The revamped ISM Raceway brought a number of new elements to the package. For one, there is a Modern Margarita stand just outside of Victory Lane. Also, the place was so full of locked gates that the Camping World Truck Series Championship 4 drivers couldn’t get to the Media Center for their press conference Friday night.
#NASCAR … @NoahGragson, @JohnnySauter and @Justin_Haley_ locked out from media center and had to wait on @ISMRaceway security to let them through gate after the Truck race pic.twitter.com/zASohmULP1
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) November 10, 2018
Yeah, that is clearly not going to work. But you know what else needed work this weekend? All of TV’s three NASCAR broadcasts from Phoenix.
Sunday afternoon saw the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series settle things in front of a sellout crowd at ISM Raceway. Unlike the other two races, tire issues came into play. Despite three nasty crashes caused by punctures, that wasn’t the biggest TV story of the day.
Naturally, the biggest story of the day was the playoff cutoff. Then again, you probably knew that going in. What I wasn’t expecting was the degree in which the playoffs usurped live racing.
For example, late in the race, it was a free-for-all at the front of the field. Kyle Larson made a daring three-wide move to the inside entering Turn 1 to snag third place. It was an excellent move. Was it noticed on NBC? Yes, it was caught on the cameras (barely), but the booth was all in on the various travails of Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola. Yes, we know that they were trying to get into the Championship 4. That fact should not get in the way of good racing, wherever it is. Earlier in the race, it was all Harvick and Chase Elliott and how the points would change depending on who was leading.
It is stuff like that that drives me nuts when it comes to playoff time. You can’t just pretend non-playoff drivers don’t exist. The split-screen setup is at your disposal. By all means, make prodigious use of it.
That said, Sunday’s broadcast was not completely playoff-centered (thankfully). Viewers got a good amount of racing for position during the race, be it between those in the playoffs, or out of the playoffs.
A repeated theme during the race was the idea of having to “Face your Morals.” Essentially, the question here was “What would you do to get into the Championship 4?” I have no problem with how NBC presented the scenario (despite the fact that it seemed like overkill at times). I just have a problem with the scenario itself. It’s created a situation where you cannot win fair and square unless you’re significantly better than everyone else. The scenario is clearly intentional on the part of NASCAR. They want people to be pushed to the edge. It’s arguable that that approach can lead to a bunch of other problems that have nothing to do with the racing.
Based on the calculations I’ve done this year (available in our Newsletter), there wouldn’t be too much excitement at Homestead if there weren’t a playoff. Kyle Busch would be entering the race with a 55-point lead. He could have clinched the title by finishing Stage No. 1 in fifth or better. Having said that, had the penalty to Harvick not happened, it would be a different story (they were tied after Texas, pre-penalty).
Speaking of the tires, it was fairly unclear on Sunday what was causing the failures. On the broadcast, Clint Bowyer noted (in his interview) that cutting the dogleg may be playing a role. That’s possible. Another possible cause that was broached was teams running low air pressure, which is a weekly thing. Let’s just say that the only time the recommended air pressures from Goodyear come into play is when real shenanigans start going down. I know that many of you can think of examples of those situations in your head.
Another role that really wasn’t mentioned is the fact that NASCAR has really cut down on debris cautions over the past couple of years unless it was blatantly obvious. That appears to be a reaction to fans decrying “mystery cautions.” It’s a similar argument to what caused the Damaged Vehicle Policy to be enacted. I’ve never had a problem with debris cautions. I just want proof as to what the debris is. That said, a cut in the number of debris cautions can lead to an increase in actual factual debris being on the track. What I do think caused the issues? My guess is that the cutting across on low air pressure probably did for the left rear failures. For Harvick, I’m not sure. Probably a basic puncture. None of those issues were the fault of Goodyear.
The situation surrounding Kurt Busch’s one-lap penalty was covered decently. Yes, you are allowed to pass the pace car on pit road, but only after you have entered pit road and dropped down to pit road speed. You can’t pass entering the pit, which is what Kurt Busch did. NBC showed a replay that clearly showed that the No. 41 accelerated in order to get a gap on those cars behind. In the process, Kurt passed the pace car, which is a no-no.
Post-race coverage was about average for playoff time, but those who only watched on NBC did not get much. Due to the late red flags, coverage shifted to NBCSN after Kyle Busch’s start-finish line interview with Rutledge Wood. Given the schedule, anything after 6 p.m. EDT would have simulcast on NBCSN.
Once on NBCSN, viewers got a decent amount of post-race coverage featuring playoff contenders and non-playoff contenders. It was ultimately quite comprehensive.
Overall, Sunday’s coverage was clearly influenced by the cutoff nature of the race. There were times where the playoffs overshadowed the race itself. Other points of the event, it was not so bad. These races have more meaning than just the playoffs.
Whelen Trusted to Perform 200
Saturday saw the XFINITY Series take on the one-mile tri-oval for 200 miles of action. Recent races have struggled to get going due to issues at the start. That wasn’t quite as bad this week, unless your name is Akinori Ogata.
The big story this week was the ongoing issues with Christopher Bell. Coming into Phoenix, he had crashed the previous two weeks in a row and had fallen way out of position to advance to the Championship 4. Then, he flunked pre-qualifying inspection thrice and lost his car chief for the day. That put him back in 38th starting spot.
The main story of Saturday’s broadcast appeared to be what Bell could do with his spot. That isn’t to say that NBC gave Bell all the coverage at the expense of the rest of the action, but there was a significant focus on Bell’s activity. Had Bell made it through inspection and actually set a lap in qualifying, the race itself likely would have been different. Would it have been exciting? I’m unsure.
Early on, there was a nice duel going on between Justin Allgaier and John Hunter Nemechek while Bell charged up from the rear. There was decent racing to be had on-track, but not much at the front. Once Allgaier got past Nemechek, it was pretty staid at the front.
Likely the most exciting part of Saturday’s race was the Lap 145 near-wreck involving Allgaier, Nemechek and Tyler Reddick. Yes, the caution was just about to come out for Ty Majeski’s spin, but the contact between Reddick and Allgaier was ultimately more significant to the race. This was definitely a place for a split-screen. Heck, Nemechek and Allgaier were lucky that they didn’t outright wreck right there themselves.
Regardless, that contact ended any chance of Allgaier advancing, despite having either the best car out there, or the second-best. The coverage showed that the JR Motorsports crew made repairs to the car, but I’m not 100 percent sure how the tape ultimately covered up the brake ducts so that the brakes burst into flames. I’m pretty sure that was not the team’s intention. My guess is that Allgaier had additional contact that further damaged the car that we did not see.
Regardless, with just over 20 laps to go, the brakes took a permanent vacation. Watching that action, I’m not only surprised that a caution wasn’t thrown. I’m surprised NASCAR didn’t give Allgaier the black flag once the car caught on fire due to being a safety hazard.
Post-race coverage was actually quite thin since the race ended right up against the end of the scheduled time slot. Viewers got two interviews with Bell (start-finish line and Victory Lane), along with one with Daniel Hemric. Aside from a quick check of who else qualified for the Championship 4 (Reddick and Cole Custer), that was pretty much it from Phoenix.
Effectively, Bell was the show on Saturday. Once he got the lead on Lap 108, it was all but over. Honestly, this was likely the most boring of the three races last weekend. I felt that NBC did ok broadcasting the race, but the race itself really didn’t provide all that much to whet viewers’ appetites. That happens sometimes. Heck, by recent standards, the race was slightly more competitive than normal since a number of those races see one driver (often Kyle Busch) dominate.
Lucas Oil 150
Friday night saw the Camping World Truck Series return to ISM Raceway for their 24th consecutive year. From the series’ inaugural season as the NASCAR SuperTruck Series by Craftsman, only three tracks remain and only two of them have been visited every season. ISM Raceway is one of them, but this race was very interesting.
Early on, there were some technical issues to deal with. Namely, audio issues. As usual, I never know if this is just me or if everyone dealt with it, so by all means, share your experiences. From what I could tell, all of NASCAR RaceDay – CWTS Edition was peppered with audio drop-outs. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to it. That made things a little difficult to follow at times. Thankfully, that went away by the time the green flag flew.
During the race, there were scoring issues as well. The FOX scoring pylon froze almost immediately, forcing viewers to go without an order on-screen for the first few laps. Something similar appeared to happen during the Cup race on Sunday, but it lasted for the entire first segment of the race. Perhaps there were some teething issues with the new equipment in place at ISM Raceway (meaning, it was possibly an issue beyond the control of the TV compound).
The race itself was far cleaner than last year’s affair, where a grand total of 14 trucks managed to finish the 150-mile race. That said, it was very exciting at times. I was surprised to see the sheer amount of side-by-side racing. Brett Moffitt and Stewart Friesen were very willing to go way below the white line in Turns 1 and 2. Given that this was the only one of the three races run at night, the cooler temperatures may have allowed movement in the opposite direction as compared to Sunday.
Much like on Saturday, Nemechek was one of the strongest drivers. Despite having to use a two-tire strategy to get the lead, he was able to hold off Grant Enfinger, Noah Gragson and others to keep the lead.
Then, Nemechek apparently cut a right rear tire and spun out of the lead. The booth seemed to think that the tire was still up at the time of the spin, but it was really hard to tell. The grinding back to the pits apparently caused a bunch of suspension damage that put him out for the night. While that was hypothesized by the booth while Nemechek was driving back, they never actually confirmed whether that was the case. You just didn’t see Nemechek anymore for the rest of the night.
Also of note, the race was red-flagged during that caution for a bunch of oil being laid down by Justin Haley. According to the team, it was an oil line that did him in.
— GMS Racing (@GMSRacingLLC) November 10, 2018
I don’t recall that actually being mentioned on-air. FOX Sports 1 did show Haley’s truck being pushed back to the garage and a pool of fluid in their pit. Still have no idea how that happened or when it happened.
The racing late in the event was just excellent and FOX Sports 1 did a good job in bringing that action to the viewers. Moffitt more or less was going to race his way into the Championship 4 on points, but managed to put an exclamation point on a very interesting year.
The ongoing mess with the NT1 and “open” motors continued in Phoenix as Hattori Racing Enterprises broke out the open motor once again. This is after they felt that they were forced to switch due to a very quiet rule change. On the broadcast, it was quickly apparent that FOX Sports 1 wasn’t expecting anyone to run an open motor as the telemetry was off all night in regards to revs. In addition, there was no attempt to show the effects of shifting on revs, something that was important since Moffitt was shifting four times a lap.
In regards to the spat, I’m used to this kind of thing since there’s constant talk about “Balance of Performance” (BoP) in sports car racing and that’s the situation you have here. Problem is, NASCAR is generally only willing to do it for a short period of time. In the past, this was the case with body styles. The way they would convince teams to ditch older bodies was by quietly instituting a rule change that would make the older style uncompetitive (before it became ineligible), like requiring additional spoiler height. That’s more or less what appears to have happened.
Post-race coverage was about average. FOX Sports 1 brought viewers a few interviews from a couple top finishers and the two drivers (Enfinger and Matt Crafton) that got eliminated from the playoffs.
Ultimately, there was a lot of action on Friday night and FOX Sports 1 did well in covering the event. I enjoyed the action and I hope those that were present in Avondale had fun.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is Ford Championship Weekend in Homestead. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series champions will be decided. Also, the FIA World Endurance Championship returns to action in China. TV Listings are in the Television tab.
Since I will be in Homestead for the races this weekend, the plans for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday are up in the air. I currently plan to return from Florida Monday afternoon. The current plan is for there to be a critique column next week here at Frontstretch. It just might not be Tuesday.
For the Critic’s Annex, I plan on taking a look at IMSA’s broadcast of Sunday afternoon’s Michelin SportsCar Encore from Sebring International Raceway. The race was streamed live at IMSA.com and on IMSA’s Facebook page. We have a recap of the event on the site.
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