(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX’s Season Debut a Dress Rehearsal at Best

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.

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.

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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19 comments

  1. Avatar

    Phil,
    Welcome back.
    Fox’s broadcast drove me nuts. At least you were right about MW. Gosh I can’t wait for Jamie to come back. He should have retired too, but I will be gone before that happens.
    I am disappointed you didn’t point out Jeff Gordon’s love affair with JJ was way overboard and, well, over everything. Yes he is fit, shut up about it! I hope we are not going to spend the Fox. I was actually looking forward to seeing how things were going to be.
    I recorded this race, thankfully. I swear this year the commercial breaks seem to be even more often. And longer. Granted when the wreckfest started, it didn’t matter. Frankly the race was a farce. Six cars running at the end. How exciting.

  2. Avatar

    The finish line interview and then victory lane one is too much!!!! Use the time to interview the other competitors. I would have loved to hear the comments from the other five survivors. I thought the same thing about JJ/48 dialogue rah rahs. Are we going to have to hear that all season.

    • Avatar

      I agree with this. Why the push to interview the winner twice after a race? NBC does it, and now apparently FOX will do it too. Pretty sure it comes from the Department of Redundancy Department, and it’s dumb…

  3. Avatar

    i thought they threw to charlotte a lot during the broadcast too.

    got to remember gordon is part owner of the 48.

    i think gordon needs to get used to just him and joy being in the booth.

    mikey waltrip……he doesn’t need to be in spotters stand either. those guys are working up there, not just standing around. i think he’s trying to find his niche. after his grid walk segments over the years, pit road reporting might be approached with apprehension from the teams. michael is known for being clown, not a serious reporter. reporter is not same as having his radio show where he can spout his opinions.

    oh well, it was nice not having boogity at the beginning of the race. wonder of dw was yelling it at home?

  4. Avatar

    The only part of Mikey’s bit I enjoyed was when the little girl he was interviewing aske if he could introduce her to Kevin Harvick. Blow to that large ego.

  5. Avatar

    I liked the more reserved/quiet coverage. I was laughing when Gordon lost track that Hamlin was a lap down, while yelling at the TV “He’s a lap down Jeff!”. Did not miss Darrell’s input at all.
    I am also glad to hear that there will be less of Michael Waltrip (theoretically at least) at the 500 once Jamie returns.
    I watched the Super Bowl but I must have missed the graphics package. I am guessing we will see it this week.
    They should lose the heart rate monitor. I really couldn’t care less about that and I doubt anyone else will after they’ve seen it once. It isn’t that interesting to begin with.

    • Avatar

      Same, did not miss DW at all and watched the super bowl and missed the new graphic. Must not have been a large change or noticeable to a casual viewer.
      The heart rate monitor I think would be kind of cool on some other drivers who dont have such a low resting hr…like wow JJ’s is low! Seeing the monitor tracked during the Coca Cola 600 or Bristol would be interesting imo. Also will give the casual fan a feeling of the amount of exertion required by these athletes to complete these laps. If they are really good, could possibly maybe use it to track calories burned during the race to give viewers an idea of the amount of energy required to drive 500 miles. I am all for inputting more stats into the broadcast. They have all the capability.

  6. Avatar

    At least half of the duo, dumb and dumber, retired. However, they kept dumber and gave him an expanded role. His job should be “would you like fries with that?” Remember, they were caught cheating twice. He’s one step ahead of Denny McClain (you youngsters look him up). The booth was better without Dumb, but it is time for Joy to head to the dog show and put Adam Alexander or someone else in there. He lacks credibility from things he has barked in the past. Dog show or join Dumber at the fast food place.
    Jeff Gordon has a ton of potential and I am looking forward to his insight. He has to remember, though, he is not the heir apparent to Hendrick Motorsports when in the booth. Drivers like him and he has a good sense of humor. Give him a chance.

    Most important, though, Phil, glad you are back.

  7. Avatar

    I will repeat my comment from the other day. Mikey is a idiot and Fox needs to take the mike out of his hands. I hope they don’t let him do the Truck races.

  8. Avatar

    With all the negativity in this piece, think I may quit reading Frontstretch. Talk about a killjoy. : (

    • Avatar

      Some times the truth hurts.

    • Avatar

      I question what kind of person you are when your comment regarding The Clash was “Loved it” (from “Erik Jones Wins NASCAR Demolition Derby Turned 2020 Busch Clash” from Feb 9th article). Really? That’s what you want to see? A single file parade for most of the race with a bunch of wrecks in the last 10 laps where the race is decided by who was left to limp across the finish line by default.
      Half the time I think you are being sarcastic because I don’t see how anyone could think like that with a straight face.

    • Avatar

      Hi Lynne, I agree that the negativity from some writers and fans on this site is among the worst of all racing sites. The human race has really jumped the shark when people “question what kind of person you are” because you have a differing opinion, and because you’re being POSITIVE! I also enjoyed the race…especially when the Fords and Toyotas were racing each other on their way to catching the Chevrolets. I choose to find as many positives as I can when I invest my time watching any sporting event. Why else would I watch? I have been a NASCAR fan since the mid-1980s, and I was entertained.

  9. Avatar

    I was sort of madly delighted with the coverage simply due to the absence of “the mouth.” Yes, there were some things less than awesome, and yes, Jeff Gordon forgetting that Hamlin was a lap down was a bit dumb (I called it “human error due to excitement”), but the lack of screaming stupidity from Waltrip made the whole thing such an improvement that I had a hard time finding fault with it.

    Okay, yes, I did get a little tired of worshiping Jimmie Johnson.

    For the first time, I’m not looking forward to the return of NBC when we will have three narrators talking over each other – two of the being high pitched screamers. They were better than Waltrip, but they will seem horrible after this pair’s reasonable dialog.

  10. Avatar

    Welcome back Phil. I look forward to Couch Potato.
    The interview at the finish line is so unnecessary. Did you notice how much time was wasted on trying to give the checkered flag to a little kid who actually didn’t want anything to do with this photo op and refused to accept the flag gifting. Wake up and stick to more interviews of the drivers who finished the race. Also the remote interview in Victory Circle was lame. It needs to be done face to face.