1. Was no penalty for Ryan Preece at Bristol Dirt the correct call?
Larson first squeezed Preece into the outside wall out of turn 4 in the second stage; the contact bent a right rear toe link and ultimately spoiled what was shaping up to be Preece’s best performance of the season.
Preece and the No. 41 team were clearly not happy with how the situation went down, and they threatened retaliation afterward.
After Larson spun on his own in the final stage, the two met again with 76 laps to go. Preece returned the favor and put Larson in the outside wall, and whether it was out of frustration or because the car couldn’t turn, Larson bounced off the No. 41 car heading into turn 1 and spun out. The contact ended his day with a 35th-place finish.
Preece, however, denied intentionally wrecking him after the race and said that he got loose.
While such an incident would normally be a nothingburger when it came to penalties, Denny Hamlin’s penalty (and the upholding of said penalty) for running Ross Chastain into the wall at Phoenix Raceway changed the game.
But there is a difference between promising retaliation and admitting an intentional act because a driver or team threatening retaliation does not always mean that it happens (just ask Martin Truex Jr. about how Joey Logano did in fact win the damn war in 2018).
Judging from what happened in the race, one could conclude that Preece decided to squeeze Larson. But since it didn’t come out of his mouth, the possibility exists that it was, in fact, an accident or a product of hard racing.
Hamlin decided to remove all doubt while Preece did the opposite after the race; no penalty was the right call.
2. Are FOX broadcasts hurting NASCAR’s ratings?
NASCAR’s 75th Anniversary season began with a degree of fanfare and goodwill that started to come undone in race one.
The season-opening Daytona 500 puts more eyeballs on the TV and more butts in the seats than any other NASCAR race out there, but FOX and its coverage of the so-called Commercial 500 were heavily criticized right out of the gate.
To FOX’s credit, they have tried to address the situation. Mike Joy will, on occasion, give a reason for a commercial break (to not miss green flag pit stops, to allow more coverage of the closing laps, etc.) for starters. The network has also implemented a new feature in the form of the race tracker (which gives a timeline of the race with green and yellow colors to denote green-flag laps and cautions) as well.
But while commercials are a necessary evil to any broadcast, what has also drawn ire is the lack of excitement in coverage and race tangibles that are routinely absent.
The broadcast seemingly checking out at the end of the Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when a Larson win was far from guaranteed is one particular example, and it appears that chemistry is lacking on the broadcasts at times.
One of the issues is that the third commentator for FOX has been a revolving door ever since Jeff Gordon departed the booth, and it’s hard to get a rhythm when there is almost a different person each week (the good news is that FOX will finally have another permanent commentator in Kevin Harvick for the start of 2024).
The broadcast at Circuit of the Americas was also a matter of too many cooks in the kitchen, as there were not one, not two but five people in the booth: Joy, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Guenther Steiner and Chase Elliott (via Zoom).
Finally, NASCAR is a sport that requires quick camera work to capture action on track. The entire track can’t be captured in one frame, so the broadcast has to pick and choose what to show; those camera shots are crucial.
And during Sunday’s broadcast at Bristol Dirt, there were several times when Joy and the announcers would announce that a spin, battle or crash happened on track, but the viewers were left waiting several seconds until the camera finally paned to the action, if it did at all. In an event like NASCAR, that’s unacceptable.
A freefall in TV viewership has occurred in addition to the rocky start in coverage. There are always a variety of factors in play for a viewership decline, and while the broadcasts may not be the culprit, they certainly aren’t helping either.
3. Will Chase Elliott’s time off give him an advantage over the rest of the field?
It was announced this week that Elliott return to Martinsville Speedway this Sunday (April 16). Elliott, who was sidelined for six races after fracturing his left leg while snowboarding, will make his first Cup start since Feb. 26 at Auto Club Speedway.
Josh Berry, who held down the No. 9 team fort on ovals while Elliott was away, will be on standby if needed.
Now, it’s certainly expected for Elliott to show some rust in his first handful of starts back. His leg has finally healed, and it may take some time to get back into the rhythm that the other teams and drivers currently have.
But down the line, could the missed races prove to be an advantage?
If there’s one thing that the teams and drivers can agree on, it’s that the NASCAR season is long and grueling. From early February to the first week of November, the teams only have a single week off in June.
The grind has already started with the first eight races of the season, but Elliott wasn’t on the road during his recovery. In addition, he had more downtime to relax and rest up.
In 2015, Kyle Busch was presented with a similar timeline after a crash in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway. He was sidelined for the first 11 races of the season due to a broken leg, and while he didn’t make much noise in his first four starts back, Busch then proceeded to rattle off four wins in the next five races.
And, as everyone may remember, he went on to win the title that November.
Elliott may or may not see that amount of success upon returning, but he also has several good tracks lined up in the upcoming weeks.
One of them is Dover Motor Speedway on April 30, which is one of the few ovals where Elliott had scored two Cup wins. And with how dominant Hendrick has been, it would not be a surprise to see him lead laps or outright win it.
4. Will the Truck Series field be chasing Ty Majeski this year?
Ty Majeski has only led four laps in the first six NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races of 2023, but he has already built up a 34-point regular season points lead after an onslaught of top-five finishes.
With finishes of second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and 11th, Majeski is sitting with a league-leading average finish of 5.7. But while he has not been able to make his presence known at the top of the scoring pylon just yet, Majeski is coming off a second-place finish at Bristol Dirt, where he had an average running position of … 2.
ThorSport Racing teammate Logano led 138 of the 150 laps of the race on his way to the checkered flag, and if Logano had not dipped down from the Cup Series, it may very well have been Majeski leading all the laps last Saturday (April 8).
Regardless, it appears that Majeski is here to stay in the upper echelon of the Truck Series. He ended last season on a hot streak with two wins and 271 laps led in the final seven races, and with the speed the No. 98 team has shown so far, another one of those streaks may be just around the corner.
As for him being the driver to beat, he’s not there yet; defending champion Zane Smith and Christian Eckes have already impressed to the tune of three combined wins. But add a win and some extended time out front, and Majeski will be right there at the top.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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