The view from my couch
FX Coverage of the Goulds Pumps/ITT Industries 200 from Nazareth
I could not believe when this broadcast came on that FX chose Rick Allen as the lead commentator. I can only assume the folks at the Fox networks thought he needed more "seat time" because of his dismal performances with the truck series. Thankfully, he was joined in the booth by Busch Series driver, Hank Parker Jr. and the veterans Mark Garrow and Glenn Jarrett on pit road. Believe me, I don't enjoy being so negative about the NASCAR races that were on TV this past weekend, but things just kept getting worse as the weekend progressed. I really wish I had the patience to have timed how many commercials occurred during this race because I believe out of a four-hour broadcast, I doubt the viewers got to see much more than an hour of racing.
What was supposed to be a pre-race show for the Busch Series Race at Nazareth started out with highlights from the Winston the night before at Charlotte. More evidence that Fox does not believe the Busch Series is worth their efforts. Thankfully, things went uphill after this. There were some nice candid shots of the Busch drivers talking and laughing prior to drivers introductions. There was a really nice feature of driver, Jeff Purvis, who was injured in this race last year. It was great to hear about his recovery and see him looking so well. Next there was an excellent description of the unusual Nazareth track, started by Hank Parker and continued by Glenn and Mark in a walk around of the different turns and elevations of the track. When they started running down the starting grid, they mentioned drivers through about row five and then only sporadically through the rest of the field. I know I harp on this a lot, but it really bothers me that the Fox networks can't just give us the whole grid without all the extraneous chatter about other things.
When the race actually started is when things started going really bad in this broadcast. We only got to see about 4-5 laps before FX went to their first commercial. When they came back, the race was at lap 14 and we got to see a replay of the first pass for the lead. The producer seemed to time things just right all day long to miss important passes or accidents. I understand the producer cannot control these things and is not the person responsible for selling so much advertising time. But it's still frustrating to the viewer to have such a lack of continuity in a race because of commercial breaks every few laps. In this instance, they stayed with the race for only another 6 laps before breaking away again. When they returned, there was a graphic that was suppose to show us the top 5 drivers, but was horribly wrong. Instead, it had showed drivers in the mid-20s in the first three positions. This was to be a trend throughout the day as the same thing occurred on several occasions. As with the truck race, this had me wondering what was going on in the production truck. Isn't anyone assigned to check this stuff before it is put up on a graphic? If not, then someone needs to be.
During the broadcast we must've heard that it was Jason Keller's 300th BGN start at least 300 times. Rick seemed to like to repeat things someone else said, over and over again all day long. Many times, he would get something wrong and Hank would jump in and tactfully correct him, then Rick would repeat what Hank had already said. This got real annoying really fast. I also had deja vu from the first truck broadcast that Rick did this year from Daytona where he seemed to constantly be "going to the pits" for reports from the pit reporters. During this race, it was quite obvious that Mark Garrow and Glenn Jarrett were carrying the bulk of the program. Why then was Garrow relegated to pit reporter status, instead of the lead commentator role he filled so well at Nashville earlier this year? I have to give Hank credit for rolling with the punches and seeming to keep a positive attitude while working with the disappointing Rick in the booth. Hank provided a lot of valuable insight from a driver's point of view and showed he was very knowledgeable about the series in general. His regular job on Inside the NASCAR Busch Series seems to have helped him feel comfortable in a commentary role.
The director made some gaffes during the day as well, trying to do too much and missing much of the racing action in the process. At one time, Ron Hornaday, who was the leader was having some trouble lapping Steadman Marlin. Instead of staying with this action, the director chose to go to a split screen of Todd Bodine running alone on the track and an interview with his crew chief, Tony Liberati. Now I know I usually complain that Todd's team doesn't get much coverage, but why did we need to see him when he was running alone, rather than when he was passing someone for position? From the number of positions he gained, it was quite obvious he was involved in passing quite a few cars during the day. During the five minutes we saw him running alone on the track, no one ever told us what position he was in or put up a graphic telling us this information. It seems more and more like racing coverage is comprised of "features" rather than showing us the racing.
Glenn told us that Johnny Sauter had wrecked during Happy Hour the night before, but his team was able to repair his car. Next we heard that Kevin Harvick was in Sauter's pit and then Allen reminded us that Harvick had run in both the truck race and Winston at Charlotte the past two nights. Something that was really relevant to this race.
At one point, Rick told us that Hornaday and second place, Randy Lajoie, were 6 seconds ahead of the third place car. It was nice to have this break from feature stories and have a race update. Glenn asked Hank if it was easier to negotiate all the turns at Nazareth having someone right in front of you like Lajoie had with Hornaday and Hank said it was easier that way. We got nine laps this time before the fourth commercial of the day.
After the first caution, FX came back and showed one team looking at tires they'd just taken off their car for about 10 seconds and then we were away to another commercial. When FX returned from this break, Rick asked Glenn to tell us how Kasey Kane ended up leading the race and he explained that he'd overshot his pits so his team decided to just send him back out. Glenn also told us that Jason Keller had hit the kill switch on his car during his pit stop and lost several positions because of it. Next Rick pointed out how good Brian Vickers had moved up through the field and Hank had to point out that he'd gotten track position because of a really good pit stop. Then we "went to the pits" for Glenn to describe the 14-second pit stop that Vickers team had.
Several times during this broadcast, FX put up a graphic for their movie, 44 Minutes and each time it came on there were annoying glass breaking sounds. Why do the TV networks have to add annoying sounds to make their annoying on-screen commercials even more distracting. Do the powers that be at the networks even care if the viewers watch the race they are suppose to be showing? In the current trend of useless in-car shots, we saw one of those while there was a pass for second by Vickers. Thankfully, Rick described it for us since we didn't get to see it. Next, they showed a graphic of the interval between 2nd place and 5th. This was really nice since we weren't able to see much of the racing. As Vickers caught leader Hornaday and came within a car-length, FX chose to go to another commercial.
When Bill Hoff wrecked, Rick told us that this was an "answer to Kasey Kane's prayers." Since this sounded so awkward, Hank had to jump in and explain that what was bad luck for Hoff was good luck for Kane because he really needed to pit since he was off-sequence with the rest of the field. Next Mark reported on changes the crew made to Shane Hmiel's car to try and improve its handling, and Glenn told us that Mike Wallace pitted early to try and get track position. Never did we see a replay of what caused Bill Hoff to wreck. I guess he just wasn't important.
Rick was trying to explain why Vickers had a yellow rookie stripe for this particular track, but got it all wrong. Hank had to step in yet again and explain that though Vickers ran a lot of races last year and therefore was not technically a rookie anymore, he had never run at Nazareth and NASCAR required him to run a rookie stripe.
Glenn was doing a report on something from the pits and skillfully broke away to tell us that there was another caution on the track because Ron Young had spun. This time we got some quick replays to show us what had happened to Young. Later there was a good replay when Young wrecked again.
The graphic as FX went to commercial at lap 106 showed the 23rd place car as the race leader. On one of the restarts, Rick told us that David Stremme was holding off Scott Wimmer. In fact, Stremme had already lost the lead to Scott Riggs and fallen back to third or fourth place. Thankfully, Hank was there to jump in a correct him, yet again.
There was an excellent replay showing Stremme brushing the wall, that, of course, happened while FX was away at commercial. Glenn reported recounted a humorous radio transmission from Hornaday to his crew, where he said the car had gotten so tight he couldn't "drive it in a 40-acre field." There was a good replay of Kevin Grubb's wreck and Glenn told us that Lajoie, who had hit him, had asked his crew to apologize to Kevin for the incident.
FX went to commercial with 20 laps to go in the race and missed seven laps. This is similar to what FX did with the truck race on Friday night. Obviously there are so many commercials on an FX broadcast that the producer can't space them to provide the last few laps of the race without interruption. Frankly, after this broadcast I felt like I'd watched nothing but a highlight show, instead of a race broadcast.
Most of the top 10 were interviewed during the post-race and Mark pointed out that he didn't think Todd Bodine had been passed by anyone during the day. This was a neat observation that Todd confirmed.
Thankfully at the end of this horrible broadcast, I was able to turn over to the ASA race on the Speed Channel and see the best racing (and best broadcast) I'd seen all weekend. Yes, it was still riddled with too many commercials (since Speed is just another Fox property), but at least all the broadcasters were knowledgeable about the series and drivers. In addition, their producer stayed with the action on the track and we got to see a lot of good, close racing. It just seems to me like Fox and FX have pretty much lost interest in showing us any racing now that the end of their half of the season is approaching. If this is the case, why don't they just give the races from here on out to NBC?
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