After the Coke 600, NASCAR Needs a Rules Shakeup

Photo Credit: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

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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5 Comments

  1. Hey Ricky, I’ve been a NASCAR Fan since the mid 60’s (Fireball Roberts was my 1st favorite driver) yeah I’m that old…I’m also a 10 year member of the NASCAR Fan Council and have been to over a 100 races at 8 different tracks. (I’ve been living in Charlotte since 93, Cocoa Beach before that, which is a short ride to Daytona) and now that I’m retired I follow NASCAR even closer and sincerely DO CARE about where the Sport is going in the future…
    and to be truthful…down the tubes
    Oh and your article is “spot on” about needing some rules changed…desperately too.
    and even thought you pretty much pointed out all of the facts of the weekends that made for a less than spectacular event…you failed to point out how only 2 guys have won 9 out of the 13 races so far this year and if you include the All-Star race the score is 10 to 4…
    Oh and I got a question for you (I’ve been asking NASCAR thru emails and also during my surveys from the Council with no reply) but could you, please tell me, if this “Statement” makes any sense to you ? I failed inspection 3 times before the event…because my stuff ain’t legal…So what do you do ? (in a sensible World or any other sport or game) you pack your stuff up and go home…come back next Event and try again. and no you don’t just get a fine or lose 10 or 20 points and lose some practice time at the next event…you go the fuc home and lose a ton of points.
    I have heard of this happening at almost every single race this season…and fining crews $10,000 for a single loose lugnut is really petty as hell…what like Brian France is trying to pocket some extra cash before he sells the business ?? and they can keep taking seats away that don’t get filled to make it look like it’s a sell out, but attendance is at an all time low…did you see the stands for the Xfinity Race…lmao…me and my buddy got to the Track about 10 minutes before the start of the race on Saturday (last minute decision) and when we walked up to the main entrance gate on the front straightaway to buy our tickets, the dude just waved us on thru and said ” glad to have your support, I hope you enjoy the Race”…so we found some great seats, as the place was vacant as heel.
    besides all of that, you know something is wrong in the World of Racing when we’ve been to 13 points races and Jimmie Johnson has not lead a lap yet !!! WTF !!!
    …and I know this is off topic, but the Xfinity drivers have been putting on a great show so far this year on their own…and then you had another “Bush Whacking” happen, and of course a Cup driver won…dam sad state of affairs…

  2. Yet another awful race. NASCAR seems to think faster is better. NO it’s not. Close racing with lead changes is what the fans , in my opinion, want. Better get some rule changes while there are fans who care to watch.

  3. Hi Brian thanks for your thoughts and glad you enjoyed the article. As far as the inspection thing goes I don’t have a good answer. I will tell you with teams struggling to keep sponsorship that sending someone home is not the good for anyone in the long run IMO. And I think those tolerances are so precise now that it makes for a tricky inspection process.

    What’s the answer? Maybe I’ll try to dive into that and write a column down the road if this kind of thing keeps up. Right now I’m most concerned with the on-track product and fixing it.

    As far as two guys winning most of the races, that honestly doesn’t bother me that badly. If a guy is better than everyone he’s just better. However, when the racing is as poor as it is combined with that fact it makes it a pretty tough pill to swallow. I’m hoping that we’ll get some new rules in place sooner rather than later. If this keeps up this year I just can’t see how it’s going to be good for the sport.

    Thanks again for reading.

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