Last weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck Series descended onto Charlotte Motor Speedway for the annual All-Star festivities. New gimmicks were in play and they did next to nothing to change the action. More on that a little later.
Before we get into the races themselves, I have to talk about FOX Sports’ big announcement on Friday. Specifically, the Drivers Only broadcast that will take place at Pocono next month. For those of you who didn’t catch the announcement, Kevin Harvick will serve as the play-by-play announcer with Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano as his wingmen. Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be pit reporters, while Denny Hamlin and Danica Patrick will be in the Hollywood Hotel.
This is either going to be very good, or very bad. We’ll start with the obvious. FOX Sports clearly thinks that Harvick is the best of the bunch, hence why he’s getting the play-by-play gig. Based on what we’ve seen over the past couple of years, I’m inclined to agree with them.
Do I think that Bowyer and Logano are the two best guest analysts other than Harvick? I’m not sure, but I don’t believe so. I personally liked what I saw out of Jamie McMurray earlier this season. Harvick has been teamed up with a jokester and a man with an infectious laugh. Logano is supposed to be the more analytical of the two, but I’m not sure if he’s all that good at that. We’ll have to see how it works.
Once you get out of the booth, you enter the land of the unknown. None of the three drivers tapped for pit reporting work have any real experience on race broadcasts. I feel like they’ll adjust, but how is this going to work for the crucial information gathering? Are Blaney, Jones and Stenhouse going to be spending their free time at Pocono culling information from XFINITY Series crew chiefs as part of their duties? Will FOX Sports’ regular pit reporters do that work for them and just feed them the notes? I don’t know, but that has the makings of a real mess.
Finally, you have Hamlin and Patrick. Patrick’s done two races as a guest analyst previously. The first went terribly. The second was better, but mediocre at best. Hamlin has no experience. Patrick’s complaints about being in the booth have involved having to vie with Michael Waltrip and Adam Alexander to get in a word edgewise. Being in the Hollywood Hotel diminishes her role outside of NASCAR RaceDay – XFINITY Edition.
Despite that fact, I still see Patrick as a potential liability. She’s never struck me as really being enthusiastic about anything on TV. Yes, she has causes that she supports (See Patrick’s recent OneCare sponsorship and the stuffed animal sales for charity). I just worry that she’ll be boring as heck.
Hamlin is a near complete unknown. He’s got next to no TV experience. It could be arguable that FOX Sports may be hoping for some kind of disagreement between the two of them. It’s happened before.
In all honesty, FOX Sports really doesn’t have much to lose here. Why not try this? I don’t think that it will be groundbreaking. What I think will happen is that you’ll have an even more personality-driven broadcast than normal. Viewers might miss out on a number of tidbits they take for granted on regular broadcasts.
My real worry is losing important aspects of the race in the ether. This can happen on regular broadcasts…like the one on Saturday night. I just think that would be more likely to happen with inexperienced chaps front and center.
I will most definitely cover the broadcast for this column and dedicate quite a bit of time to it. I’m hoping for the best here, but I also have to be realistic.
Monster Energy All-Star Race
My main takeaway from Saturday night is probably fairly similar to a number of people who voiced their opinions on Twitter during the race. There was some action, but not that much. A chunk of the action that did happen was either not caught on camera, or wasn’t focused on.
An example of that would be the last-lap move that Kyle Larson put on Jimmie Johnson for second. FOX’s cameras were focused on Kyle Busch since he was about to win the race. The booth itself was focused on a number of additional aspects of the race, but the production was slow to follow up. The end of the race was just one of a number of examples. Another example occurred way back on lap 6 when the booth noticed some serious three-wide racing between Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski. Viewers only saw that via a replay. We’re talking about a race with 20 guys in it as opposed to 40. It cannot be that to catch things.
The broadcast was a little rough to watch at times because of those instances. NASCAR’s rules for the race didn’t help any. Keselowski was sentenced to an unsatisfactory finish because there was a rarely-noted rule in effect where you could not take the option tire off, then put it back on. That was a head-scratcher. Who came up with that rule and why?
The whole notion of Bowyer’s team pressing their luck with right-side primes and left-side options (never allowed in any series that normally runs two tire compounds in races these days, but allowed here as long as all four options went on originally at the same time) was interesting. No one seemingly had thought about that previous to the race weekend. An interview with crew chief Mike Bugarewicz indicated that he’d been thinking about that since the entry blanks went out for the race. Honestly, that is the first time that I can remember hearing someone in Cup reference an entry blank since 2000. Back then, postmarks still were part of the formula to determine who raced if qualifying was rained out.
Post-race coverage was decent, but given how quickly the race ended, a bit underwhelming. I feel like FOX Sports 1 could have gotten more content into the 20 or so minutes that they had. As it stands, we did get six interviews and a little analysis.
I found the coverage of the Open to be better. A bit more racing for position and just more exciting in general. I thought Darrell Waltrip was going to micturate his pants when Erik Jones made his ill-fated trip to the grass. That was clearly the most exciting moment of the night. Jones’ explanation for the move was a little strange, but the whole situation is just one more argument against splitters and the no ride height rule.
As for the All-Star Race itself, it was not all that exciting. I’ll leave a discussion of the rules that the race ran under for another time. It is quite simply, a rant by itself.
My primary advice here is that even with all the monitors in the production truck, you can’t see the track with your own eyes from there. Trust your commentators. As much as some people might not agree with this statement, they know what they’re seeing. I’ve always believed that they are a guide to help the production staff show the right stuff. FOX Sports didn’t do a good job of that on Saturday night.
North Carolina Education Lottery 200
On Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series returned to action for their second consecutive Friday night race. Like in Kansas, Kyle Busch won, but he administered a whupping on this occasion.
During the Setup, FOX Sports presented a feature about Austin Cindric, the rookie racer that we’ve talked with a couple of times here at Frontstretch. Here, Cindric talks about how his career in racing was more or less pre-ordained as a result of his upbringing. I suppose that makes sense to an extent. When your father is what amounts to the Robert Wagner to Roger Penske’s Mike Myers, that makes sense.
The race broadcast itself really didn’t stand out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There weren’t any glaring issues that I noticed. As compared to the All-Star coverage from Saturday night, I found it to be more inclusive. The actual racing was more exciting to watch as well, as long as you weren’t fixated on the front of the field.
Speaking of the racing, I have no idea what in the world Humpy Wheeler had brought in when they repaved Charlotte Motor Speedway for the 2006 season, but that stuff holds together very well. The track races like the pavement is only a year or two old and this is year No. 12. For longevity, it’s great. For racing, not so much.
Much of the race was spent trying to keep up with the various pit strategies that were in play. Henderson Motorsports had Parker Kligerman on an opposite strategy for much of the race. I’m not particularly sure if it served them all that well as they finished one spot worse than they started and had a borderline top five truck on pace.
Post-race coverage was about average despite nine cautions slowing the pace of the race. Viewers got five post-race interviews and some analysis before FOX Sports 1 left the air.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is the sweetest weekend of the year. We’ve got the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series in Charlotte. The Indianapolis 500. Formula One in Monaco. Pirelli World Challenge at Lime Rock Park and the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring. We’ll have writers on site in Charlotte, Indianapolis and at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut to bring you the action.
I’d recommend gluing yourselves to the couch, or installing a surplus GM lap belt on your chair of choice. If you can’t do that, grab the snacks, maybe order a pizza and invite some chaps over. There will be plenty of good stuff to go around. As always, the TV listings are at the top of the page in the TV Schedule tab.
I will provide critiques of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, XFINITY and Verizon IndyCar Series races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex, we’re going to have an ARCA double feature as two race broadcasts premiered last weekend. We will cover MAVTV’s coverage of the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 from Salem (run on Apr. 30) and FOX Sports 1’s coverage of Sunday’s Menards 200 from Toledo.
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. 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
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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