In the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, road races have become must see TV over the past few years. Bumping and banging was the norm and drivers seemed to be more willing to root and gash than on short tracks.
Then, stage racing showed up.
Our own Bryan Gable wrote this week about how they’ve negatively affected the racing since. In my opinion, it’s all predictable pit windows now and that’s effectively killed the excitement.
That said, we have 218 miles of racing from Sonoma to look at and 200 miles of truck racing from Gateway. Both races, while failing to meet expectations still produced some level of interest in their own way.
Toyota/Save Mart 350k
This past weekend brought the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to Sonoma Raceway for their 30th visit to the hilly road course. Pit strategy was the name of the game on Sunday (June 24).
Plus, FOX wrapped up their MENCS coverage as well. But if you were looking for some kind of FOX season wrap-up Sunday at Sonoma, you came to the wrong place. That was done during the post-Happy Hour edition of NASCAR RaceHub Weekend Edition on Friday.
Pre-race coverage was once again not really focused on previewing the 110-lap race. However, there was a bright spot. FOX aired a feature on Austin Petty and his relationship with his late brother, Adam.
Austin and Adam were basically best friends that shared a bedroom and spent loads of time together. As a result, this feature gave viewers a new look at Adam that I don’t recall ever being previously broached. It was truly an excellent piece.
I wish I could say the same for Sunday’s race coverage. Unfortunately, it had a number of issues. Let’s just start from the beginning. There seemed to be a very high amount of in-car camera usage during the race. Yes, Sonoma Raceway is a very interesting place, but there’s a decent amount of action going on. Sticking with in-car views means that you miss out on a lot of that action.
At the front of the field, there really wasn’t all that much action on Sunday. Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick had them covered, for lack of better words. Further back, there was at least something interesting to look at, but we only saw so much of that.
Then, we have the cramps issue. Yes, Ryan Blaney’s car lost its power steering during the race. That is without a doubt true. Yes, he dropped way the heck back as a result of it. Later on in the race, the leaders passed Blaney and Mike Joy noted that he was dealing with cramps and had stopped to rest his weary arms (my words, not his).
That was not true. Blaney had made a regular pit stop but had gotten busted for speeding (not noted on the broadcast since Blaney was so far back). As a result, Blaney had been forced to make a pass-through.
After the race, Blaney denied that he cramped up.
I never said I had cramps… https://t.co/xWxcWfJCQK
— Ryan Blaney (@Blaney) June 24, 2018
We came to pit road for gas and tires. And I was speeding. So I had to do a pass through. https://t.co/aQYPltToJd
— Ryan Blaney (@Blaney) June 24, 2018
Joy replied directly to Blaney on Twitter and indicated that they had misinterpreted the information that they had been given on Blaney’s situation. Later on, Joy apologized.
We were not told @Blaney returned to pit under penalty. We overstated his discomfort.
— Mike Joy (@mikejoy500) June 25, 2018
That was a bit of a mess. Yes, Joy apologized for FOX screwing up, but they should have taken the time during the race to clarify what happened. Maybe they could have gotten Jeremy Bullins on-air to talk about what was going on since Blaney was fairly strong early in the race before the issue arose.
Also, NASCAR listed Cole Whitt as failing to finish due to a wreck. It doesn’t appear that a wreck happened at all. Instead, Whitt apparently broke a shock mount and went behind the wall during a commercial break. There was no reference made to this on the broadcast.
Since the race ended so quickly (it’s the second fastest Cup race by average speed at Sonoma), there was plenty of post-race coverage. Viewers got interviews with seven drivers, plus the winning crew chief (Cole Pearn) and car owner (Barney Visser).
There was also some discussion about the last-lap issues for Daniel Suárez after a spin. Long story short, FOX did not show the spin live because they were too busy completely focusing on Truex for the final lap. That was despite the fact that he started the final lap with a 14.7 second lead. Had he actually run at full speed over the final few laps, it probably could have been the better part of a 20 second lead.
Yes, Suárez was 50 seconds behind Truex, but that doesn’t matter. There was some good action there that likely should have been shown, but FOX chose not to for whatever reason. Had they shown that action, the actual broadcast would have looked livelier than it was.
Despite the fact that the spin occurred, we went through more than 20 minutes of post-race coverage before the spin was broached on the broadcast. Knowing that Suárez was running in the top 10 when that happened, the whole situation comes off as a slight.
Overall, Sunday’s broadcast from Sonoma was far too focused on Truex and Harvick. It was as if everyone else was just a pawn in their game. I guess Clint Bowyer would have garnered at least Rook status with his run, though.
Had FOX ventured away from the Truex and Harvick show a little more often, viewers would have seen more action for position. Maybe you would have gotten some of the physical content that so many fans desire. As it stands, it just looked boring.
That brings us to the end of the 18th season of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing on FOX. 2018 saw Jeff Gordon grow into his analyst’s role. Quite simply, he’s way more comfortable now. Mike Joy is still solid, but Sunday proves that he’s not infalliable. Ultimately, it’s quite difficult to call a race. There’s a lot of help that goes into putting together a good broadcast. If that information isn’t perfect, you look unprepared.
For next year, it appears that there will be no changes of note to the booth. While Jeff Gordon’s contract was up at the end of this year, Sports Business Daily’s Adam Stern is indicating that he’ll be back for another go-around.
⚡@FoxSports' three-man @NASCARonFox booth — play-by-play announcer @MikeJoy500 and analysts @AllWaltrip and @JeffGordonWeb — are all expected to return for the 2019 season, a source close to Fox tells @SBJSBD.
— Gordon's deal was expiring after '18 but is now close to renewal. pic.twitter.com/YuXiGqg0LD
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) June 25, 2018
For many of our readers, the idea of Gordon being back for next year is fine. Having Darrell Waltrip back for year No. 19 might elicit a different reaction. It does appear that Waltrip has worn out his welcome to a certain degree with fans, but he does have seniority on his side. At 71, Waltrip’s in that rarified air where he seemingly can do whatever he wants. For now, it appears that he wants to stay with FOX. If that’s so, they’ll likely let him stay until he doesn’t want to anymore. Personally, he seems like he’s fallen into self-parody to a certain degree. He likes to hear himself talk at times. Despite that, he can still be helpful.
Villa Lighting Delivers the Eaton 200
On Saturday night, the Camping World Truck Series traveled to Gateway Motorsports Park for 160 laps of action. The result was a very interesting race.
Unfortunately for race fans, Saturday night’s race was yet another event done remotely. The booth commentators (Vince Welch, Phil Parsons and Todd Bodine) were back in Charlotte for their call. It’s still something that they have to get used to. You can’t use the same terminology if you’re not at the venue. Of note, the press release for last weekend’s coverage indicates that this was the third of eight remote broadcasts for the series this season. The release did not indicate which five of the remaining 13 races would be broadcast in this fashion.
With the booth commentators back in Charlotte, that means that the pit reporters, their cameramen and runners have to pick up the slack. By all means, they brought their A-game Saturday. There was good coverage of Ben Rhodes’ various issues in the pits (still don’t quite understand how his right front tire went flat on the first lap of the race) and the various pit stops on the evening.
One of the big stories in Gateway was the ongoing sponsorship issues for Brett Moffitt and the Hattori Racing Enterprises team. They don’t know if they can go to Chicagoland this weekend. As of this writing, they are entered in the race, but don’t have a sponsor listed on the entry list. We’ll have to see what happens.
On Saturday night, Moffitt actually had one of the best trucks in town. Even despite backing into the wall in turn 2, Moffitt still had a chance to win late. Then, he spun out on the final restart. The constant reminders of HRE’s plight did get a little annoying at times. That said, their situation is definitely far from idea.
The on-track action Saturday was excellent. While the number of lead changes in the race was only average (seven), there always seemed to be some great action on tap. FOX Sports 1 did a good job in bringing that action to the viewers. Unlike on Sunday afternoon in Sonoma, the race was not completely focused on the leaders. There was more going on than just the battle at the front. Viewers got to see those battles.
Unlike Sunday’s race, the Villa Lighting Delivers the Eaton 200 ran significantly long due to nine cautions and a long red flag. As a result, post-race coverage was limited. Viewers only got interviews with the top two finishers (Justin Haley and Johnny Sauter) before FOX Sports 1 left Illinois.
Overall, the truck race was likely more enjoyable to watch. There was more action going on than just with the leaders and it seemed like the producers were taking great pains to bring that action to viewers. That said, there are obvious limitations to remote production. It shows at times.
Believe me, as the sports car racing expert for Frontstretch, I’m used to this setup. Every IMSA race since Sebring in 2016 has been done remotely. Greg Creamer and Calvin Fish are never at the track during the races (although one or both of them might show up in the days prior). It’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be when it was proposed (I seriously proposed that on-site writers offer to provide pit reporting services to the broadcasts at the time).
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is a quadruple-header at Chicagoland Speedway. The quadruple header weekend begins Thursday night with the Scott 150 for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards. Then, NASCAR joins the fold. The Joliet track no longer starts off the playoffs. Now, it starts off the NBC portion of the season. Should be interesting.
Meanwhile, IMSA teams will descend on what will be a very hot Watkins Glen International for the Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen. While it’ll likely be nice outside at the start of the race, the high temperature Sunday is currently predicted to be 96 degrees. With the race ending at 3:45 p.m., that could get tough. TV listings can be found under the Television drop down at the top of the page.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and Camping World Truck Series races from Chicagoland for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. The Critic’s Annex this week will cover Friday night’s PapaNicholas Coffee 150 from Gateway.
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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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