Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Bumper-Cam Overreliance Hurts Daytona 500 Broadcast

The Daytona 500 is the biggest day of the year for NASCAR. This year, things were even more important since it was the very first points race for the Nex tGen car (which must be renamed soon because the name no longer makes sense). The race ended up being quite a bit different than I thought it was going to be: a lot more like a slower version of last year that somehow ended up with the same number of lead changes (35).

Before we get going, FOX Sports is still somewhat cagey about who their guest analysts are going to be for their Cup telecasts this season. In Daytona, roughly five weeks’ worth of questions were answered.

On Thursday night during FOX Sports 1’s coverage of the Bluegreen Vacations Duels, Mike Joy announced that Matt Kenseth will be in the booth for this Sunday’s WISE Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway. Kenseth is a very dry individual, but likely fairly knowledgeable. He’ll substantially counter Clint Bowyer to a degree, personality-wise. I don’t know what it will ultimately look like, but I’m intrigued as to how this will work out.

Sunday morning saw FOX Sports confirm that Danica Patrick will be the guest analyst for the Cup races in Las Vegas and Phoenix. These are the two venues closest to Patrick’s residence (Scottsdale, Ariz., I believe). Patrick’s experience on television is somewhat limited. In NASCAR, it’s not great. Patrick did a couple of races in the booth as a guest analyst for Xfinity events when she was still racing. She was likely the worst guest analyst of 2015. At the time, I compared her time in the booth as being similar to Al Michaels’ description of his time on Los Angeles Lakers broadcasts alongside Chick Hearn, who wanted nothing to do with him.

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: A Closer Look At Danica Patrick's FOX Debut

Since then, Patrick has gotten more reps on NBC and hosts her own podcast, Pretty Intense. She’s better now than she was before. It will definitely be something worth looking at for those two weekends. I don’t believe she’s ever worked on broadcasts in consecutive weeks, so I think we’ll see some kind of improvement in Phoenix. That said, I cannot definitively say that a couple of weeks out.

In addition, two more analyst announcements were made during the FOX broadcast on Sunday. During the race itself, Tony Stewart announced that he will be back in the booth for the EchoPark Texas Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas on March 27. Prior to the race, Jeff Gordon announced that he will return to his previous analyst role at some point this season as well. He didn’t say which race, though. As a result, we now know the driver analysts for five of the first six races.

The Daytona 500 is the biggest race of the entire season for NASCAR. You have your largest possible audience to watch. You need things to go right, for lack of better words. Unlike the last couple of years, FOX finally got good weather. It was sunny and the only on-track activity that was even slightly affected by rain was Happy Hour on Saturday, which started 10 minutes late.

You had the NextGen car’s point race debut, personalities in new places and a full suite of unknowns.

Ultimately, you ended up with a good race. The car itself does have some positives. For example, the raised splitter means that the likelihood of teams junking their cars just by touching the grass is significantly decreased. That’s good to see. If a raised splitter could be adapted to either the Xfinity or Camping World Truck Series, that would be greatly appreciated.

However, there were problems. The new wheels mean that there are no inter liners in the tires anymore in Cup (they still exist on superspeedways in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series). While we didn’t have any outright failures at speed Sunday, it’s worrying for the intermediate tracks since you’re junking your car if it happens.

Also, if you spin and end up with flat tires, you could be stranded. The ridiculous rules surrounding the Damaged Vehicle Policy are still in effect, so if you can’t drive your car back, you could be done. Everyone has to put the (optional) tow straps on their cars immediately to guard against this. Alex Bowman likely had to argue with the tow truck operator just to get a push back to the pits. He lost multiple laps dead in the water with four flat tires after the big wreck on lap 63. Joey Logano also lost time.

Third, there were significant issues for teams getting their wheels to properly affix to their cars during the race. Kaz Grala’s No. 50 had a right-rear wheel come off early on. The wheel leaving the car was not caught on the broadcast, but one of Nigel Kinrade Photography’s skilled photographers did catch it. The wheel leaving caused Grala to spin completely out, but he didn’t hit anything. That said, there is the threat of suspensions for this particular failure.

The failure that Justin Haley had Sunday likely will not result in a suspension. On lap 52, Haley’s right front wheel broke, resulting in the race’s second caution. I don’t think he could have done anything about it. With the aluminum wheels in use, this is very rare, but not impossible.

Tyler Reddick’s crash was apparently caused by a broken suspension part in the right-rear corner that wiped him out directly in front of Jacques Villeneuve. This kind of incident is something that I think you’re going to see quite a bit this year as the type of suspension setup on the Next Gen car has very little experience on high-banked ovals. The closest parallel I can think of to this situation was when Tommy Milner crashed his Chevrolet Corvette C8.R during the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Motul 100% Synthetic Grand Prix at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2020.

In this crash, Milner had a right rear suspension failure in the banking that pitched him into the wall. Yes, the conditions were miserable that night in Charlotte (this race was run right after the infamous wet Xfinity race that AJ Allmendinger won in a downpour), but the conditions didn’t cause this wreck.

In future race broadcasts, FOX will need to keep an eye on these particular aspects of the NextGen car because they all have the potential to cause issues. Learn the signs and you’ll be able to better diagnose the mechanical issues that are likely to arise this season.

For the broadcast itself, one of the biggest things that I took out of the days leading up to the race was something that I saw noting that FOX was going to have 11 cars with in-car cameras and each of them would have four cameras each. That is a significantly higher number than any NASCAR race in recent years.

In addition, FOX made note of a feature called Dual Path that allows the broadcast to show two different in-car cameras from the same car at the same time. It’s been a long time since I’d heard that mentioned on TV, but it’s not new. This is something that was around prior to in-car cameras converting to HD in 2007. The new technology took that away for a few years (the conversion also resulted in much larger in-car cameras and, static in-car shots for a couple of years), but the Dual Path technology eventually returned to NASCAR broadcasts.

That said, with 44 in-car cameras in play, I feared that there was going to be a heavy overuse of them. That was definitely true. Some of that’s OK, as it helps viewers get a better idea of what’s going on. However, it’s the over-reliance on bumper cams that really hurt the broadcast here. It’s not as bad as 2011 when tandem drafting was en vogue, but you really can’t see much from a bumper cam at Daytona and Talladega. It works better at a place like Martinsville.

Probably the most annoying coverage on Sunday was when Harrison Burton wiped out on lap 63 in the first big incident of the day. At the time, the broadcast was fixated on Denny Hamlin’s front bumper cam.

Naturally, with that view, you really couldn’t tell what the heck caused that mess. Burton ended up rolling his Ford Mustang GT500, but you couldn’t tell that watching the broadcast until the replays aired. Bowyer recognized that someone had flipped over in the crash, but couldn’t tell who. After all, he was likely looking out the window of the broadcast booth, the better part of a mile away.

Ultimately, this was the first of three wrecks caused by bumps from Brad Keselowski. A bit ironic, given Keselowski’s comments about over-aggressiveness at Daytona and Talladega in the past.

I’m not alone in saying that I had issues with some of the camera shots used on Sunday. As noted above, I thought it was going to be an issue before the race. I had already written in my notebook that FOX needed to cut down on it before the Burton crash happened (on lap 48, specifically).

This appears to be one of those situations where they had the technology available and wanted to make full use of it. I do believe that this was not the best camera direction on Sunday. I’m not just saying this for myself, but for however many millions of people that watched on Sunday. I want to be able to see what the deuce is going on.

Earlier on Monday, Mike Joy took to Twitter with a series of five tweets after he received a number of messages from fans that weren’t too pleased with what they say on Sunday. Since he didn’t make the posts into a thread, it’s actually easier to post here on the site.

I actually agree with most of what Joy is saying here. It’s why I’m not blaming the broadcast booth for the issues that we saw on Sunday. I like the notion that Joy, Bowyer and the guest analyst of the week (Stewart on Sunday) can help drive a broadcast with their commentary. I will state that Joy’s strategy for calling a race may be different than some of the other play-by-play commentators that you see on TV. There are others who glue themselves to their monitors and get salty if you don’t do likewise when they’re on-site.

As I noted above, Bowyer couldn’t make out that it was Burton who flipped because Burton was three-quarters of a mile away from him at the time. I’m also assuming that Bowyer didn’t have binoculars. Like Joy stated, he was looking out the window at the time. I can’t claim to have ever been in the current tower, so I don’t know what kind of view they have (it’s probably pretty sweet).

Tweet No. 3 has been vouched to me by a number of on-air personalities (Jeff Burton, Shannon Spake, Rick Allen, etc.) that I’ve interviewed over the years that work for FOX Sports and NBC Sports today. Tweet No. 4 likely didn’t come into focus for viewers until the pandemic started and the broadcast production had to be split over multiple locations in order to guarantee distancing.

Finally, constructive criticism. I’m happy that Joy welcomes it. Not everyone does in NASCAR TV production. Believe me, I’ve gotten multiple e-mails to prove that over the years from multiple people in the sport.

Post-race coverage was about average for a Cup race. Viewers got interviews with four of the top five finishers (Austin Cindric, Bubba Wallace, Chase Briscoe and Aric Almirola) and there was plenty of post-race analysis.

Given the mess that came out of Talladega last fall, I don’t understand why the TV partners still insist on these frontstretch interviews instead of doing them in victory lane. I know that they want to be near the fans and all that, but that is so problematic now. Yes, you never know what fans are going to do, but Talladega shows that the sport as a whole can be put in a terrible situation because of it. And yes, it has diminished victory lane to quite a degree.

Pre-race coverage was expansive, to say to least. Nothing quite like four hours of pre-race coverage. It’s not like the six-plus hours prior to the Super Bowl, but it does get tiring. I’ll cover a couple of highlights.

Tom Rinaldi sat down with Martin Truex Jr. and Sherry Pollex to talk about Pollex’s ongoing battle with ovarian cancer. For NASCAR fans, this is nothing new. However, this is the Daytona 500, where a number of non-regular viewers are watching. They might not know about Pollex’s story.

Unfortunately, Pollex’s cancer battle seems to be never-ending. In the piece, Pollex talks about her recent cancer resurgence and that it appears to have spread. Rinaldi is probably one of the best sports journalists out there when it comes to humanizing athletes, and he did an excellent job bringing this story to life.

Josh Sims did a sit-down interview with Jusan Hamilton, the race director for the NASCAR Cup Series. He talked about the various roles that come with his job, something that has actually not really been discussed all that much on NASCAR broadcasts. When David Hoots had Hamilton’s job, you mainly envisioned Hoots as the guy who said “Put It Out” all the time. On an unrelated topic, the Put It Out segment from last year did not return on Sunday.

Overall, the telecast was too reliant on the bumper cams. There’s a time and place for them. They probably should have used them about a quarter as much as they did Sunday. Providing a more spread out view would have allowed the viewers at home to see much more of the action. Admittedly, this is a Daytona and Talladega problem. The other races are produced and directed in a different way since everyone isn’t always nose-to-tail. The pre-race features were pretty good in general, and everyone seemed to be legitimately excited to be back at the track. After the past couple of years, that’s always good to see.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series teams will be racing at Auto Club Speedway in California for the first time in nearly two years. Meanwhile, the NTT IndyCar Series will start their 2022 season in St. Petersburg along with the three Road to Indy series and SRO America’s GT America Powered by AWS. TV listings can be found here.

We will have critiques of the Cup and Xfinity broadcasts from Fontana in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex will cover Friday night’s NextEra Energy 250 for the Camping World Truck Series and Saturday’s Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner 300 due to the fact that this column would be far too long if I covered those events here.

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.

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.

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Bill B

Nice recap Phil.
A lot of annoyances can be ignored or overlooked when it’s early in the season and everyone is excited that there are races on again. The cracks will be obvious in a few weeks when the novelty wears off.

DoninAjax

Here’s a recap you might be interested in:

https://www.autoweek.com/racing/nascar/a39155406/64th-daytona-500-looked-same-to-us/

One of the things I said I wanted from the new car was for a driver to be able to catch and pass another without any help. I’m still waiting since it appears NA$CAR doesn’t want slingshots or big leads by a car with the best setup.

Bill B

I actually read that article on Monday morning.

I was always under the impression that as long as there were restrictor plates or tapered spacers, it is impossible for one car to get a big lead. SO if you were hoping the new car would change that the answer is, only if they remove the restrictor plates.

DoninAjax

So why does NA$CAR keep saying “racing” will be better now? I imagine Burton’s flight will be in every future ad for Daytona and Talladega.

Chris

My complaint is really the over use of the bumper and in-car cameras. Even if you cut away for a quick shot from either would be o.k. but when they just stay with that shot for an extended time is just painful. Not sure about others but I really don’t need to see the driver holding a steering wheel for a lap at Daytona or a bumper cam for an extended time when there is most likely battles for positions are taking place. I know that they have all this technology that they feel they need to use it but it’s really too much. Just show the race for the most part and toss in an occasional in-car or bumper cam.

I also found it frustrating at the end of each of the Truck, ARCA, Xfinity, and Cup that it took forever to see the final positions for drivers. We all knew who won and maybe the second and third but after that we had to have the burnout segment, then victory lane, talk to a couple drivers all while waiting to find out final positions.

Last edited 4 months ago by Chris
KU

Great tweets from Joy who I like a lot and I loved the fact you commented on each. Nice job.

Al P

My biggest gripe with the Daytona 500 telecast was the leaderboard bug. They showed just the top 20 too often and didn’t scroll in the 21-30 and 31-40 enough. Worst of all was they never showed intervals, only speeds and makes. I never knew who was 1 lap down or who was fighting for the free pass. If there is any race where speed is irrelevant it is a restrictor plate race…unless there was a pack catching the leaders. Without the intervals, I never knew.

Bill B

Did anyone else notice that the running order graphic never showed laps down info? If it wasn’t for Mike Joy offering up that there were X cars still on the lead lap you would not have known.

Last edited 4 months ago by Bill B
john dawd chapman

I would much rather see Jamie McMurray in the booth with Bowyer rather than Danica. Plus he’s already on the payroll, win/win.

Bill B

I agree but have to ask a question for which I already know the answer…
Is there anyone you would NOT rather see/hear in the booth than Danica? LOL.

Kathleen Kulesza

I enjoy listening to the races on Sirius XM rather than watching on television. I will watch whenever Jeff Gordon is on since he was my favorite driver.

DoninAjax

I guess Danica needs to get more mentions in social media.

Tom B

Mike Joy’s tweets are typical from a thin skin TV race reporter. You don’t cover 40 juggling balls, maybe 10-12. We never knew Biffle was in the pits until an hour later. Less bantering more reporting. Joy is right about one thing, the producer/director are responsible for the “feel good” stories and meaningless camera shots. Watch those broadcasts from the 80’s & 90’s to hear good race reporting.

Fed Up

The complaints of too many bumper and in-car shots have been going on for years. The best shots are from above. The directors will not change! They are more concerned with trying to please themselves than admit they are wrong. They should be detailed to view from their home sofas.

Bill H

Agree. They are more concerned about pleasing the sponsors who pay for the technology than they are about pleasing the viewers. We don’t pay them any money. They apparently keep forgetting that they need the counts we provide in order to attract the sponsors who pay them all that money.

That said, I think they assume that what with them being the only show in town we will watch no matter how bad the show is. They are better than not seeing the race at all, so they really don’t have to do it particularly well. They have to attract sponsors, they don’t have to attract us.

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