Bobbles in the Booth and Stages in a Road Course Race
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and a cordial “Hey y’all” to our assigned reader of NASCAR journalism this hot summer day in Georgia. It’s Tuesday afternoon as I settle in at the keyboard, and it’s one of those weeks when I question the intelligence of my decision to do a Friday column. Even before the Toyota/Save Mart 350 was over in Sonoma, I knew what I wanted to write about, and so, it seems did everyone else that watched it.
The broadcast itself was just terrible, from start to finish. The booth crew might as well have saved some money and called the race from Charlotte, as they seemed almost totally clueless as to what was happening on the track. They remained keyed on Truex and Harvick, the two obviously best cars on the day, and occasionally mentioned Clint Bowyer who was almost able to run with the pair. There were many missed incidents back in the pack that viewers neither saw nor heard about.
Cole Whitt ran only 57 laps. NASCAR lists him as a “crash” but there was no caution. No one in the booth ever mentioned he was gone. This scribe keeps the Not-so-live Leaderboard running as I watch. Occasionally, I’ll scroll to the bottom to see who is where. The equipment in the broadcast booth is many times more sophisticated and complete, yet apparently they never consult it. Heard later that Cole broke a track bar or something closely related and limped into the garage, where he remained the rest of the day.
The biggest faux pas of the day came when we were told that Ryan Blaney was suffering from arm cramps as he manhandled his Ford around the road course without power steering. That wasn’t just a casual throw-away comment. That remained an on-going discussion over a lot of laps. Eventually the leader lapped Blaney and it was “explained” to us by Mike Joy that he had to keep going into the pits to rest his arms. Again Mr. Joy, nice try but no cigar! This is the age of social media and instant information. Yesterday [Monday] I came across a conversation on Twitter between Ryan and several others. In it he was told about the claims made by Mike Joy and responded that he never told anyone that he had cramps. He said he did come into the pits for a pit stop and picked up a drive-through speeding penalty for his efforts. That… and nothing at all to do with cramps… was the reason he was so far in arrears.
We’re told that Joy apologized to Ryan and laid the blame on miscommunication. For regular readers of this column, this is not the first time Mike Joy has offered an insufficient excuse for offering inaccurate and untrue “facts” on the air. In the spring of 2017, Mr. Joy and I had a slight disagreement about Alan Kulwicki and the “Polish Victory Lap.” You can read “almost” all about it in my article, Truth Will Always Serve Better than a Good Story.”
I say “almost” because when I went to that article to cite something in it, I found that the video of that race is no longer accessible from the article. Well… fancy that! I went to YouTube and punched up the proper race, 2017 Food City 500 from Bristol. It’s there, but not in its entirety.
That is a completely different address from the one I had posted, and you’ll find that all volume has been cut from the ending and a camera stays focused on an almost empty grandstand as it silently plays out the last 10 or 15 minutes of the broadcast. You’ll also find many comments at the end of the article, including one from Mr. Joy in which he asserts that he never said what I heard him say, though I had played it over many times and it was always as stated. A whole lot of others heard it as well, but won’t now because it’s a NASCAR video and they have changed the address and cut the end of the video completely out. I didn’t know that this little website or this old lady were that important. They probably feel they swatted me like a fly. Sorry NASCAR but this little bug is still buzzing and still telling the truth.
Well gentle readers, that was really not what I came to discuss with you today, but it was a startling find, nonetheless. The other part of my intended article was to offer my unsolicited opinion of stage racing on a road course. Please understand, I have no problem with stage racing in general, except of course, when it means that the winner isn’t the winner because Fairy dust points gave someone else a higher score than the guy that crossed the finish line first and took the checkered flag.
However… when the race is on a road course, the racing I love to the moon and back, stages provide nothing more than two scheduled competition cautions, which take all of the intrigue out of the race. I love racing on the roads because it showcases the crew chiefs in a way no other races can. The game of counting backwards toward a given point is truly unique, but can be upset by ill-timed cautions. When the cautions are scheduled, all guesswork is gone. All the cars with a win in the bank, pitted 2 laps before each stage. Then when the caution came out, everyone else pitted and the leaders were right back in the lead. Frankly, that got old in a hurry. The only bright spot in that race was when Cole Pearn faked out the others and left Martin on track while the others took the bait, thinking they were all pitting together. It was chancy, but they took the chance anyway. Cautions had been few up to that point; just one for two laps while they removed A.J. Allmendinger’s dead car from the track after he missed a shift and dropped an engine. Had a caution come out before Truex pitted, that would have really messed up his afternoon, but as we know now, that didn’t happen and he rode off into the sunset all alone and unchallenged.
NASCAR, you might just want to consider dropping the stages from the road course races. The racing… and the suspense of who would go on which strategy… a two-stop race with worn tires… a three-stop race with better tires… and of course, there’s almost always a caution that will mess with the minds of the best of them. That’s what the fans love about road racing and why its popularity has grown over the years. Please, give it back before Sonoma and Watkins Glen are forced to join the ranks of tracks tearing out seating.
Time now for our Classic Country Closeout and today we have a wonderful one. I’m fairly sure we’ve seen this one before, but if so it was long ago and it’s truly a treasure. It features Ray Price, Jim Reeves and Ernest Tubb. Fantastic color broadcast from 1956.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling.
It looks so good on you!