During the Friday evening/Saturday matinee undercard race for the NASCAR XFINITY Series, NXS might have stood for “Naturally eXtremely Suspicious.”
Once again, NASCAR and network pinheads got yet another lesson in Florida meteorology. Due to the humidity and high temperatures of the day, the air becomes saturated. When things cool off in the evening, that air can no longer contain all its moisture and it rains. It rains like hell a lot of the time. That’s precisely why the races at Daytona in July used to start at 10 a.m. ET. The dumb old rednecks might have been running the show back then, but as it reads in the Book of Bobby: “You don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
In an inadvertent parody of “stage racing,” the event was run in four stages over a 20-hour period. I believe they got all of 11 laps in Friday before the rains came. The race restarted on Saturday at noon and ran briefly before it rained again. Hands were wrung. The NXS race was running very late. It could not be allowed to interfere with the planned start of the evening Cup event. Then, a late-race red flag delayed its conclusion even further.
Half the field was already decimated but on the final restart, some of the survivors still found a way to pile into each other like a pack of blind men trying to run the wrong way down an escalator. The rule states that if the leader has already passed the overtime line (usually halfway down the backstretch), the race is official and the event ends under caution. If the leader hasn’t crossed that line yet, well, then they bunch everybody back up and try again. Rinse and repeat as necessary.
At least in this instance, there was no question that the leader, William Byron, had in fact crossed the overtime line prior to the caution flag being displayed. (As decided by that magic finger in the control tower, not the yellow lights, remember? Once again, no “finger-cam” was in use so we’ll just have to presume we’re not being hoodwinked.) There was, however, a very real question as to why the yellow hadn’t been thrown (or pushed or illuminated or whatever) before Byron made it to the overtime line. Clearly, the wreck had broken out well before Byron got there, with at least one car crashing hard, head-on into the wall and other drivers piling in like they were on a snowy interstate in Atlanta.
But to have thrown the caution, which in fact should have been done, would have further delayed the race’s conclusion. It might have been a matter of “What if they threw a race and nobody finished?” But given that fans at home and most especially those in the stands had stuck it out through two lengthy rain delays and an extended red flag period, perhaps they’d have gladly stuck around another 10 minutes to see the race end under green?
I personally could live without any green-white-checkered finishes at the two plate tracks. The likely result is just too violent and predictable. But if the rule is going to be in place, then it should be adhered to fairly even if it is, in fact, somewhat inconvenient to do so.
Meanwhile, it would behoove NASCAR to replace whichever official is in charge of the “finger of fate” in the control tower with someone who has a bit quicker reaction time. (Like a common tree sloth, let’s say.) As much as I hate seeing the outcome of a race decided by rain, I hate even more having the outcome of races decided in the control tower out of public view. If a situation would warrant a caution on the tenth lap of a race, it also warrants a caution heading to the white flag.
NASCAR’s Transition To NBC Coverage
It was hard not to feel sorry for NBC, or at least the NBC family of networks, over the weekend. It’s their first race back this season and they get clobbered by rain. (Ummm… guys, what do you have scheduled for 10 a.m. the morning of the next Firecracker weekend?) But some of their injuries were self-inflicted.
I recall a lot of criticism was directed NBC’s way last year concerning their pre-race focus. The network and its employees were accused of bringing preset storylines to the track on Friday and just hoping the race played out as they thought.
Well, there was no doubt what NBC was going to focus on Saturday. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was making his final start at Daytona, a track where he and his father had enjoyed a tremendous amount of success. For the last couple months, they’d touted Earnhardt’s last ride in their promos for upcoming NASCAR coverage. In the days leading up to the event, that theme was so relentless some casual fans had to be wondering if anyone else was going to be out there racing against him.
But then our pal Earnhardt did what he does sometimes. He went ahead and threw an Ozark in NBC’s cesspool. (I’ll give Junior the benefit of the doubt and say he just didn’t get the memo, rather than thinking that screwing with NBC’s minds for harassing him all week would even the score.)
NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver announced he was open to competing again at Daytona in the future. It could even be as soon as the Clash next February (he’s now eligible) if Rick Hendrick has a spare set of wheels.
In the background, you could hear countless scripts being torn up in frustration or doused in gallons of White-Out. Rather than it being Dale’s Last Ride at Daytona, they were suddenly having to say it was Dale’s Last Race at Daytona As a Full-Time Competitor on the Cup Circuit. Just doesn’t have the same ring to it, right?
Friday night, NBC must have thought those stormy clouds had a silver lining. They had ready-made alternative programming on site to wait out the rain delay with. Monster Energy, the somewhat title sponsor of the Cup Series, and some new alphabet soup of letters mixed martial arts organization seem to think that there will be a good crossover between fans of stock car racing and fans of… well, whatever the hell they were doing in that Decagon, Octagon, or Smoking Bong. In fact, they’d already gone ahead and announced they were going to be hosting some bouts at NASCAR races.
That is when Monster found out they’d bought the saddle, not the horse. Anything like that required NASCAR approval, which is a polite way of saying they want a cut of any potential profits, too. As I see it, stock car racing and martial arts go together as well as Heathcliff and Kathy.
I’m probably a bit older than the demographic Monster and Friends are fishing for. I managed to watch the one bout before killing my TV for the evening. All I’m going to say is that it looked like gay porn to me. Why anyone in their right mind would sit around in the driving rain and watch that stuff is beyond me, especially since there’s at least a half-dozen dive bars in these parts where you could count on seeing a more spirited fight on a Friday evening. The “bouts” (am I using that term correctly? Because I’m not sure what this whole mess is ’bout) had been scheduled to be broadcast after the race but like I said, I went to bed. I don’t know how long into the night that nonsense was allowed to drag on, or what channel it might have moved to.
As for the NXS race, that got sent over to CNBC, another one of those channels I didn’t know I got because I’ve never had any need to look for it. I’m not sure when the “fastest growing sport in America” got demoted to the little league networks but it surely is a sign of the times. Just wait until you’re watching the Daytona 500 on MTV. (Featuring Jay-Z’s new hit single, “Dale’s Last Ride At Daytona.”)
Other than that, the coverage was pretty much standard NBC fare. Kyle Petty is still pissed off at the world and Dale Jarrett is amused by his irritation. Pit reporters seem oblivious to what’s going on out on the track and keep yammering away about inconsequential things even while there’s a pass for the lead or big wreck. Rick Allen is just relieved to be back in the booth after supporting himself hosting soph-frosh hops during FOX’s part of the season.
NBC did have their dandy new Bat Cam, which does zero to 100 in about a second but adds nothing of value to the broadcast. There was also a genial if somewhat confused Olympian from some other country (You mean there are other teams besides Team USA in the Olympics?) My guess is that he’s there to help the pre-event hype for next February’s Winter Games on NBC. (Or the new Olympic network that I probably won’t get unless is replaces CNBC.) Rutledge Wood is still looking for something of use he might contribute and failing miserably at it. I think Wood is supposed to appeal to the portion of the fan base that drinks a lot of beer. If you’re drinking enough to find his antics amusing, you belong in rehab.
Another NBC innovation involved the post-race interview with the race winners. Rather than wait until the driver pulled into Victory Lane, like in the old days NBC decided it would be fun to trot a camera crew and pit reporter out onto the frontstretch. They figured they’d do an interview with the winner after the now near obligatory burnouts and taking of the flag. I guess this segment is supposed to seem more spontaneous and unscripted… except, of course, it is pre-planned and not spontaneous at all, and the drivers are in fact pros. They’ll thank their sponsors first even if you interview the winner in the men’s room after the race.
Also on Saturday night, the technique meant that NBC did only two driver interviews after the race, both of them with winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Fans of other drivers were left out in the cold (which is to say, banished to NBCSN that miraculously enough wasn’t showing soccer at the time.) It became clear that NBC was not happy with Stenhouse’s first interview out on track, so an intrepid pit reporter tried gamely to feed him the answers she wished to hear almost as if trying to teach a parakeet to talk.
Also, the NBC camera people and Victory Lane director have to learn to work with those black-leather-clad Monster “girls.” FOX had it down to a science where the spokes-models never got too close to the driver, smiling stiffly in the background as the cameras were carefully jockeyed to minimize their on-air exposure. I guess, sensing fresh blood the cheerleader wannabes are storming the stage. We can’t have that. And if they try to run out onto the frontstretch to join the “spontaneous” celebration, well, I suppose you could have Danica Patrick tackle them and kick them in the knee.
But let’s recall that this race was NBC’s rookie effort of the season and hope there will be some improvement in the weeks to come. My favorite part of the broadcast to date is nobody hollers “boogity, boogity, boogity” when the race starts so they have that going for them. Now, if they can either just follow the action as it unfolds rather than arriving with pre-scripted story ideas… or at least maybe come up with some better pre-scripted story ideas… or abandon those ideas when things fail to pan out as hoped. Hmmm. Up next is Earnhardt’s final ride at Kentucky… and Watkins Glen… and Indianapolis…
Yup. It’s going to be a long season.
In a closing note, I’d like to add a “Happy Birthday” to my childhood (and adult) hero, Richard Petty, who hit 80 over the weekend. NASCAR itself is only 69 years old. I’d be more than willing to bet the ranch Petty will still be around in six more years while the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will not.
About the author
Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.
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