Bristol Motor Speedway always seems to provide some interesting action. The usage of PJ1 TrackBite on the concrete banks has led to mixed results over the years. This past weekend just might have been the most competitive at Bristol since the 2007 reconfiguration.
Food City 500
Sunday’s 500-lap race was a relatively quick affair by Bristol standards and very competitive. There were 21 lead changes, which is on the upper end of normal for this race and multiple contenders for the win.
Leading into the race, one of the big stories of the week was Darrell Waltrip announcing his retirement, effective after Sonoma. Darrell had an interesting press conference Friday where he explained his motives for walking away.
— FOX Sports PR (@FOXSportsPR) April 5, 2019
I wasn’t in Bristol (my colleagues Bryan Keith and Davey Segal were), so I couldn’t get the true sense of the scene, but it seems like it was a very emotional press conference. The retirement announcement led off pre-race coverage. Here, Waltrip took great pains to note that no one is forcing him to retire.
That makes me happy. I would much rather prefer that someone goes out on their own terms. Benny Parsons didn’t get to do that. He likely still had at least a couple of good years left when cancer struck him down. Marty Reid’s career ended ignominiously in 2013. Then, you have Bill Weber. The story of what happened to him back in 2009 has still never officially been revealed. Apparently, he’s living in the Tampa area these days.
Regardless, Waltrip remains dedicated to his on-air job for the remainder of the FOX season. Beyond that is the great unknown for him. He might show up at the odd race here or there, he might not.
The start of the race was an example of everything just happening so quickly that FOX Sports 1 had some difficulty keeping up. In the first couple of laps, you had Kevin Harvick having to do his pass-through, Aric Almirola hitting the wall and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. clouting Kyle Busch. Stuff happens so fast.
In regards to Almirola, FOX Sports 1 did make note of Almirola going behind the wall for repairs after his wall contact (and dragging a jack stand at one point). Problem is, it seems like the Damaged Vehicle Policy was briefly forgotten. As a result, Almirola ended up being done for the day earlier than he should have. Larry McReynolds had to remind viewers of the policy and the fact that Almirola was out of the race. I’m a bit of a broken record about how dumb I believe the DVP actually is. It doesn’t save any real money and basically goes against nature.
There was some controversy during the fifth yellow when Chase Elliott received the Lucky Dog despite spinning out Matt Tifft to cause the caution. Mike Joy explained on Twitter after the race that he and the rest of the booth relay the information in that situation given to them by NASCAR.
You're right, its a judgement call. Did Tifft get loose off 4 and lose his drive off, or did he get dumped? https://t.co/LZGoiqncSm
— Mike Joy (@mikejoy500) April 8, 2019
Situations like that tend to anger fans. This is not the fault of the booth. Judgment calls can go either way, much like with those uncontrolled tire penalties that we’ve had this year. Yes, there is a rule, but the penalties being called are not necessarily within the spirit of the rule. It’s designed to keep tires from getting loose and crossing into traffic, yet we’re seeing people getting pipped for a tire not moving at all, but being more than an arm’s length away.
Normally, you’d think that laying the tires down would be an option to get around this, but that was banned a long time ago after teams would strategically place tires to try hold up their rivals. Also, there was that one time in 2000 when one of Tony Stewart’s crew members used a tire as a shield. That didn’t work very well for the crew member or for Stewart.
A big story Sunday was a series of loose wheels and vibrations that struck a number of teams. Harvick got one early on, as did Erik Jones. Chris Buescher’s day was ruined by one in the closing laps. Wish we could have gotten some kind of a reason as to why this happened so many times. Is it just the downforce and the speeds at Bristol? Teams not getting the lug nuts on tight? Something else? Some more time needed to be spent on this since this happened at least half a dozen times.
Post-race coverage was about average. Viewers got quite a few post-race interviews and some post-race analysis. Still find the booth-conducted Victory Lane interview to be weird. Everyone’s just standing around like a bunch of goons.
Overall, FOX Sports 1 brought a good amount of action to viewers’ screens on Sunday. I was quite satisfied with the amount of racing for position shown. I thought that Waltrip’s retirement announcement might have skewed the broadcast to a certain degree, but that wasn’t the case. Yes, there was a bunch of coverage of it during pre-race, but they got down to business once the race began.
ALSCO 300 (No. 1)
The No. 1 is being used here because there are no less than three ALSCO 300s on the Xfinity Series schedule this season. Money is money, but I feel like SMI should find additional companies to back their races, if at all possible, if only to prevent confusion.
As most of you that are reading this column know, things happen quickly at Bristol Motor Speedway. As a result, viewers can miss a bunch just due to the luck of the draw. Unfortunately, that happened at a crucial time Saturday.
FOX Sports 1 had to go to commercial on Lap 223. At the time, Justin Allgaier was leading with Christopher Bell bearing down on him. In the time that FOX Sports 1 was in commercial, Bell was able to take the lead away, then Allgaier suffered some kind of hub failure and crashed out of the race.
At the time, the broadcast booth made it sound like it was a “catastrophic engine failure,” as guest analyst Clint Bowyer put it on air. Quite simply, had that been the case, there’s no way a caution wouldn’t have flown because such a situation would have created an all-skate. At first, Allgaier did think that it was an engine issue, but it turned out not to be.
By the time the commercial break was over, Allgaier was out of his car and inside his hauler, angry as all heck. Later on, via an update from behind the wall, FOX Sports 1 determined that the issue was more of a hub failure. We don’t know for sure since Allgaier never did an on-air interview and JR Motorsports went generic in their post-race wrap-up. They only described what happened to Allgaier’s car as a “part failure.” Apparently, the general feeling in the car when a hub fails can give the driver a feel similar to a loss of power at first since you simply cannot go as fast with a hub burning up.
Allgaier ended up hitting the wall before he retired the car. This contact did not make the broadcast, so I’m unclear as to where it happened and how hard it was. Whatever it was, just hitting the wall meant that they couldn’t repair the root cause of the issue. That is likely the worst part of the DVP (damaged vehicle policy). You’re out because of something fixable that you’re not allowed to touch since the car hit the wall. Weak.
The whole situation was nothing short of a mess, but this was mostly not FOX Sports 1’s fault. Stuff happens in a hurry and the failure apparently happened right in the middle of the break.
Outside of that race-breaking situation, Saturday was the Xfinity Series debut for one Harrison Burton. The 18-year old son of NBC Sports’ Jeff Burton did get a little extra coverage as a result of said debut. That started off with a one-on-one interview with Regan Smith. Here, Harrison talks about what it means to him and his family to make his series debut, and how he wants to differentiate himself from his father. While Jeff never won a championship in NASCAR, he was a consistently solid driver for the vast majority of his career.
There is something to be said for not wanting to live in his father’s shadow, though. As Dale Earnhardt Jr. can tell you, it is very difficult to be your own person under those circumstances, whether you race or not. Going down a similar career path to his father at a younger age (Jeff was 20 when he made his debut in the then-Busch Grand National Series, but didn’t get to Cup until he was 26) is not going to help Harrison’s case much. That said, he seemed to handle the pressure well. He could have done without the wall contact, though.
The race ultimately ended way ahead of schedule. Technically, there was still roughly 45 minutes of coverage remaining when the checkered flag flew. Instead of using all that time, FOX Sports 1 provided viewers with a few driver interviews, a point check and some analysis before leaving Bristol at 3:30 p.m. ET. At least according to my on-screen guide, there was supposed to be a post-race show.
My guess is that a number of drivers would have left the premises much past 3:30, so that was out. Viewers expecting additional post-race coverage ended up getting a rerun of The Adventures of Janet Guthrie, which I think I’ve watched six times by now. Also of note, the Xfinity race ending ahead of schedule led the K&N Pro Series East Zombie Auto 150 to start early, which screwed up the schedule that I had set up here on the site.
Overall, the on-track product on Saturday was decent. It did display the differences between the haves and have nots rather starkly, though. 35 laps into the race, they were down to 15 cars on the lead lap. That’s less than 10 minutes.
Harvick was decent in the broadcast booth, while Bowyer was generally himself. Quirky, but someone who can generally explain things fairly well in his own words. Also, Chad Knaus made a brief appearance in the booth as an observer since he’s going to make his booth debut Friday night in Richmond.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series teams descend upon Richmond Raceway for their first visit of the year. Make note that no pre-qualifying coverage will be televised on Friday. Xfinity practice starts just after 8 a.m., while both Cup practices will be done by 2 p.m. The Cup sessions (at least) should be on NASCAR.com, but the Xfinity session is borderline due to the early start.
Outside of Richmond, the NTT IndyCar Series travels to Long Beach for one of their crown jewel events, the newly-renamed Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Pirelli GT4 America Sprint will serve as support. Finally, Formula 1 will hold their 1000th World Championship Grand Prix in the wee hours of Sunday morning in Shanghai. TV Listings are in the Television tab.
I will be in Long Beach this weekend to cover the INDYCAR and IMSA action. With the three-hour time difference, it will be rather difficult to cover everything. For instance, IMSA qualifying is scheduled to take place during Friday night’s ToyotaCare 250. That said, we will still provide a look at a broadcast for next week here at Frontstretch.
For this week’s Critic’s Annex, we’ll look at the newly-released documentary Hurley, which is about Hurley Haywood’s life on and off the track. The film took roughly four years to make, during which some things changed in Haywood’s life. We’ll talk about that, how you can see the film, and what it’s like.
The April 18 edition of The Critic’s Annex will cover a lot of the content that I’m ultimately unable to view by Monday night (Monday is a travel day and I’m leaving Los Angeles around 3 p.m. EDT.).
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