The view from my couch

FX Coverage of the NASCAR All-Star Race
by Cheryl Lauer
May 23, 2004

Overall, FX did a pretty good job with this broadcast. The announcers seemed to be somewhat more focused on the entire field in the Open this year since there was no "transfer spot" like in the last couple of years. While there were still a lot of commercials, they seemed placed better than most of the races I've seen recently on FX or the SPEED Channel.

Pre-Race Show

It was good to see that early in the pre-race show, FX showed a graphic illustrating the segment lengths in the races. The also quickly told us the drivers leading in the fan voting to pick a driver to advance to the main race from the Open. (I couldn't help but think of this as "the Pity Pass" as David Poole called it on the Pit Bull show had named it earlier in the evening.)

After this, Chris Myers digressed into some sort of theme concerning people named Johnson. Why he had to lead off with a baseball player with that name still confuses me, but I guess it was more of the typical promo for Fox baseball coverage. Then he mentioned the news that basketball player, Magic Johnson, had been picked to lead NASCAR's recent diversity effort. He finally got around to talking about Jimmy Johnson who won this event last year.

It was good to hear several of the FX crew still call this event "the Winston" Saturday night. I'm sure they will get scolded by NASCAR for that slip, but I enjoyed it since most fans still think of that as the race's name.

About two weeks ago, I finally broke down and bought an XM radio so I could listen to the MRN broadcasts when TV was away at their frequent commercials. It sure came in handy during this broadcast. Even though the Open was the first event of the night, I found it quite interesting that TV only focused on the drivers in the "main" All-Star race during their pre-race show, rather than those who would be in the first race of the night. On the other hand, MRN was actually interviewing some of the drivers who were getting ready to go out and compete in the Open.

When FX went to Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds in the announcers' booth, they finally started talking about the Open and explained that it would be run in two segments.

During the broadcast, I lost count [at 10] of how many times the FX crew told us that Darrell Waltrip won the first Winston in 1985. After a couple of weeks off from the Fox crew, it occurred to me that they seem to always be trying to validate themselves by constantly reminding us of all of DW's past accomplishments. Give it a rest once and a while, guys!

The All-Star Open Race

Throughout the night, Larry did an excellent job of telling the viewers about the special rules being used for this event. He began with reminding us that NASCAR would use the double-file restart after every caution or each segment. This is great information that even being a long-term fan, I like to hear. Especially since the All-Star race seems to change the rules from year to year.

When the pile-up happened on lap one of the Open, the announcers were quick to tell us that Casey Mears appeared to slow down on the start and caused several cars behind him to stack up. They also reported that Casey told his crew that he slowed down because his transmission had a problem. FX showed the viewers several replays from various angles before going to their first commercial. When they returned, Mike explained that the unique format of the race allowed teams to work on their cars even under a red flag. Darrell had posed the question about whether NASCAR might let the teams bring out back-up cars like they did several years ago, but Mike told us that the word from NASCAR was that they would not allow that this time. [Personally I applauded this move since this situation was not caused by rain, but a normal accident.]

Dick Berggren had a good interview with Jimmy Spencer who was involved in the accident. After that, FX showed a graphic of who was involved in the wreck and one of who wasn't involved. Chris Myers pointed out that the second graphic was a lot shorter list. Steve Byrnes had interviews with many of the other drivers taken out in the wreck. Jeff Hammond used the Cutaway Car to illustrate the transmission and pointed out that Mears said when he shifted to third gear, it gave way. This illustration was really good because Jeff also pointed out where the driveshaft and some other key components connected to the transmission. Right before the race was restarted, Larry told us that NASCAR was not using the free pass during this event [another move I applauded heartily].

Fox and FX have started a bad habit in recent weeks that really annoys me. This involves turning up the sounds from the grandstands at lot at certain times during the race. In this broadcast, it seemed to be on restarts and when certain drivers had problems. I find this very contrived and typical of the hype for which Fox is known.

When the race restarted, FX showed us a good battle for 9th position and told us that this was 4 1/2 seconds behind the leader.

Near the end of segment one, Mike explained that the yellow would not come out on the last lap as it had in the past. He said the field would not be frozen until the whole field had crossed the line on the final lap.

FX returned from commercial to show us the pit stops between segments. Mike told us that Kirk Shelmerdine stayed on the track and inherited the lead, with Spencer second. The announcers pointed out that Sterling Marlin only took two tires and gained a lot of track position during the pit stop.

During the Open, I felt that FX was overly concerned with the position and condition of Kerry Earnhardt's car. In fact, they were showing him running alone on the track and missed Ward Burton and Johnny Sauter getting together. At least they did have a replay of that action to show us. FX also had good replays when Shelmerdine lost a tire and hit the wall.

FX did an excellent job covering the most exciting racing of the night, between Jeremy Mayfield, Jamie McMurray and Sterling Marlin at the end of the Open. They also had a replay which showed that Mayfield never touched McMurray when he got totally sideways on the track. This was excellent.

After Marlin won the race, FX went to commercial and then had to have one of those silly VISA race breaks before they interviewed the winner. This was really frustrating to me. I wanted to see the winner emerge from the car after such an exciting victory.

After the Open, we got to sit through the painfully long driver and crew introductions. As they did last year, FX even managed to interrupt them with a commercial. I did find it interesting that Mike mentioned that certain drivers, such as Rusty Wallace, were former Winston Cup champions. It may have a been a slip, but I loved to hear someone, for once, not rewrite history and say he won the Nextel Cup way back in 1989 (when hardly anyone had ever even heard of cellphones and the Nextel company didn't even exist yet).

In their typical use of cross-sports analogies, someone in the booth compared the drivers getting ready to race to putting horses into the gate to start a race. I really get tired of this stuff...This is auto racing, not some other sport. I live in a "horsey" state and if I wanted to watch one-horsepower, I'd have plenty of opportunities. I choose to watch stock car racing instead.

The NASCAR All-Star Challenge

At the beginning of the race, DW made a comment that "this is the fastest we've seen Matt Kenseth early in a race." I couldn't help but think that was because TV never shows anyone as far back as Kenseth usually qualifies.

As in the first race, the announcers were right on time to tell us the little nuances about the rules in this race. When Ricky Craven hit the wall, Larry pointed out that the field freezes under a regular caution in this event and team can pit; however, a yellow-flag stop did not count towards their mandatory pit stops in the first segment.

The pit reporters continued to get good interviews with drivers having problems including Craven, Greg Biffle, and later Johnson when he retired his car. FX did an excellent job showing all the repairs being made to cars involved in the major wreck in this race.

As usual, I think FX overused the pointers, but I did appreciate the information shown with them around lap 34, showing how Kenseth was closing in on Tony Stewart.

After Biffle's comments about Kurt Busch getting a better engine, the announcers did a good job explaining that Ford had a limited number of the newly designed engines, so they went to drivers higher in the points.

I thought having pictures of the FX team on that silly display as part of the random draw to decide how to invert the field was really over the top! Why must Fox continually try to make themselves part of the show? I'm sure it was a requirment of the series sponsor, but the giant cellphones were just plain silly. Then to have Myers say "this is reality TV; we don't make this stuff up," just added more to the absurdity.

The commentators pointed out that after early wrecks in this event, the drivers usually settle down and ride for a long time. Yes, this was true and I'm ashamed to admit it, but I dozed off after the first green flag pit stops in the race. But never fear, I was awake enough to set my trusty Tivo to record the rest of the race, so I could take notes for this review on Sunday morning.

During the break between the 1st and 2nd segment in the race, FX did a good job of showing the adjustments made to the cars on pit road. Matt Yocum told us that he heard Kenseth tell his crew that his car was good for about 30 laps. Dick also told us about Bobby Labonte's team turning his driveshaft 180 degrees.

I did notice one weakness that seems to occur every week now in the broadcasts. This is when the announcers are telling us about action among some cars and the production truck doesn't seem to be able to switch to it quickly enough. This occurred when they mentioned that Rusty Wallace got into Ryan Newman at the start of the second segment of the race. Eventually, we did see a replay of the incident, but with as many cameras as the networks are using to cover the races these days, I just wonder why they can't catch more of this type of thing live.

Throughout the broadcast, we heard scanner chatter between drivers and their teams. Most times, the announcers quickly stopped talking so that we could hear it, but not always.

When FX showed a replay of what happened to Terry Labonte, you could clearly see that the 8 car hit Mark Martin and knocked him into Labonte. Yet, DW spoke up and said "Mark got loose." On a later replay, Larry jumped in and said "if he touched him, it wasn't much." I guess it really bothers me that the announcers feel the need to excuse drivers so much lately. Okay, maybe not Tony Stewart, but some drivers.

At the end of the second segment of the race, Larry told us that the drivers could pit, but this time, if they did, they would lose their positions. When Newman didn't pit while many others did, Mike pointed out that he had not pitted since the first segment and had much older tires than everyone else would have.

During the last 10 laps of the race, FX did a good job of showing the action between positions 3 and 5 on the track. When Kenseth got by Newman to take the lead, DW pointed out that the 17 got just close enough to get the 12 loose. This time, the replay showed he seemed to be accurate in describing what actually happened.

DW seemed to "crank it up" the last two laps of the race and seemed almost manic. I still don't need the TV crew to interject excitement in the race for me.

After Kenseth took the checkers, FX went to commercial, but did show Newman running over to congratulate the winner when they returned. FX also replayed Kenseth's excited comments to his crew as he crossed the line.

Besides the winner, FX interviewed the top 7 finishers of the race. As FX signed off for the night, someone pointed out that there was one incredible save in each race as well as one big wreck. Guess they just can't resist talking about big wrecks. Also someone pointed out that Kenseth did not finish lower than 3rd in any of the segments of the main event. This was an interesting observation that I appreciated.

All in all, this was a good broadcast by the FX team. Much better than last year, but it still could've used a little less hype in my opinion.

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