Here we are. Speedweeks once again. Good to get the blood going with some racing after a long offseason. That said, Sunday saw probably one of the biggest wreckfests in recent memory. Not swell.
For many NASCAR fans, Sunday was their first taste of the two-man booth and what FOX Sports will offer for NASCAR fans in 2020. So far, I can say that it’s going to be quite the change in feel.
Having said that, Sunday was not the best show for the duo of Jeff Gordon and Mike Joy. They both seemed off their game — sort of like Spring Training in baseball, which just so happens to start this week. Traditionally, Spring Training was when players would work themselves back into shape after doing other jobs in the offseason. You know, back when players didn’t get paid enough to simply spend their downtime keeping themselves in shape.
Likely the best example of this came on the final GWC of the race, when Gordon forgot that Denny Hamlin was a lap down after all of his repairs. Heck, he had just gotten the lucky dog before the final restart.
Afterwards, Gordon admitted that he got caught up in the moment.
It was great to get back to racing & start the season off strong but yes absolutely got caught up in the excitement of that last restart. Still knocking off the rust, agree missed that one. Not the first & probaly not the last but always striving for perfection. https://t.co/yNCgfCk7fq
— Jeff Gordon (@JeffGordonWeb) February 10, 2020
Continuing with the baseball analogy, as the week goes on, Gordon (and Joy, for that matter) should get fresher. At least, I hope so.
So you’re probably wondering: What’s it like with just Joy and Gordon in the booth together? Honestly, kind of quiet. Again, this is probably since they’re still getting back into the groove of things, but it came off to me as far more orderly than what we’ve been used to on FOX Cup broadcasts over the past four years.
Not having to worry about Darrell Waltrip butting in on whatever is being said seemed to make Gordon a little more comfortable. He’s free to talk more. Joy is willing to work with Gordon and make him as good as he can be. With Darrell, I’m sure that he got along with Gordon, but there had to be some ego there.
The overall schedule resulted in a not-so-popular move last week. As this is being written, Jamie Little is in New York City to work on FOX Sports 1’s coverage of the 144th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden (Best in Show is tonight, chaps). She won’t be in Daytona until Media Day on Wednesday.
As a result, FOX Sports tapped Michael Waltrip to serve as a roving reporter on Sunday. It was about as ridiculous as you would think. I do have sympathy in regards to how out of breath he was at times since he had to run from pit road to the garage and the Infield Care Center and back. This isn’t IMSA. NASCAR basically doesn’t allow golf carts in the garage. Having covered both sanctioning bodies, it’s one of the biggest differences in the garage. If you want to get somewhere in a hurry, get to stepping.
Michael did his best to come up with good questions to ask drivers that had dropped out of the race, but it’s clear to me that he’s no expert at that. More than half of us here at Frontstretch could probably a better job. That said, if Michael was going to be the roving reporter and they were going to have him on top of the tower, don’t put him in charge of Infield Care Center interviews. That’s just not good TV.
It’s not like FOX Sports didn’t have pit reporters in Daytona Sunday. They had two of them on-site, yet gave nearly all the interviews to Michael. FOX, please don’t do that for the Daytona 500. I know that he’ll be there to do his Grid Walk and all, but he shouldn’t be pit reporting. You have better people on staff to do that.
FOX Sports unveiled a new graphics package during Super Bowl LIV recently. I wasn’t expecting that to show up in their NASCAR coverage last weekend, and it didn’t. Could it show up for the Daytona 500? I don’t know. It could, but I doubt it. Personally, I was thinking that it would show up for 2021. FOX NASCAR tends to be about a year behind FOX’s NFL coverage when it comes to graphical tweaks.
We remember when FOX introduced their FOX Box graphics to NASCAR in 2014. They managed to go through four iterations in a month. So, when they do eventually show up, don’t be surprised if it takes a couple of tries before they get it right.
Innovation-wise, there isn’t a whole lot that’s new for this season. We’ve already discussed the biggest change in that Darrell isn’t there anymore. FOX Sports did partner with Jimmie Johnson to put a heart rate monitor on him (legal, as of a few years ago) and display that data on a little monitor attached to his seat. You can’t really see it all that well (the in-car camera has to zoom in on it to give viewers an idea of the heart rate). Perhaps FOX Sports will come up with a better solution in time for the Daytona 500.
In NASCAR, this live heart rate monitor is a new thing. It is not new in motorsports. Back in the early 1990s, FOM put a heart rate monitor on Ayrton Senna (I believe) during a race. He peaked at 192 beats per minute. Johnson didn’t come anywhere near that. Even when he wrecked, his peak heart rate was 130. Then again, as noted on the broadcast, Johnson’s resting heart rate is in the 38-42 range, very low.
With the sheer number of wrecks, the race broadcast ran long. Viewers got a couple of post-race interviews before FS1 left Daytona to get to coverage of the Lucas Oil Winternationals from Pomona. Erik Jones’ exit from his Sport Clips Toyota in Victory Lane was not caught live, mainly because they interviewed him on the frontstretch. FOX Sports likely considers that to be redundant, but it is a weak move, regardless.
Overall, this was a tough day. FS1 tried out some experiments. Some, like Michael Waltrip’s expanded role (forced by scheduling) didn’t work. Others were inconclusive. My hunch is that they’ll be better once they get warmed up. In Gordon’s case, he hasn’t been in the booth in nearly eight months. That said, the Daytona 500 usually brings some additional shenanigans that we won’t likely see for the rest of the year.
However, things weren’t all bad. There were some interesting aspects of the coverage that I noticed on Sunday. For example, did you catch that the cameramen on top of the tower were wearing straps, much along the lines of construction workers on bridges? As you probably already know, it’s pretty high up there and it was a bit windy Sunday.
Also, I am under the belief that the play-by-play commentator can help drive the broadcast. Joy’s commentary on a few occasions on Sunday was able to direct the pictures that viewers were seeing at home to something that they otherwise would not have been able to see.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, all three of NASCAR’s National Series begin their 2020 seasons. The Truck race on Friday night appears to be the toughest race of the weekend to qualify for. The Xfinity Series is racing 300 miles on Saturday, then the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Good to have racing back. Outside of NASCAR, the Asian Le Mans Series will be in action at Sepang Circuit in Malaysia, while Monster Energy AMA Supercross will be at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. TV listings are in the Television tab above.
We’ll have critiques of this weekend’s action in Daytona in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch. For the first edition of The Critic’s Annex for 2020, we’ll cover Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story. That film is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and on Netflix.
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About the author
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 the Super DIRTcar Series.