NASCAR returns for its second consecutive weekend of racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway with Saturday afternoon’s Alsco 300 Xfinity race and Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600, the longest race in NASCAR.
According to this week’s Goodyear media release, “Monster Energy NASCAR Cup teams will be running the same tire set-up for the Coca-Cola 600 that they ran during All-Star weekend at Charlotte. Based on the racing last weekend, tires will be a factor. First, All-Star teams that took four tires overcame the track position of those that did not. Second, with 12 race sets of tires for NASCAR’s longest race, the pit crews will play a big part in a team’s success, and those that master all those four-tire pit stops will help their car gain valuable spots on pit road.”
Added Greg Stucker, Goodyear director of racing, “The Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race on the schedule and it is held on one of the more temperature sensitive tracks upon which we compete, as the race starts in daylight and ends at night. We saw that fresh tires mattered last weekend during the All-Star race. Four tire pit stops should be the order of the day and teams have 12 sets of tires for the 400-lap race, so the team aspect of the sport will be on full display as the pit crews will be kept busy all night.”
According to the Goodyear media release, "Goodyear will debut a special “Honor and Remember” sidewall at Charlotte: Since 2010, for one weekend per NASCAR season, Goodyear has changed the branding on the sidewall of its racing tires in a show of support for the United States military and fallen heroes. This being the 10th year of that program, the official tire supplier to NASCAR’s top three series will work with a new organization and replace the standard “Eagle” with “Honor and Remember” for both the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and NASCAR Xfinity Series races.
"Honor and Remember is a national organization based out of Virginia that has a mission to “perpetually recognize the sacrifice of America’s military fallen service members and their families,” according to its website. The organization recognizes fallen military personnel from all wars or conflicts, and with those from all branches of service. They do so primarily by dedicating the specially designed Honor and Remember flag, which is intended to fly continuously as a tangible and visible reminder to all Americans of the lives lost in defense of our national freedoms."
NOTES – Cup cars on same tire set-up as All-Star weekend: Teams in both the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series will run the same tire set-up at Charlotte this week . . . this is the same combination of left- and right-side tires that Cup teams ran during All-Star weekend last week . . . for the Cup cars, this is the same right-side tire code they ran in last year’s Coca-Cola 600 and the same left-side tire they have run the last three weeks – Dover, Kansas and All-Star . . . for the Xfinity cars, this is the same right-side tire they ran on the Charlotte oval in 2018, combined with their 2019 Dover left-side tire . . . compared to what was run at Charlotte last year, this left-side features a construction update to align it with what is run at other speedways . . . this tire set-up came out of a test on the 2019 rules package that was run at Charlotte last October . . . teams (drivers) participating in that test were Richard Childress Racing (Daniel Hemric), Joe Gibbs Racing (Erik Jones), Hendrick Motorsports (William Byron) and Stewart-Haas Racing (Aric Almirola) . . . as on all NASCAR ovals greater than one mile in length, teams are required to run inner liners in all four tire positions at Charlotte . . . air pressure in those inner liners should be 12-25 psi greater than that of the outer tire.
Here’s the tire info for this weekend’s races:
Tire: Goodyear “Honor and Remember” Speedway Radials for both Cup and Xfinity
Set limits: Cup: 3 sets for practice, 1 set for qualifying and 12 sets for the race; Xfinity: 7 sets for the event
The All-Star Race is billed as an event that also serves as a test session.
While cars had some new parts that may be used on the Gen 7 vehicle — expected to debut in 2021 — there’s something else that can be taken from Saturday night and applied to more races.
A night that saw two stages in the Monster Open end in spectacular finishes, the All-Star Race crown a new winner and punches thrown on pit road afterward, featured 150 laps compared to the 400 laps that will be run on the same track this weekend.
While there remains room on the Cup schedule for a Daytona 500, a Coca-Cola 600 and a Southern 500, the All-Star Race showed that sometimes shorter distances can be better.
There certainly didn’t seem to be any complaints from fans Saturday night about seeing fewer laps of racing than most weekends.
Instead, the talk was about Clint Bowyer running to Ryan Newman’s car and flailing at Newman in retaliation for being wrecked on the cool-down lap.
Or the talk was about Kyle Larson winning is first All-Star Race and collecting $1 million after holding off Kevin Harvick at the end.
All this over an exhibition race.
Imagine what might happen if this was a points race and the winner secured a spot in the playoffs — something Larson initially wondered if he had done before being told no.
Shortening some races shouldn’t be done as a way to find younger fans that some would suggest don’t have the attention span for longer races. The sport doesn’t need to go chasing fans that way. It did that years ago and alienated its older fans.
But if some shorter distances heighten tensions in races and lead to more water cooler moments, then it’s something the sport should consider.
The notion that most races need to be marathons is outdated and outrageous. Few cars suffer mechanical failures. The downforce is so great that few cars spin, let alone crash. Racing is no longer a test of a car’s survival over long distances.
While longer races allow drivers and teams to overcome handling issues or mistakes early and contend for wins, that shouldn’t be the main reason to keep some races 400 or 500 miles.
Turn some of these races into sprints, add points and watch the pressure build. There will be no time for pleasantries. It will be about charging to the front.
Saturday night’s race provided such action. Although not every short race will capture the essence of the All-Star Race, there’s a greater chance of it happening.
Just think about what often makes a longer race special. It’s a restart at the end that forces drivers to make bold moves. In essence a late restart turns a long race into quick sprint.
Provided the Gen 7 car debuts in 2021 as NASCAR states, there will be no need to use the All-Star Race that season as a test session — as has been done the past two times — because teams still will be trying to figure out the car.
That would make it a good time to consider moving the All-Star Race to a different location. Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway would be a logical choice but there are challenges.
Provided NASCAR releases the 2021 schedule next April — the 2020 Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules were all released by April 3 this year — it gives the folks at Bristol Motor Speedway (and Speedway Motorsports Inc.) less than 11 months to complete a deal with the city and the fair board, which oversees the track, get funding approved and make the changes that are needed to update the track.
While all of that is happening, the city will have elections in August for mayor and other city positions. With multiple candidates running for mayor, a run-off might be needed and that would be held in September.
Those in the sport who have had to work with government entities know how deals can be all but done and then suddenly change at the last minute, throwing everything in doubt. The more layers of government, the longer something takes.
Anything can happen. A deal could be completed in time and could provide the opportunity to move the All-Star Race to Nashville in 2021. If not, maybe there is another place to hold it besides Charlotte, which already has two points races.
If not Nashville, maybe Iowa Speedway or some other track that would need a limited number of upgrades to host NASCAR’s top series. It could be time to think about moving the All-Star Race to places that don’t already have a Cup event.
Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman showed during Saturday night’s races at Charlotte Motor Speedway how valuable it is for a track to have a synthetic turf instead of grass.
The track installed 88,000 square feet of synthetic turf last summer, along with a new drainage system, to replace the grass along the frontstretch. It was in place for the inaugural race on the Roval.
Hemric slid through the turf during the second stage of the Monster Energy Open after contact with Ryan Preece. Suarez spun through the turf at the end of the second stage in the Open. His car was not damaged, allowing him to continue.
Newman slid through the turf during the second stage of the All-Star Race and also suffered no damage and was able to continue.
“That was big,” Newman said. “I was able to finish my race. If there was grass down there, I wouldn’t have. That was a big deal.”
As long as vehicles have splitters, NASCAR should look to require speedways to use synthetic turf instead of grass in areas near the track to limit the damage when cars and trucks go through those areas. If not turf, then pave those areas.
While not every accident is the same, just look at what happened to Natalie Decker in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race earlier this month when she slid into the frontstretch grass at Kansas Speedway. Decker was eliminated because of the damage and finished 25th.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials will “continue to look at” synthetic turf in place of grass at tracks.
“While it does present some challenges at some other tracks, I think that is a system we’ll continue to look at,” he said. “Certainly performed great. It looks good from a fan perspective and certainly helps the cars when they get in the turf during a race.”
It was much different from the 2016 All-Star Race when he hit the wall while leading with two laps to go as Joey Logano challenged him. Logano went on to win. Larson finished 16th in the 20-car field.
Saturday night, there were no mistakes.
“This year has been different for me,” Larson said. “I’ve never worked out before, and I’ve been in the gym a little bit more this year with (trainer and former driver) Josh Wise and just working out with him, and being around him puts a lot more confidence and ease into me. I feel like I’m just more calm.
“I wasn’t nervous at all that last restart, and I think part of that is just from feeling like I am prepared. And also losing close races. I just — I feel like I’ve done a good job of not getting stressed out, even with me losing the Chili Bowl (on the last lap to Christopher Bell in January). I felt like I was really calm until the last two laps and I gave the race away. (Saturday) I wasn’t going to let that happen.
“With those losses that I’ve had, you grow from each and every one of them. Hopefully we can continue this, and I feel like — everybody becomes a better driver the older they get, but I feel like I’ve put more work and effort into it this year.”
Kyle Larson — winner: “This is unbelievable. This whole day was up and down, from the B Main (the Monster Energy Open) we were in to getting a little bit of damage and repaired on the car. … (Kevin) Harvick gave me a heck of a push to get to the lead from the third row, and then to get by the 18 (Kyle Busch) on the final restart,” Larson told FS1. “Man, this is amazing. I feel like every time I’ve been in the All-Star Race, I’ve been close to winning. It’s neat to close it out. … There’s a lot of people from the shop here today, so we get to do some celebrating and I’m excited about that. … This year has been different for me. I’ve never worked out before, and I’ve been in the gym a little bit more this year with Josh Wise and just working out with him, and being around him puts a lot more confidence and ease into me. I feel like I’m just more calm. I wasn’t nervous at all that last restart, and I think partly of that is just from feeling like I am prepared. And also losing close races.
“I just ‑‑ I feel like I’ve done a good job of not getting stressed out, even with me losing the Chili Bowl. I felt like I was really calm until the last two laps and I gave the race away. Tonight I wasn’t going to let that happen. With those losses that I’ve had, you grow from each and every one of them. Hopefully we can continue this, and I feel like ‑‑ everybody becomes a better driver the older they get, but I feel like I’ve put more work and effort into it this year. (How much is your cut of the $1 million dollars prize?) I don’t know. I was joking with (son) Owen today about what would you want me to buy you if you won a million dollars, and I don’t think he understands what a million dollars is. He didn’t really have an answer for me. So I don’t have any plans. I think, too, a million dollars is cool, but just winning is more cool than a million bucks to me. I think maybe we’re just ‑‑ us drivers, NASCAR drivers are in a good place in our life, it pays well. So whatever. But just winning a big race, a prestigious event means more to me than the money. I’m all about trophies and big wins. … You know, it’s been such a rocky start and we haven’t gotten any momentum at all up until the last couple weeks a little bit, and then today I hope kind of helps it.
“This is a great time of year for me to get a win. Winning not only is important for me in NASCAR because it’s what I make my living in, it’s what I race for points and for a championship in, but this is the time of year when I start getting to race a bunch. I’m going to be in a race car, I think, every day for the next probably almost seven or eight days, so this is a good time of year for me to get some momentum and get into my sprint car season, my midget season as well as the NASCAR stuff on the weekend. Hopefully this will turn it into where I can get some double digit wins this season. … (On a scale of 1 to 10, how was that push from Harvick?) Am I supposed to answer with emojis? It was fire.”
Kevin Harvick – finished 2nd:“(How would you describe tonight?) Letdown. That’s how you take the fastest car and don’t win the race with it. You spot them the whole field and just an incredible Busch Beer Ford. Rodney and all these guys on the team just did a great job and it was unfortunate the way pit road went tonight because it wasn’t even close for anybody having a good car like we had tonight. It was a great night for performance, just a bad night on pit road. (Is second a good finish or does it suck?) It’s terrible. I mean, we shot both of our feet off with the absolute dominant car. The guys did a great job preparing the race car and we just weren’t ready to make a pit stop on pit road tonight. (Do changes need to be made?) No, they just need to be ready to race. They’ve done it all year. You can’t just show up and have it be a disaster. I mean, they’ve been great all year and tonight wasn’t great, that’s for sure. We spotted them the whole field. We started tail back with 15 laps to go. (Did you feel you had a chance to catch Larson?) Once they get single-file as soon as they drive in your lane they pushed up the groove, so you’ve got to go where they aren’t and he was fast enough to run the bottom and that’s where I needed to run to really make time. Everybody was wide-open, so once the restart thinned out everybody just kind of goes where they go.”
Kyle Busch – finished 3rd: “(Are the aero problems you referenced something you fought throughout the race?)All year long. This M&M’s Camry was fast, but just not fast enough by itself on restarts. Couldn’t hold off the guys behind us and fought aero problems after that. (How strong was your car in the race?) We had a really fast M&M’s Camry. Probably was the only guy to pass for the lead after a given set of laps. On restarts, we couldn’t go anywhere, we just weren’t fast enough, but we had long run speed. That’s all there is to it.”
Joey Logano – finished 4th: “All-Star racing, that’s what it’s all about. It was intense and the way these cautions fall and the strategy, we were there in the lead and then what do you do? You can stay out and that’s what I thought was our best shot to keep the clean air. If we got passed I knew we were gonna be in big trouble and we weren’t able to maintain the lead there. They did a better job up top pushing and pushed by me on the bottom and I lost the clean air and everyone with tires just drove by me. We had a caution there with 11 to go and pitted and went back to last, but got back to fourth. It’s frustrating. Everyone wants to win the All-Star Race. It’s fun. It’s for a million dollars. There’s a lot of prestige about it to say you’ve done it. We’ve done it before, but you always want to do it again. We’ve got the Coca-Cola 600 next week and I’d say that’s bigger than this one, so let’s make it happen there. (On the decision to pit out of fifth place?) That was the only play at that point. Our play to stay out was kind of the one that kind of got us in that position, but I feel like we had to. Our shot to win was from the front row and as the leader I was hoping I could clear those guys and be able to keep that clean air. If I kept the clean air, the tires weren’t gonna be that bad. I was gonna be all right, but as soon as I got passed on that restart when the 18 did a good job pushing the 9 I lost the clean air and I was in trouble. Once we lost that and the caution came out I was like. Well, we might as well put tires on it this time and give it a shot.’ We went back to 17th and got back to fourth in 10 laps or so. If we had one caution. A caution would have made a difference because we were in the best position tire-wise and we were in fourth-place, so if we get a caution we would have been in a really good spot to be able to try to take that million dollars from them, but it just wasn’t our night.”
Bubba Wallace – finished 5th: “I had it wide open on that last restart and when those guys pulled away, I knew we were done. It’s just a different class, a different animal when you get up there. I had tons of fun tonight. I honestly haven’t had this much fun in a long time. It’s been a struggle, but it was a big night for us. When you don’t have anything on the line, I guess it means something different. (What does the day you had tell you?) The first thing my mom said to me after the Open was ‘You know who that was? That was God. He’s not giving up on you yet’. I’ve realized that. As many dark moments that I’ve had and telling myself to give up, it’s been really tough. It’s been tough to keep coming in and keep going. Tonight just shows that I’ll be back next week.”
Aric Almirola – finished 6th: “You have to be super-aggressive. You can’t really pass after it gets strung out, so you’ve got two or three laps to be as aggressive you possibly can be and if you check out of the throttle for just the slightest little bit, they go by you three and four-wide. It’s crazy. It’s all about momentum. It’s all about the right lane on the restarts. Everything is very situational. If the guy in front of you wiggles and he checks up and you check up to keep from running over him, you lose four, five, six spots in one straightaway. It’s aggravating, but that’s kind of the way it is when you don’t have a lot of horsepower and the cars are so draggy. It’s all about momentum. (What do you make about this race?) It doesn’t matter. If you don’t win the million dollars, everybody else leaves mad.”
Austin Dillon – finished 7th: “Restarts were good and we could make a lot of ground up on the top if I got in the right line. I don’t know, I got turned by the 18, he said he was dragging, but I have to look at the replay. We had a pretty good run going there and when he turned us, it just killed our left front fender. Then I got in the (Denny) Hamlin wreck too and that further killed our left front. I thought I had a good restart there at the end but the left front just wouldn’t turn anymore from all the damage.”
Alex Bowman – finished 8th: “Our car was really obviously good in the Open. We just took off really, really tight. Obviously, we had that left side damage from the Open and that probably got us really tight. Something got us tight to start the All-Star and we got it better until I got driven into the fence and pretty much knocked all four corners off of it. So, we just tried to play catch up from there. Eighth could have been a whole lot worse and we will move on to the 600.”
William Byron – finished 9th“We had a good car. Starting in the back, we got up to 4th, then 3rd coming to the final stop. We took four tires and I think that was the right move, we just got in the wrong lane on the restart. We restarted on the bottom twice. It’s not fun to have the restarts that go that way, but overall there was a lot of progress and we had a good night. (Do you think NASCAR will use this package in the future?) Yeah, I honestly don’t feel like it was any different. I think it was just the circumstance of how many restarts there were and how intense this race is. I think the cars have been racy all year and I feel like a little racier before tonight, but it’s hard to tell, honestly. We were able to pass cars, which was good.”
Martin Truex Jr. – finished 10th: “It wasn’t good for us. We had a really strong Camry and got to the front early. We lost track position and then go it back, lost it, got it back, lost it and got wrecked. It’s the All-Star race. If you’re not the first couple of guys, you’re in a bad spot. No fun.”
Brad Keselowski — finished 11th: “I was crushing the splitter there towards the end of the race and couldn’t hit a lick on that restart when we fell back. We pitted and put those packers in the front shocks and the Discount Tire Ford really took off. It was a night and day difference. Unfortunately we didn’t the finish we wanted to tonight.”
Clint Bowyer — finished 12th: “I don’t know what the hell his (Ryan Newman‘s) beef was. I thought he was a lap down. Our day was over. We lost track position there, got sideways, crossed up and basically buying time there to see if something was gonna happen at the end. They got four-wide off of four. Hell, I thought he was a lap down. I checked up and he ran into my left-rear and that’s the last I saw of him. Then after the race he comes and runs into my back and turns me all around and I pull up next to him and he dumps me into four. Where I come from you get poked in the nose for that, and that’s what he got.”
Ryan Newman – finished 13th: “We struggled all night. I’m really embarrassed about our performance with the Acorns Ford. We missed it on the balance, missed it on the package. We had a good restart and got up to fifth, but didn’t have anything after that. Our car was just too tight there at the end and struggled in traffic.”
Ryan Blaney — finished 16th: “We had a pretty good BODYARMOR Ford tonight. Unfortunately issues on pit road and on-track on hurt our night. We will try to clean them up and get ready for the Coca-Cola 600 next week.”
Daniel Hemric — finished 18th: “When you come to Charlotte Motor Speedway for NASCAR All-Star weekend the only thing that matters is winning, and I am disappointed we didn’t get that done tonight. This No. 8 Bass Pro Shops/Caterpillar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was fast as can be, and we showed that by winning the pole on Friday night. We led the majority of the opening segment during the All-Star Open and I thought we were in a good spot to transfer into the All-Star Race but the caution came out and the car was just too tight to hang onto the lead on the overtime restart. We came in during the stage break and Luke Lambert and the guys put four tires on our Bass Pro Shops/Caterpillar Chevrolet and made a chassis adjustment that really improved the handling. We were racing hard with the No. 47 when we got together and it ended our day. We had one of the fastest cars in the field and it is really a shame we didn’t get the chance to race in the main event tonight.”
Larson joins Stage 2 winner Bubba Wallace and Stage 1 winner William Byron in transferring into the All-Star Race. A fourth driver, Alex Bowman, also advances to the All-Star Race by virtue of winning the Fan Vote.
Larson briefly had a challenge by Ty Dillon in the 10-lap final stage, but then pulled away and won uncontested.
The All-Star Race is slated to begin shortly after 8 p.m. ET.
MONSTER ENERGY OPEN UPDATE — END OF STAGE TWO:
Bubba Wallace held off a late charge by Daniel Suarez — sending the latter spinning after colliding — and Kyle Larsen in Stage 2 of the Monster Energy Open to advance to the NASCAR All-Star Race later tonight at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Wallace joins Stage 1 winner William Byron in advancing to the All-Star Race. One final stage remains in the Open.
“This has been tough and I’ve been feeling like a failure for a really long time, I didn’t give a damn out there,” Wallace told Fox Sports 1. “I love Suarez to death but he knows what’s on the line. … We needed this. I needed this.”
Like Stage 1, the scheduled 20-lap Stage 2 went into overtime. Ryan Preece and pole-sitter Daniel Hemric collided with two laps remaining, bringing out the caution.
Stage 2 ultimately went 25 total laps, including five laps of overtime. Kyle Larson finished second, followed by Suarez, Ty Dillon and David Ragan.
Sixth through 10th were Matt DiBenedetto, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Preece, Corey LaJoie and Alex Bowman
One final stage — a 10-lap shootout — remains in the Open. The winner of the final stage will also advance to the All-Star Race. A fourth driver will also advance by winning the Fan Vote.
MONSTER ENERGY OPEN — END OF STAGE 1
William Byron bumped his way into tonight’s NASCAR All-Star Race, bumping and then passing Bubba Wallace in the final turn to take Stage 1 of the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway and will advance into the NASCAR All-Star Race later tonight.
Due to a caution late in Stage 1 when B.J. McLeod‘s car started smoking heavily, the scheduled 20 laps of Stage 1 went 27 laps. Byron was fourth when the white flag fell on the 24-driver Open field and was able to get by Wallace at the start-finish line to take the checkered flag.
“It was just crazy, the seas just parted for us,” Byron told Fox Sports 1. “It feels awesome to be in the All-Star Race. It’s a huge accomplishment for myself and Chad (crew chief Chad Knaus) has been here a number of times. It feels good.”
Two more stages remain: the 20-lap Stage 2 and the final 10-lap Stage 3 (the race winner). The winners of Stage 2 and the overall race winner will then join Byron in advancing to the All-Star Race.
A fourth driver will transfer to the All-Star Race by virtue of winning the fan vote.
Wallace finished second in Stage 1, followed by Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez and Alex Bowman.
Sixth through 10th were pole-sitter Daniel Hemric, Matt DiBenedetto, Paul Menard, David Ragan and Ryan Preece.
We’ll have the results of Stage 2 and the overall full results of the Open after their completion.