Someone at FOX Sports has big balls

Television broadcasting is hard. REALLY hard.

The professionals make it look easy, but it takes true talent to be able to think of something, make that something come out of your mouth without tripping over your words and then actually provide insight — all while some producer is giving instructions in your earpiece.

So when FOX Sports turns over its entire Xfinity Series broadcast at Pocono to a bunch of amateurs, it’s going to be must-see TV.

Now, these aren’t just any amateurs — they’re experts in their field — but FOX’s concept is a fascinating experiment. From the booth to pit road to the Hollywood Hotel, all of the “talent” will be active Cup drivers.

These drivers all have experience in front of the camera, which definitely makes a difference. It’s not like they’re going to be blankly staring into your TV.

But still, they’re going to struggle with all the things required of a professional. Getting to a commercial without leaving too much dead air? Throwing from one reporter to another on pit road? Setting up a replay?

It could be a total mess. Or it could be one of the best and most enjoyable broadcasts in years.

Either way, you sort of have to tune in, right?

It’s fun to picture Kevin Harvick as a play-by-play guy, trying to wrangle Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano as analysts. Then there will be Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones trying to describe pit stops and interview wrecked drivers. And Danica Patrick and Denny Hamlin will make small talk in the Hollywood Hotel while keeping the show moving.

That’s the plan, anyway. How exactly is this all going to work? I’m as curious as anyone — and I can’t wait to see what happens. My guess is a lot of viewers feel the same way.

So nice move, FOX. We’ll be watching.

12 Questions with Kasey Kahne

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Kasey Kahne of Hendrick Motorsports. I spoke to Kahne at Texas Motor Speedway.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

When I was younger, it was both, because my dad always was on me to learn about the cars and work on the cars. But from the first time I got on a four-wheeler, a car or whatever, I felt like I knew what I was doing — and that was nice. So I’d say I had a little bit of ability driving, but I’ve always had to work at it. Today, I’d say I work way harder than (use) ability, it feel likes at times, so it’s just tough. Racing’s tough. It’s always changing, so you can’t just drive. You have to be aware of a lot of other things if you want to go fast.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

Carl may come back; you’ll never know. But the other guys are doing other things that they’re enjoying, so that’s pretty cool. I feel like I probably have some of their fans — we probably have fans that are more of a Tony Stewart fan than my fan but they probably still like me a little bit because of our backgrounds. Same with Jeff Gordon, and then being Jeff’s teammate.

Those guys have always been my favorite drivers growing up because I enjoyed the way that they got to NASCAR and then what they’ve done along the way and in NASCAR and how dominant they were at times. So those have been some of favorites.

But I think just doing some of the same things and having some of the same passions for racing would maybe be able to get some of those fans on our side.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

The hardest part of my job away from the racetrack right now is probably the schedule. I’m trying to get everything in thoroughly and do a good job at the things I need to do racing-wise (and) sponsor-wise each week, making sure everybody’s happy.

And then there’s also doing my things that I enjoy that I feel helps me in the car — which is working out and putting in the time and effort of reading the notes and trying to be prepared, watching the videos and things to be prepared for when you get to the next track. And then working all that together with taking care of my son, Tanner.

So, doing all those things together, scheduling and giving each one of them plenty of time and then having the most time going to Tanner would probably be one of the tougher things we do.

It looks like Tanner is a really happy kid on social media and I enjoy following him. Is he loving life?

He’s loving life, and it’s crazy because he’s super happy. He probably gets a lot of that from his mom (Sam Sheets) because she’s really happy. He’s excited, he’s happy, he’s a mover right now and he has tons of energy.

We’ll hang out (and) he’ll stay up all night if I let him. But as soon as it’s time for bed and I tell him, he knows because it’s later than when he usually stays up. At night, I say, “Hey, are you ready for bed, bud?” It takes him a second, but then he heads to his bedroom, so that’s pretty good for a 17-month-old that has a ton of energy and is a really happy little boy.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Yeah. I’ve never really minded that. I’ve always (signed) autographs or taken a picture. Sometimes like right in the middle of eating your main meal is probably not the right time; for one, you’re hungry, so that’s why you’re there and you can’t wait to get down whatever’s in front of you.

And for two, in my opinion, eating food and shaking hands is kind of dirty in a way.

That is gross.

That’s kind of gross. That’s what gets me.

But prior to a meal and as soon as you’re done, whether you’re having a drink or sitting there relaxing or leaving a restaurant, those times are really good times and it’s nice to do a picture or sign something if you run into a fan.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I screwed up and forgot to ask this question and didn’t realize it until after the interview. My bad!

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

It’s actually Dale Jr. Yesterday we were going back and forth. Jimmie was also on there and Chase, but Dale was doing most of the texting. We were just working on team stuff over the weekend.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

I think our job can definitely be entertaining. I think there’s times when it can be, but other times maybe not so much. I wouldn’t say that an actual driver is a whole lot of an entertainer. But I think maybe the sport and what we have going on at certain tracks can definitely be entertaining for sure.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I hate using it. I used it more when I was younger, and it’s truthfully pretty dumb when you use it. I feel bad the next week. I probably used it once this year and was mad because (of) whatever happened. Then you kind of feel like, “Man, why did you do that? What good did you get out of it? What point did you get across?” It was nothing. You probably just made the other guy mad and you (feel) the same. I got flipped off plenty of times, but I try not to do it too much anymore. I’ve kind of grown out of that.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Absolutely. You know that just kind of builds up. A lot of it, the list kind of goes away and you forget about it and as soon as that person either does you wrong or does you good again, it comes right back and you instantly remember. As quick as it’s happening, you remember the past — good or bad.

You don’t think about the list daily, but if you have another deal with that guy, it comes back and you remember every single time you had a problem and why and what and so on. That list is never-ending on both ends.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

Probably Blake Shelton. And that was with Clint (Bowyer). We were at the Super Bowl and we had Blake Shelton. Clint and Blake are good friends, I think. So having dinner with those guys, with Blake, that was a blast. Good times.

That had to be a pretty fun dinner.

It was a very fun dinner, very entertaining at that point.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

I always just wish I was a little bit happier. I enjoy racing and I’m really happy with Tanner, but there’s a lot times throughout the week where I’m just kind of getting through the day, you know? It’d be nice to just walk around a little happier daily.

12. Speaking of getting through the day, you post workout videos, and that was something Clint Bowyer was interested in asking about. So, he wants to know: Why do you post workout videos on social media?

I don’t know why he cares so much about this. He’s had this talk with me already. He’s texted me. (Laughs) I think he thinks I’m trying to be like Danica or something, is what he was saying.

But I just think it’s just working hard and enjoying. I enjoy working out. I really do. I love it. And when you’re sweating and working hard, you want to show some of your fans that you’re getting after it. You’re doing things to try and improve yourself and be better. I think Clint knows that.

That’s probably what it is, because he doesn’t work out, so he’s probably like, “Man, you’re making me look bad. Stop posting these workout videos!”

That is definitely what it is. But, truthfully, every time I see Clint go run, and he’ll do it like twice a year, he’ll just take off out of the bus garage and then he comes back 20 minutes later and he did two and a half or three miles. And he doesn’t honestly look bad for not running that often, so he can probably do whatever he wanted and get in good shape in a hurry, I’d imagine. But he’s in good race shape, so that’s really all that matters.

The next interview I’m doing is with Daniel Suarez. Do you have a question for him?

I like Daniel a lot. We all know it’s a big step, what he’s doing this year. He’s working hard to do it right and do a good job with it, so that’s really cool.

I’m guessing he lives in North Carolina, close to Gibbs maybe? I really don’t know, but how does he enjoy living wherever he lives? Does he enjoy it as much as where he grew up (in Mexico)? I’m from Enumclaw (Wash.) and I live in North Carolina now and I loved where I grew up, and I really enjoy where I live now. I just want to get his opinion because his (situation) is from a lot further away than Enumclaw.

This 12 Questions interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race in June, please consider using my ticket link. Thanks!

12 Questions with Clint Bowyer

The 12 Questions interview series continues this week with Clint Bowyer of Stewart-Haas Racing. The interview was conducted Sunday morning prior to the Martinsville race. Here is the archive of other 12 Questions from this season.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I would say with me, I don’t know why, but natural ability seems to be the case. This has always come relatively easy for me. The hardest part of our game anymore isn’t the fact you can drive better than the next guy; everybody at this sport, at this level, can drive and is capable of winning these races. It’s how well you work with your team, how well you communicate to your guys to get the most out of your race car.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours? (Note: I know the following answer makes no sense, but it’s Bowyer, so I think he just got distracted.)

Man, it’s just trying to instill that same attitude, the same thoughts and culture. The fit factor has always been really good for everybody. I just like it. I like my teammates, I like the crew chiefs, I love the owners. The sponsors, the partners they have. There’s no weak link anywhere you look in Stewart-Haas. The manufacturer in Ford, Doug Yates, the Roush Yates horsepower. Every aspect of the program is spot on and exactly the way you would want it.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

Right now when my wife (Lorra) goes to Charleston and left me with that two-and-a-half year old (son Cash). I couldn’t handle the two-month old (daughter Presley). Grandma — my mom — had to bail me out on Presley. (Lorra, sitting nearby with the kids, reminds everyone Presley is actually four months old, not two). Cash and I held the fort down and had a good time.

He’s still living and doesn’t look like he has any broken bones or anything.

No, believe it or not, he’s still breathing. No broken bones. We did pretty good on the potty training. Not bad at all. I was pretty impressed. (Pauses) Not with him — with me.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Of course, fans should always approach people. But the restaurant is a little different. Everybody is wired different. I don’t care. I don’t mind it. It is kind of awkward.

Just not the bathroom. God almighty. We went to Outback, took the family to Outback. We all go in there. Cash has to go to the bathroom, which, with a two-year-old, it’s a little bit of a deal. It was after (nephew) Lincoln’s baseball game. Lincoln had to go to the bathroom (too), so my brother Casey had him. I had Cash. (A random) dude finally gets done at the urinal, turns around and wants to shake your hand — and realized (the awkwardness)! He was like, “Eh, uh — can I shake your hand?” (Laughs) I’m like, “Well, damn. I guess.” So just not the bathroom. It’s the only place — just don’t go there.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

(Spotter Brett Griffin, also hanging out in the motorhome, says, “Spotters.”)

My spotter, Brett, just said “spotters.” Can’t live without ‘em; can’t live with ‘em.

Man, I think the media, I think TV, everybody does a great job covering this sport. I mean, honestly. There are so many meetings, so much thought that goes into every aspect of covering this sport. I think they do a good job. I don’t know that you could fix anything or look at one thing and say, “Wish they would show that.” ‘Cause they do.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

(Kasey) Kahne, actually. Kahne has been posting pictures of him working out on social media and I’m like, “Unless you’re a girl, don’t do that.”

Shirtless, even.

Good God! It’s so embarrassing.

And then my go-to, fun text of the week is always (Jamie) McMurray. He’s so much fun to pick on, because he cares so much about what his appearance looks like and what people think of him that I love to pick on McMurray. And his new videos on social media are ridiculous.

I’ve seen those.

He looked half-dead after California, too. He was sitting in the plane doing his little debrief video. I’m like, “My man looks so out of it and so worn out.” I’m like, “Go take a nap and let (McMurray’s son) Carter take over.” Because my man Carter is hilarious and I think he would probably do a better job than his dad anyway.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Yes. I think this is the entertainment business. If you’re on television, you’re in the entertainment business — whether you want to or not or whether you think you are or not.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

Well, when you look over and you’ve got an in-car camera, you can’t do many of those. Going back to your question of what could be covered more in NASCAR, unfortunately you can’t even flip a guy off anymore without it being caught on camera or on TV.

Sometimes, I’ll flip a guy off — like a McMurray — we would just flip each other off just because it was him. Not that I was mad or anything else, just because I wanted to flip him off. It made me feel better.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Yeah, I think that goes hand-in-hand. You don’t want to call it friendship, because you’re not friends on that racetrack. If it’s for a win, I’ll take advantage of anybody on that racetrack and I’ll be the first person Monday morning to say, “Hey man, I ain’t gonna apologize because I know that ain’t worth anything, but I hope you understand.” And I hope they do understand. If it’s for a win, I’m hungry.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

(Looks to Lorra for help. She mentions Steven Tyler, John Fogerty, Blake Shelton. Brother Casey mentions Mike Helton.)

Yeah, I’ve been fortunate to have dinner with a lot of famous people. The people I love — truly, honestly, my brother just said Mike Helton. I don’t think there’s anybody that I respect more in my life than Mike. The reason is, I think he’s the go-to guy for our sport. He’s the spokesperson of our sport. He’s the face of our sport. And he doesn’t take that for granted and always has time for whatever aspect of the sport that needs attention. Whether it’s the drivers or whatever else, he’s always there to listen. The thing about Mike is he’s a good dude, a good person to go to dinner with. He’s a lot of fun to cut up and be normal as well.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

Damn. Winning, right now. Gotta win, you know? This is a performance-driven sport and you’ve got to go out there and have the performance on the racetrack.

But those stars are lining up. I’m starting to have fun again and starting to get that confidence back, and that’s not only with myself but my race team as well. Buga (Mike Bugarewicz) is a young crew chief and he’s hungry and you’ve got to have that confidence instilled in you week-in and week-out. I see that in him right alongside of me.

12. Last week’s interview was with AJ Allmendinger and he wanted to know: If you could be any animal, what kind of animal would you be and why?

How in the hell does that — that’s what came to his mind?

Man, I don’t know. I would think a lion would be pretty badass. That’s pretty top of the food chain. The badassery in the lion is pretty spot-on. I dig a lion.

Do you have a question for the next interview?

The question to ask the next driver is why do you or don’t you post workout videos on social media?

What if the next interview is with Kahne?

Exactly. I want to know why.

The Top Five: Breaking down the Fontana race

Each week, I’ll provide some quick analysis through a post called the Top Five — five notable storylines from the just-completed race. Today: Fontana.

Larson no loser

Holy crap, how impressive is Kyle Larson lately?

Sunday really felt like the first of many wins for Larson this season. He’s already the breakout driver of 2017, with finishes of second, second, second and first in the four non-plate races.

You can credit faster cars at Chip Ganassi Racing — and of course, that’s a major part of it — but Larson also isn’t making the type of mistakes that took him out of races earlier in his career. Remember when it seemed like he’d hit the wall at some point every time he had a good car?

Not anymore.

He also seems more willing to try different lines instead of being so committed to the running the wall. Larson made some awesome moves by hooking the bottom of the track during Sunday’s race, and that paid off in a big way at times.

So, about that new package…

I’m officially concerned about the effectiveness of the low-low downforce package.

NASCAR got lucky with late drama at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix that covered up ho-hum races. But Fontana — which got a 90% approval rating in the “Was it a good race?” Twitter poll last year — had expectations to break that trend and provide a great show from start to finish.

Unfortunately, much of the race was rather tame again until Gray Gaulding crashed with 20 laps to go. Then, much like the other non-plate races, a chaotic finish erased all thoughts of the earlier lack of action.

But that trend can’t continue all season. NASCAR wants the action to be compelling throughout the day, lest races turn into the NBA cliche, where only the last five minutes matters.

The new aero package test isn’t passing the eye test as far as compelling races. Why? I don’t know the answer, but I’d like to hear some theories.

Clint Bowyer’s extra effort

In a Saturday roundtable interview with reporters, Bowyer said he had a long phone call with crew chief Mike Bugarewicz on Friday night — something he didn’t typically do in the past.

Then, after finishing third on Sunday, Bowyer revealed he drove to Bugarewicz’s hotel room on Saturday night to pore over data and try to find ideas to fix the car, which didn’t look great in practice.

“I’ve never went to a crew chief’s hotel room,” Bowyer said. “Never done that before.”

It’s clear this opportunity really matters to Bowyer — as it should. At 37, this might be his last, best chance to resurrect his career and get back to the championship-contending driver he’s capable of being.

He’s on the right path. Sunday was his best finish at an intermediate track since July 2013 in Kentucky.  Bowyer now can head to Martinsville — one of his favorite venues — with confidence and momentum.

Weird stats after five races

Two Chevrolet drivers have won races this season — and neither are from Hendrick Motorsports.

The one Toyota winner so far isn’t from Joe Gibbs Racing. And the winner from Stewart-Haas Racing isn’t Kevin Harvick.

So yeah, if you thought Richard Childress Racing would have more wins than Hendrick and Gibbs combined after five races? Well, you’re just lying.

It’s been an odd start to the year. There have been five different winners, but six of the eight active multi-race winners from last season have yet to reach victory lane. That’s a big zero for Jimmie Johnson, Harvick, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth.

Yes, it’s still early, but the regular season is also roughly one-fifth complete. So how much longer is this going to last?

Painful commercials

I was proud of myself for not getting too aggravated with the commercials during Sunday’s race — the first I’d watched from home this season.

They didn’t seem to be as bad as usual. But naturally, I couldn’t make it the whole time without getting irritated.

It remains absolutely maddening to see tweets about a great battle for the lead while we at home are staring at a commercial listing the side effects for a drug named Symbicort.

By the way, some of those side effects include headaches, changes in your voice, mood changes and shaking — which coincidentally also describe the effects on me when there are too many commercials during green-flag racing.

Honestly, NOTHING about the current state of NASCAR makes me angrier or more frustrated than the commercials. It’s no wonder TV ratings are in the toilet.

No other major sport disrespects its fans like this. Even soccer figures out a way to show games — including World Cup games! — without commercial interruption (except for halftime). Most sports fans wouldn’t tolerate a broadcaster cutting away from live game action, but for some reason, NASCAR fans are just expected to shut up and deal with it.

If the TV networks need money that badly, give us a pay-per-view option with an ad-free broadcast. Would you pay $10 for a race with no ads? Personally, I would.

2017 NASCAR Playoff Picks

Here are my picks for the 2017 NASCAR Cup playoffs (alphabetical order):

  • Clint Bowyer
  • Kurt Busch
  • Kyle Busch
  • Austin Dillon
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  • Chase Elliott
  • Denny Hamlin
  • Kevin Harvick
  • Jimmie Johnson
  • Kasey Kahne
  • Matt Kenseth
  • Brad Keselowski
  • Kyle Larson
  • Joey Logano
  • Jamie McMurray
  • Martin Truex Jr.

A few expanded predictions:

— Clint Bowyer will get back to his old competitive self after joining Stewart-Haas Racing. By September, any hiccups SHR has in the transition to Ford will be forgotten.

— Four Toyotas will make it, but rookies Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez will barely miss out because of a few late-race mistakes.

— All four Hendrick drivers will be in the playoff, including Kasey Kahne after his best season in several years. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will finish the regular season within the top 10 in points.

— Both Chip Ganassi Racing drivers will be in and Kyle Larson will win two times in the regular season.

— Austin Dillon will win his first Cup race by late August.

— Overall, Hendrick Motorsports will be the best team in the regular season (with Jimmie Johnson having the most wins), followed by Team Penske. Joe Gibbs Racing will experience a slight drop-off after two great years, just part of the usual cycle in racing.

— I hate leaving Ryan Blaney out, but I’m not a Blaney detractor. I picked him to make it last year, and it’s certainly possible he could have a great year.

Joey Logano will win his first championship in 2017.

Do NASCAR tracks really have four turns?

It’s been 13 years since I covered my first NASCAR race, but there’s something I’ve never understood about the sport.

Why does everyone say there are four turns at most tracks when there really seem to be two?

I get it at Indianapolis — there are four distinct turns separated by straightaways. But at Daytona? It seems like there are two giant turns (maybe three if you count the trioval).

And if that seems like a stretch, can you really say Martinsville has four turns? It’s two drag strips connected by a pair of turns.

Anyway, Daytona 500 Media Day seemed like a good time to try and get to the bottom of this. I’m not sure I did, but I hope you enjoy the video below: