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Martin Truex Jr. was all alone out front (Photo: Danny Peters)

2-Headed Monster: Should TV Coverage Follow the Leader or Show Battles?

Martin Truex Jr. won in a commanding fashion at Sonoma Raceway this past Sunday (June 24). Instead of showing the numerous battles for other positions, the NASCAR on FOX team kept the focus on Truex as he paraded around the track. That brings us to the question this week: Should the cameras stay on the leader or search for the action at other places on the track?

Bring close racing into focus

Broadcasting any sporting event is an immense responsibility. A race only increases the importance of the television crew. At most sporting events, most of the action can be captured in a single camera angle or in a tight playing field. This is nearly impossible in racing.

When fans aren’t at the track, they rely on the TV broadcast to show them what’s going on. I realize that deciding what millions of viewers find interesting isn’t the simplest task. But ultimately I have to think the best thing to have on the screen is competitive battles for position.

On the final lap Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, Martin Truex Jr had a commanding lead over Kevin Harvick. Yet FOX chose to focus on the leader for the entire final lap. There was a stirring battle for tenth going on that ended with Daniel Suarez sliding into the grass off Jimmie Johnson‘s front bumper.

You’d never know that if you relied on the TV coverage to show you the race.

Several times, FOX showed replays of passes for position near the top of the leaderboard. Were they so exciting we needed to see them twice? No, because it wasn’t the second time but rather the first. The production team was so focused on keeping the leader on-screen that they missed these position changes as they happened.

There’s no denying that the leader/winner of the race is the primary story. Or at least, it should be. But it isn’t the only story. It often isn’t even the best one. When the leader is that far ahead on the final lap, show the fans watch some close racing for other positions. Cut away to the leader just as they cross the line, then go back to the fights for position. The concept is not that difficult.

If the leader is approaching a group of lapped cars or is at risk of running out of fuel, I could understand focusing the lens in his direction a bit more. But when the top running car is simply going through the motions, how could anyone not think it would better serve the audience to provide some air time to those cars running a little closer together?

The race for the lead isn’t the only way that fans determine whether or not an event was good. Fender to fender beating and banging generate excitement no matter where it takes place. I’d rather see a three-car tussle for 17th than watch the eventual winner coast around the circuit one last time. I’m fairly certain that is an opinion other viewers likely share as well.

Without turning this into a rant about FOX and its shortcomings this year, they really need to work better situational awareness. Show the right thing at the right time. For many, that television screen is their only window for them to see what is happening on the track.

Let them see enough that they enjoy the show. -Frank Velat

Who Cares About a Bunch of Losers?

It is the TV network’s responsibility to show us the race leader/winner on the final lap of the race. It is a must. I don’t care if its the 1965 Southern 500 and Ned Jarrett is leading by 14 laps, all of the attention should be on the leader on the last lap.

Auto racing is an extremely unpredictable sport. In the blink of an eye, a driver can go from having a great day to a horrible one.

I’ll never forget in the Fall 2002 race at Richmond Raceway when Rusty Wallace, who was in the midst of his career-longest winless streak, seemed poised for the win and had his fate change in an instant. Wallace was in second and cruising behind Matt Kenseth, who was supposedly five laps short on fuel. TNT’s Bill Weber reported that Wallace’s crew chief Bill Wilburn told his driver to ‘drive the wheels off of it.” A few laps later, Wallace ironically endured a flat tire, while Kenseth had enough fuel to win it.

There wasn’t much action going on between the front two at the moment, but had TNT been showing the battle for 25th instead of the leaders then it would have only had highlights of these race-altering developments. A replay doesn’t give the same feeling in the gut as something like that happening live.

But the biggest example of why the camera should stay on the leader at the end of an event is the 2011 Indianapolis 500. JR Hildebrand had over a seven-second advantage over Dan Wheldon going into the final lap. ABC could’ve easily shown other battles during that time, but instead, it stayed glued to Hildebrand — and if it hadn’t, then it would have missed one of the most dramatic Indy 500 finishes ever. Hildebrand hit the wall in the final turn, and Wheldon went on to win it.

The point is that even though Truex had a lead of just under 20 seconds, anything can happen in racing. Sonoma is a road course with 11 turns; Truex could’ve overshot any of those corners and slid off of the course. If FS1 had missed that shot because it was too busy showing a battle for 10th place, then the network would’ve never heard the end of it.

Years from now, no one will remember who won that last lap battle for 10th between Denny Hamlin, Johnson and Suarez, but they will remember that Truex won. In some of the races where Richard Petty lapped the field, I bet there were some great battles further back, but no one remembers any of them.

The reason for this is because the Ricky Bobby quote is true — “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” Long-term, nobody cares about second place. If they did, then no one would compare Johnson’s and Dale Earnhardt’s seven championships to Petty’s because Petty finished second in the final standings six times as well.

To quote Vince Lombardi, the greatest football coach ever, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” This is especially the case in today’s NASCAR, where the current playoff rules have placed a win over consistently good finishes. What does it matter if Johnson booted Suarez out of the way for 10th place? If both drivers win before the end of the regular season then the Sonoma result doesn’t matter. If both drivers point their ways into the playoffs, those points are just going to reset after the cutoff.

Of course, the covering network should try to disperse at least some coverage to every car in the field during the race. But once that white flag flies, it should be all about the leader and what he is about to accomplish. -Michael Massie

 

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9 comments

  1. Avatar

    Some great comments here. I’ll throw in a few more. Why are there less viewers? 1. Real fans hate fake finishes with questionable yellow flag near end. If this had been 2016 you know they would have thrown a yellow when MTJ had such a big lead. 2. The Hollywood Hotel. How many bobbleheads do we need to broadcast a race? With as much green flag racing missed as there is the last thing I want to see after another commercial break is a recap of the little live racing we just saw.

    3. Would someone, anyone, please tell me why the “brains” that bring the broadcast think we want to watch pit stops over and over. Who thinks leaving live green flag racing for commercials so we can show you cars going 45 and getting tires is good for the viewer? If anything bad happens they can show it later. I watch a race to GASP watch cars race!!!

  2. Avatar

    It seems that the people who produce the shows are so proud of their ability to show off their technology that they can’t be bothered by showing the race
    Helmet cams , bumper cams, under the car cams, fancy graphics that take up much of the screen. It’s a wonder someone hasn’t developed a damn fuel tank cam.
    I don’t care if they show the leader or whoever is racing for twenty fifth, at least don’t make me watch lap after lap of a driver moving his hands or working the pedals.

  3. Avatar

    My 2 cents… For what ever that’s worth…

    I used to be a HUGE NASCAR fan, and my Dad was too.. We would hit 2-3, sometimes 4 races
    a year.. Watkins Glen for 10 years. NH on occasion, Charlotte, Daytona a few times (I saw Dale Sr.
    win it). Phoenix, last one I went to was Texas.

    It sucks now.. They killed the at track experience…. But those comments are for another day…

    As for showing the winner.. And ONLY the winner.. Its BS!!!!! It started way back with Jeff
    Burton’s wife… And its gotten WORSE, FAR WORSE… I was actually enjoying the Daytona 500
    this year, that last lap was kind of stupid, but as soon as the 3’s nose crossed the line, they flipped
    the camera, Childress, the crew, his wife…. Blah blah….. I don’t CARE… I want to see a RACE…
    And I really want to see the END OF THE RACE… THE ONLY LAP THAT COUNTS.. SHOW IT!!!!!!

    That last lap BS at Daytona, it really irked me, and set the tone for my feelings for NASCAR for the year.
    They took a mostly positive race, and turned it to absolute garbage in seconds… I actually was PO’d, I
    felt like I wasted 3+ hours of my life, just to get cheated out of the most important point of the entire
    race.. I was P******d off !!!!!!!

    Same thing this weekend.. Road course, last lap… Don’t show it… The ONLY LAP THAT COUNTS, and
    they DO NOT show it…

    And the CLOSE UPS… As soon as they switch to a camera.. ZOOM IN on a single car, EVERY SINGLE
    #$@#*#$^ TIME…

    Remember that race 8-10 years ago maybe.. Pocono.. Wreck coming into turn 3.. EVERY CAMERA
    zoomed in on, I believe it was Kurt Busch hitting the dirt berm.. While at the same time, it was Sadler
    or McMurray and a bunch of other cars wrecking behind him.. Car hit the wall so hard the engine went flying.. No film of it.. 96 cameras at the track, and they ALL ZOOMED IN ON THE FIRST CAR TO SPIN and missed the hardest G hit Nascar had ever recorded.

    ZOOM IN!!! Gotta ZOOM IN so you can’t see whats happening… It makes no sense.

    Here is something I posted on another message board DURING the 600… I think it fits in here with
    the crappy TV coverage… I actually had the stop watch out for this one.

    ************************************************

    Here is a little something I realized last night.. I’m sitting here watching the race, around lap 30 or something, and I realized that I’m getting dizzy…

    So I start paying attention, and they are changing the cameras a lot.. So I start counting.. 2 seconds, change the camera, 4 seconds, change the camera.. Then they stayed on one camera for a whole 10 seconds, but it was an in car shot and you couldn’t see anything.. And then another 10 seconds, but it was a bumper shot and you couldn’t see anything… Then action for 3 seconds, and change the camera…

    27 camera changes in 2 and a half minutes. 5 and a half seconds on average before they changed the camera.. But it was worse than that.. ACTION shots showing the racing were *generally* 2-4 seconds, and In car and bumper shots that show NOTHING were 6-10 or so…

    So YouTube, here I come for some “scientific” research..

    2001 Coca-Cola 600… Click to about lap 40, and in 2:30 minutes I got 16 camera changes..

    2001 hmmm that was the beginning of the “New” TV contracts, so lets try ’98, It might have been ESPN. 14 camera changes in 2:30.. For the record, the racing back then was far better, and the camera angles were generally wider so you could see what was going on….

    So.. Things started going south around 2007ish or so.. So 2007 600…. I spent about 30 minutes trying to find a place where they actually just called the race for 2 and a half minutes straight… I couldn’t find it… They would say a little blurb about a battle on the track, and then they would focus in on ONE car and talk about that guy for 30-45 seconds, sometimes with an in car camera, sometimes just a real up close shot….. I thought I was going crazy, until I hit a point where there was a restart, and instead of showing the restart, they focused in on Kurt Busch DURING THE RESTART and started babbling about him… That’s when I gave up….

    So.. In conclusion… Not only does the racing SUCK.. The coverage SUCKS…. They are only showing actual RACING about 1/3 of the time they are on air… The other 2/3rds they are showing in car cameras that show NOTHING, or a bumper shot that shows NOTHING, or the one I HATE!!!!! That stupid stationary camera coming out of turn 2 that they show on every restart…. That shows NOTHING when the most action is actually happening. And I shouldn’t say they are showing “racing action” 1/3 of the time… Because some of that time, they are focused in real tight on a single car…

    Just something I noticed last night and thought I would dig into it a little deeper to see how it used to be….

  4. Avatar

    OK Michael Massie!

    So you’re saying that if there are three cars coming to the checkers battling for second you want to see the first place finisher on his slow down lap whoop it up in the car and see his wife and/or girlfriend? I don’t!

  5. Avatar

    I have to side with Frank on this one. People watch racing to see their favorite driver, then to see any car passing another car. Now, if your favorite driver isn’t near the front, your probably not seeing any exciting racing. I blamed it on the networks, maybe we should blame the producers, or directors?

  6. Avatar

    This is part of the reason viewership has fallen off so dramatically over the past 10 years. The product on track while somewhat less compelling than before also has good to great racing on track but is not being shown by the networks, especially FOX as they are also cowtowing to corporate money and not giving the viewers a better picture of the racing itself.
    While I tend to sort of agree with the assessment about following the leader on the last lap, sort of, do the split screen and show other racing and battles.
    FOX did a horrendous job of covering the race at Sonoma, they did an adequate job of covering 3 drivers and teams. The Blaney situation had to be one of the worst examples of laziness in reporting ever.

    FOX never showed any other driver finishing the race once Truex crossed the line. Even with a 10 second lead over Harvick and Bowyer, the FOX team did not cut back to the finish line as drivers finished the race. This again is why fans are leaving and becoming disinterested in NASCAR TV coverage needs a dramatic overhaul and the NASCAR brass does not seem to get the correlation.

  7. Avatar

    It’s all controlled by pre-production planning and driven by the advertisers. No director in his right mind would show an in-car/helmet view for a car in 15th place unless his paycheck depended on it. Look at the views and see what advertiser is benefiting from them. It’s all about the dollars, not presenting a good product to the fans. Every thing we see is being determined by that huge TV contract. The buzzards are starting to circle.

  8. Avatar

    When I am at the track attending a race, I do NOT focus only on the leader. I look at where drivers are vying for position, no matter where they are in the running order. Yes, anything can happen anywhere on the track, One would hope that the TV coverage is sharp enough to refocus on the lead of something dramatic happens. Keeping one camera on the leader while showing other battles doesn’t seem that difficult for professionals. It’s like not showing most of the finishers behind the leader, no matter how closely the are fighting for position. Once Truex crossed the line, showing the other finishers would have been good information. Instead, we have to try and guess how closely others were battling. I want to know about the WHOLE race, not just the front runners. Particularly if the overage is not at least talking about those behind the leader. You must remember that there are fans of ALL the drivers watching, and a ‘win’ can be defined differently for other teams. You do a disservice to fans when you ignore the majority of the field.