The view from my couch

Fox Coverage of the Dodge/Save Mart 350
by Cheryl Lauer
June 29, 2004

To me, this wasn't a very good broadcast for the Fox team. There seemed to be very little coverage throughout the pack, with the focus remaining on the leaders most of the day. Also the high number of commercial breaks severely interrupted the continuity of the race.

Pre-Race Show

Fox always goes all out to give the viewers a "feel" for the area of California where Sears Point is located. This year, the broadcast started out with a taped segment with Jeff Hammond and Chris Myers in a hot-air balloon above the track. This gave the viewers a good view of the countryside as well as the track, but was just a little too cute for my taste. But admittedly, I laughed when one of them said they got the hot air for the balloon from DW.

Also, Fox used the same old canned footage from two years ago, I believe, showing silly antics from Jeff at a beauty spa and he and Chris enjoying the stereotypical "wine and cheese" that characterize this area. Why does Fox keep recycling this silly fluff?

Live coverage began with Jeff, Chris, and DW seated on the hillside overlooking the track, and Myers giving an update on this week's news. This included a statement that NASCAR has not changed it's opinion about ending races under caution, but went on to say that according to a NASCAR official, we might see changes as early as after the Daytona race next week. Myers' statements seemed a bit hard to follow, so I rewound the Tivo to make sure I got it right. My conclusion was this amounted to a "rumor from an unnamed source" that NASCAR may be going to the green/white/checker finishes after Daytona. DW jumped in feet first and said that this would just cause more disaster, and that every time NASCAR has made a rule change lately, it has caused problems they didn't anticipate. Hammond said this would turn NASCAR into "gimmick racing." Frankly I haven't been able to keep up with all the flip-flopping of opinions from the different personalities on the Fox crew.

Next we had DW talking to rookie Kasey Kahne, who has finished second several times this year. Kahne ended the interview by saying "how about Shane Hmiel in the Great Clips car last night in Busch?" It was funny when DW pointed out "he finished second too."

The pre-race show also included a taped interview by Myers with last year's winner, Robby Gordon and the silly 10 Laps With...Kevin Harvick. After this, someone called Harvick the Bakersfield Basher, which made me laugh.

During the national anthem, Fox showed Jeff Gordon taping up his hand and afterward Matt Yocum explained that he and teammate, Jimmy Johnson, both did that to help with shifting gears on the road course.

Fox told us that the Smothers Brothers were the grand marshalls of the race but, their audio was off and they missed their command to start engines.

When Fox went to the guys in the booth, Mike Joy immediately pointed out that this was the only track they go to where they can't see the entire track from there. This had me wondering why Fox never positions any of the announcers out in the turns like Ned Jarrett and Benny Parsons used to do on ESPN. Perhaps this would have been a better use of Chris and Jeff instead of them having a lawn party on the hillside? Fox did have each of the pit reporters describe the various sections of the track, right before the green flag fell.

Mike Joy gave a good explanation to the viewers that NASCAR would not be using the free pass at this race (yippeee!) and that they would use a local blue flag to alert drivers to be aware and take care if anything happened in certain parts of the track.

The Race

As I said earlier, Fox seemed to only be able to focus on the leaders of the race most of the time beginning with the start of the broadcast. They did a good job of telling us and showing replays of most of the incidents of the day, with Austin Cameron's spin on the first lap. Fox also covered the many calamities that befell Robby Gordon throughout the race.

As last year, I really enjoyed the camera shot of the cars getting so near (and sometimes hitting) the styrofoam wall in turn 4.

During the first commercial of the day, I listened to PRN on my XM radio and they mentioned that Tom Hubert would be relinquishing his car to Kirk Shermerdine who actually owned the car Hubert qualified and started the race in. TV never mentioned this fact at all.

Fox showed repairs to some of the cars in the pits, such as the Netzero team trying to repair the fuel filler on Ward Burton's car after Tony Stewart got into him and sent him into the tire barriers. They also covered the many times Robby Gordon came into the pits after having tire problems. They even showed a replay from when his tire carrier threw his wheel into the pits in disgust and cut the team's air hose.

When Boris Said got into Sterling Marlin and Robby Gordon got a piece of it, Mike initially said that "Sterling closed the door on Boris." Then he corrected himself after seeing some more replays and admitted that Boris really hadn't got underneath Sterling at all.

When Dale Earnhardt, Jr. spun early in the race, Fox pulled up some video from one of his spins last year. Why do we always need to see video from previous races instead of the one they are suppose to be covering? I don't care who it is; it's not appropriate during green flag racing. Fox finally got back to this race when Dick Berggren told us that Kurt Busch was having problems with his car and the engine appeared to die. DW said that he was probably flipping ignition boxes to try and fix the problem. I was disappointed that Fox didn't follow up on Busch's problems when he was later blackflagged because his car was smoking. PRN told us that he had come into the pits to try and repair whatever was smoking. When Fox returned from commercial, we got to see more of Chris and Jeff's lawn party and a recap of the race so far. It wasn't until much later that Dick told us that the team tried to make repairs to the car and return to the track quickly, but that had been held by NASCAR. It was very difficult to even tell if Busch was on the track for many laps as the ticker didn't list how many laps he was down. I noticed that for much of the early part of the broadcast, the ticker did not show cars off the track or how many laps down they were. I understand that cars aren't as quick to go laps down on a road course, but obviously there were still some drivers out of the race early and Fox didn't really address this or show their status on the ticker.

When Fox went to an early commercial, Scott Pruett was shown on the graphic as having taken over second place. When Fox returned on lap 14, Mike told us "we have a new second place car." This was the first of this type of omission I noticed on the part of Fox. It was like they thought we were too dumb to notice on the graphic that he was already in second before they went away. Late in the race, Fox returned from one of their numerous commercials and Mike told us "We're back under green." The camera shot showed the cars crossing the start/finish line, so the implication was they had just gone green. No, Fox didn't lie and say "We're just going back to green;" however, it bothered me that they are missing restarts and now seem to be trying to fool the viewers into thinking they aren't. A few laps later, we were told Kasey Kahne had disappeared from the front of the field and Fox showed a replay of him getting off track. At this time, it began obvious that they had missed the restart and, in fact, the entire lap on which his mishap occurred. As long as it takes to complete a lap at Sears Point, and Fox still missed the restart???

Among the many spins by rookie, Scott Riggs, one replay showed that Earnhardt wrecked him. DW said "It looked like he said 'you're in my way'" and the entire booth had a big laugh over it. I find it interesting that when other drivers take people out, the booth is quick to condemn them, yet in this instance because it involved Earnhardt, they thought it was hilarious. I doubt Riggs thought it was nearly as funny.

There was a good replay when Elliott Sadler spun from his teammate, Dale Jarrett's suspension camera. The announcers pointed out that you could see and hear when Jarrett locked up his brakes to avoid him. On the other hand, the "foot cam" on Boris' Said's car was poorly placed this year. The springs on the pedals were blocking most of the view of his feet. Fox could have done a better job with the camera's placement.

Fox did a good job of updating us on Jeff Gordon's lead throughout the race and also told us when Scott Pruett (who was second much of the time) cut into his lead. Jeff Hammond told us that he noticed Gordon got a lot of tire spin as his tires wore and this probably accounted for Pruett closing the margin between them. After the first round of green flag pit stops, Pruett got out of the pits in front of Gordon. When Gordon got by him, Fox missed the pass. In a race where there were very few passes near the front of the field, it might have been nice to see this one live instead of on replay.

The ticker finally started showing the status of cars around 67 laps to go. At this time, we saw that Busch was 12 laps down and which drivers were out of the race. It was just frustrating that this information was neither provided by the announcers or on the ticker up until that time.

When the caution came out on lap 44, Fox told us it was either for oil on the track or the debris their cameras found. During the extended caution, rather than updating us on what was occurring in the pits and on the track, Fox chose to have a "visit" from the Smothers Brothers in the booth. I mean, I liked the Smothers Brothers when I was kid as well, but most of what Tommy Smothers said was gibberish. But again, the Fox booth thought it was hilarious. Eventually Mike said "Enough babbling, let's crank it up." Hmmm...has Mike finally figured out that much of what is said in the booth appears to be babbling to the viewers at home?

At lap 64, Larry McReynolds pointed out that several drivers had just turned their fastest laps of the day, despite the fact they were on old tires. After Robby Gordon had another tire problem, Larry also pointed out that the teams do not run inner liners at road courses. I found both these facts interesting and am glad we can rely on Larry to provide us these little tidbits of information.

Between 6:00 and 7:00, commercials starting increasing at an exponential rate. I lost count, but I think there were at least 7 breaks during this hour. During one of the early ones, Mike Joy said "Business is picking up" and then Fox promptly went to commercial. I guess the action picking up on the track wasn't enough to have them stick around.

When they returned from commercial, there was a caution on the track because Austin Cameron was stopped too close to the racing area. During the resulting pit stops, Steve Byrnes was describing Jimmy Johnson's stop, but the camera showed Jeff Gordon' pit stop instead. Eventually Fox got a clue and switched to the pit reporter describing Gordon's stop.

After pit stops were done, Mike told us that Kasey Kahne and Casey Mears saw Cameron stop on the track and were able to dive into the pits before the caution came out. This gave them the lead, with Gordon and Rusty Wallace behind them after pitting. The Fox crew told us that Gordon's crew chief cane on the radio afterward warning him to conserve fuel during the final run.

This is the time Fox went to commercial and missed the restart. It's also the time I noticed the boys in the booth having these questioning tones in their voices like "Where's Kasey Kahne?" Obviously the announcers knew the answer to the question before they asked it. Then they showed the replay of Kahne getting off course. Later, Larry said "I wonder how our styrofoam block is doing in turn 4," and then Fox provided a shot of it being moved after being hit by a car. I thought these comments sounded very contrived and were treating the viewers like children.

During one of the many commercial segments around this time was an ad for next week's Pepsi 400 from Daytona. All this ad amounted to was showing wreck footage. I guess this is how Fox executives want to lure new fans to the sport, by promising them high-speed wrecks.

Soon afterward, Fox showed a sort of ground level shot for quite a while. It was like looking through a letterbox at the track. I'm not sure if this was a camera that had been hit and the aim changed or what, but it didn't show a very meaningful view of the track, so I'm not sure why the director stayed with it for so long.

Fox caught some very good racing between Johnson and Said for position. At about 25 to go, someone mentioned Ricky Craven's spin and I don't remember seeing that at all. I'm not sure if they meant during qualifying or it was something during the race that they decided not to show us. Next, they talked about how Scott Pruett was "playing defense" for his teammate, Casey Mears. I thought it was a little presumptuous for the announcers to assume they knew what Pruett was doing. The next thing I knew he was passing Mears, so I guess the announcers were wrong after all.

During this broadcast, nearly every time the producer played radio chatter from drivers and teams, the announcers talked over it.

When Fox returned from their final commercial (thankfully) at lap 99, they started to show how a select few cars were running, including the 38 and 8, but then had to break away to show Jeremy Mayfield's spin off course. I still don't know why Fox refuses to at least show us how every car in the race (or at least the lead lap) is running every once and a while. Nobody likes to just see the leaders all day long, or the drivers that Fox thinks we want to see.

With 8 laps to go in the race, Fox put a graphic up saying that Jeff Gordon had to pit within 6 laps and one of the commentators said, "The computer says he's going to run out of gas with two laps to go." As usual, it seemed like Fox was trying to interject excitement or drama where none existed. To me, it was quite obvious that Gordon had slowed down his pace near the end to save fuel. This was confirmed when the announcers told us that Jamie McMurray, in second place, was closing the gap between he and Gordon.

Near the end, Fox again began telling us that Pruett was running defense, this time for McMurray. Next, DW yelled "Rusty's out of gas," but Fox did not show him. They continued to show the leader until he took the checkered flag. It would've been nice to know how many places Wallace lost on the last lap. But I did find it amusing when Mike Joy described the last few turns for Jeff Gordon as "it's all downhill from here" as a play on words concerning his possible fuel running out and the fact that part of the track was, in fact, downhill the rest of the way.

Fox went away for MANY commercials before coming back to show Victory Lane. I found it humorous that Gordon didn't wait for them to get back before he got out of his hot car. After Dick interviewed him, the other pit reporters talked to many of the other drivers. Apparently, Fox had allowed a lot of extra time this week, so they had time to do this. When Dick interviewed Robby Gordon, there was a graphic with a grocery list of all his problems during the day which was interesting.

Overall, I felt this was a very disappointing broadcast for Fox. I don't believe the majority of viewers at home enjoy seeing the leader so much of the time, even if they are his fans. Also, the ridiculous amount of commercials in this broadcast really ruined the later portions of the race for me. I understand that the San Francisco area is considered a big TV market for Fox, so I guess they can command more money for commercials there. That's fine for the advertisers and the network, but what about the fans at home who tuned in to watch a race, not endless commercials? The good thing is only one more race during the Fox portion of the season. I'm anxious to see if they will do a better job with the Pepsi 400. It would be nice for them to go out on a high note. But with it being a "big" event and in prime time, I fear we will just see lot of hype about "the big one" interspersed among lots of commercials.

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