Race Weekend Central

MNR Review: James Bickford Goes Back-to-Back With Charlotte Win

This MNR Review is presented by Monday Night Racing.

The Gen 4 cars took on Charlotte Motor Speedway on Monday (June 26) in Monday Night Racing’s Summer Bash Series, running the scheduled 167 laps.

It was vastly different from the Next Gen season opener last week at Daytona International Speedway, with less cautions and longer green-flag runs.

But one thing was the same. James Bickford earned the victory once again, going back-to-back to open the season. Instead of a last-lap pass, though, Bickford dominated the latter portion of the race at Charlotte, running out of gas as he crossed the finish line.

1. Bickford’s Strategy Pays Off (Barely)

Bickford was able to get the lead under caution after the leaders spun in front of him. He pitted and got the first position around lap 61. He eventually extended his lead to over two seconds over Fronstretch’s Brandon Hauff, later pitting under green flag conditions. 

Pitting early was the right call, as Hauff stayed out until about 61 laps left, surrendering the lead to Collin Fern. After the field cycled through green-flag pit stops, Bickford was back in front, while Hauff had dropped from second to fifth.

A couple more cautions came out, the first with about 53 laps left. The leaders pitted once again under that yellow, with Bickford coming back out with the lead.

Bickford maintained first place over Chase Cabre, though both drivers were getting close on fuel. However, Bickford had just enough gas to get his second win of the season and first in the Gen 4 series. It’s a bit early in the season, but he’s shown that he might just be a championship contender at the end of the four races in the Gen 4 series.

2. Updated Procedures Made for Great Racing

There were rule changes for this event after the chaos at Daytona last week. Most notably, drivers had no fast repairs available.

See also
MNR Review: 1,300 Incident Points in Season Opener

The length was also set at 167 laps or two hours, whichever came first. The race got close to two hours, but it did get all the laps in. Additionally, the field was limited to just 40 drivers. However, in this race, only 36 drivers competed — a shorter field than at Daytona.

All of these combined for a much better product, allowing for various strategies to come into play. I mean, sure, drivers were a bit aggressive to start out with, but they raced fairly clean (for the most part). A couple of times the leaders had some trouble and spun or crashed, but those were both in the first half of the race. The second half saw just two or three yellow flags come out for incidents further in the pack.

It will be interesting to see how this will look in two weeks at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where the racing is quite a bit different.

3. Another Day, Another DQ

Ford Martin has not had the ideal start to his summer. While Bickford scored back-to-back wins, Martin tallied back-to-back disqualifications. This time, it was for an incident with about 53 laps to go.

Martin was several laps down after getting caught up in an earlier crash and appeared to be a bit slower than much of the field. He slowed up in front of Matt Stallknecht, who spun him around. Rocky Hartpence was also involved in that.

After another caution, the announcers revealed that Martin had been DQ’d once again after this incident. Hopefully, the MNR co-founder can find his footing after the Fourth of July break.

4. Hartpence Fights for Top 10; Merenda’s Night Ends Early

Hartpence was one driver who impressed me, coming back from an incident involving the aforementioned Martin and finishing in ninth place. It was a hard-earned result after starting back in 24th (though attrition also helped him move to the front).

See also
Bobby Zalenski Wins in Chicago with Quick Pit Stop

If the rookie can continue in the Gen 4 series, Hartpence should be one to watch.

Another driver who shined early on was Mario Merenda; he qualified up in the top five and even led some laps. Unfortunately, his night ended abruptly around lap 30 after he was spun by NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Corey Heim. Merenda was then hit by some other cars and flipped over, the first of two flips in the race.

He was quick, though, at least in the first 30 laps. Keep an eye out for him as well in future races.

5. Next Gen at Atlanta

The next event for MNR is in two weeks at the updated Atlanta racetrack. The 1.54-mile oval produces superspeedway-type racing, where cars generally run in packs. 

If there continues to be no fast repairs available, then the racing might be a bit more conservative than at Daytona. However, as we’ve seen in the real-life races, cars can sometimes get out of line, get loose and cause melees. 

Will Bickford continue his win streak? I don’t think so; after all, in the first race, it was attrition that really helped him get to the lead.

Heim and Cabre should be contenders, as well as Hauff. But who knows who’ll win this one.

About the author

Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor and involved with photos, social media and news editing. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.

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