Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Martinsville Doesn’t Provide FOX With the Necessary Action

Martinsville Speedway is a popular venue with teams and fans alike. It is not necessarily the car with the most power that wins. Rather, it is the best-handling car. However, since the Next Gen car entered the NASCAR Cup Series, other factors have come into play.

NOCO 400

2022 was rather miserable at Martinsville as neither race was particularly all that competitive. The Xfinity 500 was particularly bad as there were fewer than 700 total passes on track for the entire race. Needless to say, this could not stand.

Since then, NASCAR has unveiled its new low-downforce rules package, meant to improve the action. Martinsville was the true test.

See also
NASCAR Announces New Rules Package for Short Tracks, Road Courses

The first half of the race was not particularly swell. No one could touch Ryan Preece. I don’t recall ever saying that since he’s been in the Cup Series. Furthermore, it appeared to be really difficult to pass.

That said, there was some action to be had. Unlike many broadcasts, the on-track actually seemed to pick up as the race went on and teams got themselves on alternate strategies.

In the booth on Sunday (Apr. 16) was Bobby Labonte. While he doesn’t have a lot of experience in the broadcast booth, he does have a lot of experience as an analyst on NASCAR RaceHub. As a result, he had a number of things ready to go about the race and was pretty quick to get in there. I thought that he did a good job breaking down the action. I liked him in that spot.

Clint Bowyer came off like he was unprepared. He really hasn’t had much energy this year, as if he has an on/off switch installed on him that is in the off position. I have no idea why that would be the case, knowing that he’s supposed to be the wild one. Perhaps there’s only so much enthusiasm that Bowyer can exude over his lifetime and he’s coming precariously close to running out.

He also seemed to have no idea what Team NEGU, the primary sponsor of Corey LaJoie’s car was yesterday, stating that on-air. The analysts get pages and pages and pages of material that they can use to prepare themselves. I’ve seen that stuff; Jeff Burton showed it to me back in 2018. You don’t have to read it all (and Burton doesn’t read it all, believe me), but you probably should know what a specific sponsor is. Joy posted to Twitter Monday about what Team NEGU is.

Team NEGU will be on the No. 7 in six races this year. Martinsville was the second of the six. You think he would have recognized the car from Fontana.

I still don’t like that FOX Sports keeps Larry McReynolds in Charlotte, but in that position, he can do things that the other on-air personalities cannot. For instance, he went back through the video and discovered that the caution for Anthony Alfredo’s lost wheel completely bailed out Chase Briscoe as he had a terrible stop.

Speaking of Alfredo’s mess, FOX Sports 1 had footage of Alfredo’s lost tire on screen for what seemed like 20-25 seconds before NASCAR threw the caution for it. I found that interesting. It was not a good look for NASCAR. A shot facing towards the flag stand from turn 1 made it look like the flagman could see the wheel. Remember that race control, not the flagger, determines when the yellow comes out. I’d like a better explanation for what was going on there. Regardless, there will be penalties levied toward Live Fast Motorsports this week.

Prior to the race, FS1 aired a feature about how Martinsville was critical to the history of Hendrick Motorsports. As All-Star Racing, the team earned its Cup Series victory there in the 1984 Sovran Bank 500, a race that could have been the team’s last.

The whole thing struck me as very dramatized, with untruths mixed in. For example, it made it look like Mary Hendrick watched the race live on TV. That didn’t happen. In 1984, the fall race at Martinsville aired in tape-delayed, highlighted form on Special Events Television Network (SETN), which was a syndication service that would put broadcasts on over-the-air stations. It is unclear whether the Sovran Bank 500 would have aired on TV at all. Live, flag-to-flag broadcasts of Cup races from Martinsville didn’t come until 1988.

We know that the call from Mary to Rick did occur in real life. It just didn’t look like that. Mary likely listened to the race on MRN Radio. If SETN broadcasted the race, I’m unclear as to when it would have aired.

That said, FOX Sports has someone on the payroll that worked for SETN in 1984: Mike Joy. He was their play-by-play commentator at the time. Joy has a great memory of these types of things. It should have run that by him first.

A lack of cautions meant that the race ended well ahead of schedule. FS1 had more than 30 minutes of post-race coverage for viewers.

Overall, Sunday’s race did come off as underwhelming for viewers, especially given how much was riding on the race with the new rules. FS1’s broadcast was more or less a function of that. There wasn’t all that much to show early on. Luckily, it did get better.

That said, it was a step in the right direction. NASCAR needs to go further, but I don’t believe that they have the stomach to do what needs to be done to make the short track product better.

Bowyer appears to be unhappy with the product as well.

That’s not a ringing endorsement of the current package. I described it in Monday’s edition of the Frontstretch Newsletter as “incremental improvement.” NASCAR likely needed more than that on Sunday.

Long John Silver’s 124

Friday night’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race in Martinsville will go down in NASCAR history. It is the first NASCAR oval race held in the United States to be run on wet tires. The overall takeaway is rather familiar to me.

It was a lot like my day job. Away from writing about TV broadcasts, NASCAR, sports car racing and dirt racing, I work in finance on weekdays. The system I use at work has a bunch of flaws. It doesn’t work quite like it should.

In the past, my supervisor and I have put in requests to fix issues that come up. Oftentimes, we’ll get a reply back from the group that would make those changes (after waiting for weeks) claiming that nothing is wrong and that the system is working as designed. This is despite it being wrong.

That was my takeaway from the rain tire debut Friday night. NASCAR only tested this setup at Martinsville on a surface that they had sprayed down themselves on a sunny day. The idea is that it’s only designed to be used on a drying track, which is what we got Friday night.

If that is the standard that NASCAR wants to use, then yes, it worked as designed. It got the race to a point where they could get past halfway, declare the race official and not have to come back Saturday morning. Doesn’t make it right, though.

That said, there could have been so much more. Obviously, the race really couldn’t have started much earlier than it did. This setup would never work in heavy rain on an oval. Standing water? Not going to work. Thunderstorms? Heck no. But could they have continued after lap 124? If it wasn’t too bad, probably. Just got too late.

Due to the lightning, FS1 really couldn’t do anything in Martinsville once the delay started. It’s a shut down. Can’t do anything about that. Instead, the network played basically a series of Best of NASCAR RaceHub broadcasts to kill time until the race resumed.

Once the race started on the wet tires, there was a lot of gratitude coming from the broadcast booth saying that NASCAR was doing such a great job getting this race started and so on and so forth. I thought that was over the top and unnecessary. As noted above, this setup was deficient, but it worked as designed. Heck, the track was 90% dry by the time they started the race.

What shouldn’t have happened were the controlled cautions and all that stuff. Why was that necessary? This isn’t a standalone race. Everyone had their regular crews.

What would have really helped was if FS1 described to viewers what really went into the changes that took place during this controlled caution. The rain package, as currently required by NASCAR, includes a number of pieces that have to be on the car at all times on short tracks and road courses (the wiper, the rain lights, the potentially flammable mud flaps, etc.).

See also
NASCAR Reveals Multiple 2023 Rules Changes

Overall, this race really didn’t have a lot of on-track action to critique. Of the 124 laps that were completed in four hours before the race was declared official, 63 (more than half) were under yellow. There were a grand total of two lead changes and the stage breaks were unnaturally long. It’s difficult to actually talk about the on-track product in that situation.

What can be talked about is that the booth shouldn’t be blushing all over NASCAR all night long just because they actually started the race. This race could have been quite a bit better had they left things up to the crews a little. I think they could have started a little earlier and run later by putting the rain tires back on. Kyle Busch would likely agree with that stance.

I was not in Martinsville Friday night. After the race was called, FOX Sports 1 got off-air pretty quickly, so I couldn’t tell you how hard it ultimately rained. Perhaps this was a short shower and with 25 minutes with the track driers, they could have gone again on the wets.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Cup and NASCAR Xfinity Series teams will be at Talladega Superspeedway for some drafting goodness, mixed with shenanigans. Both series will be joined by the ARCA Menards Series, back for its first race since Phoenix. TV listings can be found here.

We will be back with critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex will cover Saturday night’s Xfinity race from Martinsville.

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.

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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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Bill B

Wow. I wouldn’t have thought Bowyer had the stones to bite the hand that feeds. If he were a driver he’d be getting an “Action detrimental to racing” penalty and fine. Bowyer has finally done something that I can respect. Give credit where it is due. The short track program does “suck”. The worst part is that I doubt NASCAR will do anything to try and fix it before next season.

This week I almost have to give the talking heads in the booth a break. You can’t do much to make a conveyor belt race seem exciting, especially when viewers are expecting a typical beat and bang Martinsville race. All I can say is that NASCAR better hope that Talladega doesn’t turn into a single file parade.

Sue

Hey Bill! I remember when either 2 or 3 media repoters and TV guys had their hard cards pulled by Bill France for talking bad about Nascar. Larry Mac was one of them but I don’t remember the other ones. Big Bill would never have let this mess continue. Now a race can be terrible and the Media and TV(Race Hub is the worst) will go ona d on about how great it was.

JT

I am beginning to wonder if Clint Boyer’s contract with FoxSports is up after this season? That tweet about Martinsville and NASCAR’s short track package probably didn’t play well with FoxSports, or NASCAR. I understand he Tweeted the truth, but sometimes he has to remember who writes the checks.

Kevin in SoCal

I have seen fans complaining that Bowyer is over-the-top excited, so he tones it down for a race, and now the fans complain about that? Uhm, ok…..

Bill B

While your point is noted, I didn’t say anything about Clint’s performance in the booth this week in my comment. I was referring to the Twitter comment he made. In fact none of the above comments refer to his broadcast being loud or quiet or over-the-top.
You must have meant to reply to another comment.

Alex Curtis

The only thing that will make NASCAR fans happy is blood. If there aren’t enough crashes to kill drivers then give them guns and let them shoot at the cars, I mean these people are dumb enough to think the cars are hauling moonshine. It was a good race, cars could run high and low, I saw no issues except for the liar idiot Mike Joy is still around. He once stated he was a northeast modified ace, he finally had to admit his only racing experience is parking lot sport car time trials.

Bill B

If you think anyone thinks that the cars are hauling moonshine then you are the idiot. Was there any point to your comment except to denigrate NASCAR fans?
And may I also point out that if you actually watch the races, then that makes you a fan as well, and while you may differentiate yourself from the rest of us, those looking from the outside think the same of you.

SB

Again, only one car crossed the finish line, according to the TV ‘coverage’. Pathetic. I assume the winners pit celebrates long enough to actually cover the finish of ALL the teams?

Rg72

If you recall, Bowyer was involved in an accident where a pedestrian was killed last year. Even though he was not at fault, it surely has weigh on him a lot. Could be the reason for a more subdued Bowyer.

janice

i fell asleep during the martinsville truck race wait out from lightening. when i saw racehub and i can only take so much of that, i turned it off.

so they’re only going to run rain tires when track is 90% dry. i was kind of hoping they’d run in the actual rain event.

that hendrick thing on sunday was confusing. why? i guess fans didn’t get enough hendrick coverage with the chase love-fest that took place all week long after it was announced he’d be back? when i first saw that bit i thought it was something from days of thunder.

chase – if i was his ortho doc i’d be nervous about dega. chase was stiff and sore from martinsville, what will he be like after 500 laps wide open?

onto dega……right now chance of rain on saturday.

Bill B

I would think Martinsville is physically more demanding than Talladega. The sharp corners, the continuous braking and shifting, etc. I would think Talladega is more mentally draining.
I would advise all fans to stop watching FOX’s pre-race show. There is no value added to overall experience and very little relevant information. It’s more of a circus.

janice

especially the “grid walk”…..i loved the comment he said about preparing 2 hrs for segment that lasts 2 seconds.

Kurt Smith

Agreed, I said elsewhere that Fox thinks it’s about them. I don’t know who at Fox Sports HQ thinks Michael Waltrip’s pit walk makes for better television than an actual analysis of the race we’re about to see.

wildcats2016

I’m so with you on not watching the pre-race show. I haven’t watched in year as IMO it’s a total waste of time.

Kicks

Looked like there was some close racing for about 3rd place on the last lap but never got to see those cars get to the finish line so no idea how that ended.

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