The view from my couch

Fox Coverage of the Aaron's 499 500
by Cheryl Lauer
April 28, 2004

Overall this was a pretty good broadcast by Fox. There were just a few things that I feel they could've done differently that would have increased my enjoyment. I know I'm really late with this review, but I thought it was still important to comment on the broadcast.

Pre-Race Show

Unfortunately, from the time they came on the air, Chris Myers make it clear that Fox was going the hype the hell out of the possibility of the so-called "Big One" at this track. He followed this up by saying something about how they'd have "cars flying through the air." This really bothers me! It's like everyone at Fox was literally drooling over the fact there might be a multi-car accident. For the presenting network to display this type of goulish fascination when drivers are risking their lives in such accidents is a real disappointment. Then throughout the broadcast, everyone assured us that "the fans" love to see this type of pack racing and resulting accidents. I don't know where Fox (and the drivers for that matter) come up with these conclusions because I don't know any race fans who like to see this kind of thing. I do know that Fox (and NBC to a certain extent) seem to always show spectacular wrecks in every preview or opening credit for a NASCAR race. I'd just like to know who convinced the network executives that fans only want to see wrecks.

It was nice that Myers told the viewers right away that because of the possibility of threatening weather in the area that the start of the race had been moved up twenty minutes.

It would have been nice to actually hear the starting grid instead of being told to look at the Fox "crawl" across the screen. I can't help but believe the audience would be better served if the announcers went through the starting grid instead of wasting time showing Myers "visiting" the infield at Talladega. No matter what contrived situation Fox puts Myers in, he will still never fit in at a NASCAR race.

Fox had a nice tribute to Pat Tillman killed in IRAQ and Ken Patterson of the Talladega Speedway who recently died as well.

Fox made sure to show yet another replay of Elliott Sadler's car flipping during the race last year. Dick Berggren called this a "Talladega quality crash." Never let it be said Fox would miss an opportunity for excessive hype of something. Next came a feature with comments from various drivers called "Waiting for the Big One." Yes, that's what Fox seemed to be doing all day long (more on that later).

The Race

When Ricky Craven's engine blew up on lap 3, DW was quick to point out that his team buys their restrictor plate engines from Hendrick Motorsports, but that they usually didn't have this kind of problem. After the ensuing caution, Larry McReynolds pointed out that the 20 cars at the back of the pack were the only ones who chose to pit.

Unfortunately on the first restart, Fox began using their silly pointers to show the first and second place cars. This just seemed silly when this was a single-file restart. They used them on and off all day long and the only time I felt they provided any useful information was when Tony Stewart did his foray into the grass. It was interesting to see that he never slowed down lower than the 80s.

All day long, Fox turned up the volume near the grandstands when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. took the lead of the race. Now, they're not the first network to do this type of thing, but it was just really obvious that they were doing this in order to increase the hype of Earnhardt going for another consecutive win.

Throughout the first half of the broadcast, I was really disappointed that Fox chose to switch to in-car cameras frequently. When there were almost always cars fighting for the lead, it was very disconcerting to have the producer cut away from these battles to show the view from the cars. This really effected the continuity of the race in my opinion. I like in-car shots at times, but not when there were so many lead changes and we were missing them. I also noticed that there were a lot of overhead shots all weekend long at Talladega. Again, it's nice to see an overhead perspective of NASCAR's largest track from time to time, but often the shots were so far away it was hard to identify the cars. Early in the race, Mike Joy said "About the time we get around to talking about the leader, it changes." Well, maybe if Fox wasn't switching to in-cars so often, we could see the leader for ourselves.

All day long, Fox did an excellent job of showing replays of all the incidents, starting with the one involving Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne. During the pit stops under this caution, DW pointed out which teams took four and tires and which only took two. Fox also did an excellent job of telling us which teams had problem in the pits such as when Johnny Benson got "turned around" during this pit stop. Mike did an excellent job giving us a rundown of the top five or ten drivers whenever there was a caution or when Fox went to or returned from commercial. All of the pit reporters were quick to report on problems with cars that required unscheduled pit stops and the cameras usually gave us a brief shot of what was going on in the pits.

For the most part, Fox confined their music video segues to commercial to caution periods, but there was one time early in the race when we had to sit through one during green flag racing. This is always annoying, but particularly so when there was so much action in the race and we were missing it for these silly fluff pieces.

Larry told us when Craven returned to the track and that he was 53 laps down. All day long the pit reporters did a good job of interviewing drivers who fell out of the race and the booth team kept the viewers informed of how many cars were on the lead lap. These are things I really like to hear.

When Stewart hit Kurt Busch triggering a multi-car accident, Fox broke out of commercial to show it. Now, I'd normally count this as a good thing since Fox has not broken out of commercials to show on-track incidents so far this year. But after all the emphasis on "The Big One" from the start of the broadcast, I couldn't help but feel like Fox just didn't want to miss the chance to drool over the carnage and this bothered me a bit. Fox did provide a quick graphic showing which cars were involved in the accident and assured us that everyone was alright. I did note during this time that many of the drivers who were involved I hadn't even realized were in the race, such as Kenny Wallace, Kerry Earnhardt, etc. This is why I have a real problem with Fox not going over the starting grid before the race. This practice coupled with the fact Fox almost never shows drivers running in the back leaves the viewer not even realizing some guys are in the race. At this time, I had figure out for myself who was in the 00 and 33 cars.

I absolutely loved that Fox played back Jeff Burton's radio comments about Stewart triggering the wreck.

After the restart, Fox used picture-in-picture a lot. This was good that we could see a safety feature by Jeff Hammond or an interview with a driver knocked out of the race; however, this process reduced the size of the shot of the race so much, it was really hard to see what was going on. Again, it's just frustrating to be a viewer at home and not being able to identify who's leading when the lead changed so many times.

Fox cameramen caught some near misses by drivers throughout the race, such as when Jimmy Johnson and Jamie McMurray got together. This was great as it led right into explaining the reason why Johnson cut down his tire and had to make an unscheduled pit stop. Fox also make a point of always showing the debris on the track that brought out several of the cautions during the race.

In the latter portions of the race, the announcers got off on a tangent using the term "white knuckle racing." They said this several times, which to me, just piled on more of the hype that began in the pre-race show.

The commercial placement was pretty good during this broadcast, though it did seem like there were still quite a few breaks around 4:00. I know that it was more frustrating to me than usual to leave when there was close racing in the pack and not know who was leading or gaining positions.

With 65 laps to go in the race, I thought Larry made an excellent observation about how the smaller fuel cells were suppose to break up the packs some, but that this race had not had any green flag stops to do that. This was really interesting and something I hadn't realized until he mentioned it.

All day long the announcers pointed how how no one would draft with Earnhardt and that he couldn't pass without help. Well, duh! For as long as I've been following the sport and watching restrictor plate races, that's the way it has been. You need help to pass. Why was it such a revelation to the Fox announcers?

I also noticed that the announcers all weekend kept claiming Talladega was "the World's Fastest Speedway." Excuse me, but didn't they claim that Atlanta had the fastest speeds on the NASCAR circuit just a few weeks ago? I interpreted this claim as just more hype about the Talladega Speedway.

I liked when they showed the in-car camera from Kevin Harvick's car when his windshield was covered with fluid. They stayed with this shot until the tear-off was removed from the windshield. This really illustrated the difference the clean windshield made.

The announcers did a good job of telling us which drivers got the free pass this week. I really enjoyed that Larry made a special mention of how rookie, Eric McClure, was able to stay on the lead lap without receiving this "help" from NASCAR.

It was quite obvious that Fox wants to promote their baseball coverage since they had an animated and noisy graphic on the screen a couple of times.

When Brian Vickers brought out the controversial yellow at the end of the race, I found it quite interesting that Fox held off showing any replays until they got the word from NASCAR as to who they deemed to be leading the race. I can understand that the network did not want to offer up any views until NASCAR had sorted out things to their satisfaction, but it was a little frustrating waiting until after we heard NASCAR's decision. Fox did do a very good job of explaining how NASCAR was probably struggling over when the field was actually frozen and at what point we would know that they couldn't get the race restarted. I really liked when Mike pointed out how "agonizingly slow" the cars were circling the track under caution, but they were actually going 70 mph.

It was good to see that Fox did not try to shy away from the fans throwing the debris on the track like they did when something like this happened a couple of years ago. I particularly enjoyed the radio clips from Jeff Gordon's team where someone mentioned all the debris on the track, saying "I bet they're all Budweiser cans." I was proud of the guys in the booth who condemned the fans' behavior, and Mike said it was "a sad commentary". Myers said that the fans appeared to be upset that Gordon won.

After the checked flag was finally thrown, Fox went to commercial and came back for the Victory Lane interviews. They showed a replay of Gordon doing a burnout amongst all the debris on the track. Fox also told us about "a bizarre incident" that happened after Stewart took the checkered flag where he veered left suddenly and hit Terry Labonte, then turned down pit road the wrong way and sped down the length of it. Besides the winner, Fox also had interviews with the second and third place finishers. Steve Byrnes was the "lucky" guy who got to interview Stewart, asking his take after several of the competitors had pointed a finger at him for causing the big wreck earlier.

As I said earlier, I think this was a pretty good broadcast. If Fox could have just laid off all the hype about wrecks and used less in-car shots, I'd have thoroughly enjoyed this broadcast.

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