Wednesday, April 17

Couch Potato Tuesday: Danica Patrick’s Cup Booth Debut Decent in Las Vegas

In recent years, Las Vegas has put on some decent races, even with the now-defunct NA18D package. Sunday was another unknown for the series, but it produced a good show.

Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube

Sunday saw the NASCAR Cup Series take on Las Vegas for what turned out to be 3.5 hours of action. So far, so good for the on-track product.

The biggest aspect of Sunday’s broadcast we need to cover is the inclusion of Danica Patrick in the broadcast booth. As you know, Patrick has been retired from racing in NASCAR since the 2018 Daytona 500. Once her racing career concluded at Indianapolis later that year, she effectively made a clean break from motorsports. Much of her time since has been spent focusing on her winery business and her podcast, Pretty Intense.

However, the past couple of years have seen Patrick work with NBC Sports as part of their team for the Indianapolis 500. She has a fair amount of experience now. It still struck me as somewhat odd that Patrick was tapped to serve as a guest analyst for Cup broadcasts because you just really haven’t seen much of her in NASCAR circles since she retired. On paper, it would made more sense for her to show up in the booth for the Xpel 375 on the 20th than Sunday in Las Vegas.

Patrick does have some experience as an analyst on NASCAR broadcasts. It wasn’t great. Her first go-around back in 2015 was pretty terrible, probably one of the worst Xfinity guest analyst appearances that I can recall.

When Patrick was announced as a guest analyst, that’s what came to mind. Thankfully, she’s gotten more reps since then and is better now. One of her main issues in 2015 was that she wasn’t assertive. Like it or not, you’re not necessarily guaranteed airtime. Back then, you more or less had to fight for that on Xfinity Series broadcasts. Michael Waltrip seemingly made it so that Patrick didn’t really feel comfortable participating. As a result, she shut down.

Thankfully, that was not an issue on Sunday. Many of you aren’t the biggest fans of Clint Bowyer, but to someone like Patrick, he’s a known quantity since they were teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing. Granted, it was only for a year, but they likely spent quite a bit of time together back then.

For what’s it worth, I felt that Patrick did provide a decent amount of analysis during the event. She does bring a different angle to things since so much of her career was spent in open-wheel cars. She never completely got away from that mentality during her time in Cup, for better or worse. She described Kevin Harvick as a “perfectionistic driver that hits his marks” during the race. It’s the same kind of statement that could be applied to half the grid during Patrick’s time in INDYCAR.

As the race went on, Patrick became more and more comfortable in her role. She was able to take what she noticed and extrapolate it into commentary. That said, she apparent fell victim to the “commentators’ curse” a couple of times. She just needs to push through that. This is why I’m happy that she’s going to get another week in the booth in Phoenix. She can take what she learned in Las Vegas, along with feedback from the chaps at FOX Sports, and apply it. If this Instagram post is any indication, Patrick did seem to enjoy herself.

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If anything, I thought the weakest part of her day was the interview that she did with Brad Keselowski as part of NASCAR RaceDay before the race. That strikes me as strange since she interviews people on a regular basis via her aforementioned podcast.

Prior to the race, Regan Smith had a one-on-one interview with Erik Jones, who has been a surprise so far this season. Jones was mediocre at best last year, but with the Next Gen car, he’s been right up there the first few weeks.

Topics for the conversation were centered around Jones getting the boot from Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of 2020, whether that put a chip on his shoulder and his start to 2022. He seems to be quite happy where he’s at right now, but struggles with the notion of having a chip on his shoulder because he thinks that he doesn’t deserve to.

Race coverage-wise, Las Vegas brought a lot of racing to the forefront. It is quite difficult to get away from everyone else in the Next Gen car. Outside of green-flag stop sequences, I don’t think anyone has had a lead greater than four seconds in the last two weeks. Viewers got a decent amount of side-by-side racing. It was entertaining to watch.

The one thing that FOX did Sunday that I didn’t like what when they chose to recap Kyle Busch’s weekend in full. With 15 laps to go. While he was fighting for the lead with Martin Truex Jr. Knowing what we know now, it wasn’t the climatic moment of the race. However, had Jones not wrecked late, it would have been. You’re going to spend a couple of laps that late in the race rehashing that during the fight for the win? Why? The viewers know what’s up by then.

Since the race ran 40 minutes longer than normal, post-race coverage was relatively brief. Viewers got interviews with three of the top four finishers (Alex Bowman, Ross Chastain and Busch). No comment from Kyle Larson despite being so close to victory.

Overall, this was an enjoyable broadcast to watch on Sunday. I would argue that the race being more enjoyable to watch is almost solely down to the on-track product. Why NASCAR stuck with the previous setup on intermediate tracks for three years with seemingly everyone under the sun ranting about it, I’ll never know. I still don’t like the idea of having a constantly revolving booth.  Having a trio around each other each week will do nothing but good for FOX Sports. Sure, having this guest analyst gambit allows multiple people to get a chance to see how they will do in an actual broadcast, but it does make me wonder how much training the guest analysts for the Cup broadcasts are getting. It’s worth looking into.

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Saturday brought a rather quirky Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Strange things can happen out there in March, and this was no exception.

Weather in Las Vegas this time of year can seemingly range from 35 to 90 degrees. There have been hot races, windy races and rainy races at Las Vegas. What we got Saturday was a new one for Las Vegas standards.

During the race’s second caution, you started having mixed precipitation fall. The track doesn’t have a weather station on site (at least, not from what I can tell), but the nearest weather stations indicated that it was 50 degrees outside when this happened. It would be too warm for snow, yet that didn’t appear to be rain that was falling. It was a mess. Made me think of the ASA Player’s Ltd. 500 from Race City Speedway near Calgary in 1992.

Unlike this ASA race that was snow-shortened (despite running on Aug. 23), Saturday’s race was interrupted for only about 45 minutes. During that time, FOX Sports 1 occupied itself with a series of interviews.

Two of those interviews were focused on one of the big stories from the early part of the race. Ryan Sieg ended up in the wall on lap 3 after Ty Gibbs made minimal contact with him exiting turn 4.

Prior to the interviews, FOX Sports 1 cameras caught Gibbs and Sieg discussing the incident. It looked somewhat heated at times, although it wasn’t a near-fistfight, as Adam Alexander later described it.

Immediately afterwards, Sieg walked to Jamie Little and did an interview (seriously, this was within 15 seconds). He was clearly upset about the whole thing, saying that Gibbs knew he had a faster car and could have taken his time. He also indicated that it wasn’t over.

After a bathroom break, Gibbs took the blame for the incident and said that he made a mistake. He apologized again later on. This was good content from FOX Sports 1.

Sure enough, Sieg attempted to retaliate against Gibbs a few laps after the restart. Knowing that Sieg had just been black-flagged for failing to maintain minimum speed, just attempting this move would have gotten him parked. The booth knew up front that this was intentional, as they should have.

Joey Logano (back in the booth once again with Ryan Blaney) described this as a judgment call for NASCAR, which is fair. Just how far does “Boys, have at it” go? We’ve seen in the past that it has limits. Ask Matt Kenseth. He found out the hard way. Brett Moffitt and Sheldon Creed didn’t deserve to get caught up in that ridiculousness. Luckily, they both recovered to earn top 10s.

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Much like Sunday’s race, the 300-mile Xfinity race was a lot of fun to watch. There was a decent amount of action to be had, and I felt that FOX Sports 1 did a good job bringing that action to viewers.

Due to the weather delay, the race ended more than an hour late. Viewers only got interviews with race winner Gibbs (where he apologized for the Sieg crash again) and Noah Gragson before leaving for the Georgetown-Xavier game (which was at halftime by the time the race ended, but might as well have been over).

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, NASCAR wraps up the West Coast trip with a jaunt to Phoenix for a tripleheader. Cup teams will be joined by the Xfinity Series and a combination race between the ARCA Menards Series and ARCA Menards Series West that has apparently attracted a 40-car field. Remember that the ARCA broadcast will mark Krista Voda’s debut in the broadcast as a play-by-play commentator for ARCA on MAVTV.

Meanwhile, Monster Energy AMA Supercross travels to Detroit to race at Ford Field and the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series will be at Tulare Thunderbowl Raceway in California. TV listings can be found here.

We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races from Phoenix for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday at Frontstretch. In all seriousness, I am a little concerned about tires this weekend knowing how savage the crashes can be at Phoenix if you blow a right front tire, especially if it goes exiting turn 2. The Critic’s Annex will cover Friday night’s Victoria’s Voice Foundation 200, where we ask the question of just what in the deuce was going on at the end of the 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.

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