Who… should you be talking about after the Coca-Cola 600?
Kyle Larson cruised to his second win of the season at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday (May 30) with a whopping 10-second lead on second place. With Larson’s victory, Hendrick Motorsports passed Richard Petty Motorsports to set a NASCAR record with 269 wins as an organization.
Only four times this season has the driver who led the most laps went on to win. Three of them have come via HMS, as Larson paced the field for 327 of 400 laps. He’s now second in the standings, just 76 behind Denny Hamlin, and has posted top-two finishes in four straight races.
Kyle Busch was the only driver to break up the Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut up front. After failing pre-race inspection, Busch started at the rear of the field and became a man on a mission. Busch worked his way up to sixth place by the end of stage one, slicing through the field. Showing consistent speed, he stayed inside the top 10 from that point on aside from green flag pit stops. Heading into the final stage, Busch exited pit road in second position and had himself one final shot at Larson. But Busch could not make a pass stick after the restart and had to settle for a third-place finish.
Honorable Mention: Richard Childress Racing had a solid showing this weekend with Austin Dillon finishing sixth and Tyler Reddick ninth. Reddick, who is on the playoff bubble, continues to impress as he stills sits on the right side of the cutline. With other playoff bubble drivers like Kurt Busch and Matt DiBenedetto having lackluster results, Reddick improved his cushion to 61 while jumping ahead of Chris Buescher into 15th on the 16-driver grid.
What… is the Silly Season buzz about?
The Silly Season dominoes keep falling earlier than usual this year as the Brad Keselowski story kept developing at Charlotte. Last week, rumors broke the Team Penske veteran nwould be moving over to Roush Fenway Racing in 2022. Keselowski nor Roush have confirmed the rumor, with both politely deflecting reporters with no comment.
Instead, it was Ryan Blaney who seemed to inadvertently confirm the news this weekend Keselowski would move to Roush Fenway Racing in 2022. With Keselowski expecting to take a seat at RFR, Ryan Newman reacted, sounding off that he was looking to still compete in NASCAR.
The move means the 2022 NASCAR Silly Season is now in full swing. There are still a lot more questions to be answered, though. Could Matt DiBenedetto still race with the Wood Brothers now, even with Austin Cindric‘s upcoming promotion to the Cup Series? Where will Kurt Busch be driving in 2022 after reports broke he may jump ship to 23XI Racing?
There are plenty of moves still to be made. But Keselowski appears to be the first one on the board.
Where… did the other key players wind up?
After starting on the pole, Larson was the dominant car of the day as he led 327 laps and won all four stages en route to the win. While Larson had to battle Busch and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, the driver still scored the maximum of 70 points in one race weekend (10 more than usual due to an extra stage). It’s the first career victory for Larson in a race over 400 miles; keep in mind he had never led a lap in the Coca-Cola 600 before Sunday night.
Defending champ Chase Elliott had a solid day, even leading 22 laps during the middle stages of the race. On the final restart, Elliott passed Busch to move up to second, which is where he wound up. Elliott could not repeat his win at COTA but has scored five straight top-10 finishes to launch back into the championship conversation.
Point leader Denny Hamlin stayed out with two tires at the end of stage two, improving track position and held on from there. Hamlin stayed in the top 10 throughout most of the race’s second half, even leading three laps. Finishing in seventh, he maintains a 76-point edge over Larson in the standings but still remains without a victory 15 races into the year.
When… was the moment of truth in the Coca-Cola 600?
Larson had everything go right with this win. The moment of truth was when he started the engine and took the green flag.
With this season, Larson had multiple wins slip away especially at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway. The last pit stop under caution was the closest that a non-Hendrick car contended for the lead. In the end, there was no late-race caution that shuffled the field with strategy or Larson losing the handling of his car. Hendrick Motorsports is proving that it can win with any driver at any track as now it has more wins than Joe Gibbs Racing this season.
Why… should you be paying attention to lapped cars?
Lapped cars are a hot button topic this week as there were multiple times they nearly caused a wreck. With the 550 horsepower package, it causes slower drivers to be even more of a roadblock because they cannot keep up their momentum.
The totals at the back of the field were pretty lopsided. David Starr finished 31 laps back and over 45 miles behind race winner Larson. Ross Chastain, who spent 38 laps in the garage after an oil pump belt was loose, was closer to Starr than Starr was to the next car on the track.
While battling with Kyle Busch with 52 laps to go, Byron almost missed the car of Starr and Josh Bilicki in an incident that nearly wrecked all three.
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) May 31, 2021
Even though there were not any incidents causing damage between a lapped car and a lead lap car, the controversy they generated was nothing new. Back in 2019 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Garrett Smithley and Busch made contact going into turn 1 similar to what happened to Byron.
Racing is all about passing cars that are slower than you. When cars are slow enough to cause hairy moments on tracks, something needs to change. The 550 horsepower package and/or the PJ1 are not suited for this type of competition.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) September 16, 2019
How… should NASCAR proceed with scheduling this 600-mile race going forward?
NASCAR’s lone 600-mile event has become a historic landmark on the schedule because of the many years stock cars have run at Charlotte. Due to stage racing, NASCAR’s longest event becomes four 100-lap races rather than one 600-mile marathon.
While stage racing has provided some interesting finishes and strategies, creating 10 extra bonus points in this case, endurance is lost in this format. But while there might be some discussion to move the 600-mile event going forward, it would attract the same allure for fans as Charlotte.
Sure, change can be refreshing, yet the prestige of 600 miles at Charlotte on Memorial Day Weekend cannot be replaced. The solution may simply be to remove stages for this event rather than adding them. Only then, the grind of 600 miles will be back in competition which is what used to make the Coke 600 a crown jewel event.
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