Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Martinsville Exposes Cracks In NBC’s Coverage

Martinsville Speedway typically brings close quarters, tire issues and some frayed tempers.  Last weekend, we got some of that.  As far as I know, no punches were thrown.  Two drivers clinched their spots in the Championship 4 at Homestead for their respective series and fans on hand got a good show…most of the time.

Goody’s Fast Relief 500

Sunday brought the Sprint Cup Series back to Martinsville Speedway for a nice assault on the paperclip.  Unlike last year, we had warmer weather, rubber sticking to the track in the turns and darkness wasn’t a threat.  However, despite the nicer conditions, that doesn’t mean that it was smooth sailing.

Looking back, Sunday’s race will be best remembered for the 28-lap caution that came out during a round of green-flag stops when Carl Edwards wrecked.  That bites.  It happens.  Later interviews proved that it was completely out of Edwards’ control.

However, we were witness to NASCAR’s scoring system breaking down for the first time in years.  They clearly didn’t learn anything from the last time this happened.  Given the ludicrous rules involved, we’re not going to count the Sprint All-Star Race.  That’s just a problem in its own right due to the rather bizarre rules that have been instituted in recent years.

For those of you that are new to the sport in the last decade, the 2004 MBNA America 400 “A Salute To Heroes” (yes, that’s the race’s full name, despite it looking terrible in print) had a 25-lap caution in the last quarter of the race due to a scoring issue.  This occurred due to Ryan Newman crashing while trying to enter pit road during a round of green-flag stops.

Much like Sunday, the incident threw the entire field upside-down.  Did NASCAR stop things in order to figure out where everything was back then?  Heck no.  The yellow was out for nearly 40 minutes while they were figuring everything out.  The result was a restart where the leader (Jeremy Mayfield) started sixth on the outside line with a number of other drivers on the tail end of the lead lap.  Less than a lap later, the big one broke out in turn 3 and swept up Mayfield, among others.

In this situation, NASCAR ended up with the slowest Cup race ever run at Dover.  It is the only Cup race run at an average speed under 100 mph (and I believe the only four-plus hour 400 mile there).  Thankfully, that didn’t happen on Sunday.

NBCSN used what they had at their disposal to try to make sense of this whole mess.  They had the pit road cameras that showed how Matt Kenseth failed to beat leader AJ Allmendinger to the pit out line, which made it clear that Kenseth would have been the Lucky Dog, for instance.

The constant re-evaluation of the order both before and after the pit stops completely screwed up the race.  A number of people were openly wondering why NASCAR didn’t just stop things and figure it out.  I think it would have helped since the control tower was reportedly near meltdown.

After the race, Marty Snider was able to get an interview with Sprint Cup Series Managing Director Richard Buck in which Snider asked Buck to describe the whole process and why it took so long.  Buck’s explanation noted how NASCAR needed to check all the video in order to be sure of things, but it took too long to do and because of that, it kept changing because of drivers running out of fuel.  Makes sense, I guess, but it still bites.

However, Snider failed to ask Buck whether or not the possibility of a red flag was broached.  That’s a demerit.  It needed to be asked here and Kyle Petty knew it because that was more or less the first thing out of his mouth after Snider’s interview wrapped up.

As the race continued on, NBCSN continued to check their footage in order to explain the anger about drivers inappropriately making up laps.  After the race, footage was actually shown that proved that Kevin Harvick illegally gained a lap during the 28-lap caution via an inappropriate wavearound that was not caught.  Don’t be shocked if the results end up getting revised later this week.

Going forward, it is very likely that if a scenario like Sunday happens again, NASCAR will use the red flag.  NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell more or less stated as such on Twitter after Sunday’s race.

Outside of the scoring mess, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. returned to the booth once again and stuck around for half the race, bringing a lot of insight to the race. My takeaway from Earnhardt Jr. is that Martinsville appears to have been elevated among the drivers to a much higher level in recent years.  Maybe its just me, but I never really felt that Martinsville was held to such regard.  I figured races like the night race at Bristol held more prestige.  Perhaps the track renovation back in 2007 hurt Bristol’s stock more than anyone knows.

I only say this because Earnhardt Jr. stated that he felt his win at Martinsville in 2014 was bigger than winning the Daytona 500.  Granted, Earnhardt Jr. has ten victories in restrictor plates (six at Talladega, four at Daytona, including two Daytona 500’s).  Short track wins are few and far between, especially since Earnhardt Jr. left DEI (the Martinsville win is the only one in the No. 88).

Overall coverage-wise, the race was more inclusive than we’ve seen in recent weeks.  Having only eight Chasers as opposed to 12 or 16 is beneficial to anyone who’s favorite driver didn’t make the cut.  There was plenty of good action for position out there and NBCSN did a decent job in trying to show that action.  However, late in the race, their focus narrowed.  When that happens, you tend to miss a bunch just because NBCSN wanted to capture the catch, as opposed to the actual battle.

I generally enjoyed the action that we did get to see.  Lots of good racing, albeit not quite as rough and tumble as last year.  That’s ok.  This isn’t the 1989 Mountain Dew 200 at Hickory.  Drivers don’t have to darn near destroy their cars to put on a good race.

Having said that, NASCAR really did destroy the flow of the race unintentionally here.  They’ve stated that they’re going to learn from this mistake, but it will likely be a while before a situation like Sunday’s will arise.  Will they remember this?  I don’t know.  I hope so.

Texas Roadhouse 200

Saturday afternoon saw the Camping World Truck Series teams return to Martinsville for their second visit of the year.  Like the Sprint Cup race on Sunday, this event was a little quieter than expected.  Regardless, there were some things worth discussing here.

Like the Cup Series, Saturday’s 200-lapper was the first race of a new round in the Chase.  I felt that pre-race coverage for both races gave an unnecessary focus on the Chase itself.  I know its important, but please do not couch a race preview in Chase-terms.  It should be the reverse.

FOX Sports used a stationary camera overlooking turns 1 and 2 on Saturday and this turned out to be a pretty good idea.  The separate wrecks that took Josh White and Kyle Donahue out of the race in past races would have either only had aftermath footage, or footage that failed to show what happened.

Instead, we had definitive footage that showed that no contact caused either spin.  White spun and crashed on his own, then Donahue followed him after stomping the binders too hard.

As far as Dexter Stacey replacing Travis Kvapil in the No. 50, I personally should have known it was coming.  Kvapil elected to not participate in qualifying Saturday morning, relying on the Past Champions’ Provisional to get into the race.  In addition, Stacey practiced Kvapil’s No. 50 during the Happy Hour session Friday.  It should have been noted during NCWTS Setup, not on lap 65 of the race after the change had already been made.

On-track action was pretty decent as there was a good amount of racing throughout the field.  As compared to Sunday, there was more racing up front, so we saw a little more of that.

The big story coming out of the Texas Roadhouse 200 was the incident involving Ben Kennedy, Ben Rhodes and John Wes Townley.  Townley was a victim here, but Kennedy got spun out with 25 laps to go just after the pass for the win occurred.  FOX Sports 1 had replays showing that Rhodes was responsible, which is good.

We also got footage of the post-race confrontation between Kennedy and Rhodes.  It looked like the two drivers were going to have a go at first.  The audio was muted so you really couldn’t hear anything and a Camping World Truck Series official was there as well.  As a result, you couldn’t see jack.  For all the viewers knew, the two drivers could have been having a South Park-style Broadway Bro Down, where they posture to each other and reference musicals.

However, our own Zach Catanzareti had a much better view in which 1994 Busch Grand National Champion and current NASCAR official David Green basically allowed the two drivers to talk it out on his terms while the crewmembers watched.  Of note, kudos to Green to helping to defuse a potentially volatile situation.

Kennedy mentioned previous incidents during the race.  We never saw much of anything with these two drivers together outside of the incident and the post-race confrontation on FOX Sports 1.  There’s more to that story.  If what Kennedy said was accurate, I don’t blame him for being angry.  As for Rhodes, he didn’t really own up here.  I don’t think anything else is going to come of this, but he didn’t exactly come off as looking good.

Post-race coverage was actually rather substantial due to the low number of yellows (five).  Viewers got half a dozen interviews and a point check, in addition to FOX Sports 1’s aforementioned coverage of the Kennedy-Rhodes argument that pales in comparison to our own.

Overall, I generally enjoyed the broadcast.  However, I did have some technical issues with it.  For instance, the broadcast cut out briefly with ten laps to go.  I also had pixilation at various points during the race.  It was a nice day on Saturday, so weather wasn’t an issue here and I don’t have a satellite dish.  Admittedly, the picture issues on FOX Sports 1 were worse during qualifying than they were during the race.  As always, if anyone else experienced these issues Saturday, please comment below.

I think the overall Chase focus prevented FOX Sports 1 from getting the footage necessary to be able to back up Kennedy’s claims of Rhodes “giving him a headache all day.”  That’s not a good thing.

That’s all for this week.  Next week, all three of NASCAR’s National Series travel to Texas for a three-day weekend of speed at Texas Motor Speedway.  Meanwhile, the FIA World Endurance Championship travels to China for their penultimate round.  TV listings, as always, can be found in the TV Schedule tab.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series race broadcasts from Texas in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  For Thursday’s edition of the Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter, I plan on covering NASCAR Seasons: 2001, a special that premiered Sunday after the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 on NBCSN about the 2001 Winston Cup Series season and all the travails therein.

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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About the author

2021 Phil Allaway Headshot Phil Allaway

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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Was there any mention on the post-race of the three drivers going to the infield care center after the race? At one point during the car-side interview with Hamlin (which seemed to have been recorded), you could see a stretcher being maneuvered along pit road but I don’t remember any acknowledgment of it. Anyone following Twitter knew minutes before that it was there for Michael McDowell.
With four people in booth, hard to believe not one speculated whether the race should have been red-flagged but I guess the next criticism of NASCAR from this crew will be the first.

Tim S.

Valiant effort by the booth bozos to keep selling the possibility that the winner wasn’t a foregone conclusion with about 20 to go.


Thanks for the clarification Phil. I guess I had moved on to football and missed it.

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