Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: The PJ1 Trackbite Dominates NASCAR at Loudon

Last weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series teams descended upon New Hampshire Motor Speedway for a now-traditional July weekend of speed.  Given the track’s typical single groove nature, PJ1 TrackBite was laid down in the turns.  Did it have an effect on the races?  Yes.  Did it also affect the broadcasts?  Oh yes.

Overton’s 301

Sunday saw the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series return to New Hampshire for 301 laps of action.  The TrackBite was once again the story of the day, but not for the right reasons.

Prior to the race, Rutledge Wood toured the new Northeast Motor Sports Museum, located near the track.  Dr. Dick Berggren showed off some of the collection, which all have ties to New England.  I’m personally a little confused about that fact because New York is in the Northeast, but not in New England.  Regardless, it sounds like a pretty fun place and I want to check it out when I venture up there in September.

There was also a brief piece on Aric Almirola and the rehab that he’s done in order to get back in the car.  Unlike drivers like Jimmie Johnson or John Hunter Nemechek that are big on cycling, Almirola’s into swimming.  In addition, Almirola has been spending a significant amount of time in the gym.

In addition to Almirola’s individual work, part of his rehab included time in the car on the pull-down rig in an attempt to simulate Bristol.  It was really interesting to watch.  Given the circumstances, NASCAR allowed the team a brief test at Charlotte Motor Speedway in order for Almirola to get cleared as well. The goal here was simply to see whether or not he could get through the test without pain.

Aric Almirola returned to the driver’s seat at Loudon. (Photo: Russell LaBounty/NKP)

The whole pre-race interview setup was pretty nice.  However, there was no real follow-up.  Almirola was only briefly mentioned during the race.  Viewers never really knew how he was handling his first race back (he finished on the lead lap in 24th).

As you know, Sunday’s race had a brief red flag after a chunk of the track came up in turn 3.  While the track surface is not exactly the newest in NASCAR, the hole opened up in the upper portion of where the PJ1 TrackBite was laid down.  It brings up the question of whether the “sticky stuff” could actually adversely affect the track surface.  It is truly something for NASCAR to think about going forward.  Also of note, you could see another area right near the small hole that had been patched as well.

Here in the Northeast, we’ve had a fairly wet spring and early summer.  Perhaps that played a role as well.

Kyle Busch was one of the dominant drivers on Sunday, but he got busted twice for speeding late in the race.  Apparently, both of the penalties occurred in the same section (No. 5).  Where is No. 5?  I don’t know.  It was never actually mentioned on the race broadcast.  As much as some of my readers like to bash FOX, this is an area where they’re generally better than NBC.  They would go out of their way to show where the individual sections are on pit road.  I could render a guess, but I’m not really sure.

There was also a virtual cutaway segment on the left rear suspension in response to Joey Logano’s failure that put him behind the wall.  The reasoning for that?  NASCAR confiscated the piece that was replaced on Logano’s car.  We’ll ultimately see what comes of that.  Stay tuned for the Penalty Report on Wednesday.

Racing-wise, Sunday saw a decent amount of racing for position covered on the broadcast.  Unfortunately, it seemed like a lot of that stuff occurred during the NonStop segments.  I didn’t think that the TrackBite played as much of a role on Sunday since the Hoosier rubber was gone.

I feel like NBCSN could have been more inclusive in their coverage.  Its not like Saturday’s race, where only six cars finished on the lead lap.  Everyone back to Almirola was still racing on the lead lap for position all the way to the end.  As a result of the front bias, the race looked more boring than it really was.  Yes, there were 11 lead changes, but only four occurred in the first 217 laps.  You needed to look further back to find some action, but we never really saw a lot of that action.

The coverage of Erik Jones’ incident was pretty good.  NBCSN found the root cause of the crash pretty quickly and relayed that to the viewers.  Quite simply, Jones had contact on pit road during the Competition Caution with Kasey Kahne.  That contact apparently cut Jones’ left front tire.  The team thought it was good to go.  Didn’t even last a mile at speed before it went flat.  It was a shame for Jones, but NBCSN properly took advantage of what they had available to piece together the story.

Post-race coverage was pretty decent.  I’m still not a fan of the double winner’s interviews.  It strikes me as redundant.  You’re using time that could be spent interviewing someone else to give the winner more time in the sun.  They would have gotten their time in the sun anyway.

Outside of the winners’ interviews, viewers got a decent amount of post-race coverage.  I walked away satisfied with what I saw there.  Still believe that the race itself should be more inclusive.  Remember, the race broadcast itself is how the vast majority of race fans see NASCAR these days.  Focusing too tightly results in a stilted image of the race.

Overton’s 200

On Saturday, the XFINITY Series fought rain and cool weather (by July standards, at least) to race 200 laps at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  While Busch won once again, that cannot be the only way by which the race is judged.

Likely the biggest story on Saturday was the performance of Ryan Preece in the No. 20 Toyota.  The No. 20 finishing second really shouldn’t be a shock to anyone, regardless of who’s driving.  Putting Preece in the car at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is almost like getting a ringer.  The pre-race interview that Jeff Burton did with him encapsulated that.

The overall conclusion seemed to be that a lot of people didn’t think Preece was capable of his run on Saturday.  It was as if they based Preece’s runs last year in the JD Motorsports No. 01 as a ceiling for what he can do.  Not very smart.

Honestly, the treatment was sort of demeaning at times.  I know that he’s an unheralded talent in the XFINITY Series.  However, if I were Preece, I’d get tired of the kid gloves treatment really fast.  This dude is the 2013 Whelen Modified Tour champion.  He knows what he’s doing.  If the broadcast team properly did their jobs, they’d already know who Preece was long before last weekend.  They would have known about him when he was driving for Flamingo Motorsports at the absolute least.  I guess they thought putting Preece in the car would have been like the time JGR put former ASA racer Travis Kittleson in the No. 20.

Early on in the race, the main topic of discussion was the PJ1 TrackBite and how it affected the race.  The effect did seem to be quite a bit stronger than it was on Sunday.  On paper, that is interesting given the fact that it was warmer on Sunday.  The sticky stuff should have worked better there, but I guess not.

Post-race coverage was somewhat brief due to the fact that the broadcast was already 40 minutes past the scheduled sign-off time at the finish.  NBCSN’s post-race coverage consisted of interviews with the top three finishers (Busch, Preece and William Byron) and a quick check of the points before leaving for INDYCAR qualifying from Toronto.

With Busch and Brad Keselowski running away from the field for much of the second half of the race, it allowed some of the smaller teams to get some airtime since they were actually racing with each other.  It was a nice change.

I think Saturday’s race will be an eye opener for a lot of fans in regards to Preece’s talent.  However, it is something that a lot of diehard fans already knew all along.  Preece can give anyone a race.  Iowa should be very interesting for the Connecticut native.  It won’t be do-or-die, but he will be in position to impress.

Prior to the race, NBCSN aired a piece about Cole Custer and his rise through the ranks of motorsports.  What did we learn here?  That Custer is apparently quite shy.  It can be hard to get noticed when you’re that shy.  You have to really stand out.  Custer more or less did that on the track.  Custer’s car owner, Tony Stewart, admitted to knowing Custer from way back when he was little, but that Custer never spoke to him for years.  Interesting.  That shyness might end up being portrayed as a weakness at some point in the future by the uninitiated.

Overall, I thought that there was some good racing on Saturday.  Despite the booth going on and on about the PJ1 TrackBite, I’d argue in favor of the different types of rubber being on the track playing a bigger role.  As the race wound on, it became more and more normal as the Hoosier rubber from the Whelen Modifieds burned off.  It might have made the start of the race slightly more interesting.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series will take on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Hopefully, we can get a good race there.  Rule changes have rendered the weekend a complete unknown.  Meanwhile, by the time you read this, Camping World Truck Series teams will already be at Eldora Speedway in Ohio for the Eldora Dirt Derby.  TV listings are in the Schedule tab.

I will provide critiques of the Cup and XFINITY races from Indianapolis in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  The Aspen Dental Eldora Dirt Derby will be covered in the Critic’s Annex in Thursday’s Newsletter.

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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I’m always amused when ‘the media’ is surprised that fans watching the races at home tend to find them boring. Does no one get that when they only show the few cars running up front (and usually away from) of the field, there really isn’t a lot exciting there. From attending races is person, I know that there are always races for position somewhere on track. Too bad Neither of the networks seem to understand finding the action wherever it is will generate more excitement.


I think that’s why the time intervals disappear. They don’t want to let us figure out the cars racing for positions instead of the chosen few they bless us with.


I notice there is no mention of the Diva. The times I tuned in I noticed she was always in 15th and I thought they froze her there. But she finished 13th with Ricky in 14th. It’s amazing how they seem to find each other on the track. Either Ricky couldn’t pass her or didn’t want to.


He doesn’t have to mention her because you bring her up every week.

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