Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Michigan Brings Debris Issues to the Forefront

Welcome back, race fans.  This past race weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series were in action at Michigan International Speedway.  Fans saw what amounted to two completely different races.  One had an exciting finish and was quite competitive.  The other was one of the least competitive races at Michigan in a number of years.

Before we get going, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported on Monday that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been in negotiations with both FOX Sports and NBC Sports about potential TV jobs starting next year.  Note that the article is behind a paywall, so no link.  I find it intriguing, but that there’s really no room at the inn for him.  If one of NASCAR’s TV partners hires Earnhardt Jr., someone would have to go.

Since we’re talking about an analyst position here, you know the potential choices here.  Jeff Gordon.  Darrell Waltrip.  Michael Waltrip.  Jeff Burton.  Steve Letarte.  If Earnhardt Jr. is hired to be a booth analyst in 2018, one of those guys is likely gone.  Based on my readership, I can imagine which one of them that you would like Earnhardt Jr. to replace.

What would Earnhardt Jr. bring to the table?  Recent experience on-track, for one.  He would know how the Gen 6 cars handle, especially with the current low downforce package that even Gordon has not run outside of a simulator.  He brings possibly the most reverence for the sport’s history of anyone out there.  We’re talking about a man who once bought a Tim Richmond t-shirt off one of my best friends on eBay.  Finally, authenticity.  What you see is what you get with Earnhardt Jr.  He’s not one to put on airs.  Neither was his father, but Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t approach life in the same way that his father did.

Will we see more of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a suit and tie next year, part of NASCAR’s growing list of TV analysts? (Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

If Earnhardt Jr. were to go to FOX Sports, it could spell the end of Darrell Waltrip in the booth.  He’s already older now than a number of booth commentators when they stepped away from active commentary (Ex: Ken Squier was 64 when he stepped away from play-by-play and into a hosting role).

I cannot see FOX Sports ditching Gordon after only two years for Earnhardt Jr.  It would be quite the powerhouse of a booth with Mike Joy on play-by-play.  Still don’t like the idea of there not being a technical expert in the booth there.  Sure, Larry McReynolds is still around, but I find the current setup to be awkward.

It would be a little trickier if Earnhardt Jr. went to NBC Sports.  Such a scenario would mean that either Letarte’s out, or Jeff Burton’s out.  I feel like I wouldn’t want either of them to get dumped.

Either way, it will be interesting to see what happens.  I’d like to know what all of you think about this.  Do you want Earnhardt Jr. in the booth?  If so, where, and who should be he replace?  Go ahead and comment down below, or e-mail me directly at phil.allaway@frontstretch.com.

FireKeepers Casino 400

Before we start, ESPN clearly does not care about their NASCAR coverage these days.  They used the logo from two years ago when it was still the Quicken Loans 400 for the race on SportsCenter Monday morning.  That’s weak.  Nothing to do with FOX Sports 1’s output, but it needed to be said.

On Sunday, the action was fast, but not necessarily all that furious at Michigan.

During the race itself, one of the biggest gripes of the day was the caution on lap 181 for debris on the backstretch.  FOX used one of their cameras to look for the debris, but I don’t recall seeing anything of note.

A number of people were very angry about the yellow, which more than likely changed the outcome of the race.  Clint Bowyer, for instance, cussed like a madman on the radio.  It was as if he had listened to George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television” bit the night before the race and decided to spout out all seven at once.

Bowyer’s car owner, Tony Stewart, was also quite peeved, but a bit more reserved on Twitter.

It says a lot that NASCAR had Scott Miller, senior vice president of competition, go on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s The Morning Drive on Monday to talk about the situation.  That’s great that NASCAR decided to make someone available to talk about the situation.  The only problem is that Miller didn’t identify what the debris was and where it was on the backstretch.

Prior to the race, Matt Yocum conducted a one-on-one interview with Erik Jones.  Here, given that it was Father’s Day, the discussion was based around how Erik’s father Dave contributed to his rise in the sport.  It was clear from the piece that Dave was much more than a father to Jones.  He was his son’s mentor and likely best friend as well.  The two of them appeared to be inseparable and that made his illness and eventual death from cancer last year hurt that much more.  This was a good sit-down interview.  We learned some things about Jones and the level of sacrifice that was necessary for him to progress.

Like many of the races this season, there was a lot of action for position in the few laps after the restarts.  In those parts of the race, FOX was decent in showing the on-track action.  However, much like Pocono last week, the race spreads out.  Once that happens, you have to be a bit more cunning with your coverage.  I think that FOX really hasn’t worked that out yet.  You can’t just show single cars and hope everything works out.  It makes for a rather boring race.

Recently, FOX Sports has been having some technical issues with their FOX Box.  Its as if the computer that runs it accidently had malware installed on it.  Quite simply, it is glitchy as heck and those problems seem to show up on a weekly basis.  I’m no expert on those types of issues, but it might be internal.  Expect some new equipment for the graphics for next season.

The biggest incident of the race Sunday was the wreck just after the restart on lap 191 when Ryan Blaney got really loose and stacked up the field.  Yes, they wrecked.  Yes, contact between Darrell Wallace Jr. and Daniel Suarez caused Danica Patrick to spin into the inside wall.  However, that whole wreck was not Wallace’s fault.  Darrell Waltrip made it seem that way, though.  These dudes were five-wide.  Blaney, Suarez and Kevin Harvick were squeezed up against each other like no one’s business.  That causes wrecks in plate races.  If that didn’t cause a wreck on Sunday, I would have been surprised.

Gordon disagreed with Waltrip’s opinion and put forth the chain reaction hypothesis, which is something that is understandable.  Wallace’s thought seems to mirror Waltrip.  After Pocono and Michigan, I think Wallace is a little hard on himself at times.

Post-race coverage was pretty decent.  Viewers got a number of interviews and post-race analysis.  I was satisfied there.

Overall, the race broadcast was middling.  There were some good portions of the race broadcast that were equaled out by some not so good portion.  The debris caution issue was annoying, but I don’t think that FOX got much more to go on than what we got on the broadcast.  If NASCAR is vague with their descriptions of where debris is located, it can be rather difficult to pinpoint it.

Irish Hills 250

On Saturday, the XFINITY Series returned to Michigan for their one visit of the season.  Things were more or less back to normal.

Prior to the race, Chris Neville went one-on-one with William Byron at GoPro Motorplex.  Topics of discussion here were the transition to the XFINITY Series after spending 2016 in the Camping World Truck Series, being able to get advice from drivers such as Jimmie Johnson and the notion of Byron replacing Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 next year.  Byron comes off as a pleasant chap, still learning as a racer.  I really don’t think that he’s going to replace Earnhardt Jr. in Cup next season, but his career does seem to be on the upswing.

Quick digression: I recently found a clip of Neville racing a stock car.  Back in 1996, Neville raced in World Challenge on a temporary circuit in Reno driving a Pontiac Grand Prix similar to ASA cars of the time.  Here he is talking to Derek Daly.

Austin Dillon was the guest analyst of the week in Michigan and he chose to wear his plaid suit to the booth.  That thing’s getting a bunch of mileage.  It is at least the third time I’ve seen him wear it publicly.  I know, the typical man doesn’t have that many suits (less than a week’s worth unless they have to wear suits to work every day), but Dillon isn’t a regular guy.  He’s got big bucks.  Wouldn’t be shocked if he’s got more than one of those.

Overall, I found Dillon to be decent.  Dillon didn’t do anything on the broadcast that really stood out negatively.  He contributed to the broadcast and presented viewers with his knowledge.  He wasn’t a jerk about it, either.  However, Michael Waltrip slapping his shoulder throughout the race was apparently a bit jarring.

I found that the coverage of on-track action was decent.  It seemed a little better than what we got on Sunday.  Yes, Brad Keselowski led 54 laps, but he was never that far out in front.  Perhaps Kyle Busch getting wrecked at the start actually helped make the race better.0

Post-race coverage was quite brief due to the race running up against the Tampa Bay Rays-Detroit Tigers game.  Viewers got a bunch of replays of the finish between Byron and Denny Hamlin, in addition to interviews with those two and Keselowski (led the most laps)

FOX’s approach here left Elliott Sadler fuming after the race.  Sadler’s third-place finish allowed him to regain the points lead over teammate Justin Allgaier and he got bupkis.

I fully understand why Sadler would be upset.  He’s got sponsors, just like everyone else does.  He performed well enough to get that airtime.  Unfortunately, commitments to other priorities got in the way.  It bites.

That’s all for this weekend.  Next weekend is one of my personal favorites of the season.  Road racing.  Cue the Macho Man.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series makes their 29th visit to Sonoma Raceway, where at least four drivers will make their Cup debuts.  Meanwhile, the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series teams will have a doubleheader at Iowa Speedway.  Should be fun.  Meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series will be at Road America in Wisconsin along with Pirelli World Challenge.  TV listings can be found in the Schedule tab.

I will provide critiques of the Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series broadcasts for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  For the Annex, I will be covering Saturday night’s Drivin’ For Linemen 200 from Gateway Motorsports Park.  Apparently, 16,000 people were at Gateway for the race, but many more were watching on FOX Sports 1.

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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As always, if you choose to contact a network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

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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….Gosh, I hope the Booger Earnhardt rumor is just that! NASCAR IMO over estimates his appeal. Sure he has “Junior Nation”, which a lot of those folks I swear think it is the father still racing! Many, many fans are just as equally NOT enamored with him. Seems the networks have just the right amount of people, he can keep busy with the wife and their purported home reno show to still stay in the spotlight he seemingly craves so much.


I agree with you kb.


….Ahhhh Mr. E. Sadler..you need to check as to who finished what in many a race..AND THEY ARE NEVER HEARD FROM! They skip…interview P2..skip to P4 and P5…etc. It happens all the time, however, glad he called it out. I do not feel it was a ego thang at all, just truth and moronic logic! The interview bias is nothing new. Don’t blame the pit crew…blame the idiots directing them!


It seems like no matter what network NASCAR’s second series is on, they’re always running up against the window of something. In the ESPN years, many of the fall races had no post-race interviews and often started on ESPNNEWS because of college football.

Bill B

It’s time for DW to move on and take his brother with him. If Jr is going to be part of the crew I can’t see how anyone but one of the Waltrips will be moved out. It’s time for a change anyway.


“One had an exciting finish and was quite competitive. The other was one of the least competitive races at Michigan in a number of years.”

Why? It’s the same track.


well I’ll state the obvious – I’d like to see BOTH Waltrips gone & if that means Jr in the booth, so be it.

Let’s see Fox has been covering NASCAR since 2001 and they still can’t “figure out” how to cover the field when it spreads out? That means they are either completely inept or they don’t want to.

Plus the blithering idiots who decided on the late afternoon start times should be put out to pasture as well. I don’t think it brings in tv viewers (which is their reasoning) and I know its bad for fans trying to get home after the race rather than having to pay another night for a hotel. The experiment failed the last time they did it and yet, here it is again.

I watched the very end of the MI race – IMO no reason to watch more than the last 10 laps – stage racing or now – it doesn’t matter if most of the laps are boring.


Funny thing is a lot of the Fox crew were complaining on Twitter about the late starts.

Phil Allaway

Everyone has been complaining about the late starts. When I was in Pocono, some of the communications guys with the track were complaining about the late start. They want the green flag to fly at 1:19 next year and stated that the 3:20 start was NASCAR’s idea.


The Fox tracker frequently annoys me. It often gets ‘stuck’ showing only the top 7 places. If you are trying to keep track if a driver is moving up thru the field, you’re SOL. They only document the top 10 crossing the finish line…totally unacceptable, but typical of their thinking that only the top 10 cars are worth following. In 16 years they still can’t figure out how to do it right.

Has DW stopped dying his hair lately?


Maybe someone told DW to look his age seeing as he can’t act his age, and hasn’t for a long time.


Sadler needs to quit whining. Who wants to listen to a guy who got to hang around in cup years beyond his abilities, and now at forty something bought his ride with me so he could finally get a championship racing against teenagers. Ataboy sadler. Go join Mikey.


His ride with JR.


I don’t think he cares about himself being interviewed. He’s more concerned about his sponsors getting airtime and one would think finishing 3rd would warrant that. In case you haven’t noticed, sponsors are dropping like flies in each of the 3 series and I’m sure he’d like to keep his. But apparently 2 Cup guys being interviewed is better than giving exposure to the regulars in the series. And Nascar wonders why its lower series are on life support.


While I would love to see DW gone from the booth, I’m not sure I would like to see Jr replace him. Don’t know if I could stand all the Hendrick bias that would come out of that arrangement. Put Jr in the Hotel to replace Michael might be a better option. Replace one is better than replacing none.

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