The view from my couch
Fox Coverage of Subway 400 from Rockingham
This week, I realized that when the race is actually exciting, there seems to be less reason for TV to surround it with artificial hype. The Rockingham track provided some excellent racing and, accordingly. the Fox crew was much more relaxed in presenting it to the viewers at home.
Again, I'm a little late with my broadcast review this week. But first, I want to send out an apology to Jeff Hammond because I jumped to a wrong conclusion during the Daytona broadcast last week. Viewers heard some comments he made about having to catch a flight on Sunday night and I assumed he was anxious for the race to be called so that he could go home. I want to thank producer, Neil Goldberg, for writing me and explaining that I had misinterpreted Jeff's comments, that he was simply responding to a question from someone outside the broadcast team. Mr. Goldberg assured me that Jeff was very committed to getting the broadcast of the race in no matter how long it took. So, Jeff, I'm sorry. I can't promise I won't jump to conclusions again in the future, but I'll try to give the broadcast folks the benefit of the doubt a little more often.
The Rockingham Pre-Race Show
Fox had a really cute feature on the "initiation" process of Winston Cup rookies, where people like Jack Sprague had to fetch Rusty Wallace a beer, or Larry Foyt mop the floor in a veteran driver's motorcoach. This feature also allowed each of this year's rookies to discuss a little bit about their background in the sport. I found it very entertaining.
On the downside, there was a silly feature on Darrell Waltrip's favorite phrase, accompanied by the song Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company C. Will DW or Fox ever cease perpetuating this phrase? Speaking of DW, he pretty much contradicted himself when trying to discuss Toyota's entry into NASCAR. I find it quite interesting that the car manufacturer won't even enter the truck series until next year, yet every week TV has already started promoting their appearance. When Chris Meyers declared "They're native American," DW said "Our economy is global and they are good for the sport." He followed that up with, "They'll open the door for other foreign makes, but they all really not foreign makes." Make up your mind, Darrell.
Lastly, I was really surprised to find out, after the race concluded while watching ESPN's Sportscenter, that three Army skydivers were injured during the track pre-race activities at Rockingham. Even though some of the skydivers were visible during some of the Fox pre-race show, no one mentioned that the high winds at Rockingham had caused three soldiers to go off course and some hit haulers in the infield. Apparently, some of the skydivers suffered injuries that required them being airlifted out of the track. I'll give the Fox folks the benefit of the doubt that they were really unaware of these events and weren't simply chosing to make sure nothing unpleasant marred their race broadcast.
The race broadcast itself was much more pleasant to watch than Daytona. As I said earlier, DW, Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds were considerably more low key this weekend, letting the racing speak for itself. What I did notice through the first two-thirds of the race, though, was that Fox only showed the drivers racing in the top five or so. Viewers didn't see or hear about many drivers until they made green flag pit stops late in the race or if they happened to have an in-car camera. Many times, we only saw Ricky Rudd via his Motorcraft in-car camera as a follow-up to a Ford commercial. I will give DW credit where credit is due. Many times during the race, he would say things like "There's racing going on everywhere!" Unfortunately, the viewers at home didn't often get to see it. What we did see was an inordinate amount of coverage of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s car. Okay, I understand that he had some problems early in the race and continued to spin out several times during the afternoon. The viewers got numerous shots of him in the pits and continued coverage even when he was laps down. Conversely, when Derrick Cope was the first one to drop out of the race, Fox barely mentioned him. We only saw that he had mechanical problems later via the new "status" line on the Fox ticker. I understand that Earnhardt has a lot of fans, but so do other drivers. It bothers me that because Budweiser pays so much for commercials on TV that the fans at home see so much more coverage of him, even if he is running poorly.
This week, as well as last week, Fox used their pointer to highlight various cars on the track. showing their interval behind the leader or their speed. As most of my readers know, I think the pointers or bubbles are ridiculous and unnecessary. I'll try not to dwell on them because obviously someone thinks they are a neat toy. I wasn't really sure how Fox chose which cars to highlight with the pointers this week. I much prefer NBC's Through the Field feature, where they show each car behind the leader and the pit reporters give the viewers an update on how that car is running. Late in the race at Rockingham, Fox did finally highlight the top 14 or so cars, with Mike Joy giving the viewers some comments on each of them. When Rusty Wallace had a large lead in the middle portions of the race, I would have like to have known how far back the second place car was running from him and we rarely got that interval. As I always say, both networks need to use their technological features more judiciously and when they have more meaning, not just to simply use them because someone on the crew thinks they are cool. Mike Joy also pointed out their silly Gas Mileage graphic. As I said last week, this has got to be the dumbest thing Fox has come up with yet. They later admitted it was just their "estimate" of gas mileage (like long-time viewers weren't already aware of this). My question is: why show it? Just to add more "stuff" to the screen and make the race seem more like a video game?
There were good replays of most of the day's incidents and I have to commend Fox on the high quality cameras they use, which are capable of giving some really clear slow-motion replays. Although I was disappointed that the replay of Todd Bodine actually hitting the wall wasn't shown except in a highlight segment while going to commercial. I guess his sponsor, the National Guard, didn't buy any commercial time on Fox. DW was quick to spot many cars getting sideways or brushing the wall and Neil Goldberg was quick to switch the camera to the incidents. DW also pointed out how a lot of incidents happened in turn 2 because the turn was so tight.
The pit reporters did a very good job covering all the stories in the pits all day long. I was surprised though, that none of the drivers who were involved in wrecks or fell out of the race were interviewed. I guess Cope, Todd Bodine, Tony Raines and others were just not that important. And I was really surprised that there was no follow-up interview with Sterling Marlin after his engine blew up. Dick Berggren gave us updates when cars, such as Elliott Sadler's, repaired some damage or were penalized for pit road violations. He also pointed out how Rusty Wallace appeared to have a very well balanced car early in the race and this helped him with tire wear. Matt Yocum reported on the repairs to Tony Stewart's car after he got into the back of Kyle Petty. He also reported that Kurt Busch had a tire going down just as the caution came out at lap 276. Steve Byrnes and Jeanne Zelasko gave very informative updates on pit stops as well.
When Bobby Labonte cut a tire down, the producer followed his pit stop in picture-in-picture, while still showing the leaders. This was excellent as was DW telling the viewers that Labonte was a lap and half down to the leader after the stop. DW also drew attention to the fact that Rusty Wallace had gotten sideways while the viewers at home were treated to the Pepsi Fan Cam. Thankfully, we got a replay of what happened to Wallace afterwards. DW also pointed out certain things at the Rockingham track, such as the sun in the drivers eyes late in the day and how the sun affected the track. Unfortunately, DW fell into his old habits of making alibis for his brother Michael or Earnhardt, Jr. when they clearly were at fault in accidents. He also implied there was some payback going on between Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt, Jr., but never explained what led up to the incident.
Fox had a graphic showing pit stop summaries after each round of yellow flag pit stops. Unfortunately, almost every time they used it, the information was incorrect. Several times, Mark Martin beat Rusty Wallace out of the pits, yet the graphic showed Wallace as the leader out of the pits. Another time, it showed Terry Labonte and Joe Nemechek as the leaders and they were a lap down.
Larry McReynolds pointed out how the caution when Todd Bodine hit the wall saved Harvick from going a lap down. He also pointed out that Jeff Green was almost a lap down at the lap 45 competition caution, but was able to make adjustments to his car and was later up as high as 14th position. He also pointed out to viewers that Bobby Labonte, Dave Blaney, and Jeff Burton had stayed out during a caution to get track position.
All day long there were some great in-car communications between drivers and their teams. It's not always obvious which teams they are listening to, so Fox needs to work harder to tell the viewers (this would be a good excuse to use the ticker they love so much). Also, DW and others are getting better at not talking over these communications, but they still have a ways to go.
Just a few other miscellaneous things I noticed. Once, Fox started to go to commercial, but stayed to show us that Tony Raines had hit the wall. They stayed around until they saw that the yellow had come out and I really appreciated this. Also, for some reason, Fox is still chosing to show the green flag waving instead of the cars on restarts. Viewers want to see racing on the restart, not an artsy shot of the flag. This occurred in all but one or two of the restarts during this race. As usual, many of the in-car camera shots just appeared to be more commercials for UPS or Stacker 2, even when Jarrett was running in back during the early part of the race and when Kenny Wallace was many laps down. The Virtual Crew Chief questions on the screen are also just a poorly disguised Cingular Wireless commercial, with the questions being truly silly, such as "Can Rusty Wallace win?"
In the latter stages of the race, the producer finally showed the viewers more racing in the pack. We got a split screen, at times, showing the racing between 10th and 14th position, as well as the leaders. This was great, but once, Larry said something like, "I know it's a battle outside the top ten." Believe it or not, Larry, the fans really enjoy seeing battles anywhere on the track, so don't apologize for showing them. With ten laps to go, there were some great overhead shots of the racing action between Busch and Jarrett for the lead and showed how the lapped cars played a part in it. Fox used the picture-in-picture to stay with the action on the track, while showing us when Bobby Labonte and a few others had to make late pit stops for fuel. I was a little surprised that with just a few laps to go, the ticker stopped showing what lap they were on. Larry was quick to pick up the slack and told the viewers it was "two to go." Immediately after this, we got a graphic telling us how many laps were left.
Fox had interviews with most of the top five drivers, showed a graphic of the finishing order and the points standings. We had the obligatory useless closing remarks from Chris Meyers and then Fox went back to the booth for some comments from Mike Joy. He said "I hate when those wiley veterans overcome - I hate to overuse the term young guns." To which DW replied "But it makes good TV." These remarks were just a little too trite for my taste. Then Joy assured us that they couldn't wait for Las Vegas, implying that race would be as exciting as the one we saw at Rockingham. Keep hoping, Mike!
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