Las Vegas Motor Speedway marked the first 1.5-mile tri-oval of the season. I was concerned that we wouldn’t get a good race on Sunday. That fear was unfounded. The race was very competitive and interesting to watch.
Before we get going, FOX Sports officially revealed their analyst schedule for their Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series broadcasts back on Thursday. Highlights of the schedule include Daniel Suarez being in the booth for Saturday’s Xfinity race in Phoenix, while Bubba Wallace will be in the booth for the Xfinity races at Darlington and Circuit of the Americas. Given Wallace’s near total lack of success on road courses in the NASCAR Cup Series to this point, COTA seems like a strange choice. I feel like he should try to get a ride for that race and get some more seat time.
I can just see some fans getting up in arms over Suarez getting a turn in the booth. There appears to be a segment of the fanbase that can’t understand him. It’s never been a problem for me, personally. I understand him better than some of my own family members. Regardless, I’m looking forward to what Suarez can bring to the table.
The Driver’s Only broadcast will return after a year off at the second ALSCO Uniforms 300 of the year at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The official roles for that broadcast are unannounced as of yet. Things could get interesting, though.
Sunday ended up with Kyle Larson back in victory lane for the first time since the fall of 2019 (in NASCAR, at least). This is a hallmark moment for Larson’s comeback to the NASCAR Cup Series after his suspension last year.
Am I happy that Larson won Sunday? Admittedly, I’m rather neutral. I figured that he was going to win at some point this year. He’s in too good of a situation not to. It would have been more telling if he didn’t win this year. I will say that I thought it would take him longer to win than he did.
Larson is clearly appreciative of where he is right now. He said as much during his post-race interview. There wasn’t much discussion as to why he had to put himself on the comeback trail. FOX seemed to believe that everyone already knew how he got himself into his current position. There’s a reason why Rick Hendrick is effectively self-sponsoring Larson. When you really think about it, this was all self-inflicted on his part. In NASCAR, he’s likely settled in to a much better position as compared to what he had before.
If you really wanted to hear Larson talk about his off-track activities Sunday, you had to take a look at his post-race press conference. Here, one of the writers asked him about his Drive For 5, which is a new aspect of the Kyle Larson Foundation. Long story short, Larson plans to continue a number of the initiatives that he was involved with last season during his suspension from NASCAR.
Larson’s win really didn’t elicit much of a reaction outside of NASCAR’s fan base. I don’t even recall the race making SportsCenter, which I often watch in the mornings before I start work.
That said, there were plenty of bad takes on the internet. Larson’s performance was by no means the start of a “revenge tour,” as one NASCAR YouTuber claimed in a video. That would assume he was wronged last year. Skill-wise, Larson was never gone at all. Given the 2020 that he had outside of NASCAR, he probably got better as a driver during his suspension by expanding his versatility. The man has won in basically everything he’s ever driven. Not many people can say that.
As you know, Las Vegas is the hometown for the Busch brothers. Kurt is likely more associated with Las Vegas than Kyle, though. Here, we had a feature with Adam Alexander spending time with the older of the Busch brothers. They spent time at the South Point Hotel & Casino, where Kurt’s 1999 Southwest Tour championship car is currently on display and at The Bullring at Las Vegas, the three-eighths of a mile oval on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway that pre-dates the tri-oval.
Here, Kurt talked about how he raced on the Bullring and even worked a little on the safety team. His former boss talked about how Kurt tried to break up a potential fight by shadow boxing one of the protagonists. That must have been something to see back in the ’90s.
Pre-race coverage was a bit lacking. Michael Waltrip can’t do his “traditional” grid walks right now, so FOX attaches a Michael Waltrip cutout to a camera and has him ask questions on a monitor to drivers. Even then, you don’t hear much from them. Sunday saw that segment cut off mid-stream after only one interview, which likely means that something else had run long. They gave a microphone to Denny Hamlin, then nothing happened. It’s just the latest in confusing things between Waltrip and Hamlin. Over the years, I’ve watched Waltrip’s banter with Hamlin and have no idea where the two of them stand. They’re likely legitimate bros away from the track, but half the time, it seems like Hamlin would like to take the aforementioned Waltrip cutoff on the camera and do this to it:
I’m reminded of the time that Waltrip was carrying around a bag full of tacos during his grid walk at Texas in 2015 (along with a stuffed rendition of Dallas, the dog shared (at the time) by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick (Dallas currently lives with Patrick). Then, this happened:
On the pre-race topic, I feel like there’s only so much hyping that they can do for the races with no practice, no qualifying and no real way to talk to anyone substantially. The pre-race shows (especially for the Trucks) have been lengthened due to the lack of the ancillary programming that usually airs during the race weekends.
Honestly, I’m going to look back at this race and think that things are getting a little silly up in the booth. By all means, covering a race is fun. Most of us here at Frontstretch truly miss having the ability to properly cover races.
That said, there were moments in the broadcast where I couldn’t figure out what was going on because of a bunch of gibberish and games being played. I have no doubt that Clint Bowyer is having fun in the booth, but a little more control may need to be asserted in the booth by Mike Joy. Not enough to make it less fun for Bowyer and Jeff Gordon, but enough to keep everyone on task.
Later in the race, keeping everyone on task didn’t seem to be an issue. The production team was rather slow in picking up what happened on lap 251 to Alex Bowman. Gordon noticed his flat tire from the booth and how Bowman nearly got destroyed by Anthony Alfredo while trying to get to pit road. The regular cameras didn’t catch it. The roof cam on Bowman’s car did catch the near miss, but that is not solely FOX’s responsibility. In NASCAR race telecast production, things like in-car cameras are considered to be a shared resource.
Regular fans will remember Sunday’s race for the fierce action on the restarts where drivers were two and three-wide for position. Joy described the race as the best-ever Cup race at Las Vegas, in concert with FOX NASCAR’s “Best Season Ever” ad campaign. Going by lead changes, it is not. Sunday’s race had the second-most lead changes in a Vegas Cup race. The record is 28, set in 2007, the first Cup race on the current configuration.
That said, the least competitive portion of the race was actually the stretch from the final stops to the finish. Larson got himself a three-second lead and was simply able to hold it.
Interestingly enough, Sunday’s race was the first race of the year that actually ended on time. That gives you an idea of just how much wrecking there has been so far in 2021, especially in the support series. As a result, viewers got a standard amount of post-race coverage.
Overall, this broadcast was all over the place. There was great racing and viewers got to see a lot of it. At other times, it had a lack of focus and a lot of random stuff being said.
Also, the overall COVID-19 situation continues to hurt viewers trying to get informed. Due to distance rules, pit reporters cannot interview crew chiefs during the race because that would require crossing the line to enter pit stalls. Given the noise in the pits (substantial), it’s literally impossible to conduct a regular interview down there unless you’re right next to the crew chief. I’ll be happy when that is no longer the case.
FOX has tried to substitute interviews with crew chiefs via the booth for this, but it’s clearly not the same. It seems like relationships are just not the same, especially with the Xfinity Series broadcasts. You seemingly only hear from Chris Rice of Kaulig Racing on those broadcasts. While yes, Kaulig Racing has been quite strong this season, they’re not the only show in town.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series teams travel to Arizona to compete at Phoenix Raceway. They’ll be joined by the ARCA Menards Series in a conjunction race with ARCA Menards Series West. The ARCA race is their season debut on MAVTV, but the race will also be available Friday night on NBC Sports’ TrackPass as well. In addition, the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series starts their season with the Amalie Oil Gatornationals in Florida, while Monster Energy AMA Supercross teams travel to Arlington, Tex. for the first of three rounds at AT&T Stadium. Also, please make note that Daylight Savings Time begins this weekend. Most of the country moves up an hour. Most of Arizona is the exception to the rule. Since the majority of the state doesn’t observe the time change, they will move from two to three hours behind Eastern time early Sunday morning. TV listings can be found in the TV tab above.
I will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races from Phoenix for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter, we’ll either have two separate articles, or one big one in order to cover the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series races from Las Vegas.
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