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Cup stars call the shots in NASCAR Xfinity race

Associated Press logo Associated Press 6/10/2017 By DAN GELSTON, AP Sports Writer
Driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., left, and broadcast pit reporter Jamie Little look over a monitor during the NASCAR xfinity Series auto race, Saturday, June 10, 2017, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) © The Associated Press Driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., left, and broadcast pit reporter Jamie Little look over a monitor during the NASCAR xfinity Series auto race, Saturday, June 10, 2017, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — The best NASCAR drivers at the Xfinity race called the action.

Driver Ryan Blaney, center, and broadcast pit reporter Chris Neville, left, look over notes after a pit stop during the NASCAR xfinity Series auto race, Saturday, June 10, 2017, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) © The Associated Press Driver Ryan Blaney, center, and broadcast pit reporter Chris Neville, left, look over notes after a pit stop during the NASCAR xfinity Series auto race, Saturday, June 10, 2017, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Looking for a new spin on the standard telecast, Fox used eight active NASCAR Cup drivers to provide insight — from the studio to the booth to the pits — during Saturday's race at Pocono Raceway.

Crew members work on the car of Kyle Larson during a pit stop in the NASCAR xfinity Series auto race, Saturday, June 10, 2017, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) © The Associated Press Crew members work on the car of Kyle Larson during a pit stop in the NASCAR xfinity Series auto race, Saturday, June 10, 2017, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

"I got my notes ready," pit reporter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said. "Gonna toss it up to Danica."

That would be Danica Patrick, Stenhouse's girlfriend, and one of NASCAR's more popular drivers.

They didn't have to worry about forgetting any names: Cup regular Brad Keselowski held off the field of mostly developmental drivers to win the Xfinity race.

Fox benched its starters for one race and used the all-Cup lineup, believed to be the first time an entire broadcast team was comprised only of active athletes in their respective sport.

Kevin Harvick, who had booth experience on Xfinity and Truck telecasts, handled play-by-play and Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer were the color analysts. Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Stenhouse served as pit reporters. Denny Hamlin and Patrick were the in-studio hosts.

"Wow," Harvick said late in the race. "We have a lot going on."

Fox announcers Shannon Spake, Larry McReynolds and Michael Waltrip opened pre-race coverage before the mics were officially turned over for the "Drivers Only" broadcast. Pit reporter Jamie Little made it official when she plopped a headset on Stenhouse.

"We've got a rookie out there doing an incredible job," Patrick said of driver Kyle Benjamin.

The first-time TV crew pretty much handled themselves like seasoned pros, as well.

But there were some glitches.

Bowyer tried to speak to Benjamin over the headset and had a race question for the driver.

"What do you think? Bowyer asked.

Silence.

Silence.

Dead air.

"This is not my fault!" Bowyer exclaimed, laughing.

Fox eventually worked out the kinks.

"Heck of a job. Keep it up," Bowyer told the driver.

"Means a lot, coming from you," Benjamin said.

But the foul-up, bleeps and blunders were part of the charm of the experiment that Fox surely hoped would give the sport a ratings boost. The drivers participated in Friday's production meeting. And they all hustled to their positions following Cup practice on Saturday.

Positioned in the middle of the broadcast trio, Logano's head spun like Regan MacNeil when he talked to Bowyer and Harvick on the pregame show. Patrick, who could transition to TV in the near future, even dropped a "boom goes the dynamite" reference.

Stenhouse, a two-time Xfinity champion, gave fans some food for thought when Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr. crashed his stand-up.

"Bubba just getting his lunch. Having a little Goldfish," Stenhouse said.

Austin Dillon and Regan Smith have signed on for guest analyst roles in upcoming races. But otherwise, it's back to normal at the next race. Adam Alexander and Waltrip are usually in the booth. Little, Chris Neville and Matt Yocum are the pit reporters.

"This has been great job security for all the professional people," Bowyer said.

___

More AP auto racing: www.racing.ap.org

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