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Fox Coverage of the Pocono 500

Maybe it's because I've had a break from the folks at Fox for a couple weeks or something, but it seemed to me they did a surprisingly good job with the broadcast of this race. There seemed to be a concerted effort to at least show all of the cars on the track (even if it was just during pit stops). The use of the pointers was down a lot, and the boys in the booth seemed a lot more focused on the race than usual. The fact that it was a particularly boring Pocono race might have helped a bit, but whatever the reason, this seemed to be one of the better efforts by the Fox broadcast team and I was pleasantly surprised.

I didn't watch the pre-race show at all this week, but I've heard that I didn't miss much. I was also thankful that although the term "roval" was used a lot before the race, we didn't hear it repeated much throughout the day. I really enjoyed the song that Fox choose for the segue to the commercial right before the race, Kicks by Paul Revere and the Raiders. I guess that means I'm an "oldie" myself. Fox also used Magic Carpet Ride in a later montage. That one's not quite so old, but still a goodie.

Just prior to the green flag, the pit reporters had their usual good comments and updates on a few drivers. Steve Byrnes told us that Matt Kenseth's team had been very aggressive in their set-up for this race since they were conservative last year and Kenseth didn't like the way his car ran. Dick Berggren commented that Mark Martin had sixteen top fives at Pocono, but had never won there. Matt Yocum mentioned that Terry Labonte had two wins at this track and for this race had an identical set-up to teammate, Jimmie Johnson. Mike Joy illustrated some changes the track owners had made to the backstretch wall to alleviate the water drainage problems they had there last year. Next, there was a long discussion and some good shots to illustrate the uniqueness of the Pocono track. Larry McReynolds pointed out that we should keep an eye on Johnson because he had broken a valve spring in his engine prior to qualifying on Friday, yet was still able to win the pole.

As the race began and Jeff Gordon had a tire problem, Fox was quick to report on it and show the resulting pit stop. They also stayed with Gordon's car to see whether he was able to stay on the lead lap after making a pit stop. Larry pointed out that he didn't have to worry about his speed coming out of the pits because of pitting near the end of pit road. Next Fox made good use of the pointers to show Gordon's car and speed relative to the rest of field as the leader, Johnson, and the pack were coming up on him.

Fox went to commercial after six laps, and when they returned Mike Joy quickly told the viewers that Ken Schrader was okay after a bad wreck. I thought this was very well done by Mike, since the replays of the accident showed the wreck as very frightening. Mike's comments were very classy and a great departure from the usual hype employed by Fox.

During the resulting pit stops, we were told that Bill Elliott took fuel only and had been the first off of pit road. Fox next went to Chris Meyers and Jeff Hammond for some comments about Schrader's wreck. During a slow motion replay of the wreck, Jeff Hammond pointed out how quickly Schrader got out his window net down in anticipation of getting out of of his burning car and this was good. Unfortunately, Meyers' remarks were totally inane, such as commenting that Schrader was the oldest driver in the field. What exactly does this have to do with anything, other than sensationalizing on someone's misfortune? Next Meyers followed up Hammond's valid points with more stupid comments such as "he was feeling more heat than Martha Stewart" and using the word "BAM" during the replay when Schrader hit the wall hard, as a play on words words concerning Schrader's team name. Each week has me wondering, yet again, exactly what the powers that be at Fox see in Meyers. He adds absolutely nothing of value to the race broadcasts and I've yet to hear any fans say that they like him.

As the race was ready to restart, we returned to sanity of the booth (did I really say that?). Larry McReynolds told the viewers that Larry Foyt had not pitted and now had the lead of the race. Darrell Waltrip pointed out how Pocono would be a really good place for NASCAR to use soft walls because of the hard hits we'd seen there in recent years. Steve Byrnes had an interview with Ken Schrader after he came out of the in-field care center.

Fox had a good replay which showed Bill Elliott brushing the wall right after the restart. Unfortunately, we couldn't be spared from just one week of Darrell telling us how well his brother was running. Fox did an excellent job of following Sterling Marlin during a pit stop when he also had a flat tire. Larry pointed out that he should have no trouble staying ahead of the field since his flat tire occurred in turn three as opposed to Gordon's which happened in turn one.

Fox did an excellent job of covering the first cycle of green flag pits stop and then went to commercial. We returned to ambulances and safety vehicles on the track and Mike again telling us that Dale Jarrett was okay after another fiery crash. There were numerous replays of the incident, including a particularly dramatic shot from inside the burning car. DW pointed out that from the in-car camera, it sounded like Jarrett had cut a tire, and this was confirmed during Steve's interview with DJ just a little while later. Unfortunately, we got some more pointless remarks from Meyers, including him asking if Jarrett could re-enter the race in the big brown truck.

Mike told us that Elliott Sadler had not pitted during this caution because he'd had to come back in on his last stop because of a missing lugnut. This was some very good information. There was also a replay of the 4 and 12 cars getting together on pit road and Mike pointed out that Jamie McMurray did a good job of "locking them up" to avoid hitting the 12. Steve had an interview with Jimmie Spencer after he experienced a problem and went behind the wall. Jeff showed us the fuel cell and firewall on the Cutaway Carand Larry followed up with an explanation of the fuel filler neck. Next DW pointed out how having a crash that involved the fuel cell was the worst right after a pit stop when the tank was full of gasoline. Lastly, Mike explained that today's firesuits were designed to protect the driver for about 7-10 seconds. This flow of the discussion was handled very well by the producer and showed great teamwork between the Fox team, with Jeff beginning the story and Mike finishing it.

Before the field went back to green, Dick told us that Kenseth had run out of gas on pit road. He also had an interview with Kenseth's crew chief, Robbie Reiser, who admitted that his driver was experiencing some minor problems with his clutch. When the race restarted, there was a long Crank It Up segment, which I found very enjoyable. It's always nice for the commentators to take a breath and just let us enjoy the racing for a bit. Next, Mike told us that the top seven cars stayed out on the track during the yellow to get track position.

Matt reported on Casey Atwood, who was running and R&D aero package on an Everham car. If the package was successful, Everham planned to run the set-up on Elliott's car at Michigan. They later told us of some problems with Atwood's engine. Fox covered Foyt's unscheduled pit stop for brake problems, and a stop and go penalty he received for being too fast on pit road. They also told us when he went to the garage not too many laps later. As I said earlier, it seemed like the producer made a real effort to cover as many cars as possible during this broadcast, even if it was only during pit stops. I think this is a great start to showing more cars so fans can see their favorite driver, even if he isn't running up front. In addition, I noticed there was not so much emphasis placed on Dale Earnhardt, Jr. this week.

I was disappointed when Todd Bodine ran second for a long time and was shown in that position prior to a commercial. When Fox returned, he had fallen out of the top five and Mike told us Kenseth was in second place, like he'd been there all along.

Next, there was an on-screen promotion for baseball and if that wasn't bad enough, Mike had to talk about baseball as well. Thankfully, he finally said "That's enough about that..." and went on to talk about the race we were watching. Of course in a minute, he went off on a discussion about Formula One racing, which eventually turned into a promotion for something on the Speed Channel.

There seemed to be some problems at the Fox studios in Los Angeles all day. The widescreen picture on the digital channel I was watching didn't come on until around lap 88 and then we got that graphic we'd seen earlier this year about "calling Fox Los Angeles." Too bad I didn't have the number.

DW pointed out that Terry Labonte stayed out so long during one segment of green flag pitstops that he ran out of gas on pit road. Larry followed up on this saying that when they jack up the car, the fuel runs away from the fuel pick-up. Later, Larry also pointed out that Kevin Harvick had been in the top 10 and fell back to 30th after staying out too long before pitting.

Since this race didn't appear to have a lot of racing action, Fox seemed to want to fall back on showing us replays from last week's race and from the Winston. Then there was some talk about a possible feud between Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. I thought this was a silly attempt to spice up the race.

During a late round of green flag pit stops, Fox showed Marlin lapping some people, and I assumed he had regained the lead after his pits stop, yet the ticker showed him in 7th position for several laps. Finally Fox told us he was indeed leading and had a 4-second lead on the rest of the field. I understand that the ticker is relying on race scoring for its information, so if there is a problem, perhaps someone could take it off the screen once and a while or at least until the information it is displaying is accurate. I'd rather not see it all the time if it's not showing the right scoring information.

During the caution for Ricky Rudd's problem, Fox told us who came in and topped off before the restart. They showed us Joe Nemechek going behind the wall and DW told us that he had a gear problem. Later, Mike told us when both Nemechek and Rudd returned to the track. This was great. Mike really seems to be trying to keep the viewers informed about this kind of thing lately.

During this next segment, the director showed some good battles for 8th through 11th positions involving Terry Labonte, Jeff Green and Ricky Craven. There was also an excellent replay of Martin pushing Marlin to get past Harvick. There was very thorough coverage as drivers began pitting early for what they felt would be their final pit stops. Fox pointed out the changes the 20 team made to Stewart's spoiler since his handling would be different because he wasn't running in traffic at this time.

When Kurt Busch cut a tire, Mike told us who he thought was coming in to pit, but then quickly changed it when he saw only those from twelfth on back were actually coming in to pit. At the end of the race, the ticker was really messed up. First it showed us "197 of 200," then changed to four to go. As I mentioned earlier, if there is a problem with this information, why not just leave it off the screen until it is correct?

There seemed to be an all-time high of silly Cingular Wireless poll questions during this broadcast. I guess only filling up a third of the screen with them and hearing their accompanying noise is better than more commercials. Beyond these, there were two other annoying aspects of this broadcast. One was Meyers constant reminders of the fiery crashes of Schrader and Jarrett, with accompanying bad jokes or tasteless music through race recaps of them, such as Fire by the Ohio Players. The other was that Fox kept replaying the crash from last year's race where Steve Park's car was involved with Earnhardt, Jr. and flipped into the guard rail. This was shown early in the race and then again when Jeff Green had a bad hit late in the race. This time, it was shown even before Fox told us Green's condition. Finally, they showed us that he was out of the car, walking around, and seemed to be okay.

At the end of the race, Fox showed Stewart's burn-out, had some comments from his crew chief, and then had the usual post-race interviews with the winner, second and third place finishers, etc. They also interviewed Terry Labonte who was involved in the last accident with Jeff Green.

Overall, I thought this was a better broadcast than I've seen from Fox for quite a while. I don't know if it was because it was on the flagship Fox network, rather than FX or what, but it was a very good effort.

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