The view from my couch

Fox Coverage of the Food City 500 from Bristol

This was a pretty good broadcast, with less hype than Fox and NBC usually have for the Bristol races and that's always a good thing in my book. For the most part, Fox let the race speak for itself. After hearing that Global Positioning System would have reduced accuracy because of the war, I was really hoping the viewers at home might not have to suffer through the Fox Trax this week. Unfortunately, they were still used during this broadcast.

The Pre-Race Show

The lead-in to the show featured a mix of patriotic and NASCAR highlights set to the tune of Stand By Me. Fox also used the Heart song Crazy On You as background music for some of the drivers comments about how they feel about the Bristol track. I had to give this one an honorable mention since it's one of my favorite songs.

Steve Byrnes found a woman in the grandstands whose husband was serving in the Persian Gulf and Fox allowed her to send some encouraging words to her husband while he was away from home. I found it heartening that she was at the race and thought this should put an end to any questions about whether Americans should go about their normal activities during the war. People should go forward with the normal things in their lives, even while they are keeping the folks overseas in their thoughts.

There was a nice feature with highlights from NASCAR's history celebrating the 2000th race this weekend.

After Fox featured the singer who did God Bless America, the crowd in the grandstands were chanting "USA, USA..." I thought it was great that Jeff Hammond interrupted one of Chris Meyers' canned remarks to point this out to the viewers at home.

I was really disappointed that with all the time wasted on replays from last week's race that Fox could not find time to show the tribute to Alan Kulwicki and the three other men who died in an airplane crash near Bristol ten years ago this weekend. It was not until further into the race that Mike Joy mentioned that the brother of Dan Duncan was driving a special tribute car during the pre-race parade laps. I also thought Fox could've mentioned that Brett Bodine was carrying the special paint scheme designed by Hooters to honor the four men during the pre-race.

The Race

In a race plagued with frequent cautions, Fox did a very good job of showing quick and numerous replays all day long. The one omission was when Mike Skinner cut a tire down and hit the wall during commercial. When Fox came back, we saw Skinner's damaged car in the pits and Mike Joy assured us we would see how it happened after they covered pit stops. Unfortunately, this never happened, yet we got to see numerous replays of the pit stops. Dick Berggren and Joy did describe what happened to Skinner's car, but it seemed to be more important to show an overhead shot of the track and telling us that the aerial camera was sponsored by Budweiser at the time. I can appreciate that the producer must get in all of these commercials, but it continues to bother me that Fox just doesn't think it is worth their efforts to show what happens to some drivers.

On the upside, there were plenty of replays of Michael Waltrip and Dave Blaney's accident. And DW pointed out in the in-car shot of Michael how you could see him fighting the wheel during from his in-car camera during the wreck. After the accident, Matt Yocum had an interview with Blaney and Jeanne Zelasko reported on comments made by Michael to his team. Dale Jarrett's car was also damaged in the incident and Dick Berggren reported how it was so badly damaged that it wouldn't even turn enough to get it to the garage. Larry told the viewers that pole sitter, Ryan Newman, made a pit stop during the resulting caution and had dropped back to 35th place. Later Matt told us that Newman's car had been so loose he was almost spinning out so that's why his team chose to pit at that time.

On the next restart, I had a moment of hope that Fox had found a more subtle use of the Fox Trax, as they briefly highlighted the top three cars and then the pointers disappeared quickly so as not to distract the viewers from the actual restart. Unfortunately later in the race, Fox returned to their usual annoying overuse of the pointers.

Soon after this restart, Larry did an excellent job of pointing out that the leader was quickly coming up to start lapping cars at the end of the field. The producer quickly switched to an aerial view which provided the viewers with a real perspective of just how close the tail end of the field was to the leader. A few minutes later when Tony Raines blew up, the commentators pointed out that this saved Newman from being lapped.

The next round of pit stops ended with a bunch-up of cars exiting pit road. As Fox went to commercial, they showed a replay of this cleverly set to the tune of Traffic Jam by James Taylor. Larry explained to the viewers how Mike Skinner's team's choice of pit box on the backstretch helped them pick up spots during this caution. They also told us that Rusty Wallace had fallen to 30th position due to a bad pit stop.

During this weekend, I kept wondering how many times Fox was going to tell us that DW had 12 wins at Bristol or that he was going to be on a Wheaties box. Yes, that is interesting information, but does Fox have to mention it every single time they are on the air?

During this broadcast, Fox seemed to be experiencing a lot of technical difficulties, mostly in the area of sound drop outs, which became more frequent in the later stages of the race. Also, there was one time when a Fox network graphic was covering the screen during a commercial.

I enjoy the Crank It Up segments, but wonder why Fox chooses to do them on restarts. I've had some readers write me complaining about this as well. It's like showing the green flag waving instead of the front of the field on restarts. When a Crank It Up segment occurs, the camera shows the field racing by the points of the track where the microphones are placed. I just feel this would be more appropriate later in a run instead of on restarts, when the camera should stay on the front of the field or wherever hard racing is occurring.

When Jack Sprague spun, the viewers got to hear some comments from Johnny Benson's team afterwards and this was great. DW tried to start making something out of the spin by Sprague, implying there was some sort of a payback going on with Benson, but replays showed Benson was nowhere near Sprague when it happened. After this caution, Fox missed the next restart and this happened a few times during the day, one without Fox explaining that they'd missed it at all. The cameras were also showing something else on the track when Jimmy Spencer caught Jeff Gordon and passed him for the lead.

The Fox commentators are improving some on not talking over the crew communications. At times, the producer is tape-delaying such conversations and playing them a few minutes later and this seems to help a lot. They caught interesting live comments from Mark Martin right after his first accident and Joy explained to us that some scanner talk that we heard between Kurt Busch and his crew during a caution had actually occurred during green flag racing just prior to the caution. DW still seems to ignore the crew communications many times and keeps right on talking, such as when they were playing some comments between Spencer and his team. Later when we heard Robby Gordon tell his crew he had a flat tire, DW was just jabbering away and I was impressed that Larry interrupted him, saying "Did you hear him?" It's quite obvious at times like this that the rest of the broadcast team is frustrated with DW talking all the time as well as the viewers at home.

During the next caution, Larry told us that Jerry Nadeau got his lap back and we were also told which drives came in to pit during replays of the incident. At this time for some reason, Fox showed three replays of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. almost hitting Spencer exiting pit road. Were three replays really necessary or was it just another Budweiser commercial? Larry pointed out that Kevin Harvick and Terry Labonte did not pit and so they moved to the front of the pack.

As usual, Fox really only showed the cars running in the top 10 or so. We didn't even see Ricky Rudd until he got up to eighth place and then they showed us a replay from his car earlier in the race. Fox seems to think their graphic of "Moving Up" is sufficient to serve as full-field coverage. Sometimes, they make an effort to do a rundown of some of the cars in the top 15, but then seem to pick and choose who they talk about, rather giving the viewers an update on all of the cars. As usual, when many drivers went behind the wall to repair their cars, the commentators never told the fans when they returned to the track and how many laps down they were. This information was eventually shown on the ticker, but not for quite some time. Would it hurt Fox to vary from their personal agendas long enough to give the viewers a quick update on when people like Jarrett, Terry Labonte, Dave Blaney or Mike Skinner return to the track? Or shouldn't the fans of these drivers expect to know what is happening to their drivers?

I also notice that DW is quick to try and blame someone as soon as an incident happens. I know many fans complain when the networks are too politically correct, but DW seems to have gone to the other extreme. He wants to "assess blame" before waiting to see the replays. As usual, he needs to take a breath and wait to see what the replays show before offering his opinion. This happened when he blamed Newman for hitting Robby Gordon, when in fact, the replays showed Gordon was hit by Brett Bodine.

I was happy to see that during the middle portion of the race, the lap counter showed "lap 225 or 500". It continued to show what lap the race was actually on for a while, but eventually went back to the usual "XX to go." I notice that the commentators seem to have access to what lap the race is on and tell us occasionally, but it sure would be nice if those of us at home had the same opportunity to know what lap it is at all times.

Once when Meyers and Hammond were doing a recap, we were told that Elliott Sadler was being blackflagged because of something sticking out of his car. The producer gave us a close-up of Sadler's car and Hammond explained that it had bumper bars from another car sticking out of it. After seeing Nadeau's attempt to confront Newman's team after an accident, Meyers asked if the 12 had raced the 01 too hard, resulting in Nadeau's wreck. Hammond cracked me up when he said "You need to bring your own army when you visit someone else's pits," referring to Nadeau being sponsored by the U.S. Army. Now this is the kind of spontaneous humor I can appreciate!

Fox provided good replays after Terry Labonte's wreck, showing many different angles of the incident. They also quickly provided a graphic showing which cars were involved in the accident. We also got a shot of Tony Stewart banging into Ricky Rudd when entering pit road.

Around lap 300 when Spencer was leading and running away from the field, it would have been nice to have a graphic or just to tell the viewers how far ahead of second place, Harvick, he was running. Some time later, after Harvick got passed for second, Larry told us that Spencer was 4.5 seconds ahead of second. Fox just seems to miss the boat at times like this. They use their pointers and tickers too much when they aren't that relevant to the race, yet Larry has to jump in and update the viewers verbally when there is a large margin between first and second.

During the long green-flag run in the middle of the race, the commentators pointed out the different pit entry rules during green-flag stops at Bristol. This was good because these differences soon became critical when Jeff Gordon and Bill Elliott had problems entering pit road. Larry also pointed out that green flag stops would move the drivers who pitted under the last caution, such as Bobby Labonte, to the front of the pack because they were off-sequence with the early leaders. This was an important observation since the two late race cautions left only six cars on the lead lap and completely changed the complexion of the race after that.

DW needs to realize that nobody enjoys his singing but him.

Fox missed a third restart after Jarrett wrecked. They stayed with the race a long time waiting for track clean up after the wreck and waiting for pit stops, then finally broke away and came back to cover the pit stops, then went away for another commercial, which resulted in missing the restart. The breaks could certainly have been scheduled better during this time to avoid missing another restart.

When Ward Burton wrecked and collected Kyle Petty, Fox told us that the safety workers had trouble getting Petty out of his car. Hammond followed up with a really good illustration of how tight the inside of the cars are today because of the numerous safety devices. Zelasko also got some quick comments from Kyle's crew chief concerning his possible injuries and Fox showed the ambulance leaving the track to take Kyle to the hospital.

In the late portions of the race, Hammond provided some more good information to the viewers, telling them that Kenseth was cutting 2/10s of a second off of Busch's lead. There was also a good replay of Greg Biffle hitting Rudd so hard that it lifted his car off the ground and the commentators pointed out that you could hear Rudd's engine rev when this happened via the sound with his in-car camera. There were some good replays of the chain reaction wreck where Stewart hit John Andretti and Joe Nemechek hit Stewart.

At the end of the race, we got to see Kurt Busch's victory laps. Fox had interviews with Busch and the rest the rest of the top five finishers, but the technical glitches were really bad with the sound cutting out a lot during this time.

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