Coke 600 Round Up

So this years running of NASCAR’s longest race might not have been one for the highlight reels, but it certainly was one for the record books.

Take away the confusion of the format away from the All Star Race and you’re left with very good racing at Charlotte. Trevor Bayne’s big pass. Larson going wheel to wheel with Chase Elliott. Larson again trying his damnedest to win the whole thing over Logano. The All Star Race is a big ol’ preview of the Coke 600. Always has been.

So we, the collective patrons of NASCAR, expected something similar.

We didn’t get that.

And that’s ok. (Seriously, it really is. The NASCAR Twitternauts need to reign it in)

truex wins coke 600Martin Truex Jr had sheer and utter domination of a single race not seen in over fifteen years. Truex led all but eight laps in a 600 mile race. That’s 588 miles. That’s if I hopped in my car and drove from Rhode Island to the track in Richmond. NASCAR had one of their patented competition cautions early on in the race. Truex had taken off to something like an eight second lead by then. He started from the pole and never looked back.

The official stats say nine lead changes among four drivers but the reality is that those lead changes only happened during green flag pit cycles. Jimmie Johnson, the only driver who could even see Truex’s rear bumper, picked up five laps on two separate cycles that way. Logano one lap. Paul Menard two when he was stretching fuel in case mileage became a thing.

Cautions were minimal. Brian Scott spun and didn’t hit anything. The #32, run by Jeffery Earnhardt again this week, pancaked the wall at one point. Sweet Lady Debris was the only caution past lap 209 of 400. Truex’s pit crew and that number one pit box kept him out front.

There wasn’t a thing anyone could do versus the Furniture Row Toyota. Jimmie Johnson sniffed the lead after the Sweet Lady Debris caution and led maybe a quarter of a lap. But Truex got it back before the lap was complete so it didn’t even count as an official lead change. For much of the race, there were less than five cars within ten seconds time of Truex.

Jeff Burton's Exide colors from 96-01
Jeff Burton’s Exide colors from 96-01

The only race in my memory of watching NASCAR since the late 80s that comes close was Jeff Burton going flag to flag at New Hampshire in 2000. On the Fox broadcast, Mike Joy even dropped that reference and the other two, Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip, were actually in that race. (Tony Stewart was still new back then and Junior was a rookie) Flag to flag is an amazing achievement for any racer but on reflection, I agree with Mike Joy that this was more dominant than Burton was back then. Context is why.

First of all, every race at New Hampshire has been 300 laps (for something like 314 miles because of it’s slightly bigger than 1-mile size). Or 301 because of a thing some sponsor did years ago that sticks sometimes even with a different sponsor. Regardless. It’s about half the race distance. New Hampshire is also notoriously hard to pass at. I have been witness to some amazing races at New Hampshire, but it’s no Bristol. Ryan Newman, who’s rookie season wasn’t for another two years after Burton’s feat, has said in the past that Loudon is “the birthplace of track position.” So take a flat track, add in seven caution flags taking thirteen cars out of the race and that makes for a much different race. Oh, and by the way, that was the year that NASCAR ran restrictor plates at New Hampshire.

Two drivers, Kenny Irwin Jr and Adam Petty, died at New Hampshire within two months earlier that year. It was a quick safety fix until NASCAR made more lasting safety fixes in the wake of Dale Earnhardt’s death less than a year later.

So Burton’s race back in 2000 was an achievement, but the utter domination of Truex is a lasting one for the record books. It should be viewed as one of the greatest team performances in NASCAR history, from Truex wheeling the car to his pit crew keeping him up front.

The only problem here is that people are whining and complaining about the race.

Why? I don’t get it.

I know what the people are saying, I’m not deaf. I’ve watched NASCAR for over 25 years and live tweet as many of the races that I can. I know what the NASCAR Twitternauts are complaining about.

But I don’t think they should.

harvick edwards phoenix finishI have said repeatedly in my commentary this year that NASCAR is being spoiled with epic finishes. The NASCAR media people will be stocked for years with new clips for their promo commercials. The only downside to that is people expect that every race is going to be like that.

Can you honestly tell me that you think every race is going to be like that? If you said “yes” you’re a liar. I’m not even going to say your foolish or naïve, just a liar. NASCAR is no different than any ball-and-stick sport in that aspect. Not ever sporting event will be a classic.

Look at the Super Bowl.

For every Eli to Tyree Helmet Catch (18 and one! Nuts to you Pats fans!) that everyone will remember and be on every highlight reel until the Earth collapses in on itself, there are more Super Bowls that go by the wayside in the collective memory. I remember that the Seahawks beat the Broncos a couple years ago and Peyton had that dumb missed hike to start the game, but how long will a 48-3 beatdown be remembered? Do you remember how Super Bowl XXXV went? I only do because it was my Giants that were on the wrong end of a Baltimore thrashing. So beyond the New York fans wishing they could forget and the Baltimore fans who remember the ring, no one else is going to remember a 15 year old snoozer of a football game. Or how ‘bout the 30-13 hosing the Cowboys gave the Bills. Or the 55-10 San Francisco win? I had to Wikipedia those last two to even use them as examples.

NASCAR is no different. I remember Burton going flag to flag at New Hampshire because I was there in the seat that I’ve sat in since 1993. How many of the old school fans remember what happened at that one New Hampshire race sixteen years ago? Unless they were huge Burton fans, or maybe season champ Bobby Labonte fans, I doubt many do. Or what about the Dover race I went to when I was a kid in ’91 when Harry Gant lapped the field? Sure, it’s easy to remember that Burton was the man at New Hampshire for a long string of years and Harry Gant was Mr. September, but the details fall by the wayside.

Does a baseball fan stop watching when a game is slow? Do football fans vow to never watch another game because nothing happens in the last quarter of garbage time in a huge win? That’s not how it works so I don’t see why it would work that way in NASCAR.

daytona can-am 2I am sympathetic to the NASCAR brass when this happens though. They’re trying to maintain a presence in the national sports psyche. The sport over built and got hit hard when the economy tanked. It’s not like it was back in the day when I was a kid and I didn’t know another soul growing up in Connecticut who even knew what NASCAR was, but it’s not our heyday either. NASCAR is in a tough spot. Around where I live in New England, I get people all the time asking me why I love NASCAR. One of the big things I always tell them is that the sport is like a traveling circus and a soap opera all in one. The more you know the ins and outs of the sport, the more fun it is to watch. When you know *why* a fuel mileage battle is tense or how a crew chief is able to chase adjustments or how something as simple as clouds moving in can change the track… when you know why these things affect the race, you can get more enjoyment out of what’s going on. You can see past the surface. But for someone flipping through the channels, how do you get them to stop long enough to get below the surface?

I could come up with suggestions, sure. Anyone can. But I don’t have the answers, otherwise I’d be working for NASCAR.

I do wish NASCAR wouldn’t throw down a kneejerk reaction and try to change the rules every time a race wasn’t an epic win though. Frankly, I think that’s short sighted. Let’s look at the season as a whole and as a whole, we are doing much better in terms of on track product. All the marketing gimmicks in the world can’t make up for a great product, that’s where we’ve got to start and that’s what we got.

I think that the fans with the knowledge can appreciate Truex’s win this past week for what it was, a race for the record books which may never be beaten again.

And that’s a good thing.

Shout Outs

In a race with a very distinct line between the haves and the have-nots, there are some noteworthy performances buried within the stat sheet.

newman at coke 600The first shout out goes to Ryan Newman. He didn’t run a flashy race, at no point ever did he get much in the way of TV time. Newman’s RCR car ran midpack almost the entire race, but he managed to sneak into a top ten finish at the very end of the day. It sounds like the most Ryan Newman race ever, and it kind of was. Races like that have been his MO for the last couple seasons. It’s important this week however, because heading into the summer, Newman is how within the Chase cutoff via points. That 10th place finish bumped Allmendinger out of the 16th points spot and Newman in. He’s tied on points with Blaney and only nine behind Jamie Mac. Newman keeps on churning out those quiet top tens and he can find his way into the post season. He came damn close to winning the whole championship that way two years ago.

biffle at coke 600I also want to toss out a Shout Out to Greg Biffle. The Biff, along with the whole of Roush Fenway Racing, is quietly becoming relevant again with some consistency. Biffle started well and then had a very Ryan Newman race after that coming home in 11th. I spent a lot of time thinking at the front end of this year that when Roush inevitably shook up his driver line up to help the team’s performance, that the Biff would be one of the casualties. He’s been bringing it back the last few races though. I strongly believe that NASCAR is better off with the whole RFR stable, with the Biff still as the leader, relevant and running well. This uptick in performance for the #16 team is a good thing.

I’d also like to drop a special Shout Out to whoever runs the Circle Sport-Levine twitter account. Banana and mustard sandwiches are for the win… maybe… I’ll stick with ham and cheese though.

mustard bananas

Pit Stall 13 Update

annett at coke 600This week, the glory of the 13th pit stall went to Michael Annett and the #46 HScott team. However, it was not a particularily great day for the team. Annett did not qualify well and barely finished any better in 36th, ten laps off the pace. His HScott teammate, Clint Boywer, did not perform much better, spending the day mired in the mid-20s. Now I am adding another sentence or two so I can have an excuse to make the picture big enough to see clearly at this point.

Charterless Update

  • 20th – #21 Ryan Blaney – The Wood Brothers are still getting into the swing of a full time schedule, but props for a decent enough finish in his first complete 600 (crashed out last year)
  • 35th – #98 Cole Whitt – He spent the whole night in the 30s on a night when attrition wasn’t going to help
  • 38th – #30 Josh Wise – Ctrl+C from Cole Whitt above.
  • 40th – #55 Reed Sorenson – Fell out of the race with only 200 laps under his belt

On to Pocono

So next week NASCAR heads north. Well, not “north” for real, but north to all the southerners. Pennsylvania doesn’t count as the north to anyone who actually lives up north.

It’s the first trip there this year and always down for a good show since it’s such a unique track. Kenseth won last time NASCAR went to Pocono and Truex won the race last June. So Truex wasn’t running a Toyota last year, but with the Gibbs Toyotas already dominating and Truex riding high after this latest win, I would not be surprised to see him go back to back.

The other big story line to watch is Kyle Busch. He was never really a factor this past week at Charlotte, but Pocono is the other track on the circuit that he has never won at. I did just talk about in the paragraph above that the Gibbs Toyotas are the team to beat at any and all tracks this year. Love him or hate him, Kyle Busch is driven to be the same conversation as Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon, and Johnson as Best Ever. He has his championship and he really wants to score that W at ever track.

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