Sonoma Raceway has always been one of my personal favorites for the NASCAR Cup Series, all the way back to the early 1990s. You never know what you’re going to get, especially back in the days when this was a conjunction race between the Cup Series and what was then Winston West (now the ARCA Menards Series West). You could have runaways, wreckfests or highly competitive races.
Sunday’s race was fairly competitive, but honestly reminded me of some of the runaway events of the early to mid-1990s on the long course. Think Ernie Irvan stomping the field in 1994, or Mark Martin doing something similar the next year … before the grease was laid down.
Honestly, the biggest TV story of the weekend didn’t really revolve around anything in Sonoma, but who wasn’t there. Clint Bowyer was absent on Sunday from the broadcast. He was off dealing with a personal matter. Whatever it is, he has been radio silent on social media, not posting anything since Gateway. Let’s hope that everything is OK for Bowyer.
In Bowyer’s place, Larry McReynolds made another unexpected return to the broadcast booth alongside guest analyst Tony Stewart. Honestly, this was a relatively calm booth. Stewart’s always been a relatively calm dude unless someone were to rile him up. If that happens, all bets are off.
The mix of McReynolds and Stewart with Mike Joy was an interesting grouping. I felt that they worked really well together. For Stewart, this was his fourth go-around in the booth, and it showed that he’s become comfortable up there. It says a lot that between the three National Series that FOX Sports has had 20 guest analysts this year. Really kind of ridiculous, to be honest.
During the race itself, there was some action to be had, and FOX Sports 1 was OK in bringing that action to the viewers. What they weren’t really showing was what I had an issue with.
For instance, Chase Elliott got penalized for pitting outside of the box on lap 53. That dropped him nearly to the rear of the field. He drove all the way back up to the top 10. Never heard anything about that. Must have been quite the run.
At the same time that Elliott was penalized, Chris Buescher was assessed a penalty due to something having to do with a fuel can. It was later rescinded, but viewers never got any kind of an explanation as to what could have caused the issue. Even though it was rescinded, that could have been a big deal knowing that Buescher ended up second.
Tires at Sonoma Raceway have been a big issue in recent years. With the Gen 6 car, it seemed like they were only good for 10 laps or so, then fell off a cliff. I really don’t have much of a frame of reference for what they were doing Sunday because we really didn’t get much in the way of lap times during the race.
It seems like the drop-off wasn’t quite as substantial this year, possibly due to the wider wheels and more contact patch. Yes, there are ways that we can figure this out. For instance, NASCAR media members have access to a Virtual Media Center through NASCAR’s media website that gives you a live leaderboard and all of the in-car views. However, the general public doesn’t always have that.
As for tire wear, apparently, there were some blistering issues, as shown by Jamie Little during the race. I’m unsure if everyone was battling that issue, or if just a couple of teams were.
The race ended within the 3.5-hour timeslot on FOX Sports 1 (a true rarity in 2022), so you got a decent number of interviews. In addition to the first-time winner Daniel Suarez, you got Chris Buescher, Michael McDowell, Kevin Harvick and Ross Chastain.
Now, I don’t think it was a good idea to try to convince Suarez to repeat what he was saying on the radio to the viewers. That man was cussing up a storm. Luckily, this race was on FOX Sports 1. They won’t tick off the FCC with that (cable content is more or less out of their purview).
Prior to the race, FOX Sports 1 had nearly two hours of pre-race coverage, which struck me as somewhat odd. Then, I watched it. Since it was the final FOX race of the year, they gave out some awards. This includes the prestigious “Byrnesie Award,” which went to Justin Marks.
There were also a couple of interesting features on the show. One had Josh Sims sitting down with Chastain to talk about his on-track demeanor, particularly in reference to the ridiculousness that happened at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Given a few days to think about that mess, he still maintains the same thoughts about it that he did immediately after the race. He was over the top. He doesn’t really want aggressive on-track behavior to define him as a driver, knowing that that can come back to haunt you.
The other was with JR Houston (an engineer at 23XI Racing) and Ryan Hines (public relations at David Gilliland Racing), who are the first openly gay couple in the sport. Kaitlyn Vincie talked with the couple as part of Pride Month in regards to coming out to the garage. Houston had some legitimate fears about being cast out due to the team he was racing for was shutting down. Technically, had someone cast aside Houston’s resume because he was gay, that would violate a bunch of laws, but it would be very difficult to prove.
Houston came out as bisexual at the beginning of last year and described the NASCAR community as being very accepting of his and Hines’ relationship. Hines admitted that his was more of a supporting role for Houston here since he had been out since high school.
Overall, Sunday’s broadcast was about average. I think there was quite a bit more on-track action for position than what we saw on Sunday. I’m not really sure about some of the decision making there.
The broadcast booth combination was interesting. None of the trio up there are overly excitable, so you had a slightly more cerebral telecast. I liked the group up there, but I also doubt you’ll ever see them up there together again. There was also some good coverage of the issues that Tyler Reddick had that put him behind the wall.
Still don’t get the love of showing kids everywhere. One of the side-by-side commercials seemed to be dedicated to showing as many of them as they could. Still weird.
That’s all for this week. Next week is the only mid-season off-weekend for the NASCAR Cup Series. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series travels to Iowa for its second visit to Knoxville Raceway. With luck, this won’t be as much of a wreckfest as last year’s race turned out to be.
Formula 1 will be moving from Azerbaijan to Canada for their first visit to Montreal since 2019. Finally, SRO America is back in action at VIR. TV listings are in the dropdown above or here.
For next week, we’ll have a couple of things for you. First off, when I was at World Wide Technology Raceway, I sat down with Parker Kligerman. In addition to his car catching after five miles of practice, we talked about his time with Henderson Motorsports and his TV work with NBC Sports, both on race broadcasts and with shows such as Proving Grounds. We’ll be bringing that to you next week. We’ll also take a look at the broadcast of the CleanHarbors 150 from Knoxville.
The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter will cover Saturday’s DoorDash 250k for the Camping World Truck Series, which brought one of my personal gripes about Sonoma Raceway back into play. I seriously don’t get this at all. Why?
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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.