Memorial Day weekend is one of the busiest race weekends of the entire year in motorsports. You have Monaco, Charlotte and Indianapolis. Add Lime Rock for Pirelli World Challenge on top of that and you basically have four days without sleep.
Sunday night saw the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series take on Charlotte Motor Speedway for 600 miles. For the second time in three years, one driver (Kyle Busch) destroyed the field. Thankfully, that wasn’t the only thing that happened.
Pre-race coverage was not exactly all that informative. However, there was a funny piece where Chris Myers interviewed Cash Bowyer (Clint’s son) and Owen Larson (Kyle’s son). It was actually enjoyable, if only because Cash seems like he’s going to be just like Clint in more than just looks.
NASCAR RaceDay saw Regan Smith sit down with Matt Kenseth for an interview about his return to Roush Fenway Racing. For lack of better words, Kenseth seemed…non-plussed. He calmly explained what happened when he left the team in 2012, which apparently devastated Jack Roush. I suppose that’s just Kenseth’s personality in general, but the lack of emotion here is striking. Kenseth’s return to Roush Fenway Racing is likely not just going through the motions, but this interview could make viewers think that it is.
Not being in the race car didn’t really affect him. He was happy with whatever would have happened. Mark Martin pitched the idea of him returning to Roush Fenway Racing first before Roush became involved.
The race effectively saw Kyle Busch run off and hide for much of the night. Could he have been beaten? I don’t know. No one ever put him in a legitimate situation where he had to fight somebody on merit all night. The crew won him the race off pit road every time under caution. He would then blow everyone away on the restart and that was that.
Despite having only nine lead changes in the race, the FOX crew tried to sell the overall competitiveness of the race more this year than in the past. Realistically, there was a good amount of side-by-side racing for position. Just none of that was at the front of the field. There is some promise here of more competitive racing, it just didn’t happen on this night.
During the final stage on Sunday night, FOX rolled out what they called an “unlimited break.” It was a commercial break in name only. In reality, Coca-Cola stepped up to sponsor a block of the telecast while the action continued. It reminded me of watching soccer, to be honest. Here in the United States, professional soccer was pretty much a non-story prior to World Cup USA94. There, you saw commercial-free halves of soccer for the first time in the United States, presented by certain sponsors. That’s effectively what you had here. If that’s the future of broadcasting NASCAR races, I could buy into it. Not sure if FOX (or NBC, for that matter) is going to find a lot of takers, though.0
Since the race took four hours and 23 minutes to run (apparently, just about average), there was very little time for post-race coverage. Viewers only got interviews with Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. in addition to points and results before FOX left the air.
Overall, Busch pulled off of the largest butt-kickings in recent memory on Sunday night. It seems like FOX realized this early on and made a point to show as much racing for position as they could since the race at the front was a dud. It’s clear that they decided to sell the action that they had. As a result, the finished product featured a little more racing for position than a normal Coca-Cola 600 would have had.
Sunday marked the 54th and final time (for now) that ABC will broadcast the Indianapolis 500. The occasion passed with some fanfare.
To commemorate ABC’s time airing the race, Paul Page was brought in to voice over a montage of great moments from ABC’s time covering the event. It was an interesting look back through history. It was also one of the only references to the fact that the race moves to NBC for 2019.
One of the big stories of the day, as you can imagine, was Danica Patrick going at it for the final time. Prior to the race, ESPN aired a sit-down Patrick had with Hannah Storm. Here, Patrick talks about her first start at Indianapolis in 2005 and how easy racing at Indianapolis seemed to be at the time. She also talked a little about her legacy.
The idea of things being easy for Patrick in 2005 actually makes sense. It really did look easy for her that year. Also, Todd Harris. Heck no. That guy annoyed me on a regular basis with his commentary, much of which was blatantly pro-Danica at the time. That’s a situation where you’re happy that Marty Reid takes over the play-by-play duties, which is what happened back then. For what it’s worth, I did like Harris on World’s Strongest Man broadcasts before ESPN lost the rights.
Also of note, Patrick didn’t get an insane amount of coverage during the race. Her seventh-place starting spot was as high as she got. She finished the first lap outside of the top 10 and never got back in. She was treated as if she was another driver out there. If this were 2005, they would have put her on a giant pedestal. Those days are long gone, thankfully. Nothing against Patrick, but that got old fast.
The new aero kit for 2018 made for a very different race as compared to previous years. It was not quite as competitive, although there were still 30 lead changes. It was hard to run with anyone. Ed Carpenter early on seemed to be able to pull away from the pack with ease.
The first yellow flew on lap 55 when Takuma Sato ran in the back of a slow-running James Davison. Davison had qualified 19th but was way off the pace before the wreck. The booth admonished Davison and his team for not doing something about the situation, which was warranted. Eddie Cheever was likely the most critical here.
It’s surprising that INDYCAR didn’t black flag him and force him to pit road. They’ve done that before in the race. The Lotus-engined cars (Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi) in 2012 are one example. Arie Luyendyk Jr., when not betraying women on reality shows, is another.
For a good chunk of the race, there really wasn’t all that battling for position shown on the broadcast. It seems like there was too much focus on the very front. Yes, there were 30 lead changes, but my notes indicate that more than two-thirds of them came during pit sequences. As a result, we didn’t see all that much racing for position, aside from Alexander Rossi single-handedly putting himself into contention late.
Post-race coverage was actually quite brief. Viewers only got interview with the top two finishers (Will Power and Ed Carpenter). We also heard from Power’s wife Liz. Knowing that we’re talking about ESPN at Indianapolis, that isn’t necessarily surprising, but it does detract a little.
You’d expect ESPN to do something special on sign-off from Indianapolis. I thought they were going to do something like that. They did bupkis. By all indications, ESPN is sad to see the race go, but they seemed quite cold about it. Perhaps things would have been different had the race not ended right up against the end of their timeslot.
It’s arguable that there’s no real point in giving advice to an outlet that has one more weekend covering INDYCAR, but we’re doing it anyway. Please be more inclusive in your broadcasts. Fans tune in to watch racing for position and quite frankly, ESPN didn’t provide all that much.
Also, it seemed like ESPN’s reaction time was not the best on Sunday. It seemed like it took forever for coverage to cut to certain incidents. FOX had a similar issue Sunday night in Charlotte. Not sure what was happening there, but it was noticeable.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series will be at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. They’ll be joined by the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards. Meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series will have a doubleheader at Belle Isle Park that will double as ESPN’s final INDYCAR telecast (for now). They’ll be joined by the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Finally, Sunday is the Le Mans Test Day ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Another really busy race weekend. TV Listings can be found in the TV Schedule.
For next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday, we’ll have critiques of the Cup and XFINITY races from Pocono. This week’s Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter will cover Saturday’s Alsco 300 for the XFINITY Series and the mess known as Thursday night’s General Tire 150.
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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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