(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Couch Potato Tuesday: Las Vegas Brings Competition, Rain and Disagreeing Analysts

Las Vegas Motor Speedway brought a fair amount of clarity regarding Ryan Newman’s crash in Daytona 500 and the aftermath. If the transcript of Roush Fenway Racing president Steve Newmark’s press conference is to be believed, Newman’s family was joking in the hospital about him “having no neck” and referring to him as thick last week. Note that the official transcript did not use the alternate spelling, “thicc,” that seems to be getting a lot of use these days.

Much like Daytona, Las Vegas was plagued by rain. Crikey. If this continues, it’s going to be a tough season.

Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube

Pre-race coverage Sunday dealt with overrunning issues, which is somewhat unusual for FOX Sports. NASCAR RaceDay started on FOX Sports 2 because of the Penn State-Indiana basketball game running long. The move to FOX at 3:00 p.m. was delayed because of PBA Bowling running long. That is not a misprint. That happened.

Naturally, the coverage began with a recap of the whole Newman scenario over the previous six days. We had thoughts about the whole experience from Larry McReynolds, who admitted to being very concerned last Monday.

Sunday’s race will probably go down as one of the more interesting races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in recent years. There was a good amount of action for position, especially around the restarts. Those were ridiculous. It’s actually rather shocking that there weren’t more wrecks Sunday.

Aside from the 55-lap stretch that Kevin Harvick led early on, no one led for more than 28 laps at a time for the entire race. No one really got away, either. There was always someone close by. My guess is that a race like Sunday is what NASCAR wants to see every week with this rules package, but it’s been fleeting over the past year.

Since there was a lot of action toward the front of the field, a lot of the coverage was contained there. As a result, it was a little difficult to see things going on further back. A number of drivers had to start in the rear, most notably Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. In Hamlin’s case, he spent the entire day trying to get somewhere near contention and never got there. Busch was able to get to 10th before dropping back to a 15th-place finish after having contact with John Hunter Nemechek to bring out the yellow that ended the race.

An interesting moment Sunday occurred after the end of stage two. Martin Truex Jr. won the race off pit road and looked like he was in good position. However, while Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon were talking to Truex on the radio, the news came through (via James Small cutting into the interview) that he had loose lug nuts. That’s an interesting and unexpected moment that FOX was able to catch.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief since the race ended behind schedule. Viewers got a few interviews before FOX left Las Vegas.

Overall, this was an OK race to watch. I would have preferred a little more inclusivity on the broadcast. Also, there were some issues on the final restart. The booth incorrectly noted that the final caution flew before Joey Logano got the white flag. I thought it came afterwards in real time. As we know, it did come after the white, ending the race.

Viewers at home might have been a little confused watching this because Joy and Gordon accidentally made viewers believe that there was going to be another restart. Had that happened, it would have been just as interesting as the first one, especially since drivers such as Jimmie Johnson had moved up after stopping.

The Joy-Gordon pairing appears to be coming along a bit. Sunday’s broadcast was not as quiet as the Daytona broadcasts were, but the end of the race shows that they’re still getting used to being by themselves in the booth and getting into that proper groove. With some luck, this two-man pairing will work out.

Boyd Gaming 300

Xfinity Series teams had to deal with a 25-hour delay due to rain. When the rain wasn’t falling, you had an interesting race to watch.

For me, the most notable moment of the race was when Myatt Snider spun out with 39 laps to go in the tri-oval. Fairly innocuous spin, to be honest. But, there’s some extra stuff at play here.

Basically, for lack of better words, Snider was dumped in the tri-oval by Noah Gragson. In addition, Gragson had one of FOX Sports’ helmet cams for the race. That means that viewers got a replay from the driver’s seat of the incident that made it look like Gragson turned to the right. Gragson was also wearing white driving gloves, so it looked a little like that from the outside as well.

The situation resulted in a significant difference of opinion between the two analysts in the broadcast booth. First, you have Michael Waltrip. He seemed to not want to take sides here, stating that it was “tough to tell.” On the other hand, you have Austin Dillon, the guest of the weekend. He came out right out and said, “it looked like he turned right into him and put him in the grass.”

Here’s the situation: Technically, both analysts are somewhat compromised here. In Dillon’s case, Snider is a teammate at Richard Childress Racing. It could be assumed that Dillon was going to back his colleague up. At the same time, Waltrip had been talking up Gragson for a good chunk of the weekend prior to the crash. FOX Sports 1 had aired multiple pieces about Gragson over the weekend since he grew up in Las Vegas.

Waltrip continued to try to defend Gragson even though the footage seemed to show Gragson directly turning into Snider’s left rear with what seemed to be next to no wheelspin. Eventually, Dillon was able to convince Waltrip that what he saw was what happened.

For what it’s worth, the two drivers did talk this out after the race on pit road. I don’t think Snider got any closure from that, for as FOX’s Bob Pockrass noted, the two didn’t end with a handshake:

Gragson stated in a bullpen interview that the air pushed him into Snider. Plausible, but it seemed like such a sudden move from the No. 9.

Guest analysts aside, the goal of being an analyst is to provide an objective accounting of what is happening (in this case, on the track) and why it is happening. Personal feelings really shouldn’t come into the equation.

The postponement ultimately pushed the majority of the Xfinity race onto FOX Sports 2 (FOX Sports 1 had an XFL game during the time the race was on). For me, that means that I couldn’t watch the race in HD, as Spectrum only has an SD feed for FOX Sports 2. Weak. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s rather surprising for 2020 that I can’t get the channel in HD. Also, FOX Sports 2 doesn’t have anywhere near the reach that FOX Sports 1 does. That said, even with the cord-cutting that you hear about these days, the channel’s reach is still better than it was at launch in 2013 since it is now carried by Comcast’s Xfinity service. You know, the dudes that have the naming rights to the series.

Of course, the move to FOX Sports 2 didn’t come without issues. Originally, FOX Sports 2 was scheduled to air a live Major League Rugby match live in that time slot. The coverage was billed as starting at 7:30 p.m. ET. That time came and went with no change. An update on the bottom of the screen updated that time to 7:50 p.m., then the network went past that. I can understand some viewers getting a wee bit surly about that. At least we didn’t miss anything.

The rain delays themselves didn’t really have that much content from the track. For instance, it rained during the pace laps on Sunday, resulting in a delay of 45 minutes. FOX Sports 1 did five interviews, one of which being with Gragson while he was being dripped on inside of his car, before leaving for a repeat of NASCAR Presents: Neil Bonnett, The Winner (Note: I believe that was originally part of the Beyond the Wheel series). By the time that ended, the track was almost dry and it was time to go once again.

The second delay literally had two interviews before FOX Sports 1 cut to This Racing Life: McKenna Haase. Admittedly, this was a pretty good show whose debut more or less got nixed because of the rain delays (sensing a pattern, here?) on the night of the Bluegreen Vacations Duels at Daytona. Upon the conclusion of the Haase special, which I should write about at some point for The Critic’s Annex, FOX Sports 1 left Las Vegas for other programming. Adam Alexander stated that if the race resumed, it would be on FOX Sports 2. It was nearly three hours before NASCAR called the race for the night.

Post-race coverage was fairly quick. Viewers got interviews with the top three finishers (Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Ryan Sieg) before FOX Sports 2 left Las Vegas to get back to … the same rugby game they left to go to Las Vegas in the first place. On my on-screen guide, the race was supposed to run until 10:00 p.m. ET (of note, the broadcast was also supposed to start at 7:30). If that was supposed to be the case, then FOX Sports 2 left Las Vegas 15 minutes early.

Overall, this was a decent race to watch. With a lot of the bigger names from recent years having moved to Cup, FOX Sports is in a position where they have to promote some of the newer drivers in the series quite a bit more than they have in the past. That can lead to some annoying things, like the focus on Kim Burton (Harrison Burton’s mother) in Daytona. Yes, Kim is really into Harrison’s racing. She’s no different today than she was 30 years ago. On the other hand, it can also lead to increased focus on drivers such as Sieg and Brandon Brown. If anything, the increased focus can only benefit the smaller teams in the series.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series will travel to Auto Club Speedway for 700 miles of racing. Should be interesting. Meanwhile, Monster Energy AMA Supercross will be at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. TV Listings can be found in the Television tab.

We will have a critique of the Cup and Xfinity Series races from Fontana in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch. For The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter, we’ll cover Friday night’s Strat 200, also known as the race which brought forth a bounty.

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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15 comments

  1. Avatar

    Overall I enjoyed the weekend. Sunday’s race was IMO a classic NASCAR mile and a half race. You had drivers come and go, pit strategy, tire wear, bumping. The only non-classic portion was those restarts which wow! How did they not wreck?
    The pre-race getting pushed because of the basketball game reminded me of why I don’t watch college basketball. The last 90 seconds of those games can take what feels like a half hour due to timeouts and constant fouling. Once they announced coverage was on FS2 I quickly changed the channel!
    Just a great Sunday of racing.

    • Avatar

      I was watching an NCAA basketball game years ago and it took 27 minutes to play the last 48 seconds. It’s worse now especially during March/April Madness. Some games I watch have TV time outs after 2 minutes of clock time. The coaches didn’t need to call a time out during the first half.

      • Avatar

        See that is just insane…until the fix that, I wont bother wasting my time. Could almost say…no point in watching till the final two minutes LOL!..sound familiar?

  2. Avatar

    I have not missed DW in the booth a bit, but wish I could miss his little brother. His near hysterical commentary is annoying, and his ‘grid walk is just embarrassing.

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      Agree. If anything, Dumber (Michael, his brother is Dumb), promotes the stereo typical image of the NASCAR fan and does us no good. He needs to go cover something more his speed. Maybe it can be found.
      NASCAR fans are not the numbskulls Dumber projects.

    • Avatar

      The 2 man booth has been awesome. No DW shouting over anyone and everyone. I can ignore MW as we don’t always have to hear him unlike his older brother who always made sure everyone heard him.

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        You hit the nail on the head with the “No shouting” observation. Man does that get on my nerves. There are times during a race that might warrant a raised voice but DW never figured that out and, since he was loud, the rest of the crew naturally got louder. (And NBC’s crew is even worse when it comes to shouting… and there are 4 of them.)
        We’ll have to keep an eye out for what cracks develop in the next couple of months, but so far a thumbs up from me.

  3. Avatar

    I thought both the race and commentary was decent enough at Vegas. Of course there is always room for improvement but if the rest of the races on FOX were at least at the same level, I’d be OK with it.

    I did like the “Fear In Las Vegas” spoof that Gordon, Waltrip and Ragan did before the race but that is because I am a big fan of the movie and book. I am guessing most fans thought it was stupid and didn’t get it. For me it provided a good chuckle.

    I’m with you SB, I wish we were “not missing” Michael as well.

  4. Avatar

    Thanks for the column. I do think conflicts of interest with commentators and a particular situation should be disclosed by the appropriate persons. While Dumber (Michael Waltrip) has no business relationship to any of the drivers, Austin Dillon’s Grandfather owns Snyder’s car. That should be disclosed up front. I knew it so it didn’t concern me.
    The two-man booth is growing on me. I do wish they would put Joy out to pasture and bring in Adam Alexander to the Cup booth. Overall, I’m just glad racing is back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Avatar

    I thought Gragson dumped Snider to get a caution to get him closer to the front since he had no chance to win. To me, the replay confirmed it. The caution was really convenient for Gragson. Maybe his arm got itchy and he tried to scratch it.

  6. Avatar

    The Snider/Gragson incident is where NASCAR needs to put big boy pants on similar to local tracks. You cause the caution or are a direct part of the caution to the back. NASCAR has black flagged or penalized others in the past for rough driving and based on the video should have penalized Gragson to the very end of the rolling field behind literally everyone. That move has no place in legit racing especially when he has a direct and obvious benefit in taking the action. Hopefully NASCAR will give him one of those secret fines Hamlin kept talking about a few years ago.

  7. Avatar

    Gee NASCAR bumped by basketball and BOWLING – wow – that’s quite a drop in the food chain for NASCAR. I don’t miss ole DW’s constant yapping in the booth – not one bit. Sometimes having them NOT talk and just watching the race works for me. Like other people, I would like to “not miss” Mikey, too. His presence is a major reason why I don’t watch the pre-race show and seldom tune into the truck races. At least I assume he is still on the truck races – someone please say if he isn’t because I would watch again.

    It was a nice day where I live on Sunday so I spent a lot of the day outside so for a change the late start worked out since I came in to see the last 1/3 of the race.

    • Avatar

      In fairness, no network is ever going to leave a current competition early, whether its bowling, badminton or croquet (look up “Heidi game” as for the reason why), so I don’t think it has anything to do with Nascar’s spot on the food chain.

      I too like the 2 man booth. Someone finally realized that silence in a booth once in a while is not a bad thing. Personally, sports should never have gone to the 3 man booth. Its even worse for golf when you have 7 or 8 talking about one player at a time.

      Sounds like the Cup race was a good one. Guess I missed out by not watching. Been a long time since I have said that.

  8. Avatar

    At some point should Michael Waltrip be so embarrassed from all the haters that he quits doing these broadcasts? I say it that way because I haven’t read one word from somebody who likes what he does and wants him to stay.
    Austin Dillon shouldn’t throw stones about taking someone out of a race. Remember the Daytona 500 and Aric Almirola.