Talladega is looney tunes. In its purest form, a race weekend at Talladega makes your stomach churn (or, it makes my stomach turn, at least). In recent years, that really hasn’t been the case. However, this past weekend brought it on big time, unlike any time since about 2005.
Sunday brought the Sprint Cup Series out to play for 500 miles. The race ultimately had everything. Crashing, flipping, bump drafting, multiple incidents on pit road, apparently a middle finger, and even a steering wheel issue. On that note, does Greg Ives get fined for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. screwing up?
My steering wheel came off during a caution yesterday. I take full responsibility for not making sure it was connected properly beforehand..
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) May 2, 2016
With the rains threatening at Talladega, FOX NASCAR Sunday was very short, about 12 minutes in fact. That meant no Grid Walk, no shenanigans. But, it also meant that you only got a minimal preview of the race if you didn’t watch NASCAR RaceDay.
On NASCAR RaceDay, there was a nice sit-down interview that Kenny Wallace did with Carl Edwards where Edwards discussed Richmond and his personal approach to things. I found that interview to be quite interesting. I believe that it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to run those interviews during FOX NASCAR Sunday as FOX has become too dependent on its regular features. I cannot treat a Sprint Cup pre-race show the same way that I treated the weeknight edition of rpm2night back in the 1990’s (Ex: It’s Wednesday, that means that it’s time for sprint car highlights). If you’ve got good content, don’t just sit on it.
As I stated last week, I am continuing my observation of Jeff Gordon and his coverage of Chase Elliott. This past weekend, it was getting toward overkill. Jeff, you have to cut back, man. Elliott is one of 40 drivers out there and while yes, he’s running quite well, you’re starting to sound like a cheerleader at times.
I will state that when Earnhardt, Jr. mentioned his steering wheel coming off under yellow, Gordon darn near freaked out.
I can’t imagine that it felt all that good to steer using the shaft for a few seconds like Earnhardt Jr. I didn’t even know that it had happened until after Earnhardt Jr. had crashed for the second time with Edwards. When FOX played the clip, it was obvious that it was the first time that Gordon had seen the clip.
A somewhat similar “real moment” occurred Saturday early in qualifying when a man with tooth fairy wings on waved the checkered flag at the end of the first run. Darrell Waltrip saw the guy up there and said “What the heck?” Mike Joy had to explain Aspen Dental’s sponsorship of the race weekend.
My main takeaway from Sunday is sadly that cars getting airborne is once again a big thing as both Matt Kenseth and Chris Buescher ended up on their lids. I’m admittedly not that worried about the Buescher crash. That’s a weight transfer kind of thing. That’s happened multiple times. Sadly, I don’t think there’s all that much that can be done about it. Michael Annett hitting Buescher like that in the right rear is similar to someone hitting you in the back of the leg. That’s your equilibrium. The topic was not really discussed much on the broadcast.
I am way more concerned about Kenseth’s crash. The consensus is that the contact from Danica Patrick popped his car slightly off the ground and that’s all it took. I’m wondering if punching small holes in the bottom of the chassis could be an answer here for plate races. It would be a similar tactic to what happened with GT3 cars last year after a Nissan GT-R took off at the Flugplatz on the Nürburgring, slid on its rear end, hit a tire barrier bottom-first and vaulted over a catchfence, killing a spectator. The difference here is that Sprint Cup cars do have a flat bottom. GT3 cars at the time did (they don’t anymore).
Since the race started roughly 15 minutes early, there was a good amount of post-race coverage. Viewers did get news of everyone walking away from the last lap crash and a number of interviews. We also saw footage of the potential rekindling of the Kenseth-Joey Logano feud from last year (for the sake of asking, which one of the two is the heel in that scenario?). Don’t know what Kenseth told Logano (he certainly wouldn’t say when asked), but it appears that Kenseth wasn’t happy.
Overall, there were some good aspects of the broadcast. The racing was over the top on Sunday and FOX did a pretty good job of bringing viewers that racing. The booth needs to watch their biases (Gordon with Elliott; Darrell Waltrip with his brother, etc.) in order to make the broadcast as good as it could be.
Sparks Energy 300
On Saturday, the XFINITY Series returned to Talladega for 116 laps of action. Once again, the bump drafting was an issue. I have no clue how the deuce NASCAR thinks they could possibly enforce a no-tandem rule in the series. It’s impossible. Unless they’re willing to black-flag half the dang field at the same time, I just don’t know.
Brandon McReynolds made a rare start in the XFINITY Series Saturday, creating a first-time opportunity for his father, Larry McReynolds, to bestow some advice on the youngster who’s been spending this season working behind the scenes for Bill McAnally Racing out west. It was somewhat touching, actually.
Saturday’s special guest in the booth was Denny Hamlin, the kayfabe enemy (but a good friend in real life) of Michael Waltrip. For Hamlin, his first-ever booth analyst role was a learning experience. He’s a short track guy at heart and took a bit of glee at pointing out short track veterans who were having good runs (Jeremy Clements, Mario Gosselin, Benny Gordon, etc.). For a first-timer, Hamlin did alright in the booth as he was able to bring in his own background information to the broadcast and was generally unobtrusive. He also wasn’t intimindated by Waltrip and Adam Alexander, unlike drivers like Patrick last year. It’s a good start for Hamlin.
The no-tandem rule ended up playing a pretty big role early in the race as Brendan Gaughan and Aric Almirola got busted and had to perform drive-through penalties. Admittedly, they got flagged for a less blatant violation of the rule than a number of others seemed to get away with both before and after that point.
Post-race coverage at first was centered around the finish (the crash and Brennan Poole beating Justin Allgaier back to the line). However, the focus soon turned to NASCAR’s official review. Hamlin wanted a replay with the lights synced up. Just as that footage aired, NASCAR announced Elliott Sadler as the official winner of the race. Once that was determined, viewers got interviews and a check of the results before FOX left the air.
Overall, the race was interesting to watch, but the officials played way too large a role. Unfortunately with the current rules package, that is going to happen. FOX did a good job trying to explain what was going on officiating-wise, but the no pushing rule remains ambiguous, no matter how much Wayne Auten says that they’re penalizing everyone who does it for any period of time.
In all honesty, I’m not a fan of these light reviews determining winners. At minimum, it causes track littering events. I know you all remember what happened when Gordon won those races in 2005 and 2007. The assembled masses were not pleased. However, I guess the thought here is that they’re trying to prevent another mess like what happened at Daytona a couple of years ago when Kyle Larson ended up in the catchfence. I don’t think it’s going to work, though.
General Tire 200 at Talladega
On Friday evening, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards returned to FOX Sports 1 for its annual assault on Talladega Superspeedway’s high banks. In recent years, the race has become more and more rushed. Racing on Friday night is far from ideal (my solution is to make Saturday a doubleheader and start the XFINITY race around 1 p.m.). The weather coming into Talladega resulted in an even more rushed broadcast than normal.
Due to the oncoming weather, ARCA made the decision to move up the start. That meant that the command to start engines was given during NASCAR RaceHub Weekend Edition. There was essentially no pre-race as the cars were already rolling by the time the broadcast actually began. It bites, but it’s understandable.
Ultimately, the content that would have aired during pre-race (had it happened) aired during the race. That included a piece where Matt Kurzejewski introducing himself, talking about his career and the big call from Ken Schrader that led to his ride in the No. 52. With ARCA races being rare on national TV (10 races per year with FOX Sports 1 or 2, and the ASN deal doesn’t start for three more weeks), having a chance to introduce viewers to one of the series’ up and coming stars is quite the coup. Having said that, I did enjoy watching it. Found it informative.
Generally, the on-track product that we saw was pretty good. However, there were a couple of moments where the coverage we got was lacking. The most notable moment was the crash that ultimately ended the race. There were a couple of things to note here. First off, ARCA immediately put the checkered flag out due to incoming weather and/or darkness. The fact that ARCA had already announced that and told all the teams was not referenced on the telecast until after the yellow had been put out. I’m sorry, but Ray Dunlap, that’s your job to inform viewers of that fact. I will admit that it was getting quite gloomy, but you must inform everyone of that fact so that viewers won’t be taken by surprise.
Secondly, there were a number of big hits there. Dustin Knowles went head-on into the wall, while both Korbin Forrester and Bobby Gerhart took big hits as well. FOX Sports 1 was very slow in bringing updates on driver conditions to viewers. I do know that information is not necessarily made available quickly in this age of HIPAA legislation, just showing the drivers getting out of their cars is enough in this case.
We never got any real indication that Gerhart was OK after the crash. Gotta bring that to the viewers. Apparently he was, because he started and finished 33rd in the Sparks Energy 300 the next day. There was never any real indication that he got out of the car and walked away.
The other moment that I didn’t particularly like was the coverage around the botched attempt at green flag pit stops when Andy Seuss and Forrester collided entering pit road. Yes, they replayed the incident after the stops under caution were completed, but there was no real commentary to describe what happened. Looking at it now, it looks like something broke on Seuss’ car. The fact that he was done after that incident gives credence to that thought (it’s like the car locked up on him). However, ARCA apparently lists Seuss’ reason for retiring as “radio issues.” Don’t get that one.
The race itself was way more exciting than any ARCA race at a plate track in the last decade or so. ARCA plate races are typically follow the leader around the bottom affairs, but that was definitely not the case.
The duo of Dunlap and Phil Parsons did a good job covering the actual racing, but not good at the intangibles. You know, the little touches that really bring a broadcast home. Screw up a bunch of the intangibles, you end up missing something big, like failing to tell viewers of the one final chance to finish under green.
Since the race ended early, there was a lot of time for post-race coverage. That was spent with interviews. Talladega interviews in ARCA can launch careers, or kill them. Billy Tanner effectively killed his career ranting about “rich kids” a few years back. Knowles’ interview was pure gold, though.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is a relatively quiet one. The Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series teams travel to Kansas. It’s another test for the new package (track was redone in 2012) and how it will work out. They’re the only major National-level series in action. There will also be motoGP coverage from France and DTM begins at Hockenheim. Listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab.
I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series broadcasts in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. Let’s hope that we get some good action.
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