track races like the pavement is only a year or two old and this is year No. 12.  For longevity, it’s great.  For racing, not so much.

Much of the race was spent trying to keep up with the various pit strategies that were in play.  Henderson Motorsports had Parker Kligerman on an opposite strategy for much of the race.  I’m not particularly sure if it served them all that well as they finished one spot worse than they started and had a borderline top five truck on pace.

Post-race coverage was about average despite nine cautions slowing the pace of the race.  Viewers got five post-race interviews and some analysis before FOX Sports 1 left the air.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend is the sweetest weekend of the year.  We’ve got the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series in Charlotte. The Indianapolis 500.  Formula One in Monaco.  Pirelli World Challenge at Lime Rock Park and the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring.  We’ll have writers on site in Charlotte, Indianapolis and at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut to bring you the action.

I’d recommend gluing yourselves to the couch, or installing a surplus GM lap belt on your chair of choice.  If you can’t do that, grab the snacks, maybe order a pizza and invite some chaps over.  There will be plenty of good stuff to go around.  As always, the TV listings are at the top of the page in the TV Schedule tab.

I will provide critiques of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, XFINITY and Verizon IndyCar Series races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  For the Critic’s Annex, we’re going to have an ARCA double feature as two race broadcasts premiered last weekend.  We will cover MAVTV’s coverage of the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 from Salem (run on Apr. 30) and FOX Sports 1’s coverage of Sunday’s Menards 200 from Toledo.

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. 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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10 thoughts on “Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Struggles to Find All-Star Feel”

  1. Regarding the upcoming hosting experiment, who cares..it works or it does not. At least they are trying something new.

  2. Great, another reason not to watch the X-finity race. Maybe that’s part of the plan to keep Cup drivers out of the X-finity races, make them cover the race instead.

  3. I’d like to see the action between Danica and Ricky in the Hollywood Hotel rather than the farce on the track.

  4. My biggest gripe about the coverage of the All-Star race was why cut to commercial during live racing? The segments were 20 laps each and at 30 seconds a lap that’s ten minutes of racing. You can’t go 10 minutes without a commercial especially during a race with all of the natural breaks. Pathetic.

    • Greg, LOL… I made that same comment on the article about the race that appeared on this website on Sunday.

      I added that I thought the whole idea of the stages were to lessen the need to cut away from the action during green flag racing. Obviously they tipped their hand on the all-star race. The stages are NOT to lessen the commercials during green flag racing, they are obviously there to provide more opportunities for commercials IN ADDITION TO those during green flag racing. The cat’s out of the bag. NASCAR is once again peeing on us and telling us it’s rain. Being a NASCAR fan now requires wearing rain gear.

  5. I didn’t understand why we got to see so much coverage of Samantha Busch after the checkered flag. There must have been somebody interesting to interview after the race. As it turned out we only got to hear from six drivers. Surely they could have found another driver to interview rather than the Samantha Bush show.

  6. The truck races has two things going against it, Busch on the track and Mikey in the booth.Once again Mikey made a fool of himself. The best race I saw this weekend was the ARCA race from Toledo, and yes I watched all three races from Charlotte.

  7. Are you kidding me? The drivers only broadcast will by a HUGE triumph! I can not wait! At long last I will not have to suffer thru the insipid blathering of the offensively inarticulate Mikey! Hooray & thank the sweet-baby Jesus for small favors! Harvick is VERY good! As was Jamie Mac, & Dale Jr., the latter of which was a very pleasant surprisingly. I would opt for both over Joey or Clint, but both of them will be just fine. Parrish the thought they will be anything but a MAJOR improvement! The pit road crew seems a bit of a unknown entity, so, with no worries, I will reserve judgment. Patrick is a populous choice, & not very impressive on the mic. But Denny is nearly as inarticulate & thick-tongued as Mikey. My version of the (Hambone/JGR super-secret unwritten & unspoken) driver’s code handbook says Denny is disallowed from any & all forms of media broadcasted in my house, to include twits! So, with little doubt, this aspect will be an eagerly avoidable weak-sauce dunce-act. They could opt for integral & articulate pro’s in the “Hotel” (like Jamie & Dale Jr.). Imagine THAT! But, no, far be it from Focks to espouse integrity & ethics, right? Lol, smh!
    Did I dislike the Cup “All-Star” weekend? Allow me to count the ways:
    1. I am appalled by the elimination of pit road speeds & forging established safety protocols. It is unconscionable to risk injury &/or death as a means to instigate revenue.
    2. To my sensibilities, All-Star events makes no sense in the middle of the “regular” season. If it were sandwiched between the end of the “regular” season & “chase” I might find it slightly less unpalatable.
    3. Regardless of where it emanates from (Focks, dot com, or other sources), persistently blathering about 1M USD purse is repugnant & unpalatable. It is taxed, then split-up & divvied out amongst the winning team, & the driver gets a fraction of it.
    4. Lying & mischaracterization it as a “race” is repugnant & unpalatable. It is an exhibition that woefully fails to meet my sensibility, & I believe, any reasonable definition of an integral motorsports “race”.
    5. I have much higher expectations for integral “green initiatives”. The Qualifying format alone wastes 100’s of tires, not to mention the whole weekend is a waste. The multiple frivolous fireworks displays needlessly exhaust a plethora of poisons on top of the existing tons of green-house gasses & toxins needlessly exhausted by this ethically bankrupt event. Their current “green initiatives” seem to be nothing more than a shallow bullet-point marketing scheme. Considering many modern & enlightened corporations EASILY turn the value of “green initiatives” & investments into profitable ventures, their current antiquated state of green emphasis is insulting & a thinly veiled hypocritical farce. It’s easy! Get your heads out of the 70’s sand-box kids & GROW UP!
    6. The entire “dog & pony extravaganza” air to the whole wasteful weekend is repugnant & unpalatable. And “monster” bringing the equivalent of scantly-clothed leather-clad female pole-dancers to the game top’s it off, vulgarly! Again, get out of the 70’s! And the fun part is all of these modern-day shallow gimmicks employed under the guise of filling the seat, in reality, causes former avid & dedicated followers to divest.
    7. All-Star weekend is faithfully the most repulsive & perverse corporate advertising orgy of the season, so let’s not even discuss the woeful ineptitude of their production broadcast crew!
    Total laps: 70 …seventy!
    Total commercials: 185 …ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY FIVE!!!
    – Total traditional: 99
    – Total split-screen: 20
    – Total graphics & scripted: 75

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