Atlanta Motor Speedway is in a tough spot on the schedule. As Bryan Gable noted Monday in Up to Speed, this race probably should be run a month from now. At the end of March, the weather is probably pretty nice in Georgia. February, in general, is a tough go for NASCAR. There just aren’t very many places that you can race. It’s either make a group of fans freeze their cheeks somewhere (Ex: Richmond prior to 1998), or go out West.
This past weekend, all three of NASCAR’s National Series descended upon Atlanta Motor Speedway for 950 miles of racing. Kevin Harvick figured heavily.
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Sunday dawned drearily and then the rains came. Everyone knew that was going to happen for days. NASCAR’s move to allow the start to be moved up by an hour helps quite a bit, actually. Ultimately, the race ended up starting 90 minutes later than it had originally been scheduled to go green.
During the two-plus hours of rain fill, FOX spent the time interviewing drivers in the Hollywood Hotel. A number of notables spent time hanging out with Chris Myers, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon. You got some interesting conversations here, including Aric Almirola describing how Tony Stewart told him to handle the media afterward. Pretty funny when you think about it. This is the same guy that (according to Mike Mulhern) smashed at least one tape recorder over the years and (as shown in a flashback) thoroughly cussed out Joey Logano in an interview with Steve Byrnes at Auto Club Speedway.
Once the race got going, the theme of the race seemed to be that Harvick could do no wrong. Apparently, the booth commentators believe that the sheer style of racing in general at Atlanta Motor Speedway has changed just because of Harvick’s recent form. If so, it’s not necessarily for the better. Remember, prior to Sunday’s race, Harvick hadn’t won a Cup race at Atlanta since 2001.
The booth did make note that Sunday’s race was quite a bit more competitive than last year’s race, which is true. Last year, Harvick led all but 33 laps of the race and likely only lost because he got busted for speeding on the final stop. A cruel way to lose.
Even with the stupendously worn asphalt (so much so that Goodyear’s 3D scan of the track for its Dual Zone tires seems almost redundant), Atlanta is still great for side-by-side racing. There was a good chunk of that Sunday, especially early in the runs. The field did stretch out, but it’s arguable that it wasn’t because of aerodynamic properties. The track is such that handling trumps the aero.
Early on in the race, Richard Childress Racing’s Ryan Newman was a threat, leading 17 laps. However, he had a tight condition that took the car’s speed away and dropped him out of the top 10. Eventually, Newman’s right front tire came apart late in the first stage and he was forced to pit under green. In the process, Newman slapped the wall. Apparently, Darrell Waltrip saw it, but none of the cameras did. As a result, all we had to go on was Darrell noting that “he hit it pretty hard.” That ended Newman’s chances at a decent finish. Seems like FOX should have been able to give viewers a little more than that.
Speaking of the tires, while yes, the drop-off in pace was noticeable and constantly referenced, there was no real reference to what a “good” tire is supposed to look like after a run. Viewers only seemed to see the bad ones, like the one from Newman’s No. 31 and this really nasty one off of Jeffrey Earnhardt’s No. 00.
The RF tire off of our car… pic.twitter.com/iVPXFTjDYw
— StarCom Racing (@StarcomRacing) February 25, 2018
Later in the race, strategy took hold as Logano and Denny Hamlin attempted to steal the race from Harvick by pitting one less time. If the difference between fresh and worn tires was a little less, maybe that might have worked. With Harvick lapping at one point up to fifth, there seemingly wasn’t all that much to talk about in regards to cars on the lead lap.
Late in the race, you had the grandpappy of engine expirations for Trevor Bayne. The smoke resulted in the hardest hit of the race when Darrell Wallace Jr. ran into the back of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. FOX tried to show the viewers what happened here, but good cripes, you couldn’t see jack. Only an aerial shot really would have worked here. For Stenhouse, the incident was effectively a blip on his day. Wallace’s race was ]ruined as he lost laps in the pits getting repairs and finished 32nd.
Ultimately, the race ended just about an hour past the scheduled sign-off time of 6 p.m. Post-race coverage was relatively brief since the race was cutting into FOX’s prime-time programming. Viewers only got a couple of interviews and some post-race analysis before the broadcast cut out so that they could get to (at least on the East Coast) Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Sunday’s broadcast definitely had its moments. There were some good races for position, but the track seemed to make actually racing for position tougher. The cream came to the top. When the field was bunched closer together, it was a little more interesting. Perhaps the race would have been a little different had it been run under sunny skies. Given the fact that the lead really wasn’t all that competitive, FOX should give as many of the drivers coverage as possible in these circumstances. It did only OK here.
Saturday afternoon brought the XFINITY Series out for 250 miles of racing. Granted, that race quickly turned into a Harvick benefit, but there was still plenty of action to be had.
As is the norm, FOX Sports 1 had a guest analyst for the race. This week, it was Chase Elliott in the booth for his second try at analysis. Last year, Elliott seemed to be rather dry. Basically, he went through the race like he was having a normal conversation. He was loud enough to be heard, but he just seemed to be there.
On Saturday, viewers got a somewhat similar performance from Elliott. He just doesn’t come off as all that telegenic. He’s not that much different as a TV personality than he is if you were talking to him, face-to-face. Arguably, that would mean that he would likely be a better person to interview.
Having said that, he still brings some knowledge to the booth. While Elliott is not quite as detailed when explaining things as Harvick or Brad Keselowski (who will be back in the booth next weekend), he gets the job done.
One of the more notable aspects of FOX’s XFINITY Series coverage so far this year is that it’s been stripped down. Both Daytona and Atlanta had only two cars (Harvick and Chase Briscoe on Saturday) with in-car cameras. Atlanta only had two pit reporters. That’s usually something that you see on XFINITY standalone broadcasts.
Based on comments on past editions of Couch Potato Tuesday, a number of our readers would be fine with the cuts in onboard cameras because they believe the production staff overuses them. However, cutting pit reporters means that some information that would normally make it into a broadcast might not get there. Why? Quite simply, each reporter (in this case, Jamie Little and Regan Smith) would have a larger group of teams to gather information from. They can only listen to so many team radios at once.
Remember that they can only listen to team radios in one ear. The other is linked to the production truck.
During the race, likely the most squeamish moment was when Brandon Jones cut a tire and hit the wall in Turn 3. The wall contact was wall contact. His move to get onto pit road directly in front of Ross Chastain, Ryan Sieg and Michael Annett could have been big. Elliott described this move as “bold” and “impressive… or not.”
Let’s just say that Chastain was none too pleased with Jones’ actions.
The most ridiculous move I’ve ever seen.. Ole boy got lucky https://t.co/HqrFMVNUTt
— Ross Chastain (@RossChastain) February 25, 2018
Post-race coverage was not particularly substantial. Viewers did get interviews with the top-four finishers before the broadcast was thrown back to Charlotte for what amounted to an intermission.
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Atlanta is a rare circumstance for the Camping World Truck Series in that its race ran immediately after the XFINITY Series. That decision is both good and bad for the series.
It’s good in that viewers could get that much more action right away, and Saturday’s truck race was pretty good. However, it’s bad in that viewers wouldn’t know what to look out for unless they watched qualifying and the practice sessions.
Instead of actually previewing the race, FOX Sports 1 chose to air two segments between the races. One was Radioactive from Daytona. The other was Austin Dillon’s appearance on NASCAR RaceHub last week where he talked about his recent victory. That’s nice and all, but it didn’t preview the race in any way. An abbreviated edition of NASCAR RaceDay – CWTS Edition would have been preferred. Note that NCWTS Setup was renamed this season in order to provide a parallel between the three series.
Likely the biggest story to come out of the nightcap was Kyle Busch’s left rear wheel falling off after his final stop.
The first thought that came to my mind was quite simple. Somebody will be sat down for that.
And that will be a suspension. Not going to work. Can't have your wheel fall off.
— Phil Allaway (@Critic84) February 24, 2018
The suspensions will come later this week. But, how did FOX Sports 1 cover the incident?
Vince Welch noted the problem the No. 4 crew had with the right front corner. Michael Waltrip noted that he thought Busch called the audible to leave. Busch claimed after the race on Twitter that it was crew chief Marcus Richmond’s call.
Busch didn’t talk to FOX Sports 1 after the race and had very little to say at all to anyone. Since he finished 21st, that’s his prerogative. He doesn’t have to talk if he doesn’t want to, though he did note on Twitter that he wasn’t asked for an interview.
FOX Sports 1 didn’t air the left rear wheel coming off live because it was showing a replay of the stop. Here, viewers saw the lug nuts being removed from Busch’s left rear. That coverage was supplemented by shots of some happy fans in the stands.
That was a recurring thing in Atlanta, actually. Viewers saw more of the fans in the stands than in recent years last weekend. A perfect example was the Jimmie Johnson fan on Sunday trying to convince the people around him that the No. 48 would be fine after his spin. That’s something that has been missing in recent years. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of joy out there. Everyone’s taking things a little too seriously. If FOX can keep things a little more upbeat, that can help.
The race coverage was fairly enjoyable to watch. Yes, Busch led a good chunk of the race before his aforementioned pit issue, but there was a good amount of action on-track to be had. That wasn’t necessarily limited to those at the very front. Viewers got to see some good action for position all through the pack.
Since post-race coverage from Atlanta was actually built into the schedule, there was a decent amount of it. Viewers saw a number of interviews with the top finishers. Given that Saturday’s race was the first-ever win for Hattori Racing Enterprises in the series, it was surprising that FOX Sports 1 didn’t interview Shigeaki Hattori on-air. He was at the track and participated in the Victory Lane ceremonies.
Next weekend, all three of NASCAR’s national series make the haul out to Nevada for yet another three-race package. Meanwhile, Formula E returns to Mexico City for a race on the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez’s modified oval
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