For FOX Sports, last weekend was the swan song for Darrell Waltrip on television. Beyond Sunday (June 23), Waltrip’s future is unclear. All we know is that he’s going to back to Franklin, Tenn. with his wife Stevie (“the Redhead”) and relaxing for now.
Naturally, the focus for Sunday’s broadcast was on Waltrip’s final broadcast for FOX Sports. To that end, there were a series of gifts. FOX Sports gifted Waltrip a 1950s Buick Roadmaster convertible. Sweet looking piece. He was also awarded the Byrnsie Award for his achievements.
We had farewells from various FOX Sports personalities and NASCAR personalities. Waltrip got to do the Grid Walk that his brother Michael usually does as well. More on that in a little.
He even got a chance to go hang out with Kyle Busch at Kyle Busch Motorsports. The idea of this is simply: What does he do with all his trophies? Decent question to ask. When you have 206 victories among the top three NASCAR’s national touring divisions, you’re going to have a little trouble finding places to put them. That said, I’m pretty sure the KBM dudes aren’t storing trophies in the break room refrigerator. It would be hilarious if they were, though.
Waltrip has always had a lot of respect for Busch, to the point where many fans have thought that he’s given him special treatment. He recognizes the talent of Busch since it’s not dissimilar to the talent he showed in his prime back in the 1980s. Busch is about as polarizing as Darrell was at that time as well.
That said, likely the most touching tribute of the day was Stevie was asked to write about “The Darrell I Know.”
Here, Stevie recounts how she first got together with Darrell back in Owensboro, Kentucky in the 1960s and how her parents wouldn’t let her date him at first. Once Stevie’s parents relented, Waltrip was late for a date with her due to an “intense game of shuffleboard.” I would have liked to see what that was like.
A fair amount of the piece was centered upon Darrell’s daughters and how he loves them so. Yes, it took them 18 years to conceive. The story surrounding that is covered in Darrell’s first book, DW: A Lifetime Going Around in Circles. It’s actually quite sad.
The whole piece moved Darrell to tears. It was genuinely touching, and you can just feel the undivided love that Stevie has for him.
During the aforementioned Grid Walk, DW mentioned something about helping Matt DiBenedetto in a time of need. His reasoning was that he helped DiBenedetto out because he thought DiBenedetto was good for the sport. I have no idea what that pertains to, but it sounds interesting.
I knew going in that the tributes to Waltrip were going to be quite substantial. It’s not every day that someone who has worked on broadcast television for that long hangs it up. However, at the same time, there was still a race to be run. There really wasn’t all that much coverage to preview said race, aside from the pit reporters interviewing a couple of drivers immediately prior to driver introductions.
Another added wrinkle on Sunday was Larry McReynolds making the trip to Sonoma. I believe this is only the second race he’s traveled to this year. He’s a multiple-time winner on the long course (1991 with Davey Allison and 1994 with Ernie Irvan) and he brought his tomes and tomes of knowledge with him. Problem is, having him there ultimately made him a fourth man. Despite making the trip to Sonoma, he really wasn’t given much more to do than normal.
Going into the race, it was thought that running the long course would open up the event to more passing opportunities and more chaos. Data seems to indicate that neither happened. Yes, the race for the win was fairly close at the finish, but it was 32 seconds to Ryan Blaney in third. That’s nearly unheard of on a road course these days. Not sure if that’s happened in the last 30 years.
That said, there was a decent amount of racing to be had, even during the final stage when everyone got spread out. The action early on seemed to get more coverage, though. Later in the race, it was all about the battle between Martin Truex Jr. and Busch. This is even though Busch never really got all the way up to Truex. In DiBenedetto’s case, you got cutaways when he was able to take fifth from Jimmie Johnson and fourth from Kevin Harvick. Waltrip was very impressed by DiBenedetto’s form.
Earlier this season, FOX Sports added the battle boxes to their scoring pylon. Those are the yellow outlines that you likely saw Sunday. It’s something that the commentators already had at their disposal with their booth scoring monitor, as Waltrip displayed here:
Last call! Had a great weekend! pic.twitter.com/a9tKuNxH5q
— Darrell Waltrip (@AllWaltrip) June 23, 2019
My gripe here is the following: If you’re going to make use of these battle boxes going forward, please actually show the viewers those battles. I felt like I was missing out. While yes, I could tell when a driver was running another down thanks to the intervals (ex: DiBenedetto ran down Harvick at a clip of more than a second a lap in the closing laps), it’s not the same having to imagine something instead of seeing it.
Entering the race, tire wear was noted as a big issue. Goodyear explained on Twitter Sunday that the wear is high because of the braking needs requiring a different compound.
NASCAR Cup teams will be be running one of the softest tread compounds in the Goodyear tire lineup at @RaceSonoma today. The grip provided by this tire will help cars with the heavy braking into the corners and acceleration off the corners on this technical, 12-turn road course.
— Goodyear Racing (@GoodyearRacing) June 23, 2019
That’s an interesting tidbit that FOX Sports never really shared. Yes, we know the wear is high, but they always talked about it in terms of the track surface.
There were no incidents Sunday that brought out a caution. I suppose Saturday’s K&N Pro Series West Procore 200 had enough for everyone. Of the more minor incidents, some were given replays, while others were not. Busch smashed in his nose due to apparent contact with Chase Elliott, but we never saw that contact. I don’t know when it happened. I could give a range of laps, but that’s about it.
Speaking of Elliott, his engine issues seemed to come out of nowhere. He was running in third, then the thing started smoking. Then he was done. Once his car was pushed behind the wall, that was it. We didn’t hear anything else about Elliott. Knowing that he was running third before the failure, this seems like a failure of form. Elliott was a contender for at bare minimum, a great finish. Perhaps FOX Sports 1 tried to get an interview with Elliott in the garage, but he declined. I’m unclear on that because it was never noted.
Sunday’s race is the fastest Cup race ever run at Sonoma Raceway, regardless of track configuration. As a result, you’d expect a decent amount of post-race coverage. Viewers ended up with seven driver interviews, plus an interview with winning crew chief Cole Pearn. There was also a check of the points where FOX Sports 1 put the wrong car number next to Ryan Newman’s name (they used No. 31 instead of No. 6). That’s a whoopsies.
The broadcast closed with one more tribute to Waltrip. The man must have been an emotional mess at the end of the day.
Sunday’s race was an interesting affair as a race. Even with the configuration shift, it ended up being quite similar to last year’s event. That’s probably the fault of having stages. Then again, the last race on the long course prior to Sunday had the entire first half go caution-free, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.
The Waltrip tributes were substantial, as expected, since he is a beloved figure at FOX Sports. During the race itself, it didn’t get in the way. Prior to the race, it was like that was all that was going on. The racing itself wasn’t all that bad, but just really spread out. When that happens, FOX Sports 1 has to take steps to find the best racing and bring that to the viewers, and I just don’t think they succeeded in doing that as much as they should have.
I will fully admit that things will be quite a bit different in 2020 without Waltrip in the booth. What that will ultimately look like remains to be seen. Even if you don’t like what Darrell was doing up there — and I didn’t agree with everything Darrell was doing up there — you do get used to it after a while. Regardless of whether he’s replaced or not, there will be a completely different dynamic at play.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is a quadruple-header at Chicagoland Speedway that also marks the season debut of NBC Sports. The weekend starts with the ARCA Menards Series Thursday night (June 27), followed by the Gander Outdoors Truck Series Friday night. The first NBCSN broadcast of the year will be Saturday’s Camping World 300 for the Xfinity Series, while Cup will follow on Sunday.
Meanwhile, IMSA is back in action with all their classes for the first time since early May. The third round of the Michelin Endurance Cup is Sunday afternoon at Watkins Glen International. Finally, Formula 1 returns to action at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. TV Listings are in the Television tab above.
I will be in Watkins Glen on Sunday covering the IMSA action. That race is scheduled to end around 3:45 p.m. ET. The Cup race by that point will be approximately 75 laps in. I will be able to get home at a reasonable time and watch the Cup race. We’ll have critiques of that and the Truck race in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.
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