Sunday, March 30, 2008
NASCAR on Fox "Loses It" On The Last Lap
The task for the veteran NASCAR on Fox crew was simple. Deal with the awful spring weather in Martinsville, Virginia.
The temperature was in the 40's, the skies were gray and the threat of rain was constant. TV viewers knew from the drop of the green flag that this race would probably be to the halfway point.
Mike Joy and crew were upfront about the weather from the start of the telecast. Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds used their experience to continually update the race strategies crews were considering with all the weather elements. This really added a nice touch to the broadcast while it was in-progress.
The gray skies and the on-and-off drizzle put a damper on the mood, but the pit reporters continued to follow the stories and worked hard to update the TV viewers. Their reports often featured the reality of the outdated Martinsville pit road.
Fox continues to try and use the quad-split effect that shows four cars during the pit stops. The theory is that each car's stop can be seen, timed, and then a wideshot can catch the race off pit road. At least that is the theory.
The reality of a winding pit road at Martinsville forced the Director to often leave the "effect" before all four cars were done and the chaos of the departing cars sometimes left viewers lost. Sometimes, theory is better abandoned when reality suggests things should change.
Fox has embraced "Digger" the Gopher Cam, but there is no feedback to suggest viewers have done the same. Used as an occasionally "different" camera angle, this track-level view first used on Thursday Night Thunder on ESPN is interesting.
Used regularly as the race is in-progress, it becomes distracting and slowly grinds down the patience of the viewer as the laps are interrupted by this now sponsored element. Fortunately, the constant racing action forced the Director to limit his use of this toy. Only a few wrecks and passes were missed while "Digger" was on-the-air live under green flag conditions.
Mike Joy never faded with his commentary and worked to keep the storylines fresh even as the soggy laps continued to grind-down. Once the race went past the halfway point, the real stories of the event began to emerge. From the Top 35 in points to Cup rookies to Hendrick Motorsports, Joy did a solid job of relaying a big amount of information throughout the event.
Unfortunately, after a very long race in very unfavorable conditions, the Achilles Heel of the Fox coverage reared its ugly head once again. Over the last twenty laps, the announce team did their best to "set the table" for the racing action that was about to reach a fever pitch. With only a few cars out of the race, this was going to be a dash to the finish that would be remembered for a long time.
Over the past several races, the Fox Director has made very interesting decisions on the final lap of the race. Martinsville would be no exception. Despite the racing for position throughout the pack, TV viewers saw only winner Denny Hamlin cross the finish line. No other cars were shown finishing the race.
After Hamlin crossed the line, viewers saw his in-car camera as he began to slow down. Meanwhile, the announcers were still calling the action and watching the rest of the field beat-and-bang to the finish. It was only the TV announcers and the fans in the stands who watched the field finish the race.
Once the race was over, things got awkward on-the-air. Fox tried to replay some of the cars on the final lap, but it made no sense and the announcers never knew it was coming. The bottom line is, once again TV viewers were shut-out of the live race finish.
It was somewhat ironic as the Fox pit reporters talked to several of the top finishers. The questions and answers focused on the race finish, which apparently was quite exciting for many teams. TV viewers will never have that perspective, and the NASCAR on Fox crew made the decision not to replay the finish of the drivers that were being interviewed.
As they left the air, this now off-balance crew did not update the critical Top 35 points list that will set the table for next week in Texas. Perhaps, the fact that no one in North America except the fans in the stands saw the finish of the race had finally sunk-in.
Fans of Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson had to be sitting in front of the TV and asking the same question. Why? Fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr. who had watched him run an outstanding race wondered why his hard-fought sixth place finish was not shown. For some teams, the final lap at Martinsville might have made the difference between making the Top 35 and being sent to "Go or Go Home land."
Each TV network chooses how they approach the finish, and Fox has the right to do as they please because they paid for the rights to telecast the events. If the focus on the winner fits their network agenda, that is what viewers will see until their portion of the Sprint Cup TV package is done.
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