Last weekend in Las Vegas was not necessarily the best, weather-wise; Michael Waltrip found that out the hard way. It’s not quite Gene Shalit having a bad hair day on The Critic, but it was pretty bad. Regardless, we had 700 miles of racing in Las Vegas to cover this week. Sunday was a big race for the new downforce rules.
Sunday dawned with windy and wet weather at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Despite that, we still got 400 miles of racing in on Sunday. There were a number of major storylines that came out of the race.
The big story coming out of Atlanta was Jimmie Johnson tying Dale Earnhardt for seventh on the all-time wins list with 76. FOX was clearly prepared for this, with two sit-down interviews with Johnson. On NASCAR RaceDay, Johnson spoke with Kenny Wallace about tying Earnhardt, the Atlanta win regardless of the feat and his physical fitness. On FOX, Jeff Gordon talked with Johnson about the win as well. If you watched NASCAR RaceDay, you didn’t learn anything from that. However, Gordon’s piece continued on to include discussion of Johnson taking on a larger role at Hendrick Motorsports now that Gordon has retired. That’s the kind of information that I find quite interesting. I don’t know what that might end up looking like, but it should be an interesting couple of years for Johnson now that he’s the top dog.
Also in the past week, NASCAR CEO Brian France endorsing Donald Trump has been big in NASCAR news. France supporting Trump is not really that much of a stretch; Remember Trump Super Speedway, which would have been a joint venture between Trump and ISC to build a race track somewhere near New York City back in the late 1990s? I have no doubt that Brian France would have been involved with that.
However, Trump has been plugging France’s personal endorsement as an endorsement of him by NASCAR as a whole, which is not so. France even sent a memo to NASCAR employees stating that, and on Monday, NASCAR tweeted that it as a company is not endorsing Trump or any other candidate.
NASCAR statement: "NASCAR has not and does not endorse political candidates."
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) March 7, 2016
Since last Monday, there’s been quite a bit of discussion in NASCAR about France’s endorsement. You’d think it would have gotten some airtime on FOX. Did it? NolIt wasn’t mentioned all weekend. Why? Mike Joy sent a tweet last Monday that should explain.
No we won’t be discussing this gaffe on @FOXSports on Sunday.
Off limits topics include Race/ Religion/ Sex/ Politics.
— Mike Joy (@mikejoy500) March 1, 2016
I don’t believe that this is a NASCAR policy that Joy is referencing. It appears to be a FOX Sports policy. 99 percent of the time, it’s not an issue. Then again, the CEO of the sanctioning body rarely does something as public as what France did last week. FOX was put in a tough spot here; its own policy prohibited it from even referencing the situation, yet it’s probably the biggest story of the week. I bet it’s really happy that Johnson tied Earnhardt in Atlanta.
Speaking of preference, this issue came up during the race. As many of you have seen over the seven-plus years that I’ve written this column, Darrell Waltrip has an apparent friendship with Kyle Busch. That has led to what could be considered preferential treatment. In addition, Waltrip reacted to Busch’s late-race vibration with a reaction that suggests dejection. Darrell, I know you’re friendly with Kyle, but you have to call the race fairly.
In addition, Waltrip insinuated that Gordon is giving Chase Elliott preferential treatment. Gordon has spent a fair amount of time around the 20-year-old rookie over the past couple of years since they were both in the Hendrick Motorsports family. However, he has stated that he’s going to cover Hendrick Motorsports fairly. So far, I haven’t noticed anything inappropriate. Elliott just might be Gordon’s “buddy,” but Gordon’s handling himself just fine in the booth.
Also during the race, Waltrip pitched the idea of pit road speed limiters on Cup cars in response to the various pit road speeding penalties on Sunday. His argument basically is, “We have the technology, why not?” To be fair, it would eliminate some problems, like the gaming of timing lines that always seems to be a problem at Bristol and Martinsville. However, it would take a skill away from the drivers. It seems like Waltrip was on an island here.
With the new package, the on-track product is a big topic of discussion. I felt that Las Vegas would be very important since the 1.5-mile tri-oval is very smooth. Under the old rules, you needed a weathered surface to get a good race at an intermediate track. Would we see more racing for position?
I thought it was exciting at times. However, it was a little hard to tell whether or not it was truly an improvement over 2015. I only say that because outside of the first 10 laps of a run, we really didn’t see much racing through the field. That’s really on FOX; if you show more of the action throughout the field, instead of focusing on the front of the pack, you’ll get more exciting action for the viewers.
When it did, it was all over the place. There were a number of side-by-side battles that had to be really exciting for the fans to watch… if they could keep their eyes open. It’s a little tough to do that with 35-mph winds. It was possible to run someone down from behind, and a simple line adjustment by the leader to block your run didn’t mean you lost two seconds in three laps. You could run nose-to-tail without losing the nose. I think I’m fairly happy with what we’ve got for now.
I think the focus hurt FOX when it came to picking up on incidents. FOX had a fair bit of trouble figuring out what happened between Regan Smith and Kyle Larson to cause the fifth caution, since its replays only caught the wreck in progress. Based on what I could see, it looked like Smith spun on his own and Larson (whose car was already wounded from the previous caution) spun to avoid him. Not so, according to Smith.
Wow, watching the replay of our spin yesterday and tv did a bad job of showing what happened. 42 got loose under me, and took us with him
— Regan Smith (@ReganSmith) March 7, 2016
Unfortunately, this is a fact of life for race fans. The broadcasts are not going to catch everything. The only thing I wish NASCAR modeled after Formula 1 is having in-car cameras in all the cars. I know that it would be a substantial expense. BSI would have to sextuple its crews at the tracks and it would cost a ton of money. It’s wishful thinking, but it would be great to have cameras in every car at FOX’s disposal for incidents like this. In the past, FOX even used a form of computerized graphics similar to NASCAR RaceView in order to figure out what happened.
Despite the race running long, there was still a decent amount of post-race coverage. Viewers saw interviews with the top six finishers along with checks of the results and points.
Also, is this really a thing?
I cannot vouch for Michael Waltrip’s touching of people since I’ve never met him, but I suppose that’s his way of making a point.
In all, FOX’s broadcast was simply too focused on the frontrunners on Sunday. Because of that, viewers can’t really tell much of a difference from last year’s action, despite the race (more than likely) being better. FOX needs to work on that over the next few weeks.
Also, weather that will directly impact the race should trump cross-promotional interviews. When FOX was interviewing Miesha Tate, everyone was talking about the incoming haboob (a giant sand storm) and rain. Let’s face it: In the context of a Sprint Cup race, that’s more important than interviewing the newest UFC’s Women’s Bantamweight Champion. To be fair, FOX wanted to interview her as part of NASCAR RaceDay. However, it appears that she didn’t get to the track until after the race started, so that plan didn’t work out.
Boyd Gaming 300
On Saturday, the XFINITY Series returned to action at Las Vegas. Unfortunately for XFINITY Series fans, Kyle Busch showed up with his oversized boot. While Bart Simpson never received this punishment in Australia during a notable episode of The Simpsons, Busch executed a booting on the field, leading all but one lap.
Last week, I stated that FOX needs to do a better job in introducing fans to the full-timers in the series. To that degree, FOX has the Beyond the Wheel segment during the races. I’m assuming that they got the information from the drivers during either their hangar shoot or NASCAR Media Day in Daytona. It appears that they asked drivers a series of somewhat random questions about their general interests.
It’s nice to learn about general interests, but I’d also like to see them racing with each other on-track as well. This is an extension of what I already mentioned in the Cup section, but FOX broadcasts of XFINITY races tend to have a strong focus towards the front of the field. When Kyle Busch has a 12-second lead, he doesn’t need to be covered that closely; after all hee’s 12 seconds ahead of everyone else and is not racing anybody. That said, Saturday’s race did see a fair amount of split-screen battles for position in and around the restarts.
Clint Bowyer returned to the broadcast booth for the second week in a row. Unlike Atlanta, he really didn’t stand out that much to me. There wasn’t any quirkiness to his commentary; instead, Bowyer brought a decent amount of knowledge to the broadcast. It’s interesting that FOX is not officially paying the Cup drivers to come up to the booth and do commentary. Instead, they’re making donations to various charities. In Bowyer’s case, it’s the 79 Fund, part of the Emporia Community Foundation and named after his first racecar. It’s a fund designed to benefit the children of his hometown.
Like it or not, this Western Swing is a very tough time of the year. Just getting everything to and from the races is a challenge. As a result, it’s hard to improve until Texas at least. Does that mean that Kyle Busch is going to sweep the Western Swing? Maybe. I don’t know. Too many variables.
The moment that really stood out Saturday was the big crash that involved Justin Marks, Darrell Wallace, Jr. and Cody Ware. This wreck occurred during a commercial break, which bites, but you can’t do much about it. Ware simply got himself out of the groove and spun into the wall. He tried to lock it down like he was told to do. Unfortunately, Wallace couldn’t avoid him.
However, NASCAR waited a bit to put the yellow out. My thinking here is that NASCAR should have had the yellow out after Ware backed into the wall. In this case, they didn’t throw it until after Wallace had hit Ware and right about the time Wallace got hit by Marks. Had they thrown the yellow earlier, it might have prevented Marks’ crash into Wallace. This fact was never really noted on the broadcast. However, I think that Wallace probably would have wrecked anyway because he was basically out of control when he got the news of Ware’s wreck.
Post-race coverage was just OK. It was completely focused on Joe Gibbs Racing, who managed to sweep the podium. We got interviews with the top three and a check of points.
Overall, as I stated with the Cup telecast, FOX Sports 1 needs to be more inclusive with XFINITY Series broadcasts. I don’t want to look at Kyle Busch all day when he’s kicking tail. Give us as much action as you can. I don’t particularly care whether or not the drivers are on the lead lap. Give the viewers lots of action and they’ll keep coming back.
Next week, the Sprint Cup and XFINITY series teams travel to Phoenix for their first assault on the 1.022-mile tri-oval. Meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series kicks its season off in St. Petersburg with Pirelli World Challenge’s top classes and Indy Lights as primary support. Finally, Formula E returns to action in Mexico City after over a month off. The listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab at the top of the page.
I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, XFINITY and Verizon IndyCar series races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. Meanwhile, the Critic’s Annex returns to ESPN to cover the Sports Reporters, a Sunday morning TV show that had a NASCAR group discussion recently. How well did they do? Did they do NASCAR justice? You’ll have to check out Thursday’s newsletter to find out.
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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.