NASCAR television broadcasts are one of the biggest sources of fan angst these days, though I admit to not fully understanding why.
Over at The Daly Planet blog, fans constantly gripe about everything from the camera angles to the quality of the announcing to Digger.
So when I hear fans say, "Fox is terrible" or "ESPN's coverage is awful," I mostly just shrug. The sheer volume of complaints over the years makes it seem like fans can never be pleased with the TV broadcast no matter what, which probably makes NASCAR and the networks tune out the complaints after awhile.
And honestly, I'm not sure NASCAR's TV partners can win, no matter what they do. They're always an easy target.
Because of that, and because I'm often at the track and therefore not reliant on the broadcast for information, I typically stay out of the TV debate.
On Saturday night, though, I was a viewer for the first time this season. And I was disappointed.
I'm not referring to Fox's actual race broadcast. I can't criticize that for several reasons:
- I don't have the technical TV knowledge to analyze camera angles or how Fox covers pit stops, etc.
- I've been in the TV production truck before and can tell you first-hand how difficult of a job they have to pick the right shot or balance commercials with live racing.
- While I agree that listening to Darrell Waltrip can be annoying at times, I doubt a different analyst would have dramatically enhanced the broadcast for me.
So what's my beef with Fox then? The post-race coverage.
Fox absolutely failed with post-race interviews on Saturday night. I spent the rest of the night frustrated with how the coverage went down.
As a viewer who has just invested more than four hours into the broadcast, I expect two things: First, to show us the finish again and analyze it if there was an exciting ending; second (and most important), to interview the participants to get their take on what happened in the race.
In this case, there were two major storylines in the race aside from the winner: Kyle Busch was going to sweep the weekend until he took four tires on the last pit stop, and Denny Hamlin raced the full 375 miles on a surgically repaired knee.
But viewers heard from neither of those drivers, nor was there any indication an attempt was made to interview them.
Granted, Busch can be difficult to interview when he's pissed. But come on, at least try to interview him, then tell us if he declined to comment or stormed off.
And a post-race comment from Hamlin would have been the biggest no-brainer of all. Fox highlighted the Hamlin storyline all race long (it was the No. 1 item leading into the weekend), then never showed a shot of him getting out of the car afterward or asked him for an interview (that we saw).
It's worth noting Hamlin spoke to other reporters after the race, so it's not as if he was in a Kylesque mood.
The backstory here is Fox was well over its broadcast window and needed to get off the air rather quickly. Last year, the Phoenix races averaged two hours and 51 minutes. This year, after the track added 63 laps to the race, it took three hours and 48 minutes.
Everyone knew it was going to be a longer race, so it's unclear why Fox's window didn't accommodate that.
Regardless, this meant Fox apparently only had time for three interviews (as well as another trip back to the Hollywood Hotel and a return to the booth to hear from Ol' DW and the gang one more time).
Race winner Ryan Newman was interviewed, along with runner-up Jeff Gordon and the 10 billionth interview from Jimmie Johnson, who placed third and led laps but wasn't a factor in the green-white-checkered finish.
Couldn't we have heard from Kyle instead of Jimmie? And Denny instead of Jeff (Hammond, not Gordon)?
Maybe this all sounds nitpicky, just like the chorus of complaints from NASCAR viewers every week.
Or maybe those people who constantly chime in at the Daly Planet blog sometimes have a point.