Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Darlington Has Action, Low Playoff Focus

Labor Day weekend in NASCAR traditionally involves a visit to Darlington, S.C., population 6,149, for 500 miles of racing. While placing the race here on the schedule effectively prevents me from ever going, it is still a test of driver skill and equipment durability.

Sunday (Sept. 3) night also marked the first race of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. As a result, I was expecting a fair amount of coverage to be given to the playoff contenders and constant point checks. In reality, the point checks were kept within control. I didn’t really see any of them prior to lap 248.

Even that was enough to irritate some of my colleagues. With 16 drivers in the first round, covering the race really doesn’t look that much different than normal for Darlington. I think it will be quite a bit different once we get to Kansas Speedway and especially Bristol Motor Speedway.

See also
Stock Car Scoop: Which Drivers Are in Desperation Mode for Kansas?

Outside of the playoffs, the biggest story was the return of Ryan Preece to the fold after his massive barrel roll at Daytona International Speedway. Prior to on-track activity Saturday, Preece had a quasi-press conference outside of his hauler that looked somewhat similar to Davey Allison’s after his 1992 crash at Pocono Raceway.

Prior to the race, we heard from Preece, who was good to go despite the remnants of two black eyes. Unfortunately, his evening was miserable. Aside from contact with Christopher Bell that spun out Bell, you really didn’t see much of him all night. I found that a little surprising, but since he never really ran better than 28th, I guess I shouldn’t be shocked.

NBC Sports usually has multiple booth setups during the Cook Out Southern 500 as a way to shake things up since this is the longest race (by time) of the NBC Sports portion of the season. In past years, this would have been where Ken Squier entered the conversation. For the past couple of years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been joined by Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty for stage two and Sunday night was no exception.

With no Rick Allen or Jeff Burton in the equation (Steve Letarte still chimed in from time to time when prompted), you ended up with a very different feel. It’s not folksy, but you have a somewhat relaxed trio that clearly likes the racing that they’re seeing and can only partially relate to it since so much has changed since they stepped out of the car.

In Petty’s case, he seems to act like he’s older than Jarrett and has been out of the car longer than the 1999 champion. Neither is true. Petty actually finished out the 2008 season before he was more or less forced out of the car by the merger between Petty Enterprises and Gillett Evernham Motorsports that formed Richard Petty Motorsports. Meanwhile, Jarrett retired (as planned) seven races into that season. Also, Jarrett is more than three years older than Petty but started in Cup five years after Petty.

What does that look like in practice? Both drivers struggle to relate to a lot of the technology that has come into the sport in recent years, like the SMT data that allows teams to see what their competition is doing. There’s also the added influence of engineers on the sport. In Earnhardt’s case, he was still racing when engineers were an extremely important aspect of racing. They weren’t on the same level during Jarrett and Petty’s careers despite those careers overlapping with the first nine full seasons of Earnhardt’s Cup career.

Our own Michael Finley had an interesting thing to say about Earnhardt’s play-by-play call Sunday on our employee Slack feed. He believes that Earnhardt is trying to do a Chris Economaki impression from when Economaki was part of ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

That is an interesting take. Earnhardt is well-known for his love of NASCAR history. Emulating someone who would be considered a historic figure as far as television goes wouldn’t be far off. The problem is, there really isn’t a whole lot of TV coverage with Economaki in the booth available to make that call definitively. Most of the coverage I’ve seen of him over the years has had Economaki in either a pit reporter role or as a host.

Overall, there’s a lot to like here. Jarrett and Petty are able to recognize certain things that Burton and Letarte might not always pick up on. It is somewhat less shouty without Allen on the call, but we’re all aware of Earnhardt’s excitability. I like the setup, but I don’t necessarily prefer it over the normal setup.

One of the biggest moments of the race occurred on lap 310 in the middle of green-flag pit stops when Ryan Newman spun out in turn 4 after running up on a rapidly-slowing Tyler Reddick.

Seriously, this is ridiculous. The wreck happened because Kevin Harvick chose to pit and Reddick realized that he’d been snookered. There was no way in heck that Reddick would have made the commitment line from where he was when he stomped on his brakes. Best-case scenario, Reddick would have ended up fourth after the stops because he would have lost a bunch of time had Newman not run up on him. If anything, this might have been the best-case scenario for him as it eliminated a contender for the win.

As for Harvick, he was screwed the minute the wreck happened. He was committed to pit. Ultimately, it was right on the line of being able to react in time to avoid the orange box and he didn’t do it. The Stewart-Haas Racing crew servicing the car there only made things worse. As a result, Harvick only got back to 19th.

NBC Sports did a pretty good job covering the incident. It had good footage of everything that happened here, it had the footage of Harvick entering the closed pits and correctly identified that Reddick caused the incident himself even though Newman never hit him. The whole situation should have never happened though.

See also
Kevin Harvick Hit With Closed Pit Road Penalty After Reddick, Newman Collision

Does that mean that Harvick should have won the race? I can’t say that. For all I know, Kyle Larson might have still been able to get to the lead. Maybe it doesn’t happen immediately after the spin like what happened Sunday night (technically, the pass for the win occurred during the round of stops immediately after Newman’s spin), but it still could have happened. I don’t think Reddick finishes second though.

The race ended up running a little long. Despite that, viewers got more or less a full accounting of post-race coverage. There were a few interviews, including one with Alex Bowman that was taped after he crashed with Daniel Suarez, but NBC Sports didn’t have time to show it after Suarez’s interview. There was also a check of the points and some post-race analysis before leaving Darlington.

When it comes to playoff races, I don’t like it when the playoffs completely overshadow the race itself. That was definitely not the case Sunday night. Viewers saw a regular race that just so happened to take place during the playoffs. Yes, you saw reminders that the gold lines under the drivers represented those in the running, but it really wasn’t intrusive.

The actual on-track product was ok but it seemed very difficult to pass on the broadcast. However, passing was up significantly from last year. Perhaps it was an example of just not showing the most competitive action on track in favor of other things, like the late battles up front, where no actual passing happened.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is a full weekend of racing. Kansas Speedway is scheduled to host a quadruple-header of racing. Friday is a doubleheader with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the ARCA Menards Series. Saturday sees the NASCAR Xfinity Series wrap up its regular season, while the Cup Series will continue the Round of 16 on Sunday with the Hollywood Casino 400.

Meanwhile, the NTT IndyCar Series wraps up its season at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and the FIA World Endurance Championship will race at Fuji Speedway. TV listings can be found here.

We will provide a critique of the Hollywood Casino 400 at a bare minimum in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. The Critic’s Annex will cover Saturday’s Xfinity Series race from Darlington.

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

I was thrilled to NOT be pounded over the head with playoff stunts (“If the race ended NOW!). They quietly kept up with Bubbas points standing reasonably. Oveerall I enjoyed the broadcast.

Bill W.

Reese’s eyes reminded me of Ricky Rudd’s eyes after Daytona. The had to tape them open the next week at Richmond.

Ronald Thornton

Those eyes were ugly!!!. Rudds were worse, but preece was on his bumper. Real men race!!!

Bill B

I agree that the Jarret/Petty/Earnhardt lineup has it’s own issues, but I’d be fine with those three doing the 2nd stage every week. Just for change of pace during the race.

I’d wager that from here on the playoff centric “points where they run now”, will trend upward with each week.

Ronald Thornton

I always respect the opinion of past drivers because these guys know what its like to be 140° in a box at the edge of sanity and they have stories from their days that are pretty funny and REAL. The stories always seem to get better as time goes on.
I sure do miss Benny Parsons, Buddy Baker and Ned Jarett telling memories on race day. Maybe it’s me, but todays commentators just don’t get me there. I may just be too old to appreciate change, but I will keep watching. Who knows, maybe the new voice of nascar is here and I just can’t see it. Or maybe the new voice and the new nascar is coming. Still love Benny. The greatest ever.

Old School

What’s with Rick Allen referring to “C” Bell. It’s almost as annoying as John HunTer Nemecheck. Referring to drivers with their last name makes more sense to me. Remember “Earnhardt”?

Ellenjay

We knew which car the announcers were talking about 25 years ago when they said Earnhardt and junior

KU

Phil,
I agree, not having the production focus only on playoff drivers is the correct way to cover these races. I like seeing all the action.
I find it ridiculous when the have the current position pylon being constantly the focus, especially in the first two races of a round and in the first two stages. It is meaningless then. Updates every-so-often is fine but not dominate it.
I am sure that will it will go back to the previous constant updates, but this is NASCAR where things can change quickly by a wreck or malfunction.
Thanks, as always, for your fair and honest reporting!

DoninAjax

The winner had just crossed the line when the camera shifted to the crew chief in the box and then to the crew doing their happy dance on pit road. Business as usual with the new guy.

Ronald Thornton

Best racing is always at the back and off camera

Brian

I think NASCAR officials were too quick on the caution for Newman’s spin. He was out of the way and essentially gave the 45 a pass after a really stupid decision. In a way glad the 5 won but come on NASCAR do not give a gift to a driver/team for being stupid. I know it was aJGR Toyota and would probably do the same for a bow tie but likely would have waited if it was one of the Fords. NASCAR always seems to cozy up to the other makes.

I found it interesting that the coverage of the lack of Fords at the end in the top 10 did not get more play since 7 of the top 10 started the race.
Chevy was barely in the top 15 but had several in the top 10 at the end.

Ronald Thornton

Way too quick with a caution that really didn’t need to happen. I’ve seen nascar on “multiple” “multiple” occasions hold the flag. It just depends on who’s leading and what is the narrative of the day. I’ve been watching nascar since daytona 1979 and i will never be able to diagnose the reason for caution on the track. There are many unanswerable questions on planet earth. Are there UFO’s? Who killed JFK? Where is Amelia Earhardt? Did we land on the moon? When should we throw a caution? Definitely whenever the 24 spun while Gordon driving. Always!!!

Kicks

Newman should have driven right through the back end of Reddick for the stupid brake check move. Try that on the interstate with a semi behind you and you’ll never make that mistake again.

Ronald Thornton

Age and multiple wrecks saved reddick. 15 years ago and reddick would have been totalled.

DoninAjax

Whoever came up with the idea for the camera on the right rear of the 45 should get a sabbatical. It is right down there with the pedal cameras.

Ronald Thornton

That was a great view of how close they get to the wall . Kudos to the camera crew.