NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 49- Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown

by Phil Allaway

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where we take an additional look at race broadcasts that we enjoy. However, before we start, I have some news to share. According to “Leigh Diffey’s Twitter page”:http://twitter.com/leighdiffey, regular Formula One play-by-play man Bob Varsha appears to be a little under the weather this week. As a result, Leigh Diffey will take his place in the booth for this weekend’s Grand Prix of Turkey.

Last Thursday night, Denny Hamlin put on a special charity race to benefit his own Denny Hamlin Foundation, amongst other benefactors. The race was originally scheduled to be at Southside Speedway, a one-third mile track in Hamlin’s hometown of Midlothian, Virginia. Unfortunately, the track’s owner/promoter, Sue Clements fell ill and couldn’t start the season on time (according to the track’s website, they will release a shortened schedule next Tuesday and start up for the year on June 17). Because of Clements’ illness, the Fourth Annual Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown was moved a short distance away from Midlothian to the Richmond International Raceway.

The original plan was for a 90 minute telecast that only covered the 75 lap race late model race itself. Unfortunately, the atmosphere had other plans. A deluge came down on the three-quarters of a mile oval about 40 minutes before SPEED was scheduled to come on the air. The Blue Ox 100 for the K&N Pro Series East was in progress at the time and was red flagged due to the rain after 29 laps were completed.

At the start of the broadcast, SPEED decided to kill some time first with some discussion in the broadcast booth between Mike Joy, Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace. On paper, SPEED provided an interesting trio. Joy and Schrader would serve as calming influences, while Wallace could be his usual excitable self. In practice, everyone sounded quite excited during the race

After the booth discussion, SPEED gave viewers 11 interviews with various drivers that were either competing in the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown, or in the Blue Ox 100. Bill Elliott briefly joined the aforementioned trio in the booth to talk about his first time racing against his son Chase.

SPEED did leave Richmond for alternative programming for a little while in order to help the track dry. Episodes of Inside the Headsets from 2010 aired while the track dried.

Once the track dried, SPEED provided viewers with what was described as bonus coverage of the remaining 71 laps of the Blue Ox 100. To get the viewers up to date on the race (that if it didn’t rain, would not have aired on television until May 19), there were highlights of the event up to that point shown. To be fair, there weren’t many. Max Gresham had run away from the field.

Then, the telecast resumed. I am definitely not under the opinion that SPEED planned to cover the race like they did. There is a good chance that when SPEED shows the delayed race on May 19, it will be with a different on-air crew calling the race from Charlotte, much like SPEED’s old ProCup telecasts with Rick Benjamin.

Regardless, it was still an enjoyable race to watch. Other than the brief yellow for Ryan Gifford’s spin, the race was shown to the finish commercial-free. Apparently, that threw Dustin Long for a bit of a loop, but that’s a good thing. SPEED’s commentators were reasonably prepared to call the race and brought a lot of knowledge to the show. It did help that there were a few known quantities in the event (by “known quantities,” I mean drivers that have driven races in other, higher up series previously, like Matt DiBenedetto).

Now, I’ll be honest. The current TV deal for the K&N Pro Series is not the best. If there were a network dedicated to NASCAR, I’d like to think that the series (and their Western counterpart) could get a lot more coverage. Maybe not all the races would be aired live, but at the very least, the West Series wouldn’t have to wait two months to get their season opener on television.

Post-race coverage included interviews with Darrell Wallace, Jr. and Brett Moffitt, the top two finishers. There was also a check of the unofficial results before SPEED changed focus to the upcoming Showdown.

The Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown

The Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown had a laid back feel in the broadcast booth, not dissimilar to how the FOX booth has handled the Sprint All-Star Race in the past. Then again, the race itself seemed to be incredibly laid back. That can be noted from the sheer amount of times that the rules apparently changed during the race. For example, information about a caution with ten laps to go was passed along to the booth while the event was running. Conflicting information was given as to what the race’s rules would be for Green-White-Checker restarts (at first, it was a one-and-done, then it went to three attempts before going back to a one-and-done). I understand that Hamlin wanted a good show, but he needed to come up with rules for the race and stick to them.

It should also be noted that the event was also what amounted to a telethon for the Denny Hamlin Foundation. Joy would remind viewers that they could call a 1-800 number to donate money. Even that came off with an air of informality when Joy announced on-air that the number displayed on the telecast did not match what he had given in the booth. Whoops. Of course, that was just a simple miscommunication. The number displayed on the telecast was the correct one.

Quite a lot of the coverage was focused in on the Sprint Cup drivers that invaded the race at the expense of the late model regulars that had to drive their guts out in qualifying just to get in the race. That is a disservice to the rest of the drivers in the field. An event such as the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown is a showcase for those up-and-coming Young Guns. The only ones that I think got much air time during the race were Chase Elliott (obvious reasons) and Darrell Wallace, Jr. Wallace, Jr. got his airtime mainly because he won the K&N Pro Series East race earlier and was going for the two-fer.

Since SPEED was nearly two hours over the end of their timeslot by the time the race finally ended, post-race coverage was short. There were interviews with the top three finishers (Denny Hamlin, Michael Waltrip and Chase Elliott) and a check of the unofficial results. During the interview with Chase Elliott, Hermie Sadler (who drove could be seen in the background interviewing Joey Logano. According to Hermie, that interview was apparently for some kind of feature for NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot.

I generally enjoyed the action on-track and the booth seemed to really enjoy the race. That’s great to see. However, there was a lot of discussion about Wallace and the likelihood of him having a good run in the BUBBA Burger 250 the next night. Now, we know that Wallace most definitely did have a great run Friday (it would have been a top-5 had Scott Zipadelli not made an error in judgment under the second caution), but that shows a degree of favoritism. That’s not cool.

Even if next year’s Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown is not back at RIR (either Clements’ health holds up enough for the race to return to Southside Speedway, or the race goes somewhere else), SPEED should find a way to televise the event next year. Its a great way to introduce race fans to some new talent. Also, if the event is paired up with the K&N Pro Series East again, show that entire race live as well.

I hope you enjoyed this look back at the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown. Next week, I’ll be critiquing NASCAR Now’s Monday Roundtable. Until then, enjoy the racing this weekend in Darlington and Istanbul.

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