Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Larry McReynolds In The Booth Simply Works for FOX Sports 1

In recent years, the now-Dover International Speedway has not put on the best races in NASCAR. The events have been rather uncompetitive. For the most part, they’ve also been rather spread out and lacking incidents since the track was converted from asphalt to concrete for the 1995 season.

The DuraMAX Drydene 400, run over two days due to rain, is the third slowest Cup race run at Dover since the track was converted to concrete. The only slower ones were the infamous 2004 MBNA America 400 and the 2001 MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400.  The lead change total was really not that different than the past few events, but there was more passing throughout the field. According to NASCAR’s Loop Data, there were more than double the number of passes than in last year’s race at Dover.

For Sunday and Monday, Larry McReynolds returned to the broadcast booth for a NASCAR Cup Series points race for the first time since 2015. Honestly, watching this race on Monday afternoon while trying to work, it was like he never left.

Anyone that has read this column during the time I’ve been writing it, or watched FOX’s Cup broadcasts over the past 20 years knows that McReynolds is a stickler for preparation. All of the on-air personalities for NASCAR races receive packets full of information that they can use on the broadcasts. NBC Sports’ Jeff Burton explained to Frontstretch in 2018 that he will cherrypick some of that information to use on broadcasts.

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

McReynolds strikes me as the kind of person who goes through as much information as he can possibly get in order to prepare for the broadcasts. It shows. He can bring in as much outside information as he possibly can.

In the past, McReynolds did get some criticism for butchering of the English language with slang terms. That isn’t really a thing anymore. If anything, he’s become even more educated over the past few years.

Having McReynolds in the broadcast booth resulted in a much more regimented broadcast. There wasn’t as much shenaniganry that FOX telecasts tend to include. It was like 2015 all over again, minus Darrell Waltrip.

I seriously thought after Jeff Gordon announced his departure from FOX Sports at the end of the 2020 season to focus on Hendrick Motorsports that a Mike Joy-Larry McReynolds-Clint Bowyer broadcast booth was probably the best booth they could come up with while making use of their existing on-air personalities. It would likely benefit FOX Sports’ NASCAR coverage while not really costing the network much.

In pre-race coverage, FOX Sports 1 had a feature on Trackhouse Racing Team and how Justin Marks views himself as a “disruptor.” It’s the kind of mentality that seems to reign these days in startup businesses in the tech industry. Everything is based around fostering a team mentality, more or less unlike anything else in the sport right now.

If you’ve listened to either one of Justin Marks’ episodes on the Dinner With Racers podcast, the ideology and thought processes that Marks shows in this piece have been around for years. Compared to the other owners in the sport at the present time, he just thinks differently than the others.

Also, there was more silliness with Michael Waltrip during the grid walk when Denny Hamlin presented Michael with a cake to celebrate his birthday (Michael turned 59 on Saturday). Michael then fumbled the cake and nearly hit Hamlin’s car with it.

This is a different situation as compared to the ridiculous taco drop of 2015, where he actually hit Hamlin’s car with food.

Obviously, the cake was a setup because you could see Ryan Philippe standing next to Hamlin waiting with the cake. Also, remember that Hamlin and Michael Waltrip are buddies and have been for years. Maybe he would actually give Michael a cake.

I’ve noted earlier this season that FOX Sports is not necessarily the best at actually previewing the race. Sure, they spent a bunch of time talking about the track itself on NASCAR RaceDay, including using their computer to show the expansion joints in the concrete. However, it was right before the start of the race that it was discussed that there would be a competition caution on lap 40.

Of course, if you saw the practice session broadcast on Saturday, it sort of makes sense knowing that five different drivers had issues in the short session. William Byron and Josh Bilicki both crashed and went to backup cars. Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland crashed and went to the garage for repairs, missing qualifying. Tyler Reddick spun as well, but did not go back to the garage.

Also, the start time for the race was just ugly knowing what ultimately happened. Jeff Gluck wrote an article about that for The Athletic that indicated that NASCAR would rather sacrifice races getting postponed to Monday due to rain in order to have what they believe to be a bigger audience by starting later.

NASCAR can say that all they want. However, that doesn’t make sense when you look at infrastructure. Dover doesn’t have lights. They can have it on the property (the harness races run at night), but the oval doesn’t have it at the moment. Starting at 3:40 p.m. ET doesn’t exactly leave you that much of a buffer if something goes wrong.

It doesn’t even have to be weather that interrupts the proceedings. It could be a pothole, like what happened in this race to Jamie McMurray back in 2014:

Granted, had it not rained, the race time wouldn’t have taken the nearly three hours and 50 minutes that the DuraMAX Drydene 400 took. However, had this race run the full 400 miles on Sunday without rain, it would have run unusually close to darkness, especially had it been cloudy. Having your races run up against darkness to chase TV viewers is not only a bad look, but also hurts the at-track attendance because of people not being able to travel long distances to races due to having to work the next day. There are also other reasons, such as gas stations not being open as long as they once were that could also hurt attendance. There’s nothing quite like being low on fuel and there being nowhere to stop because every gas station shuts for the night no later than 10 p.m.

During the red flag, FOX Sports 1 filled quite a bit of time with driver interviews, but then lightning was sighted. The pause resulted in alternate programming having to be aired since you couldn’t be outside. That included Radioactive from Talladega, a replay of the aforementioned Trackhouse feature, and a healthy amount of analysis from McMurray, Bobby Labonte and Shannon Spake in Charlotte.

As noted earlier, the race ended up being one of the slowest Dover races in recent years due to the 12 cautions (the caution surrounding the red flag for rain was 16 laps long). As a result, the race ran over the three-hour timeslot for the resumption of the event. Afterwards, viewers got interviews with the top three finishers (Chase Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ross Chastain). Once that was done, FOX Sports 1 quickly left Dover before Elliott even got onto pit road so that they could get to Speak For Yourself, a daily discussion show hosted by Marcellus Wiley and Emmanuel Acho. In all honesty, this was a live broadcast. Acho and Wiley could have waited an extra 10 minutes.

While Jamie Little was interviewing Elliott on the frontstretch, there was a split screen showing Chastain and Martin Truex Jr. having a discussion on pit road after the two collided on the final lap while racing for third.

This is a situation where viewers really would have liked to have both sides of the story. As noted above, FOX Sports 1 did have an interview with Chastain after the race. He didn’t really say much about the wreck, or what he and Truex were talking about, other than apparently hunting or fishing, depending on whether you were watching on FOX Sports 1 or listening on MRN Radio. At this point, I’ve seen nothing from Truex.

Overall, I enjoyed watching this race quite a bit more than recent Dover events. The action was more competitive than we’ve seen in a while on the concrete oval. Having McReynolds in the booth was a good move and I would be more than happy if FOX Sports put him back there permanently.

I did find some of the scripting in the Ones to Watch segment on Lap 287 substandard at best. Mike Joy is 72 these days. I don’t know who wrote that whole thing that he said with the M’s, but it didn’t work. Made him look really bad. Don’t do that again. Just let him say what he wants to say about whoever he gets to talk about in Darlington Sunday and be done with it.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is Throwback Weekend at Darlington Raceway. NASCAR will have a tripleheader at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on Friday night, the NASCAR Xfinity Series on Saturday afternoon and the NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday afternoon.

Formula 1 will make their inaugural visit to Miami Gardens, Fla. for the Grand Prix of Miami at Hard Rock Stadium. They’ll be joined by the W Series, which holds their season opener on Saturday. TV listings are available in the Television drop down above.

We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. In the Critic’s Annex, the current plan is to have two different Annex pieces this week. The first one will cover the Ag-Pro 300 from Talladega, which I didn’t have time to get to last week. The other will cover Saturday’s A-Game 200.

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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Bill B

Good article Phil!

Agree with you on McReynolds. They should let him finish the season in the booth. Heck, there are only 5 races left for Fox (plus the abomination they call the All-Star race), having Larry Mac in the booth would provide a strong finish.

sue

Don’t like the late start either’ but remember it is all about the money. They really don’t care what the attendance is on the rainout day because they have already sold the tickets even if they don’t show up on next day. Also liked Larry in the booth. Thought Clint was a little crazier than he usually is though.

Jim

I’ll take the contrarian view here. I would much prefer for Larry McReynolds to be at the track (not in the booth or the Charlotte studio) — with the solid tech segments when needed, not so dominant. Too much focus on repetitive tech and “predictions” that are rarely true. One example of this was “let’s go to the cutaway car to show the new lug nut situation which was already clearly explained in the Hamlin video (more than once). The cutaway segment actually showed nothing. Plus I was ready to call for a drinking game for all the times we heard “past experience” (is there any other kind?)

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