Bristol Motor Speedway is always an interesting place. Prior to the 2007 renovation, this was a track that was always full of shenanigans. Now, not so much.
On Friday (Sept. 15), NASCAR announced that the start of the race would be moved up to 6:35 p.m. ET due to potential rain. As Bristol is an exception to the rain tire rule due to its high banks, it has to be dry to race due to safety concerns. I was fine with the move, and I know that race fans are happy to have gotten the heads up.
What fans were probably not that cool with is the fact that USA Network was airing reruns of Chicago Fire right up to 6:30 p.m. ET. That meant all the pre-race festivities, including the national anthem, were not aired. The anthem is notable because the driver’s kids sing the anthem, a yearly tradition at Bristol.
Also notable is that USA Network was having audio problems when the broadcast started. You could not hear seemingly anyone talk for about the first nine minutes. You just heard whatever Bristol was pumping out over its PA system. Of course, that included Michael Buffer.
There are times when fans talk about how boring the race looks on TV. A fair amount of that time, it’s a result of what the broadcaster chooses to show during green-flag racing. Saturday night was the other issue. Passing was down significantly Saturday night as compared to last year. We’re talking about a decrease of more than 30% despite 27 additional laps under green.
Steve Letarte recognized this early. He noted during the second caution that teams had to “treat this track like a repave.” This is due to the fact that the tires really weren’t dropping off much and there was just too much grip available.
Perhaps the maintenance crew at Bristol shouldn’t have re-applied PJ1 TrackBite to the bottom lane Saturday morning. Having less grip on the bottom lane might have resulted in a different feel for the race. The TrackBite is likely the reason why some drivers dealt with cording issues early in the race. Once that was alleviated, you effectively had a parade.
As the race continued on, it just seemed like there was no substantial movement. Drivers would get to a certain point after a restart and just stay there. It was just not exciting at all. NASCAR clearly has more work to do on this short track package.
In addition, Saturday night was the cutoff race for the Round of 16. So, you had a buttload of point updates during the race. I’m not a playoff guy. I don’t like this way to determine a champion. It drives me nuts.
In a situation like Saturday night, having the playoffs gave the broadcast booth something else to talk about. And talk about it, they did. Even after Joey Logano was eliminated in a crash and Kevin Harvick was multiple laps down. Admittedly, that was rather annoying knowing that seemingly nothing was going to change unless something crazy occurred.
Saturday night also had two brief stoppages due to rain. One occurred during the pace laps at the beginning of the race, while the other one was on lap 138 during the caution after stage one. Both stoppages were short enough that the drivers didn’t get out of their cars. As a result, there were no driver interviews during the breaks. That time was mainly filled with more strategy discussion in the broadcast booth interspersed with input from the pit reporters.
As a result, there were probably two exciting moments in this race. One was the big wreck that eliminated Logano and ruined an excellent race for Corey LaJoie.
This crash happened right at the beginning of the final stage, hence why so many different drivers got caught up in it. It reminded me of wrecks on the “Old Bristol,” like the one that ruined Dale Jarrett’s night in the infamous 1999 Goody’s Headache Powders 500.
Both driver’s nights were affected about the same here. In Jarrett’s case, he ended up wrecking again shortly afterward after he got hit by Jerry Nadeau. LaJoie managed to soldier on to finish 25th Saturday night. Jarrett ended up 38th on that night.
Then, you had Martin Truex Jr.’s quasi-incident when he was getting lapped. First, there was the discussion about whether a free pass would be given (it was not), then a discussion about the damage to the Camry. This situation likely shouldn’t have been a caution, but it was. Definitely a quick trigger caution for what turned out to be the only time the action slowed down in the final 230 laps of the race.
The race also had some good stories. Carson Hocevar had an excellent night in his No. 42. He spent the majority of the second half of the race in the top 10 until he dropped out of it in the final laps to finish 11th. He still got his dap.
Post-race coverage was fairly substantial since the race was moved up. Viewers got roughly 30 minutes of post-race coverage. You got Denny Hamlin showered with boos and playing into them. I guess some of the fans are still angry that he dumped Chase Elliott eight years ago. Others dislike him for potentially more nefarious reasons.
You also heard from a number of the playoff contenders, ranging from the round winner (Kyle Larson) to mid-pack playoff contenders (Kyle Busch) to those eliminated (Harvick, Michael McDowell). The content was decent and ran the gamut from happy to incensed.
Overall, NBC Sports just wasn’t really given much to work with Saturday night. There just wasn’t a lot of action to cover. It bites. It was frustrating to watch at times. Honestly, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 240 for IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge that ran on Peacock opposite the first half of this race was a much better event with way more action.
That said, NBC Sports cannot determine what the racing product was. It has to make do with what it had. It was able to see this race for what it was pretty early and adjusted. I feel like there are other ways to go about making a race look better, but it chose the playoff emphasis route. It got NBC Sports through the night, but this will not go down as one of the better races of recent years.
That’s all for this week. Next week, the NASCAR Cup Series will make its one and only trip of the year to Texas Motor Speedway along with the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Formula 1 will be at Suzuka Circuit in Japan, while SRO America will travel to Sebring International Raceway. TV listings can be found here.
We will have a critique of the Cup and Xfinity races from Texas in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex will cover the Food City 300, where Dale Earnhardt Jr. nearly stole the show.
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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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