The view from my couch
Fox Coverage of Aaron's 499 from Talladega
This broadcast showed improvement on the part of Fox in some areas, but in other areas, there seemed to be some backsliding. One positive thing was that I noticed Mike Joy trying to keep the viewers at home up-to-date on the status of cars coming back on the track after being involved in the early wreck. This was a significant improvement over recent weeks and I really appreciated it. Unfortunately, as usual, Fox did not actually show very many of the cars outside the "lead pack" all day long. Also, after several weeks of really good commercial spacing, Fox chose some very poor times to inundate the viewers with a lot of commercials during this race.
The Pre-Race Show
I'm not really sure why the powers that be in the Fox corporate office decided they needed an hour long pre-race show for Talladega. This is simply too long. But then again, it was sponsored by Pepsi, so maybe they decided how long to make the show. I noticed after the command to start engines and the cars going out on the track, Fox filled the period between 12:50 and 1:00 with nothing but commercials. Perhaps this is Fox' way to draw out the anticipation for the race, but frankly, I was really bored by this time. During the pre-race show, Chris Meyers started a discussion about the smaller fuel cells being used at Talladega. Darrell Waltrip spoke out and said he was against them because he felt they put too much emphasis on pit-stops and he felt the race should be won on the track not in the pits. I thought this was very good. There was also a history of how the restrictor plates came into use because of Bobby Allison's accident here in 1987. Larry McReynolds did a nice feature about the first time he came to Talladega in 1973, as an Alabama native, and his start as a crew chief in the local area. Jeff Hammond did his usual excellent job in using the Cutaway Car to illustrate what caused David Green's car to be disqualified after qualifying on Friday. There was a long feature on Dale Earnhardt, Jr. with comments by many of his fellow drivers. The pre-race show ended with a terrible rendition of Sweet Home Alabama. I'm not sure who the female was doing the singing, but Fox would have done a better job using the original version done by Lynard Skynard.
As I said earlier, there was a huge block of commercials before the booth announcers came on and the starting grid was shown. Included in this was a canned promo by the owners of Aaron's, which set the tone for the day - way too many Aaron's commercials and way too much of Michael Waltrip on each one of them. At 1:00, Mike Joy told the viewers that NASCAR had moved the start of the race because of the threat of storms in the Talladega area. After a one hour pre-race show, NASCAR was going to make the fans wait even longer for the start of the race? Fox showed the starting grid quickly and the announcers didn't even run down the names at all. Maybe I'm strange, but I have a hard time concentrating on the grid when the guys in the booth are jabbering about something else.
Unfortunately as much as Fox talks about and seems to anticipate "The Big One," they didn't seem prepared for it to happen so early into the race. Yes, we had the usual excellent and numerous replays, but it bothered me that no one assured the viewers at home that all of the drivers were okay. Johnny Benson appeared to take a hard hit into the wall and no one ever mentioned him at all. It seemed like Fox spent an inordinate amount of time showing replays over and over again, and telling us how many cars were involved in "The Big One." So much so, that they never told the viewers about pitstops during the resulting caution. Going to or returning from each commercial, they showed a graphic of the top five. First it showed Robby Gordon in fifth place and the next time in second of third, so it seemed obviously some cars were pitting. In the meantime, Chris Meyers and the rest of the Fox team seemed to want to dwell on the sensationalism of the number of cars involved in the wreck. We got a graphic showing how this one rated against other major wrecks and Meyers seemed gleeful when he told us that the count was now up to 27 cars involved, rather than just 26.
During this time, Larry did tell the views that at the caution speed of 70 miles per hour that it took the field almost three minutes to circle the track. I found this very interesting. There was also good use of the highlighted circle on one of the replays to show us exactly where Ryan Newman was when he started the incident. Jeanne Zelasko had interviews with some of the drivers involved. She asked another silly question of Jeff Green with, "What can make this better?". And for whatever reason, she just seems to rub Ryan Newman the wrong way. Just like after his crash at Daytona, her question of "How are you doing?" elicited another seeming sarcastic reply from the normally even-tempered young man. It really bothered me that driver, Jimmy Spencer, who was involved in the wreck was the first one to say he was glad everyone was okay. Watching a wreck like that at home, I know I'd have liked the announcers to tell us that, not one of the drivers. Getting the hint, Meyers did say something right after Spencer mentioned it. After neglecting to give us an update on pit stops during this extended caution, Fox also managed to miss the restart because they were at another commercial. I guess Aaron's wanted to make sure they got all their commercials in (more on this later). After the restart, we did get a couple of brief comments about pit stops from the pit reporters.
All day long when Fox used their ridiculous pointers, they seemed to never be pointing at the right cars. If the techies running these things can't keep up with the cars, why does Fox continue to insist on using them?
As I mentioned early, Mike Joy really seemed to make an effort to update us on cars involved in the wreck, when they returned to the track, how many laps they were down, and if they went behind the wall again. This began when the second caution (this one for debris) came out. During this time, Steve Byrnes gave an update on the overheating problems on Greg Biffle's car and the team continued to update the viewers on his problems throughout the day. Jeanne also had a good report on the problems with Steve Park's spoiler coming loose after damaged sustained in the earlier wreck. Mike told us that NASCAR would not allow Park to return to the race until the spoiler was fixed and that put him two laps down. During this caution, the producer showed us replays of several of the pit stops.
Throughout the day there were some excellent replays of crew communications between the drivers and their teams. The first of these was Jimmy Johnson asking his spotter to tell him where Jeff Gordon was so that he could draft with him. Another was when Kurt Busch was talking to his crew about overheating problems. The producer also did a good job keying the in-car communications immediately after Michael Waltrip spun. Later, there was a good sound bite when Elliott Sadler was asking his teammate, Dale Jarrett, where he could help him on the track.
After Waltrip's wreck, Jeff followed this up with an excellent analysis of what caused him to spin based on the replays. Steve reported on the damage to Mike Wallace's car after he was hit by Waltrip, including the fact that his battery was damaged. Later there was good coverage of the repairs made to Busch's car, including a shot of the tread coming off his tire as we went to the pits.
Mike asked if one make was better than another on gas mileage and Larry told us that the Dodges seemed to be getting a lot worse mileage than the other makes. He also said this was affecting the Chip Ganassi teams, including Sterling Marlin. Later Dick Berggren told the viewers when Marlin came in at the end of a caution to top off with fuel. He also explained that Marlin had been keying the radio once and accidently hit the kill switch on his car. Fox also told us which teams took two tires or fuel only during pit stops. Jeanne updated us on Ward Burton's problem with with a vibration and later we were told that it was because of heat cycles between two old and two new tires.
After the good commercial spacing the last few weeks, Fox really disappointed me today. Not only in the number of commercials around 4:00, but because the announcers didn't mention any of the on-track action that occurred while they were away. I couldn't take anymore Aaron's commercials and located a distant AM radio station. I was able to hear about the action going on while Fox was at commercial. During one of those times, there was a three-wide battle for the lead between Johnson, Gordon and Earnhardt. This was around lap 147. I know this because MRN actually told their listeners what lap they were running, not how many till the end of the race. The next time Fox went to commercial, Johnson got the lead from Earnhardt and lost it again. When Fox came back, they didn't even mention this and just started speculating about the next round of pit stops. I guess they figured since there was no net gain the viewers at home didn't need to know about it. This is sad.
Fox continues to promote it's tabloid-like nature, with a Virtual Crew Chief question asking "Who is NASCAR's Sexiest Driver?" Excuse me - what does this have to do with being a crew chief?
At the end of the race, when NASCAR made another controversial rule interpretation, I was surprised when DW spoke up and said he felt Earnhardt, Jr. went below yellow line. He even went so far as to point out that he should probably be black-flagged, but if NASCAR did penalize him, it would "be an unpopular move." Mike then told the viewers that NASCAR was reviewing the incident. After the race ended, Jeff Hammond explained that NASCAR had stated that after last weekend, if they were going to err, it would be in the driver's favor.
As I said earlier, this broadcast had some good points; however, some of the bad things seem to overshadow the positive strides that the announcers made this week. After nine straight weeks of watching the races on Fox, I could sure use a week off from the Fox hype, DW, endless commercials, and the pointers.
NOTE: The Couch Potato and I will be getting up off our couches this week to attend the races at Martinsville. We decided we deserve a break from TV and are looking forward to experiencing some great short track racing up close and personal at one of our favorite tracks. So there won't be any race reviews next weekend. The next Winston Cup review will be for the California race in two weeks. Please stay tuned for updates and bear with us. It always takes a few days to get back into the swing of things after enjoying a great weekend at the track!
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