The view from my couch

Fox Coverage of the Golden Corral 500
by Cheryl Lauer
March 16, 2004

After the improvement Fox made last week in covering more of the field, I was disappointed in their efforts for the Atlanta race. With half the field a lap down after the first 100 miles, it seems like Fox could've done a better job of covering at least those lead lap cars. The good news is the use of the pointers was be down significantly for this race. The bad news is the commercial breaks seemed to be up a lot this week.

Pre-Race Show

Because of the lateness of my review, I'm not going talk much about the pre-race show, other than to mention it was mostly the typical fluff we have come to expect from Fox. I do have to mention that I fail to see why the network executives at Fox can find the time for a soap opera spin on racing or comedy skits involving the drivers, but they can't go over the starting grid for the viewers.

The Race

Early in the broadcast, Fox seemed to do a decent job of showing more of the drivers, including Dave Blaney in his unsponsored car. Around lap 7, they were showing racing among three drivers around the 16-18th positions with a graphic highlighting them instead of the pointers. This was great. Unfortunately, DW and Larry McReynolds seemed to launch into non-stop talking from almost the beginning of the race. Either they lightened up a little after a while, or eventually I just became immune to the constant babble.

What seemed to be a day filled with non-stop commercials, began around lap 11 with the first break by Fox. When they returned on lap 18, Mike Joy told us that that Tony Stewart had moved up into 4th and told us who the rest of the top five drivers were as well. Mike did an excellent job of doing this every time Fox returned from break all day long. Fox also had graphic showing the biggest movers, such as Matt Kenseth, who had moved up to 11th place after starting in 30th position. Throughout the day, Fox did a very good job of showing or telling us the intervals between the leader and 2nd or between other positions. The producer seemed to use a good mix in providing this information. Sometimes it was Mike or the other commentators, other times it was a graphic or a "pilon," and sometimes it was by using the pointers. Unfortunately a few times, Fox used both a graphic and the pointers at the same time. Not often, but just enough to remind me of overkill.

Early in the race, Mike seemed to make a real effort to update the viewers on which drivers had fallen out of the race, such as Joe Ruttman and Todd Bodine around lap 28. Unfortunately, not too soon after this Fox broke again for commercial (around lap 34). When they came back, we were shown a replay of Stewart passing Ryan Newman for 2nd place. This was the beginning of what seemed like seeing only highlights of a lot of the racing that occurred while Fox was away at commercial. Around this time, I also starting having a lot of trouble figuring out what lap the race was on. Mike told us the top 5 drivers as of lap 34, but a graphic said it was lap 35 and when the ticker resumed, it showed lap 37. I guess it wasn't that important since Fox went away for another break again at lap 44. This time when they returned, we were treated to a Visa Race Break by Chris Myers. I guess it was really important to show us what had happened in the race so far since Fox had been away at break so often during the first 50 laps. Unfortunately, a pass for second place and the lead happened while Myers was telling us about the "highlights," therefore, we got see a highlight of this as well. Is it just me or shouldn't a live pass for the lead be more important than showing highlights? Oh yeah, I forgot, it was really just another commercial for VISA, so that was more important than the live racing action.

All through the day, Fox and the pit reporters did an excellent job of covering green-flag pit stops, such as those that began sometime after lap 54. During these stops, Mike screamed "A SPIN! MATT KENSETH!" Larry told us that Kenseth would be getting all kinds of penalties because he went past the pit commit line and ran over the cones as well. Fox quickly queued up a replay so we could see what happened to Kenseth and we heard some scanner bites from him talking to his team about what happened.

The Fox team did a much better job not talking over the radio communications this week. There seemed to be a real effort by the producer to delay the playbacks until he could give the guys in the booth a head-ups. This was an excellent improvement.

Throughout the day, the pit reporters provided timely updates on how teams were running, how their tires were wearing, and the usual good information that we have learned to expect from the Fox pit reporters.

I did notice this week, as I have so far with Fox broadcasts this year, that the announcers will comment on something and the cameras don't always switch to show us to whatever they are referring. Although once when DW commented about Stewart getting Nemechek loose, the producer did show a replay of the incident. This was excellent.

Unfortunately, about mid-race, I noticed that less and less drivers were getting coverage and the Fox team seemed to being focusing only on the top 5 or so drivers. With so many top drivers having dismal runs, it would've been nice to feature them and explain what their handling problems were. This included Bobby Labonte, a pre-race favorite and Elliott Sadler who qualified very well. Also, I noticed that Fox took a long time to mention Jeremy Mayfield or Dale Jarrett who remained on the lead lap and were running in the top 10 most of the day. Mayfield was not mentioned until he came out of the pits in the top five. Also, Dale Jarrett was having a top ten run most of the day and was barely mentioned. It just seemed like the need to take so many commercial breaks prevented Fox from really covering the action of the track. Either drivers weren't mentioned or we saw far too many passes or cars getting sideways via replays after commercials were done.

When NASCAR called the first of two cautions for debris at lap 125, Fox made no attempt to show if there was any debris on the track. These are the times that make the long-time fans ask if there really was any debris or NASCAR just felt they needed a "competition caution" to keep more drivers from being lapped. If there really isn't any debris, I'd rather the booth just tell us that their cameras were unable to locate it.

Sometime after the restart, Fox actually missed Greg Biffle passing for the lead because they were busy showing us an in-car camera shot from the Budweiser car. To me, this was just another commercial that prevented us from seeing more of the action on the track. When Rusty Wallace's transmission went up and a caution came out, Fox told us that Kenseth would be the beneficiary of the free pass back to the lead lap. I was quite confused by one of the announcers saying that Kenseth would have to start at the tailend of the longest line. I know this free pass rule has caused a lot of confusion among the competitors, NASCAR, and the people in the booth; however, this was a spin I've never heard of before. Did NASCAR change something because in the past the recipient of this benefit had to pit with the lap down cars, but was then allowed to line up behind the last car on the lead lap. I think whoever said this was mistaken, but someone should have jumped in and corrected him. The fans are confused enough about the weekly interpretation of this rule and don't need the TV folks adding to their confusion. But then, maybe I'm confused and NASCAR changed the rule again and I missed it.

After the restart, Fox told us that Robby Gordon was "all over Tony Stewart" but we never got to see what they were talking about. We did however, get numerous replays of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. cutting it a little too close while passing Stewart later and Stewart getting into the back of him. When Rusty came back on the track after fixing his transmission, Larry told us that he was back out but 33 laps down. Around lap 210, the producer made excellent use of the picture-in-picture by showing the battle for the lead as well as a battle for 3rd and 4th positions.

Around 3:45 and for the next hour, I noticed that Fox innundated us with commercials. One time they came back and showed only two laps of the race before they broke for another commercial. At one point, one of the cameras focused on a Nextel billboard at the track that said something like "Where Speed meets Speed." Because of of this and so many more actual breaks for commercials, I couldn't help but think it was more like "NASCAR: Where Speed Meets Greed." I don't usually comment on the commercials themselves, but this season it seems like the viewers are stuck in the middle of a battle between Viagra and it's clones and a battle between cellular phone companies.

When Fox returned from one commercial, they told us that Jamie McMurray's engine had blown up while they were away and showed us a replay. Jeff Hammond followed this up by illustrating where the valve springs were on the Cutaway Car and said how the last 100 miles of a 500 mile race was when we saw a lot of strain on this type of engine part. This was an excellent insight.

Unfortunately, Fox went away for more commercials during this final caution and missed the restart entirely. They came back and showed us another VISA race break instead of the restart of the race. This was really the height of absurdity! But then again, it was just one more commercial. Why would the viewers not want to watch more commercials instead of the final restart of the race?

Prior to the final green flag pitstops of the day, Fox was showing the pit crew coach for the 8 team. Larry jumped in and said he was like a defensive coordinator for a football team. I am really getting tired of NASCAR and TV trying to explain everything to the "new fans" in terms of football! I started watching racing because of its differences from the stick and ball sports and now everyone is trying to make it just like one, so the new fans can "relate" or something.

Obviously, the race itself had been pretty boring and at the end, it was clear that we were not going to see one of the close finishes for which Atlanta has been known for in the past. All of the sudden, the announcers started speculating about whether anyone would "roll the dice" and only take two tires on their final stops or maybe not pit at all. I found this clear attempt to interject excitement where none exists on the part of the TV folks exceedingly tiresome. Sometimes, races just aren't exciting and no amount of wishing for it is going to change things.

When it came to the final pass for the lead, Fox wasn't even able to show us that live. This was extremely disappointing, but not much of a surprise since we'd been forced to watch many significant passes all day long via replays. Broadcasts like this just make me wish I had waited to watch a highlight show instead of wasting 4+ hours on the broadcast.

I wish I could say more positive things about the broadcast this week, but the number of commercials and missed action because of them just soured me on the entire broadcast. Yes, the use of the pointers were down, but that really doesn't make up for such fragmented coverage all day long.

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