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Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Gradually Ramps Up in Cup, ARCA Confounds at Times

Last weekend, FOX made their racing debut for 2019.  Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams were back on-track for both the Clash and Daytona 500 qualifying, while ARCA began their season with a new series name.  On paper, not really much has changed there.  Having the series called the ARCA Menards Series simply sounds better and isn’t the mouthful that they had before.

Advance Auto Parts Clash

Sunday afternoon brought the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to play for two sessions.  First was pole qualifying for the Daytona 500.  Then, we were supposed to have 75 laps of Clash racing.  It ended up being 57.

The main takeaway from the qualifying coverage is that FOX Sports seems to have a different plan for the 3D on-track technology as compared to the last time it was in play the better part of a decade ago.  Back then, it was more of a physical representation of cars on-track that could be used as a crutch if a camera missed a crash.

Over the past few years, you’ve likely heard about the DartFish learning aid for drivers if you’re reading this website.  On Sunday, FOX used their 3D technology in a similar fashion, creating a ghost car of the current polesitter and overlaid that on a separate screen.  Basically, a better version of DartFish.  What we got a slightly better representation of how drivers were gaining and losing time.  Seems like a really expensive way to go about it, though.  It still remains to be seen how that’s going to work during the group qualifying sessions after Daytona, or how else it will be used.

For the Clash itself, it will likely be best remembered for the big wreck that ended the race.

Given the characteristics of the current Cup cars at restrictor plates, any number of things could have caused the crash.  Regardless of what happened, there was contact between Jimmie Johnson and Paul Menard.  Menard spun and it was an all-skate from there.

Coverage-wise, FOX Sports 1 had this mess covered from all angles.  I had no issues whatsoever with the actual pictures.  The only real controversy that came out of this was the idea of FOX Sports covering Johnson with kid gloves.  The idea of favoritism and/or bias will likely be a theme in Couch Potato Tuesday in 2019, so why not start here.  The idea here is that since Jeff Gordon has been an employee of Hendrick Motorsports since 1992, he cannot be objective about anything that has to do with the team.  Here, it seemed like Gordon was a bit unsure.  I think he didn’t want to trash Johnson without having all the facts.  Darrell Waltrip, on the other hand, seemed to be quick to blame Johnson.

Menard stated that “…aggressive side-drafting caused that big ‘ol crash” in an interview outside the Infield Care Center.  Johnson thought it was a racing deal.  It’s a classic he said, she said thing.

There was some anger towards NASCAR for calling the race as quick as they did, but truth be told, had they waited for a window, the race would have finished at midnight.

The race itself was run in a start-and-stop fashion because of rain.  Of note, FOX Sports 1 was not at a break when the first yellow flew for rain while MRN Radio was.  That resulted in MRN coming out of commercial in a real somber tone like something really bad went down when it was only rain.

Sunday’s broadcast was effectively the dress rehearsal for what you’ll see during the rest of the FOX portion of the season.  Pre-race coverage was done more or less from the Virtual Studio in Charlotte.  I will admit that it is still going to take some getting used to.

Actual driver interviews were very light.  Johnson was interviewed directly by Shannon Spake in the Virtual Studio…and that was it.  Anyone who has read this column over the past 10 years will know that I’m not really a fan of that.  Die-hard fans don’t necessary watch pre-race coverage to see Michael Waltrip go on about things.  They watch to educate themselves on what they’re going to see and hear from their favorite drivers.

There was also a short interview that Jeff Gordon conducted one-on-one with Chase Elliott.  The main gist here is that Elliott is sick of starting off the season in a hole every year and hopes that he can put together a decent Speedweeks.  The whole thing seemed a little weird, though.  Both Elliott and Gordon were in Chevrolet Camaros talking to each other out the window.  It made me think of the old Grey Poupon commercials from the early 1990s (or the spoof of those commercials in Wayne’s World).

By the time the race was called, the event was already past the end of the timeslot and running into NHRA coverage from Pomona.  While that wasn’t really an issue since the NHRA had their own rain issues last weekend, it did mean that post-race coverage was brief.  There was a second interview with Johnson in Victory Lane and a couple of more interviews with drivers in the crash before FOX Sports 1 left Daytona for Pomona.

As compared to a regular Cup broadcast on FOX, Sunday’s broadcast felt subdued.  There was no Boogity from Darrell Waltrip and really no antics.  That makes me happy.  Believe me, I know how much that stuff drives many of you nuts.  Darrell Waltrip on seven cylinders can result in a more balanced broadcast.

Having said that, Sunday’s race was not necessarily the most exciting because of all of the driving right next to the outside wall.  Gordon admitted on-air that he did not expect that.  Given the forecast and the notion that none of the drivers felt much like wrecking on Sunday, I really wasn’t surprised at all.

FOX Sports’ previous press releases noted a bunch of new bells and whistles for 2019.  Sunday’s broadcast was not really representative of what you’re likely to see once the season truly gets underway.  It was like everyone was getting back in the flow of things.  As the week continues on, you’ll see more stuff get added in.

Lucas Oil 200 driven by General Tire

Saturday afternoon saw the newly-renamed ARCA Menards Series traipse around Daytona International Speedway for 215 miles.  Compared to past years, Saturday’s race was actually quite clean.  TV-wise, viewers had some new elements to look forward to.

For Daytona at least, FOX Sports 1 had Dave Rieff on play-by-play duties.  While this was far from Rieff’s first time calling a race, it was the first ARCA broadcast that I can recall him working on.  Normally, Rieff is on play-by-play for FOX Sports’ NHRA coverage.  Generally, Rieff seemed to do just fine, although he did fudge some facts every now and then.  Phil Parsons was his usually competent self.

In the pits, we had Dillon Welch and Kim Coon.  Welch is still relatively new to pit reporting on television, but he’s been getting regular reps all over the place over the past couple of years.  Yes, he has the benefit of having his father around.  That never hurts, especially with anything having to do with NASCAR.  Despite that, working as a reporter is likely no different than driving a racecar.  Getting as many reps as you can is crucial in your development.

Coon has worked as a pit reporter for MRN Radio (and continues to do so) ever since her time as one of the Miss Sprint Cups came to an end in 2016.  She seems to be ok, but Saturday was the first race that I can recall her working the pits for on television.  The job seems to be a little bit different on TV as opposed to on radio, even though there isn’t really a difference in how things are described.

The race itself was in a bit of a hurry-up mode because of potential rain.  Luckily, that didn’t end up being a problem.  However, it did mean that there were no pre-race interviews.  The broadcast signed on and went right to the anthem.

For support races like ARCA events, a number of the cameras are deactivated for the broadcast or simply immobilized.  That can create some problems if the coverage cuts to one of those locked shots.  That happened on lap 3 when Michael Self and Willie Mullins had their crash on the backstretch.  The live broadcast originally had a shot from the tower of Mullins bump drafting the heck out of Self.  Just as the wreck happened, they switched to a head-on shot from Turn 3 of the pack approaching just as Self spun off into the grass.  Quite simply, that was not the best directorial decision.  From what I could tell (based on the replays), sticking with the first shot would have been best.

There were a couple of other issues with the coverage of wrecks that I had on Saturday.  First was the crash that Eric Caudell had while coming to pit road.  The replay showed that he got hit from behind by a white car and spun into the inside wall.  I couldn’t tell you who hit him.  It was never noted on-air who hit him.  I could guess, but if I’m watching a race on television, I shouldn’t have to.

The crash that resulted from Connor Hall’s cut tire also saw some rather substandard footage.  The broadcast focused in on Hall having his issues.  Luckily for Hall, his Ford had minimal damage and he was able to continue, eventually finished 11th.

Things weren’t so great for a number of other drivers.  The cameras were able to pick up on what happened to Super Cup Stock Car Series veteran JJ Pack (he wedged himself and Derrick Lancaster into the wall while trying to avoid Hall).  The cameras also saw Paul Williamson’s Vizion Motorsports Toyota badly damaged as well with no real explanation coming.  Did we figure out what happened to Williamson?

Technically yes, but it was never really elaborated on.  In one replay going to commercial from the speed shot camera, it appears that Williamson’s teammate Brenden Queen collided with Thad Moffitt, resulting in both Vizion Toyotas wrecking.  Not a good day for the operation.  I don’t like having to spend 15 minutes pausing my DVR to figure things out like that.

During the race, 2012 ARCA champion Chris Buescher made a special appearance.  I guess he was just there to hang out for a little while, but he chose to stay for the rest of the race after lap 26.  Having raced in the series at Daytona, Buescher provided some first-hand insight of what the drivers were going through out on the track. Some of it was useful, although Buescher was a little too enthralled with the action to provide a lot of commentary at times.

The overall racing product was a little better than we’ve seen recently in ARCA races.  Often times, the race is a follow the leader affair to a certain degree, which is arguably safer.  Less likelihood of big wrecks.  Then again, when the bumping came into play, heck went down.  Both Self and Brandon McReynolds found that out the hard way.

Overall, the on-track action coverage was decent.  Viewers got to see a good amount of racing and the event made for a decent introduction to Speedweeks.  Also, thanks to the new Overtime rules for ARCA plate races, the race was done by 6:30 p.m. ET as opposed to after 8 p.m. ET.

That’s all for this week.  The rest of this week is a very busy time in the world of motorsports as NASCAR truly comes to life as the first point races of the season.  TV listings can be found in the Television tab.

I will bring you critiques of the Daytona 500, NASCAR Racing Experience 300 and NextEra Energy Resources 250 in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  There will not be an Annex this week, but there’s a really interesting special premiering Thursday night on FOX Sports 1 after the Gander RV Duels.  Unrivaled: Earnhardt vs. Gordon takes a look at the rivalry between the Intimidator and the young racer whom Earnhardt dubbed “Wonderboy.”  I fully plan on covering this special in an upcoming Annex, perhaps on the 21.

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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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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3 comments

  1. Avatar

    Boogity Boogity Boogity. Will be back in the Daytona 500. Waltrip only uses his annoying phraise for official points races.

    Phil you need to do a article on the conflict of interest most Nascar broadcasters have and they can’t be impartial.
    Also is it true that all announcers need to be approved by Nascar before the networks hire them?

    • Phil Allaway

      That is generally par for the course in professional sports. The league generally has to approve of commentators for national broadcasts. For local broadcasts (Ex: RSNs), the team can get a say. In regards to teams, some want a more objective approach (Ex: MSG). Others want unabashed homers who think the team can do no wrong (Ex: A number of college teams, WGN in Chicago with Hawk Harrelson, etc.).

      Normally, it’s a rubber stamp scenario, but there are instances in which a league doesn’t want someone near their broadcast. Just recently, it came out that the NFL didn’t want Bob Costas on NBC’s broadcast of Super Bowl LII last year. Why? He’d become outspoken of the NFL’s handling of the ongoing concussion issues and the league didn’t like that. That likely played a role in Costas recently leaving NBC.

  2. Avatar

    I was thrilled that DW didn’t subject us to his ‘BBB’ at the start! I also see he has finally let his hair go natural. Much better.