Oh boy, here we go again. Five races in a row with weather delays. Jeepers. Last week, NASCAR and INDYCAR held a tripleheader weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Saturday seemed to go off without a hitch. Sunday brought lightning delays, tire issues and some dangerous stuff in the pits, though A lot was outside of NASCAR’s control.
Outside of television in general, the noose investigation has come back into the news in the absolutely most predictable way possible. I’m honestly surprised that it took President Trump this long to chime in, but what he tweeted is not surprising to me at all. There are like 84 different things that are more important right now for him to be focusing on than this, but here we are. We already know what happened and how it got there. There’s already been an investigation with the FBI. I don’t have to rehash all that since if you’re reading this article since you probably already know the details. I just find this whole mess incredibly frustrating personally and professionally.
In this situation, we have to take a look at how NASCAR TV covered this mess. NBC Sports’ NASCAR America wasn’t on Monday, but FOX Sports’s NASCAR RaceHub was.
They led with Trump’s tweet and provided the responses from Bubba Wallace, NASCAR and Richard Petty Motorsports co-owner Andrew Murstein. There were also supporting tweets from Tyler Reddick (since deleted under unclear circumstances), LeBron James and Jimmie Johnson. In the case of Reddick, he was the first fellow driver to react to Trump’s tweet and his tweet was picked up on by ABC News before it was deleted.
There was no analysis of the whole situation here. Alexander simply let the statements speak for themselves. Knowing that we’re already a couple of weeks out at this point and that there was already plenty of discussion of this after Talladega, I suppose that FOX Sports didn’t feel like it was necessary here.
Let’s face facts: I still see all the posts about people abandoning the sport on Twitter and Facebook. It always seems to be the first dang post on seemingly every article having to do with the sport these days is someone saying something along the lines of “that’s swell, but I’m not watching you anymore because you’re turning your back on history.” Perhaps Trump has seen some of those posts.
The Battle Flag of Northern Virginia is always going to be controversial in this sport, no matter how you look at it. The perma-ban instituted last month was the conclusion of a five-year movement to try to steer the sport away from it. Brian France announced in 2015 that he wanted NASCAR to disassociate itself with the flag. You might remember the flag exchange being pitched back then where the battle flags could be exchanged for American flags. Not many people took advantage of that, but it was made available.
In fact, the flag exchange was first instituted for the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona that year, which just so happens to be the most recent Cup weekend there that I covered for Frontstretch. That weekend, I walked around the infield to see if I could find any of them. Found a couple in the camping areas, but not many. I feel like NASCAR might have made the move to ban the flag eventually without Wallace pitching it openly on CNN. Might not have happened as quickly as it did, though.
Overall, I would describe this as a better way to cover this type of situation than what they did when Brian France got busted driving drunk in Sag Harbor, N.Y. a couple of years ago. There, they basically tried to bury that story (despite it being huge at the time) in order to give more time to Chase Elliott winning his first Cup race. Leading with the story is not burying it. They were being up front with it, but didn’t spend too much time on it. I think they should have spent a little more time with the story, to be honest.
What we have here is another opportunity for NASCAR to stake their claim on their social position going forward. So far, they’ve chosen to reiterate the previous statements from the past month and act like nothing’s changed. In reality, that’s probably true. Nothing really has changed. It’s just that when someone with 82,852,885 followers on Twitter (as of 8 p.m. Monday) says that, it can automatically gain traction.
Before this hullabaloo broke out, I had a discussion with my dad during Sunday’s race about NASCAR’s recent moves to make themselves more inclusive. He’s not a NASCAR fan by any means, although he has been to one Cup race in the past. When he pictures NASCAR, he sees the NASCAR of the 1970s in the Wide World of Sports era with Richard Petty, David Pearson, the Allisons, Benny Parsons and the like. That version of NASCAR doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a whole new crew in there these days. For what it’s worth, my dad believes that NASCAR is truly sincere in trying to right prior wrongs and make the sport more inclusive. He also believes that I should have some kind of visible role in helping this inclusiveness program along. What that would entail, I couldn’t tell you because I don’t know.
Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Big Machine Records
Sunday once again brought bad weather to Indianapolis. Thankfully, it didn’t rain this time, but we did get yet another lightning delay. I think we’ve had more of those in the last couple of months than in the previous five years combined. If we can get through the upcoming Kentucky mega-weekend without another rain delay, I’ll be pleased.
TV-wise, there are three big stories this week. One is the pile-up in the pits during the competition caution on lap 14.
Let’s just be honest. This was scary. As far as pit accidents go, this is the worst one in years. I’d argue that it’s the fourth or fifth-worst one of the last 35 years and probably the second-or-third-worst since pit-road speed limits were enacted in early 1991. Unfortunately, with all the cameras that NBC had at their disposal, we didn’t really have a clear idea what caused the stack-up.
NBC took advantage of the shared content (the pit cameras) to give viewers a better idea of the overall situation. That gave us a clear shot of Jackman Graham Stoddard jumping onto the roof of Ryan Blaney’s Ford to avoid being hit first by Justin Allgaier, then Brennan Poole. Tire changer Zach Price took a big hit from Poole, getting briefly pinned against the Mustang. That brought up some bad Mike Rich memories (which is the obvious No. 1 on the worst pit crashes list). The fact that Price’s helmet came off was worrying as well.
In NBC’s case, they thought something like this was possible. Even on Saturday during the IndyCar and Xfinity races, they made note of the fact that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has the narrowest pit road and the narrowest boxes in the series. The stall lengths are designed more for Indy cars than anything else. That just means that it’s less likely that you’ll get blocked in, but the width has been a problem in IndyCar racing as well. Dale Coyne Racing has learned that the hard way on at least one occasion.
The second big story on the day was tires, which really shouldn’t shock anyone since tires have seemingly been an issue at Indianapolis for the last 15 years. We were treated to no less than five big wrecks because of blown tires. William Byron’s was relatively minor looking back, but the crashes for Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Alex Bowman and Erik Jones were serious wrecks. I have no doubt the four of them aren’t feeling swell right now.
We know that the latter four crashes were due to right-front tire issues. Despite NBC having two pit reporters Sunday, we never got any real idea what the tire wear was looking like. Aric Almirola and Christopher Bell made unscheduled stops due to vibrations, while others were more than likely curtailed in their efforts due to wear.
Apparently, Hamlin’s tires were showing cords at the end of each run, no matter what he did. Also, Rodney Childers (Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief) was well aware of that fact since Harvick was pitted next to Hamlin. I wish I knew that. I know that I come off like a completionist at times, but with an issue like that, I want to know what’s going on, especially if you’re going to have that many massive crashes due to tire failures. Sure, you can’t get right up in there because of the social distancing rules, but you have to have something. FOX has been able to at least give viewers something in the past month on issues like this.
The obvious reason for these issues is the fact that the track had no real rubber on it prior to the race due to a lack of practice. Given that the track was ground down after it was repaved last, you’re looking at a lot of the same issues that then-Lowe’s Motor Speedway had during the levigation year (2005), only they never go away. The track never really takes rubber due to the grooves in the track. In a normal Cup weekend, it often takes all the way to Sunday to get a decent amount of rubber down at Indianapolis. You just had no chance given these circumstances.
I suppose the only way to truly fix this is for Roger Penske to open up his wallet and have the track repaved while not making use of the grinding machines post-repave. That was how Lowe’s/Charlotte Motor Speedway’s tire issues 15 years ago were fixed. The incredible durability of the surface laid down at the time and how that has affected the racing product there is more or less beside the point.
Thirdly, Sunday was the first Cup broadcast of the year for NBC. Given NASCAR’s rules on who can be on-site, it was clear that they were not allowed to bring their full compliment of commentators to the track. As compared to FOX, they used a different tactic. They used two areas at Charlotte Motor Speedway as their broadcast booth. This is more or less what they normally do at CMS, but that allowed them to call the race remotely. This setup was a bit more natural than what FOX has worked with for the past several weeks, even though they’re not on-site.
It’s also far more crowded on-air since NBC had all four of their booth personalities in the two-booth setup as opposed to the two-man crew that FOX is currently using. The group of Rick Allen, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte bring a different feel to the broadcast. It’s respectful and competent.
That said, Sunday’s race was not necessarily the best. I think you can probably figure out why. Much like at Pocono, it’s just so hard to do anything with anyone out there. It’s possibly harder to pass at Indianapolis than at Pocono, and a lot of the things you could possibly do to make it better would be viewed as unethical there. It’s just a mess.
There was a decent amount of racing for position out there and NBC did a decent job in covering it. It’s just that when people stopped blowing tires, there was next to nothing going on. To think this rule package was pitched as the equalizer at Indianapolis and would create very competitive racing. Instead, all you have are higher cornering speeds and unnecessarily scary wrecks.
Post-race coverage was far more extensive than what FOX has offered recently. Viewers got a number of interviews, both during the actual broadcast on NBC and on the NBCSN-based post-race show. There was also a good amount of post-race analysis as well. The show was originally scheduled to run for a full hour, but the late start resulted in it being cut to a half-hour.
That’s all for this week. Later this week, we have another quintuple-header of races, this time at Kentucky Speedway. The Xfinity Series starts things off with two races on Thursday and Friday nights. Saturday sees the ARCA Menards Series race in the afternoon, followed by the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. The NASCAR Cup Series races 400 miles on what is likely to be a hot Sunday afternoon (because it always is in Kentucky this time of year).
Outside of NASCAR, INDYCAR travels to Road America for a doubleheader of action. It’ll also serve as the season-opening weekend for Indy Pro 2000 presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship. Formula 1 returns to the Red Bull Ring for the Grand Prix of Styria, named after the Austrian state in which the Red Bull Ring resides. Finally, SRO America will restart their season at VIRginia International Raceway. That’s a lot of action, folks. TV listings are in the TV tab above.
Given the sheer scope of the schedule this weekend, I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to break this up. At the absolute minimum, we’ll have a critique of the final FOX Sports 1 Cup broadcast of 2020, the Quaker State 400, in next Tuesday’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch. Beyond that is somewhat unclear. I could cover one or both of the Xfinity races, or just the Truck race scheduled for Saturday night.
For the Critic’s Annex this week, the mess surrounding President Trump’s tweet has resulted in a modified schedule once again. There will be two Annex pieces this week in the Frontstretch Newsletter (you can subscribe at the bottom of the page). Wednesday’s edition will have my critique of the Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard that was originally going to run here. Thursday’s Annex will have my thoughts on NBC’s broadcast of the GMR Grand Prix. One of those two critiques could show up here at Frontstretch as a special edition.
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