Martinsville Speedway is a venue that has been in flux for the NASCAR Cup Series in recent years. Fans are clamoring for short track venues. However, the Next Gen car is not necessarily the best on shorter and/or flatter tracks.
NASCAR and Goodyear attempted to find a solution to that issue this past weekend by introducing a new softer tire that put a lot more rubber down was in play.
I’m not sure if the increased rubber being laid down was solely due to the new tire, or due to the 80-degree weather, unusual in Martinsville for late October. Regardless, it made for better racing, but the effects were likely more evident Sunday (Oct. 29).
They also led to a bizarre instance in that the rubber being picked up under yellow actually took the pace car out of commission. I’ve been watching NASCAR for 35 years and I’ve never seen that before. TSJ101 Sports’ Noah Lewis caught this shot of the disabled pace car after it was towed away.
On the broadcast, viewers did see the pace car disabled in turn 1, the crowd’s reaction to the tow truck hooking it up and it being replaced in the garage. However, no explanation was given for the issue there. In reality, the picture shows a broken wiring harness that disabled the car, likely due to all the rubber.
Broadcast-wise, the start of the telecast made me think that NBC was in hurry-up mode. The telecast came on at 2 p.m. ET after all of the opening ceremonies were already complete and the engines already fired.
That is something that only typically happens if a race has been postponed a day and TV wants to get the race done as quickly as possible. Sunday was a clear exception to that rule as the Xfinity 500 was held under sunny skies with no precipitation at all. Not quite perfect conditions for fans, but not far off of it.
Why was this so? There are a number of reasons. One is the fact that NBCUniversal killed off NBC Sports Network a while back. Another is that NBC was airing tape-delayed coverage of the Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand (the All Blacks) and South Africa (the Springboks) starting at noon ET (the match, which took place Saturday, Oct. 28, saw the Springboks win 12-11).
At the same time, USA Network was airing the 1989 film Field of Dreams. Note that the rugby match occurred at the same time that NBC was airing Notre Dame-Pittsburgh and USA Network was airing the Xfinity Series race.
In all seriousness, given everything that was at stake Sunday, I feel like there should have been some kind of pre-race coverage prior to this race. It felt really weird. Now, I write for a NASCAR website. I knew everything at stake well before the event. I’m not everyone. I know that many viewers would have wanted some kind of a preview of the event itself, regardless of how much the points would have played into it.
Given this scenario, NBCUniversal should have created some kind of scheduling setup so that it could’ve had Countdown to Green on USA Network. It’s not like Field of Dreams hadn’t been on USA Network the previous day. In fact, it aired right after the Dead On Tools 250 on Saturday. I’d know; I watched part of it then.
Heck, it felt to me during the race that the whole race probably should have been on USA Network. That way, the event could have been covered in a more proper fashion. This happens when you cut networks.
In the race itself, it was very much focused on the playoff contenders. Am I surprised about that? No. I felt that was going to be the case going in. Were the new tires and the extra rubber a story during the race? A little, but not as much as I think most diehard fans hoped.
Sunday’s race had nearly double the number of passes under green as compared to last year’s race. Despite that, there were only 1,326 for the entire race, as per NASCAR Loop Data.
Especially early on, it was very difficult to go anywhere. The cautions also fell in such a way that it was difficult for any kind of substantial alternate strategies to come into play until the second half of the race.
The biggest moves in either direction were due to unfortunate circumstances. Examples include Martin Truex Jr. getting busted for speeding in the pits at the end of stage two and never recovering past 12th and Ty Gibbs getting dumped out of the top five and never getting back past 18th.
In Gibbs’ case, he had a second incident after he spun in turn 1 after contact from Carson Hocevar. Replays showed that the contact there was intentional. I have no idea what Hocevar was thinking there, but that trash has to stop. The booth agreed with that sentiment because Hocevar’s not going to be in a situation next year at Spire Motorsports where he can just push people around.
Even though it was only 80 degrees Sunday, the conditions in the cars were pretty oppressive. Martinsville has roughly the lowest top speed of any track on the circuit. NASCAR’s insistence upon running side windows on short tracks, apparently for parity reasons, means that the cars get really hot inside. That’s why Ryan Newman required assistance after the race, something that was reported on the broadcast well before the race was over.
Jeff Burton described the conditions on hot days at Martinsville as being brutal, specifically referencing a race where he felt that he wasn’t going to make it to the finish. While it wasn’t explicitly stated, it is likely that he was referring to the 1998 NAPA AutoCare 500, an event where temperatures reached 97 degrees with high humidity. It is best known for Ricky Rudd doing his victory lane interview on the ground after his Koolbox failed a couple of laps into the race. Burton finished fifth that day.
Even with the increased amount of racing for position Sunday as compared to last year, you really didn’t see all that much. Sure, there was some near the restarts, but once you got away from them, viewers were left wanting.
Part of that was the fact that there was only so much action to go around. The other aspect is that there was a very heavy focus on the playoff contenders. The point updates were on the pylon for nearly the entire race, only going away when NBC was about to go to commercial.
Drivers in the Round of 8 led the first 325 laps Sunday (literally right up to the final caution). It was only when the strategy was truly split that things began to open up a little bit more. Chase Elliott had a reasonably good car out front Sunday, but he just couldn’t get the caution that he needed.
It was the final 60 laps or so that Ryan Blaney truly showed his might. He was able to run down Elliott from more than five seconds behind, making passes of drivers on equal and older tires on the way. Given the kind of racing that we’d seen Sunday, that was truly impressive. He earned his race victory after passing Aric Almirola with just 23 laps to go.
Post-race coverage was fairly typical for the past few weeks, meaning very much playoff focused. Viewers got a few immediate interviews and a check of the Championship 4 drivers on NBC. Once NASCAR America Post-Race was exclusive to Peacock, you got a few more interviews, including runner-up Almirola.
Overall, the heavy playoff focus was fully expected. It doesn’t change the fact that the playoffs aren’t the only story all day. I wish that the broadcast would have been a little more balanced and that the Next Gen car was conducive to better racing on short tracks.
There should have been some kind of pre-race Countdown to Green Sunday, not only to preview the playoff drivers but the race itself. I can understand that it couldn’t have been on NBC due to the rugby match. USA Network could have stepped in. So could have Peacock.
I will say this: If anything happened in regard to the playoffs, you knew what was going on. That isn’t the most important thing to me, but it is to a lot of people.
That’s all for this week. This weekend is Championship Weekend at Phoenix Raceway. By the time next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday is released, we’ll know who the champions are for the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series. In addition, Formula 1 makes its annual trip to Interlagos in Brazil. TV listings can be seen here.
We will have critiques of all four championship races from Phoenix. The regular Couch Potato Tuesday next week here at Frontstretch will cover the Cup finale. This week’s edition of The Critic’s Annex will cover the wreckfest that was Saturday’s Dead On Tools 250. Subsequent annex editions will cover the other three championship races in Phoenix, including that of ARCA Menards Series West.
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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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