The view from my couch

Fox Coverage of the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400
by Cheryl Lauer
March 21, 2004

There were some positive improvements in the coverage this week by Fox. The commercials seemed to be down some from last week, unfortunately, we continue to see much of the race covered via replays. This included the most critical pass for the lead in the race near the end.

Pre-Race Show

All I can say about the pre-race show is that someone at Fox must've decided to try their best to make my head explode this week. I commented to some friends on Friday that I predicted we'd see the finish from last year's race at least 10 times over the weekend. Now I personally think that is one of the best finishes in NASCAR history and could see the replay itself many times more. Unfortunately, every time it is shown, Fox has to include the announcers comments. To my friends, I said it sure would be nice if they could cut out the audio of Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip exchanging the "Did you ever?" and "No, I never" comments. So today, during the pre-race show, not only did we see the clips from last year's race a few times including the infamous comments, but Fox continued to repeat the phrases 4-5 times during the first few minutes of the show. When I think Fox can't sink any further into self-promotion and overkill, I find that they can. I think I'm going to skip the pre-race shows in the future or at least, turn the sound down until I see the National Anthem being sung.

During the pre-race show, I notice that Fox is continuing to build up the rivalry between Kenseth and Earnhardt, Jr. that they began last week. To hear the two young men talk, there really doesn't exist a rivalry other than in the minds of the folks at Fox.

Chris Myers continued to try and draw analogies between racing and baseball. I can only see this as more of the usual Fox promotion of their coverage of baseball in the second half of the race season. Then we had DW doing a silly bit for his Hot Spot where he told us he had talked to the Lady in Black associated with the Darlington track. Lastly, we got the stupid soap opera again, this time including Rusty Wallace singing. I guess I just hate to see talented race car drivers make fools of themselves at the behest of TV.

The Race

I took a ton of notes during the race today, but I'm just going to highlight the good and bad things that I thought Fox did during the broadcast:

The Good

There was a little more coverage of the field than last week, including featuring drivers in the 16-18 positions early in the race and 6-8 during the latter portions. Good use of graphics in the corner of the screen showing intervals between selected positions on the track.

I had an overall impression of less commercials this week. It may not have been true, but at least they were better distributed so my senses didn't seem to notice them. Fortunately, there was not a break this week from when the race ended to the Victory Lane celebration. (See my comments in "The Bad" section for a different opinion on this.)

A great improvement by the booth announcers of not talking over radio communications from drivers and crews.

Fox made a good attempt to clarify NASCAR penalty rulings and issues involving the free pass back to the lead lap. This included clarification of their initial opinions on these issues if the decision turned out different than they expected or if NASCAR changed their decision.

There were numerous replays of most of the events of the day.

There was the usual excellent work by the pit reporters, Matt Yocum, Steve Byrnes, and Dick Berggren. Frankly, I didn't even notice the absence of Jeanne Zelasko until the middle of the race since the other three did a fabulous job of covering the pits. There were interviews with several of the drivers involved in accidents, including Andy Hillenberg, Jeff Gordon, Ricky Craven, and Michael Waltrip.

Excellent use of the Cutaway Car by Jeff Hammond, as usual to illustrate various things on the race car. Included today was how the driver could adjust the brake bias between the front and rear brakes from within his car.

Fox cameras continue to give us the high quality shots we have learned to expect. Today, I particularly remember one where you could see Kurt Busch fighting the wheel when his race car got loose.

Mike Joy was very good at telling us how many cars were on the lead lap at every restart. DW alerted us to drivers having problems and the producer quickly switched the camera to cover the engine/tire problems or accidents. The entire team updated us on the progress of drivers who ran in the top 10 early, but encountered tire problems or had problems on pit road. DW was excellent in pointing out that Bobby Labonte was better off in turn 2 near the end of the race, and that Kurt Busch was better off of turn 4. Before the final restart, Mike verbally ran down the top 10 drivers and the other cars on the lead lap.

The Bad

The worst thing during the day was that Fox cut away from Bobby Labonte battling Kurt Busch for the lead of the race. This was sometime around 34 laps to go in the race. To me, this was totally inexcusable because the viewer knew there would be a pass for the lead while they were away. As it turned out, this was correct. To me, this was the most important (and competitive) pass all day long and there is absolutely no excuse for Fox to have missed it. But then, throughout the day, it again seemed like the viewers at home were subject to Fox showing them much of the race via replays. Once during one of those useless Race Recaps by Chris Myers, a pass for the lead occurred and Fox just worked it into the end of the highlights. The viewers deserve better than this from the presenting network! I also got the distinct impression that during many of the cautions, Fox would go away and come back to show us pitstops, that I believe were not live. The principle is fine, but don't pretend the shots are live when they clearly aren't. Just come out and say "here is a replay of pit stops that happened while we were at commercial." During the break when Fox cut away from the exciting battle between Labonte and Busch, they showed two commercials in a row for the series sponsor, Nextel, one of which ended with something about "honoring the sport." Wouldn't it be honoring it more if the network and the sponsor showed us some of the best racing of the day? I appreciated seeing the Victory Lane activities without having to wait through numerous commercials first; however, it was not an acceptable trade-off for missing Labonte's pass for the lead.

There was no replay of what happened as an aftermath of Matt Kenseth's spin. We really didn't see the contact when Scott Riggs got into Ricky Craven. I understand if the Fox cameramen didn't catch the accident, but later we only hear about who else was involved. Same thing with Jeff Burton running into Jeremy Mayfield. It just seems like these drivers are not important to Fox. As I said under the good things about this broadcast, yes, Fox seemed to cover more of the drivers; however, during the first third of the race, they never even mentioned reigning champion and points leader, Matt Kenseth, and how he was running. At one point during the day, the announcers said they were giving us an update on the points leaders and only covered Kenseth and Earnhardt, who happens to be third. What about Tony Stewart, who was second in points going into this race?

Fox used the pointers quite a bit today and, at times, they even included a picture of the driver with the data being displayed. Didn't Fox pick up on the fact that fans complained about the NBC bubbleheads and that network finally got the message and dropped them. Now Fox is doing something equally as silly. Also today, we got to see three of the lovely pointers converging on each other many times during the race. One time the pointers were on the screen and the Cingular poll question came on the screen as well. Other times, the pointers covered up the lap counter on the ticker. When will Fox just cut back on some of these annoying and distracting devices?

Though they usually do an excellent job of keeping the viewers informed, today Fox was negligent in updating us on who received the free pass back to the lead lap during each of the 9 cautions. It wasn't until near the end of the race that we heard that Kevin Harvick had received it a "couple of cautions back."

Well, that's it for this week. As always, I wish there were more positives things I could say about the broadcast. It just seems like for every positive that Fox gains, they offset it by a glaringly negative each week. This week it was missing the most critical pass for the lead. I understand that the producer is trying to balance the number of commercials sold by the network advertising people with the flow of the race. This week, I just think he made the wrong decision to break from a battle that late in the race. I know I've complained the last 3 weeks that they broke for a long string of commercials after the green flag and I didn't like the winner having to wait in his car until the network told him he could emerge and celebrate his victory. Well, I take that back. I'd much rather any post-race activities be sacrificed to commercial, rather than losing what little great racing there was in a race like today.

As Fox went off the air, I was annoyed by Mike Joy's comment that it may not have been as close a finish as last year, but it was just as exciting. Allow the viewer to make that decision for themselves instead of telling them what their opinion should be. Yes, the finish was closer than the last two races, but in no way was it as exciting as last year's finish.

If you are interested in rating this race or just discussing the coverage of it by Fox, please check out the new Speedcouch Fan Forum at www.SpeedCouch.com/forum! Read the RULES, sign up now, and jump into the discussion to let the networks know your thoughts about the Golden Corral 500 coverage.

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