Martinsville is normally a pretty exciting weekend. A lot of race fans and media members are typically jacked up about it. We had seven people at the track last weekend. Then, the racing started. The new rules and a strong effort from Brad Keselowski resulted in one of the least competitive Cup races at Martinsville in a number of years.
Sunday marked the first of eight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races that will air on FOX Sports 1 this season. On the surface, things didn’t look all that different, but Sunday’s broadcast was a bit tough at times.
The most significant issue that occurred was early on when Ross Chastain lost his axle. With the axle out and grease on the track, a number of drivers lost control. The kind of conditions that Dale Earnhardt craved late in the 1995 Save Mart Supermarkets 300.
FOX Sports 1 noticed the fluid on track in Turn 3 once the yellow came out and they were able to look at replays. Then, they found the axle. The immediate quest was to figure out where it came from. For some reason, the booth was convinced that it had come out of Clint Bowyer’s No. 14. The rationale appeared to be that one of the dust caps came off, which would allow the axle to slide out. That was note the case.
Given the stress that racing at Martinsville puts on the drivetrain, you’re not going to last very long with an axle missing. Sure enough, Chastain almost immediately went to the garage after this happened. FOX apparently missed that and spent a significant amount of time trying to figure it out. Admittedly, I figured out that it was Chastain only by checking the pylon and noting that he was eight laps down. Prior to the failure, Chastain was on the tail end of the lead lap after having taken the wavearound at the end of Stage No. 1.
This whole mess could have been avoided had FOX Sports 1 simply taken the time to actually look around and check to see that everyone was where they were supposed to be. Having the axle come of Chastain’s No. 15 and the grease come out to play would have made a sound, there likely would have been sparks when the axle hit the SAFER Barrier, and there likely would have been some kind of smoke at play as well. You have to look around.
Ultimately, this travesty is just another occurrence that comes out of simply not being inclusive enough on the broadcasts. Anyone who has watched NASCAR races over the last couple of years knows that Chastain is no patsy. He’s a good driver. Probably better than the team that he’s driving for. Pace-wise, Sunday was likely Chastain’s most competitive race outside of Daytona in the No. 15. Watching a broadcast these days, you’d think he’s the racing equivalent of the Washington Generals.
Basically, what that means is that if FOX Sports 1 had kept a closer eye on drivers that weren’t up front, someone would have noticed the failure in real time. Given my knowledge of pit reporting, the reporters might not have a complete package of stories regarding Chastain’s No. 15, but would have a general idea of how the car was mechanically. Perhaps a concern along these lines could have come up before the race. I cannot find which one of the pit reporters was assigned to Chastain (the assignments were not made public prior to the race), but it would have been on that particular pit reporter to figure out what happened.
As is the norm when NASCAR travels to Martinsville, there’s plenty of hot dog talk. Having never been to Martinsville personally, I’ve never had their dogs before (Note: There was one time that Daytona International Speedway brought in Martinsville hot dogs to serve the media for lunch, but you couldn’t get what you wanted on them like you can in Martinsville. As a result, I chose to pass instead of making a mess).
There were constant references to the hot dogs all weekend. Admittedly, a little annoying, but you can tell that everyone seems to enjoy them. Well, everyone except The Pockrass. He apparently quit them for good quite a while ago.
He told me in October he’d rather sit in the stall next to Jimmy Spencer than eat another Martinsville hot dog. So good luck lol
— Dustin Albino (el-bee-no) (@DustinAlbino) March 22, 2019
The idea of sharing a (likely) small bathroom with a gaseous Jimmy Spencer where (apparently) everyone in the Media Center can hear everything that goes on in there is not exactly appetizing. Neither is hanging out in the broadcast booth with three grown men who have just had hot dogs. Broadcast booths vary significantly based on where the race is taking place. Places like Daytona have huge booths. Charlotte has a rather cramped setup. I discovered last fall that the dual setup that NBC Sports has used is not necessarily just for show. The current broadcast booth at Martinsville only dates back to 1998, so there might be a little more room to spare.
That said, I don’t think I want to hear about your farts on live television. That’s better served for a good episode of Ren & Stimpy than a race broadcast. I have nothing against Ren & Stimpy (I have the whole Nickelodeon series on DVD), but I’m sure that a bunch of fans were none too pleased with such bloviating on-air.
Also, on Lap 422, Darrell Waltrip suggested that Chase Elliott should let Kyle Busch go while battling for second. This was somewhat baffling, not just for viewers at home, but to the booth as well. Jeff Gordon stated, “inside of 100 laps to go, I wouldn’t let anyone go.” That’s what I would say as well. Waltrip’s answer to that was either Elliott should let him go, or that Busch would force the issue.
This whole exchange was weird. The goal is to win the race, or get as close to it as you can. 78 laps at Martinsville under green, assuming an average lap time of 21 seconds, takes less than 28 minutes to run. Maybe in 1978, you could have gotten away with that since parts weren’t necessarily as reliable, but not today. It simply is not a winning strategy to lay over in the final 20 percent of a race.
Post-race coverage was pretty good. I still don’t understand the whole “gotta interview the winner twice” thing. It’s weird. With a decent amount of time, viewers got a number of post-race interviews, in addition to a point check and post-race analysis.
Also, a controversy erupted after it appeared that someone from the grandstands threw something in the apparent general direction of Daniel Suarez while Ryan Blaney was being interviewed. Neither Suarez or his PR representative noticed who threw it, but they got splashed pretty good. Regardless of whether or not there was malicious intent, that is not a good look for NASCAR.
Prior to the race, there was a nice one-on-one interview where Jamie McMurray had the chance to interview his former teammate Kyle Larson. Here, the discussion was based around how Larson will remember being Jamie’s teammate and how things are different with Kurt Busch in the No. 1. For McMurray, this was more or less his first major interview that he’s conducted. It seems like he did a pretty good job. We cannot discount the fact that Larson is very familiar with McMurray after having spent the last five years around him, but he got some good information. While things seem to be going decently for the Ganassi team at the moment (Sunday might have been a step back), the atmosphere is a bit different now. Maybe a little less jovial. We’ll have to see whether that plays a role at all this season.
Overall, this race was rather frustrating to watch at times. The action at the front was lacking, but you don’t need me to tell you that. The three lead changes for the whole race is pretty telling.
There was a good amount of racing for position, and depending on the time of the race, you got to see a decent amount of it. As the race wound on, that focus narrowed significantly to the point where racing for position was shunned late. That’s not really a good look. I can’t be everywhere. This race weekend is completely impossible for me to ever attend, so I rely on the TV broadcast to be my eyes. Evidently, I guess I need better eyes.
Compared to a number of the more recently-built tracks (or even those that have been around for a while like Daytona), Martinsville is in a much more quaint, down-home setting. The broadcast Sunday started off with footage from Clarence’s Steak and Seafood House, which is located approximately two miles south of the track on U.S. Route 220 in Ridgeway. It’s a small-town restaurant that appears to have a lot of fans, including a couple of dudes that apparently mentioned it on the NASCAR Officials’ radio channel at some point Sunday.
The point here is that Martinsville is not your garden variety race. Normal tactics that might be used at a place like Texas next week might not work. You might have to go a little deeper in order to get the good stuff. I don’t think that FOX Sports 1 really did that on Sunday.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, all three of NASCAR’s National Series will be at Texas Motor Speedway. Of note, the Truck race Friday night used to be in November. In addition, Formula 1 returns to action in Bahrain, while the Intercontinental GT Challenge brings a disappointing grid of teams (20, as opposed to 32 last October) to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. TV Listings are in the Television tab.
We will provide critiques of the NASCAR broadcasts from Texas in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex on Thursday, we’ll take a look at Saturday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series action from Martinsville.
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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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