Atlanta Motor Speedway brought a series of unknowns to the table. What would the racing look like? Would it be enjoyable to watch? We know now that it was edge-of-your-seat action, the debut of a mini-superspeedway. Whether it’s the right kind of racing for the 1.54-mile quad-oval remains up for debate, a topic well beyond the weekly look into NASCAR on FOX’s television coverage.
Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
Sunday brought the NASCAR Cup Series to Atlanta for 500 miles of action. This shouldn’t have taken nearly four hours, but that is what we got. Naturally, the track itself was the star of the show. FOX Sports got quotes from a number of drivers (William Byron, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, etc.). These quotes, gathered during FOX Sports’ Hanger Shoot in Daytona, encapsulated a near unknown idea of what to expect. The race ended up being a bit more competitive than they thought it could be.
There was a feature on Chase Briscoe, who won in Phoenix. His parents describe him growing up as a huge Tony Stewart fan. The piece talks about his rise through the ranks and how he was feeling towards the end of the race.
In a secondary piece, Briscoe talked about being on the Peak Stock Car Dream Challenge, which was a reality show that aired on SPEED in 2013 (I wrote about it for The Critic’s Annex back then). You might remember that Dr. Patrick Staropoli won that show and got one start in the K&N Pro Series West (now ARCA Menards Series West) out of it before making a few more starts later on. He eventually made one Truck start at Homestead and…it didn’t go well.
I’ve met Briscoe twice previously, the last occasion being in Daytona two years when he was racing in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge. He’s a legitimately good dude who has worked his butt off to get where he is. He deserved that triumph.
During NASCAR RaceDay, a preview of a feature narrated by Misty May-Treanor was aired on Betty Skelton, the first woman to be a licensed racer. She was a pilot by trade who was convinced by Bill France Sr. to try out racing cars. Ultimately, she ran speed trials at Daytona Beach in the 1950s. This will be a Beyond the Wheel special that will officially premiere Wednesday night as part of NASCAR RaceHub. I find this story to be quite interesting and I recommend checking it out.
For Sunday’s race, Jeff Gordon returned to the broadcast booth after nine months in the guest analyst role. Gordon always had a fairly substantial role with Hendrick Motorsports during his time with FOX Sports, but it’s much larger now.
I mention that because someone in that position has to put their biases on standby and be impartial. Gordon admitted during the broadcast that he did let his biases come into play. If he’s going to continue in a guest analyst role this year (remember, we don’t know who will be in that role beyond Austin next weekend), he has to watch his Ps and Qs. Don’t be a homer.
Then again, with the scenario we had in play Sunday, there was no special analyst that really could have helped much since there were so many unknowns. No one knew what to expect and that notion was played up to a certain extent.
We at Frontstretch do chat among ourselves during the race. A number of my colleagues didn’t like some of the terminology being used to describe the action. For example, Mike Joy described the racing as being a like a “180 mph pace lap” on at least one occasion. I can understand why some viewers might not like that since it makes it sound like watching a parking lot.
More obvious to me was the constant selling of the race as being like Daytona and Talladega. That might be 30% true. Since Atlanta is far tighter than either Daytona or Talladega, it’s going to be much harder to progress through the field than at either one of the bigger tracks (although it was possible). I do fear that NASCAR and/or SMI might look at what we saw Sunday and think of this as the future of intermediate racing. It definitely should not be, if for no other reason than the fact that it would be hideously expensive for the track operators.
Clint Bowyer thinks that the reconfiguration made Atlanta much better than it was previously. Our own Mike Neff found this statement to be incredulous. Bowyer responded thusly:
Go lay down!
It’s been damn near 20 yrs since this place has produced edge of your seat racing. It delivered that in all 3 divisions this weekend with new configuration. I’ve been on both sides, driving and in booth. If you don’t believe me, look at stats! 🥴 https://t.co/h6w6QlDgcn
— Clint Bowyer (@ClintBowyer) March 20, 2022
My thoughts on Atlanta is that yes, the racing there in recent years hasn’t been great. This race last year did have only 11 lead changes. I don’t even know if the track itself was to blame for that. The high-downforce 550 horsepower package run there the last three years has to be at least a little responsible though. They did hold off on repaving the track for three to five years too long as well.
Post-race coverage was brief since the race ended about a half-hour behind schedule (seems to happen every week these days). Viewers only got interviews with Byron and Ross Chastain and some post-race analysis before FOX left Atlanta.
Given what happened at the end of the race, this post-race coverage was somewhat deficient. Fans were undoubtedly wondering about the conditions of Justin Haley and Bubba Wallace after they took nasty hits. Luckily, they’re both going to be fine. That hit for Wallace was not good, though.
P1 on the hardest hit list..
Shout out to the GA peeps in the infield telling me not to come back..
See you in July darfs
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) March 21, 2022
Given that this is now effectively a superspeedway race, a lot of the same rules that I wrote about after the Daytona 500 now apply. Specifically, the need to cut down on the usage of bumper cams. With everyone right up on each other, you can’t see anything except splitters and bumpers.
As compared to Daytona, this was a little better. That said, the usage was relatively high early in the race and I have to ding FOX for that. It made it into the live notes.
Something that didn’t really make it on air is the fact that Goodyear sent a representative to the Media Center Sunday during the race to talk about the failures for Chastain, Tyler Reddick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. He believed that it was a manufacturer-specific issue. They talked about camber on the broadcast, but not that it was specifically a Chevrolet issue.
Overall, Sunday’s Cup broadcast was just ok. It was nothing really special. I guess I enjoyed it a little more than the last plate-style race at Daytona, but the constant comparisons to Daytona wore thin pretty fast. In practice, it was a lot closer to those INDYCAR pack races at intermediate tracks in the 2000s that were incredibly dangerous.
Nalley Cars 250
Saturday saw the Xfinity Series race for 172 of a scheduled 163 laps. This race was a little bit much.
Everything surrounding this race broadcast ran late, including the start of it. This is because the Camping World Truck Series Fr8 208 ran long. Pre-race coverage started 22 minutes late and really wasn’t all that great. Kind of the problem with pre-race coverage these days. They don’t really preview the race. Instead of that, they talk about overarching themes for the season. That might leave fans feeling a little confused about what they were seeing.
Saturday’s race left me wanting at times. Likely the best example of this was during the 10-lap caution period that resulted from the Daniel Hemric–Joe Graf Jr. crash. During that yellow, Loris Hezemans found a way to junk his car in the grass. It took a good 10 minutes for viewers to see this, and it wasn’t from the best shot. It was from a fisheye lens that is usually only used coming out of commercial breaks.
Brad Keselowski made note of it and stated “we don’t have any idea how that happened.” Sure enough, through that fisheye lens, the booth realized that there was a whole second part to this crash that they hadn’t noticed before. Apparently, NASCAR didn’t notice it either. That’s why that splitter and undertray hung out in the grass for so long, along with the literal rocks on the frontstretch. Even after they saw this replay, they couldn’t tell who had junked themselves.
What will probably be remembered the most from this broadcast was that FOX Sports 1 seemed to spend a lot of time showing shots of random kids. Especially these two girls wearing Shake and Bake t-shirts.
I guess the idea here is to show youngsters having fun at races since race crowds tend to skew older these days. There’s a limit for that. After about the fifth time they cut to the same two little girls, it crossed the line from fun to creepy. You don’t want to be creepy.
The second half of this race de-evolved into ridiculousness. You had a bunch of wrecks on the track, and whoever was driving the Reaume Brothers Racing truck got directed the wrong way out of the garage and peeled the trailer back. Made me think about a devilish rail bridge in Durham, N.C. and what it does to unsuspecting jamokes on a near-monthly basis.
Ultimately, this race ended about an hour behind schedule. Luckily, it was pre-empting a repeat of the Truck race. That said, viewers only got interviews with the top two finishers (Ty Gibbs and Austin Hill) before FOX Sports 1 left Atlanta. Also, the celebration that got Gibbs on Put It Out! Sunday? It was a bad attempt at emulating Jeff Gordon.
— Ty Gibbs (@TyGibbs_) March 20, 2022
Former teammates Keselowski and Joey Logano were in the booth together Saturday and they have an interesting interplay going on. It’s almost like the 1987 film Dragnet with Dan Ackroyd and Tom Hanks with Keselowski as Joe Friday. Which is quite strange since Keselowski is not that much older than Logano (their age difference is seven years and change). Keselowski at one point referred to Joey as “Joseph,” as if he was Joey’s disapproving father. Given the randomness of the race, they really couldn’t add too much because they were learning just as well as everyone watching.
Keselowski was quite confused that no one seemingly took the time to tape the inside of their windshields since vision was a real problem all race long. The 5 p.m. start time should have convinced them that it would be a thing. Keselowski made sure that it wouldn’t be an issue for him during the race on Sunday.
Overall, I found the broadcast rather irritating to watch at times due to the strange production decision making. The racing was decent to watch, but the wrecking was irritating. This seemed like three-plus hour race when it wasn’t.
That’s all for this week. After last weekend’s marathon of racing, this will be a quieter weekend. We have a tripleheader of NASCAR action at Circuit of the Americas. So far, the weather forecast looks good. There will likely not be a repeat of this:
Tony Stewart will be back in the broadcast booth for the Cup race on Sunday in place of Jeff Gordon. Monster Energy AMA Supercross will be at Lumen Field in Seattle as well. TV listings can be found in the Television drop-down menu.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races from Circuit of the Americas for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter will cover Saturday’s Fr8 208 for the Camping World Truck Series.
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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.
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