NASCAR Race Weekend Central
Photo: Russell LaBounty/NKP

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Deals with New Rules, Constant Wrecking

Finally, the season is underway.  Sadly, the three races last weekend ended up being the wreckfests that I feared.  The damaged vehicle policy created a real mess as teams weren’t allowed to fully fix their cars.  As far as I’m concerned, having that policy goes against the whole idea of getting drivers to race harder.  You have nothing to fall back on.

My suggestion is to ditch this policy, but strictly officiate the repairs.  The goal of this mess was to prevent debris cautions (or existing cautions being extended because of parts being shed, like what happened with Tyler Young’s truck Friday night).  My plan would allow for traditional repairs behind the wall once again.  However, you best do it right.  Anything falls off your car and you’re parked.  NASCAR’s got more than enough cameras at the track these days to police that.  The current policy requires a complete thrash in order to continue.  Corners are intentionally being cut by teams because NASCAR is not allowing them to do the repairs properly.  It’s a travesty.

Daytona 500

Here it is.  The big ‘un.  Millions (I guess) on the line and prestige.  And some stupid new rules.  How did FOX do with the 59th Running of the Daytona 500.  Just fine.  Nothing special, though.

Making the choice to watch all of NASCAR RaceDay on FOX Sports 1 prior to FOX NASCAR Sunday makes for one long day with the notebook in hand.  Nearly eight hours.  Probably a little too long, but I do it for you.

On NASCAR RaceDay, Kenny Wallace conducted a sit-down interview with Clint Bowyer at his sprawling farm (650 acres, apparently).  Here, the two talked about the farm, the move to Stewart-Haas Racing, and an unquenchable need to get muddy in order to relax.  Interesting.  Also of note, we’re talking about two of the quirkiest dudes in NASCAR right now, so it was genuinely enjoyable to watch and gave me a couple of chuckles as well.  It seems like Bowyer’s got his saunter back.  He needs it.  Dude probably wanted to put his fist through a wall for most of the last two years.

Another feature saw Shannon Spake sit down with all four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers.  This was a more basic feature where the topic of discussion was centered on the team’s changes for the season.  My takeaway here is that everyone is confident entering the season (including Danica Patrick) and that the goals remain the same.  I suppose the results of Sunday’s race show that they’re not sweating much right now.

Finally, FOX NASCAR Sunday was a circus.  Again.  Admittedly, that’s predictable.  Rob Gronkowski completely forsaking his “assignment” to interview drivers on the grid in order to talk to a bunch of the Monster Energy Girls doesn’t shock me at all.  I would have been shocked if he actually played it straight and interviewed a driver.  Even with that, “Gronk” still came off as more mature here than 50 Cent did back in 2013 when he tried to kiss Erin Andrews on live television.

The best part of FOX’s pre-race coverage was Jeff Gordon’s sit-down interview with the Earnhardts (Dale Jr. and Amy).  The interview (which FOX Sports promoted for much of Speedweeks) saw Earnhardt Jr. talk about his recovery from concussions, and how Amy has changed his life.  My takeaway here is that we have a different Dale Earnhardt Jr. now.  He’s not the guy whose diet is literally “I eat what tastes good” anymore.

He’s a different man now.  More than likely a better man for all the craziness he’s gone through.  I’m still concerned about the unknown number of concussions that he’s had over the years (it has to be at least six) and how his body can handle that.  If he gets another one this season, he’ll be done, but he’ll walk away happy.  He’ll still be involved in the sport, he’ll have his creatures (Junebug, Gus, oxen, etc.) and enough memorabilia to start his own dang racing museum.

The race itself saw constant pimping of the new stage racing format.  I find the format itself to be annoying and something that I would rather not have to deal with.  The pimping of and how it supposedly made the racing better got on my nerves.  This was something that was created to prevent people from hanging back at Daytona and Talladega.  Nothing more.

The first half of the race was competitive, but mature.  Sort of like the Can-Am Duels, to be honest.  I was relaxed and not as frustrated as I could have been.  I wish FOX had gotten a word with someone with BK Racing in regards to Corey LaJoie’s braking issues, though.

The general opinion going into the race was that the stages would cause some screwy strategy.  It seems like the booth didn’t research that enough.  They were completely unprepared for the road course-style strategy that the Toyota teams employed.  You won’t see it anywhere outside of the plate races, Pocono and the road courses this season, but I feel like they should have expected that.  I know that this is coming from someone who had already watched 40 hours of road racing this year before NASCAR teams even arrived in Daytona, but the criticism still stands.

On lap 155, Mike Joy said to viewers, “We’re going to stay with all the action here at Daytona, commercial-free!” which introducing a new feature called Toyota All Out.  Apparently, there was a miscommunication as to what that actually meant.  In practice, viewers saw a side-by-side ad on lap 158 showing the new 2018 Toyota Camry that doesn’t even come out until later this year that Toyota teams were using in their first points race on Sunday.  Then, there was a regular commercial, and two more side-by-side breaks before the end of the race.

When it happened Sunday, I thought to myself at the time, “with 45+ laps to go?  That’s a long time.”  I thought it was too good to be true, and sure enough, it was.

Needless to say, this confused a lot of people.  Including Mike Joy.

We’ll see what ultimately happens with this for the rest of the FOX portion of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.  If Toyota really does plan on putting up the big bucks to go commercial-free late in races, then bully to them.  It just didn’t look like it on Sunday.

Post-race coverage was decent and quite emotional on Sunday.  Viewers got a few interviews, including a very happy Tony Gibson, and a check of the unofficial results.  There was also a good amount of post-race analysis as well.

However, there were no interviews with Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr.  It was reported that both drivers left the track without comment, which makes it sound like they were ticked off.  In reality, no one approached them for comment.

Based on this, I can assume that if someone asked for Elliott or Truex’s time, they would have given it to that person or persons.  They just so happened to be parked away from the scrum.

Overall, Sunday’s race was ok to watch.  The third quarter of the event was the stupid portion where moronic moves reigned.  Jamie McMurray probably got some mean tweets on Sunday night and some angry text messages on his cell phone.

FOX’s broadcast was free and clear of any technical problems, but the rules that NASCAR has instituted for the 2017 season played a big role in what FOX ultimately broadcast on Sunday.  If the race were run under 2016 rules, it would have been quite different.  Most of the wrecks probably still would have happened (especially the one with Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones since that was not caused by contact), but they wouldn’t have necessarily killed races in the process.

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Saturday’s XFINITY Series season premiere was probably the wackiest race of them all.  Whoever seriously thought that this race was going to be over by 6 p.m. with a 3:50 p.m. green flag was nutso.

Prior to the race, viewers got to see Shannon Spake in another one of her new roles; hosting NASCAR RaceDay – XFINITY Edition.  I felt that she did a pretty good here.  She’s somewhat similar to Danielle Trotta in her approach to the job, but has a lot more experience.  Her stature in sports broadcasting has realistically only grown since leaving the NASCAR beat, so having her here is a big get.

There was a feature during pre-race about Brennan Poole and how he deals with the stress caused by his career floundering.  I’m unclear as to when the time period that he was referring to was.  I guess it would have been the time in which Poole was more or less just hanging on in ARCA with Venturini Motorsports.  Regardless, Poole unwinds by constructing Lego sets in his spare.  It is definitely something that I’m no good at, but it can be relaxing.  Poole has definitely developed quite a bit over the past year or two and he’s someone worth watching this year.

Once the race started, the action began.  The event was a back and forth affair with lots of action, and lots of crashing.

Admittedly, one of the issues that really came to light here was that NASCAR may have made a mistake restarting the event when they did after the first big wreck.  Shortly afterwards, another crash was triggered that took Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, Suarez and others out of the race.

In a post-crash interview, Hemric indicated that he lost control on the drying solution in turn 3, causing the crash.  Such an explanation does make sense, knowing just how much of the solution was used after the Big One on the backstretch.

For the third year in a row, FOX Sports will continue their guest analyst series for XFINITY Series races.  Once again, Kevin Harvick was in the house to commentate on the race.  Here, I thought that Harvick was solid.  It is really quite amazing just how different a person Harvick is when he isn’t actually racing.  He’s not a jerk.  He comes off as friendly and willing to share his knowledge.

Ahead of the season, FOX Sports asked him what he thinks of doing races in the booth.  Here was his answer.

“I really enjoy calling races. I enjoy the perspective of sitting up there and trying to figure out what’s going on. I also want to be a part of watching these young guys come up through the NASCAR Camping World Truck and XFINITY Series and have the experience of having been in the booth when they raced because, ultimately, it’s something I want to do down the road when I’m done driving.”

I couldn’t tell you when Harvick’s driving career is going to end.  Not anytime soon, since he’s still taking names on a regular basis.  Then again, you never know these days.  If anything, FOX Sports’ guest analyst setup over the past couple of years could end up accelerating turnover in the broadcast booth.  In other words, don’t expect Jeff Gordon to spend 15 years in the booth.  If he’s still there in five, I’d be surprised.  That’s not even due to skill, but because of a number of people nipping at his heels.

Saturday’s race ended roughly 75 minutes behind schedule.  As a result, post-race coverage was quite short.  Viewers got more interviews than on Friday night, but they didn’t get a points rundown.  With the current format, stuff isn’t as cut and dry anymore.  Hopefully, FOX Sports (and NBC Sports as well) will understand that and give detailed rundowns after subsequent races.

Also, there was another big ‘ol wreck on the last lap and FOX left the air with question marks still in the air.  Adam Alexander made note of the window net still being up on Dakoda Armstrong’s WinField Toyota.  Granted, Armstrong didn’t take that big of a hit there (Matt Tifft and Brandon Hightower endured much bigger shots here), but I would have liked to know that Armstrong was OK before the race broadcast ended.

Luckily, we know that Armstrong was good to go afterwards.

https://twitter.com/JGLRacing/status/835649624127987712

NextEra Energy Resources 250

On Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series began their season at Daytona International Speedway.  The result was one of the more ridiculous-looking races in recent memory.  Kaz Grala waltzed out of there with the win and likely the only untouched truck in the field.

It should be stated that FOX Sports 1 finally has stability in their Camping World Truck Series broadcasts from year to year.  The past three years have been a roller coaster.  I’m still not necessarily a fan of Vince Welch on play-by-play, but he’s there every week, even working through injury.  I feel that a constant revolving door is not really healthy if you want to develop chemistry.

Unlike the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, there was plenty of driver changes in the Camping World Truck Series.  As a result, FOX Sports 1 took time during the Setup to explain them all.  It says a lot that it took nearly four minutes.  There were also explanations of the new stage system and the damaged vehicle policy.

I’ve already stated my views on the repair policy, but I have similar opinions of this stage mess that I have about the “controlled cautions” that have been used in events like the Snowball Derby.  They unnecessarily lengthen races and create artificial breaks.  Take away the stupid competition cautions and you have a setup similar to IMSA’s Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup in practice and in confusion.  Yes, I cover a lot of sports car racing these days, but I’m not particularly a fan of that.  Very difficult to explain to people.

Once the race got started, it didn’t take long for the wrecking to start.  The broadcast booth determined pretty quickly that it was impatience and a lack of experience that caused the incidents.  The fact that the first two stages were a mere 20 laps in length (50 miles) exacerbated the situation.  That’s why no one calmed the heck down.  Such behavior made the race very tough to watch, although that is not the fault of FOX Sports 1.

The only positive of this stage setup is that everyone ended up sticking close together.  That makes it easier for FOX Sports 1 to appropriately cover everyone.  Doesn’t necessarily mean that they did, though.

Since Friday night’s ran over (noticing a trend here?), post-race coverage was quite brief.  Viewers got interviews with Grala (who apparently talks like me) and Johnny Sauter, along with a check of the unofficial results.  I know the race went long, but I would have liked FOX Sports 1 to stick around in Daytona long enough to know that everyone was ok after the huge crash.

I do believe that FOX Sports 1 did a good job of breaking down what ultimately caused this wreck and all the others.  The blame (more or less) for the last lap crash was laid down on Grant Enfinger for being too forceful with his bump drafting.  A mistimed bump turned his ThorSport Racing teammate Ben Rhodes into Matt Crafton, and from there, it was on.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend, all three of NASCAR’s National Series will be back in action at Atlanta Motor Speedway.  Saturday is a doubleheader with the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series, while Sunday will see 500 miles for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.  TV Listings can be found in the schedule tab at the top of the page.

Right now, the plan is to cover all three series in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  This week’s edition of The Critic’s Annex in our new and improved Frontstretch Newsletter will cover Refuse to Lose: Jeff Gordon and the 1997 Daytona 500.  The show reported attracted a post-Duel audience of 829,000 viewers last Thursday night, pretty dang good for a non-live event on FOX Sports 1.

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. 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 Phil Allaway

Phil Allaway
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 Tony Stewart's Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions.

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9 comments

  1. Avatar

    I chuckled at Elliott’s diva moment…the nerve of making me CHASE ELLIOTT wait. Truex, no surprise whatsoever…..

    Seems the Fox pit crew fought back and stuck to their guns with a different story from Elliott and Truex tweet fest. Hopefully it was a honest misunderstanding from both sides….

    …..However, Elliott’s “tweet” imo was a definite entitlement diva moment, whether the signals got crossed or not. It did not look good :) :) :)

  2. Avatar

    Also Junebug has competition regarding affections of the senile JAWS…the man would not stop talking about Clyde Jr!!!!!! Jesus, it was over the top in the way of promotion including on the post, post race “analysis” of the race..he repeatedly was hell bent on saying that Clyde Jr. had the most laps led, that was a patent lie. Harvick did with 50. Also, so glad we will no longer have MIKEY tributes…or the big whoop of it being his last race. The Earnhardt blah, blah, blah, same old same old…tiring bs..will be mercifully put on hold till next year….Geez..move the fluck on……….16 years!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Not insinuating “forgetting”, but damn..hours of Dale Sr. Dale Jr. the “new bride”?????? Lordy not everybody is enamored will all things Earnhardt, shocking I know. LOL.

  3. Avatar

    My favorite part of the pre-race show was when Michael Waltrip was asked… “Do you have any advice for drivers that have no chance of winning like yourself?” (I think Larry The Cable Guy asked that one). That was hilarious and would have been true at any other race but a crapshoot restrictor plate where anything can happen.

  4. Avatar

    If the suits in Daytona thought that having ‘stages’ would keep the races moving along, they were sadly mistaken. Horrendous amounts of time spent under caution, and not just for the wrecks. If they’re planning on this to keep those of short attentions spans tuned in, I fear they are due to be disappointed.

  5. Avatar

    7 laps before going green after each stage at Daytona is ridiculous. While I didn’t see it on the tube, I can only assume Nascar sends out the cleanup trucks to blow the track during that time. This should not happen. Throw the yellow, open the pits, interview the stage winner and go green again. At Daytona it should only be 3 or 4 laps tops.

    I would like to see Nascar drop one of the stages in the Truck races. Those races are too short to have 3 stages. Because each stage was 20 laps, 7 of the 20 laps were run under caution from the first stage ending. 13 laps to determine another segment winner is a bit overkill. Stage 1 should be 40% of the race, and Stage 2 runs to the finish.

  6. Avatar

    The segments are an absurd gimmick to try and stimulate interest in what’s becoming a bit boring.

    The rolling wreck problem is easy to solve. Just award points only through 25th place. That would remove the incentive to get a junker back in the race for 33rd place points.

  7. Avatar

    Since he didn’t do it in the Duels I thought we were finally done with senile Jaws Boogety Boogety B.S.. But hell no. The moron apparently HAD to do it Sunday and that was it for me. The TV went off and the radio broadcast went on. It’s more exciting to “listen” to the race than to watch it. Isn’t that sad?”

    And kb……… 16 years! Remember when NASCAR was forced to implement the “Waltrip Rule” regarding former Cup champions gaining automatic entry into any Cup race? They had to do it because the egomaniac himself NEVER knows when to quit!

  8. Avatar

    Interesting comment about McMurray, I thought he drove like a wienie all week. Did the Chipster sit him down and tell him it was time to produce or move along? ‘Cause McMurray isn’t usually a wienie on the track at all. Very odd.