Race Weekend Central

5 Points To Ponder: Winning, Channel Hopping & Steve Byrnes

ONE: Get well soon, Steve Byrnes

Easily the best piece of NASCAR-related news I read in the last week or so was the report that the upcoming Bristol Motor Speedway race has been renamed to the Food City 500 In Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up To Cancer. When I say easily, let me be clear: what I actually mean by that is nothing else came even vaguely close news-wise. It’s a wonderful and well-deserved tribute to the veteran FOX Sports broadcaster, both his continued and courageous fight against head-and-neck cancer. We’ve already seen drivers wearing Byrnes’ name on their helmets and on their cars but the change in the race name is another level of tribute and honor altogether. “The support I have received from my teammates at FOX Sports, drivers, team members, track officials, NASCAR and the fans has been overwhelming,” said Byrnes of the honor. “So many families are affected by cancer, and to play a small part in raising awareness is an honor to me.” Fittingly, today Byrnes celebrates his 56th birthday. Here’s hoping the festivities and celebrations this week are a sign of many better things to come for him: a full recovery, a return to the track and the sport he loves, and also the sport that loves him just as much back.

TWO: Harvick vs Johnson

That’s two wins apiece now for six-time champion Jimmie Johnson and reigning titleholder Kevin Harvick just seven races into the 2015 season. Already, there is much talk amongst fans and of course on Twitter – the arbiter and barometer of all things NASCAR – that this season’s title will come down to a battle of the two veteran champions. Yes, I do expect both California-born drivers to challenge deep into the playoffs but the fact remains that with the new Chase format anything can (and probably will) happen in the final ten races. We saw this drama play out last season when Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman all made the Final Four. I don’t have the empirical data to back this up, but I’m pretty certain no one who made a Chase bracket had those four names duking it out at Homestead-Miami Speedway. So yes, both Johnson and Harvick look like nailed on contenders. Harvick, in particular, has been scary fast absolutely everywhere. But there is plenty of racing still to come, not to mention oodles of tension, unforced errors, pit-road miscues and rash decisions to follow in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. So is it Harvick versus Johnson for the big prize? It’s way too early to tell just yet.

THREE: Winning

At this stage last season it was all about Charlie Sheen’s favorite hashtag word: #Winning. Seven races had produced seven different winners and by the time we completed the 12th and longest race of the season – the 600-mile extravaganza at Charlotte Motor Speedway – three more had won races, meaning 10 drivers had penciled their names into the playoffs. With 14 events still to run, including the summer Daytona race and the two road courses, there was a strong possibility that more than 16 drivers could notch a victory. As it turned out, we ended up with 13 winners and three drivers (Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Newman) making the big dance courtesy of their point totals. This year, whilst we still have 19 races to run before the Chase begins it seems really unlikely we’ll even hit the 13 mark, let alone 16. All told, we’ve seen five drivers book their Chase tickets so far, but if you look at the list of winners it’s fair to say we’ll see more victories for each before the Chase gets underway. That means points are going to come into play, in a big way and amongst all the talk of winning it’s good, solid points days that will get it done for several drivers. Just ask Mr. Newman how that could play out….

FOUR: The Coliseum

Next up, we head to Bristol Motor Speedway for the “day” race at the famed Thunder Valley for 500 laps of Sunday afternoon mayhem. This race will be number 109 at the Cup level, a streak that runs all the way back to the 36th contest of the 1961 season. The inaugural event was won by Jack Smith in a ’61 Pontiac, a driver who ended up with 21 victories in a 15-year, 264-race career. The records also show that he had some help that day by way of a relief driver, Johnny Allen; it’s a driver who won once (this win didn’t count for his official records) in a 13-year, 173-race career. Back in 1961, the track was exactly half-a-mile in length and it wasn’t until 1969 that it was reshaped and re-measured at the slightly odd .533 miles it is today – just .06 miles longer than the shortest track, Martinsville Speedway. All told, 42 drivers have taken the checkered flag at Bristol with FOX Sports’ own Darrell Waltrip atop the charts with 12 victories. Both the Busch brothers and Jeff Gordon have five wins, tied for the most among active wheelmen. Bristol is a track that rarely disappoints (although in the interests of full disclosure, it does sometimes) and I’m expecting another barnstormer of a race this time around. Looking forward to it already.

FIVE: Channel Hopping

Finally this week, I have an abbreviated word on the channel-hopping situation this season. As you already know, both major broadcasters FOX and NBC are using their sports channels – FOX Sports 1 and NBC Sports Network, respectively – for multiple races. At Martinsville, we had the first race of the year on FS1 while last weekend, we were back live on the main FOX channel where we’ll remain for the next four races until we hit Kansas Speedway in early May. I know in the past, we’ve had a situation where we have multiple different broadcasters so at least this scenario is better, but I can’t help but wonder how many NASCAR fans don’t have FS1 or NBCSN in their cable packages. If the low ratings at Martinsville are anything to go by, it might be quite a large number – more sizable than perhaps the powers that be expected. I realize nothing is going to change here but it is a point worth pondering. If, like me, you watch your races on DVR just make sure you’re setting the channel right.

About the author

Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.

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Phil Allaway

Danny, in regards to the Channel Hopping section, we must also remember the ongoing spat with AT&T U-Verse. They’re refusing to air XFINITY Series races on FOX Sports 1 live, despite carrying the channel (darts seems to be the go to alternate programming). There’s no way NASCAR fans with that service can see the Cup races on FOX Sports 1 live. Still haven’t heard of any progress and it’s been 6 weeks.


Isn’t that sort of “If a tree falls in the forest….” thing? If a race no one watches is not offered on a cable channel does it still bore anyone senseless?


awesome about bristol naming the race in honor of steve byrnes. keep on praying for him.

also, steve byrnes b/d and i so pray and hope he has many more to come.

Tim S.

I have FS1 and NBCSN in my TV package, by chance. Many years ago, I paid for the package that included Speedvision. I would not pay extra for missing channels now, and I’m sure there are quite a few more feel the same.


Happy birthday to Steve. Wishing him a great day and full recovery.

Regarding the TX race and the whole “chase” thing. Well the race itself was very blah, I used my computer and the scanner to follow the race and watched something else after the field got spread out. The crapshoot still doesn’t interest me. I always watched races because they were fun and exciting not because a win locked you into the “format”.

Channel hopping – well once upon a time they signed a tv contract so you knew what channel to find the race on each week. Then when the 2nd contract was signed the race fans were back to ‘find the race”. I have FS1 and I think is have the NBC channel, too, although I haven’t looked because I don’t watch a lot of sports unless they are on normal channels or the channel is one if go to a lot and NBC isn’t one of those I check often. If the idea was to drive viewership to FS1 for Fox, I don’t think the experiment worked that well and IMO it seems that most people are working to cut the cable or lower their cable bills, not add more channels. Heck even HBO has added that ala carte deal for people. I read an article not long ago about how cable providers are going to have to rethink their position based on the way people now watch programs. Sports has always been “live” but even that is changing for some things and I think motorsports is one of them. When the “show” isn’t worth spending 4 hrs, people record it and watch just the interesting parts and NASCAR, unfortunately, falls into that category.


This is a nasty little trick the networks use to try to force cable providers to add their channels. When NASCAR fans find out they can’t watch a race on FS1 or NBCS (or a classic car auction for that matter) they are deluged by emails and calls demanding the channels be made available. Of course the cable company’s response is to make such channels available but only if you pay for more money for an upper tier programming line up that includes dozen of channels you’ll likely never watch. To get FS2 (which will cover some qualifying and practice sessions) Verizon would make me pay 35 bucks more a month for their ultra-premium sports programming. No dice. It’s time that cable companies allow and ala carte menu where you select and pay for only the channels you want. I think I have 500 channels available to me of which I might watch 15 on a routine basis. I now get more Spanish language channels then I used to have channels on my cable system in the 90s, and I don’t speak a word of Spanish.


It makes me wonder though if that tactic really works these days.


Thoughts and prayers are with you Steve Byrnes–I miss watching you. Get well soon!

NASCAR TV contract is a joke–may be big bucks, but if it is the real deal, ALL races should be on prime channels, not cable on channels

Bob Terwilliger

I miss the days when the pre-race would start at noon on ESPN with Ned and Benny for 5 minutes then the National anthem and green flag at about 12:10.

It was always on ESPN, except for the Daytona 500 on CBS, and there was no guessing where to find the broadcast.

Bill B

I agree Sideshow Bob.


Me, too! They take so long talking about nothing, when they could easily just get things started.

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