The view from my couch

Fox Coverage of the Pepsi 400
by Cheryl Lauer
July 6, 2004

Frankly, I was pretty disappointed with the last broadcast of the year on Fox. I was really hoping they would go out on a more positive note. In their enthusiasm to show the leaders, Fox neglected what seemed like 75% of the cars in the field throughout the night. The computer graphics use was up significantly this week as well. It seemed like there might have been some good racing throughout the night, yet Fox spent the majority of the race worrying about only the DEI or Hendrick cars, so the viewers at home had no idea what was going on with the rest of the field throughout the night.

Pre-Race Show

Fox made a valiant effort to fill over two hours of rain delay at the beginning of the broadcast. When they came on the air, Chris Myers immediately told us that there had been "a shower" that afternoon and that NASCAR expected to get the race within an hour as planned. We later heard from Mike Joy that two inches of rain actually fell on the track over a two-hour period. That's more than what I'd call a shower! Mother Nature continued to be uncooperative and Fox did a pretty good job filling two hours of the delay until they simply gave up and switched to alternative programming. While Fox interviewed several of the top drivers during the rain delay, I personally think it would have been a nice touch to try and speak to all of the 43 drivers. I would have appreciated that more than a re-run of something like Cops. Obviously, network executives felt the same folks who watch racing would appreciate this show as well. I'm glad I had a Tivo, so I could watch something racing-related and keep Fox in picture-in-picture until they returned to Daytona. But I am happy that the Fox pit reporters didn't try to create situations with the drivers or among themselves to entertain us like in previous years.

The pre-race show was a mix of the live interviews, discussions by the Fox announcers, and recorded features. Darrell Waltrip joined Myers and Jeff Hammond in the Hollywood Hotel. Honestly, the first few minutes of their conversation was so manic, it was difficult to listen to for me. DW and Jeff seemed to be talking over each other most of the time. Then Myers declared that "fans love to see spectacular crashes..." I'm so glad that Fox can generalize about all the fans. This was followed by talk about "the big one," (which fortunately for the drivers did not happen in this race). But I'm sure the network executives at Fox were sorely disappointed.

Next was a discussion about the Tony Stewart penalty where Jeff and DW had differing opinions. I was glad to see that Fox did not gloss over the incident entirely after DW's run-in with Stewart at Richmond. Later when they went to the booth, Mike told us about Jason Leffler being penalized 12 positions in the final rundown of the Busch race the night before. DW said something like "roughness was necessary, but the penalty was uncalled for" but that "NASCAR did what they felt was necessary." I guess I like the former sentiment myself and couldn't figure out if DW felt Leffler was actually done wrong or, as usual, was walking that fine line between telling us what he really thought and being afraid to anger NASCAR by questioning their judgment.

Fox wasted the viewers time with several silly features involving their soap opera of the season, the supposed "Best of 10 Laps With...", a feature on video games, and a silly gimmick where they had some company customize a golf cart for Chris Myers.

The pre-race show also featured some discussion about the first half of the Cup season and the panel was each asked what they would like to see happen in the future. Jeff said he would really like to see NASCAR get rid of the free pass. (Trust me, Jeff, almost every fan I talk to feels the same way!) Then Myers claimed there was "breaking news" and we again heard the rumors of NASCAR possibly going to a green/white/checker finish; this time after the Chicago race.

Since I didn't watch Happy Hour because I didn't realize it was run on Friday, I appreciated Fox replaying what happened between Kasey Kahne and Ward Burton. I'd read about it on the internet, but the article could not adequately describe the peculiar way Ward's car jumped up in the air and set back down on all four wheels.

Throughout the rain delay, Fox captured some truly spectacular sunset shots around the Daytona track. I know I might be weird that I think "sky" and racetracks together is a cool thing to see. But it wasn't until about 8:50 that someone at Fox decided to show the fans at home what the weather radar in Florida looked like.

There also seemed to be a lot of back patting being down by the Fox crew. Not that I'm surprised by this, as it seems to be a trait for which the Fox network is known. Also, Fox just can't resist putting the "age" issue in our faces one last time. This time it was graphic of this year's winners by age group. We also got to hear DW reminisce about what pit he was in when he won the Daytona 500. Of course, then he had to continue to bore us by telling us he had desribed the wrong pit initially.

Mike asked why it's harder to win the July race at Daytona and DW jumped in and said it is because the track is so much hotter and slicker in July. I was happy when Larry McReynold's spoke up and pointed out that back when DW ran this race, it was still being held in the daytime.

Fox pointed out that this was the 50th career Cup pole for Jeff Gordon and told us that Elliott Sadler would be sent to the back of the field because of a post-qualifying problem with the shape of his car's rear fenders. I know I'm talking a lot about the pre-race show here, but it lasted almost as long as the actual race! Lastly, with 2 1/2 hours to fill, it would've been nice if Fox could have found the time to go through the starting grid rather than using their scrolling ticker.

The Race

After explaining that NASCAR would start the race under a green/yellow situation, when the field finally got ready to accelerate to full speed, Fox explained that it would still be a double-file restart. The viewers not only got to hear BBB for one last time (at least those who didn't have the foresignt to mute the TV), but Fox had to assure us everyone loved it by showing at least two signs from fans in the grandstands. Of course, they still haven't figured out fans will put anything on a sign if they think it will get them on TV.

Finally the race started and after 17 laps, rather than showing the racing throughout the pack, someone did at least tell us that Mike Wallace had moved up from 39th the 18th position. I did appreciate that information, but it would be nice to see less-funded teams such as his on camera more often.

When Ward Burton cut a tire and hit the wall, Fox caught most of the aftermath which involved Matt Kenseth and several other drivers. Dick told us that he heard Ward radio to his crew right before the accident that he thought he had a tire going down. There were several replays of what happened to everyone involved including a really good slow-motion replay that I really enjoyed. Mike assured us that everyone was out of their cars and okay. Larry pointed out that this was Ward's second wreck in two days and neither were his fault.

Okay, I have to get this off my chest now and move on, but Darrell Waltrip showed his usual bias towards his brother from the start of the race and it really reached ridiculous proportions as the race went on. We had to hear how Michael miraculously made it to the front the night before after taking on four tires near the end of the race. Then we seemed to hear about little except Michael throughout the rest of the race. DW even generously expanded his nepotism to include his brother's teammate, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in his gushing about them throughout the race. I understand they were up front through most of the night but, does DW actually understand there are a few other cars on the track as well? I have to say this was the most biased coverage I've ever seen by an announcer and it was truly tiresome after about half and hour of the constant cheerleading. Even at the end of the race when Mike Joy casually asked could Jeff Gordon hold Earnhardt off, DW declared in no uncertain terms "NO!!!" Obviously, DW needs to rethink this because he happened to be proved wrong in this case. As I've said for the past four seasons, DW needs to lighten up on cheerleading for his brother. It really gets obnoxious after a while.

During the caution after Burton's wreck, Fox showed the on-going repairs to Kenseth's car in the garage and Steve Byrnes interviewed a disappointed Burton. We were also told that both Yates cars got minor damage in the incident.

When the second incident of the night occurred on lap 45, DW told us that John Andretti had also cut down a tire - in this case the right front. He also explained that if a car is pushing, it will wear out that tire quickly. Mike told us that Larry Gunsleman received a free pass during this caution. I don't remember hearing who got the free passes later in the race though. Fox used their four-way split on pit stops, which I continue to think is a useless gimmick.

As I said earlier, the use of pointers was up significantly again this week. I don't know if it is one last hurrah for the graphics guys or Fox thinks high visibility races like Daytona warrant their use in order to impress any non-race fans who might have tuned it. Either way, they were annoying to me when they had to point out several of the lead cars on every restart, convergence in a triangle at times, and once when they were suppose to be pointing to Ryan Newman, the pointer went off the screen. How useful is that? Fox also showed a graphic of the track after Kenseth returned to the race pointing out his relationship to the leader. How meaningful is a graphic of the cars going around when one of them is shown as 41 laps down?

When Bobby Hamilton, Jr. cut his tire and hit the wall, I don't believe we ever saw a replay. Of course this is around the time the commercial count rose in the broadcast, so I guess Fox felt they had to make sacrifices somewhere.

There were several good replays when Brian Vickers, Jeff Gordon, and Earnhardt, Jr. came out of the pits side-by-side and Earnhardt was forced into the grass as a result.

Soon after this was when Mike Wallace cut a tire and hit the wall and there was a replay of that, thankfully. The announcers pointed out that Brendan Gaughan got a piece of the accident as well.

Matt Yocum told us that he had overheard Gordon asking his teammate, Vickers, if he could see his hand to indicate when he was going to accelerate on the restart, that way he could stay close to him. This was excellent information. Fox stayed with Gordon's in-car camera so that the viewers could see when he motioned to Vickers on the restart.

At one point, Fox showed a replay of the 8 behind Robby Gordon. All of a sudden Gordon goes up the track and Earnhardt goes by. Now to me, it looked like contact, but Fox was quick to assure us there was no contact. Maybe there wasn't, but if it was that close, why does Fox always have to jump in and absolve drivers or responsibility or blame them? Isn't it the commentators job to just describe what they see and not pass judgments? I would have been fine with "it didn't look like there was contact" yet Fox always has to affirmatively say there was or wasn't. This trend just bothers me a bit.

Around this time, Fox was away at one of their numerous commercials and I heard on MRN that there were some major changes in position in front of the field, yet when Fox returned they only showed us a replay of one of two people they considered key players. During the time around 11:30 p.m., Fox had three commercial breaks in about fifteen minutes. They returned to show us some of the green flag pit stops, but missed many of the cars while showing the 8 and 15 on the track instead. I understand that Fox was trying to highlight the strategy the teammates were attempting which was waiting until everyone else pitted so they could come in on a virtually empty pit road. This was a truly interesting concept, but did we have to miss so many other pitstops while Fox explained this to us?

I understand the race was sponsored by Pepsi, but the "secret numbers" on the screen and the commentators always having to draw our attention to them was a bit much. Of course, I realize it is just another form of commercial, but it's annoying to have the announcers have to shill for the sponsor so much of the time. I also noticed the eight cars sporting the Coca-Cola special paint schemes didn't get much coverage by Fox.

Near the end of the race when final green flag stops were about to begin, it was interesting to see the crew chiefs of the 24, 48 and 97 discussing pit strategy and planning on coming in to pit together. After these stops were completed, Fox was quick to let us know that Tony Stewart only took two tires and that was why he got out first. DW made sure to tell us that his brother only took two tires as well. During the last two green flag pitstop segments, it seemed like Fox only showed us about 3 laps of racing between commercials and then came back to only show pitstops and then went to break again.

As has been their habit most of this season, Fox cranked up the sound when Earnhardt passed for the lead.

With two laps to go, Fox told us that Greg Biffle was on pit road with a flat tire and gave us a brief shot of his car.

On the white flag lap of the race, Fox turned up the sound again. This time Gordon was leading, so I guess they aren't that selective when they are trying to increase the "drama" for the viewers.

Again this week, Fox went away for MANY commercials before coming back to show Victory Lane. Okay, I know Fox doesn't produce the commercials, but the one where Jeff Gordon was pretending to win the Pepsi 400 and promoting Pepsi Edge was just a little too cute for my taste. What I found interesting was that during the extended time Fox was away at break, MRN managed to interview three drivers. When they finally returned to the Victory Lane ceremonies, Matt was there to interview the winner and pointed out that this was Gordon's fifth win at Daytona. Fox also had interviews with the second and third place drivers, Johnson and Earnhardt. Steve pointed out to Johnson that this was his 9th top five finish in the last ten races. Fox showed the top 10 in points before going to the booth for the announcers final farewell for the season.

At this time, Larry had some touching and heartfelt comments to make. I understood that he was trying to say that the team would like to show everyone's favorite drivers, but the "show" didn't always allow that which to me meant the marching orders the producer gets from the top Fox executives. Also, I really felt bad when Larry said that he realized he doesn't always use the words a lot of viewers would like but that his comments did come from the heart. I, for one, think Larry does just fine and I wouldn't want him to lose his accent or southern flair. It's one of the lone reminders that NASCAR began in the south in a time when the sanctioning body seems to be running as far away from their southern roots as possible.

As Fox signed off, they played the in-car radio from Gordon after he crossed the finish line. This was mildly interesting.

I could just about copy my last paragraph from last week's review, but I've bored you long enough. All I can do is reiterate that this was a very disappointing last broadcast of the year for Fox. And that I'm definitely looking forward to less hype when NBC returns, no nepotism about family members, and hopefully more coverage of more of the cars in the field.

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 race coverage.

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