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Couch Potato Tuesday: Daytona Serves as a FOX Showcase

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.

Daytona 500

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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  1. i’m trying to watch on a 48 inch screen. I can live with the side by side stuff, but why the hell is half my screen lost to some stupid graphics?
    Fine, take half my screen if needed but why do I end up watching the race in a 14 inch square?

  2. Can we get a Change.org petition to get Michael Waltrip away from a microphone, please! He is like nails on a chalkboard. The Trucks and Xfinity race were just painful to watch because of him.

  3. I forgot the race was on until I saw a crawl on my phone with 20 laps left. I tuned in, but was really put-off by the number of commercials. It was a two commercials, two laps of racing and more commercials. The ads ruin the end of a race almost as much as time outs in basketball ruin the end of the game.
    I may not watch another race actually live this season.

  4. As I have stated before, and am glad to see others confirming; the in-car cameras are useless in showing the racing. They are being used because the individual sponsors are paying big bucks to get their logos on TV. I have never seen as much time wasted by their use Sunday. We watch in spite of; not because of!

  5. I’ve been watching the Olympics the past week or so, which provides pretty good camera coverage of all sports, and the contrast between that and Sunday’s stock car race was amazing. Perhaps it would be possible for the camera coverage of the Daytona 500 to be worse, but it’s hard to imagine how.

    Let’s start with their passion for the in-car camera, which you say was “overkill at times.” They were grossly overused all the time, notwithstanding common knowledge that drivers need to have spotters on top of the stands because they cannot see what is happening on the track. Fox not only overuses them, they hop rapidly between half a dozen in-car cameras, making it completely impossible for anyone watching the race on television to have the slightest idea what the field is doing.

    Then when they are using a camera that shows what is happening, they cut away as soon as anything interesting begins to happen. At one point, for instance, Kyle Bush cut out of the parade to make a pass for the lead and nobody went with him. Instead of staying with that view to see how far back he might fall, or if another car or two might join him in the lower lane, the view immediately cut to an in-car camera of a car well back in the field. Later the crawler showed that Kyle Bush was in eighth place, but we saw nothing of that.

    Later Kyle Bush cut a tire, causing two other cars to suffer damage and go to the pits. That happened during “side-by-side” commercials, so there was no commentary and it was difficult to determine what was going on and why pit stops were occurring. After allowing the commercials to run the full course, the replay was shown only from Kyle Bush’s in-car camera, so it was never clear where it happened, who else was nearby, and why the other two cars were involved.

    When Hamlin exited from an poorly timed pit stop and rejoined the field, the field overtook him and forced him to blend in, costing him the lead. This was shown only from his in-car camera, making it impossible to tell how the whole sequence actually occurred.

    Later a similar sequence occurred when the field caught up with Logano to put him a lap down. Proper protocol for a driver going a lap down to the field would be for him to either try to stay on the front of the lead draft, or to pull down and allow then to pass him on the outside. He did not do either, but stayed high and forced them to pass him inside, then wedged himself, a lap down, into the middle of the lead draft. This was rude at best, to no small degree dangerous, went without comment from the booth, and from start to finish was shown only from a camera on his rear bumper, largely obscuring the whole process from the viewing audience.

    The same problem occurred on the last lap, where the bump from Austin Dillon which sent Aric Almirola spinning was shown only from the latter’s rear bumper camera and provided no context for what led up to the bump. Long after the race, a replay shows that it was the result of Almirola moving down to block Dillon, but it would have been better for viewers to know that as it happened.

    It’s unclear what the camera work was intended to do, but it certainly was not intended to inform the viewer.

    • Let me add that the booth exacerbated the lack of coverage when the view switched to the incar camera, because in each of the instances I cited above, they were talking about it as it developed but when the camera switched to the incar they stopped talking about the event and began and talking about something else, so the entirety of the event was missed. I can understand why they would do that, since the context for their comment is lost as soon as the viewer cannot see it.

      Fox coverage is getting worse, and watching it right after watching the Olympics, which is not great itself but is at least quite decent, made me painfully aware of just how awful Fox actually is.

  6. Austin winning the 500 proved to me that the cor…or number, doesn’t make the man. His attempts to make himself the reincarnation of Earnhardt, down to a story about a ‘lucky penny’ really hit a sour note for me.

  7. My biggest gripe with Sunday’s broadcast was there way too many commercials including one with 15 laps to go. They need to get their head out of their a**!!!! The graphics package is solid. I agree with Bill that they use their in-car cameras way too much, it was kinda of annoying when on the final lap, they went to an bumper cam of the 10, and he was dumped. And they were still on the bumper cam as he wrecked. FOX just loves their gadgets but they need to calm down!!!

  8. The new running order graphics suck. Just go back to the ticker and always show the intervals and laps down and it would be fine.

    The in car cameras suck. They are a novelty that should be used sparingly. What fans want to see are wide views with several cars in frame. You know, like they would see if they were actually watching the race at the track. Doesn’t seem that difficult to understand.

    There were way too many commercials at the end. We missed most of the last 25 laps.

    • I agree 110% on your view of in car cameras, I wanna see a wide view most of the time!!! They should only be used during wreck replays or something like that.