Last weekend was ludicrous. Just plain too much stuff going on. Normally, Couch Potato Tuesday after the Indianapolis 500 would cover the Indianapolis 500. Problem is, that race was on at the same time as the Drydene 311 No. 2, and I need to keep my TV on NBCSN when races air there. Stupid things can happen to my DVR if I change away. Plus, the Virginia Is For Racing Lovers Grand Prix was on NBC Sports TrackPass at the same time. I had three races going at once. Cup on the TV, the Indianapolis 500 on my phone and the Michelin Pilot Challenge race on my computer.
In other words, this is going to be the week of The Critic’s Annex. Today, we’re only going to cover Sunday’s Drydene 311 No. 2. The rest of the schedule will follow at the end of the column.
Let’s just state this up front: I despise these doubleheader weekends. They are completely exhausting. It would be even more so if I were actually driving and excessively so if I were competing in multiple series doing the double. I sincerely hope that once the COVID-19 pandemic ends that we all but never have these ever again.
NASCAR America Sunday actually started 13 minutes late, but there was a legitimate reason for that. The NXS race ran long, resulting in a shortened pre-pre-race show. Krista Voda billed it as a combination Cup pre-race and NXS post-race show. In practice, pretty much all of NASCAR America Sunday was focused on the Xfinity race. There was some discussion of bubble drivers in Cup (Matt DiBenedetto, Jimmie Johnson, etc.) right at the end of the show.
It was only once Countdown to Green started that we really started getting into the Cup race. One of the biggest stories covered here was supposed bad blood between Martin Truex Jr. and Aric Almirola because Almirola wouldn’t move over for him late on Saturday and a couple of incidents earlier this year. That struck me as a bunch of shenanigans. Yes, Almirola was running 17th, but he’s not a patsy. He was trying to finish on the lead lap. He has every right to do so.
Dover International Speedway has now had 52 Cup races on the current concrete surface, laid down after the 1994 season. That year was marked by a series of wrecks in both of the Cup and both of the then-Busch Grand National races. NBC Sports’ Jeff Burton was just one of the victims that year, crashing out of the lead in this nasty wreck.
This has nothing to do with the broadcast, but it’s worth posting here. Race pace in that event from 1994 was roughly equal to or a little faster than it was Sunday. The sheer thought of 173 mph at the end of the straights at Dover in 1994 on the slickest track in NASCAR is frightening. Oh yeah, and it was 500 miles back then.
During the break, NBCSN discussed a little about the history of Dover’s track surface, including the previous time back in 2014 when a chunk came up in turn 2 and damaged Jamie McMurray’s car.
The situation Sunday was fairly similar to what you had back in 2014. The surface weakened near an expansion joint.
In addition, they also cut to coverage of the Indianapolis 500 briefly as well. At the time, there were 30 laps to go. That didn’t last very long, though.
My only thought here is why no one really heard much about this until the stage break. It was the same thing back in 2014 with FOX Sports 1. Both instances had NASCAR working on the track the night before the race, but they didn’t say anything. In the case of Sunday, Dustin Long had the info, but no time was given to it until they were about to start the race.
Yes, I know that track maintenance is a regular thing before races. Much less so for asphalt and concrete tracks as compared to dirt tracks. It’s one thing if you take the sweeper to the track to get rid of excess marbles (which really wasn’t a thing last weekend). It’s another thing if you have to patch the track mid-weekend. In the future, NASCAR should announce if they have to do anything like that in the middle of a race weekend to the teams, media and general public. There’s no competitive advantage or disadvantage in doing so. If anything, it’s a safety issue. Thankfully, this is rare in NASCAR, but I can think of six examples of track issues since 2004 that have caused red flags in Cup races off the top of my head.
Since Sunday’s race was the second-to-last race in the regular season, there was a lot of coverage around the points cutoff. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Johnson and William Byron got an outsized amount of coverage. This coverage came at the expense of coverage of regular racing for position. It was disappointing, to be honest. Yes, points are important, but it can’t derail the coverage of the actual race.
Also, there was prodigious use of the Points as They Run drop-down from the scoring bar. Problem is, ever since the stages were introduced, that doesn’t really work well early in the race. It results in a skewed perspective for the first two stages of the race. It still meets the normal objective during the final stage of the race.
I’m not going to go full curmudgeon here. I understand that people want to know about the points. There’s a reason why I have an Excel document on my computer with 13 different sheets to show playoff points, stage points and two former points systems. That will be expanded once the playoffs get underway to at least 17 or 18 sheets. However, I do find the points stuff to be distracting at times. Perhaps not as much as some of my fellow writers, though.
Post-race coverage continued with the cut-off discussion. Naturally, Kevin Harvick got the most focus since he spanked the field and won the race. No one was touching him on Sunday. You heard from Truex Jr., who finished second, but not before Byron and Johnson. Alex Bowman got some airtime here as well. Given his circumstances (he’s been locked into the playoffs since early March), he’s more or less been the forgotten man for much of the season. There were checks of the points and some post-race analysis via the NBC Sports studios in Charlotte before the broadcast ended.
Overall, this wasn’t one of the better broadcasts on NBCSN, if for no other reason that there just didn’t seem to be a lot of action out there. The focus was on Johnson and Byron for a good chunk of the race, and to a lesser extent, drivers like Kyle Busch who had trouble early. There really wasn’t all that much to see.
I had to check to see if Sunday’s race really was less competitive than the Saturday race. There were the same number of lead changes in both races (15), but only 53.3% of the total on-track passes Sunday as compared to Saturday. This includes the fact that there were two more cautions Sunday. In other words, not the most exciting thing out there.
Also, since I figured someone might want to know, Steve Letarte made reference to Quin Houff’s paint scheme reminding him of former New England racer Dick McCabe as opposed to Harry Gant after Houff spun. I took a couple of minutes to look that up. Sure enough, he did run a paint scheme similar to Gant’s back in the mid-1980s. Here’s a picture of it that I found on a fan site commemorating the former Catamount Stadium, a racetrack in Milton, Vt. that was operated by Ken Squier.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series regular season comes to an end with 400 miles of racing under the lights in Daytona. They’ll be joined by the Xfinity Series in weather that is forecast to be a little cooler than it was a couple of weeks ago, but still humid enough that you’ll be able to taste it. Meanwhile, the NTT IndyCar Series will be back in action at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in Illinois for a doubleheader of 500-kilometer races. They’ll be joined by the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series (with the terrible pit rules in place that are just not going to work) and the ARCA Menards Series.
Formula 1 is back after a week off with the Grand Prix of Belgium at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. SRO America will be at Road America with all of their classes, while the European Le Mans Series will make their second visit of the year to Paul Ricard. It’s another busy one. TV listings are in the TV tab above.
For next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch, we’ll have critiques of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 and the Wawa 250 from Daytona (yes, Wawa is a Pennsylvania/Southern New Jersey mainstay, but they have substantially increased their operations in Florida in recent years). The Annex is another story. The current plan sees additional critique Annex pieces in the Frontstretch Newsletter all this week.
Today’s newsletter will carry a critique of the Xfinity Series UNOH 188 from Daytona. I was meaning to get that critique written up last week, but just couldn’t get it done. Wednesday’s Newsletter will cover the first Drydene 311 from Saturday and the second Drydene 200 from Sunday. Thursday’s Annex will cover the Indianapolis 500. Finally, a fourth Annex on Friday will cover the first Drydene 200 and the KDI Office Technology 200. Remember, all this extra content will be available in the Frontstretch Newsletter. There’s a little box right here on this page where if you type in your email information, you can sign up for it.
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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.