Daytona is always an interesting race weekend. This one was shocking for two reasons. One, I was actually home for it. This was the first time I’ve actually been home for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 since 2009. The previous 10 years, I was either at the race, in Watkins Glen for the Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen, or at Lebanon Valley Speedway.
Given the current lunacy, none of those options were in play. Lebanon Valley’s season ended Aug. 22, three weeks ahead of schedule due to the state of New York not allowing fans in the grandstands, making it nearly impossible to generate revenue. Also, there was a lawsuit that a number of tracks brought against the state government that they lost.
The Six Hours is cancelled for 2020 after being moved twice. New York’s quarantine rules rendered it impossible to hold the race because it was impossible to get everyone into the state. For example, in order for the NASCAR weekend originally set for Aug. 15-16 to have gone on as scheduled, everyone involved would have had to submit to mandatory COVID-19 testing and be in and out of the state within 24 hours (Remember, nearly the entire sport is based in a COVID-19 hotspot, and you would normally have to self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival). As you probably know, NASCAR isn’t testing anyone for COVID-19. They’re just doing temperature checks. All of the positives that we know of (Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon, etc.) came out of those people getting tested on their own time.
The other factor is that rain didn’t affect either race. That said, those factors combined to allow me to be at home to watch the races. Huzzah. Three of the six July Cup races I covered for Frontstretch were delayed or postponed due to rain. The last one I covered ended with Dillon’s flight into the catchfence at 2:42 a.m.
As you know, this has been yet another brutal week in regards to life relations. Protests are ongoing all over the country. A friend of mine in Portland posts constantly about the insanity that she sees there. Now, we have the police shooting in Kenosha, Wisc., the protests that came out of that and the killings that came out of that. Last week saw the NBA and NHL Playoffs grind to a halt, along with the WNBA, the Western & Southern Open and a number of baseball games. That did not happen in NASCAR. There were races in Daytona.
However, NASCAR did have a response to this whole mess. Steve Phelps came on NASCAR America Saturday to talk about the situation, something that had been hyped to a certain degree by Brad Daugherty on Countdown to Green the night before.
Phelps first talked about what has happened in the last couple of months in NASCAR, about how the sport has to listen and how they need to welcome more people to the sport. He wants “ …a more welcoming and inclusive environment in NASCAR, whether at the racetrack or you’re watching on television, that our sport is a place where everyone is welcome.” Effectively, this is a reiteration of what Phelps was saying a couple of months ago.
NASCAR has traditionally been a closed-off sport to anyone that comes off as being from the unknown. Especially in the peak years, you couldn’t get an interview to do anything in the sport unless you knew someone already there that could vouch for you. It’s arguable that part of the motorsports program at UNOH was based around getting the word out there to potential employers that this person has the skills.
As for Phelps’s idea of what he wants to see in NASCAR, I think you’re already starting to see some of it. Since June, NBC Sports has hired Daugherty (who conducted much of the interview) as an on-air personality. Jesse Iwuji is on broadcasts as a pit reporter. He’s slowly improving in that role with experience. Nashville Superspeedway (part of Dover Motorsports Inc.) has hired Erik Moses, most recently of the XFL’s Dallas Renegades, as the first Black track president in NASCAR ahead of the track’s first Cup race next year. Going forward, you may see more of these types of moves in the sport.
Yes, you may see some different faces on NASCAR TV broadcasts in the next couple of years. That’s OK. After all, we do have some older personalities that are beginning to pull back their involvement. They’ll need to be replaced in order to provide viewers with the proper amount of coverage. TV-wise, viewers aren’t going to accept just anyone in visible roles. They’ll want personalities who are knowledgeable about what they are speaking about, and that are engaging. It is my contention that if you see more minority representation, it will be from people with experience in the sport (hence Iwuji’s recent exposure). Because of that, I don’t think you’ll see much more of Ato Boldon on NBC’s NASCAR broadcasts (he still does track & field broadcasts for NBC Sports and the Olympic Channel). You’ll get Daugherty and Iwuji. Maybe you’ll see visible minority crewmembers (of which there are quite a few in the sport) on NASCAR RaceHub or NASCAR America. In the reporting corps? Who knows. As far as I know right now, there are not very many minority writers that cover NASCAR, and there never have been. For all I know, I could be the only Black writer with a NASCAR hard card right now, although I personally doubt that.
Phelps is big on the idea of community within the sport. This has always been a thing in NASCAR, although I believe that it waned once the series-wide TV deals started in 2001. It got too big for it’s britches.
Also, I have met Phelps once before, when NBC Sports announced NBC Sports’ TrackPass last November in Miami Beach. He struggled through a question I asked him during the conference about which series would end up as TrackPass exclusives, but he didn’t hide that fact. When I talked to him afterwards, he admitted that his response to my question stunk (my words, not Phelps’s) and he was able to clarify. I have no reason to believe that Phelps isn’t being genuine.
To be honest, I want NASCAR to be more inclusive. Admittedly, it is dependent on where you are as to how diverse NASCAR’s fanbase is. I think the parts of the United States where the fanbase is most diverse are places you don’t expect: southern California, Nevada, Arizona and south Florida.
It’s arguable that NASCAR is at least partially responsible for how many people in the United States view auto racing in general. Really, none of the other sanctioning bodies are really attempting to increase inclusiveness at the moment with the exception of INDYCAR (on the lower levels, they’re more concerned with money than anything else right now, so they do not care at all). Phelps strikes me as an intelligent man, but he has to know that to truly make NASCAR inclusive is going to take a long time, possibly longer than he’s even with the organization. You have to undo a 70-year history where the sport has really not been friendly to outsiders. That’s not easy.
It should be noted that there was some terrible weather in my neck of the woods Saturday night. Pre-race coverage cut in and out due to severe thunderstorm warnings and even a tornado warning. I had to watch Phelps’s interview after the fact because it was interrupted by multiple warnings. Yes, a twister touched down about 18 miles from my house while Phelps was on TV. There were active tornado warnings in our viewing area past 7 p.m., so I missed the start of NBC’s broadcast.
The meteorologists at WNYT cut in multiple times during the race to give additional updates (thankfully with a picture-in-picture setup) on the conditions. As far as I know, no one was hurt here. For those of you wondering, this will give you an idea of the damage done up here.
Needless to say, it was frustrating as heck trying to watch the race with these constant interruptions. I understand why it was happening since that was clearly a dangerous situation in the Stillwater, Schaghticoke and Mechanicsville areas (note: It was actually sunny at my house when that happened, then it starting pouring right around the time the race started, which led to more National Weather Service alerts).
I cannot speak for any of you, but I missed the first four laps of the race. The broadcast cut to a commercial break halfway through the final pace lap for seemingly no reason at all. By the time it came back on, the race was on lap 4. I was rather peeved here. This had nothing to do with weather as this was not accompanied by a cutoff to the studio or a National Weather Service alert. Just a cut to local commercials a minute before the green flag. I cannot speak on whether this happened to any of my readers. If it did, by all means, comment below.
In both races last weekend, NBC and NBCSN just didn’t do a very good job covering incidents. If they caught it live, well, that’s great. If they didn’t, good luck figuring out what happened. James Davison crashed on lap 143 Saturday night and I have no clue what happened. There was no replay, no nothing. Just a shot of him driving back to the pits with a wounded Jacob Companies Chevrolet. Whatever happened there, it put him out for the night.
In the race itself, the maximum focus was given to Johnson, Matt DiBenedetto and William Byron since they were the three drivers fighting for the final two spots in the playoffs. This was obnoxious. I say it every year, but that kind of coverage drives me insane. It’s a superspeedway race at Daytona. Don’t cover the race like there’s only three to five people in the race that matter. You’re hurting yourselves by doing that, regardless of the time of the year.
Also, there was a lot of name botching Saturday night. You guys have been calling multiple races a weekend for the last two months. That shouldn’t happen, guys. I don’t believe this has been that much of a problem over the past couple of years. I could make the argument that Dale Earnhardt Jr. might have intentionally botched a driver mention in order to mock Rick Allen. They’re comfortable enough with each other to do that (something that Allen has told Frontstretch was intentional when the booth was put together). What’s happening? Is simply not being able to see the drivers on a regular basis hurting their work?
Post-race coverage was quite substantial. The race ended earlier than NBC thought it would. As a result, the 11 p.m. NASCAR America Post-Race broadcast was cancelled. Viewers got interviews with the playoff contenders (including Byron, who won the race). There were also point checks and post-race analysis before a sign-off in time for the late news.
Overall, this broadcast was annoying for a couple of reasons. One was outside of NBC’s control. I can’t determine what the weather is going to be in my hometown when it’s race time. But the excessive focus on the Johnson/Bryon/DiBenedetto battle annoyed me all night. Yes, the sport needs to be inclusive. That goes for race coverage as well. I didn’t tune in to Saturday night’s race to see three hours of focus on three guys. Neither did the fans of the other 37 drivers.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend sees all three of NASCAR’s National Series racing at Darlington Raceway. For the Cup Series, the Cook Out Southern 500 will be their third visit of the year. The Trucks will be racing at Darlington for the first time since 2011.
Meanwhile, IMSA will be at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta for a makeup weekend to replace Watkins Glen. They’ll be racing six hours on Saturday. Should be fun… and humid. Formula 1 will be at Monza in Italy for high speeds. TV listings are in the TV tab above.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races at minimum in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex, we’re down to either one or two editions this week. We’ll either have one for the CarShield 200 presented by CK Power from Gateway and one for the Wawa 250 presented by Coca-Cola, or one that covers both.
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