Circuit of the Americas is a very interesting road course.
But it was clearly not designed for NASCAR. Not even close.
And that, unfortunately, brings challenges for FOX.
EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix
Sunday brought the NASCAR Cup Series to Austin, Texas, for 69 laps at Circuit of the Americas. After three-plus hours of racing, the race ended up with this wild finish.
Ross Chastain has a well-earned reputation as an aggressive racer. I’m not shocked that he would get aggressive to earn the victory in a race that he more or less dominated at times.
You could basically tell what Tony Stewart was thinking when Alex Bowman entered the chat on the final lap with his move to take the lead in the three-apex, turns 16-18 complex. He probably had Kyle Busch’s profane radio rant from Las Vegas Motor Speedway running through his head at the time.
Had the careen in turn 19 not happened, Bowman’s move itself would have been very memorable and would be remembered. Now, it’s just the setup.
FOX covered this situation quite well, but at the same time, it would have been really sad if it didn’t. Remember, this was the race for the win. You better cover that well.
Coming out of the race, one of the big stories was the fact that there was so much time spent under caution. With the current rules in NASCAR, there isn’t much to be done about it; having these stages have really hurt the racing on road courses. We know NASCAR won’t get rid of them or the cautions they breed. Take those away and this race would have had three or four yellows instead of nine.
Officially, there were only 13 laps under yellow on Sunday, one lap less than I thought we’d have. The problem is that these caution laps take over five minutes to run. NASCAR should consider at bare minimum speeding up the pace car/truck for future races there.
There’s also the notion of local cautions. The issue there is that you’re seeing less and less of that in major sports car and open-wheel series these days due to the danger involved for the marshals and cleanup crews. I definitely cannot see any kind of a virtual safety car being implemented in NASCAR at any time, but I can’t see a non-full course caution for disabled cars in dangerous places. They can definitely be used for simple spins, which they were all weekend.
Has NASCAR used a local yellow for disabled cars in the past? Yes. Here’s an example from 1995, when Randy LaJoie stalled at Sonoma Raceway at the pit entrance. At the time, it was rather scary. How would you like a tow truck pulling in front of you when you’re leading the race?
The even more looney tunes instance was when Trevor Boys crashed at North Wilkesboro Speedway during the 1986 First Union 400. NASCAR didn’t have any protocols for closing pit road at the time (or a pit road speed limit), so had it thrown a caution, the leaders would have blasted into the pits past Boys and the safety workers tending to Boys’ stricken Chevrolet.
Excluding the stage cautions, at least four of these cautions should have been thrown. I don’t know about the debris cautions because I never saw the actual debris. The last one was a little questionable given the fact that everyone drove away. I think NASCAR really wanted the stones that were dragged onto the track out of there, plus Joey Logano took a while to get going.
Did the caution issue come up on the broadcast? Briefly. Mike Joy explained to the audience about how NASCAR doesn’t really do local cautions when Erik Jones stalled exiting turn 11 after losing all power. That resulted in a two-lap caution period. This is one of the yellows that was justified.
As noted above, Sunday saw Stewart’s third (and for now, final) race in the broadcast booth for 2022. Generally, Stewart does a pretty good job in there. He comes off as a professional in the booth, even though all four of his drivers had quite a time on Sunday. He brings a different viewpoint into the booth that can counter Bowyer.
Sunday’s race did not end on time. Shocking, isn’t it? Viewers got post-race interviews with the three main protagonists on the last lap (Chastain, Bowman and AJ Allmendinger) prior to leaving Austin.
Overall, there was some good racing to be had in Austin on Sunday. However, it was too focused on the very front, especially early on. This was not just an issue on Sunday, but Saturday as well. You would have drivers getting up to the front seemingly out of nowhere.
Christopher Bell is a good example of this. Remember that he finished third on Sunday. Apparently he had a lot of the same power steering issues that Daniel Suarez had. However, Bell’s issues weren’t really noted on the broadcast. He was forced to pit under green for repairs, a move that put him a lap down. A lucky dog got him back on the lead lap and he spent the last 20 laps running up through the field. You never heard anything about him, then he shows up on the podium at the end of the race. Yes, there was the duel for the win, but you’d think that Bell’s run would have been noticed before then.
Also, I took issue with the idea of the track design making things so interesting for NASCAR being broached on the broadcast. That design is the same reason everyone else hates COTA. It is literally the worst track on the planet for track limit violations, mainly due to all the extra paved real estate.
Early Saturday afternoon saw the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series return to Circuit of the Americas for its second visit to the 3.41-mile road course. The event was a bit of a wreckfest, and Zane Smith emerged victorious.
More recently, there have been some videos put out by Brock Beard on YouTube where he criticizes the idea of discussing things during the race broadcasts that should be on pre-race shows. I agree with Beard’s idea due to the fact that the pre-race shows don’t always preview the race. They stick with more wide-ranging topics in addition to features.
With the Truck Series in Austin, that was less of an issue since the track itself is a story in and of itself. Unfortunately, part of the reason that this has been an issue is the near complete lack of on-track activity prior to the race since the pandemic started. It’s hard to take much from 20 minutes of practice, which always seems to be getting interrupted by things happening.
In 2022, a revolving feature seems to be Michael Waltrip and Carson Hocevar hanging out like a couple of chums and getting into hijinks. Last we heard from them, they took a trip to the local haberdashery to get some new headwear. Makes sense since hats appear to be Hocevar’s thing that sets him apart, other than his height. This week, they went to a ranch to hang out with some animals.
Staff-wise, Saturday saw Andy Lally join Waltrip and Vince Welch in the broadcast booth. Last year, Lally made his debut and acquitted himself quite well. This year, he was about the same. His presence in the booth forces Waltrip to step up his game. He can’t just ham it up all day and expect to get away with it.
Also, Lally is quite a bit younger than Waltrip (he’s 47 to Waltrip’s 58 and Welch’s 57), so his reflexes are a bit stronger than his boothmates. He can pick things up a little quicker. A good example of this is the uncontrolled tire penalty that John Hunter Nemechek got on lap 24. Lally noticed it right away, while the rest of the booth was a little slow on it.
Lally brings a different perspective to broadcasting from what most of the other driver analysts can, given his experience. He actually really likes it. In a response to NASCARCASM on Twitter Thursday, he indicated that if FOX Sports (or, I guess NBC Sports as well) came calling, he just might take the call.
— Andy Lally (@AndyLally) March 25, 2022
If that were to happen, it would be a loss for IMSA as he’s one of their most visible drivers in a series that really doesn’t have a lot of drivers that are notable for anything they did in sports cars. That said, he could benefit the sport as a whole in a broadcasting role.
Post-race coverage was relatively brief since the race ran long once again. Viewers got interviews with Smith and Kyle Busch, along with a check of the points before the broadcast returned to Charlotte for NASCAR RaceDay – Xfinity Edition. There were a lot of things that went down in the final couple of laps of the race (crashes, mechanical failures, flat tires) that we just didn’t see and got no explanation for. It was rather frustrating at times.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series teams will travel to Richmond for 650 laps of racing. NHRA teams will be back in action at The Strip in Las Vegas, while MotoGP will be in Argentina. TV listings can be found here.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races from Richmond for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex on Thursday in the Frontstretch Newsletter, we’ll talk about Saturday’s Pit Boss 250k. We learned that Joey Logano probably wouldn’t do very well if he were asked to be on Celebrity Jeopardy! But that’s not all we learned.
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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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