Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Dover Throws a Curve

Greetings, race fans. This past weekend at Dover was a bit more like the Dover of elementary school for me than the Dover we’ve been used to.  I believe Sunday’s race was the third slowest 400-mile race at the one-mile oval.  The other two either had more cautions (Fall 2007) or just plain got ridiculous (Spring 2004).  Today, I’m going to cover the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series races.  The Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 200 will be covered in a special edition of the Critic’s Annex on Wednesday in the Newsletter.

AAA 400 Drive For Autism

Sunday brought a return to an older style of racing at Dover. If there’s one thing that I noticed during Sunday’s broadcast (and for that matter, the rest of the weekend), it was the increased usage of side-by-side replays.  I haven’t really seen them used to the degree that they were on Sunday during Cup telecasts.  I am very much in favor of this move because it allows for a more natural break.  You can see what’s going on, but at the same time, you don’t miss the live action.

FOX has always made good use of side-by-side replays on the Camping World Truck Series broadcasts, but more or less refrained from making use of them on Cup telecasts.  I have no idea why.  Maybe some contracts came into play.  Since Sunday’s race was on FOX Sports 1, perhaps the production staff had a little more freedom to experiment.

The on-track action did seem to make Darrell Waltrip a little nervous at times.  He would express fear that drivers would collide and crash.  Sure, there was some contact every once in a while, but only three of the 12 cautions were actually caused were car-to-car contact.  One of those was the Big One, but that was more of a stack-up due to a mechanical failure than anything else.

The action was quite exciting and the booth did come to play on Sunday.  While some of the early portions of the race were not necessarily all that exciting (for instance, the period of time in which Kevin Harvick was leading), the action towards the end of the race made up for that.

Larry McReynolds gave a nice explanation of the work that went into getting Austin Dillon back on track after his brake failure.  Here, McReynolds explained the procedure using the virtual cutaway car, while at the same time, referencing what killed Martin Truex, Jr.’s chances at Kansas (apparently, one of the bolts holding the brake rotor on backed out?  Ouch.).

(Photo: Russell LaBounty / NKP)
Did the No. 18 team try to pull on over on NASCAR at Kansas? (Photo: Russell LaBounty / NKP)

Entering the race weekend, lug nuts were the big story of the week.  NASCAR had mandated five lugs on and secure prior to Kansas.  Kyle Busch’s team apparently tried to skirt the rule.  However, an interesting package that ran during Saturday morning practice showed that it wasn’t just Kyle Busch’s team that did it.  It was actually all of the Joe Gibbs Racing teams, plus the Furniture Row Racing crew that skirted the rule by gluing solid lugnuts (meaning, no hole in the middle for the stud to go through) to the wheel.

As a result of this move, the tire changer could continue to only hit four lug nuts, but the fifth one would stay on the wheel on its own.  NASCAR discovered that trick after the race and obviously weren’t too pleased about it.  This was a nice catch by FOX Sports and made for some enjoyable television at 9:45 a.m.

Another story from Dover was the need for more SAFER Barriers (again).  Dover had just gotten through installing more barriers (most notably on the inside of the backstretch).  By now, you probably know that Danica Patrick’s rear-end tore itself to shreds in the opening minutes of practice.  Patrick, Tony Stewart and Jamie McMurray took hard hits into the wall as a result.

Afterwards, there were a number of calls for additional SAFER Barriers to be installed at the track.  I’m not surprised that they don’t like hitting concrete much.  I can’t claim that I have, personally.  I’m sure that it’s not nice.  On the way home from work Monday, I saw skidmarks from where someone had crashed into the concrete barrier in the median recently.  I’m pretty sure that didn’t feel good.  Probably hurt a bunch in a street car without a roll cage.

I only mention this because much of the weekend saw calls from FOX’s on-air personalities for additional barriers.  I’m not against the analysts voicing their opinion on the issue.  Cost is an issue here.  It costs a dang fortune to install a SAFER Barrier.  It’s a buttload of money to install a concrete wall for that matter.  700-800 feet of permanent concrete wall can set you back $35,000.

We’re at the point now that we’re seeing push back on these SAFER Barriers from some fans.  These fans seem to believe that the SAFER Barriers have led to a wussification of the sport.  Personally, I discount that theory.  Regardless, fans speaking against the barriers got Jeff Gluck good and angry on Friday.

Note that the fan that Gluck retweeted here (who has since deleted his tweet) ranted about how sick he is of drivers ranting about a lack of SAFER Barriers.  He went on to claim that concrete walls separate the men from the boys, while putting Patrick squarely with the boys as opposed to the men.

Last I checked, it takes some guts to race at Dover.  Harvick turned in a lap at over 165 mph for an average on Friday.  That’s not exactly driving on the New Jersey Turnpike.

While I do find the calls for additional SAFER Barriers to be a little annoying at times, I understand why the drivers feel that way.  Hitting concrete hurts, man.  Anything that makes that hurt less is good.  Heck, not hitting concrete will probably prolong your favorite driver’s career.  As far as commentators on TV saying that, I’m well past the point of even considering criticizing them for it.  I wish another track would use the Iowa setup, but the cost involved in doing that makes it near impossible at this point.

Also of note, while it probably doesn’t look like it in print, Carl Edwards seemed really angry after his crash with Kyle Larson.  While he tried to keep his cool, it was obvious to me that he was rather peeved.  We have proof of what that might look like.  Larson may want to tread lightly this weekend if he gets into the Sprint All-Star Race.  FOX Sports didn’t make any reference to this, but that’s the typical Edwards.  There might be more to this in the future.  Stay tuned.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief, but I suppose that goes hand-in-hand.  After all, the race ended about 40 minutes later than planned.  Viewers got a couple of interviews along with a check of the points.

Generally, I enjoyed FOX’s coverage from Dover on Sunday.  Viewers got some good side-by-side action and enthusiastic commentary from the booth.  The overall coverage was not necessarily biased to the very front of the field, with the final 25 laps or so being an exception.  At least at that time of the race, there was obvious action up front between Matt Kenseth, Larson and Chase Elliott.  My suggestions would be to keep up the good work, continue to make use of the side-by-side replays instead of going full-screen during green-flag action and continue to cover as many stories as you can.  The more, the better.

Jacob Companies 200

Friday night saw the Camping World Truck Series return to Dover for 200 laps of action.  Rain plagued much of the day and it seemed like it was going to affect the race itself.  The start itself was pushed up because of the threat, despite the fact that it never actually materialized.

Prior to the race, one of the big stories revolved around restarts.  Last week in Kansas, Timothy Peters jumped a restart, but gave the spot back before the line.  NASCAR determined that it was ok at the time.  Not so much anymore.  Hermie Sadler stated during the pace laps that NASCAR had decided that it would now be a penalty and that they were going to be watching restarts more closely.

Sure enough, that came into play relatively early in the race.  The whole thing was actually quite ridiculous.  My opinion is that William Byron failed to go inside of the Restart Zone.  They ended up going at almost the same time.  In my eyes, that probably should have been a no-call.  Based on Sadler’s pre-race reporting, NASCAR viewed it as blatant, I guess.  The booth made it sound like Cole Custer gave himself some kind of a head start.  The only thing that’s obvious to me here is that Custer beat Byron back to the line.  Since this wasn’t the start of the race, that’s actually allowed.

My argument here is that easing into the throttle does not constitute “going” on a restart.  I’d argue that everyone does that to a certain degree.  It’s simple anticipation.  Definitely nothing inappropriate.  Ultimately, this is a column about the broadcast and how I felt they covered the situation.  It was done quite well.  Having an in-truck camera in Custer’s truck definitely helped here.  The superimposing of the Restart Zone helps as well.  It was about as complete as you can get.

The only technical issue I had Friday with the broadcast was the fact that the FOX Box was glitchy for much of the race.  It would randomly shuffle positions and make it difficult for viewers to figure out where their favorite drivers were running.  The production team did try to fix it, but the glitch continued to occur.  Unfortunately, it happens from time to time.  By Saturday, it was no longer a problem

I did find that FOX Sports 1 didn’t do the best job at explaining some of the issues that led to retirements.  For instance, Austin Wayne Self spun to bring out the first caution on the backstretch.  Admittedly, even though they didn’t catch it at first, the booth was more focused on Brandon Jones wrecking out of second.  Self’s truck seemed like it was just fine, but that was it for the night for him.  What happened?  According to the PR rep handling Self’s Twitter feed during the race, the truck locked up on him.

That is not going to work at Dover.  There was never any word about this on the broadcast.  They referenced Self being released from the Infield Care Center (because he didn’t drive the truck away from the spin), but that was about it.  Next thing I knew, Self was listed as out in the FOX Box.

Another driver that got no coverage for his issues was Parker Kligerman, who had a good starting spot (12th) and is still pretty high up in points.  The race started and he went into a free-fall that was never really noted on-air before he retired.  What happened there?  It was a bit messier than what happened to Self.

With that kind of explanation, I have no idea how the heck Kligerman managed to run 136 laps before dropping out.  You’d think that would have triggered a black flag or a caution for oil by then.

Post-race coverage was relatively short.  Viewers saw interviews with the top 3 finishers and a check of the points before FOX Sports 1 left Dover to get to MLB Whiparound.

Ultimately, the action is why people watch Camping World Truck Series races.  For the most part, it was really good.  Daniel Suarez was making up ground using the upper groove, pretty rare for a Friday race at Dover.  However, it sounds like he was doing it using inappropriate means.  We’ll have to see what happens there later this week.  My advice to FOX Sports here is to be as inclusive as possible and don’t ignore issues with teams.  Figuring out those smaller issues might help you figure out bigger things later on.  Having said that, they nailed the restart controversy.

That’s it for this week.  Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series returns to Charlotte Motor Speedway for Sprint All-Star Weekend, complete with unknowns due to Monday’s rule change.  The Camping World Truck Series serves as primary support.

Meanwhile, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards travels to Toledo, where they will make their American Sports Network.  Availability for that broadcast is way up in the air.  The race will air here in the Albany area (and by extension, it will be critiqued), but a lot of markets will not get it.  UPDATE: The race will air on 133 stations as of Tuesday and will be live-streamed for free by ASN.  The affiliate list can be found in the TV Schedule tab.

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 and I’m happy with the increased number of comments so far this year. 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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I have a question about the truck race. On twitter ; I believe it was Bob Pockrass said that the truck official said no caution clock. Fox used the caution clock graphic the whole race and I assume they thought the clock was in use. What was the real story clock or no clock? The closest it came to seeing what would happen on the broadcast was the clock got to 30 seconds left and a truck spun. If the clock was not in use poor pre race prep by fox.

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