Welcome back to yet another full season of TV opinion, my 11th year of critiquing NASCAR broadcasts. Jeepers. We’re on the verge of the first major race weekend of the season. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has Daytona 500 qualifying and the Advance Auto Parts Clash on tap. Meanwhile, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards has their season opener, the Lucas Oil 200, on Saturday, Feb. 9.
All three of those broadcasts will air on the FOX family of networks, a first look at their 2019 broadcasts. How much, if anything, will be different in the way they cover NASCAR this year?
One area that’s unchanged for 2019 is their broadcast booth for Cup races. Mike Joy will return for his 19th consecutive year on play-by-play. He will once again be joined by Darrell Waltrip while new NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon completes the trio. Once again, the dynamics in the booth between Gordon and Darrell Waltrip will be watched. Many of you have noticed that DW seems to cut off Gordon a fair amount, a trend that must be reduced this season.
Pit road is more or less unchanged. For the Daytona 500, FOX will have Jamie Little, Regan Smith, Vince Welch and Matt Yocum on the broadcast as reporters. It is unclear whether they’ll have four pit reporters for the entire first half of the season, or if they’ll continue a rotation where most races will have three pit reporters from the pool of four.
The most notable change for FOX’s broadcast weekend is that the Hollywood Hotel is no more. It will not make the trip to any races this season as of now.
Instead, the Hotel has effectively been replaced by a brand-new Virtual Studio that debuted Monday night on the season premiere of NASCAR RaceHub on FOX Sports 1. After only one episode in the new studio, it’s obvious that it’s a very flashy setup (apparently built in the Unreal Engine) and I don’t particularly get the point of why they went in this direction. It’s not like their old setup was over the hill. In fact, it looked quite nice. It’s clear the new look will take some getting used to.
In addition, Shannon Spake has been promoted. She will now host not just NASCAR RaceDay – XFINITY Edition, but NASCAR RaceDay for Cup and FOX NASCAR Sunday. Spake will also continue to work on NASCAR RaceHub. Chris Myers will still be involved on the broadcasts, but likely on a lesser scale.
Spake will be Charlotte-based for the season, sharing the Virtual Studio with technical analyst Larry McReynolds. Previously, McReynolds worked for the past three years in a separate booth from the booth commentators.
Joining them in the virtual studio will be a new hire. Ricky Craven has made the move to FOX Sports after leaving ESPN recently. He’ll be there to provide his expertise in a straightforward fashion. Given Craven’s temperament as compared to some of FOX Sports’ other personalities, he will likely be a welcome change of pace. In addition, FOX Sports’ preseason press release indicates Bobby Labonte will also be in the Virtual Studio for the Daytona 500.
The new setup effectively will make FOX NASCAR Sunday more similar in score to NASCAR RaceDay – NGOTS Edition (formerly NASCAR RaceDay – CWTS Edition). You have a large contingent of reporters and analysts commenting on what’s happening far, far away from the actual racetrack.
Honestly, I’m not really sure how to feel about that. Not having those people at the track generally takes away from the coverage because you’re simply not in the loop. You can get information from others, but it’s just not the same.
For Xfinity Series coverage, almost nothing has changed from 2018. Adam Alexander will continue on play-by-play with Michael Waltrip as the permanent analyst. The third spot will continue to be a revolving slot of Cup drivers. For the NASCAR Racing Experience 300 at Daytona, it will Joey Logano in the booth.
In addition, the Drivers Only broadcast will return for a third year. At this point, FOX Sports has not announced when it will be, where it will be, or who will participate.
Finally, we have FOX Sports’ coverage of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. First of all, the broadcast booth will be unchanged. Welch will be back in the broadcast booth for all 23 races, along with Michael Waltrip. Phil Parsons will return as well. Two of the 23 races will be on FOX while the other 21 will be on FOX Sports 1, assuming no rainouts.
Outside of the booth, John Roberts is no longer with FOX Sports. In addition to his continuing work in real estate, Roberts is now co-host of Tradin’ Paint on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio with Chocolate Myers. Roberts replaced Jim Noble, who left to become the radio play-by-play voice of Wofford University’s football and basketball teams.
To replace Roberts, Kaitlyn Vincie has moved from pit road to take Roberts’ place as host of the renamed NASCAR RaceDay – NGOTS Edition. I fully admit that I don’t like the name, but that’s outside of my control. Knowing that Vincie has years of experience now, she’ll do just fine in her new role, which will originate from the Virtual Studio. Despite the new digs, it will likely look no different than last year.
Vincie will once again be joined by Jeff Hammond and Todd Bodine. Bodine could be called upon in a pinch during the first half of the season to pinch-hit for Michael Waltrip in the broadcast booth as well.
On pit road, Hermie Sadler returns for another full season with Alan Cavanna stepping up to full-time status. They will be joined by Jamie Howe, who will make her NASCAR debut in Daytona. Howe has years of experience working primarily in sports car racing. Previously, Howe worked as a pit reporter on FOX Sports’ IMSA coverage and will spend 2019 as a pit reporter for IMSA Radio’s coverage of events.
Finally, FOX Sports announced the hiring of Bob Pockrass (or simply, The Pockrass), one of the most dogged reporters on the NASCAR beat, as a NASCAR Insider. FOX Sports’ press release indicates that he will provide “…breaking news, analysis and inside information across FOX Sports’ linear and digital platforms.”
Knowing that FOX Sports fired all their writers from FOXSports.com and pivoted to video a couple of years ago (to their own detriment), Pockrass likely won’t be allowed to write much (if at all). He’ll still be all over Twitter, but outside of there, you’ll likely see a lot of him on the NASCAR RaceHub Weekend Edition shows on Fridays and Saturdays.
In those setups, Pockrass will be able to explain all kinds of situations as they arise and let’s face it, no one can explain rules better than he can. Outside of that, Pockrass might end up in videos at FOXSports.com. Admittedly, FOX Sports has been rather light with details on just what Pockrass’ role is going to look like and I’m looking forward to getting some more clarification.
Away from the races, there is still NASCAR RaceHub, which is entering its 12th season. The show, which still remains as one of the most popular regular shows on FOX Sports 1, will continue to be a full hour in length. Even with the flashy new studio, the nuts and bolts of the show will likely be similar to past years. There is one notable change to the on-air cast, though.
NASCAR RaceHub Weekend Edition will have new on-air talent this year. Previously, Roberts hosted those shows, but he’s no longer with the network. On Tuesday, FOX Sports announced the hiring of two replacements. One is Lindsey Czarniak, who has previously covered NASCAR for both SPEED and TNT. She returns to the FOX Sports fold after being at ESPN for seven years. Joining Czarniak is another former ESPN on-air personality, Sara Walsh. Walsh is probably best known for anchoring SportsCenter, but she also worked on shows such as NFL Live. After being laid off from ESPN in 2017, Walsh signed with FOX Sports and spent the 2018 season as a sideline reporter. In addition to their weekend work, both Czarniak and Walsh will appear on the Thursday editions of NASCAR RaceHub.
AJ Allmendinger, who contributed to the show on a regular basis in past years, has moved to NBC Sports to work on IMSA broadcasts and NASCAR America. He has effectively been replaced by Jamie McMurray, who will serve as an in-studio analyst. McMurray will also have other duties, but those have not been fleshed out as of yet.
For ARCA coverage, FOX Sports itself did not put out a press release, but ARCA did on Tuesday. There are some changes there as well.
Kevin Lee has been replaced on play-by-play for Daytona at minimum by Dave Rieff, who works as the play-by-play man for FOX Sports’ NHRA coverage. He’ll be joined by Parsons. In the pits will be Dillon Welch and a newcomer to television, Kim Coon. The former Miss Sprint Cup has worked for the past couple of years as a pit reporter for MRN Radio. In addition, she serves as co-host of Ryan Blaney‘s podcast, Glass Case of Emotion.
Overall, FOX Sports is providing viewers with a number of familiar faces and some newer names. We’ll have to see how they all mesh together.
In terms of their Xfinity Series coverage, we don’t know who is going to be in the guest analyst spot beyond Daytona for sure as of this writing. However, expect Kevin Harvick to be back, along with Brad Keselowski and possibly Kurt Busch in addition to Logano at bare minimum. Don’t be surprised if some new names make their presence known.
That’s all for this week. As noted above, Speedweeks begins later this week at Daytona International Speedway. Saturday has Cup practice and the Lucas Oil 200 for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards. Sunday has Daytona 500 Qualifying and the Advance Auto Parts Clash. In addition, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series starts their season in Pomona.
I will provide critiques of the Advance Auto Parts Clash and the Lucas Oil 200 for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. Look for more of my writing about racing television in the Frontstretch Newsletter on Thursdays.
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