Sunday, February 25, 2007

Fox Sports: NEXTEL Cup - Fontana

In the past, this publication has taken issue with the Fox philosophy of following the leader, and leaving the racing and the incidents to the fine art of the replay. At Fontana, the "NASCAR on Fox" production team used the two mile track to allow a larger amount of racing to be covered, and stories to emerge.

Despite the highly-touted debut of the new Hollywood Hotel, there were no guests on the set, which was curious at a location like Fontana, where celebrities usually abound. Considering years past, things were very different this time.

Mike, Larry, and DW continue to have an easy manner about them, and seem to be invigorated by the great finish at Daytona. Mike Joy and Krista Voda still struggle to mesh, but as the new member of the team, these small issues are to be expected. Voda is a better host than reporter, and her presence in the Hollywood Hotel might be a very interesting twist later in the season.

Unfortunately, an old issue arose for the Fox team that had fans nationwide standing and shaking their fists at the screen. After a long pre-race, an even longer race, and then a final red flag, one thing should have been written in cement. All drivers are to be shown crossing the finish line with the live scoring on the screen. Fox chose to leave the track the moment the winner crossed the line, showing absolutely no one else finish. What an amazingly poor production choice. And this after several years of solid TV experience for the Fox crew.

This issue was raised in the first year of Fox's coverage, and was soon put to bed with a wideshot and scoring monitor inserted at the end of events. Certainly, Daytona was different with the accident at the end, but this was a big mistake. Just imagine, only one car was shown ending the race after hours of TV viewing by die hard loyal fans. This needs to be fixed, and fixed fast.
Finally, the decision to show an unconscious David Reutimann in his wrecked race car might be discussed more than the Daytona late caution. It quieted the veteran announcers immediately, and certainly stunned viewers. If it was a production mistake, there should have been an apology. If not, then Fox is going to have some explaining to do. This is not DirecTV, pay-per-view, or cable television. Fox is an FCC regulated broadcast network, this was a live telecast of a family sport, and NASCAR officially sanctioned this telecast. If Reutimann had not awakened and had been seriously injured, what would Fox have to say for itself? I certainly hope SPEED addresses this issue on Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing Monday night.

SPEED: RaceDay - Fontana

It certainly is a comfort to have only positive things to say about the RaceDay show from Fontana. On the second racing weekend of the season, this show has used its Daytona momentum to continue to re-define great NASCAR television.

There was no better example of this than Wendy Venturini's interview with Robin Pemberton. Venturini carries the pedigree that allows her to venture into territory where other reporters would not be allowed. Pemberton answered the hard questions about Daytona's "caution-gate" with sincerity and ease. This was a solid response by SPEED to NASCAR President Mike Helton being interviewed on NASCAR Now the Monday after Daytona.

John Roberts continues to out-shine Brent Musburger while leading a band of absolutely diverse personalities through a multi-hour live program. Where else but SPEED can the questionable hair of Jimmy Spencer sit alongside the "sleeved out" tattooed arms of Riki Rachtman while they give each other grief about fantasy race picks? Even when faced with interviewing the actors in the new Fox show Drive, Roberts makes what could be an awkward time comfortable for the non-racing Hollywood types. What can't this guy do?