Monday, April 7, 2008
Finish Line Problems Plague "NASCAR On Fox"
The email hit The Daly Planet like a tsunami headed for the beach. The messages ranged from the semi-calm to the completely enraged.
The language ranged from very well-written to emails completely laced with profanity. Despite the differences in wording, the single focus of every comment was clear.
NASCAR on Fox had blown the finish of a NASCAR race once again.
Fans of Clint Bowyer led the way with a wide variety of terms for almost everyone associated with the NASCAR on Fox broadcast. Fans of Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Jeff Burton and Denny Hamlin also seemed to be in fine form where angry email was concerned. The bottom line is, they all had a right to be mad.
There is no doubt that the NASCAR on Fox personalities are focused on providing a good TV product for the fans. Larry McReynolds is the best at talking about the small details of a race car. This season has been outstanding for Darrell Waltrip on-the-air in a wide variety of roles on both Fox and SPEED. When Mike Joy is in the broadcast booth and "directing traffic" viewers know they are getting the best race telecast possible.
This was never more apparent than during the big Michael McDowell crash during qualifying. As I wrote in this column, thank goodness that the veteran NASCAR on Fox crew was on-hand to lead NASCAR TV fans through this trauma. As McDowell emerged from his car, Mike Joy knew he had more than just the driver to address.
It was important to bring back the fans who were simply in shock by what they had just seen. The images of the crash had to be tied together with the reality of an uninjured driver. Waltrip, McReynolds and Joy did just that for the TV viewers.
Once the Texas Sprint Cup race got underway, there were few caution flags and little side-by-side racing. The announcers really had to work to bring-out the stories happening on the track. Fortunately, they did so with great success. Jeff Gordon's struggles, the lack of a Texas COT test and the potential vindication of Carl Edwards highlighted an outstanding broadcast from a commentary perspective.
All of the pit reporters and both of the analysts contributed during the race to keep viewers interested. Jeff Hammond worked hard from the Hollywood Hotel, but the telecast was ill-served with a late on-camera plug for a local eatery.
The Fox pictures and sound were great, and the track-level "Digger" cam thankfully flew below-the-radar during the entire event. The pit stops under caution still contain a lot of video boxes, but Fox seems committed to that format for the rest of their run. Video "bumpers" of drivers who are familiar to millions continue to be used going to commercial even as the cars race under the green flag.
During the 2007 season of NASCAR on Fox, The Daly Planet ran columns detailing the struggle of the network to define what fans wanted to see on the final lap. Fox had decided that the drama of the winner topped anything and everything happening behind first place.
It began with this column in March of 2007 and grew with this article until it finally reached a crescendo at Charlotte and claimed Kyle Petty as another victim. At that time, few believed this problem would re-surface in 2008.
Now, seven races into the season and halfway through the NASCAR on Fox package, this problem has come to a head. After an entire afternoon of trying to coax storylines and action from a single-file race, the announcers had a shootout to call for the final laps. Everything was in-place from personalities who wanted to win to cars ready to make a charge on new tires. This was going to be good.
As the final lap of the race unfolded, it was clear that the top ten would be a free-for-all. Then, as Carl Edwards pulled away from Jimmie Johnson, all eyes turned to the mad scramble behind them. Mike Joy called it "a hornet's nest" as a tight pack of cars dueled three-wide down the backstretch and and sprinted for the finish line.
As Edwards made his way off the final turn, Fox showed an infield shot of his car only and then the camera started a slow zoom into the NASCAR flagman. Regular NASCAR on Fox viewers knew that move all too well. It was time for "drama" to take over "racing" once again.
It was only Larry McReynolds yelling that Clint Bowyer was crashing off the final turn that caused a sudden switch back to the track as a portion of the field crossed the line. It was unclear who was where or what was happening. There were no graphics on the screen. The announcers were watching the action on the track, as were the fans in the stands. It did not work out well for the millions of TV viewers.
Even as the live in-car camera once again showed the winner slowing down on the backstretch, the announcers were still talking about the racing action of the other top ten cars. Only after Edwards had made his lap, unbuckled his equipment and did his customary back-flip did viewers see a replay of the finish and understand what had happened.
Joy and company did a good job during the replay of explaining exactly what happened on that final sprint to the line. It was a shame that the momentum and excitement of the live action was once again broken by poor camera selection. I wonder how many NASCAR fans were standing in their living rooms or at their favorite watering holes and yelling at the TV set once again?
We all know that when a TV network gets the rights to a NASCAR race they can show anything they want anyway they want. Fox paid many millions of dollars for this product. If this is the philosophy of the network on the final lap, then that is simply the way it is going to be. Get ready for some more yelling.
There are six Sprint Cup Series races left in the NASCAR on Fox TV package for 2008.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page. Thanks for taking the time to give us your opinion on this topic.