NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Round of 12 Brings Heavy Playoff Focus to Las Vegas

Las Vegas Motor Speedway began the Round of 12 in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, and things got a little more serious since it is likely to be the least looney race of the round. Even with fewer intermediate tracks in the playoffs now, it’s still critical to put up a decent finish here since there can be so many shenanigans later in this round.

South Point 400

Late September is just not the best time for the NASCAR Cup Series to race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It’s still just too hot to have this race when it should be running. The average high this time of year is apparently around 88 degrees, but the high was 95. I think every year they’ve had this race in September, it’s been above normal for this time of year.

The first year that the South Point 400 was held, it was a mid-afternoon race local time. It was arduous for everyone involved. That’s why the race is now a 7:20 p.m. ET start. Something like that on a Sunday night really doesn’t work for anyone, and it’s far worse knowing that it’s a West Coast race that’s not on a holiday weekend.

As a result, even though Sunday’s race was a bit shorter than typical Las Vegas events, I have no doubt that some people started getting sleepy and started tuning out in the final 50 laps as it got closer to 10 p.m. ET.

Looking back at this broadcast, the biggest takeaway is that compared to what we saw during the Round of 16 from NBCSN, there was a substantial increase in playoff focus.

Back at Darlington at the start of the playoffs, I wrote that there really wasn’t that big of difference in coverage from a regular race. It was rather refreshing.

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: Darlington Brings a Somewhat Normal Cup Broadcast With Extras

Sunday night was anything but. It was pretty much all playoff focus, all the time. That’s rather frustrating knowing that there’s only 12 playoff drivers. There’s more than 12 dudes out there.

It’s really hard to fully sum up some of these intermediate playoff races since you’re really influenced by what you can see. On a Las Vegas broadcast, you might only see so much.

I went into the race not expecting anywhere near the kind of action you saw in the Truck race Friday night or Saturday’s Xfinity race. I thought it was going to get spread out and that there wouldn’t be a bunch of yellows. That ended up being the truth. There were four cautions and only one of those was not pre-planned.

The unplanned yellow flew on lap 93 when Joey Gase had his left rear tire come off in turns 1 and 2. Needless to say that when you’re going 170 mph, you don’t want to lose a wheel. The car swapped ends immediately and pounded the wall. The hit was hard enough that Gase’s car climbed the wall and nearly rolled.

Unfortunately, NBCSN didn’t have a good camera shot of this. They did have a good shot of the wheel coming off, but not the impact. The time of the day didn’t help in this situation (even if they had a good impact shot, it likely would have been glare-filled).

Given that Gase was racing for Rick Ware Racing, there was no real content around what the heck happened to cause this scary moment. We did get an update from Rick Allen that Gase was being sent to the hospital for a checkup, but that’s about it.

After the race, Gase’s PR rep sent out a tweet indicating that Gase had been released from the hospital. Of note, that probably means that Gase himself sent the tweet since he’s done his own PR for years, and the current PR list on NASCAR’s Media website still lists him as such.

Looking at this incident, the closest parallel that I could come up with off the top of my mind was this crash for Ryan Sieg at Texas Motor Speedway in 2014 in the then-Nationwide Series.

ESPN did a good job in explaining what happened that day and benefitted from better camera work that caught the failure in real time. In Sieg’s case, his crash was nowhere near as severe as Gase’s was, partially since he had contact with Corey LaJoie at the time to soften the blow. Gase had nothing to soften the blow but the SAFER Barrier. I would like to know how the car climbed the wall, though. I have theories, but they’re just that: theories.

Given the way that the race ultimately turned out, this caution on lap 93 went a long way toward determining the outcome of the race. Kyle Larson chose not to pit here while a number of others (including eventual race winner Denny Hamlin) did. While Larson led from a couple of laps after the restart until he finally stopped on lap 153, he ended up far enough behind after the stop that he never actually caught back up.

How was the actual on-track racing? Around the restarts, it was decent. However, it spread out pretty quick. Once it did, there wasn’t all that much to offer. With a race like this, I would have preferred for NBCSN to ease up on the focus on playoff contenders. Give viewers a little bit more to look out for.

In addition, FOX Sports 1 unveiled a new setup to check the point standings during Friday night’s Victoria’s Voice Foundation 200 presented by Westgate Resorts that isn’t as intrusive on the scoring pylon. That might be worth looking into.

There were also a number of cut tires Sunday night that we never actually figured out the source of. Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Alex Bowman both had their races ruined by cut tires after their final scheduled stops. I have no idea what happened. It sounds like they hit debris on-track. If they did, then NASCAR apparently wasn’t doing their job in regards to keeping the track clear of metal debris. The problem here is that we can’t prove that.

Post-race coverage was actually a bit curtailed Sunday night. The race ended roughly 15 minutes earlier than NBCSN thought it would. Viewers still got a half dozen interviews and point checks, but the post-race show actually ended 20 minutes early. Not sure why. I suppose they ran out of topics to discuss.

This was another one of those playoff races in which non-playoff drivers had to standout to get much in the way of coverage. That driver Sunday night was Tyler Reddick, who drove all the way up to second. Choosing to stay out an extra four laps killed his chances at winning. Losing six seconds in the round of stops cost him a top-five finish.

Overall, this race was nowhere near as enjoyable to watch as any of the Round of 16 races. There was only so much racing for position to go around and the race just didn’t look competitive. Racing at night doesn’t seem to be all that beneficial at intermediate tracks. The issue is likely exacerbated at a place like Las Vegas Motor Speedway since it’s so hot during the day.

A lot of that is out of NBCSN’s control. However, you have to take what you’re given and make the best of it. I just don’t think they were able to do so here.

ALSCO Uniforms 302

Saturday saw the Xfinity Series playoffs get underway. For this race, NBCSN experimented with another new booth setup. Jeff Burton ventured into the land of the giants.

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: Jeff Burton Thrives On Chaos in NASCAR on NBC Booth

However, Rick Allen is 6’6”. Brad Daugherty is around seven feet tall. Burton’s going to look shrimpy compared to those guys.

The Allen-Burton-Daugherty booth was an interesting combination. The three commentators bring very different backgrounds, and it showed. I felt that they worked very well together. Saturday was not the first time that Daugherty has been in the booth this season (he worked the Xfinity race at Loudon back in July), but he’s getting more reps now than he did with ESPN.

One of my gripes with NBC Sports’ NASCAR broadcasts is that it can just get too busy in the booth with four on-air commentators. Having three people for the race makes things flow better.

Saturday’s race was quite the competitive race. Action-wise, this was the preferred race, even though Josh Berry ended up with the best car by far in the final 50 laps and ran away with it.

Viewers saw a lot of battles for position and I felt that the focus wasn’t as all-encompassing on the playoffs as what we got on Sunday. I do think Berry sticking himself into the conversation at the front of the field is partially responsible for this, though.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief. Viewers only got interviews with the top three finishers (Berry, Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson, all of JR Motorsports) and a check of the points before leaving Las Vegas.

Honestly, I do wish that NASCAR had better racing in the Cup Series on intermediate tracks. As much as fans gripe about them today, they used to have some of the best racing in all of motorsports. It was once possible to have 40+ lead changes at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Now, it seems that all fans do is complain about them. NASCAR seemingly has thrown in the towel on getting it right at intermediate tracks as some of them have been dropped in recent years. Just getting that better without resorting to gimmicks would make the sport so much better.

As for the Xfinity broadcast, I enjoyed it. There was plenty of action to be had on-track, and the commentary was different than normal and informative. I cannot complain about much.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is a tripleheader of stomach-churning action at Talladega Superspeedway. Saturday has the Camping World Truck Series at noon local time, followed by the Xfinity Series. Sunday has 500 miles of action that is guaranteed to make you nervous. Outside of NASCAR, SRO America will be in action at Sebring International Raceway in a makeup weekend to replace the cancelled race weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. TV Listings are here.

This weekend, I will be at Talladega Superspeedway, representing Frontstretch at my only NASCAR race of the year. That said, I’ll still be around. Next weekend’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday could still conceivably cover some of the broadcasts from Talladega. If I can’t do that, I’ll write about Schumacher on Netflix since I’ll have some downtime during the weekend.

For the Critic’s Annex, I plan on covering Friday night’s Victoria’s Voice Foundation 200 presented by Westgate Resorts for the Camping World Truck Series. I have full notes for the broadcast and a lot of free time coming up on Thursday.

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.

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4 Comments
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DoninAjax

Anyone surprised by the emphasis on the chosen ones hasn’t been paying attention for the last ten years. And it gets a lot worse for the “Round of 8” and the Focused 4.

Bill B

I wish they’d just update the standings after each stage and at the end. Who cares what the points are while there are still a bunch of laps to go.
I hate races where they run the 550 package. In my eyes it is a failure and NASCAR should go back to the drawing board.

CJ

NASCAR needs to look at the Xfinity car packages as a means to improve racing. Some of the best racing I’ve seen is in that series.

Bob

If all we are going to see and talk about during the race is the qualifiers maybe they should just allow the ones that qualified for the playoffs on the track The rest stay hone cause ur not gonna get on TV anyway

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