Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2015 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

Who’s in the headlineMartin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch dominated the race, leading almost 250 of the 400 laps. The eighth and final caution of the race flew with 62 laps to go, and five cars chose to roll the dice and try and stretch their fuel mileage for all of those laps. In the end, it was Carl Edwards who put himself in front of the other four drivers on that strategy and he found himself in Victory Lane for the 56th running of the Coca-Cola 600.

What happened – The green flag flew and cars were quickly running from the bottom of the track to the top. For some ridiculous reason (supposedly they washed turns 1 and 2 on Saturday night) NASCAR threw a competition caution on lap 27. Jimmie Johnson spun twice, drilling the inside wall the second time to put a damper on his night. There was a green-flag run of nearly 100 laps that ended with a caution for Trevor Bayne caressing the turn 4 wall. Ryan Blaney blowed up and Michael Annett spun on the back straight. In between Truex, Busch and Denny Hamlin led 300 laps before Edwards stretched his fuel for the win.

Why you should care – The first third of the season has seen mile and a half tracks dominated by Kevin Harvick and Johnson. Joe Gibbs Racing has at least shown some ability to run with them and Truex Jr. has led the most laps during the last two points races. It is a long way to the Chase but having more than two drivers strong on Intermediate tracks will provide some hope that the championship won’t be a fight between two drivers.

What your friends are talking about – The 2016 Hall of Fame class was announced. Once again there is discussion and debate over who should have gone in versus who did. Raymond Parks, whose financial commitment to the sport kept it afloat for the first five years was snubbed again, as was the original champion Red Byron. Short-track fans got to see a second driver named. Unfortunately it is another modified driver. The late model folks are going to have to wait at least another year to see if Larry Phillips name is called. The fact that Bruton Smith and Curtis Turner both were selected might indicate that past history against the France family isn’t counting against people. That should bode well for Smokey Yunick in the near future.

Coca-Cola has renewed their partnership agreement with Speedway Motorsports Inc through 2020. That means the 600 at Charlotte will carry the Coca-Cola name through the first year of the next decade. The agreement covers all of the SMI race tracks except Bristol, which has been a Pepsi partner since before the acquisition by SMI.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller were awarded a key to the city for Mooresville, NC. It is on behalf of JR Motorsports, the organization they co-own, within the city limits. The award was prompted by the Xfinity series championship won by Chase Elliott in 2014.

The Fox Sports Studio in Charlotte, N.C., where Race Hub has been taped for years, was dedicated to Steve Byrnes this week. Byrnes was not only influential in shaping the show but also in molding much of the young talent that worked on the show with him. It is another of the many honors that have been bestowed since his untimely passing.

Speaking of Byrnes, in a very classy move by the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his votes for this year’s class were delivered by his son Bryson. Byrnes was given his ballot in advance of the voting, considering his failing health. He completed it shortly before his death.

ESPN posted a story this week drawing into question Patricia Driscoll’s used of Armed Forces Federation funds. Frontstretch‘s own Jerry Jordan unearthed much of the information during his investigative research during the Busch v. Driscoll domestic abuse case.

Rumors have been rampant that Tommy Baldwin Racing is going to merge or sell. Fronstretch spoke to a well connected source this weekend that says there is no chance that will happen.

Who is mad – Truex Jr. once again lost out on a fuel-mileage race. The racing gods continue to seem hell-bent on keeping Truex out of Victory Lane. The Mayetta, N.J. driver has been a contender on most of the intermediate tracks this season and, as previously mentioned, led the most laps in Kansas and Charlotte. He was upbeat in the post race interviews acknowledging that it was good to be mad about finishing fifth. Provided he does finally break through for a win he’ll be a contender when Chase time rolls around.

Kurt Busch was another driver who looked like he was ready to make a run at the win on Sunday however, as the night darkened, his car got tighter and he slid down the list of contenders. Busch and Harvick still are contenders week in and week out, so the anger from the Busch side of things should be short lived.

David Ragan was a darkhorse pick for many people when the green flag flew. He started in seventh and was quick through most of the practice sessions. During the race the team made a bad call that took a while to work back out of the car. When they finally got it squared away the engine ran hot and something failed internally. Ragan is hoping to find a home at Michael Waltrip Racing. He doesn’t need engine failures making it difficult to succeed.

Who is happyGreg Biffle has been struggling to get back to competitive. While his second-place run on Sunday night was fuel-mileage related, he felt like the car was a legitimate top-10 car. The team has been making small gains in multiple areas with the car so this run could be a springboard to greater things. It was especially encouraging to Biffle that the car had speed. He thinks that bodes well, especially for when they get to Michigan.

Kyle Busch has multiple reasons to be happy. His son Brexton came into the world Monday with all of his fingers and toes. He then went out and ran 11th in the longest race of the season in his first points race back in the car after debuting last week in the All-Star race. In addition Busch was the fastest JGR car for most of the night. If he continues to run quickly, it won’t be long before he is in the top 30 in points and has a win to his name.

Elliott started the race in 28th and managed to come home in 18th. He was the second car one lap down when the checkered flag flew. When a new driver makes their first few starts in the Cup series they want to run all of the laps and stay out of trouble. Unlike Martinsville, Elliott has now run two races and completed all but one lap, finishing 16th and 18th. The future pilot of the No. 24 for Hendrick Motorsports is making solid strides toward his full-time debut in 2016.

When the checkered flag flew

Edwards win was his 24th triumph in 385 starts. The win puts Edwards in a tie with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for 31st on the all-time wins list. This was Edwards first point victory at Charlotte, although he does have an All-Star win to his credit. This was Edwards second top 10 of 2015.

Biffle’s second-place run was his first of the season. It was his 10th runner-up run of his career.

Earnhardt Jr.’s podium finish was his sixth of the season. He has the win at Talladega and five third-place finishes. Earnhardt’s third gave him 85 career podiums, which is 28th all-time. He is one behind Rex White for 27th.

Brett Moffitt finished 31st to claim the Rookie of the Race.

Harvick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Johnson, Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Earnhardt Jr. and Edwards all have wins in 2015. Harvick and Johnson are locked into the Chase assuming they attempt the rest of the races or receive an exemption should they miss any events thanks to multiple wins.

The drivers who are currently eligible for the Chase after 12 races without wins and their standing in points:

  1. Martin Truex Jr.
  1. Jamie McMurray
  1. Jeff Gordon
  2. Kasey Kahne
  3. Ryan Newman
  4. Aric Almirola
  5. Paul Menard

Takin’ it to the Bank

Cup winners this year have pocketed $5,007,683 in the first 12 races, while the last-place finisher has taken home $1,000,700.

In the Xfinity Series it has been $884,660 for the winners and $173,381 for last place after 11 races.

After five Truck races the winner has $286,711 and the last loser has banked $51,901.

What is in the cooler

A second week at Charlotte Motor Speedway and a fuel-mileage race took the focus away from aero sensitivity. The car that was able to get out front was basically locked onto the point until they pitted. The racing before the sun went down was enjoyable with a lot of competition in the pack since there were multiple lines involved. There were multiple green-flag runs that saw green-flag stops so that added a little excitement but, when it all shook out in the end, there were four on-track passes for the lead and the only real excitement was who would make it to the end on fuel. The spectacle around the race makes it a great event but the racing only earned three cold Carolina Blondes from Foothills Brewing Company.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – The traveling circus is rested up from two weeks at home. They are packing their bags and heading to the first state for 400 miles at Dover International Speedway. The green flag flies at 1:00 p.m. ET. The race can be seen on FOX Sports 1. The remainder of the season is on FS1. It can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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The only good thing I can say is that NASCAR didn’t through a debris caution toward the end when it became evident that fuel mileage would come into play.
This day is becoming the day where NASCAR looks doubly bad. The last few Indy 500s have preceded very pedestrian Coca Cola 600s. You also can’t help but watch the racing at the Indy 500 and fast forward your mind two months to the worst race on the Cup schedule, the Brickyard 400.


*didn’t throw a debris caution

My command of the English language is on a holiday schedule.


Don’t remember what lap it was when I fell asleep. But think it must have been shortly after one of the caution flags caused by somebody rubbing against the outside wall. Did wakeup to see Edwards interviewed in victory lane.


Why not just make the competition caution a part of every race?
Knowing that the caution is coming, there is little to no racing for those laps until the caution is thrown. Not that there is any more racing on a lot of tracks after that caution period is over but still..


Not commenting on if there should be a competition caution but if they exist early in the race then it should be a mandatory stop & 4 tires every time…imho


yes I agree that if they have a competition caution, then everyone should HAVE to pit, take 4 tires & fuel.

J. Smith

Don’t be fooled, there is no valid reason for competition cautions. They are purely for our entertainment purposes. Typical NASCAR crap.

Capt Spaulding

Damn, I’ve got to check under the couch cushions to see if I can find enough change to buy Tommy Baldwin racing……sounds like a great investment. As for the race, “Game of Thrones,” was a nice carryover till 42 laps to go, and before that Netflix had me covered.


For me, this was the most boring Coke 600 I can remember. Once the cars got into single file there was VERY little passing. I’d be watching the TV and checking the leader board on the laptop. No changes in position for most of the cars. This is possibly the worst package NASCAR has ever brought to Charlotte.

I really wish NASCAR would have tested the proposed 2016 package at the All Star race. It may have given me hope that the powers that be were moving in the right direction.

I’d have to give this race the lowest rating possible.

Capt Spaulding

You need to have a glass of the NASCAR Kool-aid with Frontstretch writer Jerry Jordan and see will see the Coke 600 action in a whole new light….you might even try to compare it racing with restrictor plates on a 1 mile track with the winner leading the entire 300 laps, not to mention how many cars remained on the lead lap. Oh, how the racing has gotten so much better than in the past.


Much as I have done with Summer’s columns, this new guy, J Jordan’s columns will not be clicked on or read.

I’m not wasting my time with that drivel.

Tim S.

Yours is the best course of action, GinaV24. We know what he’s going to say before he even writes it. “It’s more awesome than it’s ever been! Loop data rules!”


yeah, too predictable for me. Worse than the mainstream media. I’ve actually been surprised & amused that some of them are actually saying mildly negative things about the racing – even DW! (gasp)


saw pre-race ceremonies, enjoyed that. fell asleep around 8, woke up to see johnson in the garage, turned off the tv cause the heavy eye lids won the battle the race.

with regards to the hof….was shocked about bruton smith getting voted in.

i guess charlotte’s removal of the 41K seats made everyone buy seats on the front stretch and turn 1 and 4 areas to make it look like a sellout crowd. still a fair amount of advertisting banners.

and to think, i use to schedule my weekends around racing.

J. Smith

Bruton Smith has done a lot of good things for NASCAR but, “making Bristol better” and littering the countryside with cookie cutters will be his legacy. Don’t forget his Kentucky fiasco. When asked why he didn’t refund money to the fans that could not get to the track because of traffic, he answered “I don’t feel like it”. I could care less about the HOF but he wouldn’t get my vote.


Then there’s his unforgivable sin with the closure of North Wilkesboro…

Tim S.

Mike Joy, to his eternal credit, didn’t even try to sugarcoat it, saying at least twice as I had the event on in the background that all the passing happens on restarts. Saw Johnson’s second spin. DW sounded like he needed to be on suicide watch after that. Didn’t see the second half and don’t care, since you folks have so kindly told me how little actually happened.


OK more knowledgeable commenters school me. The first half of the race featured actual racing throughout the field with actual, gasp, passing! Then as if a switch was thrown the entire second half became a single file parade won by Mr. Nobody on fuel mileage. What changed? I just can’t figure it out.


Track cools down -Grip goes up= More on throttle time & much harder to pass…Snappy loose/tight as opposed to sliding= Contributing factor…More Speed = More Aero…Besides if your an 8th place car & your 9-10th, whats the incentive to take the chance…Most of the dull part is at the front usually (aero)…A Quick over view opinion….Race had more passing then I thought would happen at this night race but unfortunately Nascar should have been watching the 500 as that was non stop passing for the lead all day! (still wonder what dufus driver at the 500 pulled onto the track on the last lap to effect the finish)

Capt Spaulding

You probably correct with your sound reasoning, but me, I prefer going with the “switch.”


Gee Mike Joy actually commented that the best racing happens on the restarts? Well how amazing is that – considering that NASCAR instituted the double file restart rule because of the mediocre racing once the aero issue kicked in and made the majority of the race a single file parade.

I watched the 500 and it was both scary and exciting. Not a fan of JPM but he did a great job of driving to win the race and well, it was actually a race – with passing. The 600 not so much. yes there was some passing, more than I expected but whenever the leader got out into clean air no one was going to catch the car.

I, too, was surprised that NASCAR didn’t throw a cautiion to bunch up the field at the end. Not a fan of JGR or Edwards but at least the race played out with the strategy in place rather than a bogus setup by NASCAR.

On to Dover. We won’t be there this year. The last 4 years I’ve wanted a place to lay down & take a nap for the majority of the race (and there was usually enough room around us that I could have done that). This year we are not wasting our $ or time. Maybe I’ll watch it on tv but if the weather is nice, probably not.

Capt Spaulding

Gina, What was wrong, the tarp to big for your family to handle at Dover?


nah, the boredom of watching races at Dover is what has become too hard for us to handle. Lots of other things to do with my Sunday other than driving back & forth. Before the introduction of the COT, the racing at Dover was fun to watch.

Capt Spaulding

Used to enjoy being a walk-up, buying tickets and sitting in the paddock on the backstretch in the air conditioning, with the live ESPN feed on the TV’s providing replays of action we couldn’t see or missed.

J. Smith

The thought crossed my mind that they let the race run green to the end hoping to get another driver qualified for the chase. They did.

J. Smith

Thinking out loud, NASCAR commentators have redefined the word “spin” to include a car that gets loose and slides sideways just to better justify the BS caution flags that NASCAR has redefined to include just cuz. That annoys me, especially when it’s Waltrip or Larry Mc.

Bill B

Watched all three races. I’d say Indy was the best. I don’t know much about the Indy cars but it seems they’ve figured out a way to keep the leader from getting away.

The 600 was better than I expected but the bar was set pretty low. I agree with all those that were shocked NASCAR didn’t throw a debris caution late in the race to bunch up back up. Glad they let the race unfold naturally. The competition caution was a road of clap. At least the rest were arguably legitimate.

Yeah, imagine that, most of the passing happens on the double file restarts. I hadn’t noticed. (Idiots).

While I agree with Gina regarding Dover races for the last several years, I go to the spring race every year and this will probably be the last time I get to see Jeff on the track. It’s only a 90 minute drive from where I live and I go with the same friends so I will probably continue to go since the race has almost become secondary to getting together and hanging out for a day.


Hey Bill — yes, I know what you mean about the last opportunity to see Jeff on the track. Hopefully we are going to get to either Darlington or Martinsville and that will be it for me. Since I have those two tracks on my radar, I’ll skip Dover. Hope you have a great time hanging out and hope Jeff wins!


Quote” It’s a long way to the Chase but having more than two drivers strong on Intermediate tracks will provide some hope that the championship won’t be a fight between two drivers.” The key word here is hope. Even if there are a few more drivers strong on these tracks and they can perform well on track there is still little hope that they will rise above that 48 team. There are few races won on the track anymore and we all know which team is head and shoulders above all others when it comes to strategy. Johnson spins out and saves the car, goes to the end of the line and in no time is near the front before spinning again. I’m no Johnson fan but I don’t see another driver (or team) out there that can do that. And when you have a driver like that and can do those things it just gives the team more determination to get him back to the front. If not for the second spin Johnson and the 48 team would have found a way to win the 600. Johnson won’t make that mistake again. The only way they won’t win their 7th this year is if they get caught up in someone else’s screw up.

Bill B

I won’t disagree with anything you said but penciling someone in to win the crapshoot chase is a fools errand. The chase is now about luck as much as being good.

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