The view from my couch

Fox Coverage of the UAW-Chrysler 400
by Cheryl Lauer
March 13, 2006

Fox appeared to be trying to show racing throughout the field at times throughout this broadcast. Unfortunately, the director spent way too much time on in-car camera shots. The fact that most of the cameras were in cars also sponsoring the broadcast left me believing, as usual, that these shots were just more commercial time for the network. Especially, when quite often, the shots showed nothing but open track in front of or behind the car. In addition, Fox spent their usual inordinate amount of time on the Budweiser car, even though it wasn't in contention all day long. Yet, I honestly forgot that many drivers running in similar positions were even in the race because they were never or rarely shown or mentioned all day.

Pre-Race Show

When Fox came on the air, Chris Meyers immediately told us the weather in Las Vegas should not be a problem. This is definitely an improvement over past year's on Fox where they never addressed the issue of weather. Next, they had some discussion about "Vegas odds" on the race and then went to a live interview with last year's winner, Jimmie Johnson. Thankfully, there were no silly skits involving the Fox crew as we've seen in past years. But we did see highlights from a Celebrity Poker tournament involving Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, obviously to give us some Vegas "flavor". That was still not really racing related, but at least it involved drivers.

Fox has decided to copy Wally's World that NBC has done for several years. At least their version doesn't involve celebrities riding along and Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond and they actually do show the viewers something about the track that week. This episode featured the difficulty getting on pit road at Las Vegas.

The Gas & Go segment which Fox started last year still seems like a poor attempt to copy ESPN's Pardon the Interruption. Their other cutesy feature10 Laps With... (this week, Kurt Busch) was mildly interesting.

When Fox went to Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds in the booth, they finally provided some truly interesting information about the top ten in points from last year, and how several of them have had problems this year. They also showed some clips from the problems teams had getting on pit road during the Busch race on Saturday. This included a nice graphic of the track shape, illustrating how the entry to pit road is actually in the middle of the turn.

While Fox was away at commercial, I switched over to PRN (mostly so I could actually HEAR the starting grid). While I was there, their pit reporters provided what I really considered good racing related information. Pat Patterson interviewed crew chief, Doug Richert, and asked about gas mileage at this track. He explained they could go about 80-90 laps on a tank of fuel. Next, I got to refresh my memory from qualifying by having the radio announcers go through the entire starting grid (something Fox no longer bothers to do).

When Fox returned from commercial, we saw a graphic of Roush Racing's history at Las Vegas. Then a points comparison between last season and this season. Dick Berggren told us that Hendrick had three cars in the top five in this race last season. Jeff told us that crews expected the tires to give up a lot today and they would probably stop for tires before they actually needed fuel.

I'm sorry to say my delight at her absence at California was short-lived, as Jeanne Zelasko was back working this pits during this race. I still fail to see what she adds to the broadcasts and after five full seasons, she still seems virtually clueless about most things involved in racing (more on that later).

Mike did go through the first two rows of the starting grid as a ticker went across the bottom and then told us "we'll let you take a look at the rest..." This appeared to be so we could hear DW talk more. It's really sad that the powers that be feel that is more important than featuring the starting grid of the race. Isn't the race what they're suppose to be featuring, not their announcers?

The Race

After I switched back from radio so I could avoid hearing the appalling way Fox starts the races, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the announcers were quiet through the rest of the first lap of the race. Now if they could just figure out that half their audience hates DW's stupid phrase and would prefer a traditional start to the race...

After the nice respite from incessant chatter, Fox made a big deal about their "cable cam" and it's sponsor (which really seemed to be the only reason it was used all day as well as an initial tie-in to their football coverage.) Thankfully, this was ended when someone screamed "LEAD CHANGE!!!" at lap three.

Unfortunately, the dreaded Fox pointers returned this week and began around this time, pointing out the blatantly obvious 16 and 20 cars battling for the lead. I guess since their gimmick wasn't working during the last broadcast, Fox felt they had to make up for it by over using them during this race. I much prefer a graphic box that showed two drivers and their intervals which Fox used many times during this broadcast. Now if they could just realize something like this is much more informative without being distracting to the viewers, I'd be ecstatic. But of course, being the masters of overkill, Fox had to use both devices during the race.

During these early laps, Fox did a superb job switching between battles throughout the field, such as Casey Mears battling with Sterling Marlin at lap 6. But it did seem like they only showed Mears because he came into the race second in points. They told us he had gained 10 positions since the start of the race.

Mike also finally got around to telling the viewers that the 12, 4, 19, and 78 cars had to go to the back of the field at the start of the race because of post-qualifying changes. Why isn't this kind of thing mentioned in the pre-race show? Oh yeah, that's right; we would've missed Celebrity Poker - that's much more important. Steve Byrnes explained that the team found a problem with the head gasket on Ryan Newman's car in Happy Hour and changed engines in 48 minutes. This is the kind of thing the viewers find interesting - not Gas & Go.

At lap 8, Mike told us J. J. Yeley had passed Kurt Busch for fifth position, but the director showed us an in-car camera from Dale Earnhardt, Jr. instead. Finally they moved back up front and showed Kahne in seventh position. While showing Newman and Mears, we heard about how Penske was still using the Intrepid while all the other Dodges were the Charger model.

While going to commercial at lap 14, we were told that Stewart's lead was 9/10ths of a second. But before they actually went to commercial, we heard again about the sponsor of the cable-cam and saw a video montage. During their absence, I sure didn't miss those montages that someone at Fox seems to love. Yep - they make up for not actually showing racing.

It was quite interesting when I turned over to PRN and heard that positions 5-8 were racing very close, yet TV had been showing a single car running alone at the same time. What I don't understand is how TV seems to only be able to show one car running by itself so much of the time. It's no wonder the fans often feel tracks like this have no real racing.

When Fox finally returned from commerical, we saw that Kenny Wallace had a flat tire while they were away. The announcers made a big deal about how he "almost took out the leader," which seemed to be an exaggeration since the replays didn't show this to be the case. I couldn't tell what lap TV came back since a sponsor logo covered up the lap counter on the ticker.

We did hear that Carl Edwards had lost twelve positions since the start of the race because he was very tight and that Greg Biffle had fallen back because his car was loose.

Mike told us that Chad Chaffin just hit the wall, and although PRN mentioned his earlier unscheduled pit stop, TV just got around to mentioning it at this time. During the replay of the incident, one of the announcers said it looked like he simply had no grip.

We got an update on the 8 car back in 28th position by showing his in-car camera and some radio chatter. I guess it was time for a Budweiser commercial or something. Fox finally got back to showing Martin and Biffle racing hard for fourth position. Larry pointed out Martin had moved up from 18th position.

I'm very happy to see that the Fox ticker has been moved back up higher on the screen this season. It was dropping so low the last couple of years, pretty soon it was going to cover up half the racing.

I guess it was time for a Cingular commercial and a really nice shot of nothing out of Jeff Burton's in-car camera while we heard about some silly poll. When they actually broke away to another commercial at lap 32, we were told Stewart now had a 1.5 second lead. Over on PRN, the announcers told us which cars had just been lapped and that Newman was the next car about to go a lap down. I guess it's much more important to show us a video montage of the pre-race show returning from commercial as Fox did this time. How absurd! Oh yes, and just for me because they know I mute the start of the race, I was "treated" to a replay of BBB. They finally got back to showing the race around lap 39 and DW told us Martin had passed Yeley and moved into second. I saw that Newman had, in fact, been lapped, but Fox didn't mention it (or all those other guys who already got lapped.) The heck with their fans; they can just watch the ticker I guess.

DW told us that was "trouble in turn two" and it looked like a tire down on Reed Sorenson's car. Larry pointed out this late in a run, the cars were starting to push because drivers were probably starting to abuse their tires. DW told us that Jeff Gordon had also just told his crew chief his tires weren't feeling right. Fox showed a replay of Sorenson's incident, but you really couldn't see much. Where's that crane cam when you need it?

Mike finally mentioned that Newman had been lapped, but so had Kevin LePage and he would get the free pass. Mike also pointed out this caution was very timely because Earnhardt and Edwards were close to being lapped.

When Fox showed pit stops throughout the day, my head just seemed to spin! First they didn't get the hint that their four-way-split is totally useless. Obviously, they think it is cute, but It shows me nothing. On top of that, every pit stop, Fox seemed to switch from it to showing a single car for a couple of seconds, then back to the split, then another single car. After a while, I just gave up on following pit stops at all and waited to see the pilon of the top 11 as they exited the pits (why 11 instead of 10?).

Larry told us that though Kenseth's team took four tires, they were still fast enough to gain 6 positions in the pits. While Fox went to another commerical, PRN had an interview with Sorenson. Fox didn't get around to talking to him for quite some time (lap 72).

When Fox returned, they told us Terry Labonte stayed out to lead a lap, but now Martin was the leader. At lap 49, Larry pointed out Kevin Harvick had started in 29th, but was now up to sixth position, partially due to a good pit stop.

Around lap 53, Fox had an excellent shot zoomed out enough to see several cars battling for position. We need more of these kind of shots!!! While showing telemetry from Kahne's car at lap 56, Mike pointed out how you could hear where he had to get out of the gas in the corner. This was a great observation!

At lap 58, as Fox went to commercial, they told us Martin had a one second lead. When they returned at lap 63, we got treated to a nine-way-split of the all the in-car cameras. I guess someone forgot to bombard us with this at the start of the race. Finally back to some race coverage, with the announcers telling us that Yeley had a vibration and we saw him pitting for right side tires. When he came out, Larry told us he had lost a lap and a half.

A couple of times during the day, Fox showed a graphic of how the track temperatures had dropped and explained how this would affect the handling of the cars. During the first one, we saw the temperature had gone down five degrees since the race start and Larry said this would help give the tires more grip. Good information.

Although Fox seemed to really be trying to show a lot of battles, it seemed like the director would not get back in time to show what led up to passes in the top five. He'd be showing something (usually an in-car camera of one of TV's favorites) and all of the sudden, we'd see someone pass for position near the front. As always, I say coverage means showing more than the pass, but how someone closes in and sets up the pass.

As Fox went to commercial at lap 76, we got a video of Martin telling us "more racing is coming your way." Why not show us that racing instead of a silly promo such as this? Then when they returned, we saw one of many "race recaps." What I found particularly interesting was that this recap showed Earnhardt and the announcers said "working his way through the pack," when he was actually passing Newman and Marlin who had already been lapped. Talk about making up a story to try and play to a driver's fans!

At lap 83, Larry updated us on Yeley's unscheduled pit stop and that his team found a wheel was loose, rather than a tire going down. Right after this, we saw Joe Nemechek get sideways and a good replay of the incident.

At lap 91, Mike alerted us to an incident in turn three and that Newman had hit the wall hard. We were also told this was again good news for Earnhardt, Mayfield, Robbie Gordon and Sadler, as they were just about to be lapped. Replays showed Newman's right front had gone down and then we saw him going behind the wall. Larry pointed out he had about the same amount of laps on his tires as when Sorenson's tire went down.

The announcers told us Marlin would get the free pass. Next, we got a lovely shot of the infield grass from the cable cam as well as a big graphic of it's sponsor. Then Fox got around to covering pit stops. Larry pointed out that it helped Kenseth's team in getting him out fast because the car pitting in front of him (Brent Sherman) wasn't on the lead lap.

I noticed that Stewart hit the cone entering pit road and speculated if he would be penalized. Fox on the other hand, though showing a replay, seemed to be working hard to find a reason why he wouldn't be penalized- saying things like "it's a ball and strike call" or "it's borderline." Later, they said NASCAR had decided the cone wasn't placed properly, so there would be no penalty.

Dick interviewed Newman, who said he had a right front tire go down. After the restart, we saw Kenseth passing Stewart and the announcers explained this was simply a "pull over" to let him lead a lap, as Stewart quickly went back by.

Fox showed us a replay of some four-wide racing between 16-20th positions. At lap 106, Fox caught the end of Nemechek spinning into the infield. They play his radio, catching the driver telling his team "sorry about that." Fox had several good replays of the incident, where it appeared no one had touched him.

After the crane cam picture of the infield, we saw pit stops. Matt Yocum told us Biffle took right side tires only, and Larry said Martin also took only two. The announcers thought Mayfield took fuel only and confirmed that after they returned from commercial.

On the restart, Fox did Crank it Up, which included a confusing switch between in-cars and stationary camera shots as the field went by. As always, this really spoils the restart for me. I like to see the front of the field interacting with the lapped cars on restarts. Instead Fox makes their gimmick the center of attention, instead of the restart as it should be.

Larry said Kurt Busch was being passed by everyone and this showed two tires wasn't the way to go. He also pointed out Martin and Biffle were doing better on their two tires since they were up front and not around a lot of other cars. While Fox was showing Mears getting sideways, they missed the pass for the lead, but we got a replay of the pass. Where's the split screen these days? Next, more in-car from the 8 and some radio chatter, which cut off abruptly as Fox switched back to show the leader running alone. At lap 152, Fox seemed to find their split screen after all, showing us an interview with Kyle Busch on one side and his car running alone on the other. Wow, that's real meaningful coverage. More of those wonderful shots of a car running alone, I see. Again, the interview was something that would be more appropriate in a pre-race show. Finally we got back to some racing as Larry explained Mayfield's team really paid the price for going with only two tires, as he was now being lapped by the leader.

Jeff did a nice feature on the Cutaway Car where he explained both the 41 and 12 teams had discovered their tire failures were due to heat from the brakes melting the bead on their tires. We really didn't need to see more replays of their wrecks instead of live racing though.

At lap 156, the announcers told us a caution had come out for debris in turn two. The announcers speculated it was metal on the track, but when we saw a track worker pick it up, the announcers said "oh, it's only a water bottle." At least the Fox director made an effort to show the viewers the debris this week, so that's a good thing.

At the lap 160 restart, Mike told us there were 30 cars on the lead lap and Larry said "pretty much everyone took four tires this time." Lap 161 - time for another Budweiser in-car commercial. Lap 165, back to some racing and showing Ken Schrader, though the announcers seemed quite confused as to the smoke they were describing coming from his car. First they thought it was contact with Mears on the right side, but eventually Larry pointed out (as you could clearly see), the smoke was coming from the other side of the car, so it might be an engine problem.

Dick seemed to be sucking up to DW for some reason when he said how good his eyes were from the booth to see the brake dust that came out of Kenseth's tires during the last pit stop. Uh, Dick, don't the guys in the booth actually have monitors to see what's going on during pit stops?

At lap 178, Fox actually cut away from Jeff doing a commercial for something to show us that Kyle Busch was closing in on Kenseth for the lead. They also mentioned Clint Bowyer was up to 14th position and DW pointed out all three Childress cars were running well with, Burton and Harvick in 8th and 9th positions.

Just when I commented they had barely shown their usual favorite, Michael Waltrip, Fox went to his in-car camera. Coincidence that his sponsor was now doing a block of commercials during that segment? Mike told us that Waltrip was three laps down in 36th place. Fox did also show Mears in 24th, Sadler in 25th, and Dave Blaney in 32nd position. Gee, I'd actually forgotten some of them were even in this race!

When the caution came out again for debris at lap 186, Fox was quick to show us that it was a spring rubber. Then we heard all about whose birthdays were near and saw another billboard for Fox shows. Eventually, Fox did more disjointed coverage of pit stops. After showing the pit exit graphic, Mike asked what happened to Mark Martin, who dropped six spots. But he and the viewers weren't to find out until much later as Fox needed another commercial break.

When they returned, we got a graphic of "points now," and an advertisement for a new product by the series sponsor and more of the cable-cam's sponsor's graphic. Finally, Mike told us that Schrader had been on pit-road during the caution with the hood up, and that Martin's team had a problem with their left front tire during the pit stop and he had dropped back to 11th position.

With 72 laps to go, there was a close-up shot of Jeff Gordon's car and Matt explained that he'd had a hole in the front of the car, but you could see the team had now patched it. He went on to explain the hole had made the car very tight, but the tape should help that.

After the restart, Fox showed Biffle and Gordon hitting side to side. There were replays of the incident and then a live shot of the wheel marks and a hole in Gordon's door from the contact. With 64 laps to go, Fox showed Stewart catching Kyle Busch for second position. Then we heard about some poker player in Robbie Gordon's pit during the race. Was he paying Fox for coverage too?

When the Cingular poll results were shown that people voting thought banking would improve the Las Vegas track, Mike seemed to want to explain the outcome as "88% of you want to come here after the banking is increased." Huh? I didn't see where anyone voting said they wanted to come to the Las Vegas track. Is it TV's job to promote the tracks now? I mean, at the start of the race, the announcers assured us this race was a sell-out and there was "standing room only," yet you could clearly see some empty seats. I guess those folks must've been out shopping or something.

When Fox returned from commercial with 55 laps remaining, we got another race recap and apparently that caused them to miss a live pass for 3rd, so they just tacked a replay of that onto the end. How sad...

With 48 laps to go, the announcers told us Martin had now fallen back to 12th. Larry pointed out the team didn't seem to be able to recover from that bad pit stop earlier since he was stuck back in traffic and couldn't get any clean air. Matt also reported that Stewart said his car was aero tight and not handling well.

Mike told us that third place, Johnson, was 3 seconds behind leader, Kenseth, and we saw the Pace Chase of the interval between them while Dick talked to Johnson's crew chief in an inset. It was very disappointing that the director stayed with the in-car shot when Johnson passed Busch for second. It's much more meaningful to see things like this from the normal view. Just as I was screaming "Show us the distance to the leader," the director decided to zoom out so the viewers could actually see how far he was ahead of Johnson. Thank you! Graphics and telemetry only go so far; sometimes, the viewers would simply like to see for themselves.

Fox did a good job of catching when Stewart kept ramming Kyle Busch in the rear, and Steve reported Kyle admitted to his crew he'd overdriven his car when Stewart was trying to pass him.

Right after this, another debris caution came out and Mike told us this was the third one (for debris). Unfortunately, this time the camera never showed the debris in turn two.

After pit stops, the announcers told us Kurt Busch would receive a penalty for being too fast exiting pit road. Fox also played a radio clip from Kyle Busch where he said "the son of a ^&%$# is trying to kill me!" That was good, but I personally didn't need the bleep. They also showed a replay of the last restart, pointing out that Busch correctly passed to the outside. Someone told us that Stewart was mad because he felt Busch was "holding him up." Then we saw a couple of replays of Stewart hitting Busch.

With 21 laps to go, Dick told us that Harvick had dropped back to 11th and had told his crew his car was "plowing." There was another graphic showing the track temperature had dropped 20 degrees since the start of the race. The announcers pointed out this was now making them lose a lot of grip.

At lap 248, Fox cut away from racing to show us a wax figure of Jeff Gordon that was just unveiled in Las Vegas. Again, why couldn't this be on the pre-race show instead of in the waning laps of the race? While Fox was showing another race recap, PRN told us about a battle between the 5, 20, and 9 for third position. When Fox finally returned, there was a HUGE Visa graphic and car on the screen and the accompanying silly tire squeeling noises as it disappeared. Finally, we heard that Stewart had "smacked the wall."

Fox did a decent job of updating us on a lot of top 15 drivers during the waning laps. Around 11 laps to go, Fox told us Kahne was catching Kyle Busch for third place. Also that Mears was up to 12th and Earnhardt up to 13th. They showed Gordon passing Stewart for fifth and later Burton and Martin getting by him as well. At 9 to go, Fox showed Marlin slowing on the backstretch and we heard his radio where he said he had no oil pressure. Unfortunately, no one care to interview him about what happened.

At 7 laps to go, Larry told us that Kenseth would probably only catch one more lapped car before the end which could possibly slow him down. Right after that, Mike told us that Johnson had cut the distance between them in half and Larry said he was gaining 1/10 a lap on Kenseth.

Right after this, we were told Stewart had a tire down and the caution was out. Then Fox quickly showed us a replay of Hamlin hitting Wallace and the fender coming off his car, which actually brought out the caution. I'm glad they were quick to tell us this or the viewers would have really questioned why the caution was out for a simple cut tire.

Larry started explaining the green/white/checkers provision by NASCAR. I just don't know why the networks both have to call this "overtime" to try and make it sound like some stick and ball sport! Larry also mentioned that teams had about 30 laps on their tires and speculated who might pit. Before we got the answer, Jeanne was telling us Kenseth had a problem with his car. I'm sure she was trying to explain that he'd switched ignition boxes, but instead told us he'd "switched to his reserve motor." WHAT??? I'm sorry, but if she really can't do better pit reporting than this, please stick with just three pit reporters. They did a fine job in California without her. I don't need to see a woman reporter if she's going to make such a fool of herself with statements like this one.

Back to reality: Larry told us everyone from 12th place, Riggs, back came in for new tires. Dick told us that Johnson's crew told him about Kenseth's ignition problems. Larry reported that Earnhardt and Riggs were too fast entering pit road and would be sent to the end of the longest line. Then they had time for another commercial before the restart.

Unfortunately, Fox had to use their stupid pointers at the beginning of the G/W/C restart. Why can't they just give them a rest when folks are trying to concentrate on an exciting finish? Then the director just couldn't resist trying to go for just one last in-car shot from Johnson's car and at a pivotal point in the race, the signal locked up, and so they missed part of Johnson's pass of Kenseth to win the race.

We got to see Johnson get the checkered flag from the flagman. For once, I agreed with DW when he said he preferred getting the flag over burnouts. Then Fox went away for a ridiculously long time! How sad that the race winners have to sit in their cars while the networks are away at commercial.

When they finally got back, we saw several replays of the finish, Johnson's celebrating from his in-car and his radio. Also, Fox showed the 48 team's excitement at winning and the 17 team's disappointment. They played the radio where Kenseth apologized to his team. FINALLY, they got to Victory Lane when Steve queued the winner that he could get out of his car and celebrate. Jeanne with Kenseth, who had to explain her error about the motor. Too late to backpedal now, Jeanne. Fox had interviews with drivers finishing 3rd and 4th before we went back to the announcers in the booth, and then Jeff giving us the farewell from the Hollywood Hotel. Funny, I didn't even notice Meyers was absent in the late stages of the race. During all of this, the finishing order was reduced to another ticker, so I had to rewind the Tivo to actually see where everyone finished. Thankfully, the points standings were on a graphic right before they left the air.

It was obvious Fox was really trying to do a better job covering more of the action on the track. It's just that the need to show the favorites of TV and those with sponsors buying commercial time really interfered with those efforts a lot of the time. Also, the director needs to try and resist the temptation to use the in-car cameras so much. It just breaks up the continuity of the race and most fans view them as simply a way to get the sponsors of the cameras more TV time. Also, why does it seem so hard for the current networks to zoom out and show more than one car at time? No wonder so many fans are bored lately. Watching single cars going around in a shot is pretty boring. I'm sorry to be so sarcastic about some of the things in the broadcast, but my frustration with Fox just takes over at times. Overall, I'd say this was an average broadcast by Fox.

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