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First Impressions of NASCAR: Full-Speed

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What’s Happening?

Now, I’m not a morning person, but this morning I set my alarm one hour early, somehow not waking up my wife in the process, to watch episode 1 of NASCAR: Full Speed. These are the first impressions of the docuseries from the first episode of viewing. This will NOT be a shot-for-shot rundown of the entire episode, but it will give prospective viewers some idea of what they can expect when tuning into this series.

  • NASCAR: Full Speed is a 5-part docuseries on Netflix that centers around the 2023 Playoffs. The episodes are around 45 minutes each.
  • The series centers around drivers such as Denny Hamlin, William Byron, and Ryan Blaney amongst others. Producers include Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ben Kennedy.
  • Fans have been waiting with eager anticipation for this docuseries for a long time now. That time is finally here.

It’s Not an In-Depth Technical Explanation of the Intricacies of the Sport

This documentary focuses on the human interest stories created by the sport instead of the intricacies of the sport itself. The story of the first episode centers around Denny Hamlin, William Byron, Bubba Wallace, and the final race of the regular season, the Coke Zero 400.

There is no graphic or in-depth explanation of how the Playoffs work, or even how Wallace, Hamlin, and Byron got to this position. All the viewers know, and frankly, all they need to know, is that Wallace is fighting for a Playoff spot, and this is how he does it.

Even from a technical standpoint, there is very little focus on how the cars are set up or what specific adjustments drivers and teams can make to the cars. They do mention the inspection process and how the Next-Gen Car is meant to level the playing field, but they don’t go in-depth about how it works or what makes the car that way.

Some fans may not love the aspect of the documentary, but this is clearly a choice to make the sport more appealing to new audiences. Instead of getting bogged down in the details of the sport including stage racing, playoff points, loose, tight, and wedge adjustments, the show instead focuses on what captures attention, the drivers, and the conflicts they face. If new fans choose to follow the sport as a result of this docuseries, the race broadcasts can fill them in on the details later.

There is a Big Focus on the Drivers Outside of the Car

The first half of the first episode is spent away from the race track. This is where fans get their first introduction to drivers such as Denny Hamlin and William Byron. The first time viewers get to see these people talking is not within the context of a race car, but, it is within the context of a day at home.

We see Denny Hamlin driving his kids to school, and William Byron is excited to eat a cereal he cannot find while at the race track. It’s here that fans are introduced to the stories of these drivers both on and off the race track.

Many of these story details are things that die-hard NASCAR fans have heard before. Which, again, is down to the audience this docuseries is trying to reach. This series is trying to reach new fans, and these new fans need to understand who these drivers are as people before they get to know them at the race track.

Based on the trailers, more of this is coming throughout the docuseries. It’s unclear what the screen time breakdown will be between on-track and off-track, but, fans are getting to know who these drivers are outside of a race car.

It’s About the NASCAR of Today

The first episode of this docuseries gives zero historical context for literally anything that has happened in sports history. There is no mention of Bill France Jr., the Streamline Hotel, the 1979 Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, etc. This docuseries focuses on the NASCAR stars of today.

There were a couple of instances where this was evident. Jeff Gordon was featured very briefly in this episode explaining his first impressions of William Byron, and, any first-time viewer who had never seen Jeff Gordon before would never know he is a 4-time Champion and a 93-time race winner. Kevin Harvick, who was on his retirement tour, is in the background for a very brief moment, but, his name is not even acknowledged. Kyle Busch is seen hugging his wife Samantha before Daytona, but, no explanation is given about who he is.

These are stars of the sport that any NASCAR fan would recognize, but, for this story, they’re simply not relevant. Instead, the focus is on the current stars such as William Byron, Denny Hamlin, and Bubba Wallace.

This is not about the NASCAR stars of the past or the people who have gotten the sport to where it is today. It’s about those who people can turn their TV on any given Sunday and see winning races. This is no longer the sport of 15-20 years ago where Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were dominating.

Is It Embellished? A Little Bit, but Not Egregiously

One of the concerns people may have had with this documentary was egregiously embellishing certain storylines. Those who actually watched the 2023 Playoffs may realize that one specific storyline didn’t have as much of an impact as the show may let on. Does that happen? In episode 1, sort of, but, not egregiously.

The storyline I’m talking about here is one that many fans may have forgotten about. The week leading up to Daytona, Denny Hamlin declared on his podcast “Actions Detrimental” that he would push the #23 car of Bubba Wallace to the Playoffs over teammate Ty Gibbs in the #54. This is the source of some minor conflict which climaxes in Joe Gibbs heading to Denny Hamlin’s motorhome to talk.

Those who saw the 2023 Coke Zero 400 know that that storyline ultimately did not matter as Ty Gibbs crashed out before the end of stage 2. Netflix still ran with it anyway.

Was it overstated? I would argue that it was a bit overstated, but, it was a storyline throughout the week. It also plays into the tension Denny feels between being a car owner and a driver, which is a storyline in episode 1. Ultimately, it isn’t overly embellished, but, it does take some small liberties.

The Role of the “Experts”

There are two basic perspectives in this docuseries. There are the drivers, which is self-explanatory, and, there is the panel of experts. This panel of experts features Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Letarte, Shannon Spake, and Marty Smith.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte offer the perspective of outsiders with inside knowledge. Both individuals have experience in the sport, and both have been involved with a modern version of “The Playoffs”.

Shannon Spake and Marty Smith offer a more outsider perspective. Spake talks more about how some of these drivers came up and their history in the sport. Where Smith shines is talking about the sport from a fans-type perspective. He describes these drivers as, and I’m paraphrasing here, these daredevils risking death every time they hop into a race car in this raucous environment that fans cannot get enough of.

Each of these individuals is perfect for this docuseries. All of them have been involved in the sport for many years, and they understand the sport inside and out. It’s exactly the perspective this series needs.

I will have a more comprehensive review tomorrow when I can see the entirety of the series. What were your first impressions of the series?

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Joshua Lipowski

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