Race Weekend Central

Beside the Rising Tide: NASCAR Random Notes, Late April 2021

If the lingering pandemic has done nothing else, it certainly has increased the amount of spare time I have on my hands Fridays and Saturdays. I’ve been at this NASCAR writing gig now for going on three decades, and it’s my strong preference to develop an outline for my Tuesday column by Saturday morning, start that column by Sunday afternoon and evening, then spend Monday whipping it into a bare minimum of coherence. If all goes well, I earn myself a couple of light days Monday and Tuesday to attend to errands, correspondence and appointments.

Things do not always go so well. I recognize that’s my cross to bear. With no practice or qualifying most weekends these days, sometimes you gotta dig a little deeper to come up with ideas for a column. I’ve written various random notes-type columns over the years, but they don’t typically start before late summer in the dog days of August.

The idea is to gather snippets of columns, none of which would be enough to produce a standalone version, but when gathered together, given my readers’ kindness in general and some hard-earned patience, they allow me to submit for the week. They’re not all going to be 1313 Turkey Court, folks.

I’ll start with how FOX TV is presenting race broadcasts. With fewer and fewer people allowed to attend races live (or, in some instances, less inclined to do so even when able), TV has become increasingly the face of the sport.

One thing I find increasingly irritating is the scoring pylon. It’s a large black box that takes over the left side of the screen, obscuring whatever might be happening behind it. It’s not big enough to hold the entire running order, so typically they show the top-10 runners for a while, then splice in drivers in positions 11-20 below that. At unequal time marks, they’ll shift over the bottom half of the pylon to drivers running positions 21 through 30, then, at seemingly random intervals, they’ll show the rest of the field below the top 10, sometimes for only a few seconds.

“So what’s the big deal?” I hear some of you asking. How many fans really give a damn who is running 21st to 31st anyway, especially now that NASCAR has effectively eliminated most of the “start and parkers” anyway?

Oh, there are times that I’m really interested in that group or even the drivers running behind them. Let’s say one of your favorite drivers commits a pit road violation and has to restart at the tail end of the field for a commitment box violation or removing equipment from his pit stall. He’s no longer inside the top 10. It’d be interesting to see what kind of progress they’re making advancing back toward the front of the pack. Are they storming forward like Sherman through Georgia or getting caught up behind slower traffic on what amounts to a single-groove track? Will they be able to stay on the lead lap or are the leaders bearing down on them? The basic question here is how badly is his afternoon (or evening) going to suck?

NASCAR Cup Series TV broadcasts are no longer a novelty or a rarity like they were in the 1970s until ESPN dragged the sport kicking and screaming into the limelight. Over those decades of experimentation, I thought we’d drawn some conclusions on how some things should be done. Eventually, it seemed we decided that the running order should be presented as a scroll rolling across the bottom of the screen, starting with the leader and scrolling all the way back to the driver in last. I recall reading somewhere the bottom of the screen was decided upon because humans confronted with anything moving above their line of vision triggered a fight-or-flight response that caused general uneasiness. My days of visions of pterodactyls in the garden are long since behind me, but I still prefer the scroll on the bottom edge of the screen.

See also
Beside the Rising Tide: Outlining a Potential NASCAR 2022 Schedule

The other big change I’ve noticed this year is a switch from videotape to cartoons when showing the drivers, mostly in promotional pieces. Yeah, I’m of the generation that grew up with Saturday morning cartoons. We’re talking the hardcore stuff here: Tom and Jerry, The Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd. Is it duck season or wabbit season? Oh, I don’t know but I’m fixing to shoot something.

Yes, they depicted firearms in cartoons that catered to kids, a state of affairs that would probably lead to demand for congressional committees these days and billions spent on medical treatments to “cure” little deviant bastards like me before we all headed to the mall with assault style rifles to avenge the lifetime of fear and violence brother Daffy had to endure. Had his beak blown 180 degrees around to the backside of his head, Daffy did. Yes, sir. I seen it with my own two eyes. More than once.

The cartoon NASCAR drivers are, of course, a lot better behaved, and to this point unarmed. You want violence during a NASCAR TV broadcast? You’ll have to wait with the rest of us for the next Noah Gragson interview.

I’m not sure why FOX made the switch from video to cartoons. Maybe they still have unresolved issues regarding their Little Digger experiment that went so badly awry? Hey, little sympathy for self-inflicted wounds, folks.

More likely, it had to do with shooting those video clips while still keeping the mandated six feet apart from other sentient beings and fleeing immediately back to the relative safety of your second guest bedroom as soon as the latest “Stranger Danger” virus-carrying threat can be banished.

In some instances, the cartoon depictions of various drivers are good enough to be passable in that you can recognize what driver they are trying to depict, though often times I have to look at the sponsorship on the cartoon drivers’ suit to figure out which one of several it is supposed to be. Other cartoons are done by dropouts of those art correspondence schools that challenged eager young artist wannabes to draw “the Pirate” or “Tippy the Turtle.”

Some are just too awful to look at. Hair seems to present a real challenge to some of the would-be cartoonists. And since these days, every driver but Harvick has a full head of hair, that’s an issue. Facial hair is even more challenging. I have seen Martin Truex Jr. in real life and he’s a reasonable-looking guy. He doesn’t look like a deranged Wookie coming down off a three-month narcotics binge like in the cartoon version of him FOX frequently uses.

See also
Beside the Rising Tide: Are Short Tracks Making a NASCAR Comeback?

Cartoons aside, is Chase Elliott off to a slow start this year in his title defense? Let’s look at some numbers. With Alex Bowman having won at Richmond last week, all three of Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates have won a Cup race this year, though he has not (Kyle Larson won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and William Byron won at Homestead-Miami Speedway). Elliott has led just 76 laps in the Cup Series to date this year, and his average finish is 14th. His best two results to date this year are second in the Daytona 500 and again at Martinsville. His only DNF to date was at Atlanta, where he’s a hometown favorite (and where, to paraphrase Kenny Mayne, “he remains popular”).

Elliott ran just five Cup races in 2015 with a best result of 16th at Richmond Raceway. Chase ran the full slate of Cup races in 2016 with a best result of second at Michigan International Speedway. He again ran the full schedule of races in 2017 with a best result of second at Dover International Speedway, Phoenix Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway in the fall (the penultimate race of that season).

Elliott won his first Cup event in his 99th start at Watkins Glen International, the 22nd Cup event of the 2018 season. He also went on to win Dover and Kansas Speedway that year. He also won three races in the 2019 season, the first of them at Talladega Superspeedway, the 10th Cup event of that year. He also won at Watkins Glen that August and at the Charlotte ROVAL late that season. His average finish was a lowly 15.1 that year, leaving him 10th in the season-long standings.

Last year, Elliott won five times, with the first of those victories being at Charlotte in the eighth race of the season. His next victory didn’t occur until August at the Daytona road course. His next win was at the Charlotte ROVAL, getting him into the title chase where he won at Martinsville and Phoenix, the last two races of the season to claim that title.

See a pattern here? While I am surprised Elliott hasn’t won a race yet this year, I hardly think it’s time to hit the panic button or even the sireen. He was, after all, ahead of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch in the points going into Sunday’s Talladega race (though he left two markers behind Harvick), and nobody was writing either of them off just yet.

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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Bill B

I am fine with the scoring pylon being on the side but I am not fine with them showing the intervals and laps down info. I realize at Talladega the intervals are somewhat meaningless but not the laps down. The only thing they showed was speed/mph (also somewhat meaningless at Talladega) and manufacturer (not meaningless but pointless since most of us know a driver’s manufacturer). I couldn’t tell that Kurt Busch was 7 laps down until one of the guys in the booth volunteered that information later in the race.

Agree with the driver cartoons, some of them are really bad. I doubt they were drawn by an artist. More likely they took a still shot of each driver and ran them through some software filter (photoshop) and that is what was rendered.


My problem exactly! I don’t care about MPH, but not showing lap down cars stats is unforgivable!


Best way to follow a race is with NASCAR timing and scoring to see lap times, lap by lap, position, and laps down.

Bill B

Of course it is, and of course you are correct.
The larger question is why should I have to be on the computer if I am giving my time to FOX and watching it live.

Do you watch any other sports besides NASCAR?

If I watch the NFL, NHL, MLB or NBA (and most other sports) I get all the information I need to know what’s happening from the TV broadcast. Why is it that FOX can’t cover the damn race from top to bottom? Why is NASCAR the only sport that you need TV, the internet and MRN to really find out what’s going on?

That’s rhetorical, I’m not expecting an answer, but if you have one I’d love to hear it.


The answer is because in the NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA, there are two teams competing against each other at a time. It’s far easier for the broadcasters to keep track of two than it is to keep track of 40.

Bill B

OK. I suppose that is a good occam’s razor answer.


scoring pylon is ok. they make it like the pylons at the track. no track, that i can remember, has 40-43 slots. if i need to figure out where someone is running i’ll go to nascar’s website for rundown.

I HATE the driver cartoons. as bill said they look like some filter was used to toon them up. last i checked kyle busch and logano were a bit thinning on top as well, besides harvick.

elliott will win, they’re off to kansas this week. still have racing to go before panic. i think most champions have issues the first few weeks back after winning championship. i’m sure, with the covid world, there aren’t as many nascar or sponsor needs right now, but there’s always something that pulls at their time.


hate the cartoons.
why not leave them for the moronic computer game racing broadcasts
they sort of make me angry
ive tried to figure out why
they have a dumbing down effect
most don’t look anything like the driver
what’s their purpose?
can’t figure that one out either
an attempt to bring drivers to the pop culture forefront?
might have worked 20 years ago
now it lets us know how out of touch the people who make the TV decisions really are
tell us something we didn’t already know

John Dawg Chapman

I also found the tv scoring confusing. Now I just totally ignore it. I just log into NASCAR Official Home. click on live scoring. I do care about how the underdog teams are running so I can scroll down anytime to see the entire running order, keep up with who’d running in the LD position. as well as continuously following my favorite, Matty D.


Regarding the scoring pylon, the bottom is used as a ticker for other events – they aren’t going to give that real estate up.
The way they do it is always compromise. They asked a couple of times in the the NASCAR Fan council every once in a while. But as you said it is desirable to see the rest of the field, especially if you come in mid race and wonder where your guy is or is out. Personally I watch with TV on muted, the radio synced up to TV, and have tweet deck and NASCAR scoring open on the PC. But that is just how I like to consume the races.
Yes the cartoon drivers are horrible. I don’t like the the little snippets trying to make drivers look tough. William Byron looking tough – please – now that is comical!

Trey B

I don’t care at all for the large scoring pylon. I didn’t purchase a 77″ TV for 20%-25% of it to be covered by a black non transparent box. I think a better idea would be to use a small thin box that takes up about 10% of the screen to show the car numbers and that’s it. Most all fans know the sport well enough to associate the driver with the car number.

Jill P

The problem I have with live scoring on the NASCAR site is whether someone is out or just off. The TV usually has that, but they don’t always show anyone below 20th. And the announcers don’t tell us unless it’s a high-profile driver.

Don’t get me started on the cartoon characters.


Before we leave the subject of the Talladega race, I need to put forth a mild conspiracy theory: Was Ryan Blaney instructed to hang Matty D out to dry during the GWC? Seems odd, because they were running so well together in tandem, until they weren’t. That, and a Matty D win would have made it more complicated for Penske to let him go from the #21 WBR Ford (which is really the 4th Penske car) at the end of this season to make way for Austin Cindric. After the race, Blaney gave sort of an “aw shucks” explanation of what happened during the GWC, but didn’t seem too upset about finishing 9th, instead of 2nd.

As for Fox Sports’ presentation of the race, I can’t tell much difference between their coverage and NBC Sports. Both coverages consist of too many talking heads yelling, goofy-to-melodramatic features, weird graphics and the annoying split screens showing a tiny view of action, along with an ad. But given the low ratings and high production costs, I’m glad we have the coverage we got.

As for Chase Elliott winning a race this year, it will happen, even if NASCAR has to (subtly) intervene. He’s their “golden boy” successor to Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon. A Chase Elliott win is very good for business.


Q believer, I see!

A Different Steve

Seriously with this?

Tom B

NA$CAR pre-race inspections are a joke. No inspector saw a piece of metal in front of Kyle Larson’s radiator. So if you came up with some aero advantage in that area you could get away with it because nobody is looking there. It seems like a like of basic stuff is overlooked, like do the brakes works.


For years, I have watched races with MUTE on and following along on NASCAR’s timing and scoring to see actual lap times, lap by lap. While relative position is meaningless at Dega, for most races, it is the absolute BEST way to see who is moving forward and who is hanging on to keep from losing positions. I don’t count on either FOX or NBC to give me any meaningful information. I’m actually stunned that more people don’t follow the race that way. There is no point in complaining about the display of data when there is an easy way to get all the info you need so easily, but of course, FS exists for the purpose of airing complaints.

As for Chase, one thing that timing and scoring let me see was that he had extremely long pit stops after being involved in the second Hamlin wreck. There was clearly more damage to the car than the broadcasters bothered to tell us. Also, Chase is historically slow to find Victory Lane in the first part of the season. The only real disappointment for him was the Daytona road course. He will win.

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