Welcome back, everyone. We’re in the homestretch now. Just a couple more races yet to go. This past weekend, NASCAR took over Texas Motor Speedway. The track itself was the story as passing was quite difficult.
Before we get started, there are a couple of things that must be touched upon. First of all, NASCAR released the start times and channel assignments for all 36 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races on Monday. There are some changes, some already announced while others are new (Ex: the April race at Richmond moving back to Saturday night).
No points race will start before 2 p.m. in 2018. Some races actually start earlier than 2017. Both of the Pocono races are in that boat. The June race has a 2 p.m. start time, while the July race will start at 2:30 p.m. Both of those races started at 3 p.m. this year, something that people that work for Pocono Raceway openly acknowledged that they did not like. In addition, the First Data 500 at Martinsville has been moved up to a 2:30 p.m. start as well.
Watkins Glen’s start time has also been moved up to 2:30 from 3 p.m. In addition, the race has been moved to NBC from NBCSN.
Ultimately, the night race start times are all but unchanged. The West Coast start times are all but unchanged. The March race in Las Vegas is a 3:30 p.m. The 3 p.m. start for the new September race there is questionable. Anyone who’s been following NASCAR since 2007 or so will know why.
Aside from that potentially arduous September race in Las Vegas, the western and night races are fine. I would have liked to see earlier start times for the playoff races run on Sunday in the Eastern time zone. Reasoning: Get out in front of the NF-stankin’-L. Start those races at 12:30. A lot of fans often tune out stuff like NFL Today on CBS. Might as well give them some action before the kickoffs. Can’t do much about those London games that start at 9 a.m., but if NASCAR can get out in front of the football, they should.
Secondly, EPIX is debuting a new documentary Wednesday night at 8 p.m. simply entitled Danica. According to EPIX, it is a look into Danica Patrick like we’ve never seen before. Check your local listings for what channel EPIX is in your channel lineup (if you get it).
AAA Texas 500
On Sunday afternoon, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams battled for 500 miles at Texas Motor Speedway. The implications to the playoffs started very early on Sunday.
You likely knew going in that NBCSN was going to reference the Chase Elliott–Denny Hamlin spat a fair amount. They did not disappoint there. We didn’t get two minutes into Countdown to Green before we had Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin on-camera answering questions about it. Is it a good thing that NBCSN felt the need to jam that down everyone’s throats? No. The vast majority NASCAR fans already know what happened in Martinsville. We saw the wreck, the argument, not to mention the wrestling heel and face post-race interviews. For what’s it worth, the Martinsville mess basically accomplished what I wrote in 2014 about what NASCAR wanted for Elliott. NASCAR wanted Elliott to get over (be accepted) by the fans. He’s that and more now.
Just let the race play out naturally without the constant reminders. This happens every time something ridiculous happens. Let’s face it. This isn’t 1979. Elliott and Hamlin weren’t going to come back to the track after their Martinsville dustup and wreck other within the first 10 laps. Do we need to see footage of Elliott and Hamlin having a Broadway Bro Down 18 different times during the broadcast? No.
For Sunday, NBC Sports decided to bring the Stock Car Smarts booth setup back into play. As a quick refresher, that means that Rick Allen and Dale Jarrett were in the primary booth while Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte were in the secondary booth. To be honest, the dual booth setup really didn’t add much to the broadcast. It just meant that Jarrett got a bigger role.
The first lap of the race saw contact between Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski in turn 2 that resulted in cut tires. Allen misidentified Keselowski as Kevin Harvick. Yeah, that’s a mistake. However, in Allen’s defense, Keselowski was running the Würth Group scheme on his No. 2. From a distance, that scheme looks very similar to Harvick’s Mobil 1-sponsored No. 4.
NBCSN did a good job in showing what the contact actually did to Keselowski’s tire (lost the valve stem) and the damage to Busch’s No. 18. What should have been expanded on what was the damage did to Kyle Busch’s handling. We basically don’t know. Why? Probably because Busch locked himself into the Championship 4 by winning at Martinsville. Had Elliott, Hamlin, Keselowski, Clint Bowyer or even your momma won the First Data 500, you could put money on NBCSN covering Busch’s issue differently. That is the problem these days with coverage. There’s no equitability.
For much of the race, the main topic of commentary was the racing line or groove in use at Texas Motor Speedway. While the track used the Tire Dragons to lay rubber down on the track ahead of the race weekend, much of the racing stayed down on the inside. After multiple days of on-track action, it was only during the second half of the Cup race that you saw drivers venturing even slightly up the track. That made it quite difficult to pass, but not impossible.
Burton stated on the broadcast that we’re likely a couple of years away from true multi-groove racing at Texas. That’s likely true. It appears that the track is weathering more than Charlotte Motor Speedway, so we won’t see a situation where passing is neigh on impossible in 2025.
Racing-wise, there was a decent amount of racing for position, but there was a substantial focus on the playoff contenders. Drivers such as Kyle Larson were able to buck the trend by beating the playoff contenders at their own game, but that was short-lived. Still believe that the best plan for covering a race is to let the whole thing play out normally. Be all-inclusive. Remember that TV is the most likely way that fans are going to be able to take in a race.
Post-race coverage was normal by playoff standards. Viewers got a number of post-race interviews, including the requisite three with Harvick. Again, heavy playoff focus here. Matt Kenseth didn’t get any dap until NASCAR Victory Lap despite being a pretty big story all weekend.
Overall, the race was decent to watch, but too narrow in focus. There was plenty going on during the 500-mile race. NBCSN can’t just choose to focus on a couple of big stories at the expense of everyone else. The sooner they realize this, the sooner the whole sport will benefit.
O’Reilly Auto Parts 300
On Saturday night, the XFINITY Series returned to Texas for their second race of the year. Erik Jones kicked some butt cheeks, earning a bit of revenge on his own teammate Christopher Bell for Kansas.
For Kansas, NBC Sports once again dipped into their special formats. Once again, Letarte was on AJ Allmendinger’s pit box exiting turn 4 to bring his expertise. This time, Ato Boldon joined him atop the box instead of the trusty engineer Jimmy. Unlike the last time Letarte parked himself on the pit box, he really didn’t stand out that much, except for one instance.
Under the sixth caution, Larson screwed up and pitted early. Letarte had a front-row seat for Larson coming to pit road when it was closed. For what it’s worth, NBCSN nailed this. Then NASCAR screwed up. You’d think that this was an open and shut case. On paper, NBCSN did everything right here. Then, the crazy rationale came out from NASCAR. Apparently, their thought process was that Larson didn’t stop in his pit, so he could blend back in where he rejoined. That’s crazy. In the past, he would have been stopped by the lollipop man. In other series, he would have been rather briskly penalized for exiting a closed pit.
The explanation that NASCAR gave to NBCSN is more akin to a situation like when Marcos Ambrose stalled under caution at Sonoma in 2010 when he was trying to save fuel.
He was allowed to resume in the seventh position because that was when he properly resumed a “cautious pace.” That doesn’t apply when you pit, regardless of whether you stop or not.
It’s rare that NASCAR acknowledges a legitimate screw-up. However, this was one of those times. It was brought up during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Drivers Meeting Sunday that NASCAR screwed up the call. It’s arguable that it did not affect the outcome of the race, but it was still quite the flub.
In Boldon’s case, he might have been at his most useless in Texas. He brought nothing to the table. Also, I’m pretty sure that I would have driven the NBC car faster than he did around the track. Honestly, you can only do so much with the “fish out of water” thing before it gets old. He needs to take what he’s learned in his outings this year and put it into practice. What that would look like is anyone’s guess. Knowing that the championship is going to be the primary focus for the next couple of weeks, this weekend might have been the last chance for that. If so, NBC failed miserably. We’ll have to see what happens in the future.
On-track action was fairly brisk, but once again with a strong playoff tint. It started early when Cole Custer dropped like a stone on the start. Turns out that Custer somehow cut a tire before the race started. He got lucky that he got a quick caution to get caught back up. Ultimately, Custer walked out of Texas with a top five, but it could have been better.
As the race wound on, it became a bit more boring to watch as the field spread out. Yes, the finish got exciting, but that was only because Jones got stuck behind lapped traffic. That allowed Blaney to catch up.
Post-race coverage was pretty decent. The race did run a little bit long, but a 30-minute post-race show was pre-scheduled. As a result, viewers got over a half-dozen interviews from the jubilant Jones to the dejected Blaney.
However, at the same time the Victory Lane celebrations were going on, there were some fisticuffs going on as well. Brendan Gaughan apparently had it up to here with Ross Chastain and went after him post-race. What followed was reportedly a huge scrum. However, viewers never saw this. It did not make air. Only a couple of news articles mentioned the fight, which took place right behind Victory Lane. As much as you don’t want fighting, it is something that must be reported on. Don’t be shocked if a couple of crewmembers are placed on probation later this week.
In this case, we knew what caused the fight. There were a series of bumping matches between the two drivers around the midpoint of the race. Chastain all but wrecked after one of the bumps. Those bumps did actually make air. Also, it appears that Gaughan’s been ticked off at Chastain for months.
That’s all for this week. Next week, all three of NASCAR’s National Series will be in Phoenix for their second to last races of 2017. Eight spots between the three series in the Championship 4 will be up for grabs. Meanwhile, Formula One makes their annual trek to Sao Paulo for the Grand Prix of Brazil. TV listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab at the top of the page.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and XFINITY Series broadcasts from Phoenix at minimum for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex, we’ll cover Friday night’s JAG Metals 350 for the Camping World Truck Series.
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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.