Speedweeks is now complete. You ended up with three very different races at Daytona International Speedway. Some of it was enjoyable, some not so much. Regardless, we have a number of different things to look at this week.
The good news coming out of the event dubbed The Great American Race by Ken Squier, is that the overnight ratings are up eight percent. Swell. I’m happy that more eyeballs watched the race. With the combination of NASCAR RaceDay with the race coverage, there were nine hours of live Daytona 500 coverage. Overkill? You betcha. Then again, it was also 4.5 hours between the start of the race and the checkered flag.
Knowing that the race ended in a Joe Gibbs Racing 1-2-3, the idea of the JGR organization getting a fair amount of coverage during the day did make some sense, in hindsight. On NASCAR RaceDay, there was a special feature where drivers that both have or havenʻt driven for JGR gave their memories of JD Gibbs. In addition, Joe Gibbs talked to Lindsay Czarniak about JD being the impetus for the creation of Joe Gibbs Racing in the first place (remember, at the time the team was formed, Joe Gibbs was the head coach of the Washington Redskins and the team’s first race was three weeks after the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI).
A lot of fans don’t realize that JD Gibbs raced himself. He ran late models in the Southeast back in the 1990s before advancing up to the then-Busch Grand National Series. He started five races there, four of which in a Carolina Turkey-sponsored entry that was the basis for the throwback car Denny Hamlin raced in the Xfinity Series race last September at Darlington (the one you might remember being voted as the ugliest scheme of 2018). He then split a Truck Series ride with his brother Coy for a couple of years.
The whole feature on JD Gibbs was well done.
Clearly, Joe Gibbs is still grieving, though. Giving tribute to JD on Lap 11 was a great gesture and you could tell that Joe Gibbs was touched by it.
As compared to normal races, there appeared to be a bit more in the way of explanations of things. Not so much with the virtual car, although that did get some usage, but more with the procedural aspects of the race. Much of that is likely because of the fact that the Daytona 500 gets the biggest audience of the year for any race. Thankfully, it was not too distracting.
The overall production of the race was excellent. My main production gripe was when Kyle Larson cut his left rear tire and spun on Lap 181. FOX had a great shot of it, then switched away. They effectively missed the crash live when it was all but right in front of them. Not great.
Since the race went long by nearly an hour, there wasn’t much time for post-race coverage. Viewers got two Hamlin interviews – although the second one in Victory Lane went sideways quickly due to a technical issue that forced the booth to do the interview. The lack of post-race coverage meant that deserving drivers such as Michael McDowell didn’t get their proper due.
One of the more interesting TV-related tweets I saw about the race on Sunday came from Shane Huffman, who briefly drove for JR Motorsports in 2007 and 2008 before transitioning to a career as a crew chief in ARCA and the now-Gander Outdoors Truck Series, most recently with MDM Motorsports. At the end of the race, he posted this tweet.
Man I def don’t wanna say this cause I have a lot of respect for the man, but Darrell Waltip’s time has come & gone, Fox needs to make a change, watching these Fox races are painful and it kills me to say that cause our sport doesn’t need that but a change is needed @ Atlanta imo
— Shane Huffman (@HuffdaddyShane) February 17, 2019
Honestly, I do not like advocating for firings in this column, especially when I started writing it since we were in the middle of the Great Recession at the time. That said, Huffman makes some decent points here and in subsequent tweets where he further explains himself. When Darrell first joined the broadcast in 2001, he was a breath of fresh air. Former FOX Sports president David Hill told him that he needed to explain to viewers why things happen in NASCAR. He took that to heart when he first started.
Darrell was excellent in the booth for his first couple of years, bringing a very different perspective to television. Now, his offerings have dropped off. Today, he’s probably best known for his Boogitys and seemingly dominating broadcasts, while not really offering all that much to viewers.
Huffman advocated dumping Darrell immediately in his tweet. Given contractual obligations, that would be messy and expensive. That said at this point, having Darrell in the booth doesn’t give a ratings boost anymore.
With the recent hiring spree that FOX Sports has gone on, they currently have what amounts to an embarrassment of riches when it comes to on-air talent. They still have Larry McReynolds who they could easily plug back into the regular booth. They also have Ricky Craven, who did very well on then-Nationwide Series broadcasts for ESPN. They have just added Jamie McMurray, who hung up his helmet and done well in his brief appearances. Huffman seems to like Regan Smith, who did the Iowa 250 presented by Enogen Xfinity Series race at Iowa race in the booth last year.
If they wanted to really make a splash and venture into the unknown, they could even promote Jamie Little from the pits. She’s worked on practice broadcasts in the booth in the past but hasn’t really commentated on a race in the booth that I can remember. Honestly, if Darrell Waltrip left FOX Sports tomorrow, they have half a dozen different people already on the payroll that could easily replace him.
Do I expect FOX Sports to make such a move? Heck no. They love Darrell. Unless you become an outright PR disaster due to some off-track instance, the threshold is pretty high for an on-air personality to get dumped mid-season. Marty Reid got fired from ESPN in 2013 after a series of screw-ups, capped off by messing up the lap count during the standalone Xfinity race at Kentucky in September of that year.
Regardless, it’s worth keeping an eye on Darrell during the FOX Sports portion of the season, not just for how he works with Jeff Gordon and Mike Joy, but what he truly brings to the broadcast. If he can’t provide more than “Golly” and “Geez” like he’s the late Jim Nabors on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., then we’ll have to revisit it. For the last crash that set up the Green-White-Checker, he described the wreck thusly: “I’d like to be able to explain all this to you, but there really isn’t any explanation for it.” Of course, there is! Even if it’s as simple as staying that the drivers got too aggressive, you have to say something of consequence there.
NASCAR Racing Experience 300
Before we get into the Xfinity Series race itself, FOX Sports announced their full lineup of guest analysts Thursday (Feb. 14) for their 2019 Xfinity Series broadcasts. There are a number of returning drivers (the previously announced Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, etc.), along with some new analysts (Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, Darrell Wallace Jr.).
Kevin Harvick has expanded his role beyond that of a guest analyst. He’s now going to serve as a regular analyst on seven races, starting this weekend at Atlanta. Michael Waltrip will appear on only six Xfinity broadcasts this season, including this past Saturday.
The move is a solid one in that Harvick is a far better analyst than Waltrip. He also doesn’t come to the broadcast with the same bias issues or ridiculous schtick that we’ve come to expect out of Waltrip. Obviously, Harvick cares about how well he does in the booth because he actually takes the time to prepare for his job. However, you don’t see the surliness that you sometimes get out of him because the stakes aren’t quite as high.
Finally, the Drivers Only broadcast returns for the third year in a row. This time, it will be at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.
By any measure, Saturday’s race was the most boring of the three. You had the freight train in motion, something that everyone feared would be the norm on Sunday. Michael Annett winning, under those circumstances, does not shock me at all. When Annett was in ARCA, he dominated a couple of plate races in a Pilot Travel Centers-sponsored Toyota. Everyone was glued to the yellow line back then as opposed to the wall, but the strategy was similar.
There was a near-complete lack of action in the race and FOX Sports 1 really didn’t do much to make the race exciting. Also, they never took their eyes off the front of the field. For most of the race, only about 13-18 cars could even stay in the lead pack. Yes, there were some underdogs like Ryan Sieg and Caesar Bacarella, but these were mostly strong drivers from strong teams.
Logano was the guest analyst for the day and really wasn’t given much to work with, to be honest. He chipped in when he could, but where there really isn’t much to talk about, there’s only so much you can do.
Since the race had so little action, there was plenty of post-race coverage. Viewers got more than 10 post-race interviews. I honestly believe that a number of fans turned the coverage off before it was over because I saw a bunch of people ranting on Twitter that Sieg hadn’t gotten his proper due. They did, in fact, interview Sieg after the race.
NextEra Energy Resources 250
Friday night saw the season debut for the newly-dubbed Gander Outdoors Truck Series. While the change here is really not much more than SprintNextel switching the Cup Series from NEXTEL to Sprint in 2008, Gander Outdoors went all out. By all indications, Marcus Lemonis is putting his money where his mouth is this season with the new Triple Truck Challenge and $10,000 bonuses for race winners. I’m unsure of what winner’s checks are these days in the series, but for many races, adding $10,000 to the winners’ share of the purse is likely a significant bump.
FOX Sports made a couple of changes to their on-air staff for this year. Kaitlyn Vincie is now Charlotte-based as host of NASCAR RaceDay – NGOTS Edition. Terrible name for the show, but that’s more or less outside of FOX Sports 1’s control. That said, I have no worries about Vincie. She’s had years of experience working on NASCAR RaceHub and did just fine on Friday night with Todd Bodine and Jeff Hammond.
In addition to hosting NASCAR RaceDay – NGOTS Edition, Vincie also conducted a one-on-one interview with defending series champion Brett Moffitt. Here, the topics included the championship last year with Hattori Racing Enterprises, the ongoing funding issues that ultimately resulted in his release from the team and more.
Last year, the team put up a front and tried to play like these issues either weren’t affecting them at all. Based on Vincie’s interview, the money issues likely permeated the very fabric of the team’s existence. Moffitt came off as a bit frustrated with the experience, but understanding. It’s hard not to get frustrated when you effectively get kicked in the family jewels right after winning the title.
A number of race fans tried to make out Austin Hill to be nothing more than a pay driver, using his big bucks to score a top ride, essentially like Jean-Denis Délétraz back in the mid-1990s in Formula 1. While he likely did bring some backing to the team, the Chiba Toyopet sponsorship on the truck Friday night (a Toyota dealership in Japan, I believe) was acquired by team owner Shigeaki Hattori. Obviously, Hill at least had some luck on his side as he avoided the wrecks to win.
Also, Jamie Howe made her NASCAR debut as a pit reporter. In my case, I’m used to seeing her on broadcasts since she’s worked the pits on sports car broadcasts for years. The environment’s different for her and that means a slight learning curve. I have no reason to believe that she won’t work out fine.
The opening couple of laps of the race were a mess. I’m a bit unclear as to the order of what happened. Bryan Dauzat hit the wall in Turn 1 on Lap 2 and took Robby Lyons with him. Then, DGR-CROSLEY teammates David Gilliland and Natalie Decker both cut left front tires. Gilliland was ahead of Dauzat at the time of his crash. Decker qualified 11th, but apparently chose to voluntarily drop to the rear.
It appeared that the cut tires were caused by either the trucks bottoming out so much due to qualifying on race setups, or that the track wasn’t fully clean prior to the race. If it was the latter, the dudes in Daytona had plenty of time to take care of that between qualifying and the race. Regardless, it looked bad and viewers never really got an idea of what was going on.
There were some aspects of the on-track issues that were covered well. The crashes were pretty comprehensively covered. Having said that, there was some frustration that began to creep in.
I’ve already touched on the tire issues. An exception to that rule was Harrison Burton pitting as the green came out on Lap 8 with a cut tire. We got a good shot of the cut fairly quickly there.
Before he was eliminated in a crash on Lap 28, Tyler Dippel had dropped multiple laps down. It was never discussed on the broadcast (other than to note that he was a couple of laps off the pace), but it was due to an engine issue. This was noted on his Twitter feed, but I cannot link to that. Sometime after the race, Dippel’s Twitter was hacked and previous posts erased. His account is currently suspended as a result.
During the races from time to time, we’ll discuss the event on our Slack feed (a site where co-workers can communicate with each other). A number of my colleagues noted that the booth was being a little hard on Cory Roper. Roper had an excellent first half of the race and had put his No. 04 Ford squarely in contention. However, his truck was unstable as heck. As a result, there was a bunch of commentary making note of it. While it seemed like they were picking on Roper to a certain degree, there’s a reason why that was said. In a restrictor plate race where vehicles are separated by small distances, stability is key. Roper simply didn’t have it and it ultimately came back to bite him. It’s sad, but the whole thing ended up being justified.
Post-race coverage was relatively short since the broadcast had already run long by more than 15 minutes. Viewers got interviews with Hill, along with ThorSport Racing teammates Matt Crafton and Grant Enfinger after the race. That was it before FS1 left for the premiere of The Adventures of Janet Guthrie (which was decent and I highly recommend the book that is referenced in it).
Generally speaking, this race was a mess. Then again, that wasn’t FOX Sports 1’s fault. It was the fault of the drivers being impatient as heck. Regardless, you came out of the race with some interesting stories. Angela Ruch scoring a top 10 finish despite an engine problem and an apparent complete inability to save fuel.
From the @Angela__Ruch radio – she's inside the top 5 – frantic because she literally doesn't know how to save fuel. The crew had to eventually abandon the idea.
— Frontstretch (@Frontstretch) February 16, 2019
Niece Motorsports walking out of Daytona with two top 10s. Spencer Boyd earning his first top 15 finish in any NASCAR series.
Broadcast-wise, the broadcast seemed decent. The new pieces in new places worked out just fine. What FOX Sports 1 needs to work on for Atlanta is to be more inclusive and be able to answer more questions that viewers might pose? Why were these failures happening a minute into the race? Why did the crewmember on Decker’s team get a nice spray of flame-retardant material to the face? What happened with Ruch’s engine? That was never fully explained on the broadcast. I just don’t like unanswered questions and I feel that other race fans are similar.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, all three of NASCAR’s National Series make the roughly seven-hour haul up to Atlanta Motor Speedway for 950 miles of racing. The weather Friday is forecast to be dicey, but Saturday and Sunday look decent. There’s a bunch of unknowns for the Cup race. I’ll spare you the Press Your Luck-based explanation to refute whether or not I would notice slower speeds with the new rules. TV Listings are in the Television tab above.
I will provide critiques of the Cup, Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter Thursday, we’ll cover Unrivaled: Earnhardt vs. Gordon. It’s self-explanatory what that’s about. It premiered after the Gander RV Duels Thursday night to an audience of over 800 thousand viewers. Generally speaking, it’s been well-received to this point.
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