This past weekend was the final split race weekend of the season. The NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series teams were at Michigan International Speedway. Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series shared a bill at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway with the NTT IndyCar Series. The two venues brought in completely different races.
FireKeepers Casino 400
Sunday saw the Cup Series race 400 miles at Michigan International Speedway. This is another one of those races that will be remembered for the finish, but that isn’t the whole story.
Pre-race coverage was a little more interview-filled than normal. I’m not opposed to that, but you can tell that the playoff focus is coming since the first interviews were with Richard Childress Racing teammates Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon. Since there were already 14 drivers locked into the playoffs (the 13 winners, plus Denny Hamlin), there really hasn’t been all that much that they could get out of the story to this point, but they’ll jack it up quite a bit this weekend.
Sure enough, the Dillon-Reddick duel did get a fair amount of air time Sunday afternoon at NBCSN. That’s mainly because both drivers ran extremely well before having terrible finishes. In Dillon’s case, he had a huge wreck right after crossing the start-finish line at the end of stage two.
Obviously, there was some conjecture here about whether or not the contact with Brad Keselowski was intentional. Even with this dang rule package, it’s not good when someone gets right-reared at 185 mph. Dillon nearly rolled his car after scoring five points for a sixth-place finish at the end of the stage.
Keselowski was upset with himself over this wreck. This audio was aired on the broadcast and in the above clip. Dillon was just trying to get off of the rough apron and ended up turning across Keselowski’s nose. I would say that NBCSN’s coverage of this wreck was pretty complete. My only complaint is that they didn’t cut to it as quickly as they could have.
Reddick’s issues late in the race were covered very differently. He nearly got spun by Joey Logano on lap 187 after he made a four-wide move to the inside. Logano ended up getting spun before he could spin Reddick.
At that point, all Reddick needed to do was make it to the end in decent position and he’d have a 40+ point lead on Dillon heading to Daytona. It would have been every bit of the “must-win situation” that Rick Allen stated in the above clip. Then, Reddick had contact with someone exiting turn 2. I thought it was Daniel Suarez when I was watching, but it’s a little tough to tell.
This contact was not really referenced on-air. Jeff Burton noticed Reddick slowing after the contact. The contact cut Reddick’s left rear tire, and he ended up spinning in an attempt to draw a caution. NASCAR didn’t bite and Reddick finished 29th. He still gained on Dillon, but the gains were minimal.
As much as I’m not a fan of this stupid playoffs system, I would have liked to see more from that incident knowing how critical it technically was to it. Had that not happened, it would have been win or else for Dillon. Now, it’s avoid the wrecks and do pretty dang well.
Something else that stood out during the broadcast was the notion of Keselowski stating the importance of being friends with his spotter (in this case, TJ Majors, a man whom he more than likely met through Dale Earnhardt Jr.). While nothing was said about this on-air, there is someone with NBC Sports that co-signs with Keselowski. That is Rick Allen, who told Frontstretch in 2018 that he insisted upon this when the broadcast booth started working together.
Post-race coverage was fairly extensive, despite the race running a little long. Viewers heard from all of the top players on Sunday before NBCSN left Michigan for tape-delayed Progressive American Flat Track action from Weedsport, N.Y.
Overall, this was not the most exciting race to watch. It wasn’t a complete runaway, but viewers didn’t really see much action outside of the final 15 laps or so. You had a strong focus on those at the front of the field. I can only tell so much when I’m viewing a broadcast as opposed to being at the track, but there had to be more going on. I’ve never been to Michigan, but the current rules package doesn’t really help the racing anywhere near as much as NASCAR thought it would.
Resin was laid down on the track instead of the dreaded PJ1 TrackBite. I don’t think it worked anywhere near as well as it did in Nashville, but I think the rules affect it more than anything else. Sunday’s race had a narrower groove than even the ARCA race on Friday.
Toyota 200 presented by CK Power
Surface-wise, World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway actually has some of the newest pavement in NASCAR. The track was last repaved ahead of the NTT IndyCar Series’ return to the 1.25-mile egg-shaped oval in 2017. This was right about the time Texas Motor Speedway was repaved. Despite that, the groove has expanded at Gateway and drivers could run side-by-side Friday night. I was happy with the kind of racing that we saw … behind Sheldon Creed, who kicked butt most of the night.
However, that’s not what anyone is going to remember this race for. In practice, this race broadcast was an exercise in futility for which no one is truly to blame.
As you likely know by now, Friday night’s Toyota 200 presented by CK Power was red-flagged on lap 64 (I think) for 48 minutes due to a power outage at the track.
It’s not the first time that this has happened. In 2010, the track was hit by a power outage right before the CampingWorld.com 200 was about to start. In that case, the race was postponed to the next afternoon and run in 95+ degree weather.
Once again, FOX Sports 1’s broadcast booth was off-site in Charlotte to call the race. In this scenario, it might have been beneficial in that they were still able to be on-air. Had they been on-site in the booth, they might have been completely unable to continue the broadcast. The outage was caused by a transformer fire, which is the most likely scenario that would lead to a power outage at a track that doesn’t involve severe weather.
The power outage didn’t just knock out the lights and the scoreboard at the track, but NASCAR’s electronic timing and scoring system as well. NASCAR media members (myself included) have access to the same timing and scoring screens that you would get in the Media Center through NASCAR’s media website. That froze on lap 62 when the power went out. It did not return when the race restarted.
In fact, I believe the timing and scoring on NASCAR’s end wasn’t fixed until after the end of stage two. It was worse than that on FOX Sports 1. I think the full working scoring pylon didn’t return until lap 125.
It’s been over 20 years since a National-level NASCAR race was run without electronic timing and scoring. The Cup Series first introduced it at then-Sears Point Raceway in 1993. Not having the electronic scoring available means that you have to completely change how you cover the race. Getting the necessary information across to viewers is much more work for the broadcast booth, specifically Vince Welch. He would need to provide regular run-downs for the field and constantly update the lap counter since they had nothing like that on screen until well into the final stage.
How well did the booth do with that? Pretty terribly. I felt lost for much of that period of time. The commentary didn’t seem all that different from a normal race with all of the on-screen leaderboards. Problem is, without that stuff at your fingertips, viewers are going to struggle to figure out what was going on.
I was stuck having to revert to the strategy that I use at Lebanon Valley Speedway if the lap counter goes dark, which is to count off every lap completed in my head. I shouldn’t have to do that in 2021 for a NASCAR race. I think FS1 could have put a manual lap counter on-screen and just have someone in the TV compound (or off-site, depending on their location) click the laps off one at a time.
There were no real rundowns during most of stage two once the race resumed. It seemed like I didn’t really know where anyone was running. I had to guess at the finishing order at the end of the stage. Granted, I figured it out quickly, but there was no guarantee of that being correct.
If you watch an older race on YouTube, say something from ESPN in the mid-to-late 1980s, you would see the strategy that should have been instituted. Things like intervals would have been even tougher Friday night than they would have been in the 1980s because the booth wasn’t on-site. If they were, Michael Waltrip or special guest Kurt Busch could have manned the stopwatch like Ned Jarrett used to.
My takeaway here is that timing and scoring and the scoring pylon is even more of a crutch for broadcasts than I thought. It’s not like I didn’t already think that it was a thing. I feel that it’s part of the reason why the broadcasts aren’t as inclusive as they should be. Their argument would be something along the lines of “You’ve got the running order right there. You can see where everyone’s running. What more do you want?
Trying to do a broadcast like that without the timing and scoring crutches basically results in commentary quality that really isn’t all that far removed from internet pay-per-views at local short tracks that have become popular over the past couple of years, but with better production. That’s not a good picture.
During the red flag, FS1 aired a number of driver interviews. This was a decent way to spend the time, but it also seemed like they weren’t getting much in the way of information from NASCAR.
Speaking of Busch, he’s far more likable in the booth than he is outside of the booth. He comes off as quite informative and knowledgeable. His firsthand knowledge of racing at Gateway is limited since he only has one career start there (2000, during his sole year in the then-Craftsman Truck Series before moving up to Cup, where he finished 21st), but he was still just fine. Unfortunately, his effectiveness was limited by the situation.
The red flag and a series of cautions meant that the race ended roughly an hour late. Normally, this would mean a rush to get off-air. That wasn’t the case here. Viewers still got a few interviews and a check of the points before FS1 left Gateway.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is the final week of the NASCAR Cup Series regular season. Kyle Larson has the chance to snatch 15 bonus points if he has a decent night in Daytona. Hamlin could steal it away, though. The Xfinity Series will also be on tap. Formula 1 returns from their summer break with the Grand Prix of Belgium. RO America will be back on-track for the first time in three months at Road America, while MotoGP will be at Silverstone. TV listings can be found here.
It should be noted that NFL football could result in the pre-empting of the race from NBC in a number of markets. This includes all of Central Florida. WESH 2 out of Orlando (their station is in Eatonville, but their tower is near Daytona Beach) is not showing the race. Instead, they are showing the Buccaneers-Texans game. In the Orlando market, the race will be shown live on WCKF (CW 18). In Tampa, it will air on WTTA My38.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity broadcasts from Daytona in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. In the Critic’s Annex, I want to take a look at Saturday night’s 260-lap INDYCAR race from Gateway.
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