This has been a very weird year, weather-wise. Nowhere has that been more evident than last weekend at Texas. Friday saw temperatures in the mid-80s with humidity and thunderstorms. Saturday saw a green-flag temperature of 34 degrees for the XFINITY race, then it was barely 50 when the Cup race started on Sunday. And before you ask, yes, as of the writing of last week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday, it actually was forecast to be 80 degrees on Sunday for the race. Ouch.
Before we get into the action from Texas, we have to touch upon ESPN 2’s Formula 1 coverage. As you may remember, ESPN 2’s return to Formula 1 after 20 years did not go well. Unprompted commercial breaks and audio issues plagued the first race weekend. Thankfully, all that has been fixed. Sunday saw ESPN 2 provide fans with a commercial-free broadcast from Bahrain with no technical screw-ups.
That’s technically more than I personally thought was possible. I’d figured that the technical issues could be fixed, but that they still would have needed to take breaks. That would have been coordinated with the dudes at Sky Sports F1. Apparently not. Seems that ESPN collaborated with their broadcast sponsor Mother’s Car Care to cover the full broadcast without breaks. It resulted in a far different broadcast that was much more enjoyable to watch, despite the horrid injury in the pits. ESPN deserves to be commended for making the changes necessary to fix a mess and make it even better than expected.
O’Reilly Auto Parts 500
One of the first things that was stated during NASCAR RaceDay on Sunday was that the weather was all over the place. Our own Beth Lunkenheimer, who was at the track last weekend, can attest to that lunacy. The weather effectively rendered Saturday useless since the practice sessions were held in temperatures just above freezing. While it was chilly on Sunday, it was nowhere near as cool.
Darrell Waltrip worried about attrition being high on Sunday. While he was ultimately correct, it seems that he believed that engines were going to be the problem. Given the high speeds and the fact that turns 3 and 4 were all but flat-out, that’s understandable. Ultimately, wrecks cut down the field significantly.
One of the main themes prior to the race was grassroots racing and what can be done to bring fans back. It’s become a big issue lately. FOX Sports talked to Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart, drivers who are putting their money where their mouths are, about what they can do to help out.
Although the idea of Harvick running the K&N Pro Series West seems strange, his heart is in the right place. A lot of the drivers even in touring series are nearly invisible these days. Every little bit helps. Of course, not every short track in the United States is like Kern County Raceway Park (basically, it’s the newest paved short track out there these days), but most short tracks have great racing.
I do my own part with Lebanon Valley Speedway here in New York. The season doesn’t start until the 21st, but there was a car show (the Kingfish Car Show, named after the organizer, Mike King, a longtime racer at Lebanon Valley) Sunday prior to the race at a Stewart’s Shop in Nassau, N.Y. There, some of the teams gathered to show off their new cars and chat with fans. Great way to spread the word and have fun. Would have been nice had it been warmer than 35 degrees outside, but it was still very enjoyable.
The thing is, it has to be more than just Stewart and Harvick doing their part in order to build the sport back up. Everyone has a role here.
If anything, the K&N Pro Series East and West, along with the Whelen Modified Tour has more coverage on television now than ever before. However, none of that is live coverage. FansChoice.tv has experimented with live broadcasts this year, most notably at New Smyrna Speedway back in February. We may see more of that in the coming months. If a series like K&N East is where future stars come from, it doesn’t hurt to give them some more coverage
Darrell Waltrip sat down to discuss a number of topics with Kyle Larson. Interestingly enough, the main takeaway from this piece is that Waltrip ticked Larson off when they did a sit-down back in 2014. That piece, which aired during pre-race coverage prior to the Daytona 500, saw Waltrip basically put Austin Dillon (who was on pole for the race) on a pedestal. Yeah, that didn’t work out all that well. Rule of thumb, don’t do that.
Admittedly, that broadcast is best remembered for the long red flag due to severe weather and people incorrectly claiming that the replay of the 2013 Daytona 500 was in fact live.
During the race itself, there was wrecking and penalties that came into play for multiple reasons. We’ll start with the wrecking.
There were a number of tire issues on Sunday. Four of the race’s eight cautions were due to blown right front tires and resulting wall contact. While Paul Menard’s contact wasn’t all that bad, Larson, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. pounded the SAFER Barrier.
What caused those issues? Based on the broadcast, it was a little unclear. We knew that the cool temperatures meant that the cars would be going faster in the turns. That can cause extra tire pressure to build up. That’s a problem.
There were mentions of blisters during the race. However, we didn’t really see what that would look like. The only shot of a tire off of a car (that did not fail) that we saw Sunday was a tire off of Kyle Busch’s No. 18 that looked like a chunk was taken out of the left front. That didn’t look like a typical tire blister. However, if that was one, then no wonder you saw failures because that looked ugly.
It should be noted that blisters are often caused by high tire temperatures. One of the problems last weekend once the cold front passed through Dallas was getting enough heat into the tires.
The general lack of preparation for the race in pre-race programming leads to situations where everyone was caught by surprise when Truex pitted on lap 41. Yes, that was quite some ways prior to the end of a fuel run, but they were concerned about tire wear given the conditions. Knowing what ultimately happened, it was a good move.
After the early stops, FOX should have followed up a lot better on what the wear looked like early on. I hate to say this, but the characteristics in play here resemble the infamous 2005 Coca-Cola 600. Anyone who was a Cup fan at the time likely remembers that five-plus hour epic of wrecking, tire issues and Jeff Gordon’s nose getting punched out. Granted, the tires could last way longer Sunday than they did back then, but the failures seemed to be for similar reasons.
The other major issue was the no-call on an uncontrolled tire on Harvick’s final stop under green that could have ultimately affected the final outcome of the race. FOX had a good replay that showed a tire out of the reach of a crewman. The crewmember ran into the pit lane as Michael McDowell was rolling past in order to get it, then brought back to the pit wall. After deliberation, NASCAR decided not to make the call. FOX referred to it as “balls and strikes” and considered it a judgment call. That strikes me as confusing. Wasn’t that what the currently officiating system was designed to eliminate? Apparently, NASCAR must have some doubts about it because Sunday was the first I’ve heard of substantial deliberations in the officiating truck about infractions picked up by the system. Most of the time over the past couple of years, it’s been cut and dry. Maybe not quite as cut and dry as speeding violations, but pretty close.
Since then, NASCAR has admitted that they screwed up the call. That’s going to be a point of conjecture this week at the bare minimum.
The on-track product was admittedly pretty good at times. It is tough to pass with the relatively new pavement. The cold weather and rains on Friday probably made it more difficult to pass than last year. That’s not necessary good. Then again, remember that it took a number of years for Texas to become competitive after it was built. At least four years. The recent renovations in a way recall 1997 and 1998. Those races were even more substantial wreckfests than what we saw Sunday (although Newman and Larson’s crashes did remind me of some of the hits back then).
Post-race coverage was relatively brief due to the fact that the race ended right up against the end of their timeslot. Viewers got five post-race driver interviews and a check of the points before leaving for coverage of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series DENSO Four-Wide Nationals from Las Vegas.
Despite the five interviews, there were definitely more stories out there to be told. Ryan Blaney’s, in particular. Blaney came back from a lap down with nose damage to finish fifth. Apparently, that didn’t interest FOX at all.
Got caught up in that wreck in turn 3 a bit. Would’ve loved to explain our roller coaster day, but tv didn’t want to ask. At all. ??♂️ https://t.co/ked3ajBcUb
— Ryan Blaney (@Blaney) April 9, 2018
That goes back to Kyle Busch’s comments a few weeks ago. The whole idea of racing to the airport doesn’t just include the teams. It’s also some of the TV personalities. Some of them hitch rides to the races with teams so that they don’t have to deal with the apparent lunacy that is flying into and out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport on American.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is another very busy weekend in the world of motorsports. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series will be racing at Bristol Motor Speedway (K&N Pro Series East will run as tertiary support, but that race won’t air for a bit). The Verizon IndyCar Series travels to Long Beach for one of their signature events, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. They’ll be joined by the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge. Finally, Formula 1 travels to Shanghai for the DVR Theater Grand Prix of China. TV Listings can be found in the listings page under the Television tab.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and XFINITY races from Bristol in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. For the Critic’s Annex, we’re going to have two editions this week. One will cover the XFINITY Series My Bariatric Solutions 300 from Saturday. The other one will look at Saturday night’s ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards Music City 200 from chilly Nashville.
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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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