The new group qualifying session for NASCAR felt made for fans watching at home on television.
On Friday, if you were watching the first Sprint Cup Series group session at home you had no idea what was going on without the help of the internet.
Yeah, it was that bad. But let's get to what happened on-track first. Brad Keselowski won the pole for Sunday's race at Phoenix International Raceway, while his teammate Joey Logano starts second. Jamie McMurray is third and Jimmie Johnson will start fourth. Daytona 500-winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start fifth. You want the rest of the lineup? Click here.
Back to how abysmal Fox Sports' 1's coverage was.
I'll fully admit that complaining about TV coverage has become cliché for many NASCAR fans, and will exist no matter how good a broadcast actually is. However, there wasn't much good if you were trying to follow this first Sprint Cup qualifying session of its kind.
Because of the plodding nature of the previous single-car qualifying format, networks have become accustomed to delaying or cutting out parts of qualifying coverage. However, one 30-minute session for all cars and a 10-minute session for the top 12 cars sandwiched around a break in-between at short tracks is set up perfectly for television. Networks have the opportunity to get commercials in before, during and after, and perhaps in the middle of the first round.
Cars took to the track four minutes before Fox Sports 1 showed the green flag being flown. As qualifying went on, the delay got longer, despite the word "LIVE" in the top right corner. Before the final 10-minute session even began on television, Brad Keselowski had already won the pole and was taking pictures. The delay had extended to 15 minutes.
How is that live? And how is that fair to to fans of a sport that has embraced and championed social media perhaps more than any other sport? If you were on Twitter, you knew what had happened and that the Team Penske cars were on the pole before 7:30 ET. FS1 still had 30 minutes of TV coverage left. (Because qualifying at intermediate tracks will take longer, these delay issues will hopefully not be an issue next week at Las Vegas.)
If you were Twitterless while watching qualifying, you were hopeless. FS1's tracker didn't show times in the first 30 minutes, who was on the track, or even a clock ticking down the time left in a given session. Because of the spread out nature of qualifying, many times FS1 was forced to show just one car at a time. That meant a car off-camera could turn a fast lap sight-unseen to those at home.
After the first session, Fox went to commercials and attempted three driver interviews before showing viewers at home what three drivers missed the race (Dave Blaney, Landon Cassill and Josh Wise) as well as who was starting in positions 13-43.
Sure, some of the hiccups can be chalked up to it being Fox's first time covering a qualifying format of this nature. In this format, it's going to be impossible to have a camera on every car at every time. There are going to be fast runs that are missed, plain and simple. However, a lack of information and a staggeringly long delay under the guise of "live," are not attributable to beginner's mistakes.
ESPN's trial run with the Nationwide Series' attempt at group qualifying at Daytona had a built-in advantage too. The pack nature of the qualifying session meant the network could show 30+ cars at once. But there was a clock, for instance, and it was live. You didn't have to have social media to follow along.
Group qualifying is going to take some getting used to by everyone. Heck, there was even a halftime of sorts in the middle of the first session as drivers slowly circled the track to cool their engines as engine-cooling systems are currently prohibited under this format. That spate of slowness was hardly dramatic.
But if its to be successful, it has to be engaging for those watching at home. On Friday, it was far from it.
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