The Coca-Cola 600 was one of the best races on the Charlotte Motor Speedway oval in recent memory. Should a return to the 500-mile fall Charlotte race be considered in the future?
Last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in the NASCAR Cup Series, the grand finale of the Memorial Day tripleheader, didn’t come without heavy attrition. The race was full of calamity to the tune of 18 cautions, and Joey Logano scored a top-20 finish from the garage. The race was extended to 413 laps for the longest Cup race on record, and when Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag, the race ran for a total of five hours, 13 minutes and eight seconds.
But when the drivers kept their cars clean, the racing was fantastic. There was a battle for the lead throughout most of the race, and drivers had the ability to pass each other and run different lines across the racetrack. The race was well received by fans, and with the exception of the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway, the Next Gen car has put on a show at the 1.5-mile tracks this season.
NASCAR won’t return to the Charlotte oval until 2023, as Charlotte’s second date has been run on the infield road course since 2018. But with the success that the Next Gen car has had on the 1.5-milers, a return to the 500-mile fall Charlotte race of yesteryear now looks like a potential option for the series going forward.
The fall race was taken off the oval in 2018 because of a dwindling lack of interest in 500-mile races as well as the presence of the Gen 6 car that, on average, produced a lackluster racing product. But the Coca-Cola 600 had a sellout crowd, and racing on the oval looks exciting once again.
After years of NASCAR needing to trim the number of 1.5-mile tracks on the schedule, adding a few more would now be beneficial. And with the removals of Chicagoland Speedway and Kentucky Speedway from the Cup Series schedule and the reconfiguration of Atlanta Motor Speedway, an October race on the Charlotte oval looks like one of the most plausible re-additions.
Furthermore, the Cup Series currently has six races on road courses, and it is looking to add more. A street circuit race through Chicago has been rumored for more than a year, and NASCAR may look at adding Portland International Raceway to the schedule if this weekend’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race is a success. Eight road course races would oversaturate the schedule, while five, six or seven races maintains the balance. Therefore, the Charlotte ROVAL race could return to the oval in order to accommodate future road courses on the schedule.
The Next Gen car needs more than a handful of races on 1.5-mile tracks to see if the racing continues to be a success, but if these tracks continue to run well with the new car, returning to two Charlotte oval races would be something to consider for the future.
Is overaggressive driving getting out of hand in the closing laps of finishes?
For better or for worse, drivers have been overly aggressive in racing for the win in the closing laps in the Cup Series this season. At Circuit of the Americas, race winner Ross Chastain made contact with AJ Allmendinger on the final lap and sent him spinning into the gravel. At Darlington Raceway, Logano bumped William Byron out of the way and sent him into the outside wall with two laps to go. And with the conclusion of the Coca-Cola 600, Chase Briscoe has now been overly aggressive in two finishes this season.
In the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race, he tried a Hail Mary pass on Tyler Reddick in turn 3 on the final lap. Both drivers spun out, and Reddick was denied his first Cup win. In the Coca-Cola 600, Briscoe was chasing race leader Kyle Larson in the closing laps, and with two laps to go, Briscoe tried an aggressive entry into turn 1 that resulted in him spinning out, almost collecting Larson in the process. But just like Reddick, Larson was also denied the win as he was taken out in a big crash during the first overtime attempt.
That’s four of the 14 finishes this season that have been marked by controversial, aggressive moves, and that isn’t even including Ricky Stenhouse Jr. being wrecked out of the lead by Brad Keselowski in the Daytona 500 with six laps to go or Larson putting Chase Elliott into the wall at Auto Club Speedway with 20 laps to go while battling for the lead.
Desperation moves in finishes will continue as long as NASCAR fails to penalize the aggressor in these scenarios. But drivers live by a code, and if a driver enacts revenge after taking issue with the way they were previously raced, trailing drivers will think twice before putting everything on the line for a checkered flag.
How important is this weekend’s Xfinity race at Portland International Raceway?
For the short answer, very important.
Introducing or reintroducing tracks to the NASCAR schedule has become commonplace in the last two seasons, but of the tracks that have made their debuts, all of them have been located close to existing NASCAR markets. Circuit of the Americas is within close proximity of Texas Motor Speedway, World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway is near Kansas Speedway, Road America is close to the former Chicagoland Speedway and Nashville Superspeedway is a four-hour drive from Bristol
The closest track to Portland is Sonoma Raceway in Northern California, which is more than 600 miles away. The Pacific Northwest is one of the last untouched markets in the United States for NASCAR, and it’s a big one: the U.S. states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho, as well as the Canadian province of British Columbia, have more than 18 million people combined.
Saturday’s (June 4) race marks the first return to the track in NASCAR’s upper divisions since the Camping World Truck Series raced at the track in 1999 and 2000. NASCAR is looking to expand with new tracks and new markets, and Portland would bring on-track action to fans that would otherwise have to buy a plane ticket or plan an extended road trip to attend a race weekend.
Therefore, the geographic isolation of Portland makes this weekend far more important than most. If the Xfinity race draws a huge crowd and the racing itself is a success, NASCAR has found a new market that it can build into a permanent home.
Christopher Bell has quietly put together seven top-10 finishes in the last nine races. Is he on the verge of a breakout?
It was a disastrous start to the season for Christopher Bell, as he began with four finishes worse than 20th and sat 29th in points after the fifth race of the season at Atlanta. That race itself was a tough pill to swallow for Bell, as he was penalized for going below the apron and lost what would’ve been a second-place finish.
Since that race, it’s been a far different story. Bell now has seven top-10 finishes in the last nine races, with the two finishes outside the top 10 being derailed by a spin at Talladega Superspeedway under green and a crew member over-the-wall penalty under green at Martinsville Speedway. With his string of solid finishes, Bell has now climbed to 10th in series points.
He has also spent large chunks of time leading the pack. He led 63 laps at Richmond Raceway, 32 laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after winning the pole, and 37 laps at Kansas Speedway after once again winning the pole. He finished in the top 10 in all three. Altogether, Bell has led 158 laps in 2022, which is more than he led in 2020 and 2021 combined.
Bell will enjoy the upcoming schedule with two road courses in the next four weeks, but if there is a place where he will be a serious contender for the win, it will be at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He is undefeated in the Xfinity Series at the track with three straight wins, and he finished runner-up behind Aric Almirola in the Cup race last summer.
In the playoff picture, Bell currently holds the 14th spot, 58 points to the good over Almirola. While a win would give him and the No. 20 team a sigh of relief until September, he has shown that he has the speed to continue increasing his points cushion. He has continued to improve each season in the Cup Series, and the upcoming few weeks will only play to his strengths.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf joined Frontstretch in September 2021 and currently pens the weekly columns 4 Burning Questions and Stat Sheet. He also contributes to Frontstretch with social media, editing and rotating commentary while occasionally serving as an on-site reporter. A Texas native, Stephen started following NASCAR at age 9.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.