Last weekend in Daytona was quite ridiculous. Lots of on-track action and lots of wrecking. That said, my guess is that a lot of my readers were up and down on the broadcasts themselves.
We can’t start off the column without talking about the overnight ratings for the race. Quite simply, they stink. The race drew an overnight rating of 5.1, the lowest in a number of years. There are a number of reasons as to why that happened. Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring, the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang and the NBA All-Star Game are just three examples.
According to Sports Business Daily’s Adam Stern, the broadcast pulled a fast-national rating of 5.3 with 9.3 million viewers. Final ratings will be available a little later this week.
— Fox earned 9.3M viewers; 9.355M if including digital streams. That should tie '14 viewership when Sochi @Olympics were on.
— @NBA All-Star Game got 7.65M between TNT and TBS.
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) February 19, 2018
NASCAR races typically gain once national ratings are taken into account since the sport is quite popular outside of the top 50 TV markets. The national number is slightly better, but still quite bad. Very disappointing by essentially any measurement.
Having low ratings for the Daytona 500 doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season. Traditionally, Daytona 500 ratings are the highest ratings for the year, then they fall until they stabilize in late March. That doesn’t necessarily bode well for Cup. As for the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series races, ratings are not currently available for those races.
Sunday afternoon for FOX was the culmination of all of the changes made in the offseason. We’ll get into that a little later. Needless to say, they were not the most notable part of the broadcast.
For those of you watching at home, it seemed like there were a lot of commercials during the race. Depending on how you feel about the Toyota All Out segment, there were 15 of them during green-flag racing.
On the positive side, FOX unveiled a new side-by-side setup Sunday. It is a big improvement over the past couple of years. Viewers can see more on-track during the breaks. Also, the top eight in the running order are displayed. Previously, they had one tiny line below the live action that showed the positions one at a time. By all means, this is unequivocally a good move for viewers.
FOX does need to space their breaks out more. From lap 160 onward, there were five commercial breaks. Two of those were side-by-side breaks, while the other three were regular breaks. It seems like overkill. The broadcast was more off-air than on-air, something that is sure to irritate people.
In regards to other changes, the drone that FOX Sports publicized a fair amount didn’t get a lot of use. Would have worked well for those incidents in turn 3. What happened? It got smashed to smithereens.
– The drone was quickly replaced with a backup and sent back up.
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) February 19, 2018
You never know what’s out there at races. Strange things happen. The cable issue at Charlotte from a couple of years back is just example of something that has occurred. The time that a brake pad from Sam Hornish Jr.’s car broke a window and hit a man in the chest at The Speedway Club in Texas is another.
Sunday also saw Regan Smith’s Cup points race debut as a pit reporter. Smith seemed to do very well. It was no different than having another regular down there. He’s solid as a newbie and will only get better.
The new pylon field graphic that debuted last weekend revealed a flaw once the points were in play. When someone wins a stage, FOX for the most part refrained from showing that driver or drivers’ intervals to the leader. Instead, either S1 or S2 in green would be displayed. While that’s maybe not that big of a deal in Daytona or Talladega, that needs to be fixed quickly, before Atlanta.
Storyline-wise, FOX did a decent job in juggling the many stories at play. Darrell Wallace Jr. got his proper due, but he wasn’t overexposed. Danica Patrick was the same prior to her crash. You could argue that someone like Ryan Blaney got a little too much coverage, but he led 118 laps.
What could have been improved was the coverage of where everyone else was on-track. That wasn’t just an issue on Sunday, but all of Speedweeks. Prior to William Byron cutting his right rear tire and wrecking with 10 laps to go, there were 14 cars on the lead lap and 10 in the lead draft. Where were the others? Seemingly miles behind after having lost the draft. No real updates on them at all. You have to give those drivers something.
The in-car camera coverage must also be commented on. For the XFINITY race on Saturday, FOX skimped and only had two cars with cameras. Don’t get why they did that. They most definitely did not skimp there Sunday. 13 cars had in-car cameras, including two (Daniel Suárez and Kurt Busch) that had helmet cams. It is the largest array of in-car shots in recent memory. As a result, if you’re not a fan of in-car cameras, you probably hated Sunday’s Daytona 500 broadcasts. They wired up nearly a third of the field and made use of those cameras. It was overkill at times.
Post-race saw FOX co-opt NBC’s trackside winner’s interview, something that renders the Victory Lane interview pointless. Just don’t get why that’s a good thing. Despite the race running long by about a half hour, there was still a decent amount of post-race coverage with more than half a dozen interviews.
Something that really hasn’t been touched upon is that it seemed like the crowd really wasn’t into Austin Dillon‘s win. FOX chose to let the celebration speak for itself with minimal injection, but it seemed like no one was buying Dillon’s kayfabe. It wasn’t quite to the level of booing him, but it seemed indifferent. It seemed unusually quiet. This race was a sellout with 101,000 fans in the stands, plus thousands more in the infield. It’s unclear whether the sound gathering was at fault, but it just seemed like most of the fans weren’t into it. Perhaps it was the extended, multi-faceted celebration on Dillon’s part that the Dinner With Racers podcast has joked about multiple times in the past. Would that have been different had Aric Almirola or even Wallace had won? Unclear. Maybe, maybe not.
Unlike much of the general public, the booth seemed to quickly come to the opinion that the last-lap crash was simply the result of the current form of racing. Darrell Waltrip was quite disappointed. There was no intent behind the crash and that’s what the post-race interviews showed.
Sunday’s broadcast brought some new aspects to FOX’s NASCAR coverage. The new side-by-side setup is a winner. The drone seemed pointless, even before it got knocked out of it’s prime. The new graphics seem to work ok, but changes are still necessary in order to optimize it. Personally, the fact that the driver numbers do not reflect car colors (or the number font on the car) doesn’t bother me. It might bother other viewers. Don’t be shocked if that change is made in the coming weeks.
Overall, Sunday was an eight-hour day of critiquing. The pre-race coverage took as long as the race itself. For many fans, that may be overkill. The move of NASCAR RaceDay to FOX Sunday may have put more eyeballs on pre-race content, but there’s no doubt that many viewers were wondering why FOX would start coverage of a 3 p.m. race at 11 a.m.
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Saturday saw the XFINITY Series take to Daytona International Speedway for what was supposed to be a 120 lap. It turned out to be 143.
In all honesty, Saturday’s race was quite clean prior to the last 20 scheduled laps. That said, there was plenty of bumping, blocking and scuffing. More than enough action to keep you occupied and FOX Sports 1 did a good job in bringing that action to viewers.
The broadcast booth had a varying day. Brad Keselowski, the driver analyst of the day, did a great job. He was really good when he discussed the new fender flares that were installed on the XFINITY cars in order to dissuade drivers from attempting to tandem draft.
Adam Alexander was his typical self in the booth. At this point, he is a “take him or leave him” kind of play-by-play man. He doesn’t particularly bring much to the booth, but he doesn’t take anything away. At that point, it simply comes down to personal feelings. Personally, I’m fine with him. My readers might not feel the same way.
Then, we have Michael Waltrip. Over the years, Michael has irritated viewers with blatant favoritism and bizarre behavior. At least he isn’t dumping tacos on Denny Hamlin’s car anymore. Daytona was not Michael’s best weekend because he was constantly screwing up drivers. That goes for both Friday and Saturday. It makes you think that he wasn’t paying attention during his pre-race preparations. Laziness does not take you far in NASCAR. Attention to detail is key.
It’s one thing to mix up names of drivers from smaller teams. It’s another thing altogether to screw up whether Keselowski or Joey Logano was driving the No. 22. Since they both drive the car at various times during the season, it could be an easy mistake to make. However, it’s a whole ‘nother thing when Keselowski is right next to you when you make the mistake. While Keselowski did not make a reference to that on-air, there is a fairly high likelihood that Keselowski gave Michael a strange look at the time.
Post-race coverage was relatively brief, but there was good reason for that. The extra 57.5 miles meant that the race went long by about 45 minutes. Viewers got interviews with the top three finishers before leaving for UFC coverage.
The near-constant wrecking late in the race did frustrate the commentators, as it did myself. It was frustrating to watch. Yes, we got an excellent finish, but it took so long to get to that finish that it appeared that a lot of people were wiped out.
Also, Keselowski’s appearance in the booth ushers in the fourth year of FOX Sports’ guest analysts for their XFINITY Series races. Chase Elliott will be in the booth Saturday at Atlanta.
The Drivers’ Only broadcast, which was done last year at Pocono Raceway, will be produced at Talladega this year. Should be quite interesting. Reactions to the Pocono Green 250 broadcast last year were a mixed bag despite FOX Sports deeming it an unquestioned success. The booth will be unchanged there with Kevin Harvick on play-by-play, assisted by Logano and Clint Bowyer. Blaney, Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be back in the pits. The only changes are in the Hollywood Hotel, where Keselowski and Wallace will replace Hamlin and Patrick. Hamlin and Patrick were the weakest part of the Drivers Only broadcast in Pocono, so it might just be a welcomed change. We’ll see how that goes. For now, the schedule of guest analysts is out (http://www.foxsports.com/presspass/latest-news/2018/02/15/fox-nascar-brings-back-star-studded-cast-drivers-race-broadcast-set-backdrop-talladegas-high-banks). Go right ahead and post your thoughts in the comments below.
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Friday night saw the Camping World Truck Series begin their season at Daytona. The race was a little more competitive than it has been in recent years.
Likely the biggest news in the series this year is the inclusion of crate motors, similar to those in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards. Approximately three-quarters of the field ran the new Ilmor crate option. Given those kind of numbers, FOX Sports should have taken a closer look at these new engines during pre-race. Maybe they’ll do it Saturday, but it didn’t happen here.
The race coverage itself was fast and furious. The Ilmor engines ultimately played very well with the regular engines. If anything, these option engines will result in more competitive races this season. Viewers had a lot more players to follow.
The production did leave something to be desired at one point. That would be on lap 64. Shortly before that, Parker Kligerman had developed a tire rub. Despite noticing Bo LeMastus wrecking, they focused on Kligerman sparking along despite Michael Waltrip making note of LeMastus’ issues. Definitely not FOX Sports 1’s finest hour.
The on-air personalities are often the eyes of the production staff. The TV compounds at most tracks are at or below track grade. People working there can only see what’s going on via their screens. They have to take advantage of the booth eyes.
Post-race coverage was about average for the Camping World Truck Series. Viewers got three driver interviews and a couple of crew chief interviews before FOX Sports 1 left Daytona.
Friday night showed that FOX Sports 1 could have a pretty interesting year with the Camping World Truck Series. Obviously, there is a substantial difference between racing at Daytona and other tracks, but the new engine options may create a much more competitive series.
TV-wise, the coverage was solid for the most part. The coverage was not specifically focused on a few trucks, but gave coverage for a good chunk of the field. It is a good change. Having said that, there may need to be better communication between the production staff and the on-air personalities in order to maximize the content that viewers can receive.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, all three of NASCAR’s National Series will be at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Saturday is a doubleheader with the XFINITY Series first, followed by the Camping World Truck Series. Cup, as always, will be Sunday afternoon. The TV Listings for the week can be found on the TV Listings page under the Television tab.
We will provide critiques of the Cup, XFINITY and Truck broadcasts in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. For the Critic’s Annex on Thursday in the Frontstretch Newsletter, we’ll be taking a look at the new Facebook Watch series Behind the Wall: Bubba Wallace. As of this writing, there are six episodes, all between 11-13 minutes in length chronicling the last couple of months of Wallace’s life.
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About the author
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 the Super DIRTcar Series.
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