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Fox Coverage of the Auto Club 500

Well, this was an interesting broadcast to say the least. As always, the Fox production crew had great replays of all the on-track incidents and, in general, the pit reporting was very good. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the commentators. I know I will be risking the ire of a few of my longtime readers, but I just have to speak out. It seems that while I was away at Martinsville and during the off-week, Fox has turned their broadcasts into a cross between the Darrell Waltrip Show and the Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Show.

I realize that Earnhardt, Jr. is a fan favorite and second in points right now, but isn't Matt Kenseth the points leader? And hasn't he been for most of the season? Yet Kenseth barely got mentioned at all during this broadcast. In comparison, from the drop of the green flag, the Fox announcers and pit reporters were talking about Earnhardt. I'd heard from many friends and readers that this was the case with the Martinsville broadcast as well, but at least he led a large portion of that race, so that explains it to a point. To the best of my knowledge, Jr. never led a lap in the California race, yet he was the focus of much of the broadcast. There didn't even seem to be much time left over to devote to DW's brother, Michael, this week. Of course, this did not stop DW and the rest of the Fox crew promoting his silly "boogity" phrase every chance they got. Even going so far as prompting actor Arnold Schwarzenegger to say it during the pre-race show. How absurd! From what I hear from my friends, about the only ones who don't mute the TV when DW utters that phrase are children under the age of 10. A quote from an article in a recent Winston Cup Scene by Bob Moore states, "As a driver, Waltrip was an ultimate showman. Now he's got his own show on Fox." That about sums it up. Silly me, I thought the viewers tune in every week to see a race broadcast. No wonder I've been so confused. I'm glad someone explained it to me.

On the technical side, Fox seemed to have a problem with showing the viewers which cars were a lap down throughout the entire broadcast. This was extremely frustrating to me since the ticker is the primary source of information for those of us who like to follow the entire field of 43 cars during Fox broadcasts. I'm assuming it was a technical glitch, but it would've been nice if the commentators could have at least addressed it or perhaps told us how many laps down all the cars were a few times during the race. Also on the technical side, I saw that because we were in a perceived "big TV market" that the fans got treated to those wonderful pointers throughout much of the race. Not to mention, race recaps every 100 miles or so. I guess even though Los Angeles is a big TV market that Fox still doesn't believe the folks out there are tuning in for the entire race.

As I said earlier, there were good replays of all the on-track incidents, even just when someone got sideways, such as some early contact between Jimmy Spencer and Robby Gordon. But when Jack Sprague hit the wall, I was surprised that the director immediately chose to show the viewers a shot of the yellow flag waving. The rest of the field had yet to pass by Sprague and Fox ran the risk of missing secondary contact with Sprague. Also on the resulting restart, Fox was away at "just one more commercial" and missed the restart. But being late didn't stop Fox from innudating the viewers with pointers on the top three cars. In addition, the pointers during this broadcast didn't even seem to be pointing at the cars half the time. Talk about distracting!

Early in the race, the commentators were so busy discussing the 8 car that they simply ignored Johnny Benson running into the back of Todd Bodine which was clearly visible in the camera shot. Oh yeah, that's right, I guess they aren't "fan favorites." I'd hate to tell that to the many members of their fan clubs.

There were a lot of great scanner bites from team communications during this race and, thankfully, the guys in the booth were quiet and let the viewers hear almost all of them. Early in the race, Matt Yocum reported on a radio transmission he had heard from Dave Blaney's team where he was searching for a faster groove. Matt also explained that Dave's crew chief, Booty Barker, had talked to BGN driver, Brian Vickers, after Saturday's race, to get some insight into a faster groove. Fox also played a scanner bite from Kurt Busch's team where he asked what line Jamie McMurray was running and Joy explained that he was really asking what McMurray had done to catch him so quickly.

Fox was away at commercial and missed Greg Biffle's spin, but quickly queued up a replay for the viewers, and then showed us the resulting pit stops. Mike Joy then explained that Mark Martin had a long pit stop and lost a lot of positions because of it. On the next restart, Joy mentioned [yet again] the Sports Emmy that Fox won for audio as they did a Crank It Up segment. He also mentioned "the men and women that bring you the award-winning audio." It sure would be nice to take a break from DW's reminiscing or coverage of the 8 car to actually tell us some of those people's names. But, then again, I guess the emphasis is that FOX won the award and not the people responsible for the work that contributed to the award.

There were a couple of features, such as the one featuring Todd Bodine and his National Guard team. Fox also showed a tape of Bobby Labonte's foray into the production truck on Saturday, but I couldn't understand why this footage was shown during green flag racing instead of the pre-race show. By the way, the pre-race show seemed to be a season recap and a lot of silly California "flavor" material that added no real content. Later in the race, green flag racing was also replaced by a shot of the Irwindale Speedway and Benson's wreck in happy hour the day before. Again, these things belong in a pre-race show.

The director was quick to show when leader, Tony Stewart's car, started smoking and got some good shots of the trail of oil he left while driving his car to the garage. The Fox team was quick to follow-up on explaining what Stewart thought was wrong with his engine. Jeff Hammond illustrated where the piston and connecting rods were on the Cutaway Car, and Steve Byrnes had an interview with Stewart. During this caution, Joy told the viewers that there were 19 cars left on the lead lap and I was able to see some of the cars listed as a lap down on the pilon at the speedway.

At "117 to go," Joy told us that Ken Schrader had a long pit stop with the hood up on his car and was two laps down. McReynolds reported that Bill Elliott had lost of lot positions during a pit stop and later Steve followed that up with a description of the problems with Elliott's car. Later, Joy told the viewers that Ryan Newman had returned to the track after his first lap accident, but was 128 laps down. Joy also told us when Newman retired his car from the race later.

Fox missed McMurray and Bobby Labonte catching and passing Rusty Wallace and Earnhardt who were running first and second. This was some of the best racing of the day, but I believe Fox was at commercial when this pass occurred. Speaking of commercials, I guess being in one of those top TV markets means Fox can sell more commercial time, because we saw at least four commercial breaks between 5:30 and 6:00. And Fox had been doing so well on the past few broadcast that I've watched. It also it seemed like the last hour of the broadcast was designated as the NAPA segment. Michael Waltrip had not been mentioned all day, probably because he wasn't running that well for most of the race, then all of a sudden, in the last hour, we start seeing numerous in-car shots from his [surprise, surprise] NAPA on-board camera. Not that we saw anything but blank track around him, but then again, it was just another NAPA commercial, not racing coverage. They wouldn't want any racing to detract from the commercial.

In the area of technical glitches, besides the ticker not showing how many laps down, one time when they were showing a shot from the Goodyear Blimp, the ticker got really blurry. Also once, when they were playing crew communications on Sterling Marlin's team, the silly promotion for next week's race (and it's accompanying noise) came on the screen, along with Joy telling us about next week's race. To me, this showed a lack of coordination in the production truck.

By the way, I'd noticed that Marlin was moving up quite steadily in the latter portion of the race, yet Fox didn't mention him until he was up to the fourth position. Later, Jeanne Zelasko reported on a conversation Marlin was having with his crew chief about whether they should go with scuffs or stickers on their next pit stop. This was interesting, but Jeanne didn't follow-up to tell us which he was on when he gained so many positions during that run. Later in the race, Fox did update us when he pitted during the last caution because he didn't like the feel of his last set of tires.

When the debris caution happened, Fox was quick to spot the piece of debris on the track. This was great. They also told us that Jeff Burton had been coming in because of a flat tire when the caution flag came out. During that segment of pit stops, Joy told the viewers that Jeff Gordon was having a lengthy pit stop to adjust the track bar on his car.

Fox seemed to be laying off the baseball references, unlike during the Busch race, until Zelasko was interviewing Benson's crew chief, James Ince. Then she had to end the interview with some comment about "never estimate the power of the rally monkey," and "this team attended the Angels game last night." I'm not really sure who cares about this, except the Fox baseball crew. Certainly not the race fans.

The pit reporters did a great job of covering all the green flag pit stops around "45 to go." During this time, Earnhardt's team had a problem with a lug nut. Matt Yocum was trying to describe the problem and in his excitement used a funny choice of words. He had me cracking up when he said, "the air gunner on the 8 team". This was so funny! It made you wonder if the 8 team had a car or a World War II airplane.

Near the end of the race, McReynolds told us that Jeff Burton had a problem on a pit stop and had lost a lap. Later, Bobby Labonte took the lead of the race while the booth boys blathered on about Earnhardt, Jr. Nadeau spun and the booth boys were still taking about Jr. Do you see a theme here?

There was excellent coverage of the major incident of the day, involving Dale Jarrett. After Fox found out he was okay, they showed the footage of him climbing out of his car which was very interesting since he is a big guy.

What's up with showing the mph during caution laps? I don't really care about seeing telemetry when the cars are only going 55 mph. Also with four laps to go in the race, why on earth did Fox choose to put their pointers all over the lead cars? Can't the fans get a little respite from all this stuff so they can enjoy the final laps of the race? And did I hear McReynolds correctly near the end of the race, saying "And our points leader, Dale Earnhardt, Jr?" Hmmm....does Fox know something the rest of us don't know? I thought Matt Kenseth was still the points leader. Why oh why would the director switch to showing the flagman waving the checkered flag when there was a close battle for second going on at the time?

The good things at the end of the race were the great slow-motion replay of Busch's victory burn-out after they came back from commercial. and the replay showing that Labonte beat Wallace at the line for second. The bad things were Zelasko bringing up that Labonte was in the Fox (it's always about Fox) booth on Saturday during his post-race interview, and Chris Meyers making some lame remark about Busch being a lifelong Cubs fan. Is this NASCAR or a "baseball on Fox" commercial?

As I said, this was an interesting broadcast. That's the kindest thing I can say. Let's hope Fox comes to their senses soon and realizes that not every TV viewer is a fan of only one driver. Fox should pay a little more attention to the other 42 drivers out there every week. Only seven more races until NBC returns!

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