Last weekend, we had three interesting races at Kansas Speedway. They were different races, but each had their charms. We also had three approaches to these races.
Before we get going, FOX Sports announced a new online offering last Thursday. Danielle Trotta and Kaitlyn Vincie will host a new digital show, Off Track, that will see Trotta and Vincie “…get the inside scoop on [fans’] favorite drivers, their families and other NASCAR personalities.” This is more of a laid back, behind the curtain-type show designed to show NASCAR personalities away from the track in their natural element. The closest parallel I could honestly come up with here are the old NASCAR Today Adventures that used to air on ESPN 2 around 1995 that Allen Bestwick hosted. My memory is a little fuzzy on those shows, but I believe they aired on off-weeks (in-season), or race weekends that ESPN wasn’t airing the race.
The show, which is being produced by the chaps behind The Buzzer, will premiere today at 3:30 p.m. on Facebook Live. Subsequent episode dates will be announced at a later date. All you need to do to view it is to go to the NASCAR on FOX page on Facebook and it’ll be there. Jeff Gordon is the inaugural guest. Should be interesting. It should be available for viewing afterwards as well by replaying the Facebook Live event.
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Sunday brought the Sprint Cup Series back to action at Kansas. The race has been unpredictable in recent years, but not so much on Sunday.
From the beginning of NASCAR America Sunday, the Chase was the focus. I’ve talked about this before, but I’m going to say it again. Yes, we have a Chase. That doesn’t mean that everything that is discussed has to be couched in terms of the case. I feel that its a disservice not only to the 28 drivers who weren’t Chase-eligible in the field, but to the track itself.
The only real preview that viewers got was in terms of what drivers like Kevin Harvick needed to do to come back from his disaster of unknown ailments in Charlotte. While everyone involved is knowledgeable and I am happy that we got pre-race interviews with all the Chasers, I feel like a more traditional race preview should be in play.
There was also a piece on Chase Elliott and his love of flying, something that he apparently got from his father. Elliott is licensed to fly a bi-engine plane and does from time to time. It’s a different experience for him, full of solitude when he flies solo.
NASCAR racers becoming pilots is nothing new in the history of the sport. Chase’s father Bill has been flying for 40 years. Rusty Wallace has tens of thousands of hours in the air. Bobby Allison flew a private plane for most of his career and even had an aircraft manufacturer (Piper Aircraft) sponsor him. Here’s one of his planes.
Today's random picture of the day: Bobby Allison's Aerostar Superstar plane at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega. pic.twitter.com/hQ7pzRIo5G
— Phil Allaway (@Critic84) October 17, 2016
At this point, a sizable number of Sprint Cup regulars have planes. Some fly themselves, while others have pilots (Ex: Brad Keselowski has a plane and Joey Meier (his spotter) is the pilot). Chase is effectively taking his natural spot. Having that private aircraft available makes a lot of things possible that either wouldn’t be at all, or would be very difficult to do with commercial schedules.
During the race itself, there was a very large focus on the Chase itself. A number of the Chasers were running towards the front of the field and thus, got the lion’s share of coverage. Matt Kenseth dominated early, and claimed that his day got derailed by wall contact on lap 137. We never saw that wall contact. It would have happened during a brief period in which NBC was using their NBC car to describe something and there really wasn’t much discussion about it. They just noted that he had dropped to third. Also of note, Kenseth mentioned that Alex Bowman apparently chopped him something vicious later in the race, but I don’t recall seeing that either.
I just feel like the overall Chase focus means that things that ordinarily would get noticed fall by the wayside here. Either that, or the production was slow in getting to it. You may have 60+ cameras at your disposal, but the commentators in the broadcast booth are another set of eyes as well.
Post-race coverage was more of the same. Completely focused on the Chase for the whole hour or so. We did get some good interviews with Chasers, such as Denny Hamlin completely deriding his day and Kurt Busch actually seeming happy to finish 13th after starting in the rear in a backup car with no practice.
We also got an interesting interview with Kyle Busch. First, NBC Sports’ Kelli Stavast accidently misidentified Kyle as his brother Kurt. That’s a whoopsies that Stavast has already apologized for. It happens. It did throw me for a loop when I was taking notes on Sunday.
Then, Kyle effectively ignored Stavast’s question about the race for second with Carl Edwards. That’s kind of harsh. While Stavast has no issue with what Kyle did here, I’m personally not a fan. Then again, we’re talking about one of the most emotional drivers on the track, fresh after a race that he felt he should have won. He was required to do the interview, so he couldn’t just duck it. Perhaps he had some thoughts about the duel with Edwards and just didn’t want to broach it on television.
The only non-Chasers to get mentioned on-air after the race were Bowman and AJ Allmendinger, both of whom snagged top 10 finishes. Had this not been a Chase race, Bowman’s issues would have been a much bigger story. The Arizona racer struggled with illness for the whole weekend and put together a career-best finish despite multiple greetings with the styrofoam-reinforced metal. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. actually got in trouble for tweeting a post-race picture of him in the Infield Care Center after the race, getting treatment. Admittedly, I’m not surprised that Earnhardt Jr. was reprimanded here because that’s a privacy issue.
Based on the picture he tweeted (which we’re not posting here), I could not see any PHI (Protected Health Information) in there, but it was rather irresponsible on his part. Rule of thumb is this: You don’t mess with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) or you get the horns. I worked in a hospital for 14 years and we constantly had training about what to look out for and how to protect information. Had even some random piece of paper with a date-of-birth fluttered into the picture, huge fines could have resulted and I’m pretty sure NASCAR would have forced Earnhardt Jr. to pay the fine, much like the time NASCAR forced him to pay the FCC fine in 2004 when he cussed in Victory Lane at Talladega. I’m unclear about what would happen if Earnhardt Jr. accidentally disclosed the PHI since he would be considered a visitor in this case, but if hospital employees inappropriately disclose that information, they can be fired with cause or even arrested and charged with crimes.
That said, Sunday’s race was way too focused on the Chasers. It significantly affected my enjoyment of the race. Being so focused on the Chase means that you miss out on other aspects of the race, to everyone’s detriment. It might make the race look more boring to viewers than it really was.
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Saturday afternoon brought a rather interesting XFINITY Series race to television. Yes, Kyle Busch led three-quarters of the race and walked away with his 85th career victory, but that wasn’t the whole story.
Much like the Cup race on Sunday, Countdown to Green on Saturday was Chaser-focused, but not quite to the same degree. The reasoning for that is mainly the fact that usurpers such as Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Kyle Larson were all in the field. They force NBC to talk about other topics.
On the lighter side, there was a funny little piece where Rutledge Wood talked to a bunch of kids about NASCAR. As silly as this sounds, getting NASCAR in front of the young ‘uns is beneficial, no matter how its done. The sport’s audience skew
For the XFINITY Series, Kansas was the first race of the second round of the Chase. As a result, the Chase focus was not quite as high. Aside from Kyle Busch, we had a decent race on Saturday.
Early on, Ryan Reed had some engine issues. NBCSN did a pretty good job breaking that down with the help of their in-car cameras. Roush Fenway Racing chose to wait until a yellow to try to fix the car. However, they ran Reed out of fuel while trying to get that yellow.
The broadcast booth misidentified the issue as Reed actually blowing the engine. It sure looked like it, but it was not.
Something that I’ve noticed in recent weeks (especially at Charlotte) that NBCSN really hasn’t covered all that much is Larson and his aggression during the races. As you remember, Larson dominated the Drive for the Cure 300 at Charlotte only to lose it late to Logano. After that, Larson basically went nuts and overextended himself to try to get it back.
The result was multiple encounters with the outside wall. Granted, Larson’s known for running the high line, but you can only do that so many times. Larson is prone to this and I cannot remember it being broached on a race broadcast before. It’s the kind of thing that Larson should have stopped by now, knowing that he’s in his third full season in Sprint Cup. It happened again on Saturday for the second week in a row. I’d argue that he’ll never be an elite driver in Sprint Cup if he can’t keep himself in check. Its worth discussing.
Since there were so many yellows on Saturday, there was very little post-race coverage before NBC left Kansas for (at least in the Eastern and Central Time Zones) the news. We got a winner’s interview with Kyle Busch and a check of the points (thrown upside-down due to the wrecking). There was also footage of Larson having discussions with Logano and Erik Jones about the final run of the race. Larson ran afoul of both drivers and while no one wrecked, Logano and Jones weren’t exactly pleased. If there had only been more time, we could have gotten more coverage.
Overall, Saturday’s race was a runaway. If it weren’t for the yellows, this would have been a race with about six drivers on the lead lap. There was a Chase focus, but it wasn’t as intense as it was Sunday. Sadly, Cup driver presence may be the only thing keeping the coverage from becoming too-Chase centric in the XFINITY Series. I shudder as to what Homestead’s going to be like since the 2015 Sprint Cup chasers are banned from that race (Note: That’s a strange way to go about that, but I guess contracts are contracts).
Friday night was the season finale for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards at Kansas Speedway. The race was a coronation for Chase Briscoe, who clinched the championship just by the team’s trailer showing up and dropping the liftgate (officially, he clinched by earning a point bonus based on attendance upon arrival in Kansas, but as far as race points go, Briscoe clinched in Kentucky), but it was still fun to watch.
Prior to the race, the focus was on Briscoe. A short piece on his adjustment to stock cars aired. Prior to this season, Briscoe had only a couple of starts outside of a sprint car. By anyone’s standards, putting Briscoe in the car would have been viewed as a calculated risk. He did race twice last year in a third Cunningham entry and did well (a fifth-place finish at Salem and a tenth at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis). That risk obviously paid off.
Once the race got underway, there was a pretty good amount of action on-track, a bit more than I was expecting. Yes, Briscoe did pull away from the pack, but the rest of the leaders were having a great duel. I liked watching that. It was an exciting way to spend a Friday night.
We also got a special guest in the booth. 2012 ARCA Champion (and current Sprint Cup rookie) Chris Buescher joined Ray Dunlap and Phil Parsons to give his analysis. At first, he started out trying to take what he was seeing and equate it to Sprint Cup. Later on, he was able to outright analyze the event and make use of his own experience.
For someone who had never commentated on a race before, I felt that Buescher did pretty well. He wasn’t intrusive here. He picked his spots in order to add in some content, but didn’t try to take over the broadcast. I felt that viewers were better for having Buescher join in on the telecast. There are some drivers (Ex: Justin Allgaier) who have chimed in too much and actively hurt the broadcast.
Likely the biggest moment in the race Friday was the big crash that took out Myatt Snider and Kyle Weatherman, among others. This was one of those classic ARCA crashes that happen from time to time. A chain-reaction crash with oil on the track. FOX Sports 1 was all over this one. We got good shots of the crash and good analysis. We also got an interview with Snider after he got out of the Infield Care Center.
As for Weatherman, he went to the hospital after getting out of his No. 10 with a limp. Luckily, it was a short stay.
Good morning everyone. Blessed to be alright, thankful God was with everyone involved last night. pic.twitter.com/dZzVYEyTvh
— Kyle Weatherman (@KyleWeatherman) October 15, 2016
The race ended up running long because of the red flag, so post-race coverage was somewhat limited. Viewers got interviews with the winner/champion Briscoe, runner-up Austin Cindric and Rookie of the Year-elect Dalton Sargeant (Note: Unlike NASCAR, ARCA doesn’t officially announce Rookie of the Year Award winners until their banquet. Also, the champion cannot win this award if he is a rook. Sargeant basically needs to behave between now and then).
Overall, I really liked this broadcast. It was an exciting race with a good amount of action. A nice way to kill a Friday night.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is Talladega, the race in which Chasers get nervous…except for Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson. The Camping World Truck Series joins up as the support with the broadcast on FOX.
Now, I’ve put hours of research into looking up TV listings for the race on Saturday. NASCAR does have the advantage of Clemson being on a bye. That allows markets such as Greensboro-High Point-Winston-Salem to get the race on FOX as opposed to an alternate station. The race will be available on Saturday on every FOX affiliate. This includes WSVN in Miami, which is prone to pre-empting race broadcasts. It also includes KEQI FOX 6 in Guam, which is airing the race live at 3 a.m. Sunday morning.
Meanwhile, Formula One returns to the United States for the Grand Prix of the United States at Circuit of the Americas. This race is why Sunday’s Alabama 500 is on NBCSN. Should be a good race weekend. Listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab.
I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series race broadcasts from Talladega in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. With the style of racing in play, they should be more inclusive broadcasts as compared to normal.
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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