All-Star Weekend is typically the time of year where NASCAR likes to throw things out there. In the past, the Monster Energy All-Star Race saw the creation of segments, inversions, eliminations, and mandatory pit stops that required a pen and paper to determine who was going to line up where.
2018 brought even more shenanigans.
Monster Energy Open
Pre-race coverage started at 5 p.m. on Saturday with a couple of driver interviews and an interesting feature on Jonathan “Tig” Willard, jackman on Jamie McMurray’s pit crew. Willard is a former college football player who turned to pit crew work after his football career ended. Here, we learn all about Willard’s selflessness when he saved a family from a burning crossover on the side of the interstate. It was a touching story that shows just what people are capable of doing for complete strangers.
In addition, there was an interesting look at Michael Waltrip’s collection of memorabilia. He apparently owns the car that he won the Winston Select in back in 1996. It’s quite interesting to look at, especially his older helmets. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Michael used to wear the most rudimentary-looking helmets.
Granted, we’re talking about an era in which 90 percent of drivers wore open-faced helmets, but Michael’s seemed cheaper. Also, he might be the only driver I can think of off the top of my head that managed to break the visor off of an open-faced helmet in a crash and walk away from it.
One thing that really didn’t make it into the show was a look at the potential contenders to advance out of the race into the Monster Energy All-Star Race. AJ Allmendinger, who started ninth, seemed to come out of nowhere to win the final stage. No one seemed to predict Allmendinger doing anything. He probably had one of the three or four best cars overall before he hit the wall and fell a lap down due to an unscheduled pit stop.
Obviously, the main story of the evening was the new rules package that was instituted for the race. Instead of a typical intermediate race, viewers saw a rather unusual hybrid race that had never been seen before in Cup. That said, the booth pimped the bejesus of it, way past the point of annoyance. It was ridiculous and drove me nuts.
Mike Joy declared the night to be “gimmick-free.” Yes, some of the gimmicks were in fact removed for this year (eliminations, inversions, mandatory pit stops and the aforementioned average finish gambit). Despite that, this race was not gimmick-free.
The whole rules package for the race was a gigantic gimmick. Apparently, gimmicks are cheaper than actually coming up with a permanent fix. It sounds like no one wants to see real racing anymore at intermediate tracks. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear and watch.
NASCAR has stated that they “…want to get away from Penalty Wednesday.” There is merit to that statement. I view the Penalty Report as simply a weekly occurrence, but everyone would much rather have that stuff done and over with long before Wednesday.
That desire from NASCAR is likely part of the reason why we now have the no-ride height rules. That allows for fewer things to be inspected. Re-instituting a minimum ride height not only might improve the racing, but it may also allow for inspection to go more quickly since a lot of the post-inspection prep might not be necessary. Interestingly, NASCAR is the only place where splitters are completely down to the ground. You don’t see that really anywhere in road racing, even with LMP1 prototypes.
Having ranted about the new package, it did create more passing. Not a revolutionary amount by anyone’s standards, but definitely more than last year. FOX Sports 1 did a decent job in showing some of the on-track action to the viewers.
Viewers did get interviews with the stage winners immediately post-stage and the Fan Vote Winner (Chase Elliott, who can’t seem to win a Cup, hence why he’s won the Fan Vote thrice).
Monster Energy All-Star Race
The early start time on Saturday night does take some getting used to. In most years, the main show in Charlotte goes green sometime after 9 p.m. However, FOX Sports also has rights to the UFC. They were having a Fight Night show in Santiago, Chile Saturday night at 10 p.m., thus the race had to end before then. Santiago is an hour ahead of Charlotte, so the main show started a little after 11 p.m. local time.
Prior to the race, two instances stood out. One was Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon talking about the 1995 Winston, a race that Gordon won and Waltrip had a legitimate chance to win. Then, Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt collided and that was the end of that. While it was never stated in the piece, Waltrip was never the same after that night. He suffered injuries that forced him to relinquish the No. 17 during the Coca-Cola 600 to Jimmy Hensley and began to struggle more and more.
Secondly, FOX Sports handled off Grid Walk duties from Michael Waltrip to Bryson Byrnes (Steve’s son). On paper, that sounds like a disaster, putting a teenage boy with limited experience in charge of a whole segment of a telecast.
In practice, it actually worked well. Is it because a lot of the drivers heavily respected Steve Byrnes that his son was given a substantial amount of respect and thus was able to work competently? Or is it because Michael Waltrip seems to goof off a bunch and annoy people? I’m not sure, to be honest.
However, if FOX Sports were to contact me and tell me that they were putting Bryson on Grid Walk duty for the remainder of the FOX NASCAR season, I’d tell them to do it to it. I know that a lot of my readers really don’t care about pre-race coverage. I believe that it is important to set up the race and for fans to hear from their favorite drivers. Covering races in general is fun. Goofiness is simply not necessary.
Going into the race, there was a lot of discussion about how chaotic it was going to be. For the most part, that really didn’t come to pass. Especially when Kevin Harvick was up front. There was just one stretch at the end of stage No. 3 where the heck went down.
Post-race coverage was fairly brief because the race ended roughly five minutes before the end of the scheduled timeslot. Viewers got four relatively quick post-race interviews before FOX Sports 1 left for Chile. We did hear Kyle Larson admit that he thought Joey Logano tried to intentionally wreck him late in the race, which is interesting. The likelihood of something happening between those two down the line is not high, but it is worth noting.
Overall, the broadcast was incessant in unwarranted praise for the rules package. So, you created passing in the All-Star Race? Ok, but you had to make drastic changes that fundamentally changed the name of the game just to get that. NASCAR shouldn’t have to do that just to get passing on a 1.5-mile quad-oval.
The pimping did affect my enjoyment of the race. I found that annoying and it never stopped being annoying.
The actual coverage itself was decent. Viewers had a pretty good idea of everything that was going on. Then again, both races had only 21 starters. As a result, covering everything would be quite a bit easier with less stories available.
The one aspect of Saturday’s Monster Energy All-Star Race that might have staying power are the tire restrictions. It didn’t take much for teams to run into trouble with their tire allotments for the race. Don’t be shocked if that shows up at some point in the future.
North Carolina Education Lottery 200
Friday night saw the Camping World Truck Series take on Charlotte’s 24-degree high banks…or so the track says they are. The race originally had the largest entry of the year (38 trucks), but rains cut that down to size.
Series-wise, the biggest story of the week was Todd Gilliland finally turning 18 and thus taking over the No. 4 full time. Alan Cavanna took some time to talk to Gilliland about his new full-time gig. As one could imagine, it was a little tough on Gilliland since other drivers were trespassing on his turf.
Also, Jake Olsen, long snapper for USC and the only blind football player in FBS, was on-site to give the pre-race invocation on Friday night. Todd Bodine spent a chunk of the week with Olsen, giving him a ride along in a former Ken Schrader Racing truck and showing him the nuts and bolts of a race weekend. More on that in a couple of weeks at Texas Motor Speedway.
Later on, Olsen joined Vince Welch, Phil Parsons and Adam Alexander in the booth to talk about his experience during the week. It seemed like he really enjoyed himself.
Admittedly, Friday night’s Truck race actually looked a little like the Cup race at times. It was quite competitive with a good amount of passing. The booth was able to point out certain things ahead of the NASCAR officials. For instance, they pointed out the debris that caused the fifth caution four laps before it was thrown.
I did have a couple of gripes with the broadcast. One example is from lap 119 late in the race. NASCAR officially lists the sixth caution as a crash involving five different cars. In practice, it was three separate incidents. One saw Jordan Anderson spin after contact from John Hunter Nemechek. Another saw Austin Wayne Self smack the outside wall. Finally, Matt Crafton was rear ended by Gilliland.
Sounds like a complete mess. The type of instance where you need to take a couple of minutes to show the viewers just what the deuce happened. What did FOX Sports 1 do? Immediately go to commercial, leaving fans somewhat confused for a couple of minutes. It was never really clear what triggered the caution. NASCAR’s official box score technically argues that all three incidents did, despite the fact that the Anderson spin happened first. While yes, FOX Sports 1 needed to air those ads, they could have fleshed everything out before doing so.
Justin Fontaine’s crashed occurred during a side-by-side commercial break. It seems like that incident was a victim of bad placement. Viewers never really saw what happened to cause it. I didn’t even see the crash itself until the closing of the broadcast, when it was shown in a montage of the race. That’s not a very good look.
Also of note, there seemed to be a lot more censored radio chatter on the broadcast. It was like watching an edition of Radioactive on NASCAR RaceHub at times.
Post-race coverage was very brief. Viewers only got interviews with race winner Johnny Sauter and Brandon Jones, who finished third. Normally, the second-place finisher is required to do some kind of interview for TV. Apparently, this was one of those times where it was not required. Had Kyle Busch declined a mandatory interview, he could be fined by NASCAR. Suppose that we’ll find out if that was the case later this week. My guess is that it was not.
Of course, had Cavanna or Hermie Sadler talked to Busch after the race, there is no way that it would have been very in-depth. It probably would have been shorter than his press conference was. Whether he would have been able to keep the S-bombs off television is anyone’s guess. For what it’s worth, I think he would have been able to hold his tongue long enough to complete a three-sentence interview. Given his anger, it would be doubtful if he would have said more than that.
Overall, Friday night’s truck race broadcast brought some good action to viewers. Even though Sauter won, Kyle Busch was likely the star of the show due to having to come back from his various issues in the pits. I’m not sure just how bad his truck was since he was apparently able to mask the No. 51’s deficiencies with his turbo skills.
FOX Sports needs to watch themselves. Don’t be so quick to cut away from coverage. You may miss something that should be quite obvious.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is the sweetest race weekend of the year. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series stays in Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600, the longest race of the year. Meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series has their crown jewel, the Indianapolis 500. There is a blitz of advertising on ESPN networks advertising the race as this is being written. In addition, Formula 1 is in Monaco for the most glamorous of all Grand Prix. That’s just Sunday. You have full license to veg out in front of the TV for 15 hours or more.
In addition, the XFINITY Series returns after their two-week hiatus with one of their biggest races of the year at Charlotte. Pirelli World Challenge will be at Lime Rock Park for three days of activity (up from two) and the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship visits Glen Helen near San Bernardino.
We will have critiques of the Cup, XFINITY and INDYCAR races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex, we’ll have a write-up of the Menards 200 for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards from Toledo Speedway on Sunday.
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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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