The view from my couch

Fox Coverage of the Samsung/Radio Shack 500
by Cheryl Lauer
April 18, 2005

This was an average broadcast for Fox, though I do feel the announcers are a lot more focused this season. But each week, I can't help but notice that the information provided on the ticker and other graphics is all too often wrong or outdated. This was particularly noticeable on the "Race off pit road" graphic. At least two times, the information neglected to list the driver getting off pit road in second. I also thought it was quite interesting that the announcers feel the need to sell the viewers on how deserving Texas is of a second race date.


I've pretty much given up watching the Fox pre-race shows. I've found better things to do with my time than waste an hour on a bunch of gags, replays from last week, and mostly useless information. I've found a couple of web sites that actually tell you when the race itself is scheduled to start (which is always an hour later than Fox claims), so I just tune in around that time. I think TV has finally succeeded in turning me into a more "casual race fan." (In fact, I stepped outside for about a half hour mid-race to enjoy the beautiful spring weather. In the past, I wouldn't have missed a live lap. I'm not sure this is a good thing, but it's my way of dealing with today's coverage.)

When I turned on the TV, the first thing I heard after the national anthem was Mike Joy rationalizing how "over 200,000" were in attendance at Texas. He went on to assure us there were two grooves at the track. Personally, I find it annoying for the announcers to be in the business of promoting tracks.

As has become the Fox habit, they relegate the starting order to a ticker on the bottom of the screen. It's just interesting that every other network and racing series I watch seems to be able to actually show us the starting grid and tell us information about each driver along with it. Top brass at Fox obviously think the starting grid isn't nearly as important as an hour of fluff beforehand.

During the pace laps, Mike told us that Greg Biffle was going to a back-up car and much later we heard it was because he wrecked his primary car during final practice. There was also a graphic telling us that the 19, 17, and 25 were going to the back as well. Jeanne Zelasko reported that Bobby Labonte was suffering from the flu and had Kenny Wallace standing by in case he needed relief during the race.

The Race

My first question about the validity of the information provided on the Fox ticker occurred around the time of the first caution. From what I could see, the field had just crossed the start/finish line to complete lap two, yet the ticker showed it was already lap 4. This had me wondering if Fox is recording the race on a Digital Video Recorder as I know they do during qualifying. If so, they need to sync up the timing and scoring information displayed on the ticker with the video. As a viewer, I resent thinking the network is not showing live video, but these days I'm not surprised by anything the TV networks do.

As usual, Fox showed us excellent and numerous replays of all incidents beginning with the first caution involving Dave Blaney's spin. As they broke for commercial, they showed a particularly good replay from pit road which I really enjoyed. Mike also mentioned that Carl Edwards' car took a big bounce and speculated whether or not he sustained any damage. When Fox returned from commercial, they showed some additional replays showing some other perspectives.

Throughout the Fox and Speed programs I watched this past weekend, I noticed the announcers relying way too much on Days of Thunder analogies. That makes me feel like they think the new breed of race fan believes everything they might have seen in that movie. This along with the constant need for Fox to use every corny cliche really bothers me at times.

The first race break/recap came at lap 10. I know this is just another commercial for a credit card, but they seem to be getting more and more frequent. Did we really need one only 10 laps into the race? Oh, that's right, Fox thinks most fans aren't tuned in for the entire broadcast. I suppose based on their misrepresentation of the race start time, a lot of fans might actually get bored and flip the channel and miss the start of the race.

After the second caution, when the field restarted at lap 12, Fox pointed out that Biffle had already moved up from the back of the field to 24th spot.

It wasn't until lap 19 when Larry McReynolds mentioned that Edwards and some others pitted during the first caution. I mean, I knew Blaney probably pitted, but it would've been nice for the viewers to hear at the time that some cars pitted, not 15 laps later. I saw on the ticker that Jamie McMurray was back in 42nd spot and I thought he was having problems until much later in the broadcast when the announcers mentioned he had pitted during the very first caution.

After the third caution around lap 24, the entire field pitted and Fox covered the pit stops this time. Unfortunately with this and every other caution, Fox used that stupid four-way split at the beginning of pit stops. I understand they are attempting to cover more cars, but I continue to lose perspective of where cars are in relationship to each other when they use this view. Also, a lot of folks write me and complain that there is no stopwatch on pit stops. Thankfully, Fox switched to the overview of pit road as the cars were exiting, so you could actually see who gets out first. This was good because we got to see the tailend of a jam-up where several cars ended up being pushed into the grass. Fox queued up a replay that showed Jason Leffler pulling out and getting into Terry Labonte which started the incident. Larry pointed out that because there were still 40 cars on the lead lap, that contributed to the congestion on pit road.

When Fox returned from commercial, Mike told us that Leffler had taken his car to the garage and that Sterling Marlin stayed on track and was now leading. Later Larry told us that he actually did pit, but took two tires and beat everyone else out.

Fox had the first of two Crank It Up segments on the restart. I enjoy the sounds during these segments, but still don't like that the camera focuses on the start/finish line so long and you miss the action at the front of the field. Also, there is always too much switching between in-car cameras for me.

Dick Berggren reported on Jimmie Johnson's pit stop and how he had made two stops so that his crew could try and remove two spring rubbers to loosen up his car, but only got one of them out.

The next caution involved several cars and Fox had quick and excellent replays, with the announcers pointing out that Jeff Green's spin collected Bobby Labonte, Brian Vickers, and Scott Wimmer. Other views showed Bobby Hamilton's, Jr. and Travis Kvapil also received minor damage. It did seem like the announcers were apologizing for Mark Martin who got into Green and caused him to spin. I notice this year the announcers seem to feel they have to excuse the drivers quite often. Fox just doesn't seem to be able to walk the line between assessing blame prematurely or being apologists for the drivers. Perhaps they need to try and be just a bit more neutral.

Fox showed the 48 in the pits and we were told that this time, Johnson's team got the second spring rubber out of the car. Dick relayed that Johnson had told them the first adjustment made a huge difference in his handling. Mike told us that is was Joe Nemechek's tire that rolled onto pit road during the last caution.

When Fox returned from commercial, they had a graphic listing all the drivers involved in this incident. This was good information for the viewers. Jeanne had an interview with Labonte whose car was being repaired behind the wall. He brought up the fact he didn't like the smaller spoiler on this track. Darrell Waltrip followed up on this by pointing out how the temperature was higher on Sunday than earlier in the weekend and the smaller spoilers contributed to handling issues when the track was this slick. This was an excellent point!

As the race went on, Fox seemed to really try to show a lot of racing throughout the pack. But in the early stages, we seemed to only see certain drivers running alone on the track. I just don't understand why Fox can't zoom out a bit so we can see more than one car at all times. An example of this was after the next restart when the camera was showing Matt Kenseth running alone on the track and got back to the front just as Kurt Busch was passing Jeremy Mayfield for the lead. I want to see what leads up to a pass for the lead. Another time DW told us that Johnson had just about brushed the wall, yet the director was showing Tony Stewart running alone at the time. Later, the director did use the split screen to show two battles quite often and this was a great improvement. At lap 53, we got to see Robby Gordon and Casey Mears racing in a split screen along with Biffle and Marlin up front.

I noticed Fox is falling back on their music videos each time they go to commercial. I just don't know why this is necessary instead of showing racing, but obviously someone at Fox enjoys this type of thing. I still think it's wrong to ask the drivers to make fools of themselves in these things.

When they returned from commercial, Fox showed Marlin making an unscheduled pit stop for a flat tire.

All day long, Mike and Larry really did an excellent job of keeping the viewers informed of which cars were out of the race or returned to the track after repairs. The first instance of this was at lap 70 when Mike told us Johnny Sauter was in the garage, but Hermie Sadler and Kvapil had returned to the track. Because Fox uses the tickers for the starting grid, I didn't even realize some of these drivers were even in the race.

The announcers were also quick to tell us who was in position to get the free pass during every caution, such as Marlin around lap 78. Right after that, Fox was playing radio communications between Biffle and his team and the viewers got to hear from them when the caution came out for debris. This was great! I also appreciated that Fox showed us the debris each time and in this instance Larry pointed out it was a spring rubber on the track.

During the caution, Fox highlighted the grandstand on the backstretch which was reserved for servicemen.

After this sequence of pit stops was when I first noticed the Fox graphic of the top ten off pit road didn't even show Stewart who you could see got out second. If Fox can't get the information on their graphics correct, I wish they'd just do without them. It's got to be confusing for the less observant viewer. They did tell us that Michael Waltrip stayed out to lead a lap. When they returned from commercial, they finally showed Stewart on the graphic as they discussed who gained or lost positions during pit stops.

I usually don't mention sponsors of the broadcast. But since VISA is a major sponsor on Fox, I want to mention that if they have to constantly bombard us with the same commercials over and over, could they please get a new commercial? The one of the guy who wins a weekend at the track is three years old. I was annoyed by the actor screaming "AWESOME SOUND SYSTEM" in 2003, so I'm really disgusted with it in it's third year. Also, Cingular seems to want more and more screen time with their ridiculous opinion polls. At least 8 times during the broadcast we had to see that huge car running across the screen. And how stupid it is to ask fans "which groove would you run in?" Oh yeah, that's right, Cingular just wants their users to rack up more minutes on their phones; they don't care how senseless the "poll" questions sound. Late in the race it also seemed like we got lap after lap from Jeff Burton's in-car camera where you didn't see any close racing, just a nice view of the Cingular logo. I guess I'm just not the type of person VISA and Cingular are trying to reach because these things make me never want to use their products.

Back to race "coverage." Prior to the next restart, we got to see aerial views of the cars on the track so that Fox could use their silly pointers to highlight each car in the top ten. As I always ask, why not just zoom in so viewers can see the top ten for themselves?

At lap 86, Larry told us that Boris Said had just brushed the wall. Next there was a good shot of Biffle passing for the lead and then Waltrip taking second position.

Okay, here's another personal tangent. Sorry! Before this broadcast, I watched two NASCAR races on HDNet from Mesa Marin that I recorded while I was in Martinsville last weekend. These are the divisions that used to be Southwest and Winston West. I know most folks won't even know what HDNet is (unless they have HDTV and DirecTV). I'd just like to ask the producers at Fox to check them out sometime and see how professionally HDNet produces these broadcasts. First off, they actually use the highest available HD format, 1080i. The picture on these races was truly awesome and HDNet even used HD cameras for their pit coverage! Compared to these broadcasts, the 720p Fox uses for Busch and Cup is just "very good" in comparison. Okay, I know I'm anal, but I noticed yesterday that many cameras Fox used on the track and in the pits were not even 720p. For instance, the camera covering Biffle's pit stops. The second thing I noticed on the HDNet broadcasts is that even though they used a ticker (which I still don't like after 5 years), they somehow managed to put it at the very top of the screen, thereby minimizing the loss of viewable screen space. In contrast, Fox (and Speed) continue to lower their tickers more each year and add more and more lines to them which intrude even more into the racing visible for the viewers at home. Why is it HDnet can position their ticker so much higher? Easy! They don't have to make increasingly more room for a sponsor logo like Fox and Speed does. Just a couple of observations from a serious race fan on the difference in production styles. This is the last time I stray from the Texas broadcast, I promise!

The pit reporters did their usual excellent job of keeping us updated on problems teams were experiencing with their handling. For instance at lap 99, Steve Byrnes reported that Kasey Kahne thought he had a right rear tire going down. The pit reporters also followed up on what the teams found with his and others' tires after the next pit stop. DW also made some good points about the teams lowering the pressure in both the tires and inner liners and maybe this is why the drivers felt something was amiss with their tires.

Someone on the graphics team still feels they must make light of "updates" on the ticker. At lap 116, they started posting "07 has one too many and spins out." I guess I just don't find this funny and I doubt Dave Blaney and his team thought having a wrecked race car was funny either. I don't think these updates are necessary, what with Fox having a race recap about every thirty minutes lately. If they must post this information, could they at least be serious about it?

The announcers tried to give us periodic updates on the margin between the leader and the second place car every so often. I always appreciate hearing this kind of thing. Also as usual late in the race, Fox showed the top 10 cars speeds on a pilon graphic.

Around the time the field had the first green flag pit stops of the day, Fox had an awful lot of breaks leading up to this point. Then when the stops began, they did use a split screen, but all we got to see on the left was the leader running alone until he made his pit stop. Is it too hard to actually find two cars racing to put in the other shot?

Fox usually did an excellent job of telling us when drivers stayed out to lead lap during pit stops, except once when Jeff Gordon didn't come in right away during a caution. But they did eventually explain that he stayed out to lead a lap when they returned from commercial. Fox also tried to tell us whenever a driver got a pit road penalty, such as when Ryan Newman's team had a tire get away from them on pit road. Unfortunately, Fox didn't tell us that Wallace had been penalized early in the race for a catch can violation. We didn't hear about it until lap 239 when he had climbed back into the top 10. The announcers did point out when many of the top cars lost a lap, such as early leader, Mayfield.

When the caution came out around lap 211 for debris, again the graphic Fox showed for the race off pit road neglected to list Casey Mears as getting out second. I'm not sure what the problem was with them picking up second place. But they did get the information right by lap 213. Also, I noticed many times that the ticker was displaying running positions differently than graphics Fox showed to highlight a certain driver. As always, I say if the ticker is not up to date, why have it on the screen all the time?

We got to hear some radio transmissions between drivers and their crews, but all too often the announcers talked over them. Also we got some clarification on some of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s comment to his team by Jeanne.

In the latter stages of the race, Fox did a good job of covering when cars got loose in traffic. We either saw some of this live or on a replay right after it happened.

After returning from commercial, Fox told us that Kahne had hit the wall and showed us some replays. Mike was quick to tell us he was okay though. When Stewart had his engine problems and his car caught fire, Fox followed his struggle to get out of the car. They later told us he had some minor burns, but was being treated for them in the in-field care center. I always appreciate hearing that drivers are okay. Later, Jeanne interviewed Kahne who told us a oil pump shaft broke on his car.

I enjoyed when Fox told us that the track temperatures in turns 1/2 had gone down because they were in the shade and that turns 3/4 were higher than the start of the race. Larry pointed out that this would definitely affect the handling of the cars differently.

After one of the last commercial breaks around lap 279, Fox had another Crank It Up segment. Right after this, Dick told us that the tire changer on the 48 car fell during their pit stops and it caused them to lose several positions because of slow pit stop.

After Stewart's wreck, Dick told us that Mears took two tires to beat Biffle off pit road and take the lead. We also heard some scanner chatter between Mears and his crew chief, Jimmy Elledge.

When the last caution came out, Larry pointed out that this might help the guys on older tires, like Mears, because of the way the heat cycles affected the softer tires.

Mike was quick to clarify that Newman had been in front of leader when the caution came out, so he had earned his lap back; therefore, Nemechek would be the recipient of the free pass instead of him.

In the waning laps of the race, the director made excellent use of the split screen, such as showing the 48 and 97 passing the 8 and the 42 catching the 16 in the other frame. Unfortunately, they went to full-screen featuring the 8 and missed the 16 closing on the 41 for the lead, until he was ready to pass him for the lead. But other than that, I was impressed with how much of the battles going on throughout the pack we got to see. I was also happy to have the announcers point out that Ricky Rudd and Wallace were in the top ten. They also told us that Wallace would most likely jump to third in points with a good finish.

When Biffle took the checkered flag, Mike told us that this was his fifth win. It was good that Fox stayed with his on-track celebrations and salute to the fans before cutting to commercial before covering Victory Lane.

Besides an interview with the winner, the pit reporters spoke with the second, third and fourth place finishers. Unfortunately, they didn't seem to have time to interview Marlin who finished fifth. That was disappointing. As was seeing the finishing order relegated to a ticker across the top of the screen. I'm sorry, but I just have a hard time reading that while trying to listen to all the post-race interviews. At least we did get a graphic of the points down to 20th position and that was good at least.

Obviously someone at the network decided they production crew had gone over the allowed timeslot as a test pattern abruptly came on the screen and sound went off as we saw a parting show and credits. This included the usual music video montage. It didn't break my heart that the sound was off for this useless bit of fluff though.

Overall an average broadcast. As always, I think the announcers and pit crews are trying their best within the constraints of all the tickers, graphics, etc. that Fox uses. Mike and Larry work very hard to provide a lot of information to the viewers as do the pit reporters. Even DW seems a lot more focused on the race at hand this season. Now if he could just lose his silly phrase at the start of the race, I'd breathe a sign of relief.

This season, I won't be reviewing every single race. It's just too demanding to do a thorough job every week, and my heart's just not into NASCAR as much as it used to be. I will try to do a review at least once a month because I still feel it is important to give feedback to the networks. In the meantime, I encourage other fans to visit the Speedcouch Forum www.SpeedCouch.com/forum to review the races themselves and exchange their thoughts with other race fans. 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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