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It’s out with “Fox attitude” and in with the Peacock Network and the “We Got Drama” people for the 20-week grind known as the rest of the Winston Cup season. “Boogity, boogity, boogity” has gone into mothballs and Weber’s War Wagon will now be the weekly vehicle of choice. “Son of the Beach” promos have now mercifully disappeared and NASCAR fans will instead be subject to eight spots an hour hyping “Witchblade.”

But, frankly, NASCAR fans don’t care who broadcasts their races as long as the TV effort captures all the action, the on-air crew adds some occasional insight, the replays show what really happened, and commercials are kept to a reasonable minimum.

NBC/TNT’s second year of NASCAR coverage should be similar to their inaugural effort. Viewers can expect solid coverage with great shots from director Mike Wells, Bill Weber leading the effort on pit road, a talented crew putting together top-notch pre-race features, Dave Burns still discovering his humorous side, and a booth that is consistent but still searching for that Fox-like chemistry.

The bet here is that race fans will have little to complain about after the NBC/TNT team leaves Joliet on Sunday.

In the Fox finale from Daytona on Saturday night, viewers were treated to what might be considered Fox’ best effort over the past few years. There was lots of action to cover and the production team didn’t disappoint. There were numerous replays of every incident, the booth offered consistent and refreshing insight, and Matt Yocum led the pit reporters in offering new information about how DEI pit crews communicate and the specifics of a crucial radio conversation between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his crew.

But there were two incidents where Fox dropped the ball. First, many viewers are very upset at Fox for showing a distraught Martha Nemechek in tears while she waited for words on Joe’s condition. This crossed a line that NASCAR has been very faithful in honoring for decades with drivers’ families, that their privacy in difficult moments will be respected. This should be especially true for a mother who had already lost one son to a wall at a NASCAR race. I’ve just got to believe that it was somehow a momentary “brain fade” in the Fox truck and that it’s not a new approach to covering a race. It’s likely that NASCAR is none too happy about those few moments of screen time and will take steps to address this with their TV partners.

The other news item that Fox should have followed through on more effectively was the issue of the debris thrown on the backstretch. Many people didn’t realize what happened until they opened up their Sunday morning newspaper. A lot of viewers thought the Winston Million truck was somehow dropping money for some reason. Someone should have told the TV audience what was happening.

But no one’s perfect, and most race fans are very happy with the overall effort from Fox in these first two years.

The ratings for the second year under NASCAR’s multi-billion dollar TV deal remain strong. Fox’ regular season household rating average of 5.8 with a 14 share is equal to last year’s 5.8 rating and 15 share. This is especially impressive given that last year saw a big jump in ratings due to the Dale Earnhardt tragedy and that the Texas race was postponed by rain, and Texas is usually second to Daytona in the ratings for the entire year.

Some cities that are not considered NASCAR strongholds saw some impressive ratings increases this year. Albuquerque was up 47 percent, Portland saw a 35 percent jump, San Antonio increased by 29 percent, and Chicago was up by 23 percent.

One area of concern for NASCAR and TV executives is that among some key male demographic groups, ratings are down over 20 percent. This means nothing to the average fan, but it’s a cause for worry in the boardrooms. These key demographic groups are highly coveted by advertisers and ad rates with strong demographics mean a lot more revenue. Someone’s got to pay those bills totaling billions of dollars, and the right demographics help.

This year, however, is very strong for NASCAR ad sales. Turner and NBC have already sold their complete ad inventory for the rest of the 2002 season, at rates almost 10 percent higher than last year, and total sales are up 15-20 percent, according to Broadcasting & Cable.

As part of the mid-season transition, qualifying and Happy Hour coverage will now switch over to Speed Channel and TNT. This week sees Winston Cup qualifying coverage at 4:00 p.m. ET Friday and Happy Hour coverage beginning at Noon E.T. on Saturday, both on Speed Channel.

These outlets will also probably carry over into the second half of 2003. The proposed replacement for CNN/SI was AOL Sports Channel, which more than likely would have carried some NASCAR coverage. But that looks like it won’t get off the ground at all, with the NBA and AOL Time Warner opting instead to invest more money in NBA TV, which is now limited mostly to satellite carriers and digital cable.

Even though Fox’ half of Winston Cup and Busch Series coverage is history, don’t forget that “Totally NASCAR” will air every weeknight through the end of the season, and “Trackside” will air live on Speed Channel every Friday night with Mike Joy, Jeff Hammond, and Larry McReynolds. Pepsi 400 winner Michael Waltrip will also join in each week.

There’s a lot happening on TV if you’re an auto racing fan. Don’t forget to tune in to MotorsportsTV.com for all of the latest news and information about what’s happening in the world of auto racing on television.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2002

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