The 2018 racing season has been a tricky one to handle. Weather has been an issue darn near every week. The Food City 500 started early on Sunday, then was stopped after 204 laps and pushed to Monday. Brutal.
Food City 500
As announced Saturday, NASCAR moved the start of the Food City 500 up an hour to 1 p.m. because of impending weather. That start was somewhat delayed by morning rains.
Prior to the start of the race, the primary feature on NASCAR RaceDay was a look into Kasey Kahne’s life. These days, he’s driving for Leavine Family Racing and raising his son, Tanner. While they mention Tanner’s mother in the piece (and talk about how she is a constant in Tanner’s life), Kahne is framed as a single father. Here, Kahne talks about how his life has changed since becoming a father and the frustration of his final couple of years with Hendrick Motorsports.
It’s an interesting piece, if only because Kahne has more or less faded into nothingness over the past couple of years. Knowing just how much he was publicized as a young gun and the next big thing (not to mention those ridiculous Allstate commercials where the soccer moms had crushes on him), it seems sad how far he’s fallen. Despite that, he’s quite happy away from the track. Bet he was expecting to be better than 29th in points at the moment, though.
Speaking of Kahne, he retired from the race on Monday with some kind of steering issue. This was only acknowledged on the broadcast when Mike Joy noted that he went behind the wall. There was no follow up on the broadcast at all, or any note that he had actually retired from the race.
With the rain delays, FOX chose to run a series of driver interviews and air some pieces from either in the weekend. An interview with Denny Hamlin where they talked about the constant penalties aired a couple of times. Another piece (originally aired on NASCAR RaceHub) about the late Alan Kulwicki aired as well.
Once the race got going, the action was fast and furious. It was rather difficult for the booth to keep track of everything that was going on. In practice, they seemed to focus more on the action closer to the front, while acknowledging some of the other action on-track. To FOX, that seemed to be a way to simplify things.
Ultimately, the race was postponed to Monday. It bites, I know, but what are you going to do. They would have finished at darn near 4 a.m. had they waited for the rain to stop so that the track could be dried.
Of course, there was rain and sleet at the prescribed restart time. Following more interviews, the action resumed.
Monday races are a complete nightmare to watch by anyone’s standards. If you work from home or had the day off, great. You could veg out and watch normally. Those who had to work had to deal with FOX Sports GO, which is rather tempermental if you’re not on Wi-Fi. If you’re sneaky enough to be able to watch on your job’s network because you have an office with a door, good for you.
Those who work in cubicles don’t have that luxury. To make a long story short, everything beyond halfway was a pixelated mess, likely due to the metal in the building that I work in. I couldn’t really make out much at all on the scoring pylon. I could see every now and then that Landon Cassill would peek into the top 20 at times (he ultimately finished two laps down in 20th).
The audio came in just fine, though. It seemed like Darrell Waltrip was once again off his game and at times contradicted Jeff Gordon for no reason. Is it because Darrell’s being intentionally rude? Doubt it. He has conviction in his thoughts and appears to be unwilling to take to others’ views.
The ongoing stupidity with the “Vortex Theory” is just another example. We’re talking about something that has been debunked dozens of times (apparently) as a bunch of hooey, yet he’s going to just keep on with it. Jeepers, that needs to stop. I know that FOX doesn’t want to spend the extra money that comes with delayed races. No one likes that. The adherence to this worthless theory borders on outright lying at times. Also of note, yes, Darrell admitted to hearing of the theory from Joy back in the late 1990s, then claiming it as his own. It’s unclear whether or not Joy gave Darrell permission for that at the time (if not, it could technically be considered plagiarism).
The latter portions of the race saw drivers such as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Darrell Wallace Jr. come to the forefront. This brings in the notion of favoritism once again. While yes, it was quite refreshing to see Wallace up front on Monday (and doing it the old-fashioned way at Bristol), the tone in the booth seemed a little cheerleady for my taste.
Wallace only managed to lead six laps on Monday, but that was enough to give his team some momentum. The collapse on the final run of the race to a lap down in 16th might have stunted anything from the highs, though.
Tire wear was an issue on both days. It was presented as being the result of both the TrackBite and a new left side tire. My guess is that it was more the tire than anything else. A number of teams, including Jimmie Johnson’s, noted cords showing. FOX didn’t really do all that great a job of really showing that wear on Sunday or Monday. Viewers need some kind of a reference to tire issues and lap times simply aren’t enough.
Post-race coverage was relatively brief. Viewers got interviews with the top four finishers (Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Stenhouse and Johnson) and a check of the points before FOX left the air. Pretty much par for the course for a Monday race.
Delayed races are generally frustrating for everyone involved. They just want to get it over with. That said, Food City 500 was definitely one of the better races to watch action-wise all season. There was constant action on the track and it left me satisfied after 500 laps of action. Just wish that it all ran on Sunday so more people could see it.
That said, there are still more storylines that could have been covered during the Cup race. Even with the action on-track, it was more or less confined to a certain group of drivers. Once a driver dropped out of that group, you didn’t really see them.
Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300
Saturday afternoon saw the XFINITY Series take on Bristol. The new left side tires and increased usage of the TrackBite resulted in heavy left side tire wear. So much that NASCAR decreed a Competition Caution on lap 40. The caution was not explained well, so it came as a surprise to me when it was noted in the pre-race analysis.
Prior to the race, Michael Waltrip spent some time with the four drivers competing in the XFINITY Dash 4 Cash (Christopher Bell, Cole Custer, Daniel Hemric and Ryan Preece) and talked to them about racing at Bristol. In Michael’s case, yes, he’s a past winner there in the now-XFINITY Series. However, the most notable thing he’s done at Bristol is the infamous crash in 1990.
After the Q&A, the quintet settled in for some NASCAR Heat 2. Let’s just say that Michael got whooped.
While Michael is a veteran driver and should be able to be a sage when it comes to advice, his personality makes it difficult for others to take him seriously. That’s in almost every situation, including those where his thoughts would be beneficial.
The race itself was a lot more like an XFINITY race at Bristol from 15-20 years ago as opposed to 2018. There was a lot of incidents, a lot of contact and some good action. Those who ventured to Bristol on an excellent day likely came away quite pleased.
FOX Sports 1 had Joey Logano back in the booth as Guest Analyst in preparation for his role in the upcoming Drivers Only broadcast at Talladega. Based on his performance on Saturday, he seems to still have a fair amount to learn in order to be decent.
An analyst has to be able to identify what should and what could be done in a number of situations. On Saturday, there was a lot of “I don’t know” coming from the man formerly known as “Sliced Bread.” That’s not going to work.
Admittedly, that is fixable. Anyone who works in the broadcast booth for a TV broadcast or radio broadcast will tell you that preparation is key. Allen Bestwick admits to going over “volumes” of material to prep for each broadcast he works on. Larry McReynolds is well-known for having dozens of pages of notes each week. Back when she was a pit reporter, Shannon Spake would bring a five-subject notebook to the track each week that held her notes. Granted, that was 2009 and her preparation might be different today, but there’s no substitution for prep work.
Obviously, it’s rather difficult to prepare for a broadcast in such a fashion when you’re competing full-time in Cup and you’re a known quantity to everyone in the XFINITY garage. If Logano tried to get notes in such a fashion, no one would give him jack. The teams (with the exception of Team Penske) would think of Logano as some kind of spy.
Preparation is possible to a certain extent for guest analysts. They may have to lean on McReynolds, but it’s possible. Take advantage of that and look it over. You cannot “wing” a race broadcast, even if you’re Clint Bowyer, a man who seems to wing life.
Much like in the Cup race in-between red flags, the action was fast and furious. While Preece won, Saturday’s race will likely be remembered as the coming-out party for Brandon Jones. A year ago at this time (or even six months ago), such a statement would be ludicrous. Getting the No. 19 ride seemed almost like failing upwards for Jones, but he’s really delivered. Perhaps we’ll see more of that form out of Jones later on this season.
Due to the 11 full cautions (the 12th was on the last lap), the race ran over it’s scheduled slot into what was supposed to be a full post-race show. With only 15 minutes remaining instead of 30, viewers got a few interviews and a check of the points before FOX Sports 1 left for Houston.
Overall, this was an enjoyable race to watch, but as noted, Logano needs to put a little more work into his analysis. Saying “I don’t know” doesn’t cut it. Eric Shanks (President of FOX Sports) was probably ripping his hair out in frustration. He knows that’s not good enough. You’re there for your expert opinion. You have to have something to share.
That’s all for this week. Next week is another busy weekend of racing. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series will be at Richmond Raceway for the first Saturday night race of the year. Meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series makes their regular visit to Alabama. TV Listings can be found under the Television tab.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and XFINITY races from Richmond in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. Right now, there is no threat of rain, but it might be a bit cool at night. Definitely a big change from last year’s 90 degree weather. For the Critic’s Annex, we’ll be covering Saturday’s BUBBA Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
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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.