I can only speak for myself, but this was one of the most tiring weekends in recent years that didn’t involve covering the Rolex 24 at Daytona. A Cup race that started nearly four hours late due to rain, combined with weekend edit responsibilities and a number of major sports car series we (read: I) cover here at Frontstretch being in action and you’re in a situation where you really don’t get much rest. Even the Labor Day holiday doesn’t provide a respite. In reality, it’s a day that helps me catch up.
Ever since the Throwback Weekend program was started at Darlington Raceway a few years ago, it’s become a favorite for a lot of people. I wish I could go someday (I already have a guaranteed free place to stay), but it just doesn’t work with my schedule.
That said, there was a general bit of joy for much of the day Sunday. That is, until it started raining. NBCSN didn’t really talk all that much about it before it started, but it looked ominous. This wasn’t your average thundershower since it moved over the track from the Northeast.
That led to a delay of nearly four hours before the race even started. How did NBCSN kill that time? In a number of different ways. First, we had driver interviews. There were some gems here. Clint Bowyer went into the stands (with Dave Burns) and interviewed a fan named Kyle who stayed out in the pouring rain because he came down from Ohio to see some racing. He got some. Just watching that interview, you could see the joy on Bowyer’s face the whole time. Given the way that his season has gone, you don’t see much out of him. I tried to interview him after the race at Pocono in June in the bullpen area and his response sounded like someone that was defeated (mind you, he finished fifth that day).
You also had an interesting exchange when Marty Snider went into one of the motorhomes in the coach lot to talk to Kyle Larson, who (along with Denny Hamlin and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) was playing a golf video game (based on the on-screen graphics, I think it was Rory McIlroy PGA Tour). Larson proceeded to go to a place that no one expected him to go, completely throwing Snider for a loop. That could have been problematic, but it ultimately wasn’t.
A piece where Cash Bowyer (Clint’s son) reviewed some ’90s toys aired. I think NBCSN was a little lenient when it came to the idea of ’90s toys since the Etch-a-Sketch and the Viewmaster showed up, and I had both of those in the 1980s. Cash wasn’t exactly a fan of them, but he’s still a little small for stuff like Skip It and Moon Shoes.
There was a full hour of coverage from Bristol two weeks ago. That was enough time to air the entire final third of the Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race. Still has to hurt for those Matt DiBenedetto fans.
Speaking of DiBenedetto, he was the focus on this week’s edition of Behind the Driver. Here, DiBenedetto talked about the sacrifices that his parents had to make in order for him to race. Unlike a number of drivers who come from racing families, DiBenedetto’s father basically didn’t know jack about it. He just wanted a way to spend quality time with Matt. DiBenedetto’s parents truly believe that racing is his calling.
In order to have an edition of NASCAR Victory Lap on Sunday, NBCSN cut to their Stamford, Conn. studios at 8:15 p.m. for a call-in show that was originally scheduled to air at 11 p.m. after the race. The highlight of the show might have been the second caller, Drew. He apparently tried to blame the rain delay on his wife. Wouldn’t have done that if I were you, Drew.
In the race itself, there was a significant focus Sunday night on the different lines being used during the race. Having the additional downforce gave drivers a lot more confidence to be aggressive. It was really difficult to know what Sunday’s race was going to look like before the green flag flew.
The additional aggressiveness was also coupled with a significant decrease in the amount of wall contact. Yes, Kyle Busch smacked it a bunch of times late (perhaps more in the final five laps than most of the field combined), but it was one of the cleaner races that I can remember at Darlington. It was never that much of a runaway at the front, but it really wasn’t all that competitive away from restarts.
NBCSN did a decent job bringing the action in and around the restarts to viewers. Outside of those portions of the race, it was a little more few and far between. That said, there were quite a few times that there were multiple good battles going on at once, and we got plenty of split screen battles during the night.
Darlington usually has some kind of special booth setup in play, and Sunday night was no exception. Stage two of the race saw Dale Earnhardt Jr., Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty call the action. As compared to the regular booth setup, this was more driver experience driven. Earnhardt had the advantage of having raced on Saturday in the Xfinity Series race, so he brought the firsthand knowledge. Then, he talked about how drivers should do things differently as compared to how he had actually raced in the Xfinity event. Whoops. That got him some chop-busting.
Post-race coverage was actually somewhat substantial given that it was 1:53 a.m. when the race ended. Viewers got eight post-race interviews, post-race analysis and a check of the points before leaving Darlington. Given the circumstances, I still think the double interviews with race winner Erik Jones are unnecessary, especially given the changes to the schedule. Had it not rained, that would have been three interviews since they had a post-race edition of NASCAR America scheduled. As noted above, NASCAR Victory Lap aired before the race, so it didn’t air here.
Overall, this was a tiring race to watch due to the time that it ran. That happens. Can’t do much about it. Lead change-wise, this was not the most competitive race. 13 lead changes for 500 miles? Not particularly stellar. That said, NBCSN made this broadcast enjoyable to watch. While there may not be some of the ridiculous stuff that you saw the first couple of years of the Throwback weekend (think the time Kyle Petty wore those tight plaid pants), it’s still quite fun.
There was a decent amount of on-track action during the broadcast that made a somewhat dull race look better than it was. My main complaint is that was focused a little too much on the front. I think there was just enough action at the front of the field so that they didn’t feel that they had to expand their reach all that much. That needs to change.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series travels to Indianapolis for a doubleheader weekend with the Xfinity Series. Right now, the weather looks way better than Sunday and exponentially better than last year. In addition, Formula 1 travels to the Autodromo Nazionale Monza in Italy. TV listings can be found in the Television tab.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex will cover Saturday’s Sport Clips Haircuts VFW Help A Hero 200 at Darlington, where Dale Earnhardt Jr. came back to play.
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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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