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Couch Potato Tuesday: Michigan Tests the Mettle of FOX Sports

This weekend at Michigan International Speedway turned out a lot like the forecast predicted for Pocono Raceway last week. Intermittent rain pushed the race itself to Monday (June 10). FOX Sports’ coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup pushed the race to an unorthodox 5 p.m. ET start time instead of noon. My understanding is that morning rains and track drying likely would have precluded starting the race in that noon slot anyway, but it still seemed weird to start so late at a track without lights.

Admittedly, I didn’t really know what to expect on Monday as far as the on-track product was concerned. There was some decent pack running in practice, but Monday’s race was relatively anti-climactic. There were really about two or three drivers that could make a pass for the lead. They were Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and maybe (with help) Kyle Larson. Everyone else really couldn’t do much.

When the broadcast finally started at 5 p.m., they jumped right into the race coverage. The command had seemingly been given before FOX Sports came out of its pre-race montage.

Once the race actually started, there was a lot of pack racing and drafting. There was plenty of passing further down the order, but next to nothing at the front. Yes, Denny Hamlin was able to snag the lead away from Logano on the first lap.  Little did we know that Hamlin’s move would turn out to be a rare sight.

Much of the broadcast showed off the side-by-side racing early on.  As the race continued, that action tended to stay around the restarts. With Logano up front, only a couple of drivers could do anything with him. That made the race less exciting than it could have been. Also, after seven years, the groove still hasn’t expanded much. With the previous repave, teams were able to run competitively much higher up the track by this point.

I did have a gripe in regards to how FOX Sports covered Kyle Weatherman’s crash. I know that Weatherman is an unheralded driver making his season debut. As of last year, he was working full-time for StarCom Racing and described his duties with the team to Frontstretch at Homestead. On Monday, 70 laps into the race, Weatherman crashed in turn 2 to bring out the third caution of the race. Viewers saw Weatherman trying to drive back to the pits with significant rear end damage. We never got a replay of what happened to him to cause the incident. Sure, I could guess, but I wasn’t in Michigan. I wouldn’t know for sure.

Also, viewers never got a good idea what happened to Bubba Wallace. He was running 15th and had to pit with 51 laps to go. Jeff Gordon thought that Wallace was having engine issues. Turns out that it was a tire issue.

In situations like that, FOX Sports needs to take advantage of the pit reporters that they have on-site and follow up. There was no follow-up.  That’s weak.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief. Viewers got interviews with the top three finishers (Logano, Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr.), along with an unhappy Harvick, who spoke maybe seven words to Jamie Little. There was also a check of the points and some analysis before FOX Sports left Michigan for FIFA Women’s World Cup coverage.

Sunday’s coverage was effectively four hours of filler before NASCAR called the race for the day. Given the conditions, I would have liked it if FOX Sports had put their pit reporters on driver interviews much earlier than they did. Then again, NASCAR still had their regular driver introductions Sunday. Instead, they had Michael Waltrip do an expanded version of his Grid Walk. Compared to what we’re used to seeing, this was a more subdued Michael. He actually had time to think of something interesting to ask the drivers and wasn’t a complete goof. I actually learned something for a change.

FOX Sports also premiered what is likely the first in a series of one-on-one interviews dubbed “The Pub.”  Here, Regan Smith interviewed Clint Bowyer. Just on paper, that sounds interesting just because of Bowyer’s loquaciousness.

One of the big notions that came out of this piece is that Bowyer is apparently the guy in the garage that makes everyone feel like a million bucks. Apparently, this came from his father, since he had to put on a friendly face for people who had run into car trouble back in Emporia (Bowyer’s father owns a towing service).

Bowyer is apparently guarded at times, but he opened up to Smith. He’s still driven to win. The Martinsville victory last year was key since Bowyer’s son, Cash, had been asking Clint when he was going to go to victory lane. Apparently, he was a bit jealous of his buddy Owen Larson getting to go and wanted in for himself.

Admittedly, this piece was interesting. I couldn’t tell you how much Busch beer (if any) was actually consumed during the taping of the interview, but Bowyer was quite honest here. He’ll likely never forget the win last year and wants nothing more than to repeat it.

After the failed attempt to start the race Sunday, likely the biggest story was Wallace and Corey LaJoie breaking out a football and playing catch with some fans. It brought back memories of drivers and crewmembers having a snowball fight with fans in 2006 at Bristol. Yes, it stinks that there wasn’t any racing Sunday, but at least they made the best of it.

There was also a significant amount of discussion about the finish of Saturday night’s NAPA Auto Parts 150 for the K&N Pro Series West at Colorado National Speedway. Honestly, this past weekend might have been the most press that series has gotten since they had races in conjunction with the Cup Series at Sonoma and Phoenix (now ISM Raceway). I don’t particularly have an opinion on that mess.  It’s a short track thing. They happen. I will say this: I would not have wanted to be Bill McAnally in that situation since Derek Kraus and Hailie Deegan both drive for him. It’ll make for an interesting meeting back at the shop. By the way, if you want to watch the race from Colorado National Speedway, it airs on NBCSN via tape delay Thursday at 6 p.m.

Overall, the action on Monday was mixed at best. Logano clearly had the best car in the race. The rules package kept everyone fairly to the No. 22’s rear bumper all day. It was only in the final 10-15 laps that Logano was finally able to break the draft and try to run away (it was ultimately negated by Erik Jones’ cut tire and spin).

That said, everyone was right there all day and could do nothing with him. The race was frustrating to watch because of it. Due to the start time for the race, I had to listen to the first 20 laps on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio because I get off work right at 5 p.m. The MRN Radio crew calling the race was literally praising the ruleset three laps into the race, which admittedly annoyed me for two reasons. One was that I couldn’t see what they were talking about. The other was the fact that we’d just spent a week going on and on about the rules and Kyle Busch ranting at the dude from the Pocono Record in his press conference and so on. It was like they just decided to fan the flames.

That didn’t happen on FOX Sports 1. It appeared that the broadcast booth took a more widespread look at what they had.

There was a good amount of action shown for position for much of the race. The vast majority of that action was outside of the lead pack, which stayed in the three-to-seven driver range for most of the race. At the front, Logano was running blocker like Jerry Reed in Smokey and the Bandit. Can’t do much about that sometimes.

That’s all for this week. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is off next weekend. As a result, the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series will take center stage at Iowa Speedway. In sports car racing, it is the biggest weekend of the year as 62 teams will take on the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. TV Listings can be found in the Television tab above.

Next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch will cover the two races this weekend at Iowa Speedway. The LTi Printing 250 from Michigan and the SpeedyCash.com 400k from Texas will be covered in the Frontstretch Newsletter in the Critic’s Annex.

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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7 comments

  1. Avatar

    The lack of follow up on the Bubba Wallace situation was particularly egregious because he played a part in the latter portion of the race, sandwiching himself between Logano and Truex Jr. for several laps.The booth was stunned that he was out there.
    Then again what do you expect when half your contributors are not at the track but in a studio in Charlotte?

  2. Avatar

    Phil, it is not surprising that the radio broadcast was singing the praises of the package and how great the racing is on track. It is MRN broadcasting the race and they are owned by the France family. MRN is just a propaganda network for Nascar racing. If a person really wants to experience the difference in race coverage, just watch the race and listen to the radio. You will think the radio is watching a different race.

  3. Avatar

    Fox booth doesn’t do a very good job of keeping track of drivers ups and downs during the race, Bubba the perfect case in point. A car can be running consistently in the top 5, and suddenly be show running 25…no explanation. The ction on track isn’t so fast and furious that they can’t keep viewers informed.

  4. Avatar

    Same here, Carl. I was following the sport when he sprang on the scene. Never have and never will like him. Mike Joy gives revisionist history trying to make old dumb and his brother dumber likeable. I do hope they replace Joy with Adam Alexander and get someone with some insight to go with Jeff Gordon.

    • Avatar

      I do think it’s time for Fox to bring in Adam Alexander to replace Mike Joy. Adam does a good job with the Xfinity series, so it would be a natural thing for Fox to do.

      However, Mike was great during the CBS/TNN days. He, Ned Jarrett and Buddy Baker were great.

  5. Avatar

    Sometimes, Phil, I wonder if they are broadcasting the same race I am watching. You would think they should show what happens to a car in an accident and interview all the drivers.

  6. Avatar

    Thank goodness the broadcast career of DW and his love affair with Kyle Busch is mercifully coming to an end. He sounded almost giddy when letting us know that Kyle had made it to… eighth, then boldly predicted that Kyle was going to win the GWC shoot out because Kyle is “the best there is at restarts”, despite Kyle not being much of a factor all race long. I guess Kyle Busch helps DW reminisce about his days as Nascar’s most-hated driver.