Race: Coca-Cola 600
Date: Sunday May 28, 2017
Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway
Time: 6 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
I have to say that I was less than impressed with the All-Star race on Saturday night. Im not sure what it was, but I actually yawned during most of it. In fact, I think that this race was a prime example of what stage racing does to NASCAR. Weve seen the stages throughout this season, but the All-Star race was comprised of shorter segments. Although this has been the case for many years, its a really good example seeing it in this format against the rest of the segmented races and why, perhaps, its not as great as NASCAR anticipated. The biggest issue that I have with this segment racing is the mandatory caution that drivers must take after each segment ends. If nothing else, keep the race either green flagged or let the drivers have an intermission between each segment to work on their cars. Lets say, give them 10 minutes to make whatever changes that they want/can (within NASCAR protocol, of course), and then have at it! This would give drivers time to work in some actual strategy and also give time to the advertisers that NASCAR seems so hell bent on pleasing these days.
Anyway, Kyle Busch came away with the win after the 4 segments. Kyle Larson did well and won two of the segments but failed to hold on to the first place spot when it mattered most. What NASCAR hoped would be some hype with their option tires really failed to make much of a difference. Some drivers used some strategy when using them, trying to gain some positions in the third segment since they really didnt know how it would play out. Then theres Keselowski. They thought they were being slick. They put on the option tires under caution, ran a couple of laps, and then took them off to save for the last segment. NASCAR realized what they did and let the team know that they are no longer eligible to be used. Once the tires were on, thats it. Use them up or lose them. Unfortunately for the #2 team, they didnt realize that pesky rule and kind of lost out. Needless to say, I dont think that the option tires were a big win for NASCAR or the drivers overall.
This weekend, we stay in Charlotte for Memorial Day. This race is always a big celebration for the troops. Its a great weekend for the drivers, teams, fans, and all of the military population that is very noticeable at the track. Again, were dealing with segment racing, so what is supposed to be an endurance race simply will not. Thats the part that really ticks me off. Races like the Coca-Cola 600 were essentially designed to challenge drivers and teams for the distance. We always saw drivers battling tires, brakes, engines, and even their own bodies to get through this race, but now, were simply going to see several relatively short races to a caution. To me, this affects the integrity of stock car racing. Were not seeing the teams challenged for strategy or seeing teams excel due to different formats of racing anymore. Yea, we still have the short tracks and intermediate tracks, but long runs are apparently just not something that NASCAR wants to see. In my opinion, the segments do nothing for me. Id be interested in hearing a few of the drivers give their honest opinion about this format having raced it now through several months.
No matter what, it appears that we are stuck with this style of racing, so we have to move on and figure out whos going to excel this weekend at Charlotte. I think that we will for sure see many of the drivers who did well in the All-Star do well this weekend, but we have to account for the length of the race on Sunday. While it wont be an endurance race, we will still have longer green flag runs. We did, in fact, see that tires made a difference. Guys who were on old tires or only took two were quickly pushed to the side, especially on restarts and also after just a few laps. Tires will be key, especially if NASCAR decides to really limit the amount of sets that these drivers have. When it comes down to it, Im honestly sticking to my picks from the All-Star. Brad had some troubles, but on a longer run, his team should really do well. They took a gamble that didnt pay off. You live and you learn. Lets take a look at the potential winners this weekend heading into the big race:
My Pick to Win: Brad Keselowski
Middle of the Road Pick: Kyle Larson
Dark Horse Prediction: Jamie McMurray
Jamie McMurray had a very solid run in the All-Star, coming away with a 5th place finish. I dont think that this team necessarily gets the credit that they deserve. Overall, theyve certainly made some major improvements this season. When it comes to Kyle Larson, you just dont bet against the driver with the best average finish this season and also the driver who took the runner-up spot at the All-Star. This team is on fire. Bad Brad came in 9th during the All-Star, but again this was due to some risks taken that just didnt pan out. Perhaps the most important part to this race at Charlotte is that its back to points racing. Lets see how these guys are standing since our last points race at Kansas.
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Here are your current top 16 after our last points race:
1. Kyle Larson
2. Martin Truex Jr.
3. Brad Keselowski
4. Chase Elliott
5. Jamie McMurray
6. Kevin Harvick
7. Kyle Busch
8. Jimmie Johnson
9. Joey Logano
10. Clint Bowyer
11. Ryan Blaney
12. Denny Hamlin
13. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
14. Trevor Bayne
15. Kurt Busch
16. Kasey Kahne
Oh, Kasey Kahne! Hes hanging on by a thread, but its nice to see him still in the top 16 in points. Thats better than can be said for teammate Dale Jr. whos currently sitting in 25th spot. Whew, Dale! Come on! The JGR drivers are doing well. Many think that Busch will take another win this weekend, but I just dont know if he can hang on for the duration of this race. Hes a good aggressive driver, but Charlotte requires a touch of patience that he may just not have. When it comes down to it, the driver who can get to the front of the pack will have the advantage. Track position is everything here. Tires may get the drives there, but if they can get to the front, they will dominate and get away from the pack. Stay tuned for an awesome and patriotic race this Sunday as we head back to Charlotte for the coveted Coca-Cola 600!