Speedweeks is now complete. The stomach churning can cease for a couple of months until Talladega. Regardless, we now have three season openers to look back at. The goal is simple.
Sunday brought the pomp and circumstance directly to FOX. 500 miles of action with a bunch of celebrities. Wyclef Jean was in the house (and made an appearance on NASCAR RaceDay). Buzz Aldrin was there as well. He’s always good for an interesting command to start engines, even though he didn’t get the honor this time around. John Cena was there as well. Unfortunately, Jamie Little’s hair whip does not pack the punch that Heike Kagero’s does in Super Punch-Out!! Otherwise, Cena would have had to sell that whip.
Personnel-wise, Sunday was Jeff Gordon’s first points race as an analyst. I believe that he’s come a long way since his three XFINITY Series races on FOX Sports 1 last year. He’s crisp, gets his analysis in, and doesn’t run over everyone else. Right now, that’s all I can ask for. I’m very happy with Gordon’s work so far.
The most interesting part of his work this past weekend might have been Saturday during Happy Hour. The booth ended up in a discussion about the roof flap issue that Martin Truex, Jr. had that cost him a chance to take a qualifying lap. Gordon appears to not be shy about putting his opinions out there. He stated that he believed that the roof flap issue was an intentional move by Furniture Row Racing to give Truex an aerodynamic advantage, as opposed to a mechanical issue. Quite ballsy for the first full weekend on the job.
In addition, Gordon will be entrusted with one-on-one interviews as well. Gordon’s first one-on-one interview was with Kyle Busch. Here, the two champions talked about the aftermath of the big crash last year and his relationship with Samantha. Separate pieces of the interview ran on both NASCAR RaceDay and FOX NASCAR Sunday. Overall, I didn’t exactly find the interview to be all that informative, but that’s because I watch a lot of NASCAR programming. I’ve heard Busch talk about the crash multiple times in the last year, so I wasn’t really learning anything there. Being home for the first three months of last season resulted in Busch changing as a man and becoming a better father and husband. That’s really what came out here. That was what I found interesting. Anyone who watched Riding Shotgun: Kyle Busch on ESPN 2 back in 2010 or Fast and Fabulous: A NASCAR Wedding on the now-defunct Style Network wedding knows that Kyle and Samantha’s love is genuine. I’ve never questioned that.
Also, it was very good to hear from Tony Stewart twice during the broadcast. He sounded bummed that he wasn’t in Daytona, but he’s doing the best to get back to the condition necessary to race.
The replays of some of the incidents were not the best. Apparently, FOX didn’t have any pictures that showed what happened to cause the Matt DiBenedetto–Chris Buescher wreck. We did get good footage of DiBenedetto and Buescher having some nasty contact with the wall.
— Matt DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) February 22, 2016
Ouch, that had to hurt. Both drivers did walk away from the crash after a short period to gather themselves. Getting the interview with DiBenedetto did fill in holes in regards to what happened. He apparently wiped out and took full blame. While that stinks for DiBenedetto, it does help viewers out.
The return of the original NASCAR on FOX theme seemed to come out of nowhere on Saturday morning. I was just getting set to watch XFINITY Series Qualifying and all of a sudden, there was the theme that I’d been hearing quite a bit on YouTube recently. It was a pleasant surprise. However, the theme is a little too quiet. If FOX Sports plans to continue using it, they may need to consider re-mastering it.
Regardless, it’s a good move for FOX. I know FOX Sports President Eric Shanks loves the NFL theme, but it’s the NFL theme. Using it for all pro sports these minimizes the impact of everything else while propping up the NFL. The season’s over, dudes. Football doesn’t matter right now. Never really thought that theme went well with NASCAR anyway. Let’s hope this change is permanent.
The end of the race was essentially Darrell Waltrip going on about how Denny Hamlin was the only one that was likely to make a move, but that he couldn’t do it. Obviously, Hamlin proved Waltrip wrong. If anyone can figure out just what the heck Waltrip was saying coming to the finish, please tell me, because I do not have a clue. He was jumping all over Mike Joy’s call. That’s not good, Darrell. Don’t do that.
Post-race coverage was about average with half a dozen driver interviews and a check of the results. They got the whole top 5, plus the dejected Matt Kenseth. That’s better than what we’ve gotten in past years (Ex: David Gilliland getting snubbed despite finishing third in 2011). Also, a random thought: Hamlin thanked SunEnergy1 and Kenny Habul in Victory Lane on Sunday. Last I checked, they’re not affiliated with Joe Gibbs Racing anymore (they’re now with Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports, in a story we broke).
Overall, I think that Jeff Gordon was the bright spot of the broadcast. He’s really coming into his own as a broadcaster. I personally thought that he’d need a little more seasoning. Waltrip is Waltrip. He’s prone to cutting people off and that’s not cool. He does bring some knowledge to the situation at hand, but his shtick has long since worn thin on me.
PowerShares QQQ 300
On Saturday, the XFINITY Series returned to the airwaves from Daytona. XFINITY races on FOX Sports 1 will likely look very similar to last year, right down to Kevin Harvick returning to the booth for another guest appearance.
Harvick is an interesting personality. When he’s in his racing mentality, he might be the biggest jerk in the Sprint Cup garage. The man is generally short with people, not so much rude as in he has next to nothing to say. He’s only slightly more gracious when he wins.
On TV, it’s like someone flipped a light switch. In the booth, Harvick is an engaging, knowledgeable personality that actually puts quite a bit of time into his preparation for the race.
— Kevin Harvick (@KevinHarvick) February 19, 2016
I guess Harvick just feels that he doesn’t have to compete with anyone when he’s doing commentary. Granted, that’s an interesting notion given that he’s sharing a booth with Michael Waltrip, who has learned over the past few years to not completely run over his colleagues (Seriously, while I’m still not necessarily a fan of his work, I think he has improved).
With the XFINITY Series, there’s always a steady stream of “noobs” coming in and out and FOX Sports 1 has the need to promote them. They did a little of that in pre-race coverage. Defending Camping World Truck Series champion Erik Jones talked about last year, then was quizzed on 1990’s trivia (you know, that decade he wasn’t alive for half of). It was ok, but they do need to give exposure to more drivers as the season goes on, especially since 12 of the series regulars are going to be in a Chase this year.
During the race itself, Harvick was a high point of the coverage. His commentary was clear and concise and he has a lot of knowledge of the drivers in the series. For example, he singled out Ryan Sieg for some dap. Having raced so much in the XFINITY Series, Harvick knows the amount of work that Sieg puts in so that he can be competitive and believes that he’s good enough for a better team. Saturday may not have been Sieg’s best performance (he finished 20th), but he always gives it his all.
Later in the race, Harvick made what amounted to a direct plea to Selfeo, the one-race primary sponsor for Darrell Wallace, Jr. to stick with the 22-year old sophomore driver, claiming that “You have a star.” I feel like Selfeo doesn’t have the money to stick with Wallace for more than a few races, but I don’t know their financial situation.
Some of the coverage on Saturday was not the greatest. For instance, the first yellow for the incident involving Bobby Gerhart, Ryan Preece and Anthony Kumpen. I have no clue what the deuce happened there. The cameras cut to a slow Kumpen on the backstretch and Gerhart trundling on the apron with right-side damage. We only saw Preece’s No. 01 stopped on the apron with damage. There were absolutely no replays of this incident and no interviews with the principals involved. It’s the stuff that drives me up the wall.
You know what that means. I have to take to Twitter to get anything resembling some answers. Ryan Preece posted this entry after the race.
Unfortunate, must have ran debris over, nothing we could do pic.twitter.com/l1WsfMdGAJ
— Ryan Preece (@RyanPreece_) February 20, 2016
As for Kumpen, he wasn’t so much directly involved as a victim of debris.
— Precision Performance Motorsports (@PrecisionPerf) February 20, 2016
My point here is that I shouldn’t have to go searching on Twitter after the fact when FOX has 65 cameras and a number of commentators at their disposal. It was a disservice.
As compared to Sunday, the call the finish was a bit unenthusiastic. We could see the bumping and banging and such, but it seemed really calm. It didn’t quite showcase the aggressiveness and harshness that was being displayed. It seemed that only afterwards did the booth realize just how close they were to another wreck at the finish that wiped out most of the leaders since Chase Elliott all but wrecked himself racing with Joey Logano.
Post-race coverage was similar to what we got on Sunday. A decent number of interviews and a check of the unofficial results before leaving the air. There was no display of the point standings, but given that four of the top 5 finishers were Sprint Cup regulars, fourth-place finisher Elliott Sadler walked out of Daytona with the points lead.
Admittedly, Saturday’s race might have been the most spread out of the three. There really wasn’t all that much to make it exciting, and when it was, the booth didn’t really come to play. Completely missing the Gerhart-Preece wreck simply bites. Turn 1 seemed to be a blind spot all weekend for FOX, which is strange because I cannot recall that being an issue in the past.
Harvick was likely the real bright spot of the broadcast, but FOX Sports 1 has put on better XFINITY Series broadcasts in the past. I hope we get a better telecast Saturday in Georgia.
NextEra Energy 250
Friday night saw the Camping World Truck Series return to Daytona for their season opener. A 43-truck entry meant that the race was no easy feat to qualify for. I’d argue that since it was harder to qualify for the race this year, the event was a little more competitive than normal. The Daytona 500 actually reminded me of past truck races.
Vince Welch will be the full-time play-by-play man for the Camping World Truck Series in 2016. Without a doubt, I’m happy that the series will have a steady voice in the booth after a year and a half of the revolving door. However, Welch was only ok on Friday. He needs to put more emotion into his calls.
Welch’s call of the finish of Friday night’s race stunk. I can understand the need to show the gravitas of the situation, but this was almost emotionless, cold even. Not Welch’s best effort.
Watching live on Friday night, I didn’t even realize that Johnny Sauter had snatched the lead away from Ryan Truex prior to the wreck until Welch mentioned it in a matter-of-fact manner. Complete anti-climax.
Friday night was also the debut of the caution clock, which is something that I really don’t think should have been instituted. Did we get a caution because of the clock on Friday night? Officially no, but strategy brought on because of that clock did result in one yellow (the Christopher Bell–Spencer Gallagher–Cody Coughlin incident). You’ll likely see an actual caution clock caution Saturday in Atlanta.
FOX Sports did work the clock into the FOX Box, which I felt was an absolute necessity. If they didn’t put that clock there, I guarantee that I would have blasted them for not doing it. Take it from someone who watches more than his fair share of sports outside of motorsports. If there’s going to be a clock these days, it must be on-screen at all times. This is not 1993, when permanent on-screen clock graphics basically didn’t exist (in NASCAR, we didn’t have a lap counter on-screen until 1994).
Outside of the very end of the race, I thought that Welch did a decent job in his new gig. We had a relatively informative broadcast with lots of action and FOX Sports 1 did a good job bringing viewers that action.
Speaking of Bell’s huge crash, that crash was interesting. That’s the first time in quite a while that someone has flipped like that without being pushed over by another vehicle. That must have been quite the wind gust that caught Bell’s Tundra. Also, actual barrel rolls are even rarer than that. It’s been almost eight years since someone actually barrel rolled a vehicle for more than two rolls in NASCAR.
Pre-race coverage was a bit lean on interviews, especially with so many new faces in the garage this year. We got a piece about the various moves, but anyone who saw that would know that it was more about Michael Waltrip acting a fool than anything else.
Post-race coverage was relatively thin since the race ran a little long. When that happens, FOX Sports 1 is always chomping at the bit to get to FOX Sports Live. We got a couple of interviews and what I noted as “Unofficial Unofficial Results” before they left. The news of Bell going off to the hospital for a precautionary checkup came roughly 40 minutes after the telecast ended. While no, I wouldn’t have expected FOX Sports 1 to stay on the air in Daytona until then, I did expect a little more coverage of the incident on the ground. Maybe a couple more interviews with people who were ok like William Byron and Timothy Peters. In Byron’s case, he was right in the middle of the situation (directly behind Bell) and would have something to add to the conversation.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR circus moves to Atlanta Motor Speedway for another tripleheader weekend of racing on the 1.54-mile quad-oval. The weather looks good for the weekend, although it might be considered a little chilly for the locals. In addition, AMA Monster Energy Supercross will return to Atlanta for their second-to-last visit to the Georgia Dome (they’re ripping it down after Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a new stadium that probably did not need to be built, opens in the fall of 2017).
As will be the norm for this season, this week’s TV listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab at the top of your screen. I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex is up in the air. The race I really want to critique (the Jet Tools 150 from New Smyrna Speedway) won’t air until Thursday night. That gives me the option of delaying it for a day, or substituting something else. I’m undecided at the moment.
If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below. Even though I can’t always respond, I do read your comments and I’m happy with the increased number of comments so far this year. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.
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About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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