NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Couch Potato Tuesday: Richmond Provides Interesting Action If You Look Closely

Richmond Raceway in recent years has taken on a different look. Yahoo! Sports’ Nick Bromberg made note of this on Twitter after the race Saturday night.

This is something that I have noticed. Cautions in general in Cup races are down significantly from where they once were. Interestingly enough, they peaked right around the time that ratings did. I think there was a season in which the Cup Series averaged nearly 12 cautions a race. Insanity.

The Richmond of today is almost like the North Wilkesboro of the 1990s. The last nine races there averaged just three and one-third cautions per race. That included a caution-free race (run on a Monday) in the fall of 1992 and the 1994 Tyson Holly Farms 400, where Geoff Bodine administered a stomping on the field that likely will never happen again in Cup.

Also, before we get started, a quick explanation. If you were on the website last weekend, you probably noticed that the TV listings were not available. I know this happened because it freaked me out. That happened because we were trying to figure out what was causing the site’s recent speed issues. Those problems appear to have been rectified. Once that was fixed, the TablePress widget that I use to put the TV listings (and TV ratings) was re-activated.

Federated Auto Parts 400

Interestingly enough, the aforementioned North Wilkesboro race is a good one to look at when trying to write about Saturday night’s Cup race. While Brad Keselowski didn’t lap the field (or come particularly close to doing so since 11 cars finished on the lead at Richmond), you had a somewhat similar looking race due to the different pit strategies in play.

Given NBCSN’s substantial schedule of racing Saturday, there was only so much time for pre-race coverage. Viewers got an interview with Clint Bowyer, along with a brief introduction to Mike Metcalf Jr., Matt Kenseth’s gas man, as part of NBC Sports’ Pit Crew All-Stars.

Much like in Darlington, there was a heavy focus on the playoff contenders. Austin Dillon got plenty of coverage, but that was warranted. The No. 3 team seems to have flipped a switch recently and has greatly improved their performance. It seems that nobody really knew what to make of them. It’s almost like that’s been the case for Dillon’s entire career in Cup.

There were a number of references on air to the predictive software that the team runs back at their shop in North Carolina. As you may remember, Richard Childress Racing allowed NBC Sports to embed Marty Snider in their command center during the Super Start Batteries 400 at Kansas to get a better idea about what goes into their race strategy. It was an interesting look at how RCR is trying to improve their fortunes. It seems to be helping.

The general opinion coming out of Saturday night’s race was that it was boring. I guess for a number of viewers, the race simply got too spread out and the green-flag runs (especially the last one) were too long. It happens. That’s part of racing. I’ve covered a bunch of races with long runs. Heck, this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona had a 280-lap green-flag run. That’s a little more than one-third of the race and covered most of the late-night period.

Not having a bunch of cautions results in the race playing out in a more natural way. On road courses, this is generally more likely to happen anyway. NASCAR doesn’t necessarily have the best track record in use of full-course cautions on road courses, but it seems like the threshold for race neutralizations on road courses everywhere is dropping these days. For example, I watched the SuperGT race from Motegi live on The Race’s YouTube channel after the Cup race Saturday night. There was an abnormally long safety-car period in that race because of debris from one of the GT500 Toyota Supras.

Saturday night’s race saw a good amount of battling for position. I felt that NBCSN did OK in bringing that action to viewers, but they could do better. If this dang playoff wasn’t around, they could do a better job of covering all the stories from top to bottom.

Here’s an example of this: As you probably know, Dirty Mo Media sponsored Spire Motorsports and Ross Chastain in the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington. Mike Davis, JR Motorsports’ Director of Communications and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s co-host on The Dale Jr. Download, went to Darlington as a fan and sat in the stands. Here, he followed Chastain’s race closely. If you listened to last week’s episode where they interviewed Ernie Irvan, Davis talked about closely following Chastain over the final run of the race where he made up a complete lap over the final 41 laps to pass JJ Yeley on the final lap of the race for 29th.

Each race has plenty of stories out there from top to bottom. NBC Sports would do well to not limit themselves. That might be tough these days with the limited resources they’re allowed to have at the tracks. I wish that would end sooner rather than later, but I cannot control that.

There was one strange moment during the race where Dave Burns completely confused Aric Almirola’s team for Clint Bowyer’s. I was watching that at the time and thought to myself, “What the heck is he saying?” Yep, he goofed. Substantially. At least Burns acknowledged his mistake. Also, Almirola’s crew chief Mike Bugarewicz wore a balaclava on the pit box Saturday night. Interesting choice.

All three stages saw teams pick and choose between pitting once and pitting twice. The strategies were almost equal in the first two stages, but the two-stop strategy was superior in the final stage. Only Chip Ganassi Racing attempted the one-stop strategy and paid the price. Kurt Busch was much better than 13th for most of the night, but spending so much time on older tires as compared to the rest of his competitors more or less ruined his race.

The race actually ended a little ahead of schedule Saturday night. That allowed for a significant amount of post-race coverage. Of course, all of that coverage was centered around the playoffs. Viewers got a number of interviews and analysis from back in Charlotte before the broadcast ended at 11:30 p.m. ET.

Overall, this race might have been monotonous for some viewers, but you had to look deeper than normal. Passing was up significantly over last year. Then again, you basically had nowhere to go but up after last year’s race, where you just couldn’t pass at all due to the high downforce. There was a good amount of action out there to be had. Problem is, I don’t think the drivers are as aggressive now as they once were since there’s no room for error with this playoff format. In that situation, even if there is more on-track action, it doesn’t stand out.

ToyotaCare 250

Thursday night saw the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series return to action at Richmond Raceway for the first time since 2005. We had a heck of a time trying to find pictures to go with our preview articles this week. Regardless, there were 250 laps of truck racing on tap on FOX Sports 1.

Since Thursday night was the final race of the Truck regular season, there was a lot of playoff focus. Realistically, there were three drivers fighting for the final two spots, those being Tyler Ankrum, Todd Gilliland and Derek Kraus.

Prior to the race, Regan Smith conducted a one-on-one interview with Gilliland. On paper, this interview was very similar to the one that he conducted with Johnny Sauter prior to Darlington. The only difference was that Gilliland was far more confident.

Speaking of Sauter, he apparently spent most of Thursday night’s race reciting the script from South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. He was cussing so much that it ceased to make any sense at all. I’d post tweets that wrote out what he said, but this isn’t really the place for that. This low quality clip of Fowlmouth from Tiny Toons Adventures will have to suffice. It would probably have sounded like that if his radio chatter actually made the broadcast. He never had a chance. An unscheduled stop in the opening 10 laps put him way behind and he never caught up.

Kraus’ night was seemingly no better. He was laps down early and ended up five laps down at the finish since his truck was all over the splitter. That’s a shame, really. If you go by finishes, Kraus is probably one of the eight best drivers in the series this year. He’s done much better than I thought the McAnally-Hilgemann Racing team was capable of.

Yes, the coverage of the cutoff drivers was quite prodigious, especially early in the race. However, it became pretty in a hurry that no one was going to knock Ankrum and Gilliland out.

Outside of the playoff cutoff, the big story here was Kurt Busch entering the booth for the first of eight races to finish out the 2020 Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series season. I thought going in that the fact that he had actually raced a truck at Richmond would help him. I guess it did.

There were also a couple of notable moments, like the time he apparently texted his brother to bust his chops about Chandler Smith running over the square in the “Choose Cone,” drawing a penalty in the process. The response from Kyle Busch apparently involved expletives.

Kurt also gave a lot of dap to Zane Smith, praising his skills as a driver. Apparently, the two raced each other in rental karts at GoPro Motorplex, the Justin Marks-owned complex in North Carolina. Smith proceeded to trounce him. This isn’t like Smith picked “the fast kart” like the general public can do at a small go-kart. He beat Kurt on merit. That says something.

This was likely the best race of the weekend. I was thoroughly satisfied with the amount of action that was on offer. I will say that the NT1 engines in use rev so low in the turns that they’re not far off shifting. Telemetry showed trucks under 4000 RPMs in the turns. Had NASCAR not created gear rules that prohibit it, there would be two to four shifts a lap here.

Since Thursday night’s race was the end of the regular season, there was a bunch of post-race coverage. Viewers on FOX Sports 1 saw interviews with all 10 playoff contenders. They were all over the place in regards to placement, though. Matt Crafton, who finished second to teammate Grant Enfinger, was the last of the 10 interviewed. That struck me as strange.

There was one technical issue on the broadcast. During the final 40-50 laps of the race, the interviews on FS1’s scoring pylon froze. Not sure what was going on there, but they never changed over the final 30 laps at minimum. Kurt Busch noticed this and referenced it to his fellow booth mates. I’m operating under the opinion that the FS1 production team noticed this; they’re typically on the ball when it comes to issues like this. I guess they couldn’t fix it, though.

As you know, the final caution came out Thursday night with 80 laps to go. Only a few drivers pitted. Enfinger got the lucky dog after his green-flag stop, got tires and ran through the field to win. Other drivers that stopped had great finishes as well, like Codie Rohrbaugh. I feel like those drivers should have gotten a little more attention.

Overall, this was decent to watch. I didn’t like the overt playoff coverage, but I can’t do much about that. NASCAR felt the need (unnecessarily) to institute a playoff format in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, so I guess I just have to deal with it.

That’s all for this week. This coming week is quite busy. There is a quadruple-header scheduled for Bristol Motor Speedway. Thursday night will see the ARCA Menards Series and ARCA Menards Series East competitors run another conjunction race. That is the undercard event to the UNOH 200 for the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. Friday night brings the Xfinity Series to town, while the NASCAR Cup Series will complete the Round of 16 Saturday night. In addition, the biggest sports car race in all the land, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, is set for this weekend. TV listings are in the TV tab.

I will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races from Bristol in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex this week in the Frontstretch Newsletter will cover the Xfinity Series doubleheader from Richmond.

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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4 comments

  1. Avatar

    This ‘playoff’ format encourages drivers to not take chances (unless facing elimination) and makes drivers NOT in the playoff be very careful around those that are. Not a recipe for the mot exciting racing.

  2. Avatar

    I wouldn’t say that race was boring but a legitimate caution or two might have made it more exciting. On the plus side, races with no cautions don’t have any lucky dogs and wave-arounds so that a good thing. Personally, I like when there aren’t many cars left on the lead lap by the end of the race. It means that the entire race mattered and what happened in the early part wasn’t wiped away by the hand of NASCAR’s rules. Also loved the fact that tires mattered which created variable strategies.

  3. Avatar

    I like races without cautions. It means the fastest car that didn’t blow the engine or tire won. The whole team contributes to the win. For example: A car could have lousy pit stops all night long, maybe a penalty, gets a free pass and a late caution which puts him in the second row because of the choose rule. He then promptly takes out the car in front of him (Dillon style) and wins the race. A victory with a lot of flaws and some luck.

    The three mandatory cautions, competition, stage 1 and 2 are enough.

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