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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: NASCAR’s Thunder Valley Brings Thunderous FOX Dynamic

Well, last weekend was quite interesting.  I noted on Twitter that the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series races were the races where the officials affected the race the least.  Pirelli World Challenge and the World Endurance Championship saw the winner get stripped of their trophy afterwards.  The Verizon IndyCar Series muffed a penalty call that changed the outcome of the race (more on that in the Newsletter later this week).  The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT-Le Mans victory was settled using a PIT maneuver in the hairpin with a little more than two laps to go.

Without having watched the races, you would have thought the races at Bristol this weekend were tame.  They were anything but.

Food City 500

Sunday saw the Sprint Cup Series return to Bristol for 500 laps of action.  We saw some thrills, spills and some surprises.  Kyle Busch warned viewers that the race might not be all that good, but it might have turned out better than he thought on an overall scale.  Not so much for him.

Speaking of the younger of the Busch brothers, he was the focus for much of pre-race coverage since he’s been so dominant recently.  FOX asked a number of fans what they thought of the defending Sprint Cup Champion, which always makes for interesting television.

In addition, FOX sat Busch down and had him talk about the past couple of weeks.  Naturally, he was pretty happy at the time.  Not so much now.  Busch also talked about how much he likes racing at Bristol (he has five wins on the high banks) and how places that he hasn’t won at can chafe at his butt.  I thought it was ok.  The piece doesn’t disprove any particular notion I have about him.  The man is addicted to trophies.

(Photo: John Harrelson/NKP)
The Bristol race didn’t go the way Kyle Busch thought it would in his preface interview. (Photo: John Harrelson/NKP)

During the race, loose wheels were a big, big issue.  I’ve already written this season about the whole lug nut issue.  NASCAR only stopped worrying about them because their video system can’t catch them (basically, they would need cameras on the other side of the pit wall to pick that up).  Because of that, people are getting sloppy in the quest for quicker stops and better track position.  Apparently, NASCAR’s going to address that later this week, but they’ve created a hole for themselves.

The booth (especially Gordon and Larry McReynolds in his side booth) made the point that the forces are too strong at Bristol to press your luck on such a setup.  Personally, I agree.

Another issue was the mystery issue that struck three of the four Joe Gibbs Racing entries and resulted in Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth introducing themselves to some 8x8x3/16th’s tubing on seven different occasions.  Busch’s first failure was apparently due to a melted bead, but the others were a mystery.  FOX did keep tabs on wheel temperatures for the rest of the race in response to the issue, just in case.  Their takeaway from the issue is that they thought it was a camber issue.  However, no proof of that was found.

I thought that McReynolds did a great job explaining the track bar mount issue that put Kyle Larson in the garage.  There was some confusion at the time pertaining to Larson’s issues.  McReynolds put the whole thing to bed quickly and as simply as possible.  Perfect.

Having said all that, I did have a couple of gripes on Sunday.  First and foremost, it was rather difficult to follow the drivers that had issues on Sunday.  It wasn’t too difficult to keep tabs on Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who dropped to the rear after problems on the initial start.  The broadcast made it out to be some kind of ECU problem.  Earnhardt Jr. described it after the race as if he hit the kill switch.

However, Earnhardt Jr.’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson dropped back after getting penalized and we heard and saw bupkis.  Then, all of a sudden, Johnson’s in the top 10.  I feel that moments like that shouldn’t happen.  FOX needs to keep better tabs on drivers.  The FOX Box is not an end-all.

Also of note, is there a reason why Darrell Waltrip doesn’t really want to use Gordon’s insight during the broadcasts?  Is Waltrip some kind of narcissist? Gordon’s actually raced the Gen6, while Waltrip hasn’t driven a Cup car since 2002 or so (he practiced the No. 14 Conseco Pontiac at Martinsville in place of Stacy Compton once).  Gordon’s a four-time champion.  He knows his stuff.  He is not a moron.  The information that Gordon provides viewers can be helpful, yet Waltrip seems to want to treat Gordon like he’s 12 when he’s actually 44.  That’s not right.  At times, it’s been downright disrespectful.

Coming out of the race, one of the biggest stories on Sunday was Matt DiBenedetto’s sixth-place finish for BK Racing.  The man had never finished a Cup race better than 18th.  He’s essentially an unknown in Sprint Cup.  FOX actually showed his rather interesting entrance (he came out to ZZ Top’s Sharp Dressed Man and had a fake beard on so that he resembled Billy Gibbons) during driver introductions and the analysts in the Hollywood Hotel (Chris Myers, Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip) couldn’t figure out who it was.  For the record, Gordon thought that it was Michael McDowell.

It’s just another sign that FOX is not necessarily doing the best job of covering everyone.  You can’t just assume that everyone watches NASCAR RaceHub on FOX Sports 1.  Sure, it’s a good show, but inclusiveness is key on race broadcasts.  That way, you wouldn’t be so surprised about people.

During the race, DiBenedetto did run well, but didn’t have the track position.  He got a lap down after halfway, but got a Lucky Dog when Casey Mears slid into turn 1 on lap 339.  He really didn’t show up in the hunt until Joey Logano’s car didn’t go on a late restart and held up the inside line.  That boosted DiBenedetto up to tenth.  The other four positions were all him (and having that crucial outside line for restarts).

DiBenedetto’s post-race interview with Chris Neville was quite refreshing.  I’ve read comparisons to Lake Speed’s post-race interview after finishing second in the 1985 Daytona 500 with an 11th hour sponsor (Nationwise Auto Parts, who ended up staying for two full seasons), but it reminded me more of Rich Bickle’s interview with Bill Weber after he finished fourth at Martinsville in 1998.

My point here is that you just don’t see that joy all that much anymore in NASCAR.  Instead, you get the usual platitudes to sponsors, short statements and (in some cases), sarcastic jabs.  Winning is never assured.  Getting that great finish really does feel good and I think some of the drivers don’t understand that anymore.

Since the race had 15 cautions, it ran over the scheduled timeslot.  Regardless, viewers still got a decent amount of post-race coverage, including the aforementioned DiBenedetto interview.

Overall, I did enjoy watching the race on Sunday.  It was not the doom and gloom that Busch claimed that it was going to be, but it is no easy piece to pass at Bristol.  You had some good stories and good action.  On the broadcast, you had good enthusiasm and moments of clarity.  However, there were also some issues that I’ve mentioned above.  The Darrell Waltrip-Jeff Gordon thoughts above is not really just a Bristol thing, but more of an ongoing issue that some of my readers have mentioned in the comments in recent weeks.  I’m not a fan, but it is something worth looking at as the season continues on.

Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300

Of note, I had no clue what a glider kit was prior to Saturday.  Turns out that it’s a ready-made tractor (the business part of an 18-wheeler) that can be had at a discount as compared to if you bought direct from a Peterbilt/Kenworth/Western Star dealer.  Regardless, they’re still roughly $130,000 plus tax.  Engine and transmission choice can affect (10 to 18 speeds are available).

Aside from the references to trucking, Saturday was also the first trial for the XFINITY Dash 4 Cash with their heat races.

Quite frankly, those heat races were completely anti-climactic.  Next to nothing happened, there were no lead changes and very little movement up and down the order.  Essentially, they made what would have been the first third of the race way more boring than it would have been.  I’m not really cool with the format, since the races are now shorter than they would be without the heats.  Especially Saturday, I would have felt that I wouldn’t be getting my money’s worth.  I know that XFINITY would like this setup because it means that having a fifth race just to determine who’s eligible for the money the first time around is no longer necessary.

Using Saturday’s setup, I would have held the heat races 90 minutes earlier than they were held (11 a.m. instead of 12:30 p.m.).  Sprint Cup Happy Hour would have been held in between the heat races and the actual race.  The cars would be impounded here, but it would give teams time to fix damaged cars (with the penalty of dropping to the rear, of course).

Back to the broadcast itself.  For Saturday’s race, Brad Keselowski returned to the broadcast booth for his second visit of the season.  While he does have some good insight, he does need to watch himself from time to time.  For example, Michael Waltrip asked Keselowski about the No. 22 team.  Keselowski gave a good explanation for why the team really hasn’t been a match for Joe Gibbs Racing so far in 2016 (Answer: Many of the good crewmembers, including crew chief Jeremy Bullins, went to work for Wood Brothers Racing on Ryan Blaney’s No. 21 in Sprint Cup).  Makes perfect sense, given their alliance.

However, Keselowski needs to realize that when he’s a booth analyst, there is no “we” when he refers to race teams, even the one he races for in Sprint Cup and the XFINITY Series.  I know you’re probably thinking that I’m nuts, but that comes off to me as favoritism.  Can’t have that.

That said, Keselowski does do a decent job making the race exciting.  Earnhardt Jr. agrees with this sentiment.

Then again, the race at the front didn’t really need to be sold that much.  Kyle Busch and Larson were racing each other like it was no tomorrow until the last yellow came out for the collision between Mario Gosselin and Ryan Reed.  I’m very happy that someone was finally able to give Kyle Busch a run for his money.  Too many of these XFINITY races turn into runaways.

While Earnhardt Jr. may be a fan of Keselowski in the booth, I doubt that he’s a fan of being called out by Michael Waltrip to join the booth, though.  After all, Earnhardt Jr. is a busy man with a lot of dudes who want his time.  I suppose the hope is that Earnhardt Jr. in the booth for a full race would be like “Watercooler Dale” in those Nationwide commercials.  It would be a much different feel compared to what we’re used to.

Post-race coverage was somewhat typical.  However, since NASCAR held up Erik Jones’ Victory Lane celebration, all the other interviews came first.  Guess they needed to finish getting everything set up.

Honestly, this race didn’t take much longer than many K&N Pro Series East races to run.  Having said that, there was a lot of action in this race that made up for the terrible heat races.  I just wish we got 300 laps of action instead of 200.

Given that Kyle Busch and Larson were going at each other all day, we got a broadcast that might have been the most strictly focused at the front of the field of any race in one of NASCAR’s National Series that I can honestly remember in my seven-plus years of writing this column for Frontstretch.  However, much of the action was right there.  It’s a tough place to be.  For FOX Sports 1, it makes things pretty easy, but for people that aren’t necessarily fans of Kyle Busch or Larson, it means that you didn’t see much of your guy, unless he was being used as a pawn in the ongoing race for the lead.

That’s all for this week.  After last weekend’s craziness, the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series return to Richmond International Raceway for daytime racing.  It is the first time that NASCAR has held a regularly-scheduled day race there since 1997.  Unlike that weekend in 1997, it won’t be 40 degrees.  Meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series will be at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama with Pirelli World Challenge.  The NHRA will be in Charlotte for the Four-Wide Nationals, always a good show, while Formula E, motoGP and the Blancpain GT Endurance Series will be in action.  Listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab at the top of the page.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, XFINITY and Verizon IndyCar Series races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  My plan was to include the Verizon IndyCar Series race from Long Beach in this edition of Couch Potato Tuesday.  However, I will write about it in a special Wednesday edition of the Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter.  Expect interpretation of the rules to be a big part of that article.

The normal Thursday edition of the Annex will cover the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s BUBBA Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach.  In that column, I will look at the broadcast through the lens of the changes announced for 2016 since Long Beach was the first race of the year with the normal contingent of personalities.

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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16 thoughts on “Couch Potato Tuesday: NASCAR’s Thunder Valley Brings Thunderous FOX Dynamic”

  1. I normally tune in to the prerace show, but haven’t been able to stomach more than 5-minutes. Between DW’s man-love for Kyle Busch, and Michael Waltrip acting like a clown, and thinking he’s funny, when he’s not, makes the prerace part of the broadcast unwatchable. And, please Michael, give up the grid walk. You are so annoying! Robin Miller, despite being the old grump that he is, has a good rapport with the people on pit road. You do not! Please give up the nonsense!

    As for the race itself, I don’t know who is more bias, Darrell Waltrip, with his man-love for any Toyota driver, or Jeff Gordon, still showing he’s a Hendrick guy. Too, the cheering and smiles out of those two every time one of the Penske drivers got busted for a pit road violation was sickening. Sure, no bias there, right?

    And lastly, why isn’t Chevrolet and Ford paying these guys to advertise the pace car? Or has anyone not noticed this? Every time there is a Toyota pace car, Mike Joy happily announces the Toyota Camery that is pacing the field. Whenever it’s a Ford (at Martinsville), or a Chevrolet (like this past weekend at Bristol), they day nothing. Toyota must be paying these guys well!

    • Most of us pretty much accept that the Waltrip brothers bring very little to a broadcast. It’s a known fact that both are biased as to Toyota and certain drivers, FOX lets them get away with it and it’s difficult to understand why. The more Gordon spends time in the booth the worse DW is going to look. Mikey is a silly buffoon and can’t see the way he is seen by the fans.

      You blew it on the Glider kit explanation. A Glider kit is an unfinished tractor. They come with the frame, the cab, the front end suspension. The purchaser generally already has a transmission, the engine and accessories, the rear axles, to install into the glider. They are used to update an older truck or to replace one that has been wrecked. Although certainly not cheap your $130,000 price was way high. If you purchase a Glider you won’t be driving it until you install every part of the drive line from the engine back.

      • I’ll fully admit that the trucking industry is not my forte, mrclause. The definition on Fitzgerald’s website is a bit unclear to me. They’ll need to fix that up. I pulled the prices off of Fitzgerald Glider Kits’ website. I guess those are for finished Glider Kits? They do advertise significant savings over brand new tractors (something like 25 percent).

        As for the Gordon-Waltrip dynamic, I feel like Gordon isn’t that biased towards Hendrick Motorsports on the broadcast. It doesn’t come off that starkly. It probably would a lot more if Darrell weren’t there, though.

        Also, on the topic of Michael Waltrip, that whole Grid Walk he does is an act. Heck, he’s actually friends with Denny Hamlin, who acts like he wants to rip his head off every time he sees him before a race.

    • Ken, from what I saw you would think Team Penske should fold up the shop and pack it in, just horrible this and that…yeah the bias is there alright, but I am kinda over it. I have often wondered why Ford hasn’t told the WWE to stick it a long time ago. Oh well, the world is nuts anyways, right?

  2. “Is Waltrip some kind of narcissist?”

    Rhetorical question!! For both!

    How did the TV crew handle not having Kyle in one of the races on Saturday?

  3. Yes, Waltrip is a narcissist, plus that he is a conceited jerk on top of it. Heaven forbid anyone should come into “his” booth and have better, more current info to add than he does. Can’t have that, “Jaws” is top dog or if he isn’t, then he acts like a dog in the manger.

    Ken, I agree with you about the Toyota thing. I’m sure Toyota must be paying a lot of $ to both NASCAR and probably to Fox as well. I think it’s been pretty well established that the Waltrip clan and probably Larry Mac, too, all have monetary interests with Toyota.

    I’m not defending Gordon’s bias, because you are probably right that at heart he is still an HMS guy, but maybe he feels he needs to do that to offset the Toyota tilt. That said though I don’t think his bias is any worse than what DW and Mikey have demonstrated over the years. I totally agree it affects the broadcast. I don’t see that bias in the IndyCar or F1 broadcasts.

    • Toys, Toys, Toys, Toys, etc. Turnoff. No balance. Guess their check is bigger. Another guy does the same thing meh, a Toys driver the same thing..they are the master, the best ever blah, blah, blah. I don’t mute anymore the channel is switched or I am not home.

  4. Bad move on Fox’s part putting Gordon in the booth with Waltrip. All it did was make Waltrip look more like the idiotic narcissist he is.

    It’s time for DW to retire. He’s about 3 generations removed from the cars that are running and has no idea what’s going on with them anymore. Gordon might be biased towards HMS but at least he’s current.

  5. If the broadcast would do a comprehensive ‘through the field’ segment every 100 laps or so it would help keep track of who is moving up or down the order. Then maybe the booth wouldn’t be so surprised when a car that was down in the early going comes back to finish well. If THEY are surprised imagine what it’s like for those of us who only have access to what TV chooses to show us!

    I thought the entire heat race idea was silly. Every car was in the race, so no one wanted to hurt their race cars. It’s a silly gimmick, and as long as the Cup teams are fielding so many cars, it just points out even more how pathetic it is to have them running the races with Cup drivers behind the wheel. And, judging from the ‘crowd’ for the Xfinity race, if the Cup drivers are bringing in fans, they must have been shopping with the phantoms fro California.

  6. The heat races are not going to work the way they are running them . Not allowing backup cars will casue everyone to want to take it as easy as possible , and like you said , It takes laps away from teh main race and basically turned 100 of those laps into practice sessions , much more boring then they normally would have been . Cup drivers need to be elimanated from the Xfinity series completely . Or at most limit the amount of races they can run to a couple a year . The series has nothing to stand on its own anymore . When I first started watching you had many drivers that you knew and watched just like the Cup guys that only races the Busch series . I mean whats the point of them even having a chase format when more than likely they will only have one or two if they are lucky locked in after wins . The more Gimmicks NASCAR throws trying to save the sport the farther away they get from what people loved about the sport . Just go back 15 years and leave it alone .

  7. I think people are reading into any Gordon-Waltrip animosity. I can tell you if it were me and my best friend and we were in the booth UNFILTERED, you’d think we hated each other. The thing is we can dish out all kinds of obscene remarks at each other and laugh at the same time. I doubt that they are “best friends” but I think they have a cordial enough relationship where most of the perceived conflict by fans is a non-issue to them.

    • I actually am more impressed with Jeff (what little I watch) than I thought. I do think DW’s ego is in “adjustment” mode. DW needs to realized they both bring value to the booth. I do not see the animosoty folks are saying, I see a wounded ego and Jeff standing his ground. Seems they get along just fine. IMO of course. We will never really know. The tight lipped bugga’s they are. Damn.

      • Maybe Gordon wants to describe the action on the track. What a concept for the Waltrips to try to comprehend.

    • The issue would have died on the vine if they hadn’t rushed out denials that anything was amiss, eagerly gushing that everything was hunky dory between Gordon and Waltrip.

  8. There was part of me that wondered what would happen to the 35 Nationwide Dale Jr. performance updates if the problem at the start of the race ended up sending him to the garage for the day.

    • We would have had a lot of shots of the 88 in the garage on stands like we had when the 48 was in the garage. After all, Mr. H is paying for the coverage.

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