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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Couch Potato Tuesday: The Matt DiBenedetto Party

Bristol Motor Speedway is always pretty interesting. There’s likely going to be shenanigans. Since the track was reconfigured 12 years ago, there is a higher likelihood of side-by-side racing. That said, Bristol is effectively a bowl. Last weekend, NASCAR teams M.I.X.ed the flour into the bowl.

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Saturday night’s race will likely be best remembered as the night where Matt DiBenedetto truly got his foothold in NASCAR. He’s not just the guy that put a burrito on his car because people would mispronounce his last name. The man now has staying power.

Even before DiBenedetto was able to get himself up to the lead, he was getting more coverage than normal. You actually heard things about how his car was handling and what he could do on-track. Unfortunately, that’s a fact of life when it comes to race coverage. You can’t expect the TV partners to give everyone a decent amount of coverage. You have to make them give you the coverage.

Going into this weekend, he was already in the headlines due to the announcement that he won’t be back in the No. 95 next year, even though the team has improved quite a bit with him in the seat. A number of outlets reported more traffic for stories about DiBenedetto than about the Dale Earnhardt Jr. plane crash. Jayski is just one example. Just looking at our own Facebook page, most of the articles with the highest reach pertain to DiBenedetto. Part of that might just be outrage, but I think there’s something more at play. Race fans see that he’s worked his butt off over the past eight or nine years just to get here. He had to toil with start-and-park efforts for The Motorsports Group while other young guns got full-time rides in good equipment.

You had the swell sixth-place finish at Bristol for BK Racing of all teams. Knowing the travails of that team, the finish looks that much better all the time. The top five at Sonoma Raceway two months ago seemed flunky at first, but he’s more than backed it up.

Now, you’re seeing DiBenedetto get a lot more credit for what he’s done in Cup. The fans are seeing it more as well (although some of them were already aware).

Having Earnhardt back home in North Carolina for the weekend resulted in a more traditional broadcast setup with a regular three-man booth. The last couple of years have been a bit of a compromise at times. For this race, we were effectively back to 2017. While some of the Xfinity races since Earnhardt entered the fold have been covered in this fashion, none of the Cup races have.

For NBC Sports, getting Earnhardt after he retired was quite the coup. However, getting him has resulted in near constant change over the past year and change. It’s hard for the booth to develop when there’s a new gimmick every week.  t’s like watching season four of American Gladiators after a number of the veterans got canned (Dan “Nitro” Clark describes that situation fairly well in his autobiography, Gladiator: A True Story Of ‘Roids, Rage And Redemption). You had new gladiators seemingly every week. Then the newbies got torched on a regular basis.

This week’s edition of Behind the Driver had Kevin Harvick talking about his relationship with Ron Hornaday, 51-time winner in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series and owner of one of the most popular couches in NASCAR. Here, Harvick talks about how Hornaday was a giving man, more than willing to open doors for young racers. That said, he was a tough racer when he was doing Southwest Tour and Winston West races in the 1990s. He was no different when he went to DEI.

Of note, there is an error in the piece. Harvick talks about one of his favorite races being at Louisville Motor Speedway. The clip they showed did not have Harvick in it. I believe that clip was from 1998. That was Wayne Anderson hitting Hornaday and not Harvick. As for the actual race that I believe he’s talking about (the 1999 Kroger 225), that race was a doozy that saw Harvick and Hornaday nose-to-tail. Definitely worth a watch.

Also, NBCSN provided full driver introductions Saturday night. It’s not a big deal to me, but since the drivers select their own songs to come out to, it’s a big thing. Granted, no one’s going to snipe at their opposition like Brad Keselowski did that one time, but it’s still an interesting “what if.”

The actual race coverage was decent. There was a good amount of racing for position out there, and NBCSN did a decent job bringing that action to viewers. Given the rapid-fire fashion in which action happens at Bristol, you do miss some things from time to time. Luckily, I felt that NBCSN minimized that Saturday night.

Post-race coverage was fairly substantial. There were a number of post-race driver interviews, and generally speaking, everyone was mostly positive. It’s good to see.

It’s good to see DiBenedetto get the proper due that he’s deserved for quite a long time. Will Saturday night’s performance help convince someone to take a chance on him for next year in Cup? Honestly, I’m not sure. If he can continue this recent form, though, someone’s going to come to him. Remember, there was a time that the Leavine Family Racing start-and-parked in Cup. It wasn’t that long ago. Now, they’re fighting for top-five finishes. Quite amazing.

Overall, I did enjoy the race. There was a lot of good action, and NBCSN did a good job to bring that action to viewers.

Food City 300

Friday night saw some Cup drivers try to invade the show, though they didn’t make it to the final stage. Instead, you got an interesting race for the win.

Entering the race, the biggest news of the weekend was Earnhardt Jr.’s plane crash. Countdown to Green started with an update on the latest regarding the incident. A similar segment ran at the beginning of NASCAR America Saturday afternoon as well. A full 5.5 hours before the green flag, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held a press conference at Elizabethton Municipal Airport to discuss what their brief investigation had found.

Obviously, the whole scenario Thursday was likely the biggest news story of the year in NASCAR, and it didn’t even involve an active driver. This is one of the rare stories in the sport these days that breaks out from beyond shows like NASCAR America or NASCAR RaceHub and enters the mainstream.

One of the big things that NBC Sports (and especially Rick Allen) has preached since they returned to NASCAR in 2015 was the idea of a family atmosphere. There is no time where that has been more evident than last week.

Outside of Earnhardt’s plane crash, the biggest moment of Friday night’s race occurred when both Brandon Jones and Justin Allgaier smacked the wall in turn 1 on consecutive laps. That ultimately gave the victory to Tyler Reddick.

What happened to cause these issues? In Allgaier’s case, the broadcast was quick to relay chatter from the radio that indicated that Allgaier cut a tire. On what? I don’t know. All we do know is that Allgaier hit the wall all by himself while leading.

In Jones’ case, he had just taken second away from Reddick and Chase Briscoe, then immediately pounded the wall. Something was up. This occurred only a couple of laps after a restart. It’s like something was on the track that NASCAR failed to take care of during the previous yellow.

Speaking of that yellow, I don’t really know what it was for. Apparently, something happened to David Starr on the frontstretch. I have no idea what it was because there were no replays, just a hint that something had happened to Starr. Whatever it was, it put something on the track that NASCAR didn’t properly take care of. We’ve seen this before, but rarely is there definitive proof. I can definitely recall NASCAR going back green at Daytona in 2010 with a big chunk of metal debris on the track. I was in the stands that day and saw it with my own eyes. It was only retrieved once another yellow came out for an unrelated incident. The crowd in my section gave the cleanup crew a sarcastic cheer for that.

Outside of that incident, there was the early crash that took no less than four drivers out of potential contention for the win. I believe that NBCSN nailed the coverage here. There was a good battle for position between Cole Custer and Christopher Bell that ran up on lapped traffic. The whole thing was an accident. The booth thought that Matt Mills never saw Custer coming up on his outside. Watching live, I thought that Mills simply got tight. The switch to the higher camera allowed the perfect shot of the wreck in action in real time. Radio from Mills’ car indicated that he got distracted by racing Joey Gase for position

Viewers got a good amount of racing for position Friday night. It was a legitimately exciting race to watch. As the race continued, you had some underdog stories work their way up into the hunt. Jeremy Clements was pretty much the primary underdog story of the night, and he lived right up to that. You also had Gray Gaulding, Timmy Hill and Landon Cassill putting up good runs.

Problem is, this race ran long enough that none of them were able to get their proper due. The actual two-hour time slot for the race ended with 60 laps to go. By the time the race finally ended, there was only time for a couple of interviews (two of which were with Jones and Allgaier). We do have you covered in regards to underdog stories, but it would have been nice to see drivers such as Clements get their due.

Overall, this was an up-and-down race broadcast. On the positive side, you got some good racing and the coverage of incidents like the Bell-Custer schmozzle was great. On the other hand, it seemed like the flats that determined the race came out of nowhere. There was nothing that would have suggested that this was possible. That’s why I’m convinced that the track wasn’t properly cleaned off prior to the finish restart.

That’s all for this week. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will take its final weekend off of the season. Despite that fact, it is still a busy weekend of racing. The Xfinity Series will be at Road America in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the Gander Outdoors Truck Series will continue its playoffs at Canadian Tire Motorport Park in Ontario. The NTT IndyCar Series will be at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, while IMSA will be in action at VIR. TV listings can be found in the Television tab.

We will provide critiques of the Xfinity and Truck races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For The Critic’s Annex this week, we’ll cover Thursday night’s wreckfest at Bristol for Trucks, in addition to Sunday’s ABC Supply 500. Given what happened Sunday, there’s going to be a focus there.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below.  Even though I can’t always respond, I do read your comments. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.

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About Phil Allaway

Phil Allaway
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 Tony Stewart's Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions.

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3 comments

  1. Avatar

    Leavine family racing was start and park? Oh, last season, with Kasey Kahne.

  2. Avatar

    Fans are outraged because hard work and skill are not enough in today’s NASCAR. Unfortunately, I don’t think there will be a “Cinderalla Story” ending for DiBenedetto (I REALLY hope I’m wrong and just being overly pessimistic). If he doesn’t or can’t bring big $$ with him, he will not have a ride. That’s the reality of today’s NASCAR.

    A few years ago I saw an interview or read something from Kyle Larson when his contract was in the process of being renewed. He was asked if he had considered any other deals, and he said no. Basically, he is loyal to Chip for giving him the ride without having to pay for it (bring money to the team). He said, even then, that is unusual and he appreciates it so much that he would not consider driving for another team unless Chip fired him.

    Just a few months ago, the GOTS champion (Brett Moffitt) was booted from his ride because $$. Winning isn’t enough anymore. Tells you all you need to know about Matt’s chances – if he had the money he’d already be in a solid ride.

  3. Avatar

    The Xfinity race got a lot more interesting when the Cup interlopers crashed out. Maybe someone is trying to tell them something?