Watkins Glen International always provides an interesting race for fans to watch. Sunday (August 4) saw a race that was light on lead changes but high on storylines and shenanigans.
Also, before we start, yes, Racing Wives finally premiered Friday night on CMT. My hotel room in Vestal, N.Y. last weekend did not have the channel available. Therefore, I have not watched it yet. I’m generally not a fan of reality shows, but I plan on watching the series in full and writing about it. Look for that in the Frontstretch Newsletter in the coming weeks.
In terms of what I did see, something that irked me is the fact that NBCSN made next to no reference to the fact that AJ Allmendinger got DQ’d from Saturday’s Zippo 200. The unofficial results from Saturday during NASCAR America Sunday still listed him as finishing second despite the DQ coming down within 90 minutes of the end of the race. I thought that was strange.
As for the shenanigans, they started early when Kyle Busch spun in turn 1 on lap 2 after rubbing against William Byron. Looking at it a second time, I still don’t understand Busch’s anger here. It seems like he simply made a mistake. NBCSN seemed to think that it was a simple “racing deal.” They didn’t think much of it at the time. Steve Letarte referred to it as “harmless.” Honestly, I thought so as well.
Prior to the end of stage one, Busch got back to Byron’s bumper and made his thoughts known. The original replay made it look Byron just went straight. It seemed like they didn’t realize that the No. 18 had hit Byron. What we saw at first was likely the first shot that the production truck found of the excursion.
After the break, we got more replays that showed the true nature of the encounter. Audio of Chad Knaus imploring Byron to get into the back of Busch was played. The idea stated on the radio was to get the grass off of the nose. Technically, that was more or less mission accomplished. While NBCSN never outright said it, it appeared that Kyle brake-checked Byron.
On lap 39, Bubba Wallace spun and hit the tires in turn 5 to bring out the third yellow. Dale Earnhardt Jr. did not have a visual on the crash and thought Wallace might have been caught out by the stay-dri put down due to Reed Sorenson’s previous issues. We now know that that wasn’t the case.
Sure enough, Busch got into him. Unfortunately, there was no replay of that contact. All we got was a replay of Wallace going wide and then hitting the tires. At the time, Wallace was running 18th and Kyle was 19th, recovering from a pit road penalty at the end of stage one that put him at the rear. This angered Wallace and resulted in the bumping match that we all saw.
The actual racing that we saw was pretty decent. Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. essentially staged a duel for the entire second half of the race, and that kept everyone satisfied. That resulted in coverage that was quite centered at the front of the field. It was hard to follow progression of drivers through the field, especially in the second half of the race. Matt DiBenedetto getting up to sixth was a pleasant surprise. Had no idea that he was right back up there. Having timing and scoring at your fingertips only helps so much.
In the Media Center, we were keeping track of Kyle’s progress through the field. I thought that he could get back to 10th, while our own Dustin Albino thought otherwise. In the end, he got back to 11th, which meant that he didn’t have to do the bullpen interview post-race. There was a golf cart waiting for him right behind the pit wall after the race so he could make a quick escape.
The weekly Behind the Driver piece focused on Truex and his relationship with Kevin “Bono” Manion, his crew chief with Chance 2 Motorsports in the then-Busch Series. Yes, they were a driver-crew chief pairing back then, but they were also very close friends, along with everyone else that worked on the team (crazy to think about it now, but Chance 2 was a joint venture with DEI, namely, Teresa Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr.). The piece mentions a Chance 2 group text that allows the former Chance 2 guys a way to keep in touch. Basically, Chance 2 was more than just racing.
The Grassroots piece of the week was a little more in-depth than usual. Kurt Busch made an appearance last weekend at Outlaw Speedway (formerly Black Rock Speedway) in Dundee, N.Y., which is roughly a 25-minute drive from Watkins Glen International. Here, Rutledge Wood talked with track owner/promoter/former Super DIRTcar Series regular Tyler Siri about bringing the track back from the brink. It was an interesting piece. Albany-Saratoga Speedway went through a similar renaissance starting in 2012 after it was first leased, then acquired by Lebanon Valley Auto Racing (full disclosure: I do write for the website for LVAR’s Lebanon Valley Speedway, in addition to Frontstretch). Sometimes, it’s as simple as having the right guy in the right place. Also of note, I did find it interesting that Kurt made the appearance there at Outlaw Speedway. Many fans’ first time meeting a Cup driver will come in such a scenario. The first time I met a Cup driver was at Albany-Saratoga in 1996 when a number of drivers appeared there (I met Ernie Irvan and Ned Jarrett, while Richard Childress, Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace were also present).
Post-race coverage was fairly typical. Viewers got a decent amount of driver interviews (including three with Elliott), analysis and point checks. It was an interesting race to watch despite very few lead changes.
With the radio-style broadcast, one thought comes to mind. Having the three analysts (Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton and Mike Bagley) out there is designed so that certain things could be pointed out more easily. It didn’t seem to work that way on Sunday. An incident like Wallace’s spin is the perfect example here. That crash all but happened right in front of Earnhardt. I know that he likely had some monitors up there, but last I checked, it’s really loud out there. Few cars that aren’t Chevrolet Corvette C7.Rs or previous generation Aston Martin Vantage GT4s are as loud as Cup cars.
What I’m saying is that the first Wallace incident should have been Earnhardt’s time to shine. You had an incident that ended up being way more important down the line happen right in front of you (more or less), and you basically missed it. The cameras couldn’t save the situation here. I didn’t have a scanner on Sunday (long story short, I have a $319 paperweight right now), so much like the viewers at home, I had no idea that Wallace had effectively gotten dumped. The retaliation seemed to come out of nowhere.
The incident with Byron was a lesser version of the one with Wallace. Same scenario. Unfortunately, Earnhardt didn’t bring the goods Sunday when it counted. He’ll get the file with the race broadcast, review it, and kick himself mentally later this week. I don’t think his performances on television keep him up at night, but he’ll likely be thinking about this one for a little while. That said, I like his enthusiasm and I’m perfectly fine with the pitch of his voice. If that’s “Excited Dale,” then I’m happy to have Excited Dale in play. However, Excited Dale needs to be on his game as well.
The benefit of a radio-style broadcast is to get that extra information that you wouldn’t get by watching a regular broadcast. I just didn’t see that on Sunday. I understand that there’s a lot of stuff going on. You have five voices in your ears at all times. It can be hard to focus. Unfortunately, this was step-up time
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is another split weekend for NASCAR’s National Series. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Gander Outdoors Truck Series teams will be at Michigan International Speedway. Meanwhile, the month of twisties for the Xfinity Series continues as the series travels to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. TV Listings can be found in the Television tab.
With a far less busy weekend on tap, we will be able to provide critiques of both races from Michigan, plus the 170-mile Xfinity race from Mid-Ohio, in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.
In regards to the Truck and Xfinity races from the past few days, we will have two editions of the Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter. Wednesday will cover the Eldora Dirt Derby, which I already have notes for. The regular Thursday show will cover the Zippo 200.
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