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(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Couch Potato Tuesday: Martinsville Double Provides Different Broadcasts

As you’re surely aware by now, Easter weekend is literally the quietest race weekend of the year for race fans.  In some areas, the local racing season got underway.  One example of that was Southern Virginia, where Larry King Law’s Langley Speedway held their season opener on Saturday night (streamed live on FansChoice).

Here in New York, that wasn’t happening.  In fact, many areas in the Empire State woke up Monday to snow on the ground that wiped out various sporting events (including Monday’s game between the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies).  Lebanon Valley Speedway, the track that I do press work for, doesn’t open their season until the 21st.  It used to be a week earlier but was pushed back due to dodgy weather and sometimes dodgy track conditions due to deep frost.

But, we’re not here to talk about frost hidden deep in dirt tracks.  We’re here to talk about some television.  As noted, last weekend was nearly barren on TV.  Hence, last week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday (run on Monday) was focused on the Grand Prix of Australia.  That would have been last week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex had it not snowed in Martinsville.  With both races on Monday, it would have been impossible to watch everything and get a critique for you on Tuesday.

STP 500

Given the overnight snows on Saturday night in Martinsville, NASCAR made a very early call to postpone the race to Monday.  In my case, I was awoken by a text indicating that the race had been postponed.  Those who did venture up to the track on Sunday found a winter wonderland.

Due to the pre-9 a.m. postponement, nothing that was originally scheduled aired on Sunday.  It was rerun city.

On Monday, FOX got right to the action.  There was extra time to warm up the cars, then it was time to have at it.  Perhaps you shouldn’t have been surprised that last week’s race was so clean.  Postponed races tend to run in a fashion of “Jeepers, we need to get this done as fast as we can so that we can focus on the next one.”

However, this year’s STP 500 may have been the cleanest race I’ve ever seen at Martinsville.  The fact that the race was run on a Monday is only one of the reasons why that was so.  The dual travesties known as the Damaged Vehicle Policy and the playoffs have changed how the races are run.  The stages also play a role, no matter how much everyone tries to sell it as being the best thing ever.

It should be noted that this was not the fastest race ever run at Martinsville.  That occurred in 1996.  It is the second fastest one, though.

Clean Martinsville races often don’t have a lot of action.  This race was no exception.  There was action for position on-track, but at times, it was few and far between.  There was not a whole lot of movement up and down the field.  There just didn’t seem like there was much urgency for all 500 laps.  Aside from a couple of moments (Ex: Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski racing for the lead and nearly punting Harrison Rhodes), there really wasn’t anything exciting in the race.

While yes, there’s still plenty of pressure to be had on track, these moves have put even more pressure on the crews.  The ongoing air gun mess doesn’t help anything at all.  This particular race saw Daniel Suárez’s crew deal with an air gun ripping asunder during the stops after stage No. 1.  What the deuce?  That is not supposed to happen.  I’m not going to pretend that I know much about air gun technology, but NASCAR probably should have gone with Ingersoll-Rand for these guns.  As stated on the broadcast, the quality control is the issue here.  It’s in the toilet.

Post-race coverage was actually curtailed, but not because the race ran long.  It ran short.  There were still 15 minutes remaining in what I considered the time slot for the race (it was originally blocked at four hours on Sunday) when the broadcast left for a 75-minute edition of NASCAR RaceHub.  Knowing that they went to RaceHub, there’s no reason why they couldn’t have made use of that extra 15 minutes.

As it stands, viewers got five post-race interviews and checks of the results and points.  There was also some additional analysis from the booth.  Prior to Martinsville, one of the discussion points was the idea of Kyle Busch pitching the idea of staying longer and doing more post-race stuff before going home.  Sentiment such as that is years overdue.  Last Monday would have been a chance to back that up and FOX chose not to.

That said, Clint Bowyer earned that win and his celebration will likely go down as one of the greatest of the year.  That was genuine.

Overall, everyone seemed relieved that everything went off without a hitch in Martinsville.  Having said that, this was not a very exciting race.  FOX did their best to make the event sound exciting, but it was really a bit of a dud.  A race with 38 teams trying to finish it as fast as possible.  Monday races are like that at times.  The TV networks can’t do anything to change that.  There was some good racing to be had, but the field got stretched out enough that it was hard to get to any of that action.

Alpha Energy Solutions 250

The weather forecast on Saturday looked pretty bad days ahead of the race.  The fact that they actually got 23 laps of the race in as originally scheduled was actually quite amazing.  Most forecasts had the precipitation showing up as soon as 11 a.m., which would have wiped out everything except the first Cup practice.

That said, NASCAR did institute a hurry-up mode.  After Cup Happy Hour, NASCAR RaceDay – CWTS Edition began roughly five minutes early.

The primary feature prior to the race was a piece on Hattori Racing Enterprises.  Basically, Todd Bodine went to the shop and talked to Brett Moffitt and a couple of the main guys behind the scenes with the team.  The piece reminded me of some of the stories you’d see back in the 1990s on TNN’s Inside NASCAR Winston Cup Racing (appointment television at 5 p.m. on Saturdays).  Here, the biggest takeaway was quite simply that the team is here to stay.  Sponsorship is dicey with the Hattori squad.  They fully admit that they have unsold races (sponsorship-wise), but that they’re going to be at all 23 races this year.  Don’t be shocked if you see a bunch of grocery store chains back on the No. 16 again later this year (last year, they had H-E-B, ShopRite and Price Chopper as primary sponsors during races).

On Saturday, there really wasn’t much racing to be had before the red flag came out.  That’s no one’s fault, of course. The whole situation that ultimately put the race under caution was not readily explained.  It was not the weather.  Apparently, Mike Senica was violating Section 12-1 of the Camping World Truck Series Rule Book repeatedly.  In the process, he intentionally drew the caution by stopping on track.  Knowing that the precipitation was getting worse, his actions probably didn’t change anything in the race, but that kind of behavior is just not going to work.

During that caution, the wet stuff showed up in force.  The red flag was thrown, and very quickly turned into a postponement.  There were only a couple of quick interviews before FOX Sports 1 cut to coverage of last year’s race.

Once the race resumed, the coverage started after the trucks had already been started and heated up.  It should be noted that race engines are generally not used to operating in temperatures below 50 degrees.  In NASCAR, that’s ultimately not that big of a deal for racing, but in other series, things get cancelled due to the cold (see recent INDYCAR test sessions scheduled for Indianapolis).  They can also turn into complete nightmares (see the 1992 Indianapolis 500, which started with temperatures hovering around 50 with cloudy skies).

The action was quite brisk at times, but next to no one could do much with Ben Rhodes.  That is, until his crew had issues on the right front during his final stop.  After that dreadful stop, you didn’t really hear much out of Rhodes for the rest of the day.  He was stuck and couldn’t move forward.

Martinsville races tend to be quite competitive and last week’s truck race was no exception.  Compared to the Cup race, it was much more rough and tumble.  There was plenty of casual contact and hard racing.  FOX Sports 1 did a decent job in bringing viewers that action.

They were not the best at bringing viewers the reasons for some of the yellows, though.  Of the 10 yellows, six of those were for incidents on track.  Only three of those incidents even got replays.  You knew who was involved, but you wouldn’t have had any idea what happened unless you were there (or were listening on the radio of someone like Justin Fontaine).  Fontaine’s case in particular was rather acute because he crashed out of the race in an incident that was not replayed nor caught live.  Sure, you could guess what happened, but you don’t invest in 40+ cameras so that your audience has to guesstimate.

Post-race coverage was fairly brief.  There were interviews with the top finishers, plus checks of the unofficial results and points.

If you only look at things through the lenses of TV ratings, 2018 has been horrific for FOX’s race broadcasts by almost anyone’s standard.  NASCAR RaceHub seems to be holding steady as one of FOX Sports 1’s highest rated studio shows, though.  However, we can’t look at FOX just by ratings.  We have to take broadcast quality into account as well.

Generally speaking, it could be far worse on that end.  The commentary can be hit or miss at times.  FOX seems to try to cram in a bunch of stuff into their presentation that distracts from the actual race.  The Kevin Harvick wreck at Fontana is a good example of that.  As you may remember from a couple of weeks ago, they were going on about home tracks when Harvick and Kyle Larson collided, creating the moment of the race.

Also, if you’re going to ask Bowyer what made him believe that he was good enough to race in NASCAR, make sure you spell NASCAR correctly.  It is not “NACAR.”  You had days to get that right.

Darrell Waltrip in general is hit or miss.  He can come up with some interesting notions from time to time.  However, we’re coming up on 12 years since he’s driven a race car.  The vast majority of his knowledge seems to no longer apply.  I wonder at times how much he educates himself as compared to say…Larry McReynolds, who is a regular site in the garage every weekend.  You can’t just wing it up there.  There’s a buttload of preparation that should go into these broadcasts.

Having said that, there are still good things to note. You never have to worry about whether the booth is into the race, a concern I’ve had in the past on other networks.  If there’s good racing to be had, you’re going to eventually see it.  You might not see as much as you’d like, but you’ll eventually see some.

Advice for improvement is to simply show as much action as possible while limiting distractions.  Watch your biases at all times.

That’s all for now.  This weekend will be much busier.  The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series will make their first visit of the year to Texas.  80-degree weather is predicted for Sunday without too much humidity.

For those of you who like the loose surfaces, Lucas Oil ASCS is holding the Tony Stewart presents the Vankor Texas Sprint Car Nationals at Texas Motor Speedway’s dirt track Friday and Saturday night.  If you have a yearly subscription to Lucas Oil Racing TV, then you will be able to livestream both nights.

The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards has their second race of the year Saturday at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.  That will air live on MAVTV.

The Verizon IndyCar Series will return to ISM Raceway in Phoenix for 250 laps of action Saturday night.  That will be the last race at ISM Raceway before the start-finish line is moved.  Finally, Formula 1 returns to Bahrain for their second race of the year.  Hopefully, some of the issues that we discussed last week will be rectified.  Also, before you ask, I don’t know how many people watched the action in Australia on ESPN 2.  What we do know is that it didn’t rate in the top 150 cable broadcasts on March 25 and didn’t get the minimum viewership (300,000) necessary for inclusion in Skedball at ShowbuzzDaily.

We’ll have critiques of the Cup and XFINITY races from Texas, in addition to the INDYCAR race from ISM Raceway (NBCSN debut for 2018) in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  For the Annex, we’re going to go back a number of years this week.  To some lunacy.  We’re going to cover how ESPN 2 handled the ridiculousness known as the 2007 Sam’s Town 250 from Memphis Motorsports Park.  You’ll remember this race as “the one with 25 cautions.”  While that’s not a record for the now-XFINITY Series, it felt like it.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below.  Even though I can’t always respond, I do read your comments. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.

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About Phil Allaway

Phil Allaway
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 Tony Stewart's Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions.

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3 comments

  1. Your point about the new 5 minute repair policy leading to cleaner races is valid. One more unintended consequence of a new rule…make even the short track races less interesting.

  2. Seeing shots of the snow at Yankee Stadium yesterday reminded me of Martinsville. MLB has the same problem as NA$CAR when it comes to scheduling early season games in the Northeast. Maybe someone should pen a song “White Easter.”

  3. Uh, Phil, it was proven that the FOX pit gun report was inaccurate. The gun was smashed against the put wall because the jack was dropped early. Please pay attention.