Richmond Raceway has changed in recent years. The races this past weekend may have been the least competitive pair of Cup and Xfinity races there in years at the front of the field. The Cup race had a grand total of six lead changes in 400 laps. That’s not even the lowest number this decade. The 2014 fall race had only four lead changes and is today best remembered for the drunken James Dennis drawing a caution by climbing the catchfence and taking a seat on top of it. Rule of thumb: Don’t do that. Meanwhile, Christopher Bell led all but 12 laps in winning his seventh race of the year Friday night. Basically, no one could touch him.
Federated Auto Parts 400
Saturday night brought the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams out to play in Richmond. As noted above, there were only six lead changes all night. Does that automatically make the broadcast bad? No.
Saturday night’s race was marked by long green-flag runs. The entire first stage of the race ran caution-free, which didn’t surprise me at all. There was a good amount of action for position and NBCSN took pains to show viewers that action. Had they not, the race would have looked a lot different.
Yes, there was substantial focus on the playoff contenders. They mentioned that fact up front. Drivers such as William Byron and Alex Bowman got way more coverage running back in the 20s than drivers such as Jimmie Johnson, who finished 10th after Erik Jones’ got disqualified. I know where NBCSN is going with that. They want to promote the playoffs and the various point situations. A drop down of the points as they ran Saturday night was a common sight on the telecast.
For me, this time of year is not all about points. It’s about having some good racing. Now that the local season is over, I can relax a little more (that is, when SRO America isn’t having 12 races over two days at Road America, half of which were plagued by rain). I don’t really care all that much about the points, even if the sheer amount of point calculations that I’ve been doing recently for the Frontstretch Newsletter would make you think otherwise.
In September, I’m all about good racing for position and I don’t give a tuchis who it is that is racing for position. With a general lack of racing at the very front for a good chunk of the race, NBCSN gave viewers a decent amount of that.
Saturday night also saw a number of drivers spend a lot of time around each other. Jones and Ryan Newman battled each other for what seemed like half the race. That led to a classic quote over the radio from (I believe) Rick Carelli, Jones’ spotter. He stated, “You know what [Newman] is, harder to pass than a kidney stone.”
Newman has long since earned that reputation. I’m not begrudging anything Newman did. In fact, his propensity to scratch and claw for every place he could get helped make the race better Saturday night.
Entering the race, the potential for pit strategy to come into play was actually a big discussion topic. Unlike the Xfinity race on Friday night, the general opinion was that few were going to chance it. Not so much. Few anywhere near the front did, but drivers like Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took advantage. Bubba Wallace did as well to improve their fortunes.
Post-race coverage was similar to what we got at Las Vegas. This was very much playoff-driven as the only drivers that got airtime here were playoff contenders. Of course, when playoff contenders take up the top eight finishing positions (nine before Jones got DQ’d), that isn’t exactly hard to do.
The race resulted in two additional drivers (Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick) locking themselves into the Round of 12 on points, while the cutoff is uncomfortably close. Had Jones not gotten DQ’d, it would be even closer.
Prior to the race, NBCSN’s weekly Behind the Driver piece focused on Aric Almirola. Growing up in Florida, Almirola looked up to his grandfather Luis Rodriguez, who raced sprint cars at venues such as East Bay Raceway Park. Rodriguez was a meticulous racer and worked hard on his car along with his son (Aric’s father). Aric saw this work ethic up close and it rubbed off on him.
Probably the most interesting thing noted in this piece was the fact that Almirola used to build his own shocks. Apparently, he and his grandfather took a class together on how to build shocks. Rodriguez then bought Almirola a shock dyno and they started building their own shocks. Eventually, that became a money-making endeavor. I found this piece really interesting. I never knew all that much about Almirola’s early racing career. I first heard of him when he was already under a development deal and didn’t really know much about his past.
Also, Kyle Petty called out Kyle Busch for some of his recent behavior towards the media. His opinion seems to be that Busch needs to “get over himself.”
Petty does have a point. The media does not exist to make Busch’s life miserable or to embarrass him, even if he seems to think so. They simply have questions to answer so that they can convey that information to the masses. Also, the idea of a “cooling-off period” really doesn’t work in NASCAR because drivers would use that time as an excuse to leave the track. It’s a legacy of Dale Earnhardt that really doesn’t help the sport.
I will state here that I have had very limited interaction with Busch in the past. I asked him a couple of questions in a press conference after he won in New Hampshire two years ago. That’s about it. He was cordial. He didn’t cuss me out or anything like that. Then again, he’d just won a Cup race. He was in a good mood. I’ve never encountered an angry Busch before.
Overall, while Saturday night’s race didn’t have the most action at the front of the field, there was still a decent amount of action to go around. NBCSN did a decent job in bringing viewers that action. It was not as bad of a race as the official results would make you think it was. I was not a fan of the playoff focus during the broadcast, but I knew going in that it was going to be the case.
Go Bowling 250
Friday night saw the Xfinity Series start their playoffs at Richmond Raceway. Christopher Bell put his best foot forward, but that’s not the only thing of note that happened.
Prior to the Xfinity race, there was a playoff focus, but it didn’t really seem all that different than a regular Xfinity race. Viewers got interviews with the biggest names in the race and some pre-race analysis.
Then, right before opening ceremonies came the news about Justin Allgaier having to change a tire after qualifying. That meant that he had to start the race from the rear. I feel like I should have known that earlier.
Mike Marlar made his Xfinity Series debut Friday night. It lasted about 12 seconds before he wrecked. I have no idea what happened. There was no replay shown of the incident. I guess there was a stackup of some kind that resulted in Marlar hitting the inside wall. Whatever happened, it put him out.
Later on, Brandon Brown dropped out of the race at the same time that Vinnie Miller stopped in turn 1 to bring out a yellow. Apparently, these were both engine failures. Pretty rare that two separate engines would blow like that within seconds. Makes me wonder if there was a ThorSport-esque incident Friday night that we didn’t really know about. The NBCSN coverage seemed to make it sound like these were isolated issues.
Overall, Friday night’s race was not the most exciting race on earth. No one could run with Bell. Say what you want about the Cup race, at least there was something going on up front. Viewers did get some action for position Friday night, but it was far and few between. That’s not necessarily NBCSN’s fault. Sometimes, there just isn’t that much out there to give viewers.
Outside of the championship battle, I felt a little lost at times watching the race. Everything seemed to be based around how drivers in the playoffs were doing. That’s not really healthy for the series. There is more to the races than the playoffs. Maybe it’s too much to ask to get the full story at times on TV. Even with all the streaming and online options in recent years, TV is still the primary way that the majority of race fans experience the sport. We can only help so much here at Frontstretch, but we do our part. Heck, we had six sidebars after the race Friday night, including one on Dillon Bassett, who finished 13th.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, it’s back to Charlotte Motor Speedway for a home game. This time, not only will the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series teams be back on the Roval, but with a brand-new chicane to deal with. In other words, unknown city. In addition, it’s going to be nearly 95 degrees on Sunday, just like it was back in May. Meanwhile, Formula 1 returns to Sochi for the Grand Prix of Russia. TV listings are in the Television tab above.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races at the ROVAL in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. I will not be in Charlotte this weekend like last year. I have to rest up for the combined Road Atlanta-Talladega weekend coming up (gotta love though 4:30 a.m. wake-up calls followed by 125 mile drives), so I’ll be ready with my thoughts on the road racing coverage. Last year’s race weekend was a learning experience. We’ll see what the ROVAL cooks up this time.
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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.