Last weekend saw NASCAR’s National Series put on two very different races. Sonoma on Sunday was very clean, possibly the cleanest Cup race ever run at Sonoma Raceway. Yes, there were four cautions, but they were for either stalled cars or debris. No one spun out all day. Don’t recall that ever happening. Meanwhile, there was quite a bit of wrecking in Illinois capped off by a scrap.
Before we start, news broke last week that Eli Gold has resigned from MRN Radio, ending a 40-year tenure with the NASCAR-owned radio network. The legendary personality had been off the air since being suspended in May for an undisclosed incident that occurred at Richmond International Raceway in April. It’s unclear what happened there, but it is a sad way to end such a long relationship. Gold still has his other notable on-air gig as the voice of Alabama Crimson Tide football, but it will be very different not having Gold’s distinctive voice around anymore.
Toyota/Save Mart 350k
Coming out of Sonoma, the primary story of the day was Tony Stewart earning his 49th career Sprint Cup victory to bring himself that much closer to making the Chase. It’s a great story. The way he won the race is completely within Stewart’s wheelhouse. I got a kick of Stewart’s comment about not being “cordial” towards Hamlin in turn 11. But, I’m not really here to talk about Stewart.
Most of the last 20 laps was centered upon Stewart holding off what amounted to the Joe Gibbs Racing armada. To an extent, that’s understandable. It wasn’t completely focused on the battle, but close enough that you did lose frame of reference on anything that didn’t involve the top 5 drivers.
A good example of that is Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s tire rub. Shortly after the final restart, Earnhardt Jr. had contact with Carl Edwards exiting turn 4 and bent in the left front fender. You saw the tire rub at first and there was concern about whether Earnhardt Jr. would have to make a race-killing unscheduled stop to fix it. Then, they ignored it. Eventually, Mike Joy made light of the story by noting that Earnhardt Jr.’s fender was no longer rubbing and that he kept on truckin’. He’d eventually finish 11th.
Even AJ Allmendinger was a ghost after he got busted for an uncontrolled tire on his final pit stop. He made an amazing charge back up through the field from the 30’s to finish 14th, but you saw next to none of that. That must have been one heck of a charge.
That instance qualifies as “annoying.” The cheerleading that we saw late in the race, especially from Darrell Waltrip, makes me want to barf. Dudes! You’re supposed to be impartial! Cut the garbage. I don’t care if you want Stewart to win, you’re supposed to be a professional. Don’t do that.
Darrell, you’re supposed to analyze what you’re seeing and add in commentary based on your own experiences and what you’ve noticed recently. There’s no room for cheerleading, buddy. If you want to cheer for Stewart oh so bad, go sit in the Earnhardt Terrace and do that. It’ll go over great there.
The whole situation points out a double standard as far as the media is concerned in NASCAR. It’s very hard to put together a broadcast booth that will be impartial and treat the race as a race. Someone’s driven for one of the teams, has a relationship with a manufacturer, or is related to someone in the event. It seems like these conflicts of interest are unavoidable.
Signs of blatant unprofessionalism on NASCAR broadcasts are often celebrated and revered, like Ned Jarrett’s call of his son Dale’s first Daytona 500 win in 1993. Jarrett fully admitted that it was inappropriate immediately afterwards, but the production team gave him the green light. A few days later, he apologized directly to Dale Earnhardt at Rockingham, to which the Intimidator apparently replied, “That’s ok, I’m a father, too.” As far as I know, that was the end of any negativity from Jarrett’s call (for that matter, there really never was any, despite how blatantly inappropriate it was).
Before the race started, Brian France made a very rare appearance on FOX Sports 1 to talk about some of the topics of the day. I don’t know how many races France gets to, but everyone seemed surprised to see him. Daytona next weekend is a normal race for him. He always gives a press conference during the Coke Zero 400 weekend. Here, Chris Myers asked him about a series of topics.
We got a little news on the title sponsor search (apparently, a couple of prospective companies were in Sonoma on Sunday and they’re on schedule to hopefully announce something in September, just in time for the Chase) and some platitudes about the cooperation between NASCAR and the teams. Hearing that, it makes me think about something Stewart said in his press conference Sunday. He claimed that France once summoned him to Daytona Beach, made him wait for 30 minutes outside his office, talked to him sternly for ten minutes (one of those “the sport is bigger than you” speeches), then saw him out the door so he could fly back home. Was that recent? I feel like that wouldn’t happen now.
We also got some rapid-fire answers where France was put on the spot (a very rare instance, indeed). Here, we learned that France doesn’t want mid-week Cup races, race format changes have been discussed, and a halftime break has been discussed, among other things. Overall, I thought that Myers handled himself great here. Since France almost never gives interviews, it’s good to see him at the track and engaged. France’s lack of visibility (which I think may have been intentional on his part) has been one of his biggest issues since he became CEO in 2003.
Outside of the Stewart bias that I mentioned above, I found that much of the rest of the race was relatively restricted in terms of the action that viewers saw. Pretty much, if you weren’t in a specific group of drivers, it was like you’re not there. I know Sonoma races are not the longest, but that’s simply not the way to cover a race. Be as inclusive as possible. There’s more than eight chaps in the race.
Post-race coverage was dominated by Stewart’s victory. My thoughts at the time were that FOX was going to treat this like NBCSN treated Jeff Gordon’s win last fall in near darkness at Martinsville. It wasn’t quite like that, especially since FOX Sports 1 didn’t have a post-race show immediately following the race. However, it was obvious that everyone was truly jazzed that Stewart made it to Victory Lane.
Aside from the Stewart bias, post-race coverage was about average. Viewers got four post-race interviews and a check of the points before FOX left the air.
Overall, this broadcast was relatively disappointing. Road course racing is seen today as being the new short track racing, sort of like Gatorade being the new Snapple in 2001’s Josie and the Pussycats. Aside from the last two laps or so, anyone watching this race never would have known it. That’s not a good look, guys. It’s a real letdown going into Daytona.
Drivin’ for Linemen 200
Cripes, dudes. John Wes Townley, what the deuce were you thinking Saturday night? Sure, you were angry at Spencer Gallagher, and for good reason. You crashed twice in ten laps due to Gallagher. Then, you went and made a fool of yourself on cable television.
This was part schoolyard fight, part pro wrestling, part hockey fight between enforcers. Quite simply, this is the kind of stuff that results in the sport not being taken seriously. Yes, this fight got the Camping World Truck Series on ESPN’s Around the Horn for the first time in what seems like ever, but at what cost?
Vince Welch treated the whole affair as if it were a freestyle regular wrestling match, exclaiming that Townley earned two points for a takedown. Sure, it would have been, had this been an actual freestyle wrestling match. Townley was clearly not playing fair here. Phil Parsons and Todd Bodine were laughing, as if they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. I felt that something could have happened after noticing the two together, but I wasn’t expecting this. I will say that the ad for The Ultimate Fighter was quite properly placed.
People already have a hard time taking Townley seriously, even though he’s more or less shaken the “John Wrecks Weekly” moniker that described his first couple of years in NASCAR. He’s viewed as being there because of the chicken money (Zaxby’s) even though Athenian Motorsports has made strides to get other companies on the truck with the eventual goal of no Zaxby’s races. This mess doesn’t do Townley and Athenian Motorsports any favors.
As for Gallagher, he has already apologized for his role in the incident/fracas.
— GMS Racing (@GMSRacingLLC) June 27, 2016
FOX Sports 1 did attempt to get comments from both Townley and Gallagher after the incident. I’m unclear as to whether they caught up with Townley (it was unclear from the broadcast), but they did mention that Gallagher declined. They did try to get them, though. That counts for something.
Overall, I found the truck coverage to be more inclusive than what we got from Sonoma. There was a good amount of racing for position shown throughout the field and lots of enthusiasm from the booth. I did have a gripe, though. Early on, the booth was touting the great form that Ryan Truex was showing for HRE Motorsports. I look up, he’s third from last. He ends up finishing 11 laps down. What the deuce happened? This ruined Truex’s night.
Rough night, had issues with the left front sway bar arm.. Had to go to the garage to fix it ?
— Ryan Truex (@Ryan_Truex) June 26, 2016
I’ve stated this multiple times in the past, and nothing has changed. You have to keep the viewers informed on everything going on. Truex started sixth and was one of the fastest guys early on, then nothing. That’s not acceptable.
Since the race ended after midnight, post-race coverage was quite brief. Viewers only got the top two finishers (Christopher Bell and Ben Rhodes) and winning crew chief Jerry Baxter, in addition to the points before leaving for Copa Tonight with the grandmaster of the cards, Fernando Fiore. Given the circumstances, I understand the move, but I would have liked to see more coverage. We had some great runs for other drivers, like Erik Jones driving to fifth with a beat up truck, Jordan Anderson finishing a career-best 11th, Travis Kvapil in 12th for MAKE Motorsports and more. At least Jones and maybe one or two others deserved some airtime.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NBC portion of the season begins in Daytona with both Sprint Cup and XFINITY races. This time, the Cup race is back on Saturday night where it belongs. Take it from someone who was there last year.
Sunday night after the 4th of July holiday does not work well. Doesn’t help that the start was delayed four hours and I had to fight morning rush hour traffic in order to get back to my buddy’s apartment in Orlando.
NBC is going all-out to mark their return to NASCAR coverage, including a broadcast of the 2001 Pepsi 400 on Wednesday. Should be a good week. Outside of NASCAR, Formula One is in Austria, the Formula E season comes to an end in London, and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will be in Watkins Glen. Listings are in the TV Schedule tab.
This will be the first year since 2009 that I will not be in Daytona for the 4th of July. However, I will be in Watkins Glen covering the Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen for Frontstretch. Given the schedule, I will still be able to critique at least the Subway Firecracker 250 live from my room at the Microtel in Sayre, Pa. The Coke Zero 400 will be critiqued as well for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. Honestly, at this point, I’ll be happy if NASCAR can get both races in without a rain delay. It’s been a couple of years since they’ve done that in July at Daytona.
I fully admit that there is a lot more than I’d like to talk about from these two broadcasts. However, the Stewart treatment and the Townley-Gallagher embarrassment took up way too much time this week. There was other good material that deserves its own space. That content will be covered in the Critic’s Annex.
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