Atlanta was an interesting weekend. You had a tripleheader of action, but not nearly as much good racing on the track as I would have liked to see. The task here is how FOX can make races enjoyable when they aren’t the most impressive.
Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
Sunday looked like a Kyle Larson benefit for much of the race. Larson, in only his sixth points race for Hendrick Motorsports, led 269 of 325 laps, but lost the win after his tires went away. Unfortunately, that happens at times.
You also didn’t have the most exciting race on Sunday. Atlanta races used to be exciting affairs, but Sunday’s event was anything but. Effectively, once Larson got out front, nothing really happened. He drove away and left everyone to hopefully get some scraps.
The 11 lead changes in Sunday’s are not the lowest ever at Atlanta. The 2017 race had only nine, and that’s tied with several others for the least at Atlanta in the past 45 years. Ever since the stages were instituted in 2016, the races have generally been cleaner.
In addition, the current rules package doesn’t really allow for driver skill to come into the equation as much as it could. If they had the short track rule package at Atlanta, it would be a different race. Perhaps you’d still end up with similar statistics, but you might get there differently.
Sunday’s long runs led to a series of long stretches where not a lot happened and FOX really didn’t help things out much. That’s something that they have to do to sell the on-track product. If it cannot be perceived as exciting, then people aren’t going to watch and could chose not to go.
That said, there were some stories here. Alex Bowman had an excellent day to finish third. He really didn’t get all much exposure during the race while doing it.
Kevin Harvick effectively fell out of contention for the day after his tire changer accidently knocked off a valve stem during the competition caution pit road, which forced an extra stop as the field went back to green. Harvick spent most of the race a lap down before getting a wavearound late in the race. He was able to recover to finish 10th.
Then, there was Daniel Suarez. The Trackhouse Racing Team had already made headlines Sunday by tapping Jose Blasco-Figueroa to sub for Travis Mack as crew chief for the day since Mack was suspended. Suarez had an excellent day Sunday. Keeping himself on the lead lap at the end of stage one resulted in him catapulting himself into the top 10. In all seriousness, Suarez should have finished somewhere in the fourth to seventh range. Then, he got that penalty on the final stop of the day that dropped him to a 17th-place finish. He had a legitimately good day. The Trackhouse team effectively has the same level of support from Richard Childress Racing that Germain Racing used to get, but the team is running a little better than Germain did with Ty Dillon in recent years. We’ll have to see where the team goes.
Having Clint Bowyer in the booth has injected a lot of the randomness in there that was lost when FOX booted Larry McReynolds back to Charlotte. As you may remember, he used to make up a lot of random words in the booth (Darrell Waltrip did as well). Sunday saw a significant amount of time spent trying to figure out what “huckabuck” means.
This is the terminology that Bowyer was using for drivers trying to run the inside line and the car coming loose with the changes in banking. I think of it as similar to “herky-jerky,” but if you’ve got your explanation, by all means add it below.
Also of note, there was one instance where Mike Joy sort of irritated Bowyer. Early on in the race, Joy asked how Bowyer and Jeff Gordon would have handled racing without practice and qualifying. Gordon basically couldn’t imagine it. Bowyer did it last year, but Joy worded the exchange as if he didn’t realize that Bowyer was racing last year.
Let’s just say that that’s a whoopsies. The way last year went, Joy only went to four races in person, then did the rest of the FOX schedule from Charlotte. I’m sure that he saw Bowyer at the track in the first four to five weeks before everything went to heck, but that he might not have had much in the way of conversation with him. If he didn’t, then the only time he saw him face-to-face was when Bowyer was the in-race analyst at the FOX Studios for the Pro Invitational races. As it stands, the whole sequence seemed a little weird.
Watching Sunday’s race, viewers saw a decent amount of racing around the restarts. You got much more than 20 laps into a run and there was next to nothing. Just not enough racing for my tastes. The race length wasn’t the issue. We’re not talking about a four-hour race here. I’d argue that there was far more action in Sebring Saturday than there was Sunday in Atlanta. Let’s put it this way: There’s a reason why the race recap from Sebring is longer than this column. A lot of things happened there that needed explanation, and it could have been longer.
Post-race coverage was just about normal on Sunday. Viewers got interviews with the top three finishers and some analysis from the crew back in Charlotte before FOX left Atlanta to get to Cheeries Wild.
About 95 percent of Sunday’s race was complete anti-climax. The fact that Ryan Blaney was able to run down Larson and snatch the win away in the final 10 laps was surprising as heck. I thought there was the potential for something to go down in the final laps, but I thought it would have been something along the lines of a late caution due to someone pounding the wall after having tire issues. That effectively did happen with Corey LaJoie on lap 320, but NASCAR chose to let the race run out naturally. The booth pointed out LaJoie’s issues, but the production was slow in getting a camera on LaJoie until after he was already on the apron.
I have no idea what LaJoie’s incident, which was one of only three notable impacts with the wall all day, looked like. Only one of those, Kurt Busch‘s crash on the restart at the beginning of stage two, got even a replay. Tyler Reddick‘s day was ruined after wall contact before lap 10. Not sure what happened there, but he ended up three laps down and never made any of them up.
Saturday brought the Xfinity Series out to play at Atlanta for 250 miles of action. Getting a piece of an early crash made Austin Cindric look mortal, but points-wise, the day was a wash for him. Not so much for others.
This race will clearly be best remembered for some stupidity. I know that a lot of you don’t agree with me, but I think I come from a different place here. You can’t just go around throwing punches at people. That doesn’t endear you to anyone. You make yourself and likely anyone associated with you look bad.
Of course, this is in regards to the latest stupidity involving Noah Gragson and Daniel Hemric. The story here is that Hemric had to avoid Mason Massey leaving his stall as he was entering, so he went over the line into Gragson’s before backing up in order to avoid hitting Massey. That unintentionally screwed up Gragson’s entry into his box. Gragson had to back up as well, but he backed out of his box and hit Hemric’s car while Hemric’s crew was working on it. Basically, this was a pit road “racing deal” that got blown out of proportion. Also of note, Massey was only there in the first place because he had spun out to bring out the yellow, then pitted before pit road opened to get fresh tires.
The whole situation is not cool at all, and I don’t agree with NASCAR’s decision not to punish him. “Boys, have at it” has limits. I can’t abide endangering crew members just because you got surly.
As for the fight, Hemric interrupted an interview that Gragson was doing with PRN Radio’s Doug Turnbull, a former colleague of ours here at Frontstretch and the very person that I replaced as the writer of this column. Then, this happened:
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) March 21, 2021
Since the F’s starting flying around, I cannot tell you everything that was said. Hemric was ticked off and told Gragson that he wasn’t going to tolerate him endangering his crew members on pit road like that. Gragson was infuriated by getting grabbed and swung at him (missing badly and putting himself in position to get struck by the return punch).
On the FOX Sports 1 broadcast, this happened at the same time that they were interviewing Martin Truex Jr. about his race. In true Truex fashion, his reaction to it was simply, “They fightin’?” Never change, Martin.
The whole scenario is infuriating just because it’s so dumb and makes you look so bad, but FOX Sports 1 made it worse. The pit road situation is something that I didn’t notice happening during the race. I didn’t see a replay of this until after the fight where Gragson backed into Hemric.
Yes, no one got hit by Gragson’s car, and I’m happy no one got hit. However, it was like that didn’t matter here. The story here was “Don’t mess with Gragson, he’s a scrapper!” It’s like watching a parody of a fight promoter on Family Guy.
Also, I just so happened to see this live with my mom, who knows nothing about NASCAR. I had to try to put this stupidity into context and it seemed to come out of nowhere.
Afterwards, Gragson posted footage from the camera overseeing his pit stall in an attempt to explain his position.
Here's the full video. Penalty if right side tires are out of the box. Final pit stop. Judge for yourself. pic.twitter.com/2LCQEiUDQ7
— Noah Gragson (@NoahGragson) March 21, 2021
Nothing he said in his tweet is inaccurate. It just seems like he’s acting like what was going on behind Hemric’s pit never happened. Also, giving Hemric the bird here doesn’t help his case. That said, there are better ways to handle your conflicts, and barging in on someone’s interview to accost the guy is not a good look. They’ll get two weeks to calm themselves down before Martinsville.
In addition to interviews with winner Justin Allgaier and Truex, we got both sides of this dumb story. By that point, Gragson had seemingly calmed down, but Hemric was still hot.
Saturday also saw the inclusion of Blaney and Tyler Reddick in the booth. I found that Reddick brought some knowledge to the booth, but that he really wasn’t very well prepared. In all forms of media, you have to have questions ready to go. He had nothing for Truex when it was his turn to feed him questions during the radio interview. Now, Truex made that work, but I think he needs more reps. Blaney was quite a bit better, and it’s rather obvious that he took something from his time upstairs Saturday.
I almost think that they should have split Blaney and Reddick up and given Reddick the truck race. Yes, that would resulted in fans getting a double dose of Michael Waltrip, but Reddick could have gotten a little more guidance.
Overall, this race ended up being a lot like the Cup race. There was a clearly dominant driver (Larson and Truex) who ended up losing out in the end. It was a bit more competitive, though. The green flag runs weren’t as long, so there was more passing to be had.
That’s all for this week. Coming up this weekend is a big time for NASCAR as they travel to Bristol Motor Speedway to have at it on the loose surface. It’s going to be a busy weekend of practices, heat races and regular races.
But that’s not all. There are three other series starting their seasons this week. The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational starts up Wednesday night at the virtual Bristol Dirt Track on FOX Sports 1. Meanwhile, Formula 1 will start the World Championship in Bahrain, while MotoGP starts their 2021 season in Qatar. TV listings are in the TV tab above.
We’ll have critiques of the Cup and Truck adventures in Bristol in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex, we’ll be looking at Saturday’s Fr8 Auctions 200 for the Camping World Truck Series.
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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.