Races at Michigan International Speedway can be a mixed bag. They can be runaways at times. For fans, whether they enjoy that would ultimately depend on who their favorite driver is. They can be action-packed affairs that pleasure everyone. Or, they could be a combination of both. Last weekend, we got a combination.
Pure Michigan 400
Sunday brought the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series back to Michigan for their second visit of the year. Here, you have one of those quandaries that Jeff Gluck often comes to with his “Was ______ a good race” post-race polls on Twitter. You had an exquisite final restart with Kyle Larson snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, but not a whole lot going on for much of the race.
Michigan International Speedway is the home track for Erik Jones. As a result, there was a piece during pre-race in which Jones went to his hometown of Byron, Mich. The general feeling seems to be a bit of awe in regards to Jones’ accomplishments in Byron. A town as small as Byron (population 581 as of the last Census, not 400) doesn’t necessarily have all that much to shout about. Jones appears to be that chap.
Here, Jones talks a little about how his family were casual race fans and rarely went to races when he was younger. A 28-mile drive to check out some racing at Owasso Speedway was his first exposure to racing. It scared him at first. Of course, once he got in the car and started driving, his stock rose quickly.
The piece gives you an idea of where Jones comes from and what he’s like. As opposed to some drivers (Gray Gaulding is a good example), Jones seems to come from regular means. Byron is not a rich town. Then again (if Census data is accurate), it isn’t impoverished, either. It is a simple place, one of those idyllic locales where (for better or worse) everyone knows each other. Jones comes across as a down-to-earth chap who isn’t necessarily in awe of where he is, but is still grounded.
One of the topics touched upon quite a bit is Kids About NASCAR. Basically, we saw a bunch of kids talk about why they’re fans of NASCAR. As you would expect, the responses varied quite a bit. Some of them were more eloquent than others, but that’s to be expected.
For myself, I discovered NASCAR at the age of four back in 1988. If someone had asked me why I liked NASCAR around 1991, the response would have had something to do with the cars and the action. Similar to what the kids featured here said. Of note, 1991 was four years before my first race in person.
In addition to kids getting some airtime, a young reporter, Andrew Kurland, got to get some reps in on television. Overall, Kurland did a pretty good job for someone with limited experience. Just getting on-air with NBCSN will be quite the coup for Kurland, but it is arguable that we’re talking more than just one teenager having at it.
Kurland is part of NASCAR Acceleration Nation, NASCAR’s current push to sell the sport to kids. It consists of a website that helps teach kids about the sport (along with an accompanying app), some features, driver pieces and more. Think of it as the modern-day version of Racing for Kids, which was a magazine back in the mid-1990s that served a similar purpose. Today, Racing for Kids might be best known as the first primary sponsor for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. in Cup back in 1996. Also, there may be more pictures out there of the diecast of the No. 14 Chevrolet than of the actual car.
You’re likely to see more tie-ins with NASCAR Acceleration Nation in the next couple of years as NASCAR continues to sell the sport to a younger audience. While the idea of having teenagers on race broadcasts might come off as a little weird, it can only be beneficial to get the young ‘uns exposed to NASCAR.
For what’s it worth, Kurland definitely enjoyed himself. The drivers seemed delighted to talk to him as well. Take the interview with Jimmie Johnson pictured in this collage below.
So thankful for everything that has happened this weekend! It was an honor to be featured on the NBC broadcast… it was a blast! pic.twitter.com/qXRzQnmTZ4
— Andrew Kurland (@AndrewKurlandTV) August 13, 2017
Kurland did a pretty good job here interviewing Johnson about his wreck on Saturday, his foundation and their relationship with Blue Bunny. Obviously, he’s pretty green, but who wouldn’t be under those circumstances.
While under normal circumstances, there is an age limit of 18 for media members, it is not unusual for younger reporters to cover NASCAR races. For instance, there was a young man covering Homestead last year wearing a black and white checkered bow tie and a suit, accompanied by his father. Such reporters would be ineligible for hot passes under current NASCAR rules as there are specific times in which minors are allowed in the garage and/or pits.
For the race itself, Leigh Diffey was back in the broadcast booth as Rick Allen’s duties in London continued. Unlike Watkins Glen, there was not as much hatred on Twitter towards Diffey’s style. Guess the viewers are starting to get used to him a little bit.
Overall, Sunday’s race was not the most exciting event on earth. The vast majority of the race was dominated by pole sitter Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex, Jr. As a result, certain lengths would need to be taken in order for the race to not look too boring.
There was a decent amount of racing for position early on. However, NBCSN still didn’t do the best job of showing progression through the field. It was a big problem with the Watkins Glen, but it wasn’t so bad here.
Likely one of the more unusual circumstances was the tire rub that developed on Ryan Blaney’s No. 21 on lap 131. It seemed like Blaney and Kevin Harvick had very slight contact on the frontstretch, then Blaney instantly developed a rub.
In reality (and unfortunately beyond the end of the clip that NASCAR posted to YouTube), Blaney hit a somewhat inexplicable dip in the track and screwed up his fender. Crazy stuff. NBCSN did a pretty good making sense of this bizarre situation. Don’t be surprised if some work is done to the surface right there to prevent it from happening again.
In regards to the caution for Joey Logano’s cut tire, we did in fact see the tire debris that caused the caution. Whether or not it should have caused one is anyone’s guess. We know that Martin Truex Jr. thought it was a bunch of hooey.
Since the race was completed fairly quickly despite going 404 miles, there was a good amount of post-race coverage. We got plenty of Kyle Larson and Chip Ganassi’s exuberant behavior. Hopefully, Larson and crew chief Chad Johnston are ok. Larson took a sizable slap to the head, while Johnston was shaken around like a little kid In addition, viewers were treated to a number of interviews, more than we’ve been getting in recent weeks. Good to see.
There were a couple more interviews (Ex: Chris Buescher) on NASCAR Victory Lap as well. We’re not going to get into much detail here, but they had some editing problems on Victory Lap. A couple of segments repeated. As a result, the premiere of Racing Roots: Kyle Larson didn’t start until 8:20 p.m.
Overall, NBCSN’s broadcast of the Pure Michigan 400 had some flashes of greatness. However, it was middle of the road by TV standards. Nothing much stood out, good or bad. Diffey was solid in the booth and did a great job holding down the fort while Allen was in London. He works well with Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte as well. It is a bit of a different feel with Diffey in the booth, though. This weekend, Allen will be back in the booth at Bristol.
LTi Printing 200
On Saturday, the Camping World Truck Series came to Michigan for 200 miles of racing. Darrell Wallace, Jr. picked up a swell victory for himself and MDM Motorsports. That wasn’t the only story in play.
With no real features this week, the Setup was focused on two particular stories. One was Wallace’s return to the series, as noted above. There was an interesting interview conducted with Wallace where he talked about his weekend and chances in the race in between getting razed by random dudes.
The other story was the battle around the bubble. As a result, viewers got a bunch of pre-race interviews, more than normal. Viewers were likely better prepared for the event.
The race broadcast more or less played to those stories. Wallace won the race despite having a rather significant amount of damage on his No. 99 Chevrolet. In fact, knowing that Wallace had what amounted to a hole in his right rear fender, it was rather surprising that FOX Sports 1 didn’t really cover that damage.
We already knew that Wallace had gotten jostled around on the restart that led to Cody Coughlin’s crash. Radio chatter aired on the broadcast indicated that at least one notable figure thought Wallace was to blame for the crash. Why not check out Wallace’s truck for damage and whether it was affecting the Silverado?
Ultimately, Kyle Busch and Chase Briscoe’s issues got way more attention Saturday. Admittedly, both drivers ended up cutting tires, but how Briscoe cut his was a little unclear. Debris on-track immediately comes to mind, but we don’t have a definitive clip of Briscoe hitting anything. It would explain why the caution was extended twice, though.
The bubble story was more or less worked into FOX Sports 1’s regular coverage. With only 30 starters and a number of those pulling in early, you had a very static type of coverage. Think of the kind of coverage that you usually see at Talladega, and you’ll have the general idea. FOX Sports 1’s coverage for the vast majority of the race was fixated at the front of the field.
Granted, we did get some nice action up there in the second half of the race (in other words, when Busch wasn’t dominating), but we only got to see a certain number of drivers. That’s not necessarily a good thing when TV coverage is one of the major ways in which teams can acquire sponsors.
By no means was the whole broadcast objectionable. What action that we did get was pretty good. You did have a good amount of enthusiasm from the booth as well. In addition, we got some good content from the pits, such as a good shot of the cut in Johnny Sauter’s tire.
Post-race coverage was quite substantial, mainly due to the fact that FOX Sports 1 scheduled a post-race show for the Trucks (always good to see). Viewers got more than half a dozen interviews in addition to checks of the points.
Overall, Saturday’s LTi Printing 200 broadcast was just a little too inclusive for my tastes. Having said that, we did get some good racing and no mystery cautions.
That’s all for this week. For this week, we have an unusual setup. All three of NASCAR’s National Series are in Bristol. In practice, it is like two separate race weekends. The Camping World Truck Series races Wednesday night with the Whelen Modified Tour as support. The XFINITY and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will race Friday and Saturday. All three of the major races should be interesting and worth watching. I don’t expect the insanity of the early 2000s that some fans crave at Bristol, though.
Meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series will be at Pocono Raceway for 500 miles of action. Finally, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards takes on the Springfield Mile on Sunday.
I will provide critiques of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series races from Bristol for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. Saturday’s Mid-Ohio Challenge will be covered in Wednesday’s edition of the Frontstretch Newsletter. The Critic’s Annex will cover Wednesday night’s UNOH 200.
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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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