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(Photo: Christian Koelle)

Couch Potato Tuesday: Off-Site NASCAR Commentator Issue Continues For FOX

For NASCAR’s XFINITY Series, getting away from its big brother, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, for a weekend helps establish a separate identity.  The division becomes more than just “Cup Lite.”

Unfortunately, as we’ve seen recently, creating a standalone event comes at a cost; a serious cutback in television production value and support.

Iowa 250 presented by Enogen

Last week, we talked about how FOX Sports had the broadcast booth for the PPG 400k in Charlotte and how you miss out on things if you’re not on the premises.  For Iowa, neither of the broadcast teams made the trip.  Only two pit reporters (Hermie Sadler and Kaitlyn Vincie, who normally work Truck races) were in Iowa.

No matter where the announcers were, there was a hot race on Sunday.  In more ways than one.

During NASCAR RaceDay – CWTS Edition, the primary feature was a sit-down interview that Vincie conducted with John Hunter Nemechek.  Here, Nemechek talked about his struggles with funding last year that nearly ended his season early.  His relationship with his father Joe was also touched upon.

Knowing that the piece was so focused on Nemechek’s time in the Camping World Truck Series, it seemed rather out of place here.  That’s despite the fact that Nemechek was in the race on Sunday.  Regardless, it was an interesting look at the man young enough that his birth was noted on Jayski.

During the race, Nemechek ran fairly well.  Then, he made a green-flag pit stop on lap 170, roughly 20-25 laps early.  It was treated on FOX Sports 1 like a regular pit stop, but it was anything but.

This major league baseball-sized blister is why Nemechek pitted out of turn.  That ultimately screwed up his race when Chad Finchum hit the wall and brought the caution out right before the leaders would have stopped.  There was never any mention of this tire issue on the broadcast.  Found out about it after the race when Nemechek posted the above picture on his Twitter and Instagram.

Racing-wise, there was a good amount of side-by-side action on Sunday.  The restarts were basically scrums, for lack of better terminology.  Even once you got way into a run, it was still possible to run side-by-side.  It was relatively difficult to pass, but not impossible.  It was likely an enjoyable race to watch, but uncomfortable because of the heat.

Sunday saw the “booth” debut of Regan Smith, something that I had been aware of for months.  Smith has primarily worked in the pits this year and done quite well with it.  In the booth, Smith appears to be a work in progress.  However, that’s not his fault.  He’s working with Michael Waltrip as his fellow analyst.  It can be hard to get a word in edgewise.  However, Smith’s shown from his work in the pits that he’s a quick study.  He likely won’t get another chance in the booth this year due to scheduling, but there’s no reason to believe that he cannot improve.

Speaking of Waltrip, he did not distinguish himself last weekend.  It appears that the vitriol sent his way is starting to get to him, though.  Following the race, he tweeted this:

What happened that resulted in him receiving more hatred than normal?  He stated during the broadcast that Ty Majeski got to where he is because of iRacing.    While I’m sure iRacing has played a role in Majeski’s development, he’s not in the XFINITY Series just because he got good racing on his computer.  iRacing doesn’t really have the equivalent of GT Academy yet.

Personally, I always considered iRacing to be more of a sponsor for Majeski than anything else.  Of course, that could be what Waltrip was trying to say and it came out wrong.

While he’s spent some time on iRacing, he got where he is through skill on real racetracks.  He has a record on Midwestern short tracks in late models that is nearly unparalleled among current young racers.  Those performances got the attention of Ford and Roush Fenway Racing.  The only reason Majeski hasn’t done better in the XFINITY Series is because he keeps getting wrecked.

Outside of the XFINITY Series, Majeski has shown his versatility with time in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.  Driving a Ford Mustang GT4 alongside Cole Custer and Scott Maxwell, Majeski ran very competitively and finished third overall at Daytona back in January.  I chronicled that experience earlier this year for Frontstretch.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief since the race ended up against the end of the timeslot.  Viewers got interviews with winner Justin Allgaier and runner-up Christopher Bell, in addition to a point check before FOX Sports 1 left Iowa.

Remember that this race was the final XFINITY Series race of the season for FOX Sports.  After a week off, the NBC Sports portion of the season starts at Chicagoland Speedway.  Prior to the race, there was a montage of features that were put together this season (the Wedding Crashers one with Adam Alexander as Todd Cleary was just strange), but that was about it for a remembrance of the season.

Since the FOX portion of the year for the XFINITY Series is now over, we must look back.  Ultimately, FOX Sports has made their XFINITY broadcasts all about the guest analysts, for better or worse.  As has been mentioned multiple times this year, they can really change the tone of a broadcast.  It’s a sink or swim situation.  The best guest analysts seem to be the ones that can roll with the punches and contribute in their own way.  That’s the category for Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and the dark horse Jamie McMurray.

Clint Bowyer is more or less in a class of his own.  His personality can take over a broadcast, but he’s not intrusive.  Some of the other drivers like Austin Dillon are weaker, but they’re still stronger than what Danica Patrick could do last year.

Patrick really seemed out of her element in the booth and it does make me wonder how well she’s going to do hosting the ESPYs next month.  Then again, she’ll have two things in her favor.  One, it’s going to be tightly written.  Not as much room for ad-libbing.  ESPN probably still has nightmares about the time they let Norm MacDonald host.  Two, it’ll only be her up there.  She won’t have to worry about someone barging in on her.

Ideally, I’d prefer that XFINITY broadcasts weren’t all about guests.  I’d rather that it be more about the racing.  You got that on Sunday with Regan Smith since (even though he’s won in Cup) he’s not a huge star.  He’s not putting on airs.  The only contest he’s winning these days in NASCAR is “bluest eyes in the garage.”  He really doesn’t have to worry about sponsors and only has to concern himself with his work.

M&M’s 200 presented by Casey’s General Store

Saturday evening saw the Camping World Truck Series teams take on Iowa Speedway for 200 laps.  It was an interesting night, complete with an incredible divebomb move on the last lap from Noah Gragson.

Despite being rather annoying, Waltrip can come up with decent reasoning for some of his proclamations.  His reasoning for picking Stewart Friesen to win the race despite having never raced at Iowa is one of those.  He noted that Friesen has an innate ability to adjust to different tracks and track conditions.  Having covered Friesen off and on over the past eight years, I’ve seen him race multiple types of dirt Modifieds and a sprint car (he drove in place of his wife Jessica Zemken in her sprint car when she was pregnant with their son, Parker).  He’s done well in everything that he’s driven.

The booth commentators did their best to hang in there with the race, but as I’ve previously noted, it’s just not the same if you’re not there.  They seemed a little slow at times to react to incidents.  Friesen catching the wall towards the end of Stage No. 1 is just one example of that.

In the case of Todd Gilliland, viewers outright never saw the incident that put him out.  It happened during a commercial break and we saw the truck go behind the wall.  No mention of a replay, although Phil Parsons did make note of a blown right front tire and the likelihood of previous damage causing it.

A similar instance occurred on Sunday in the XFINITY race when Elliott Sadler smacked the wall.  Viewers never got any kind of a replay of what happened.  However, we did get a shot of the puncture that put Sadler in the wall and the sway bar arm that was ground down as a result.

The big wreck involving Nemechek, Friesen, Matt Crafton and others brought back some memories.  By no means was the contact between Crafton and Friesen intentional, but the rubbing reminded me of Rick Carelli at Memphis in 1999.

Sadly, Carelli was never the same after this crash.  He was critically injured and sat out the rest of the season.  Team owner Marshall Chesrown left the series before the season ended.  Carelli returned to the trucks in 2000 for Phelon Racing and actually won at Richmond.  However, that was his final full-time season as a driver.  He competed in a total of slightly more than 30 more races after 2000 in seven different series.

The only apparent injury to Crafton was his pride on Saturday, but had the other drivers not been there, he could have taken a nasty hit into the SAFER Barrier.  He should be happy that he only needed to grouse after the wreck.

Since the race ran long, post-race coverage was squeezed.  Viewers got interviews with the top three finishers (Brett Moffitt, Gragson and Harrison Burton) along with a quick result check before leaving for Bristol.

Speaking of Gragson, he referenced his move as being similar to stuff he’s done with his friends in the game NASCAR The Game: Inside Line.  That’s about three or four NASCAR console games ago.  Not sure if the 704 Games dudes would like that much.  Here, he was tired as heck, but cordial.  During his press conference later on, he claimed that it was “hotter as Kaitlyn Vincie” out there.  Vincie took that in stride.

I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Gragson, but he strikes me as an interesting dude.  I like quirkiness since I am, by nature, quirky.

I sincerely hope that FOX Sports actually sends the booth commentators to the track for the rest of the season, but I’m not betting on it.  After Sonoma next weekend, they’re done with Cup for the year.  I wouldn’t be shocked if they send a skeleton crew to the remaining truck races and call all of them from Charlotte including Homestead.  That’s despite the fact that they’re hamstringing themselves by not having their people on-site.  They might have Kenny Wallace added to the crew at Eldora since he’s the resident dirt racing expert, but that might be it.  It’s sad to see, but cost cutting is likely here to stay.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns from their vacation to take on their first road course of the season.  The twisty Sonoma Raceway will see 110 laps of action Sunday.  The K&N Pro Series West will serve as primary support, but the race will air on television next week.

Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series travels to Gateway International Raceway for their annual visit.  This year, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards will serve as support.  Also, of note, the Verizon IndyCar Series will invade Road America along with Pirelli World Challenge, while Formula 1 makes their return to Paul Ricard for the first time since 1990.  TV Listings are in the listings page under the Television tab.

We will provide critiques of the Toyota/Save Mart 350k from Sonoma and the Villa Lighting Delivers the Eaton 200 from Gateway in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday.  The Critic’s Annex is currently undecided.  Might decide to talk a little bit about Velocity’s coverage from Le Mans.

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. Very good article. I enjoy Regan Smith’s work and that of Parker Kligerman and Landon Cassel on NBC Sports. Need some new faces and these 3 fill the bill. As far as Michael Waltrip goes, his goofiness is an insult to intelligent race fans and and having him on NASCAR broadcasts is equal to Pete Rose being on a MLB broadcast.

  2. Michael Waltrip being ‘restrained’ is a relative term. If he’s so upset by negative comments, perhaps he could consider mitigating his juvenile behavior and over the top commentary. However, was it really necessary to take one last dig at Danica Patrick? Seems like rather a low blow when she no longer has anything to do with Nascar. And, I’m not sure she was any worse than Austin Dillon in the booth. Unnecessary.

    • Maybe Waltrip wouldn’t be upset by negative comments if he was not covering Nascar Races. It should be someone who earned the right to be announcing a race instead of a having a no talent ,know nothing about racing,bold faced liar and cheater who single handedly managed to lose a major sponsor, was in a auto accident and who did not even have the stones to wait for police to come but went and hid in a pool house to avoid police. If his brother was not a notable driver,Waltrip would be bagging groceries at Piggly Wiggly ,from which he probably would have been fired from.As for Cantica, the less said the better.