Saturday, April 4, 2009
Halfway Home For The "NASCAR On Fox" Team
Darrell Waltrip and company are making the turn this week and beginning another seven race trip to the end of the NASCAR on Fox season. Last year, Waltrip became increasingly emotional as the final race in this TV package approached.
Unlike many members of the Fox team from Larry McReynolds to Steve Byrnes, Waltrip is essentially done on TV for the year when the final Fox race is over on May 31st in Dover, DE. Although Waltrip still has a column on the Fox Sports website, his visibility level lowers significantly as Kyle Petty takes center stage for TNT.
Waltrip also ends his run each season as a founding member of the Friday night Trackside show on SPEED. This one hour interview program is hosted very informally by Steve Byrnes. Over the years, it has given Waltrip a platform to expose his views on racing issues as well as his endless promotional deals. Most recently, Waltrip showed up late to the show with a full-size Digger character along for the ride on his golf cart.
Other members of the TV team who do not continue down the NASCAR trail include Mike Joy, Dick Berggren and Chris Myers. Joy can be seen on SPEED putting his extensive car knowledge to work on the Barrett Jackson auctions while Myers continues to be an on-air favorite of the LA-based Fox Sports executives.
This season the on-air presentation of the Fox gang has been a mixture of improvements and question marks. Changes to production issues like showing a wideshot of all the lead lap cars racing to the finish line have been outstanding. Using a triple-split on the caution flag pitstops has enabled viewers to see the critical races off pit road. Reducing the number of Digger animations during green flag racing in the past couple of events has been welcome.
Unfortunately, the biggest issue of the season has been the inability of the TV team to document what is going on outside of the top ten cars. Time and time again teams would fall to the back without any follow-up on the air. From penalties to performance issues, the result would be the same. That team would simply be relegated to riding the scoring ticker at the top of the TV screen for the rest of the race.
The COT has changed the complexion of the sport. Top teams that miss the set-up have been put a lap down earlier than ever before. Penalties have been handed out by NASCAR in bunches and they all involve moving to the back. Finally, pit road errors due to a wide variety of time crunch issues have meant teams sometimes fall way back after a blown pit stop.
Simply continuing to put the TV focus on the top ten teams on the track does not tell the story of the race to the viewers. The biggest complaint emailed to TDP about the NASCAR on Fox broadcasts is that fans have to listen to the radio to find out where their team is once it falls out of the top ten.
Other than Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Waltrip favorite Kyle Busch, every team simply becomes another backmarker when they have trouble. As fans know, especially with the COT racing, there is rarely a compelling story at the front of the pack in the first half of the race. The real storylines are unfolding toward the back of the field as the reality of the COT struggles continue to grip even the most experienced teams.
The irony is that Fox has by far the best team of pit reporters on TV at the present time. Fans who watch SPEED produce the truck races and ESPN the Nationwide Series see "through the field" summaries all the time. ESPN even sponsors this feature. On the radio side, both MRN and PRN rundown the field with stories and updates continually.
With a little tweaking of priorities, even a fast-paced and frenetic race like Texas can be done with an eye toward keeping the fans of all the teams updated on the status of their driver throughout the event.
If this is the only real glaring issue of the season-to-date, it suggests just how easily the NASCAR on Fox team handles all the other challenges associated with presenting a live TV event often times larger than the Super Bowl.
Chris Myers begins the live coverage at 1:30PM ET with the green flag falling at 2:16PM. TDP will be live blogging the race, feel free to stop by and give us your opinion of the NASCAR on Fox coverage of the Sprint Cup Series race from Texas.
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