Martinsville is often a track that fans, drivers and media alike look forward to. The weekend resulted in very different races. The NASCAR Xfinity Series was a bit of a wreckfest. Meanwhile, the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 was another story.
Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400
Saturday night saw the NASCAR Cup Series rumble into a big unknown in Martinsville. It didn’t help that it rained again, wiping the rubber off the track. Also, it was hovering around 40 degrees after the rain pushed through. That kind of weather and wet aluminum benches? No thanks.
Racing-wise, it creates a problem that NASCAR has dealt with at Martinsville a bunch in previous years with day races. The track temperatures were too cold for the track to realistically take rubber and keep it down. That makes it harder to pass. Using The Clash at the Coliseum as a basis, the Next Gen should have been able to put on a good show Saturday night. It did not.
Admittedly, I was surprised that we got any pre-race coverage Saturday night, but the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox had a relatively quick game (by their standards) at two hours and 58 minutes. That meant that NASCAR RaceDay started six minutes late. However, rain (and some snowflakes) was falling at Martinsville at the start of the show. As a result, viewers got a more substantial amount of pre-race coverage with multiple pre-race interviews. Had this race run as originally scheduled, you might have gotten the Grid Walk with Michael Waltrip and some pre-race analysis if you were lucky.
Sadly, the biggest takeaway from Saturday night’s race was the lack of racing for position and lack of movement. There was technically one competitive pass for the lead under green the whole night. However, that one pass occurred as a result of Austin Dillon beating William Byron to the line on a restart, then Byron immediately getting him back. You could definitely make an argument for that not counting.
The rules as currently constituted mean that the cars likely have too much downforce for a place like Martinsville. You basically had a slower (and colder) version of 2019 Saturday night. NASCAR cannot have races like that because it effectively hurts the sport.
As we know, this might not even be the reality. I wasn’t in Martinsville Saturday night. I’ve been to Martinsville before (I stayed in a Baymont Inn & Suites there last October when I covered the IMSA weekend at VIR), but I’ve never been to Martinsville Speedway (it’s on the other side of the city from the aforementioned hotel, and I only drove by the track briefly when I was driving down into North Carolina the day I flew home). NBC’s broadcast of last fall’s Xfinity 500 made it look like there was so much going on that they were legitimately having trouble covering it all. You might remember the triple split-screen that they had in play before the “Hack” incident occurred.
From what I can tell, that would likely not have been necessary Saturday night. It appeared to be very difficult to pass, and whoever was leading could just run away from everyone. I really don’t think that’s what NASCAR wants on short tracks.
If things aren’t all that swell at the front of the field, it is the duty of the broadcaster (in this case, FOX Sports 1) to expand its focus to bring viewers as many stories as possible. They did OK with this, but they definitely could have done better.
The result was a race that came off as boring. While he never came out and said it on the telecast, Clint Bowyer struck me as bored for much of the night. Probably the most excited he got was on lap 242. At that point, Chad Knaus stated that he thought that the quality of short track racing has declined since NASCAR stopped policing ride height. This exclamation saw Bowyer jump up and exclaim that he had been saying that for years and no one would listen to him.
To be fair, I always thought that it was weird to have these cars so low to the ground in the first place. Vehicles in NASCAR’s National-level Series run lower to the ground than anything in INDYCAR, Formula 1, IMSA, the WEC, or anything that you can think of. It makes no sense. It’s always struck me as NASCAR literally got sick of policing it. Just because there’s underbody airflow and diffusers doesn’t mean that you can’t police this stuff. If Formula 1 can do it, so can NASCAR.
Post-race coverage was actually more substantial than I thought it would be knowing that the race ended late. Viewers saw interviews with the top five finishers and a check of the points before FOX Sports 1 left Martinsville.
Quite frankly, with so little action to see, it’s really hard to write much about this race. My only thought is if what we did see on the broadcast was truly representative of what we didn’t see otherwise. If it was, then NASCAR’s going to have to go back to the drawing board. Maybe ditch the diffuser for short tracks? I don’t know. Having a diffuser at all is truly unknown territory for stock car oval racing, regardless. If it wasn’t truly representative, then FOX Sports 1 knows what has to be done: Expand its reach.
Finally, FOX Sports announced during the broadcast that Darrell Waltrip will be returning to the broadcast booth for the first time since 2019 for Sunday’s Food City Dirt Race from Bristol Motor Speedway. I don’t know how to feel about this move. I know that Waltrip has his fans. However, you needed someone to defuse the wackiness on broadcasts. Waltrip even acknowledges this himself.
“After a couple of seasons retired from the FOX booth, I’m really looking forward to being back up there with Mike [Joy] and now with Clint [Bowyer],” Waltrip said in FOX Sports’ press release. “But I really feel sorry for Mike – he always had his hands full with me, but now he has double trouble with Bowyer and me. It will be a blast. I still watch every single race, and I am excited about seeing the new car on Bristol Dirt.”
During Waltrip’s final years in the booth, Jeff Gordon was the analyst that could step in, be more serious and counteract the silly. You won’t have that Sunday. Waltrip and Bowyer are like peas in a pod, albeit different types of peas. Mike Joy is going to have his work cut out for him in Bristol. Jeepers creepers.
That said, FOX Sports really needs to release the full schedule of analysts for the remaining two months they have races. I really hope they’re not just piecemealing the whole thing. Doing that is likely nothing short of utter chaos.
Call 811 Before You Dig 250
Friday night saw the Xfinity Series travel to Martinsville for 250 laps of action. This quickly de-evolved into a series of wrecks. However, as you can imagine, one aspect of the evening stood out.
FOX Sports 1 didn’t originally catch Gibbs’ attempted retaliation on the cool down lap, but did catch Gibbs stalking Mayer onto pit road. It also caught the whole confrontation, including Gibbs striking Mayer in the face.
Afterwards, they had on-air interviews with only Gibbs. Gibbs’ interview struck me as somewhat incoherent. He claimed that Mayer got in his face, so it was time to fight. Gibbs approached Mayer first and got in his face. The whole explanation didn’t make sense.
As for Mayer, he likely went to the infield care center to get some treatment. He said that he was ok after that, but in this interview with FOX Sports’ Bob Pockrass where he impersonated Denny Hamlin, you can definitely see that Gibbs left a mark on him.
Sam Mayer gives his side of the story about the tangle with Ty Gibbs: pic.twitter.com/61YVXcf1wW
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) April 9, 2022
The next day, in addition to posting a tweet in support of the NASCAR official who ended up getting hurt in the fracas, he also posted this picture. Evidently, he decided to spend his Saturday just relaxing … with sunglasses on.
Of course, the whole notion of fighting in racing just drives me nuts. Why are you going to make yourself, your race team, your sponsors and your family look bad?
Yes, you could argue that Gibbs didn’t do himself any favors by keeping his helmet on during that mess. He’ll likely be the recipient of boos for the foreseeable future because a lot of fans are going to view him as a spoiled brat. The Veruca Salt of NASCAR, if you will.
The other big story of the night was Dale Earnhardt Jr. making his one and only start of the season in a fifth JR Motorsports Chevrolet. This evening was a struggle for Earnhardt, as he was off the pace in qualifying (started 30th) and actually wrecked his own driver (Josh Berry) at one point. However, he was able to avoid the Big One, finished 11th and enjoyed some beers afterwards.
Earnhardt did get a fair amount of coverage Friday night with multiple pre-race interviews and likely outsized coverage during the race given who he is. He also spent time talking about how Cale Yarborough used to make engine noises while racing in the Daytona 500. Why? Because he can.
Prior to the race, Regan Smith conducted a one-on-one interview with Berry on the anniversary of his first career Xfinity Series victory. Topics included meeting Earnhardt on iRacing (sim racing has been a popular place to meet Junior over the past 25 years) and making the move from Tennessee to North Carolina in order to race late models. Quite simply, by today’s standards, it is very hard for someone from late models to even make it the Xfinity Series. He’s done well so far and continues to do so.
Just as the race was supposed to start, a rain squall and high winds moved in and interrupted the proceedings. This resulted in additional interviews done both by the pit reporters and via the studio.
Racing-wise, the action was really few and far between, but for a very different reason as compared to Saturday night. The longest green-flag run in Friday night’s race was 35 laps. Also, there wasn’t all that much action at the front of the field, but that wasn’t because of the cars. It was because Gibbs was dominating the action, leading 197 laps.
Guest-wise, Adam Alexander had Dillon and Erik Jones in the broadcast booth with him Friday night. The two of them really didn’t stand out. Honestly, the level of commentary we saw here was much more akin of broadcast booth guests as opposed to analysts. As a result, Alexander really had to carry the broadcast himself. He’s capable of doing so, but he shouldn’t have to do nearly all the work.
I also felt that the broadcast was rather slow to pick up on things. For instance, Brett Moffitt started sixth after a good qualifying run and had the possibility of a good run. However, on the first restart (after Brennan Poole broke on the first lap), Moffitt dropped like a stone. I noticed it immediately, but you didn’t hear anything about it on the broadcast for 10 laps. It’s at that point that it was noted that Moffitt had a transmission failure. They should have noted it much quicker.
The short rain delay and the cavalcade of wrecks meant that the race ended more than an hour late. Seriously, this was nearly a four-hour broadcast of a 261-lap race. The booth was joking that this broadcast might last longer than the Cup race. Honestly, had the Cup race not been delayed an hour due to rain, it would have been longer.
In addition to the aforementioned fight coverage, there were also interviews with race winner Brandon Jones and Xfinity Dash 4 Cash winner AJ Allmendinger before FOX Sports 1 left Martinsville for the night.
This was the better of the two races and realistically, the easier to broadcast since it was much simpler. Cover the on-track incidents, get reaction to the stupidity, etc. I felt that the broadcast was OK, but Jones and Dillon really didn’t do much for me. They were relatively weak as analysts.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will get dirty in Bristol as NASCAR has its second dirt weekend in Tennessee. Meanwhile, SRO America truly gets their season underway in Sonoma. TV listings can be found here.
We will have critiques of the Cup and Truck races from Bristol in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex this week will cover Thursday night’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 200.
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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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