Pocono Raceway is always a bit of a toss-up. You have races that are complete runaways, then you have nailbiters. Last weekend produced one of each, for different reasons.
Gander RV 400
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returned to Pocono Sunday for 400 miles (and change) of action. Sunday saw a little different type of broadcast.
The Gander RV 400 was the first of what will be three Cup races with radio-style broadcasts. Mike Bagley was drafted back in to serve as the turn 1 reporter, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. went to the Tunnel Turn and Jeff Burton hung out for the day in turn 3. All three turn towers had cameras on them so that the turn reporters could do stand-ups. If anything, Earnhardt actually got the least action. No wrecks over there on Sunday.
What you did get was a fair amount of yelling. Surprise, it’s loud out there. There are few series that have cars as loud as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and it’s hard to hear yourself think when 38 cars come streaming by. In other series, it’s usually only one or two cars that are really loud (using IMSA as an example, it’s the Chevrolet Corvette C7.R and the Ford GT in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, along with the previous generation Aston Martin in Michelin Pilot Challenge). Here, it’s all of them.
Having the turn reporters did help get viewers information in regards to on-track incidents a little faster. For example, Ryan Preece’s crash in turn 1 happened right near Bagley (and MRN Radio’s Dave Moody). In the replay from the turn tower, you saw Bagley have to reach for the button in order to go on-air to commentate on the crash as smoke covered the platform. That said, there was a bit of a delay before the NBCSN broadcast got to the crash. NBC Sports may not be the most experienced at this type of broadcast, but note that your turn announcers are your friends. They will bring you to the good stuff.
Meanwhile, Rick Allen and Steve Letarte held down the fort in the broadcast booth. With Burton and Earnhardt out of the booth for the day, that meant that Letarte had to do a little more heavy lifting commentary-wise. In this role, he did a good job. I’m pretty sure that NBC Sports’ goal with the radio-style broadcast was not to de-emphasize Earnhardt J., but that’s just the way that the race played out.
Sunday’s broadcast from Pocono was already scheduled to be shorter than normal. There was only 30 minutes of pre-race coverage scheduled due to coverage of Stage 21 of the Tour de France immediately prior. That was cut further due to the threat of adverse weather coming in that forced NASCAR to start the race early.
As a result, there was very little pre-race coverage. There were a couple of pre-race interviews, plus a Grassroots feature of the week. Here, Martin Truex Jr. talked about getting started as a racer at Wall Stadium in Wall Township, NJ. There, Truex drove a Modified in his formative years before taking over for his father in the then-Busch North Series.
In the past week or so, there has been somewhat negative news on the potential future (if any) of Wall Stadium. Apparently, the track owner wants to close it, tear it down and replace it with housing. The local government disagrees, saying that the zoning doesn’t allow for it. We’ll have to see what happens there. At present, Wall Stadium is the only paved oval in New Jersey. If it goes, teams that race there would be forced to haul to Pennsylvania or Connecticut in order to race.
Late in the race, Allen misidentified Erik Jones as having never won a Cup race. This is not true as Jones won last year’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona. He hasn’t won a non-superspeedway race yet, though. After the race, Allen took some heat for that. He posted an explanation on Twitter Sunday night that indicated that he accidentally was referencing William Byron while talking about Jones.
Was watching Byron behind them and got that stuck in my head, my mistake.
— Rick Allen (@RickAllenracing) July 29, 2019
I suppose things like that happen from time to time. Allen Bestwick puts it best: “When words come out of your mouth, there’s no backspace, and no spell check. There it is, world. Consume it.”
The action was fast and furious in and around the restarts on Sunday. I felt that NBCSN did a good job at covering that action. Later on, the race did spread out a bunch. There, you got decent coverage of racing for position, but you also had coverage of how the PJ1 affected the racing. From what I could see, my thoughts do differ from NBCSN. I do agree that you saw more side-by-side racing in turn 3, not so much in the other two turns. It didn’t make the race any better.
The cut-down nature of pre-race coverage also affected post-race coverage. With no NASCAR America Sunday and an abbreviated Countdown to Green, the decision was made not to send Krista Voda, Kyle Petty or Dale Jarrett to Pocono (Jarrett had an excuse; he was on Xfinity duty in Iowa). That was combined with a race that finished ahead of schedule. Viewers got interviews with the top seven finishers, checks of the points and analysis.
Sounds like a bunch of coverage, but NBCSN ended up cutting out of Pocono early to go to track and field coverage (that Leigh Diffey was assigned to instead of the IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio Sunday). Also of note, someone with the broadcast crew is probably going to get hurt with these close-up frontstretch shots for the post-race celebrations. It’s one thing when you have Ross Chastain smashing a watermelon and throwing a watermelon-themed beach ball around with a look of unbridled glee on his face. It’s a whole ‘nother thing when Hamlin is nearly hitting a pick-up truck and a cameraman with his car. It’s starting to get dangerous and it’s hurting those who actually have to make their living off of this stuff.
Overall, the radio-style broadcast from Pocono was pretty decent. You got a little more information from the additional sets of eyes that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. The shouting was a bit much at times, but when it’s so loud around you that you can barely hear anything you say, it’s only natural. I would have liked a little more about the tires since a number of drivers had issues, most notably Chase Elliott. Maybe it’s just me, but when someone bursts a right front tire and pounds the SAFER barrier, I want to know why that happened.
Gander RV 150
For the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Saturday afternoon marked the second of three races in 2019 on FOX. That meant more eyes on the trucks. The result was a dominant win for Chastain.
Speaking of Chastain, Todd Bodine conducted an interview with Chastain and Niece Motorsports owner Al Niece. Here, a number of the typical topics of a Chastain interview were discussed (making the series point change, the team’s commitment, etc.). Then, we got into the unexpected content. Niece admitted that he was so angry after the team’s disqualification at Iowa that he was going to shut the whole thing down. The team also lost a potential sponsor as well, which is something that I don’t recall previously being reported. For now, the team is all-in on winning the championship. Beyond that is anyone’s guess.
I did find the piece interesting, not just because of the previously unreported content. Over the past few years, Chastain has matured into a very aggressive racer who is more than willing to put everything out there. While yes, the team does have GMS Racing equipment now, this was a team struggling to earn top-20 finishes barely a year ago.
The race itself took a while to get going. There were plenty of early shenanigans. Stewart Friesen spun on the first lap and collected Anthony Alfredo, ending both their days. Shortly afterwards, Bryan Dauzat spun and hit the wall on the restart. I’m not really sure what led to that because FOX caught the crash in progress and never aired a replay. Not good.
The race was not really the most competitive event since Chastain clearly had the best truck (although this apparently wasn’t so on Friday in practice). Granted, since next to no Truck practices are telecast any more, there’s no way for most fans to be able to tell unless you’re at the track.
There was some fierce racing for position around the restarts early in the race, but the field would then spread out. Once that happened, you would get some action here and there, but not all that much. Technically, that’s not FOX’s fault, though.
The race ended ahead of schedule. s a result, viewers got a decent amount of post-race coverage. There were a number of interviews, a check of the points and post-race analysis. There was also a brief preview of Eldora on Thursday night before FOX left the air.
Overall, this was not the most competitive race on Earth. Chastain had an excellent truck and took advantage of what he had. There was some decent action to be had once the wrecking stopped. FOX did a decent job in covering the on-track action, though I would have liked to have seen what caused Dauzat’s crash. I know that FDNY Racing wouldn’t even qualify as a mid-major team, but I still want to know.
That’s all for this week. We’ve got another split weekend of action coming up. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series will be at Watkins Glen International for some good road racing. They’ll be joined by the K&N Pro Series East. For the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, it’s one of their marquee events, the Eldora Dirt Derby on Thursday night. Formula 1 will make its 34th trip to the Hungaroring for the Grand Prix of Hungary, while IMSA will be at Road America. TV listings are in the Television tab.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races from Watkins Glen in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. In the Critic’s Annex, we’ll have a look at Saturday’s U.S. Cellular 250 from Iowa Speedway.
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