Dover is always an interesting weekend for NASCAR teams. You have three races, the oldest surface currently in use in Cup, and high speeds. You also had lunacy, in more ways than one.
Before we get started, I want to make reference to the fact that Sunday’s ESPN on ABC coverage of Race No. 2 of the Chevrolet Grand Prix could likely be the end of an era of INDYCAR coverage for ESPN. As you’re likely aware, Allen Bestwick, Eddie Cheever and Dr. Jerry Punch were laid off as part of the network’s cuts back at the beginning of last month. They were allowed to complete their INDYCAR responsibilities for the network, but as of Sunday night, they are now free agents.
The cuts cast doubt on the future of ESPN’s coverage of INDYCAR. As far as we know, they’re down to three people (Jon Beekhuis, Rick DeBruhl and Scott Goodyear) from this year’s on-air team and that’s it. That’s assuming that ESPN has decided to keep them on. ESPN seems to be all about cost-cutting after paying way too much for rights to Monday Night Football (a legacy of getting fleeced way back in 2006) and the NBA.
Compared to ESPN’s other properties, INDYCAR is more or less small potatoes. It is the only motorsports property left in ESPN’s portfolio, depending on how you feel about drone racing. There’s no synergy with anything else and other than the people on the broadcast, barely anyone knows anything about INDYCAR at ESPN. Ricky Craven serves as SportsCenter’s de facto INDYCAR expert. I actually like Craven, but INDYCAR is pretty far from his wheelhouse.
Could DeBruhl end up as ESPN’s play-by-play guy for their INDYCAR schedule in 2017 with Goodyear alongside? I don’t know, but it isn’t like DeBruhl hasn’t done play-by-play in the past. DeBruhl has 30 years of seniority on TV and served as the play-by-play guy for Formula One coverage at SPEED Channel back in 2002. That was years before I started writing about anything having to do with motorsports, but I remember a lot of people not liking him in that role.
Could ESPN stop sending the booth to races (with the exception of Indianapolis)? At this point, that wouldn’t shock me. ESPN has been experimenting with such a scenario for college games of either lesser importance, or those that involve long trips. Bestwick actually called a couple of those games in the past year. They wouldn’t be alone in doing that (Ex: IMSA races are called via remote in Charlotte, and FOX Sports 1 called the recent ARCA race in Toledo from their Charlotte studios), but it is very noticeable to race fans.
Could this be it for INDYCAR on ESPN? I don’t know. Honestly, I would say that such a scenario is doubtful, especially after all the stuff they did this year. If ESPN was seriously going to exit stage left, why would have they spent money to help develop stuff like the visor cam? Plus, the Indianapolis 500 is one of ESPN/ABC’s oldest properties. The race has aired on ABC every year since 1963. I don’t think they’re planning on changing that.
We’ll have to see what ultimately happens. I can tell you one thing for sure. INDYCAR broadcasts on TV will look different in 2017, regardless of what ultimately happens.
AAA 400 Drive For Autism
In regards to the complete nincompoop who thought it was a good idea to scale the catchfence at the exit of turn 4, I have no idea when that happened during the race. It did not make FOX’s broadcast and like almost everyone reading this article, I found out about it after the race. The viral video of the dude made it look like it was fairly late in the day, but that doesn’t mean anything. If I knew what lap it was, or even a general time period, I could go back and check to see if the scallywag was visible or not. The fact that the caution was amazingly not thrown for this doofus makes it that much harder to figure out when it happened.
Also of note, the man (43 years of age, by the way, so he clearly should have known better) reportedly kicked a cop after he was apprehended. Rule of thumb. Never kick a cop. Bad things can and more than likely will happen if you do. And no, I do not have experience with that. It should be common sense.
On Sunday, tires were a big issue. Failures seemed to be happening left and right. Mostly, the failures were confined to the right front corner of the car. However, Kurt Busch’s spectacular failure was an exception to the rule.
On the broadcast, we only got shots of tires after they went down. We could never quite get an idea of what was causing the failures. Some of them were tires blowing due to previous damage. Landon Cassill and David Ragan found that out the hard way.
The broadcast booth inferred that camber could be playing a role. I can buy that. We’re talking about a track with 24 degree banks in the turns and nine degree banks on the straights.
However, I think this was a situation where they should have gotten someone from Goodyear on-air here to give some kind of guidance. FOX either never did that, or were unable to get anyone from Goodyear to talk. I thought that FOX Sports 1 actually did a better job covering the issue on Saturday during the XFINITY race.
What would have been nice is if FOX were able to procure tires that had not blown to give viewers an idea of what would have been considered normal wear on Sunday. I wasn’t in Delaware. I was at home watching on TV. I don’t know what would have constituted good wear here.
Outside of the tires (and the wrecking), the primary story of the day was the dueling between Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. I liked it. The booth liked it too. While it was not over the top, the two drivers were racing each other hard as heck. These are the top two guys in points by a long way. They’re more than a race and a half ahead of third and duking it out on a weekly basis.
Since there were so many cautions on Sunday, there was a good amount of racing for position. I thought that FOX Sports 1 did a decent job in showing that action.
Post-race coverage was quite short since the race went long by a bunch. Viewers only got interviews with the top three finishers (Jimmie Johnson, Larson and Truex) and a check of the results before they left. There wasn’t enough time for updates on those involved in the big wreck on the final restart. Also, the track cleanup was a big issue at the end of the race and time did not allow that issue to be covered correctly.
Overall, I thought the broadcast was a bit of a throwback, just like the race was. This is the second slowest 400-mile race at Dover (the slowest was the spring race in 2004, which had a 19-car wreck and a 40-minute caution due to scoring issues). It was a long afternoon for everyone involved.
The actual coverage racing for position was pretty good. Dover has never been the easiest place to pass at, but it seemed like it was possible. I’d argue that the VHT is not required there. If anything, it probably would have exacerbated the tire issues.
I generally enjoyed the broadcast, but there were still some things I would have liked to have explained better. Yes, we know that Ryan Blaney snapped an axle…again. The Wood Brothers fixed that quickly and Blaney only lost a couple of laps. What happened after that to put him more than 30 laps down? I don’t know.
OneMain Financial 200
Saturday saw the XFINITY Series take to the “Monster Mile.” Larson was the class of the field, leading nearly 70 percent of the race. Larson wasn’t the only story in play, though.
During NASCAR RaceDay, the primary feature of the show was a one-on-one interview that Larry McReynolds conducted with Dave Elenz, crew chief for William Byron. Topics of discussion included being able to focus on one driver as opposed to seven, and how he got involved in motorsports. Even working for a high-profile team such as JR Motorsports, notable people like Elenz are pretty much unknowns in the XFINITY Series. I found it interesting to get to know him a little bit.
For the race itself, Joey Logano was back in the booth to get more reps for the Drivers Only broadcast. I thought that he did a decent job. Nothing really stood out as being unsatisfactory from the 27-year-old.
I did have an issue with how FOX Sports 1 covered Austin Dillon’s contact with the wall early in the race. They were riding onboard with Dillon and as he was losing control, they made a bad production decision to switch off. They had it and blew it. That ended up causing the third caution of the race.
That said, you started to see the seeds of the big tire issues that plagued Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive For Autism here. Viewers saw some tires that were down to the cords, or even starting to unwind. I was worried after that and it turned out that I had every reason to be worried.
Overall, this race was a bit of a wreckfest. Outside of the wrecking, there was some on-track action for position, but not particularly that much. Larson more or less dominated when he could get his Parker Store Chevrolet to the front.
Once the wrecking stopped, Larson ran away with the race. If you blinked, the number of cars on the lead lap dropped from 25 to 13.
Because of all the wrecking early, the race ran long by quite a bit. As a result, post-race coverage was rather brief. Larson got his time as the race winner, but only other driver to get post-race airtime was the aforementioned Byron, who won the XFINITY Dash 4 Cash.
Overall, I thought that the broadcast was ok. There were bright spots in regards to the covering of mechanical issues. A lot more time was spent in the garage than in recent weeks.
However, there were a couple of issues with production choices and the FOX Box appears to be rather glitchy these days. The booth tried to work around the issues, especially early in the race. But, it is quite noticeable.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series will be in action at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards will play tertiary support.
There are two big stories TV-wise this weekend. One is the special Drivers Only XFINITY broadcast that will air Saturday on FOX. As a remainder, Kevin Harvick will be on play-by-play with Logano and Clint Bowyer flanking him. Blaney, Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will serve as pit reporters, while Danica Patrick and Denny Hamlin will be holding down the fort in the “Hollywood Hotel.”
The other big story is Darrell Wallace Jr. making his long-awaited Cup debut on Sunday for Richard Petty Motorsports. For Wallace, even though he has the ride until Aric Almirola recovers, Sunday is big for him. He needs to make a great first impression on those who matter in the series.
Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series and Verizon IndyCar Series will be racing at Texas Motor Speedway. For both series, it will be the first time that they will race on the newly reconfigured quad-oval. TV listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab at the top of the page.
I will provide critiques of the Cup and XFINITY races from Pocono, along with the Camping World Truck Series race from Texas in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. The Frontstretch Newsletter will have two editions of the Annex this week. Wednesday will feature a critique of Friday’s Bar Harbor 200 for the Camping World Truck Series, while the regular Thursday column will cover last weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series Chevrolet Grand Prix (both races).
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