Going into Sunday’s (Oct. 21) Hollywood Casino 400, it was a little difficult to figure out what we were going to see. The first two races of the weekend at Kansas Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval produced a number of crashes for various reasons. ARCA cars tend to be a bit squirrelly at intermediate tracks; Friday night’s race (Oct. 19) was no exception. XFINITY cars are a bit easier to control although that race got turned upside down in the first 20 seconds.
Then, you had the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. A few days prior to the race (before the wrecks), I thought the event was going was going to be quite clean. The wrecks on Friday and Saturday obscured that thinking, but I stuck with it. Sure enough, it was a clean race.
But was it a clean broadcast?
Hollywood Casino 400
Sunday brought the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series back to Kansas Speedway for their second visit of the year. The playoffs were in full swing and everyone was a little nervous, given the cool weather. Ultimately, the nerves were somewhat unnecessary.
The race played out as one of the calmer races that I can remember at Kansas. It’s definitely the smoothest and most incident free there since the track was reconfigured.
The playoff drivers were the primary story pretty much all day and there was very little that could have changed that. Paul Menard had a chance to throw himself into the conversation, but contact on pit road with Trevor Bayne took him right out of the hunt. He would finish 32nd.
The truth of the matter actually came out during the broadcast. A statement was made during the race that the current package is perfect for driving around an intermediate track. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best package to race with. Being able to adjust your own track bar in real time takes some of the field movement away and likely spreads the field out more. Passing gets more and more difficult when it really shouldn’t be. Next year will see the driver-adjustable track car go out the window (along with a bunch of additional, unnecessary changes).
As a result of this “perfect setup,” Sunday’s race was not the most exciting affair. NBC had to help build this race up.
There was some decent racing for position on Sunday, but it was few and far between. That isn’t necessarily NBC’s fault. If the field gets really spread out, it’s hard to race for position.
With a lack of racing for position, playoff coverage more or less filled the void. The big story entering the race was the battle for the final couple of spots in the Round of 8. Honestly, the whole “Points as they run” setup doesn’t really work as well since we have stages now. It’s skewed until after Stage No. 2 is complete. Regardless, it seemed like Martin Truex Jr. (despite entering with an 18-point cushion) was going to have trouble moving on. Ultimately, that wasn’t the case.
Since the race ended up being the fastest Cup race ever run at Kansas, there was plenty of time for post-race coverage. Viewers got a number of post-race interviews and plenty of post-race analysis.
Chase Elliott got the lion’s share of the coverage since he naturally won the race. However, he only crept into the hunt late in the race. He really wasn’t a factor early on, but came to the forefront late. The dominant drivers on the day were Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano. They combined to lead 176 laps, but were nowhere at the finish. Harvick just barely hung on to the lead lap at the checkers after his penalty, while Logano had a bad pit stop at the end of Stage No. 2 and never recovered. In Logano’s case, that might be an element of the current rules more than anything.
Overall, NBC really wasn’t given all that much to work with on Sunday. It’s a shame. It’s also the exact same thing I wrote last week after Talladega. Having a more exciting race makes NBC’s job easier. Here, they had clean air and not a whole lot of action up front to contend with. The whole race had no more than two passes for the lead under green outside of pit stop sequences. It’s admittedly hard to make such an event look good.
Kansas Lottery 300
Unlike Sunday’s Cup race, Saturday’s 300-mile XFINITY Series race was the first race of the Round of 8. No one qualified for Homestead since John Hunter Nemechek hit paydirt.
Naturally, the playoffs were still the main topic of discussion. Heck, there’s only three more XFINITY races remaining now. Everyone has to be at their best. Viewers got to hear from five of the contenders prior to the race.
Saturday’s race will probably be best remembered for two things. One is Nemechek’s victory. The other is the big wreck on the first lap.
Of note, the lack of ambient sound on the above video from NASCAR’s YouTube channel is not an issue with NBC’s broadcast. They had full audio on Saturday. I suppose replays can be treated similar to music recordings. There are different channels of audio that contain microphones, guitars, drums, synths, etc. In some forms of fiction, that can extend to subliminal advertising like that seen in the Josie and the Pussycats movie. Perhaps someone turned everyone down except the commentators for some reason and forgot to turn it back up? That will go down as a whoopsies on the part of NASCAR’s Digital Media wing.
I suppose Rick Allen said it best. He noted that they had gone over all of the potential scenarios that could have happened on Saturday. The notes that the booth commentators get in the days leading up to the race help a fair amount in concocting those scenarios. Half of the playoff contenders crashing out on the first lap of the race is pretty far removed from anything that would be considered normal. Nobody expected that.
Naturally, NBC had to cover this big story. Viewers got plenty of replays of the crash, which was really a giant “racing deal.” I can just hear Rece Davis talking about it on rpm2night like it was yesterday. We also got a number of interviews with those eliminated. Overall, this coverage was perfectly fine.
After that wreck and subsequent ones that eliminated Brandon Jones and Spencer Gallagher, the field was looking a little thin. Quite simply, this was an opportunity for some of the smaller teams to get some more coverage and be able to help themselves. That didn’t really come to pass.
Ryan Sieg, who finished as the first driver a lap down in ninth, made light of this issue after the race on Twitter.
Calling out @NASCARonNBC for some awful coverage of our team and many others today. Lots of good finishes for small teams and not even a mention. Not good for sponsors. But good thing they interviewed @ColeCuster post race for his gutsy effort with no power steering in 26th ?
— Ryan Sieg Racing (@RyanSiegRacing) October 20, 2018
Sieg’s comments go back to another topic that I’ve talked about a number of times over the years. While it’s not necessarily part of the deal that NBC and FOX signed with NASCAR, they are the primary way in which teams can get publicity. Coverage in-race is key because it can help some of the teams find additional backing.
Back in the days before series-wide TV deals, you’d often hear commentators reference teams that were having sponsorship issues that were having good runs and suggest that it could be a good deal for someone to jump onboard. While I’m not suggesting that NBC do that, I do suggest a more inclusive approach to the race broadcasts. With that approach, a couple of things could result. One is that coverage could be spread out more equitably. Another is that you wouldn’t have so many lulls in the race because the action at the very front is thin.
I’ll fully admit that the second possibility was not really in play Saturday. Much of the race ended up being a swell duel between Nemechek and Daniel Hemric.
For Nemechek, NBC painted the race as something of a must-win for him. I personally found that to be a bit far-fetched, but there’s no doubt that Nemechek has been feeling some pressure. Kyle Larson did Larson things in his time in the car, winning four times. That was more or less expected. Nemechek was the second driver and had been solid, but nothing spectacular. Then, a wild Ross Chastain entered the scene with a three-race deal. He led the most laps at Darlington on debut before shenanigans broke out. Then, he won at Las Vegas and finished second at Richmond.
Granted, Chastain’s no rook, but he’s primarily raced lesser equipment in his time in the series. I knew going in that he was going to surprise some people, but a lot of people were in the dark about what he could really do. The runs impressed a number of people, including DC Solar CEO Jeff Carpoff. Nemechek hasn’t driven with the DC Solar colors, but he clearly believed that he needed to step up.
Speaking of Chastain, he had a rather bizarre incident on Saturday. He got some damage in the first-lap crash that I’m somewhat confused about because he was already at the back of the field due to an engine change. Later on, the hood flew off on the backstretch and was run over by at least one fellow driver.
My guess is that the hood flew off during a side-by-side commercial break. NBC aired a replay of it when Chastain was lapped. I find it incredibly strange that NASCAR didn’t throw a yellow here. I can understand wanting to cut down on debris cautions (after all, that’s why we have the Damaged Vehicle Policy that should not exist), but debris cautions for actual factual debris was never an issue for me.
The main issue for me and a lot of fans were the so-called “Mystery Cautions” that were described as debris cautions, but we never saw anything. I can only recall a couple of instances of hoods flying off during races in the decades’ worth of races that I’ve watched. I can only recall one other time in which a hood flying off a car didn’t draw a caution. That was in the closing laps of the 2003 Pepsi 400 at Daytona when Robby Gordon’s hood flew off and ended up in the grandstands.
The circumstances there were obviously much different as there was no debris on the track from that (despite obvious injuries in the stands). Here, there was debris on the track. Apparently, that debris cleared off enough that NASCAR felt comfortable not neutralizing things. Interesting.
Even with all the incidents, there were still time left in the NBC timeslot for some post-race coverage. Sieg was a bit miffed about the interview that aired with Cole Custer, who was caught up in the big wreck and finished 26th, 19 laps down. While I have no doubt that Sieg would have liked that airtime for himself and his team, I don’t believe he would have gotten it anyway. I would have preferred some more coverage of some of the other high finishers, such as Shane Lee, who had a career day with a fourth-place finish.
Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 was the more enjoyable of the two NBC races from Kansas to watch. There was more activity to watch, more action and the event just seemed more interesting. Having said that, NBC probably should have shared the wealth a little more, especially late in the race once Nemechek gapped everyone.
That’s all for this week. Coming up this weekend is one of the last weekends of the year with significant action outside of NASCAR. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be in action at Martinsville to start the Round of 8. The Camping World Truck Series will join in as well. Formula 1 travels the 1000 miles from Austin to Mexico City for the Grand Prix of Mexico at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. More likely than not, Lewis Hamilton will clinch his fifth World Championship Sunday.
In addition, there is a good amount of sports car racing on tap. The European Le Mans Series has their season finale in Portugal this weekend, while the top GT racers will be at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for the second annual California 8 Hours. Television listings can be found here.
We will provide critiques of both MENCS and Camping World Truck Series action from Martinsville in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. Note that Kurt Busch is scheduled to make his broadcast debut for Saturday’s race (Oct. 27). Seems intriguing. We’ll have to see how he does.
The Critic’s Annex this week has a couple of selections that I can choose from, including the recent sixth edition of Racing Roots, which covered Darrell Wallace Jr. We’ll have something interesting for you in the Newsletter later this week.
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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.