Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Tires Conquered All, but FOX Undersold it at First

Going into Sunday’s (March 17) Food City 500, I didn’t know what to expect.

Last September’s night race at Bristol Motor Speedway had a total of 10 lead changes and was very difficult to pass in. It wasn’t all that competitive.

Sunday’s race eclipsed the number of lead changes from last September before lap 75. It also came with probably the worst tire wear that I can recall since the travesty that was the 2008 Brickyard 400. I think you’ll remember that one.

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Holding A Pretty Wheel: NASCAR Should Embrace Bristol's Old-School Risk, Reward

It didn’t enter my mind during the actual race broadcast Sunday, but do you remember how NASCAR has had a heck of a time getting rubber to lay down at Martinsville Speedway over the last decade or so? The track temperature Sunday was very close to that point where nothing would adhere. That likely played a role in what we saw in the race, but not totally.

Of course, the tires will be the legacy of Sunday’s race.

As early as Saturday during practice, Cup drivers complained of their tires running off during the short runs that can fit in the ridiculously small sessions that NASCAR allows these days (which is a completely different column). I don’t think anyone imagined that it would result in what we saw.

I read a number of tweets during the race that argued that the wear we saw Sunday was reminiscent of races in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. I’m old enough to have watched a lot of races in the 1990s and seen a number of races on TV and the internet from the 1980s (the 1970s are tough due to lack of footage away from superspeedways).

While we did get tire wear and marbles in the turns back then, cords showing within 50 laps on a short track pretty much never happened. We especially didn’t get tire cords raining down from the sky.

In the booth, Kevin Harvick especially compared what we were seeing to late model stock races in the Southeast on worn-out tracks. Admittedly, I really haven’t seen very many of those races. I know that Cup cars have significantly more power than late model stock cars, though. I suppose a closer facsimile might be the Snowball Derby (and by extension, the Snowflake 100) at Five Flags Speedway.

The surface is said to be worn out in Pensacola and wear is important there.

The actual race itself, in between tires “turning off,” to quote Harvick, was a series of tight races for position. FOX seemed to be having trouble keeping up for much of the event. The general mentality was that everyone seemed to be very happy with the actual racing for position on Sunday. It was the most competitive race ever at Bristol.

Larry McReynolds, back in Charlotte, was much more concerned. He was right on it from the start with the fact that the tire wear was severe enough that it could have been tough to finish the race Sunday. This is another one of those days that I truly wish he was in Bristol and not Charlotte.

He spent much of the race doing calculations regarding how far the tires needed to go to guarantee that teams could reach the finish. That meant that there was no time for things like his typical trends of the race. The situation usurped it.

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Monday Morning Pit Box: Tire Wear is Talk of the Town at Bristol

Now, if we had gone through the full 500 laps without being able to see how bad the wear truly was, then FOX really wouldn’t have been doing its job and I would have been really angry. We were able to see just how bad the cording was pretty early, but maybe not as early as we should have.

Pit reporters Jamie Little and Regan Smith noted on-air how cords were showing during the first stops during the debris caution on lap 27. We didn’t really see how bad it truly was until the third caution when Kyle Busch blew his right-rear tire and spun out.

Also, once again, FOX used only two pit reporters during the race. Given the situation, this was clearly a race where it would have benefitted from an extra reporter in the pits. It didn’t help that Little was not 100% during the race, but that’s not her fault.

I think that FOX truly believed at first that this was going to be one of those scenarios where it was only going to be bad on the first run, then everything would have been better. Makes me wonder why NASCAR didn’t have a competition caution on Sunday. As overused as those have become in the past decade, this was the exact scenario that it was designed for and NASCAR didn’t employ it. That’s a head-scratcher.

Ultimately, the tire wear never really got any better. There were enough cautions that the field stayed bunched together. There were 31 cars on the lead on the final restart with 121 laps to go. That number got whittled all the way down to five because a few select drivers made their tires last. The problem is, there’s no real way for FOX to show how bad the wear is on tires when they’re still on the car. There is no way to tell who’s easier on their tires until they come off.

Regardless of what happens for September, Goodyear will need to bring more tires to the track. They only had enough tires on-site for everyone to get one extra set (144 tires to cover the field) beyond their original allocation.

With the tire wear being the way it was, it was very difficult to truly figure out who was good. Certain drivers would be shoo-ins for that, such as Ty Gibbs, who won the first two stages and led 137 laps Sunday.

Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole was at the top of its game. Due to the tire wear, I don’t think anyone truly showed everything they had, but it seemed like Gibbs, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr., along with Alex Bowman conserved their tires the best. At the very least, we know who struggled the most (Todd Gilliland, Ryan Blaney, Bubba Wallace, etc.).

Post-race coverage was pretty typical since the race ran long due to cautions. Nine cautions for Bristol really aren’t that much. Ninety-eight caution laps for that many cautions is very high, though. Viewers got interviews with the top-five finishers (Hamlin, Truex, Bowman, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson), who just happened to be the only lead-lap finishers.

Pre-race coverage was headlined by a sit-down interview that Harvick conducted with Tyler Reddick. Here, topics included Reddick’s recent struggles, how he appears to have a similar driving style to Larson, his recent confidence and having Wallace as a teammate. From the piece, we see in Reddick a man who is somewhat frustrated with his recent form, but generally very happy in his current state. He’s a different person since making the move from Richard Childress Racing.

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The Underdog House: John Hunter Nemechek Makes a Statement in Bristol

FOX teased that Darrell Waltrip was going to be involved in the broadcast in some way, shape or form. He appeared, but only in a taped piece where he talked about Bristol, a track where he won 12 different times. FOX also made it sound like D.W. was going to show up during Michael Waltrip’s Grid Walk, but that didn’t happen.

What happened was Michael Waltrip asked Daniel Suarez about Luke Bryan songs and Suarez looked at him as if to say “What?” I think some fans like this stuff, but that’s just ridiculous. When Martin Brundle does a grid walk and talks to drivers, he gets constructive information that fans might want to know about the race. With Waltrip, we get ridiculousness, like the time he spilled a taco on Hamlin’s car at Texas Motor Speedway in 2015.

I just don’t get that man. I know that he wants to have fun and by all means you can, but please try to be constructive for once.

Overall, the racing for position was excellent on Sunday and FOX did its best to cover it. I hope that NASCAR and Goodyear come up with something for September that allows competitive racing at Bristol and rubber to go down on the track. FOX needs to properly staff its broadcasts so that the big stories of the day can be properly covered.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, NASCAR will make its fourth trip to the Circuit of the Americas for a tripleheader of action on the 3.427-mile road course. The ARCA Menards Series East starts its season at Five Flags on Saturday, March 23 with a 150-lap race. That will begin at 8:30 p.m. ET with live coverage provided by FloRacing.

The NTT IndyCar Series will be at The Thermal Club near Palm Springs for the $1 million Challenge, which is starting at 9:30 a.m. local time. Formula 1 will be in Melbourne for the Grand Prix of Australia. TV listings can be found here.

We will have critiques of the Cup and NASCAR Xfinity Series races from Austin in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. This week’s edition of the Frontstretch Newsletter will cover Saturday night’s Weather Guard Truck Race at Bristol, a very different race in every way.

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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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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DoninAjax

The difference in speed was evident when Little Gibbs flew past cars on his way from last to first in about thirty laps to lead at the second TV time out. That would not be possible at the real Bristol.

janice

i heard the boogity…..when the race went green from bowyer…so maybe that was a dw “sighting”.

michael waltrip is an idiot, buffoon……i pity the people that go to this bar and he’s there. grid walk needs to be ended. i love how the drivers try to hide to avoid him. and when he sticks microphone in a child’s face. hey, he should of interview leo gordon, but then again waltrip might had caused some trama as leo probably doesn’t know who waltrip is. leo is now a teenager and it’s been a long time since fans have seen him at a track.

Blaize

Phil, your comment “While we did get tire wear and marbles in the turns back then, cords showing within 50 laps on a short track pretty much never happened.” summed it all up. Great comment. Fox and other folks comparing the recent tire issue with the racing we saw years ago was ridiculous.

wildcatsfan2016

Totally agree Blaize – the tire issue this year at Bristol was similar to what happened at Indianapolis. It wasn’t a tire management issue, it was a bad tire period.

Fox says what NASCAR pays them to say – no matter how stupid.

janice

makes me wonder what we’ll see when they get to indy.

Blaize

Completely agree. We were watching the race and saying “this reminds me of Indianapolis.” And I wanted to get someone like Kyle Petty in the booth to say what no one on Fox was willing to say about the debacle.

Kevin in SoCal

I don’t think it was the tire, but the resin compound they put down. It was the same tire compound as September, and we didn’t have this issue.

Brian

Except some cars were not running in the resin once the tire wear issues were confirmed to the driver based on what the team saw with the car.

4-wide

This guy does not know TV–end of story. it’s almost comical

Kevin in SoCal

If Jamie is sick, why is she there? And why isn’t she wearing a mask?

janice

allergy season is starting here in the south.

wildcatsfan2016

allergy season is starting EVERYWHERE. LOL

Shayne

I wonder how the folks betting money on NASCAR races feel about “how many laps before your tire pops”? What was the line on that one? I bet NASCAR and the online betting sites made a fortune.

WJW Motorsports

Cold concrete won’t take rubber, who’d have thunk it? I’d watch them on rims if it would help get these sports cars out of shape a bit on a short track. Good for them for taking a swing at it and I applaud GY and all involved for pushing it. It’s a bit like ranging in artillery, they went a little too far with this one, so hopefully next attempt they find the sweet spot in the middle that we are all looking for in the tire.

Steve

Completely agree. Everyone complains about no tire wear during these races, then when it’s tried, its the worst race ever if its not perfect. GY now has a baseline and now know how far to go and hopefully they can find the sweet spot.

Drivers whining about it was comical. It actually became a little difficult to drive a race car instead of driving on a rail every week. Oh the horror! The veterans seemed to be able to deal with it. Maybe some of these guys need to do a little less crying and a little more learning.

Last edited 23 days ago by Steve
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