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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Couch Potato Tuesday: What Is The Future of FOX NASCAR’s On-Air Team?

This week is likely going to be a busy one, so buckle up and enjoy the ride.  Last weekend, NASCAR’s National Series were all in action at Texas Motor Speedway.  The weather was not exactly ideal.  That was something that I was actually a little worried about in regards to the Truck race moving from early November to March 29, but that turned out to not be a problem.  It was a wreckfest, though.

Before we even get into the broadcasts, we must talk about the news that Sports Business Daily’s Adam Stern tweeted about last week.

Such a move would be a seismic shift in FOX’s broadcast booth.  Waltrip, 72 has never missed a FOX Cup race since the company entered the sport in 2001.  His run in the broadcast booth is actually one of the longest ever for a booth analyst in NASCAR.  Off the top of my mind, I cannot recall an analyst that has been the booth for NASCAR races for the same network for 19 years.  A couple of play-by-play commentators have had longer booth tenures.  For instance, Waltrip’s boothmate, Mike Joy, has called Cup races in the booth every year since at least 1991.  He has worked on race broadcasts in some capacity for the last 40 years.

In regards to Waltrip, he brought a different outlook on the sport to the broadcast booth when he first started.  He was literally fresh out of the car, having retired at the end of the previous season.  He brought a fair amount of experience to the booth, having chipped in on Busch Grand National (now Xfinity) Series broadcasts off and on over much of the previous decade.  For example, he was in the booth for Matt Kenseth’s first victory in 1998 at Rockingham with Rick Benjamin and Buddy Baker.

Once full-time in the booth, Waltrip took the advice of then-current FOX Sports president David Hill to do his best to explain why things were happening the way they were.  The first couple of years actually went very well.  At some point, it seemed like the platform got to him.  The love of flames and chrome was something Darrell brought to the booth with him at first.  The Boogitys came later.  Slowly but surely, it seemed like Darrell was taking over the proceedings.  Some fans consider the changes equivalent to Darrell “going Hollywood,” or becoming a parody of himself.

That trend became more and more noticeable as time went by, but may have been obscured by having Joy and Larry McReynolds there.  Then, FOX made the change that resulted in Jeff Gordon effectively replacing McReynolds.  That may have resulted in Gordon unwittingly walking into a power struggle.

Gordon brings a lot of the same traits to the table today that Darrell Waltrip did in 2001, but in a different fashion.  While Waltrip would never admit it, it appears that having Gordon in the booth full-time may have frustrated him to a certain degree.  That’s led to some issues at times.  As a new full-time analyst, Gordon needed to have a bit of support from Darrell.  Basically, something as simple as a promise to not completely contradict him on-air.  I don’t know if Gordon got that.

As of this writing, there has been no official announcement in regards to Waltrip’s status for 2020 and beyond.  However, if he were to choose to step away, it would create quite an opening.  FOX Sports would have a number of potential choices to replace him.  They could bring McReynolds back to the booth, which would accomplish two things.  One, you fill the spot left by Waltrip and two, you gain McReynolds’ voluminous notes, tight relationships in the garage and mechanical know-how.  Even with McReynolds’ interesting interpretation on the English language, he is of much better use to FOX Sports at the track than at the FOX Sports Virtual Studio in Charlotte.

Another option is Ricky Craven, who just signed on with FOX Sports at the beginning of the season.  He’s worked as an analyst on then-Nationwide Series broadcasts in the past for ESPN and did quite well at it, even when his play-by-play man was a bit subpar.

The guy behind the parody Twitter account “Drunken Brian France” suggested Wendy Venturini, formerly of SPEED and currently a booth commentator for PRN Radio.  She would be an interesting choice, as would Jamie Little.  While I cannot recall Little doing booth commentary during a race, she has done so with practice sessions in the past, most recently at Michigan International Speedway last spring.

Another option that I know would rile a number of fans just from writing this column for the last decade would be Michael Waltrip.  He’s already on the payroll (like Craven, McReynolds and Little) and has plenty of booth experience.  He just finds a way to irritate people on a regular basis.

There is also the possibility that FOX just doesn’t replace Darrell and goes with the two-man booth of Joy and Gordon.  Or, the possibility of an off-the-board candidate that I didn’t mention here.  At this point, anything is possible (except Kevin Harvick taking the role, since he’s still going to be racing full-time next year for Stewart-Haas Racing).  We will continue to cover this story over the next few months (if need be), but we’d like to hear from you.  If Darrell were to retire (and we’re going to stress that it is by no means official that he’s going to), what would you like to see FOX Sports do?

With that said, let’s take a look at Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, which tied for the most lead changes so far this year with Las Vegas (26).  Did that equate to a good broadcast?

Unlike the action at Martinsville Speedway, there was a decent amount of racing towards the front of the field on Sunday.  I have no doubt that FOX was happy to see that.  Viewers got a decent amount of side-by-side racing.  The problem is that the rules package makes it very difficult to complete that pass.  Combine that with the lack of tire fall-off that comes with a surface that’s just over two years old and you end up with a form of stasis at times.

That said, Sunday’s race was still enjoyable at times.  FOX did seem to take pains to show viewers as many on-track battles as they could, but the at-track experience was apparently better than FOX showed.  I’ll state for the record that I was not in Texas on Sunday (in fact, I’ve never even flown over the state of Texas before).  I’m just going on what my colleague Beth Lunkenheimer (who was at the race Sunday) saw.

Admittedly, there were an abundance of replays of on-track action all weekend, not just in the Cup race.  All three races were marked by drivers slipping in Turn 2 (just imagine what it would have been like had it been 75 degrees instead of 57).  Kyle Busch nearly wiping out in Turn 2 may have changed the final outcome of the race.

Error-wise, there was at least that should be noted.  Timmy Hill was driving the No. 66 Toyota for MBM Motorsports on Sunday.  The team ran the same paint scheme on the car that Joey Gase used a couple of weeks ago.  This likely led to the mistake of FOX noting that Gase was driving the No. 66 instead of Hill.  Not true.

As you can see here, Gase was having a quiet Sunday at home, watching the Cup race on TV (and pointing out the error).  That’s a whoopsies.  Thankfully, that was fixed later on, but it is a mistake that should not have been made.  Quite simply, it’s not a good look.

Once again, the uncontrolled tire penalties became an issue on Sunday.  Denny Hamlin had to overcome one (in addition to a separate speeding penalty and missing pit road twice) to win.  A couple of weeks ago, I was going to compare the uncontrolled tires to handchecking fouls in the NBA.  That led me down a YouTube rabbit hole in which I couldn’t actually find anything to use.  It’s probably closer to watching an Ivy League college basketball game where the referees are ultra-strict.  That leads to a series of “ticky-tack” fouls being called that extend the game.

Granted, such penalties don’t lengthen races, but they do take focus away from the race itself.  At this point, it seems that FOX is starting to get a little annoyed at having to deal with these penalties every week.  Despite that, they’re doing a good job in explaining just what is leading to these infractions and why NASCAR is assessing so many of these penalties so far this season.

The Brad Keselowski mechanical issues were rather confusing for everyone involved.  Keselowski was driving around under caution when all of a sudden, the car stopped pulling.  After a check of the rear axles revealed nothing, the No. 2 crew rolled the Miller Lite Ford behind the wall.  55 laps later, Keselowski returned.

With admittedly little to go on, McReynolds made use of the Virtual Cutaway Car in order to explain what goes into the rear end of Cup cars.  He did the best that he could, but we still never ended up with a definitive answer as to what happened.  Keselowski channeled Ken Schrader after the race, noting that it was “one of those really important parts.”

Post-race coverage was about average, despite the relatively quick pace of the race.  Viewers got a decent number of driver interviews, along with a check of the points and some post-race analysis.

The whole idea of having the broadcast booth do the Victory Lane interview continues to be bizarre and stilted.  I have no idea why FOX things that this is a good idea (in addition to stealing the frontstretch interview from NBC Sports).  I feel like this isn’t working.

On a more serious note, FOX aired a feature during pre-race about Daniel Smith, a tire changer on Harvick’s pit crew.  Smith missed a substantial chunk of last season fighting testicular cancer.  This feature described the lead up to Smith discovering that he had cancer, how Stewart-Haas Racing banded together behind him and more.  While I’d much rather that this situation had never happened (like everyone else), this was a very-well put together piece.  This is one of those situations where you see the “NASCAR Family” show their true colors.  Yes, everyone races hard as heck, but they’re always willing to support someone when they’re down.  It’s not like Formula 1, where even talking to someone outside of your team is viewed as something akin to traitorous activity.

Overall, I’m still not a fan of these rules for 2019, but I was pleasantly surprised with the speed.  Sunday’s race was the second fastest Cup race ever run at Texas, despite speeds being down 10 mph.  There was decent racing for position, but still not a lot of movement through the field.  Effectively the opposite of what NASCAR thought would happen with the rules.  FOX is doing the best that they can with what they’re given.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series travel to Tennessee for the first visit of the year to Bristol.  As of this writing, the high temperature Sunday is forecast to be in the upper 70s.  No snow squalls this year.  The K&N Pro Series East will serve as additional support on Saturday.  In addition, the NTT IndyCar Series returns to Alabama for their annual trip to Barber Park.  TV listings can be found in the Television tab at the top of the page.

We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races from Bristol for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  The Critic’s Annex will cover the My Bariatric Solutions 300 and Vankor 350 from Texas.  Next week’s Annex will cover Hurley, a new documentary about the life and times of now-retired sports car racer Hurley Haywood.  I’m personally looking forward to watching this and seeing what it’s like.

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.

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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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36 comments

  1. Avatar

    It was a joke. “BBB” has no redeeming qualities and we were all sick of it the week after he first said it.

  2. Avatar

    I wish NASCAR would do a major show on Morgan Shepherd. . He was there before almost every one of them and is still showing up at almost every Xfinity race, never getting a mention I saw him win his last Winston Cup race at Atlanta and is the reason we buy Folger’s coffee.

    for years, i donated to his Christmas Fund for the mountain people in Kentucky. He is a good man who has been forgotten. Have him challenge MIKEY to a roller skating duel on pit road.

    I have tried to contact Nascar and TV outlets but can’t find direct access. Any help would be appreciated.

    Enjoyed this article. Saw first Atlanta race, MIKEY”S crash at Bristol and watched Ken Schraeder ask Mike Helton how much he made after twin 125’s.

    • Avatar

      Guy – Years and years ago I think TNT had a show, Inside Winston Cup. I remember them doing a profile on Morgan, how he had a rag-tag team and then showed his Christmas fund for the mountain people. I’ve always sent him what I can to help with his fund. Morgan is a unique, God fearing person.

  3. Avatar

    Dr. Jerry Punch, dale Jarrett, and Kyle petty. Bill Weber and jon kernan in the pits… please.

  4. Avatar

    I hope he ” Boogity, Boogitys” into the sunset in June. My greatest fear is he will want to do one more year for a “Goodbye” tour. Yikes.

  5. Avatar

    I miss Ned & Benny.

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    The comments made above and the one that Jacob made just about covered all I have been thinking all year. . What I miss is seeing reporters going out to the fans , and what is going on at the track during the pre race show. Race Hub studio is ok for the weekday show, but not on Race weeekends. Larry Mac should be at the track where be has always been. Regan Smith is good at the track, but does not get enough sir time. I am sick of seeing the three booth announcers standing by pit row before the race. They talk about nothing. Last year at the Charlotte 600 race ,, they blocked the drivers introduction, and comments about military service members. Time for Fox to do a whole new broadcasting team.

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    Mikey and Darrell, just the two of them, lol

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    Wendy Venturini has my vote.

  9. Avatar

    DW was a jackass when he drove and did not change a lot when he got in the broadcast booth.
    I see a number of admirers here but I think they are in the minority.
    Jeff brings a reasonableness to the broadcast and is refreshing after listening to dw and his outlandish remarks. Jeff and the announcer would be just fine. Send the Waltrips packing, sooner the better.

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    Echoing previous comments, I will sing hallelujah if DW leaves. And take his side show brother with him. Don’t let the door hit you in the behind.

    It has gotten so bad that this year I don’t listen to TV but the radio broadcast while watching the TV on mute (synced up). It is so much better. I will do this until NBC takes over.

    Though it would be nice to have Wendy V. or Jamie L. in the booth, both very knowledgeable, I still think having an ex crew chief in the booth would be best. Now Larry hasn’t been one in a very long time, but I give the guy credit in keeping up with the technology. We need him back in the booth, but not two drivers. Rather go with two man booth vs. two drivers.

    You failed to mention again how many important things Fox missed. As a lead change while they were stuck on in car camera, and many times Fox was in commercial when other things happened. I know the latter happens, but they could time things better.

    And to be fair, as of yesterday it wasn’t known exactly what happen to the 2 drive train.

    Thanks as always Phil!

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    First, your columns are always thought provoking. I have been a NASCAR fan for over 50 years, so I remember DW’s driving career and how incredibly unpopular he was. Wallace spinning him in the All Star Race helped, but he was still not popular but my late Father loved him. He does need to go, but with a big send-off and take his brother with him.
    It would be a good time for fox to replace the entire booth. Mike Joy has no credibility and as so amply pointed out, Jeff Gordon is a Hendirck shill. Dangle some money in front of Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty and put Adam Alexander in the booth as play-play. Rotate Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett along with Kyle Petty. Keep Larry Mac in the fringe and that broadcast would mean something. Petty always has an opinion and is no one’s shill.

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    I like DW and welcome him in the booth as long as he wants. I do see some issues having two drivers in the booth, as opposed to the driver & crew chief combo they had with McReynolds up there with DW and Mike Joy.
    The driver and crew chief combo complemented each other, where as the driver/ driver combo just say the same stuff over and over.

    and in my ever so humble opinion: the fronstretch victory interview was stupid on NBC, and it is equally as stupid on Fox. Do one or the other, no need for both.

    • Avatar

      I have a soft spot for DW. I remember his entry into stock cars -a cocky jackass; his hey day; his fall from the top; and regaining traction as the Fox Sports mouthpiece for nascar. Just admitted that I’m old.

      That said, there really hasn’t been a good broadcast since Benny and Ned were in the booth.

  13. Avatar

    I know Fox is trying to appease the LGBT community but don’t do it with Mikey

  14. Avatar

    FOX should save money and go with the two man booth. Listen to some of the old, old broadcasts. It was all about the race.
    Mike Joy is almost 70, so there could be an opportunity to change everything.
    Mentioning MW in the article changes the whole focus of peoples opinions.

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    Guess I’m odd man out. I’ve always liked DW in the booth, as he does occasionally bring to the table tales of yesteryear. He’s one of our last remaining (visible/audible) icons from a driving era long past. OK, the “boogity” thing is annoying, but it only lasts a couple seconds. Plus, maybe I’m just a demented individual, I kinda find it entertaining when DW says something that really isn’t relevant to today’s NASCAR and Jeff corrects him (with a reluctant, awkward tone of voice for having to point it out). Jeff’s pro-Hendrick stance doesn’t really bother me (and I’m a Haas fan) – I think the rest of what he brings to the booth offsets the occasional bias he shows.

    Michael though… I used to like him on (I forgot the name of the show – it was on SPEED Monday night) with Alan Bestwick and Kenny Wallace (and/or Kenny Schrader). When he went to FOX it’s like he went too far with the goofiness. I can’t stand the pit walk, and don’t see any value in it. Last week’s trip on the ferris wheel was painful to sit through.

    Totally agree on Larry Mac. Joy, McReynolds and Gordon in the booth would be good.

  16. Avatar

    Replacing DW with Mikey is like replacing turnips with rutabagas on the dessert menu. Nobody wants either one.

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    Mt guess is that DW is being forced out by Fox. More then likely as a budget cut. I have muted the broadcast for years. Going back to when DW came into the sport as a driver he has always been about self promotion. His ego is big. He has been a broadcast hog since the beginning. The booth should not have two drivers in it. :I’m against Craven for the simple reason that he is a NASCAR shill. Gordon being the owner of the 48 car and deploy involved with Hendrick Motorsports does not belong in the booth either. This was very evident when he immediately came to Johnson’s defense at Daytona with the Menard incident. Analysts should be neutral in the booth. MW is a buffoon. Nothing else need to be said about this clown.

    The only thing to be said about group qualifying is that one driver should not have to depend on another driver to qualify well. A simple solution is to line the cars up by practice speed in the practice preceding qualifying. Either fastest first and in back or slowest first. Send each car out at ten second intervals. The car takes the green and gets one lap. This leaves no time to play games. If it appears a driver is slowing to wait for the next car to create a draft his time is nullified and he loses his time. This will speed up qualifying which is what the networks want.

    While I did not watch the entire Texas race it appears that it was a decent race. At least one driver did not dominate and lead over fifty percent of the race. The parts of the race I did watch demonstrated to me that the rules in force for these races are not doing what they are intended to do. They do create a situation where it does take another lap, or two, for the field to go single file after a caution. Maybe they need more stages to create more side by side races.in addition the cars are not in a real draft. In a real draft two cars are locked nose to tail and run down the car in front and blow right by him. This is not happening.

  18. Avatar

    From your column to Gods ears! Let’s send DW off with our best wishes and his little brother! I think Ricky Craven would be a great replacement. He would definitely keep the booth on a more professional level. I also wonder what Fox is thinking putting the booth guys down on pit road…before and after the race. I’d much rather see more of Regan Smith’s walking and talking segment (much more interesting) than Mikey’s pathetic pre race pit road mess.

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      Waltrip needs to stop considering and make it happen. Sorry but he’s not any good, I’ve never enjoyed his broadcasting or the annoying boogity crap he started. Wanted him gone for years. Even suggesting Micheal for a replacement is a disgrace, both brothers are not good for the sport. Also disagree with Craven coming to the booth. He’s awful, he’s quite terrible at explaining things, and has a weird view of how he sees things. I like the idea of either bringing back the Larry Mac or going to the 2 man booth. Darrell has restricted Jeff so bad that we haven’t been able to enjoy Jeff’s broadcasting. It’s like he’s trying not to step on Waltrips toes because Darrell thinks he’s the best damn thing that ever happened. The overall broadcast does lack though, and I’m sorry but this whole front stretch interview thing NBC started needs to go. The burnout camera is fine but quit with the double interview. We will get it in victory lane, the front stretch is 100% unnecessary. And stop giving the que for them to get out of the car. When they pull into victory lane they shouldn’t have to wait, the hell with the TV commercials. Miss the days when they wouldn’t cut to commercial, show the driver pull in and get out on their own. Since the rule package was mentioned I want to say it’s completely awful. The racing is terrible, some of the worst we’ve seen. The low horsepower was a bad idea, these guys can’t pass each other because they have no power. Too much down force as well. This is the cup series, if you can’t handle the cup cars get out. I feel they are slowing these cars down not just for this stupid “show business” crap but for all these young guys coming in buying their seats instead of earning them. That’s another huge problem the sport has but that’s a different rant. The qualifying is horrendous. This new package itself is horrendous and does not provide any good racing, plus it’s annoying hearing the commentators try and sell it when it’s obviously failing. The fact that NASCAR thinks they are in show business is going to hurt them significantly. Sure it’s entertainment for the fans but this isn’t a Hollywood tv show. It’s racing. It’s the MOTORSPORTS BUSINESS. Racing should always come first. If they focus on the racing again, maybe then they will start having better results. I’m sure I come off harsh but I’m just being blunt. I’ve been very disappointed in the decisions the sport has made and it shows that they are not improving. Wrong decisions made by the wrong people. Not saying I’m anyone special by any means but damn, NASCAR needs to be called out on what they are doing wrong.

      I could go on and on about all this so I’ll stop here. Have a good day!

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        Feel better???
        Glad you got that off your chest. : )

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          It may have been long winded, but tough to argue his points. I agree with most everything he said. Especially about the racing coming first. That seems to be lost in the broadcasts over the years.

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            Me too. I just had to laugh because it felt like he had been saving that up for a while and finally burst out.

  19. Avatar

    Gordon’s bias towards all things Hendrick (and GM) is tiring. Given his position as heir to that organization, he has no business being in the broadcast booth at all.

  20. Avatar

    if fox is stupid enough to put michael waltrip in booth for a cup race, they’ll have lots of people muting the broadcast. michael talks over EVERYONE.

    if dw does retire, taking his brother with his has to be part of the plan.

  21. Avatar

    First you give me the joy of news that DW might finally be retiring (and hopefully the “boogities” go with him) and then you point out the sobering thought that MW could be a possibility. Personally I think McReynolds is the best choice. MW would be the worst. I can honestly say that if MW got the seat I might stop watching altogether. I can’t stand that guy. I certainly think Craven would be an interesting choice as well. I think a Gordon/Craven booth would bring a more serious, less buffoonish, atmosphere to the broadcast.
    Here is hoping that starting next year “boogity, boogity, boogity” is something we look back on fondly through the lens of nostalgia instead of being beat over the head with every week.

    • Avatar

      I will never look back fondly on the boogity’s. Its an absolute embarrassment to the sport and makes the sport a joke to anyone watching a race for the first time.