Richmond races for the Cup Series have not necessarily been the most competitive in recent years. Honestly, they’ve been Joe Gibbs Racing benefits. Saturday night’s race was no different, despite 21 lead changes.
Naturally, given that Saturday was Sept. 11, the anniversary of the terrorist attacks was front and center. Countdown to Green had a feature that looked back at what NASCAR did. You had the attacks on what seemed to be a perfect Tuesday morning. At the time, the discussion in the sport was centered around Ricky Rudd executing the bump n’ run to pass Kevin Harvick to win the Chevrolet Monte Carlo 400 at Richmond. That changed quickly.
Then, there was discussion of whether NASCAR should race or not. They ultimately chose to postpone New Hampshire until after Thanksgiving, but they were rather slow about it. The slowness really wasn’t shown in this piece.
It was Thursday afternoon before the race was postponed. A check of Jayski’s news archive from September 2001 shows that NASCAR was still hopeful to get the races in Wednesday, regardless of the difficulty in getting there (remember that American airspace was closed for days after the attack). That day, NASCAR had already made the decision to skip qualifying and set the 43-car field on points and attempts (it ended up being 42 cars due to Eel River Racing folding between the original race date and Nov. 23). Two drivers, Hermie Sadler and Morgan Shepherd, failed to qualify, along with a third car that might have ended up being withdrawn. The only reason that all the transporters wouldn’t have already been on the road when the announcement was made is the fact that NASCAR had decreed that the race would be a two-day show.
At the time, Mike Helton was effectively running NASCAR. Bill France Jr. had been forced to abdicate his role due to health issues. It was Helton who made this decision. He talked about the decision in the piece.
After Loudon’s postponement, the series returned to action at Dover. Some rule changes were made. Prior to that weekend, drivers were belted in during the national anthem because the expectation would be to crank the engines as soon as it was over. Not anymore. The current rules were instituted at that point. The 140,000-ish fans on-site were given American flags to wave during the anthem, much like they were given at Richmond this past weekend.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the race and carried the American flag on a victory lap and through a smoky burnout. The piece made it sound like Earnhardt Jr. was the perfect person to win since he was still recovering from the death of his father. I don’t know about that statement. I have nothing against Earnhardt Jr. as a person, but anyone winning that day would have been just fine.
Personally, I didn’t get a chance to watch this race (the 2001 MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400) live because I had spent the weekend with my dad. He had just moved to Orange, N.J. four months earlier, and in order to go visit him, I had to take the bus to New York City. When I arrived there, it was 10 days after the attacks. They had huge spotlights up to illuminate the then-ongoing recovery mission at the site. It was also still smoldering, so you could see steam or smoke rising off of the debris when you approached the helix that takes you down into the Lincoln Tunnel in Weehawken, N.J.
If you’re wondering, you could get fairly close to “Ground Zero” at that point. I do recall going down there that weekend and hanging out near St. Paul’s Chapel, which is about two blocks from where the towers were. Obviously, it was still a complete mess. A few months later, I rode in the Five Boro Bike Tour, which is a 42-mile bike ride through the five boroughs of New York City. They had everyone line up for the start near Ground Zero. Froze my butt off standing near a burned-out former Burger King waiting for the start.
Once the piece ended, there was a significant amount of discussion. There were two big notions that I took away from it. One is that the feature makes the argument that sports, and NASCAR specifically, played a big role in helping the country recover from the atrocities of Sept. 11. I think it helped to a certain extent, but not really to the degree that it was made out to be.
The second takeaway is that the on-air personalities brought up the current amount of discord in the United States and how they wished that people were more together, friendlier and more united. I fear that the idea of that may not be possible anymore in the United States, at least not to the degree pitched here, although it would be nice. The past couple of years have been very hard on people for multiple reasons. These reasons are political, social, economic, and health-related. In many cases, it’s a combination of two or more of the above.
On the lighter site, Earnhardt Jr. made his one and only appearance in the Xfinity Series in Saturday’s Go Bowling 250. We’ll cover how NBCSN tried his one-off in The Critic’s Annex later this week.
Regardless, Earnhardt Jr. seemed to have fun. He had casual contact with the mulleted Josh Williams and had a little chat about it with him after the race. Our own Davey Segal just so happened to be here when it happened.
— Davey Segal (@DaveyCenter) September 11, 2021
NBCSN later used Segal’s video on Countdown to Green. You never know when that’s going to happen. I suppose this is the proper reaction to such appropriation.
— Davey Segal (@DaveyCenter) September 11, 2021
During the race, Kurt Busch had an unusual left rear tire failure that pitched him hard into the wall on lap 41. This was a frightening hit.
Longtime fans might recognize this crash as looking very similar to the crash that ended Jerry Nadeau’s career in 2003. It was never really noted as much on the broadcast, but anyone who saw it live probably got that flashback.
The safety advances since 2003 really came into their own here. Nadeau suffered a skull fracture, concussion and broken ribs in the crash. Kurt Busch walked away frustrated, but unharmed. What changed? The SAFER Barriers, containment seats, seven-point harnesses, door foam. You name it, it’s there now and wasn’t 18 years ago with the exception of head-and-neck restraint devices, which had already been mandated in NASCAR by that point.
Since NBCSN couldn’t find evidence of contact, they used their capabilities to find what could have happened. They determined that the Goodyear lettering was rubbed off of the tire before the race had even restarted from the competition caution. Video evidence that the No. 1 team collected themselves showed that the inner valve stem was not knocked off during the stop, as noted on-air by Marty Snider. Letarte came to the conclusion that the team got too aggressive on low air pressure and it created a tuck-under issue that cut the tire. I suppose that’s reasonable.
Overall, there was some decent racing to be had Saturday night. There were quite a few viewers disappointed in how much the field got spread out, though. It’s pretty rare that less than 10 cars finish on the lead lap in a Cup race these days without significant chaos, but that’s what you had Saturday night.
The race ended pretty much right on time. As a result, post-race coverage wasn’t significantly curtailed. Viewers got a decent amount of post-race coverage, centered on the playoff contenders. No one that was interviewed after the race was outside of the playoffs. Ross Chastain was once again the highest-finishing non-playoff driver in Richmond, but he only managed seventh. That wasn’t enough to get him post-race airtime, but he did get quite a bit of airtime during the race itself.
Going forward, NBCSN does need to continue to pay attention to the amount of coverage being afforded to non-playoff teams. There are only 16 playoff teams out there, but for this weekend, there are 38 starting the race. Everyone deserves airtime.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, NASCAR will have a quadruple-header at Bristol Motor Speedway. Thursday is a doubleheader between the Camping World Truck Series and a combination race between the ARCA Menards Series and ARCA Menards Series East. Friday has the Xfinity Series, while Saturday night has 500 laps for the Cup Series.
Outside of NASCAR, INDYCAR will be at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for its penultimate race weekend of the season. They’ll be joined by Indy Lights. SRO America will be at Watkins Glen International as well. TV listings can be found here.
I do plan to be in Watkins Glen this weekend. However, the on-track schedule really doesn’t clash all that much with Bristol. I’ll still be able to bring you critiques. Thursday night is probably the biggest question mark since I’ll be en route to my hotel after work and probably won’t get there before the race starts.
For the Critic’s Annex, we’ll cover the Go Bowling 250 from Saturday. Did Earnhardt Jr.’s appearance change the broadcast in any way? You’ll have to read to find out.
If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below. Even though I can’t always respond, I do read your comments. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.
As always, if you choose to contact a network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.