Memorial Day Weekend is a motorsports fan’s dream. Sunday alone features three major races for fans to enjoy. NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series will host the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the sport’s longest race. Formula 1 holds its marquee event, the Grand Prix of Monaco, on Sunday morning. The biggest event, however, will be the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
The day before all those great events, NASCAR’s XFINITY Series will run a race at Charlotte as well. It will be a 200-lap contest for 300 miles, which is pretty typical for the second-tier series. Charlotte is often considered to be the “home track” for most of NASCAR’s teams. It also has a long history of holding stock car races. The track held the first “World 600” for the then-Grand National Series in 1960, and it has held two races every year for the modern XFINITY Series since its establishment in 1982. Yet outside of those attributes, there is not anything really special or unique about Saturday’s race at Charlotte.
It seems a shame that, on a weekend packed with marquee races, the XFINITY Series fails to have one of its own. So what if NASCAR decided to add some uniqueness to the May NXS race at Charlotte by lengthening it to 400, or even 500 miles?
Having an endurance race on the schedule, at least by the series’ standards, would instantly raise the profile of the first Charlotte race. Typically, NXS races do not usually go beyond 300 miles, so a 400 or 500 mile race would be a one-of-a kind event. An endurance race would also be good training for the XFINITY drivers. Often times, when asked what the hardest thing about transitioning from the XFINITY Series to the Cup Series is, drivers will say that the longer races are tough to get used to. So why not let the NXS drivers have one race a year to feel what running a longer event is like?
Remember that in instituting the Chase in both the XFINITY Series and Truck Series this year, NASCAR used the justification that having a Chase in its lower divisions would be good practice for up and coming drivers as they ascend to the Cup Series. Using NASCAR’s own logic, an XFINITY endurance race would serve a similar purpose and be good for the series. It would not be hard at all for the sanctioning body to implement, certainly no harder than this year’s heat races or the new All-Star race formats that NASCAR continues to roll out every year.
In fact, NASCAR once ran a 400-mile race for the second-tier series at Charlotte, back in October of 1985. Terry Labonte won that race driving a car owned by Darrell Waltrip. At first glance, the high attrition rate of the event seems like a potential problem, with 17 of the 42 starters failing to reach the finish. High attrition, however, was not uncommon in the XFINITY Series in those days. A race at Rockingham two weeks later saw 18 drivers, half the field, fail to reach the checkered flag. Meanwhile, the 1985 spring race at Charlotte, a 300 mile event, also had 18 total DNFs. If high attrition was not a serious problem in the fall race (still the longest in XFINITY Series history), it would not be a problem now, especially with teams who have the technology to build more durable cars.
It is true that the trend in NASCAR lately is toward shorter races, and that is not a bad thing. Some of the recent Sprint Cup races at Auto Club Speedway and Pocono Raceway that were cut from 500 to 400 miles have shown improvement in the overall racing product, perhaps by instilling the drivers with a little more urgency. Yet that does not mean that long races have lost their place in NASCAR. The Coca-Cola 600, in particular, is special because it is so unique. An unusually long race means that teams must approach the event differently, and drivers are put to the test. Who can keep up with changing track conditions? Who has the right strategy to reach, and stay at, the front of the pack? Who can keep racing at the top of their game as a long day turns into a long night? These are questions that competitors face each year at Charlotte, and how they answer them is what makes the 600 such a great race.
Once a year, those same questions should face the XFINITY Series competitors. A 400 or 500-mile race would a great test for NXS teams and a treat for the fans. After all, on a weekend that features some of auto racing’s greatest contests, the XFINITY Series should have one of its own.
About the author
Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past six years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and aspiring motorsports historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southwest Florida.
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