The Daytona 500 is the biggest NASCAR race weekend of the year. An audience of the better part of 10 million viewers will be watching. Typically, you would want to put your best foot forward. It didn’t seem like that was the case on Sunday.
Sunday is the biggest day of the year for the NASCAR Cup Series. The Daytona 500. 200 laps were scheduled, but viewers got 212 laps. At the end, you had a somewhat surprising (but not really) winner and some torn up equipment. You also had some frustrated fans.
While I take written notes about the races to write this column, I also check Twitter to see what fans were talking about. Obviously, one of the issues that people had with the telecast was the commercials. That resulted in the topic #Commercial500” reaching the top 10 in the United States trending topics on Twitter during the race. Sure, NASCAR would want people to be talking about their race on Twitter, but not like that.
Given the cost of the TV deals these days, I don’t often harp about excessive commercial breaks in Couch Potato Tuesday. I find that it’s not really worth my time. Yes, it bites, but you have to be realistic.
That said, I do keep track of the commercial breaks under green and their length. Sunday’s race had 14 commercial breaks under green which amounted to nearly 36.5 minutes. Five of those 14 (including the last four) were side-by-side breaks. The last of these breaks ended on lap 169.
As crazy as that sounds, those numbers aren’t really out of whack from what we’ve seen in the Daytona 500 in recent years. Those 14 commercial breaks under green are right about normal if you don’t have a lot of yellows. Sunday’s race didn’t have many yellows early (one outside of the stage breaks in the first 300 miles), so you’re going to get a lot of that.
What is a little different is that the final break under green ended with 32 laps to go in regulation (44 overall). That is something I can use previous races to check. Last year’s final green-flag break ended on lap 182. The year before, it was lap 179. It was lap 153 due to a bunch of yellows in 2019 and lap 183 in 2017. The latest that I found going back through my years of notes was approximately lap 188 in 2013.
The front-loading of commercial breaks early on is apparently a strategy that new FOX NASCAR producer Chuck McDonald is advocating for. McDonald comes to FOX NASCAR from FOX Sports’ college football coverage. There is something to be said about that. Get the commercials done as fast as you can so you don’t miss anything important later on. That is the same strategy that often results in networks trying to fit in as many breaks during cautions as they can. The problem is, you’re not going to miss anything important due to commercial breaks early on in a football game because football games have time for commercial breaks built in (in the stadiums, they’re typically referred to as official timeouts). NASCAR is not like that, even with stages.
It is a strategy that might be more sound if you’re not at Daytona International Speedway or Talladega Superspeedway. At those two tracks, there is often a lull in activity starting with 30 laps to go that will last until the final couple of laps without a caution as drivers and teams plan out their moves. That is what we had Sunday. Effectively, FOX got all the breaks out of the way to show a bunch of single-file racing since the wild stuff just so happened to occur during commercials. That’s some bad luck right there at best.
Larry McReynolds took time Monday (Feb. 20) to talk about the commercial load on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. He claimed that the number of commercials in Sunday’s broadcast was down two breaks from 2021 and down four from 2020. The problem with that is that both races were affected by rain. The 2020 event ran only 20 laps on Sunday before being postponed to Monday afternoon due to rain. 2021 had a red flag for rain 15 laps into the race that stopped racing for five hours. I would argue that you cannot use those years to prove any argument in regard to the number of commercial breaks.
He also indicated that FOX was forced to stick with the full side-by-side break that started on lap 118 because it was a side-by-side break and not a full-screen break. As far as I know, the only time that should be a thing is if this were a local break, which is required once per hour. I know they can’t charge as much as a full-screen break for those, but that was an important moment in the race.
I’m with Clint Bowyer in regard to this wreck in the clip above. Honestly, they should have just waited a little bit before going to the side-by-side break, like 15-20 seconds. Anyone who was watching the race likely noticed that things were getting quite rambunctious at the time. It looked like they were going to wreck at any moment. Had they waited a little bit for things to calm down just a little (perhaps a lap or so), maybe this wouldn’t have happened and we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. They could have paid off the side-by-side break elsewhere.
Outside of the commercials, one of the biggest stories was the pixelation of the digital dash in the new in-car cameras. At first, I thought this was a return to the late 2000s when there was actually an edict to not use in-car cameras during qualifying sessions. It wasn’t. This is ridiculous and just the latest in a series of moves over the past few years that are just embarrassing for the sport.
All of a sudden, RPMs and temperatures are proprietary? Since when? Heck, with this SMT data, everyone can probably already see all that anyway. I wish NASCAR had never allowed the teams that data.
This year, the SMT data is expanding into the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series as digital dashes are showing up there. Zane Smith actually mentioned it when I interviewed him last month. I just don’t see the benefit to the overall product.
At the same time, FOX is touting the new Driver’s Eye camera as the pinnacle of in-car technology. It really does look impressive. Mike Joy showed the camera off during the race. It’s about the size of the USB that comes in a Logitech mouse you buy at Walmart. I joked that it looked like a camera that the GEICO gecko would use.
The pixelation garbage kills the immersion effect that FOX is hoping to provide viewers. At this point, you either have to allow it uncensored on the broadcasts or just ditch it altogether and do something else. FOX isn’t directly paying the RTA to broadcast the races. They’re paying NASCAR. NASCAR should put their foot down here.
Aside from all of that, the main reason everyone watches the Daytona 500 is for the racing coverage. It was up and down. There was some good coverage of the racing during the race, and some not-so-good coverage. For instance, the issues that we’ve had in the past with bumper cams getting too much use at Daytona may be a thing of the past That’s a good thing.
However, I did have issues with a couple of aspects of the broadcast. It seemed to be a little too focused on stuff that happened at the very front. You have instances like whatever happened to Ty Gibbs on Sunday. Based on what I could tell, Gibbs cut a tire and had to make an unscheduled stop. That is why he finished two laps down in 25th, but it was never really acknowledged.
I felt that the broadcast was a little slow at times getting to things that were happening. Likely the best example I could give is the Austin Dillon wreck that set up the second green-white-checker restart.
Joy was in a position where he had to direct the production to pick up the big ‘ol wreck. While Joy is experienced in the booth and can do that, he shouldn’t have to.
Post-race coverage was rather brief since the race ran over the timeslot by 25 minutes. As a result, there were only three post-race interviews (winner Stenhouse, Joey Logano and Christopher Bell), despite indications that there were going to be more than that. In addition, there was also the big wreck on the final lap. A number of drivers (most notably Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski) took some big hits there. The replays didn’t really show how big of a hit Bubba Wallace took, but you did see Larson and Keselowski’s nasty hits. No updates were given on the drivers after the race, which made a number of my colleagues rather nervous.
Obviously, you don’t want to guess in those situations because you could make quite the fool out of yourself if you’re wrong. However, viewers definitely wanted some kind of update on the situation. I wish that FOX could have stayed on-air in Daytona a little longer to give some kind of an update. We just got nothing.
Pre-race coverage was very substantial. Four hours of content before the race. A highlight there included Tom Rinaldi sitting down with Kyle Busch to discuss the mess surrounding his departure from Joe Gibbs Racing, his move to Richard Childress Racing and more.
Likely the biggest takeaway from that interview is that Busch admitted that Joe Gibbs was willing to go fully into his own pocket to keep Busch in the No. 18 going forward. That says a lot about how Gibbs felt about Busch knowing that the former would have been spending millions of his own dollars to keep him in the car. Busch didn’t want Gibbs to do that to himself.
The other notable part of the interview is that Busch basically went out of his way to not address his recent detainment in Cancun with a concealed weapon. Busch basically said that he had already made a statement about that and that he didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
Am I surprised that Busch took this tactic? No. Do I think he would have been this nice about it had it not been Rinaldi asking the questions? Probably not. I think he would have either walked out of the interview or chewed any of the NASCAR media regulars a new one if they tried to ask him about it. This would have been a very different interview had Bob Pockrass conducted it.
Speaking of Pockrass, is there any reason why he doesn’t get to do these sit-down interviews on camera? He’s supposed to be FOX Sports’ NASCAR expert on the ground with over 20 years of seniority and most of what he does these days is tweet. Granted, what he does tweet is valuable information, but I feel like FOX Sports isn’t using Pockrass’ talent to the best of their ability.
Outside of the aforementioned Rinaldi interview, you had Josh Sims interviewing Martin Truex Jr., Jamie McMurray interviewing Kevin Harvick and Bowyer interviewing Jimmie Johnson. Of those three, the one with Harvick was probably the best. Here, Harvick spent time talking about how he uses motorsports to teach his children life lessons. That’s an interesting and rarely-seen angle.
Overall, FOX clearly has some things to work on. McDonald is new in his role, but he’s clearly seeing that things happen extremely quickly in NASCAR. Quicker cuts are necessary. The broadcast needs to do a better job of informing viewers about everything that is going on. Perhaps spreading the breaks out a little more in plate races could be useful as well.
FOX also announced their guest analysts for the next four Cup races Sunday. Stewart will be back at Auto Club Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway. Meanwhile, Danica Patrick will be in the booth for Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway, the two races closest to her home in Scottsdale, Ariz.
As compared to last year, Stewart gains an additional race as Matt Kenseth was in the booth for Fontana. That’s a bit of a shame as Kenseth was actually pretty good last year. That said, Stewart is still pretty good in the booth and actually does add quite a bit to the broadcasts. Problem is, you’re always going to have the conflict of interest with him since he’s a sitting team owner in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Patrick’s two races are the two she did last year. She was ok in those races, nothing special, but nothing egregiously bad. She continues to get reps both here and with NBC Sports (Back on Friday, NBC Sports announced that she’ll be back on the Indianapolis 500 broadcast). I do feel that she might be better at interviewing people than as a straight analyst, though. That is one of her primary gigs these days with her podcast, Pretty Intense.
That’s all for this week. Next week, the Cup and NASCAR Xfinity Series teams will make the cross-country haul to California to start the West Coast Swing, or NASCAR Goes West, at Auto Club.
We will have critiques of the final major races on the two-mile configuration at Auto Club in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter will cover additional action from Daytona.
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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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