Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube
As you can imagine, the big news of the weekend came out Friday evening with Chase Elliott’s broken tibia in a snowboarding accident. Both the NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series broadcasts started off with discussions about the injury and what it will mean for Cup.
Here, we saw drivers such as Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick talk about the situation and how they handle themselves away from the track. Our own Michael Massie and Bryan Nolen were there when these quotes were being given Saturday.
The general takeaway from NASCAR RaceDay is that likely nothing will change due to Elliott’s injury and that drivers cannot simply park their lives during the season. They have to be able to do what they like. Also, in Elliott’s case, he is not a novice when it comes to snowboarding. Wrecks happen on the slopes. We may never know the particulars of what happened here.
Las Vegas brought Danica Patrick back to the broadcast booth for what will be the first of at least three (two with FOX) appearances for 2023. Compared to Tony Stewart, she is a very different commentator.
In the past, Patrick has struggled to really work well with other analysts. That is not her fault. Her debut booth appearance back in 2015 was abysmal, but that was because she had Michael Waltrip jumping all over her to the point where she felt that she couldn’t contribute. Thankfully, things have gotten better since then, but they aren’t perfect.
Sunday’s broadcast saw Clint Bowyer cutting Patrick off quite a bit. It just seemed unnecessary to me. Let her contribute. She’s actually trying to do good work and if you cut her off all the time to do whatever, that will do a couple of things. One is that it will make the broadcast rather messy. Viewers will have some trouble following what the booth is going on about.
Second, for as much work Patrick does these days in media (her podcast, Pretty Intense, has 184 episodes as of this writing), she still doesn’t have that much TV experience. The number of race broadcasts that she’s worked on to this point is under 10. It takes a long time to really work into a rhythm.
Also, Pretty Intense is mainly an interview show. I’ll admit that a decent percentage of the subject matter is not really my cup of tea. Most of her guests are notable in the fields of wellness, health care and various sciences, although a number of NASCAR personalities, including Bowyer, have been guests. That said, Patrick is quite engaging with her guests. In today’s race broadcasts, being able to craft interesting questions is a good ability to have, but not necessarily for a booth analyst. You’re supposed to have the answers to those questions in that role. That said, Patrick seems to know the right question to ask. That ability might suit her better for a pit reporting role.
Do not take this as me stating that Bowyer is being antagonistic toward Patrick. That couldn’t be further from the truth. As far as I know, Bowyer and Patrick are friendly toward one another. He probably doesn’t even realize what he’s doing in that respect.
I found Patrick’s performance on Sunday to be decent. She seems to go about her work a little differently from other analysts. Obviously, if you’re commentating on a race, you better be watching it to a certain degree. She watched Sunday’s race with an eye toward identifying trends that she could commentate on. Much of the input that she had during the broadcast was informative and seemingly not self-serving.
That said, it was a little difficult for her to get her input in. One example of this occurred early on when Patrick wanted to talk about the run that Reddick was having. At the time, Reddick had come from the rear of the field to run in 15th. That got cut off because of a full-screen virtual cutaway piece with Larry McReynolds talking about grille openings, something that has been more or less standardized ever since the Next Gen car was introduced.
I don’t want to say that the piece was pointless, but that could have been a split-screen piece at minimum. It also could have waited until Patrick was done with what she was saying.
A feature of both races in Las Vegas was this very unusual feeling of defeat as if the race was over long before it actually was. Let’s face facts. A NASCAR race is generally never over until the checkered flag flies. This isn’t Formula 1, where a number of people thought Max Verstappen couldn’t have been touched in Bahrain International Circuit on Sunday after Oracle Red Bull Racing swept the front row. Sure enough, he wasn’t.
Sunday saw the broadcast seemingly resigned to the notion that Kyle Larson was going to win the race and not be challenged in the process. Obviously, since Aric Almirola crashed in turn 4 to bring out a late caution, that didn’t come to pass.
The way FOX often shows the final 10-15% of a Cup race creates the interpretation that if there isn’t anything going on at the front, then there is absolutely nothing going on at all. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Anyone that goes to Cup races in person could tell you that.
Such a strategy is borderline disingenuous. Show viewers as much on-track action as they can stand, regardless of where it is in the field.
Sunday’s race ended a little early. As a result, there was a little more post-race coverage than in the first two races. Viewers were treated to interviews with the top five finishers, and an additional interview with Martin Truex Jr. The Truex interview is notable because Jamie Little got an exclusive interview as Truex didn’t talk to other media members post-race.
Overall, Sunday’s race didn’t have all that much energy. It seems like everyone is just going through the motions. The takeaway a lot of viewers had was that it was boring. In reality, there was effectively as much passing as last year. I described the race as pretty good in last year’s critique.
Patrick’s performance was about identical to last year. Nothing horrible, but nothing truly stood out. A decent start. Having only a couple of weeks in the booth does make it difficult to get into a groove, though. After Phoenix Raceway, Patrick is out of the booth until her NBC commitments in May.
ALSCO Uniforms 300
Saturday saw the NASCAR Xfinity Series take on Las Vegas Motor Speedway for 300 miles. This was a decent race but had an even more blatant example of fatalism as compared to Sunday.
If you saw the race live, you probably saw how Kaulig Racing’s Chandler Smith dominated the second half of the race. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that he was going to win in just his sixth career start.
On lap 173, Adam Alexander even stated, “It seems like this is how the race should finish.” Don’t say that. How do you know that? You don’t. At the bare minimum, you’re not giving the viewers any real reason to watch the rest of the race.
Do I think a bunch of people heard that and hit the clicker? I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure somebody did. If that did happen, the result would likely not have been anything like the time Tony Schiavone was forced to spoil a WWF Monday Night Raw result in early 1999 on WCW Monday Night Nitro, resulting in 600,000 people changing the channel. Had that happened Saturday, that number would have constituted a sizable percentage of the race’s TV audience.
As we know now, Austin Hill and Justin Allgaier were able to run Smith down once the No. 16 started to fade, apparently due to a tight condition. It just goes to show that a race is not over until it’s over. FOX Sports would do well to abide by that standard. Otherwise, they run the risk of making themselves look bad.
Saturday was also the first race of the year in the broadcast booth for Harvick. While Harvick has been in and out of the booth in guest analyst roles since 2015, Saturday’s role takes an added importance since he’s already signed to be in the broadcast booth full-time for Cup races in 2024.
With that said, what Harvick does in the booth takes on added importance this year since it’s not just for fun. Harvick’s been away from the booth for a couple of years, and it showed. He seemed very quiet and really not into the race very much.
He was able to provide some good commentary at times, but he seemed out of sorts. For now, we have to consider this as a baseline. It is my hope that he will improve from here. He still has six more races in the booth this season (three Xfinity races, including next weekend in Phoenix, and three NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races). He’ll also have NASCAR RaceHub appearances.
I think that Harvick will go back and watch the broadcast this weekend to judge his own performance. From there, he’ll go and make his own changes in order to improve for Phoenix, a track where his record speaks for itself.
Then again, it wasn’t all Harvick’s fault. The booth in general just seemed dead on Saturday, and it wasn’t really warranted.
Especially early on, there was excellent racing to be had and FOX Sports 1 did a great job covering that. When things spread out a little more, they need to be willing to be more inclusive and spread out their coverage.
Post-race coverage was quite brief as the broadcast ran long. Viewers only got interviews with Hill and Smith before leaving Nevada.
Overall, I think Harvick has some work to do prior to Phoenix since his performance was somewhat underwhelming. But he’s not the only one. The rest of the booth needs to improve their form as well. You cannot sleepwalk through races.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup and NASCAR Xfinity Series will be back in action at Phoenix, where the big story is the new rules package for Cup that will reduce downforce. They’ll be joined by the ARCA Menards Series and ARCA Menards Series West, which will have a conjunction race Friday night that serves as the West season opener. TV listings can be found here.
We will have critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races from Phoenix in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex will cover Friday night’s Victoria’s Voice Foundation 200 for the Truck Series.
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.