Talladega Superspeedway is an interesting place, TV-wise. Much of the field stays clustered together, so on paper, it would be easier to cover all the action. Or is it?
Sunday brought the NASCAR Cup Series back to Talladega for what turned out to be 521.36 miles of action. As compared to the eight previous superspeedway races with the Next Gen car, things were a little different.
The previous eight events have been marked by teams falling off of the draft and a near-complete inability to work additional lanes. There were no major rule changes for these tracks since Daytona International Speedway, but it appeared that teams were able to maneuver a little more. There were times when there were three separate competitive lines during the race, something we haven’t seen since the last generation cars were racing.
In addition, it appeared to be harder for teams to lose the draft Sunday (April 23). Only a couple of drivers did all day. Only BJ McLeod lost it on merit all day, which seems like a record. The others were due to penalties or on-track incidents.
That would mean that FOX would potentially have more stories to cover since everyone would be closer together. Not so much. The coverage on Sunday was clustered more towards the front of the field and there weren’t really that many stories covered unless something unusual happened.
Given what we know about superspeedway races, it shouldn’t be the case. You normally have a more substantial cast of characters in the hunt. If anything, Sunday’s race might have been more front-focused than Martinsville Speedway.
This race ended with a series of pretty serious incidents. We got a couple of interviews (taped), most notably with Kyle Larson. Larson mentioned in his interview that his cockpit was a mess. That is due to the contact that Ryan Preece made with him in the crash on lap 190.
I’ve never seen anything like this in my 30+ years of watching NASCAR. It appears that when Preece T-boned Larson, a roll bar failure occurred. That is something straight out of the 1970s that should never happen. The broadcast never really brought attention to that. It should have, not only because it was frightening, but because that could have had terrible consequences. They dropped the ball. The single-source supplier likely dropped the ball here as well. They did note how vicious the hit was.
NASCAR, as it should have, took Larson’s car back to the R&D Center after the race. The Preece car has joined Larson’s in Mooresville. With some luck, some good will come out of this quagmire.
One example of unusual instances was the dual spins during the first round of pit stops for Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe. Both drivers lost control entering the pit lane and wiped out. Reddick was able to resume on his own but had significant damage.
Viewers saw the replay and saw that Reddick was able to get back on track. When Briscoe had his incident, he was able to get back onto the lead lap. That said, you didn’t really hear much about Reddick’s car until late in the race. It was only then that you could see how badly his car was damaged. The fact that he didn’t end up five laps down or more due to being completely uncompetitive is actually quite amazing and it was effectively hidden. I’m surprised that this wasn’t covered more.
Briscoe’s issues were more or less another red mark against the Next Gen car. You had a throwback to last year when tire failures could disable a car on pavement. That should never, ever happen, but it happened here to Briscoe. He’s lucky that it didn’t completely ruin his day.
Sunday’s broadcast, both before and during, went heavy on the Wendy’s advertising. This included a piece that aired under green on lap 79 where they went to the Biggie on the Boulevard to hang out and diss Bob Pockrass on his Dance Dance Revolution skills. It’s one thing to do that during pre-race but during the race? Why? At least nothing of note happened while that aired.
Also, our own Brad Harrison indicated that most of the writers in the media center turned to get Pockrass’ reaction to himself on TV when this aired. I don’t know what they were expecting to get there, but they got something.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy that Wendy’s is in the sport right now, but it seems like their race broadcast exposure is really at odds with how often they sponsor Noah Gragson. Sponsors that are nearly full-season backers don’t get this kind of exposure. On the other hand, you could claim that Wendy’s is getting good value for its money.
There was also significant time given to the “Old Goat” scheme on Briscoe’s No. 14, based on a quip in one of the Mahindra Tractors commercials with Briscoe and guest analyst Tony Stewart. Sure, the commercial’s funny, but you don’t really need to dwell that much on it during the race.
Post-race coverage was fairly brief since the late wrecks burned up all of the extra time that FOX had from the cleaner portions of the race. I would have liked to have heard from some of the other top finishers, such as Chris Buescher and Briscoe, who finished third and fourth. Knowing where he came from to finish fourth, I think Briscoe might have taken priority. The Ryan Blaney interview should have happened earlier as well.
This piece filled in the blanks on that for most viewers. I’m not sure if Bowyer was slyly setting this up at Martinsville, or if he really didn’t know. Regardless, he should know now. It’s a good charity that is getting a decent amount of exposure.
During Sunday’s race, FOX also announced that Rusty Wallace will be the guest analyst in the booth for Sunday’s Wurth 400 in Dover. It will mark Wallace’s first Cup race in the TV booth since 2007.
The year 2007 predates my time critiquing race broadcasts by a couple of years. What I do remember from then was that ESPN snatched up Wallace pretty quickly after he retired at the end of 2005. They put him on INDYCAR coverage in 2006 so that he had booth reps under his belt prior to NASCAR’s ESPN return. Once NASCAR coverage came to ESPN, Wallace underwhelmed in the booth. That resulted in ESPN snagging Dale Jarrett as soon as he retired. By the summer of 2008, Jarrett replaced Wallace in the booth.
Since ESPN left NASCAR, Wallace has been working in the broadcast booth for MRN Radio broadcasts. Granted, radio is not TV, but he was still getting reps for all that time. We’ll see if he’s improved over the years.
Also, viewers couldn’t get a clear idea of where everyone finished before FOX left Talladega. While that clearly bites, it wasn’t FOX’s fault. In order to get those final results, it would have had to stay on-air for an unreasonable amount of time. NASCAR revised the results at 9:41 p.m. ET Sunday night, more than two hours after the race ended and changed the positions of 10 different drivers (for example, Riley Herbst was moved up five spots, while Denny Hamlin was dropped two). By that time, all the teams would have already left and only a couple of media members would have been left at the track.
Overall, Sunday’s coverage was a bit of a headscratcher. There were good moments, such as the coverage of Harrison Burton’s incident. Then again, Burton was going for the lead of the race when he got turned by Gragson. The bump over the new tunnel entering turn 3 was alleged to have played a role as well. Plausible, but maybe not exactly.
The whole advertising of Talladega weekends on FOX and FOX Sports 1 is overblown. I’ve been to Talladega. I’ve been on Talladega Boulevard. It’s an interesting place.
Yes, people dress up as characters from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Yes, there are stripper poles. Yes, the dude wearing the tire is there. Yes, people get wasted there and if you went to the Cole Swindell concert, you probably saw some breasts. I think FOX is making this out to be crazier than it is.
It seems like FOX substitutes ridiculousness for stories when they go to Talladega, and that’s not a good thing. Just because you’re at Talladega doesn’t mean that the off-track scene is more important than the race.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup and NASCAR Xfinity Series will travel to Dover Motor Speedway for their only visit of the year. They’ll be joined by the ARCA Menards Series East. Meanwhile, Formula 1 will be in Azerbaijan, INDYCAR in Alabama and SRO America at NOLA Motorsports Park. TV listings can be found here.
We’ll be back next week with a look at the Cup and Xfinity races from Dover in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. The Critic’s Annex will cover Saturday’s Ag-Pro 300, which had different problems.
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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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