Labor Day weekend is always an interesting one in the world of motorsports. Darlington has re-claimed the weekend for Sprint Cup and the XFINITY Series, making it stand out in the process. The trucks spent the weekend in Canada at a venue known for good action and questionable finishes. It did not disappoint in either aspect.
Bojangles’ Southern 500
Throwback weekend has become a great way for NASCAR to reconnect with its past. Granted, some of that past is not exactly great, but other values that NASCAR has extolled over the years are perfectly good. The notion of hard work paying dividends has always been evident. Everyone works their butts off to put their best foot forward. That includes the teams of Darlington Raceway, NBC and others.
In last year’s critique of the race, I noted that they should have started earlier. Sure enough, this year they did. With eight fewer cautions, the race finished around 10:23 p.m. How did NBC handle Throwback No. 2?
Compared to last year, there were some changes. Last year, they advertised throwback commercials. This year, they didn’t advertise it (at least, not from what I saw), then they threw in this Mello Yello ad from the early 1990’s:
I’ll admit that I don’t think I ever saw that ad outside of CBS’ broadcast of the 1993 Daytona 500. Mello Yello availability was hit-or-miss in upstate New York in the early 1990’s. I can recall my mom buying a 2-liter bottle of Mello Yello once around 1992 and that’s about it. Now, it’s a nationwide brand again.
The theme of the race was slightly different (1975-1984), but the overall feel was similar. Kyle Petty’s crotch was in much better shape on Sunday night as compared to last year due to a proper choice of pants. Suede does not work for the 56-year old Petty; could have done without the chest hair references, though. Sad truth is that people really thought it was a good idea to walk around fully clothed in somewhat formal settings with the top four or five buttons undone and their chest hair showing back then. If you look on YouTube, you’ll find clips of grown men on game shows (either as contestants or celebrity panelists) back then dressed as such. Jeepers. Obviously, I wasn’t alive in the 1970’s, but I know that a number of you guys and gals reading this were.
Ken Squier narrated a piece during pre-race coverage on David Pearson’s dominance at Darlington. I’m too young to have watched Pearson race (other than the Saturday Night Specials they held at Bristol), but it seems like he was a far more prolific version of Mark Martin. It was interesting seeing how you had to race those land yachts of the past with the 115 inch wheelbases. You couldn’t drive that hard and hope to finish.
Last week, NBC announced the return of the throwback announcers. Once again, Ken Squier, Ned Jarrett and his son Dale returned to the broadcast booth and have at it. It should be noted that they got a little less on-air time this year. My thoughts are that Squier seemed to control things a little more. The racing itself during that portion of the race wasn’t quite so good, despite running the same rules as last year. I guess Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski were that much better than everyone else at that point.
Squier did bring up a good point during his portion of the race. He mentioned that Ryan Newman’s crew apparently angered NASCAR during pre-race inspection and that’s why he had to start in the rear. Officially, NASCAR called it “unapproved adjustments.” This was the only time that the “unapproved adjustments” thing was broached on the broadcast. As far as I’m concerned, I’d like to know more than just “unapproved adjustments” for why someone gets sent to the rear. There’s a lot of stuff that could fall under that category. In practice, we get some information here and there from both FOX Sports and NBC Sports (Ex: Ben Rhodes dropped to the rear at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park due to brake issues), but it could definitely be more specific.
With Squier in the booth, viewers don’t need to be as dependent on scoring bars as we are today. I believe that the networks use it as a crutch and that Squier may agree with that notion.
Darlington has traditionally been more or less murder on tires and Sunday night was not really any different. It dominated much of the discussion early on. However, NBC never really gave viewers any kind of a primer in regards to how much the drop-off was. Watching the race, I found this a bit irritating.
Unlike last year, NBC had plenty of time for post-race coverage as they had booked NBC all the way to 11 p.m. In practice, we really didn’t get that much more post-race coverage as part of the regular broadcast. The telecast fairly quickly transitioned into NASCAR America Post-Race after only a couple of interviews. As a result, viewers got interviews with four different drivers in 37 minutes. I definitely prefer more variety than that.
My guess is that NBC thought the race was going to take about 20-25 minutes longer to finish than it actually did, prompting a schedule shift. Last year’s marathon probably played a role here. My on-screen guide indicated that NBCSN was showing what would normally be NASCAR America Post-Race at 11 p.m. Sunday night. In reality, that ended up being NASCAR Victory Lap with Brian Vickers and Parker Kligerman in the house.
Overall, I felt that the pre-race programming was pretty good. Lots of interviews and fun stuff to keep viewers (and myself) occupied. Post-race was too constrained. While yes, I do want to hear about Martin Truex, Jr.’s day (he did win the dang race, you know), it was like only a couple of guys mattered. That’s not true.
The race broadcast had some moments of nice action, but Harvick was stomping everyone. His post-race comments have created what has to be the second or third firestorm of the year. Based on Harvick’s anger, I’m surprised that changes haven’t been made. The dude is frustrated as heck. Of course, having said that, he didn’t do himself any favors by smacking the wall late.
Chevrolet Silverado 250
The Camping World Truck Series spent Sunday afternoon traversing the tricky road course at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (I do need to clarify since there is actually a paved short track on the property). You’ve probably heard about how this race ended, so we’ll start there.
This stuff was ridiculous. I know that John Hunter Nemechek wanted to win badly, but this wreck looked really blatant. Was he that mad at Cole Custer from the restart at the beginning of lap 57 when Custer took the lead before Kaz Grala crashed? I don’t know. It’s not like Nemechek was run off the road at that point. Nemechek pushed Custer wide.
As benefitting of such a ludicrous finish, FOX Sports had it covered from multiple angles. The first bump in turn 9 was technically ok. Maybe not the most sporting bit of contact, but not terrible. Nemechek then bulldozed him wide. That was unnecessary. The pinning against the concrete wall was really unnecessary. It’s really amazing what you can do in NASCAR under the current rules of conduct and have it be fully sanctioned. Remember, NASCAR gave Nemechek the win. They’re not taking that away no matter what (unless they come out with a bombshell and claim that Nemechek’s truck had traction control or something like that, then they’ll take it away).
The broadcast booth’s opinion here was that Nemechek went over the line with his move, which is completely understandable given the circumstances. I don’t think all of you reading this would agree. Michael Waltrip stated that he wants side-by-side action at the finish, but he prefers races like 2014, when Ryan Blaney beat out German Quiroga.
That was a legitimately good finish and no one wrecked. It was greatly enjoyable to watch.
Back to Sunday, you’re going to see some penalties out of this. Custer will be fined under the whole “approaching the racing surface” thing that got Spencer Gallagher fined last week. I don’t expect much more than a $5,000 fine and probation. Crew chief Marcus Richmond might get something similar as well since one of his duties is to control his crew and driver. Seriously, you couldn’t stop the dude from vaulting a concrete wall and charging after Nemechek as if Nemechek were Nolan Ryan and Custer was Robin Ventura? For the record, I doubt that Nemechek would have been able to administer a headlock and bash Custer in the head like Ryan infamously did to Ventura back in 1993, but that whole act of stupidity was preventable. Sure, it gets you on the morning SportsCenter on ESPN, but it doesn’t benefit the sport at all. I could hear fans laughing at the whole affair on the broadcast.
I can’t see Nemechek getting anything other than probation here, despite the truly laughable attempt that he made to explain himself.
For the rest of the race, it seemed to be very front-centered, much like Michigan last week. I’d argue that they would have more of an excuse in Canada given the expense involved in doing a standalone event as compared to supporting Sprint Cup. There’s stuff that can be shared there.
There’s a lot of things that I couldn’t tell you how they happened. For instance, Justin Haley retired early on with what were described as clutch issues. I don’t even recall anyone on the broadcast even mentioning that the No. 32 went behind the wall. It’s not like Haley S&P’ed. That team hauled a long way to have a go. Cody Ware ended up with a piece of someone else’s truck lodged in his grille when the first caution clock expired. No idea how that happened. If something happened amongst drivers in the top 5, FOX Sports was all over it. If it happened outside of there, good luck.
There was a good feature prior to the race in which Ray Dunlap introduced viewers to Gary Klutt, who made his Camping World Truck Series debut in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 51. Here, we learned a little about the NASCAR Next racer and his background (he’s full-time in the Pinty’s Series and is involved in some kind of TV show in Canada with his dad). It was interesting to learn a little about Klutt since there’s a good sporting chance that you’re going to hear more about him in the coming years.
Post-race coverage was almost completely focused on the Nemechek-Custer spat, mainly because it took NASCAR so dang long to declare a winner. I don’t know what the hang up was there. Did the start-finish line not extend into the grass or something? I feel like that’s the only possible reason for the hang up.
Yes, we heard from both principals, but those were “forced encounters,” like a Snorlax that blocks your way in Pokémon Red. NASCAR requires the top 3 each week to talk to the assembled TV chaps each week and that’s what we got. Having said that, we did get some interesting quotes.
That’s all for this week. After the lunacy of Sunday afternoon, things might be a little calmer this weekend at Richmond, where the 16 drivers going for the Sprint Cup will be decided. The XFINITY Series will not be locking in their chasers, but they’ll be on-site for 250 laps of action as well. Meanwhile, motoGP travels to Italy to race at Misano. Listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab.
I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series races from Richmond in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter will cover Saturday’s VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 from Darlington and the very quick INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Glen from Watkins Glen.
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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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