Circuit of the Americas brought some new (or returning, depending on how you look at it) race mechanics. The abolition of stage breaks opened things up quite a bit and was actually quite a joy to watch. Of course, the way the natural cautions actually fell, all three races technically did have a stage break. We also had a full house on Sunday.
During the Ambetter Health 400 broadcast, FOX announced that they were going to have a four-man booth with both Kurt Busch and Guenther Steiner. Already, you were looking at a pretty busy broadcast. Then, they made an announcement Thursday on NASCAR RaceHub.
Yes, adding Chase Elliott to the broadcast (from his vacation property in Colorado, I guess) technically made for a five-man booth. I was rather worried when I heard this.
Originally, this was going to entail Elliott only being on the broadcast during stage two. But on Sunday Elliott showed up on the broadcast on lap 3 and hung around to the finish. Effectively, you had five people on the call for almost the whole race. It was a bit of a mess.
Clint Bowyer seemed to be dominating the commentary by virtue of being the loudest. Some of his ways of engaging Steiner came off as weird. There was a lot of discussion about fuel mileage, which was a legitimate story Sunday. Then, he tried to engage Steiner by trying to compare that to Formula 1, where there is no refueling. Under present rules in F1, running low on fuel is nearly impossible to do since the car has to be full at the start and mileage is so much better now. Such an argument would have made more sense in 1988 when fuel capacity had been cut and running out of fuel before the finish was a real thing.
Elliott seemed to be in great spirits Sunday and was able to contribute quite a bit from his lair. He also seemed happier than we normally see him. I don’t really know why that would be.
Regardless, I hope FOX doesn’t have a broadcast like they did Sunday again. Just too many people trying to get in there. The potential for people to trip over themselves is too high.
There were other problems as well during the race. One was the heat issues. Tyler Reddick and Alex Bowman both had cool suit failures during the race that roasted them good. Jenson Button was whipped by the end of the race and considered pulling out due to heat exhaustion.
Broadcast-wise, viewers really didn’t know about these cool suit issues. I only really found out about them during the post-race interviews. Why is that? I’m not sure, but I think FOX only having two pit reporters for 39 teams is likely part of it.
We are far removed from the days when ESPN had four pit reporters for NASCAR Xfinity Series races around 2009 when I started writing this column. Back then, the four pit reporters would only really be responsible for getting information on maybe 12 teams. They would eventually bring their information together in meetings.
Having only two pit reporters means that each reporter (in this case, Jamie Little and Regan Smith) is responsible for much more coverage. Eventually, you’re going to stretch your reporters beyond their abilities. FOX would have done well to keep Josh Sims out there for Sunday.
That said, we did get some decent pit coverage Sunday. You heard quite a bit of commentary about tire wear and how much the tires were (or were not) dropping off. The only tires we actually saw on the broadcast were from Jordan Taylor’s car that showed chunking. They never really determined whether the chunking was something everyone was dealing with, or if it was just a consequence of Taylor roasting his tires under braking for turn 11 early on.
The start of the race showed off some additional issues that FOX has had recently and that they haven’t fixed. Quite simply, it was as if no one was paying attention to timing and scoring (which the booth has on a dedicated screen). No one noticed that the caution was out for something like 10 seconds after it was called for a wreck involving a number of drivers.
Watching the coverage, I was very unclear as to who spun out Brad Keselowski to even trigger the wreck in the first place, or if he was even touched at all. The incident caused a scramble that resulted in Chris Buescher, Ty Dillon and Jimmie Johnson getting collected.
Focus-wise, that is an issue I discussed two weeks ago, and it clearly hasn’t gotten better. Granted, you could argue that something like that happening in Phoenix Raceway is worse than COTA since nearly everything in Phoenix is right in front of you.
Despite these issues, Sunday’s race probably had the best racing of the three Cup races on the 3.41-mile road course to date. The track is well suited to side-by-side racing and NASCAR drivers are not necessarily the kind of people to play follow the leader nicely. There was plenty of action to go around, even when the field was spread out.
Reddick’s form Sunday was truly amazing. He won the race despite making an extra pit stop to the rest of the leaders. He also did it while literally roasting himself in the process. It will likely go down as one of his greatest victories.
The wrecking toward the end of the race sullied the event as it seemed that everyone lost their minds. It became rather difficult to figure out what was going on at times. Christopher Bell was eliminated in a crash on the final restart in turn 7, but I couldn’t tell you what happened, or who he wrecked with. We just saw dust and bent bodywork.
With all of the late wrecks, the race ended up roughly 30 minutes late. Despite this, FOX still provided a decent amount of post-race coverage with five interviews and a decent amount of post-race analysis before leaving Austin.
That said, they didn’t really talk about something that will likely be newsworthy this week. Daniel Suarez’s post-race pit road contact with Bowman. That’s not cool and could result in penalties.
For next weekend in Richmond, FOX announced during the race that Larry McReynolds will be back on-site. This is a good move that will only benefit the broadcast. You’ll have a different feel and McReynolds will be able to broaden his knowledge, to the benefit of viewers.
Overall, FOX continues to show that they need to pay more attention to the goings-on out there. It is rather frustrating to watch some of these races and have trouble figuring out some of the things going on because FOX is tardy, or it’s outright never mentioned. That isn’t going to work. I don’t know if I’ve ever been this frustrated with FOX as a whole in the 14 previous years that I’ve written this column.
Having five people in the booth should never happen again. It just gets so busy that things will get lost in the ether.
Having Steiner on the broadcast struck me at first as a bald-faced attempt to cash in on Steiner’s popularity on Netflix’s Drive To Survive. On paper, that’s ridiculous. You’re pandering.
Steiner seemingly didn’t know much about modern NASCAR topics and really didn’t have that much time to immerse himself in the sport knowing that he’s in the middle of the Formula 1 season and he was likely going straight to Australia from Austin. That said, Steiner seemed to enjoy himself and was getting into the race.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is very busy as NASCAR has their first split weekend of the year. The NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series will be at Richmond Raceway. Meanwhile, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the NTT IndyCar Series will be at Texas Motor Speedway. SRO America will start their season in earnest at Sonoma Raceway, while ARCA Menards Series West has a standalone race at Irwindale Speedway. TV listings can be found here.
I will be in Texas this weekend to help bring you the high-banked action along with Mike Knapp and Stephen Stumpf. That said, the schedule is such that I will be able to bring you a critique (gotta love an 11:15 a.m. CT green flag for INDYCAR Sunday). Couch Potato Tuesday next week here at Frontstretch will cover Cup at Richmond and INDYCAR in Texas. The Critic’s Annex will cover additional action from Austin.
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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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