The All-Star Race has been jumping around recently, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the 2021 schedule was released, Texas was one of the most lenient states regulation-wise, so it was granted the race, which was moved to June. Anyone that lives in Texas, or keeps track of potential weather conditions, knew going in that it wasn’t going to be the most comfortable race ever run.
Before we truly get into the critique, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported last Tuesday that Jeff Gordon might be out of the booth for FOX Sports after this season in order to take on a bigger role at Hendrick Motorsports.
➖ Gordon is enjoying the three-man booth this year but also finds the prospect of a big role with HMS as intriguing. pic.twitter.com/Mtk0Bzrx5e
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) June 8, 2021
In Hendrick’s case, this is a family business when you really sit down and think about it. However, Rick Hendrick basically has no heirs to pass the business to. The 2004 plane crash killed a decent chunk of his immediate family, including his brother John and son Ricky. Hendrick is 71 and may be looking to the future for his businesses. Gordon is almost like another son to him, so I’m not shocked that Gordon could get a look for a more senior role at Hendrick Motorsports, or even with one of Hendrick’s other businesses.
More than likely, we won’t hear anything about this situation for the next few months. I feel like Gordon’s going to stay, but you never know.
However, we must think about what could happen if Gordon were to leave. Quite frankly, the cupboard is rather bare at FOX NASCAR these days. I can come up with two possible scenarios. My best guess is that they would cut back down to a two-man booth with Mike Joy and Clint Bowyer. I don’t think that would be the best setup for them, but I could see it happening.
Another option would be to bring Larry McReynolds back into the booth as the third man to replace Gordon. I think that this would be a good move for multiple reasons. McReynolds already has 15 years of booth experience under his belt that he can draw on. In addition, I believe McReynolds is more effective as an analyst when he can get down into the garage and talk to the crew chiefs face to face and get all that information that helps his preparation. That said, after five years in his control room in Charlotte, maybe he likes not having to travel as much.
Those are the only viable options here. As much as a number of you might like to see FOX Sports hire someone else to replace Gordon if he were to leave, I don’t see FOX Sports spending the money there. They might put that money somewhere else.
In practice, Sunday’s All-Star festivities were held in weather not all that different from the Xfinity Series ALSCO Uniforms 300 at Charlotte in 2019. It was 95+ that day with dewpoints in the 70s. It was incredibly taxing for everyone involved. It’s the only race I can recall where a fleet of ambulances were waiting on pit road after the race.
The FOX Sports 1 broadcast noted a track temperature at the beginning of the All-Star Open of 145 degrees. That’s amazing for a couple of reasons. One, I haven’t seen that in many years for any race. Two, that’s getting into the range where you can have problems with the track itself breaking up. Thankfully, that didn’t come to pass. Knowing that the All-Star Race ran up to sunset, I would have liked to see how that affected the track temperature, but that was not noted on the broadcast. The air temperature was noted, but it didn’t really cool down that much.
Prior to the Open, viewers got a couple of interviews with drivers that FOX Sports 1 thought could be factors. Here, that meant Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez. All five of those guys either crashed or were involved in some sort of incident. The All-Star Race had Bryson Byrnes on-site to partner up with Michael Waltrip for the Grid Walk. In practice, Byrnes did it himself, likely better than Waltrip could.
The start saw two penalties as Buescher jumped the start and Austin Cindric pulled a David Ragan and got busted for changing lanes. Both were explained quite well, even though the notion of penalizing Buescher here came off as exasperating to Bowyer. According to NASCAR’s rules, it had to be done.
Watching the Open really did set the tone for the rest of the night. It was extremely hard to pass. It seemed like there was one outlier that could get anything done. In the Open, that was Ross Chastain, who came from the rear to take the first transfer spot at lap 20. We didn’t see much of Chastain’s on-track prowess prior to the restart after the third yellow, but he appeared to have a very quick car when the sun was still blaring on the track. The other segments seemed to see everyone stand pat for the most part.
In the All-Star Race, it was still Chastain early on when the sun was still out. Once it got below the stands, I’m not really sure who the main guy was. Probably William Byron or Ryan Blaney. There really wasn’t all much action for position being shown for much of the main event with the exception of the final 10 laps. The All-Star Race itself was just about as clean as last year’s All-Star Race at Bristol, to be honest.
The power cut for the evening (a shade over 7%) was noticeable. There’s already a dearth of power at intermediate tracks, but this just makes it worse. With the current level of downforce, mistakes are far less likely to occur. Had it been in the 70s instead of the mid 90s, it would have been even tougher.
Rules-wise, the Open was held with the same rules that have been in place for years. The All-Star Race was a whole ‘nother story with six segments of varying length, inverts, a mandatory green-flag pit stop and that god-awful average finish gambit being back in play.
I’ll state up front that I never liked the average finish thing being in play when the race was in Charlotte. It was annoying and FOX Sports 1 never did a very good job explaining it as the night went on. Sunday night was no different. You didn’t really hear much about it until after the third segment. Given how hard it was to pass, this should have been emphasized from the start.
Speaking of the mandatory stop, that also wasn’t explained in enough detail. We knew going in that it involved a mandatory four-tire stop under green and that whoever was fastest from yellow line to yellow line without being penalized would win $100,000 for their crew. There were no mentions until after the stops began as to when the stops could begin, or when the cutoff was.
I knew going in that NASCAR wasn’t going to allow the teams to pit at any time. Not after Jeff Burton infamously exploited that rule loophole back in 2002.
I didn’t know what the pit window was until McReynolds said what it was on lap 62. That wasn’t planned out correctly.
In the future, I sincerely hope that NASCAR doesn’t come up with anything this convoluted in the future. You need to be on your absolute A-game just to know what’s going on. The various rules and inverts made the race too difficult to follow, even for diehards. I can’t imagine what casual fans would have thought about all this shenaniganry.
There were also some other things that were rather weird. We knew a few days in advance that Sammy Hagar was going to perform his 1984 hit, “I Can’t Drive 55,” prior to the race. They didn’t note when that was going to happen. They chose to have Hagar perform it during the pace laps from the grandstands. This was a bizarre performance decision to watch on TV and was likely pretty dang strange if you were there.
It’s a move that also made no sense to me. There was a stage in the quad-oval grass prior to the race. Why not have him perform there, where the majority of the fans would have been able to see him and his band? That was a headscratcher.
At that time, I want to know everything that’s going on. I don’t care about Hagar and his music at that time. He should have had a full-fledged pre-race concert in place of those other dudes they had down there.
Post-race coverage was relatively brief since the broadcast ended right up against the end of the timeslot. Viewers only got interviews with Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski before FOX Sports 1 left Texas for the night.
Finally, as I did tease in Monday’s edition of the Frontstretch Newsletter, I do want to give a more detailed explanation of what the deuce happened to result in the fracas that you saw in Put It Out! Sunday night.
That occurred at Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. on Aug. 3, 2019. Since I cover the action at Lebanon Valley for the track’s website, I was there that night.
The race was the Ol’ Buzzard 30, a 30-lap race for Pro Stock cars in honor of the late Jimmy Langenback, one of the best Pro Stock racers ever at Lebanon Valley (he died of cancer in 2012). As Pro Stock races at Lebanon Valley are typically 20-lap affairs, this was an extra distance race with extra money on the line.
The two protagonists here were Chad Jeseo in the No. 25 and Rick Duzlak in the No. 29. Jeseo is a multi-time champion in the Pro Stock class at both Lebanon Valley and Albany-Saratoga Speedways who moved all the way to the Big Block Modifieds at one point before moving back down. While he’s generally friendly (to me, at least), he’s not someone you’d want to cross. Duzlak has a smaller team, but runs a lot more competitively in recent years once he got better equipment and more sponsorship. He’s 50-ish while Jeseo is in his 30s now. This thread I typed up Sunday night on Twitter describes a little of what led up to what you saw.
Well, it appears that Chad Jeseo made it onto @NASCARONFOX's Put It Out tonight for trying to kick Rick Duzlak through the window of his car back on August 3, 2019 during the Ol' Buzzard 30 at Lebanon Valley, a 30-lap Pro Stock feature dedicated to the late Jimmy Langenback.
— Phil Allaway (@Critic84) June 13, 2021
Jeseo had stopped on-track and was saying something to flagger Rodney Rescott at the time. That’s why he had taken his helmet off (a terrible move). Duzlak then hit him. The two had already had bad blood previously that year with a couple of other incidents on-track as well. I’m not a fan of this kind of stuff. I think it makes everyone involved look bad. In my case, I also cannot write much about it because I would run the risk of making the track look bad, and that’s no good.
Of note, the video you saw was shot by David Whitney of Whitney Productions. He does a lot a good work, both in and out of racing.
With this race, FOX Sports’ NASCAR Cup Series coverage for the year is now complete. As compared to last season, it was a far more lively adventure with everyone back at the tracks. Bowyer’s inclusion in the broadcast booth did shake things up, but also added some chaos. Sort of like adding Bud McIntosh and Doyle Johnson to the Bio-Dome 5 in the 1996 film Bio-Dome.
As a result, it was a little difficult to keep things on task for much of the season. I felt a little for Joy during the season as it was truly difficult to keep things flowing. Yes, Gordon once intentionally wrecked Bowyer at Phoenix and Bowyer tried (unsuccessfully) to track him down and knock him all the way to Timbuktu. It felt at times like they wanted the two of them to actually fight. At least they cut down on usage of those clips early on.
As the season continued on, I felt that Bowyer got more and more comfortable in his booth role. However, I think the quality of the broadcasts did suffer a bit. For 2022, my suggestions for FOX Sports is to improve what you already have. Double down on a commitment to give viewers the best possible broadcast. Show as much on-track action as you can. If something needs an explanation, give that explanation as concisely as possible. This isn’t exactly a Mets-Cubs game (which I’m watching while writing this piece). Outside of rain delays, you’re not going to get 20 minutes to debate about guys named Jake. Finally, don’t be so narrow in your focus. Everyone has a story to tell.
Last week, I noted about how Carl Long apparently pitched a “RoofClaim Rundown” to NASCAR last year to give additional coverage to smaller teams.
With no fans at many races and the ability to earn a return on sponsorships limited, the broadcasts were that much more important last year. While that isn’t so much the case this year, we still have shortened weekends. Being more inclusive in general will make the sport more attractive. You would be able to show more on-track action, and perhaps, attract more capital.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend sees the NBC Sports portion of the season start in uncharted territory for the NASCAR Cup Series. Nashville Superspeedway will host their first major race weekend since 2011 as the Cup teams make their first trip to the 1.33-mile concrete tri-oval. They’ll be joined by the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. The NTT IndyCar Series makes their yearly trip to Road America for 55 laps of action, while Formula 1 will be at Paul Ricard. TV listings can be found here.
We’ll have the Cup race and one more of the events from Nashville Superspeedway in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex will cover some more Texas action from Saturday for you.
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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.