Auto Club Speedway was vilified for much of the 2000s, first for not providing good racing, then for snatching a race date away from Rockingham Speedway in 2004. In recent years, the track has had something of a renaissance as the surface has aged.
However, Sunday was the last race at Auto Club for the foreseeable future as NASCAR has plans to convert the facility into a short track. It’s still unclear when that might come to pass (likely in 2025). We already know that there will not be any racing there in 2024.
Because of all that, this past weekend in Fontana felt somewhat similar to North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1996, even though the circumstances are different. Back then, you could just tell how bummed out everyone was that the NASCAR Cup Series was leaving Wilkes County. The Cup broadcast seemed to be more of the same.
Pala Casino 400
Sunday’s 400-mile race was officially sold out. However, 45-degree weather and a number of travel issues in Southern California caused by flooding and road closures due to snow kept a decent number of fans away. It’s quite a shame since it was a decent race.
Ultimately, the one instance that truly stood out was when AJ Allmendinger crashed on lap 75 exiting turn 2. It looked extremely strange when it aired.
Honestly, this is the kind of booth audio you usually see if a race is in commercial when the crash happens. That was not the case on Sunday.
What was the case is that the actual coverage of the wreck was slightly delayed. It is something that I’ve never really seen on NASCAR broadcasts, but I’ve seen quite a bit while watching FIA World Endurance Championship races on Motor Trend. You’ll see something happen, the camera will cut, then you’ll see the same thing again from another angle. It is extremely strange to watch on TV.
Sadly, this strange instance was the definitive moment of the race. There was a distinct lack of energy for much of the Cup broadcast Sunday. It was like everyone was just going through the motions as if the whole weekend was a letdown.
In and around the restarts, there was a good amount of racing for position. Then, there were some strange decisions made in regard to what to show. Late in the race, everything narrowed up despite not a lot going on at the front of the field. I’m not sure why this tactic was used because it deprived viewers of some good action.
In regard to the commercial story that was really huge at Daytona International Speedway, I think a lot of the same strategies continued on Sunday, but nothing happened in the race during those times that would cause problems. On lap 160, Mike Joy noted that there was one last side-by-side break remaining in the race (which came on lap 181) if the race ran caution-free to the finish. They held themselves to that.
The biggest takeaway here is that the crowd in Fontana legitimately appeared to be happy for Busch. Given Busch’s popularity in his Cup career to this point, that has been a rarity. More than a small part of this is due to the fact that he is no longer racing a Toyota. I know that it is quite ridiculous by today’s standards, but there is still a sizable subset of the fanbase that is offended by the presence of Toyota in NASCAR, even though this is the 17th year for Toyota in Cup, No. 20 in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the 23rd season since it went full-time in the now-defunct NASCAR Goody’s Dash Series.
Prior to the race, the primary feature saw Clint Bowyer sit down with Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to discuss (for lack of better words) what it’s like to be a Daytona 500 champion. Here, we found out that (at the time the piece was taped), Stenhouse had not yet talked to JTG-Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty (Daugherty was sick and could not attend the race). So, Bowyer calls him up.
I’m not sure what day this was taped (Wednesday, perhaps?), but Daugherty appeared to be quite happy. He was happy Sunday morning as well when he appeared on SportsCenter.
Kevin Harvick took FOX cameras on a small tour of his hometown of Bakersfield to show some of the sites of his early days. We saw his original shop, the neighborhood in Oildale where he grew up, his high school where he was on the wrestling team and more.
For me, it was a bit of a flashback. Back in 2016, NBC Sports Network debuted Racing Roots, where Kyle Petty and Rutledge Wood traveled to learn more about where drivers came from prior to their Cup accomplishments. Harvick was the first driver chronicled. You got a somewhat unabridged version of his past, including the sad reason why his mother left his childhood home in Oildale. Unfortunately, with the demise of NBC Sports’ TrackPass at the end of 2021, Racing Roots is no longer available anywhere.
Obviously, a 22-minute show will cover more ground than a couple of minutes during NASCAR RaceDay, but it was still an interesting look at Harvick’s past. For instance, I don’t recall the earthquake story that Harvick told coming up on Racing Roots.
Overall, the broadcast seemed a little underwhelming but didn’t have any overarching issues other than a complete lack of enthusiasm. It seemed like Joy was enthused, but both Clint Bowyer and Tony Stewart were not. I have no idea why this was the case. I just hope that it doesn’t continue.
If the booth doesn’t seem enthusiastic about what they’re watching, people are going to get bummed and potentially change the channel to the XFL, LIV Golf on The CW or some other random thing on a Sunday. That’s not what NASCAR wants.
Production Alliance Group 300
The NASCAR Xfinity Series race that ran Sunday night had a very different feel. Unlike the Cup race, there was far more energy to go around.
Despite being fresh out of their Cup races, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney had a very active night in the booth. The result was a very lively broadcast. Here, you saw Tyler Reddick get “smushed” into the wall.
The Xfinity race was very competitive. It was an absolute joy to watch John Hunter Nemechek, Sammy Smith, Justin Allgaier and others duel. Blaney, Logano and Adam Alexander really seemed to have fun as well.
Unfortunately, not a lot of people stuck around for it. I know it’s a Sunday evening race and a lot of fans that made the trip had a long drive. As the race continued on, the track got emptier and emptier. There might have been the 3000 people that attended the infamous 2015 MAVTV 500 left by the time it ended at 7:30 p.m. local time.
Both race broadcasts spent a lot of time talking about the big crowds that they had in Fontana on Sunday, but the weather did not allow that to happen. Even in colder climates, you’re going to have trouble getting people to sit outside with temperatures in the 40s and wind for any period of time.
By the time the Xfinity race came around, you were seeing all this great stuff and no one to watch. Not great.
Blaney and Logano work very well together, likely a result of the two of them being teammates and spending a lot of time together. They also have an interesting way of describing things, such as Cole Custer’s move to take the lead from Austin Hill on lap 25 being described as a “chef’s kiss.” Obviously, they really liked that.
Having said that, there were problems. The incidents were not well-covered during the race. The Creed wreck above was covered the best. On the other hand, Gray Gaulding‘s crash had no replays and you had no idea what happened to put him in the wall on the broadcast. Frontstretch talked to Gaulding afterward.
Post-race coverage was pretty minimal. Viewers only got post-race interviews with Nemechek and Sam Mayer before ducking out to get to a Liga MX match in Tijuana (which was originally scheduled to air starting at 10 p.m. ET). As a result, you didn’t really wrap up the race at all. It was a hurry to get to the Xoloitzcuintles.
As you can guess, the Xfinity race was the more enjoyable race to watch, but only partially due to the amount of racing for position. The Alexander-Blaney-Logano booth was very tuned into the event and appeared to have a ball on the call. They were fully engaged.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is a very busy weekend in motorsports. First, NASCAR has a tripleheader weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with the Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Truck Series. Meanwhile, the NTT IndyCar Series begins its 2023 season with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. They’ll be joined by the Road to Indy support series and SRO America’s GT America powered by AWS.
Meanwhile, the Formula 1 World Championship starts its season at the Bahrain International Circuit. They’ll be joined by Formula 2 and Formula 3. TV listings can be found here.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity broadcasts from Las Vegas in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex will go back to Daytona with additional coverage from there.
If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below. Even though I can’t always respond, I do read your comments. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.
As always, if you choose to contact a network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.
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.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.