Last weekend, Las Vegas Motor Speedway hosted its first-ever tripleheader weekend. It produced some very different races.
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Sunday saw another butt kicking. Kevin Harvick is in the zone. His start to 2018 seems a lot like how he started 2014. You probably remember what happened that year.
Admittedly, Sunday’s broadcast hit on a lot of the same aspects as the Atlanta broadcast did, but with one missing factor. No rain. The race was run under sunny skies but with temperatures nearly 10 degrees below normal.
The storyline that seemingly no one thought would happen was high tire wear. Remember, it didn’t rain at all during the weekend and three different series were on-track. The Cup race was on the fourth day of the race weekend. The winds for the first three days might have played a role here since dust could have blown onto the track. That’s a big issue at the Bahrain International Circuit, so much so that the track applies a solution to the sandy soil so that it doesn’t blow around. However, that was never noted as an issue all weekend.
Regardless, teams dealt with unusual tire wear for much of the race. The issue has basically never arisen at Las Vegas for Cup since the track joined the schedule in 1998. It definitely wasn’t an issue last year.
Early on, FOX did give viewers an idea of what the wear looked like on Clint Bowyer’s car. It was a little hard to tell, but the wear was pretty even. It was just plain substantial by Las Vegas standards.
Since the tire wear was not really expected to be a problem, the early pit stops during the first stage threw the booth for a bit of a loop.
In regards to the on-track action, the broadcast experience was somewhat similar to Atlanta. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Harvick was kicking butt, but not to the same degree that he did in Atlanta. It seems like there was more actual competition than what viewers were being shown. Harvick led all but 53 laps on Sunday, but he’s not the only guy out there.
There were some decent battles on-track. Kyle Larson seemed to move up and down between third and seventh all day. Kyle Busch was on a roll late in the race and seemed to be running down Harvick in the final laps.
Another big story on Sunday was the new Paoli air guns that are mandated in Cup this season. Vince Welch took some time to describe the new whip line that was in use on Sunday during the race. The solution seems simple. Hopefully, they can withstand the stress that tire changers put on them. NASCAR and Paoli have to get this right.
That wasn’t even the defect du jour on Sunday. Apparently, a number of tire changers had pins come out of their guns, forcing mid-race switches. Larry McReynolds spent part of the race talking about how NASCAR may let tire changers put their own sockets on the Paoli guns in the near future.
Sunday also marked Cole Custer’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut. It seems like it was mission accomplished for the youngster. He raced all day, didn’t make a fool of himself and finished. Custer came away from the race with the right attitude.
Unbelievable how much I learned today. Have a lot of things I know I can get better. Can’t thank every single person who put a hand on that car enough!
— Cole Custer (@ColeCuster) March 5, 2018
However, the team also seemed to come away from the race with some kind of an oiling issue. Around halfway, FOX showed the rear of Custer’s HAAS Automation Ford and it was covered with grease. No smoke was noticeable and there wasn’t any real on-air reference to oil on the track. Don’t know what happened there.
Post-race coverage was decent. With no post-race shenanigans like last year, there were a number of post-race interviews. There were also checks of the results and points.
Overall, Sunday’s broadcast from Las Vegas was a lot like Atlanta, minus the rain fill. The coverage is a little too focused on the very front of the field, leaving viewers to believe that the on-track product is boring. There’s racing to be had, but you have to search for it.
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Saturday brought the XFINITY Series out to play at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. For much of the weekend, Larson was the man to beat. While Larson didn’t win the pole, that held up for the race.
Pre-race was once again analysis-heavy. The issue with that approach is that viewers never really get to hear from many drivers. Daniel Hemric was the only driver to actually get a pre-race interview. The only other driver to get airtime was Kaz Grala. Since Grala’s 19, he can’t do all that much in Las Vegas. So, Kenny Wallace took him to KISS by Monster Mini Golf at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino.
Back in the booth for his second visit of the season was Brad Keselowski, who seemed to do a pretty good job. Saturday, he was the man to give dap to certain drivers. For instance, he spent some time giving Ross Chastain props for his skill in the JD Motorsports with Gary Keller Chevrolet.
Later on, Tyler Reddick was complaining about a potential engine problem on his Nationwide Children’s Hospital Chevrolet. If there really was one, it was unclear, knowing that Reddick brought the No. 9 home in the top five. Keselowski reasoned that the windy conditions on Saturday can create false positives when it comes to identifying issues. It was an interesting take, something that was relatively new.
Saturday also saw Kyle Busch have a rare off day in his XFINITY car. It’s been a while. Radio chatter indicated that he was exasperated at being passed by Michael Annett. There’s nothing negative about that coverage. It just strikes me as interesting.
There were a couple of gripes on the broadcast. For instance, Ryan Reed crashed late to bring out the fifth caution. We knew that he had had contact with Grala about 35 laps earlier, but it seemed unlikely that it would have caused the second incident. Viewers will never know for sure because FOX Sports 1 did not show a replay of the incident. Michael Waltrip was completely unsure and thought that it was possible that the previous incident could have put the fender in contact with the right front tire. Problem is, the tire likely would have been cut much sooner in that scenario.
During the early portion of the race, the broadcast seemed to insinuate that there’s some kind of on-track rivalry between Larson and Christopher Bell. Not sure if we can say that at this point. Seemed a lot more like a couple of drivers who have raced against each other a bunch on loose surfaces having a fun time. Whatever it actually is, it was fun to watch. Bell ending up back in the pack for a chunk of the race actually made the event a little less enjoyable than it could have been.
As compared to the Cup race, FOX Sports 1 did a better job of bringing viewers on-track action. It wasn’t all Larson, all the time. There was action to be had and viewers got to see a decent amount of it.
The race ended relatively, so there was a decent amount of time given for post-race coverage. Viewers got more than half a dozen interviews, in addition to checks of the results and points.
Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY series travel to the newly-rechristened ISM Raceway in Arizona for their first visit of the year. Meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series holds its season opener in St. Petersburg with Indy Lights and Pirelli World Challenge on the undercard.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and XFINITY races from ISM Raceway, in addition to the INDYCAR opener on ABC for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. For the Critic’s Annex in the Newsletter on Thursday, we’re going to take a look at Friday night’s Stratosphere 200. That race was so different than the other two events in Las Vegas that it deserves its own space.
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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.
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