Phoenix is an interesting place. NASCAR seems to be placing outsized importance on the tri-oval these days, knowing that the track will host the season finale in November. It just doesn’t make sense to have it there, especially since the banquet is no longer in Las Vegas.
The past couple of weeks have seen a number of videos and articles designed around convincing NASCAR to move the final race of the year back to Homestead. Would it mean that Frontstretch would have a larger presence there once things go back to normal? More than likely (we had a small battalion on site the last four years that Ford Championship Weekend was in Homestead), but that’s primarily because the vast majority of our writers (but not all) live in the Eastern Time Zone. It’s not particularly easy to get to Phoenix. It seems that the American-U.S. Airways merger hurt Phoenix. Airfare into Sky Harbor International Airport is pretty expensive these days. It’s cheaper to fly to Las Vegas and drive down, but that’s 250+ miles, and Interstate 11 is a decade or more from being completed.
Sunday brought the NASCAR Cup Series out to play for 500 kilometers of action. Given the position of the track’s second race, the on-track product is critical as NASCAR doesn’t want a dud of a championship race. What we saw was better than November, but I don’t know if that means anything.
With Clint Bowyer in the booth this year, it was inevitable that the infamous confrontation between himself and Jeff Gordon at Phoenix in 2012 was going to come up.
I personally contend that absolutely none of this stupidity benefits the sport at all. It just allows for everyone to take pot shots at it. Back in 2012, the fight made big news on SportsCenter after the race. I wrote at the time that the regular anchors on the show that night (Kevin Connors and Steve Weissman) were more or less shocked at what they were seeing, while Ricky Craven put everything into context. Makes you wish Craven actually got a full-time race analyst position for Cup races before he retired. Of note, Connors is still with ESPN today, while Weissman works for Tennis Channel.
During pre-race coverage Sunday, FOX revisited the ridiculousness while referencing Comedy Central’s Drunk History. They were (apparently) drinking alcohol out of regular and mini-sized red Solo cups while discussing the incident. For the sake of this discussion, I’m pretty sure they weren’t drunk.
In addition, like on Drunk History, there was a re-enactment with Jamie McMurray as Gordon and Larry McReynolds as Bowyer. I’ll admit that I couldn’t see the reenactment portion when it aired because of some issues that I’m going to get into later.
Back then, there was no all-out championship race like there is now. There was still the Chase (with 12 drivers), but you had to accumulate the most points over the final 10 races. Bowyer entered Phoenix in third, 36 points behind Jimmie Johnson. Getting the title would have been very tough and required help (at the time, 36 points would have constituted three-quarters of a race). Gordon was 72 behind in a tie for fifth and would likely have been eliminated from championship contention.
Johnson did have a bad day, finishing 38 laps down in 32nd, but Brad Keselowski finished sixth and took the points lead. Had this crash not happened, he could have been a spoiler in Homestead.
A lot of people thought this piece was interesting and legitimately funny. I just thought to myself, “Why are they doing this?” As much of a history nut that I am, I don’t really want to relive something like that when I want to know things about the race coming up in 30 minutes. I just thought it was ridiculous, much like the fight back in 2012 was. Also, my gripes about the beginning of the whole scrum from 2012 still remain. Gordon was able to squiggle his way out of the mosh pit unscathed and I have no clue how he did it because of the bad camera angle.
For me, personally, Sunday’s race had some technical issues. My screen froze up multiple times before and during the race. One of those times was during the aforementioned re-enactment of faux-Gordon and faux-Bowyer arguing. It happened twice during the race. Not really sure what was going on there. It wasn’t really all that windy here on Sunday, so that’s not a reason. I did send out a tweet asking if anyone else was having technical issues. I didn’t get a response. Whether that means that this was just a me thing, or if no one saw it that did, I don’t know.
I felt that viewers got a decent amount of racing for position on Sunday. Given that the pavement at Phoenix Raceway is 10 years old now (remember, despite the reconfiguration of the track, they didn’t repave it to do it), you’d think that the groove would have naturally expanded out by now that they wouldn’t need the PJ1 TrackBite, but oh well.
Yes, it does change characteristics of the track. Does it need to be there? No.
I only say that because the PJ1 TrackBite always seemed to come up in the discussion all weekend. Watching the races on FOX and FOX Sports 1, it was as if you couldn’t pass at all if it weren’t there. I don’t really find that believable. If that were the case, it would be somewhat sad that it could be the case this far out from a re-pave.
Coming out of Sunday’s race, one of the biggest stories was the multitude of pit road penalties (10, in all). I don’t think FOX did a complete job explaining where these penalties were assessed. That said, the pit lane is wide enough that NASCAR’s method of calculating pit road speed causes problems in turns. They indicated that the turn might have gotten some of them, but I don’t know where any of the violations occurred.
With all of these penalties, you’d think that FOX would have done a better job covering these drivers as they came back up through the field. I didn’t find that to be the case. The only way to really do that was to stare at the scoring pylon, but that doesn’t really do a lot of good when you want to actually watch a race.
Post-race coverage was relatively brief despite the race still ending within the scheduled timeslot. Viewers only got three interviews with Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano before leaving Phoenix so that FOX could get to the thinly-veiled 30-minute commercial known as Cherries Wild (Jason Biggs, the host of the show, gave the command on Sunday). Note that the race broadcast was better than Cherries Wild. As a game show fanatic, I can tell you that I have a lot of issues with that show, but this isn’t a game show article, so I’ll just leave it there.
Overall, I found this event to be just OK to watch. You saw some good racing at times. I think the coverage was likely centered at the front of the field too much knowing that Logano led nearly half the race by himself. There was good action to be had for much of the race, but viewers didn’t always get to see that.
Call 811 Before You Dig 200
Saturday saw the Xfinity Series race for 200 miles at Phoenix Raceway. Unlike the Cup Series, this race was a bit of a wreckfest. That’s more or less normal in NASCAR outside of the Cup Series so far. Nearly one-third of Saturday’s race was behind the pace car.
For race fans, one of the primary draws to the broadcast was the debut of Daniel Suarez in the broadcast booth. Going in, that was one of the main aspects of the race that I was looking forward to.
Honestly, I thought that Suarez did a decent job. He more than held his own with Logano and did bring in some good analysis. He came off like he had studied a little prior to the race and knew what he wanted to talk about going in. He also brought a positive attitude to the booth as well. Let’s face it, in the years that FOX Sports has had guest analysts for Xfinity races, there is a low water mark. Hate to say it, but it’s Danica Patrick’s performance where she clearly didn’t feel comfortable participating much at Michigan in 2015. The high water is likely some of Kevin Harvick’s broadcasts from that year. Suarez is squarely in-between the two.
FOX Sports 1 also allowed Suarez to try to commentate in Spanish briefly. I know that this was received positively by some viewers on Twitter (I saw at least a couple of positive tweets and one was aired on the broadcast). Whether the rest of the viewership felt that way is anyone’s guess. Watching it reminded me of the time TBS cut over to the Fuji TV broadcast team on lap 100 of the 1997 NASCAR Special Suzuka Thunder 125.
Knowing how the race went Saturday, it’s not surprising that it was interrupted by a caution. This was when Tommy Joe Martins hit the wall in turn 2. Of the 11 cautions thrown Saturday, this was probably the one that needed to happen the least outside of the competition caution.
Speaking of cautions, I was not a fan of how FOX Sports 1 handled the mess at the end of stage one. Austin Cindric won the stage en route to his second victory of the year (he already has eight more playoff points than anyone else). They then chose to go to commercial so quickly that they didn’t make note of Jesse Little’s crash. At the time of the incident, Little was directly in front of Cindric (he was the last driver on the lead lap). They could have waited a couple of seconds and covered that crash live. As it stands, I only found out about the wreck after the commercial break. That just doesn’t seem right.
Like the other four Xfinity races this season, the race didn’t finish before the end of the scheduled timeslot. Viewers only got a couple of quick interviews with Cindric and Justin Allgaier before leaving Phoenix to get to the television premiere of Blink of an Eye.
Admittedly, I was happy to see that film on television, but I didn’t need to take notes on it. I already saw the movie when it was in theaters as part of a single-night engagement put on by Fathom Events. I still remember sitting next to a guy in his 40s or 50s that was wearing a Natalie Decker hat. My thoughts on the film were published in an edition of the Frontstretch Newsletter in late 2019. Generally speaking, I think it’s better than the book it’s based on, but I also don’t think it’s quite the tear-jerker that FOX Sports 1 made it out to be during the race.
Overall, I enjoyed the race. There was more action to be had Saturday than on Sunday due to a package that allows cars to race side-by-side more easily. That said, there’s some over-aggressiveness on the grid right now, and that’s leading to more shenanigans than necessary.
I was not a fan of some of the moves that FOX Sports 1 made on the broadcast, as noted above. Suarez and Logano did a good job in the booth and should both get more reps up there. As of now, Suarez doesn’t have another race in the booth this year, while Logano still has two remaining.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, NASCAR will hold a tripleheader at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Meanwhile, IMSA will be back in action at Sebring for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. Finally, Monster Energy AMA Supercross completes their three-race swing at AT&T Stadium in Texas. TV listings are in the TV tab above.
I will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races from Atlanta for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex this week, I’m going to talk about Friday night’s ARCA Menards Series/ARCA Menards Series West General Tire 150, which aired on MAVTV and NBC Sports’ TrackPass.
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About the author
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 the Super DIRTcar Series.