The view from my couch

Fox Coverage of the UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400
by Cheryl Lauer
March 14, 2005

There were a lot of good things about this broadcast, but a lot of bad things as well. When you got past all the unnecessary hype about gambling and the glitz of Las Vegas, Fox did a pretty good job on this broadcast. It did seem like the choice to focus more on the perceived glamor of Las Vegas interfered with the amount of time the announcers and pit reporters had to keep the viewers updated on the actual racing.

Pre-Race Show

As usual for Las Vegas, we got over an hour of mostly skits and features totally unrelated to racing. I just don't understand why Fox feels they must make Jeff Hammond look like a fool so often, like this time having him do an imitation of Elvis.

My second major complaint is the ever lengthening pre-race shows produced by Fox. Do they really think the fans are so stupid that they don't realize they're starting the races later and later each week? I understand this is for the benefit of the folks on the West Coast, but it's really becoming tiresome for the rest of us. If you aren't going to start the race until almost 3:30, then list that as the starting time! It has really become a joke in my household as to when the "TV racing 'entertainment' package" is coming on and how much later we might actually see the green flag drop. This week, the race did not start until over an hour and fifteen minutes after Fox came on the air. This is just ridiculous and I certainly hope that TV doesn't make the folks attending Atlanta in person wait that long next week. A race ending as late as 6:45 p.m. will make for awfully cold conditions in Atlanta this time of year. After 55 minutes into the pre-race show, Fox put up a graphic telling us it would be another 21 minutes until the race started. How insulting to the viewers!

One area I did find informative during the extended pre-race antics was the announcers explaining about the 29 team's rules infraction during Friday's qualifying. Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds did an excellent job explaining the alternations Harvick's team made to the fuel filler prior to qualifying. They also speculated on a stiff penalty for the team.

Fox has sunk to a new low starting a weekly fan poll for "Sexiest Driver." Has NASCAR now become another version of American Idol?

Fox just loves to coin those [not so cute] little sayings. This week we had to suffer through hearing the "House of Roush" over and over.

I enjoyed the interview Chris Meyers had with the Busch brothers, but found it interesting when they showed us a billboard in Las Vegas wishing the natives luck. Why did Fox have to superimpose "NASCAR on Fox" on the bottom of the billboard? I couldn't help but wonder what product they were covering up. Obviously not a sponsor buying commercial time on Fox.

At 3:07 p.m., Fox told us they were showing us the starting grid, which has again been reduced to a scrolling ticker on the bottom of the screen while the announcers continued to ramble about other stuff. At this point, I flipped over to PRN and was happy to hear them actually going over all the drivers names and starting positions, along with mentioning their sponsors. How refreshing! And how sad that I have to switch to radio to find something that should be done every week by TV.

The Race

It was good that Fox broke out of the first commercial to show us the aftermath of a wreck on lap 11 when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. got into Brian Vickers and also collected Ricky Rudd and Bobby Labonte. What really bothered me was that each and every one of the Fox announcers immediately started providing excuses for Earnhardt. Has it now come to the point where a fan favorite can do no wrong and where the presenting network is afraid to assess any blame? First we have DW saying he thought he saw smoke from Vicker's car. He quickly had to recant that remark when replays showed there was no smoke until after the 8 hit the 25. Larry tried to tell us that it was hard for the spotters to see in that part of the track and Mike said the 8's entry speed into the corner was faster than the 25s. Even Jeff said that the 25 got loose and slowed down. Dick Berggren was given the undesirable job of interviewing both young men together when they came out of the infield care center. Even Earnhardt pretty much said the wreck his fault, so why did Fox continue to downplay his role the rest of the day?

Mike apologized and explained the reason for some picture and sound glitches during the replays had been caused by a power hit. I appreciated hearing what was going on. When he said it was effecting some of their graphics, a loud cheer was heard from my entire household. Okay, my kitten didn't cheer. During this broadcast the kitten actually found the Fox pointers entertaining as he could stand up and chase them across the TV screen with his paws. I guess I've finally found a use for the pointers because the kitten's enjoyment of them was entertaining to us.

The announcers seemed to do a good job of keeping us updated on who was about to go a lap down before each caution occurred staring around lap 60 when Robby Gordon brought out the second caution when his car blew up.

This week, Fox started a new graphic that I found very informative. They showed information on the top 10 cars as they exited the pits and the graphic was used after every caution period. Not only did it show their order off pit road, but provided times for pit stops, with a plus and minus showing which teams gained or lost positions in the pits. Fox also highlighted which cars were the fastest and slowest on pit stops. After the second caution, DW pointed out that those that were the slowest probably made adjustments to their cars and this was good information. I did feel Fox dropped the ball once by not explaining why Jeff Gordon fell from 4th to 12th during pit stops. I did happen to hear that his team had a problem with a tire on PRN while Fox was at commercial though.

Fox did still use their silly four-way split on pit stops at times. I continue to find this useless as it makes it impossible for the viewer to see where cars are in relationship to others on pit road. They also showed their silly tic-tac-toe graphic of the on-board cameras once. Please save me from these silly gimmicks!

I also thought Fox switched to on-board cameras way too often during this broadcast. You'd be watching an exciting battle for position and next thing you know, you're watching out the back of the cars. This view to me, was totally useless. I really do enjoy in-car camera views at times, but they need to be used more sparingly. The constant need that Fox has to switch the views in the middle of good racing just frustrates many viewers.

I do feel the director make excellent use of the split screen quite often during this broadcast. Many times, we got to see the battle between first and second in one panel and a battle further back in the field in the other panel. This was excellent! At other times, the director would abruptly cut away from a pass for the lead to show something else and when he returned the pass was already done. This was very annoying.

There were excellent and numerous replays of every accident during the race. Unfortunately, this race had several debris cautions and Fox didn't always address them. One time, they came back from commercial and never told us why the caution was out. I only knew it was for debris because I'd heard it on PRN while Fox was away.

Speaking of commercials, Fox continues to have plenty of them. I realize that they did go commercial-free for a long portion at the end of the race and this is a plus. It's just that the fans don't like to sacrifice coverage in the earlier parts of the race to get this "reward" at the end. Many times, Fox would go to commercial and I'd go to PRN and they would break in a couple of minutes as well. The difference was that PRN left later and was almost always back from commercial long before TV returned. Also, Fox broke from commercial that one time when Earnhardt, Jr. was involved in a wreck, but did not do the same during at least two other wrecks that happened while they were away.

There was a real lack of coordination when team radios were played during this broadcast. Many times, the announcers talked over them or the person queuing up the radios cut the audio in when the announcers were trying to explain something. I'd really rather Fox tape these things and play them a few seconds later, so the producer has time to tell the announcers they are coming. There was some good radio chatter from the 11 team when Jason Leffler wrecked. Late in the race, we also got to hear the engine rev on Ryan Newman's car when Jeff Gordon got into him and lifted his rear wheels off the ground. This was also great! In addition, Fox did a good job showing us the replays of the first hit by Newman and then the retaliation by Gordon.

When Fox returned from one commercial after the lap 85 caution, they quickly showed Mark Martin's car going behind the wall, with no explanation. Instead Chris Meyers told us what had happened to Earnhardt back on lap 13. It wasn't until lap 107 that Fox allowed Matt Yocum to tell us that Martin was down a cylinder along with showing the repairs being made to his car.

The Cingular poll questions are getting more and more instrusive during the racing every week. Now we have a giant orange car running across the screen and covering up the actual racing. I may complain about commercial breaks, but I'd rather they just break for them than have something like this come and go over the screen 3-4 times during the race. It certainly doesn't make me want to go out and buy a Cingular phone any time soon. There were also huge AOL graphics bouncing across the screen at times. I think these are suppose to denote a replay, but at times, I couldn't tell what was live and what was a replay because the graphic broke up the continuity of the coverage.

When Kasey Kahne wrecked, Mike pointed out that he had so much damage because the area when he spun did not have a SAFER barrier. This was interesting information.

The announcers did a fair job of telling us which drivers took two or four tires during pit stops. The pit reporters did a good job reporting about teams having problems with pit stops or on pit road. This included Steve Byrnes telling us that Tony Stewart hit the tire carrier on Mike Bliss' car and his tire bounced and hit Tony's tire carrier as well. Later, we heard that both men were checked out and seemed okay. The announcers also tried to keep us informed about who got penalties for speeding on pit road and things like when Michael Waltrip's team was penalized for not using a catch can.

I know that high definition cameras are too expensive to be used in some situations, but after a few weeks I've noticed a lot of the cameras Fox uses are not HD. It seems like only about half of the actual on-track shots were in HD. I understand most people don't have HD or care, but it seems kind of misleading to those of us who do watch in HD for Fox to claim they're showing the highest quality picture available when so few cameras are actually HD. Granted the ones that are provide some great clarity. It's just that the others seem particularly blurry by comparison.

Fox did a very good job of telling us about and showing replays of some of the contact out on the track. Besides the Gordon/Newman incidents, we saw a replay of Stewart hitting Joe Nemechek and we were told that Joe felt it was in retaliation for an earlier hit on Stewart.

A lot of drivers fell out of the race because of accidents or mechanical problems, but were never interviewed. The exception was an interview of Kahne by Matt. Mike seemed to try to let us know when some drivers returned to the track though, such as Kahne and Bobby Labonte, so that they could gain a few positions. But we didn't immediately hear when or why drivers such as Randy Lajoie or Morgan Shepherd fell out of the race. It wasn't until 43 laps to go in the race that Mike told us everyone who was out of the race with only a brief description as to why.

The pointers were typically overused and positions were changing so often that the positions listed on them was wrong many times. A few times in order to use the pointers on several cars, the cameras would zoom way out and you couldn't actually identify any cars on the track. To me, this is just absurd! Leave the shot zoomed in so we can actually see the car numbers and sponsors to identify the cars rather than relying on a gimmick to point them out.

Fox has started to copy the NBC "new leader" highlight on the ticker (a useless feature for those actually paying attention to the race). What I found interesting was that this graphic was usually wrong as well because of the delay in the scoring information. This was particularly noticeable when Newman and Johnson were trading the lead a lot. I understand that the lead is not awarded except at the start/finish line or at the new scoring loops, so why show the information if it's not accurate much of the time? Just to have something splashy to delight the short-attention fans?

It was very interesting to hear Dick report that NASCAR had instructed the 48 team to push their fender back in on their next pit stop and the follow-up after the next stop.

Near the end of the race, there was excellent coverage of the battle for the lead between Newman and Johnson and the part that lapped car, Mike Wallace, played in it. Just a little too much switching to in-car cameras in my opinion.

Fox did update the viewer on which drivers were the recipient of the free pass after each caution, Unfortunately at one point near the end of the race, Mike got on a soapbox telling us how this race "validates" the free pass rule. I'm sorry, he didn't convince me, especially when one of the examples he used was that NASCAR doesn't want fans heading for the exit if their driver goes a lap down. I don't think that's an acceptable reason why the viewers at home should be happy about the rule. Especially when Elliott Sadler was off the pace early, got wrecked, and then got a free pass later in the event. Within 30 minutes he was lapped again. I didn't notice the TV announcers pointing out this fact though.

In the waning laps, the announcers told us when Kyle Busch was gaining on Johnson and we got to see the pilon of the speeds of the top 15 drivers. This is always great!

Unfortunately, near the end of the race when the excitement was heating up a bit, Fox started switching back to in-car cameras too often or switching between one battle to another and missing most of both battles at times. This lack of continuity is particularly frustrating at the end of a race. Once they cut away from a three-wide battle to show the leader or someone else running alone. Then they cut away from a battle between Newman and Kenseth to show Johnson running alone on the last lap. Somebody in production must just love that "money shot" of the leader running alone on the last lap. Trust me, the viewers at home are not nearly as fond of it when they know there is racing going on elsewhere.

It was nice to hear Johnson's enthusiastic comments to his crew on the radio after taking the checkered flag. Unfortunately, Fox had to immediately coin another stupid cliche after the end of the race, saying, "instead of the House of Roush, it looks like the Hotel Hendrick." Give it a rest guys!

The announcers told us that Jeremy Mayfield crashed on the last lap and Mike pointed out that this would freeze the rest of the field.

After showing some of Johnson's victory celebrations on the track, Fox cut to a long block of commercials, then they showed the Busch brothers congratulating each other before going to Victory Lane. It just seems so unfair for TV to dictate that the winner must sit in his car until they get around to showing his Victory Lane celebration. Fox had good interviews with Kyle Busch and Dick told us that his tire was flat when he came into the pits after the race. We also heard from several of the other drivers in the top five, but I don't remember ever seeing a graphic of the final finishing order. Fox did show the points rundown before signing off the air. Obviously they'd exceeded their alotted time slot. I guess I fail to understand why Fox delays and delays the start of the race for over an hour of pre-race fluff and then wonders why they run over their time slot at the end?

As I said earlier, there were a lot of good things about this broadcast, but a lot of bad things as well. Perhaps if Fox could just stop dedicating so much time to the glamour of places like Las Vegas, they could provide more comprehensive coverage of the entire race (as they did at Daytona). Their viewers would be better served to hear about more of the drivers instead of seeing video montages showing the drivers acting silly and the glitz of Las Vegas throughout the broadcast. Thank goodness next week the race will be at a less glamourless place like Atlanta Motor Speedway. Maybe less glamourous to the TV networks, but at least a track that should provide us with enough exciting racing that Fox won't feel they have to artificially add so much fluff to the broadcast.

This season, I don't plan to review every single race. It's just too demanding to do a thorough job every week. But I will try to do a review at least once a month because I still feel it is important for the fans to give feedback to the networks. In the meantime, I encourage other fans to visit the Speedcouch Forum to review the races themselves and exchange their thoughts with other race fans. The information on how to get to forum is provided below.

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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