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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Sports Unveils New NASCAR Graphics in Daytona

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You’ve probably noticed that the TV Listings in the tab has been replaced by Television.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.

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.

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.

In NASCAR’s eyes, that didn’t occur.  As a result, the black flag was displayed.  Stenhouse was pretty dang ticked afterwards.

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.

THIS WEEK’S NASCAR TV LISTINGS

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.

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
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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.

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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23 comments

  1. side graphics does not fit on my screen know idea of running order will not watch what date does it move off of fox sports

  2. Why do networks screw around with their graphics when what they had was very adequate. Last year’s graphics were FINE. This year, they SUCK. Keep it simple on top of the screen where the only thing you are covering up is the grandstands above the track. Don’t put it on the left hand side of the screen where you can cover up part of the track. How is this so difficult? Also, Gordon is not very good in the booth still. A lot of what he says is just so obvious to most people watching that it is painful to listen to. DW is at least a colorful guy who adds excitement. McReynolds and DW should still be the guys in the booth–that way you have a driver and a crew chief–not two drivers who don’t know much about strategy and the mechanics of the cars.

  3. Regarding the ARCA race: I’m glad I extended my recording time. With just five laps to go, the race took more than another 78 minutes to finish. A one lap shootout finish is STUPID. Indy Cars did that once by accident in Sanair, Canada if I remember correctly.

  4. Intensely dislike the left side display of the field. Agree with dislike of showing passes from in-car camera, absolutely hate that in fact. Agree with idiotic habit of showing tail end of field crossing start line while we have to wonder what the leaders are doing.

    I want to throw something at the screen when announcers are swooning with joy over the helmet cam. Actually, that view sucks. Do they not recall that the driver has a spotter up top because he can’t see squat from where he’s at?

    • Forgot to say that I have been furious at failure to show us what pit stops look like with reduced crews. television is focused on displaying their technology, not on actually showing the event.

      • Yes. I agree 100 %. i hope they change that side bar by Sunday. I will not watch it Messing up everything with the race with that new graphic side bar. Hope fox changes it back . I am not happy with this at all. I am disgusted.

    • Yes. I agree. They need to move their new side display where cars are running back to top of screen. I shut yhe race off last week for numerous reasons. Side bar is hiding lots of things you can not see. Disgusted. I will stop watching and i felt like throwing something at the tv for numerous reasons. But i just shut it off. Disgusted.

  5. I’m still annoyed that when a pass is taking place that they actually show, they suddenly switch to an in car camera which allows you to see nothing O whether the pass is completed. As bad as everyone waxing rhapsodic about the helmet cam…which is basically the same as the in car camera, just a foot higher. No big deal.

  6. Do NOT, NOT, NOT like the side leaderboard graphic! I had hoped it was temporary for the Clash only. It takes up way too much space, is very distracting, and I just basically HATE it.

    • They really need to change the running order back to the way it was. On top of your tv. Running order. I actually got so disgusted. I shut off the race. Put things back to the way it was not at the sides of the screen at the top. I plan on not even watching no more. So much has changed. The side bar is distracting . Bad idea.

    • Me too. I hate it. Stop changing stuff. Messing up everything. Put it back. I will not watch it.

  7. My biggest gripe with the running order bar down the left side of the screen is the fact that it’s not transparent. If it were transparent then it would help a little. Watching the race on my 55-inch HD TV, it did take up a lot of room and made it almost seem like an old SD 4:3 broadcast. I doubt there’s anyway to make it a bit smaller without making it impossible to read. What I don’t understand is why it’s needed anyway. What was wrong with the old days of having a continous running order on loop across the top of the screen?

    Also, once again FOX picked a stupid color combination for Brad Keselowski’s number box when it’s desplayed. This year they decided on a red background with a blue number. WTF? Why is it so hard for them to get this right? Seems very year they pick the wrong colors. It shouldn’t be that hard. Keselowski’s going to be driving a white car in the majority of the races this year. It’s either going to have primarily blue trim (Miller Lite) or black trim (Discount Tire). There’s very little red involved except for the outline of the numbers on the car. What gives? Everyone else’s number box was fine, per usual but BK’s.

    Also, why in the world did it take the FOX production team so long to show the leaders on the final lap after the crash happened? The race was still under a green flag and all you see on the TV is the crash and an quick onboard shot of Jimmie Johnson before they finally showed the leaders again. By that time the leaders were within a few hundred feet of the finish line.

    I also noticed something similar in the ARCA race where it took FOX an extremely long time to react to something that happened. It shouldn’t take that long.

    • Also, want to mention that Dillon Welch did a wonderful job. Very excited about his future down the road. Hate that Chris Neviille is no longer in TV and NASCAR. But good luck to him moving forward. Regan Smith is alright I guess.

    • I agree with you 1000%

    • Yes it does take up al lot of room. Put things back the way they were. I will not watch it.

    • They need to change that that side bar back up to top. I am totally disgusted.

    • Well. I hope they hear us people about this new graphic side bar. Because a lot of people are disgusted. Just change it back the way it was at the top. What is the big deal about changing. Should care about the viewers watching the race.

  8. All the fancy graphics in the world can’t make up for the pitiful job of directing. Why do they insist on showing all the cars cross the line at the green flag? The exciting part should be the front row and who is going to take the lead. Also, it seems mandatory that they switch to the in-car cameral before the drivers complete the first lap. Is this as bothersome to others as it is to me?

  9. The best graphic of all was the sight of cars on the track, going fast and turning left! Despite all the shortcomings of “modern” NASCAR and its broadcast partners, I’m glad the offseason is over! Sunday was great with a full day of qualifying, The Clash and the NHRA Winternationals. Gonna have to increase my beer budget!

  10. I was really surprised that they didn’t spend a few minutes replaying one or two pit stops in slow motion and close up so that we could see what was going on. Maybe they are saving that for Sunday’s 500.

    While I am not a big fan of the yellow line rule, the way it looked to me was that Stenhouse had his right side tires below the line before Busch moved down and made sure he’d have to go well below the yellow line to make that pass and force NASCAR to make the call.

    While I have a very nice Sony hi-def television at home, I was watching the race over a friend’s basement on an old standard 4:3 tube TV and, for the record, the text was very difficult to read. This isn’t surprising because I don’t think the networks are worried about how things look on standard definition TVs anymore. I’ve noticed it on scripted shows as well when I happen to be over my friend’s house with the TV on. There are things they show that are important to the plot that would be easily discernible on a hi-def TV and aren’t on a standard definition TV.