Martinsville Speedway, oldest track in NASCAR and the one of the slowest. This weekend, we got a different type of action at Martinsville. Goodyear, with some help from warmer temperatures, finally came up with something that would lay down rubber on the concrete for what seems like the first time in ever. As a result, viewers had one of the more competitive Martinsville races in recent years.
Sunday afternoon brought the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to Martinsville for some good ol’ fashioned action. While I’m sure that there were some chaps who weren’t so pleased at the end of the day (Ex: Dale Earnhardt Jr., who threw up an F-bomb on the radio after he busted his radiator), others were quite pleased.
With FOX Sports 1 races, there is no FOX NASCAR Sunday. Instead, NASCAR RaceDay serves as the official pre-race show. Instead of the show running like NASCAR RaceDay normally does, it resembled an expanded FOX NASCAR Sunday. What that means is that yes, you got the regularly-scheduled segments and Michael Waltrip somehow getting Richard Petty’s hat.
However, what you also got was some of the content that I wish were on FOX NASCAR Sunday every week. Viewers got to see some more pre-race interviews for a change. I feel like race fans shouldn’t have to watch the pre-pre-race show just to get a live glimpse of Kyle Larson. This week, he was in the Hollywood Hotel for a live segment with Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip and Chris Myers.
Speaking of Gordon, he had a busy couple of weeks. A feature saw Gordon at Chevrolet’s simulator to show viewers how drivers train to race at a place like Martinsville since actual testing is all but forbidden. Both Gordon and Alex Bowman took turns driving the simulated version of the paperclip. The technology involved in the simulator is really quite amazing. Let’s just say that it is quite a long way from things like the old NASCAR Silicon Motor Speedways (we had one at Crossgates Mall here in the Albany area) and the IRL simulator that was at the ESPNZone in New York City. Also, it shows just how skilled Bowman is that it took one lap for him to beat Gordon’s time.
Gordon also did a sit-down interview at what appeared to be the Petersen Automotive Museum with the aforementioned Petty about Martinsville itself. Petty describes Martinsville during his career as being like a superspeedway in its own time. It was a legitimate big draw since races there have been 500 lap races since 1956 (with only one scheduled exception to the rule). In Petty, you see someone that has a lot of respect for Martinsville and what the track did for his career.
During the race, the notion of Darrell Waltrip stepping on Gordon’s toes reared its head again. While I have never personally met Darrell, he strikes me as a relatively jumpy individual. I don’t mean that he’s hyperactive, but that he’s always watching for something and is keen to jump in. FOX has encouraged it over the years, with the additional request that he explain why something is important.
The problem with that strategy in a three-man booth is that it comes off like he’s Bill O’Reilly cutting off an interview subject mid-sentence. That tactic alone to me makes The O’Reilly Factor (and a number of other shows) unwatchable. The actual subject matter on that show is a discussion for another time and another place. We’re not getting into it here because we don’t cover that type of content.
I’ve seen plenty of feedback over the past year from readers that would make me believe that Darrell believes that he’s the show and that he’s purposefully disrespecting Gordon. I personally doubt that such reasoning is true, even if it looks that way. In reality, Darrell wants to spread his knowledge to viewers. I just don’t think that he’s very careful in how he does it.
You see, this is a Waltrip trait in broadcasting. Their idea is to get in and get your piece out there as soon as you can. Clarity doesn’t always matter. That’s how you end up with random utterances that can confuse boothmates. One of those sounded like “Aaaaaieeugh!” on Sunday (Note: I have no idea what he was saying here and that’s a guess as to how it would be written; props to the closed captioning chaps that deal with this on a regular basis). I suppose that would be a concerned groan.
If someone were crazy enough to give me an analyst gig (which will never happen), I would be prefer to be more courteous. That strategy is what we see out of Gordon (for the most part), Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray and others in the booth. Courtesy is the right way to go about calling races simply because it helps with chemistry. The exact opposite of that would be the XFINITY race that Danica Patrick was in the booth for at Michigan in 2015. Patrick effectively felt like she couldn’t participate there. That is not what you want.
In regards to the on-track action on Sunday, viewers saw a lot of racing for position. I was very happy with that. I don’t think the booth expected as much side-by-side racing as we got Sunday and were very happy for the new tire combination. Enthusiasm-wise, the booth on Sunday was right up there. It was much different than what we got on Saturday.
The wreck that eliminated Kurt Busch from the race brought up an interesting scenario. Apparently, if you cause two yellows in a row, you’re done. I have not heard anything along those lines, but that was apparently relayed to FOX’s commentators during a pre-race meeting with NASCAR officials on Sunday.
I’m a little confused here. Under the current rules, Kurt Busch was out. The car was damaged bad enough from his second wreck that the car could not be repaired in less than five minutes. However, it sounds like even if the right front corner wasn’t broken, he might not have been allowed to continue despite clearing the crash clock. We need some more clarity on this issue. I feel like FOX will be able to provide this clarity this week at some point. Having said this, I am still vehemently opposed to the Damaged Vehicle Policy and believe that it should have never been instituted. That is a rant for another time, though.
The McMurray wreck was nasty and just shows what the rule changes in recent years have done in order to allow drivers to walk away. FOX did a good job showing how McMurray ended up with his terrible tire rub and what happened when the tire failed.
Honestly, when I was watching that, I thought back to the wreck that Rick Carelli had at Memphis in 1999. Carelli, who is now Erik Jones’ spotter, was lucky to come back from this crash.
Granted, it was a left front tire in that situation, but that could have easily been McMurray if he wasn’t careful, especially knowing that he went into the wall drivers’ side first.
Post-race coverage was relatively short knowing that it ran right up against NHRA coverage from Las Vegas. As a result, viewers only got a couple of interviews and a check of the points before leaving the air.
Overall, I really enjoyed the action on Sunday at Martinsville. The broadcast showed a decent amount of that action. However, the lack of courtesy in the booth led to a haphazard setup at times. This haphazardness has likely stunted Gordon’s growth as an analyst over the last year and change. I feel that if Darrell Waltrip were more courteous in how he chips in with his commentary, it would allow the broadcast to flow better. Also, people wouldn’t hate him as much.
Alpha Energy Solutions 250
On Saturday, the Camping World Truck Series returned to one of only two remaining venues from the inaugural season of 1995 (the other being Phoenix International Raceway, which bookended the season). The broadcast had two notable changes.
First, FOX announced last month that they were moving the race from FOX Sports 1 to FOX. Like it or not, being on over-the-air television as opposed to cable will always put your broadcast out there to more eyes. According to Sports Business Daily’s Adam Stern, the move led to a good-sized viewership increase.
Fox gets a big uptick in ratings for Saturday's Truck race after move to @FOXTV. The race earned 0.9 overnight, up 50% from '16 race on FS1.
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) April 3, 2017
Given that NASCAR has a number of fans that watch races from outside of the biggest TV markets, that number might increase when the final ratings are made public.
The other major change of note was the Camping World Truck Series booth debut of Harvick, making one of three appearances in the booth for truck races (in addition to the five XFINITY Series races that he’ll work as a guest analyst. Of note, this is a change. Back in January, FOX Sports announced that Harvick would make his truck analysis debut at Kansas. That’s not for another month. Interesting. Wonder what caused the change?
What did we get from Harvick on Saturday? A lot of the same content that you’ll likely familiar with if you’ve seen any of the previous XFINITY Series race broadcasts that he’s done. At this point, I know what I’m getting with Harvick. Freed from the pressure of driving and being able to form his own narrative, he’s quite affable and able to describe things quite easily. I had no issues with Harvick’s performance. Honestly, Harvick in the booth is a completely different person from Harvick the driver.
Here, everyone seems to divide into two camps. One is that Cindric alone is to blame for this incident because he wouldn’t move over for the leader. Another camp would blame Bell because he spun him out.
Looking at the replays (especially the aerial shot, which I believe is crucial here), I would be willing to put the blame on Bell here. Yes, he was leading the race, but he effectively took Cindric out and cost himself the lead in the process. With some patience, he would have eventually gotten by Cindric naturally as he did Kyle Donahue. It wouldn’t have shocked me if the line Cindric took on the frontstretch would have led him to slide up the track like Donahue had the lap before. Had that happened and contact hadn’t been made, we’d be talking about something else.
The booth’s analysis of the wreck was based around entry angle. Bell put himself in that position. I feel like he should have known better, but the spoils were so close that he could taste it. So, he took a chance on a slower truck and paid for it. I would give him more of a benefit of the doubt had the spin not occurred with the second hit on Cindric as opposed to the first.
As for Harvick, he was more bummed out that the outcome of the race was determined in this fashion. Admittedly, I was so caught up with the incident that the broadcast made very little reference to the fact that Chase Elliott actually snatched the lead here as a result of Bell slipping up the track. That was ultimately the pass for the win right there. That’s not exactly great, for multiple reasons.
Despite being right up against the end of their timeslot, there was some post-race coverage. Viewers got a few post-race interviews (including a somewhat uncoordinated couple of interviews with Bell and Noah Gragson), plus some anger from Johnny Sauter at NASCAR at opening pit road too late. These kinds of issues can happen anywhere.
For instance, the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Visit Sebring 120 last month had a terribly timed (but completely legitimate) full course caution 40 minutes into the race. The yellow resulted in the pits opening when only the back half of the Grand Sport field could stop and be legal under the minimum drive-time rules for starting drivers. That caused a jumbled order that didn’t necessarily affect the final result of the race. In addition, one of the teams got excluded after the race for their starting driver getting out 20 seconds too early, but they kept last-place points in class on appeal.
I still don’t think that Vince Welch makes these truck races all that exciting. I felt bored at times during what was a pretty good race. Put some more emotion into your calls. Throw an inflection in there someone. Anything.
I still prefer having Phil Parsons on the truck broadcasts to Harvick. He’s been on truck races for the past 15 years, is very familiar with the series and generally does a great job with it. If I were going to add Harvick to these broadcasts on a regular basis, I’d subtract Michael Waltrip.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is a very interesting one. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series will be in action at the newly-reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway. There are a bunch of unknowns going into those races. In addition, the Verizon IndyCar Series tackles the streets of Long Beach with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Indy Lights and Pirelli World Challenge as support. The TV listings are in the schedule tab above.
Here’s the thing. I will be in Long Beach covering IMSA, Pirelli World Challenge and my first INDYCAR race for Frontstretch. As a result, things will be a little different next week. I don’t get back from California until 5 p.m. Monday. As a result, there won’t be a regular edition of Couch Potato Tuesday next week.
However, that won’t mean that the action from Texas won’t be critiqued. I will still have Texas critiques at some point next week. At bare minimum, we’ll have something by no later than Wednesday at Frontstretch.
For the Critic’s Annex, I’ll be covering the Twin 100’s from Irwindale Speedway, held on Mar. 25 during the NASCAR weekend at Auto Club Speedway (36 miles away). There, I’ll be looking at the actual coverage and the changing booth commentators.
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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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