Changing Channels

Its "NASCAR's Sexiest Driver" promotion was disgusting. The use of terrifying crashes to promote upcoming races was horrifying. The number of commercial breaks seemed nauseating. And "Boogity, Boogity, Boogity" is downright aggravating.

But other than that, you have to tip your hat to Fox’s NASCAR coverage.

The network completed its fifth season of NASCAR coverage last weekend and set records for ratings most every week.

After starting the year with a record-tying 10.9 rating for the Daytona 500, FOX wound up averaging 6.0 for its telecasts, a stretch that included seven races setting new records.

Say what you want about the crassness and hokum that permeate some of the telecasts, FOX deserves credit for bringing innovation and exposure to the sport.

In tribute to USA Today's retired media critic Rudy Martzke, here's this year's FOX scorecard:

Production - Grade: A-

The camera angles, multi-car shots, graphics, in-car views and overall look of the telecasts were head of the class. Taking nothing away from the groundbreaking work ESPN did with NASCAR racing in the 1990's, but take a look at today's FOX telecasts and compare it to a rerun of a 1998 race on ESPN Classic. Hands down no comparison and kudos to the entire production team FOX has assembled.

Play-By-Play - Grade: B+

Mike Joy is one of the most solid television announcers covering any network sport. He's insightful about the sport he covers and knows when to let the pictures speak for themselves. Joy's enthusiasm for the sport is evident and his banter with his analyst booth mates is enjoyable.

Booth Analysts - Overall Grade: B

This is a team sport so we'll include the booth team of Darrel Waltrip and Larry McReynolds as one grade. What DW and Larry Mac bring to the telecast is insight, from a driver and crew chief perspective. Like most good analysts, they are both usually one step ahead of the action, speculating on strategy, pit stops and tactics. Their explanations are perceptive and McReynolds in particular, does a good job of making a term clear to viewers who are new to the sport.

Unfortunately the duo is not always easy on the ears. Larry Mac, by his own admission, "murders the king's English" as much as George W. Bush. His southern twang, although obviously real, sometimes gets in the way of what he's saying.

Waltrip likes to be the star of the show and the network has done its best to make him NASCAR's John Madden. A little DW goes a long way and he does try and bring a light sense to the telecast. It would be better if he didn't always sound like the warm-up act for the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour."

Pit Road Reporters - Overall Grade: A

The reporters patrolling pit road for FOX are the best group in the business. Matt Yokum, who does double duty working for NBC as well, delivers great insight in a friendly way. He could turn down the "I'm friends with Tony Stewart" thing a notch, but otherwise a class performer.

Steve Byrnes is the poster boy for the intrepid reporter society. Always in the middle of things, Byrnes provides viewers with stories and information that demonstrates week-after-week his insight and understanding of the sport.

Dr. Dick Berggren is the salty old veteran of the crew and provides a link to the sport's older guard in a way, since he's been part of NASCAR's pit road brigade for nearly 30 years. Knowledgeable, amiable and real, Berggren is a welcome relief from the plastic sideline reporters that populate much of network sports television these days.

Hosts - Overall Grade: C

This is the weakest part of the FOX experience, due mostly to Chris Myers, who still seems like a force fit into the network's NASCAR foray. While Jeff Hammond also loves being in the spotlight, his cutaway car demonstrations are solid and he does a good job conveying information on the technical side. But the "Hollywood Hotel" experience still makes me cringe, especially when Myers is forced to deliver the network's tawdry promo packages including everything from the aforementioned "Sexiest Driver" garbage to his scripted intros, which read like rejects from the "World's Worst Puns" convention. FOX would be best served to replace Myers, who is much more at home in Major League Baseball and the NFL, with a more motorsports-friendly host, someone like Ralph Sheheen or Bob Jenkins.

Overall, FOX has brought the sport to a new level in its five years on the NASCAR beat. All signs point toward the network staying part of the scene when the new television deal is finalized.

And now the baton is handed to NBC.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2005

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