Who’s in the headline: The Coca-Cola 600 took several different twists on Sunday evening/Monday morning. Through a crazy wreck to start the event, a rain delay for almost two hours and a dominating performance by Martin Truex Jr., it was Austin Dillon who took the No. 3 to Victory Lane for the first time in 17 years in the Cup Series. Dillon stretched his fuel for 67 laps at the end of the event, outdistancing six other drivers who tried and failed.
What happened: After much pomp and circumstance leading up to the event, the race went green and made it 19 laps before a major incident changed the complexion of the race. Jeffrey Earnhardt had a failure and a part came off of his car. The part went through the front of Chase Elliott’s car and resulted in a major fire and oil leak. Brad Keselowski got into the oil and could not stop, plowing into the back of Elliott’s car and killing both of their chances at the win.
Kyle Busch dominated the first segment to score the playoff point and 10 bonys points toward his season total. Truex led 15 laps in that segment before taking the lead at the start of segment two and leading 217 of the final 297 laps. Interestingly, Denny Hamlin played strategy and managed to lead a Joe Gibbs Racing sweep of the top three spots in the third segment. Truex had the strongest car on short runs, but Busch was the stronger long run car. Dillon’s new crew chief Justin Alexander decided to make the fuel gamble after a lap 333 pit stop and the strategy paid off with the No. 3 leading the final two laps after Jimmie Johnson ran out of fuel on the penultimate lap.
Why you should care: The JGR team has been struggling this season with the new aero package. While Furniture Row Racing has had a handle on it, the speed has been lacking for their partner organization. With the speed that Busch, Hamlin and Matt Kenseth showed on Sunday night, the rest of the sport best take notice and figure out how to beat the JGR brigade or the rest of the season could be a long and arduous grind.
What your friends are talking about; The 2018 schedule for NASCAR’s Cup series has been released and there are a few interesting changes. Richmond moves into the Playoffs, which is great any time you get more short tracks in the final 10 races. Indianapolis is now the last race of the regular season. It is hard to do anything at Indy, as a driver, to change your lot so that is probably a change for the worse. The biggest discussion is the change to the Roval for the fall race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. While a road course in the final 10 races is a good thing, bastardizing one of your more iconic race tracks into a gimmick event is disappointing.
Speaking of the Roval, two different drivers have pointed out to Frontstretch that the passing on the course is going to be minimal. While the track is wide, the option to pass on the outside of someone is going to be very rare. The one overtaking option will be entering turn one as the cars turn into the infield. AJ Allmendinger was asked about the course, having tested on it, and he said, “I don’t know if the race will be good but it will be different.” Going for different is one option, though not necessarily the best one.
Speaking of gimmicks, the VHT applied to CMS was something different. Unlike Bristol, the VHT at Charlotte was in the high line. An unintended consequence, as pointed out by Ryan Blaney in his post race of his XFINITY win on Saturday, the preferred lane is still the bottom. Until someone goes up the track to try and use the VHT lane, the cars on the bottom are generating tire debris that goes up the track. When it gets to the VHT it sticks. The end result is going to the top lane is treacherous until it gets cleaned off. Brett Bodine pointed out during media pace car rides, “your best time to hit the high line is the second lap after a restart because you’re already on the outside and the lane is as clean as it is going to get.”
One other question that comes to mind about the VHT: in NASCAR trying to the NHRA? Will we have to groom the tracks between segments? Tracks aren’t perfect and it should be up to the drivers to make their car perform to the best of its ability. It is up to the teams to make their cars work. It shouldn’t be up to the tire provider or the race tracks. The sport needs to get away from the specialized tires and the grooming of race tracks to try and help these cars. Make these cars hard to drive and get rid of the aero dependence and you’ll have a better product.
The post race press conference for Busch was short and sweet. The driver was asked if he was surprised Dillon was able to stretch it on fuel and what it meant for him to get his first win. Busch responded he is not surprised about anything and congratulations. He then proceeded to drop the microphone on the desk. Fans want drivers to have a personality and Busch certainly does. He didn’t do anything to soften his image with that response but fans who don’t want their driver to sugarcoat responses or give PC answers should love the reply.
There were a myriad of posts and comments flying around social media about the crowd at Indianapolis for the 500. Those making comparisons to NASCAR did not recognize the fact that the 500 is blacked out in the greater Indianapolis area. Should NASCAR not show its races within 200 miles of race venues, the attendance at the events would be greater for sure. That said, most fans have become accustomed to seeing their races live even when the races are close. If butts in the seats are a desire, blackouts might very well be the answer. That said, you can guarantee people will flip out if NASCAR tries to take live race coverage away.
Ferrari wins at Monaco for the first time in 16 years. Takuma Sato was the surprising winner of the Indianapolis 500.
Who is mad: Elliott and Keselowski had their race come to an end before the lap 25 competition caution thanks to a failure for Jeffrey Earnhardt. A part came off of Earnhardt’s car and went through the front of Elliott’s No. 24. The subsequent oil slick prevented Keselowski from slowing down or turning to avoid Elliott. The impact destroyed both cars and also resulted in Erik Jones having a part go through the front of his car as well.
Kasey Kahne was not very competitive on Sunday, spending a large portion of the race running outside the top 15 before being caught up in an incident on lap 244 that ended his night. With Elliott leaving early, Johnson running out of gas with two to go trying to stretch fuel and Dale Earnhardt Jr. struggling to eke out a top 10, it was a bad night in general for Kahne and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates.
Who is happy: Ryan Newman made a late race charge after spending most of the night mid-pack with Kahne. Newman fortunately did not get caught up in a late race mess and managed to pull out a ninth-place finish when the checkered flag flew. On a great night for Richard Childress Racing, it was a bonus to have Newman finish in the top 10 as well.
Kurt Busch has had strong runs several times this season, only to have them end with less than indicative finishes thanks to late race issues. Sunday night there was no such issue and Busch wrangled a sixth-place finish out of the 600. After opening the season with a win at the Daytona 500, it was a move in the right direction for Busch to run top 10 all night before capping off that run with the finish to prove it.
When the checkered flag flew:
Dillon’s win is his first in 133 career starts; it’s his first career victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Cup Series.
Dillon is the seventh driver to score his first career triumph in the 600 and the 10th driver to land his first win at CMS. He is the first driver since David Reutimann won the rain delayed 600 in 2009 to grab his first checkered flag in the 600.
Dillon is tied for 126th on the all-time wins list with 61 other drivers.
This was Kyle Busch’s third career second-place finish at CMS; it was also his second runner-up finish of the season.
This is Busch’s 38th career second-place run which ranks him 17th on the all-time list.
Truex’s podium finish is his 33rd of his career; he’s tied with Paul Goldsmith for 61st on the all-time list.
This is Truex’s third career top three at CMS and his third podium finish in 2017.
Jones finished seventh in the race to claim Rookie of the Race honors.
There have been nine different winners in 12 races so far this season. With 14 events left before the playoff cutoff, if there are nine new winners, someone with a win will not make the playoffs. That said, there most likely won’t be 17 unique winners. For now you have Keselowski, Johnson and Truex with two wins. Kyle Larson, Newman, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Dillon all have one apiece. In the nine winners, Joey Logano is not eligible for the playoffs by virtue of his triumph being considered encumbered at Richmond. Logano will have to win again to make the playoffs based on a victory.
The remaining eight drivers in points and their position:
4. Kevin Harvick
5. Kyle Busch
6. Jamie McMurray
7. Chase Elliot
9. Clint Bowyer
10. Joey Logano
11. Denny Hamlin
12. Ryan Blaney
The drivers who have scored playoff points so far this season and their total:
Martin Truex Jr – 16
Brad Keselowski -12
Jimmie Johnson – 10
Kyle Larson – 7
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 5
Ryan Newman – 5
Kurt Busch – 5
Austin Dillon – 5
Kevin Harvick – 3
Ryan Blaney – 3
Kyle Busch – 3
Chase Elliott – 2
Denny Hamlin – 2
Joey Logano – 1
Matt Kenseth – 1
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic):
After the All-Star race, Charlotte and NASCAR tried hard to make the race track as racy as possible with the addition of VHT. They even applied more Saturday night after the XFINITY race. It may have helped the racing, it may not. In the end there were three, on-track passes for the lead and the majority of the race that took place at night was a single file parade. It is cool to have the No. 3 back in Victory Lane but that doesn’t save a mediocre race. This one gets three 600 Ales, specifically made for Charlotte Motor Speedway by the Cabarrus Brewing Company.
Where do you point your DVR for next week: The Cup Series heads to Dover for its next race. The action can be seen on FS1 at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 4 It can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate and 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.