Memorial Day Weekend is a busy time for race teams and for many people. Typical years have big Memorial Day celebrations. A lot of those events have been wiped out because of either the COVID-19 pandemic, or by weather (nothing quite like 48 degrees for a high the day of the Indianapolis 500).
For race fans, it’s traditionally one of the biggest race weekends of the year. Even with Monaco being run a week earlier, there was still plenty of action to be had. NASCAR had a quadruple-header in Charlotte, while the NTT IndyCar Series had their crown jewel, the Indianapolis 500.
Sunday night (May 30) saw Hendrick Motorsports stomp the field at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That said, you still need to provided good coverage despite that.
Much like Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, there weren’t all that many interruptions to the green-flag racing. Four yellows for the entire 600 miles allowed the race to be completed in under four hours. Of course, if that happens, then you’re going to have the field all spread out.
When that happens, FOX has to take pains to give viewers the most action for position that they can find. In these circumstances, I find that FOX does well with this early on in the race, but it gets worse as the race goes on.
That was more or less what we got Sunday night. Viewers got a decent amount of side-by-side action early on in the race, even without the aid of cautions. The second half… not so much.
Probably one of the most annoying portions of the broadcast was when Jay Leno and Kevin Eubanks came up to the booth on lap 79 in order to promote their revival of “You Bet Your Life.” I’m not a fan of FOX taking time away from the actual race (which was under green at the time) to do that in general. Heck, perhaps something would have gone down during that segment that was important? What would you have done in that case? Do you cut off Leno?
The main reason that Leno and Eubanks were there is that they helped to present a new Toyota C-HR to Dondrick Bethea, a former Marine. That was touching and I truly hope that Bethea gets good use out of his new Toyota and not have to spend extortion on Ubers in order to get around.
The Leno-Eubanks segment brought out one of the bigger issues with FOX’s broadcasts these days and Mike Joy’s statement later in the race that he’s working with a couple of comedians. Stuff is getting unhinged on the broadcast. Apparently, Clint Bowyer is bringing the funny too often and Jeff Gordon is goading him on. Joy is stuck having to be the adult in the room and it’s negatively affecting the actual race coverage as everyone is distracted.
By all means, it’s a race broadcast. You’re supposed to have fun because racing is fun. However, cracking wise and joking around is technically not your job.
Post-race coverage was actually quite brief despite the race being one of the five fastest Coca-Cola 600s ever run. Viewers only got interviews with the top-three finishers and Rick Hendrick before FOX left for the late news.
Overall, this was not the most interesting race to watch. You got lots of Hendrick Motorsports coverage since Kyle Larson was running away with the race. Given the dominance at the front, there just wasn’t enough coverage throughout the field to compensate. At least the fighting behind Larson was quite brisk in the final laps.
One of the only storylines coming out of Charlotte might be the disparity between the leaders and some of the cars in the field. Josh Bilicki and David Starr were derided as effective picks and obstacles the entire race. The broadcast did note that Starr was black-flagged for failing to maintain minimum speed on one occasion, but Bilicki did not. Sebastian LeForge, who is a crew chief for MBM Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, posted this as the beginning of a thread that explains a lot of Starr’s pace Sunday night.
Here's the thing with the slower cars, it wasn't this bad a couple years back.
However, with the 550 package, it exemplifies the bad equipment.
Any off throttle time, you're struggling to maintain minimum speed.
— broken racing wookie (@WookieAutomoTV) May 31, 2021
It’s another indictment of the 550-horsepower rules package. The fact that Charlotte Motor Speedway’s configuration is the oldest and narrowest of the intermediate tracks likely only exacerbates the issue.
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Friday night saw the Camping World Truck Series race for 200 miles at Charlotte. Thankfully, unlike practice, it was not a complete all-skate. However, one wreck dominated the night.
That wreck occurred with 19 laps to go when Trey Hutchens III cut a tire and hit the wall. He ground to a stop, then got annihilated from behind by Johnny Sauter. Drew Dollar was also involved, but got off easy.
A frightening and violent crash for Johnny Sauter in Charlotte. He climbed out and is okay. pic.twitter.com/g0C7XuB5AR
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) May 29, 2021
I’ve never seen a wreck quite like that before in a NASCAR race. I can remember the entire right side being sheared off of Johnny Benson’s car in an ASA race at I-70 Speedway in 1993, but that was simply fiberglass. He was still competitive after that.
The more I thought about it, one thing came to mind. I get bored a lot and fell down the YouTube rabbit hole. One thing I often check out are crash tests, the ones that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducts on new cars. The most infamous are the offset tests, done at 40 mph. Here’s an explanation here:
What we had Friday night was effectively a small overlap test, but at quadruple speed. You saw how much street cars deform hitting the honeycomb (meant to represent another vehicle) at 40 mph in the clip above. It’s quite the wonder that the entire roll cage wasn’t compromised in the crash. Everything else on the right side of the truck was, though.
At the time the crash happened, FOX Sports 1 was covering Matt Crafton’s blown engine, sort of like NASCAR was at the time. They cut to the crash after the big hit. Obviously, this was a huge crash and everyone was legitimately concerned for the well being of both Sauter and Hutchens. The silence from the booth was quite deafening.
Luckily, both Sauter and Hutchens walked away from the wreck. Then, FOX Sports 1 went to commercial. Ultimately, it was about six minutes after the wreck happened that we finally saw just what the deuce happened. That would be understandable if either driver were injured. I think they should have waited a minute or so to take a look at it before the break.
The real problem in this situation, as Beth Lunkenheimer noted in Tracking the Trucks, is that the medical response stunk.
As you might remember, this was a bit of an issue at Circuit of the Americas as well. That’s a huge venue and well spread out. Charlotte Motor Speedway? Not so much. You have to do better. That’s something that the booth has to notice, especially now that they’re back at the track. It’s important to not screw that up.
FOX gave some airtime to the AMR Safety Team’s traveling neurosurgeon Sunday. I’m happy that NASCAR has taken the step of having a traveling doctor at minimum. In his book, Awesome Bill from Dawsonville, Bill Elliott wrote about wanting NASCAR to have a traveling medical team like INDYCAR has as far back as 1996, but NASCAR wouldn’t bite at the time. The whole thing here is that there is a standard of response for major incidents that I just don’t think this response met.
There was no reference made to the response to this crash on the broadcast, but it was quite a while before anyone got to Sauter’s truck, seemingly almost two minutes.
Now, we know now about Hutchens’ tire failure, but that DNQ’d the broadcast. If FOX Sports 1 spoke to Hutchens, that didn’t make the broadcast. A group of additional media members did talk to him after he left the infield care center and Bob Pockrass posted it to his personal Twitter. It says that it’s from FOX NASCAR, but that video doesn’t appear on the FOX NASCAR Twitter feed.
Trey Hutchens says he is fine after that hard crash. pic.twitter.com/YYkYgNaQ3e
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) May 29, 2021
FOX Sports 1 did try to interview Sauter, but he declined, as noted on the broadcast. He later returned and actually talked to the media, but I’m unclear as to whether the broadcast made a second attempt to talk to him or not.
Sauter does have the right to decline an interview under those circumstances, but they should have interviewed Hutchens on-air. I don’t give a tuchis about his standing in the sport’s hierarchy; it’s important. I only found out about Hutchens’ issues that caused that mess after the race.
Outside of that whole mess, you had an interesting race. There was some good racing to be had as the track was actually raceable. However, there were some dodgy camera angles at times. For example, the cameras were zoomed in too far when the leaders approached slower traffic. As a result, you couldn’t really tell what moves the drivers were making. That was an issue not just Friday night, but during the Coca-Cola 600 as well.
During pre-race coverage, the primary feature was a sit-down interview Shannon Spake conducted with both Kyle Busch and John Hunter Nemechek. Here, the main topic of discussion was Nemechek returning to the Camping World Truck Series after running in Cup to try to get back to victory lane and beating Busch at Richmond Raceway last month. That’s not really new as I think something similar has already aired this year. However, likely the most interesting thing that we learn here is that if Busch is racing for KBM in the Camping World Truck Series, he won’t go to victory lane unless he wins. This means that he won’t show up if his own drivers win. I can understand his mentality of wanting to win, but it seems downright weird to refuse such a trip if you don’t win and one of your drivers does. It comes off like he doesn’t support his drivers, but I have no doubt that he does support them. They wouldn’t have the equipment that they do if he didn’t support them.
Post-race coverage was relatively brief since the race ended up against the two-hour timeslot for the race. Viewers only got interviews with Nemechek, Carson Hocevar and Stewart Friesen prior to the broadcast leaving Charlotte.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is one of the rare split weekends this year. The NASCAR Cup Series will return to Sonoma Raceway for some dry road course action (the Cup Series has raced there since 1989 and there has been exactly one rain delay in that time). Meanwhile, the Xfinity Series will be at Mid-Ohio with the ARCA Menards Series supporting them. Finally, the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship will be at Thunder Valley in Colorado. TV listings are in the Television drop down above.
We will provide critiques of the Cup race from Sonoma and the Xfinity race from Mid-Ohio in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For this week’s edition of the Couch Potato Tuesday, I’ll take a look at the Indianapolis 500 from Sunday and FOX Sports 1’s Drivers Only broadcast of the ALSCO Uniforms 300 from Charlotte.
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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.