The view from my couch

FX Coverage of the MBNA Salute to Heroes 400
by Sally Baker
June 7, 2004

The Dover race may have only been a 400 mile race, but it turned into a 5 hour marathon. The Pre-Race show started with a nice tribute to the 60th anniversary of D-Day, and they played a clip of former president, Ronald Reagan, giving a speech at the 45th anniversary, which was a nice tribute to his passing. The only sour note in the Pre-Race was when Chris Meyers tried to reach for a tie-in by calling the drivers "heros". Much later in the telecast he acknowledged that he didn't intend to equate race car drivers with the men that landed at Normandy. Thank goodness.

Unfortunately, they continue to do their 10 laps with picking on Ryan Newman this week, the questions being marginally less ignorant than usual. They did tell viewers NASCAR would throw a 30 lap caution because rain limited practice, and the last Red Flag lap was 395. This is useful information for viewers.

The Race

The first caution came out on lap 12 when Kurt Busch got into the back of the 38, spinning Sadler who collected the 77 car. Fox had several good replays of the incident. It wasn't until lap 19 that DW mentioned that Matt Kenseth had pitted under that caution, (FX having gone to commercial). When the 30 lap caution came out, they mentioned, briefly, that 15 cars had actually pitted under the first caution, but never said which cars. This time, FX did a good job covering the pit stops, and the pit reporters did their usual excellent job of keeping up with what cars were having problems and making major adjustments. The only problem I have with FX on pit stops is that it takes way too long to update the crawler as to running order after stops. However, judging from the scoring problems later in the race, it may not be all their fault.

The long green flag run after this stop saw Tony Stewart charge to the front, threatening to make this a replay of the race last week, with many cars going a lap down early. This would have been the perfect time for FX to go through the field and give viewers a sense of where cars were running, but they seem to have some policy against this. They pick cars either running in the top 10, or cover popular drivers, and randomly tell what has happened with them. They also use very tight shots of each car, which makes it very difficult to get a sense of how the race is unfolding. If they panned between the cars, it would give some sense of where cars are running. At lap 103, Larry Mac casually mentioned that Johnny Sauter had served a penalty for a pit violation, which was the first we heard of it. He never did say what the violation was, or the penalty.

FX had excellent coverage of the miscues when Tony Stewart missed pit road, and Ryan Newman spun trying to enter. The confusion that ensued was painful to watch, and should thoroughly embarrass NASCAR. It took 25 laps under caution for them to decide where the cars should be placed, and Matt Borland lobbying officials to be the only car left on the lead lap. It might have been slightly less confusing if the men in the booth hadn't tried to fill time by guessing what was going on, and what the order should be. The fact that the crawler kept changing every few minutes didn't help either. The rule not to race back to the line when there's a caution is great for driver safety, but seems beyond NASCAR's ability to apply correctly and quickly, robbing fans of green flag racing due to bookkeeping problems. I know we will hear it's a "work in progress", but it doesn't seem that much progress has been made.

The race turned into the Curse of Leading, as every car that lead, no matter how strongly, had some type of trouble that either took them out of the race, or put them a lap down. The restart at lap 347 Sunday proved that you don't need to be at a restrictor plate track to have huge wrecks. The excellent replays showed the contact between the 15 and 23 that started the mayhem, with several in-car shots. During the red flag to clean up the track, FX managed to interview most of the drivers involved in the wreck, and showed teams planning how to repair cars once the red flag was lifted.

The second red flag came out when Casey Mears put oil down on the track, ending Kasey Kahn's shot at his first win. It became apparent that NASCAR was stalling for time so they could have a single file restart with 10 laps to go, but no one in the booth mentioned it. With only 6 cars left on the lead lap, Mark Martin quickly ran away from the rest of the pack for a well deserved win, surviving one of the strangest races I've seen in years. The only spot really being contested was for second place, but FX spent a lot of time showing Martin's car running by itself out front.

I extend my sympathy to what has to be an exhausted FX crew, waiting out rain for 6 hours on Saturday before the Busch race was called, an hour of red flag delays on Sunday, and having another race to cover on Monday.

One thing that FX continues to do that I find irritating is to give viewers the "point standings if the race finished now" when a race has barely started. The end of the race at Dover proves just how "pointless" (sorry) this is. With the new point format, the only number that matters anymore is 400, not a driver's standing in the top 10. The points really won't matter after Richmond, so TV's obsession with this gimmick escapes me.

All in all, a fairly typical Fox/FX broadcast, with heavy emphasis on the cars running at the front of the field, no coverage of at least half the cars, and the boys in the booth talking non-stop whether they have anything useful to say or not.

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