This is an interesting time for us. It is very rare that you get a double postponement due to weather. In the Cup Series, I can only recall this happening a couple of times in the last 20 years. It’s happening now as NASCAR officially pulled the plug at Texas Motor Speedway Monday after working on the track for something like nine hours in 45-degree weather in intermittent rain. With some luck, the race will go off Tuesday at noon ET. It’ll air on NBCSN when it does. Unfortunately, the forecast is quite similar to Monday from noon onward. With some luck, they’ll be able to get back underway around 5 p.m.-ish, assuming that the mist isn’t still hanging around. It won’t be nice, though. Imagine Kansas from last week. Then make it a couple of degrees cooler.
Needless to say, with only 52 of the 334 laps complete as of this writing, we won’t be covering the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 broadcast. I couldn’t tell you when that’s going to happen, though.
We do still have Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series races from Texas to cover. Those two events still had plenty of action to cover. The truck race had so much that we’re just going to cover that here. It was something else.
Before the rain and mist showed up Sunday, Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series teams raced for 152 laps on the 1.5-mile quad-oval. This race will be remembered for quite some time.
Let’s just say that Ben Rhodes had a quite a day on Sunday. NASCAR dedicated an eight-minute video just to the stuff he was involved in during the race.
First, there was his contact with Todd Gilliland that put Gilliland hard into the turn 1 wall. At first glance, it looks like Rhodes moved to the left on Gilliland and side-swiped Gilliland. The second angle makes it look a little more like a “racing deal,” but I’m not sure. The booth seemed to believe that this incident was more Rhodes’s fault than not. What I am sure about is that Rhodes didn’t talk about this one after the race, so I don’t know what he was thinking.
More notably, he had contact with Christian Eckes exiting turn 4 in the closing laps, crashing Eckes out of third. Rhodes blamed this crash on Eckes because he apparently shoved him up the track twice. It’s unclear whether contact was made to move him up the track. It didn’t happen the second time. He also stated that he had to turn his wheel to seven o’clock to keep it out of the wall and that after doing that, the wreck was unavoidable.
The explanation (via a radio excerpt from Rhodes) sort of flummoxed the broadcast booth (which included Jamie McMurray, subbing for Kurt Busch, since unlike NBC Sports, FOX Sports is still not sending the broadcast booth to the track). They seemed to think that he was angry at Eckes for something that occurred laps earlier. Instead, Rhodes was referring to what happened immediately before the crash.
I can understand Rhodes’ anger to a degree. However, the result of that anger was hitting Eckes in the right rear at nearly 180 mph. That’s not cool. I know winning’s important, but you have to have respect for your fellow man. People have died at TMS in the past or have been seriously injured in crashes. He was apparently arguing that he couldn’t help it, but you have to do something to prevent such a big hit.
Eckes was very unhappy afterwards. He approached the track after getting out of his truck (which might get him fined) and gave Rhodes the double bird. The birds did not make the telecast, but they were caught on video. Since this pandemic started, NASCAR has made a Virtual Media Center available to working media. That included an aerial camera that caught the birds.
Afterwards, Eckes confronted Rhodes in the garage. According to FOX Sports’ Alan Cavanna, there was a discussion, followed by some of the action that Cavanna captured on his cell phone below.
Long conversation ended with a pushing/shoving. NASCAR security there to intervene. pic.twitter.com/f6S2sKaoj1
— Alan Cavanna (@AlanCavanna) October 25, 2020
Of note, Eckes didn’t bring anyone with him for this confrontation. He came alone. Based on recent acts of physicality in NASCAR, that’s a rarity. With Martinsville coming up this weekend, who knows what’s going to go down there?
Also, Rhodes got dumped on the final lap. FOX Sports didn’t have a good shot of how that happened, but Rhodes claims that Chandler Smith admitted to intentionally wrecking him as payback for the Eckes incident. Josh Bilicki got taken out as well just because he happened to be at the wrong place. Rhodes claimed that he apologized to Bilicki’s team, but team owner/driver Josh Reaume refuted that statement on Twitter. This is nothing short of a mess.
In addition, you had Stewart Friesen and Johnny Sauter crashing while racing for the lead on lap 129. The booth compared this crash to the move that Friesen himself made on Sheldon Creed to get the lead just a few laps earlier. However, Friesen was further ahead of Creed at the time. There was no contact made, although Creed did go up the hill a little.
On the other hand, Sauter just seemingly body-slammed Friesen. Naturally, Friesen was ticked. As far as I know, there was no physicality here, although Friesen did apparently state on the radio that Sauter deserved a fist right in his puss. FOX Sports also did not interview him (they only had Alan Cavanna in the pits, so he likely couldn’t get to the Infield Care Center in time to do the interview).
MRN Radio did interview Friesen and he apparently took the Lord’s name in vain during said interview. Friesen took to Twitter to apologize for that.
Given the fact that this race had already run long by 30 minutes due to 10 cautions, there wasn’t nearly enough time to unpack this race and all the shenanigans that went down. Viewers got the aforementioned interview with Rhodes, along with Creed and Zane Smith.
Also, the Rhodes interview was cut off due to some kind of technical issue. TV viewers only saw the first 15 seconds or so before the screen went black and FOX Sports 1 went to commercial, leading some to assume that he started cussing like a sailor. As you can see above toward the end of the linked YouTube clip, that was not the case. FOX Sports was eventually able to get the Rhodes interview on Twitter before NASCAR put their Rhodes spectacular up.
The interview cutout was the least of my issues technically with the broadcast. I had picture issues almost from the start of NASCAR RaceDay – NGROTS Edition. It came and went, but it was at its worst right after the race when the cut out occurred. I thought it was because my neighbors were mowing their lawn, but they were done way before the race ended. I checked FS1 while writing this column. It’s still acting screwy …
The technical issues I had Sunday did affect my enjoyment of the race. For most of it, I didn’t have too many issues, but I’d say my screen was glitchy for 25-40% of pre-race coverage and 10-15% of the race. I’m going to reboot my cable box prior to Friday night. Hopefully, that’ll fix the issues.
Outside of all that craziness, you had 228 miles of racing. Yeah, the “400” in the race name is meaningless because of the mess that 2020 has become. That’s a track decision, I guess.
Outside of the senseless wrecking, you had a lot of action for position. Yes, Creed led all but 21 laps Sunday, but he was never all that far away from the field. He had to deal with drivers going after him all day.
The action through the field was pretty good. I think part of that was the fact that after the first run of the race, there weren’t any green-flag runs longer than 15 laps. As a result, everyone was close together. I suppose that got the tempers riled up.
However, the difference between having the booth on-site instead of remote in Charlotte was pretty obvious. Unless the camera being shown at the time caught the wreck live, you would always find out what happened after the fact. It’s like the booth would find out what happened at the same time I would. I thought the remote booth had access to a bunch of monitors in their Charlotte compound.
There was a good shot of a badly blistered tire from Matt Crafton’s truck. That was a strange one in that it blistered right at the dual zone barrier in the middle of the tire. Never seen that before.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, all three of NASCAR’s national series are scheduled to be at Martinsville Speedway. The Trucks will run Friday night, while the Xfinity teams will race Saturday in their first race on the paperclip since 2006. Looking at the entry list, a grand total of two drivers on the list (JJ Yeley and Carl Long) have ever driven in the series at Martinsville (in the 2006 race, no one from the previous race before that in 1994 is active and currently eligible to compete in NASCAR races). Everyone else has either outright never raced there, competed in the Trucks or in late models.
With the Cup race at Martinsville currently in flux because of the ongoing bad weather in Texas, it is unclear as of Monday evening when the Xfinity 500 will run. Racing Tuesday in Texas might be viewed as too difficult to get everything turned around in time to race Sunday in Martinsville.
In addition to short-track action in Virginia, Formula 1 makes their return to the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari, otherwise known as Imola in Italy, for the Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna. It will be the first visit to the 3.05-mile road course for the World Championship since 2006. Finally, the European Le Mans Series season finishes up at Algarve International Circuit in Portugal. TV listings can be found in the TV tab above.
What is ultimately covered in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch (to say nothing of The Critic’s Annex) is going to depend on what happens in Texas. If they can get to halfway Tuesday, then they might be able to have the Xfinity 500 on Sunday as scheduled. If it ends up being 6 p.m. and they haven’t been able to restart the race again like on Monday, then all bets are off as to what happens.
For now, we’ll probably have the Xfinity and Truck races from Martinsville for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. Whenever the Cup race in Texas finishes up will determine when I cover the next two races. I’m tentatively planning on writing about the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 in The Critic’s Annex on Thursday in the Frontstretch Newsletter and holding out hope that the Cup race will go off Sunday as scheduled in Martinsville. If not, I’ll make some kind of announcement on my Twitter feed as to what the plan will be later this week.
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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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