Enterprise: Race in and get the same deals drivers and teams use
NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: A Look At the FOX NASCAR Season Finale

If you’ve been reading my columns here at Frontstretch over the past few years, you know that I love road racing.  The one weekend a year that the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series travels to Sonoma Raceway is one of my personal favorites.  That action was combined with two outstanding events for the Camping World Truck and XFINITY series at Iowa Speedway.

Before we get started, I have to broach the topic of the Aspen Dental Eldora Dirt Derby getting booted off of FOX Sports 1 in a couple of weeks.  Announced on Friday, qualifying will still be on FOX Sports 1 while the heat races will be on FOX Sports 2.  However, the race itself will be transferred to FOX Business Network.

Based on available data on reach, I think you should be angrier about the heats being on FOX Sports 2 than the race on FOX Business Network.  The most recent numbers I could find indicate that the FOX Business Network is in nearly the same number of homes as FOX Sports 1, without the stigma that seems to surround sports channels these days. FOX Sports 2, by comparison is in 60 percent of those homes.  The total is still roughly 27 percent more than FOX Sports 2 had at their launch, in 2013 but it’s still a much smaller amount.

This race broadcast will be the first ever scheduled ahead of time to air on FOX Business Network.  Previously, the financial network has been used in overflow situations.  For the sake of this argument, I’ve always liked the idea of using FOX News Channel for such an overflow instance.  However, given that this event is a primetime race on a Wednesday night, there is no way in heck that they would bump Tucker Carlson and company for NASCAR.

Why is this adjustment happening?  The race conflicts with a CONCACAF Gold Cup match that is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET that night at Lincoln Financial Field.  FOX Sports 1 has rights to it and it is supposed to feature the winner of Group B taking on the third-place team of either Group A or C.  The United States is in Group B and it appears that FOX is betting on the United States winning the group.  Such a game would be a pretty big deal for FOX Sports 1.

My preference here would have been to put the game that potentially features the USMNT on FOX and leave the race alone.  If the schedule holds for the next three weeks, such a game would pre-empt The F Word with Gordon Ramsey.  But that show has such a large audience making that switch was never going to happen.

Assuming that you have access to some kind of Pay TV service (cable, DirecTV, Dish Network, U-Verse, Verizon FiOS, etc.), you more than likely will be able to watch the Aspen Dental Eldora Dirt Derby on July 19.  However, it still bites that the event with the biggest exposure for the Camping World Truck Series has been pushed off of FOX Sports 1.

I understand why FOX Sports did it.  They probably think that the soccer game could be a bigger draw.  Well, now’s a time where you can prove them wrong.  And check your carrier for channel position for the Truck race as it is different depending on what cable package you have.  For example, FOX Business Network is Channel 359 on DirecTV and 206 on Dish Network.

Toyota/Save Mart 350k

Sunday saw the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series make their final appearance of the 2017 season on FOX Sports 1.  219 miles of road racing was on display.

Probably the most interesting part of NASCAR RaceDay was a piece where FOX Sports sat in a Toyota development drivers meeting.  David Wilson, President of Toyota Racing Development, stressed the importance of the program and how it brings along up-and-coming drivers.  Todd Gilliland, Christopher Bell, late model racer Raphael Lessard. Jodie Robinson and Holly Shelton were the development drivers present, while Kyle Busch and Erik Jones were in the roles of the experts.  I’d argue that this piece was staged to a certain extent, but I have no doubt that there are roundtables in which the development drivers can pick the brains of the pros.

Michael Waltrip seems to believe that online racing, such as iRacing, is revolutionizing the sport.  In the other interesting interview on the show, Tony Stewart told Shannon Spake that it might actually be hurting the sport.  He believes that you can be a good racer using iRacing to learn, but you can’t be great.

In addition to that statement, Stewart talked about how he isn’t as stressed as he was when he was still racing Cup every weekend, the fun he’s having recently, and what he believes about the future talent in the sport.  Long story short, he’s fairly upbeat, despite poo-pooing online games.  After retiring from the Cup car, Stewart seems a bit happier.  I’m sure that he still has his moments of fury, though.

On-track, the biggest story of the weekend was the debut of Visor Cam in NASCAR.  Danica Patrick agreed to have the visor cam mounted on a 3D-printed piece on her helmet for the whole weekend.  The shots were excellent.  The BSI chaps know their stuff.

However, the whole thing came off like they created it just for NASCAR.  Not true.  Regular readers of this column know that the Visor Cam debuted at the Indianapolis 500 last month.  It has been used in every Verizon IndyCar Series race since.  Even better, IndyCar apparently has the ability to livestream the footage from the helmet cam.  They did that for much of last weekend at Road America on their social media.

Having said that, the Visor Cam will likely work better in closed-cockpit applications due to not being exposed to the elements.  Insects are basically the Visor Cam’s kryptonite at the moment since the piece doesn’t appear to have a self-cleaning mechanism like the other exterior cameras.  I like this a lot better than the Gyro Cam that FOX used to have.  The view is also a little less shaky and less dizzying than the helmet cam attempts of the late 1980s and early 1990s.  The effectiveness of Visor Cam might end up depending on the track.  It would be borderline unusable at tracks like Kentucky before it was repaved, whereas it was perfect at glass smooth Indianapolis.

Sunday’s race, despite the entire second half of the race running caution-free, was one of the rougher road races in recent memory.  Just one look at the car Clint Bowyer finished second with will show that.

There was some good action for position throughout the field during the race, but I felt that FOX stuck towards the leaders a little too much, especially in the second half of the race.  Just because you have a pit strategy situation doesn’t mean that’s the only story.

There were some unanswered questions on Sunday.  We’ll use debutante Alon Day as an example.  As you probably saw, Day spun out on lap 31 in turn 3.  Not sure exactly what happened there.  However, before you could have any replays, Patrick got spun out after contact from Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got wrapped up in it.  That crash brought out a caution and thus took precedence.

The first situation wasn’t so bad, but I have no idea what happened to screw up the front end of the EarthWater Toyota later on.  That likely caused Day to make an unscheduled pit stop for repairs that cost him a lap.  Case in point, there was a lot of stuff going on Sunday.

FOX did a good job breaking down the various pit strategies that were at play.  I figure that a lot of my readers are not really fans of that, but it has a place.  It just can’t be the only thing.

The crash at the end of the race involving Kasey Kahne was nasty.  I felt that FOX waited a little too long before cutting to Kahne’s stricken Microsoft Chevrolet.  As for replays, we got only one and it looked inconclusive.  That apparently wasn’t the case.  Kahne described the crash thusly on Twitter afterwards.

That is ugly.  Coming out of Sonoma, you might see some changes.  One, we saw hits on unprotected concrete walls.  No one likes that, even if they aren’t anchored to the ground (the one Kahne hit wasn’t).  On that note, did you notice how much Kahne moved the wall when he hit it?  Wowzers.

Two, there might be a stricter standard enacted that must be met to be eligible to drive in Cup.  Despite the days they had, Day, Josh Bilicki and Billy Johnson were just fine.  Tommy Regan didn’t get into trouble, but he was a chicane most of the weekend.  Then you have Kevin O’Connell, who “panicked,” according to Kahne.  You shouldn’t be doing that in Cup.  Bad things happen if you do.

Once again, the race broadcast ran long. Simple as this.  There was no way in heck that this race was going to be done by 6 p.m.  Sonoma has always been the longer of the two road races and having two mandatory cautions in the middle of the dang race makes it longer.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief given the time situation.  Viewers got only a couple of post-race interviews and a check of the points.  In addition, there was a little analysis and a good luck gesture to NBC Sports before FOX Sports 1 left Sonoma for NHRA coverage from Norwalk, Oh.

Sunday marks the end of Cup Series coverage for the year on FOX Sports 1.  Personally, I thought that 2017 was middling for FOX Sports.  They’ve had better years on their Cup broadcasts.  I believe that Darrell Waltrip may be getting a little more out of touch with the on-track action.  He’s been in the booth for as long as Benny Parsons was.  In Parsons’ case, cancer really prevented viewers from seeing a substantial decline.  Waltrip is four years older than Parsons was when he died.

When I asked you your thoughts on Dale Earnhardt Jr. possibly getting a broadcasting job last week, a couple of you mentioned that Darrell might be campaigning for Earnhardt Jr. to be hired at FOX Sports.  Unless they would want him for just NASCAR RaceHub and XFINITY races, I doubt it.  The only reason he would actively campaign for Earnhardt Jr. to join the booth is if Waltrip’s retiring.  He hasn’t mentioned anything along those lines.  Then again, he is 70.

Jeff Gordon has grown more comfortable in his TV role.  Two years ago, he was a bit of a wreck at times on XFINITY broadcasts, but he’s finding a rhythm. We’ll see what happens down the line.

I want to know what you think about the FOX broadcasts and the team.  Did they improve this year?  Did they stand pat, or did they regress?  Go right ahead and post below, or contact me directly at phil.allaway@frontstretch.com.

M&M’s 200

Friday night saw the Camping World Truck Series tackle the seven-eighths of a mile Iowa Speedway.  The end result was John Hunter Nemechek celebrating in Victory Lane for the second week in a row after taking the lead with six laps to go…for the second week in a row.

2016 CWTS ThorSport Suspension Shop Credit ThorSport
One year after a devastating fire the recovery of Thorsport Racing’s shop was featured during the Iowa pre-race show on FOX Sports 1. (Photo: Thorsport Racing)

Prior to the race, the Setup had a big piece about the one-year anniversary of ThorSport Racing’s shop fire.  Here, we learn a lot more about the situation with a series of interviews with team members, including the man who discovered the fire.  Granted, I’d much rather that the fire never happened.  Despite that, this was a very interesting and touching piece that shows just how ThorSport Racing cares about one another and how chaotic 2016 was because of the fire.

The race itself seemed to be rather boring in the first half.  Not a whole heck of a lot going on action-wise.  However, FOX Sports 1 did do a good job in explaining Ben Rhodes’ tire issue.  Honestly, I’ve never really seen anything quite like that.  The middle of the tread was down to the cords, but everything else was fine.  It was a tire issue that would have made way more sense if it occurred in Sonoma.

The second half of the race was much more enjoyable to watch.  Why?  They showed more on-track action for position instead of focusing on Bell kicking butt.  It was nice.  Viewers saw great battles with Nemechek, Bell, Chase Briscoe, Johnny Sauter and more.  Great stuff.

Post-race coverage was abbreviated because the race ran long by about 20 minutes.  Having said that, viewers got a few post-race interviews, more than enough to show the sheer joy in Victory Lane and the dejection of Bell, who could never get back to the front after going on a separate pit strategy.

Overall, Friday night’s race is an example of how what you show affects how the race is perceived.  If the whole race were like the first half, you would have had a lot of bored race fans watching on TV.  The second half of the race redeemed the first.  I greatly enjoyed the second half of the event.  I just wished the first half could have matched it.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend starts the NBC Sports portion of the NASCAR season back in Daytona.  The XFINITY race will air on NBCSN, while the Cup race will on NBC Saturday night.  Should be interesting to watch.  We’ll have to see what new things NBC is going to bring to the table.  Right now, there is a Throwback race, the 2004 Daytona 500, scheduled to air Thursday night at 7 p.m. on NBCSN.  You know who won that race.  There will be plenty of social media interaction during said race.  I might watch in my hotel room.

Also, there’s a new show, Off the Script: Kyle Petty, that will debut Friday afternoon prior to XFINITY Qualifying.  I can imagine what that’s going to look like, but NBC Sports hasn’t revealed much about it.

Meanwhile, IMSA has a full weekend of racing action in Watkins Glen that comes to a head Sunday afternoon with the Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen.  Should be lots of fun.  TV listings are in the TV Schedule tab.

I will provide critiques of the 2017 debuts for the Cup and XFINITY Series with NBC Sports for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The XFINITY Series American Ethanol E15 250 will be covered Wednesday in the Frontstretch Newsletter.  The Thursday edition of the Critic’s Annex will cover the ARCA Racing Series Montgomery Ward 200 from Madison International Speedway.

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.

FOX Sports
NBC Sports

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.

Share this article

8 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bill B

As far as I was concerned Fox was about the same as in the past. No better, no worse. They are totally out of touch with fans or just ignore us. How can they not know how much fans hate listening to Michael Waltrip? How can they not know how much fans hate hearing BBB at the beginning of every race? I’d love to hear their justification for keeping both when all I hear is negativity from fans.

Rockin Rich

Bigger problem with FS 2 for me; it isn’t available in high def. It is definitely a lower quality viewing experience. Of course, for me, any broadcast with Mikey Waltrip is pretty low quality.

Dave M

Darrell Waltrip is long past his usefulness and Mikey is not far behind. Darrell has nothing technical to add and just is a clown. Jeff is quite good and needs to pair up with Larry for their insight. Mike Joy is OK but lowers himself to near clown, time to act like an adult. I never understood the value add for the Hollywood Hotel and certainly what Chris brings to the table. Here is an idea, cut the Hollywood Hotel out and the staff that goes along with it, then you cold afford to cut the other dumb ads like the blah balh insurance spotters junk and all the half ads and get back to the racing. There is plenty of good stuff going on mid field to take that time up. Visor Cam was overused, and would look better on a competitive car that does some actual passing. Having a little fun in the booth is Ok but how about some professionalism. Try watching an F1 broadcast on NBC sports and learn. They make due with what ever is fed to them on top of their excellent insight.
I am happy to get NBC back.

John

I read on Jalopnik that Fox Sports just let their NASCAR writing staff go (plus other sports’ scribes). Based on that, it makes me wonder if an overhauling of next year’s NASCAR on Fox on-air talent might come next. If there was any sanity at Fox, they would de-Waltrip next year.

Bulldog

I will admit that from the first Cup broadcast by FOX, I felt that DW would slowly drive me down the path to insanity. At this point in time, I rarely have the sound up when I actually force myself to watch a broadcast. He seems like an overwhelmed kindergartner these days. He is always commenting on the random stuff. I don’t think the viewers need to know about someone’s fancy new yellow paint scheme–hey DW we all have color TVs now and for most of us we are watching in high def on screens that are 5 or 6 ft wide. Also his constant commentary on what order the car makes are running in– “look at this we have 2 Chevys and 2 Toyotas and 2 more Chevys behind them”–seems unnecessary. The most casual fan is not going to care about that and the most hardcore that obsesses over car makes has already noticed that info anyway. It is great that he has stopped commenting on where Danica is every 5 minutes. I guess the novelty of her has even worn off for him. It is really a shame that Mike Joy has to put up with DW as his side kick every week. FOX owes him a decent wingman. Joy is so smooth and so knowledgeable and was great at filling the great void left behind in the sport when Ken Squire hung up the mic. Gordon has been pretty serviceable from the start. He has his moments being as green as he is but he will be solid someday. He has good insight with how the newest generation of cars drive–something that DW acts like he knows but it rings kind of hollow as he has never driven them. I’m not sure if he ever gets behind the wheel on the new low downforce cars because that is one area where he needs some hands on experience. Where do we start with that Mikey guy. He is a hot mess, out of touch, and truthfully is only there riding the now well worn coat tails of his big brother. I was not the only one who thought there was a major conflict of interest with Mikey when he was a car owner. Now that his operation went belly up it is not a problem. Still think him and DW are cashing Toyota checks because they seem to jabber on about Toyota whenever they can. FOX needs to look hard at what they have here and consider blowing the whole thing up.

Biff Baynehouse

Focks commercials during CONCACAF LIVE sports action – ZERO!
Summary of Focks Commercials during Nascar’s LIVE Sonoma Racing:
Total laps: 110
Total ads: 225
– Total traditional: 77
– Total split-screen: 16
– Total graphics & scripted: 132
With numbers like that, who cares which network Focks opts to use?
Approx. +/- 33% of the EVERY race (Cup, CWT & NXS) is obliterated by ads! Can you imagine the revolt if the a FULL quarter of an NFL football game was obliterated by nothing but ads? Irate fans would raze stadiums to the ground Btw, NBC is no better.
Despite the pitch-point that “stages” will provide race breaks for commercials so less live action will be missed, that has turned out to be a total LIE! We get sets of full screen 5 laps before stages end, TWO sets of ads during the breaks, & another set of full screen ads right after going green again. Again, that’s Cup, NXS & CWT.
The state of Nascar media broadcasting is a pathetic abomination! It is hardly a new problem & it is as big of a reason for Nascar decline as anything else (“chases” & stages”).

Steve

Phil, I need to call you out on your comments about the road course ringers. Just because Kahne was upset at one of them for ruining his day doesn’t mean that we now need to have stricter policies for racing in Cup. Especially since for years we have kids that have no business in Cup racing in the series constantly. I never saw the incident, but Kahne saying he “panicked” was his opinion only and doesn’t make it fact.

Tried to watch some of the XFinity & Trucks in Iowa, but all I saw was lap after lap of Bell going around the track with not much else going on, so I turned it to something else. The networks very much need take some of the blame for Nascar’s decline. If someone new watched that, do you think they would want to actually buy a ticket and see that in person? Doubtful.

Bill H.

Can’t agree with you about the helmet cam. Why give the fans the same view as the drivers, who need a spotter because they cannot see anything? The worst view of the race is from inside the car, and that’s what you want us to see more of? Please.

For two weeks now I have watched an Indycar race and a NASCAR race on the same day, and the difference in commentary was incredible. The NASCAR commentary is obsessed with details. Indycar will make a rare comment that the car is not handling well in traffic. NASCAR will never mention a car without telling us that it is “loose in, tight off and nasty in the middle, needs more side bits and the crew will turn the wrench in one window and add a quarter pound of air to the right rear tire.” They show us pictures of a driver’s feet and spend several minutes telling us how and when he is hitting the brake pedal. Sometimes they even tell us what color the car is, as if we were watching black and white televisions.

When I’m watching a race, I don’t want to watch the driver turning the steering wheel, I want to watch competition, and that means showing more than one car at a time and talking about the racing, not about how one car is working.

Frontstretch