Welcome back. Last weekend saw three interesting races at the new-and-possibly improved Kentucky Speedway. It’s pretty rare to see three completely different races in one race weekend.
Before we start, FOX Sports announced on Wednesday that Shannon Spake has left ESPN to join the FOX Sports family. The press release indicates that she will keep her current college sports duties, but add in a couple of NFL games and a regular NASCAR beat (pit reporting, plus regular appearances on NASCAR RaceHub).
For Spake, it’s a return of sorts because ESPN essentially poached her from SPEED when they regained NASCAR coverage for 2007. At SPEED, she made regular appearances on NASCAR RaceHub’s predecessor, NASCAR Nation. She was also a regular on SPEED’s at-track programming back in 2006. Today, Spake has a much higher profile than she did when she worked on SPEED.
I wrote about this signing in a lot more detail in last week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter, so I’ll be relatively brief here. I think it’s a good move for FOX Sports, but I actively wonder how it’s going to work. Is Spake replacing someone, or supplementing the existing on-air team? I don’t know. The press release doesn’t address it. Regardless, it’s definitely something to look out for. Spake’s college football work begins in earnest in September, so she conceivably could be on RaceHub in just a couple of months.
Quaker State 400
Saturday night brought the Sprint Cup Series out to play with smaller spoilers and harder tires. The result was a bit of a wreckfest.
It didn’t take long for the wall issues to begin. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. hit the wall exiting turn 4 less than ten laps into the race. He then hit it again after blowing a tire, ending his night. Unlike Friday night, where NBCSN had some warning that the tires were going to be an issue (see below), they didn’t have warning here. As a result, the coverage of the issue was not as coordinated. I would have liked to see what was causing the issues on Saturday night, but I’m not really sure what was up.
Having the “Flintstone tires” in play meant that there wasn’t all that much drop off in speeds. My best guess is that the tires just couldn’t handle the stress and the heat building. We’ve seen this before in Sprint Cup. A much worse example of this would be both Cup and then-Busch Series races at Charlotte in 2005, after Charlotte Motor Speedway was “levigated.”
In regards to the various smacks on the wall, NBCSN only caught a couple of them in real time. That’s either visually, or having one of the commentators point out the wall contact and directing the cameras to focus on the stricken car. We saw a number of wall hits via side-by-side replays, though.
Last week, one of the major complaints was about breaking out of commercials (or not) to show incidents. This came into play once again early in the race, but with a different outcome. During the first green flag commercial break, Joey Logano blew a tire and smacked the wall in turn 3. This was a full-screen National commercial break and NBCSN chose not to break out when Logano crashed. I suppose the “If they wreck, we’ll come back” rule only applies to Daytona and Talladega. Weak.
One of the bigger stories from Saturday night was Martin Truex, Jr.’s penalty for passing Kevin Harvick while entering pit road. Here, the booth more or less agreed with NASCAR’s call and stated it had been a point of emphasis in recent weeks. Truex basically forced NASCAR to act. That’s fine and all. However, it didn’t seem to come off that way. Listening to the explanation a second time made it sound like NASCAR may have made an example of Truex.
Regardless of what the truth is, you’re going to hear more about this as the season continues. The booth seems to think that it might be the restart zone topic of 2016. NASCAR has already stated that it’s going to be thoroughly covered in the drivers’ meeting on Sunday.
Speaking of Truex, that man was on a charge after the penalty. It was a little hard for NBCSN to cover Truex’s charge since it happened so quickly. They would go back to cover Truex battling someone only to find that he had already dispatched them. That’s just the way things are from time to time.
Post-race coverage was fairly decent once you added the NASCAR America Post-Race show and the lack of late news to account for. In addition to a good chunk of post-race analysis, viewers got seven post-race interviews and checks of the points and results. It was pretty good coverage after post-race in Daytona left me with a sour taste in my mouth.
Overall, it seems the race surprised NBCSN Saturday night. They were probably expecting a race centered more on on-track action as opposed to constant wrecking and tire problems. They didn’t adjust to the tire reality as quickly as they could have. Knowing how Friday night went going in, it makes Saturday night look even worse.
Friday night saw the XFINITY Series teams take on Kentucky Speedway for 300 miles of action. Prior to the race, Brad Keselowski said this to the media:
Brad @keselowski says Xfinity cars abusing the tires @KySpeedway. Expects tire problems in race tonight. Says Cup tires seem good. #nascar
— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) July 8, 2016
When I saw this, I thought, “Aw heck.” I was immediately concerned that the race could be compromised by people ripping their tires to smithereens. Sure enough, they did. That was ugly. At least we know what the No. 1 story of the night was.
Keselowski’s quote insinuates that the tires likely would have been a problem Friday night even if it were dry all weekend. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. It rained like heck on Friday and wiped out Sprint Cup Qualifying.
If you’re reading this column, there’s a good chance that you saw the race. Viewers were bombarded with images of tires with chunks of rubber missing from various tires. We got radio chatter from Chris Gayle telling Kyle Busch about his tires. The takeaway there is that even the leaders were blistering tires, although Busch’s might not have been as bad as everyone else. Ryan Sieg, on the other hand, had a nasty one.
Overall, the coverage of the various tire issues was top notch. NBCSN knew that it was going to be a thing on Friday night and adjusted their resources accordingly. We saw footage of the various issues, and we got Goodyear’s Greg Stucker on-air to tell the viewers what was causing all the problems. Also, on a somewhat related note, Justin Allgaier has no luck whatsoever. First, he runs over a bolt while scuffing tires, then he breaks a drive plate. Jeez.
Just before halfway, Kyle Busch noted that he noticed that some cretin (my words, not his) was spraying water onto the track. Viewers heard audio of Kyle Busch’s radio here, but we never got any idea of what was going on there. The booth speculated that it wouldn’t be above some fans to do that, but they never really dug into the issue. If it was happening at all, it seemed like it was happening exiting turn 2 because it seemed like there was a dark spot on the track. Given that the cars are running slick tires, it could have been an issue, much along the lines of the infamous booby traps during the Baja 1000.
Also, I will give NBCSN some dap for catching Ryan Reed in the act of trying to draw a debris caution by throwing his water bottle out of the car on the backstretch. That stuff is bush league and shows a lack of sportsmanship on the part of Reed.
Post-race coverage was pretty substantial as NBCSN had their post-race show available. However, they went real heavy on post-race analysis. As much as I like Krista Voda, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett, I want to see drivers during post-race coverage. If you’ve got 40 minutes to spare, I’d like to see more than five driver interviews.
Prior to the race, NBCSN did a nice feature on Ray Black, Jr. Here, we learn about Black’s early racing career. It appears that the infamous term of affection bestowed upon David Ragan in 2006, “Dart without feathers,” would apply here. Black’s father is the kind of native Floridian chap that you don’t necessarily think of when you think of Florida. He seems like quite the character and would be someone I’d like to meet. Later, we got to see what Black uses his deep sea diving skills for: Salvage operations. Scary stuff, man. FOX Sports 1 did a feature on Black last year, but I don’t recall them going into Black’s salvage work.
This was a good look into the life of a driver who doesn’t get that much press. Black’s a great addition to the XFINITY Series, although it has been a struggle so far.
Overall, I found that the race broadcast was pretty good, even if the racing itself was not so much. The tires were the story and the story was presented well. I just wish the rest of the field could give Kyle Busch more of a fight.
Buckle Up in Your Truck 225
Just have to say, I like this race name. It rolls right off the tongue. It’s also a decent message to send along as people often ride in truck beds in parts of Kentucky.
The Camping World Truck Series had a rare Thursday night at Kentucky Speedway. I think racing Thursday night worked a lot better at Richmond than it ever has in Kentucky, but that’s not important. TV-wise, you had the usual crew.
The primary feature of NCWTS Setup was a piece about Ben Rhodes. Here, we saw how the Louisville native got started in motorsports and his gig with ThorSport Racing. We also found out a little bit about On Track with Ben Rhodes, a TV show Rhodes co-hosts on WBKI, the CW-affiliate for Louisville. Rhodes seemed to think that it was a good idea to expand his horizons. In reality, the show is in its fifth season. Rhodes also posts full episodes on his website. Don’t be surprised if I take a look at On Track with Ben Rhodes for a future edition of the Critic’s Annex.
It was obvious to me that FOX Sports 1 was playing to the home crowd here (Louisville is roughly 60 miles away). It’s not the first time they’ve done this. However, it was interesting to learn a little bit about how Rhodes first got into racing.
No one really knew what to expect going into the race. The booth was in the same boat as well. I think everyone involved was pleasantly surprised with the side-by-side action (three-wide at times); I know I was.
My main gripe with the race on Thursday night was that FOX Sports 1 was a little slow in bring viewers information. For instance, we saw Parker Kligerman make an unscheduled stop on lap 96. Very little coverage was given to explain why this stop was made. (Hint: Kligerman told our own Aaron Bearden that he blistered a tire). Also, I was thinking that Tommy Joe Martins was going to get back on the lead lap via the Lucky Dog when the dastardly Caution Clock expired on lap 105. That clearly wasn’t the case as he retired from the race right about that time. It seems like he had engine problems, but they were never broached on the broadcast. JR Heffner‘s using the team’s number and points for Eldora, but it’s essentially going to be his show. It’s his truck and his sponsors. Martins has insinuated on Twitter that the team is in a real lurch heading into Pocono. Diamond Gusset Jeans has fulfilled their obligations and they may not have an engine for the race.
Also of note, there was a distinct lack of side-by-side replays early on. Not sure why. That was later rectified, but having full-screen replays under green does significantly divert focus.
FOX Sports 1 did a pretty decent job in keeping tabs of races for position through the field. It wasn’t too difficult to figure out what was going on out there. However, in the final 15 laps, everything closed down to the top 3 (William Byron, Daniel Hemric and John Hunter Nemechek).
Since there were a number of long cautions (see Brett Moffitt’s blown engine and Austin Wayne Self oiling down the track after crashing), post-race coverage was much more limited than planned. Regardless, viewers still got interviews with the top 3 finishers and a point check prior to FOX Sports 1 leaving Sparta.
As I mentioned above, I was pleasantly surprised with the on-track product Thursday night. There was some good action and FOX Sports 1 came prepared to cover the good stuff. However, they do need to do a little better job of covering individual stories as they come up so there isn’t such a disconnect at times.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series travel up to New Hampshire for their first visit of the year, with additional support from the Whelen Modified Tour. The Verizon IndyCar Series goes to Toronto, where they will encounter a new paddock setup that doesn’t make sense to me, but it’s there. MotoGP and the European Le Mans Series are in action as well. TV Listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab.
I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Annex this week will cover the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Iowa Corn 300 from Iowa Speedway.
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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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Unfortunately, I tried to watch the Xfinity race, but nodded off relatively soon after Kyle Busch took the lead. I find it difficult to stay interested when the field is dominated by Cup drivers and teams. It is going to make the ‘chase’ a real travesty when those who have won the most races (and pocketed the most money) aren’t eligible for the title. I find my interest waning, which is a shame.
“They would go back to cover Truex battling someone only to find that he had already dispatched them. That’s just the way things are from time to time.”
Oh, come on. They knew he was starting from the back and they knew he had a very fast car. They should not have been having to “go back to cover” Truex, they should have had a camera on him most of the time to follow his march to the front.
I no longer go to races in person, but when I did, I always knew when a car was going to pass another one several laps before he did so. They should have spotters in the television system to alert them to impending contests on the track. It’s not hard to do.