Opinions on Auto Club Speedway have shifted significantly over the years. There was originally joy that NASCAR was back in Southern California, then anger that it was boring, and finally supreme anger toward NASCAR for giving the track a second date on Labor Day weekend back in 2004. That move was problematic for a bunch of reasons, most notably the fact that the Inland Empire is hot as heck that time of year.
That said, in recent years, there has been a renaissance in the battle of public opinion. This past weekend brought a couple of interesting races to the forefront.
Auto Club 400
Sunday’s Cup race was held under the threat of rain showers, which seems to always happen when the Cup Series races at Auto Club Speedway around this time of year. Despite sprinkles falling early, the race more or less started on time and got all 400 miles in.
Unlike the Xfinity Series race on Saturday, Sunday’s Cup race was relatively clean. There were only three cautions all day and the only one that didn’t involve a stage break was borderline at best. Despite that, there was good racing to be had. The rules package in play allows teams to make huge runs, resulting in swooping moves. Also, the track being 72-75 feet wide allows for multiple lines.
Speaking of the borderline caution, that was when Clint Bowyer had a flat left front tire and went up the hill. FOX was quick to decipher that it was a shorn inner valve stem that caused the issue. It appeared that this was something that was discussed in a pre-race meeting after a similar issue happened to Chase Elliott in Las Vegas. Regardless, good work.
Tires were a decent-sized issue on Sunday, but we never got a true idea of what the wear looked like until the closing laps of the race. That’s when Ryan Blaney was forced to pit from second when his right rear tire began to unwind. Austin Dillon was forced to stop as well. Race winner Alex Bowman was urged to back off just a little bit after showing cords during his second-to-last run of the race.
Michael Waltrip spent much of Sunday as a roving reporter, similar to Rutledge Wood’s role with NBC Sports. Here, he interviewed Paul Swan, tire carrier on Dillon’s pit crew, spent time in the pit road suites and rode around in some kind of buggy in the infield. I don’t really understand what that brings to the broadcast. Yes, he’s not sweaty and acting like a fool, but I don’t see the benefit.
The race ended up finishing about 15 minutes earlier than expected. Despite this, there really wasn’t all that much more post-race coverage than there normally would be. Viewers got only slightly more post-race interviews than the Xfinity race on Saturday. There was some more analysis and a standings check for the first time all season.
Overall, there was a decent amount of racing for position on Sunday, even once Bowman started to run away with the race. Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon continue to get used to working together. I don’t think they’re in a groove yet, but they’re better than they were at Daytona. I’m still getting used to the quieter booth, though. The thought of being able to talk through things is often a foreign concept in NASCAR commentary.
Having said that, I’ve seen what going the other direction from a calmer booth sounds like. Prior to the Cup race Sunday, Trans-Am live-streamed their season opening races from Sebring International Raceway (their races will be streamed to their new app and to Facebook). I don’t recall watching a race in which the commentators shouted over each other as much as the TA race on Sunday. Man, that was bad to listen to.
At least we don’t have that to worry about this year on FOX. I’m looking forward to what the introduction of (more or less) short track racing will bring commentary-wise next weekend.
Production Alliance Group 300
“No mercy” was the reminder that Martin Kove, former sensei of Cobra Kai, said prior to giving the command to Saturday’s 300-mile Xfinity race. To an extent, the drivers took that to heart.
Once again, the over-saturation of Kim Burton was noticeable on the broadcast. We know that she’s going to cheer Harrison Burton on until the break of dawn and beyond. That’s nothing new. She hasn’t changed in 30 years. The only difference now is that she’s cheering on her son instead of her husband. For example, here’s a clip from when Jeff Burton won his first Busch Grand National race at Martinsville in 1990.
Through a decent chunk of Jeff’s career, Kim was always there to cheer him on with exuberance. It is quite refreshing to see since there seems to be a fair amount of jadedness in NASCAR these days. However, I felt the way FOX Sports 1 covered her Saturday was over the top. It was honestly distracting at times.
In the booth Saturday with Adam Alexander were Joey Logano and Chad Knaus. While Knaus really doesn’t have a lot of booth experience, he does have a good amount of TV experience from his time on NASCAR RaceHub. In the booth, Knaus comes off as very knowledgeable, even though he admittedly has little experience with composite bodies. In practice, Knaus is like Larry McReynolds if McReynolds used less slang. Not a bad person to have in the booth.
When we last heard from Logano, he was misidentifying trucks as cars so often that the ESPN on-air crew back in the 1990s would have taken him for a couple of thousand dollars. That wasn’t an issue Saturday. Instead, we had a more typical broadcast.
Prior to the race, Matt Yocum conducted a one-on-one interview with Chase Briscoe, who won at Las Vegas back on Feb. 23. One of the primary topics of discussion here was Briscoe’s rise through the ranks, particularly his time on the Peak Stock Car Dream Challenge. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, this was a Gong Show-esque driver competition that aired on SPEED in 2013 that the aforementioned Waltrip was heavily involved in. Hundreds of drivers applied, but only 12 made it onto the show. The winner would get a development deal.
Ultimately, that competition was won by Patrick Staropoli, who got to drive for Bill McAnally Racing in four events in what is now ARCA Menards Series West. He won a race at Irwindale in 2014 and eventually made one start in the then-Camping World Truck Series at Homestead in 2016. He’d rather forget that one, though. And if you’re wondering, Staropoli is racing late models these days in Florida on and off. He is also a resident at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, which is part of the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.
Very little of the show remains on YouTube; however, a number of the driver audition videos are still available for viewing. Here’s Briscoe’s video:
The piece really shows the drive that Briscoe has to succeed. He’s willing to spend years couch-hopping in order to pursue his dreams. After a couple of years, 2020 appears to be a excellent opportunity for him in the Xfinity Series. Now, he just has to learn to conserve a little bit. Doing that might have prevented his late spin that took him from a chance to win to two laps down.
Brandon Jones dominated the first half of the race, leading the first 73 laps of the race. It was only after Jones had contact that cut his left front tire that the action really picked up. The race itself was quite exciting with good action in between the wrecks.
Briscoe, Burton and even Riley Herbst were right up there. I would have liked to see a little more action out there away from the restarts, though. There were a number of drivers that scraped out great runs Saturday, like Josh Williams, Myatt Snider and others. I feel like they should have gotten a little more airtime than they did.
Due to a litany of cautions in the final stage Sunday, the race broadcast ran significantly long. The basketball game that followed the race was on FOX Sports 2 for the first half-hour.
Viewers got a few post-race interviews, admittedly just about normal. It just took longer because Burton couldn’t get his car restarted after his burnout. That led to Regan Smith having to sprint to Burton (along with his cameraman) on the frontstretch (had the race ended on time, I guess he would have interviewed him on the frontstretch anyway). Don’t really understand why they couldn’t have pushed Burton’s car to victory lane instead of putting it on the hook. That whole thing was weird, and Smith ended up getting dissed over it. Seems that everyone thinks he’s out of shape when he probably isn’t.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, NASCAR Goes West comes to a conclusion at the newly-renamed Phoenix Raceway. The NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series teams will be there for their fourth race of the year. Also, in the unlikely circumstance that qualifying gets rained out, both series will use 2020 points to help fill the field as opposed to last year’s points. In addition, SRO America begins their 2020 season at Circuit of the Americas. TV listings are in the Television tab.
For next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch, we’ll cover the Cup and Xfinity races from Phoenix Raceway. In The Critic’s Annex, we’re going to take a dive into The Ruch Life. Yes, that is the reality series starring Angela Ruch and her husband Mike that is currently streaming on Facebook Watch. They’re claiming that the show has had at least 4 million views. What has been viewed? I’m going to find out.
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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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