I’ll fully admit that when NASCAR announced that there was going to be a race weekend at Circuit of the Americas this year, I was very intrigued. I wanted to get some kind of a comparison of speed between NASCAR Cup cars and some of the other series that race there. If you’re wondering, Tyler Reddick’s pole lap would have qualified him at the back of the field for the second Fanatec GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS race there a few weeks ago (with the Pros qualifying), nearly seven seconds off the pole.
As for the weather, we’re talking about Texas in May. Anything could be in the cards except for snow this time of year. Honestly, I was expecting 90-something degree weather with blazing sun. Instead, we got a bunch of rain. Think of it this way: What we saw Sunday was pretty bad, but it could have been worse. Check this out from the FIA World Endurance Championship race there back in 2014.
FOX still had a 54-lap race to cover on Sunday. How did they handle this craziness?
EchoPark Texas Grand Prix
Prior to the race, cameras followed Kurt Busch when he took a 6 a.m. track walk Saturday morning. I don’t believe that they generally do track walks in NASCAR, but this was a good opportunity to see what the track was like since it was already moist by that time of day
(Note: If you get the opportunity to do a track walk, take it It will put a lot of things into perspective. Just make sure you don’t step in track sealer.)
Having said that, it was nowhere near as wet as it got in the Cup race (it was more similar to what you saw during the Truck race).
Since Austin is a big city for music, there was a fair amount of music-based programming prior to the race. ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons voiced a piece about Austin, while Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Blaney went to check out Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater, a performance venue that many of you might have seen over the past few years on PBS. It’s the home venue (since 2011) for Austin City Limits, a performance show that has aired on PBS since 1976. Since they’ve only been in their (much bigger) current venue for 10 years of the overall 45-year run, most of the big names that were pointed out have rarely played at the current venue.
The interview that Gordon, Bowyer and Chris Myers did with Chase Elliott foretold a lot of the wackiness that you saw during the actual race. Elliott noted the sketchiness of the long straightaway between turns 11 and 12 and how it could play a role. Probably the only time you don’t want fresh pavement. The rest of it is pretty much original from when the track opened.
Oh yes, and before I go on … The huge Nissan crash that you saw in “Put It Out!” Sunday? That was Tim Bell on the first lap of the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race there in 2014. Here’s the in-car view of that huge crash, caused by a rather nasty brake failure in his Nissan 370Z.
The race itself was quirky from the start. NASCAR notified the teams that they had initiated a “change in climatic conditions” from qualifying due to the impending rain that forced everyone to start on rain tires. That is not NASCAR’s terminology, but mine (it’s essentially what the FIA would say if this happened prior to a Formula 1 race). This led to a decision whether to stick to those tires, or switch back to slicks. Also, it was unclear whether they would have been switching back to their qualifying tires, or if they were fresh slicks.
FOX Sports 1 didn’t do the best job in figuring out who decided to keep the rain tires. Ultimately, five or six teams chose to stay on the wet tires, which was the right move since the rain started picking up on the pace lap and half the field bailed after the first lap. I’m not really sure about Austin Cindric’s strategy that kept him out on slicks until lap 5, though. That didn’t help him out much.
For the whole weekend, FOX Sports 1 had a track map in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that showed where certain drivers were on-track in relation to the leader. Was it truly necessary? Not really. It seemed like FOX Sports 1 was operating under the opinion that most of the viewers watching had never seen a race from Circuit of the Americas before. Obviously, I’m not the average race fan. I’ve seen the better part of a dozen series race on TV from there, including four earlier this month.
The conditions resulted in both a spread-out event and one that was very competitive at the same time. Quite simply, people were everywhere. When it wasn’t raining too hard, it was quite the joy to watch. Heck, the green-flag pass numbers are crazy. NASCAR is claiming 2760 green-flag passes, an average of 67.3 a lap. That’s more per lap than Talladega last month.
When the track got too wet, things went sideways. Quickly. Fog on the cameras wasn’t that much of an issue, but the rain on the lenses made it hard to see anything. Even if you could, the spray was thick, which makes sense.
The two nightmares on the long straight were very difficult to ascertain what happened, especially the first one. FOX Sports 1 had to break out the computer technology to give viewers a decent idea of what went on, and it was pretty much what you thought. Christopher Bell ran up the back of Ryan Blaney. Kevin Harvick slowed down to try to avoid the potential wreck and got clouted by Bubba Wallace.
I think that both NASCAR and FOX Sports 1 had maybe a little too much faith in the rain tires. They let things go a little too long before stopping the race. This probably should have been red-flagged around laps 48-50. By the time they finally threw the yellow, it was after Kurt Busch nearly destroyed his brother and Austin Dillon.
Post-race coverage was relatively brief. With the rains and the previous red flag, the broadcast had already gone over time long before the race was called. Ultimately, that didn’t even matter schedule-wise for FOX Sports 1 due to the fact that the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series’ Mopar ExpressLane SpringNationals didn’t even get a full round of eliminations in on Sunday before getting postponed to Monday.
Viewers got a couple of interviews, and a check of the points once the race was called. In addition, there was some post-race analysis from the studio that likely wouldn’t have happened had the rain not occurred. Once that finished up, FOX Sports 1 left Austin for the roughly three-hour drive to Baytown for NHRA coverage.
There was legitimate enthusiasm for the on-track product on Sunday during the broadcast. Had the rain not picked up, I think everyone would have been happy with the race. Maybe they wouldn’t have liked the roughly 210-minute run time had the race gone the full 68 laps, though.
Toyota Tundra 225
Saturday afternoon brought the Camping World Truck Series to the Hill Country of Texas for the first time. Todd Gilliland surprised a lot of observers with his pace to take the win.
When I cover IMSA races on-site for Frontstretch (note: that coverage is tentatively going to resume next month at Watkins Glen), I always try to talk with Andy Lally before the race to get some insight from him. When he sees me, he’ll usually ask me something along the lines of “We talkin’?” My response is “Yes, if you have the time.”
That is because I feel that Lally brings a great perspective to whatever form of motorsports that he’s talking about, be it IMSA or NASCAR. As a result, I’m not particularly surprised that he was a natural fit on the Camping World Truck Series broadcasts this past weekend.
I don’t believe that this past weekend was Lally’s first time period on the call for a race, period. I think he’s chipped in a little on sports car racing radio broadcasts along with Ryan Eversley in the past. However, it is the first time someone put him in the booth for a NASCAR race.
In Lally’s case, he was on the broadcast as a general expert on racing at Circuit of the Americas since he’s done that in SRO America, the former American Le Mans Series, Grand-Am and IMSA competition. He was pretty much the most experienced driver at the track that competed in the three NASCAR series.
In this role, Lally did a great job. He came into the booth with a plan for what he thought would be important. He was able to put that information across in a style that was easy to understand, not just for Michael Waltrip and Vince Welch, but for the audience as well. We’re better off for it.
I will contact Lally later this week to get his thoughts on his work in Austin for FOX Sports 1. That might run in the Newsletter, as an update to this column, or on the site separately. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Also, pre-race ceremonies were actually aired prior to the race, something of a change compared to the last year or so. It is something that is very noticeable to my readers here, so I have no doubt that they were happy that FOX Sports 1 chose to include them.
The race itself was quite competitive, much like the Cup race was. However, there were some things that were missed. For example, early in the race, Austin Hill spun out in turn 11 after contact from Parker Kligerman. Later on, Hill apparently got payback, but we never saw it. Also, there was nearly a caution early on for Tanner Gray stalling on the frontstretch. Lally pointed this out, but Gray was able to restart the truck before what would have been the only yellow for cause in the race could fly.
Finally, I have no idea what happened to Christian Eckes‘ left front corner. On Twitter, Eckes simply said that it broke. I can’t recall seeing someone’s entire left front suspension break like that without wrecking in the Camping World Truck Series in a long time.
Post-race coverage was relatively brief. Viewers got three interviews with Gilliland, Kaz Grala (who seriously impressed) and Grant Enfinger, who scored a top five finish for the Rohrbaughs. Man, I wish he could have put something together for the wreckfest that was the BrakeBest Select 159 presented by O’Reilly back in February. He could be in the top five in points right now if he raced that night (he’s seventh despite missing that race).
The Truck coverage was somewhat similar to what we got in Cup. Good racing as the drivers learned to deal with the track surface. With Lally in the booth, the commentary was better than normal.
That’s for this week. Coming on up this weekend is a very busy time. Yes, Monaco was last weekend, but that gives race fans 10 percent less action. You have a quadruple-header at Charlotte Motor Speedway capped off by Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600. You have the Indianapolis 500, which is set to host up to 135,000 fans. There’s also MotoGP at Mugello in Italy, and the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship begins at Fox Raceway in Pala, Calif. Plenty of content to whet your appetite. TV Listings can be found here.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races from Charlotte, in addition to the Indianapolis 500 here in Couch Potato Tuesday next week. This week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex, which I admit that I’ve been slacking on in recent weeks, will cover Saturday’s Pit Boss 250.
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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.