(Photo: IndyCar iRacing)

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Sports Changes Focus at Richmond, All But Ignores Kyle Larson

Welcome back. This week once again saw a decent amount of shenanigans on track. Of course, compared to what Kyle Larson did, that’s not very high on the scale.

One final aside in regards to Larson. About 30 minutes after I submitted last week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday, my mom came to me and started asking questions about who Larson is and what he did. I will note that my mom knows next to nothing about racing. She just knows that I’ve been a fan for nearly 30 years and that she once told me that Dale Earnhardt shouldn’t have been racing after that episode at Darlington in 1997. I say that because it shows just how wide the story went out. I don’t know where my mom heard about Larson’s slur. My guess is something like MSN.com since I think that’s her homepage on Microsoft Edge. When that happens, you’re in trouble.

This past weekend, we got back to it with sim racing on the iRacing service at virtual Richmond and virtual Twin Ring Motegi. The action was enjoyable.

Toyota Owners 150

The situation surrounding Larson could have overshadowed the entire race on Sunday. Ultimately, FOX Spots 1 all but didn’t mention it. The only time it was brought up was in the opening minute when Joy said that he “used an unforgivable word.”  Didn’t even mention Larson by name. I find that strategy interesting. It’s as if he’s dead to FOX Sports, and by extension, NASCAR.

As compared to the first three races in the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, Richmond was different. Prior to the race, resets were eliminated. The fact that Bristol was a wreck-fest is just one reason the change was made. The fact that Tuesday night’s eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series race had 16 cautions in a 200-lap race probably played even more of a role. This meant that drivers had to be a little more conservative.

The second difference is that FOX Sports 1 is finally starting to treat the iRacing events like actual races as opposed to some kind of sideshow. A number of viewers (some of whom actually comment on my critiques) have stated that the constant comparison of iRacing to real life was a turn-off. I can understand that. For some viewers, they would just find that annoying in general, or insulting to their intelligence. I’m a bit different here in that I’ve watched a bunch of iRacing events on YouTube over the past 10 years. It’s nothing new for me.

In the case of iRacing, I believe Steve Myers noted last week that Parker Kligerman convincing NBC Sports to install a sim rig on the NASCAR America set in Connecticut three years ago actually went quite a long way towards improving the TV presentation of iRacing events. Knowing that iRacing has its roots in the former Papyrus Design Group, I would keep an eye out for how cameras on replays related to real life as far back as 1994’s NASCAR Racing for the PC. Over the past 25+ years, they’ve made great strides. Camera position-wise, the race broadcast Sunday was not dissimilar to what you’d see in regular Cup races at the real Richmond.

The direction of said camera shots was not the same, though. Likely the best example of this is the crash that ultimately set up the green-white-checker.  Joy noted how a car was flipping repeatedly in turn 4. We never saw it, either live or in the replays. That’s weak. Turns out that it was Christopher Bell who went for the wild ride. Clips and pictures of the incident popped up on Twitter after the race ended, like this one:

It should be noted that the flip was actually the third hit that Bell took in this crash. Interesting that Comedy Central aired Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby last weekend, as this incident ended up being “The Long One” for Bell.

FOX Sports has no authority over the pictures that are being aired. Think of it as being somewhat similar to Formula 1 broadcasts. You’re at the mercy of what the broadcaster feels like showing to you. While the chaps at iRacing are doing better, they are deficient at times. Given the current situation, they’re also short-staffed. Having said that, the coverage is nowhere near as egregious as some of the F1 coverage that aired in the 1980s and 1990s.

Coverage of the actual racing Sunday was pretty decent, but still not inclusive enough. A lot of the action was up front, but that’s all you saw outside of the incidents.

Speaking of shenanigans, this week saw Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Preece have contact multiple times. The two came together three separate times. The first and third incidents caused cautions, while the second one did not. Given that FOX Sports was not in charge of the pictures, we couldn’t see a replay of the second wreck. It was only once the third wreck occurred (after DiBenedetto pulled a Boris Said and waited for him) that we saw a replay of the second one. Simply another case of the pictures being out of FOX Sports’ control.

Something that FOX Sports does have control over is the scroll of tweets that was on the bottom of the screen. It’s too wide.  After upgrading towards the end of last season, I have a 55-inch TV that I critique off of these days. That scroll doesn’t fit on the TV. They need to narrow that up a bit.

The broadcast, back to a 90-minute time slot, once again went long. There was an interview with winner William Byron and a check of the unofficial results before FOX Sports 1 left the virtual world.

Overall, I felt that Sunday’s broadcast was an improvement over the last couple of races. There was more actual racing to be had as opposed to wrecking. Basically, it was more realistic. I couldn’t tell you if Talladega’s going to resemble that or not. We’ll have to see.

Firestone 175

Saturday saw a 33-car field take to the virtual Twin Ring Motegi’s 1.549-mile oval for 175 miles of action. The result was a very interesting event that came down to slower traffic and contact.

Prior to the race, a couple of drivers showed off their rigs. Kyle Busch, who made his INDYCAR iRacing Challenge debut Saturday and finished 13th, used the same setup he uses for eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational races. That meant that he was driving the Dallara IR18 with a six-speed H-pattern shifter. That kind of a setup has not been used in INDYCAR since the early 1990s. Santino Ferrucci has a more typical setup.

Production-wise, NBC Sports put on a broadcast somewhat similar to the previous couple of weeks. Marty Snider was back in a pit reporter role, but they had some technical issues. In particular, there was a lot of reverb; that means a big-time echo.

The on-track product Saturday was very good. When I watched the race, I was thinking that the competition was better than any of the real open-wheel races there. Lead change-wise, this is true. Saturday’s 113-lap race had 15 lead changes. No real race CART or INDYCAR ever had on the oval (run to either 300 miles or 500 kilometers) had more than 13.

Viewers had a back-and-forth affair that was quite thrilling. I greatly enjoyed watching the race and felt that there was a good amount of action shown. Similar to Sunday, viewers were at the mercy of the simulation broadcast in regards to what got shown. For instance, Tony Kanaan had a big wreck on the second lap of the race and went flipping. Max Chilton also had a spin in traffic. We never saw much of this (you could just make out Kanaan wrecking, but not really), but Leigh Diffey told viewers about it.

We did see the wreck involving Helio Castroneves a couple of laps later that brought out the race’s sole caution. Honestly, given the field size, this race was way cleaner than it could have been.

However, there was a lot of anger going around when the race ended. Scott McLaughlin crashed coming to 10 laps to go after Simon Pagenaud ran across Oliver Askew. Askew, who finished 21st, took responsibility for the crash.

The final lap came down to a duel between Pagenaud and Scott Dixon. Dixon seemed to have a run on Pagenaud, but Pagenaud blocked Dixon. Contact was made, which killed Dixon’s momentum. He wasn’t pleased. After the race, Dixon intentionally wrecked Pagenaud, collecting Castroneves (who was two laps down) in the process.

As a result, post-race coverage was thin. Even though there was plenty of time after the checkers for interviews, viewers only heard from Pagenaud. Needless to say, there was some time to fill since a number of drivers were likely unwilling to talk.

Overall, this was an interesting race to watch. It was very competitive, probably more so than Michigan. There are still limitations to the coverage, but I generally enjoyed the race.

That’s all for this week. Coming up this weekend is Talladega for the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series. It definitely pales to my original plan for this weekend, in which not only was I going to go to my first Cup race of the season, but one of my friends was going to have his bachelor party at Talladega as well (they were going to rent a RV and camp out at the track. Shenanigans were sure to follow).

Regardless, we’ve got a Cup Pro Invitational race at Talladega and the penultimate INDYCAR iRacing Challenge race at the virtual Circuit of the Americas. There’s also a loony unrestricted iRacing event at Talladega using the Gen5 (COT) Cup cars as part of Dinner with Racers’ Thursday Night Blunder.

In addition, there are a bunch of older races being aired on TV. I really liked watching the 1985 Tri-City Pontiac 200 on FOX Sports 1 Saturday (it’s being re-aired deep in DVR Theater Friday night/Saturday morning). The 1990 Goody’s 300 at Daytona will air Saturday at 8:30 a.m. on FOX Sports 1. I plan on watching that.

In addition, NASCAR is streaming older races on their YouTube channel at noon on weekdays. This week is Talladega week, so we’ve got old Talladega races.  Here’s the streaming schedule for this week, as released by NASCAR themselves.

We’ll be back next week with critiques of Talladega and Circuit of the Americas in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch. It should be an interesting weekend.

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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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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One comment

  1. Avatar

    As you point out, but has not been pointed out on the broadcasts to my recollection, the iRacing staff is limited. This should be better explained on why so many things are missed — why we don’t get better replays. To me that’s been a frustrating part of the broadcasts — and you’ve just explained it.

    Why tell us (unless I’m the completely ignorant one here) that Dale Jr. can always be found in the “virtual” crowd. Related to that I know it was at least twice that Mike Joy commented on the “spectacular crowd” in attendance. Wasted B.S. commentary!

    I’m surprisingly enjoying the iRacing more than I expected. At the same time, I think the commentary suffers from the same problems as real world — only focusing on some drivers, or just the front, not providing much info on those in the back or who’ve dropped out.

    Thanks for your continuing coverage.