Rain is the worst part of oval racing. Unlike road courses, rain is a complete no go. Last weekend was every bit of that in Michigan, not just for the Monster Energy Cup Series, but the XFINITY Series as well. We’ll cover the LTi Printing 250 later this week. For now, the focus is on Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 and Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series race in Texas.
FireKeepers Casino 400
Sunday afternoon brought the Cup Series back to Michigan for its first visit of the year. Unfortunately, the rain showed up as well.
Of course, when that happens, you get a good number of interviews. FOX did not disappoint with a number of conversations, including drivers such as Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suárez and Kurt Busch in the Hollywood Hotel.
Sadly, one of the biggest takeaways from that pre-race show was Michael Waltrip making a fool of himself once again. This time, he donned a Belgium National Team jersey and went on about the upcoming World Cup in Russia. He then nearly fell onto Martin Truex Jr.’s Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota when he apparently tripped over a box associated with Austin Dillon‘s car. While it’s doubtful at best that Waltrip’s antics negatively affected Truex’s car, it still doesn’t look good. There was also random kicking as well. We get it. The World Cup starts Thursday. Should be interesting despite the fact that the United States isn’t involved.
We’ve talked about Waltrip’s schtick here multiple times in the past. He has a long-held reputation as a goof. That was something that people noted when he first moved up to Cup full-time in 1986. It’s rather hard to tell how the drivers feel about this behavior during the Grid Walks. Some of them sort of back away from him (Denny Hamlin is the most notable example), but they’re buddy-buddy with him away from the track (especially Hamlin). I feel like if they truly didn’t like something that he does, they would have said something to him by now.
Maybe it’s just me, but I want to learn something about the upcoming race from these drivers. I don’t really want to see a 55-year old man act like a moron. I know I’m not alone here. By all means, you’re supposed to have fun while covering a Cup race. The thing is, even Waltrip is technically there to educate. It doesn’t seem like he ever actually does that unless you consider “behavior not to replicate when on a press credential” to be educational.
At 3:41 p.m. EDT, FOX cut from live coverage to air Beyond the Wheel. Always a good watch. Meanwhile, the track drying continued. Chris Myers promised that FOX would return intermittently to give updates. They returned once, then aired The Year Without a King. By that time, the track was nearly dry.
FOX likely should have put some kind of bar on the screen that indicated when the race was going to start. It seems like NASCAR would have been more than willing to give that information to its broadcast partner. Remember, not everyone is on Twitter. A large number of NASCAR’s younger fans are, but not necessarily those that watch on FOX. As a result, a number of fans were surprised that the race started when it did. Saturday was likely worse with the channel change from FOX to FOX Sports 2.
With the ever-present precipitation never all that far away, the action we did get on Sunday was rather furious.
Pit strategy was big on Sunday and FOX was pretty good at explaining everything that went on down there in the pits. In addition, Jamie Little spent some time talking about the new rule that requires nitrogen gas for the air guns. Thankfully, that’s cut down on some of the failures that plagued the early part of the year.
As you know, the race ended under caution due to the rain. Given the time of day, it didn’t take long before NASCAR called the race Once that was done, viewers only got three interviews before FOX left to get to its prime-time programming.
The move was not shocking in the least since there were only 45 minutes remaining in the race’s timeslot when it started. It was nearly 7 p.m. when the race was called.
FOX did well in covering the on-track action but still hurt itself by continuing to give Waltrip such a high-profile role.
Friday night brought the Truck Series back to Texas Motor Speedway for its 41st visit to the 1.5-mile quad-oval. The race was quite interesting, but FOX Sports 1 brought its own quirks to the evening.
First of all, there was one full hour of pre-race coverage, which almost never happens. Here, there were two primary features. The first of which was a piece on Ben Kennedy, who used to race in the series, but now serves as the general manager. We learn here that Kennedy was always interested in the management side of NASCAR from an early age, even while he was harboring intentions to race. A number of other drivers, including former teammate Johnny Sauter touted his knowledge and how he brings a lot of ideas to the table.
Jeff Hammond compared and contrasted his background to that of NASCAR CEO Brian France. France worked as a NASCAR Official in varying capacities. For instance, in 1993, he was NASCAR’s Vice President of Marketing. Here he is talking to Dr. Jerry Punch about a new program.
Later on, he ran Tucson Raceway Park (now Tucson Speedway) during the years that the track hosted NASCAR Winter Heat, then helped to create the Truck Series.
While France could only bring the corporate viewpoint into running a series, Kennedy brings both the corporate viewpoint, the driver’s viewpoint and the owner’s viewpoint (remember, he was more or less an owner-driver in the K&N Pro Series East). The consensus is that Kennedy’s involvement should be something to watch. We’ll have to see what it ultimately looks like.
The other was Todd Bodine’s time at Charlotte Motor Speedway with Jake Olson, the long-snapper from USC. This piece was teased during FOX Sports 1’s coverage from Charlotte during All-Star Weekend. The takeaway here is that Olson may be blind, but he doesn’t let it define him.
By all indications, he appeared to have the time of his life with Bodine driving him around in one of Ken Schrader’s old trucks. Later, with Bodine’s coaching, Olson drove around Charlotte Motor Speedway in a Toyota at speeds of up to 70 mph. It’s not unheard of for a blind driver to drive on a race track in an exhibition event with a sighted guide. In 2007, Albany, N.Y. classic rock radio station PYX 106 held the Eye Rock 500 at Lebanon Valley Speedway that featured a number of drivers with similar conditions to Olson. Car and Driver entered a Volvo 740 and wrote about it. It was…a thing. I believe that was the only time it was held at Lebanon Valley.
The end of the piece showed something that previewed the rest of the evening. They cut to Bodine to get additional thoughts about Olson. Viewers saw Bodine in front of a screen with the FOX Sports 1 logo on it. It was at that point that I realized that the booth commentators did not make the trip to Texas. Granted, this was not as egregious as FOX Sports 1 not letting Kevin Lee and Phil Parsons call the General Tire 150 ARCA race from the track (they called it from FOX Sports 1’s building eight miles away), but it deflated me. It takes away from the broadcast to not have the commentators on site.
If you don’t go to the track, you cannot truly get the pulse of everything going on. That can result in some rather nasty broadcasts. Anyone who watched the General Tire 150 would likely agree with that. Quite simply, that broadcast was rough for a number of reasons.
Thankfully, Friday night’s truck race wasn’t anywhere near as bad as that. Viewers got a good amount of action for position. In addition, the commentators seemed to be fairly well in touch with what was going on.
Having said that, they were still a little slow on the uptake at times. An example of that was when Jordan Anderson smacked the wall just after a late restart. Viewers could see the contact on the speed shot camera, but there was no reference to the wall contact for a couple of laps. Only once cameras zoomed in on Anderson putting down the backstretch with smoke billowing from the Chevrolet was it noted that he smacked the wall (while running a stout 12th at the time).
I cannot vouch whether or not this was the case for everyone, but the video was rather choppy at times during the race Friday night for me. It came and went. Every now and then, the feed would slow down. Strange.
With no Waltrip in the booth, Bodine took his place there. I would be in favor of Bodine taking that spot full-time. He’s very knowledgeable about the series, having made 220 starts and won two championships. He knows what really works and can convey that to viewers. Quite honestly, he’s underutilized at FOX Sports 1.
For a good chunk of the broadcast, Stewart Friesen’s performance was a common topic. The consensus is that he’s going to win sometime soon. He won’t need to depend on spanking everyone at Eldora to make the playoffs, but he’s getting frustrated these days with coming so close.
Another instance that actually resulted in booth disagreement was the Dalton Sargeant–Myatt Snider–Jennifer Jo Cobb crash. Basically, neither Parsons or Bodine could agree as to who was at fault. You be the judge.
Post-race coverage was a little more substantial than what viewers got on Sunday. FOX Sports 1 aired three post-race interview, results and some analysis before leaving for MLB Whiparound. Nothing special, but they did try to wrap up what they could.
Overall, Friday night’s PPG 400 was an enjoyable race to watch. The race very well could have been very different had there not been two cautions in the final 15 laps, but you can’t do anything about that. Not having the commentators on-site does cause a disconnect, no matter the budget involved. Going forward, I would greatly prefer that FOX Sports 1 make sure their booth commentators are on-site at a bare minimum.
That’s all for this week. Father’s Day weekend is the second off-week of the season for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams.
Just because Cup is off doesn’t mean that there isn’t any racing. The biggest sports car race of the year is this weekend. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is scheduled to go green at 9 a.m. EDT Saturday and the race will air live on Velocity.
Back here in the United States, the XFINITY and Camping World Truck series will be in action at Iowa Speedway for a couple of standalone events. For XFINITY teams, it is the first standalone race of the year (if you don’t count the Dash 4 Cash races). Finally, the ARCA Racing Series will be back in action at Madison International Speedway. We will provide critiques of the Camping World Truck and XFINITY races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.
For the Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch newsletter, we’ll cover Saturday’s rain-shortened LTi Printing 250. Was the package up to snuff, or did it take the skill out of the race? Find out on Thursday.
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