I’m not sure what NASCAR must be thinking after the 2018 running of the Coca-Cola 600.
The race was yet another modern-era race with a record low number of lead changes and the cars once again proved that they simply cannot race closely together with the current rules package in place. If you’re just now waking up from your coma from the race and missed what happened I’ll fill you in, believe me it won’t take long. Kyle Busch dominated the night winning every stage after leading 377 of the 400 laps. Kevin Harvick crashed just over 80 laps into the event, ending his night. Those would be the two biggest takeaways from the entire 600 mile event.
If you settled in to watch the race anytime after Lap 4 then you actually didn’t get to see a green flag pass for the lead on track, aside from green flag pit stops. Busch passed Joey Logano on the fifth flap and was never passed on track for the lead again the entire night. In other words, we watched a race unfold for over four hours and twenty minutes without a single green flag pass for the lead.
Let’s compare the Coke 600 package and race to last week’s All-Star Event:
Stage 1 (20 laps) of the Open race last week saw Alex Bowman cross the line 0.3 seconds ahead of Erik Jones. Fifth was 2.3 seconds behind and 10th was 4.8 seconds behind the leader. Aric Almirola led the first 11 laps but Alex Bowman ran him down and passed him for the lead on Lap 12 for one green flag pass in the segment.
Stage 2 (20 laps) of the Open race had Daniel Suarez beat A.J. Allmendinger by 0.15 seconds. Fifth was 1.33 seconds behind and 10th was 6.39 seconds behind. Suarez led the first 12 laps of the segment, Chase Elliott passed him for the lead and led the next two laps, then Suarez passed Elliott back and led the final six for two green flag passes for the lead.
Stage 3 (10 laps) of the Open race saw the leaders 3 wide in turn two, two-by-two-by two through turn three. A.J. Allmendinger won by 0.2 seconds over Chase Elliott in an exciting last lap pass. Fifth was 0.6 seconds behind and 10th was 1.55 seconds behind at the finish. In the 10 laps ran, there were two green flag passes for the lead.
In the first 30-lap stage of the All-Star race, Kevin Harvick led Martin Truex Jr. to the line, besting him by 0.35 seconds. Fifth was 1.78 seconds off the pace and 10th was 4.49 seconds behind. During the entire race there were 12 lead changes, and Harvick won by 0.325 seconds over Daniel Suarez.
Just 20 laps into the 2018 Coca-Cola 600 Kyle Busch led Erik Jones by 2.5 seconds. Fifth was 8.24 seconds behind and 10th was 9.75 seconds in the rear to Busch. When the first caution flag flew on Lap 37 Busch was 2.02 seconds ahead of Jones. Denny Hamlin was in third 6.94 seconds behind, Ryan Newman fourth 10 seconds behind, and Kyle Larson fifth 10.37 seconds behind. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 10th was almost 18 seconds behind only 37 laps into the race.
I’m not sure at this point how anyone can argue that the All-Star package is not the way for NASCAR to go, at least in the short-term, and quickly.
The series cannot continue to have races this dreadful this day and age. I’ve seen people posting on social media saying, “Well, every once in awhile someone just kicks the field’s butt,” or the old argument that some use far too often anymore, “they can’t all be good.” I get that but when you are 13 races deep into the 36 race schedule and the majority of races have been this sub-par that’s a real problem. It’s not like NASCAR is in a glory period or anything.
Having races that continue to set the bar lower and lower is not the direction the sport needs to be going. The All-Star package is far from perfect but at the end of the day if you look at the stats there’s no way to argue the racing we saw two weeks ago wasn’t light years ahead of the product they trotted out on the biggest day in motorsports yesterday.
The average number of lead changes through these first 13 events is 16.53 per race. 10 years ago in 2008 that average was over 25, and the 2008 Coca-Cola 600 had 37 lead changes.
The thing that makes you shake your head the most when analyzing all of the statistics is how much NASCAR has attempted to tighten the fields up just over the past couple of years. Stage racing was supposed to bring a new excitement to the sport with drivers battling the entire race to get those precious playoff points. But, somehow, things are going in the opposite direction.
Maybe I’m just not a “real fan” because I don’t appreciate dominance and record low numbers of on track passes for position but I will continue to fight for what I consider better racing. If you can use a rules package that tightens up the field but still allows the drivers to race I just don’t know how that’s a bad thing. I said last week that NASCAR was at a critical point in the sport’s history and they could either try to ride the success of the All-Star package or just let it slip away. I’d say the Coca-Cola 600, and it’s one on-track pass for the lead on lap five of the race, would qualify as serious slippage.
NASCAR, there’s still time. Implement a modified version of that All-Star package before the only thing 2018 will be remembered for is records that don’t exactly flatter the sport.
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