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Fox Sports’ best new feature has an honesty gap, and NASCAR is almost certainly going to give the network another long-term contract to continue aggravating racing fans.

It seems petty – we’re not talking Lee, Richard, and Kyle – but now’s as good a time as any to point out that NASCAR’s longtime broadcast partner is having such a bad year that it has even tarnished its best new innovation.

The case against Fox Sports’ handling of NASCAR

A screen grab from the FS1 telecast of Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville.
A screen grab from the FS1 telecast of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville.

Fox Sports has a year and a half left on its contract to televise NASCAR races but will almost certainly negotiate an extension by the end of the year. The Cup Series portion of the NASCAR rights has Fox showing the first half of the season and NBC covering the remainder of the year. Racing fans criticize both networks with frequency and passion, but Fox has been especially bad this season on three counts:

  • Whether accurate or not, it’s felt as though the commercial load has been heavier than in the past, causing fans to miss a lot of green-flag laps and occasional wrecks and spins that don’t get aired until several minutes later.
  • The production truck personnel is slow reacting to developments. Mike Joy and Clint Bowyer promptly call out wrecks and spins on the track. By the time the truck switches cameras, all the audience sees is cars facing the wrong direction.
  • Joy and Bowyer generally get the announcing job done, but the rotating cast of analysts alongside them rarely measures up, except for Tony Stewart. Whether it’s a matter of energy or continuity from race to race, something feels off.

Full disclosure: I worked for what feels like a lifetime ago, so it’s conceivable that I sometimes cut the network more of a break than it deserves. In years past, I occasionally suggested people may have been unfairly comparing NASCAR telecasts to the commercial-free F1 broadcasts. I can’t try to mount any such defense this time.

Fox’s best new innovation is deceptive

With cameras getting smaller while delivering crisper video with each passing year, Fox has made more use of in-car video. Being able to watch Denny Hamlin shove J.J. Yeley aside from inside the No. 11 Toyota was a win for viewers.

Fox has also stepped up the use of heart monitors on drivers, sliding updates under the scoring pylon on the left side of the screen from time to time.

One of the network’s better ideas – at least I thought so when they rolled it out – was the progress bar atop the pylon to offer a visual representation of how much of the race has been run under green and yellow flags. It’s not a perfect tool for helping gauge tire or fuel strategy, but it at least serves as a recap of the flow of the race.

Here’s the problem: The graphic ceases to be accurate after the first stage. That’s because the first two stages end with a caution period. The number of laps varies based on the size of the track and whether a racing incident occurred late in the stage and necessitated a longer yellow flag.

Sunday’s Cup Series race at Martinsville saw cautions lasting 10 laps after the first stage and 11 after the second. Combined, that represents just over 5% of the race, but you would have never known by looking at the screen grab above that was captured during the third stage.

Glossing over the obvious insults fans’ intelligence

Stage racing is the scourge of many NASCAR fans. It was implemented in part to create breaks allowing the networks to air more commercials without missing green-flag action.

The points at stake have playoff implications, which contributes to increasing interest. However, it also creates an anomaly in which the race winner sometimes leaves the track having earned fewer points than drivers who finished behind him.

And, of course, the restarts bunch up the field. Why bother trying to stretch a two-second lead into a three-second lead late in a stage if there’s going to be a restart in a few minutes?

Mostly, hardcore fans resent the caution laps during stage breaks counting toward the race’s distance. They may have named it the NOCO 400, but Sunday’s race at Martinsville might as well have been the NOCO 379.

It’s entirely possible NASCAR officials “suggested” to Fox that the race progress graphic should show stage breaks as green-flag laps, but the network didn’t have to play along. Remember, they’re paying NASCAR for the broadcast rights; NASCAR isn’t paying the network to show the races.

If Fox chooses to treat fans that way, it can’t very well complain when the audience pushes back over bad broadcasting.

Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected].


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