For many, many years, Bristol Motor Speedway in August was one of the crown jewels of NASCAR’s schedule. The introduction of the Chase (now Playoffs) in 2004 has weakened the weekend slightly. However, it is still a good time to catch some action.
Before we get started, NASCAR announced last week that they will be streaming an in-car camera on their Twitter feed for each of the 10 Playoff races. It is an interesting decision to make. Perhaps that can drive some viewership from non-core fans. What NASCAR likely should be doing is trying to drive traffic to NASCAR Drive. NASCAR Drive is the latest version of RaceBuddy in use at nascar.com during Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races. Fans can view multiple camera angles (including in-car cameras) for free. NBC Sports advertises NASCAR Drive during their Cup broadcasts, but you really don’t hear much about it outside of there.
Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race
Saturday night brought the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series back to Bristol for the traditional night race. The race has been run 39 times at night. Where does Saturday night’s race rank? Somewhere in the middle.
Busch going for the triple was the main story of the evening and it did not disappoint. However, unlike the other two races in Bristol, he had to fight for that win.
The constant refrain on the broadcast is that action is constant at Bristol. That is a big co-sign. In order to bring this column to you, copious notes must be taken. Especially early on, enough stuff was going on that the pause button had to be used. It is definitely preferred to not do that, but you’ll miss stuff if you don’t.
Overall, NBC did a pretty good job at showing some of the side-by-side racing. They were very good at showing how the preferred line would move around the track based on tire wear as well.
There were a couple of things that came to mind. One was something noticeable when the Helmet Cam on Clint Bowyer was in use. The digital dash is programmable to do darn near whatever a driver wants, but some flashing numbers caught my eye. Couldn’t quite tell what they were, but they looked like the oil temperature and water temperature readings. If that’s so, Bowyer was running 290 degrees plus on both of them prior to lap 100. Bowyer finished the race a lap down in 19th. That never alarmed anyone. Surprising. As technology progresses, the main zone for engine performance changes. However, 290-degree water temperatures are typically bad.
As you know, Kyle Busch won…again. This time from 18th on the grid. Another issue from recent weeks came back into play was the lack of ability to track progress through the field. Busch started 18th. Viewers don’t hear all that much about him. He’s up to 12th in 25 laps. Then nothing. Next mention of him, he’s in the top five. NBC has to do a better job of keeping track of progression. They cannot simply use the scoring bar as a crutch. That doesn’t just go for Kyle Busch. That’s for everyone.
Ato Boldon made his second appearance of the season on NBC in a continuation of his role at Daytona. More to come in the XFINITY section. While we can see that he’s having quite the experience learning the ropes of NASCAR, it doesn’t really do anything for the broadcast. While it is unlikely that viewers have anything against Boldon, he doesn’t add anything. He isn’t knowledgeable about the sport. To a certain extent, knowledge is one of the reasons why fans tune in. The fish out of water thing can only last so long.
For most viewers, the battle between Busch and Erik Jones towards the end of Stage No. 1 was likely the most exciting part of the evening. Would that have happened if there were no stages? Yes. It would have looked very similar, actually. It won’t be sold as such, but that’s the whole deceit with these stages.
A story that really wasn’t covered much was the whole issue with melting beads that resulted in tire issues. At least three of the yellows Saturday night were caused by these issues. NBC would have done well to track down these failed tires and detail what happened. Never occurred.
Post-race coverage was actually a bit more detailed than normal on NBC because the race ended faster than expected. Before the coverage moved to NBCSN, viewers got interviews with seven of the top 10 finishers. There was also some post-race analysis from the booth and a check of the points before the coverage moved to NBCSN.
Also, despite ditching the regular Victory Lane for the frontstretch, they still did two interviews on the frontstretch with Busch? Why? It is redundant as all heck. Don’t get it at all. If having the crews out there is so dang important, bring everyone out to the frontstretch for the first interview and just do it like that.
Compared to what was posted about the race on Twitter, the pictures actually made the event look more exciting than what fans were saying. With the current track design at Bristol, there has to be a happy medium between the grooves. It appears that the chaps at Bristol Motor Speedway are getting closer. Just wish they didn’t have to douse the track with the PJ1 TrackBite to get there.
Food City 300
Friday night saw the XFINITY Series take on Bristol as well. Busch was once again in charge, but the race behind him seemed to be interesting.
The aforementioned Boldon was also in the house, using Friday night’s action as a learning experience. He almost got himself thrown out for doing a stand up too close to the catchfence during the race. A uniformed security officer had to come up to him, mid-shot no less, and tell him to move. That is a rookie mistake. Boldon broke the rule of “act like you’ve been here before.” It won’t happen again.
The race coverage itself was a bit of a mixed bag at times. You had some good coverage, an example of which would be the incident involving Aric Almirola and Ryan Reed early on. Almirola’s car was already trashed before the second interview. NBCSN was able to find footage that showed Almirola hitting the wall due to contact with Ross Chastain. That contact was completely unrelated to the second wreck.
The racing was pretty good, but not quite as competitive as Saturday night. Justin Allgaier appeared to be the best match for Busch early on. He made good use of the contrarian (at the time) outside line to get the jump on the Shrub.
Once again, the progression issues continued. Kyle Busch got busted for speeding (again). As a result, he had to spend most of Stage No. 2 running up through the field. You never saw much of him or got any kind of update on his progress. Then, he appears as if Bill Weber pulled him out of his magician’s hat. That shouldn’t happen.
Post-race coverage was fairly decent. Viewers got a number of driver interviews, including both sides of the story in a crash that took Brendan Gaughan and Jeb Burton out of the race. Gaughan’s a fiery dude. He outright proclaimed that he was going to win the Johnsonville 180 at Road America. He’s done it before, so he has a lot of confidence in his team to get it done. We’ll have to see if he can do it.
The XFINITY broadcast showed that NBCSN can do some things well, while they struggle in other places. Hopefully, they can put the whole package together fairly soon.
Herr’s Potato Chips 100
On Sunday afternoon, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards made their annual trip to the Illinois State Fairgrounds for 100 miles of dirt action. The field seemed a little thin and the action on-track did nothing to disprove that fact.
The live coverage on MAVTV (or in my case, Lucas Oil Racing TV) started very close to the command. As a result, there were no pre-race interviews. There was some previewing of the action, but the command came very quickly.
Once the race itself got going, I found a couple of issues with the broadcast that were quite noticeable. One was the cameras angels. It didn’t seem all that windy in Springfield, but the camera shots were jerky as heck. It made the broadcast a little difficult to watch at times.
The commercial breaks, while necessary, seemed to come at the absolute worse times. A couple of yellows were missed due to those breaks. Also, there was one break less than a full lap after a restart. That is weak. You just don’t do that. That stuff is planned.
Then, you have the big one. Over the years, ARCA has dealt with a reputation that the drivers in the series are of lesser skill. The term “ARCA Brakes” has come to denote a situation in which an unskilled driver plows into a crash that could easily have been avoided.
Stopping on dirt is no easy feat. They basically cannot panic brake because they’ll just lock up. That’s how you end up with wrecks like Sunday’s that look ridiculous.
On Sunday, the big crash occurred just after a restart and cameras caught Dalton Sargeant having contact with Riley Herbst. The footage seemed to be quite definitive, yet Ken Stout and Rob Klepper didn’t want to point fingers? Yes, on this level of racing, everyone knows each other. That doesn’t excuse you from doing your job.
Also of note, Sargeant comes from a road racing background and had never done a feature on dirt before Sunday’s race. A week earlier, Sargeant actually came to Lebanon Valley Speedway here in New York to race in the Pro Stock feature in a car normally campaigned by Kenny Martin at Fonda Speedway (Fonda got rained out, hence the haul to Lebanon Valley). Unfortunately, heavy rains fell at Lebanon Valley right before the Pro Stock feature would have started, limiting the amount of on-track time that Sargeant could get.
For the sake of this discussion, we only have his heat race to go by in order to gauge his skill on dirt. That time was spent getting used to the Pro Stock, which has quite a bit less horsepower than the car he was driving with the ARCA Ilmor 396 engine.
The key here is that Sargeant was quite inexperienced on the slippery surface. Racing in the rain doesn’t necessarily prepare you for racing on dirt. There’s no substitute for experience here.
Given the fact that there was a significant delay here due to cleanup, you’d think there’d be a driver interview once they got back down to the pits. Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards for some reason. It isn’t like MAVTV didn’t have anyone down there. They had Jim Tretow down there, microphone in hand, but we got bukpis. He was underused on the broadcast. Just working that wacky pit area in Springfield is hard enough in general.
There were also a couple of driver spotlights where taped interviews with Enfinger and Theriault aired. Those should have aired prior to the race, to be honest. The one with Enfinger was focused on crew chief Kelly Kovski, who likely should have been driving the race-winning No. 16 Chevrolet. However, he’s spent the last six months recovering from getting hit by Dale Blaney’s sprint car during the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park.
Post-race coverage was just about normal for an ARCA broadcast. Viewers got interviews with the top three finishers (Grant Enfinger, Austin Theriault, Tyler Dippel) and a check of the unofficial results. There was also some post-race analysis before MAVTV left Springfield.
While the tape-delayed ARCA broadcasts on MAVTV can be difficult to watch if you don’t get MAVTV (you have to wait until they’re posted on Lucas Oil Racing TV, which can take a while), the live broadcasts can be streamed live. Of the streamed races, Sunday was likely the weakest effort. Strange camera angles, lack of clarity as to how things happened, terrible commercial placement. Not that much to like.
The racing for position that we saw was decent. The Springfield Mile is not necessarily conducive to side-by-side racing (Note: The fact that it has 11 degrees of banking in the turns is surprising; it looks way more like four degrees), but viewers did get some action.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is the final weekend off of the season for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams. You can probably already see the vacation pictures coming in on Twitter…in between shots of people wearing their welding masks to view the eclipse.
Regardless, this isn’t like Easter weekend. There’s still plenty of racing to go around. The XFINITY Series will wrap up their month of road racing at Road America. Parker Kligerman is entered in the race. Don’t be shocked if NBC Sports innovates with the broadcast and makes Kligerman an in-race reporter or something like that.
Meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series makes their first appearance at Gateway Motorsports Park in many years. They’ll be supported by a number of Mazda Road to Indy series. Finally, the GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will be in action at VIRginia International Raceway.
As you can see, there will be plenty of action to keep yourself occupied this weekend. If that doesn’t quench your thirst, there’s local stuff as well since championships are starting to wind up on that level.
For next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch, I’ll be covering the Johnsonville 180 from Road Atlanta and the Bommarito Automotive Group 500k from Gateway (Note: Yes, those are the same chaps that have sponsored Jordan Anderson off and on in the Camping World Truck Series). Can Gaughan make good on his promise? Perhaps.
For Thursday’s edition of the Critic’s Annex, we’ll be covering the ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway. It was quite interesting.
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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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