Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Handles Rain Well, then Creates Boredom

Richmond Raceway has been an acquired taste in recent years.

It is a short track that trends towards long runs with the field spread out. In addition, the pavement is relatively old, leading to a lot of tire wear. Normally, that expands the groove, but Sunday (March 31) night was an exception to the rule.

The exception is due to one of the biggest stories of the night: the rain that forced NASCAR to start the race on wet-weather tires.

See also
Historic Debut of Wet-Weather Tires Deemed 'Success' at Richmond Raceway

Before we get started, I’m under the opinion that the wet-weather tires NASCAR has are kind of annoying, like the worst kind of limitations at your day job. You’re unhappy with what you have and complain about it, only to be told that it’s “working as intended.” That’s generally how I feel about the wet-weather tires at Richmond and how I felt last year at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

The first 30 laps of the race were run with wet-weather tires and were generally quite competitive. It was likely the time of the race when we saw the most choice in racing lines and the most side-by-side racing. The broadcast booth truly seemed to like the on-track action that we saw. I was satisfied as well.

Then, NASCAR threw the competition caution, kept everyone under yellow for 10 laps, then brought the cars in for mandatory swaps to slicks in non-competitive stops. I have plenty of say about that, but there isn’t room for that in this column (it’s slightly off-topic).

What is on-topic is that the rain early Sunday evening negatively affected the rest of the race once everyone switched to slicks. The track was never truly dry. It was dry in the lower two lanes but stayed moist above that. It is a testament to the driver’s skill levels that no one wiped out in the moisture, but it limited where people could race.

Or, in the case of Martin Truex Jr., it allowed him to use the moisture in a defensive move against foes. The fact that this race was at night also affected what we saw negatively.

The end of the race will likely be remembered for the somewhat debatable final restart where Denny Hamlin appeared to accelerate prior to the restart zone. FOX had replays ready to go that appeared to show that Hamlin went early. Yet NASCAR seemingly didn’t even review the situation. I have no idea why it didn’t do even the most cursory review here, but it left a lot of fans with a bad taste in their mouths. The booth seemed confused about that as well.

Truex was unhappy after the race about the situation with both Hamlin and Kyle Larson, who put him in the wall coming to the finish.

“[Hamlin] jumped the start and then used me up into turn 1,” Truex said after the race. “Definitely sucks, but a good solid day and a car capable of winning, so we will just have to come back next week and try to get them then.”

See also
Martin Truex Jr. Angry After Dominant Richmond Run Comes Up Short

As the race continued, the field spread out and it didn’t seem like there was all that much action out there. The loop data doesn’t indicate this. It argues that Sunday night’s race was fairly similar to this race last year which was held during the day. It had a very similar number of passes under green and the same number of laps under yellow (54). That said, there were three more yellows last year.

That indicates to me that FOX didn’t do the best job of showing the on-track action during the long runs. There was racing for position to be had, but viewers only saw a certain amount of it. There was more out there.

When FOX ventured around to check through the field, it came up with bumping matches such as the battle between Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Carson Hocevar. Of course, those two are not shy around others.

Being willing to explore will pay dividends on a broadcast. Not only will you keep the viewers better occupied, but you’ll also keep the booth on task as well. During the race broadcast, we discovered that Mike Joy spent a significant amount of time referring to the substantial number of historical sites around Richmond. If I were in the Richmond area, I’d check those out myself either before or after the race weekend. I plan to do that prior to the race weekend in Texas Motor Speedway that I’m covering for Frontstretch later this month. I don’t want to know about it during the race.

We also learned that Clint Bowyer is jealous of Hamlin for how well he performs at his home track. Kansas Speedway was pretty middle of the pack for Bowyer. However, he’s clearly still sore over how Greg Biffle won there in 2007 when the race was shortened due to darkness.

With 34 laps to go, FOX had Keelan Harvick come into the broadcast booth. I have no idea why this happened. It struck me as rather ridiculous. Are you that bored? I just don’t get it.

In addition to the restart controversy, there was a decent amount of post-race coverage Sunday night despite the race going long. There were interviews with the top-six finishers and some post-race analysis before FOX left Richmond.

See also
Stock Car Scoop: How Did Wet-Weather Tires Fare at Richmond?

Prior to the race, there was an interesting feature on NASCAR RaceDay. Tom Rinaldi sat down with Charles Browne, who is currently a development tire changer for Richard Childress Racing (he typically changes tires on Parker Kligerman’s No. 48 Big Machine Vodka Chevrolet in the NASCAR Xfinity Series).

The piece tells the story of how Browne, an immigrant to the United States from Liberia, met Kyle Busch in 2006 while living in a group home.

The piece just shows how important engagement is for drivers with the general public. It is unlikely that Browne would have ever considered going into motorsports had that not happened. Busch just remembered the day as a pizza party with the kids to help them take their minds off of their situation and that Browne was inquisitive.

I thought that this was an excellent piece. It’s truly sad what Browne went through in his life up to that point (civil war in Liberia, immigrating to the United States, getting taken away from his father, etc.). Meeting Busch and by extension, getting into NASCAR, gave him something to look forward to.

Overall, this was a rather frustrating race to watch. As I noted, it was a fairly typical race by Richmond standards. However, the broadcast made it significantly more boring. Racing at night at Richmond seems to lead toward a different type of race as compared to the daytime.

There were times when there was some good action to go around, but much of the race would have bored casual viewers.

There was one small aspect of the coverage that I really liked. FOX quietly put a caution light on-screen during the final restart. Now, it didn’t come into play Sunday night, but it would have given viewers at least some kind of idea of when the caution came out if it did. This was the first Green-White-Checker restart of the year in the NASCAR Cup Series, but I hope that FOX continues this for the rest of their portion of the season in all three series.

That’s it for this week. Next week, things get quite a bit busier. NASCAR’s national-level series will all be at Martinsville Speedway. Formula 1 will make its first springtime visit to Suzuka Circuit in Japan, while SRO America will start its 2024 season at Sonoma Raceway. TV listings can be found here.

It should be noted that Martinsville this weekend will be the first Cup race of 2024 that will air on FOX Sports 1. That will come with adjustments in the production of the broadcast. We’ll take a look at the Cup and Xfinity broadcasts for next weekend’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.

In the Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter, we’ll look at Saturday’s ToyotaCare 250 for the Xfinity Series. That ended up being a very different race.

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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Christopher

I’m truly tired of Mr Allaway’s miserable attitude. It’s like listening to the drunk at the local bar complaining about everything.

Echo

Hamlins jump isn’t debatable anymore, he arrogantly admitted in Stephens story here on fronstretch. and the other clips Stephen has in his article back Denny up, yep he jumped it.

Ronald Thornton

It was so obvious that he jumped. Nascar is clearly scared of the Toyota camp. You know. That camp that has a Jordan worth billions in it. Nascar is going downhill fast. Just look at the stands. Keep shooting yourself in the foot. Why would I pay to see this obvious cheating. Don’t tighten a lug nut, take 4 races off. Jump the start. Enjoy your trophy. Stupidity controls nascar and the white house. Lol

CCColorado

And Hamlin wonders , or knows , why he’s so hated?
What a bum, certainly not worthy of a NASCAR title.
Agree with the Toyota comment, they sold their soul letting them, and the STUPID pace car we have to endure… into the sport. How many racing related stickers do you ever see on a freaking Toyota??
And now they are courting Honda… if they come in. I’m out, as will be many other old guys/gals like me.

Shayne

The entire FOX broadcast in all 3 series is disjointed. What I’m watching on TV isn’t being called by the booth as it’s happening. The camera shows 3-4 cars racing hard. No one in the booth mentions it. I have to look at the pylon to figure out what position they’re racing for. No need for anyone in the booth if have to call the race from my couch.

How hard is it to cover a race? FOX is awful.

Bowyer and Harvick suck. Two little immature boys always picking at each other. Harvick tries too hard to be taken seriously. He can’t control Bowyer, but he’ll keep digging just to prove himself right. They just keep on snipping like an old married couple. Mike Joy is lost in space. He can’t call the race, make the children behave, and keep up with all the sponsor plugs.

Kevin in SoCal

I don’t have this many issues with Fox. My issues are with NBC, they’re worse, and people forget that until the broadcast switches.

Jim

Before the season started, I had hoped for the possibility of FOX making bold changes to its broadcasts. I imagined Chris Meyer — who thinks he’s funny (“we kid…) being replaced, with Michael Waltrip disappearing (his grid walk is a waste of time), with Clint Boyer either gone (or maybe reassigned as a “pit” or “fan zone” reporter), and just maybe a new talent to replace Mike Joy. Ok, so none of that happened. From before the first race even started, I became concerned that the addition of Kevin Harvick, which I thought would be a good addition, was wrong, not just because of Kevin but because of the Harvick – Boyer combination. Their “banter” and “arguing at times” are unprofessional and distracting. I’ve also noticed more the “mistakes” coming from Mike Joy. The FOX broadcasts are very disappointing this year!

Steve

Did I really see footage of Easter bunny races in golf carts and Harvick’s son in the booth with less than 50 laps to go in the race?

Does Nascar even care that the networks are actually pushing people away from the sport due to the poor tv coverage? They show everything but actual racing and actually think we like that. They are so out of touch with the normal race fan.

Look at the grandstands for the race. That attendance was putrid. I’m sure a Sunday night race on Easter a week before another race in Virginia next week probably didn’t help with attendance either.

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