(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX, NASCAR Come Face-to-Face With a Social Crisis

Last weekend was … something else. NASCAR found itself in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Thankfully, the noose in the garage was found not to have been intentionally planted there for intimidation purposes. That said, it was there.

I checked my photos from last October in Talladega to see if I noticed anything. From what I can tell, the garage Bubba Wallace’s team had was the same one that Paul Menard had last fall. I found one picture of that area that I took during a short jaunt in the garage area, but the angle was such that I couldn’t make out anything other than the top of the cord.

Despite the whole situation, we still had a very emotional couple of days at the track for the NASCAR Cup Series. FOX was there and had to cover the weekend based on what they knew.

Given what they knew at the time, it was a very tense atmosphere in Talladega Monday afternoon (June 22). The beginning of FOX’s broadcast reflected that. Mike Joy did not write his words for the opening to the broadcast. Instead, he simply said what came to mind in the moment over the shot of the drivers pushing Wallace’s car to the front of the grid.

I personally have no doubt that Joy’s words were genuine here, as was the actions of the drivers and the crew members from the other teams. It’s often been said that the NASCAR garage is very close-knit. Maybe it isn’t as much as it once was, but it is nothing but a supportive place.

I hope that the fact that this was not a hate crime doesn’t change the images that we saw Monday at all. If some other person comes along and actually wants to do harm to Wallace or anyone else in the garage area, I hope that everyone would still come together in a time of need like what we saw Monday. I think they will.

The general tone Monday was reflected by Jimmie Johnson in his pre-race interview with Jamie Little. He said he was “disturbed” by the news. I suppose we all were. Given that only the series officials, team members and staff for Talladega Superspeedway were in the garage Sunday, we could only go by what they say. None of us were there, so we couldn’t verify for ourselves.

As you all know, the start times were an issue both days. It appears that FOX was responsible for much of the rain issues due to their quest for ratings, especially on Monday. Traditionally, NASCAR would schedule rain-delayed races to start quite early so that they could get them in and get everyone out as quick as possible. In the early 1990s, 10 a.m. local time on the next clear day was a popular time to start postponed races.

However, NASCAR is a lot more beholden to television now than ever before — even more so now that they can’t pack the stands anymore due to the ongoing pandemic. The fact that a lot of people are working from home is probably one of the many reasons why FOX thought it was a good idea to start the race broadcast at 3 p.m. Monday.

It was still a bad move. It had more or less been dry all day at Talladega prior to the start of the race. Had the race started the race at Noon local time, then they would have gotten three-quarters of the race in before it rained instead of 57 laps. They could have called it at that point. Given that NASCAR waited out a delay of over three hours at the two-thirds mark of the race back in 2013, they might have waited it out even if the track got soaked. Knowing what actually happened with the precipitation, they would have waited the 57 minutes that we actually had to sit under the red flag and concluded the race from there, finishing around 4:50 p.m. local time.

Sunday had the same issues. NASCAR usually issues the hurry-up orders for races when there’s a certain chance of precipitation on race day. Problem is, that potential has to be in the cards a couple of days in advance so that they can work things out with the track and the network (in this case, FOX). It really wasn’t in the forecast early enough, so everything went forward as originally scheduled.

FOX never really talked about the potential for rain during NASCAR RaceHub prior to the race because that show was not live. It was, however, taped a couple of hours before it airs (as far as I know, this is not the case with the weeknight shows). As a result, I was getting nervous during the show. When the broadcast cut to Talladega at 3 p.m. Sunday, it was already raining there.

At this point, it would not be a bad idea to have a meteorologist either on-site in the studio, or someone that can satellite onto the broadcast to talk about the local weather at the track that day. That person could be Tara Lane, the chief meteorologist at WJZY FOX 46 in Charlotte, someone local to the market that the race is in that week (in the case of Talladega, the Birmingham/Tuscaloosa/Anniston market), or someone like Brian Neudorff, who you might have seen on Twitter in the past. Honestly, given the Birmingham market, the obvious choice here would be James Spann, but he doesn’t work for a FOX affiliate (he’s with ABC 33/40), so they might not like advertising the competition.

Admittedly, this is something that FOX has done in the past with pre-race shows. It worked then and could work now. The weather we’ve had since the season restarted in mid-May has been rather brutal, and I think it’s worth thinking about.

Given the situation Sunday, there really wasn’t all that much that FOX could do with their broadcast from Talladega. They almost immediately cut to alternate programming because of (once again) lightning. Viewers were treated to Radioactive from Homestead, along with a couple editions of 100,000 Cameras before the race was postponed.

Monday’s delay was different. There didn’t appear to be any lightning in the vicinity (thankfully). There were some interviews during the delay before FOX broke away to Unrivaled: Earnhardt vs. Gordon. That show is still getting decent airplay on FOX Sports 1, 16 months after it premiered. By the time it was over, the race was about to restart.

Admittedly, a lot of the news off the track really detracted from the on-track action on Monday. The new rules put in place after Daytona made for a slightly slower race, but it was still very enjoyable to watch. Probably one of the best at Talladega in quite a while.

Lead change-wise, Monday’s race was the most competitive at Talladega since the tandems were broken up at the end of 2011. Yes, Team Penske dominated much of the action, but it was far from a foregone conclusion, like what happened in 2018 with Stewart-Haas Racing.  That was rather disappointing to watch from my hotel room in Norcross, Ga. Might have been worse had I made the 125-mile drive to the track that day.

FOX sent two pit reporters to Talladega; Jamie Little and Vince Welch. Together, they provided a good amount of information on the broadcast. I’ve felt lost without a lot of that information in recent weeks. That wasn’t the case on Sunday. Having said that, there was little information about what happened with Matt Kenseth’s No. 42 Chevrolet after he suddenly slowed. Looking back now, his description of not having brakes all of sudden sounds familiar to what happened to Wallace in both races at Charlotte last month. Therefore, the apparent hub issue makes sense. However, no updates were given after he slowed and I couldn’t find updates on Twitter.

The action was fast and furious on Monday, and I felt that Joy and Jeff Gordon were more than up to the task. There are a couple of ways that you can cover a Talladega event. One is to cover it with rapid-fire commentary since so much is happening at once. The other is to more or less wait until certain things happen (other than the wrecks) and focus more on generalities. FOX’s coverage Monday was somewhere in-between. This would have been a rather chaotic race to cover on radio.

I did have a couple of issues. I couldn’t really figure out what happened in the Brennan PooleJoey Gase crash. The only replay that FOX had was from Poole’s roof cam (which I thought was interesting that they had one in the No. 15 Monday to begin with). Gase indicated that Poole blew a tire on Twitter.

I went back and watched that replay and couldn’t tell. I thought Gase might have run into the back in Poole and that’s what put Gase in the wall, but I’m unsure since there was no footage of Gase hitting the wall.

Since it was nearly 8 p.m. ET by the time the race ended, post-race coverage was relatively brief. Viewers got three post-race interviews with winner Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Wallace, along with some post-race analysis before FOX’s prime time programming began.

I really wish that NASCAR didn’t have the precipitation issues in Alabama. FOX did the best they could to work around them. The real focus on the day was the ongoing multi-weekend storyline around inclusiveness in NASCAR, tolerance and diversity. I think FOX did well with that.

Having said that, I am worried that the fact that the FBI investigation found that the noose was not planted there by a racist could undermine some of the gains made in inclusiveness over the past few weeks. Looking at Twitter now is not promising. Heck, there were already people on there Monday claiming the whole situation was a hoax.

That’s all for this week. This upcoming weekend will be a quintuple-header at Pocono Raceway with two races for the NASCAR Cup Series, along with events for the Xfinity, ARCA Menards and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. That’s going to be a busy one. TV listings are in the Television tab above.

We will provide critiques of the Cup broadcasts at minimum in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For this week’s edition of The Critic’s Annex, we’ll cover Saturday’s Unhinged 300 and General Tire 200 from Talladega.

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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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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19 comments

  1. Avatar

    FBI foils Crapcars latest scheme to be relevant again. Hilarious.

    Can’t believe I’m saying this but maybe they need to put Brian France back in charge lol.

    • Avatar

      Back when Brian was in charge everybody knew it was the WWE on wheels. It’s “supposed” to be different now but it’s not evident.

      • Avatar

        Phil,
        Great article I would like your opinion on the following: Do you think Bubba truly embraces being the face of change for NASCAR? At times his body language says ” just let me go race”. I get the feeling that there may be some people involved that do not have Bubba’s best interest at heart,. How do you assess Bubba’s comfort with being the only significant driver of color in Nascar? Has NASCAR done enough to truly implement diversity in the sport. One owner , Brad Daughtery, and one driver Bubba. Personally I think NASCAR has failed Bubba in terms of parlaying his success into bringing more diversity to the sport.

        Thanks for the opportunity to create dialog.

        Thanks,

        • Avatar

          I think Bubba definitely wants the change, but being the face of the change may be taking it’s toll. That said, I think he’s handling this very well. To his point, his on-track performance has not been affected in any way. The unjust comparisons to Jussie Smollett are definitely angering him, as are some of the comments on social media over the past couple of days. He admitted as such when he was on CNN with Don Lemon Tuesday night (Note: Lemon cut off Bubba a bunch on there, which annoyed me). I just hope Bubba doesn’t get worn down by it all. Interesting enough, him getting worn down is why I didn’t try to book a sit-down interview with him during his rookie year in Cup.

          He’s comfortable being the only African-American driver in Cup. He’s been in that position in the vast majority of the races he’s been in, so he’s used to it.

          Finally, no, NASCAR hasn’t really done enough over the years to make the sport more diverse. I got into NASCAR at an early enough age that I didn’t notice just how homogeneous the sport was at the time. Daugherty is a unique case. He grew up a fan and started a team so his childhood friend (Robert Pressley) could race in the Busch Grand National Series. Even now, you would have to be in the garage to know how diverse it actually is. It’s more so now than ever before.

          There has been plenty of criticism over the years of NASCAR’s diversity initiatives. Some claim that it was nothing more than lip service, others saying that non-minorities would miss out on opportunities and everything in between. It was never really a priority in NASCAR until the last 20 years or so.

          The fan base is still very homogeneous, but you do see minority fans at races. Their numbers are slowly climbing.

    • Avatar

      Sick of hearing the word Noose. It was a knot with a loop in it to grab and pull.

      • Avatar

        I hope this comment comes from the false information from ignorant people who hadnt seen it and not after seeing the picture of the noose that was released today.
        If you did see the i feel sorry for the hate you have in your hear.

        • Avatar

          So you know better than the FBI. Wasn’t a noose no matter how bad you want it to be. What is a FACT is that NASCAR is infringing on people’s freedom of speech and expression. Hate speech is a BS phrase designed to aid the process. They will lose fans.

  2. Avatar

    I think lost in the whole Darrell Wallace incident is the fact that nobody is talking or writing about the best finish in NASCAR history. To recap, the #20 car got slammed into the wall by the #12, only to be pushed, no rammed, over the finish line by the #38, to finish fifth. At the same time while racing the #12 car, the #47, turned the #10, who spun out and finished third, BACKWARDS. And btw, beating the #11 by one half an inch. Meanwhile the #47 battled the #12 for the win, losing by 1/2 a bumper. Oh and all this happened in .4 seconds at 198 mph. Perhaps we can take a short break from BLM and nooses to celebrate this historic finish?

    • Avatar

      What is the location of the cars transponders? Could this make a difference in scoring when a car crosses the finish line backwards? Or do they go to the photo to decide when its that close?

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      Heck, the whole darn race had me finding I was holding my breath with tightly clenched teeth, butt, and belly. Bubba’s side show didn’t interest me very much though. I’m just glad the FBI didn’t find any intent or wrong doing.
      Thanks for a pleasant article today Phil.
      David

    • Avatar

      Nobody cares. NASCAR has jumped on the divide and take freedoms in the name of social justice wagon. Bye

  3. Avatar

    One problem forgotten about with all this going on isn’t Nascar looking for a new series sponsor starting next year? They will have to show that they are for social justice or no sponsor will touch them.

    • Avatar

      In my opinion “finding a sponsor” was the worst thing that ever happened to NASCAR. When RJ Reynolds signed on racing became about winning the Winston Cup and not about winning races. That became the day that drivers began to be “happy with second place” because of the points and became “drivers” rather than “racers.”

    • Avatar

      I don’t believe that. They can just be real and have plenty fans who are brand loyal to sponsors and they will be fine.
      Social Justice? It’s called the Constitution and preamble. What they are doing is stepping on freedom of speech and expression. Once that starts it does not end until nothing is okay to say and freedom is extinct

  4. Avatar

    Well think enough said about bubba and the nascrap BS. My question is why do we have all these drivers in the cup series that have never won a race in any of the top 3 racing series. Of the seventeen bottom “qualifiers” only seven have won races in lower series. And of those only two bell and Custer are qualified to run cup. They both have multiple wins in both series and one even has two championships all the others are fillers or start and park.

    This is one reason why attendance and tv viewers is falling off. They bring no names up who haven’t raced enough to have a fan base or have made a name for themselves. Hard to root for someone you hasn’t even heard about.

    Losing interest in this type of “racing”.

    • Avatar

      Because it’s no longer about driving ability, it’s about how much money you bring to the table. Never has there been less talent in the series.

  5. Avatar

    Love your honest and concise information.

  6. Avatar

    I do think we need to look at the start time being later in the day as being a Good thing since maybe about 90 percent of NASCAR fans watch their races at home on TV.
    I work M-F until 3:30 so it would work just right for me.
    Even people working until 5 would get to see a lot of it.
    If you mean that it was a bad decision because it inconvenienced all the media and race track crews then yes I guess it was bad for y’all. But ain’t this a customer service industry based on making it good for the fans?