Michigan International Speedway brought the unveiling of the new ultra-low downforce package, one that Darrell Waltrip described as having a smaller rear spoiler than at any time in the past 40 years. It’s a little hard to ascertain. It’s not like restrictor plates, which can be tracked thanks to Jayski’s Plate chart.
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As you probably remember, the Pocono broadcast was overshadowed by Brad Keselowski calling out Jeff Gordon for bias in the booth over his comments about Keselowski’s penalty. While yes, Gordon did refer to a punishment at Las Vegas that was never levied, he did make a parallel. The fact that the video from Las Vegas was already cued means that this topic might have come up prior to the race.
Sunday saw the two champions sit down together and talk. Isn’t that lovely?
Gordon stated after the piece aired that they were already scheduled to do the interview at Michigan before everything at Pocono went down. It does say something that Keselowski was still willing to do the interview after all the fallout.
While he did seem to come off as friendly, Keselowski held rather firm to his beliefs after Pocono (mainly since he’s held these opinions for something like six weeks).
“When you exit the realm of talking about drivers and get into talking about the cars, specific things to the regulations, rules, teams, etc.,” Keselowski said. “That should be considered out of bounds when you have an investment in the sport.”
Gordon appeared taken aback by this statement. I think anyone reading this, if they were in Gordon’s shoes, would feel the same way.
As far as I’m concerned, it is ludicrous. While he never came out and said it, he’s basically saying that FOX Sports should have never hired him. At best, he’s saying that Gordon needs to hold his tongue and not be honest. I don’t get the whole thing about Gordon’s brand knowing that Darrell Waltrip is there, has been there since 2001 and owned teams during his time in the booth. He spent part of the interview metaphorically kicking Gordon square in the nuts. I’d argue that this was nothing short of disrespectful.
Did Keselowski feel the same way about Michael Waltrip being on the FOX broadcasts when Michael Waltrip Racing was still in the Sprint Cup Series? How about Dale Earnhardt, Jr. doing the XFINITY race on Saturday in the booth? Or, since he’s done a couple of XFINITY races this year, himself in the booth? I don’t know, because he never broached the issue.
Outside of the Pocono spat, Keselowski did mention that he believes that the best drivers are bipolar. That’s an interesting notion. Sir Jackie Stewart described this to Jim McKay in the aftermath of the Danny Ongais crash in the 1981 Indianapolis 500.
Obviously, given his track record, Stewart was not like what he described on-air here out of the car. I guess there is merit to Keselowski’s quote here.
As far as I’m concerned, this is probably not over. Although with only one race left in the FOX portion of the Sprint Cup season, you might not see it quite as starkly for the rest of the season, I feel like this issue is going to pop up again before the season ends.
For the race itself, I felt that FOX did a decent job showing the various races for position in and around the restarts. Outside of that period of time, it was hit or miss. It seemed to me that a couple of teams got the lion’s share of the coverage. No, Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t really one of them. He didn’t last long enough in the race to be one of them.
There were a number of things that I wish actually did make the broadcast. One was a replay of what happened to Jeffrey Earnhardt to bring out that yellow. He had already hit the wall to bring out the fourth caution and had slowed on the track. It seems like he hit the wall again, but I don’t know what happened there. I’m operating under the assumption that he blew a right front tire, smacked the wall and broke something off that caused the fire.
Secondly, anyone that was looking on Twitter probably could have foreseen Kyle Busch’s engine failure. Busch’s wife Samantha tweeted this out during the previous caution.
Kyle believes it is in fact blowing up says vibrations are getting really bad and spotter says there isn't anything on the grille
— Samantha Busch (@SamanthaBusch) June 12, 2016
I feel like this was a missed story for FOX. Kyle stated that he had “30 laps of warning” for the failure. That’s more than enough time for FOX to report on the issue. He had paper on the grille early in the race and that probably hurt the car more than anyone wants to admit. This is why you can’t get napkins or straws at the races these days. If I want to drink a fountain drink in the Media Center in Daytona without a threat of spillage, I have to bring one from off the property and hide it in my bag. Now, I’m not saying that FOX’s pit reporters need to troll Samantha Busch’s Twitter feed during the race; believe me, they’ve got enough stuff going on as is. They could have gotten similar information by either talking to Adam Stevens, or by using their headsets (one side of it has driver audio).
One of the main topics of discussion was the rules package and how it affected the racing. The most obvious result was that it made the cars loose as heck. The restarts were complete scrambles. However, it only slightly helped the clean air issue and didn’t change the lines that were being run at all. Earnhardt Jr. pointed out on Saturday that the groove seemed to move downward during the XFINITY race. That’s been the case since the track was repaved.
Post-race coverage was about average on Sunday. Viewers got a few interviews and a quick check of the points before FOX Sports 1 left the air to get to New Jersey.
Overall, I thought the broadcast was just ok. The race itself did not have any controversial moments. There were things that need to be improved (more inclusivity, better reporting of storylines, perhaps better replays that include the biggest hit in a crash (Brian Scott’s hit seemed to be considered secondary to Danica Patrick wiping out)). There was no final opinion given on the rules package, despite it being the major topic of discussion for most of the day. I think it’s ok, but it’s not the end all.
Saturday brought the XFINITY Series back to Michigan for their one and only appearance of the year. While Daniel Suarez was the big story of the day on the track, the Monterrey native was not the story of the day on TV.
On FOX Sports 1, the big story of the day was the inclusion of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the broadcast booth for the first time as a guest analyst. While yes, Earnhardt, Jr. had made guest appearances in the booth in past ESPN races, he’d never stuck around for the full race.
Going in, I didn’t know quite what to expect out of Earnhardt, Jr. In some ways, my thoughts were similar to what was going through my mind when I first heard that Clint Bowyer was going to be in the booth. Personality-wise, Earnhardt Jr. is kind of “Clint-lite.” He’s conversational, but not crazy. Last week, I asked which Dale that we would get, Racer Dale, Business Dale or Watercooler Dale? We basically got Racer Dale, or more honestly, Interview Dale.
Earnhardt Jr. is probably the best driver to interview in NASCAR. He probably values the media more than most of his immediate colleagues and is more willing to give quotes. On Saturday, you got a 41-year old man in the booth that put a lot of thought into his input. Maybe he wasn’t running his mouth a mile a minute, but the analysis that he added to the broadcast was actually pretty good. Earnhardt Jr. spent part of the race focusing on the various lines that drivers were taking and how those lines really weren’t moving around despite the 92-degree weather.
He admitted after the race that he was concerned about the tire blistering that ended up being a real issue on Saturday. With the cooler temperatures during the Cup race, it wasn’t that much of a thing, though.
The overall racing was not that bad. Focus was rather tight at times, but viewers were able to follow Suarez’s charge up through the field. We could see where Suarez was catching Kyle Busch late in the race and what he needed to do in order to pass his more experienced teammate.
Since the race ended much quicker than FOX Sports 1 expected, there was a lot of time for post-race coverage. FOX Sports 1 provided ten driver interviews, plus checks of the points and unofficial results and analysis. The large amount of post-race content gave viewers a rather complete idea of what went on during the race.
Overall, for the sake of this column, Earnhardt, Jr.’s appearance in the booth may have overshadowed the race itself. Ultimately, the race will be remembered as the day in which Suarez finally broke through. I’m surprised that it took this long for him to win, knowing how strong Joe Gibbs Racing has been so far this year.
Earnhardt, Jr. was reasonably solid in the booth debut. It seems like he had fun with it, which is probably the most important thing for someone who isn’t working in the booth on a regular basis.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) June 11, 2016
Besides the fact that he enjoyed himself, Earnhardt, Jr. didn’t need to be prompted to give his opinion on-air, like some guest analysts have had to in the past. While I’m unsure how much Earnhardt, Jr. prepared for his time in the booth, he did come prepared to contribute to the broadcast in a fair fashion.
Yes, he did have three cars in the race via JR Motorsports, but he really didn’t let that get in the way. We did get some good insights on what he sees in Alex Bowman, who is in the middle of a nine-race deal to drive the No. 88. Bowman getting the ride might have been a surprise to some, but Earnhardt Jr. seemed to have the opinion that he was an untapped talent. I guess he saw something he liked out of the Arizona native when he was driving the No. 99 for RAB Racing with Brack Maggard.
A split weekend brought a change to the broadcast booth in Texas for the Rattlesnake 400k. Michael Waltrip chose not to make the trip to Denton County for the truck race, run as support to the not-quite-finished-yet Firestone 600. In his place was Todd Bodine in a rare booth appearance.
Having Bodine in the booth instead of Michael Waltrip does lead to a completely different feel. Bodine’s commentary trends more to the Ricky Craven style than anything else. He’s methodical, but makes his input count. For example, he criticized Tyler Reddick for what he believed to be a number of rookie mistakes after Reddick had a right rear tire failure early on. Reddick then drove more than a lap after spinning out before getting it changed.
Bodine’s commentary here was kind of harsh, actually. He made it clear that he felt that Reddick should have known better. If he was trying to stay on the lead lap, it didn’t work as he still got lapped. He also ended up with pieces of his tire in the truck with him. That’s a new one.
Speaking of tires, they were a big topic of discussion during the race. Matt Crafton led early, then had some kind of tire issue that put him in the turn 3 wall. Crafton then pitted for four tires and destroyed the field. I haven’t seen a field evisceration like that since Joey Logano nearly lapped the field in the 2008 Carolina 500 at Rockingham. However, we never really got an idea of just how bad the tire wear was. Sure, we got radio quotes from Johnny Sauter that indicated that he had run the front tires off in 45 laps, but that’s not the same as seeing the evidence. Even Buford T. Justice knows that.
Viewers did get to see the right rear off of Reddick’s No. 29 after his spin, but it was ripped up enough that you couldn’t really tell what happened. I feel like FOX Sports 1 should have done a better job in showing us those tires (which were apparently the same compound used back in April for the Sprint Cup/XFINITY weekend).
Post-race coverage was quite short. Viewers got interviews with the top two finishers (William Byron and Crafton), along with Rico Abreu, who could have earned his first win. Afterwards, since the race ran long, they immediately jumped to MLB Whiparound.
While I would have liked to see more post-race coverage, I understand that the race ran long. I did like the dynamic in the booth with Bodine in place of Michael Waltrip. It led to a more professional-sounding broadcast. Bodine doesn’t really have anything to promote. He’s just there to cover the race and be as informative as possible. He doesn’t feel the need to be an entertainer, as Michael Waltrip has said to us previously this year.
That’s all for this week. The Sprint Cup teams are off this weekend, but the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series will both be in action at Iowa Speedway. Meanwhile, Formula One makes its first trip to Azerbaijan for the Grand Prix of Europe (a relative term, if you will) and the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards will race at Madison International Raceway. TV Listings can be found above in the TV Schedule tab.
I will provide critiques of the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series races from Iowa for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. Should be fun, but make note that the production may be stripped down a bit. The “Hollywood Hotel” is not making the trip to Iowa and the overall setup might be a little limited. I don’t expect any less than four in-car cameras (Note: The Cup race Sunday had only four; I don’t like that much), but keep an eye out for stuff that might normally be in an XFINITY broadcast that doesn’t make the cut in Iowa.
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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