The spring race at Darlington Raceway is now the designated Throwback Weekend for NASCAR. It is the perfect place for it, despite the fact that it is not NASCAR’s oldest track. It is the oldest superspeedway on the circuit and likely one of the more rustic venues that the NASCAR Cup Series competes at.
Sunday saw NASCAR having to compete head-to-head with Formula 1, which was racing at the Miami International Autodrome outside of Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. A woman I know actually made the drive to Miami Gardens to go to the race Sunday. Both races went green within minutes of each other.
In all seriousness, this scenario could have been avoided, but NASCAR likely insisted upon it in order to (in their eyes) maximize TV ratings. Seriously, if they really wanted to do that, they wouldn’t have put the race on FOX Sports 1 and had PBA Bowling on FOX. In addition, it’s not a good idea to put both Cup and F1 on at the same time. Knowing that this race went rather long (the finish was after 7 p.m. ET), it would have been a good idea to start the race earlier. If you know something’s going to be on that could siphon away some of your audience, get out in front of it.
Likely the biggest draw for Sunday’s broadcast was that three different legends were going to be in the broadcast booth. Stage one had Richard Petty in the booth. Bobby Labonte tagged in for stage two, while Bill Elliott took over for the final stage.
In Petty’s case, he was also the honorary starter, so he didn’t show up in the booth until lap 24, after the first green-flag commercial break. Petty does have booth experience. There were a couple of times during his career where he got out of the car extremely early, then went in the booth. An example of this was the 1987 Budweiser 400k at the now-defunct Riverside International Raceway.
After Neil Bonnett was killed at Daytona in 1994, CBS, TNN and TBS had a revolving door of analysts in the booth to try to replace him. Petty did a couple of races back then, including the 1995 Daytona 500.
Sunday’s booth time for Petty was much different than those two races. For the extent of Petty’s time in the booth, he was more or less an extended interview subject with a race going on in the background. While Petty was able to bring information from his driving career into the discussion, it wasn’t really like he was analyzing much of the race. That said, I thought he enjoyed himself up there.
Labonte has very little booth experience, but has been working for FOX Sports 1 as a studio analyst on shows such as NASCAR RaceHub and NASCAR RaceDay. He’s fairly in tune with the current reality in NASCAR and was able to chip in fairly substantially. Going into the race, I thought that Labonte was probably going to be the best of the three guest analysts.
As for Elliott, he has the least experience on television of the three guest analysts. However, he is very much in tune with everything going on in NASCAR. He’s also still active as a racer, having last competed at The Mitty, a club racing weekend at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta a couple of weeks ago.
I was quite surprised with the commentary from Bill Sunday. While it was obvious that he was paying a lot of attention to his son Chase out there, he made substantive additions to the broadcast and I believe that viewers were better off for him being there. I learned more with Bill Elliott than I did with Petty or Labonte.
Prior to the race, NASCAR RaceDay aired a piece about the recent issues with loose wheels. Jamie Little went to Joe Gibbs Racing to talk with some of the crewmembers about the issue. It appears to come down to debris getting into the gun and making it impossible to properly tighten.
What didn’t air as part of the piece is that JGR let Little try some live pit stops herself. Honestly, she’s not bad.
I've alwavs wanted to try doing a pit stop… Thanks to @JoeGibbsRacing and the No. 11 crew, I finally had the chance!
— Jamie Little (@JamieLittleTV) May 9, 2022
While this was a relatively short piece, I don’t believe that it had quite the impact that Clint Bowyer thought it did. As you likely know (and what was more or less predicted in the piece), the tire issue happened again Sunday when Kurt Busch tried to leave his stall without his left rear wheel attached.
This time, the 23XI Racing crew was able to catch it and get Busch to stop so that they could back up and get it on there again. The wheel never left the No. 45’s pit stall, so no penalty was assessed. Apparently, this will save the team a second suite of crew suspensions (Bubba Wallace lost a wheel at Circuit of the Americas in March, resulting in a trio of suspensions).
After this occurred, Bowyer made it sound like the NASCAR RaceDay piece helped to prevent suspensions on the No. 45 team. I’m pretty confident that they didn’t even see the short feature. The piece aired an hour before the engines cranked. The crews aren’t sitting around scratching themselves an hour before the race starts. They have specific tasks that have to get done. Sure, they’ll have the broadcast on one of the TVs on the pit box, but they’re not going to be staring at it unless it’s raining. That said, I have no doubt that the team constantly practices these stops in an attempt to prevent a scenario like Sunday’s from going completely off the rails.
Sunday’s race will probably be best remembered for the nerf-and-run that Joey Logano pulled on William Byron to take the lead coming to the white flag. That allowed Logano to take his first points victory in more than 13 months.
I can’t call this move a bump-and-run. Those usually require a driver to be alongside someone else. Logano wasn’t there on Byron.
This move was admittedly rather blatant to look at and probably much greater of a bump than what apparently precipitated it.
The crowd in Darlington weren’t exactly fans of the move, especially since Logano had enough of a pace advantage over Byron that he could have gotten the pass made cleanly. After the wall hit, Byron tried to make it back around, but somewhere on the final lap, his right side tires went down. That is why he finished 13th.
Since the race went long, post-race coverage was quite limited. Viewers saw a frontstretch interview with Logano and a pit road interview with Byron. That was pretty much it as they left Darlington shortly afterwards.
No shenanigans went down after the race (as far as I know), but this was a story that likely deserved a lot more coverage than it got on FOX Sports 1. Also, there were a number of interesting stories as far as finishing positions go. Justin Haley finished third, something darn near no one thought was going to happen. Chase Elliott finished fifth in his backup car. Heck, Cody Ware finished 19th on the lead lap and more or less kept himself clean all day. There were way more stories that could have been covered, but just weren’t.
Overall, Sunday’s broadcast was all over the place with the addition of multiple guest analysts. Especially early on, the broadcast was more or less catered so that the guests could give their input, potentially to the detriment of the coverage.
There was a number of things missed on the broadcast. We never got a replay of what happened to Byron on the final lap. Last we saw him, he was running third and obviously disappointed. To fall to 13th would have all but required him to spin out in the final half lap of the race.
In addition, a replay was shown later in the race that indicated that Chase Elliott spun out leaving the pits at one point. This was not shown until lap 270, roughly 30 laps after it happened. I feel like someone at FOX Sports knew about this way before it actually made the broadcast. Did they feel that they didn’t have the time to talk about it? I know that Chase ultimately finished fifth, but that’s still something that should have been covered within 25 minutes of it actually happening.
I was surprised with how engaged Bill Elliott was in the booth, knowing that he had the least experience of the three guests. Although he had a long career in the NASCAR Cup Series (1976-2012), he had never struck me as being the most talkative guy out there. He was the heads down, let’s get this done kind of guy that didn’t really compromise who he is. That’s part of the reason why he was so popular. He doesn’t put on airs and doesn’t change how he talks. How he talked on the broadcast is how he’s talked for the last 35 years.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series travels to Kansas Speedway for the Advent Health 400. They’ll be joined by the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the ARCA Menards Series. In addition, INDYCAR will be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to race on the road course. IMSA will also be in action at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. TV listings can be found here.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and Truck races from Kansas for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex, we’ll cover Saturday’s Mahindra ROXOR 200, which was the shorter of the two 200-mile races last weekend and Friday night’s Dead On Tools 200, where the booth was convinced that Ty Majeski touched the orange box while choosing his lane under yellow, but he was not penalized for it.
During the race Sunday, FOX Sports announced that Jamie McMurray will be in the booth for Sunday’s Advent Health 400. I’ve always thought that McMurray is actually very good in the booth. I think this will go well.
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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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