Welcome back, everyone. We had some great action last weekend in Fontana. It wasn’t that long ago that Auto Club Speedway put on the most boring races in all of NASCAR. That is just a memory now (thankfully). Despite that, the way that races are covered can affect how a race is perceived.
Auto Club 400
Sunday brought the Sprint Cup Series back to Auto Club Speedway for their only appearance of the 2016 season. While it was not the most competitive (in terms of lead changes) Cup race in Fontana since the race length was cut to 400 miles, it was still a very good race. Let’s check out the coverage.
If there’s one thing that you should take away from FOX’s broadcasts from Fontana, it’s this: There was a lot of action on-track for position, especially in the Cup race. Everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves. I will say that while FOX didn’t necessarily show as much action for position as they could have, they talked about the on-track action for position a lot more. It seemed like they were really trying to sell it to us. Of course, they didn’t really need to sell it much.
Tires were a serious issue during the race once again. Going into the race, I thought that the low downforce package would have led to fewer tire failures on Sunday. I was wrong, but this stuff wasn’t Goodyear’s fault. Teams tried to push the limit and got burned. It happens. Seeing the ripples on the left side tires always make me nervous.
FOX did a pretty decent job covering the tire issues. Viewers saw a few different tires that failed during the race, most notably Kasey Kahne’s failure due to a melted bead. Quick note there: Kahne seemed to catch that really fast. While it did melt, it was still most of the way up. Never seen a tire look like that before. Also, Kahne’s failure was an outlier. I have no idea what would have caused the right rear to go in that fashion.
Outside of the coverage of actual failures, we got a good amount of radio chatter about the tires. Chase Elliott apparently couldn’t go all-out at the start of a run because his tires were being roasted. A number of drivers were showing cords on their tires as well. Unfortunately, we never got a good look at those cords, but we did get a look at some chunks missing from one of Martin Truex, Jr.’s tires. With the Dual Zone tires from Goodyear being in use on the right side, that would make it a little difficult to see cords since it would unwind before you got to that point.
On lap 38, FOX aired an interview with Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s Director of Racing, about the issues up to that point. Stucker pulled no punches and unilaterally blamed the teams for their own issues. Talk about a kick to the nads. That was a good interview and I’m happy we got that.
The Kasey Kahne-Danica Patrick coverage was interesting. At first, the booth seemed to think that Patrick suffered a blown tire. Admittedly, almost no one has wrecked where Patrick did in a Cup race, so they thought something broke. They got both sides of the story via the replay and Kahne’s radio claiming that he was trying to side draft Patrick. Jeff Gordon seemed to think that Kahne turned into Patrick to cause the wreck, although he did not appear to take a position as to whether it was intentional or not.
Patrick did an interview where she basically stated that she didn’t understand why the crash happened. Later, she attributed it to desperation on Kahne’s part. Regardless, I’m pretty sure she wasn’t too pleased about getting wrecked while running the best she had all day.
Even with the generally good coverage, there were some things that were missed by the cameras. Probably the biggest example is the fire in Casey Mears’ pit. The booth did acknowledge it in a small way (Mike Joy noted that there was some smoke coming from Mears’ pit), but no pictures. Later, footage of Mears’ fire surfaced and Jalopnik’s Black Flag posted it.
Also, FOX failed to provide viewers with footage of the debris that caused the yellow on lap 155. That yellow screwed up the race for a lot of drivers. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was quite ticked at the time, throwing up some F-bombs on the radio. He was still peeved after the race, despite getting the Lucky Dog on that yellow and finishing 11th. It’s a glaring omission. FOX, if you have any footage of that debris, you have to air it, especially in a situation like Sunday where the yellow came out in the middle of a round of stops. If not, you have to notify the viewers that you don’t have it. NASCAR should be able to help FOX in these situations by guiding them to the debris. By that, I mean more specific than “Debris in turn 3.”
Pre-race coverage is a bit lacking if you really want to hear from the drivers. The message being sent here is essentially, “If you want driver interviews, watch NASCAR RaceDay.” The only actual driver interviews this week were during Michael Waltrip’s Grid Walk. I can’t refer to anything Michael Waltrip does during his Grid Walk as an actual interview. At least they ditched the hat cam for a week.
Outside of the pre-race discussion, there was only one feature. This one (which if you watched NASCAR RaceDay, you probably saw there) had Kurt Busch hanging out at Arch Motorsports with Keanu Reeves. Kurt is a big motorcycle guy, and the idea here was to see Busch engaging with one of his interests. It was ok, but really nothing to write home about.
Since the race ran a little long, post-race coverage was a little short. We did get good interviews with the top 4 finishers along with checks of the points and results.
Overall, Sunday was a pretty good race both for those on-site in Fontana, and those who watched on TV. There were a couple of issues that I’ve mentioned above that should be addressed. However, I legitimately enjoyed watching the race. There wasn’t anything blatantly ridiculous on the broadcast.
Saturday brought the XFINITY Series back to Fontana for another appearance on the two-mile superspeedway. Joe Gibbs Racing once again dominated, but that probably won’t be how this race will be remembered.
We’ll just cut right to the finish. Kyle Busch was coasting to what would have been his fourth straight victory before blowing his left front tire. I would have loved to hear from Kyle Busch after the race just to see what the heck happened. However, he refused to talk to anyone after the race. That alone will get Kyle fined because drivers who finish in the top 3 of every NASCAR national touring series race (Sprint Cup, XFINITY and the Camping World Truck Series) have media obligations that they must do. They include television and the post-race press conference, which Kyle skipped. To be fair, Kyle’s at peace with that. He even thinks that he helped himself by skipping those obligations, claiming that he would have been fined more had he talked.
FOX Sports 1 did play some radio from Kyle where he ranted at NASCAR not throwing a caution for debris. You could claim that Kyle is angry that NASCAR didn’t put it out after he blew his tire, but there’s also the possibility that there might have been debris on-track in the laps leading up to his failure. I suppose that we’ll never know for sure.
What followed that is what will get Kyle in trouble. He accused NASCAR of fixing the race. That’s a violation of Section 12-1 of the XFINITY Series Rule Book if I’ve ever seen one. Then, he started cussing and that was cut out.
The booth did not render an opinion on Kyle’s comments, but Brad Keselowski did say that he understood Kyle’s anger and frustration. Remember, this is a man who got wrecked coming to the line in a standalone race at Gateway back in 2010. He’s been there before.
Which ties into my next point. What wasn’t touched upon that really should have been was the fact that Kyle tried to intentionally wreck Austin Dillon exiting turn 4 on the last lap in some kind of a last-ditch effort to win. Had Kyle actually done it, the fallout would have been even worse than Carl Edwards’ move on Keselowski pictured above. That was an outsized payback move. This would have been Kyle taking out an innocent bystander like a ten-year old who doesn’t want to get beat by the AI in Papyrus’ NASCAR Racing 2.
Prior to the start of the race, Danielle Trotta conducted a sit-down interview with NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell about the current health of the XFINITY Series in which O’Donnell stated that NASCAR is looking at ways to potentially cut down on Cup drivers in the XFINITY Series. Afterwards, a discussion in the Hollywood Hotel about the situation broke out. Kenny Wallace stuck to his previous guns that I’ve already written (ten races a year tops, but still loves being able to beat Cup drivers in their prime).
By this point, I don’t think there’s much more that can be said about this issue. You know where most everyone of note stands. I will note that Larry McReynolds did mention that the real issue is not so much Cup drivers in the series, but Cup teams. That’s probably more of an issue than anyone realizes.
Mark Martin running for then-Roush Racing was the exception in the past. Most of the Cup drivers who raced in the then-Busch Grand National Series would either drive their own equipment, or race for Busch teams. Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan drove for themselves. Harry Gant drove for Ed Whitaker in his No. 7. Dale Jarrett drove for Horace Isenhower before going out on his own. Terry Labonte raced for Labonte Racing as a teammate to his younger brother Bobby, then later as a teammate to current NASCAR official (and former Busch Champion) David Green.
Ten years ago or so, you could make the argument that Cup drivers were the problem when you had as many as 22 of them attempting the Saturday show. That’s when it really hurts the regular teams when they can’t even get in the show. That’s not really the case now.
Speaking of Keselowski, he made his 2016 broadcast booth debut on Saturday. I think that he was decent, but he went heavy on the hyperbole. At the end of Saturday’s race, he stated something along the lines of the race being one of the best he’d ever seen. I’d dispute that heavily. There really wasn’t all that much action in the entire second half of the race.
Having said that, Keselowski did a pretty good job explaining how important that side force is to the cars and how the wall contact would affect Ryan Blaney’s No. 22. Speaking of Blaney, I’m surprised that NASCAR didn’t black flag him for his rear deck lid falling into the trunk.
Overall, FOX Sports 1 did a good job on Saturday, but this was not the best race out there by anyone’s standards. It was another Kyle Busch butt-kicking that got picked up a bunch thanks to the ending. In all honesty, it was normal by Fontana standards, but here, more than on Sunday, FOX Sports 1 was really trying to sell the action. I just didn’t see enough to really blush over it.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is probably the quietest weekend of the entire racing season. Everybody is off. The only series of note that is racing this weekend is the K&N Pro Series East. They’ll be racing at Greenville-Pickens Speedway on Saturday. That race will air next week on NBCSN. The TV listings for the week can be found in the TV Schedule tab.
For this week, there is coverage of last weekend’s K&N Pro Series West opener at Irwindale Speedway on Friday night. That’s about it. Right now, I’m a bit unclear about what you’ll see next week in Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. I do have a plan for the Critic’s Annex. It involves critiquing the Haas F1 special that premiered Thursday night after the K&N Pro Series East race from Mobile that Tyler Dippel won. Perhaps we could combine the F1 special with the Irwindale race. Not a terrible column to write if I do say so myself.
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