Given the schedule of the past week, we ended up with two NASCAR Cup Series races in three days. As a result, we have a rare twin-bill of Cup critiques this week. Let’s hope that this does not become a trend.
ALSCO Uniforms 500k
The past couple of weeks have been exhausting for NASCAR teams. Racing seemingly every weeknight is brutal. Then it rains, making things take way longer than it should. I knew as soon as I saw ESPN’s Marty Smith on SportsCenter Wednesday afternoon, soaked to the bone and looking every bit like Jim Cantore (with the exception of the hair on his head) that they weren’t going to get that race in. That was around 5:15 p.m., nearly three hours before the scheduled start time. Sure enough, it didn’t. NASCAR postponed it right at the time they were going to start the broadcast.
Thursday night, the broadcast started out with a few interviews with a darkening sky. Yes, it was sunny, but trouble was not far away.
Sure enough, it didn’t take long for trouble to rear its head. Just 26 laps in, lightning was sighted relatively close to the track. Here, Mike Joy informed viewers that the cameramen had to leave their positions and seek shelter. A few laps later, NASCAR threw a caution due to Matt Kenseth’s spin that quickly became a red flag. That resulted in a break of more than an hour.
I’m not going to sit here and debate the reasons why this was done. We know why it was done. It’s a safety situation. People have died at races due to lightning strikes and nobody wants that to happen again. I remember seeing lightning strikes on the broadcast of the TranSouth 400 at Darlington live back in 1999 and thinking, “Gee, I wouldn’t want to be there right now.”
It does bring up a question, though. Is there a different rule in effect in regards to when the cameramen get pulled down as compared to when NASCAR stops a race due to lightning? For reference, NASCAR uses the eight-mile rule. If lightning is spotted within eight miles of the track, a full stop-down occurs for at least 30 minutes. I only ask because there was a lag of nearly five minutes between FOX Sports giving their order to pull in their cameramen and the race stopping.
Had the race continued beyond lap 32, FOX Sports 1 was prepared to broadcast the race solely with in-car and robotic cameras (all of which are controlled from the TV compound). There also would have been fixed cameras in the mix as well. Viewers got lucky that we were able to see Kenseth’s spin, because it happened just as the camera that caught it was being covered up.
Given the situation in Charlotte, red flag coverage was constrained at best. Viewers got a couple of interviews via Skype. Afterwards, FOX Sports 1 went to a repeat of 100,000 Cameras: The Return of NASCAR. When that finished up, it was time to get back to racing.
Honestly, I was expecting the first two weeks back to the track to be a series of quick events where they come off like everyone’s trying to get the heck out of there. Basically, what you typically see with races delayed or postponed due to rain. We’ve kind of gotten the reverse of that.
Thursday night’s action was decent, but really nothing special. You had slightly more lead changes (per capita) than you did during the Coca-Cola 600, but it didn’t really stand out. Yes, the groove finally seemed to widen out, but should that really take four nights of racing to accomplish? No. Especially not on a track that has 14-year old pavement. That might shock some of you knowing that the previous re-pave didn’t take anywhere that long to truly become racy.
Also, there was a lack of clarity surrounding what caused the seventh caution. Just knew that it had something to do with Timmy Hill. Viewers didn’t learn until the starting lineup was being shown Sunday prior to the Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500 that he had run out of gas on-track. Don’t know why that didn’t make the broadcast Thursday night.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed some changes with FOX Sports’s scoring pylon. The ongoing issues have resulted in a subtle but noticeable change. The positions used to change in real time. Now, they change every lap, similar to what is done for Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series races.
Since the race ended around 11 p.m., post-race coverage was not too extensive, but viewers got to hear from four different drivers before the broadcast came to an end.
Overall, I’d argue a quite different opinion of this race than a lot of other people. There have been a number of people arguing that we should do away with practice permanently and shorten weekends because of this on-track product. If anything, I’d want to have practice, if for no other reason than for safety concerns.
Also, while it’s not so much of an issue in Cup, you’ve got drivers making series debuts with no track time at all. We’ll use the example of Carson Ware, who made his Xfinity debut Monday night at Bristol for SS-Green Light Racing. He’d basically never driven a Xfinity car before, and would have been unleashed on the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” from 13th on the grid had he not dropped to the rear for the start. There was no mention on whether the move was voluntary or not. Luckily, Ware more or less kept out of trouble. Another example is Tony Mrakovich. He was originally going to debut at Bristol a couple of years ago, but did so badly in practice that JGL Racing had to replace him for the weekend (he eventually debuted a couple of weeks later at Richmond). Imagine that happening in a race.
Honestly, the vibe I keep getting from everyone is that they just want to stay home more. It’s an extension of everything that we’ve seen from Cup drivers over the past few years that realistically hurts the sport. Can’t do anything about it right now, but once things go back to normal (whenever that is), I’d rather not see midweek events. It doesn’t really work for fans all that well.
Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500
Sunday afternoon saw below normal but very comfortable weather in Bristol for the NASCAR Cup Series. Viewers saw a wild and woolly race with 17 cautions for over 100 laps and a bunch of wrecking. Also, Brad Keselowski was a surprise winner despite leading 100 laps. About the only way you could led one-fifth of a race and surprise people by winning.
This race will be best remembered for the last 10 laps with Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin all fighting hard for the win. First, Hamlin made an unforced error and got out of the groove, tapping the wall in the process. That allowed Logano to get alongside. Elliott gave Logano a tap, which shoved him into Hamlin. Hamlin ended up spinning and taking out an innocent BJ McLeod in the process.
After the restart, heck went down again as Logano was able to get past Elliott for the lead, then contact was made. While Keselowski sauntered off to his second win in a week, you had a couple of angry men afterward. I feel like had this happened at Phoenix or anytime last season, the post-race outcome might have been different. NASCAR has not spoken publicly on this issue since the season resumed, but I’m pretty sure that they’ve told the drivers that they’ll have a no-tolerance policy for fighting. That’s not because they don’t want the drivers to show emotion, but because of the pandemic. It would be in line with other sports.
Viewers did get back-to-back interviews with both Logano and Elliott and got both their sides. Logano was pretty ticked off over the whole situation. Honestly, had the last wreck not happened, he still would have been angry. Elliott was a little steelier.
Honestly, the fact that Sunday was the first race with the new rules package for short tracks and road courses was not really talked about all that much until we got well into the race. While lead changes were legitimately identical to last year (21), the type of racing you saw was different. That said, had this been a normal race weekend, it might have been different again.
Cars were not glued to the track, which made for a better race. You could hunt around to a point, although the PJ1 TrackBite still played a huge role. It was an exciting race to watch. The race had the most cautions (17) in a Bristol race since the track was reconfigured, so that took a little getting used to. I should just increase the number of yellows that I expect in these races. I’ve undersold them in almost every race since the season resumed.
There was a good amount of action for position Sunday, making for an enjoyable afternoon and early evening. The action was quick from the start and drivers were more than willing to fight for their positions. It was exciting to watch.
In addition to coverage of the Elliott-Logano mess post-race, viewers also heard from Keselowski before the broadcast ended and … restarted. That was intentional, as a repeat of the race was scheduled for immediately following the event. That said, viewers still didn’t get to see from Clint Bowyer, who finished second, or Jimmie Johnson. The Bowyer interview ended up airing on NASCAR RaceHub Monday night prior to the Cheddar’s 300, but I don’t recall the Johnson interview airing at all. I just know for a fact that it would have happened.
Overall, Sunday’s race struck me as the more inclusive of the two events. There were a good number of battles throughout the field that got a good amount of coverage. The on-track incidents did lead to some underdog drivers doing quite well. Hill managed a 19th-place finish on the lead lap. Gray Gaulding was on the periphery of getting back onto the lead lap with 100 laps to go before he binned it. Despite that, the performance should be considered something of a confidence builder.
That’s all for this week. This weekend, all three of NASCAR’s National Series will be in action at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series teams will race Saturday, while Cup teams will race Sunday. Meanwhile, the NTT IndyCar Series season will begin Saturday night on NBC at Texas Motor Speedway. TV listings are enclosed in the TV tab above.
We will have critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races from Atlanta in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex on Thursday will cover Monday night’s Cheddar’s 300 for the Xfinity Series, featuring the Busch brothers in the booth. Let’s just say that it’s interesting.
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