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