Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Iowa Puts Trucks and XFINITY on Display

Sprint Cup teams took last weekend off in order to relax.  However, even without Cup drivers (Brad Keselowski being an exception to the rule), it was an incredibly busy weekend with Formula One in Azerbaijan, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and two big races in Iowa.

American Ethanol E15 250

Sunday’s XFINITY Series race at Iowa was the only FOX Sports-televised race to stay on its scheduled channel all weekend.  There were no special guests in the booth, just 250 laps of racing.  How did FOX Sports 1 do with it?

NASCAR RaceDay – XFINITY Edition started with a primer about the competition caution that would be thrown on lap 40.  Part of the track came up during the truck race Saturday night and a new patch of pavement was laid down the night before.  That’s always a dicey proposition.  This was never actually referenced during the truck race itself, so it would have been quite a surprise to viewers, hence why it led the show.  The red flag in Saturday night’s truck race was due to grease on the other side of the track from a crash involving Tommy Joe Martins and Derek Scott, Jr.  Luckily, despite the competition caution being put out, the patch was ultimately not a factor in the race.

The primary feature of the show concerned Justin Marks and his somewhat unorthodox entry into motorsports.  He chose to establish himself in the business world before coming on in.  In sports car racing, he would be considered a “gentleman racer,” and in fact, that’s what he did, racing in ARCA and Grand-Am with sponsorship from companies that he was involved with, like Construct Corps.  Today, Marks has ownership interest in at least five businesses under the banner of the DryLake Group (this includes his race teams and GoPro Motorplex).

We also got to see how Marks juggles his family life, business and racing.  This was a very interesting look into the life of a gentlemen racer, something that is seldom seen in NASCAR.  It is a very tough grind to be able to do everything you want to do and still live something resembling a normal life.

Despite this nice feature, FOX Sports swung and missed when it came to the big pre-race story, which was the fact that a number of the favorites (Keselowski, Erik Jones and Elliott Sadler) had to fall to the rear of the field due to unapproved body modifications.  That’s a big story.  It should have been covered immediately after the track issue segment.  Remember, the point of a pre-race show is to actually preview the race.  Sometimes, FOX and NBC get away from that.

Perhaps only dropping to the rear of the field on Sunday was the end of their punishment.  If so, ok.  If it’s not, then that’s going to be a drag on all three teams.  I know that it didn’t affect the outcome of the race, but it was a big story, regardless.

Sam Hornish, Jr. going from the marker board to Victory Lane was definitely the big story of the day.  I knew going in that Hornish was going to be a tough out, especially since he scored the cherry No. 18 ride after Matt Tifft was forced to sit out.  He’s come to Iowa before in what amounted to a must-win situation to save his career and hit pay dirt.  Quite simply, he was the best man available.

Having said that, the notion that he’s spent much of the past few months substitute teaching is really interesting to me, at least.  I originally went to college to try to teach and I can tell you, it’s no easy feat.  It’s much more than just standing up there in front of a group of x number of students and reciting things.  Very plan-intensive.  A story in Hornish’s hometown newspaper, The Crescent-News, from last month goes a little more in-depth on Hornish’s substitute teaching.

With no special guests on tap in Iowa, Larry McReynolds moved back into the regular analyst role on Sunday.  Admittedly, it was like he hadn’t left. Technically, he really hadn’t, but his role has been cut significantly.  Yes, McReynolds does have his own way with the English language.  That can get on people’s nerves.  Believe me, I’ve seen the comments over the past few years.  But he can still get the job done and there isn’t so much of the whole blushing mentality that comes with constant special guests every week.

While it’s nice having people like Kevin Harvick in the booth, it creates a feel similar to that of the fourth season of the original American Gladiators at times.  Back then, many of the older gladiators (including originals Nitro and Gemini) were fired in a contract dispute centered upon the production company refusing to pay them royalties for their likenesses being used for toys and video games (for a full synopsis of that mess, I recommend Nitro’s autobiography, Gladiator). As a result, there was seemingly a new gladiator showing up every week that season, combined with a bunch of the best contenders ever culled from a nationwide Live Tour in the summer of 1992.  What’s the result of that? Gladiators looking very ordinary on a regular basis.  You saw some of that from time to time this year as the guest analysts had to be featured, some more than others.

Having McReynolds back in the booth brings back some normalcy.  That’s a good thing to have after four months of constant change.

Action on-track Sunday was pretty good.  Viewers saw side-by-side action and discussion of strategy.  However, the storylines were relatively limited.  It was basically Joe Gibbs Racing (again), the dudes who had to go to the back, and Erik Jones’ fuel cell issues.  Once the field got spread out, there really wasn’t much of a move to spread out the broadcast’s coverage.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief.  Viewers only got interviews with the top 3 finishers before FOX Sports 1 left the air.  I personally wanted a little bit more than that.

Overall, FOX Sports gave viewers a rather mediocre send-off for the XFINITY Series at Iowa.  I did like the piece on Marks since his situation is a lot different than other drivers.  The action on-track was pretty good, as is to be expected from Iowa Speedway.

I did have a couple of issues, though.  FOX Sports 1 seemed to stick to their storylines a little too closely.  As a result, they didn’t really have much to cover once the field got spread out.  That stuff is what causes the Caution Clock to get created. It’s got to stop.  Also, I have no idea what caused the third caution.  Derrike Cope did…something.  The incident occurred during a commercial and no replay was ever shown.  That’s weak, dudes.  I know pit stops are important, but you have to pay these things off.

Speediatrics 200

Cody Coughlin
The Camping World Truck Series took center stage on Saturday, pushing 24 Hours of Le Mans coverage to FOX Sports 2. (Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

On Saturday night, the Camping World Truck Series returned to Iowa Speedway for 200 miles of action.  However, the weather issues at Oakmont Country Club on Thursday wreaked havoc with the broadcast.  Both the start and finish of Le Mans was moved to FOX Sports 2 last weekend, sparking at least the fourth anti-FOX Sports rant on Jalopnik’s Black Flag since the beginning of the 2015 season.  In regards to that situation, my thoughts are that FOX Sports’ hands were tied.  If this were any other tournament as opposed to the U.S. Open, 1) It wouldn’t have been on FOX networks at all, 2) The field would have been smaller, allowing the rounds to potentially have been made up quicker, 3) Rounds wouldn’t have taken as long because the course would not have been as diabolical.  Also, if the WEC were to  choose to ditch FOX Sports because of these issues, the WEC would likely end up on a channel with much smaller reach that would make it hard for would-be fans to watch.  While yes, that network (in this example, likely beIN Sport) may treat the WEC better, the visibility just wouldn’t be the same.  It would be a net loss for the WEC.  Last weekend was a perfect storm setup.  Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again.

In the case of the Camping World Truck Series race, NCWTS Setup and the beginning of the race was moved to FOX Business Network.  At least they gave viewers decent notice (as in, long enough for the on-screen guides to update so that I could set my DVR with the actual race listed).  Compared to being shifted to FOX Sports 2, FOX Business Network offers a much larger potential audience, even if that audience might have trouble finding the channel in their lineup.

The primary feature during NCWTS Setup was about Daniel Hemric being reunited with his first go-kart.  It’s crazy that some of these guys are starting so young.  Hemric’s father bought him a go-kart when he was three.  Eventually, Hemric went to Concord Motorsports Park to have at it.  Once he got the right engine (out of a roto-tiller), he was hooked.  Now, after 20+ years, he has it back and plans to restore it.  Pretty cool.  A lot of drivers get started in go-karts today.  While FOX Sports’ Todd Bodine is not one of them, he understands how cool it is to have one of your older race cars (he admitted to having one from his time with Cicci-Welliver Racing).

The race started on FOX Business Network, but switched to FOX Sports 1 at the second commercial break.  This was just as promised.  No overruns from Oakmont (or at least, no more than already planned).

During the race, Michael Waltrip once again went on the record with his love of the caution clock.  I personally do not agree with the clock.  It is unnatural to racing.  Also, the race wasn’t boring.  Sure, William Byron had a five-second lead when the clock expired on lap 103, but that yellow interrupted a swell battle for second.

FOX Sports 1 also chose to do a Crank It Up during the stops under the aforementioned caution clock yellow.  I am personally not a fan of it.  While yes, it does allow viewers to immerse themselves into the action in the pits that much better, I crave information.  You’re not getting that in those circumstances and viewers didn’t get much afterwards.  It’s just not the right situation to use that if you’re dealing with a dearth of information.

I thought that the coverage of on-track battles was ok.  Once again, they seemed to get a lot of action in and around the restarts, but after 15 or so laps, not so much.  I bet they’re happy that the field was bunched up late due to the cautions.  That action was excellent.  No one wrecked and the battle for the win was clean.

Despite running long on Saturday night, post-race coverage was actually a little more substantial than on Sunday.  There wasn’t that much more in the way of interviews, but we got a little more in the way of analysis, and an actual point check.

Overall, I thought the broadcast was decent.  The coverage got better towards the end of the race, but that’s mainly because the action got better. Also, I must give a trooper award to Vince Welch.

As you can see, Welch suffered an undisclosed injury to his lower right extremity last week, yet kept on truckin’ through the pain.  Yes, Welch may not have been working the pits like that, but it takes a lot of work to do these races.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series travels to California for their annual assault on Sonoma Raceway.  It is the final FOX Sports 1 Sprint Cup broadcast of 2016.  Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series will be at Gateway Motorsports Park, while INDYCAR and Pirelli World Challenge will be at Road America.  Listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab at the top of the page.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Camping World Truck and Verizon IndyCar Series races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  As much as I like road racing, this should be a lot of fun.  I’m really looking forward to the action.

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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Shocker. Michael Waltrip toes the company line and says he loves the countdown clock. Can he be any more of a shill for Nascar?

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