With Speedweeks complete, we finally got a good look at the new rules package for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Atlanta. Admittedly, the result of the new package is very similar to what we had before. Kevin Harvick kicked butt, but failed to win. Of course, that’s the Cliffs’ Notes version of the race.
Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
Sunday saw the little bitty blades make their debut. I think these are the smallest spoilers raced since the 1980’s. Did it make the racing better? I’m really not sure.
Unlike Daytona, which tends to be a wild card broadcast due to all of the random people that show up there, FOX’s pre-race programming was a bit more regimented on Sunday. Heck, even Michael Waltrip actually talked to people during his Grid Walk without stupid stuff happening. It is good to see, but compared to pre-race programming from other series, I still don’t feel like you learn much. Maybe I’ve watched too many Formula One races on NBCSN. As quirky as the trio of Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett can be, they’re really quite cerebral (especially Matchett).
My biggest takeaway from Sunday’s race is that FOX did just ok in presenting the race, but I feel like they could have shown more action for position. If you fail to do that, viewers are going to think that the race is boring when you get long green flag runs. That’s what leads to stuff like these dumb stages.
The primary story of the day was simply Harvick opening a can on everyone. The sad part of that is that everyone knew he what he was going to do, and they still couldn’t beat him. The only reason he didn’t win was that he screwed up.
Later in the race, there was more action since the field stayed a little closer together. It was here that we finally got to see some battles. FOX should not be afraid to go back to find as much action as they can. Truthfully, it is very rare on an oval for there to be absolutely no racing for position. They could have dropped back and covered more stories in an attempt to be more inclusive.
The issues late in the race for Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon were quite interesting and shows just how much the technology in the sport has changed. As you probably know by now, Ryan Newman’s car effectively died late in the race and the team was forced to go to the garage for repairs. Austin Dillon ended up having a similar issue that caused the late yellow that turned the race upside down.
Eventually, it came out that Newman had a battery die on him. That brings up a number of questions. One, why didn’t the team have a spare battery in the massive edifice known as the pit box? Two, it was mentioned that they had to jack the car up really high to get to the battery. Why? Larry McReynolds inferred that Richard Childress Racing may have moved the batteries inboard for center of gravity purposes. I’d argue that such a move just isn’t worth it. Everything with those batteries today is designed for a quick-change setup. Quick enough that you could potentially change a battery under yellow and not lose a lap. Can’t do that with this setup. I wouldn’t be surprised if NASCAR banned this setup in the next couple of weeks.
The situation baffled McReynolds, mainly for the reasons stated above. He noted that he has a lot of homework to do this week. Knowing McReynolds, he probably has a series of sources in the garage that can explain to him just what the deuce happened here. This is a situation that would be perfect for the show he used to host, NASCAR Performance.
Since NASCAR Performance isn’t around anymore, my suggestion for FOX Sports is to give McReynolds a weekly internet tech show that could air on FOXSports.com. Since McReynolds’ role these days is somewhat similar to the aforementioned Matchett’s (use of the English language notwithstanding), I think he’d like the opportunity to get as detailed as possible. He probably would never admit it, but he can probably be a little nerdy at times. At bare minimum, he’s really meticulous. We’re talking about a man that has 300 pages of notes each week. He would love the opportunity to “geek out” on a regular basis.
As it stands, McReynolds will probably end up talking about RCR’s battery issues on NASCAR RaceHub at some point. That’s ok. RaceHub is a solid watch and really hasn’t been negatively affected by the change from Danielle Trotta to Shannon Spake.
Post-race coverage was quite complete, despite going over the scheduled timeslot. Viewers got a number of interviews, including what I think is the only post-race interview Harvick gave before exiting stage left. We also got a look at the points for the first time this year. I only have so much space in this column each week, so I can’t rant about this mess as much as I should. However, it should not be race No. 6 of the year (combined between the three National series) before the point standings are shown. Simple as that.
What is probably the most notable thing to come out of post-race coverage was the appearance of an unknown dude during Brad Keselowski’s Victory Lane interview. I’ll fully admit that I didn’t notice the guy when it aired live. I was focused on note-taking at the time. Here’s Keselowski’s post-race tweet about the ridiculous dude.
Answer to the Question everyone is asking me- No we don't know this man in the M&Ms hat, how he got in victory lane or why he creeping. pic.twitter.com/j57sJagVOY
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) March 6, 2017
Honestly, I took a look at the picture and thought the creepy dude looked a little former XFINITY Series driver Jason Keller. So much so that I went to see if he was on LinkedIn, but came up empty. I know, strange strategy, but that’s how I found out what Ashton Lewis Jr. is up to these days, so why not.
That whole thing is just silly. We’ll probably find out who that guy is in a couple of days when he outs himself as the guy on Twitter. As for Matt Yocum, I don’t think he noticed the guy. He was too focused on interviewing Keselowski.
Saturday saw a doubleheader on FOX Sports 1 for the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series. The XFINITY Series was first for their 250-mile race. Kyle Busch won again, but didn’t exactly stomp the field.
In the first race of the day, the primary TV story was the addition of Chase Elliott to the broadcast booth as a guest analyst. It is typically rare that young racers that aren’t named Justin Allgaier get a chance up there, so I was interested in seeing how Elliott would do.
What I saw is that if Elliott wants to do this more often, he needs to find his voice. I don’t think you can just talk normally if you’re commentating on a race for television. That is more or less what Elliott did on Saturday.
Elliott comes off in his interviews on television as a relatively quiet guy. Most of the time, there’s nothing wrong with that. When you’re an analyst, you have to display emotion. I saw none of that from Elliott. It was almost like he was just going through the motions. I didn’t really learn anything from having him there.
In past columns, I’ve talked about the idea of adding to a broadcast, taking away from a broadcast, or simply being neutral. Elliott didn’t add much to the telecast. If anything, he actually hurt it early on by disregarding some of the on-track action early on, all but ignoring Ty Dillon wiping out in turn 1.
As the race continued on, Elliott improved to the point of being neutral. This is about how I rated Danica Patrick’s second guest analyst gig last year (the first one in 2015 was substandard because she couldn’t get in a word edgewise).
Ultimately, there was a point to Elliott being in the booth Saturday that had nothing to do with the race. Last weekend was more or less the formal launch of the Chase Elliott Foundation, which is designed to provide financial assistance to charitable organizations. That was pretty much the reason Elliott was there. While it is nothing new for drivers to promote initiatives as guest analysts since FOX Sports isn’t paying them to be there, it seemed a little more overt than normal;
Since the race ran long and was right up against the truck race, there was next to no post-race coverage. Viewers only got a post-race interview with Kyle Busch before FOX Sports 1 moved on to a truncated version of NCWTS Setup. I don’t see any situation that would have allowed FOX Sports 1 to get viewers word about Busch’s car flunking post-race technical inspection until well into the truck race. That is not because they were hiding anything, but it was simply basically no one knew the car was illegal until the truck race was underway.
Overall, I found Saturday’s race to be saturated with Cup drivers. They did finish in the top four positions, but they weren’t the only drivers out there. I felt that there was a fair amount of racing out there, but that we really weren’t seeing all that much of it. Elliott underwhelmed in his booth debut. However, if he really wants to do more, he can take advantage of everything that FOX Sports can do for him. They will send him a DVD of the broadcast whenever he wants so that he can study himself in order to improve. We’ll have to see what he ultimately chooses to do TV-wise in the future.
Active Pest Control 200
After the XFINITY race ended, it was time for the Camping World Truck Series teams to come on out and race 200 miles. It was one that was dominated by Christopher Bell, despite the presence of one Kyle Busch.
Prior to the race, a feature where Todd Bodine sat down with Daytona winner Kaz Grala. Admittedly, this interview would probably be the easiest possible interview to prep for. You throw almost any question out there, and you’re going to get some good stuff. Bodine simply asked Grala how he’s handling the fact that he’s a winner in the Camping World Truck Series and sat back while Grala gave him the good stuff.
I’m not opposed to this kind of interview strategy. I’ve used it myself here at Frontstretch. My first one-on-one driver interview for Frontstretch was with Andy Lally when he made his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 2009. I asked him what it meant to make his debut at the Glen. Lally responded thusly:
“Being able to make your Sprint Cup debut in the first place is always a wonderful opportunity that you will always cherish. To be able to do it at your home track, in your home state, just adds to the excitement and anticipation of being able to get the job done. Once we completed that lap yesterday, [Slugger] came over the radio and told me what time we did, we knew that we were locked in the show at that point with that lap. So, I was thrilled, and it was relieving because it had been so many years of desiring to do this race, and watching it as a kid growing up, all the way from back in the day. I was just telling my buddy here, watching Ricky Rudd in the No. 26 Quaker State car back in the day win the Bud at the Glen. Just amazing, amazing memories of wanting to come here and to finally fulfill that dream, getting that opportunity to come in and do a decent job at it. Awesome.”
I saw the same joy out of Grala in the piece as I saw out of Lally in the TRG Motorsports hauler that day.
During the race, itself, you had some drivers moving up and down the order, maybe a little more than what you saw in the XFINITY race. However, I did see some aspects of the coverage that probably could have been improved.
After leaving the broadcast booth, Elliott was running fairly well in GMS Racing’s No. 23 Chevrolet. Then, he cut a tire. Apparently, there were chunks that ended up on the track and they drew a caution. I never saw any of that since FOX Sports 1 did not show that debris. I know that I could have simply assumed that it was the case, but I’d rather not have any doubt on the matter.
During that yellow, Parker Kligerman’s No. 75 stalled on-track while running ninth. This was noted on the air, but there was never any payoff. We never really figured out what happened on the broadcast other than “it died.” Kligerman was done and there wasn’t anything else said (Random note: Kligerman has no luck at all).
After the race, Kligerman took to Twitter and announced what happened.
— Parker Kligerman (@pkligerman) March 5, 2017
Sort of a throwback issue. You don’t hear about that much in NASCAR, but I remember it being an issue when the COT chassis first debuted in 2007.
Later on, Jordan Anderson wrecked it exiting turn 4. He was tapped from behind by Korbin Forrester and spun. The dreaded grass came into play once again as the splitter completely ruined Anderson’s truck. Of course, this led to the whole splitter vs. valence argument on Twitter. We already know where everyone is on that issue, so I won’t rehash it, but simply spinning into the grass shouldn’t junk a truck.
Anderson’s truck is done for and he’s struggling to be able to attempt Martinsville. To that end, he’s soliciting small personal sponsorships to help raise the funds necessary to obtain a new truck.
— Jordan Anderson (@j66anderson) March 6, 2017
Since the race ran long due to eight cautions, there was not much post-race coverage. Viewers only got post-race interviews with the top two finishers (Bell and Matt Crafton), along with the winning crew chief (Ryan Fugle). Why was this the case? Saturday night was UFC 209. FOX Sports 1 had a Prefight Show (not even actual fighting, but previewing the fighting) scheduled for 7 p.m. and the race ended at 6:52 or so. That’s rough, man. Actual combat was occurring while that prefight show aired, but that was exclusive to UFC Fight Pass.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series travel to Las Vegas for the first of three consecutive western races. In addition, the Verizon IndyCar Series begins their 2017 season with Pirelli World Challenge and Indy Lights as support. The TV listings can be found in the schedule tab at the top of the page.
I will provide critiques of the Cup and XFINITY races from Las Vegas, along with the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener from St. Petersburg for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Annex is currently undecided, but we should have something interesting there for you later this week.
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