The view from my couch

44 Minutes: FX Coverage of the Winston Open and the Winston?

Frankly, I'm confused as to what the people at FX were trying to do on Saturday night. Showing a race certainly didn't seem to have much to do with the plan. The race broadcast was constantly interrupted by commercials on the FX network, many of which were for a movie called 44 Minutes. Because of so many commercials, which are all too common with FX broadcasts, it seemed like the over four hour race "broadcast" was reduced to only about 44 minutes. There also seemed to be so much concern with "transfer spots" that FX failed to show the drivers leading the field during all of the segments, except the last one.

I'm not even going to mention the FX pre-race show as most of the stuff on these shows really bores me lately. All I really remember is that FX kept hyping the money issue of winning the Winston. But then we are talking about a Fox network, and Fox has made it quite clear that money is the only thing they really care about.

The Winston Open

I pretty much lost all enthusiam for the race when FX went to commercial after only one lap of racing in the Open. A caution was thrown during the first lap because NASCAR ruled that pole sitter, Steve Park, jumped the start of the race. While he was suppose to be commenting of the replay of Park's move, Darrell Waltrip had to say,"I haven't even said 'boogity' yet." Is this man so full of himself that he thinks the start of the race doesn't occur until he says that ridiculous saying? The good part about the replays is that FX showed the double lines on the wall and Larry McReynolds explained that this is how NASCAR indicate the point where the leader should start accelerating.

FX went to commercial at this time and missed the restart of the race. I find this totally inexcusable. It wasn't like there was any debris to clean up or anything, so why did the producer think there was time enough to fit in a series of commercials? Or doesn't FX even care? It sure doesn't seem like it lately. During the replays of the wreck that occurred, the announcers and the replays seemed focused on the wreck involving the Pennzoil car and others, rather than Todd Bodine, the man who was leading the race at the time. We never really got a clear replay of what happened to Bodine and the front of the field. This really bothered me, but I guess the leader of the race just wasn't important to FX. This is a theme that would continue through much of the rest of the night. When FX returned from the next commercial, Mike Joy said, "We've had a look at the wreck at the front of the field..." Excuse me? So footage did exist of what happened to the race leader, and the boys in the booth obviously had access to it, but no one seemed concerned about showing it to the viewers. How pathetic. Dick Berggren did have an interview with Todd Bodine, so, at least, we got to hear his version of what happened in the front of the field, if nothing else.

The rest of the first segment of the Open, FX seemed so concerned with the "transfer spot," that they barely covered the drivers racing for the lead. Not only did the cameras stay focused on the mid-pack drivers, but we were treated to Christmas tree colors on the pointers this week. And these green and red things were pointing all over the track, in the grandstands, or off the screen most of the time not at the cars to which they were intended to be pointing. When there was an important race for the transfer spot between Rusty Wallace and Ricky Rudd, during the last lap, FX completely dropped the ball by going to an in-car shot. What is this sudden fascination with in-car shots lately? I understand that the pixelization of the in-car cameras is not the fault of the TV networks, but why use that shot at all? Why not show the battle between the two from the normal angle-outside the cars? Thankfully, the director did give us a replay of that view afterwards, but it sure would have been nice to see it firsthand instead of always relying on replays.

Also, at two laps to go in this segment, there was so much junk on the screen, you could barely see the race. We had three lines on the ticker and the pointers sliding all over the track. It seemed the announcers could barely keep track of what lap it was either. At the end of this segment, they seemed as confused as I was as to which was the final lap and who finished second. Perhaps it was because they were more concerned with the transfer spot than the top three finishers in the segment. It took quite some time before the announcers seemed clear on who finished second: Blaney or Burton. And to tell you the truth, I'm still not clear. Couldn't the director have used a split screen during this race to show both the top 2-3 cars and those racing for the transfer spot?

Prior to the start of the second segment, Larry told the viewers that Robby Gordon had received a pit road penalty and had to start in the back of the field. As the second segment started, Jimmy Spencer got pushed back through the field. Unfortunately, the camera stayed on him and we missed seeing Blaney gain a lot of positions and move towards the front. It seems lately that Spencer is a favorite of the TV crew so he gets more camera time than some others running equally as well or better. I guess if you aren't a paying sponsor, a relative, or a friend of the TV folks, you can forget about getting any camera time, even if you are leading or running second in the race. At the end of this segment, when it became clear Jeff Burton would win, FX gave us the obligatory picture of his wife. Just in case we couldn't figure it out from past history or the graphic telling us who she was, DW had to chime in and tell us. And why exactly does Kim Burton, specifically, always get on camera? I don't know anyone who enjoys seeing a crying wife when they have tuned in to watch the racing on the track.

During this segment, Larry also told us they weren't showing the Fox Trax since this segment had no transfer spot. I don't know about the rest of the viewers, but I don't ever complain about the lack of pointers on the screen., Since FX didn't have the transfer spot to concentrate on, we actually got to see several drivers who I'd even forgotten were in the race, such as Greg Biffle and Jack Sprague. Based on the first segment of the race and the way FX covered it, I'd have thought there weren't more than 4-5 drivers running in it. After the race ended, FX immediately showed a recap of it. Gee, I guess they thought some short-attention span people couldn't remember what had happened in a 30 lap race.

The Winston

I enjoyed that the driver and crew introductions moved along a little more quickly this year, but I imagine track management had more to do with this than the TV folks. What did bother me was that FX had to take a commercial break in the middle of the introductions. But then again, this was FX and they just can't seem to sell enough commercials to fund a race broadcast. There was a cute feature with several of the drivers playing Who Wants to be a Millionaire? After this, though, we got to see a recap of drivers introductions. Again, I guess those new fans or those with short attention spans had to be reminded of something that just ended a few minutes before.

As the first segment of the Winston began, I was astounded to hear Mike Joy yell, "IT'S A TWO CAR RACE BETWEEN ELLIOTT IN THE 9 AND JR. IN THE 8!" I have no idea what race Joy was watching, but the 8 car wasn't at the front of the pack or anywhere near Elliott at the time. In fact, I don't believe Elliott was even leading then either. Did Mike have the script of the scenario the TV folks were hoping to see played out or something? If so, things didn't quite play out the way they were hoping, I guess. Or are the guys in the booth just so used to talking about Earnhardt, Jr. that those words just slipped out?

As this race progressed, the horrible coverage we saw in the Open continued. I had to depend on the ticker to even know who was leading the race most of the time, as we got almost exclusive coverage of the transfer spot yet again. The wildly flying red and green pointers continued as well. At one point, they did use a split screen of two battles on the track, but then the Virtual Crew Chief graphic came on the screen, so the split screen had to go. Heaven forbid the viewers might watch anything but this Cingular commercial.

To the announcers credit, it really did seem like they were trying to let the viewers know about the rest of the racing around the track. Many times during the night, DW, Mike or Larry tried to tell us about battles going on, but we rarely got to see them. What we got to see instead were pit stops in picture-in-picture, along with the leader running alone on the track. It seems to me that broadcasting a race means showing any actual racing between two or more cars on the track, not covering routine pit stops while showing another car running alone on the track. Somewhere along the way, the people at FX and Fox seem to have forgotten this fact. The director even stayed with the pit stops when we were told that Joe Nemechek had spun out. He only went back and showed the replay after the completion of pit stops. As with Richmond, I couldn't help but wonder if the same director is working on the FX broadcasts who does the races shown on Fox.

I appreciated the fact that DW pointed out that the new pavement on the frontstretch at Charlotte helped save Nemechek from totally wrecking. There was also a good replay of Michael Waltrip struggling with the steering wheel when he got sideways.

At the end of the first segment of this race, the viewers didn't even get to see the graphic of the finishing order for quite some time. First we had to wait through yet more commercials and the typical and repetitive annoying promotions for FX shows. Then we got to see some shots of the drivers on pit road before the finishing order was shown.

During the second segment of the race, we saw Jeff Burton starting to get sideways and the director switched away from it to show something else. Thankfully, he did go back and show us a replay. When Jeff Gordon wrecked Ward Burton, Mike Joy said, "It didn't look like Gordon hit Ward hard enough to put him in the wall. He was just trying to twitch him into the wall." Huh? Are the TV folks now inside the drivers' heads so that they know their intentions?

During the major incident of the night when Tony Stewart hit Terry Labonte and collected a bunch of drivers, DW started blaming Mark Martin before he saw the replay. He did correct himself as soon as he saw the replay, but perhaps the folks in the booth need to take a breath and wait for the replays before they jump in with both feet and start assessing blame.

Mike assured us that everyone had gotten out of their cars okay after this incident and, later Steve Byrnes reported that Bill Elliott was being taken to a local hospital because he appeared to have a problem with his foot.

During the break before the final segment of the Winston, FX showed Chad Knaus, crew chief for Jimmy Johnson talking to Jeff Gordon's crew chief, Robby Loomis. Chad was asking if Gordon's car was okay and Larry explained that he was really asking Loomis if Gordon was going to hold up Johnson on the start, since he had a fast car. I found this very interesting and appreciate Larry's input.

At the start of the final segment, there was a good replay of Kevin Harvick passing cars before the start. Predictably when his brother moved into the top five, DW starting going on and on about him. I have to admit there was much better coverage of this last segment than any time earlier in the evening. But then, there were only 12 cars left in the field by this time. I just don't understand why the folks at FX couldn't cover the entire field all night long. There was only half the normal size of a Winston Cup field, so it shouldn't have been that hard to do.

As the end of the race drew near, Larry gave us a countdown of the remaining laps. This is something he has jumped in and done a lot lately and I really appreciate it since the ticker doesn't seem to be up to date at all times. As Nemechek was passing Michael Waltrip for position, the director switched to a shot of the leader running alone on the track. I simply do not understand this kind of a move. Do the TV folks care about racing or only showing us the "glory" of the winner crossing the finish line?

I enjoyed FX choosing to follow Jimmy Johnson during his victory burnouts. After the race is done, I enjoy this kind of thing a lot. During this time, Mike jumped in and said "Everyone goes home getting their money's worth." I find it odd that the people in the TV booth have gotten in the habit of telling us how the fans at the track feel. Perhaps, the race seen live was more exciting, but from what FX showed those of us at home, it appeared to be a boring race most of the night.

FX had interviews with the winner and most of the top finishers and I enjoyed them showing a lot of the Victory Lane celebration before they signed off the air.

NOTE: I'll be at the Coca-Cola 600 next week in Charlotte and the race in Dover the following week, so I don't be doing any race reviews. Stay tuned for some "guest" reviewers for those races. Only five more races until NBC returns...

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