Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Charlotte Brings Steve Phelps to NBC, Mediocre Racing at Best

In recent years, one of the most interesting additions to the NASCAR Cup Series has been the addition of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s infield road course, now referred to as the ROVAL, to the schedule in 2018. I went to the first ROVAL race on credential for Frontstretch for many reasons. I wanted to check out the track and the area since I had never been out of the airport in Charlotte prior to that.

That first year saw some chaos, decent racing, an instance where “everyone went to the pile” in turn 1 and a wild finish. Sunday’s race had the last thing, I guess. Not so much for the rest.

Entering the race weekend, the NASCAR industry was in a period of consternation unseen in years. You name it, there are currently issues: the raceworthiness of the Next Gen car at road courses and tracks smaller than Gateway, the ongoing issues with the cars not absorbing hits, the negotiations for a cut of the next TV deal for teams. Seemingly, there isn’t very much good news going around.

With that in the background, NASCAR president Steve Phelps joined Marty Snider, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton on the Peacock Pit Box prior to the race to discuss some of these issues.

The biggest takeaway here is that Phelps admitted that he and NASCAR dropped the ball when it comes to safety on the Next Gen car. They simply didn’t listen early enough to drivers when they were saying that they were feeling the hits much harder than in the Gen6 car, and Phelps took responsibility for that.

It’s truly sad that it took this long to publicly acknowledge that fact knowing William Byron made note of how hard the hits in the Next Gen car were more than a year ago after he wrecked during one of the tests. Sure, having all those sensors on the cars during the crash testing probably helped a bunch, but humans are humans. The drivers on the grid are not going to lie about stuff like this. They’re scared and want something better.

To that end, NASCAR did crash test a new rear end structure that gives more back on Wednesday. Phelps indicated that the test was successful and that it would be implemented on the Next Gen cars in time for The Clash at the Coliseum in February. That’s a good move, although I have no doubt that the drivers wished that they could have it tomorrow.

Also, Phelps acknowledged that there has been a lack of communication between the drivers and management. Phelps talked about how the Drivers Advisory Council (which is comprised of only seven drivers) often meets with Burton, which we discussed last week in regards to “using the proper channels” to communicate with management.

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Problem is, these select drivers don’t necessarily speak for everyone. Denny Hamlin is in the Drivers Advisory Council and seems to have different opinions on a lot of things as compared to others. To this end, Phelps has chosen to bring the proper channels directly to the drivers. Starting last weekend, he has instituted meetings with all the drivers every week to discuss the issues in the sport. He says that Saturday’s meeting was productive, but we’ll have to see going forward.

Overall, it was good to have Phelps out there to talk about these issues, or anyone high up in NASCAR. Our own Daniel McFadin thought that Phelps was the wrong man for the job, though.

It is true that since replacing his nephew as CEO of NASCAR, Jim France has largely stayed in the shadows. Does he go to the track? I think so, but you don’t really see him there. He never talks to the media. I’ve seen him at a track once since he took over as NASCAR CEO, but it wasn’t at a NASCAR race. It was at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2020, when they had a big press conference to announce the creation of the LMDh formula for IMSA and the WEC that was planned to debut this year (due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that got pushed back to next year).

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IMSA, ACO Announce Prototype Convergence, DPi 2.0 Becomes LMDh

Does that mean that he’s disconnected from what is going on? Not necessarily, but it looks that way. Phelps did not mention whether or not France was at the all-drivers meeting or not. I hope he would have showed, but who knows?

A topic that really wasn’t discussed when Phelps was on-air during Countdown to Green was about the quality of racing on short tracks and road courses this year. Sure, Phelps touted the number of green-flag passes, which has been up at a number of tracks this year. For certain tracks, I’d give him that.

Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400k was not the most exciting race. Sure, that happens from time to time. However, it’s rare that it happens to such a degree that everyone is running at nearly the exact same pace and can’t gain on anyone.

Until the advertising board brought out a yellow in the final laps, this was definitely the least exciting of the five Cup races on the ROVAL to this point. Such a scenario created complete chaos as everyone was on top of each other. Somehow, the cars are a little too good on this course to put on a competitive race. The fans in attendance knew this because quite a few of them started leaving before the late yellows flew.

The broadcast booth could tell what they were seeing and adjusted their commentary. Effectively, the race began looking like that maybe 15 laps in, but especially after the end of stage one. Joey Logano won stage one, then pitted, restarted around 22nd and went almost nowhere in stage two. It’s not like his car went in the toilet after changing tires. It was just impossible to pass.

There was a heavy focus on the playoff contenders since this was a cutoff race. That said, there were a number of non-playoff contenders that ran very well. Tyler Reddick could have won this race (I did pick him to win in our staff pick ’em competition, but only earned one point for his eighth-place finish). Another strong runner was Justin Haley, someone that probably next to no one thought could have won.

Also recently, we talked about NBC needing to be able to make use of the streaming cameras to benefit the broadcast. They should be treated like the Hawkeye cameras for pit officiating.

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We saw the first usage of this on Sunday when the regular cameras did not catch Ross Chastain’s issues. The streaming camera showed that he hit the wall exiting turn 2, which ultimately broke his toe link. While that bites for Chastain, the broadcast benefitted from being able to use that camera to show viewers just what happened to him.

Haley finished a strong fifth on Sunday and I think managed to get airtime like three times all day. The scramble-filled final laps resulted in a number of drivers getting themselves good finishes that seemed to come out of nowhere, like Bubba Wallace in seventh.

Since the race was run so quickly, there was a lot of post-race coverage. There was time for nearly a half-hour of post-race coverage on NBC up until 6 p.m. ET. Then, there was more coverage exclusive to Peacock. In all of that time, the coverage was exclusive to playoff contenders. You didn’t hear from Haley or AJ Allmendinger.

You did see Chase Elliott get angry at a cameraman, though. Chase, you don’t get to dictate what the NBC cameramen do. They’re doing their jobs they are paid to do.

Sunday’s race was not the most exciting to watch. There wasn’t much good racing to be had at the front of the field. NBC didn’t really help things by keeping everything focused solely on playoff contenders. Let’s face it. There’s more to these races than 12 playoff drivers, and everyone has fans. Please acknowledge that.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup and NASCAR Xfinity Series teams will make the long haul out to Las Vegas for a doubleheader weekend. Las Vegas’ fall weekend has been pushed back a month this year. Perhaps that will make for a more hospitable environment. TV listings can be found right here.

We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity Series races from Las Vegas in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex, I stayed up really late Saturday night watching the Repco Bathurst 1000 on MotorTrend+. I want to talk about it a little bit.

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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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.

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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DoninAjax

Green flag passes? How many times does the 9 or any top car pass the 15? The 51? The 77? The 78? How many cars does the 78 pass in an event that isn’t during green flag pit stops? The 77? The 15? The 51? The 7? How many cautions does the 51 cause during the season? The 15? The 77? The 78? Where is Gort when we need him to clean up this “brain trust” leading the asylum? Talk about using statistics to try to make a point! “Green flag passes” is a joke.

DoninAjax

How about a stat for how many times a car gets passed?

Sally Baker

The ultimate irony for me is Nascar said a big reason they went to this10 race championship format was because they got tired of drivers talking about having a ‘good points day’. This format has only made ‘good points days’ even more impbut now has types of points to accrue!

Mr Yeppers

And the word “points” spoken hundreds of times each broadcast. If you start actually listening for it, it’s incredible how many times it is used every Sunday.

Carl D.

“Points”… Sounds like a great idea for a drinking game, except everyone would be drunk as hell by the time the pre-race show is over. Well, that, and my “drinking game” days are in the rear view mirror.

Bill B

This race was definitely a dud. The last 8 laps turned into a crapshoot. Business as usual at NASCAR.

cj

The problem with making cars so equal is that it is almost impossible to pass, which we have seen many times this year. NASCAR needs to open up more areas of the car that the teams can work on or implement “push to pass” as Indy cars already have or both.

John

The cars really need some more adjustability to allow talented teams and drivers to differentiate themselves, bring back green flag passing, and prevent this hobby stock race we all saw in the final few laps. Crashing and blocking your way into the next round kind of strays away from my vision of what a professional racing series should look like.

Charlie

I was there. In the pack, there were some “gaggles” that ended up in some excitement, but the car needs the old clean air. It was boring out front as the leader could stretch his lead. I am not an engineer, an MBA, but someone needs to fix it.
I also have a feeling Hamlin and Harvick speak for most drivers. Phelps is a joke and the owners need more influence. NASCAR is NOT an industry. It is a Monopoly. There is no competition for parts and very little for the powertrain. Even the shocks are from a single source. That will not change until the owners exercise some options. The old, the sport is bigger than you, find out how that has changed. Sure, they can sanction races but if sponsors and drivers that are popular avoid it, away it will go.
The new Biden labor rules that change how Independent Contractors are treated may create an opening for the drivers to organize with Federal protections.
Interesting times.

janice

drivers won’t organize. they’d be selectively locked out of races. what will the union drivers race at speedway motorsports tracks and not at isc tracks? remember it’s nascar’s game and rules. don’t like it, move on. there’s always someone else cheaper waiting for a seat.

hopefully nothing will happen in the remaining races to put a black eye on nascar. everytime someone spins and is about to hit rear end first i crings.

TCinAZ

Kyle Busch had the quietest 3rd place of his career. No playoff no coverage. As for Phelps, this was a CYA meeting and nothing more. And Jeff Burton speaking for the drivers, who wants to listen to that whiner? We don’t even want him on the braodcast.

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