The view from my couch

EDITORS NOTE: The Couch Potato and I took the "Mobil SpeedCouch" on the road again this week. Thankfully, I was able to convince another one of my frequent readers to be the guest reviewer for the Dover race. Meet Michael Sylvia, who lives in Georgia, but is originally from New England. Michael provides yet another unique perspective on racing as he spent his early years hanging around his father's own race team and helping his father when he owned a Modified car driven by Ed Patmode at Riverside Park in Agawam, Massachusetts. Michael has been following Winston Cup for the last 20 years. I had the opportunity of meeting Michael in person and spending qualifying day with him last week at Charlotte. It was great meeting you Michael, and thanks again for writing the review this week!

FX Coverage of the MBNA Armed Forces Family 400
by Michael Sylvia, Jr.
June 2, 2003

Here's my view of FX's (FOX) coverage of the race. The pre-race show was okay. It was condensed because they were trying to dodge the rain that was coming. Chris Myers, Jeff Hammond, and Darrell Waltrip started the show. Initial coverage was of Jimmie Johnson, winner of the last two races and Jeff Gordon, partial owner of Jimmie's car. Next was a montage of Kenseth, Stewart, Newman, B. Labonte, Sadler, and Johnson. They did a quick update of Junior going to the back of the field due to a crash in practice. Comments about Ryan Newman included that he was fast but inconsistent. I still think there is a payback there for his interviews with Jeanne. That was followed up by an interview of Rusty Wallace asking if the winless streak would end today. Acknowledgement of Jarrett winning the Drive-Thru Pit Award. They said good-bye to DW as he had to go to the broadcast booth. Overall, DW is still convinced we tune into the pre-race and race to have him entertain us.

On to the MBNA Armed Forces Family 400, which was stated only once during the coverage of the race, by the way. We joined the beginning ceremonies during the pre-race show and the announcers had something to say about the first twelve rows of drivers and let the viewers read the remaining line up on their own. Guess there was nobody of interest back there or perhaps they need to remember there are 43 cars on the track and not the 24 they normally struggle to tell us about.

The Race

The green flag was the traditional shot of the flag man's arm instead of seeing the jockey for the lead. FOX still doesn't get it, we want to see the race, not the arm of somebody waving the flag. There was a caution on Lap 1, FX told us lap 3 initially, guess they were still at The Winston. The announcing crew told us Sprague, Green, Skinner, Junior, W. Burton, Nemechek, Mears, and Raines were involved. They interviewed Skinner and Mears to find out what happened and told us about Nemechek going on pit "row," (here I always thought it was road), to fix the damage. The real concern was from DW concerning Junior. But then, that is his chief concern race after race, second to only "Mikey."

We didn't get a restart until lap 22, but it wasn't until lap 18 that the announcers finally told us there was a light rain falling on the track. They also told us Raines was out of the race from the "accident." Once again, FOX doesn't have a good grasp of those pointers. They continue to point out the obvious, like positions 1 thru 3 on the restart following the caution. And often they have to shift those pointers off into the stands or just confuse the viewers as they shuffle the pointers around trying to get them lined up on the cars of choice. Use of the in-car cameras was poor as well. We received numerous viewings from Junior's car even when he was riding in 32nd or worse. The "ticker" told us when we were on lap 1, but by the time they got to lap 22, we started being told laps remaining versus what lap we are on. I and other viewers would really like to know what lap we are on instead of how far to go at this point in the race. Perhaps once we are half way, we can be told how far to go. (Don't forget, we started the race early under the pretext the race was only going half-way.)

Once again, there was a caution on lap 39 and DW jumped the gun blaming Biffle as he was so easily confused with those red and black cars on the track - they all look alike. He went on to apologize for getting the wrong driver (it was Sprague). Then the announcers spent the next few minutes trying to defend the allegation. We were treated to those pointers again showing us the first three cars entering pit road. Again the technicians doubt our intelligence at figuring out the first three cars entering pit road might be the first three cars position-wise. During that pit stop, Rudd ran into J. Burton exiting his pit box and FX did show us the subsequent stops by Rudd for repairs. Way to follow up on that one FX.

On the restart on lap 44, we got a great shot of that flag man's arm again. I hope somebody has a fetish for arms, I don't. The cameras did seem to catch passes by J. Gordon and Kenseth. We'll give FX a thumbs up as the points leader was near the front as was J. Gordon at the time of the coverage. They followed up that coverage with Junior passing for 31st. After all, DW wants to know where his favorite driver is. I found Jeff Hammond comical as he had to quiet the rest of the announcers, Mike, Larry, and Darrell, so he could update us on a part of the race.

On lap 72, DW told us Junior's crew needs to learn a lesson from Stewart's crew and keep their heads up and in the race. We had a caution on lap 76 for rain, and FX did a good job of updating us on previous events during the race when they returned from commercial on lap 81. Not to forget "Mikey," we needed an in-car shot on lap 96 while he was riding in 12th. On lap 113, we saw J. Gordon get into Marlin and DW correctly stated it seemed like a replay of The Winston at Charlotte. Only problem is, we never heard if NASCAR said anything to Jeff about it. They did follow it up with an interview of Marlin. Good interview, good job FX.

On lap 134, they did note T. Labonte was having a good day and interviewed his crew chief, Jim Long. Good job again FX. On lap 137, there was a caution for Greg Biffle and FX had a good explanation of the ensuing one lap penalty for Stewart being out of his pit box. On lap 143, they did tell us that in spite of earlier accidents, there was only one car in the garage, that being Sterling Marlin. Skinner and Mears had returned to the track, but FX didn't tell us when they came back. Again, the in-car of Rudd looking back on Busch in 22nd. Why?

Lap 160, we broke for commercial after FX showed us the top ten. This was very good. We were treated to a battle for 23rd between Bodine and McMurray. I guess they were trying to increase the coverage from the usual 15 cars they do cover week-to-week. On lap 184, Hammond showed us the cutaway car to explain the repairs for Marlin and this was very good.

On lap 212's caution, they showed us that the 0, 6, 11, 43, 45, 49, and 97 were involved and showed Busch and W. Burton in the pits for repairs. On lap 216, they did interview Sprague to ask what happened and this was very good. On lap 218, we got another great shot of the flagman's arm. He is really getting a work out today. On lap 223, they got around to interviewing B. Bodine about the accident. On lap 248, they told us Marlin was back and the only cars remaining in the garage were B. Bodine, Petty, Sprague, and Andretti

On lap 323, they returned from commercial to tell us J. Gordon had just taken the lead. The only problem with that, he already had a .4 second lead. Why is it week after week, the announcers cover themselves telling us something "just happened," when in fact an event has occurred quite some time before it "just happened?"

On lap 365, they did a picture-in-a-picture with B. Labonte on pit road and it was quite confusing as it looked like Bobby ran into Bobby because they crashed the two pictures together. On lap 398, they showed us the race for positions 7, 8, and 9 as the top positions were "pretty well set." I guess that was better than showing us the leader, Newman, running away from the field.

For post race interviews, they chose 1st, Ryan Newman very briefly, a long interview with 2nd place, J.Gordon, then 3rd, B. Labonte, and 5th, Johnny Benson, who had his first top ten of the year. Guess Stewart had nothing to say in 4th after coming back from a lap down.

Lessons learned for this race, FX needs to give up those ridiculous pointers. They rarely point to cars that need pointing out and confuse the viewer who is trying to watch the cars on the track. I'd like to see more use of the hi-lighter showing us which cars to watch for following an "accident." We are all pretty familiar with what a flagman's arm looks like and I'd rather see the cars on the restart. It was never really clear if Tony jumped the restart to get his lap back, as the announcers stated somebody was black-flagged on the restart. Perhaps the viewers would like to see it. Don't try to fool the fans about something "just happening." Many of us have Pit Command and can see when an event really takes place. A simple, "while we were away", would cover it. The use of the cut away was interesting and showing us the broken brake rotor was informative as well. And finally, FX needs to realize there are more cars on the track than those they report on. Sponsor money is getting hard to come by and at least minimal exposure of announcing where the cars started and an occasional run through the field wouldn't hurt giving those existing sponsors some coverage for the money they invest. The ticker at the top of the screen doesn't give the sponsors any exposure. It's seeing them in the race that is important to their sponsors.

This review was brought to you by a retired AF person who was well supported by his wife during the race with supplies of hot wings and beers. I'm finally dried out from my trip to Charlotte last week. You can send me you comments to

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