The view from my couch

Fox Coverage of the Samsung/Radio Shack 500
by Cheryl Lauer
April 5, 2004

There were some very good aspects of the coverage of this race; however, with each successive broadcast on Fox this season, the good things are overshadowed too often by negative things in critical areas of the broadcast. These include things like missed restarts and seeing too much of the race covered via replays because Fox is either away at commercial, doing race recaps, or having a pit reporter doing a commercial disguised as a safety explanation.

The Race
I didn't watch the pre-race show this week and because I'm so late with this review, I'm just going to highlight the good and bad things that I thought Fox did during this broadcast:

The Good

Fox continues to make a noticeable effort in the early part of the race to show more of the field. For instance, at lap 12, they focused on a battle for 30th position between Ricky Rudd and Johnny Sauter. They also make a point to mention Derrick Cope's progress early in the race and his bad luck after running out of gas during his lap 94 pit stop. I really appreciated them giving Cope's efforts some acknowledgment.

Again, early in the race, Mike Joy gave us updates and good explanations of the problems when drivers drop out of the race or go behind the wall to make repairs.

Fox producer, Neil Goldberg continues to record radio communications from drivers and crews and plays them back in as timely a fashion as possible to avoid the commentators talking over them. These included interesting clips from Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, and Rusty Wallace.

Fox provides a graphic of the top five every time they go to commercial and many times, Mike or Larry McReynolds gave a verbal rundown of these positions as well. I also appreciated when the announcers told us how big a margin the leader had over the second place car during the early to mid-race portions of the race. They also kept us updated on how many cars had been lapped and how many were left on the lead lap throughout the day.

The commentators made sure and informed the viewers when there was contact between cars on pit road and a replay was shown if time allowed. We were informed of several teams who incurred penalties because of problems on pit road.

Mike or one of the other announcers tried to inform the viewers of the different tire strategies by teams, such as when several teams only took two tires after the first yellow-flag stops. Mike also told us that many teams were choosing to run scuffed tires at different points throughout the day. During the last caution of the day, Fox told us that Dave Blaney and Jimmy Johnson both came in to get new tires since they were having handling issues and were the last cars on the lead lap.

There were good replays of most of the accidents during the day. Also good replays of near misses, such as the one Jeff Burton had when his car got completely sideways once.

There was the usual excellent work by the pit reporters. They kept us updated with frequent reports concerning the handling issues with various cars, especially those having battery/alternator problems during this race. When Jamie McMurray had his problems, Jeff Hammond had a timely follow-up illustrating where the battery was located on the Cutaway Car.

There were interviews with some of the top drivers who fell out of the race.

Darrell Waltrip pointed out how the Dodges were suppose to be putting out about 500 more rpms than the other cars and Mike said this put them up around 10,000 rpms.

The entire team did an excellent job talking about the battery/alternator problems and DW mentioned that the last time they saw this many failures were when teams were experimenting with dry cell batteries a couple of years ago.

The announcers made good observations concerning Ryan Newman and Bill Elliott's tire problems that caused them to wreck. The team also kept us informed of numerous drivers who simply brushed the wall during the day.

In the second half of the race, the announcers told us who was the recipient of the free pass after each caution.

When the caution came out during green flag pit stops, one of the commentators pointed out that the cars who had not pitted were running down on the apron to avoid running out of fuel before the pits were opened.

In the last few laps of the race, the producer made excellent use of the split screen to show both the battle for the lead and the battle between Kurt Busch and Casey Mears for 6th position.

After the close finish, Mike first told us it was 3/100ths of a second and then corrected it to 28/1000ths. I'm not sure what the real difference is, because they both sound real close to me.

Larry verbally ran down the top ten finishers as soon as the checkers fell which I really appreciated.

After Fox interviewed the winner and top four finishers, they went to commercial and then the producer played the radio communications between Elliott Sadler and his spotter as he crossed the line. This was great!

The Bad

The worst thing Fox did during this broadcast was again missing restarts as we've seen the last few weeks. This week two restarts were missed because of commercials. Once when Fox returned to "billboards," you could hear by the sound of the engines that they were at full speed, yet Fox attempted to make it appear like the restart had just happened when they showed a replay. As I always say, there is absolutely no excuse for TV missing a single restart. Fox has to be aware when the lights are off on the pace car and it's one lap to go, so I can only conclude they choose to miss the restart to fit in all the additional commercials they have this year.

Another thing that really bothered me was that when Sterling Marlin was leading the race and Bill Elliott was catching him, Fox cut away from this possible race for the lead to focus on the latest media darling, Kasey Kahne. After the segment on Kahne, as Fox was going to commercial you could see from a turn 2 exit camera that Bill had made the pass on Sterling while they were busy hyping a new "young gun". As they broke for the commercial, Mike just casually mentioned Elliott was now leading. Granted this might have been a miscommunication between the producer and technical director, but even if the cutaway was a mistake, Fox needed to do a better job of explaining that a pass for the lead had occurred before going to commercial. Unfortunately it seems like the number of commercials or the focus on individual drivers and not on racing is dictating everything in the broadcast these days.

Though they usually do an excellent job of keeping the viewers informed about which drivers received the free pass back to the lead lap, today Fox really didn't do this until the latter stages of the race.

There was no replay of the accident involving Ward Burton and not even an explanation as to what happened to him.

Twice Fox showed Terry Labonte's car, once going behind the wall and later his crew working on the car, yet neither time did the commentators explain what was going on with it. Much later, they told us that he was out because of a broken camshaft.

Consider this my obligatory complaint about too much use of the Fox pointers.

There were race recaps by Chris Myers at laps 116, lap 153, lap 196, and at least one more sometime near the end of the race. Why do the folks that "just tuned in" get more consideration with recaps of what they missed every 40 laps, than those of us who watch the entire broadcast? Oh yeah, I forgot these breaks are really just another commercial.

I wonder if it's a coincidence that almost every time Fox missed a restart, it was because the last commercial we saw was for trackpass. Is this to persuade fans into buying this service so they won't miss so many restarts?

Why do the Cingular commercials disguised as polls ask stupid questions like "which will be Gibbs next championship: Football or NASCAR?"

Has anyone ever explained the word nepotism to DW and Larry when it comes to owning race teams in a NASCAR series? And why on earth do we have to keep hearing over and over again that DW will be in a truck at Martinsville? Thank God, I'll be at South Boston watching the USAR Series that day instead.

Wasn't the stupid bell that Chris Myers uses enough? Now we have Mike competing with a Harpo Marx kind of horn of his own.

Why can Fox show endless laps of cars going around under caution, but miss two restarts?"

When Kahne was moving up through the field at the end trying to catch Sadler, Fox should have kept a graphic up the entire time to show the shrinking interval.

When Kahne got within a few car lengths of Sadler, DW assured us we were going to see an exciting finish now. Why do the people at Fox have to constantly hype something that hasn't yet happened?

Putting Chris Myers in Victory Lane still hasn't endeared us to him. He still has no place in a race broadcast. Comments like "the Nextel Generation of NASCAR" are still too cliche for my tastes.

Well, that's it for this week. I understand that the Fox producer is probably under a tremendous amount of pressure trying to balance the number of commercials sold by the network advertising people against actually showing the race. It just seems like sometimes, he makes bad choices on where sacrifices should be made. I realize that any race is unpredictable, but as a fan, I can't stress enough that missing passes for the lead and missing restarts should not be the place where these sacrifices are made. I think if you asked any fan out there, they would agree with me that they'd prefer missing pit stops occasionally if it meant seeing more live on-track action. There is so little action in the NASCAR races lately, don't the viewers deserve to see as much of it as possible?

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 Samsung/Radio Shack 500 coverage.

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