Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Sports 1 Misses a Bunch, Hits Rock Bottom in Knoxville

Jeepers.

In recent years, there has been a substantial gulf between coverage of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series during the first half of the season and the second half. I would argue that there is no bigger example of this gulf than what we saw Saturday night from Knoxville Raceway.

This is made worse by the fact that Saturday was also the season opener for the Camping World SRX Series from Five Flags Speedway in Florida. Due to a conflict of interest, I cannot write about SRX on this website and its broadcasts. However, what I can say is that there is a difference in what is being brought to the table.

SRX has on-site commentators, multiple pit and roving reporters and a substantial number of on-site cameras. FOX Sports 1 didn’t have all of that Saturday night. It chose not to send its broadcast booth to Knoxville. This meant that Jamie Little, Trevor Bayne and Phil Parsons were calling the race from FOX Sports’ Charlotte headquarters. That is an obvious downgrade.

It seemed like there weren’t that many cameras on-site in Knoxville last weekend. As a result, viewers missed a lot of stuff, including an unforgivable amount of important content. Because of that, the booth looked clueless at times, because things were happening that they didn’t even know about that they should have known to cover.

The most obvious thing that the FOX Sports 1 broadcast missed was Jessica Friesen’s flip on lap 57 in turn 4. The cameras only caught Jessica’s No. 62 caught up on the infield berm and the commentators just thought she had spun out. The reality was much different, as this segment of Knoxville Raceway’s own highlight clip shows.

I just don’t know what to say here. Good cripes. Why, people? This is day one stuff. You have to get footage of this stuff. You cannot be scooped by the track itself and one dude with his cell phone!

Speaking of the one dude with his cell phone, his name is Jordan Tiegs. He apparently caught a lot of the stuff that FOX Sports 1 did not from his grandstand seat. For instance, Brett Moffitt dropped out of the race late after what appeared (on the broadcast) to be contact with Tanner Gray. Not so much. He dang near flipped his truck right at the start-finish line. This incident also explains the left side damage on Moffitt’s No. 22 that Phil Parsons couldn’t find an explanation for on the broadcast.

Speaking of Moffitt, he was controversially black-flagged for jumping the restart from the lead at the beginning of the final stage. Unlike every other track on the calendar, the restart zone was not well-marked. If the washed-out part of the Armco was supposed to represent the beginning of the zone, then I don’t think Moffitt went early. Parsons didn’t think he went early either. It was a real question mark of a call.

Earlier in the race, Tiegs also caught Bryson Mitchell’s incident in turn 4. Apparently, he was really moving prior to this crash.

The broadcast did cover Ben Rhodes’ early overheating problems that resulted in an early pit stop to add water to his Toyota. However, it never covered how that occurred. Believe it or not, it involves this massive clump.

I’ve covered dirt racing for 12 years here in New York. I have never seen anything like that. Wowzers. He’s lucky that the clump didn’t smash in his radiator and put him out on the spot.

FOX Sports, I know that the Cup portion of the season is now over for you. You can’t continue to mail in the second half of the season. It’s unconscionable. This can’t continue. You’re making the entire series look bad. Especially knowing that this is apparently a contract year for Camping World as the series’ title sponsor and SRX was in a position to siphon viewers away by running directly against the track on CBS.

I should note that a significant drop-off in quality of Truck broadcasts is not a new thing. This has been going on for at least three years and probably more. It’s as if they don’t want to send any more people than the bare minimum to the track if they’re not covering Cup. It’s a travesty.

This nightmare overshadowed a couple of notable debuts for FOX Sports 1 on their Truck broadcasts. Saturday night was Little’s first time on play-by-play for a Camping World Truck Series race, working in place of Vince Welch, who had the weekend off. I thought that she did OK, but the TV production didn’t do her any favors.

In addition, Saturday night also saw the debut of Heather DeBeaux as a pit reporter for the series. DeBeaux has the better part of a decade’s worth of pit reporting experience, primarily in ARCA races, after debuting in the second half of 2014 in what was then the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. More recently, DeBeaux has been working for DirtVision and actually came straight to Knoxville after working DirtVision’s broadcasts of the opening week of the DIRTcar Summer Nationals. I’m unclear as to whether she was supposed to be the dirt-specific pit reporter, like Kenny Wallace was at Eldora once, or not.

You know what’s really sad about all this?  This was a much better race than last year’s event, which was a complete wreckfest with 14 cautions and 29 extra laps at the end. That display of lunacy was part of the reason why attendance was down for this year’s event.  That and the continued insistence of counting all caution laps will continue to anger dirt fans. As you might remember, this is why you would often hear boos late in the Dirt Derby events at Eldora. No one counts caution laps in dirt races in the last quarter of an event except for NASCAR.

NASCAR and Knoxville Raceway made the decision to do additional track preparation during the stage breaks. It seemed to really help the action because the product was very different Saturday night. It was much more competitive. The drivers had options. I think most of the fans in attendance were probably pretty happy with the on-track product for the most part.

The bad stuff didn’t even end when the checkered flag flew. I’ll state up front that I didn’t expect this race to finish within the prescribed two-hour timeslot on FOX Sports 1. When Todd Gilliland took the checkered flag, it was already 35 minutes beyond the end of the timeslot.

What followed was very unexpected. In a move straight out of the 1980s, FOX Sports 1 went to commercial during the cool-down lap. As a result, viewers had a side-by-side commercial while Todd was doing his donuts.

Yes, donuts are passé these days, but you’re going to take a break during them? Why? I have no idea why this decision was made. It was ridiculous.

After returning from the inexplicable side-by-side break, viewers got interviews with Todd Gilliland and his father/truck owner David Gilliland, along with a check of the points. Afterwards, the broadcast quickly left Knoxville to get to coverage of NHRA qualifying from Bristol.

Production-wise, Saturday’s broadcast of the CleanHarbors 150 might be the worst Camping World Truck Series race that I can honestly remember watching on SPEED/FOX Sports 1. This is the 20th season that the channel has had near-exclusive rights to the series. There really isn’t any excuse for this kind of a regression for FOX Sports 1.

This production overshadowed literally anything else. There was some decent racing to be had. Todd Gilliland and John Hunter Nemechek had a nice dice for the lead, and those in attendance saw multiple grooves of racing. Viewers at home saw some of this, but not that much.

If we didn’t have things like Twitter, I probably wouldn’t be as frustrated as I am now. It just would have been a mystery. Knowing what we do know, this cannot stand. FOX Sports 1 has to do better by the Camping World Truck Series. In the summer months, this is basically their most popular property since the Truck races out rate most of the baseball games. Don’t screw the series over. You have to do better.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend has NASCAR traveling to Central Tennessee for a tripleheader weekend at Nashville Superspeedway. This will start the NBC Sports portion of the schedule. IMSA will be at Watkins Glen International for their third endurance race of the year, the Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen. TV Listings can be found here.

I will be at Watkins Glen this weekend to cover IMSA for Frontstretch. However, I do plan to have a look at the Nashville action for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. I have the advantage of Monday off from work, so I can relax and watch stuff that I missed. Also, the Truck race Friday night should take place after I get back to my hotel from the track, so I can still take my notes as normal for that event.

Quick note before I go. Note that the start time for Sunday’s Ally 400 is after 5 p.m. ET. This is partially due to the hot weather predicted (93-100 degrees predicted for all three days), but also to allow the Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen to finish before the Cup race starts, even though they pushed the start at Watkins Glen back an hour this year.

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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Jill P

They might as well just have fans at the track do the announcing and camera footage. They are much better than clueless announcers at the studio who are getting paid.

Bill B

This is exactly why you won’t see more stand-alone Truck and Xfin races. The Cup races are the only races that can warrant (arguably and relatively) first rate coverage and still be cost effective. The profit margin just isn’t there for truck races and everyone knows it. This is why all three series should be bundled together when bidding for television rights. When the Xfin and Cup races switch to NBC so should the truck races. It’s just common sense.

Last edited 11 days ago by Bill B
Jeremy

Actually, I question whether Cup races get First Rate Coverage. They get first rate marketing gimmicks and computer generated imagery.

As for SRX, they have more cameras, but it becomes a distraction. They seem to try to show every camera they have at the track at least twice – whether it’s interesting coverage or not. I hope they figure that out for the remaining races this season, as their camera work really seemed spastic, and they missed a lot of racing in the process jumping around from camera to camera. I’ve always liked Bestwick, but the constant camera changes seemed to negatively affect the booth’s ability to cover the race and explain what the fans were seeing.

In both instances above, less is more. It would be good for the producers to realize that. And it’s why I have to argue with Bill’s point about why there won’t be more Truck and Xfinity races. How hard, really, would it be to put on a good show with a reduced staff? Well, for one, you DO need to at least have the announcers on site – even if they’re capable local track reporters instead of the contracted “stars”. Fewer cameras can be good. We don’t need the bumper cams, helmet cams, foot cams, fan cams, porta-potty cams, etc. to tell a good race story. ABC did it for years. Just show the racing on track and cover what’s going on. Tell the story. You don’t need fancy CGI, graphics, Hi Def sound, millions of camera angles, celebrity appearances, or a 3 Stooges comedy routine. Cut all the crap and just cover the race. We’ve been begging Fox to do just that for what, 20-25 years now?

Charlie

I felt sorry for the play-by-play team. Under the circumstances, they did a good job. The lack of cameras was obvious. If this is the “marque” truck event, NASCAR management again proves why it is auditioning for roles in a remake of Revenge of The Nerds.
The Truck series is looking for a sponsor. I don’t think they will get the money NASCAR thinks it’s worth. Channels don’t need the content. It will be forced to streaming in an “earth shattering” agreement from some obscure company.

This will be the canary in the coal mine. The Cup and Xfinity contract will also be touted as groundbreaking and try putting a spin on the reduction in funds.

WJW Motorsports

Yes, and yes again. The “booth” is stuck with the same inept on site production and get to feel our frustration. One can see the streaming announcements coming a mile away. I’d be all for it if it meant that network brass were no longer in charge – and things like TV timeouts could go away.

johndawgchapman

I’m just thankful that Faux’s time with Cup & Xfinity is over. Their A team isn’t exactly aces. But for Knoxville they chose to go (but not really go) with the B or C team. The fans, & the sport deserve better, lots better!

OV Mike

The dirt races are a bad idea that simply won’t go away. You could cover them in gold and they’d still be stinkers.

DoninAjax

Every time we think the telecasts can’t get any worse, they come up with another entry. They paid their money and can do what they want. I’d like to be a fly on the wall to hear the NA$CAR pitch when the networks are negotiating a new contract and the networks give their figure compared to NA$CAR’s.

Bill W.

I have watched all of the truck races this year and their has been times that the coverage has been sub par. The best thing about this race was not having Waltrip bias talk about JHN and Deegan. You would think that they were the only driver on the track.

Allen

It’s FOX. I no longer watch Fox Sports. I do not like FOX due their political bull

Becky

My husband and I are Friesen fans. We follow them all season where ever they go and whatever venue they run. In the summer months we are in NY. Dish TV in Florida carries Fox1, NY Directv does not in my package (they use to) I had to up my package so we can watch the Nascar races. Plus as you say the coverage lacked badly.

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