Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: McReynolds Hits the Spot in Atlanta

Welcome back to another edition of Couch Potato Tuesday.  This past weekend, we had some interesting action in Atlanta.  We also, for some reason, had a guy in a bear suit make FOX NASCAR Sunday.  More on that later.

Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500

Sunday brought the Sprint Cup Series back to Atlanta Motor Speedway for their one and only appearance of the season in a not-so-good slot on the schedule (by the standards of residents of Georgia).  Regardless, we saw an interesting race.

During pre-race coverage, FOX aired a sit-down interview that Jeff Gordon conducted with Tony Stewart, the first one that the three-time champion has done since his sand rail crash.  Remember, Gordon was there that day when Stewart wrecked, so he could add his own color to the story.

Here, Stewart described what happened and gave his account of his recovery.  Really nothing new there.  Then, the discussion veered into the 2000 Global Crossing at the Glen, when Gordon and Stewart had contact on the second lap of the race, then nearly had a fight after the race.

While an interesting moment for the two drivers, it is an incident that is rarely discussed.  Gordon truly losing his cool was rare prior to the series-wide TV deals starting.  It’s probably the second most notable thing that happened that day.  I’d argue that Steve Park getting his first career win and trouncing Mark Martin in the process was the bigger story.

The interview finished up with Stewart not really being sure about when he’s going to return to the No. 14, but when he does, he’s going to give it all kinds of heck.  I find that Gordon’s a relatively good interviewer.  I’m not sure how much experience that he’s had conducting interviews prior to this season, but he seems to be falling into the role fairly well.  I think he’s a better interviewer than Darrell Waltrip is at the moment.

Admittedly, the best part of FOX’s coverage on Sunday was their coverage of the mess that Matt Kenseth got himself on lap 119.  His gas man laid a wedge wrench on the deck lid just after engaging the dump can.  That’s a penalty stroke.  Can’t do that.  Larry McReynolds was right on target here while the rest of the booth was rather confused.  To be fair, I have no recollection of anyone ever being penalized for what Kenseth’s crew did on Sunday, but it was a just ruling.

Kenseth and the team then screwed themselves over even more due to (apparently) no one telling Kenseth that he had been black-flagged.  That’s bizarre.  As a result, the very rarely seen black flag with the white cross was displayed.  Yes, NASCAR did not score Kenseth for a lap.  I cannot recall that happening in a Sprint Cup race, to be honest.  Also, no, you don’t get DQ’d for failing to heed the black flag within three laps.  That does happen in Papyrus’ NASCAR games, though.  The only time I can remember it happening in real life was when Scott Goodyear jumped the final restart of the 1995 Indianapolis 500, then refused to serve the penalty.

While it does appear that the pace car was slower than normal, you still can’t pass the pace car.  USAC black-flagged Goodyear (Note: USAC sanctioned the Indianapolis 500 through 1997).  Eventually, they stopped scoring Goodyear with five laps to go.  He was credited with a 14th-place finish as a result.

Early on in the race, there was a good amount of racing for position shown.  Some drivers were really good early in the runs (Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Denny Hamlin, etc.).  Others were better later on in the race.  However, as the race continued on past halfway without a yellow, the field became very spread out.  While FOX showed battles up front when they occurred, the coverage of battles further back seemed to drop off significantly.

I’ve mentioned multiple times in the past that I always keep the live leaderboard at NASCAR.com on my laptop when I’m watching races in any of NASCAR’s National series. I keep tabs on who is close to each other in order to see if battles are likely.  Multiple times on Sunday, I noticed drivers on the lead lap very close to each other, while we would be seeing single cars with no battles.  That’s not good, man.

NASCAR can also help their case here by including intervals between drivers off of the lead lap in the leaderboard as well.  Having less than ten cars on the lead lap in a NASCAR race today is rare.  Just because the race gets spread out doesn’t mean that you narrow your focus.

FOX also seemed to ignore a live shot of what appeared to be Jeffrey Earnhardt hitting the wall in turn 3 later in the race.  Yes, I know he finished 17 laps down, but it was right there in front of you.  Sports car racer, Georgia native and past Frontstretch interviewee Ryan Eversley noticed it, and pointed it on Twitter.

Now, he did think that it was Brian Scott at first.  A quick DVR check (don’t leave home without it when you’re critiquing) showed that it was Dale Jr.’s nephew tasting the SAFER Barrier.  FOX should acknowledge something like that, especially when it was right there, live.

Coverage of the end of the race was ok.  It seems like FOX didn’t really get a good view of the big ‘ol wreck that cut the race short.  They also didn’t do the best job in explaining to the viewers that the caution did not immediately come out.  If it did, Earnhardt Jr. wouldn’t have finished second.  NASCAR waited until after Jimmie Johnson took the white flag to put the yellow out.

Since the race ended so quickly (it was on record pace, as noted by Darrell Waltrip, right up until Ryan Newman blew his left rear tire), there was plenty of time for post-race coverage.  Most of that coverage was centered upon the low downforce package and how much the drivers liked it.  Martin Truex, Jr. was quite jacked up after the race.

In addition, Johnson tied Dale Earnhardt for seventh all-time with 76 career wins.  That got some discussion as well, but way more after the telecast ended.

The coverage of the final run of the race was essentially nothing but Johnson and Kevin Harvick.  Harvick never got closer than five seconds and change to Johnson.  While yes, it was definitely a story, it was covered both too closely and not well enough.  After the race ended, Harvick mentioned during his customary brief post-race interview (honestly, the man is turning into NASCAR’s Gregg Popovich) that he was having some braking issues.  I don’t recall that being broached on the broadcast at all.  Either the No. 4 team wasn’t talking about it at all on the radio (possible), or FOX just never reported on it.

If the first scenario happened, that bites, but you really can’t do much about it.  If it was the second, then FOX somehow didn’t cover the full story despite the overwhelming coverage.  The pit reporters have team radios being fed into one earphone of their headsets.  They have to make prodigious use of that.  I just hope that production commands didn’t get in the way.

Overall, there were some bright spots on Sunday’s coverage.  There was good racing at times, but not as much was shown as they could have.  A number of the lead changes occurred during commercial breaks, which bites.  The focus was way too heavy on Johnson and Harvick over the last 70 miles and McReynolds showed that he probably shouldn’t have been shooed off to a separate booth for this season.

Heads Up Georgia 250

Saturday afternoon saw the XFINITY Series season debut for Kyle Busch.  You know what that means.  Butts were kicked.  Despite the whooping, there was still a race to properly cover.  How was it?

The XFINITY Series continues to have trouble trying to promote their new stars each year.  A feature that aired as part of NASCAR RaceDay – XFINITY Edition encapsulates that.  FOX Sports 1 gave rookie Brandon Jones a FOX Sports polo and had him go ask fans if they knew who he was.  It seems like not a one of them knew who he is.  He had to show them a picture of himself in his fire suit for the people to realize that they were talking to a racer.

I know Jones is a very young man who apparently still looks like a fresh-faced high school sophomore, but NASCAR does need to do a better job promoting their young talent.  FOX Sports and NBC Sports have to help as well.  I suppose this is FOX Sports’ idea of helping, but being meta only helps so much.  A number of drivers do a lot of heavy lifting one-on-one with fans on social media, but social media only goes so far.  Remember, these young ‘uns are basically the future of the sport.

Prior to his win in the sprint at the Georgia Dome, Clint Bowyer was in the broadcast booth for the afternoon.  I found his performance to be quite a bit different than last year.  Last year, he didn’t really take it seriously. Saturday, viewers got a somewhat serious Bowyer.  While I don’t think he’s quite as informative as Gordon or Harvick, he can be enjoyable to listen to.

There’s also the possibly of Bowyer saying something strange.  For example, Brad Keselowski’s team lost a bunch of time due to the air hose getting caught in a crack in the pit wall twice.  By the way, that’s another first.  During the replay of that, Bowyer said this:

All I can say to that is, “That’s Clint.”  I’m way too reserved of a person to ever do that on TV, but it’s completely in tune with his personality.

Saturday and Sunday both saw excessive wear from tires come into play.  FOX Sports did a pretty good job showing the fans just how substantial the issues could be.  There was a fair amount of tire unwinding during the race, while other drivers simply ran their tires to the cords.

Darrell Wallace, Jr.’s incident on pit road on lap 99 was a little unusual.  He was coming in for his stop and got hit by Josh Reaume, who was pulling behind the wall.  The booth remarked that such a move was dangerous on Reaume’s spot and blamed his spotter (if he was still on his perch) for the incident.  A truck visit was required by Reaume afterwards.

This was not the first time an incident along these lines occurred during an XFINITY Series race.  Back in 2009 at Nashville Superspeedway, Brendan Gaughan collided with Marc Davis under similar circumstances during a round of green-flag stops.  Let’s just say that Gaughan wasn’t happy about that.

Post-race coverage was about average on Saturday.  So far, Sprint Cup regulars have dominated the two XFINITY races and they got the lion’s share of coverage.  Of the regulars, only Erik Jones and Ty Dillon (both driving for Cup teams, essentially) got air time.  It’s probably going to be like this for most of the season.

Overall, the race was not all that competitive.  Kyle Busch ran off and hid again.  At least Kyle Larson gave him a race.  The more this happens, the harder it is to promote the series and the drivers within.  Bowyer was interesting in the booth, but a stark difference from Harvick.  Bowyer will be back again on Saturday for me.  Back-to-back weeks are always beneficial.  I’ll be waiting with baited breath to see how he does.

Great Clips 200

Following Kyle Busch’s butt-kicking of the field in the XFINITY race, the Camping World Truck Series returned to Atlanta for their 200-mile second race of the season.  The race saw a couple of nasty wrecks and some decent racing.

During the Setup, the main piece of the show was an interview that Ray Dunlap conducted with Christopher Bell a few days earlier.  Here, Bell talked viewers through the huge crash at the end of the NextEra Energy 250 in Daytona.  Given Bell’s background, it’s most definitely not the first time he’s been upside down, but it was a new experience due to the seating position and the length of the crash.

Later on in the Setup, FOX Sports 1 dispatched Kaitlyn Vincie to do her own version of a grid walk.  Unlike the ridiculousness that seems to occur every time Michael Waltrip does it, we got actual interviews and good quotes from the drivers she talked to.  Nobody turns their back to Vincie and hopes to all goodness that she skips them.  They know that Vincie’s going to be serious, prepared, and that stupid things won’t happen.  She won’t state that a random fan on the grid is the late Donna Summer or drop a taco on someone’s car.  If you’re going to do a grid walk on FOX NASCAR Sunday, I would much rather it look like what Vincie did.

Much like in Daytona, there was a lot a talk about the caution clock.  That didn’t shock me.  I predicted before the season started that you’d probably the first clock caution of the season on Saturday, and we ended up with two of them.  Not shocking.  What is getting annoying is that FOX is making this caution clock out to be the best thing on earth.  Let’s face it, it’s not necessary.  It never will be necessary.  A month from now, you’re not going to get one at Martinsville.  Of course, the fact that the next race is a month from now is another story altogether.

Overall, Saturday evening’s race was really unusual.  Johnny Sauter was touted as a potential race winner.  His race was effectively over before the green flag even came out when his truck decided to turn traitor.  A later recurrence put him in the garage and out of contention for anything resembling a decent day.  William Byron was going to take the battle directly to Matt Crafton.  What happens?  He blows an engine before he can get there.

Then, we have the wrecks.  The second clock yellow set up the big wreck on the backstretch.  That whole thing was inexplicable.  I have no idea what Bell was doing.  For what it’s worth, FOX Sports 1 did a good job breaking down the incident.  They did a better job getting Daniel Suarez to agree to an on-air interview.  Granted, he was confused as heck over the situation, but it was good to get something.

Bell did take fault for the crash later that night after the race.

Had the second wreck not happened, Bell likely would have been put on the spot about his contact with Suarez, regardless of what happened.  The second wreck changed the discussion substantially.  When the wreck happened, the booth seemed to be quite surprised.  Michael Waltrip inferred as to whether the issue was caused by previous damage on the No. 4 from the big wreck (Bell grazed the wall after clipping Suarez).  Such a theory is plausible, especially given the speeds at Atlanta.  However, we have no footage to help us out there.

Bell’s hit is not that far off of the ferocity of the hits that David Reutimann and Bill Lester took during the Silverado 350k at Texas in 2004.  That was ugly.  I was very happy to see Bell walk away.  I’m not shocked that they didn’t interview Bell since there’s a good sporting chance he was still in the Infield Care Center when the broadcast ended.  Given the big wreck and the precautionary trip to the hospital eight days earlier, it’s completely understandable.

The two late race crashes resulted in the event going over its timeslot.  Because of that, post-race coverage was a little short.  However, with FOX Sports Live having been re-branded, getting off the air in a hurry isn’t quite as much of a thing.  We still got a couple of interviews and a check of the unofficial results before the broadcast ended.  There was no update of the points, though.  It was a couple of hours after the race ended that I discovered that Parker Kligerman has the points lead.

I found the caution clock pimping to be rather annoying.  I still don’t like the idea of it and it’s already increased costs for the teams.  Regardless, I found that Vince Welch was a little better on Saturday than he was in Daytona.  Phil Parsons was generally solid while Michael Waltrip did have his moments.  Clock aside, this was not a bad telecast.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series teams start their Western Swing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  Meanwhile, Pirelli World Challenge starts their season at Circuit of the Americas in Texas.  This week’s TV listings can be found by checking the TV Schedule tab at the top of the page.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series races from Las Vegas for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  The Critic’s Annex in Thursday’s Newsletter is currently undecided.  However, I do have some material on my DVR that could be critiqued.  Stay tuned.

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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As always, if you choose to contact a network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

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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