The view from my couch

Fox Coverage of the Food City 500
by Cheryl Lauer
March 28, 2004

Overall, this was a pretty good broadcast. Fox seemed to make an effort to cover most of the field throughout the race. Unfortunately, there were still too many commercials, missed restarts and much of the action shown via replays. Also, the Fox team relied way too much on Darrell Waltrip's history at the Bristol track. I must've heard how many times he won there at least two dozen times this weekend.

Pre-Race Show

I don't think DW has figured out that a 12-year-old girl liking his Boogity phrase makes a real statement about the age of people to which it appeals.

I read an article in the newspaper this week where some network executive at Fox explained that they were trying to make the drivers more "personal" by having them wait outside their cars during the invocation and national anthem. I find this newest way TV is materially affecting the sport to be even more absurd than anything they have come up with so far. So now, rather than having a little more quiet time alone in their cars to get in "the zone" before the drop of the green flag, the drivers must cater to the "reality" whims of the TV network? Today, I noticed that not only were the drivers required to be all present and accounted for, but their wives or girlfriends were dutifully by their sides. Fox needs to get over themselves and let the drivers have a some private time to themselves and with their loved ones as has been traditionally done in the past. I know it's hard for Fox to understand, but getting ready to risk your life at over 100 mph is not quiet the same as a scripted reality show.

The rest of the pre-race show involved some silly "Anger Archives" and ended with that stupid soap opera logo. Just more hype from the kings of hype: Fox.

Just before the green flag was thrown, I wasn't quite quick enough at muting my TV because I heard the king of self-promotion encourage "all my fans to help me send these boys off..." Give me a break! Didn't somebody get enough attention already this weekend?

The Race

After a few laps of the race were run, Mike Joy told us when Joe Ruttman and Andy Hillenberg took their cars behind the wall. A few laps later, he reported that Kirk Shelmerdine was on the apron and appeared to be headed to the garage as well (why do these guys even bother?).

At lap 12, Larry McReynolds alerted us to a challenge for second place and the producer quickly switched the camera to show Rusty Wallace passing Jeff Gordon. DW pointed out that Gordon's car looked to be handling poorly and Steve Byrnes jumped in and reported that it had been tight all weekend, but he hadn't said anything on the radio about it yet.

I'm not sure if the pointers weren't working properly or what, but it was a relief that they were only used a couple of times during this broadcast. The first time was around lap 17 and they were quickly replaced by a simple graphic showing the information about the cars Fox was trying to highlight. This was fantastic!

At lap 25, I was very happy when Fox began to play the music signifying a commercial, but hung around a few seconds to catch the first pass for the lead. When they returned 13 laps later, they showed us highlights of Wallace passing Greg Biffle. This was the beginning of much taped coverage of things we would miss while Fox was away at commercial throughout the day. Their next break was at lap 50 and they returned to find the field under caution, with a replay of Kasey Kahne hitting the wall. Next, they covered the resulting pit stops and had a graphic of the top 18 as they left pit road, including the total time they spent in the pits. This was very good.

What transpired after this was the worst thing that Fox did all day! They went back to commercial after pit stops were completed and when they returned, they showed us a broken driveshaft from Brian Vickers car. It wasn't until Mike informed us we were under "the second caution of the day" that I realized they had missed the restart AND another caution that had occurred. I'm sorry, but the production truck has to be aware of when it is one lap to go and yet they can't get back in time to catch the restart? Fox went away for another commercial and thankfully got back in time for the next restart. After that, they showed us a replay of what happened to Vickers. Jeff Hammond also illustrated where the driveshaft was located on the Cutaway Car.

I was pleasantly surprised that it actually took 88 laps before Fox started talking about how Dale Earnhardt Jr. was running. I guess Budweiser didn't sponsor the early portion of the broadcast. But what bothered me is that I don't believe they showed current points leader and reigning champion, Matt Kenseth, at all until 364 laps into the race.

As I said earlier, Fox really seemed to be trying to cover a lot of the field, however when they showed the in-car camera from the 19 car and said he was battling for position, they never said exactly what position. Fox happened to be showing the battle between the 29 and the 99 when those two got together and the 99 wrecked. They quickly reported that Bobby Labonte was involved and queued up several excellent replays. The one from above the track really showed clearly showed how this wreck transpired. Mike pointed out that the in-car shot from the 29 car showed that Harvick lifted before the accident. Fox also quickly got a graphic on-screen showing who was involved in this incident. But for some reason, Fox couldn't be bothered to show Labonte's pit stop or follow-up on the damage to his car. This is a former WC champion from just a few years ago and he's too much of a "has-been" to Fox for them bother with, yet they could show us the repairs to Kahne's car numerous times?

Unfortunately, when Fox went to another commercial, they again missed the restart. They did inform us that the 4 car was blackflagged for jumping the restart. Fox returned to commercial at lap 137 and came back at lap 148 to show us a race recap. It really annoys me that TV is always so concerned about "those just joining us" rather than the ones who have been watching the broadcast for the entire time.

When Ricky Rudd hit the wall, they showed us the aftermath and then a replay of what happened before breaking for another commercial. When they returned, I was pleasantly surprised that Fox showed us pit stops before their "billboards." This was a great move and should be done more often. It always seems silly to me to see these on-screen ads right after having just seen commercials for the same products.

Larry pointed out that Tony Stewart lost a lot of positions after having a bad pit stop and was now back in 16th position. Unfortunately, Fox went to Chris Myers for a points update. Instead of the typical "if the race ended now," this time, it was even more absurd with Myers having three pages of graphics showing the points "if the season ended now." Good grief! Only 5 races have been run so far! That's not even 1/3 of the ridiculous 26-race "regular" season.

When the next incident occurred involving Wimmer, Craven and Stewart, Fox had numerous replays of the initial contact and the retaliation against Wimmer by Stewart. Fox told us that both drivers would be assessed penalties by NASCAR, but never really showed us what Wimmer did to deserve a penalty.

At the next restart, Fox pointed out that Sterling Marlin took only two tires and got out of the pits with the lead. As Wallace caught Marlin for the lead, Mike pointed out that he was better going into the turns and Marlin was better coming out of them. This was excellent. Unfortunately, Fox just can't seem to lay off the age issues and assigning nicknames, so I really didn't appreciate Mike calling Marlin and Wallace "the old gunslingers" as opposed to the "young guns." Later, Myers had to mention the age of the leader. As always, I wish someone would remind some of those on the broadcast team that their average age is much higher than these "old" drivers whose age they keep harping about.

Fox had several good replays of radio communications between drivers and their crews, beginning with Brendan Gaughan around this time. The producer seems to have gotten in the habit of delaying these conversations so the announcers won't talk over them and this is great. Later in the race, we also heard some good conversations between Kurt Busch and his crew as well.

Fox actually stayed with some action between Ken Schrader in 14th position before showing us a replay of the 8 passing for the lead. This was a pleasant surprise to see one of those "old gunslingers" get a little coverage when having an excellent run.

Once Dick Berggren was doing a commercial for some product and eventually, the producer did switch to picture-in-picture so the viewers could actually see the race at the same time. Then Fox left for another break. When they returned, they told us that the 48 car had made an unscheduled pit stop for a flat tire, showed us a replay, and the punctured tire. The commentators told us that Johnson was now two laps down. Just a few laps later, Fox went away for another commercial but promised us they would be back to show green flag stops.

When green flag stops began, Fox pointed out when Jeff Gordon came all the way around through both sets of pits because he apparently forgot he didn't have to do that when stopping under green. After covering all the stops, Larry told us that Johnson was now the leader and pointed out that his early stop hadn't hurt him after all. Then Fox went away for another commercial.

When they returned, the field was again under caution. Fox showed us a replay of Derrick Cope getting together with Kevin Lepage. The announcers told us that only Greg Biffle and a few of the lead lap cars chose to pit. Dick told us that Jimmy Fennig was "furious" with his driver, Kurt Busch, because he went against his direction and did not come in to pit under this caution.

Next we had a "NASCAR for Dummies" segment, where Steve Byrnes showed us what a wedge wrench looked like and then we got to see a computer illustration of jacking in weights to the four corners of a car. Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell those new fans what would be the result of such adjustments. Would it make the car tighter or looser? Next we had a taped skit with Dick sponsored by WebMD, which was suppose to be about safety, but ended up being a joke about how you needed an oxygen mask to climb up into the highest seats at Bristol.

Also, during the caution, Jeff Hammond finally spoke up and explained that Gordon had lost a lap because of his error on pit road. As the field returned to green, Mike told us that Newman was also a lap down and that there were 16 cars on the lead lap. He also told us which cars didn't pit under this caution. This week, Mike and the announcers did an excellent job of telling us which drivers were the recipient of the free pass after each caution. I just wish Larry and the Fox crew would stop trying to come up with their own little cute phrase for this rule. I get real tired of them calling it "the pardon." Why must everything have a cute name?

Fox had several good replays of the 43 getting together with the 32. As different views were shown, it became obvious that the 77 had actually been the one to cause to the 43 to spin. They also told us that the 10 was turned by the 45. Right after this, we got the obligatory "Michael is doing a great job" remark by DW.

Fox followed the 8 car as it dropped back through the field with a possible tire problem, and quickly told us when he spun and brought out the caution. Larry told us that everyone from about 10th place back came into pit during the resulting caution. When the 8 came in, Matt Yocum reported that the team found he had loose lug nuts.

After the restart, Larry reported that Busch now had a 2 second lead over 2nd place because of the lapped cars battling behind him. Mike told us that Kenseth was now up to 11th position.

When Fox returned from commercial at lap 464, the race was again under caution, but they had a replay of Stanton Barrett's wreck. Mike told us which cars had come in to pit under this caution. He also pointed out that Johnson had to come in a second time to tighten a loose lug nut.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that every time Fox had one of their music montages, they showed them during caution. This is such an improvement over using green flag racing for this sort of thing.

After the next restart, DW pointed out that Marlin might have a problem, but then decided he had just checked up for some reason. The announcers also told us that there was smoke coming out of Mark Martin's car and that the 38 and 48 both got sideways and maybe there was oil on the track, but this didn't seem to be the case after all.

When Earnhardt, Jr. wrecked Gaughan, I was glad to hear DW speak up and admit "he just nailed him" rather than making any alibis for the current NASCAR golden boy. The announcers also told us that the driver and his crew chief had been told to report to the NASCAR hauler after the race. Why does Fox feel they must come up with a goofy name like "the oval office" for the NASCAR truck?

On the next restart, DW I believe, pointed out that Wallace spun his tires when the green flag fell. Larry spoke up and said that NASCAR had announced they would not throw a red flag beyond lap 495. This was very timely information since right after this the 22 and 88 cars got together, with Jarrett ending up in the wall. Fox quickly told us that NASCAR was bringing the cars onto pit road and throwing the red flag so they could have a green flag finish to the race. Several replays showed the accident appeared to be the fault of the 88.

During the red flag, for some reason, Larry and the Fox booth started talking baseball analogies. I'm not sure why TV seems to want to turn racing into every other sport out there. If it's not football, it's baseball, although in this case, the agenda may have been part of the Fox lead-in to their baseball coverage starting soon.

During the red flag, we saw Myers and Hammond positioning themselves in Victory Lane. Oh boy, not this silliness again! Also during the red flag, it also annoyed me that everyone on the Fox team kept focusing on Wallace's "losing streak" rather than the fact he was going for his 10th win at Bristol. I suppose it was because that might have been a little too close to the 12 wins that DW had there and the Fox team kept beating the viewers over the head with all weekend long. Can't have someone appear to be approaching DW's sacred record, you know.

Just prior to the restart, Dick reported that Busch had complained that his car couldn't run as slow as the pace car without stalling and had asked them to pick up the pace a bit. As the race restarted, Fox followed the action up front between Wallace, Busch, and Harvick. They also told us that McMurray's car went up the track "off the bumper of Kenseth's car." As the checkered flag fell, Fox followed the action between these Kenseth and McMurray and had several replays of the bumping between the two.

It was great that even though Fox went over their 4-hour timeslot, they stayed around long enough to interview several of the top finishers without first going to commercial. Matt interviewed 2nd place finisher, Wallace, and I was happy to see he didn't refer to a losing streak, but pointed out he was attempting to get his 10th win at Bristol. I was quite surprised to see Jeanne Zelasko doing the Victory Lane interview with Busch. Especially when she had to bring up DW's number of wins at the track. Couldn't Fox allow the winner to enjoy his victory without bringing up DW yet again?

After Fox returned from commercial, we got to see more of Myers and Hammond from the corner of Victory Lane. Whoever thought of this idea surely, needs to rethink it. As the last time they did this, their comments were drowned out by the Victory Lane PA announcer. Not that this is a bad thing in my book. Next, the pit reporters interviewed McMurray, Marlin, and lastly Harvick, who didn't seem to be able to resist making a sour grapes type comment about Busch's win. As Fox signed off the air, Myers was blathering something unintelligible. When will the network executives figure out this guy adds absolutely nothing to race broadcasts. Is he somebody's brother-in-law or something?

Overall, this wasn't a bad broadcast. There was more coverage of the field, but as has been happening the last few weeks, the number of commercials on Fox is causing the viewers to see way too much of the race in replay. This is really unacceptable in my book.

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