The view from my couch

Fox Coverage of the Coca-Cola 600
by Cheryl Lauer
June 1, 2004

I was very disappointed in the coverage of this race by Fox. Since the race itself was not very exciting, I feel Fox could have made better use of time in showing more of the field, yet they chose not to do so. As usual, they continued to focus on the leader and the few cars left on the lead lap.

After the race started, I realized that this is probably the first time I've ever watched the Coca-Cola 600 from home, rather than being there in person. We chose to "vote" with our dollars and not attend the race for the first time in fifteen years. It really was a disappointment to have to rely on such poor TV coverage of one of my favorite events of the year. Since I'm so late with this review, I'll just list what I thought was good and bad about the broadcast.

The Good

Jeff Hammond brought up a very interesting point in the pre-race show when he asked Jimmy Johnson if they could afford to take chances in this race because of the new championship format. That's not something I'd thought of before and thought it was an excellent question.

At least Chris Myers admitted that they'd all mentioned Lowes about 10 times in the brief interview with Johnson.

Throughout the broadcast, Fox pointed out the changes the teams had to make to the cars to deal with the transition from day to night time racing.

At lap 6, I appreciated the graphic showing the battle for 2nd position among several drivers and illustrating how far they were behind the leader.

The pit reporters kept the viewers informed on how many of the cars were running all night long. Fox covered all of the green-flag pit stop segments and when drivers had to make unscheduled pit stops for problems. The pit reporters also stayed on top of which teams had problems with pit stops, such as when Ryan Newman's catch can was not venting properly early in the race.

Mike Joy and the others tried to keep us informed of when cars retired to the garage, such as Bobby Hamilton, Jr. on lap 27.

At lap 38, Larry McReynolds pointed out that Matt Kenseth had moved up from 37th to 16th position. Fox also had a graphic on drivers gaining a lot of positions and those falling back.

Fox had some good radio communications from the drivers and their teams, but about half the time the announcers talked over them.

The announcers did a good job of telling us who was the recipient of the free pass after every caution.

When several drivers got loose or brushed the wall, Fox tried to show replays of the incidents.

The producer used the split screen often to show the leader or lead battle along with someone pitting or a battle for a position farther back in the top 10.

Fox did a good job of telling us the interval between Johnson and Elliott Sadler when they were racing 1st and 2nd.

Jeff did his usual good illustrations of various technical things throughout the race. These included explaining how the water can pool up under a driver's seat and burn his back, and pointing out how hard the extra 100 miles in this race can be on valve springs. Larry pointed out that as the track cools, the drivers can get into the throttle earlier because they have more rpms on the straightaway.

There were some good in-car camera shots of the ignition boxes in Rusty Wallace's car when Mark Martin was having with his ignition. When Martin returned to the race, Larry told us he was 15 laps down.

During the caution when Greg Biffle spun, Fox played Johnson's radio communication where he and his crew chief decided not to pit. The announcers followed this up by pointing out that he only had 4 laps on that set of tires anyway. When we heard Johnson on the radio later explaining how his car was handling, DW explained what he meant by "landing," explaining that the car almost gets airborne driving off into the turns. This was very enlightening.

The Ford commercial with outtakes from filming with several Ford drivers was humorous.

Around 425 miles into the race, Myers pointed out that no one had won from the pole yet this year and that the driver leading at the 500 mile mark in this race rarely goes on to win it.

I really enjoyed the overhead shot of the lit Charlotte track when Fox returned from commercial at 89 laps to go.

Late in the race, Larry pointed out that Johnson's lap times were just a bit slower than he ran at the start of the race.

Fox had good replays of most of the accidents, including the series of contacts between Ryan Newman and John Andretti and when Derrick Cope got into Newman.

During the next to last pit stops of the race, Fox did an excellent job of telling us which drivers took 2 and which took 4 tires.

When the final caution came out on lap 394, the announcers quickly told us that NASCAR could red-flag the race because it was within the window they announced in the drivers' meeting.

As the race was restarted, Larry pointed out pertinent issues as he does every week. This time, saying it would be a "down finger restart" and there would be no free passes with less than 10 laps to go.

After the checked-flag, Fox showed us a replay of Kahne wrecking Bobby Labonte.

The Bad

I thought it was really in bad taste for Chris Myers to make the comment in the pre-race show, "If it wasn't politically incorrect, you'd say he was 'smoking'." How soon Fox forgets that smoking supported this series for over 30 years.

Myers "Ten Laps With..." continues to be pretty stupid and something most fans could definitely live without. This was followed by an even more annoying tabloid bit by Jeanne Zelasko.

Fox executives continue to show the starting grid via a ticker rather than highlighting the starting positions by the announcers, yet they can waste time on the two above features instead. This continues to amaze me.

Too much use of the pointers during the race when the announcers either told you the information or you could see it for yourself.

DW continues to talk about his brother too much, even in the early laps of the race. At the end of the race, it was justified, but not at lap 8.

The commercials in this broadcast began on lap 11, when Fox was gone for 7 laps. The number of commercials reached absurd levels after 8 p.m, with breaks at 8:38, 8:43, and again at 8:53. Fox broke away from the race only 15 laps to go to show us a Nextel commercial. This left me wondering if the new series sponsor really cares about showing us racing or just promoting their own products at the expense of the racing?

There were never interviews with any of the drivers who dropped out of the race. With so little action, it should have been easy to talk to Johnny Sauter or Sterling Marlin when they had their problems, but Fox didn't choose to do so.

As we've come to expect, many of the limited passes in this race were shown to us via replay because Fox was either at commercial or focusing on a one of their media darlings running alone on the track.

They showed us several replays from the past week's race during green flag racing. The first time they attempted to do this, they did actually stop and show us a pass in this race, but eventually they fell back on recycling footage from last week.

When the race was such a runaway and there was so much distance between each of the lead lap cars, why couldn't Fox take the opportunity to show us more of the cars on the track by do a "Through the Field" like NBC does? Many of the cars in this race were rarely if ever shown on camera. I noted that we never saw Sterling Marlin's Marines' paint scheme. It would've been nice to see it for Memorial Day, but I guess the Marines didn't pay any promotional money to the network, so we saw the Lowes and Budweiser cars instead.

The lap counter on the ticker changed to "XX laps to go" very early in this broadcast. It was like Fox wanted to hurry the race on more. This began at about 64 laps into the race.

There were a ridiculous amount of"race breaks" during this broadcast. I guess Fox didn't think anyone tuned in for more than 30 minutes at a time.

Throughout the race, the commentators would show a car blowing past another and say it was a battle for position. I know there wasn't much action in this race, but why do they always have to embellish everything?

The announcers were not always quick to tell the viewers who was leading the race after yellow-flag pit stops. They would show "the battle" off pit road in replay, but it wasn't always for the top position. During the next to last pit stops, they missed that Michael Waltrip had gotten out first and didn't tell the viewers he was in 2nd position until after a series of commercials and [yet another] race break.

With so many commercials and the concentration on only a few top cars, the entire broadcast lacked focus on the bigger picture for me. I had a hard time following what was going on with the rest of the field and noticed the ticker did not always show who was laps down. This was extremely frustrating when that's all you have to find out where the cars outside the top ten are running. When there were as little as 6 cars on the lead lap, and then a caution came out, I didn't realize until much later than many cars actually got back on the lead lap because of the caution.

Now that I have an XM Radio, I listened to PRN during the numerous commercials on TV and found out a lot more about what was going on with drivers not being covered by Fox. For instance when Jeff Burton slowed suddenly on the backstretch, Fox never explained why, even though I suspected he'd run out of gas. I had to go to PRN to find out that I had guessed right.

DW comes across to me as hoping that certain drivers can get back on the lead lap (and not just his brother). I get real tired of his game of pretending he's still a driver, and maybe this is an offshoot of that, but he needs to show more objectivity as Mike and Larry do.

Around last 230, you could clearly see a car getting sideways in the turn and Fox still went to commercial. When they returned, Mike told us "as you may have noticed from a robotic cam..." then they replayed Biffle getting sideways because of fluid on the track. I guess with all the cameras and personnel, I find it hard to believe someone in the Fox truck did not see that shot. It seemed like they just decided to go to commercial anyway.

I'm sure it's no surprise that I did not enjoy the 4-way split screen used on some pit stops. This was a silly gimmick that prevented the viewer from determining where cars were pitting in relationship to others and where they were on pit road.

When the debris caution came out at lap 350, Fox first showed us a plastic bag on the track and then some replays of the cars hitting it. Though they joked about a driver throwing it out, they never told us that a driver had in fact thrown a bag of ice on the track to get a caution. This is the kind of information I'd like to know, but it seems like Fox doesn't like to release anything negative during their broadcasts. Why show the negative footage if they choose to joke about it?

With 35 laps to go in the race, Fox gave a little bit of a rundown on the top few cars, back through Matt Kenseth.

DW was telling us about Kyle Busch getting into the fence and then has to interject "the last time I stunk up the show like this was..." When will this man figure out that the race is not always about him?

When NASCAR red-flagged the race, Mike went into an explanation about how NASCAR just started this process a few years ago and how they must stay within the advertised distance. I realize he was just repeating the party line, but it just came off as a little condescending to the fans.

When a camera focused on a bottle thrown out on the backstretch where the cars were stopped, Mike just kind of laughed it off saying "a little cleanup needed." This bothered me because, again, I feel like the network doesn't want to focus on the negative things the fans are doing lately. And maybe cause I don't think this stuff should be laughed off. Again, why show it if they are going to make jokes about it?

Fox went off the air after only interviewing the winner and two other drivers, and quickly showed us the points, but not a graphic of the final finishing order. They had enough time for Myers to throw in some stupid unrelated sports analogies and show us baseball promos and promos for other Fox shows . (PRN, on the other hand interviewed most of the top 10 finishers).

While there were a lot of positive things about this broadcast, overall, I felt this was poor broadcast by the Fox team. I guess the choice to continue to focus on just a few drivers, despite a decided lack of action in this race really bothered me. Throughout the night, I felt the overall picture of the race was missing and things seemed very disjointed.

I'll be in Dover next week and my good friend, Sally Baker, has agreed to write the review while I'm away. Thanks Sally!

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