Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After NASCAR Makes Fans Wait For Nothing

Who… should you be talking about after the race?

Christopher Bell finally found a stroke of good luck in his largely luckless season, and found victory lane in doing so at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Bell took home his first crown jewel in the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday (May 26) after NASCAR called the race due to weather after 249 of the race’s scheduled 400 laps (373.5 miles).

See also
Christopher Bell Wins Rain Shortened Coca-Cola 600

Bell’s win wasn’t a product of staying out on a pit stop and hoping to get luck (a la David Reutimann in 2009 in this very race) like most rain-shortened races. No, Bell led the most laps (90) of anybody and was likely going to be hard to beat regardless of weather. Bell won stage one and stage two, but did not receive credit for a stage three victory as it didn’t reach its conclusion.

Will he get credit for eight playoff points and 70 total points on the evening with the extra stage? Hard to say, but I digress.

And don’t forget Justin Allgaier. Normally, 13th would be nothing to scoff at. However, Allgaier wasn’t even supposed to be in this race if it weren’t for weather sabotaging Kyle Larson‘s attempt at pulling the Indianapolis 500-Coca-Cola 600 double.

When rain delayed the start of the Indy 500, it put Larson and Hendrick Motorsports in a tough situation: Skip out on the Greatest Spectacle in Racing to go compete in Charlotte or race in the biggest race of his life and leave Allgaier to start the 600, potentially jeopardizing his playoff eligibility (but more on that later).

The latter option was chosen, and Allgaier, an Xfinity Series regular, was left to start the race in Larson’s No. 5. However, because of the driver change, Allgaier had to start at the rear. While Allgaier’s race was largely uneventful, he worked his way up to 13th by the time Larson got to the track in the middle of stage three.

Any driver change would’ve required the No. 5 car to start from the rear when the race was resumed. However, the race was never resumed. NASCAR called the race and Allgaier finished 13th in a race he wasn’t even supposed to be in.

And also don’t forget our troops. With Monday (May 27) being Memorial Day, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank everyone who has served our country for nearly 250 years and made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy the racing we see week in and week out.

This weekend is really about remembering them. We just get to enjoy racing as a mere bonus.

What… is the big question leaving this race in the rearview?

While the Coca-Cola 600 went off without too much fanfare or real drama, Charlotte Motor Speedway itself had put out the word that it would use a different track layout for its fall ROVAL race.

The biggest area of note comes in the infield section of the road course. A longer straightaway between turns 5 and 6 eliminates a sweeping corner and sets up a virtual hairpin in turn 7, with the hope of creating more passing zones.

With the Next Gen car generally performing well on intermediates and not as well on road courses, many are calling for Charlotte to shift back to two oval races. This move could be a desperate attempt to create some more excitement for the ROVAL, as it might be on the chopping block for the 2025 schedule.

But will it a slight track layout change be the cure to save the ROVAL? Or will it just be the final nail in the coffin on a once-exciting experiment?

Where… did the other key players wind up?

First-time Cup polesitter Ty Gibbs was able to lead 74 laps, second-best on the night. He picked up some points in stage one by finishing second, and was able to capitalize on the night with a seventh-place result.

Defending Coca-Cola 600 winner and Cup champion Ryan Blaney didn’t even see the halfway point in the race after cutting a tire and hitting the wall. A chance to give Team Penske back-to-back Coke 600s after Josef Newgarden earned back-to-back Indy 500s went out the window on lap 143.

Last week’s winner Joey Logano had a relatively quiet race compared to most. He failed to score stage points and wasn’t a factor at the front, but he still managed 14th come the red flag.

Active Coca-Cola 600 win leader and all-time Charlotte win leader Jimmie Johnson made it much further in this race than he did last year, when he crashed out just after stage two began. The seven-time champion still didn’t have a fantastic night finishing 29th, but pulled his own unique version of ‘The Double’ after appearing on pre-race coverage for the Indy 500 before flying to Charlotte.

First-time Coke 600 entrant Shane van Gisbergen finished 28th in his first try at NASCAR’s longest race, but will leave the track with the ability to say he led two laps in his first 600.

When… was the moment of truth?

Mother Nature is apparently a big race fan.

While Larson wasn’t able to, Mother Nature performed her own version of ‘The Double’ when she decided to rain all over Indianapolis Motor Speedway and delay the start of the Indy 500.

That same rain shower enveloped Charlotte hours later (coincidentally, right as Larson showed up there, too). However, much like Indy, there was a window of opportunity to go back racing after about an hour or so of rain. With a little over an hour dedicated to track drying, there was a solid chance racing would resume around or before midnight.

But then …

Yep. NASCAR ended the race.

The issue here is not that NASCAR ended the race early. That happens with weather all the time, most recently in the July 2023 race at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Cup Series.

The issue is that NASCAR made fans sit in the stands for over two hours, with most expecting the race’s resumption, only to get hit with a “Gotcha!” Fans were led on for two hours with the expectation that a restart was not only possible but imminent.

NASCAR claimed the issue was that the rains had left heavy humidity to linger over the track, meaning that track drying likely wouldn’t have been complete until 1 a.m. ET and the checkered flag would likely be thrown around 3 a.m. ET.

That argument might hold some merit if it weren’t for the fact that the track was almost completely dry when the call was made.

And since when did humidity suddenly become an issue for restarting races? News flash: It was hot in Charlotte! Humidity was there all day. Why was it suddenly an issue when the rain stopped?

Plus, why was NASCAR suddenly so uptight about a late night when we’ve seen the Daytona 500 of all races ending as late as 2 a.m. so Dave Blaney couldn’t steal a win? Especially in NASCAR’s backyard, where teams have no more than an hour drive to get back to the race shop?

Not to mention the fact that we’ve seen handfuls of delayed races resume after six or more hours of stoppage (I get this was a night race, but the point still remains).

Should NASCAR re-evaluate its weather policy? Maybe we should get to 75% complete before calling a race, or maybe be willing to push a race back a day, even if it’s like 50.1% complete. Baseball postpones events even after the halfway point (gasp, a stick-and-ball comparison). With over 125 miles left of racing and a holiday where nobody works, it would’ve been easily possible to bring everybody back for a 150-lap shootout.

Again, especially in NASCAR’s backyard on a holiday.

I really feel for the fans. They have the right to be upset more than anybody. They could’ve easily been home or in their hotels long before the race was actually called. Fans watching at home could have been in bed.

Instead, fans twiddled their thumbs for over two hours, bored, under the impression that racing would resume, only to be told to go home. If I were a fan in the stands, I would have been furious, and it seems many already are.

And as someone watching at home, I’m equally furious.

Quite frankly, any excuse as to why the race was called is simply unacceptable. The track was almost dry. We’ve waited out longer. We’ve stayed up later. Bell even said himself that he was surprised the race was called.

However, team owner Joe Gibbs said that there was a point where NASCAR was 15 minutes from calling the drivers to their cars to resume the race but then it was suddenly called.

So who was responsible for pulling the plug on the race, and why weren’t the fans taken into consideration on the decision to end the race after two hours of waiting around?

Simply put, everybody lost, and it can’t happen again.

Why… should you be paying attention this week?

For the third year in a row, NASCAR opens the month of June by heading to World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis, Ill. for the Enjoy Illinois 300 on June 2. From Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain birthing their feud in 2022 to Corey Lajoie driving a Hendrick car and Carson Hocevar making his Cup debut in 2023, Gateway somehow always has a storyline to follow.

Fresh off of two weeks of conflict at Darlington Raceway and North Wilkesboro Speedway, plus the asinine decision to end the Coke 600 when the track was nearly dry, and any impending Tyler Reddick penalties, I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about when the series rolls into St. Louis.

See also
Kyle Larson Gets 18th in 1st, but Maybe Not Final, Indy 500

How… will NASCAR handle Larson’s waiver situation?

Well, Larson’s attempt at ‘The Double’ couldn’t have gone any worse.

Not only was he forced to choose which race to prioritize, he also got to the track too late for the race he chose second.

When Larson got to Charlotte, the red flag that eventually was never lifted had already been thrown. That meant Larson was never able to actually sit in his special papaya-trimmed No. 5 and turn a lap.

The question that had been raised throughout the afternoon was whether or not Larson would receive a playoff waiver for voluntarily skipping the 600 to compete at Indianapolis. Failing to receive a waiver would mean that Larson would not be eligible to compete for the playoffs, and given that he entered Charlotte as the points leader and already has two wins, that would be a crushing blow for his season.

NASCAR’s rulebook states that a driver must start every race in the 36-race season or request a playoff waiver if they could not start every race. The waiver is generally granted; in fact, waivers are handed out like candy for injury, suspension (which is ridiculous in itself), or missing races to grieve (see Tony Stewart in 2014). The only times waivers haven’t been given out have been for failed drug tests (Spencer Gallagher) and missing races due to lack of sponsorship (Grant Enfinger).

Now, it would be hard to believe Larson would’ve stayed at Indy had he and Hendrick not been granted a waiver from NASCAR already. If NASCAR told them no, it’s likely that Larson leaves Indy and takes the green for the 600.

The problem lies within the fact that Larson didn’t even complete a lap in the No. 5. Allgaier was in the seat from start to finish. I can’t help but wonder if there was a clause in the waiver that said Larson needed to get in the car at some point to earn the waiver. Otherwise, he could’ve just skipped the race altogether and stayed in Indy instead of rushing to Charlotte just to be in the car for around 150 laps of a 400-lap race.

Since Larson never officially completed a lap in the No. 5, will that affect NASCAR’s decision to grant him a waiver for the playoffs? One would think the simple answer is no and that he’ll receive one, but if there’s one thing consistent about NASCAR, it’s its inconsistency. We saw a prime example with the handling of calling the race.

Theoretically, voluntarily skipping a championship race to compete in another series should be grounds for being denied a playoff waiver. But the publicity for both IndyCar and NASCAR was massive with Larson attempting a ‘Mostly-Double.’ I could absolutely see a special exemption for him for bringing more eyes to the sport.

The decision is likely more cut and dry if Larson replaces Allgaier and finishes the race. But since Allgaier effectively went flag-to-flag, that decision may not be as clear. It’ll be something to watch over the next week to see if NASCAR gets it right in the court of public opinion.

About the author

Frontstretch.com

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. 

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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11 Comments
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Pool Medic

NASCAR needed to draw things out to fill their TV commercial quota. Once that was accomplished they quickly pulled the plug. NASCAR, the perfect definition of “one step forward and two steps back”

Ray

There days are numbered, don’t kid yourself !

janice

it willbe interesting to see what NASCAR does concerning the waiver. I have a feeling it will be granted because of all the coverage it received and also the fact who the team owner is we’ve seen it before NASCAR does what NASCAR wants to do. The rulebook only applies in certain circumstances.

On another topic which you did not discuss NASCAR needs to have a constant whiner penalty. Denny Hamlin wants to know why he’s not a champion? His constant whining Sunday about his inability to pit correctly (Isn’t he supposed to be a top level driver with a lot of experience in the series?) Should have shown him exactly why he is not a cup champion. Even Larry McReynolds showed us how he could’ve gotten into his pit and not had any issues. But instead of adapting, Danny proceeds to go on the radio and have a Meltdown and tirade concerning the driver who was pitting in front of him. Real professional behavior, Hamlin.

DoninAjax

Solving the waiver problem,which NA$CAR is to blame for,is easy!If a driver is in the top 16 he is eligible for the final ten event farce.
WhoeverisresponsibleforthechangeinthecommentssectionshouldbehiredbyElonMusk!

Don starrett

Are race car drivers athletes ? NASCAR owes it to fans to always try to finish the races. Otherwise they are quitters. I hope sponsors take notice and make demands. Next year Coke 700 .

Christian Andrews

Wow.Also Bill Walton died today at 71 due to cancer.RIP

DoninAjax

J-Jo is averaging SEVEN POINTS per event. That is 30th finishing position. 29th is actually an improvement.

Steve

You would think that waiver was important to know about before Sunday, but it didn’t seem all that important to the Hendrick camp did it? Pretty sure they knew before Indy started that they were getting the waiver. Heck, the media never even made much mention of it.

So, there is no doubt in my mind that Larson will get the waiver. He shouldn’t since he never even turned a lap at their longest race of the year and his missing it was voluntary, but Nascar will ultimately do whatever they want even if they break their own rules.

DoninAjax

What “rules”? Oh, you mean the ones printed in block letters on the head of a pin in disappearing ink? Those “rules”?

Steve

HAHA. Yes those rules ;-)

B Fitz

Just like years ago at my LAST cup race, when JJ was leading the first Lowes 600, abreif shower and bam!!. THE ONE THAY WANTED I VICTORY LANE.

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