TV-wise, this has been a rather weird week. We’ve had articles popping up all over the place in the world of motorsports. Heck, I discovered that I made an unexpected cameo appearance in Netflix’s new series, Race: Bubba Wallace.
That was a slow-motion, two-second shot of me prepping my camera to take a picture of Wallace and Denny Hamlin embracing on pit road while awkwardly holding my cell phone. About four minutes later, it poured on me.
Anyhow, this past weekend, the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series teams were in Fontana for 700 miles of racing …which turned into 730. Had no idea what to expect going in, especially for the Cup race. The results were quite interesting.
WISE Power 400
TV-wise, likely the biggest news of the weekend was Matt Kenseth joining Mike Joy and Clint Bowyer in the broadcast booth for the first time. In last week’s column, I stated that Kenseth struck me as a counter-weight to Bowyer that could bring a fair amount of knowledge to the broadcast.
Viewers got that and more. While you don’t really hear much about Kenseth these days since he got out of the car at the end of 2020 (which wasn’t even supposed to happen anyway, but we all know why he did), he’s definitely still watching. He came off as very sharp and well-prepared.
Kenseth had plenty of good anecdotes that he used on the broadcast, based around his personal experience at Fontana and his career in general.
A lot of fans might look back the most at a somewhat fortuitous stage break interview. As Joy explained on the broadcast, Bowyer takes the interview between stages one and two while whoever the guest analyst is does the second one.
Generally speaking (and this applies to both FOX and NBC), they won’t interview the same driver twice if they win the first two stages, like Tyler Reddick did on Sunday (note: Reddick will win a race this year, I just couldn’t tell you where he’s going to do that). Since Reddick won the first two, they decided to interview Joey Logano. I knew exactly where this was going even before they decided to it. Plenty of fans remember the beef between the two drivers from 2015.
The two drivers have likely not talked to each other much since then. Luckily, things were good-natured during the broadcast. That said, Logano did cuss out Kenseth on live television.
Honestly, Kenseth did surprise me a bit. He had always struck me as the quiet type. While he wasn’t chip-chip-cheerio on the broadcast, he didn’t need to be. He came into the broadcast with a plan to be as prepared as possible and bring good insight to the viewers. I would say that Sunday’s broadcast was mission accomplished for him.
In addition, he really fit in quite well with Joy and Bowyer. For someone who had next to no experience in the broadcast booth prior to Saturday’s mess known as practice, I’d say that he did great. While I wouldn’t necessarily just give him the job right now (who knows, maybe he wouldn’t want to do it full-time), he’s definitely earned more reps if he wants them. He also cheated to win a race in motorized recliners.
What we’ve seen so far in 2022 with these guest analysts is that there needs to be someone to counteract Bowyer’s zaniness. In Kenseth, you not only have someone that can do that, but also someone that can center Bowyer and make him more concise.
Normally, I find Bowyer in the broadcast booth to be somewhat unpredictable and off-the-wall. You never know what you’re going to get from week to week. I actually liked him in the booth more on Sunday.
Also, Mark Martin made a rare appearance at the track Sunday. He made the short trip from Palm Springs (where his bus is currently parked) to Fontana to take in the scenery and joined up in the broadcast booth for stage two. He added a little bit of commentary here and there about the on-track action and what he’s seen with the Next Gen car. Nothing much about what he’s been doing. It was pretty consistent with what he’s said over the past few years, which is that he’s not really a TV guy. That said, it was great to have him there (the beard took a little getting used to, though).
The scoring pylon and FOX’s overreliance on car speeds continues to be an issue. While they didn’t spend the whole race just showing speeds like in Daytona, it was still substantially overused. It was to the point early on that people on Twitter were making comments about it. To be honest, it has a time and a place, but the usage of it should probably be about 75% less than it is currently being used. I have no idea why FOX has taken this approach. Perhaps there are technical issues at play here.
Given that the pavement at Auto Club Speedway is now over 25 years old (it predates the opening of the track), tire issues should not have been unexpected. I think that had this race been run with the Gen6 cars, there would have been issues with cut tires. I think that issue was actually covered a little better during the Xfinity broadcast on Saturday, but it would not shock me if a bunch of teams went too aggressive on tire pressures and it came back to bite them. That has happened a bunch of times over the past decade.
That said, the tire wear was pretty high on Sunday, especially early on. We got a good shot of a tire (unclear which one) off of Kyle Larson’s car that showed heavy wear after just 16 laps.
Also, Fontana was a relatively expensive weekend for the chaps at BSI, who provide the in-car cameras and roof cams for the broadcasts. At least three roof cams were busted by flying debris last weekend (including both of them used on Saturday), which is somewhat unusual without big wrecks. I tweeted Andy Jeffers, who handles a lot of the in-car camera stuff via his own company, Sports and Entertainment Media, during the race about it. His reply was brief.
Old surface… = 🎥🚫
— Andy Jeffers (@AndyVJeffers) February 27, 2022
With the 12 cautions for 59 laps, Sunday’s race was the slowest Cup race ever run at Auto Club Speedway by average speed. As a result, the race ended about 25 minutes behind schedule. Post-race coverage was limited. Viewers only got to hear from Larson and Daniel Suarez, who came close to getting his first win, before FOX left Fontana to air Call Me Kat.
Also, there were some unanswered questions about what happened behind the leaders on the final lap. This roof-cam shot from Austin Cindric on the final lap shows pretty much all of them.
THIS ONBOARD WAS LITERALLY PERFECT FOR THE LAST LAP💀 pic.twitter.com/RDwHjf4Mxp
— Josh (@901Joshyy) February 28, 2022
Special attention should be given to the epic save made by Ryan Blaney exiting turn 2. These cars don’t recover as easy from slides like the Gen6 car did, so pulling it back was quite the accomplishment. That’s why Blaney finished 18th.
Prior to the race, the primary piece during NASCAR RaceDay centered around Cindric. Bowyer sat down with the rook to discuss his victory in Daytona, his low-key celebration at Steak & Shake, and more. The general takeaway was that at the time, he was still getting used to the fact that he is a Daytona 500 champion. That said, my experience with Cindric is that he is mature beyond his years. I found this to be the case way back in 2015 when I interviewed him at Lime Rock Park for the first time.
In other words, winning the Daytona 500 at 23 likely won’t change him much at all. He’ll be the same Cindric as before.
Production Alliance Group 300
Saturday’s 300-mile Xfinity race in Fontana (extended to 330 miles due to three Green-White-Checker restarts, not to mention a 20-minute red flag) was the slowest NASCAR race ever run at Auto Club Speedway. It ended under the lights when the lights should not have been a thing.
Running long in general was a thing in Fontana last week. NASCAR RaceDay – Xfinity Edition was actually delayed by 20 minutes due to Cup qualifying going long due to all the spins. Crazy stuff.
The primary feature prior to the race saw Shannon Spake make the trip to Tennessee to sit down with Trevor Bayne. There, the two discussed the roller coaster that has been Bayne’s NASCAR career, being sat down at then-Roush Fenway Racing and his ongoing battle with Multiple Sclerosis. He views the seven-race deal that he has this year with Joe Gibbs Racing as a possible last chance to make a go of it in NASCAR, and he has very high hopes. He wants to win five of his seven starts. He didn’t win Saturday, so it’s going to have to be five of the next six, but he acquitted himself well for having not raced in the series since 2016.
Saturday saw Team Penske teammates Logano and Blaney in the booth as guest analysts for the day. Here, Logano was very observant of what he considered to be faults in race craft. This led to drivers losing multiple positions due to bad moves.
Also of note, the scoring pylon had special green boxes added in. These boxes denote on-screen battles for position. It’s something that I don’t particularly care that much about, but I think FOX believes could help viewers follow the race better. It’s not obtrusive, and every little bit helps.
This race took forever to run. By lap 115, they were within 15 minutes of the scheduled sign-off time. Not good. It only got slower as time continued on and more incidents happened.
If they didn’t have lights at Auto Club Speedway, the race would have been called complete after Brandon Jones spun into the barrels on lap 156, drawing the red flag. It was starting to remind me of the sole late model race I’ve ever seen, an ACT Tour Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2017. That race was shortened from a scheduled 50 green-flag laps to 17 due to darkness, wrecks and a red flag to replace barrels.
By the time it finally ended, it was more than an hour after the sign-off time. Viewers got quick interviews with race winner Cole Custer and Noah Gragson before leaving for college basketball. The coverage of NHRA qualifying that was supposed to air at 7:30 p.m. ended up airing fully on FOX Sports 2.
Overall, this was a rather ridiculous race to watch because of all the yellows. With the red flag added in, it took longer to run than the Cup race did. When they weren’t wrecking and doing dumb things, it was actually quite competitive. Custer was in another league, though.
The post-race coverage would have been a lot better had there hadn’t been so many yellows because we could have learned a little more about the effort that put Custer in victory lane. Remember that it is considered to be a SS-Green Light Racing venture, the team’s first-ever victory in 26 years of racing (it was more or less formed when Bobby Dotter split from his previous team mid-season in 1995, took sponsor Hyde Tools, and went it alone). It would have also been great to hear from Dotter, who has spent decades in NASCAR and really doesn’t have a lot of accolades to show for it.
That is all for this week. NASCAR Goes West continues this weekend with a tripleheader at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. Should be an interesting weekend.
In addition, Monster Energy AMA Supercross will kick off Bike Week at Daytona International Speedway, one of the biggest Supercross races of the year. The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series will be at Cotton Bowl Speedway east of Austin in Paige, Tex. for the Texas Two-Step. TV listings are available here.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity action from Las Vegas for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex will cover Sunday’s coverage of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the season opener for the NTT IndyCar Series.
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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.