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Fox Coverage of the Samsung/Radio Shack 500 from Texas

Overall this was a very good broadcast, with the exception of the increased use of the Fox Trax, which seems to happen at the big TV markets, such as Las Vegas and Texas. As has been the case the last few races, producer Neil Goldberg, had excellent commercial spacing, leaving the last portion of the race commercial-free to the checkered flag, post-race celebrations, and interview with the winner.

The Pre-Race Show

This week, the pre-race was not cluttered with a replay of last week's race and I appreciated that. We did see highlights of Kurt Busch's good runs so far this season. Matt Yocum also had nice a feature on Dave Blaney's crew chief, Robert "Bootie" Barker. Jeff Hammond used the Cutaway Car to illustrate where the questionable areas were on Tony Stewart's car this week and Dick Berggren followed up with an interview with Stewart. There were also some great shots of the American Flag in the shape of the United States during the pre-race ceremonies.

The Race

As I said, I thought the Fox Trax were overused during this broadcast, starting only about five laps into the race. As usual, I don't understand why Fox can't simply show us the information they have in a small block above the car, such as miles per hour or interval to the leader. Mid-race, the pointers were used to show the leaders who were buried behind several end of lead lap cars. The shot used on a couple of restarts was terrible! It was an overhead shot and the cars were so far away you couldn't recognize who was where in front of the leaders on the restart. And this all seemed to be so Fox could use their stupid pointers. Also, I notice the viewers are seeing "lap X of 334" a little more often. It would be really nice if this information could be done for the first half of the race, instead of telling us "328 to go" just 6 laps into the race. Also, the "Status" line was fully of silly comments and play on words again today.

There seemed to be a concerted effort today to cover more of the field by the commentators, even if some cars were never shown on camera all day long. Early in the race, the viewers were told about the smoke coming from Jimmy Spencer's car, which eventually brought out a caution. The producer quickly played the radio from Spencer's car and then Jeff Hammond speculated on what might be causing the problem. Later Larry McReynolds told us that they'd fixed the problem on Spencer's car and he returned to the race, but had lost a lap because of a pit road penalty. Matt had a timely interview with Spencer's crew chief, Tommy Baldwin, who told us that the problem had been caused by a loose oil line. During the caution, Mike gave the viewers a rundown of which cars had chosen to pit and passed on that Jeff had counted 20 cars coming in to the pits.

Mike seemed to be trying to keep the viewers up to date on what was happening in the front of the field, even if the cameras were covering something further back. Early in the race, he told us when leader at the time, Bill Elliott, put Jimmy Spencer back a lap down and when Jeff Gordon moved up to the third position. Darrell Waltrip gave a very good explanation about Johnson's team starting the race with higher air pressure so he could move up through the field after starting in the back. Then how they lowered the air pressure on the first pit stop to help him out later in that run. Mike told us when Tony Raines went behind the wall, but we never heard what put him out of the race. Late in the race, I noticed Dave Blaney was shown as "out" on the ticker, but viewers were never told what happened to him. They also never explained how Ricky Rudd got two laps down early in the race. We saw him get lapped by one of the early leaders, but nothing to explain why he was two laps down early.

As usual, there was thorough pit coverage, including replays of incidents in the pits, such as when Sterling Marlin's car was blocked in by Larry Foyt. Dick told the viewers about some problems with Jerry Nadeau's radio early in the race. After Elliott blew up, Matt reported the he heard Elliott telling his crew chief on the radio that he'd felt a vibration earlier. Dick told us that Stewart had to change ignition boxes because his tachometer was erratic on the first box. When Johnson was having some trouble getting by Rusty Wallace, Matt reported on what he'd heard Johnson say on to his team on the radio about "I'm done with him. He's never getting a lap back from me." This was very interesting. Steve Byrnes reported that Bobby Labonte had reported a vibration in his car and might be having motor problems. He later followed up on this story by telling the viewers that Labonte had a cracked tail pipe and DW explained that this could cause a change in the sound of the car and possibly allow exhaust fumes to get into the car. Matt mentioned that Gordon had won at 19 of the 23 tracks on the Winston Cup circuit, something of which I was not aware.

There were timely and excellent replays of all the accidents and a lot of other incidents on the track. One involved Johnson getting into John Andretti on a restart and Mike explained the replay also showed Casey Mears passing Joe Nemechek on the left prior to the start/finish line to avoid hitting him. Mike explained that Mears was not penalized because he waved Nemechek back around him, so he did not gain a position. After an early spin by Steve Park, Mike said he thought Marlin had brushed the wall, and there was replay showing he had as they went to break. After they returned from commercial, a cameraman got a close up of Marlin's car, showing the resulting damage.

There were a few times, Fox was showing pictures from the "camera cars" and missed some passes in the front of the field for second and third place early in the race. Later, when Gordon passed Elliott Sadler for the lead, it happened while Fox was at commercial, but they showed a replay of the pass as soon as they returned. It really bothered me that one time when the cameras clearly showed Gordon beating Sadler out of the pits . Fox went to commercial and came back telling us "After pit stops, Elliott Sadler is now leading." Obviously a pass occurred on the track while they were away, but they didn't bother mentioning it, making it appear Sadler had led since the pit stops.

It was good to hear the announcers talking about Terry Labonte this week, but they need to avoid repeating the same information over and over. We heard how his last win was at this track and some other background on Labonte a couple of times in the first half of the race.

The viewers got to hear a lot of good communications between drivers and crews, such as Jimmy Johnson's team and some excellent comments between Nadeau and his crew chief, Ryan Pemberton, about how he should concentrate on driving more. Larry explained that Nadeau had been giving so much information on how his car was handling that it had actually affected his driving. This was really interesting to hear. A few times DW was still talking over the communications, such as one time with the producer was playing comments from Johnny Benson to his team.

As with the Busch race on Saturday, NASCAR made a questionable call today. A caution came out for when Sadler wrecked while Matt Kenseth was leading the race. The folks in the booth got real excited thinking Kenseth had blown up because he slowed so drastically, but they quickly realized that he was slowing down to let his teammate, Jeff Burton, back on the lead lap. Fox then gave the viewers some excellent replays of what happened that caused another controversial call by NASCAR officials. Since Kenseth slowed down so much, a lot of cars way back were coming to get their laps back as well, including his other teammate, Kurt Busch. Jeff Gordon passed Kenseth, prior to taking the caution flag and should have taken the lead. After commercials, the announcers explained that NASCAR had put Kenseth back in the lead. Jeff Hammond explained that "NASCAR said if the leaders backs off, you should too." Matt reported that Gordon said, to his crew, that he wasn't going to let all those cars get back on the lead lap. Eventually, things settled down and Mike Joy made an effort to explain why NASCAR made the call, saying that Gordon was not the leader because they felt he shouldn't have passed Kenseth. Larry said he thought it was an option to race back to the caution under the "Gentlemen's Agreement Rule" in Winston Cup. DW said "That's how I understand it, but the more I do TV, the more I find out the less I understand." I was impressed that Larry and Darrell stood firm behind their opinions that NASCAR had made another questionable call.

Chris Meyers continues to show his total lack of interest in NASCAR racing during the Visa Race Recaps. I sometimes wonder if he is even watching the race the rest of the time or has fallen asleep out of boredom. During one of these recaps, the highlights showed when Greg Biffle had sheet metal flapping on the side of his car and happened to be passing Dave Blaney at the time. Chris says "And Dave Blaney..." to explain the picture.

In the latter portions of the race, Fox showed Rusty Wallace's team topping off their fuel prior to a restart and Larry also told us that Dale Jarrett and another team had come in to top off as well. Matt reported that Newman's crew chief had told his driver that they were within their fuel window and Matt speculated that the 12 team might only take two tires on their next green flag stop since they would only need one can of fuel. During the next green flag run, Mike did a sort of field rundown, showing or discussing each of the 17 cars on the lead lap.

After the final caution brought out by Nemechek's accident, the Fox crew pointed out that Newman had only taken on two tires (as predicted) and won the race off of pit road. Jeanne Zelasko reported that a problem with lug nuts had caused Jamie McMurray to lose 10 spots in the pits. During the final stages of the race, Fox made an effort to cover the battle between Newman and Earnhardt for the lead and then Gordon and Earnhardt for second, while also covering other battles within the top ten.

As I said earlier, I was very impressed that Fox stayed with the race, without interrupting for commercials, during a very long segment at the end of the race. It was such a long segment that I lost track of how long it lasted. This seems to be a very positive trend over the last several weeks and one that I hope will continue.

I was a little disappointed at a couple of comments made at the end of the broadcast. Mike Joy signed off saying, "Ryan Newman who held off repeated advances by Jr., takes the win." I think he was confused because, to me, it looked like once Newman got back past Earnhardt, he pulled away and was never challenged again. Perhaps he was thinking of the battle between Earnhardt and Gordon for second place. Also, Meyers was attempting to be cute when reminding us that next week the race would be at Talladega. As he signed off, he said, "Is that a restrictor plate or are you just happy to see me?" Does this guy even have a clue what a restrictor plate is???

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