Richmond Raceway is an interesting facility with a history of decent racing. In recent years, the action has changed significantly. How such a broadcast will work is dependent on whether you can get the audience on board.
The short track hosted a race that had three cautions for 21 laps. You’re going to have a lot of action under green.
Prior to Sunday, there was a lot of discussion based on the shenanigans that took place at Pocono Raceway, as I discussed in last week’s column.
Much of Countdown to Green was based on trying to rekindle those situations. We heard from Denny Hamlin, Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon, more or less solely in that context. They all seemed pretty annoyed. I don’t blame them. It’s one thing to ask them about that during the bullpen sessions Friday afternoon or Saturday afternoon. It’s another to ask the drivers questions about that 25 minutes before the race.
Also of note, NBC Sports made use of the NASCAR Drive cameras to definitively show what caused Ryan Preece’s wreck. Rick Allen said that Corey LaJoie thought Alex Bowman was coming on his inside, and he adjusted himself to avoid getting hit. It seemed more like LaJoie got loose and ended up hitting Preece. Definitely not an intentional move, but I can understand why Preece was angry.
On that note, the clear desire here was that the shenanigans from Pocono would continue in Richmond. For the most part, that didn’t come to pass. It was a dud. The truth is that Sunday’s race was one of the cleanest short track races in the NASCAR Cup Series that I can recall in quite some time.
Personally, I don’t really care about that at that moment. If I’m watching Countdown to Green, I want to get briefed about the upcoming race. That’s really one of the major things that’s missing from these pre-race shows these days. You only really see that from Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s skylarking on pit road. It is a bit frustrating.
During the race itself, there was a series of different pit strategies in play in the final two stages. You had drivers like Joey Logano who would stop relatively early, Chris Buescher and Bubba Wallace in the middle and Denny Hamlin late. Then, you had Martin Truex Jr., who tried to do one stop in the stages instead of two. It was interesting to keep track of.
Had there been more cautions than three on Sunday, the fact that the teams only had eight sets of tires in the pits would definitely have come into play. As it stands, it wasn’t an issue as there was only one extra stop the whole race (which came in the final 10 laps).
The strategies often meant that you had a lot of passing between drivers that were on different pit schedules. It could be rather difficult to ascertain what was legitimate and what was just going to happen regardless.
It makes for interesting watching if you have a broadcast team that knows what they’re doing and can appreciate the little things. If this were April and the race was aired on FOX Sports 1, I would have been very concerned. You would have had Clint Bowyer bored and not shy to admit it on the broadcast, or it would have gotten silly.
That was not the case on Sunday. There were good battles at times. However, you didn’t always have that to fall back on. As a result, you got to see information about a number of teams as the coverage was expanded. This is what you cover events that get a little drawn out. Anyone who watched races in the 1990s would understand such a strategy (Ex: 500-mile races at Pocono, 500-mile races at Rockingham Speedway and Dover Motor Speedway, etc.).
Since the Next Gen car came into use, the use of shifting has substantially increased in the Cup Series. Sunday was more or less the exception to the rule. A number of drivers, such as Hamlin, chose not to shift in an attempt to cut down on spinning wheels. As a result, it seemed a little more normal. The problem is the old track surface (19 years old) and the Next Gen car result in a much slower race pace than what you had 10 years ago.
In regards to Truex, he had a terrible car early on and dropped like a stone. The broadcast noted how he dropped from 10th on the grid to 25th. That is why the No. 19 team went to the one-stop strategy. He needed to make up some ground and more or less hoped to get bailed out by a caution. It never came, but the crew had fixed the car enough that he was able to make up significant ground on his own.
Sunday’s race was a rare example of where strategies would completely pan out due to the lack of cautions. I felt that NBC Sports did a good job representing all of the strategies at play.
Post-race coverage was quite substantial as the race ended ahead of schedule. Viewers had several interviews during the nearly 45-minute post-race show. There was also a lot of discussion about the point standings because of course the broadcasters talked about the points a lot. It still annoys me, but that’s where we are now.
How many fans would have felt about this broadcast is highly dependent on how they feel about this type of race. If you’re into strategy, I think you would have enjoyed it. If not, you were probably like Bowyer would have been Sunday, begging for a caution.
That said, there were a couple of things I didn’t like. Yes, I heard Allen going on about the population of Prosper, Texas on the final lap when Chris Buescher was coming to the checkered flag. It sounded ridiculous. It’s almost like Allen forgot that Buescher has won before.
In addition, I would have tried to be a bit more inclusive to the other teams out there. Remember, this race ended with a multi-car crash involving a number of drivers racing each other for 27th place. Given that this race ended up with a three-lap dash, it really wouldn’t have been possible to show that action at that point of the race knowing that Hamlin was going after Buescher for the win. That said, more inclusive coverage throughout the event would have helped. Had they done that, maybe they could have had more racing for position on the broadcast.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, Michigan International Speedway will host a tripleheader with the NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series and ARCA Menards Series. INDYCAR will be on the streets of Nashville for the Music City Grand Prix, the final one on the current configuration (a new stadium for the Tennessee Titans is scheduled to break ground next year and swallow up part of the current circuit). IMSA will be back in action at Road America as well. TV listings can be found here.
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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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