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(Photo: Barry Cantrell/NKP)

Couch Potato Tuesday: Looking Back On FOX’s Drivers Only Broadcast

Greetings, race fans.  Last weekend was a very interesting and tiring time at Pocono Raceway.  As you can imagine, the primary source of discussion in TV land was the drivers-only broadcast of Saturday’s Pocono Green 250.

Since this event was such a big deal, I will be focusing solely on that broadcast.  Don’t worry, I will still have critiques of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the wreckfests in Texas later this week.  As a quick preview of my Cup review, almost no one liked the 3 p.m. start time, including officials that work for Pocono Raceway.

As a quick reminder, the broadcast had Kevin Harvick on play-by-play with Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano as booth analysts.  Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. worked the pits.  Finally, Denny Hamlin and Danica Patrick were in the Hollywood Hotel.

I’ll admit going into the broadcast that I underestimated when the drivers would actually get to their posts.  Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Happy Hour ran right up against NASCAR RaceDay – XFINITY Edition.  As a result, the drivers on the broadcast spent most of the show getting changed.  I should actually apologize for that since it is something that I should have noticed when I first saw the TV schedule for the weekend.

With the ringers being indisposed, the regulars more or less ran the show here while actively promoting the Drivers Only broadcast.  Shannon Spake described her and Larry McReynolds’ role as that of “warmup announcers.”  I’m not particularly a fan of all the promotion because it made it fairly difficult to properly preview the race.

Meanwhile, Michael Waltrip was described as a “coach” by Adam Alexander.  I don’t know how to feel about that.

Danica Patrick was one of several Cup drivers on FOX’s Drivers Only telecast at Pocono. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

At first, I wanted to compare him to NBA coaches Bill Fitch or Dick Motta, but they both won championships (Fitch with the Boston Celtics in 1981, Motta with the then-Washington Bullets in 1978).  Waltrip never came close to one (he never even finished in the top 10 in Cup points).  They both have a buttload of losses on their resumes, but mainly due to seniority.

As a result, I’d compare Waltrip to Byron Scott, who made two NBA Finals as head coach of the then-New Jersey Nets (2002-2003).  However, according to Basketball-reference.com, Scott has the worst winning percentage all-time (.412) of any NBA coach who has coached more than 1000 games.

I think that some of the positive opinions about the drivers’ broadcast were based on the fact that Waltrip wasn’t on the broadcast.  Judging by the vast majority of comments I’ve received over the past eight years, it is fair to say that a lot of you are not Waltrip fans.

In and around the drivers-only hype, a sit-down interview that Spake conducted with Darrell Wallace Jr. was aired. Here, Spake asked Wallace about his then-upcoming debut, his preparation, the parking of the No. 6 and the implications of Wallace being the first African-American racer in Cup since 2006.  I don’t think I learned all that much from the piece, but I thought it was very well put together.  Wallace is a very honest interview subject and he generally comes off as interesting.  Admittedly, Wallace felt the same way about his Cup debut after the race on Sunday as he did about the No. 6 shutting down in this interview.

Kenny Wallace went to the production meeting to get an idea about the preparations.  The idea here was to see how the drivers are getting used to their roles.  The main takeaway seemed to be that they were excited, but they seemed a little nervous.  The regulars were all shadowing their driver replacements all weekend.  That more or less means that Jamie Little, Chris Neville and Matt Yocum collected all the notes that Blaney, Jones and Stenhouse were given for the race.

This meeting was held in the wives’ lounge in the infield, literally two doors down from the Media Center.  I can tell you that it is every bit as gaudy-looking as you saw on the broadcast.

In the Media Center, thoughts on the pit reporters at the beginning of the race centered on Stenhouse seemingly reading a prompter.  He came off as stilted at the beginning of the race.  That never really changed during the race.  Also, they thought Patrick’s “Boom Goes the Dynamite” was funny.  I couldn’t even hear it when it originally aired.

Jones was likely the best of the bunch down there.  He had good lines of questioning and brought a fair amount of competence to his work.  As the race went on, he became more and more comfortable with his duties.  Blaney was fairly decent as well.  Still a lot of ums, though.

Admittedly, the pit reporters were the big unknown for the drivers-only broadcast since none of them had a scrap of experience coming in.  That said, there was at least one moment in which the reporters directly contradicted each other.  It was in regards to Justin Allgaier’s final pit stop (Stenhouse said that Allgaier was on two tires, while Blaney stated that he was on four).

The booth kind of sort of decided to pick on Jones a little.  Jones has a bit of a mullet going, so they had to make light of it.  Stenhouse used to have one as well (described as a “Mississippi Mudflap”), but apparently Patrick said heck to the no to that.

As the race continued on, everyone seemed to gel into their roles.  It was a bit rough early on, but it developed into something decent to watch.

By the end of the race, I thought that Hamlin and Patrick were the weak links of the broadcast.  That’s about the only aspect of the broadcast that I was realistically able to predict.  Patrick’s never struck me as the most congenial person out there and she’s always struck me as incredibly boring. Perhaps she was in a bad mood.

Let’s face it, the Hollywood Hotel really doesn’t have that big of a role during the races.  The most important time for Spake and McReynolds is typically before the race during NASCAR RaceDay – XFINITY Edition.  Due to the schedule at Pocono, neither driver showed up until the closing minutes of pre-race.  As a result, they missed out on most of their gig.

In Patrick’s case, I’d argue the most memorable thing she did was to say, “Boom Goes the Dynamite” at the beginning of the race.  Hamlin was almost invisible.  I just don’t think that Hamlin and/or Patrick were comfortable in the Hollywood Hotel.  Given the circumstances, that’s understandable.

Post-race coverage was somewhat typical, but with the drivers-only twist.  Blaney interviewed race winner Brad Keselowski, which I think threw Keselowski just a bit.  Stenhouse had Allgaier and Jones had Kyle Larson.  Afterwards, we got some post-race analysis from the booth.

Ultimately, working on a race broadcast, much like many things in life, takes some getting used to.  Once everyone got situated in their roles, things started going better after a rough start.  Grade-wise, this was definitely not an A-rated broadcast by any means.  I’d give it a B-, but I would grade it more leniently than normal given the lack of experience.  It would be a lower grade if all the regulars were working like normal.

Did the drivers-only broadcast make Saturday’s Pocono Green 250 more exciting to watch?  That depends on who you ask.  I’m about neutral on it since I would have watched anyway, but I’m sure that it would have given others reason to press their luck on a Saturday afternoon.  Ratings are more or less flat with last year for the race, so it didn’t hurt anything.

Would I be cool with another drivers-only broadcast?  I suppose, but I’d want some changes.  For one, it would have to be on a weekend in which Happy Hour for Cup isn’t right up against pre-race coverage.  That would allow the drivers to actually work the full telecast, which didn’t happen on Saturday.  That’s easily accomplished.  Just throw in a half-hour edition of NASCAR RaceHub Weekend Edition prior to NASCAR RaceDay – XFINITY Edition and we’re good to go.

Second, I think I want those involved to get a little more training.  It was good to have the regulars helping the drivers along.  Couldn’t imagine the kind of mess this broadcast would have been otherwise.

What’s the end game here?  I wouldn’t be shocked if we start seeing more part-time drivers with TV roles on race broadcasts.  The model here is Parker Kligerman, who just so happened to be in Pocono as a writer on Sunday.  Kligerman more or less got pressed into duty last year and worked out pretty well in the role.  I’m not sure who could end up with such a role at FOX Sports.  Perhaps there was more to this drivers only thing than just a publicity stunt?

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series will both be in action at Michigan.  Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series will have a standalone show at Gateway Motorsports Park.  Finally, the mother of all endurance races, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, will roll off Saturday morning in France.  TV Listings are in the tab above.

I will bring you critiques of the Cup and XFINITY races from Michigan, along with the Truck race from Gateway for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.

Later this week, I’ll have critiques of the Axalta Presents the Pocono 400 and the wreckfests from Texas, likely as part of multiple editions of the Critic’s Annex in the Newsletter.

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.  Also, if you do send me e-mails, I do read them and will sometimes use them in columns at my own discretion.  If that happens, they may be edited for clarity, grammar and spelling.  Having said that, the thoughts portrayed will remain as they were when the e-mail was sent to me.

About Phil Allaway

Phil Allaway
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the Manager of the site's FREE e-mail Newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing Editor.Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the Press Officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as Tony Stewart's Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions.

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10 comments

  1. Reading these comments and similar ones over the years, there is one thing that is clear, fans don’t like M Waltrip. I just can’t understand how Fox hasn’t gotten the message . Are they that clueless. Or is there an army of othrerwise silent M. Waltrip fans that keep sending emails to Fox telling them how much they love him.

  2. I’ve always like Mikey….except when he’s in the announcer booth for more than 15 minutes.

  3. (novel alert) The All-Driver broadcast crew was …interesting. I wish I could give it a high grades, but to me practically nothing ranks good in cable media now-a-days. First of all, TV personalities are NOT a part of the sports event. TV personalities need to be as transparent as possible in reporting the circumstances of the events. A celebrity on-air crew contradicts that premise & basic tenant of sports broadcasting. They need NOT be the show. Big surprise – Focks is oblivious to that fact. So in general, this whole idea is a bad one. Furthermore, cable TV is a service I pay for. I find the state of that service, as in the quality of today’s corporate media product, DELORABLE!
    That is especially true with live sports broadcasting, & most distinctly, motorsports broadcasting. Specifically because of the fact that it is typically for the total number of commercials & ads during a race to out number the total laps of a race (last 5 Nascar Cup events [Dega, KS, Allstar, Char, Dover]: 1328 total laps & 1502 total commercials). This is profane considering motorsports is NOT like stick & ball sports, that have naturally occurring breaks in the live sports action (or game) for ads. Motorsports do NOT pause for ads. So I equate this (advertising during motorsport events) to obliterating 2 of the 4 quarters of a [American] football game with ads. For some reason motorsports fans tolerate having 1/2 of the event obliterated by ads, where-as football fans would tear down stadiums if they missed one or two plays. So, I don’t get it & can not express how frustrating & disenfranchising it is seeing 100’s of race integrity fragmenting ads while live motorsports is occurring. It is absolute insanity & vividly displays who you [Nascar] really believes your customers are, & that you obviously have nearly completely lost touch with it’s actual customers. And it is as big of a reason as any you have lost market shares to existing (stick & ball) sports & why you & your decisions have given rise to all new categories quasi-motorsports exhibitions that reside in the niche categories that Nascar domination formerly disallowed. Just saying, I love motorsports, but I pull no punches when it comes to my expectations of & repulsive feelings about today’s corporate media. So I can NOT say anything positive about basically ANYthing cable TV related.
    But, trying to attempt to rate & give honest feedback about the TV personalities & broadcast in question, I give it a 2 of 5 overall. They are all great people, drivers & motorsports competitors, whom I fully appreciate & respect in that theater, no doubt. As to their individual abilities in live media: Jones – 5 (excellent), Bowyer/Logano/Harvick – 3 (competent), Patrick/Stenhouse/Blaney – 2 (meh), Hamlin – (-)5 (you have got to be kidding me), respectively, with the overriding clause, Focks is horrid!
    For my sensibilities, there was WAY to much stroking of & blathering about insipid “stages”. Pocono races have ALWAYS presented as a highly strategic, & much more so BEFORE “stages”. So TV crews lying about this, is no different that a greasy used-car-salesmen attempting to pitch & dump a lemon on me. It reeks! If anything, “stages” dictate strategy, & take strategic decision making skill-set OUT of the team’s purviews, which systemically KILLS a major determining factor of this, & EVERY Nascar race. Yet this crew, & all of the regular TV crews, constantly brag & pitch “stages”, in practically every other sentence, as if it were a race for TV mentions, & whoever says “stage” the most gets a kupie doll (of which Bowyer is Hello Kitty winner). Which is true regardless, since they all get paid relative to your success or failure. Regardless, the ever present “stage” pitches were & always will be very unpalatable & the source of many vulgar vitriolic outbursts in my homestead. But I don’t blame the amatuer TV crew for that as I am sure they are directed to be vocal pitch artists.
    Surprisingly, I thought Jones was the most competent, articulate, polished, impressive & least annoying.
    Bowyer/Logano (& Harv, when he is in the position) are very competent analysts.
    Hamlin namely, but Stenhouse, Patrick & Blaney too, & Harvick to a lesser extent, frequently get tongue-tied under pressure. I do NOT think the former 4 have adequate TV race analyst abilities. Stenhouse & Blaney are nearly palatable, but are just not fluid enough speakers under pressure.
    I love & respect him, but frankly Hamlin’s thick tongue is painful to listen too. I suspect he is in Trump’s/Mike Waltrip’s realm of being a high functioning illiterate, usually semi-incoherent, & stunningly inarticulate to the extent of being unable to string two properly constructed sentence together. Which is actually worrisome for me, in Denny’s case, because I suspect this is a result of concussions, elevated exposure to carbon monoxide, or perhaps some other serious medical malady. Regardless, the last place folks like this should be employed is live media. Broadcasting & personalizing such ineptness is a shame, & I feel embarrassment for him. How’s that for entertainment de-value? But the fun part is most corporate media outlets now-a-days are so ethically bankrupt, they seek & readily employ peeps with woefully inadequate skill-set for the job description (Duck-Die-Nasty, Alaska Gold Diggers, etc., etc., etc….) because it reads as relatable to the average American wood-tick, which is a tactic that enables them to exploit an unfortunately broad demographic, whilst insulting those that know better, like me.
    I love & respect Danica too, but during the broadcast, when live, & NOT speaking about vegan farts, yogurt, yoga, stuffed animals, shopping or shopping for stuffed animals, her speech is in slow-motion when under stress. Nerves are understandable, but moreover, it was blatantly clear that nearly all of Patrick’s (& some of Harvick’s) lead-in’s & out’s were scripted advertising plugs that were NOT voiced live, & were put in a can earlier in the week, then queued-up from the production truck as needed today. Grant it that this may be typical for production TV, & I should add in those taped bites she sounded very good & even had a bit of professional Hollywood twang. But what was atypical is that you could clearly hear the sound of their recorded voice was auditable-ly different from her live voice. That was an awkward imbalance & also attributable more to Focks, than DP. Regardless, her live speech patterns were slower, a bit labored & sounded muffled, as if she was speaking with her hand over her mouth AND unable to read a teleprompter at normal speaking rate. So in totality, this did not meet my entertainment expectations.
    Harv is a very very good with analysis, perhaps the best of active drivers, but I actually put Brad on the top rung. Regardless, Kevin lacks the dexterity, fluidity & prerequisite smooth Mr. Hollywood inflection to be a main commentator/narrator, not that I enjoy fake Hollywood-ness. Just saying the best project as authentic while simultaneously diminishing the mandatory, yet unpalatable scripted corporate ad mush to near transparency. Guys like Lee Diffy & Al Bestwick are so fluid, articulate & quick tongued they make the corporate mush less noticeable. But amateurs replace that transparency with awkward transitions & pronounced obstructions of live event action. I do not appreciate it.
    In totally the event was only slightly less unpalatable than usual. I accredit that fully to the only good thing – NO MIKEY! I have been waiting almost +/- 20 years for today. I praise the sweet baby Jesus for small favors, because I’d rather listen to fingers scratch a chalk-board, or my teeth getting drilled! Seriously! Focks doesn’t need to rid themselves of the entire in-air crew, like they did here. I find their on-air crew enjoyable & I have no beef with anyone’s performance, other that MW dragging the whole ship down. Just **it-can him & that alone is a MAJOR improvement! But moreover, it is Focks’ ethics & standards of production that I find infuriating.
    Focks does not provide or minimally prioritize a little thing I refer to as …EVENT INTEGRITY, & NBC is nearly as bad. They systemically exploit & obliterate key event developments in events to instigate ad revenue. And they are not shy about that, or about making a big phony insipid Hollywood production out of everything. And they are unapologetic about blocking the game & putting themselves on the stage front & center. They can not be bothered with allowing the event to be the show. Of which, motorsports, by nature & definition, is incredibly exciting. To properly do the job, all they need to do is toggle on the cameras & not stand in front of them! To inject contrived Hollywood drama is 100% superfluous & absurdly counter intuitive considering motorsports is intrinsically dramatic. Broadcasting motorsports is not as difficult as they make it, but they needlessly try to make motorsports something it isn’t, & reliably & woefully destroy motorsports event broadcasts. And that has little or nothing to do with anyone, personally, at the venue (camera operators, video techs, key grips or TV personalities). My issues are with Focks’ (& essentially ALL incorporate media’s) executive producers & higher-up executives that set forth ethically bankrupt broadcasting standards & ethics.

    • Biff, I don’t think anyone would accuse you of not being able to “string two properly constructed sentence together”.

  4. I no longer watch Xfinity broadcasts because I cannot tolerate Michael Waltrip. I watched this because Michael Waltrip was not going to be there, and the announcing crew was okay. Not bad at all. Next week they go back to Mikey in the booth and I go back to not watching.

  5. I thought they did a creditable job. There were actually some quiet moments which never happens with either of the Waltrips in the booth. Michael Waltrip is just plain obnoxious. Cornball doesn’t even come close to defining him.

  6. The biggest plus of the drivers’ broadcast was less Michael Waltrip.
    Overall it was OK and was a fun novelty. It might be cool to do a couple of times during the season but there will be a fine line where the novelty wears off. Once that novelty wears off I think it would become annoying to have to listen to amateurs week after week.

    Although…. if we never had to hear Michael Waltrip again, ever, it might be a fair trade off.

  7. Good Lord…just stop with the over thinking, the driver broadcast was fine!. We did not mute it, did not have to listen to a WALTRIP or other shills, did not have to hear endless talk, talk, talk. nobody was hawking something, repeating things till you want to jump into the TV and strangle them (Adam Alexander are you reading this!), and it seemed pretty BIAS FREE! Worked for me!