Mike Joy Q&A: On his long career, facing criticism, and his future at Fox Sports


Fox Sports concludes its television coverage of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday with the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. Mike Joy will be handling play-by-play duties, just as he has since 2001 when Fox Sports first began broadcasting NASCAR races.

The 74-year-old Joy has been a bedrock in the Fox booth over the past 24 years, calling every Cup race Fox has televised. His initial pairing with analysts Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds lasted 15 years and became arguably the most recognizable broadcasting trio in modern NASCAR history.

But the stability that once marked Fox’s coverage changed beginning in 2016. That year, Jeff Gordon signed on to fill McReynolds’ spot, followed by Waltrip retiring after the 2019 season. More transformative changes occurred two years later when Clint Bowyer came aboard in addition to Gordon announcing he was leaving the network at the end of the season for a senior executive role at Hendrick Motorsports. Gordon’s departure prompted Fox to incorporate a rotating cast of guest analysts on a near-weekly basis before Kevin Harvick joined this year as an analyst to work full-time alongside Joy and Bowyer.

Throughout all the different faces in the Fox booth, one constant remains: Joy, who has been covering NASCAR in some facet since 1977 and this past February called a record-setting 45th Daytona 500. The Athletic recently sat down with Joy for an in-depth interview about his career, how long he hopes to continue broadcasting, what Harvick has brought to Fox’s coverage, and much more.

(This interview was edited for length and clarity.)


There have been a lot of memorable moments this year — the Daytona 500, the finish at Atlanta, the finish at Kansas, what happened after the All-Star Race — from your perspective in the broadcast booth and from the Fox Sports perspective on the TV side, how would you assess how the year has unfolded?

Given the challenges of this seventh-generation car, I think it’s been a fantastic season for us. And just as when Darrell first stepped out of the car, Jeff Gordon first came out of the car, Clint Bowyer, and now with Kevin Harvick having just been there and just done that, he’s the only person in NASCAR broadcasting that’s raced this car. This gives us a tremendous sense of currency in our telecasts. And Kevin has picked up the nuances of broadcasting a race and the science of broadcasting, I think, faster than anybody with the possible exception of Jeff, who had done a lot of TV and had a kind of entertainment background when he came into the booth.

It can’t be a surprise (Harvick is) bringing all of these elements to this role because he has worked extensively on broadcasting for several years now. What has he brought behind the scenes?

We have a new producer beginning last year, Chuck McDonald, and Chuck has acclimated himself to NASCAR really, really quickly and very, very well. But I think a lot of the parts that go into making a telecast were all kind of circling in their own irregular orbit and between Chuck and Kevin, we’ve kind of brought things together in a very, very cohesive way. It’s the sense of everybody pulling together in the same direction.

And Kevin is very meticulous. He’s very organized, and he asked great questions about the process and about television, and about how it all works. And he picks it up and adapts very, very quickly. You’ll find as time goes on, his view of this sport can be microscopic one second and 10,000 feet the next second.

How would you describe the booth dynamic between yourself, Clint and Kevin? It often feels like three guys sitting at a bar together offering up their opinions. From an outside perspective, this feels like a much different dynamic than in years past.

We strive for that. And that’s not something you can do with just every group of people that sit down in front of a microphone. The best thing is we all have a comfort level and trust with each other. Kevin and Clint were teammates for several years, so they know each other really well. Clint and I have worked together now for several years, and Kevin had to jump in the middle of that and kind of figure out where he wanted to be and what lane he’d be in. This has allowed Clint to be Clint and I guess I get to kind of glue it all together.

I’ve always said that broadcasting a race is a three-legged chair: Let’s inform, educate and entertain, and you have to have all three legs balanced and on the floor for that chair to sit right and for it to resonate with the viewer. Kevin has added a tremendous amount to the telecast with his firsthand knowledge and ability to explain, and that frees Clint up to be clearer and more of a personality. We’re having a lot of fun with it, and we’re all still learning together.

For a long time, the Fox booth consisted of yourself, (Waltrip) and McReynolds. Then, over the last few years the booth has gone through several iterations. How challenging has the past few years been for you to build chemistry?

Darrell, Larry and I were in the booth together for 15 years, which I believe that’s more than any other three-man booth in sports television ever on a network level. And when we hired Jeff Gordon, we thought that Jeff would be there a long, long time. And so did he. And that (pairing) worked very, very well.

But when (team owner) Rick Hendrick called and tapped (Gordon) on the shoulder, we had Clint and we knew Clint was a great complement to Jeff. So it was like, “OK, what do we do? Where do we find somebody who is Jeff Gordon-like so we can get that chair back in balance on the floor?” We knew the answer was Kevin Harvick. The Fox brass were big fans of Kevin as a person, and Kevin wanted to do TV, and Fox knew he’d be really good at it. But he wasn’t going to be available.

So yes, it’s really difficult (to bring in a different analyst nearly every week) because just about the time you get a new analyst acclimated to what we’re doing and what we’re trying to accomplish and how it all fits together, there’s 30 laps to go and then you’re done. You’re on to the next race, the next analyst.


After years of rotating guest analysts, Kevin Harvick’s addition has brought stability to the Fox Sports booth. (Adam Glanzman / Getty Images)

How long do you plan to continue in this role as Fox Sports’ main play-by-play broadcaster?

I love what I do. It’s a privilege to be able to get up there and bring this sport to people. You know, I read a lot of social media, probably more than I should.

That’s a dangerous thing to do. People aren’t always nice on social media.

Well, I’ve never blocked anybody. Because I want to know what people are seeing and what people are saying. And sometimes it’s very complimentary. And sometimes it’s “What are you still doing here?”

There’s now a common thread of people saying that I’ve lost my fastball. And you know, maybe so. I can’t argue that. There are a number of announcers on TV that sound more exciting, perhaps. But I’ve taken a lot of my cues from (former NASCAR broadcasters) Ken Squier and Barney Hall as I grew up in this business, and Barney in particular would get excited when things are really exciting. But otherwise, he wanted to be that kind of friendly, trusted voice, somebody who could toss in a good bit of history of the sport to help explain how we got to where we are and somebody who could be a great traffic cop and really pull the most out of the analysts.

My job is to have people say at the end of the day, “Boy, Kevin Harvick really gave me everything I needed to know about this race and Clint Bowyer really entertained me.” And if we can do that, then I feel it’s been successful. I love what I do. I love the people I work with, and I’d like to keep doing it as long as they feel that I can contribute enough for us to have a first-class telecast.

So we’ll see you in the Fox broadcast booth in 2025?

Yeah.

You’ve been part of the Fox booth since 2001 and before that you did NASCAR play-by-play for CBS, TNN and other places. When you look back at your career, what are some of your favorite calls?

My off-the-cuff answer about my favorite race is the next one. That is probably true at this age more than it ever was. Everybody points to the 1998 Daytona 500 (won by Dale Earnhardt), but I think it’s not because of anything I did or some of the memorable words but because of the way we prepared and reacted (to Earnhardt finally winning NASCAR’s biggest race in his 20th attempt).

To put that all together, and then have (CBS director) Jim Cornell say, “Hey, don’t go to break after the checkered flag because something’s happening here.” That was pretty magical. That’s the one everybody wants to talk about. The rest don’t all run together, but that’s certainly the one that stands out.

Mike Joy


Mike Joy at the 2009 NASCAR awards banquet. Fox Sports’ play-by-play voice since 2001, Joy has been broadcasting in racing for over 50 years. (Chris Trotman / Getty Images for NASCAR)

You’ve had a few opportunities this year to have some memorable calls with photo finishes at both Atlanta and Kansas. What is that like from your perspective during that moment of a close finish when you don’t know who won?

You’re not looking at the monitor. You’re looking at the racetrack. You’re trying to judge the cars as they come to the line. You try to call it as you see it unless it’s too close to call, then you’re looking at the scoring monitor. And what we’ve learned, because we’ve now done this a few times, is when the scoring monitor order has numbers next to it and the interval is zero, just shut up and wait for NASCAR to make the call. Then you hope they quickly enough send us the video or the imagery to support it. And that’s something that every time this happens, we continue to work with (NASCAR) on a process with our goal being that it becomes similar to the NFL: The call was made on the field. The call is under review. We show replays. Here’s the call and here’s the imagery that was used to make the call. We’d love to have a defined process as that kind of thing goes forward.

Is there a call that you would have liked to have back?

One of them was at Talladega (April 2009) when Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards got together and Edwards ended up in the fence (at the finish line). I’m not sure where my focus should have been, but I’m watching Carl Edwards tumbling up and into that fence. And when that car gets airborne or when there’s real trouble on the racetrack, you’re no longer calling a sporting event, now you’re in news reporting mode. You’ve got an accident scene. Your guard is up for the potential for it being of serious nature and not just in the race cars.

So I’m watching Carl bouncing along that fence and watching debris and where it’s going and what’s happening, and I’m watching that and describing that in guarded tones. Then Larry jumps in and goes, “Brad Keselowski is going to win this race.” And it’s like, “Oh, yeah. I guess that wasn’t secondary after all.” That’s why we were there, to see who won the race.

Thank you, Larry, for backing me up there because, like a lot of folks, I got really distracted by what was happening with Edwards. I might do that a little differently.

Each generation of fans has different broadcasters they identify that era with. For some, it’s Chris Economaki or Ken Squier or Bob Jenkins. … You have all these big moments you’re associated with. Do you ever realize that you are the voice for so many fans?

People come up and tell me they’ve listened to me since (they were) a little kid. That’s gratifying. And when I first started hearing that also made me feel pretty old, and now I guess I am. When I look back, I’m amazed. Maybe amazed isn’t the right word. I’m grateful. I’m really grateful to have been in this business since the early 1970s and then able to contribute to people’s enjoyment and understanding of the sport.

I get to weigh in on things from a historical perspective. And, you know, it won’t always be me. And that’s OK. But I think the sport needs somebody that can say, “Hey, remember this.” … Hopefully there’s somebody coming along behind me that will be able to do that. I think the sport benefits from that.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Kevin Harvick on joining Fox’s NASCAR booth and his transition away from racing

(Top photo of Mike Joy at last month’s NASCAR Hall of Fame voting: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)



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