Welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday. For me, it’s my 10th year of keeping NASCAR’s media partners honest. For 2018, there will be no real changes in my output, but there are a couple of minor adjustments on the website.
You’ve probably noticed that the TV Listings in the tab has been replaced by Television. Beginning this week, there is a dropdown that gives you access to the Couch Potato Tuesday archive and the weekly TV Listings. In addition, we’ve created a table of TV Ratings which dates back to 2014 that will be available as well. As of now, the ratings will only cover the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. They will be updated with final ratings every Tuesday with data from ShowbuzzDaily’s Skedball charts.
If demand is high enough, we’ll try to add the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series. The problem with those divisions is the fact that a number of their races are on Friday nights (and in the case of the trucks, Wednesday night). It’s harder to get those final numbers from Nielsen than if they are on weekends.
Advance Auto Parts Clash
FOX Sports’ NASCAR coverage enters 2018 with just a few minor adjustments. The broadcast booth of Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon, and Darrell Waltrip will remain unchanged. Larry McReynolds, for better or worse (likely worse), will remain off on an island. The only real shakeup of note is that Chris Neville has left FOX Sports and motorsports in general. He’s taken a position with Collective Medical, a Salt Lake City-based company in the health care industry.
A new yr brings a new path. I’ve decided to pursue new interests and step away from tv. Thanks to Fox for 16 yrs and continued opportunities in 2018. Very excited abt a new path with @CollectiveMed
— Chris Neville (@chrisneville84) January 10, 2018
Replacing Neville in the pits this season will be Regan Smith, who is currently without a full-time ride. While last weekend was Smith’s first time as a reporter in the garage, he’s served as an analyst on NASCAR RaceHub for years. He shouldn’t have too many problems, but he also didn’t work the race on Sunday. We’ll have some thoughts on Smith’s performance next week.
Likely the biggest story in the world of FOX NASCAR last weekend was the introduction of a new graphical package that is much more in line with what FOX Sports used this past season for their NFL coverage. It came with a completely new, vertical scoreboard setup.
We’ve been here before. Back when FOX Sports introduced their previous graphics package in 2014, they tried a vertical FOX Box with the Lucas Oil 200, the Sprint Unlimited, and the UNOH Battle of the Beach. It didn’t work well.
Back then, we wrote about how the setup didn’t allow for intervals at all and took up prime real estate on the upper right corner of the screen. Ultimately, the changes did not last. By the time the Daytona 500 came around, FOX Sports had already changed the setup twice, achieving more or less what we had through the end of last season.
Clearly, the production staffers at FOX Sports learned from their prior mistakes. On Saturday, they unveiled a setup that seemed inspired by what NBCSN uses for qualifying broadcasts. The FOX Box has been replaced by a strip on the entire left edge of the screen that shows the running order. You have a black background with driver numbers in yellow and full names. Intervals will show up to the right of the driver names.
The setup allows for roughly 20 lines of text. That’s perfectly fine for smaller events (Advance Auto Parts Clash, Monster Energy Open, etc.) For full-field races, it keeps the top 10 on screen at all times. The remainder of the field is shown 10 drivers at a time. However, anyone below 10th (at least during the ARCA race) was grayed out. I’m not a fan of that. FOX would do well to ditch this color scheme by Thursday.
Overall, this setup is much better than what FOX created back in 2014, but there are a couple of problems. It takes up a fair amount of space on screen. The popular sentiment is that it creates a 4:3 letterbox setup on the broadcasts. For those of you that still watch on SD televisions (don’t know how many of you are out there these days, but there’s definitely someone), it might be really tough to see the ticker at all. The same goes for those who have TVs which don’t show the best picture.
Joy was asked about the new setup by fans on Twitter Monday. His opinion appears to be based upon his own situation. However, Joy does acknowledge that the current setup is not for everyone.
Good: shows more just top 3 scrolling across screen at any one time, so fewer verbal rundowns needed. Not: it takes up more space. https://t.co/vsBUTtW75U
— Mike Joy (@mikejoy500) February 12, 2018
If FOX Sports keeps this scorebox, the complaints they are going to hear repeatedly are going to be based around the size of the scoring area. It’s pretty substantial. The black background is opaque, as opposed to translucent. As a result, viewers may be missing some content.
It would not be surprising if FOX Sports makes some tweaks to their setup between now and the Daytona 500. But they are definitely starting in a better place than they did in 2014, despite potential room for improvement.
On to the race. With only 17 cars in the field for the Advance Auto Parts Clash, it isn’t difficult to show as much of the action as possible. FOX did a good job on Sunday in bringing viewers that competition.
That said, they were a little slow in reacting to certain instances. For example, Kasey Kahne had to drop out of the draft due to a potential tire rub. Viewers didn’t hear about what happened until Kahne was a third of a lap behind. FOX has to be quicker than that. Kahne may not be the babyface that he was during his Gillett Evernham days, but he’s still got fans that want to know what the deuce is going on.
Also, one of the biggest stories this offseason has been the cut in the number of men over the wall from six to five. But viewers didn’t really get much of an idea of what the new pit stop procedure looks like. It was a mess, to be honest, as 2018 looks to be a season of change down there in the trenches. Just watch one team stomp everyone, like Rusty Wallace’s pit crew in 1993.
Finally, the most controversial moment of the race was when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was black-flagged for passing under the double yellow line, a rare violation. With no cautions after lap 38, the penalty ruined Stenhouse’s day. The booth seemed to think that Stenhouse might have been forced down there by Kyle Busch. However, the situation really looked borderline. NASCAR has stated ever since the yellow-line rule was created that if you force someone down there, you can be penalized. In nearly 17 years, the number of drivers punished for forcing someone below the line is in the low single-digits, if any at all.
NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell made no reference to any force in his explanation. Instead, he put the onus on Stenhouse to make good in the situation.
Tough call but 17 advanced position and rule is clear on that
— Steve O'Donnell (@odsteve) February 11, 2018
In NASCAR’s eyes, that didn’t occur. As a result, the black flag was displayed. Stenhouse was pretty dang ticked afterwards.
Next time I’ll turn him crash the 17 car field and then be the arca race cool https://t.co/6wIDgyEfWy
— Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (@StenhouseJr) February 11, 2018
The Clash, which had long green-flag runs ended a little early. As a result, viewers got to hear from nearly half of the field before the coverage ended.
The broadcast itself was decent. Yes, Waltrip was his usual strange self at times, but the race was enjoyable to watch.
On a different note, much of FOX’s practice coverage Saturday was marred by audio issues. It was as if someone was squelching their two-way radio every few minutes. That’s noticeable. On Sunday, that only happened once all day, during a post-race interview with Busch.
But overall, it was a strong start for FOX Sports. They’ll take Sunday’s broadcast as a baseline to build on for the rest of the week.
Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire
Saturday afternoon brought the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards back to Daytona for their first visit of the year. For the most part, the race was good. Then, it got ridiculous. It is truly sad that three hours on a DVR is not enough time to cover an ARCA race with no rain, but that’s what we got on Saturday.
We’ll start right there. The reason the race took so darn long to finish is the fact that ARCA has a rule stating races do not finish under yellow. Exceptions include weather, darkness, and time issues. As a result, there were three white flags Saturday.
Announcers Kevin Lee and Phil Parsons did a good job explaining the policy and how it differs from NASCAR. They kept their cool despite the whole situation being rather exasperating to watch.
Saturday was the first race for ARCA’s Five Star bodies on a restrictor plate track (they’re now the only legal bodies in the series). The flange-fit chassis seemed to work out quite well. Outside of the wrecks, the event appeared to be a bit more competitive than in past years. Still, there was quite a bit of bottom-feeding.
Coverage was very much centered on the front of the field. At times, that meant less than 10 cars got the lion’s share of the coverage. You didn’t get much of an idea as to what was happening further down the pike.
Saturday’s race was the first-ever TV broadcast for Dillon Welch (Vince Welch’s son) as a pit reporter. He does have previous experience, but all of that was streamed over the internet. It appears that Vince’s work has rubbed off on Dillon. The younger Welch had an excellent debut on television. He seemed to be fully on the ball, well-prepared and came off as very knowledgeable despite having never raced in ARCA (he has competed in USAC Midgets previously). Dillon should be proud of his debut.
In addition to Lee and Parsons in the booth, 2017 ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards champion Austin Theriault showed up during the first caution and gave his insight for the rest of the race. Theriault was a bit quiet in the booth, but did have some nuggets to share. He doesn’t come off as a showy kind of guy. Outside of television, that might hurt him in the cutthroat drivers’ market these days. It’s an outright shame that he doesn’t have a full-time ride somewhere at the moment.
With all the wrecks, the race ended up running over the 150-minute timeslot by over 40 minutes. FOX Sports 1 was supposed to be airing the preliminary bouts of UFC 221 from Australia. Viewers only got a quick interview with winner Michael Self before FOX Sports 1 left Daytona Beach for Perth.
Overall, the broadcast was OK. As noted earlier, much of Saturday’s practice sessions were plagued by audio issues. That was not the case during the race. The selection of drivers with in-car cameras resulted in good additional angles to cover the various incidents.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is one of the most exciting ones of the year as all three of NASCAR’s national series get underway in Daytona. The Truck Series runs Friday night, XFINITY on Saturday, then the big one on Sunday afternoon.
We will provide critiques of the Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series season openers for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For this week’s edition of The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter, we’re going to cover a somewhat unexpected broadcast. As of this point last week, it was not going to be streamed. However, a couple of days out from the race, NASCAR and FansChoice.tv made the decision to stream the K&N Pro Series East New Smyrna 175 for free. We watched and have some thoughts that you can see on Thursday.
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