Sunday, March 8, 2009
The story began to unfold shortly after Chris Myers signed-off from the Hollywood Hotel and the Sprint Cup Series cars took to the track at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. The cars strung-out quickly and the race took on the look that fans know all too well. The COT was racing in Atlanta on Fox.
Mike Joy may be the best NASCAR play-by-play guy in the business, but the burden of keeping the fans interested in this telecast should not have been placed squarely on his shoulders. Once Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds had exhausted their Atlanta stories and anecdotes, it was Joy who carried the day.
This season has seen a very different dynamic in terms of the teams coming to the track each week. Between the contraction of the power teams and the back markers clawing their way into the field, the stories of the sport are now spread from the pole to the final qualifier.
To that end, Fox has been struggling with their own form of tunnel vision. Once the race is underway and things have settled down, the pit reporters begin to fade into the background. The production priorities in this race were Digger, video race recaps from the Hollywood Hotel and then a return to the action on the track.
While several drivers who fell out of the race were interviewed, Fox has dropped a fundamental tool that the other NASCAR TV networks use on a regular basis. The radio networks covering the Sprint Cup Series use this tool as a key piece of their overall coverage. Call it a full field rundown, a through the field feature or even a race recap. What Fox has dropped is the information on the teams outside of the top ten.
The dynamics of this event were certainly scrambled when many teams went a lap down, but that should not be an excuse to remove those teams from the TV coverage. This is not a normal NASCAR season and it is crucial for almost every team to try and get some TV exposure regardless of the circumstances or their position on the track.
Once again, the Fox ticker at the top of the screen was the only reference for fans of those cars who had faded from the lead lap. While clumps of cars were seen racing, once the field strung out for a long run, the tunnel vision returned. Since NASCAR does not pay anymore for the leader at the halfway point, the TV networks are basically free to comb through the field and look for the stories of the race that would be interesting for the viewers.
This is where the top team of NASCAR pit reporters on TV was once again left out in the cold. The Fox trio in the booth this season loves to talk and talk they did about almost everything under the sun. When they were not talking, it was time for Chris Myers and Jeff Hammond to follow-up on something the trio in the booth had...well...talked about. At times, this circle was maddening.
Unfortunately, technical problems probably caused by solar interference happened across the country during the race. TDP readers started reporting the problems in California and by the middle of the race those of us in Florida were staring at green screens with no audio on both the SD and HD feeds.
On the good side, nice pictures and great sound meant another strong performance by the TV tech team at the track. Quick access to the NASCAR video of the cars leaving pit road and the overhead shots of the racing action were very useful. Fox changed the lower right video box on the pit stops to show pit road instead of a fourth car. This worked, but is still hard to see without a big screen TV.
Luckily, the closing laps gave the TV telecast some excitement and featured several good stories. The new graphics and camera wideshot showing the cars on the lead lap crossing the finish line are a wonderful addition to the telecast. Once again, despite running late, the Fox team finished the telecast with all the right interviews and explanations.
The Digger factor was as annoying as usual, but the announce team now routinely ignores the animation being played if something is happening on the track. The cringe factor is still there when Digger is used as a "funny element" over a replay of an accident that has just ended the racing day of a Sprint Cup team.
The NASCAR on Fox team has next weekend off and then it is on to Bristol for the most hectic TV telecast of the season featuring laps of fifteen seconds in length. There is no bigger challenge for a TV crew than Bristol.
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The NASCAR on Fox crew is now several races into their season and hitting full stride. The TV veterans are going to once again be at one of the favorite tracks for good NASCAR racing and even better telecasts.
The Atlanta Motor Speedway promises a better scenario than last season's tire problems and single car domination. The CWTS race on Saturday set the tone with good action and no tire problems.
This week, there is no overlap with RaceDay on SPEED and the Fox pre-race is only thirty minutes long. That should solve a lot of the problems that viewers saw last week, including two Fox TV networks on the air from the same site at the same time live.
Chris Myers starts the day in the Hollywood Hotel with Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond alongside. There will be a feature involving Bobby Labonte and Larry McReynolds makes his annual visit to The Weather Channel.
Once the action starts, Mike Joy will handle the play-by-play with Waltrip and McReynolds alongside in the booth. Down on pit road is the best group of pit reporters in TV. Steve Byrnes, Dick Berggren, Krista Voda and Matt Yocum will once again be front-and-center with the stories of the race.
Fox continues to use a quad-split (4 video boxes) during yellow flag pit stops. The other NASCAR TV networks use three boxes, which enables them to keep a wideshot of pit road on the screen. This lets viewers see the cars pulling in and out as the stops are in-progress. the quad-split covers pit road and fans lose the perspective of who is where and what is going on.
The good news is that Fox has changed the final lap of the racing coverage to give fans a clear view of the lead lap cars crossing the finish line. This includes a new graphic element at the top of the screen that shows the finishing order as the cars cross the line. That was long overdue, but a welcome addition to the telecast.
There is a new dynamic in the Sprint Cup Series with independent teams trying to make a name for themselves. There are also former top teams struggling in the middle of the field and seemingly unable to get the COT technology to work for them.
This demands that the TV coverage go back in the pack much more often and update the stories of the race throughout the field. Fox struggled with this in Las Vegas, but Atlanta should give the TV crew an opportunity to look back and keep the fans of those teams updated.
The green flag is set for 2:16PM and the Fox TV stations are scheduled to continue the coverage until 6PM. The weather is good and the track is fast, the potential for an outstanding NASCAR on Fox is ripe for the picking.
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