The view from my couch
FX Coverage of the Pontiac Excitement 400
I'm really not sure what was going on with this broadcast. During the first half of the race, it was like someone made a decision to show in-car camera views for the majority of the time. I found this very annoying because you can't get a real feel for what's going on during the race with only in-car views. I can only suppose that since the race was on FX, and they needed to sell more commercial time, someone decided to substitute the shots from the sponsored in-car cameras in place of even more commercials. Then, during the second half of the race, the continuity of the race suffered because of frequent commercial breaks and numerous missed restarts.
I really wondered if the usual director, Artie Kempner, was working on this broadcast, because in addition to way too many in-car camera shots, there were so many technical glitches. Several times, the camera shot was not switched quick enough, so that the viewers saw many instances of empty track or shots of the haulers in the in-field. All I can say is the entire broadcast did not look very professional, from a technical standpoint. It was certainly below the usual high technical standard that Fox usually sets. FX did use less of the pointers and that's a good thing, and as everyone knows, I could live without ever seeing them. When used, the pointers were still flying all over the place on the track and into the grandstands and create a distraction to the viewer. But, in exchange for the pointers, we got to see the "thermal cam," an idea which I'm sure Fox would like the viewers to believe they originated. Okay, maybe the new fans believe it's a new innovation, but I seem to remember ESPN using something similar at Martinsville many years ago. Of course, ESPN used the gimmick sparingly, something that the people at Fox have never dreamed of doing. The producer used the thermal-cam way too often and the commentators in the booth overdid it as well, using the telestrator to point out the heat that was already visible in the racing groove, like the fans couldn't already see that for themselves. Enough said. Other than, has anyone at Fox ever heard the word "moderation?"
As on Friday night, any time there was a wreck, Mike Joy had to yell "He hit the wall HARD!" As I mentioned in my Busch review, I thought this showed particularly bad taste in the light of Jerry Nadeau's tragic accident. Each time Joy excitedly screamed this, my stomach lurched, fearing someone else would be sent to the hospital. Thankfully, I don't think this happened. I say "think" because in the latter portion of the race, there were several drivers who did in fact hit the wall hard, yet almost no one was interviewed. This included Ricky Craven and Dale Jarrett. I guess the people at FX think Craven isn't exciting enough a "personality" with which to concern themselves, but I'd think they might want to get a comment from a former WC champion in Jarrett. I'll give the pit reporters the benefit of the doubt that neither driver was in the mood to be interviewed on TV, but, it still bothers me that no one assured us that everyone was okay afterwards. I also continue to be dismayed that the commentators rarely tell us when drivers fall out of the race or those involved in accidents return to the track. Jason Keller, who was substituting for Jerry Nadeau, was involved in a multi-car accident. I assumed he was knocked out of the race, but noticed he was still in the race during the red flag at the end of the race.
I have to give Mike Joy credit that early in the race he seemed to be trying to keep the viewers informed of the status of some of the drivers. On lap 166, he told us that Terry Labonte had suddenly dropped to the back of the pack and that Dave Blaney had gotten high on the track and lost about nine positions. He also mentioned where each of the five Roush cars were running at that time. This kind of information is great and I really appreciated hearing it. I just wish we'd get this kind of information on all of the drivers. I guess it was more important to show the in-car camera from Michael Waltrip's car when he was running in 37th place. Ah yes, his sponsor was a sponsor of the FX broadcast as was Robby Gordon's, whom we saw make an unscheduled pit stop early in the race. Whereas we never even heard that Ken Schrader's team owner had run the decals from Derrick Cope's sponsor, Friendly's Restaurant, free of charge in this race. It sure would have been nice if the folks in the booth could have mentioned this fact or at least shown a close-up of Schrader's car at least once. Since the viewers couldn't see the decals, it didn't do Friendly's a whole lot of good to be on the 49 car. For a change, we did get to see points leader Matt Kenseth a few times this week. Perhaps this coverage had to do with Smirnoff Ice being an associate sponsor on his car this week and the fact they paid for commercials on FX?
When Steve Park wrecked on lap 45, Larry McReynolds jumped in and told the viewers that this was a big break for Jarrett, Blaney, and Keller since they were just about to be lapped. After pit stops, Dick Berggren reported a problem with aligning the tire on the studs on Kurt Busch's car. Larry also told us that Ryan Newman had finished second in both races at Richmond last year. These were all interesting bits of information and the kind of things that the viewers enjoy hearing.
There was a good replay of the spin involving Jack Sprague and Todd Bodine. Unfortunately, when FX returned from commercial, they were talking about the thermo-cam and missed the first of many restarts at lap 68. Not too long after this, FX was showing Rusty Wallace's in-car camera and missed Newman catching the leaders. We did actually get to see him passing Terry Labonte for the lead, but it would've been nice to see the entire scenario leading up to the pass. There was also a good replay of Mike Skinner and Todd Bodine getting together after a commercial.
One of the night's on-screen poll questions asked if there should be more night races. I admire Mike Joy for speaking his mind on this subject, especially since his opinion doesn't coincide with Fox and NBC's agenda of moving to more night racing. He said he would support more night races, but not at the expense of the local short tracks, since they were the backbone of the sport. He also suggested that maybe more night races could be scheduled in the spring or fall before and after the local tracks' season. Then DW had to chime in and give his two cents worth, by saying "But the drivers want night races in the summer when it is hot." As usual, DW doesn't seem to consider anything beyond his own sphere of reference.
When the continual use of in-car cameras missed some action, FX did show a replay from a normal camera of Michael Waltrip hitting Mike Skinner, which occurred right in front of the leader. When FX returned from commercial, they showed numerous replays of Jimmy Spencer hitting the wall because of a flat tire. Steve Byrnes had a follow-up interview in the pits with Spencer, but then, he seems to be a favorite of the Fox crew. During this time, Larry provided some very interesting information that I had not heard before. He explained that drivers were now required to bring their helmets and head and neck restraint devices to the in-field care center after they were involved in accidents, so that the personnel there could analyze their safety gear after the crash.
At lap 211, Mike told us that Newman had returned to the race after having problems earlier. I just wish we could hear this kind of quick update about all the drivers. How difficult can that be? Okay, it would mean that Darrell would have to be quiet for a few seconds, so maybe it's harder than I think.
When Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin were running first and second because of pit strategy, the announcers were more excited that Robby Gordon had gotten his lap back than the fact that Martin passed Jeff Gordon to take the lead of the race. I understand that Robby had gotten several laps back and this is important to the race, but how many other drivers get laps back each week and we never hear about them? I just couldn't understand the sudden fascination with Robby, but since Cingular is a race broadcast sponsor, that might explain it.
At the end of the race, during the red flag for rain, I had to laugh at Joe Nemechek's wife's comments while talking to her family at home on a cellular phone. It was something like, "I know...if they don't get that thing out of my face..." obviously talking about a camera focused on her at the time. This was hilarious! As much as I complain about the TV network's showing the drivers' wives too much, her comments made it clear the wives probably don't appreciate the attention either. The last thing I have to mention also involves Andrea Nemechek. Why on earth would FX choose her celebrating the race being called because of rain as "the Chevy Winning Moment?" Excuse me, but are the winning moments of the race now determined on pit road by non-competetors instead of involving the drivers on the track? Wouldn't Joe's pass of Robby Gordon, which was actually the pass for the win, be a more appropriate thing to feature?
Again, as with the Busch broadcast, I'm truly sorry that I don't have more positive things to say about this broadcast. The entire race just seemed to be fragmented by too many commercial breaks, particularly during the period between 9:30 and 10:00. Each time, FX broke for commercial, we missed 6 to 8 laps of the race, which were particularly important in the latter part of the race. We also had all the extraneous things like the thermal-cam and too many shots from in-car cameras to contend with all night long. Only six more weeks until NBC returns...
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