Richmond Raceway put on two fairly different races last weekend. One was going to be one of the fastest Cup races ever at Richmond until a series of late cautions. The other was not quite as clean.
Toyota Owners 400
Last weekend’s races were moved back to nighttime in response to fan input. Well, it’s not the track’s fault that it was 90+ degrees during the Cup race last year. What that did do is hurt attendance. Even with all the renovations ongoing, there still really won’t be any shade in the stands.
With FOX’s schedule (Supercross on FOX from Gillette Stadium), plus Baseball on FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports made the decision to start NASCAR RaceDay at 3 p.m. During the show, the primary feature saw Kaitlyn Vincie and Denny Hamlin go back to their former stomping grounds, Larry King Law’s Langley Speedway.
In Vincie’s case, she worked as a reporter for Langley Speedway TV nearly a decade ago. I’m unclear as to how that show worked. A public access weekly show about the action at Langley? It’s not really fleshed out, but it was clear that Vincie was early in her career back then and a bit uncomfortable on camera.
For Hamlin, he raced regularly at Langley Speedway after he graduated out of go-karts. It was quite obvious that the flat short track means a lot to him, hence why Hamlin chose the track to host the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown.
Of note, Hamlin was definitely not a rich kid by any means. He detailed the struggles that his family endured just so he could race late models. We’re talking mortgaging their house, long hours and everything.
During the FOX pre-race, the Hollywood Hotel was eschewed in favor of walking around the introductions. That was held, along with Victory Lane, down in turn 1. The only explanation for that move was to orient fans towards the new Victory Lane that debuts in September. Otherwise, it makes no sense.
The beginning of pre-race seemed like a mess. It seemed like everyone was talking over everyone else. It’s obvious that Chris Myers, Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip aren’t used to hanging around driver introductions. Intros don’t wait for interviews. The drivers must be introduced to the crowd, or they will get penalized. It would look really bad if FOX managed to get someone sent to the rear for missing intros. Literally, anything would have worked better here other than a Digger cartoon.
A couple of quick takeaways. One, the race started an hour earlier than night races at Richmond typically start. I’m not really sure about that move. Richmond is one of the only tracks on the circuit where the local authorities strictly enforce a curfew, though (it’s 11 p.m.). There is no indication that the curfew time changed ahead of the weekend, though.
Also, the race was very clean for the first 350 laps. With a general lack of cautions, FOX cannot stick to their storylines and simply show a few cars on track and wait for shenanigans to go down. The shenanigans were taking a vacation. Early on, there was a good amount of racing for position and FOX did a pretty good job in showing that action. However, as the race continued on, these battles became few and far between because of the long runs. That’s not really FOX’s fault. It’s just reality.
That said, FOX did do a good job in bringing the action to viewers. As compared to recent short track races, viewers seemed to get more side-by-side action. Yes, the race got stretched out, but it was quite enjoyable to watch. Anyone who was there was likely satisfied.
Post-race coverage was marked by Kyle Busch going onto the other side of the catchfence and exchanging high fives with some of the fans. That was legitimately cool. The idea of Busch “turning face” like in pro wrestling has been pitched recently. I wouldn’t describe such a reaction to Kyle Busch winning as a face turn, but it’s clear that he isn’t Public Enemy No. 1 anyone either.
Outside of the requisite Busch coverage, FOX had interviews with Chase Elliott, Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. There was also a check of the points, along with some analysis before FOX left for the local news. There likely would have been more post-race coverage had the late incidents not occurred.
Friday night saw the XFINITY Series take center stage at Richmond. Big bucks were on the line, but the four eligible drivers had to avoid the whammy.
During NASCAR RaceDay, fans were treated to a little bit of time spent with Spencer Gallagher, a man I’ve haven’t had the pleasure of spending time with. He is definitely one with a unique personality. To some, he’s likely annoying. To others, he’s got qualities similar to Noah Gragson. The fun-loving, quirky guy who’s not afraid to be himself. NASCAR needs more of that type of driver these days. Granted, I doubt that Gallagher’s going to run around wearing a shark head anytime soon, but he’ll find his own way going forward. Don’t expect him to DDT anyone in the near future.
So far in 2018, Gallagher has been the most improved driver in the series, claiming one top five (a career-best fifth at Bristol) and four top 10 finishes in the first eight races. He’s legitimately consistent now. On Friday night, Gallagher ran well before having a couple of confrontations with the wall and finishing 17th.
Speaking of Gragson, he made his XFINITY Series debut Friday night. It seems like no one in the booth really knew what to expect out of him. As a result, it came off as shocking that he was in contention to win, even though it probably shouldn’t have been.
In the booth Friday night was Kevin Harvick, getting in some last-minute reps before the Drivers Only broadcast. He did nothing on the broadcast that would indicate that he’s lost anything since last season. When he wants to, Harvick can be the most engaging and informative driver in the garage. That really comes out in his guest analyst work. For the deadline media at the track, they don’t see this side of Harvick…ever. If he wins, he’s jacked up and very pleased. If not, then he can often be short with his responses.
There was a bit of confusion when the second caution came out on lap 64. It seemed like no one knew why it was out until the replay showed Josh Bilicki smacking the wall in turn 1. It was as if no one was paying attention. FOX does keep this really nice looking scoring monitor in the booth for the commentators to use:
Unofficial results, fun short track race!! pic.twitter.com/xhD59jOfUQ
— Darrell Waltrip (@AllWaltrip) April 22, 2018
Note: Monitor is from post-race Saturday night. The broadcast booth would have a similar monitor in play during the XFINITY races as well.
The monitor is there for a reason, but it cannot be a crutch. You have your own eyes and a bunch of monitors at your disposal. Make use of them.
Later on, Ryan Preece called into the broadcast to talk about the previous week after his big win at Bristol. The takeaway here is that there wasn’t all that much to tell. While he was obviously overjoyed, there was work to do. He’s got a Whelen Modified to prepare for this weekend’s NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler at Stafford Motor Speedway.
Preece is clearly dedicated to his craft and wants nothing more than to win. The money doesn’t change him in any way. Maybe it makes him a little less nervous because he can pay off debts. He won’t be back in the series (unless someone else taps him) for another couple of months, but he’ll be plenty busy in the meantime.
With no Cup regulars in the field, viewers were treated to a fairly competitive race in which the result was in doubt right up to the checkered flag. There was a good amount of side-by-side action, not just at the front. However, unlike the Cup race, the coverage was a little too focused on the very front for my liking.
The ToyotaCare 250 broadcast definitely had some interesting moments. For instance, Daniel Hemric looked like he was in good position early on (winning stage No. 1), then he had tire issues. The booth was admonishing him to bring it in and pit, but he insisted on staying out to try to make it to the end of the stage. After losing a bunch of time, the tire went down a couple of laps short of the break and NASCAR didn’t throw the yellow. As a result, he lost way more time than he would have had he pitted. That was a mess all around for the No. 21 team.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is Talladega. There is a good chance that your stomach will churn during the race. I know that will be the case for me. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series will be in action there, along with the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards on Friday. Formula 1 will be in Baku for the Grand Prix of Azerbaijan. TV Listings are in the Television tab at the top of the page.
Remember that next Saturday is the annual Drivers Only broadcast for the XFINITY Series Sparks Energy 300 at Talladega. You know what that means. Harvick will be on play-by-play in the booth with Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano alongside. Bowyer has been much improved this year in the analyst’s role, while Logano leaves something to be desired.
Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones will be back as pit reporters with Darrell Wallace Jr. joining in on the act. Jones was a pleasant surprise on pit road last year at Pocono. Meanwhile, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will assume the Larry McReynolds role in the Hollywood Hotel alongside broadcast host Brad Keselowski.
As compared to last year, on-track activity won’t run up against the broadcast. As a result, drivers should be on the broadcast from the very start. That means that Keselowski and Stenhouse will actually do something, as opposed to Hamlin and Danica Patrick last year.
We will provide critiques of the Cup, XFINITY and ARCA broadcasts from Talladega for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex, we’ll have a combination of the two-day Honda Grand Prix of Alabama and the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers ARCA 200 from Salem. Urinal relations will be referenced.
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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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