What we learned from two weeks of NASCAR racing at Charlotte
After two weeks of racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway, what did we learn?
There was certainly a dramatic contrast in styles of racing between last weekend’s NASCAR All-Star Race and Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600, but when it came to the outcomes, there was much more in common.
It’s clear the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, for all intents and purposes, is likely to be decided between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.
Harvick, who has five series wins this season, led three of four stages to capture the All-Star Race victory and its $1 million first prize while Busch picked up his fourth Cup win of season in the Coke 600, leading all but 23 of the 400 laps.
Harvick looked like he could be a factor in the 600 but we’ll never know for certain.
He started from the rear of the field because he failed to clear inspection prior to qualifying but had made his way into the top-five by Lap 67. His race ended early when wrecked out after 83 laps.
Yes, the teams of Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson and a few others could conceivably contend for the title this year. Realistically, though, a team is going to have to really work pretty hard to topple either or both of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing and No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing teams on a weekly basis.
While NASCAR may be going through a youth movement, it seems a pair of talented and experienced veterans – with veteran teams behind them – are directing the storyline this season.
Now, for the racing.
The All-Star Race was the first opportunity in the Cup series with a new aero package that included front air ducts, restrictor-plates, a larger rear spoiler and splitter used in 2014.
Even though Harvick won the event, from start to finish it was a much more entertaining race with three and even at times four-wide racing, which is no small feat on a 1.5-mile speedway.
There were 38 green-flag passes for the lead throughout the four-stage, 80-lap all-star race. While Busch’s win Sunday night was a career-defining moment for him – he is the only driver with a win on all current Cup series tracks – Busch had virtually no competition for the win.
In the four-stage, 400-lap event, there were 23 green-flag passes for the lead (and to be honest I did not think there were that many).
That is a stark difference and it raises a very important question.
NASCAR is a sport, but as all sports are, it is also in the entertainment business. How long can NASCAR afford to sit on a potential solution to its quality of racing issue – one that has been plaguing the sport for several years?
No, the new aero package isn’t going to solve all of NASCAR’s on-track problems. Remember, a familiar driver – Harvick – still outshined the competition in the All-Star Race.
The difference is that watching Harvick win that race was immensely more entertaining than watching Busch dominate his.
The stakes, of course, were higher in the 600. There were playoff implications on the line and the most points available of any race on the series schedule.
While it was quite cool to see Busch capture an important milestone, who can honestly say they would not have liked to have seen him face more competition – or obstacles – on his way to that victory?
Like the All-Star Race, there is no guarantee there would be a new or surprise winner, but the statistics don’t lie.
The road to Busch’s dominating win certainly would have been filled with many more twists and turns and that’s what NASCAR needs – even if in the end the result would have remained the same.
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