Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s race on Sunday (Oct. 16) started the Round of 8, so the playoffs were going to be one of the main topics of discussion regardless of what happened. I just wish that it wasn’t so blatant.
Countdown to Green was almost fully focused on the Round of 8. If you go in that direction, viewers will have no idea what to really look out for during the race. You’ll just have thoughts from drivers that are in the Round of 8. That’s what viewers got on Sunday. You heard from William Byron, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin.
Using this tactic to preview a race results in the show being nothing more than a means to an end, like having a computer to type a column. People don’t go to the South Point 400 just to watch playoff contenders. They go to see some good action. They got some good stuff on Sunday.
Racing-wise, Las Vegas has been one of the better tracks for the Next Gen car since it debuted last year. Compared to Saturday, you had a much different race. For some reason there, the groove narrowed up and everyone gravitated to the bottom. That wasn’t the case here as there were multiple grooves that could be used. However, since Saturday was quirky, the full multiple grooves weren’t available at the start of the race. Hence certain drivers (Ex: Ross Chastain) went up the hill and lost spots while running in places that were perfectly viable later on.
Last weekend, one of the notable stories entering the race was the tire issues. For instance, Kyle Larson managed to blister a tire during the 20-minute practice session on Saturday. The race itself saw a couple of tire issues, most notably when Carson Hocevar crashed out of the race.
Unfortunately, viewers never really got a good look at the tires coming off of the cars. As a result, I am unclear how the tire wear actually was on Sunday. Now, you could argue that this is one of those “no news is good news” situations, but knowing there were problems earlier in the weekend, I’d want to know for sure. As for Ty Gibbs, that was just another crew issue and he’ll likely be missing a couple of guys this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Also, we never really got a good idea of how much fall off the tires had. Likely the only real example of this that we got was during the first round of stops. Christopher Bell pitted five laps after Larson and went from leading to five seconds behind. I’d rather have raw data than just who had the fastest lap of the race (Larson, on lap 2, apparently). This used to be a little easier to come by.
NASCAR has also instituted a crackdown on laying back on restarts. A couple of drivers got nailed with drive-through penalties for this, most notably Chase Elliott. The penalty completely ruined his day as it came on the final restart. As a result, he finished a lap down in 31st.
On NBC, there were replays shown both times that this issue, described as a “point of emphasis” came into play. Frankly, they looked almost identical. There was a gap between the car in front and the penalized driver. As soon as they crossed the start-finish line, they both swept to the outside in an attempt to make a pass. Perhaps if the move to the outside didn’t happen, maybe they wouldn’t have been penalized.
In Elliott’s case, there appeared to be a stack up on the restart and the only reason there was a space there was that he hadn’t caught up yet. That could have gone either way. At least one follower of ours on social media described it as a “ticky-tack” call, similar to how some fouls in basketball are often referred to (Ex: Handchecking in the NBA, since that is now completely banned). I would have liked to know what NASCAR’s reasoning for the call was, given the stack up being in play. Unfortunately, we did not get that.
It says a lot that almost no one was a lap down when Elliott’s penalty was called. He was also the first driver a lap down until BJ McLeod got lapped in the final 10-15 laps.
Post-race coverage was pretty similar to what we had at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. There were only a couple of interviews, plus the points check on NBC before it left LVMS to go to the local news. On Peacock, viewers got additional interviews (not quite as much as in Charlotte) and some blushing over Larson.
Why? Because of his massive save on exiting turn 2.
The above clip shows how the booth reacted when they saw the replay because it occurred during a NonStop break. It’s just the latest show of race craft strength from Larson.
Given Larson’s skill behind the wheel, I suppose that we shouldn’t be surprised that he can pull it off. This is a man who spends a lot of his time away from the racetrack racing at dirt tracks. He has car control like no one’s ever seen. What I’m getting at here is that maybe the broadcasters shouldn’t have taken more than three minutes to gush over him for that save. He’s gotten over his main weakness in the NASCAR Cup Series. Pushing too hard. Now, you have peak Larson. Good luck beating him.
Larson effectively wrecked his No. 5 Chevrolet right there. However, he managed to minimize the damage. After that point, there were still 25 laps remaining in stage two. He kept going after that. Now, he was more or less bailed out by Hocevar’s crash that brought everyone to pit road. Regardless, I would have liked to know what he was dealing with tire-wise after that.
Sunday’s race had the eight playoff contenders take eight of the top 11 finishing positions. With all of them right up front, that is where the focus was for the vast majority of the race. I get that, but they’re not the only drivers out there. This was a race where 26 cars finished on the lead lap and 32 were on there until the closing laps. There was plenty of action to go around. You don’t have to focus on just eight guys.
There was plenty of action to be had on Sunday. Overall passing was up a little as compared to this race last year but down a little from the spring. Effectively, NBC chose to curate the action so that you mainly only saw playoff drivers. I’m not a fan of that approach, especially with near-constant point updates on top of that. There’s more out there than just that. The crowd also seemed rather quiet at the finish as well. Weird.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, we have a tripleheader for NASCAR at Homestead. For the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, it will fully determine who will be in the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway. The ARCA Menards Series West has its penultimate race of the season at Madera Speedway. It will take place on Saturday, Oct. 21 at 11 p.m. ET with live coverage provided by FloRacing.
Meanwhile, Formula 1 returns to Circuit of the Americas for the United States Grand Prix. TV listings can be found here.
We will have a critique of the Cup and NASCAR Xfinity Series broadcasts in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex will either cover Saturday’s Alsco Uniforms 302 from Las Vegas or look at the combined USA Network/Peacock coverage of the Motul Petit Le Mans.
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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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