(Photo: NBC Sports Group)

2-Headed Monster: FOX or NBC? Which Network Has the Better Broadcast?

This weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway marks a new beginning … sort of. This weekend, NBC will take over the broadcast for NASCAR races as the Cup race will be held on NBC and the NASCAR Xfinity race will be shown on NBCSN. It’s sort of a strange situation.

Usually when the transition takes place, the network that takes over does so for the remainder of the year. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, things have changed, and NBC will cover Indianapolis with FOX returning for the next two races at Kentucky and the All-Star race at Bristol Motor Speedway. After that, it goes back to NBC for good.

While it will be an unusual situation, it gives us the perfect time for a debate. Which network has the better broadcast? Is it FOX, which is led by veteran broadcaster Mike Joy? Or is it NBC led by lead announcer Rick Allen. Vito Pugliese thinks it’s NBC while Adam Cheek prefers FOX. Let the debate begin.

Peacocking with Team Slide Job

This weekend’s Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (please just call it the Brickyard 400 again…) marks a pivotal moment in the NASCAR season. Not that each week hasn’t felt like a watershed moment in its own right. From making national headlines and becoming a bigger part of the political landscape than the “NASCAR Dads” demographic of 15 years ago, each week has brought to the surface a topic of legitimate interest and discussion, be it night racing at Martinsville, the gamut of emotions and fallout from Talladega (beyond another photo finish), to the suggestion that perhaps we go IMSA at Pocono and run all three series at once to knock out a doubleheader weekend quicker. The typical blasé summer stretch has suddenly jump started NASCAR back into the headlines on a weekly basis. This weekend brings the annual transition from FOX to NBC. Each has a different flavor, and like Coke versus Pepsi, or Chevrolet versus Ford, most are equally passionate about their coverage.

Across the American sporting landscape, there are broadcast teams that like bands, sometimes stay together a little too long, and lose the magic they had from those first couple of albums. On the FOX Sports side of the booth, the dynamics between Darrell Waltrip, Michael Waltrip, Chris Myers, Mike Joy, and Jeff Gordon started to get a bit clunky. When Darrell stepped aside at the end of last year, it seemed to free things up a bit for Jeff Gordon to impart some more recent and practical racing knowledge, both with the machines and the personalities running up front contending for the wins. FOX presents a solid product, but sometimes does feel a bit bland.

Which brings us to the Peacock Network, which I always feel has been criminally underrated.

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. decided to retire from racing in the Cup Series, his transition to the booth was an instant success. Barely one race in, he already coined his signature foreshadowing call of “Slide Job!” calling the race as a fan as much as he was a broadcasting professional. The dynamic with Junior and Steve Letarte is also a unique one, with Letarte finally able to revive his career and bring himself back to prominence, as well as help him personally become a more engaged and engaging individual. They won a Daytona 500 together and make solid driver/crew chief combination to call races and discuss race strategy. NBC has always done a preview lap of each track in their own car, with former driver Jeff Burton explaining the nuances of each track and what to look out for. NBC also seems to get a bit more involved with the drivers and preparing some special segments each week, such as in 2017 at the Southern 500, they had cars from four different eras with Kyle Petty, Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin making laps and telling stories as they drove around in formation.

No offense to Michael Waltrip and the grid walk, but this kind of stuff to me has a bit more substance and helps tell the story of the track – and the sport – a bit more creatively than impromptu one liners and drone views.

That’s not to say that NBC doesn’t have room for improvement. During the race when emotions and ambient volume running high, it can be hard to distinguish between Burton yelling and Earnhardt Jr. yelling with the excitement level goes up. I guess 40 years combined of driving 850-horsepower racecars with no mufflers can lead to a bit of tinnitus and hearing loss. Rick Allen has been NBC’s lead in the booth, replacing Allen Beckwick who – as far as I’m concerned – set the gold standard for calling races with the 2001 Pepsi 400 finish, won by Earnhardt Jr. Those are mighty big shoes to fill, and given the strong driver dynamic in the booth, Allen does a fairly good job of not dominating the broadcast and knowing when to yield to Burton, Earnhardt Jr. and Letarte. Marty Snider’s voice from the pits reminds me of peak-MRN broadcasts in the late 1990s, along with Dave Burns who has been covering racing since the early days of the Truck Series on ESPN, and is as familiar a voice in motorsports as there has been in the last 20 years.

The tracks that the NBC crew has to start their portion of the year with can be a challenge as well – Indy, Texas and Kansas – can be feast or famine when it comes to on track action and passing. Indianapolis can get pretty spread out, and passing is at a premium on restarts. Then it settles in to single-file lap logging, which leaves the broadcast team with the responsibility of retaining viewers and keeping them engaged (i.e., awake) for three hours solely. Or it can devolve into a series of track blocking wrecks like it did in 2017. Their usual Summer Stretch run used to include some painful Pocono events and Michigan races that would inevitably turn into a fuel mileage event or beating a thunderstorm. To be able to maintain the momentum as they historically have is a testament to the broadcast and productions teams alike.

This weekend might be a bit of a challenge for teams and the broadcast crew alike, with no practice or support series laying down rubber, and as Rodney Childers expressed on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Tuesday, there’s concern for when the competition caution will be – perhaps as early as 10 laps if not sooner to check for tire wear. If we have another 2008 Brickyard 400 situation, the team in the booth will have the unenviable task of having to explain what’s happening and comparing it to the same situation they endured a decade earlier. Having three principles on hand to do so adds additional credibility should such a situation occur, and one more reason why NASCAR on NBC gets my nod as best in the business. Although, in all fairness to FOX, they have stepped up their game considerably this year, and took the point in promoting iRacing during their early season schedule, keeping NASCAR at the forefront of sports and entertainment, and setting the stage for a return that saw the sport elevated to a platform that many probably never thought it would. – Vito Pugliese

Focus in on FOX

Nineteen years.  Thirteen Emmys.

That’s how long FOX has presented NASCAR broadcasts, followed by how many awards they’ve accumulated over that time period.

FOX is in its 20th season of airing the biggest brand of motorsports in the United States. They currently air roughly the first half of the season before NBC takes over after Sonoma. This is, of course, different for 2020 but the principle is the same.

There are many similarities between FOX’s and NBC’s coverage of NASCAR, mostly due to the fact that there’s really only so many ways you can present a race before those parallels become evident. Regardless, the two have their own unique styles of presenting races to the viewers and bring a lot to the table … but FOX continues to be the premier leader in airing races.

Kicking off the season every year is the Daytona 500, of course, and FOX always airs the crown jewel race. Additionally, the network airs the Clash, both Duel races, the Truck Series event and Xfinity Series opener at Daytona. There’s no better prestige for a network than to air the biggest event of the year.

As for race presentation, the running order ticker was also adjusted in the past few years. FOX moved it to the side of the screen rather than at the top. Placement issues are prevalent, sure, but the running order is much more visible – the top 16 are on the screen at all times, no matter what, and the next four are either positions 17-20 or cycle all the way through 40th. NBC’s broadcasts have the sleek numbers and top three displayed on their ticker at the top of the screen, but wondering where your favorite driver is might take an eternity. If they had problems and dropped to 30th, it might be a near-full cycle of the ticker – it’s almost there, and then the broadcast cuts to commercial… and the cycle starts all over again when the race returns from the break — before you find out where they’re at.

Consistency in broadcast personalities benefits FOX as well. Mike Joy, to me, is one of the best lead broadcasters in sports today, and he and Jeff Gordon have a solid rapport as a duo in the booth. Joy has been calling races for FOX since 2001, is also in his 20th season up there for the station and has one of the best voices in motorsports broadcasting. Gordon was a great addition to the booth and the now-two-person booth settled in quite nicely after Darrell Waltrip departed last year.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Larry McReynolds, too. Larry Mac was one of the lead trio of broadcasters (with Joy and DW) and sort of faded back into an analyst role once Gordon arrived, but still gets plenty of airtime. That consistency is sort of wonderful with broadcasting – it’s like Al Michaels calling Sunday Night Football games every week or Joe Buck on the air for the World Series every single year.

Admittedly, FOX is not without fault, and the best example spanned both Talladega races for the Cup Series last year. Both events featured a car upside down – Kyle Larson barrel rolled down the backstretch in the spring race, while Brendan Gaughan did a full 360 in the air in the fall, landing on all fours.

FOX’s cameras were too focused on the “battle for the lead” in the spring – which wasn’t all that competitive – between Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman, and no cameras caught the full extent and violence of Larson’s tumble. A shot from across the track of his car showed part of it, and the camera that could capture the entirety of the backstretch instead panned away as Larson’s car began to roll. That oddity left fans without a clear view of the crash, at least until a fan’s video hit Twitter and showed more of the incident.

NBC’s coverage of Gaughan’s wild ride had about five or six great angles and some spectacular slow-motion replays, arguably the video shot of the year in regards to the races.

Otherwise, FOX has done a stellar job over the years with their coverage and ability to capture the on-track action, especially in the Cup Series. I wouldn’t trade listening to Mike Joy call races for anything, and I look forward to the rest of their broadcasts this year and beyond. – Adam Cheek

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Clayton has been writing NASCAR for the last seven years and has followed the sport for as long as he can remember. He's a Jersey boy with dreams of hoping one day to take his style south and adding a different kind of perspective to auto racing.

Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Entercom Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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14 comments

  1. Avatar

    I will give the edge to FOX because the guys on NBC always seem to be YELLING DURING THE ENTIRE RACE LIKE EVERY MOMENT IS SO EXCITING THAT THEY CAN”T CONTAIN THEMSELVES!!!!!!

  2. Avatar

    oh gracious…jr, burton, and Letarte yelling. I sure hope they leave rutledge wood home. and chances are there will be weather issues.

  3. Avatar

    Both have good and poor but all last year NBC audio was horrible.Too much car racing background noise that you could clearly ,cant hear what guys were saying.Listen too MRN or sirius radio.Clean it up.I emailed them about it.

  4. Avatar

    All Rick Allen does is repeat what the others just said. Mike Joy is a student of racing and NASCAR in particular. Allen is the worst announcer anywhere.

  5. Avatar

    I agree with all three above. I like Jr and Burton, but they sound like squealing little girls when they get excited.
    And Rutledge Wood might be comparable to Mikey Waltrip. I’m sure they both have a lot to add to the broadcast, but they act like a couple of buffoons.

    • Avatar

      Heck, I FEEL like a squeeeeellyy little girl when I’m excited about something on track.
      And bufffoooonnns are fine too. The race is a carnaval extravagaannnnzzzzaahhh yanno.

  6. Avatar

    So it’s the lesser of two evils. Both should start televising the event as it unfolds instead of following the script they decide on in the morning meetings. They are not making a movie. They should react to what’s happening instead of “We’ll show this and then this and then this and…”

  7. Avatar

    The better broadcast is the one who shows more of the driver’s kids and pets. Also showing the reactions of the wives instead of the racing action. I really like it when they go out and visit the rednecks that are partying. Also need more human touchy feely stories with a dose of politics. I especially like it when all the analysts and broadcasters talk at once and try their new comedy routines on each other.

  8. Avatar

    I’m not one of those dainty thaings that demand all or nothing. Nor am I a red neck. My neck is well tanned from good hard self satisfying work. And, no, I don’t suffer plumber’s syndrome.
    I am usually happy with both broadcasters, even during their sometimes ups and downs.
    I’ll take what I get and enjoy it.

  9. Avatar

    You can have that side ticker on Fox. I hate it! It’s like someone is standing in front of part of the tv screen. I find myself trying to look around it lol! Who needs to know where drivers are every second! HD tv’ s have a rectangular screen to give a more panoramic view. The side ticker makes the tv square again! If the director and the camera men are not on their game, which usually is the case, then many things get blocked behind it. I have a 55″ tv and I want to enjoy the race on all of it! If it has to be used then bring it up just before a break and the just after a break and briefly during the action. Information overload! Then you have a ticker at the bottom showing all the sports news going on elsewhere….why ? If I want game scores and updates I will go watch sports center or the news! I am here to watch racing! Don’t get me started on the split screen and Jeff Burton and Jeff Allen……Just call the action guys and refrain from telling stories and then yelling 3 wide! 3 wide! It’s getting so old! Call the action and both networks are guilty of this! Give me CBS or Turner any day!

  10. Avatar

    I HAVE SCROLLED BACK TO THIS POST AFTER THE INDY CUP RACE TODAY. BESIDES THE TERRIBLY BORING FOLLOW THE LEADER ( LACK 0F) ACTION, NBC WAS USING THEIR TERRIBLE SCORING HEADER. AFTER ABOUT HALFWAY THROUGH THE RACE THEY FINALLY SWITCHED TO THE PYLON SYSTEM USED BY FOX WITH THE TOP 20 ON THE LEFT SIDE. WHAT AN IMPROVEMENT.!!

  11. Avatar

    Fox broadcast is better. I really enjoy the “crank it up” segments, like being at the track. Agree that the Nbc guys talk way too much.