Talladega brings a lot of interesting things to NASCAR. Some of the sport’s loudest and rowdiest fans. Shenanigans. Stomach churning. Maybe that last one’s just me.
Normally, a superspeedway race in which everyone more or less stays close to each other all race long should not be that difficult to cover. After Sunday, I’m not so sure about that.
We’ll just start with the last four laps of the race. First, you have Kurt Busch going below the yellow line exiting Turn 2 on the restart. This was effectively not covered at all. NASCAR indicated after the race that Busch was pushed below the line. As a result, no penalty was assessed. I’m not so sure about that.
Then, we have Erik Jones’ spin in Turn 3 with three laps to go. No idea what caused that (although, I probably could guess). Luckily, Jones was able to recover and prevent a GWC.
Next up is technically what brought out the caution to end the race. Even though it was not noted as such for hours after the race finished, it was actually Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s crash in the tri-oval and the debris from the wreck that precipitated the yellow. Stenhouse was right up in contention until he cut a tire coming to the white flag. That’s why his car was squirming so visibly before wiping out on his own. There were no replays of the incident, any notion of the No. 17 having a flat or what could have caused it. They should have interviewed him on-air about it. He was standing right next to Kyle Larson when he came out of the Infield Care Center.
Personally, my guess is that the track crews didn’t get the debris fully cleared after the previous wreck and Stenhouse ran over something. It wouldn’t be the first time that happened. The first time I went to Daytona, I distinctly remember a piece of debris coming off of Paul Menard’s No. 98 Ford after the Big One and coming to rest on the yellow line exiting the tri-oval, directly in front of where I was sitting. NASCAR left it there and went back to green. They did retrieve it during the next yellow.
The thing here is that NASCAR had red-flagged the race prior to that restart. They had plenty of time to check the track thoroughly for metal debris.
Finally, we have the big crash on the final lap. The way that FOX aired the crash live, you wouldn’t have known that Larson rolled over in the crash. Only when they showed a slow-motion replay of Larson rolling could you tell that the car flipped.
It seemed that FOX was simply more concerned with whether or not Chase Elliott won the race. Don’t get me wrong. Elliott’s a decent guy. Has a decent head on his shoulders. The fans have definitely “put over” Elliott by now, which is exactly what I stated in 2014 that NASCAR wanted. I have nothing against him.
That said, the wreck on the final lap was a serious incident and FOX really shouldn’t have cut away from it with all of their cameras. As a result, we don’t have a definitive shot of Larson’s flip from FOX. All their shots either cut away from the flip or join in progress. That’s unacceptable.
When I was watching this live on Sunday, the first thing that came to mind was cost-cutting. If this were even a couple of years ago, FOX would have had an extra camera or two on the backstretch that could have proved to be the definitive shot that captured Larson’s entire crash in proper perspective (as opposed to way off in the background).
In regards to the severity of the crash, it is effectively what you get if you combine Matt Kenseth’s crash in this race back in 2016 and Randy LaJoie’s scary flip in the 1984 Twin 125’s at Daytona. It comes as no surprise to me that NASCAR is going to investigate this crash. With all the advancements made to the cars and tracks over the past 35 years, Larson’s car should not have done that. I look forward to seeing what NASCAR finds.
It was pretty dang obvious that Elliott won the race. We didn’t need the caution light check. They were single-file at the time. You knew that he won.
Outside of the last few laps of the race, there were a couple of other things that truly stood out. One was the extreme shakiness of Joey Logano’s bumper cam. Early on, this was described as an accurate representation of what the driver feels at Talladega. I’d have to take Darrell Waltrip’s word for it since I never raced at Talladega. I just took the bus tour back in 2016. However, the track surface is much fresher there now than it was late in Waltrip’s career.
That said, the bumper cam was extremely shaky, disorienting, and likely gave some viewers headaches. FOX should have made minimal usage of that camera for the rest of the race (I’m operating under the opinion that something came loose on it, leading to the shaking). They didn’t do so.
Another point of discussion were the commercial breaks. For this column, I do time the commercial breaks under green during the races using the stopwatch on my phone. Not very scientific, but it gets the job done.
My data showed 37 minutes of commercials under green. I don’t believe that the number is out of the ordinary, but it should be note that this year’s race was 11 minutes shorter than last year.
It just seems that a lot happened in commercial. For instance, the first crash of the day occurred during the first commercial break. That crash eliminated three drivers, plus a fourth (Matt Tifft) who apparently never touched anyone, but had his teammate’s radiator pan puncture his nose and likely puncture his radiator.
Later on, Jimmie Johnson cut his right front tire during the second green-flag commercial break and smacked the wall in Turn 3. That wreck was apparently due to hitting debris on track. I guess NASCAR just had an off-day in finding actual factual debris on the racing surface.
Denny Hamlin apparently had a similar issue and pounded the wall on lap 87. FOX only showed him on the apron, slowly making his way back to the pits. There was no replay of what happened to Hamlin or any real explanation of anything. That was just the last you saw of him on Sunday. No yellow was thrown for this incident, either.
Going into the weekend, FOX promoted the fact that they were going to have a Drone Cam in use at Talladega. It was given it’s own press release, where director Artie Kempner stated that “it will provide the viewer with dynamic views, not seen before in motor sports.”
The thing barely got any airtime during the broadcast. I can only recall one usage of the Drone Cam in the whole race. From what I saw, nothing that drone did hasn’t been done before. That said, perhaps FOX was just testing the new tech in Talladega. Maybe they’re still gun shy after that mess with the cable at the Coca-Cola 600 a couple of years ago. Had the Drone Cam been positioned better, it could have provided the definitive view of Larson’s flip.
Speaking of the radiator pan issue, FOX did do a pretty good job explaining that mess. The pan is a heavy piece and something like that spearing the front of Tifft’s car like a shuriken would likely affect the car’s integrity.
Other than coverage of the crash, post-race coverage was actually thin. Viewers got interviews with the top three finishers (Elliott, Alex Bowman and Ryan Preece). There was also a check of the points and some analysis from back in Charlotte.
Prior to the race on NASCAR RaceDay, FOX Sports 1 ran a piece on Red Farmer, a racer of indeterminate age (he claimed that he’s 87 in the piece, but there’s a reason why his Wikipedia page has a question mark for his birth date). These days, Farmer is in his 72nd year of racing, primarily at the Talladega Short Track, which is just off of the track’s property on the opposite side of Speedway Boulevard.
For Farmer, racing and working on his dirt late model is genuine fun these days. This man has done it all, including racing on Daytona Beach, surviving a helicopter crash in 1993 (he was Davey Allison’s passenger in the helicopter crash that killed Allison) and competing on nearly every level of stock car racing.
It’s pretty amazing what kind of a career that Farmer has had in motorsports. It seems incredible that Farmer’s career dates back to the earliest days of NASCAR. It was a genuinely interesting piece to watch.
Overall, Sunday’s race was a rather frustrating race to watch at times. The racing itself had nothing to do with the frustration. It was interesting to watch. I went into the race without much of an idea of what I’d see. The product with the new rules actually worked out just fine. We’ll have to wait and see if NASCAR sticks with it for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 in July, or if they’ll change something for the third time this year.
The actual coverage left something to be desired. The notion of Larson flipping seemed to come out of nowhere. That shouldn’t happen in 2019. Has a TV partner missed a last-lap flip before? Yes, it happened in the DieHard 500 at Talladega in 1990. Jimmy Spencer rolled his Heinz Pontiac on the backstretch. CBS only made a brief verbal reference to the crash, but no replays were shown. It is unclear if there is any video of the crash, but there is one picture floating around of the crash.
It seems to me that the priorities were in the wrong place late in the race on Sunday. Yes, Elliott was going to win, but you deviated from a substantial (and quite scary incident) to cover the remainder of the pack, knowing that the caution was going to fly. This was simply a bad directorial decision. FOX would do well to not repeat it.
There were some good moments during the race broadcast. The action for position was pretty good, but it’s really easy to be inclusive and show battles at Talladega. They come to you. There were a number of interesting stories during the race that got some coverage. For the most part, none of those drivers down the line that scored good finishes got much coverage after the race with the exception of Preece.
That’s all for this week. Next week, all three of NASCAR’s National Series will be in action at Dover International Speedway. It’s also a very busy weekend for sports cars as all of IMSA’s series will be at Mid-Ohio, while the FIA World Endurance Championship will make their second visit of the Superseason to the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.
We will provide critiques of the Cup, Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series races from Dover in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. In the Critic’s Annex, we’re going to take a closer look at Saturday’s MoneyLion 300. It is a race I watched live, but also spent focused on the SRO America action from VIR that ran concurrently. As a result, it requires a re-watch in order to properly assess the quality of the broadcast.
The Annex for May 9 will cover Sunday’s Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. I haven’t had the opportunity to properly critique NBC Sports’ IMSA coverage as of yet and this will be a good chance to do so.
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About the author
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 the Super DIRTcar Series.
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