For seemingly all of last week, much of the coverage surrounding NASCAR had to do with Kyle Busch’s quest for 200 wins in NASCAR’s National Series. Admittedly, this is more or less a made-up stat. I don’t recall any real discussion of this (outside of Nick Bromberg’s “what a time to be alive” Twitter posts that’s he’s done for most of the last year) until the last couple of weeks or so. Now, it’s everywhere and clearly affected the broadcast.
Given the ludicrously busy schedule last weekend, I watched the Production Alliance Group 300, but I didn’t watch the Production Alliance Group 300. In this case, that means that while I have seen the race, I don’t have the proper notes to do the broadcast justice (and there were quite a few technical issues on Saturday that need to be explained). As a result, I will cover the race in detail later this week in the Critic’s Annex.
Despite that, we must still bust the chops of the Associated Press for jumping the gun and posting an article at 6:20 p.m. EDT Saturday indicating that Busch had claimed his 200th NASCAR win. That was an hour before the race ended, dudes. Either someone clearly screwed up, or a technical issue occurred. Regardless, it gave plenty of fans on Twitter a good laugh.
Auto Club 400
Yes, the quest did play a significant role on the broadcast. During NASCAR RaceDay, Busch sat down and basically talked about himself without a reporter in the room interviewing him. His takeaway on his quest is that the whole thing seems to have built up by the media (meaning us). It’s not that he doesn’t care about the achievement (obviously, he does), but that it’s overblown. I agree with that statement. It’s looney tunes. I’d rather not write about it, but since it’s been such a big story over the past few weeks, I can’t skip it. Also, he’s apparently in agreement with Richard Petty over the whole scenario, but (as of when they shot the piece), he hadn’t talked to Richard about it.
Having said that, the whole quest for 200 was not my biggest takeaway from the piece. Instead, something else stood out. Kyle admitted that he has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way over the years. That has affected how he is perceived. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but in the past, Kyle wouldn’t have cared about it. It seems like he does now. He doesn’t believe that he’ll be considered an all-time great even though he thinks he could win 100 Cup races. This is a man who (after Sunday) is one win away from tying Lee Petty for 10th all-time in victories (Lee Petty has 54).
If what Kyle believes could go down actually happens, it would be similar to the current apparent anti-Smokey movement in the NASCAR Hall of Fame Nominating Committee. Ridiculous, but in the eyes of some, justified. What is more likely to happen is that the white-hot hatred of Kyle will diminish over time. That has likely already started and will continue as time goes by.
Personally, I’ve had very limited interaction with Kyle Busch in the past (I asked him a couple of questions in a post-race press conference in New Hampshire back in 2017). He didn’t antagonize me or anything like that. He was cordial. Yes, he had just won the ISM Connect 300, but he was far from a jerk. That said, I’m sure that he would have no clue who the deuce I am. I don’t get to Cup races that much and don’t exactly bring attention to myself.
The Busch show continued into the race itself. Kyle was clearly the story of the race, and for good reason. Not only was there constant talk about what he was going for, but he also kicked tail. He led 134 laps, and it would have been way more than that had he not gotten busted for speeding prior to the start of the final stage.
You would see cutaways to Kyle Busch fans in the stands from time to time, which is typically an intermittent thing, but happened way more. Apparently, the in-race mentions of Kyle were way outsized as compared to anyone else. Bit of a Kyle Busch overkill, if you will.
As for the rules package, I’m pretty sure that I know what NASCAR would really like to see at Auto Club Speedway. Remember the last INDYCAR race there back in 2015? The crowd was absolutely miserable, but the racing was insane in more ways than one. Steve Matchett dang near had a coronary with the crazy moves being put out there.
Did viewers get anything like that on Sunday? Maybe on the first lap or two after a restart, but otherwise no. That’s really what these rules have done this season. It really hasn’t resulted in much of an overall change in the racing. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone that would claim that Sunday’s race was that more exciting than previous Auto Club 400s. That said, the selling of the package continues.
There was something unusual on the technical side of the broadcast that I noticed Sunday. There were instances in which the broadcast could skip a bunch, repeat a brief section so that it sounded like the booth was echoing. I don’t know what was going on, but I can tell you that it made for a rather strange watch at times. I’d like to know if any of you experienced anything similar in the comments down below.
Outside of Busch’s quest, the biggest story coming out of the weekend was the ridiculousness that was pole qualifying on Friday. They even spoofed it at the beginning of NASCAR RaceDay. That looked silly with everyone stalling while waiting to get out of the Green Room, but that was supposed to look silly. The thing is that NASCAR wants stupid stuff to happen in qualifying. They want qualifying dust-ups to go viral and make SportsCenter like the one in Phoenix did. Honestly, I could care less about that.
Stuff like those stalling techniques is what I’ve feared with group qualifying since Day One. This has all but happened before in the Truck Series when Ryan Blaney claimed a pole at Michigan by being the only driver to set a time in the final round.
The whole situation was exasperating as heck. It’s not necessarily a black eye for the sport, but we can’t have that trash. The rules package is the only reason why this is even a thing right now. The best thing to do here would be to just go back to single-car qualifying, but that’s not exciting enough in NASCAR’s eyes. It’s been a long time since someone truly wrote off a car in Cup qualifying like what Caesar Bacarella did in Xfinity qualifying Saturday. In the 1990s, that was a somewhat irregular occurrence. Not every week, but a few times a season. Almost never happens now.
FOX Sports played it like a joke because they’re right. It was one. We won’t have to put up with those shenanigans this weekend in Martinsville, but we’ll have to see what NASCAR cooks up for Texas.
In regards to the on-track product, there was good coverage of racing for position at times, but that was again clustered close to the restarts. Outside of those periods, it could get a little thin at times. Then again, Kyle Busch was kicking tail. That said, there was some decent racing out there away from restarts that we did get to see. I do feel that the scoring pylon is used as a crutch too much. As a result, we don’t really get to hear all that much about a number of stories.
Going into the weekend, I thought that tires were going to be a bigger story than they were. Ultimately, there were four tire expirations of note (one each for Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Daniel Hemric and Bubba Wallace), two of which caused the only non-stage break cautions of the race. Yes, I know that the track’s rather hard on tires, but viewers never really got an idea of how hard. What is considered “good tire wear” at Auto Club Speedway? I don’t know. I shouldn’t have to say that.
Finally, NASCAR RaceDay had a nice piece on Garrett Smithley and his father RK, who is an aerial tanker pilot who helps fight forest fires (RK piloted the DC-10 tanker that performed the flyover on Saturday). It’s rare in general to hear from drivers such as Smithley even on Xfinity Series broadcasts, so it’s good to learn a little bit about him and his family. Of note, remember that Smithley is originally from Ligonier, Penn. His father has likely spent long periods of time away from his family in order to do his job. It’s obvious that RK is proud of his son Garrett and likewise.
Post-race coverage was admittedly fairly brief for what seemed like a pretty quick race (but was just about normal for Fontana in reality). FOX showed only a couple of post-race interviews and a check of the points before leaving for Bob’s Burgers.
Overall, I found the constant Busch coverage to be a little annoying after a while, but I know why FOX did it. It was the big story of the week (for better or worse) and FOX had to cover it thoroughly. I just wish that it wasn’t at the expense of other stories that were at play.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to Martinsville Speedway for a doubleheader weekend with the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. Good news: No snow in the forecast. In fact, it should be quite sunny, albeit cool (especially in the mornings). Outside of NASCAR, the NTT IndyCar Series makes their first official (non-testing) visit to Circuit of the Americas in Texas with Indy Lights in tow. TV Listings are in the Television tab.
We will have critiques of the Cup and Truck races from Martinsville in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. In the Frontstretch Newsletter later this week, we’ll take a look at Saturday’s Production Alliance Group 300 for the Xfinity Series and the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for the NTT IndyCar Series. I know that I noted that I would cover the INDYCAR opener last week, but we covered INDYCAR’s new TV deals instead. The plan to do both together proved to be onerous.
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