Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Carl Edwards Returns… And It’s Like He Never Left

Throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway has become something of a springtime Halloween for NASCAR. You have throwback schemes, fans dress up as crew members from the 1980s and on-air commentators dress as if it was 1948.

Despite the throwback motif, I wouldn’t necessarily describe Sunday’s Goodyear 400 as a throwback race. Too many shenanigans for that to be so.

The Goodyear 400 will be best remembered for the wrecking that occurred late in the going. First, you had Martin Truex Jr. squeezing Joey Logano into the wall to cause a multi-car crash on lap 281.

See also
Thinkin' Out Loud at Darlington: I'd Like to Stop Talking About Ross Chastain, But He Won't Let Me

Clint Bowyer was right to make note of the bumping between Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson on the restart entering turn 1. It seemed unnecessary. Larson even stepped that up by squeezing Chastain into the wall while Truex was wrecking behind them.

Of course, there’s something resembling beef between the two drivers from prior to Darlington. Remember that it was Chastain’s aggressive move on a restart that resulted in a multi-car wreck at Talladega Superspeedway last month where Larson was t-boned by Ryan Preece.

Chastain thought that he was wronged on that restart. He’s got a point. That was unnecessary. As a result, he raced Larson hard on the next restart. Then, this happened.

The broadcast booth thought that this situation was inevitable. The discussion after the race made it sound like Chastain was responsible for the whole mess, but in all honesty, he and Larson were probably equal for Darlington.

There was good camera work here, including the continuous shot (linked above) of Larson providing the response to Justin Marks’ statement on pushing. I just wish that stuff didn’t happen, and Larson and Chastain could have just raced it out. Now, we just have hard feelings again. Criminy.

Basically, we came out of Darlington discussing a lot of the same topics as we did after Kansas Speedway. The only difference is that no one went after Chastain this week. Even with “Boys, have at it” in play, I strongly believe that NASCAR would frown upon a confrontation in or around the infield care center.

For Sunday’s race, FOX Sports went all out with guest analysts. A total of four guests were in the booth. When it was announced, I was looking forward to what Carl Edwards would do the most, for many reasons.

Most of you reading this column are aware of just how much of a ghost Edwards has been to NASCAR since he “stepped away” from racing at the end of 2016. I think he might have been to three races since then. What has he been doing? Raising his kids and doing a lot of sailing, apparently.

Going into Sunday, we already knew that Edwards had some chops in the booth. Back when ESPN still had rights to air NASCAR races, Edwards would turn up in the broadcast booth every now and then for races in what was then the NASCAR Nationwide Series (now the NASCAR Xfinity Series). Generally speaking, he was very solid in the booth at the time and was looked at as someone that could have done it full-time once he retired. It is theoretically possible that FOX Sports got the idea of having active drivers as guest analysts from watching Edwards, although they have never admitted as such.

About 10 years ago, when Edwards worked with ESPN, he was still an active driver and immersed in the world of NASCAR. Today, he’s been out of the car for more than six years and seemingly not involved at all. I was wondering how fresh he would be.

Turns out, he was very fresh. While he may have completely unplugged from NASCAR after 2016, he’s definitely up with what’s going on. He seemed to be quite knowledgeable or had done a lot of homework prior to his time in the booth. He was able to bring his own experience to the table, even though he’s never driven the Next Gen car.

Edwards was able to properly draw Bowyer into the commentary, resulting in a more active Bowyer. While I’m sure a lot of fans were happy just to have Edwards back after so many years away, the Edwards we saw Sunday was just like the Edwards of 2016 in many ways. For instance, there was a discussion in our private Slack feed about how Edwards was “jacked.” That didn’t strike me as a surprise since Edwards was jacked when he was still racing. This is a man that was once on the cover of Men’s Health magazine shirtless.

Admittedly, the second stage with Edwards was probably the best portion of the broadcast, commentary-wise. The rest of the race was a little weird. Stage one had both Richard and Kyle Petty in the booth. Richard’s 85 now and is beginning to slow down a little. I didn’t think he really added all that much to the broadcast. He does have booth experience, having been one of a number of personalities to work as an analyst for CBS after Neil Bonnett died.

Kyle’s a working TV personality these days. He approached his time in the broadcast booth like he does his regular work with NBC Sports, which will start back up in earnest next month. He was generally solid. Unfortunately, having both Pettys in the booth created the scenario where you have four people in the booth clamoring for on-air time. That is generally messy and something that I would prefer that broadcasts stay away from. Sunday was no different.

The final stage had Bill Elliott in the booth, which is an interesting choice. Knowing what I know now, I think I would have rather had Edwards instead of Elliott, but Elliott wasn’t horrible. He’s clearly at the track regularly these days and has present insight in addition to his own experience.

Post-race coverage was fairly substantial. Viewers got a number of post-race interviews. That’s quite a bit more than a race that was running a little long normally gets. FOX wanted to talk to everyone that finished in the top 10, but that didn’t quite pan out. You did get to hear from drivers such as Harrison Burton and Chris Buescher, though.

There was a decent amount of pre-race coverage as well. The standout feature here was a claymation history piece where the Pettys discussed the first race of what is now the NASCAR Cup Series at Charlotte Speedway back in 1949.

Lee Petty “borrowed” a car to compete in the race from a local guy, then proceeded to flip it in the race. I look at the piece, and the Adult Swim series Morel Orel comes to mind. The claymation style looks somewhat similar.

This is the third history piece that has aired on NASCAR RaceDay this season and it’s probably the best of them. That’s likely because the Pettys are there to tell the story. It’s not David Koechner playing a role.

Also, apparently FOX Sports didn’t really promote the fact that they were going to introduce the members of NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers list that were in attendance Sunday. Knowing everything that was going on this past weekend, that is a headscratcher. Why not?

Overall, the Goodyear 400 was like watching two completely different races. The first two stages were very calm and very quick. It meant that Edwards’ time in the booth came and went quickly. The final stage was full of ridiculousness, torn-up equipment and anger. I guess NASCAR really likes that these days.

See also
Rick Hendrick Sounds Off on Ross Chastain: 'If You Wreck Us, You're Going To Get It Back'

As far as commentary goes, it is always beneficial to have either two or three people in the booth. Any more than that and it gets messy. In addition, there was a period in stage one where the race was completely ignored in favor of random conversation. Don’t do that.

Edwards was a joy to have in the booth. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of him in that capacity if he’s up for it. He mentioned that he still has the urge to drive and wants to do some sim work to see if he still has the chops. I guess more to come, then?

The time with Edwards in the booth was probably the most enjoyable part of the race for me, but it wasn’t the most competitive. That was when Elliott was in the booth, who was the middle-of-the-road guest analyst for me.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is another big weekend for NASCAR. It is All-Star Weekend, set to be held for the first time at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Regardless of what happens, this is going to be interesting. The NASCAR Cup Series will be joined by the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and late models.

Meanwhile, the ARCA Menards Series East visits the 0.25-mile short track Flat Rock Speedway on Saturday (May 20).

At Indianapolis Motor Speedway, practice for the Indianapolis 500 gets underway on Tuesday. Qualifying is this weekend. Formula One returns to action at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Italy, while SRO America will be at Circuit of the Americas. TV listings can be found here.

We will have a full critique of the All-Star festivities from North Wilkesboro here at Frontstretch next Tuesday. In addition to Darrell Waltrip returning to the booth, you also have multiple specials premiering this week on FOX Sports 1. They include Dirt: The Last Great American Sport, a five-part piece that premieres tonight. There is also an additional piece on the revival of North Wilkesboro that will air as part of NASCAR RaceHub. I currently plan to cover Dirt: The Last Great American Sport in a future edition of the Critic’s Annex.

This week’s Critic’s Annex will cover Saturday’s rock ‘em sock ‘em Shriners Children’s 200 and the not-so-great NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series broadcast from Friday night. Should be fun.

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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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.

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SB

Great article covering the guest analysts in the booth…what about the actual race coverage?

janice

bill elliott surprised me, but i had fallen asleep during the race and only saw race during stage 3 for last 15 or so laps.

claymation thing…..whatever. i’m not 10 yrs old.

Griffin Hunter

Fantastic analysis, as always Phil!👏

Bill B

“… there was a period in stage one where the race was completely ignored in favor of random conversation…”

Yep, and it really pissed me off. Very insulting to people that really want to watch the race.

I agree, that Edwards brought the most to the table as far as the guests were concerned. I wish NASCAR and their TV partners would do more to bring past drivers to the track. Not in a big group like Sunday, but one here and there during the season.

wildcats2016

I enjoyed all of the guests in the booth at Darlington. Nice opportunity to see and hear from them. Sure some of them are better at the “in the booth” deal but I wasn’t concerned with that. Seeing Richard Petty was very nice. Kyle Petty is one of those people I run hot and cold on. Carl Edwards did do a good job. I must not have been paying attention when Bill Elliott was in the booth.

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