We finally have an answer: No one.
Fox has not made an official announcement, but just play-by-play guy Mike Joy and commentator Jeff Gordon will in the broadcast booth for Foxâs half of the 2020 NASCAR Cup season, which opens on Feb. 16 for the Daytona 500.
When the chatty, folksy and colorful former Cup champ and long-time Fox commentator Darrell Waltrip announced his retirement from broadcasting stock-car races last April, lists of candidates to replace Waltrip were quickly drawn up â as if a guy like Waltrip could be replaced.
But a two-man booth was also possible, and after weighing it out last month, Fox decided that telecasts would be better with Joy and Gordon doing most of the talking, albeit in a much less excited tone of voice than Waltrip. It is a smart move for many reasons.
Fox and NBC reported modest gains in NASCAR viewership in 2019 over the dreadful 2018 season, but it became apparent to many viewers â who listened to the Kentucky chicken-fried Waltrip on Fox and the yakkety four-man booth on NBC â that less is more. (And I love Waltrip, just not that much.)
Both Fox announcers have shown for a while they are more than qualified to do these jobs. Joy, 70, is a broadcast pro, smooth and knowledgeable without getting in the way. (And he is from, gasp, Connecticut!) He has been part of the live broadcasts of 40 Daytona 500s.
Gordon, 48, who won 93 Cup races and four series championships between 1992 and 2016, began doing color commentary for second-tier NASCAR races in 2015. He became a full-time Cup analyst for Fox in 2016 before replacing the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Cup races.
Gordon is a treat to listen to, because he knows what he is talking about (duh), and he has a dry sense of humor that peppers his analysis and stories. Unfortunately, he was often obliterated in the booth by âJawsâ Waltrip, 72, an enthusiastic guy whose act had worn thin.
That became apparent to most Fox viewers early in the 2019 season, but Waltrip plodded on until he reluctantly announced about halfway through Foxâs half of the season that it would be his last season. He did seem to tone it down in his final races.Â
(Donât expect Gordon to launch races with âBoogity, boogity, boogity!â like Waltrip did.)
Foxâs pit-road reporters will still provide plenty of updates, but Joy and Gordon will have most of the air time to themselves for the first half of the NASCAR season. The second half will be carried by NBC, which includes Earnhardt on its Cup broadcast team.
NBC, which carried the Cup âchampionship raceâ from Homestead, Fla., less than two months ago, has not announced its 2020 broadcast team, either. Earnhardt, much like Gordon, is insightful yet swamped by the other two analysts and emotive play-by-play guy Rick Allen.
Fox could have added one of several former drivers as a second analyst, like Bobby Labonte or Jamie McMurray, but it is thinking that two voices are better than three, or four. Why not? The 2019 Daytona 500 had the fewest TV viewers in the raceâs history.
The 2020 Cup season will be a transition year for NASCAR. It may announce in late March or early April that its 2021 Cup schedule has been changed, with new tracks and dates, and NASCAR is developing a Next Gen race car that is scheduled to launch in 2021.
Waltrip, who retired as a driver in 2000 (and whose first race as a Fox Cup analyst was the 2001 Daytona 500, the infamous race in which Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed), was invaluable in helping NASCAR bridge a generational gap. Now it is Gordonâs turn at the wheel.
Gordon showed a long time ago that he can handle a challenge on his own. It will be interesting to see if the new team has an effect on the all-important TV ratings, or on, say, other NASCAR broadcast teams.
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