Over the past few seasons, NASCAR on Fox has been the center of much ridicule and anger from fans of the sport. From horrific pre-race segments such as "A Slice of Pizzi" and "The Adventures of Digger and Friends" to the poor "Hollywood Hotel" comedy act of Chris Myers, Jeff Hammond and Darrell Waltrip, the network's coverage seemed to be more about entertainment than the actual event taking place.
For one afternoon, however, Fox ditched the silliness and provided their best coverage in years during Sunday's telecast of the Daytona 500.
The pre-race show was "all killer, no filler"—no comedy segments, just straight-forward features and information. The most important change, however, came from Chris Myers, who ditched his "I kid because I care" schtick to act like a serious sportscaster. He displayed a great knowledge of the sport, and even kept Hammond and "Ol' DW" in line.
If they can keep this up every week, they'll be a worthy competitor to ABC/ESPN's NASCAR Countdown program.
As for the race coverage itself, Fox certainly used their new high-definition presentation to the network's advantage (standard-definition televisions received a letterbox format). The NFL on Fox theme was a vast improvement over "NASCAR Love," the theme for the network's Sprint Cup coverage from 2007-2010.
The new graphics package—also implemented on SPEED's telecasts during Speedweeks—may be the best the network has ever produced, as they are both vibrant and unable to take away from the actual race.
Digger, NASCAR on Fox's mascot gopher, showed up just once during in-race action, as it appears he will now be used mostly on commercial bumpers a la Cletus the robot on NFL coverage.
The on-air crew—with Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Waltrip in the booth and Matt Yocum, Dr. Dick Berggren, Krista Voda and Steve Brynes in the pits—started very strong, with the exception of "DW" trying to claim that his brother Michael spinning David Reutimann didn't start the "Big One" on lap 28.
Unfortunately, much like most of last season's Chasers in the event, the Fox crew struggled to the finish. Once again, Waltrip ruined what could have been a legendary call by Joy, as you can see here (Joy is yelling, "Cinderella's glass slipper fits!"). It's about time for Fox to reign Waltrip in, as they've done with Digger and Myers's goofball gimmick.
Voda handled the Victory Lane interview with Trevor Bayne, and called him "Travis" to begin the interview (it's a good thing that Bayne was in too much shock to realize it). From there, Fox interviewed the usual suspects—Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards—before talking to Bayne's mother.
Fox signed off at about 5:50 p.m., leaving viewers without interviews from third-place finisher David Gilliland, fourth-place finisher Bobby Labonte, or seventh-place finisher Regan Smith. Additionally, Bayne's owners—the Wood Brothers, one of the oldest teams in the Sprint Cup garage—were not interviewed, and crew chief Donnie Wingo was noticeably left out.
On Sunday, viewers were treated to the best presentation by Fox in quite some time, even though viewers were snubbed from a truly memorable call and intriguing postrace interviews.
Thoughts? Comment below.
Ryan Papaserge is a junior journalism/mass communication student at St. Bonaventure University and a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report.