As Frontstretch‘s resident road racing expert, I love the twisties. You never know what you’re going to get. At a place like Road America, the sheer magnitude of the facility means that you never know what’s going to be thrown your way.
Kwik Trip 250
Honestly, I really wasn’t sure what to expect going into this past weekend’s action at Road America for the NASCAR Cup Series. This is where the power cut really comes into play as the cars just seemed gutless at times. It’s likely part of the reason why the race had no natural cautions.
While 670 horsepower is definitely a lot of power for the average driver — personally, I’ve never driven anything with more than 305 (that was a V6 Mustang rental car I had in Daytona back in 2013) — this was an 80 horsepower cut as compared to the Gen6 car last year at non-superspeedway and intermediate tracks. It’s harder to spin the tires.
Pre-race coverage had a series of interviews, along with a couple of cutaways to Rutledge Wood, where he talked a bit about the history of racing in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Essentially, the beginning of racing there is very similar to what happened Watkins Glen around the same time, but doesn’t get as much press.
With only two cautions for the stage breaks, the leaders (Chase Elliott, Tyler Reddick) got way out in front of the rest of the field. In that scenario, without much happening up front, you need to drop down through the field and provide viewers with as much action as you can. That didn’t really happen on Sunday. There were long stretches of time with next to no action.
Now, it is possible that there wasn’t much going on. It’s also possible that the sheer size of Road America meant that there wasn’t enough camera coverage to see everything. Heck, there isn’t enough spotter coverage there due to the shrunken crew rosters. Based on what I could tell from the Virtual Media Center that NASCAR offers to media members and the on-screen pylon, there was action to be shown, but we didn’t get it.
Sunday’s race also saw the use of a streamlined pylon from time that omitted driver names and just used the car numbers. Think of a more modern version of ESPN’s pylon they used on NASCAR broadcasts from late 1995 to early 1998. I thought it was interesting and would not mind additional usage of it. I’d like your thoughts on it.
A race at Road America seems to have a lot more commercials than other tracks since the laps are so long. It’s possible to take nearly a full commercial break and come back on the same lap. This leads to commercials being taken at questionable times. One example would be on lap 27, right before a bunch of pit stops. Yes, the broadcast got back in time for them, but it just seemed like a bad idea, even though it had to be done.
Since the race ended so early, post-race coverage was more akin to what you used to see during the playoffs four or five years ago, with nearly a hour of content. Viewers saw Reddick join Dale Jarrett, Marty Snider and Brad Daugherty on the Peacock Pit Box. You heard the stories about Reddick’s son, Beau, which our own Daniel McFadin wrote about.
You also got a few other interviews. Richard Childress talked about how Sunday was a big day for the organization. It’s the organization’s first Cup win in two years and the first win for the No. 8 team since 2017. Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez and Michael McDowell talked about how their performances showed their organizations’ recent strengths.
Overall, this was a spread out event where you had to really work to find the good stuff to show. While yes, they had the battle for the win between Elliott and Reddick covered, it seemed like everything else was truly lacking. You can’t focus almost solely on two drivers for the last 20 laps of a race, no matter where you are.
Also, before we go, there was a discussion among some of our staff Sunday during the race. Some of my colleagues are under the opinion that Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s commentary style is an attempted impersonation of the late Barney Hall. Admittedly, I never listened to Hall call a race in his prime, so I don’t have that much of a frame of reference, but I’d like your thoughts on this as well.
Saturday’s Xfinity race at Road America was a very different beast, even though the result at the end was actually somewhat similar as the dominant driver ended up second. Of course, there is one thing that this race will be remembered for: some shenanigans.
It’s pretty obvious what happened here. Noah Gragson and Sage Karam had contact a few times in the first couple of corners on the lap. Gragson was apparently already upset about it after turn 1. Replays showed that he gestured angrily to Karam. After additional contact, it appeared that he hung a right into Karam’s left rear corner and spun him out. Mayhem followed.
As you’re likely aware if you’re reading this column, this is not the first time that this has happened with Gragson, but the circumstances were much milder. Two years ago, he intentionally wrecked Myatt Snider at Las Vegas.
In Couch Potato Tuesday back then, I wrote about how FOX Sports 1 was in a position where both of their analysts were more or less compromised there.
Guest analyst Austin Dillon was compromised because Snider was his colleague at RCR at the time, and Michael Waltrip was also since he had spent so much time with Gragson over the previous few days. As a result, it was hard to get a fully objective opinion out of the booth. However, the replays were pretty objective that day, even more so than on Saturday. The helmet cam was pretty definitive, like someone giving the perfect answer to a blank on Match Game. Saturday likely looked quite similar.
Back to Saturday … the booth might not have thought that Sargento would have liked Josh Bilicki towing their placard around, but it seems like they’re pretty cool with it. In regards to the crash, the booth noted the multiple incidences of contact and Gragson’s gesture. I don’t think Jeff Burton really wanted to admit that this whole mess was intentional, but it sure as heck looked like it.
After the wreck happened, there were shots of Brandon Brown exiting his race car in a fair bit of pain. When the NBC Sports crew noticed this, they cut away from Brown. Later on, you saw Brown sitting next to the wall, still appearing to be in substantial pain. The aforementioned Snider, who wrecked here as well, ran over to check on Brown in a show of sportsmanship. The broadcast stayed on this for a little too long, angering some viewers.
Luckily, Brown’s going to be just fine. He just had a “cup check,” as he explains here:
As per NASCAR’s “Boys, have at it” policy that was instituted at the beginning of 2010, no penalties were issued to Gragson for his actions, despite the fact that his actions eliminated seven teams from the race. I’m not a fan of this rule because it effectively reeks of NASCAR wanting to wash their hands of the issue. Local short tracks do more to stop that stupidity than NASCAR does, and it negatively affects every level of motorsports.
NBC Sports did talk to Brown, Karam and Snider afterwards. Obviously, none of the three was very happy. As for Gragson, he stated after the race that he was “sick and tired” of getting doored. He took responsibility, but effectively claimed that Karam had it coming from things that happened prior to Road America. I’m happy that we got both sides of the issue, but Gragson likely didn’t do himself any favors.
Burton followed up the interview with a statement that Gragson contradicted himself in the interview by talking about the championship afterwards. The ultimate conclusion was that yes, Gragson admitted his fault, but he’ll have to do more than just admit it for this whole mess to tide over.
Post-race coverage was decent. In addition to the Gragson coverage mentioned above, there were a few more interviews and post-race analysis before USA left Elkhart Lake.
Saturday’s race was not as spread out as Sunday’s due to the yellows. There was still plenty of good racing to go around, but the goal here is to remain objective. I think NBC Sports does a good job in doing so most of the time. It’s part of why Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t on the Xfinity broadcast (owning five cars in a race makes it a little tough to be objective).
That’s all for this week. Next week is a split weekend. The NASCAR Cup and NASCAR Xfinity Series will make a return trip to Atlanta Motor Speedway. July in Georgia for day races. Jeepers, that’s going to be hot. Meanwhile, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course along with the ARCA Menards Series. The FIA World Endurance Championship will be at Monza, where the new Peugeot 9X8 will debut. Finally, Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship teams will race at The Wick 338 in Southwick, Mass. TV listings can be found right here.
We will bring critiques of the action from Atlanta in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter, I’m going to write up my personal thoughts on Rowdy, the film on Kyle Busch that had a one-night theatrical run on June 29. I may have picked the wrong seat for the theater, but I watched the whole thing and have thoughts.
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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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