NASCAR Race Weekend Central

No Burning Questions: SRX, CBS Superior to NASCAR, FOX

A lot has happened over the past few weeks in the world of stock car racing, but the constant I keep coming back to is simple:

The Camping World SRX Series and CBS completely outclassed both NASCAR and FOX’s coverage of NASCAR.

Denny Hamlin mentioned off-hand a couple of weeks ago during a discussion on Racing Spaces, a Twitter Spaces event held every Tuesday night, that NASCAR did not know what they wanted. And honestly, anybody who has paid attention to NASCAR from a competition viewpoint the last several years can see they don’t have a clue what they want to be.

In 2019, NASCAR moved the Cup Series into a new low horsepower, high downforce aero package.

The resulting season was probably the most forgettable season in the last several years. Oh wait, who could forget about the early portion of the season, when NASCAR did its best Sideshow Bob impression with group qualifying before finally giving up and moving back to single car qualifying. That and the Hamlin-Joey Logano incident at Martinsville Speedway late in the season were just about it as far as things to remember from that year.

In 2020 and now 2021, NASCAR has made it clear that the one person that they do not like is Bob Pockrass, because they run a different aero/horsepower package every week and poor Bob has to explain it 10 times before Sunday on Twitter. They don’t know if they want the cars to be high downforce with low horsepower, or low downforce with high horsepower.

See also
Podcast: Jeremy Mayfield on Rekindling Relationships, SRX Interest & NASCAR Losing Its Way

The single worst thing NASCAR has ever introduced to this cars was not the restrictor plate. It’s not the COT wing. Heck, it’s not even the splitter. It’s the tapered spacer, because allowing them to directly control the horsepower is like letting a kid loose in a candy store.

If somebody inquired what a NASCAR stock car’s specs were 10 years ago, that was very easy. This tall of a spoiler, the engine produced roughly 850 bhp depending on the team. Now, even the experts have to open a spreadsheet to remember what in the world they are running that weekend.

It has also become quite clear that NASCAR has a flawed concept of how racing outside of paved ovals works. From a 22-minute caution at Road America to the initial fiasco of Camping World Truck Series qualifying races at Bristol Motor Speedway in the dirt to even the lack of a cone on the choose-lane restart system, this officiating crew really doesn’t know what it’s doing half of the time.

Meanwhile, there is SRX. The SRX cars have always been fairly straightforward: low on downforce, high on horsepower. Series director Ray Evernham never made any kind of body or engine changes outside of the conversion mid-season from pavement to dirt and back again.

The series ran on two track types: paved ovals and dirt ovals. And outside of some fiberglass concerns at Eldora Speedway, everything ran pretty darn smoothly regardless of the surface.

Of course, the single biggest difference between the two sanctioning bodies were the ability to roll with changes. After NASCAR’s All-Star Race, there was a certain side of NASCAR twitter essentially saying that if somebody didn’t like the race, they could just stop watching. Whereas with SRX and CBS both, there was plenty of criticism of how x and y were done. Evernham didn’t log on Twitter and complained about the haters. He just… listened! And made changes based off of feedback! Somehow nobody’s ego was bruised!

A lot of those changes had to do with CBS’s coverage, and what was already a solid broadcast was made even better as the weeks went on. Allen Bestwick showed he had not lost a step, and he jelled well with three completely different partners who had no local short-track stock car experience. There were a lot of great innovative camera shots, the first week’s heavy reliance on a drone camera notwithstanding.

What’s more is that SRX really made each track feel unique. Knoxville Raceway had an excellent video package that told the story of why that track is such a legendary dirt oval venue. I knew absolutely nothing after Stafford Motor Speedway prior to week one, and now I have that track circled for whenever I take a trip to New England.

Meanwhile, the FOX broadcast of the race at Knoxville made a bad race even worse. Vince Welch and Michael Waltrip are not good at their roles. Both are great as pit road reporters, both are bad at announcing a race in Iowa from a studio in Charlotte.

And I can understand that a Truck broadcast isn’t going to have the planning or the budget of a CBS production, but the way Knoxville was shot and produced by people who don’t cover racing was significantly better than the homogenized camera angles that FOX provided. They have covered NASCAR for 20 years now and their grand idea to introduce this track was a graphic on their green screen studio prior to the race? A graphic?

And then there’s the iRacing Pro Invitational Series. Good lord, they took the PIS out of that.

iRacing is a platform with such a great potential. Imagine getting the chance to broadcast a NASCAR race where you have the 36 regular NASCAR drivers and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as guaranteed entries. Choose what car they will be in, and what track. Want to see Cup cars at Rockingham Speedway again? What about Trucks at North Wilkesboro Speedway? Or maybe even something really impossible in real life, like having the Cup drivers take on the legendary Nurburgring or a return to the Twin Ring Motegi oval?

No, no, no, and no. I could go on about how much worse the broadcast was compared to Podium eSports, but I wanted to focus instead on the drivers.

Now, SRX and PIS had a very similar angle. Both were fun exhibitions that tried to have unique lineups. Now, FOX had several advantages in this category, most notable of them that the PIS was an internet series, and so anybody with a rig setup and a decent internet connection could theoretically have raced in it. Whereas SRX used real life cars that required a driver to, you know, fly out and waste a day on their schedule.

With that hurdle, SRX had some pretty solid guest drivers. Hailie Deegan is a star for younger fans, Greg Biffle is still fairly popular, Chase Elliott ran the final race. Scott Speed was there.

Meanwhile, FOX got off on the wrong foot by excluding Timmy Hill in the initial entry list for no particular reason after using him to promote the series. This set off a gigantic negative response on social media that caused a NASCAR executive to actually have to apologize to Hill’s car owner Carl Long.

Every week, two of the four “guest” spots were wasted. One on Clint Bowyer (outside of the final race), who would play up his personality up to about an 11, and one on the fan vote (outside of the first race), which was won by Jesse Iwuji every week because obviously he deserved it.

The biggest waste was not getting Romain Grosjean, somebody who had been a fairly known Formula 1 driver and is employed by Rick Ware Racing, at Circuit of the Americas. That seemed like such an easy idea, and his recovery from that huge wreck last year writes itself. But nope.

The nail in the coffin was when Keelan Harvick raced at Talladega. Now, this isn’t a knock on Keelan, both because I’m sure in the future he will be a Cup champion and in the present I don’t want Mr. Harvick to “have a chat” with me in an alleyway. But an 11-year-old racing effectively killed the series. It just screamed to the viewer that yes, this is a dumb video game that literally anybody could race actual professional drivers on.

Nobody really complained much when NBC decided they wanted none of this crap and cancelled the last half of the season away. Poof, all gone. And nobody was ever made a bigger star out of PIS. Hill was a superhero last year in iRacing and FOX almost never mentioned him on their broadcast again the rest of that year. James Davison outdrove the field in two road-course events and got nary a mention on any oval races FOX covered this year. Obviously they shouldn’t have built their broadcast around these two drivers, but pretending they didn’t exist again really hurt any credibility the series could have had.

See also
Luke Fenhaus on Runner-Up SRX Finish, Battling Motorsports Legends & Slinger Nationals

SRX is a TV show presented and contested as a race. And that’s perfectly fine, because now they are reaping the awards both on a television level (solid ratings have led to outright hints that the series will return next season) and on a star-making level. Both for the tracks and for some of the drivers. Helio Castroneves was probably going to be full-time in the NTT IndyCar Series next year regardless of SRX. But SRX really showed that Castroneves, who had no real experience in stock car racing, is one of the most gifted drivers in his generation regardless of series. Luke Fenhaus captivated with his thrilling duel at Slinger Speedway, while inaugural race winner Doug Coby landed a one-race truck deal with GMS Racing this fall.

NASCAR has constantly stressed that they are a show, not a sport. But then they turn around and have to be a sport because they can’t be SRX, and they are very stubborn about it. That line at the Atlanta Motor Speedway reconfiguration reveal about how the drivers weren’t consulted in general because they don’t want to put on good racing, even if it did not come from a NASCAR employee, really encapsulated the general feeling of that company right now.

Nobody is arguing that drivers should have the full say on competition matters, but they have to have more than just Kurt Busch at the table. And if SRX has shown that you can have competently run big-league stock car racing with no affiliation to NASCAR, it’s going to be hard to feel bad for the 73-year-old sanctioning body if somebody decides to actively run against them in the near future.

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37 Comments
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janice

Keelan Harvick is 9. he’s been racing karts all year long, and is collecting trophies.

Steve R

Kevin harvick is the one who talk shit about the Dillion boys being silver spoon racer because their grandfather Richard Childress bought them all the best stuff to race in, Just like keelan now, Harvick has no class

Jeremy

I remember that! I imagine as he’s grown older, more successful, more profitable, and now with kids of his own his perspective has changed.

Naacar fan

I’ll take Keelan and Kevin over Austin Dillon and Richard Childress anytime.

darby

Brexton Busch is 6 years and is collecting trophies. Maybe you’d like a racing series just for cute kids of drivers. SMH!

janice

Bowyer and Larson’s kids also racing. Give these kids 10 yrs and see where they are. I remember when Mark Martin’s son Matt had the racing bug. And if I remember Robbie Allison also raced some along with McReynold’s son.

darby

The point here is that there are very few people who want to spend their time watching children (or adults) playing video games and that’s part of the reason iRacing failed.

As for the future, there have been many drivers’ children who have tried to become professional racers, but very few who have succeeded at the highest level. Of the current Cup drivers, we have only Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon. We don’t see Matt Martin or Ross Kenseth, who were both touted to be future stars.

Tony Geinzer

I feel with iRacing, it should be if they brought back the Pro Invitational, I’d rather not see James Davison do Ward Burton Laps. I’d feel the real Major Bag Alert and not in a good way is Fox Sports, as I am not so secretly itching for the ABC-ESPN Flagship to Return.

Jill P

The Truck Series certainly deserves better coverage than what it is getting on FOX Sports. Not having announcers at the events is ridiculous. They miss so much action not being there.

Bill B

“But an 11-year-old racing effectively killed the series. It just screamed to the viewer that yes, this is a dumb video game that literally anybody could race actual professional drivers on.”

Thank you. This is the main reason I am so hard on the iRacing deal. It has nothing to do with Keelan. I didn’t need to see an 11 year old to win to realize “this is a dumb video game that literally anybody could race actual professional drivers on” because I grew up playing video games.

wildcatsfan2016

Laughing at the line — “if you don’t like the racing, don’t watch”. Gee that sentiment has come from many in NASCAR over the past 10 years. Yet they wonder where their audience went. Maybe they took the comments to heart and “stopped watching”.

I always thought it was very shortsighted of NASCAR & the media (because the NASCAR media had quite a few people who were more vigorous in defense of NASCAR always being right) rather than listening to see what could be done to work out the issues.

Glad to hear the Evernham and the SRX series didn’t feel the same way. It was a nice change to hear Allen Bestwick back in the booth too.

Ken Livingston

Wildcat fan say’s it all. Educate yourself about Nascar before you answer please. Nascar has more fans and loyal ones than at any point in their history. Thank you

Art

I think Evernham & Stewart did a great job with the SRX series because of a “KISS” (keep it simple, stupid) approach. Obviously the goal was to showcase driver skills while keeping the costs down & they certainly succeeded. Also, showing the races on broadcast TV was a major plus — if a cable or satellite TV subscription was required, the series might have not gotten any attention @ all.

Kurt Smith

Well what do you really think Mike? Ha ha ha. Enjoyable read.

I found the SRX races entertaining, and even though I still prefer watching the best of the best in a 40-car field at Darlington, there’s no question that Allen Bestwick smokes any NASCAR announcer save for maybe Mike Joy. And you’re right that Evernham isn’t interested in telling fans that “You don’t know anything about racing” as some in NASCAR seem to be.

Brian France, who unfairly or not owns NASCAR’s decline from being among the most watched sports in the world to near irrelevance, is gone. But I still feel like NASCAR’s leadership is profoundly wrong-headed in their decisions.

Last week was yet another example, starting a race at 3:00 at a track with no lights, and then a star driver wrecking while leading in the name of getting the race in despite obvious rain falling. If you were a Kyle Busch fan who went through the considerable…and considerably expensive…hassle to see that, would you come back?

NASCAR needs to stop focusing on pleasing networks and sponsors and focus on pleasing FANS. I get that the fans complain a lot, but when the complaints are valid, you have to listen. SRX is doing that and it’s working.

darby

Comparing SRX to real racing is like comparing Jeopardy to getting a Ph.D. in nuclear physics.

Terry

Your making the point, SRX made racing fun and interesting for everyone while nascar is running off fans with overcomplicating rules.

T im Spaulding

Nascar is a joke anymore, from someone who has watched it for 50 years

Last edited 1 month ago by T im Spaulding
FunkyD

Except when you find out your PhD is from a cheap diploma mill.

SRX is a LOT closer to real racing than NASCAR’s gimmick-fest.

The only real racing series that is going on is IndyCar and even a few of the F1 guys are starting to realize that.

Mike

SRX has found the sweet spot of connecting old farts (like me) and young people (with attention spans of babies) with their mix of historic short tracks, veteran announcers, and a format that doesn’t lead to long & boring parade laps.

darby

Just like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy and Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Don’t compare made-for-TV scripted SRX to any actual sport.

Terry

SRX got the script right! Racings biggest problem has always been money buys speed. Here local,new,old racers all compete on level field! Love it,went to two races and watched the rest on readily available channel…

darby

So you like the idea of random cautions being thrown out every 20 laps or so to bring the field together? That’s the “script” SRX followed.

And just how “equal” were the cars? Bill Elliott was never a factor in the purple car. He insisted on using a backup orange car for the final race and was in or near the lead all night. There is no way to guarantee a level playing field.

T im Spaulding

Then you go do it and see if you can last 1lap

Bill B

Of course you will never end up with a parade if you throw a caution every 10 laps.
NASCAR tried that at Indy in 2008, we all hated it.

Last edited 1 month ago by Bill B
pb

That’s not why they threw a caution every 10 laps. They threw a caution every 10 laps because the tire Goodyear brought wasn’t at all suitable for the track and NASCAR wasn’t willing to trust the drivers and teams with tire management. I was there, I remember all too well. It was nothing to do with keeping the field tight.

DoninAjax

And it was a great way to keep Johnson in front. All he had to do to win was be the first out of the pits. I thought it was 20 laps. They did the tire test in cool weather and it was a LOT warmer for the event.

Bill B

Dude…. it was sarcasm.

Terry

Nascar still hasn’t figured out how to manage cautions on a huge track…

Charlie

Who cares about IRacing. It’s not real.
Second, I’m glad NASCAR does its best to ignore Twitter. The first part of Twitter, Twit, says it all.
Now, off my chest. The SRX series was excellent. You had good drivers participating, it was developed specifically for TV, and was fun to watch.

It’s a shame there isn’t room at Fox or NBC for Allen Bestwick. It is like not allowing Vin Scully broadcast baseball.

Christopher Lowe

Something people forget to mention is that Alan Bestwick is good at his job because he actually takes it serious unlike Micheal “I’m here for a good time”

janice

It was good hearing Bestwick in the booth.

Len Horvath

What Hamlin said was because he cannot perform in nascar this year like he did last season.

Kimberly

My 75yr old mother and i watched SRX together. We enjoyed it- ESPECIALLY after Danica was gone. She was horrible. She ruins everything- she brings nothing to the table. Allen Bestwick was so uncomfortable with her in the booth. Hinch was awesome and it was great to see Dario. With those two in the booth Allen was just as great as he always was. They need to get rid of Lindsey too. It was nice to see Matt Youcum and Brad Dougherty too.

Ken Livingston

You all are below average in the brain department if you thought that the srx races were any better than any Saturday night local race. And there is absolutely no way in this world that I would watch these races over nascar. Nascar does know where they are going and what they want. Changing in mid race is so stupid. Just rich people wanting more money. And if not for Nascar people srx would have been even a bigger joke than it obviously was.

Neal Smith

First of all, stage racing is a joke. No other series, either dirt or asphalt does it. Can you imagine how stage racing would screw up the Indy 500? What’s next, stopping the race every 25 laps and bringing the wife and kids onto the track and having a picnic? Secondly, what happened to all the men that used to be in NASCAR racing. Now all you have are a bunch of little sissies. David Pearson and Cale Yarborough would be beating somebody’s ass every week.

Gary Clontz

Stage racing is boring. Too many picky rules that undermine competition and ingenuity. Stock Car name is a total joke. Not one thing about these cars is stock but the names. False advertising.

Joan

Srx was good at least they didn’t have any stupid road courses. I don’t think Tony should have won that is as bad as Hendricks

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