Low-downforce racing is always interesting; my takeaway so far of the three low-downforce races is that the package makes NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars handle a little like the trucks in the Camping World Truck Series — very susceptible to being swept around.
However, we only have Kentucky and Michigan International speedways to base this on. If the package gets used in 2017 (it’s still provisional as of this point), then we’ll see how it works at the other non-plate tracks.
Anyway, as for this weekend? Let’s just say that — and it’s amazing this has to be said at all — broadcasters need to start telling their viewers why the caution flag is flown. Every time. No ifs, ands or buts.
Pure Michigan 400
Sunday afternoon brought the Sprint Cup Series out to play on the 2-mile, d-shaped oval in Brooklyn, Mich. But outside of the racing itself, the big story continues to be Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his continued absence from the No. 88 due to a concussion suffered at Michigan in June.
On Sunday, NBC Sports Network decided to get some concrete facts. To that degree, Nate Ryan traveled to Massachusetts to talk to doctors of neurology at Boston University. The goal here was to understand what happens when a driver suffers a concussion.
NBCSN went out of its way to state that Drs. Robert Cantu and Ann McKee have not treated Earnhardt, but Cantu in particular is really concerned with the symptoms. He seems to think racing immediately afterward worsened the symptoms.
My best guess is that Earnhardt has suffered at least six concussions. Five of them were noted in the piece (the Auto Club Speedway one he hid in 2002, Dover International Speedway in 2003, the two in 2012 and Michigan in June). The Corvette crash at Sonoma Raceway in 2004 might have been a sixth one.
If you’ve had that many concussions, it doesn’t take much to mess you up. I don’t know what the future holds for Earnhardt, but I’m happy that he’s taking the situation seriously.
Dale Jarrett also added in his own experiences from getting a concussion in the inaugural Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway in 2001.
The idea of losing an entire race weekend from your memory like that (as Jarrett claims happened) is frightening. Those drivers side hits are nasty, simple as that.
During the race itself, the biggest issue I had was how NBCSN handled the third caution. That was the yellow that flew for Clint Bowyer having issues (Bowyer later stated that he had the grandpappy of vibrations).
The yellow came out during a commercial break (of course, this is always trouble). Since the yellow flew right after a round of stops, there weren’t a lot of people who pitted, but a couple of notables did, like Jimmie Johnson. NBCSN covered what happened to Johnson, then went back to commercial without telling viewers just why the heck the yellow was out. Even going to Twitter didn’t help me much.
NASCAR officially considers the third caution to be a debris caution, but we certainly didn’t see any of that. Coming out of the second commercial, there was still nothing. Finally, right before NBCSN went to another break, it mentioned Bowyer’s issue, as to say, “By the way, Clint Bowyer brought this yellow out.” I’m sorry, but that’s not going to cut it. I know that in the regular scheme of things, this was a minor instance during the race, but NBCSN screwed this up royally.
Viewers sat there for something like seven minutes before we got indication as to why the yellow was out. NBCSN had multiple opportunities to rectify that, but chose not to. I’d rather not see NBCSN repeat that.
Later on, we got the lowdown from Bowyer as to what went down. That just left me confused as well. I couldn’t figure out if Bowyer had the problem when he left after his regularly scheduled stop or after he came back in to fix the loose wheel.
Luckily, that was the low point of the day. Much of the rest of the broadcast was reasonably solid. Tire wear was a sizable story on Sunday. While we didn’t see any failures of note, there were cords showing, starting with Ryan Blaney on lap 61. Viewers got to see what the tires looked like coming off a couple cars. Excessive wear on the inside of the tire was a thing. Steve Letarte immediately identified the issue as being heat-related; Goodyear co-signed that explanation.
Sunday’s race was quick in a number of ways. It was the third fastest Cup race ever run at Michigan, and as a result, there was a lot of time for post-race coverage. But NBCSN could have talked to more people in the 1.75 hours of post-race coverage (combined between the broadcast itself, NASCAR America Post-Race and NASCAR Victory Lap) than it actually did. I feel like I saw the same interview with Kyle Larson three times — by that, I mean the post-post-race interview, not the Victory Lane interview where he dedicated his victory to Bryan Clauson.
But the broadcast was decent. Michigan is another one of those tracks where you get a lot of action in the first few laps after a restart, but it thins out after a while. The ultra-low downforce package doesn’t really change that much. If anything, it makes handling a little more unpredictable. Drivers can run down each other, though, which is crucial. Outside of those first few laps, viewers did get to see a little action for position, but there was only so much to go around.
Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville
The XFINITY Series returned to Road America for its seventh race on the 4-plus-mile road course on Saturday. While a yellow did fly for rain during the race, the track managed to stay dry, much unlike the previous road course event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
While there was no action on the rain tires Saturday, it did look like it was going to rain early. While it was never overtly mentioned early on, it appeared to be quite foggy. As a result, the start of the race was pushed up a little bit just in case. This was not noted on Countdown to Green. It just ended about 13 minutes early.
The primary piece that aired on the show was a look at Kenny Habul, who has been a regular in XFINITY road races since 2012. It talked about how Habul got into racing watching events like the then-James Hardie 1000 back in his native Australia. He raced a fair amount in Australia before stepping away to focus on business.
Habul also talks about the establishment of SunEnergy1 in Mooresville, N.C., and his admiration of Rick Hendrick as a fellow businessman who can race as well (Hendrick has two career starts in Cup and one each in the XFINITY and Truck series).
It seemed like there was more to the piece, but due to time, it got cut. Look, I’m a completionist — I want to know as much as I can. I’ve only briefly met Habul in the past, but he seems like an interesting guy. Having covered sports car racing, there are quite a few drivers that have similar setups to Habul in that discipline. Also, the admiration of Hendrick seemed to come out of nowhere. Yes, Habul drives for a Hendrick-affiliated team, but he’s only been there since January or so. It felt like he was kissing up to Hendrick there.
The race itself was quite interesting with different strategies in play. There was a decent amount of racing for position that NBCSN brought viewers, but things can get spread out really quick on a 4-mile road course. When that happened, the focus tended to stay at the very front of the field. At least those guys stayed together and made it interesting.
I didn’t particularly like the grouping of commercials during the race. Yes, there was a number of NonStop breaks, but the network managed to do three of them over a span of six laps. I know that a green-flag lap at Road America takes 2.25 minutes at full speed, but that just seemed excessive. They should have been spread out a little bit better.
The broadcast was somewhat limited at times, but NBCSN did the best with what it had. The Garrett Smithley crash was a good example — Smithley crashed at the beginning of the third lap on the frontstretch. Cameras only caught the aftermath of the crash.
— Garrett Smithley (@GarrettSmithley) August 27, 2016
However, Dale Jarrett seemed to see the crash happen in real time and noted that Smithley’s car just turned right in the middle of the straightaway. He was of the opinion that there was some kind of mechanical failure at work there.
Viewers were able to see Smithley walk away and get into the ambulance after the big hit that apparently moved the wall. Smithley appears to be OK, but I would have liked to see an interview with him (if he was physically up to it) so that viewers could have gotten a better idea of what went down. Perhaps we could have gotten the explanation above on TV as opposed to on Twitter.
Dave Burns and Dale Jarrett did a solid job in the broadcast booth while going with three pit reporters as opposed to the two that have been used at the other standalone races was a good move. It allowed for additional content to be brought to the viewers. Unlike Michigan, where tires were wearing badly, tire issues at Road America were mainly self-inflicted. That didn’t stop the pit reporters from bringing us the necessary issues.
The only thing I found confusing on the broadcast is how the heck Darrell Wallace, Jr.’s No. 6 ended up overheating. It looked like a choo-choo train coming into the pits. My guess is that he got a bunch of grass and mud caked onto his grill, but I’m not sure.
Next weekend is Throwback Weekend at Darlington, which has caught on big time for its second year. Labor Day weekend is traditionally a very busy race weekend, and this year is no exception. In addition to the throwback weekend for Cup and XFINITY teams, the Camping World Truck Series races Sunday afternoon at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. The Verizon IndyCar Series will return to Watkins Glen in a race that replaced Boston on the schedule. Finally, Formula 1 returns to Monza for what will probably be the shortest race of the year time-wise. Listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab.
I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and XFINITY races from Darlington, in addition to some road racing action from Ontario for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday turned into nothing short of a quagmire to cover, so that will be critiqued later this week in the Critic’s Annex.
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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